My voice broke ridiculously early. I was about ten, and still in primary school, when gravity took a quick look at my thorax and certain related items, and decided she wanted a bit of them. There was no squeaky period, no teenage yodelling. I simply went to bed one night with a high, clear child’s voice, and woke up the next morning growling like a hungover badger, and with my bollocks banging around my knees. I can only presume that it is as a reaction against this precocious physical development that I have steadfastly refused to undergo any kind of emotional maturation whatsoever. Consequentially, as well as a love of smut, a total inability to defer pleasure, and the use of manipulative egocentrism as my basic interpersonal operational principle, I have never lost the childhood fascination—nay, celebration—of the various icks and oozes that evolution has bestowed upon our bodies. True, I accompany this now with an appreciative scientific wonder at the incredible sophistication of our bodies’ ability to respond to the external world: the amazing complexity of our immune system is little short of a miracle. But this is supplementary to, and a weak justification for, the basic love of the goo it creates.
However a line has to be drawn, and I draw it at earwax. There is nothing to celebrate in earwax. It is manifestly gross, it serves no exciting anti-pathogenic function, and is all-in-all a bit embarrassing. Doubtless you agree with me on this matter and this is regrettable, because we’re going to be talking about it now.
You see, my ears—possibly, though mistakenly, wishing to facilitate me in my joy at gross corporeality—produce the stuff on an industrial scale and, for reasons I cannot fathom, do so especially when I am in Brazil. So it was that, barely a week into getting here, I went through the now quite familiar process of increasingly muffled hearing until that final day when the blockage was complete, and I descended into a world of mute and subdued sound, accompanied by a discomforting sense of pressure, and a background of white noise as the blood rushing through the ears suddenly became audible.
This is genuinely a problem. With both ears gone more-or-less simultaneously I was really quite deafened. As the effect is not just one of reduced range of perception but of extremely reduced clarity in what is perceived, this becomes a real issue when one is operating in a second language, and renders detailed sociophonetic observation virtually impossible. The solution is, ultimately, to go to a doctor and get the damn things flushed out. In the UK nowadays the treatment is largely performed using a weird and noisy suction device, which is not a particularly pleasant experience; and this is a great tragedy because the old-fashioned method, which consists of a large syringe, plenty of warm water, and a kidney dish held under the ear is, well, extraordinary.
The last time a blockage occurred when I was in Brazil was a few years ago, when I was staying with a family the patriarch of whom—a magnificently eccentric octogenarian who slept under a portrait of Lenin, and who maintained a blog which consisted solely of dodgy renderings into Portuguese of the many propagandist tracts imported from the Soviet Union that adorned his shelves and which he had painstakingly and uncomprehendingly keyed into Google Translate—had been a medic, and his former protégé treated the family for free and without waiting. So, one day, we all tramped down there together for a joint queue-jump. The daughter of the redoubtable Blasco needed a repeat prescription of whatever medication she took to keep her furiously irritable and wildly irrational, her teenage son needed his surliness supplements, and I needed my ears cleaning. The husband did not come. He largely self-medicated with vodka.
So it was that, in front of two members of my household, as well as an attendant nurse, the white-coated medic rolled up his sleeves and whooshed water through my ears until the blockage was released. In previous centuries, surgery used to be performed in quite literally a theatre, where curious onlookers could watch as the local barber took his razor blade to an unfortunate individual, and I felt something of the ghost of this early medicine hanging over me as, on the release of each chunk of aural sludge, Blasco’s protégé passed sround the tray for the mixed admiration and disgust of the onlookers. But—as we shall come to—it was worth the humiliation.
This time round, however, matters were more problematic, because I have no amiable pet doctor to hand, and the Brazilian healthcare system is highly bureaucratic and expensive. So yesterday, having finally had enough of my deafness, but not wishing to spend hours waiting to sign forms and write large cheques, I decided to do the only sensible thing and take matters into my own hands. I went to a chemist and bought a decent-sized syringe and then spent a good fifteen minutes bent over the sink in the hotel room squirting warm water into my ears and, after a great deal of attempts, finally managed to liberate the right ear from the oppressive hold of its unwelcome and gooey squatter.
Oh! Oh, there is no poetry, no music, no sublime art that I can draw upon to describe that moment, that ecstatic, vibrant, long-awaited juncture when something shifts, the pent-up pressure releases, and a sudden rush of aural clarity fills the thudding, dull silence. No art can mirror it, and there is but one word in the vocabulary of this nuanced and rich language of ours that I can find to describe it. Ladies and gentlemen, I had me an eargasm.
The left ear, it is true, remains stubbornly blocked; and I have decided to leave it for a few days before attempting again, as one does not wish to over-aggravate the delicate internal mechanisms of our auditory systems. But, even so . . . shhhh . . . listen! I can hear again. There: the roar of traffic on Rua da Consolação! . . . There: the clicking of my laptop keyboard as I type this . . . and . . . shhh, now . . . be still for a moment and wait. Yes! . . . There! . . . I can even hear, from half a globe away, you quietly tutting as you read this and wonder how a man with such expressive talents as I could put them so egregiously to waste, writing a thousand words about grossness and gunk and goo.