Like everyone else in the Western hemisphere, it seems, I’ve just spent the week with a bad cold. And the tedious hours of bed-bound time this afforded me have allowed the formulation of a long-suspected theory. Which is this: when you’re ill, it is absolutely acceptable, in fact desirable, to look exactly as ill as you feel.
Now just stick with me a second, all you stoic people backing away from the screen: it’s not as bad as you think. I am as hair-obsessed as the best of them, and have only been convinced of this over some time. Timothy has the Keep Calm and Carry On mentality, and hates people even knowing he’s ill, let alone deducing the fact from his appearance. He’ll quite happily claw himself from his sick bed by sheer willpower and spend hours – days, if necessary – putting on a brave face and sneaking Strepsils under the desk. I’m not, incidentally, recommending the opposite approach: wittering on endlessly about your minor ailments is as socially unacceptable, in this country at least, as boring everyone with your many wonderful achievements, speaking in a loud voice in public, or queue-jumping. It’s not cool, and people don’t like it.
I don’t agree with exaggerating your symptoms, either, except in the service of comic melodrama, which is always welcome as a bit of light relief. Not for nothing am I subtitled The Sickest Person in the World in our house whenever I catch something. A bit of quivery-lipped hair-tossing cheers you right up, as long as no one thinks you’re seriously trying for attention, and you’re not groaning too much to swallow your paracetamol. Honestly, have a go. It’s brilliant.
No, there’s no need to try to look worse than you feel, but I maintain there’s every need to look exactly as bad as you feel, and definitely not better. Because, let’s face it, when you feel rubbish, it’s helpful for people to know, so they a) don’t ask you complicated questions with more than three clauses, b) don’t take your sullen silence as evidence that they’ve offended you, or that you’re a moody little so-and-so, and c) don’t come near enough to catch your lurgy. You don’t then have to offend your inner sense of propriety by croaking the sad tale of your awful unwellness with everyone you meet; indeed, you can move swiftly on to other topics and allow your hideous eye bags to do the talking. It’s quite a leap, training yourself not to plaster your face with foundation and a big smile, but I reckon it works out as less embarrassing in the long run.
Go on, feel free to look awful – no one will mind. (But do keep your voice down, and get to the back of the queue.)