Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Hey kids, old-school flu remedies are not to be sniffed at – Susan Morrison

Most Fringe performers are familiar with ‘Fringe flu’. It's hardly surprising. We’ve spent a month crammed into tiny sweaty rooms that would give Devi Sridhar, Chris Whitty and Jason Leitch the screaming hab-dabs.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the flu seem to go hand in hand (Picture: Yui Mok/PA)
Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the flu seem to go hand in hand (Picture: Yui Mok/PA)

This year was set to be a bumper for the bugs. They’ve been hiding in the shadows waiting to pounce, knowing our immunity was as wonky as the deflector shields on the Enterprise.

We go home, unpack and hit the Lemsip.

Naturally, I buck that trend and prefer to start my cold in advance of the Fringe ending. I used to think I wasn’t infectious, but within two days my fellow performers and staff at the New Town Theatre were starting to show signs of sniffles and sneezes and I found myself accused of being Patient Zero.

Nothing for it but a quick run around Boots the Chemist to corner the market in paper hankies, throat lozenges and those things that you squirt up your nose. Some Fringey people are familiar with snorting stuff so I thought this was a safe option.

I also bought some Vicks in a jar, and offered a quick rub to anyone who felt the need, but was startled to discover that most of our young people had no idea what Vicks ointment actually was.

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One sniff and they reared up like startled cats sniffing Olbas Oil. Yes, I do know what that looks like, but would prefer not to say how I know. Let’s just say I was bored one evening and the cat was snoozing.

The kids sniffed the Vicks and looked at me as if I were some sort of gnarly old 16th-century witch pushing an ointment bashed together with mint leaves, badger snot and rats bums. Easy mistake to make, I wasn’t looking at my best.

Back in the days of black and white telly, no respectable home was without a jar of Vicks. You got slathered at the first sign of a sniff. You stopped the stuff getting onto your jammies by sticking a sheet of brown paper over the top.

If the cold was bad enough, then the biggest woolliest scarf in the house was bound around your chest, caught at the back with a huge safety pin, and then you were sealed into your bed by tucking the sheets and blankets around you so tightly that breathing could become seriously restricted.

Vicks was handy stuff. Scraped knee? Sore ankle? Slap on a good layer and smell the reek halfway down the street.

Has Vicks fallen from fashion? Is it doomed to go the way of cherry-flavoured Tunes, Victory Vs and Mighty Imps? The mere mention of relieving the pain of a sore throat by popping a Fisherman’s Friend into your mouth was enough to reduce the children to heaps of hysteria. Can’t think why.

I was surprised, since I thought this generation was into natural cures. One snort of the old Vicks and you can smell cabbage cooking in Manchester, no matter how blocked the sinuses were before, and I’m fairly sure that no badgers, Amazonian forests or glaciers were damaged in its production.

Basically Vicks is aromatherapy in a little blue pot. Perhaps they should consider adding scented candles and room diffusers to the product line, that might get the kids interested.