From Ear To Raternity

ear-guards-funDo you have an earworm at the moment?

If so, I sincerely hope it doesn’t become as persistent as my current one. Because this one is starting to feel less earworm, more demonic possession. There have been times lately when I’ve suspected that I’m being kept alive for the sole purpose of providing a host vessel just for this thing to feed off. So, this is what it’s like when earworms turn bad..

It puts me in mind of that modern urban myth, the one where someone comes back from a foreign holiday and starts complaining of headaches. You know how the story goes. It turns out that some kind of maggot has crawled inside their ear and has started to eat it’s way through their brain until it eventually emerges out the other side..

That reminds me of my own exotic holiday scare of many years ago. My then girlfriend and I were on a plane coming back from Brazil and I remember nudging  her nervously and saying that I might have Chagas Disease.  I’d just read that one of the regions we’d visited was known to have had a number of cases of the disease and that, as a precaution, you were not meant to walk around barefoot in that area. Oops.

Chagas Disease, I’d read on, with growing unease, is transmitted by a tropical parasite, a member of the Triatominae family to be precise, also known as the ‘Kissing Bug’. I’d ploughed on, starting to panic a little now. It says they can sometimes burrow into your foot, thence into your bloodstream where they can lie dormant for up to six years. Wha..? During which time you could be completely asymptomatic, but may eventually develop very very unpleasant abnormalities of the heart, digestive and nervous systems, not to mention experiencing sudden death! Great.

I could of course, once back in London, have taken myself off to the Hospital For Tropical Diseases, but I’d only gone barefoot a couple of times, and not for long, so what were the chances, right?  Anyway, I’d decided to forget about it, apart from when I would occasionally hold court in the pub about how I may be harbouring a horrible parasite that could cause my heart to swell and burst. It was a good conversation peice and if I’m honest, I was a little disappointed when my six year incubation period  expired and the tale of my potential, grisly inner time-bomb, became defunct.

But I digress. Though I may be long since out of the woods for Chagas Disease, I do have this other parasite to deal with, this damn earworm, which somehow found its way into my brain a couple of weeks back when, whilst standing at the cooker on the Sunday, my jaw had snapped suddenly open and I’d involuntarily belted out:


The song then rode on a mindloop for the rest of the evening and into to the next day. Since when, it has made itself at home, sometimes going quiet for a day or two, only to reactivate, refreshed and louder than ever.

We both found what we were looking for!

Now, quite why the Michael Jackson No 1 hit, Ben, released when he was a kid in 1972, has taken up residence in my temporal lobes, I cannot fathom. I don’t recall having heard it anywhere recently, not since  a few years back when the song, you may remember, did become a bit of a favourite with younger contestants on X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent.  I remember one front-toothless, 6 year old warbling it out whilst the audience and judges cooed and aahed, which I found somewhat amusing, to see this tiny, cute-as-a-button kid singing her little heart out about a large, black man-eating rat. For that is what Ben was, in case you didn’t know.

I suppose you need to be of a certain age to know that this touching ballad, a seemingly sweet paean to unbreakable friendship, was written especially for a horror film about a pack of killer rats. The film, called eh..Ben, was a sequel to the earlier Willard, about a guy who’s affinity to rats doesn’t end well (they eat him alive). In that first film, Ben was the biggest and meanest of the pack. Willard crops up on late night telly occasionally but I can’t recall ever having seen the sequel, which has the song playing over the end credits.

So why is the damn tune stuck inside me and how do I expunge it? To be fair I’ve had less melodic and more obscure earworms, (I once had Germany’s 2010 Eurovision Song Contest winning entry, Satelite by Lena for a couple of days??) but none so tenacious as this.

With a friend to call my own!

I’ve thought about going to the doctors. But that would entail a referral onto a psychiatrist’s massive, months long waiting list. I’ll have lost it well before then.

I’m kidding of course, but actually, seeing a shrink is not as daft as it might sound. I mean, maybe the key to exactly why I’ve been serial-crooning this love ballad to a rodent, loudly, in the bath and under my breath at bus-stops, lies in it’s unpleasant subject matter. Could it be that those earworms that we get out of the blue are triggered by something deep within our psyches that eventually surfaces in song form?  My thinking then is, search for the source of my subconscious rat fixation then squidge this little earfucker for good! But to do that I have to go back in time and riffle through my, if you will, back ratalogue..

I am, like most people, not overly keen on rats. But I’ve never had that Winston Smith-style screaming ab-dabbery reaction to them either. Not that I’ve ever been truly tested. Actually thinking about it, that’s not entirely true. It strikes me now, that rats have cropped up in my life much more than I had previously realised, but I’ve put them to the back of my mind. Time then, to face the rat bastards down..

I’ll never be alone!..

First there was that thing when I was a baby. I have no actual recall of it myself, just what my mum told me. She said that one day, I’d been left in the back yard in my pram with a bottle of milk and when she went to check on me, there was a ‘dirty big rat right right next to your pram’. I’m told it duly scarpered when disturbed. That could be significant doctor, maybe it left me disturbed too. Oh yes, and there was that other thing that my mum told me about, what her father had said he’d seen whilst working on the railways. Apparently he’d come home from work one day a bit perturbed and told her that in some railway sidings, he’d seen the biggest rat ever. mating a rabbit!  Hmm, that is something you can’t unthink once you’ve been told it. Eh, sorry about that..

My next ‘incident’ was at comprehensive school, during my class’s first foray into sex education. At my school, they bred their own rats for the biology dept. It was a bit of a shock for us thirty odd hormonal adolescents, keen to learn about shagging, to then be shown, up close, a foot long dead white rat, on it’s back, four paws splayed out and pinned down. The teacher, Mrs Hook then carefully sliced down it’s front, top to bottom, and peeled aside it’s skin to reveal and point out various parts of it’s  reproductive organs.  We had to draw them for our homework. Nice. Freud would have been on that like a rat up a drain pipe. Ah yes, he’d say, a classic case of adolescent trauma linked to sex fear resulting in a re-awakened, middle-aged rat hang-up. Right, well that’s deffo on the list of possible worm-triggers then.

Next up would have been an experience’s in my mid-20s at my then girlfriend’s flat in Sheffield, (the one who I was on the Brazil trip with) where there were goths living upstairs. We went up there one night to bum fags to skin up with. I hadn’t known that they had a couple of pet tame rats, which scurried around us as we sat on the floor. At one point, one of em snatched my little lump of hash and disappeared under the settee with it. The goths laughed heartily, their mascara running, and black lipstick cracking, at my feeble and stoned attempts to retrieve my stash. Maybe my verminesque stuck-song is about a fear of loss, or some kind of a long-delayed, stoned paranoid reaction?

Next I flash on one heady night in a famous West Berlin nightclub, the Ratzkeller, which was indeed a cellar, in the days before the Wall came down.  I was stood in the dim light, right next to a punk kid  who’s rather large shoulder adornment suddenly raised it’s head and turned it’s whiskery snout in my direction. Eek!

And finally, for the last rat-tableau in this horrible history, we must away back to that Brazilian holiday I mentioned earlier, and one night in Salvador. Me and my GF (yes, the same one who’d lived underneath the goths ), stood over-looking a beach on which a short time before had lain many sunbathers. It goes dark very quickly in Brazil, and that night, as the light faded, out came the beach rats. Tentatively at first. The biggest, grimmest and most Willard-ish examples of the creatures that I had seen in my life. Then, as they gained confidence and began marauding amongst the beach debris, some local kids pelted them with empty coconut gourds, whilst we looked on queasily. Man, they were all over that beach, hunched  black shapes in the dusk. The following day, we passed the beach, which had once more been given over to the human day-shift. We didn’t join them.

So there it is. My life in rats. I never thought of myself of being overly scared of them, but after that trawl through my rat infested memory banks, I dunno. Late-onset murophobia, whaddya think doc?

No, I don’t buy all that psycho-malarkey. I  think that this earworm is down to something more sinister than all those pests from the past. I reckon it has been living there, dormant for the last 6 years. Like an aural strain of  Chagas Disease. For it was around 6 years ago when I saw that sweet little girl with the gummy smile on Britain’s Got Talent, singing it, all innocent like. Yes, that was the last time I heard Ben. It was her. She planted it in my mind, where it incubated and grew, and now it’s fat and crawling, burrowing it’s way through my head, like that urban myth-maggot I mentioned earlier. Oh well, at least it should come out the other side eventually and then it’ll be over. Or will it?

Because wasn’t there another bit to that apocryphal tale? Yes, I remember now, that story had a terrible ending, because once the grub had come out the other side, they quickly analysed it, only to discover that it was a female – which had layed it’s eggs inside the brain!

So what if?..Oh Jesus no….a female earworm!!

And you my friend will see,


You’ve got a friend in me..

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