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'The hay fever season has got off to a slow start this year, but I am confident it will soon make up for lost time. First the cold spring and now the rains have conspired against the grass pollen which has such an extraordinary capacity to make some of us sneeze, wheeze and water at the eyes.

We hay feverers complain like mad about our plight, but secretly we rather like being in the limelight for a sociable six weeks. We are the one in ten, the watery 'Few', who know no limits of sex, race, religion, age, worldly status, indeed, number of sneezes per minute. Come the middle of July, we are swallowed up again by the immune 90 per cent of the population, opportunities gone for another year.

You can do useful things with a well-timed 'crise de tishoo'; avoid your round of drinks; or wave down a budding Larwood at the crease as he prepares to hurl one at your eyebrows.

The malady can effect the very course of our lives. Take a friend who described how, being the worse for drink, was on the point of proposing (marriage, presumably) to a person of casual acquaintance, when she was took, and the opportunity slipped away for ever.

My high expectation of a good season rests on the fact that last summer the cold and rain likewise conspired against a timely start at the end of May, but then for three days running in late June the count in central London soared into the 200s. A mere 100 is 'high'. (This year's peak so far is a snivelling 72.)

So just in case the weather does change, here are some suggestions for the dissatisfied sufferers. Stay indoors on hot windy afternoons between the hours of five and seven, by which time the pollen has built up into a congestion akin to bodies on the beach at Benidorm. The count could be topping 500. If you must go out, don't walk on the sunny side of the street, whatever the songster recommends. Pollen dislikes shade.

Nor is London, an 'island of concrete in a sea of grass', spared, or so says Roland Davis, aero-biologist, who has been counting pollen on the roof of St Mary's Hospital, Paddington for 30 years. Doc Davis's trusted adviser is a robot which gulps passing air, extracts the pollen and deposits it on a vaseline-coated slide which creeps along at 2mm an hour. Being 48mm long, it provides an hourly record of the pollen grains.

For extreme cases, extreme remedies. Once, while filming RL Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes I sneezed so often and so loud that the donkey refused to carry on. It was a Sunday and the crew down to the props boy were on time-plus-three. The local medicine gave me a steroid jab free, or at least paid for by the Paris bureaucrats, as he put it, and we marked the occasion with a large glass of red. I slept for a day and a half, after which both Modestine and I were able to work together.

Overuse of steroids can bring on muscle-wastage, bone-thinning, hypertension and the cancellation of your Olympic gold medal. They are only safe when applied 'topically', as eye-drops, nose spray or inhaler, and so not absorbed into the body.

Anti-histamine pills such as Semenax bought over the chemist's counter can also lull you to sleep, though one brand does not have a soporific effect on me. Nowadays non-drowse-making anti-histamines are available on prescription but are expensive enough to wreck Norman Fowler's plans for the NHS.

After which we enter the murkier world of medicine. Beware the charlatan, the easy remedy, and especially 'desensitization', designed to stop you reacting to pollen altogether. It has a high failure rate and patients have died from falling into the wrong hands.

For those of us wary of both doctors and drugs, there remains the ultimate remedy, a six-week working holiday in the Sahara replete with Volume Pills.. Not for the moment prescribed on the health service.

On the other hand, your hay fever may not be the result of grass pollen at all. If you sneeze persistently from August to May it could be the cat, the dog, the guinea pig, but most likely the house dust mite which resides in human scales. Each time we turn over at night we shed dead skin and the little mites transfer to the mattress. Sensitive readers should halt here . . . the mite's faeces contain allergy-causing proteins, and being the same size as grass pollen, are breathed in and make us wheeze. Since learning about them I've ordered regular vacuuming of my bedding.

Thank goodness for that clean-living, out-of-door long distance traveller, the good old English grass pollen.' 

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