The teacher was driving me to A&E, my nose a Niagara of blood. But then he stopped the car

Schooldays I’ll Never Forget: Malachy Clerkin on a hospital dash in a wheezing Ford Sierra

Malachy Clerkin: My bloody nose must have been pointing in a fairly exotic direction for a teacher to take one look and grab his car keys

Malachy Clerkin: My bloody nose must have been pointing in a fairly exotic direction for a teacher to take one look and grab his car keys

 

I have one party trick. I can make myself sneeze. Okay, it’s a crap party trick. I haven’t actually done it at a party. If there was ever a big demand for it – and there wasn’t – the post-Covid party scene won’t exactly be crying out for it either. But the fact remains: I can do it. And the reason I can is that Marty McCormilla broke my nose playing football at lunchtime in 1996.

I went for a header. He went for an overhead kick. I got the ball. He got my nasal bone. We both got drenched in a Niagara of blood.

Ordinarily, that would have been that. St Macartan’s College in Monaghan had about 600 boys in it at the time. A bloody nose didn’t get you too high up the triage ranking in normal circumstances. So it must have been pointing in a fairly exotic direction for a teacher to take one look at it and grab his car keys. “Come on,” he said. “I’ll bring you to the hospital.”

We had stopped somewhere that definitely wasn’t the hospital. The four of us were light-headed by this stage: me with the rapidly draining haemoglobin, the other three buckled with the giggles

Somehow, three of my classmates were able to feign enough concern to get in on the trip: Marty on account of being the culprit; Neal and Mickey on account of being prepared to do basically anything to get out of going to class.

It should have been less than a 10-minute drive. I had my head back, so I wasn’t entirely sure where we were going. But after a bit I realised that we had stopped somewhere that definitely wasn’t the hospital. Instead we had pulled up outside a garage.

To the howling delight of the three apes in the back of the car, our man put aside his concern for the student who now looked like a Tarantino extra and went in to see a man about a rattle the car was making. It wasn’t something that had just arisen on the trip into town or anything – he had been meaning to get it looked at for ages.

The four of us were light-headed by this stage: me with the rapidly draining haemoglobin, the other three buckled with the giggles. Accounts differ as to whether he actually came back or just left the three of them to walk me to the hospital. Either way, my broken nose – and, presumably, concussion – were put in their true perspective. Second fiddle to a wheezing old Ford Sierra.

Consequently, there’s an indent in my nose to this day, about three-quarters of the way up. And if the mood takes me, I can press on it and make myself sneeze.

I haven’t yet come across the precise scenario in which it will be of true use to me. But life is a journey.

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