Life In The UK: Things MsCaroline is Grateful for in January in England

Cold, but sunny.  I'll take it.

(Note:  This post was originally titled, "Things MsCaroline is sick of in January in England," but in the spirit of trying not to be a whiner positive thinking, she has chosen to reframe her position and try to find something positive about what has so far proven to be an inordinately long month. Just try and imagine her fake smile as she lists off the things she is grateful for.)

Sunshine:  Observe:  It is January in England, where today's weather is sunny and bitterly cold, but not a single person is complaining. In fact, just like the man you see in the photo gazing out over the city, we have all been walking around marveling at our good fortune.  The reason is that it is January, in England, and it is not raining. Let me state here for the record that, before I moved here, I was fully aware that England was a rainy country, so it's not like I got here and went, "Hey! What? It rains all the time here! I'm surprised! I think what really gets to you after a point is the unrelentingness of it all.  It's more like rain is the standard and sun is the exception.  I know that's not really the case, but 19 days into the new year, that's what it seems like to me. I have to say that the combination of daily rain, grey, and drizzle, combined with the short winter days, does not do much for the morale.  I will admit, though, when you see almost no sunshine for days, a sunny day seems like the Best.Thing.Ever.  I don't think I ever truly appreciated that when I lived in Arizona.

A Very Cold Snap:  In the Southwest of England, where we live, it does not get particularly cold, which was a very pleasant surprise, since my concept of England in the winter was based primarily on Dickens novels, in which it always seemed to be snowing and all the people were huddling around inadequate coal fires with those fingerless gloves.  Temperatures here rarely make it to freezing (at least, they haven't thus far), which is why at least 3 of the people on my street have actual palm trees in their gardens. Accordingly, when we had a very bitter cold snap several days ago, it was a Big Deal.  Now, having come from Seoul, where sub-freezing temperatures in January and February are the norm, this did not phase me much.  But there was one glorious aspect of this cold snap that I had not foreseen and have absolutely adored, and that is this:   no mud.  Only frozen dirt and grass - which you cannot fully appreciate unless you are in the habit of walking a dog in England, where grassy fields and meadow paths are the typical setting for the daily walkies. That's right, it is so cold today that all the mud is frozen. Since all that glorious striding about the English countryside typically takes place in grassy fields and dirt paths through scenic pastures, mud is necessarily a regular part of the landscape.  For humans, this is not a big deal, as muddy shoes and boots can easily be jettisoned at the door.  The dogs' paws, however, are more problematic.  This scenario is a common one:

It involves lots of wriggling on The Dog's part and lots of cursingfussing on the human's part, not to mention a certain amount of flying mud, muddy footprints, and dirty towels. Thus, even if it is so cold my toes are numb after 5 minutes of walking, I will unhesitatingly celebrate a Day Without Mud.

Powerful English OTC Medicines:  While I realize this post is intended to be a positive one, I want to have to start off by saying that I have Been Ill.  For more than 2 weeks.  And, frankly, I'm really, really, tired of it.  I made it unscathed through the holidays in the US only to return and get stricken  - 5 days later - with what I'm sure most clinicians would refer to as 'a flu bug from hell.' (It also may or may not have had something to do with the amount of merrymaking that MsC did during those 2 weeks, but that is neither here nor there.) It laid me low for several days with all the traditional boring flu symptoms, and then vanished, leaving behind it only one trace:  a violent, wracking cough. And this cough has remained with me since, displaying the kind of steadfastness, commitment to duty, and tenacity that is typically only found in a martyred firefighter or an apocryphally self-sacrificing family dog. It has firmly resisted all of my attempts to extinguish it - and they have been legion.  In addition to all the ordinary stuff one finds at the drugstore, I have been advised on a number of surefire home remedies, many of them liquor-based (for this alone, you have to love the English. When I was at the pharmacy counter discussing cough suppressants with the pharmacist, the woman behind me leaned forward and stated emphatically, "Whiskey." As far as I could tell, the pharmacist was in agreement.) My milk delivery guy did deviate a bit from the norm when he suggested a tea that His Gran always made, which began,  "you chop up half an onion" and which MsCaroline did not bother to try, although she might have, if whiskey had been one of the ingredients.

What MsCaroline has been  taking has been this:

And, for the long, dark nights of coughing, also this:

And let MsC just step in here with this ringing endorsement for Night Nurse:  that stuff will knock you on your a** really helps you get a good night's sleep if you have a persistent cough. The only downside to it is that it eventually wears off - and often very suddenly - and when it does, it is very unpleasant indeed for you and your sleeping companion.

(MrL - who, after being sick himself during the Christmas holidays, is now bursting with rude good health in a way I find wholly offensive - finally resorted to sleeping with earplugs, and I finally ended up decamping to the sofa, where I could sleep sitting up and not worry about waking my longsuffering spouse with my late-night coughing spells and constant nose-blowing. Also, I am free to watch bad TV at 3am.)

According to WebMD, most coughs "take about 18 days to resolve."

 EIGHTEEN.  I'm on day #14 here, so the end should be in sight.


Excellent comfort food.  As is always the case when I'm ill, it hasn't affected my appetite in the least.  Oh, I may have to eat more slowly, so I won't choke to death due to coughing, but that hasn't prevented me from doing my best to provide maximum nutritional support to my presently overtaxed immune system. And this is supported 100% by the British grocery industry, whose motto should be:  Here to fulfill all your midwinter, carb-heavy, gravy-based, home-cooked desires in the shortest possible time. Not to say they don't have lots of healthy options - they do, and the portions are much smaller than in the USA (where even the healthiest foods are provided-inexplicably- in 'single-servings' sufficient to feed a family of six.)  But if you need something that is hearty and delicious, you need do no more than drag yourself to the nearest corner store (less than 3 minutes as MsCaroline shuffles) and take your pick from among the pies(like American pot pies) pasties (another sort of pie along the lines of beef wellington), ready-made meals, soups and stews - most of them ready to pop right in the oven.  Of course, despite the fact that all that is easily available at my fingertips, I am nothing if not lazy and impatient and can't be bothered to wait the 15-25 minutes it would take to cook something more substantial.  So, lately, this has been high on my list:

And let me just say, this stuff is not like your typical American vegetable soup.  It is thick and hearty, and a little bit creamy - and tastes like someone made it at home for you, and I feel immensely better when I eat it.  And because soup is lonely without a sandwich, I've been using these to go along with it:

I don't know if they have these in the US or not, but if they don't,  they should. In fact, I'm actually surprised they're not a huge thing in the US, because who doesn't love a grilled cheese sandwich? These things are basically a little teflon pocket you stick your sandwich (bread, cheese, meant,whatever) into. Pop the whole package  into the toaster, and - voila! - you have a grilled cheese (or whatever) sandwich, fondly known here in England as a toastie.  No muss, no fuss, no skillet, no paying attention so it doesn't burn.  Your cheese is melted, your bread is toasted, and life is good.   And it's all done while your soup is in the microwave.

Which, in my book, is a beautiful thing.


Expat mum said…
I hate it when the dog comes in with wet feet and often wonder how I would react if we were in England, trudging around muddy fields. Probably not very well at all.
Trish said…
I've not heard of that toastie thing before - must get one and give it a try!
I do hope you are keeping up with pelvic floor exercises- if I have a cough that's the first thing to go!!
Sorry to hear you have been ill. I hope you don't need all the eighteen days to see the back of it. I do so agree about the mud! The last couple of months up here have been full of mud and muck. A couple of days of freezing weather and sunshine have been such a welcome change.
MsCaroline said…
EM- It's a huge headache. I'm just glad it's a 10-kg Boston Terrier I'm dealing with and not a thumping great labrador.

Trish - You can buy a pack of 2 at Poundland. I think they're fabulous - brought one to everyone last summer when we went home. Nice for Uni students too, if they've got a toaster. Re: exercises: you've hit the nail on the head in a frightening way. Let's just say I've drastically limited my social appearances lately!

Elizabeth - Thanks, I do think I'm at the tail end of it at last, but I won't be surprised if it does, indeed, take every bit of the 18 or more. That sunshine truly did me a world of good - there were so many of us in the park that day, just standing about with our faces to the sky!!
BavarianSojourn said…
Oh no, sorry you've been ill... Your post actually made me quite homesick, rain and all (did you know that officially it rains more here? It really does :D). I even miss our winters, drizzly muddy walks and all - especially if it involves a nice warm pub afterwards! Love the sound of the toaster bags, will have to seek some out! :)x
MsCaroline said…
Emma - I do believe you about the rain in Germany - my pervasive memories of living in Frankfurt mostly include rain! I have to say, I don't mind the warmish temperatures, and I probably wouldn't be fussed in the least about the mud if I didn't find myself tramping through it three times a day - although, if I stopped in the pub after every walk, the mud would probably bother me much less! I've only seen the bags in Poundland, but I'm sure they have them at other places like Lakeland or Asda. I think they really are such a nifty idea - can't imagine why they aren't better known!
I've never seen those toasties either!

Hot Lemon and honey is the remedy my mother always used to make for colds. Which is basically what Beechams is. So, if you want to do it homemade, just make hot lemon and honey and take a paracetamol. But those things are quite convenient aren't they. I gave one to a builder the other day and he looked so pleased....

Agree about the mud and frozen ground - our garden is a mud field, as is the local park. I don't think I ever came across mud in the US. It is a peculiarly British phenomenon.
MsCaroline said…
NVG - I think the truth is, few (or none) of my readers shop at Poundland, which is the only place I've ever seen them! ; ) I've done quite a bit of honey and lemon in the last few weeks....liberally laced with whiskey, if we're being strictly honest (but it's OK, the lady at the pharmacist told me it was an excellent cure...) To be honest, the Beechams was OK, but I finally switched to guafenesin and Benalyn taken together. After I got over the first few days, it was the cough that was bothering me more than any aches or pains! Frozen ground was lovely - for 2 whole days. We're right back to mud again today. *sigh*
Nance said…
Hate coughing! After a stuffed nose, it is the worst thing to suffer through, so you have my Sympathies.

The toaster-bag sandwich thingies are Genius! Had those been around when my boys were living at home, they would have had a major workout. Why are they not here in the States? You could make a tidy sum importing them, and I would be your first customer--a gift for my sons who, despite being much older now, still opt for convenience and speed over decent nutrition.

(I have to admit--I'm imagining wheat toast and Nutella with some bananas myself...!)

Feel better! No matter where you are, being sick is awful.
sallyr168 said…
I can't believe that nobody has yet initiated the time-honoured discussion of whisky vs whiskey......

I have been an evangelistic near-pusher of Night Nurse for decades - it makes me feel a bit twitchy if we're nearing the end of a bottle at this time of year and haven't another waiting in the wings. If I ever get any kind of a cold it always turns into an horrendous cough and this is a lifesaver - my recommended formula is NN + hot honey and lemon + a blocked nose relief (phenylephrine hydrochloride) capsule about 10-15 minutes before bed. Whilst not a cure as such, a good night's sleep is almost guaranteed.

Without being too precious - please step away from the Heinz tinned soups (apart from the cream of tomato which gets a pass, just because!) and go for the chilled ones such as by Glorious or Yorkshire Provender. They are leaps ahead and are often on sale at half price at this time of the year so don't work out too much more expensive. If tinned is the only option, then choose Baxters - enormously better than Heinz (sits back and waits for the outcry....).
MsCaroline said…
Nance: give me a stuffed nose any day. I hate to resort to the vernacular, but I am So Over This Cough. Thanks for your sympathies, though. I am rarely unwell, and absolutely loathe it when I am, so you know it has to be bad if I'm commenting on it.

Toastie pockets - I feel sure they must have them, if nowhere else, on the shopping channel. Actually, the place I found them (and have never seen them anywhere else, so maybe this is the problem) is called 'Poundland' and is essentially the British version of the Dollar Store (Dollar Tree, All A Dollar, you get the idea). If this really is the only place one can buy them in the UK, I am starting to think all (most?) of my British friends just have higher standards in their choice of retail establishments. The Nutella and bananas idea (I'm more of a PB person myself, but same idea) is a great one. I will try it today and let you know how it works out. Maybe this is a blog post in the making...
MsCaroline said…
Sallyr168 - Thanks for commenting! Actually, I wasn't aware that there were 2 spellings, so I've learned(learnt) something new today. I Googled it, and 'whiskey' is the spelling if it's distilled in the US or Ireland, 'whisky' if it comes from anywhere else, but I think the spelling in the US defaults to 'whiskey.' I double-checked, and the stuff MrL has been composing my toddies from is, indeed, 'whisky' distilled in Scotland- something called 'Monkey Shoulder.'

As far as Night Nurse goes - your regime is very similar to the one that I have evolved over the past few weeks: honey&lemon + guafenesin + NN. I actually bought the NN for #2 last year when he became ill shortly after we moved to the UK (he said it was far superior to Nyquil) but had never needed it myself. Almost a year to the day that we moved here, I finally tried it and am now a convert. Just wish I'd thought of it a few days earlier.

Soup - we are big fans of Glorious (I think they're the ones, chilled in the plastic tubs - make fabulous Thai and Moroccan stuff that we love as well as a lentil that is delicious) but I always keep a few tins in the cupboard for backup (i.e, when I can't be bothered to drag myself to the shop) and the vegetable is the one that I like the best. It's probably not the best soup I've ever had, but I found it to be far superior to the tinned vegetable soup in the US - which I would never recommend to anyone.
Stacy Rushton said…
The toastie sleeves can also be purchased at Lakeland. At least they can be in our Lakeland in Dubai, and we don't have everything they stock in the UK or so I've been told.

I'm really sorry you've been ill but it does make for humorous reading and so part of me is not sorry, not sorry. Sorry! I have a Scottish friend whose father used to dose even his small children with a finger or two or whisky. She said that he would make her climb into bed and down it, then tuck her in for the night. I guess so she didn't have to walk about drunk?

Like Sally, I've been an evangelist too, but for our US version of Night Nurse, Nyquil so I'm interested to hear that your son thought Night Nurse was superior. I've hauled Nyquil in my suitcase more places than I'd like to admit. Which has gotten even easier since it started coming in gel caps. But the upside of the gel caps, beyond their light weight and portability, is they are a lot less conducive to accidental overdosing than liquid Nyquil. Or I presume Night Nurse. Leave that bottle on the bedside and it's all too easy to take a swig whenever the coughing starts again, when surely a lung is coming up too if you don't take a swig, when you are still rather drugged up from previous doses and half asleep to boot and can't really remember when you took the last dose. Not that I've ever done that. And I've HEARD that excessive consumption will give you nightmares. And what seems to be a hangover. Good times.

I so appreciate your effort to be positive! We are four days on from your post, so this should be day 18. Hope you've seen the back of that cough! Updates, please.

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