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8 December 2021

Now I have had my ears syringed I am waiting for an upswing in my quality of life

I braced myself for a Shrek-like abundance of earwax, “There doesn’t seem to be much there,” the nurse said, peering into my left ear. I eventually noticed the obvious joke.

By Nicholas Lezard

I am sure you have all been in deep suspense ever since I mentioned, God knows how many weeks ago now, that I had gone partially deaf. “Partially” didn’t seem like the right word at the time. I mean, I could still hear things, but only if they were on my right; lying with my right ear on the pillow put me, essentially, back in the silent film era. There was also the sensation of internal blockage: it felt as though not just the sounds of the world were muffled, but my entire perception of it. It was like being unpleasantly stoned.

If you live alone, this isn’t too much of an issue. True, I had to turn my Bose speakers to maximum to hear anything being played through my laptop or phone. This became very much a problem one night for my downstairs neighbour, who with much embarrassed squirming later told me that he had been kept awake by BBC Radio 3 – “It was lovely music, don’t get me wrong.” I was zonked out and didn’t hear him banging on the door at 3am. I was mortified, and said it would never happen again. (Between his German accent and my deafness, it took me a while to get his drift, and a slow-motion film of my face as I pieced together what he was saying could have been titled “Dawning Horror”.)

[See also: My heady, sweaty night of “Tainted Love”, dancing, and snakebite and blacks]

I had the ears syringed yesterday. I’ve had the procedure once before and was amazed by the sudden rush of sound, the sensation that someone had turned up the treble knob to maximum, and the extremely strange idea that popped into my head: “Bloody hell, the world has surface noise.” I was looking forward to an even acuter version of the same thing this time. Very much so. The business with the intercom outside the GP’s surgery was itself a cruel comedy of a kind that probably no longer exists in mainstream culture.

Me, pressing intercom buzzer: “Hello, I’ve come for my appointment with the nurse.”

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Intercom: bzzt bzzt buzz buzzt?

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Me, taking a wild guess: “Nicholas Lezard.”

Intercom: bzz bzz bzzbzz bz bzz?

Me: “Umm…”

Intercom (this time I have my right ear pressed against the speaker and hear, as if on one of those recordings that ghost-hunters claim catch the faint voices of people who have passed beyond the veil, the question): “Are you wearing a mask?”

A similar farce had played out the previous month, when I saw the excellent Dr Findlay – disappointingly not called “Finlay”, but she is still Scottish. She diagnosed the problem, then said something, then I said, “Pardon?” Lord, how we laughed. Actually, we did. In the nurse’s surgery, I braced myself for a traumatic readjustment. She looked into my left ear. “That’s the worst one,” I said.

[See also: I worry that I am losing friends but not making enough enemies]

“There doesn’t seem to be much there,” she said (it was only a day later that I noticed the obvious joke). She then looked at the right ear. “This one’s clear.”

“Is it bollocks,” my eyebrows said.

What an anticlimax. I had been bracing myself for a Shrek-like abundance of earwax – enough, as I had joked to a friend, to make candles for a Victorian Christmas tree. In the end, all I saw in the cup I held against my ear was a little bit of dirty water. I didn’t even bother looking in it after the right ear was done. So there it is, I can hear again. And I’d been looking forward to that, because I was going to dinner with someone that evening, and was hoping to listen to her without guesswork. But she had to cancel. So much for that night out.

[See also: My ailing box hedge has made me an unusual Brighton friend]

Anyway, this being the Christmas bumper issue, it’s been suggested that I make some end-of-year reflections. I’m not sure I’m up to this. I’d been taking a grim pleasure in telling friends, this time last year, that 2021 was going to make 2020 look like a soothing back rub, and politically this has been the case, what with our disgusting government. But I didn’t realise that on a personal level, for reasons that are in the archives, everything was going to go wrong for me in May.

But it is always darkest before the dawn, as they say, which is stupid unless you redefine “dawn”. Or – if you prefer, and as this column has mentioned before – the Wheel of Fortune turns, sometimes only very slowly, but it still turns, and things seem to be getting slightly better at this end. I still live in indescribable squalor, and the kitchen, heatless unless something has been cooking in it for a while, makes the breath steam when you go into it. But I got used to that when I lived in the MacHovel a couple of years ago. A house without central heating, at the foot of the Cairngorms, in winter? To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if you can survive it there, you can survive it anywhere.

At least I seem to have survived another year, touch wood (I write at the beginning of December). And if I have seemed gloomy at times, I am still very much aware that this is the only show in town and I am grateful to be in it. I wish all my lovely readers the warmest seasonal greetings.

This article appears in the 09 Dec 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special