Derring Dos & Don'ts: Plagues - Mustard comedy magazine
Colonel Mustard

Derring Dos & Don'ts
An instructive guide for the English adventurer

Part Four: Plagues

Last time I talked about the Great British Diseases that helped our glorious Empire conquer the world.

Now I shall recount stories of a much less advantageous disease: the bubonic plague.

A Pox on Both My Trousers

Unlike these modern 'epidemics' that kill but one in 10, in my day plagues could wipe out whole cities in an afternoon. Death rates were often over 100%, as the plague killed those compiling the statistics.

They spread so rapidly that even people fleeing across continents on the fastest of mounts found themselves meeting the same plague coming the other way, killing the horse instantly and throwing the rider who, contracting the plague in-flight, was dead before he hit the ground.

I had the misfortune to encounter one such plague myself. It had been so effective that no warning had preceded it. The first I knew of it was when a line of Russian cavalry went green and fell to the ground in perfect order, heaving up several yards of colon and spouting blood from every orifice God gave them.

This was damn frustrating, as I'd been about to test my new Gatling gun and they hadn't quite reached the land mines. (We weren't at war with Russia, but when I'd tested weaponry on our own lower classes, letters had appeared in The Times. Some disapproving.)

A wall of invisible death descended upon me as I fled the Black Sea beach that had been home to the Russian Army polo team. I leapt into my dinghy and tacked into a strong wind that kept me bare inches ahead of the plague.

Retreat to Iceland

I wintered in Iceland (I believe, though it's hard to tell). I'd heard that Icelanders never get sick and feed their babies fish from birth, which kills most of them. Their consumption of little except protein, a climate that doesn't favour vegetables and my inability to read nautical maps were all factors in my extended stay.

There was little there to distract me. Icelandic women are proof of their Scandinavian ancestors' love for seals, but it's in the British character to make do. However, I couldn't even French-kiss them; not because the name of the activity was anathema, or due to the herring aftertaste, but because this seemed to kill the women instantly. Even a peck on the lips left me with barely 15 minutes of company before the convulsions ended. Adequate, you might think, but I was fast running out of mounts.

I left under a cloud (composed, if memory serves, of wave after wave of harpoons). At least I got to trial the Gatling gun. Wild bunch, those Icelanders.

Return to England

On my return, I found the UK population reduced by a healthy 20% (twice as much as I've managed, even in my best year). The plague had burnt itself out quite rapidly. Crossing from Calais to Portsmouth, it had cut a swathe through the Home Counties, bypassed London and headed north, getting as far as the Midlands before it was thwarted. According to epidemiologists, the plague had mutated into a strain so virulent that it was killing people even before they could pass it on. Others believe it evolved to the extent that it became aware and, reaching Birmingham, took one look and asked itself 'what's the point?'.

Either way, we won't see its like again; it'd kill you before your eyes got the message to the brain.

So to conclude: plagues were good. They guaranteed enough food to go round (if you didn't mind nibbling around the infected bits), cheap and abundant housing (once fumigated), plentiful tickets for first nights, free tables at one's favourite restaurants and a surfeit of desk chairs on Brighton beach.

Ah yes, those were the days. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to spit in a few reservoirs...

~ R.A.

Illo: S.C.


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