The woman two rows behind me on the train looked like death. She was sneezing and wheezing, coughing and spluttering, a faint haze of mucus droplets enveloped her. Every cough made the entire train wince, it wasn't full, so she was on her own, but her nearest neighbour across the aisle clearly had only one thing on her mind – swine flu.
'Excuse me,' she said politely as can be, 'but would you mind not contaminating the rest of the train with your deadly germs and killing us all? And while you're at it, why don't you just cut your head off, but make sure you catch it and bin it?'
Only part of that is true. She did say 'excuse me', and she did ask her to move to the nearby decontamination chamber, which in this case was Sheffield, my station too. I confess I hung around to let her get well ahead of me.
What's the world coming to? The poor woman may or may not have had swine flu, if she felt awful when she got on the train, she would have felt much worse after that brief encounter. Will we make sufferers carry a bell next, crying 'unclean, UNCLEAN!'?
There's an undercurrent of panic on our small island as fear of swine flu takes hold. The dedicated NHS website crashed within minutes of going live, with the equivalent of a tenth of the population logging on. Helplines, staffed by anyone who cares to apply to the job centre, are run off their feet, sufferers are swallowing Tamiflu, the antiviral, like sweets. There had been a bit of a cock-up over pick-up points in West Yorkshire.One poor branch of Asda was 'it'. Angry sufferers were telling TV reporters how far they had to travel to get their fix. Now, I'm no medic, but I've had flu and there was no way I was getting out of bed, let alone into my car to get something that's not even a cure. NHS press officers were sharing crazy stories about people who'd asked for antivirals to be delivered to them at the pub, or drop them off at the garden where the so-called sufferer could start the course in between doing the weeding. I ask you.
The superb Chief Medical Officer Prof Sir Liam Donaldson must have the patience of a saint, he's almost omnipresent on the TV and radio, answering the same questions with honesty, good grace and humour. But people worry, quite understandably, and they panic. The supermarket shelves were clear of paracetamol the other day and there's not a thermometer to be had for love nor reasonable amounts of money – shady characters on street corners are offering what look like greenhouse thermometers for silly moneY, good grief, where would you put THOSE?
We're banking on our new StripeyAnne serum to act as a vaccine for as many people as want it. The not-so-secret ingredient is pureed mange tout. Well, we've plenty of them.