This one’s going to run and run

The lugs of François II of France and Speke, reasons to be cheerful?

When shit happens, one perhaps understandable though morally regrettable reaction is to look for those with a similar condition who are even worse off. The other day JD helpfully pointed me to the story of the explorer Speke, who suffered terribly while seeking the source of the Nile and eternal glory:

At night a violent storm of rain and wind beat on my tent with such fury that its nether parts were torn away from the pegs, and the tent itself was only kept upright by sheer force. On the wind’s abating, a candle was lighted to rearrange the kit, and in a moment, as though by magic, the whole interior became covered with a host of small black beetles, evidently attracted by the glimmer of the candle. They were so annoyingly determined in their choice of place for peregrinating, that it seemed hopeless my trying to brush them off the clothes or bedding, for as one was knocked aside another came on, and then another; till at last, worn out, I extinguished the candle, and with difficulty—trying to overcome the tickling annoyance occasioned by these intruders crawling up my sleeves and into my hair, or down my back and legs—fell off to sleep. Repose that night was not destined to be my lot. One of these horrid little insects awoke me in his struggles to penetrate my ear, but just too late: for in my endeavour to extract him, I aided his immersion. He went his course, struggling up the narrow channel, until he got arrested by want of passage-room. This impediment evidently enraged him, for he began with exceeding vigour, like a rabbit at a hole, to dig violently away at my tympanum. The queer sensation this amusing measure excited in me is past description. I felt inclined to act as our donkeys once did, when beset by a swarm of bees, who buzzed about their ears and stung their heads and eyes until they were so irritated and confused that they galloped about in the most distracted order, trying to knock them off by treading on their heads, or by rushing under bushes, into houses, or through any jungle they could find. Indeed, I do not know which was worst off. The bees killed some of them, and this beetle nearly did for me. What to do I knew not. Neither tobacco, oil, nor salt could be found: I therefore tried melted butter; that failing, I applied the point of a penknife to his back, which did more harm than good; for though a few thrusts quieted him, the point also wounded my ear so badly, that inflammation set in, severe suppuration took place, and all the facial glands extending from that point down to the point of the shoulder became contorted and drawn aside, and a string of boils decorated the whole length of that region. It was the most painful thing I ever remember to have endured; but, more annoying still, I could not masticate for several days, and had to feed on broth alone. For many months the tumour made me almost deaf, and ate a hole between the ear and the nose, so that when I blew it, my ear whistled so audibly that those who heard it laughed. Six or seven months after this accident happened, bits of the beetle—a leg, a wing, or parts of its body—came away in the wax.

Burton felt after the expedition that Speke had done him down, and may have not have regretted as much as he should his companion’s misfortunes and mysterious death. Schadenfreude, though, is a double-edged sword, and for every Speke I discover there will be a Knox (The history of the reformation of the Church of Scotland) with his beady bigot’s eye trained on me:

These cruel and conjured enemies of God and of all godliness, the Duke of Guise, the Cardinal of Lorraine, and their faction, who then at their own appetite played the tyrants in France, had determined the destruction of all that professed the true knowledge of Jesus Christ within that Realm. What tyranny late before they had used at Amboise, the history of France doth witness: now in Orleans in the month of November, convened the King, unhappy Francis, the Queen our Sovereign, and the Queen Mother of the King, the Duke of Guise, with all his faction: the King of Navarre, and the Prince of Condé, his brother.

So that great was the confluence of the nobility, but greater was the assembly of the murderers, for there was not a hangman in all France which was not there. The prisons were full of the true servants of God: the King of Navarre, and the Prince of Condé were constituted prisoners; the Sheriff of Orleans, a man fearing God, was taken, and so were many others of the town. Briefly, there was none that professed God or godliness within that town, that looked not for the extremity, for the walls and gates were night and day kept with the garrisons of the Guisians, miserable men were daily brought in, to suffer judgement, but none was suffered to depart forth, but at the devotion of the tyrants.

And so they proceeded till the tenth or twelfth of December, when that they thought time to put their bloody counsel in execution, and for that purpose conclusion was taken, that the King should depart out of the town, and lie at a certain place, which was done to this intent, that there should no suit be made to the King for the safety of any man’s life, whom they thought worthy of death. And so was the King’s house in Orleans broken up, his beds, coffers, and tapestry sent away, his own boots put on, he sitting at the mass immediately hereafter to have departed, and so their tyranny to have begun.

When all things, we say, were in this readiness to shed the blood of innocents, the eternal, our God, who ever watcheth for the preservation of his own, began to work, and suddenly did put his own work in execution, for as the said King sat at mass, he was suddenly stricken with an apostem, in that deaf ear that never would hear the truth of God, and so was he carried to a void and empty house, laid upon a palliasse, unto such time as a canopy [? cannaby is not what you think it is, my dears] was set up unto him, where he lay till the fifteenth day of December, in the year of God 1560, when his glory perished, and the pride of his stubborn heart vanished in smoke. And so was the snare broken; the tyrants disappointed of their cruelty; those that was appointed to death, raised, as it were, out of their graves; and we, who by our foolishness had made ourselves slaves to strangers, were restored again to freedom and liberty of a free realm.

O that we had hearts deeply to consider what are thy wondrous works (0 Lord) that we might praise thee in the midst of this most obstinate and wicked generation, and leave the memorial of the fame to our posterities, which alas, we fear shall forget these thy inestimable benefits.

Despite the medieval origins and religious affiliation of the hospital currently peering at six months of chronic otorrhea following a burst eardrum, exorcism is not currently among the options under consideration. There is some excitement at the idea of otic tuberculosis, perhaps because it is relatively rare. I’d happily invent a deity and plea-bargain with him on that basis if he had up his sleeve a fixed schedule to end the drip, drip, drip of me earhole, now the summer heat is through, and the in-skull vacuum-cleaning, known politely as aspiration. Connoisseurs of Singapore ear tell me that alcohol should never be applied on a solely aural basis, and that I should head for some temperate hills with a crate of gin. We shall see, and hopefully some day hear as well.

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Last updated 14/01/2012

This post pre-dates my organ-grinding days, and may be imported from elsewhere.

Francis II of France (1): Francis II was a King of France from 1559 to 1560.

John Hanning Speke (1): John Hanning Speke was an English explorer and officer in the British Indian Army who made three exploratory expeditions to Africa.

John Knox (1): John Knox was a Scottish minister, theologian, and writer who was a leader of the country's Reformation.

Kaleboel (4307):

Otitis media (1): Otitis media is a group of inflammatory diseases of the middle ear.

Richard Francis Burton (3): Sir Richard Francis Burton was a British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat.


  1. One of its great benefits is that, if you can’t sleep at 3 in the morning because blood and snot is coming out of your ear and inside it’s roaring like a rush-hour motorway, you have a chance to do something useful, unbeknown to others. The light of my eyes doesn’t wake up anyway, and God is elsewhere, so I’ve established a secret stash of books in the bathroom and am working my way through Fortunata y Jacinta.

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