I’ve been rather quiet of late, I realise, and this has much to do with the fact that I have to pause to cough approximately every thirty seconds and that makes most endeavours Extremely Tiresome Indeed. The worst things, I find, are cleaning my teeth and reading bedtime stories. I’m guaranteed to go into a paroxysm of noisy, eye watering coughing within seconds of inserting a toothbrush or attempting the opening sentence of “Mog’s Christmas”.
And while my French is pretty convincing these days in most situations not involving the word “frog”, I do find it tends to let me down when talking about prescription drugs and ailments. Some progress has undoubtedly been made since that fateful day a decade ago when I had an entire chemist’s shop in fits of laughter after earnestly explaining that I was suffering from a small British songbird. But there are gaping holes in my pharmaceutical vocabulary, all the same.
On Saturday, having finished swigging my Tesco chesty cough syrup from the bottle, I decided to brave one of the six pharmacies within a 100 metre radius of my apartment. Naturally I chose the one with the most attractive male assistant.
“Bonjour,” I said with a smile. “J’aimerais un sirop contre la toux.” I delved into my mind for the French for a chesty cough, but drew a blank. A dry cough is most definitely a “toux sèche”, but is a chesty cough a “toux grasse”? The phrase conjured up a rather unattractive, greasy mental image so I decided against it.
“C’est quel type de toux?” enquired the attractive young gentleman, as I knew he would. The simplest course of action would probably have been to give a short, spontaneous demonstration at this juncture, but for the first time that day I found myself unable to perform.
“Euh. Ce n’est pas une toux sèche. Ca vient vraiment des poumons…” I replied, paraphrasing hopefully, although I’m guessing that few types of cough don’t involve lungs.
“Les bronches, vous voulez dire?” Ah, pardon me, not my lungs, my bronchial tubes. Where ailments are concerned in French, the more technical the term, the better. This is after all the country where a common cold is referred to as a rhinopharyngite.
“Oui. Je vais voir un médecin si ça persiste… c’est un peu dégueulasse.” Oh, how I wished I could have taken that last comment back, on the grounds that it constituted too much information. But no, it was too late, he was now going to pursue another line of questioning and seek to ascertain the precise colour of my phlegm.
“Ah, c’est coloré?”
“Oui, effectivement,” I stuttered, mortified. I should have stuck with “toux grasse”. Why in god’s name didn’t I trust my instincts and go with “toux grasse”?
I took the bottle and inspected it. No codeine, more’s the pity.
“Je peux vous proposer autre chose aussi,” added the attractive pharmacist. I eyed him suspiciously. An expectorant suppository perhaps? Some sea water to squirt up my nose?
A few minutes later, my wallet considerably lighter, I stepped back out into the drizzle and inspected my purchase dejectedly. Nose drops. Water, bicarbonate of soda and some parabens for good measure. A carcinogenic cocktail to “pulverise” my nostrils with, four times a day.
If the attractive pharmacist hadn’t scrawled his phone number on the back of the receipt, I think I would have wept.