An idyllic day in Italy before the ear infections set inV Bernardi

Cara Nonna,

I was wondering if you know any effective remedies for earaches. Now don't panic: I can feel you worrying across the Channel. I'm fine. You see, the reason I'm asking is because the last time I tried to get rid of one with my own cure, things didn't go very well.

Let me backtrack a little: I had, thinking I was being very sensible, decided to treat myself to an 'early night' — a rare, precious luxury for me here. And so I went to bed, already excited about how much sleep I was going to get.

It was not meant to be.

I went to bed, already excited about how much sleep I was going to get.

It was not meant to be.

At around 4 in the morning I woke up with a head-splitting earache, which, no matter how much turning and head-squishing I did with my pillow, I just could not shake off. I realised it was time to take matters into my own hands and end this, once and for all. A swift Google search found me some home remedies. So instead of taking a painkiller like any other sensible human, I decided to try my hand at some more unconventional solutions.

I set to work: first was a piece of tissue dabbed in olive oil and my tea towel, both of which I put in the microwave. I know what it sounds like, but I was basing my theory on very vivid childhood memories of hot oil on cotton wool and warm bags of cherry pips, set close to my ears to numb the pain of infections.

The tissue-and-tea-towel remedy brought some relief, but grew cold all too soon. I set it in the microwave for round two while enjoying a steam bowl. It seems like I enjoyed it a bit too much — before long, with my eyes still wistfully closed over the steam cloud, I smelled burning.

Ginny and Nonna in less stressful Cambridge timesV Bernardi

I ran to the microwave only to discover that I couldn't actually see inside it: it was full of black smoke. The first thought that came into my mind was “Great, one week into uni and everyone is going to hate me for being that girl who set her microwave on fire and woke everyone up at 4am” . It soon became clear that the problem could not be resolved in the kitchen without great risk of setting off the fire alarm. And so, with probably my greatest display of quick thinking (Cambridge interview and A-Level exams included) I got a small bin ready beside the microwave, grabbed the tea towel, buried it in the bin, shut the microwave door and ran to the bathroom (in which there aren't any smoke alarms).

I flung the tea towel out of the window, only to discover it had literal flames coming out of it

Bathroom door closed, I flung the said tea towel out of the window, only to discover it had literal flames coming out of it. I tried to put those out with a bit of flapping and then ran it under the cold tap. By this point the bathroom had filled with smoke, thanks to the bathroom windows’ convenient opening of around 5-10 centimetres, which meant that, for every bit of smoke leaving the building, about twice as much was coming into the bathroom with me.

I was trying to circulate air: first out of the window and then by opening and closing the bathroom door. I must have been pretty good at this because, next thing I knew, I saw a Porter (I’ve told you about them, they’re the doormen-slash-custodians of College) coming down the corridor, shouting into this walkie-talkie. I sighed: goodbye to trying to not wake my neighbours up! I crawled, rather shamefully, out of the bathroom and approached the kitchen where he was doing some reconnaissance work on whatever could have caused a building fire in the early hours of the morning.


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I gave a pitiful wave and, when he’d come out the kitchen, explained, close to tears and barely being able to speak (thank you, smoke), how all of this had been because of my earache. He looked at me, probably questioning my intelligence, then proceeded to help me waft some more smoke out of the bathroom and finally left me, having established that the fire alarm was probably not going to go off, with a: “Buy a water bottle.”

The ordeal had exhausted me, but I couldn’t sleep. I trusted the Porter but I was set on not getting this fire alarm to go off, so I kept wafting smoke until it got to 6am, which I deemed was a reasonable enough time for people to be woken up by a fire alarm, if it had to happen. I then crashed into bed, for a blissful moment forgetting that I had an alarm set for 8 o’clock.

So you see, this is why I really need some new remedies for earaches. I would be lying if I said that this experience hadn't told me a lot of personal lessons, though. I learnt that:

  • Tea towels should not be left in microwaves unsupervised 
  • Smoke actually does quite a good job at clearing your sinuses
  • Water bottles are useful and I should buy one 
  • I have quite impressive quick reactions under pressure

I hope you and Nonno enjoy my story. Don't worry — I'll try not to let it happen again. I'll write soon with more of my rambling adventures!

All my love,
Ginny

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