The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - November 12, 2015

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My ears are blocked and I’m about 80 per cent deaf. In some ways it’s useful (‘I swear I didn’t hear you say put the bins out, darling’), but mainly it is mighty frustrating.

I’ve suffered from the same affliction a couple of times before, and have had them syringed. But this time a wise and well-meaning friend of mine told me of a wonderful new treatment that saves you going to the doctors – a candle that you stick in your ear, light, and, hey presto, the wax falls out in one big, and presumably disgustingly smelly, chunk.

It sounded great so I thought I’d try it.

Alarm bells should have rung (not that I’d have been able to hear them) when I was told by five different pharmacies that they didn’t stock these candles.

I consulted my friend again. “Oh no, you can’t get them in the shops,” she said. “Pardon?” I replied. “YOU CAN’T GET THEM IN SHOPS, YOU HAVE TO ORDER THEM ON THE INTERNET,” she bellowed.

Which is a little odd, but as this female friend of mine is the cleverest person I know – she got a first in philosophy, can complete a Rubik’s Cube in 43 seconds, and has read War and Peace, twice – I trusted her and ordered a packet online.

A weird package arrived a few days later containing a shed-load of candles and some slightly amateurish looking instructions.

Under the heading ‘What You Need’, the instructions stated: ‘A partner – never ear-candle alone’.

A two-man job? I was already worried.

‘Create a relaxed atmosphere,’ the instructions added, so I opened a can of Boddingtons and put Match of the Day on.

With Mrs Canavan aiding me, albeit reluctantly (“Strictly is on, why the hell do we have to do this now?”), I lay on the bed, covered my hair with a towel – as instructed – lit the candle and stuck it in my ear.

“You will hear a crackling and hissing of the flame,” said the booklet. All I heard was Mrs Canavan chunnering about how she was missing Peter Andre’s rumba.

“Smoke, warmth and herbal essential oils will then pass into your ear canal,” it continued. If they did pass, they passed quietly – I felt nothing.

The booklet then instructed me to relax and close my eyes. Call me picky, but that’s not perhaps the best advice to give someone holding a lit candle over a flammable duvet.

Mrs Canavan’s job was, said the booklet, to “closely monitor” the ash and, when the ash is 3cm in length, to cut it into a bowl of water.

After I’d hadthis thing in my ear for about a minute, I said: “Dearest, the flame feels close to my head, does the ash need cutting yet?”

There was no answer. I said it again, loudly and with more urgency.

“What’s that?” I heard her reply from the other room. “I’m just cleaning my teeth, I’ll be back in a moment.”

I couldn’t be sure, but I don’t think she was taking her “monitoring” role seriously.

The upshot was that after 20 nervy minutes of sticking a burning candle in each ear, nothing had happened other than a slight burn mark on my neck where Mrs Canavan had cut the smouldering ash a little too vigorously.

Feeling slightly miffed that my ears weren’t wax-free, I nipped on the internet to check if I’d done it correctly.

I googled ear-candling. ’Why ear-candling is dangerous and SHOULD NOT be done’ screamed the first search result. According to a recent study in the US, ear-candling is “dangerous to health” and “the use of a lit candle in the proximity of a person’s face (carries) a high risk of causing potentially severe skin/hair burns and middle ear damage.”

“As of 2008,” according to Wikipedia, “there are at least two cases in which people have set their houses on fire while ear candling, one of which resulted in death.”

I phoned my friend and told her the above. “I didn’t think you’d go out and try it,” she said. “I’ve never done it myself, it looks too dangerous – I went to the doctor and got them syringed.”

Which is exactly what I did the next day. The good news, I can hear again. The bad, I’ll never get the 13 quid it cost for the damn candles back.

It’s hip to be square, or cuboid

I mentioned the Rubik’s Cube in the main part of this column, which is handy because the UK Rubik’s Cube Championships have just taken place in – for reasons unknown – Stevenage.

Perhaps Stevenage is a hotbed for Rubik’s Cube fanatics, or more likely it just had the cheapest B&Bs, but – as ITV news put it – hundreds of speedcubers descended on the town to see who could solve the puzzle in the fastest time.

I can’t tell you who won, but I can tell you that earlier this year, in the world championships (yes, there is such a thing – it’s been going since 1982, when presumably there was very little on TV), a 19-year-old Australian by the name of Feliks Zemdegs successfully defended his title, completing the puzzle in 5.69 seconds. This was still 0.44 seconds short of the all-time record set by an American called – and if any world champion has a more underwhelming name I’d like to know – Colin Burns.

By the way, the Rubik’s Cube – for those who’ve not yet nodded off – was invented by Hungarian Erno Rubik in 1974.

His initial cube was constructed using wooden blocks and elastic bands. Six years later he licensed the idea to a toy company in New York and a phenomenon was born.

To date more than 350 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold, making it the biggest-selling toy of all time, and Mr Rubik – still going strong at the age of 71 – a very wealthy man indeed.