For the second time in less than a year my left ear has gone into Lockdown. I have no idea why, but it is very unsettling. My hearing is generally exceptional and my right ear is still operating at its normal threshold, so I can hear ok overall, but I have no idea where noises are coming from. This is a very weird experience. Everything I hear appears to be coming from the same direction, that of my good ear. Bang a tray to my left and I spin to the right. Now I know what goes on with my Sat-Nav when I set off for Edinburgh and wind up in Llandrindod Wells. Stick a peanut in my ear and I would probably spin around in circles for eternity. I don’t know why a deaf ear should be so disconcerting.
In common with most people at the moment, my life has surrendered much of its usual routine. I am an inflatable flamingo being tossed around at the whim of the North Sea: like a middle-aged man, disconsolately following his wife around the aisles of Wilkinson’s, wondering what comes next. And what comes next is beginning to bother us all, isn’t it? What will be the new normal? It looks increasingly unlikely that we are ever going to return to the way we were. If we rid ourselves of Covid, we are still at risk from any number of mutations that might arise in any one of the hundreds of nations that are unable to rid themselves of it. The world feels like a jigsaw at the moment: one thousand pieces, pulled apart, rattling about randomly in the box, waiting to be reassembled. We all know that when we finally get around to it, when we can’t even find a repeat of Midsomer Murders with which to more profitably spend our time, there will be pieces missing. (I can’t help thinking that makers of 1,000 piece jigsaws should have to print a disclaimer on the box: 1,000 pieces, but probably no more than 999 by the time you have spent a fortnight putting it together – check inside the cat.) The world has changed ineradicably.
Some of the change may be good: nobody is going to fly around the world anymore for a business meeting that can just as easily be done on zoom. Conversely, nobody is going to fly around the world anymore to meet new people or to understand a different viewpoint. The world has become smaller, yet at the same time more unfathomable. I can’t help but wonder how people will meet in the future. ‘I knew he was the one for me the moment he unmuted.’ ‘Even at two metres distance, with his mask cockled-up over one eye, I knew we were going to get on.’ And as for the ‘other stuff’, how? Two metres apart, masked and gloved. ‘OK then, but I’ll just have to anti-bac you first.’ ‘Every head in the room turned as she entered, wafting the heady scent of Domestos behind her…’
Maybe I worry too much. Maybe you don’t worry enough. Each day the news offers cause for optimism, which it then cruelly snatches away. ‘We are making amazing progress with the vaccination process – by the time we finish, it will be useless.’ ‘New Zealand has successfully eradicated the virus – and consequently nobody can ever go there again.’ Even the good news has become depressing. It’s a perverse kind of comfort I feel knowing that both of my parents died before I had to worry about them catching Covid.
When I was a child I loved Look and Learn magazines. Not new ones, you understand. The only new reading material I ever got was the Beano. These were passed down to me, from where I am not certain. They came to me periodically, in batches, pristine as though they had never been read. I loved them. I learned about Ants and Bees and Romans and Kibbutzim and how a slot machine works and how a grasshopper ‘chirrups’ and I turned into the precocious little brat that I remain to this day. If Look and Learn was about today, it would know the answers. No disagreements between various world leaders, medical directors and WHO officials then: ‘Well, what does it say in Look and Learn? Simple, definitive answers – often with appropriate diagrams – so clearly the way forward. Not only that, but whilst we were waiting for the appropriate measures to take effect, we could follow the instructions on page 5 to construct our own formicarium from 3 pieces of wood and an old pop bottle. Look and Learn was the nearest thing we had to the internet. Not quite so quick, but much less likely to lead to your bank being cleared out by a Russian cartel based in Nigeria and definitely less likely to be full of porn – unless you mistakenly stumbled upon the vicar’s copy.
Our house was not full of books and yet I was an insatiable reader. I read food labels, fag packets, my grandma’s Weekly News and Titbits, my dad’s Zane Grey novels, my mum’s Agatha Christie and yet I remember very few ‘children’s’ books about the house apart from Winnie the Pooh and an anthology of Grimm’s Fairy Tales which I still have today. I had a library card, but the library was in town and I amassed so many late return fines that I feared having a criminal record by the time I was six. Most of my book reading was done at school. I was good at it. Ahead of the curve in a way that I have never been with anything else desirable.
Anyway, Look and Learn would know what to do about my ear. Google is a waste of time. It tells me to put olive oil in it, but all I get is a greasy ear. It remains steadfastly blocked. I guess sooner or later I will have to have a zoom meeting with my GP who will also suggest putting olive oil in it. I’m not entirely certain that it isn’t actually blocked with the bloody stuff. Last time it happened, I could actually go to the surgery. He peered into it and said he could see nothing wrong. I said ‘What? I can’t hear you. Can you talk into my other ear?’ and he gave me some drops. I don’t know what they were, but it cleared up after a couple of weeks, which is what he said it would do naturally. So I’ll give it a week or two for now and see what happens – and just hope that if I encounter a runaway bus, it comes at me from the right side.