The Big Tissue

20 June 2017 Richard Castles

The Big Tissue

Photograph by istock

With winter upon us, and the cold and flu season that it heralds, I have found myself wondering whatever happened to the humble handkerchief. In fact, whatever happened to the tissue? Actually, whatever happened to blowing your nose?

I caught a plane to Sydney recently and found myself sitting next to a sniffer. I don’t know how to spell the sound of a sniff, either dry or – as in the case of this young man – moist and snivelling, but it is a sound I was to hear a hundred times during the hour-long flight. Schplflplfplf.

I jolted a little in my seat at the first emphatic sniff, but let it pass. Then the next. At the third, I kind of glanced sideways at him, hoping he might get the whiff of a hint. A sniff of disapproval, you might say. 

But that is as far as I went. I am pathetic when it comes to confrontation, justifying my cowardice as polite forbearance. I have friends who wouldn’t hesitate to confront at the first snuffle. I tried to channel their courage, but couldn’t find the voice, choosing to write an opinion piece later instead.

After the fourth and fifth sniff, it became even harder to bring it up, so to speak. Why, he might think, did I not mention it before? Why now? What particularly about the seventh sniff made it the snort that broke the camel’s back? Just maybe, I kept praying, it might stop. It’s like the sniffing version of chatterers in a cinema.

When the flight attendant came past and asked if I would like anything, I considered saying, “No, but the gentleman beside me would like a tissue.” But I refrained, again conscious of the tension it might create, as he would no doubt be able to identify the passive informer. 

So, I remained silent, pulling the hat I was wearing down over my ears, and telling myself it was only for an hour. I spent the remainder of the flight unable to read, relax, or concentrate on anything. It is impossible to do this while waiting for the imminent...the inevitable...the impending...schplflplfplf! Ah, there it is. 

It doesn’t take too much to get thrown off a plane these days, and it took enormous effort to suppress the urge to just lose it and scream, “Will you please just blow your nose, please?!”, as he continued to sniff at least twice a minute for the next hour.

Was he aware of it? Was it just some sort of nervous tic? Maybe he only did it when flying? Or had he simply never been taught the delicate art of snot dispensing?

The troubling thing was, on my return flight I realised he was not alone in the mucus retention department. Like a twitcher identifying bird noises, I isolated half-a-dozen distinct sniffers in my immediate vicinity. This can be extrapolated, if not expectorated, to perhaps 20 people on the plane.

For goodness sake, people, blow your noses! Preferably your own. Nobody wants to hear you re-sequestering your boogers. Did your mothers or fathers or childcare minders not even teach you how to wipe?

I understand that the initials-embroidered Christmas gifts of squared cloth that my grandad be-snotted and carried around in his strides might not now be seen as the most hygienic of accessories, but we have Kleenex. Could you not carry a few sheets with you? Or use the napkin: we were given two on the plane, one with our drink and one with the strange Neil Perry savoury biscuits. 

Is it a symptom of our society’s narcissistic direction that the common courtesy of blowing one’s nose seems to be becoming a thing of the past, internalisation now being the preferred method? Come to think of it, the word narcissism doesn’t sound very different to the sound of the moist insufflations of my friend on the plane. Nrcssmsm!

Sure, a big, bellowing nose blow is not the nicest thing to hear, but it can be done politely, turning to the side and discretely discharging one’s nasal nasties. Even a gentle dab – and I’m not talking the dance move with a subtle underarm wipe thrown in – can be done delicately, relieving the need, the need for schplflplfplf.

But I’d still prefer a single blow and be done with it, to death by a thousand sniffles. Ah, there she blows! Clear the halls! You and I will both feel better for it.

by Richard Castles

Richard Castles writes Hearsay.

This article first appeared in Ed#539 of The Big Issue.