Monday, 5 November 2018


It has been three weeks and three days since I first discovered I had 'Swimmer's Ear'. This is not to be confused with 'Schwimmer's Ear' and does not mean that your ear becomes like those of Ross from Friends and lead you to go around holding up restaurants.

Schwimmer's Ear is clearly visible in the left hand picture

Usually a bit of water in the ear after swimming dribbles out on its own, but not this time. After advice from friends (not 'Friends') about how to deal with it - everything from dripping warm olive oil, apple cider vinegar, or Otex into my ear twice a day - and nothing working, I went to the doctors on day eleven, who confirmed that although my left ear was not infected it was full of wax, both hard and soft, and that whatever I was putting in my ear was working and I should continue doing it. He advised me to book an appointment with a nurse on 5th Nov in case it didn't clear on its own, and then I'd get it syringed.

Being deaf in one ear, after the amusing novelty wore off, sucked big time. It felt that half my head was continuously under water. That half my awareness was gone. My universe had shrunk by 50%. I felt like an old man. I regretted every time I'd ever made a joke about deafness, or that I'd thought less of my father for his hearing problems. I wished I'd been more patient with him. More forgiving of his distance, which was not his fault.

Once in Japan I heard a story about a poor guy who, while sleeping, had the hugely unfortunate experience of having a cockroach climb in his ear. He woke up and stuck his finger in, injuring the insect, which then got stuck in there, still alive, scratching at his ear drum.

I made a joke about that at the time - not to the unfortunate himself, but still - which I also deeply regret.

The past few days have become psychologically trying. I tried my best not to let the continuing problem get me down and began hesitantly accustoming myself to the idea that I may be deaf in my left ear for the rest of my days. It wouldn't be that bad. People have it much worse off. Pain was beginning to creep in when I yawned or burped. Tinitus had arrived. I thought if it wasn't infected then it must be now. Today couldn't come fast enough.

I'll confess that never having my ear syringed before left me in some trepidation. I wasn't even sure of the process. I assumed, wrongly, that a nurse would insert a large, empty syringe in my ear and pull out the plunger, slowly sucking out the offending wax, bits of broken ear drum and any other segments of important tissue - like brains for instance - in the area. Fortunately this was not the case.

What really happens is this. The nurse has a look in your ear and confirms that yes, your ear has lots of wax in it. Then she gets you to sit near the sink and hold a kind of cup under your lobe next to your jaw. Next she switches on some kind of electric pump mechanism (which is not foot operated) with a hose attached, warns you that this shouldn't hurt but if it does let her know, and begins the hugely satisfying act of gurgling warm water into your ear allowing the waxy mixture to drip out of its own accord.

It wasn't sore at first, but it slowly began to get painful after the second time. It was like rolling, undulating hills of gentle pain. The good sort of pain. The pain that meant you were getting some hard, dry, foreign gunk pressing precariously against your ear drums warmed up, dissolved and removed. But I didn't care. I just wanted it out of there.

Finally she showed me a big dod of brown waxy clay the same size, colour and consistency of a test tube stopper, and I just thought, 'How earth has that been building up over the past decade without my knowledge?'

The second thought was, 'Holy Moses I can hear again.'

Relief and gratitude flooded through me. I didn't hug the nurse, but I should have. I promised there and then that I would never make outdated and unoriginal 'Carry On' references about nurses ever again. Not to the nurse, but inwardly, to myself. 

I walked out amazed at the newly discovered and hyper sensitive hearing I was now receiving through my left side. Every rustle, every scraping hair, every echo off a wall. Immense appreciation of the nurse herself, to the NHS, to the inventor of that wonderful little 'Earcuzzi' gizmo, of all musicians and singer songwriters, of all guitarists and makers of guitars, of all my friends, to the writers of 'Friends', of everyone and everything that makes sound.

On exiting the health centre I got a bit of a fright. 'What the hell is that,' I thought.

It was birdsong and traffic.

When I got home, after a nice dinner where we all had a bit of a family high, I said, "Why is our new fridge suddenly so noisy today?" 

My wife and son looked at me. "What are you talking about? It's always been that bad."

Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Writing of Ode to Eleanor

As a Hallowe'en writing exercise for West Lothian Writers, we were asked to write a piece of no more than 1000 words to read out on Tuesday 30th October 2018, and my brain kind of erupted with the poem Ode To Eleanor, about a young Scottish man who was in a gothic, restless piece of mind over an ex-girlfriend who'd broken his heart.

On the Sunday I sat down in front of the blank page and thought I'd try to write a funny poem in the style of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. Recently I'd had good feedback when I read out chapter one of my Aa Apple's Great Escape children's book, so I hoped it might be quite entertaining to do another one.

A friend by the name of Mark Aspinwall had long ago for a birthday or Christmas present given me an audio recording of someone reading The Raven, which I really liked listening to, so thanks must go to him, and in my younger days I often tried and enjoyed reading Robert Burns to myself, even though it was quite difficult to understand, but once you finally penetrated it you were often rewarded with gems of great cutting wit. Thirdly, I thoroughly loved reading the likes of the centipede's long rambling poetic monologues in "James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl, to my son, especially places where Dahl bent the arbitrary rules he had set himself, and made words that seemed to have no business rhyming, rhyme.

The first page came out in a happy flood of lyrical nonsense. It was only when I came to the lines :

at least they did in my mind's______,
which had recorded every scary scene

when I realised I had to do the whole poem in Scots, or at least a Scottish accent, as the only word I could come up with to mean 'eye' that rhymed with 'scene' was the old scots word 'een'. Up until that point the narrator was going to be a rather pompous English or American person.

When I came to the lines:

as I heard a voice shriek from the black
“It's just yer maw, dye want a snack?”

I found myself in a spot of bother. It meant a conversation with his mother had to take place. But what about? I had no idea. And anyway, he already had a snack - a fact I hoped the readers wouldn't notice what with all the other crazy goings on. Eventually it became a bit of a telling off about some ex girlfriend the narrator was still hung up about. But I still had no clue where this was going or if I'd be able to continue or end this piece of writing in a satisfying way that made any kind of sense, ridiculous or otherwise. Efforts to find words that rhymed with 'Raven' that I could use were completely in vain, and having a mother that was 'unshaven' didn't seem to fit. 

It was only when I found myself writing the lines:

"Wasn't she the third
to leave you lying in the dust?
It's not all about nice bum and bust.”

that I saw the glinting light of a possible escape route. At least perhaps I could have a bust of some sort above the chamber door.

The happiest I felt when writing was around the lines:

I gasped on chocolate milky breath
and damn near almost choked to death
as I heard a voice shriek from the black

as I think that was the cresting climax of the suspense part of the poem, after which I began to think, "What on earth have I gotten myself into?" and then it all folded into a silly mess as I tried to dig out of the grave I'd cheerfully and unwittingly dug for myself.

From start to finish the poem took about three days.

After finally finishing this my mind was still wanting to think in rhyming couplets. Like when you play too much scrabble your brain automatically jumbles up the letters of words you see, even unbidden. 

It was only when doing the video that the gesturing to the cropped image of Eleanor's bum and bust above the chamber door after each stanza came about, which I probably stole from Noel Fielding's hilarious Goth in the IT Crowd. It's ironic that after reading the poem for the video so many times I'm now more able to recite large chunks from memory, especially aloud to myself while driving along the M8 on my way somewhere.

Apologies to all concerned.

Ode to Eleanor

Twas a bleak and dreich October
When I sat munchin' on ma Tobler
-one. I stared alone twixt curtains
torn an' faded like Tim Burtons'
Corpse Bride and others o' that ilk.
I took a sip of me warmed milk
as doon in the groonds below
in patchy shadows neath the glow
of intermittent neon street lamps
hiding throngs o' zombies, vamps
didst frolic, gamble, twixt rose and bud,
Texas holdems, 5 card stud
at least they did in ma mind's een,
which had recorded every scary scene
fae horror movies maest eclectic
(lucky I'm no epileptic)
as on and off the lights didst flicker
reminds me how we once didst bicker
Me and my most recent ex but one –

Suddenly I heard a tapping,
a quiet, gentle, faded rapping,
Turned did I and looked – no more-
towards my hard oak chamber door
“Who's there?!” ah croaked, goosebumps rising.
Twas just the wind, I tried surmising.
Swiss chocolate from my fingers fell
'pon the floor (some milk as well)
As lo, didst handle start to turn!
And in ma throat my heart did burn!
Through veins as chilled as ice
Ran curdled blood - no once but twice!
As tapping at the door compounded
rapping at the pane! Dumbfounded,
Shocked and stunned, I turned in vain
to see nought beyond the window pane
save skeletal tree-like bones a-tapping
'pon the glass like fingers rapping.
Beckoning to bid me join them
and secretly my life purloin, then
into darkness fae top floor I'd leap
And wake up dead fae tortured sleep.
“Just the Birch!” I knew
“Caused by one strong gust or two.
“But what of oakwood door?”
As I spun I saw no more
Than shadowy landing through the crack
and with distinct shrivelling of sack
I gasped on chocolate milky breath
and damn near almost choked to death
as I heard a voice shriek from the black
“It's just yer maw, dye want a snack?”
A voice that sounded nothing like
fair voice of Eleanor.

“No thanks, Mamaw, I'm mid ode:
An Edgar Allan episode.”
Fae the shadows, a tut, a sigh.
“Not again, wee lad, I can't see why
you can't just let this Eleanor bird
fly the coop. Wasn't she the third
to leave you lying in the dust?
It's not all about nice bum and bust.”
“It wasn't just her bum and bust,
if to refer to those you must,
her eyes, her nose, her smile, her hair
were also well beyond compare
Whether in the Louvre or Tate
such a perfect prime portrait
I haven't seen before or since
Next to her a pound of mince,
those other girls ...
we had some whirls
upon the carousel of love
but mother now, dear god above
Quit my door, opine no more,
Get thee hence, I must implore,
you leave me to my selfish wallow
in my Eleanor-shaped hollow.
Bother me no more along this lonely path
lest you taste my bitter, thorny wrath!”
and with a creak, a squeak, no more,
she then withdrew and closed the door.
And slowly upwards roamed my stare
from handle up the oakwood door and there
my gaze could not help but linger
as I pointed shaky finger
at the blown up photograph cropped shear
between the door and ceiling near
the final precious keepsake of my dearest Eleanor.
Just space enough for bum and bust 
above my oakwood chamber door.
Bum and bust and nothing more.

At least the blu tac still is sticking -
still is sticking, still is sticking -
Eleanor's dear bum and bust above my oakwood chamber door.

© Chris Young 2018