For last month’s birthday my nearest and dearest bought me a vintage Noddy Annual. Grand it was, with its pink, hardback cover and brightly coloured characters.
Tessa knows I like old books, especially those harking back to childhood. And she probably chose Noddy as a joke because I do nod off like a baby – typically ten hours a night plus daytime naps. In fact, on the parabola of life I’m wandering happily down the second childlike path. Having skipped along my first childhood and barged through the earnestness of middle life, I am once again showing off and making demands, and people think I’m sweet.
But inside the Annual I discovered a perhaps more pointed reason for her choice. Tessa had picked an edition where Big Ears sets up a taxi firm to rival Noddy’s, with a brightly coloured people carrier, cut-throat fares and an aggressive advertising campaign. Noddy’s livelihood was threatened and his sixty year friendship with Big Ears was teetering on the brink.
In itself the story made excellent fireside reading but, I thought, is her choice of the “Special Big Ears Edition” trying to tell me something? Was she perhaps inferring that Enid Blyton introduced Big Ears to make older readers like me feel less alone? Was she teasing me about the differences between early and late periods of childhood? After all, in this secondary phase I hobble rather than skip, I take a daily dose of multi-coloured tablets not sweets – and yes, my ears are rapidly growing longer. An esteemed graduate of the British School of Irony, it wouldn’t be beyond Tessa to poke fun at my lengthening lobes.
I’m trying to grow old gracefully, bumbling and stumbling my way as best I can. But short of radical surgery (a ”lobe job” as they say) I can’t stop my lugs growing. Until recently I thought it was either genetic – that not everybody’s ears grew bigger – or that it was nature creating a larger funnel to compensate for loss of hearing. And I only thought about it when, say, World War 1 veterans appeared on TV or I was singing carols in a care home.
But I’ve discovered that ear growth is a natural part of the ageing process for all of us. Studies since the mid-nineties in Italy, Japan and the UK have proved that ears elongate by an average of 0.22mm a year, a fact so accurate that forensic scientists can determine someone’s approximate age by their ear size.
A little help funnelling sound
One school of thought is that an enlarged auricle (outer ear) does help funnel more sound. But a more accepted explanation is that ears sag with age thanks to a loss of elasticity as the collagen and elastin fibres that make up the ear’s cartilage and surrounding skin start to break down. Deterioration of this cartilage removes structural support, allowing gravity to take over and cause the appearance of droop. Since noses are constructed in the same way, they too are subject to apparent enlargement, though less so than ears. The effect is exacerbated by a loss in volume of surrounding areas like cheeks and lips, making the organs next to them look larger.
Ear-lengthening happens to women as much as men, but because their ears are often covered up we don’t notice. Under the pink and purple rinses on those coach trips to Scotland lie an abundance of awesome auricles. In fact sagging ears are potentially a greater issue for women because earrings, especially the ‘drop’ variety, encourage gravity to do its dastardly deed. No surprise that it’s women who most often seek redress through lobe surgery. A similar tug must be exerted by the ear stretchers in vogue with many young people. The combined vertical strain and butchered lobes will surely come back to haunt them in later life. But, huh, what do they care?
I’ve just measured my ears – they’re exactly 70mm long. If I live another thirty years they’ll be 76.6mm when I’m ninety-seven. But since 0.22mm is only the average growth, they could get even larger, occupying the entire sides of my face. I’ll be able to hear well enough, but it could spoil my chances with, say, a woman I’m trying to chat up in my nursing home. And I worry about other silly things, like how will I deal with all that unwanted extra hair? Would I need giant Baby Buds? Would a mobile phone disappear down my swollen ear canal? Will I experience violent ear-popping on flights, causing my head to explode?
Obama checks today’s flap factor
Maybe I’m taking it too seriously. At least I don’t have sticky-out ears. With decades of growth and a high flap factor, people like Barack Obama and Gary Lineker might in later years find it tricky staying grounded in a strong wind.
I think I’m still on the right side of ear droop. Holding the Noddy Annual alongside my head in the mirror, I’m no way like Big Ears. And I’ll never catch up because his ears should grow with each new Annual. Let’s just say Tessa’s gift has made me think properly about my ears’ future; and she’ll be pleased I’m not now ordering from Amazon the gorgeous blue and white striped 5mm ear stretchers I’ve been banging on about for the last year.
Anyway, they wouldn’t have gone with my titanium butterfly eyebrow bar.
Copyright © Paul Costello March 2015
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