“Hope you’re keeping well and healthy and avoiding all the winter germs and bugs,” comes a message from an acquaintance.

Thank you for your kind concern, I replied. Actually, I usually get a chest infection over the winter months, and I know I should turn this into a spiritual contemplation of mortality.

We should all sometimes dwell upon the hour of our death and what better opportunity than in the midst of winter germs and bugs?

There’s a flu epidemic, with ghastly “Japanese” and “Aussie” strains against which we may not be protected by vaccination, so be brave and ponder on this: you know not the day nor the hour. Isn’t the rule of the Cistercian order for each monk to dig a little of his own grave every day?

Yet far from being courageous and spiritual about the possibility of catching some deadly form of flu, such risks have revealed me to be a total coward and a dreadful fusspot about cosseting myself.

I’ve equipped myself with those facial medical masks – which you can access online from MediSupplies (at £3.94 for a box) – and taken to wearing one in public places. I’m aware I look like a complete twit, but what’s that against the feeling of protection against germs and viruses? (Though I’m told that the surgical masks mostly serve to protect other people from my germs, rather than me from theirs.)

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