Not a sniff


Hay fever was the reason I failed my O-levels. I should know, I’m a doctor, well, I once owned a plastic stethoscope from a 1960s doctors and nurse kit.

The hay fever season has returned to these shores (probably from Russia); I remember back to being sixteen in 1973, sitting my O-levels and contracting, for the first time, Allergic Rhinitis – which is the correct medical term for hay fever and not the name of the cross-eyed rhino in Daktari.

My desk, inside the hot, imposing, alien school hall on Battersea Rise, looked more like a chemist’s than a work station. If I’d had a bottle of ointment to treat marsh ague, some pampers and a box of prophylactics I could have rivalled Balham Boot’s!

I’d never had hay fever before and went to every exam armed with pen; Piriton; a Penetrol inhalant – which unblocked noses with power like that of a flame thrower; paper hankies; cloth hankies – all with a big “M” on (and a diagram of an oxbow lake, which I’d sewed on the night before my Geography O-level) and lucky (or not in this case) Gonk!

I also had a slide rule which proved more useful during my music O-level – underlining the name Chopin – than it did when I sat my maths O-level!

Despite having a desk which resembled that of a fifteenth century alchemist (I could turn base metal into Kleenex) I didn’t do very well with my science exams.  Not so much not knowing my arse from my elbow, I didn’t even know my amoeba from my elements tables.


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