My sister might have Swine Flu. I am her ‘Flu Friend’. This is what the NHS says you are if you’re nominated to pick up someone else’s Tamiflu medication.
You can get a prescription for Tamiflu over the phone, and nominate someone to pick it up for you. To avoid the hoarding of Tamiflu, they give you an astonishingly complicated reference number. It’s complicated enough to allow every particle in the known universe to be assigned one without the risk of running out of permutations.
And so I schlepped to the nominated health centre. As I walked through the clinic door, I noticed a temporary ‘Flu Friend’ reception desk had been set up. They took my details, and directed me to a waiting room. The sign on the door said ‘Flu Friend Waiting Area’. Then someone called my name out and I was invited into the ‘Flu Friend Consultation Room’. That was when I started to feel a bit special.
Once the boxes had been ticked, I marched out of the clinic holding a packet of Tamiflu proudly above my head, its talismanic power unleashed.
The tube back to West Hampstead from Baker Street was packed. I noticed a pregnant woman in a priority seat. I cleared my throat and stared at her. She pretended not to notice me. I turned my body in her direction so she could see the packet of Tamiflu sticking out of my breast pocket. She refused to notice me! Aggrieved, I cleared my throat once more and said, with a polite smile, ‘Excuse me. I’m a Flu Friend… would you mind?’ Abashed, she apologised profusely and vacated the seat.
A few other passengers saw what had happened and offered their belated apologies: ‘Sorry mate, if I’d seen you were a Flu Friend I’d have got up straight away,’ said one guy. ‘I come to this country to take English job, not seat from Flu Friend’, said another. I modestly accepted these conciliatory gestures, happy that justice had been done. Social etiquette is not always easy to uphold when you’re kind of a big deal.
Disclaimer: Those last two paragraphs do not entirely correspond with my or anyone else’s reality.