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A Scar Is Born
My unwelcome companion first appeared after a bout of tonsillitis for which I had been given penicillin. The GP diagnosed it as penicillin rash but my mother (who trained as a nurse) was unconvinced. She heaved a hefty medical tome from a bookshelf to double-check her theory and I was duly dispatched back to the GP with a note explaining it was probably psoriasis (guttate psoriasis to be precise, though I’ve never referred to it as that – but I confess that I sometimes substitute the “guttate” for “fucking” in less eloquent or sober moments). The GP had the haunted, pale look of a man who had encountered my mother before and knew it was best not to argue. I’d learnt long ago it was best to do what she said: and it turned out that hallowed professionals in neighbouring villages had as well. I was prescribed a tall, reassuringly old fashioned brown glass bottle full of thick, black tar that smelled of roadworks but looked like that stuff Dr Jekyll drank to stave off Mr Hyde’s increasingly frequent visits. It didn’t smoke, alas, but you can’t have everything. It was to be poured into the bath and this would see off the small, red dots that had spread over my torso and occasionally dried which allowed me to chip off a wafer of detritus with a satisfying pluck.
I was quite self-conscious at school: not just about my skin. It’d be easy to read this blog and think that every minor trauma in my life has been linked to psoriasis but that would be a mistake. I have always been a worrier (which is not unrelated to my condition): couple that with being somewhat weedy, pretty clever and drawn to performance and I was never going to be in the Top Five People Not To Bully At All Costs list. I don’t think I was even in the Top Two Hundred. I had also spent some time at a boarding school – a charity paid for it because my Mum was on her own, and so I didn’t exactly fit in, being cut from a slightly more humble (and probably hand-knitted by my Nan) cloth than my contemporaries. When Mum took me out of that place and I hit the local comprehensive at the age of eleven, my being in the vicinity of poshness for several years had bestowed an accent upon me which meant I didn’t really fit in there either. I say none of this for sympathy – I’m over it and having had both perspectives early in life has given me a more rounded one now – but the resultant emotional buffeting may add a splash of colour to my overall picture. Seeing as it’s believed psoriasis may be linked to one’s emotional state it’s worth mentioning – although often I was a cheerful chap who always liked performing, I was occasionally prone to glum moments and was often anxious about being liked and not getting into trouble.
Being the youngest of four children and wearing the hand-me-down clothes of the eldest of those (with fashions having changed in the interim), helped complete the mosaic of dweebiness that brought me undue attention from the more alpha males of the playground, who regularly zeroed in on the flared trousers I had to wear for school. This being the 80s they were a no-no: after all we were in the midst of a decade now renowned for its superb esoteric fashion styles. I was mocked by 12 years olds with mullets for goodness sake! “They’re not flared,” my Mum instructed me when I pleaded to have the trousers taken in “they’re straight legged.” I told this to the mockers. Of course, such a dazzling assault of logic stopped them in in their tracks immediately (for those with no irony detector, it didn’t stop them in their tracks immediately. Or even at all). In a similarly robust defensive tactic, Mum had told me to tell anyone who queried my seemingly measle-ridden body to explain that it wasn’t contagious, but rather a rash. “Yes,” said Karl Thomson during a school session at the swimming baths one day, “nappy rash”. Thanks Mum.
The tar, however, worked. Pretty quickly and effectively as I recall. And that was that, off it went, no disaster (except I got
told off a lot for not cleaning the bath properly afterwards). Only my head and my eyelashes stubbornly refused to behave normally. The scalp I’ll deal with in a future blog, whilst the eyelashes used to crust over with what looked like rampant sleep dust and went raw and painful when I (inevitably) picked at them. I thought I was blighted for life by crusty, yellow eyelids, but they’re such a distant memory that I’d forgotten about them until sifting through my memories for this blog. It’s a condition called blepharitis that hung about with me when I was a teenager but, you know, we grew apart and lost touch. I mention that only because I thought I’d never shake it and it caused me all sorts of worry and now it’s a dim, distant memory, consigned to the dustbin of history alongside other ghoulish terrors from my childhood like the imminence of nuclear war, geography homework and Phil Collins.
The rest of my skin was fine. So that teenage impetigo-dalliance was quickly put aside as a phase. It had been curious interlude then, a rather unnerving manifestation but not especially outrageous – I had other friends whose passage into manhood was accompanied by thick, boiling pustules of acne so considered myself a relatively minor casualty in the hormone war. It was soon forgotten and the rest of my teenage years were relatively trouble free (if low self-esteem, paranoia, sexual anxiety and heartbreak can be deemed trouble free: which, of course, they can with the benefit of hindsight and the amnesia thoughtfully supplied by old age and alcohol abuse).
And then it came back. And never left.
NEXT EPISODE: The Skinny Defective.