This last week has been the week of the sniffles. And the sneezes. I have powerful sneezes, like barks. When birds perched across the street hear me sneeze, they fly away, even with a closed window between us. God knows what the neighbours think. Perhaps it’s, “Why does the geezer upstairs keep that strange-sounding dog locked up all day? It’s cruel.” As for the sniffles, they echo the never-ending streams of rain that have been coursing down the roofs and gutters of Brighton since I can ever remember. And the view from the windows is so depressing that you feel like blowing your brains out, except that, in effect, I’m doing that every 30 seconds already.
I once saw a picture of the inside of the skull that had far more pointy bits than looked healthy and the accompanying text said that if you’re a boxer or a footballer or rugby player your brain will keep bashing against these pointy bits and that is bad. Such is the violence and persistence of these sneezes that I wonder if I am doing myself lasting damage. It certainly feels like that. The mind is slow and dull; no thought can cross it without dying halfway through. Writing this column is proving harder than usual and I hope you appreciate it. I would rather be in bed with a good book and a stiff hot toddy but instead I am sitting, dying, at my desk, while outside, the vapours weep their burthen to the ground (Tennyson).
I wonder how I caught it. The only thing I can think of is when I went to meet my youngest child at the Prince Albert last Saturday. He was down in Brighton to see a friend and invited me along, which made me very happy. I had to walk through what was effectively a monsoon and was soaked by the time I got there. It is a 15-minute walk to the pub, or a 20-minute swim, and had I been going to see anyone else apart from him or his siblings I would have turned back. But it was still a pleasure to see him and as he has a new well-paid job he insisted on buying me pints all evening, which is why I don’t remember whether it was still raining or not on the walk back. I gather that the latest medical opinion is that walking for half an hour in the cold and rain is not going to give you a cold but here I am, with a cold. Friends are asking me if it’s Covid but I don’t think so.
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The cold is being accessorised nicely by a blocked eardrum. These are now happening with increasing frequency and all the mucus sloshing around my cranium can’t be helping. I was going to have my ears syringed yesterday but my cold was too bad and I really didn’t want to infect the nurse or anyone else in the waiting room. Last time I was there patients were being asked to use masks, but no mask surely can withstand the kind of pressure I’d be subjecting it to. Anyway the nurse is so busy that they can’t fit me in until the end of the month, which means, at time of writing, another 20 days of feeling as though a sock has been stuffed in my head, and saying “Pardon?” every time someone on my right hand side says anything. It’s really no way to live, but I suppose it could be worse.
Naturally, once again my own solitary state is brought into sharp relief. The closest I have come to being cared for was when N—, who funnily enough was my Estranged Wife’s ex-boyfriend when I met her, sent me a bottle of Lagavulin to cheer me up. Even when I first met him I realised he was a decent sort straight away and have loved him ever since, but this is really going above and beyond the call. I gather he has taken out a sub to this magazine and is reading these words right about… now. So my tears of gratitude can add a further corollary or analogue to the snot and the rain.
It then occurred to me that if I did live with someone else, all this sneezing and sniffing would have driven them insane by now. Some people are very sensitive to this. The last Lady Friend I had would remark on the strange noises I made when sneezing and, now I come to think of it, one of the many reasons my Estranged Wife became Estranged was because she didn’t like the way I breathed. “You sort of hold it in and then let it all out at once,” she said. Honestly, some people. Another good reason to be single, as my friend Dale tells me, is that there is always someone somewhere in a couple being told off for having a nap.
Which is what I’m going to do right now, after a hot toddy.
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This article appears in the 15 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Desperate Measures