You get those chicken-pox parties, don't you, where parents allow their children into a room that's alive with the varicella- zoster virus and 10 days later they all get spotty and irritable.
Which you might consider a bizarre ritual, but at the moment there's a phenomenon of throat-infection parties, where we assemble under the pretext of festive celebration, unload germs into each other's faces and spend the next 10 days wearing a pained expression, swallowing gingerly and sounding like a cross between a diesel generator and that bloke out of the Stereophonics. Everyone's ill. The question "how are you?" has become redundant; we merely nod in acknowledgement that we're all feeling dreadful, while cursing the fact that living in the northern hemisphere means that "the most wonderful time of the year" is horribly compromised by mucus and moaning.
The cliché is that men moan more than women, and I'm delighted to reinforce that. Fearing that my sore throat heralded the onset of bacterial tonsillitis I went to my GP, who didn't laugh in my face but she probably would have done if I hadn't been coughing at the time. Memo to all men: your instinct may be to turn to women for sympathy, but seriously, unwell men will serve your needs better.
My friend Tom and I had precisely this realisation a while back and we started a thing called Health Club. (It isn't a health club.) It usually takes place during an evening down the pub, lasts a few minutes only, and begins when one of us raises an eyebrow and says "Health Club?" We then talk openly about our preposterous health concerns. "I've got this pain where I think my prostate is," someone might say, and another member of Health Club will reassure him. "Oh, I had that. Took antibiotics, they did nothing. Eventually it just went away by itself – don't worry." Obviously Health Club provides no professional diagnosis, andthe subtext is that we should probably see a doctor. But hypochondriac men have a fantastic bedside manner, and Health Club has allowed us to talk about our lungs, stomachs, cocks and balls with confidence and vigour. So, women: if your partner is doing your head in whining about his aches and pains, just get him to call Health Club, on... [my phone number has been deleted on the advice of my editor].