Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summer and Sneezing...

It's a weekday afternoon in mid-June, and the sun is blaring from a sky so blue it would send Yves Klein in a jealous rage. Birds twitter, insects swarm, sheep boil inside their coats, farmers spread stinking muck on their land to offend the noses of all and sundry, and flowers practically explode with colour. In the sand dunes near where I live, armies of snails emerge to munch on ... well, whatever it is that delights the invertebrate palate; if they ever developed speed and a taste for human flesh there's enough of them to overrun the country (mad scientists on vacation in Wexford, take note: here's a crazed experiment, meddling in that which Man was not meant to understand, to pass the time on your holidays!). At weekends, on the beach beyond the dunes, the stroller is confronted by acres of white and pink peeling and overweight flesh as we Irish, in defiance of skin cancer and aesthetics, expose our flabby bodies to a kind of heat we're just not designed for. The whole scene is just too summery for words; even the lager-swilling oaf whose blindingly white beer-gut, like a billion-watt light bulb, causes passer-bys' heads to explode when the sun hits it directly and sends confusing signals to ships out on the Irish Sea, can't spoil the mood.
Yet not five miles distant I'm hiding in my living room with the doors and windows closed, sneezing, coughing, and wiping my reddened eyes in a vain attempt to relieve the endless itching. Yes indeed: I've been exposed to what is for me Nature's pepper spray, those little particles of pollen that every cursed green thing in the whole country blasts out in clouds and which have the same effect on me as a faceful of chilli powder. I suffer from hayfever, an infuriating nuisance which has me housebound for most of the early summer, knowing full well that if I emerge for even a few minutes, my whole head will start to leak fluids like an overripe cheese as my orifices try desperately to cope with the onslaught of allergens in the air. On really bad days it feels as if my face is trying to crawl off my head like a floppy, stubbly mask and retreat back into the house under its own power. I’ve been subjected to every kind of treatment that there is; I’ve taken tablets, had injections, snorted nasal sprays, rinsed with eye washes, avoided foods known to exacerbate the condition, and nothing really works. The only antihistamines strong enough to alleviate my symptoms would reduce me to a mumbling, semi-catatonic vegetable, making any appreciation of their effect a pointless exercise. Verily, it doth mightily suck, as the Bard would say.
There is no escape. Even avoiding strong daylight like a vampire, residing in a pollen-free coffin until sunset and prowling around throughout the night, is not an option. Firstly, it’s only dark for about six hours in the summer months, when the condition is at its most invasive, and secondly, it is rather difficult to explain to your employer that you can only work from ten at night until four in the morning on account of the mild to severe discomfort caused by your hayfever. Also, there’s nothing open at night outside the cities in Ireland, unless hanging out with shelf stackers in the local 24-hour Tesco’s is your idea of jolly old fun. And, because it’s inevitable that you have to venture forth in daylight hours, nighttime becomes infected with its own little pesky torment. You see, all day I’m sneezing and weeping (occasionally due to the nightmarish gloom and ennui of my miserable existence, but primarily from pollen) so once the sun goes down and the (infernal) plants stop pollinating, my embattled nose takes the much-needed opportunity to heal itself. This requires a cascading torrent of soothing mucus, so I spend the whole night unable to breathe properly due to congestion. This in turn leads to insomnia, watching a lot of really terrible late-night TV (mainly dodgy horror films as well as repeats of cartoons and The Young Ones), and violent mood swings, all the way from furious self-pity to apathetic self-pity. The whole rotten business lasts for about a month and a half, or whenever the vegetable world decides that the seeds are sown and the new generation is sure to sprout (and spare a thought for my poor partner, who has to put up with me (not a person to accept adversity stoically, as friends will readily attest) through-out all this). It's part of the reason why I welcome the rain in summer; plants don't pollinate in a downpour. But I can't go out in the rain either...
So the next time you dance playfully through a field of grass, gambolling hand in hand with your sweetheart and bellowing out the Beatles’ ‘Good Day Sunshine’, take a moment to thank whatever gods you believe in that you’re not one of us lurking in our darkened rooms filled with bile and hatred for the sun, one of The Afflicted. (See what I meant about ridiculous self-pity?) So, here's a song that I really relate to right about now (it's one of my all-time favourites anyway, so this is just an excuse to post it so that I can listen to it again).)

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