Thurs, 28 Sep
Freezing. Venture out to buy a bottle of MucoHack for my wheezing mother.
“Does she have a dry cough or a chest cough?” asks the young Indian woman in the pharmacy. When I was a kid, there was just one variant of this foul-tasting syrupy medication. Today, it comes in any number of flavours, for several specific bronchial conditions and in ‘non-drowsy’ as well as normal, alcohol-laden form. The harder I try to resist attempts to sell me the ‘non-drowsy’ version, the more I sense a certain mistrust on the part of the pert shop assistant. She scuttles off to the small dispensary and confers with an older colleague. “Mrs Hemlock’s son,” I hear her whisper. “Trying to put her to sleep.”
I lean over the counter. “Not permanently!” I protest. But the ageing, sour-faced manageress emerges in her white tunic and will have none of it. The traditional concoction is now considered dangerous, she tells me, especially if the user is operating machinery. And yes, that includes a Kenwood Chef. My polite request for a small quantity of laudanum meets with an ungracious rebuff. I depart comforting myself with the knowledge that in Hong Kong, where pharmacists have the good manners to provide customers with absolutely anything they want without question, the old sow would have retired to a life of luxury decades ago.