"I've got a spot," Hilary announces at breakfast.
"Lucky you," I reply, without looking up, "Don't shout or we'll all want
one..." I am soon to rebuke myself for my lack of maternal solicitude.
"Here's another one!"
"Another spot, of course. AND another one. Mummy, I've got lots of spots!" The consternation in her voice rings alarm
bells in my head and hurries me to her side. A single glance is more than enough.
"You've got chicken pox," I inform her. From the reaction this proclamation arouses,
one might have thought I had just diagnosed an outbreak of bubonic plague. Little Nan and Anne back away from their unfortunate sister.
"Ooo-er!" in tones of extreme
"Don't come near us!" Anne warns, still on the retreat.
don't want chicken spots!" wails Little Nan. I can see Hilary is close to tears so I jump to the defence of the spotty one.
"Don't be ridiculous!" I turn on the
taunters, "For all you know you will all be out in spots by the end of the week. I won't have Hilary treated like a social pariah simply because of a few little spots."
"What's a soapy prior?" Anne wants to know - she shows no signs of repentance whatsoever. "Anyway," she justifies herself, "Hilary hasn't got a few little spots, she's got hundreds all over her."
"Am I ill?" asks Hilary, blanching.
"Do you feel ill? " I counter quickly. She thinks about it, then shakes her head.
"Well, that's all right then," I say, cheerfully, trying not to think about the spot-infested days stretching ahead. "The main thing is not to scratch them."
"But they itch," complains Hilary, miserably.
"I'm glad I've not got itchy pox," says
Little Nan, inspecting her own unblemished stomach with interest.
"There's nothing wrong with having chicken pox. Almost everyone has chicken pox as a child.
I had it when I was small."
"Did you really?" asks Hilary, hopefully.
"Were you as spotty as Hilary?" Anne asks doubtfully.
"Spottier!" I claim emphatically.
"I'm not a spotty pox," declares Little Nan complacently. Hilary's face crumples.
"RIght," I say sternly, "There's to be no more
talk about spots, do you hear? I mean it, the next person who mentions spots will - will..." I hesitate as I try to think up a suitably awful penalty.
they promise, hurriedly.
I should have realised, of course, that it is impossible to banish a word like "spot" from the English language. It crops up in so many conversations which have nothing to
do with chicken pox at all. For a start, we discovered that there are at least three dogs named Spot in our immediate neighbourhood; then I made the terrible blunder of asking my middle daughter whether she wanted me to iron her pink, spotted dress for the
next day. Finally a charming interviewer called at our house, explaining that she was carrying out a "spot check" on domestic appliances.
"You're not allowed to say that!" my daughters silenced her
- she didn't look back as she sped out of the house. It was then I decided that a change of tactics was called for.
So now we applaud the appearance of each new spot and ceremoniously dab on the calamine
lotion - from being a "soapy prior", our Hilary has become a spotty heroine. We count the spots reverently every night at bedtime - 85 at the last reckoning - and hold Spot Inspections when we decide which spot is the biggest and pass opinions on which will
be the first to disappear.
This obsession with spots, while helping Hilary to keep smiling through an unpleasant and irritating illness, is having a very bad effect on me. I find myself studying
people's faces for spots when I should be listening to them; I dream about attacking vast, spotty armies with a giant bottle of calamine lotion; while chicken casserole has been struck from the family menu for the duration.
Still, even chicken pox can't last for ever and as each day passes it brings me closer to the return of normal, spot-free living.
"Mummy," says Anne, "I've got a spot...."
Slough Evening Mail - April 1973