1st February

Coping with It

Biology had not been one of his strong subjects at school. In fact most of his understanding of how the brain and body worked was based on ‘The Numskulls’, a cartoon in The Beezer, which he had read avidly as a boy. He thought the Numskull approach to neuroscience was really pretty sound: it made sense to him that a bloke in the eye department controlled whether he bumped into walls or not. Nor was it beyond his comprehension to think of workers in overalls shovelling food down his throat while he was eating. In fact, to make their lives easier, he used to eat slowly, taking only very small mouthfuls, and chewing well before swallowing. If he showed them respect, he reasoned, there was a fair chance they’d reciprocate.

As a boy he had also believed that when he put a record on his parents’ gramophone miniature musicians would start playing behind the fabric of the loudspeaker. These guys were very versatile. They could play the Beatles or Beethoven with equal accomplishment. But if you opened the lid you couldn’t see them. They were down there in the workings of the machine but they were shy and modest.

Of course, he didn’t believe that about the gramophone any more. The advent of smaller record players, followed over time by cassette recorders, CD players, iPods and digital downloads had pretty much put paid to the notion of tiny guitarists hiding in big wooden music chests. Pure fantasy. But the Numskulls, well, it was harder to shift them from his thinking. So when the surgeon said, ‘I’m really sorry, but there’s not much we can do, it’s so advanced,’ it was easier, rather than listen to the surgeon’s technical information, to picture a whole section of the brain department having to close because of dry rot or concrete failure or something. He thought of energetic wee men becoming lethargic, wheezing and coughing, stretching their aching backs, taking longer and longer tea breaks. Not being able to function any more. Sick-building syndrome. Conceptually, he could just about cope with that.

That was it then. Sick-building syndrome. What a bastard. He felt so sorry for the wee guys.

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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