With French Fried topping the Travel Book bestseller list this week on Amazon.com (and rising to the number 3 biography) I thought I’d post an out-take from the book. I had planned a fun chapter on Health, and the lack of it, but reluctantly decided to cut it so I could get to the true crime quicker.
So, here’s a short extract about the week I caught every disease known to man, horse and dog. Oh, and the picture? That was our house in SW France taken from the bottom of our garden.
I’d been lucky enough to enjoy good health all my life in England. Never been hospitalised, never been seriously ill. My body was a mystery to medical science, and that’s the way I wanted it to stay.
But one month in France and the first whisper of a ten-foot long caterpillar and I keeled over. At first we thought it was a back strain – after all, I’d been unloading 40kg sacks of cement the previous day. But although that could explain the shooting pains in my back and legs, it didn’t explain the hot and cold sweats.
Maybe I was suffering from sunstroke.
It had been hot the past few weeks. It may have been only March but nobody had informed the sun. And I’d been digging ditches, banging in fence posts, turning over gardens and hauling concrete – all in the full sun. Without a hat. Or any noticeable hair on the top of my head.
But that wouldn’t explain the lumps on my legs.
They looked more like bites.
Could I have pyroplasm?
It was with considerable relief that I discovered that humans couldn’t catch the dreaded pyro. Thank God for that.
It had to be Lymes disease!
Doctors say that having a medical dictionary in the house is the worst thing a family can do. All that unfettered access to medical knowledge plus the fact that every symptom has at least a dozen fatal diseases attached to it.
Which is why we don’t have one. Instead we have Black’s Veterinary dictionary. A far more dangerous book.
Shelagh bought it when we started keeping sheep. And it’s been invaluable. I classify myself as somewhere between a dog and a horse for veterinary purposes, and this dog had all the symptoms of tick born paralysis.
That is until the next day when I miraculously recovered. Only to relapse the next. It was like living in the lobby of a germ hotel – every day something new swung through, and something old checked out. Some days I could barely walk, other days the legs were fine but I couldn’t stop shivering. Or sweating, or succumbing to lethargy, or unable to eat. And then I’d feel fine again.
So I consulted another book. One on homeopathy. Now some people dismiss all alternative medicines as riddled with generalities, full of anecdotal cures and lacking specificity. But this book was as specific as you could get.
And I quote: “This should be used when symptoms worsen about 10 a.m. in hot rooms when exposed to the sun before a thunderstorm on receiving bad news.”
Now if that’s not specific…
Unfortunately they didn’t have one for someone bitten by insects while carrying 40 kilo bags of cement in full sun after two in the afternoon.
So I gave up on books. Should I go to the doctor?
Not an option. The first thing he’d ask would be what are your symptoms and I’d produce three pages. Symptoms I had, symptoms I used to have and symptoms I probably would have before the consultation was over. He wouldn’t understand a word and then offer me a choice of suppositories.
Another recurring fear.
We’d been warned by our Living In France bible about the French predilection for administering medicines anally. And, like Priorite a la Droite, it had installed within my subconscious a similar phobia – the fear of the unexpected suppository.
Always listen for the word comprime, they advised – it means tablet – anything else and it’s hold on to those trousers.
My trousers were firmly grasped.
So, with books and the medical profession out of the question I had nowhere else to turn but … The Old Ways. It’s a measure of my desperation that as I lay in a darkened room contemplating life’s rich tapestry and the big jagged tear that had appeared in mine that I felt compelled to raise myself up from the bed – a process that took nearly a minute – and … grab a claw hammer.
It may sound desperate, but there was an upside down horseshoe nailed to the tree by our front gate. We’d noticed it the first day we arrived but, not being superstitious (in England, an upside down horseshoe is said to bring bad luck) we’d left it there. Not any more. I arose from my sick bed determined that that horseshoe had to be ripped off and repositioned.
Two days later all my symptoms vanished never to return.
Whether this was because of the horseshoe or the infection running out of symptoms to throw at me, the world will never know.
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novelette, What Ho, Automaton! was a finalist for the 2012 WSFA Small Press Award for short fiction. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Hands – a quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried – the international bestseller – true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth?
Resonance – “This is one of the most original new science fiction books I have ever read. If it is as big a hit as it deserves, it may well be this book which becomes the standard by which SF stories about … are judged.”