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'Ear, 'Ear wot's all this then?

For most of this month, the first thing I've done every morning after leaping out of bed, bright eyed and bushy tailed, is to shove a lump of blu-tack in my left ear.

It all started on 1st April when the universe decided to play an April Fool joke on me. I awoke that morning with a very painful and swollen left ear. It felt like all the tubes were blocked solid and I couldn't hear anything through it. Feeling more than a little lop-sided, I staggered through my day with no noticeable improvement except that now I had a perfect excuse for ignoring Robin's requests to wait on her hand and foot. Clearly I needed to see a doctor – so once the long and painful weekend was over and the doctor was back at work, I made an appointment...

"What seems to be the problem?" asked the doctor.

"Pardon?" I said. I turned my right ear towards the doctor and he tried again. This time I heard him and I was able to respond.

"I see," he murmured. He fitted a probe on to a slim device that was equipped with a miniaturised searchlight which he used out of office hours to search the skies for alien spacecraft. Everyone has to have a hobby.

The doctor stuck the probe deep into my left ear. This hurt a lot because the channels in my ear were swollen almost shut and there really wasn't enough room to insert the probe. Nevertheless he persisted, ignoring my screams of agony. "Hmmm," he said at last. "Yes – that's pretty solidly bunged up and it's probably a bit infected to boot. I suspect that you could make a complete set of alter candles out of all the wax you've got in there and you'd still have enough left over to put a decent shine on your car. You need to go and see Frith."

"FRITH?" I asked. "Is that an acronym for Full Recovery In The Hearing?"

"Frith," he confirmed. "She's a nurse who specialises in Ear, Nose and Throat problems. What she doesn't know about ENT is not worth knowing. She'll get all that wax out before you even realise there's anything going on." He wrote a phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to me. "That's her number. Ring her up and make an appointment. Meanwhile, I'll give you some ear drops." He prepared a prescription. "By the way, do you use those little ear plug things for listening to music?" he asked.

"Indeed I do," I said. "I usually have them plugged in when I take the dog for a walk. You can listen to a lot of good sounds on a five kilometre amble. But it's been a bit tricky for the last few days because I've only been able to hear the noise that comes in through my right ear. That's a situation that is more than a little lacking in equilibrium. I've tripped and fallen over several times because I found myself leaning too far in the opposite direction in a vain attempt to adjust the sound balance. Even the dog gives me funny looks when he catches me doing it. I think I embarrass him."

"OK," said the doctor. "Each to his own." Clearly he didn't approve of people who wired themselves for sound. "I suggest you get some isopropyl alcohol and sterilize your ear buds every day just before you start wearing them. If you don't do that you might find that you are constantly re-infecting your ear channels. And you really don't want to do that."

"Righto," I agreed.

"You also need to keep that ear dry. Don't let any water get in at all. That's very important."

"How do I stop water getting into my ear?" I asked. "When I take a shower, I get water in all my bits and pieces. It's automatic."

"Blu-tack is good," said the doctor vaguely as I left his office.

I went to the stationery shop to stock up on blu-tack and then I went to the chemist to get my ear drops. The chemist stuck various explanatory labels on the ear drop box and pointed one of them out to me, just to make sure that I was well aware of the extreme danger I was letting myself in for. CAUTION: the label said in large, and not particularly friendly letters. DROPS MAY STAIN HAIR, CLOTHING, BED-LINEN AND OTHER ITEMS. I wondered if dogs and maybe wives could be considered to fall into the category of OTHER ITEMS. It might be an interesting experiment to see just exactly which ITEMS I could force a colour change on with this wondrous staining chemical I'd been given. Cats? The screens of mobile phones? The pages of favourite books? Knives and forks? Food? Would my green salad turn red? And did I have to do the proverbial laying on of ears, or would I actually develop a super power that would allow me to emit irresistible colour changing rays directly from my eardrums? Perhaps my ears themselves might change colour as soon as I dribbled the stuff into them? Blue, I mused to myself. I've always fancied blue ears. The next few days promised to be interesting ones, full of new experiences.

I went home and dripped three magical drops into my left ear, just as I'd been instructed to do. Spears of icy fire jangled down the blocked up channels and for just a moment I could hear again on that side, albeit faintly. Then the channels all closed up again and the sounds disappeared. But now I had an indication of what was to come, a promise that all was not irretrievably lost, and I was hopeful of making a full recovery.

The next morning I felt much less bunged up. But then I filled my ear with blu-tack before clambering onto the shower and everything on my left hand side closed right down again. It was very eerie. My right ear could hear the water crashing down around me but my left ear couldn't hear a thing and I was constantly being taken by surprise as the water hit the left side of my body. But at least the mechanisms hidden in my ear stayed dry, which was the whole point of the exercise, of course.

By the end of the week the mighty power of the colour-changing drops had given me back a small amount of hearing in my left ear. Stereo sound returned to me in all its duophonic glory, though the balance was still too far over to the right on the inside of my skull. Disappointingly no super powers had manifested themselves during the week and no matter how hard I tried, I had been totally unable to change the colour of anything at all. I felt more than a little disappointed by the extreme colour resistance of all the things I was surrounded by. But at least the pain and the swelling in my ear had gone away and the only time my tubes felt blocked up was when I inserted my daily blu-tack. All that remained now was to see the magnificent Frith for the final stage of my progression back to being able fully to make use of my left ear (did you notice the non-split infinitive I used there? Clever, eh?).

Frith called me in to her surgery and sat me down on a chair. "Now," she said briskly, "what can I do for you."

I explained the problem and she nodded wisely. "Have you had any trouble with your ears before?" she asked.

"No," I said. "I had a build up of wax about 20 years ago and I had to have my ears washed out to get rid of it. But that's all."

"Ah," she said. "Well, we don't do that any more. The warm water that we used to flush the wax out had a nasty habit of flowing too freely from the ears and far too many people left the surgery with wet T-shirts. The ladies objected. We've got a much better system now. I have a microscope which goes down into your ear so I can see exactly what's going on in there while I use a little suction pump to pull the wax out. With the microscope I can be sure to chase it all down through every nook and cranny. You'll get a constant buzzing in your ears as I suck all the wax up, but that's all."

"Righto," I said. "Let's do it."

Frith made me lie down on a bed and turn my head to one side. She inserted the tube of the microscope into my ear and peered down it. "Goodness me!" she said, impressed. "It looks like an elephant has been relieving itself of its anxiety inside there."

"Ah yes," I said, feeling mildly embarrassed. "Do you remember how Auckland Zoo misplaced one of its elephants a little while back?"

"Vaguely," said Frith vaguely.

"Well actually that was me," I confessed. "Last time I visited the zoo I put an elephant in my ear and took it home with me for the dog to play with. It was a perfect fit. Nobody noticed a thing as I walked out through the turnstile. And the dog loved his new elephant! He had a lot of fun chasing it round the garden. Eventually he inhumed it under the bay tree. He still digs it up every so often when he has a task for a tusk."

"That would explain a lot," said Frith and she turned the suction pump on. A series of squelchy, squeaky noises ran up and down my tubes and deep within my ear I felt an intense itch as if a large insect, possibly a cockroach, was twisting round and round in frantic circles...

"Oooh look! There goes a weta," cried Frith, delighted.

Slurp, slurp, slurp.

Eventually it was over and Frith removed her gadgets. "There we are," she said with deep satisfaction, "not a trace of wax left. Let's do the other ear now."

The whole disgusting ritual played itself out again on the other side of my head.

"That's it," said Frith at last. "You are now completely wax free. I suppose I'll see you again in twenty years time."

"It's a date," I said.

I went home, marvelling at the intense clarity of the everyday sounds that surrounded me.

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