There I was, all smugly bored about bird flu, looking forward to panicking about something new and exciting, like the credit crunch, and what happens? Six new cases of bird flu have been confirmed in China and suddenly we’re all watching the skies again.
For the past two years, the papers have been filled to the brim with stories about bird flu which, we were told, would single-handedly wipe out half the population, like the Black Death with wings, feathers and really horrible, scaly feet.
Suddenly, birds were our enemies. We used to marvel at the timeless grace of a flock of swans sweeping across the sky but overnight they became the advance guard of the Armageddon.
If you found a dead bird, the only decent thing to do was to shoot yourself in the head to avoid infecting your children, pausing only to set all your clothes and belongings on fire to prevent the virus spreading.
Then, of course, nothing happened, other than the death of one swan in a Scottish village. By Christmas 2007, we’d even put away the staff shotgun which we used during lunch hours and tea breaks to pick off passing birds we didn’t like the look of.
I don’t mean to sound like a cynical old goat, but I have to confess that I was beginning to believe that the whole thing had been blown out of all proportion. I mean, how many times can Britain come to the brink of catastrophic destruction and escape unscathed? This is the UK, not Die Hard 2.
Just when I’d let my defences down, made myself a cup of tea and was preparing to have a nice afternoon panicking about global warming, the news broke that an outbreak of bird flu had been confirmed in the far east (by which I mean the orient, not Norfolk).
If you ask me, we should have been better prepared: birds have been showing signs of insurgence for years.
Seagulls, for example, started acting up in 2004. Thanks to rising obesity levels – particularly amongst those who holiday in our less salubrious coastal resorts – there was no longer a constant supply of fish and chip leftovers for the gulls to polish off. Unwilling to spend days at sea hunting for fish which wouldn’t come in batter or with a side-serving of mushy peas, they headed for the bright lights and burger bars of the cities.
But the greedy gulls didn’t stop at ransacking bins. Soon they started concentrating on the diner, rather than the dinner.
In London, Brighton and Scotland gulls attacked people in the street, swooping at 40mph, their cruel beaks filled with the scent of what cannibals refer to as long pig. In Wales, they even managed to kill a man – we can’t say Hitchcock didn’t warn us.
Peter Rock, Britain’s leading gull expert (as opposed to all those other gull charlatans) has warned the gull population will be “monstrous” by 2014 and that soon we will all be living indoors and hiding in the shadows to avoid becoming the latest victim of a fly-by killing.
I paraphrase only slightly.
“If they swoop, it’s death,” Mr Rock reassured us all, “in order to shoot the lot, you’d need an army”.
There are only five years to go until seagulls outnumber humans and we are all answering to our feathered masters, although to be fair, half of us will have died after contracting bird flu, so it’s not as bad as it could have been.
While I expect all of you have already assembled a well-stocked “bird flu pantry”, crammed with bottled water, tinned tuna and gold bars (for when civil unrest causes the collapse of all banks, as opposed to the recession), it is important that we are all able to recognize the signs of bird flu in humans.
They are, handily, pretty much the same symptoms you’d expect to have for every other common illness.
Look out for a high fever, chest congestion, nausea, fatigue and aching in the joints. And if you suddenly have an irresistible urge to empty your bowels over a freshly-washed windscreen, don’t hesitate: dial 999.