The central plank of Matthew's BFCP (Bird Flu Contingency Plan, although he prefers to call it his HN51CP) is to track down some Tamiflu. I first knew of his quest last September when he returned from his fortnightly trip to our GP. (Matthew goes to the surgery in the same way other men might go their club.) But on this particular occasion he was looking distressed, rather than calmed, when he came home.
After pouring himself a Harvey's Bristol Cream (a phase he was going through), he confessed that after asking the doctor what it meant if you periodically experienced moments of almost crippling ennui, and receiving a non-specific answer along the lines of "Don't we all sometimes?" he had begun badgering the poor man about bird flu.
"What did he say?" I asked.
"He reassured me that there is absolutely no need to panic," said Matthew.
"Good news then," I proffered. "Why the long face?"
"Not good news. Terrible news," said Matthew. "I asked him if he could order us some Tamiflu just in case. He said he thought that was unnecessary at this stage. Then, when I begged him, pleaded with him, he just looked at his watch, stood up, put an arm around my shoulder and led me out of the surgery."
Clearly the good doctor has finally lost patience with Matthew. Matthew, meanwhile, believes it is because very soon we are all going to die and the doctor wasn't letting on. "I just know," he said pouring himself another Harvey's, "that he wasn't being entirely honest with me."
This was when the hunt for Tamiflu, designated Stage One of the HN51CP, began. Over the last five months Matthew has contacted friends, distant relatives and former colleagues in America, Canada, Australia, New Zea- land, South Africa, Denmark, Uruguay, Japan, Hong Kong, Belgium and, puzzlingly, Botswana. Not surprisingly none have dispatched the drug. Many have failed to reply in any way whatsoever to his numerous e-mails, while some have responded with comments similar to "Good joke. Ha-ha. What a wag!"
Matthew hasn't given up hope, however. He spends a large proportion of his leisure time touring pharmacies throughout London and the Home Counties, asking if anyone has any Tamiflu on private prescription. By now he has accepted that the chances of finding any are very slim, which is why Stage Two of the HN51CP has been activated - the hoarding of bottled water. Today there was a delivery of 200 litres of Evian, and Matthew has warned me to expect more next week and the week after. He says 2,000 litres is the aim, although this may be reviewed upwards if there is a drought. The delivery man said he had never delivered so much to a private customer who wasn't detoxing before. He wondered if we were planning to open a water bar. I told him that even I knew such establishments were a little passé; a little 1999.
I don't really believe that Matthew will order more water, but just in case, I have raised an objection, on environmental grounds, to the use of so much plastic. Matthew's response is to insist that there are bigger environmental battles to be confronted and we won't be able to help with the fight if we are lying in bed with our lungs filling up with a liquid far more lethal than Evian. Also delivered today was a brochure from a company called Life Safety Systems Inc. It advertises biological warfare suits.
Water, water ...
This latest development bothers me less than the domestic issue of where we will store the Evian bottles if they do ever arrive. I am not particularly worried about the prospect of Matthew encasing himself in chemical-proof suiting - he's worn more bizarre outfits in the past, like the one to protect him from the threat of mutant wasps. What bothers me more is the storage problem. So far the water has been stacked in the area by the side of the house where I used to keep the gardening tools. Now the tools are in the boiler cupboard, but I don't anticipate it will be for long. Where, for instance, will the quarter hundredweight of lentils be put?
The lentils are part of Stage Three, which thankfully for the moment really is no more than a threat. If it should ever become a reality we will also be taking consignments of tinned chopped tomatoes and mulligatawny soup, which is a mystery - perhaps Matthew believes it contains the antidote to bird flu. We can also expect tuna, sweetcorn, corned beef, Hellman's mayonnaise and treacle sponge pudding. Six 20-kilogram bags of basmati rice will be ordered from the Thai supermarket down the road and 90 packets of spaghetti from a supplier in north London.
Anyone for duck?
When I am not worrying where we will put all these foodstuffs or how exactly we will be eating them (tuna and lentil surprise in a mulligatawny mayonnaise dressing, with corned beef base), I am wondering if I will be permitted input. I would like olive oil added to the list, and perhaps some dried herbs and tins of duck confit. Olives and nuts would be nice, and possibly some chocolate.
Largely to annoy Matthew, I went out and bought two large cans of olive oil and four tins of duck confit this afternoon. He is furious that I have interfered and particularly angry about the confit. He says he is going to extraordinary lengths to protect his family against a deadly pandemic and I go and do something as irresponsible as this. The tins of confit, which originate from a farm in South-west france, are currently on the kitchen table next to a newspaper report headed French Duck Tests Positive. Matthew has also written out instructions for disposal. They involve several bin liners and a journey to a dump in Park Royal.Reuse content