Carpe Diem Baby!

Sometimes I feel that my life is shrinking before my eyes. I’m nearly sixty — how on earth did that happen? I don’t feel old and we live in the world where 60 is the new forty don’t we? So, clearly I’m not. In any case, my soul or whatever you want to call the internal entity that feels like some sort of mini-me remains obstinately and happily oblivious to the passing of the years. Seems there’s a reason why they’re referred to as our ‘inner children’! I think of mine as my inner-Barbie because — like Peter Pan, she seems to inhabit some sort of Neverland where she is forever young. However, unlike the redoubtable Pan who remained a child, my Barbie seems to have cleverly arrested her growth at that beguiling mid-thirties stage. That wonderful place where chronology hasn’t yet won, the body is still beautiful and the spirit is beyond the myopic self-obsession of earlier ages and stages.

Just for the record, I do know I’m not stuck in a time warp circa 1995. I kind of get that every time I’m called to the dark side and consider buying a pair of flat shoes. (Instead of the gorgeously impractical and increasingly hard to walk in high-heeled varieties I have been seduced by all my life.) In recent years two schoolmates and a couple of dear friends have died, among them my first love. That’s certainly chucked a bucket of very cold water in Barbie’s youthful smiley face I can tell you, and accounted for a fair amount of the feelings of shrinkage. But I’m now also facing that old clichéé where time is speeding up. When you’re young the minutes pass like hours and there is a constant feeling of boredom because time stretches out to infinity. Now, I’ve got to that place the young can’t understand where the hours, days, weeks, months and years speed by like the counter in HG Wells’ Time Machine.

Time to carpe diem I say. Grab each day firmly by the throat and make it count. So much better than being subsumed in a myopic obsession about some much desired future state. Whether this state is a new job, a palatial home, a more exciting partner, a super-yacht, some publisher discovering you, winning a career changing award, the in vitro treatment delivering the longed-for and almost given up on baby, running away to live on an Ashram or joining the crew of the Sea Shepherd, putting everything else on hold until some new state arrives seems to be just plain dumb. Let’s face it, scenarios like the current Trump’s/Jong-un brinksmanship play merry Hell with all of our aspirations. But I’m still loving that it’s a gorgeous winter’s day and I’m free to sift through the Op-eds and indulge myself in writing this post. No fires to fight, no ferryman to pay. The future can go hang. I’m happy in my moment. After all, WTF can I do about the mine’s bigger than yours thing that’s going on between those two equally unappealing and childish so-called men?

The carpe diem aphorism comes from Book 1 of the Roman poet Horace’s work Odes written in 23 BC. Carpe diem has long been used as a standalone phrase which people like me think of in terms of living in the now. But the context from Horace is carpe diem, quam minimum credula poster — “Seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow (the future)”. Horace’s point being we can’t see what the future will bring, but we should do everything we can today to stack the odds. Not to trust that everything will randomly fall into place.

When I thought about it, the gnarly problem of retirement planning sprang to mind. This is something of a sensitive topic for me at the moment as I’ve taken some significant risks with my financial future by treading the path of an entrepreneurial wannabe. The pot of gold at the end of this rainbow has yet to materialise and was looking frighteningly empty for a while. Putting all your financial eggs in the startup basket is a genius strategy if your name happens to be Bill Gates, but not so flash if you’re a John DeLorean and the expected high returns turn out to be little more than surf breaking on the rocks of hubris and self-delusion. While my investments are currently looking a bit healthier than they were a few months ago for a number of reasons, I still have anxiety dreams about becoming an ageing bag lady wheeling my few possessions round in a shopping trolley — pretty certain that the amount I’ve paid into my pension fund won’t cut it on it’s own.

In all likelihood, Horace’s contemporaries weren’t agonizing about whether their KiwiSaver contributions would see the distance. In those days, apparently if a baby made it through its first year, it could expect to live to the ripe old age of 34. Reaching your fifth year delivered the heady possibility of making relatively ‘old bones’ at 48. That’s a total of 17,520 diems to carpe if you want to get granular. Just as an aside, I wonder what went wrong between the Old Testament expectations of three score years and ten and Roman times? Must have been something to do with all that endless wandering around in the dessert as opposed to stagnating in the stews of Rome. Of course there’s also the thing about being God’s chosen people…

Anyway, in Ancient Rome, it’s thought that less than 5% of the population at any one time would be over 65. What a sensible arrangement!  All those lovely lovely younger generations oozing tax denarii into the exchequer leaving no question about the state’s ability to provide for its aged and infirm. Not that Rome was exactly a trailblazer in the realm of social welfare, so this line of thinking is somewhat pointless. But the Roman equations are interesting in comparison to our ageing ‘Boomer’ reality, which is leaving many people angsting about their financial futures. The upside is that this is a temporary blip. Assuming that the militaristic fat boys step away from their nukes and stand down from the standoff, with the rate at which birth rates are levelling off of or falling in the west, we’ll be back to the healthy Roman proportions of youth to age before you can say “climate change is killing us”.

All joking aside, there’s a balance between living in the moment and leaving the future to chance. In the context of financial planning, for sure there are many variables such as how long we’ll live, how much money will be needed to achieve the twilight years lifestyle we aspire to and what environmental factors will kick in to derail it all, not to mention the whole Pandora’s Box of our health. But that doesn’t means there’s no point. Yay, this is where I get to use all those cliches like failing to plan is planning to fail (Alan Lakein after Churchill and Franklin).  Like, if one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable (Seneca the Younger — and didn’t those ancient Greeks knew a thing or two BTW? Bet their life expectancy was higher than the Romans). Then there’s, it does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations if you live near him (Tolkien). For decades business gurus have been preaching the gospel of vision, mission and values as the foundation to success. Rightly so. Businesses are much more likely to achieve more, do better, make their shareholders wealthier, trade ethically etc. if they have some inkling of what they’re aiming for. It’s no different for us as individuals. Visualising what we want is much more likely to deliver than chasing a series of shiny new things down rabbit holes.

I used to have a friend who was obsessed with spontaneity. She didn’t like being tied into commitments or rules and regulations, preferring instead to live her life on ad hoc terms. We often used to argue a lot about this. Apart from anything else, it was deeply irritating that her need to be spontaneous resulted in her total inability to get anywhere on time. This fed my position which was that I don’t think you can actually be spontaneous unless you live within a structure from which you can break out. If spontaneity is your life mission it’s got to lead to chaos because nothing can ever be achieved. In a similar way, having no life plan invites chaos in. Seizing the day is not only  about visualising and working towards a desired future but also about enjoying the journey no matter what the outcome. As Robert Burns knew so well, “the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.’ Pity to get to where they’ve gone agley and there’s only disappointment and a black hole which sucked in time passed in waiting. The best bit is that with a vision, the whole concept of retirement planning becomes moot because we already know which port we’re sailing to. That we want our days to end in a Disney Castle or an Indian ashram or somewhere in between. Clearly circumstances do frequently rain on this planning parade, requiring regular recalibration, but to me that offers better odds than relying on a Lotto win.

In terms of feeling that my life is shrinking before my eyes, I’m determined to make better use this precious and diminishing time resource that once seemed a commodity. Stop bleeding out on things that don’t matter. Letting time slip away like Dali’s Melting Watch in the featured image. For sure, I need to do what it takes to get some decent returns from all the time I’ve invested in my businesses so the ageing bag lady scenario remains simply a bad dream. But I’m visualising as I write and my scenario always includes enough money to see me out in style and allow me to do all the other things I have factored in.

In this vision, when the bell tolls for me, I plan for it to interrupt something amazing. To continue the annoying references, I will be living my days rather than counting my years. Go to India and Antarctica. Take the sentimental journey home to Scotland and write my memoirs en route. Get therapy for the rampaging arachnophobia that makes any attempt at gardening feel like a journey to Mount Doom! Actually turn up at my orchestra having done more than one cursory run through of the music. Or better, stop beating myself up if I don’t! You get the picture I’m sure? Carpe diem indeed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… get it out with Optrex!

 

My elder sister went to art school. On one of her first visits home, she made us laugh with tales of the spectacular graffiti in the women’s toilettes. The one that has stuck with me through the years was “beauty is in the eye of the beholder, get it out with Optrex”. What a great observation! Still makes me smile. And wouldn’t it be great it were true?

If the imprint of beauty could be removed from the eye of the beholder with the simple application of a drop of Optrex how different the world might be? Imagine if Paris had bathed his eyes after his first sighting of Helen — he might never have abducted her and caused her husband Menelaus to launch the 10-year Trojan War to get her back. In that parallel universe, we might still be able to visit Troy. What about Mark Antony whose torrid liaison with Cleopatra ultimately handed ascendency in Rome post-Caesar to Octavian (or Agustus as he was to become) transitioning Rome from Republic to Empire? If Rome had stayed true to its republican virtues instead of dissolving into the lassitude of the late Empire that had no fight in it left when the Vandals came knocking at its gates. If the empire had not fallen, how different would the course of Western History have been? If an eye-drop could have prevented Henry VIII from falling in love with Anne Boleyn and out of love with the Catholic Church (which actually wouldn’t have existed in the earlier scenario if Rome had not fallen), there might not have been a Reformation and we might all still be living in the dark ages deprived of the flowering of the first Elizabethan era.

Optrex wasn’t introduced to the market until the 1930’s so even if it could wash beauty from the hapless beholder’s eye, it was too late to for Troy and Rome. It’s not all bad though, Henry’s VIII’s obsession with Anne Boleyn helped gave us the double whammy of the Reformation and Elizabeth’s amazing reign. In any case, it’s clear that Optrex actually can’t do any such thing, as people have continued to fall in love with the same frequency and occasionally shocking consequences as they did before it’s introduction in the thirties.

I like the idea of beauty being in the eye of the beholder because it allows for the possibility that every one of us can be beautiful to someone. Other than Helen, I’m not entirely clear that any of those spectacular women I’ve just mentioned would be described as classic beauties in the Venus de Milo tradition. Rather their attractiveness and power seems to have stemmed more from their beguiling personalities bringing together intelligence, vivacity, and elegance as well as alluring physical charms. However it’s defined, when we think about beauty, it’s more likely to be the drop-dead gorgeous variety which makes the hormones race rather than the inner type which has a slower burning fuse. Think about it, there’s Angelina Jolie and there’s Dame Judy Dench. While Dame Judy is undoubtedly a beautiful soul, she’s never been in La Jolie’s league physically. Even in her younger days, Dame Judy’s beauty was, like Intel, largely on the inside. I’m sure their mothers loved them equally (although, reading the gossip mags, that may not actually be true), but only one of them had the world (and for many years the divine Brad Pitt) at her feet because of her Helenesque loveliness. It has to be said that unlike the mythical Menelaus, Brad does not appear to have been so beguiled by Angelina that he set out with a flotilla of 1,000 ships to get her back when they broke up. Of course, the peerless Dame Judy also has long had a proportion of the world at her feet, but the adoration is more based on admiration of her art than her drop-dead gorgeousness. That’s not to say that la belle Jolie can’t act, clearly she can, and well. But that skill often gets lost in the hysteria surrounding her looks, eating habits and choices of mate.

Kids at school know the truth — generally before the 17 years it took Janis Ian to understand “that love was meant for beauty queens and high school girls with clear skinned smiles”. Everyone in the playground knows who the cute, adorable ones are. Unfair though it is, beautiful children who grow into beautiful people get more attention, more opportunities and generally more of everything than others. Sifting through articles on the subject, other than the relative ease of finding top quality mates, it’s evident that BPs experience many other advantages. Attractive students get higher grades. Banks and other institutions loan more readily to the lookers (who apparently are less likely to default). In mock criminal trials physically attractive ‘defendants’ are less likely to be convicted and the ones that are get lighter sentences. The BP brigade earns more than their less attractive peers by as much as 10 percent. All of this is hardly news, more like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but in a world where at least a proportion of it’s global citizens are genuinely seeking social equity, this is just another example of the playing field not being even. There’s even is a word for it — lookism. Who knew?

I remember seeing a programme in the early 2000s presented by John Cleese – The Human Face —  which set out to show that there is a mathematical formula for why someone like Liz Hurley (who was Cleese’s muse through the narrative) is so incredibly gorgeous. They used computer technology to aggregate images of many faces into a composite that was considered to be the distillation of the human face at its most beautiful. As I recall, this mathematical grid arrived at heart-shaped face, which the wide range of beauties they then superimposed on the grid all conformed to including the more famous Liz (Taylor), Marilyn, Greta et al.

Youth and beauty, both male and female, have been potent currency since us humans first walked the planet. However unfair, it’s simply a fact of life. But there is also a downside. BPs have to live with the knowledge that they are often not judged on the terms they wish to be. I knew a woman in London who was a Julie Christie look alike. She was truly ravishing — to the point that when she was talking to you, it was hard not to get mesmerised and lose track of what she was saying. It was almost like being under a spell and you just got lost in the glory of looking at her. She said very few people (men or women) looked below the surface to see who she really was as a person. Our circle expected her to marry some A Lister, financial whizz or other distinguished personage. How superficial of us! Eventually she married a really likeable, but pretty run-of-the-mill dude, because she said he actually saw her as a person, not just a beautiful façade and that was good enough for her. In addition to always being taken at face value, as St. Augustine observed, “beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked.” Presumably Moors Murderer Ian Bradley found Myra Hyndley (“the most evil woman in Britain”) drop dead gorgeous in the beginning.

Coming back to the opening, if beauty like that possessed by Helen of Troy, Angelina Jolie or Liz Hurley were the only currency for attraction, our species would have become extinct long-since. Imagine the slaughter in Trojan-type wars fought over the limited pool of available lovelies, leaving the rest of us withering on the vine of solitary childlessness and the species unable to reproduce itself. The upside would be that we would have perished sublimely unaware of ticking of The Doomsday Clock as it endlessly re-calibrates the current and very real threats — WMDs, climate change or Donald Trump — that could conspire to destroy us! Thankfully, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, allowing even self professed “ugly duckling girls” like Janis Ian to shine for someone and no amount of Optrex will ever make that different.

Sealed with a loving kiss

Be still my beating heart … Valentine’s Day is upon us again! Whatever our feelings about this annual opportunity to worship at the shrine of the Gods of Love, there’s no denying the continued mass appeal of Valentine’s Day.

While strewing rose petals in the path of one’s beloved and other similarly romantic gestures have been part of the deal in the West for many years, it seems that Valentine’s Day (or VD as I will call it from this point as I can’t resist the childish glee in doing so) fever is now infecting people in places like China and India. A real triumph of cross border cultural exchange I’m sure you’ll agree! But then, we’ve survived years of ‘made in China’ tat, so I guess there is some justice. In any case, after Mao’s tenderly crafted Cultural Revolution, VD might perhaps fill some gaping void in the Chinese national psyche that the Latter Day Communists have been unable to do.

In the land of Bollywood and Bling, it’s not difficult to imagine VD going down a storm there after all those Monsoon Weddings, although it is hard to credit the possibility that India could have room for a festival in its already crowded calendar.

But hey India, China or Timbuktu, romance is romance and we all know that VD is highly contagious. I have no doubt that the World Health Organisation will soon cotton on to its pandemic status and start pouring billions that could otherwise be usefully spent finding ways to feed all those Slumdogs and Chinese who haven’t managed to yet become elevated to the ranks of middle-classdom into developing a vaccine against it and spoiling all the fun.

In a fit of mild curiosity (pique could be a more accurate way of describing it) last VD, I decided to do a bit of research to find out where it all began … and whether I could name, shame and blame anyone. So I surfed the net for a while in a sort of cursory way in order to achieve some superficial understanding of the subject and frankly ended up little the wiser.

Theories abound; some think VD is celebrated on 14 February because it is the Saint’s Day of at least two early Christians called Valentine, who seem to have been indistinguishable from each other. Others believe that VD has nothing to do with any Saint Valentine. Rather, it is thought to be a lovers’ festival related to either the Roman fertility festival of the Lupercalia on February 15 or the start of the mating season of birds. With me so far?

Verses and Valentine’s Greetings appear to have been popular from the Middle Ages when lovers said or sang their greetings to the objects of their passion. Written Valentine Cards began to appear after 1400. Paper Valentine’s cards were commonly exchanged in Europe and were especially popular in England. Incidentally, this means that we can’t blame VD on the Americans as I had thought. They don’t get let off the hook entirely though — while the ‘Poms’ can take the credit for the first cards, the ‘Yanks’ are clearly responsible for taking them to the cultural heights we now enjoy! ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Whatever! In case you hadn’t clocked it, academic research isn’t really my thing, so if you want more clarity get Googeling, there’s more information than even the most enthusiastic of Mastermind candidates could soak up.

Love it or hate it, there can be few people who are entirely immune. Who don’t experience a mild frisson and a momentary intake of breath at the sight of a courier bearing a luscious bouquet in the direction of their desk, images of secret admirers flicking through their mind at the speed of a Rolodex in the hands of an experienced networker? Then the inevitable lurch of disappointment as said courier bears the fragrant floral trophy inexorably onwards to another desk. Be still my beating heart indeed.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Forget the worm … this early bird’s on a different quest!

I was haunted for months after seeing 2011 dystopian science fiction action thriller, In Time, about a society in 2169 where people stop ageing at 25 and each has a digital clock on their arm that counts down how long they have to live. When the clock reaches zero, that person “times out” and dies. Time is the universal currency which can be transferred between people or ‘time capsules”.

The film features two very contrasting scenarios. The first is a harsh urban ghetto based around manufacturing areas where people generally have 24 hours or less on their clock at any given time and live from moment to moment, tyrannised by time poverty. The other is an upmarket ‘gated community’ where the pampered rich have enough time on their clocks to live for centuries. It’s an edgy movie where the former make gifts of time to each other to survive and where loved ones simply run out of time in front of your eyes. In our own world, where the rich get richer by the nano-second, the poor poorer and no-one has enough time, it’s not hard to imagine time becoming one of the key future differentiators between the haves and the have nots.

As I’ve got older, I’ve started work progressively earlier. Likely something to do with the fact that the number of times I go out partying during a whole year can now be counted on one finger rather than many fingers required for the weekly tally in my glory days. Don’t imagine this is an unusual evolution.

Now that I get up when I used to go to sleep, I find that I actually love the early mornings. I get a real buzz from the somewhat smug satisfaction that comes from being an early bird. From having been at my desk for an hour or so before most others.  From getting a jump on the day … and checking out the latest sensational Trump story in the New York Times (yes, I am helpless in the face of this addiction). Even better, at weekends, maybe ‘sleeping in’ till an indulgent 7am instead of the usual 5.50am.

In the madness of our always on society, where we’re mobilised to the max and socially networked up the wazoo, free time is one  of the genuine luxuries. How often recently have you answered “busy” rather than something more usual like”box of fluffy ducks” or even just “fine, thank you” when a colleague asks how you are? It’s become something of a professional virtue to be insanely busy — or at last give the impression of being— or you risk being seen as not very important. In some circles appearing to have time on your hands can even be career limiting.

And yet, time is so necessary to sanity.  Reflective time, time to ponder. Do nothing. Smell the roses. Guilt free time to sprawl comfortably on a sofa lost in a good book. After all, as W.H. Davis said in his classic 1911 poem, Leisure, “What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” Making or taking time, makes us better people, personally and professionally. Time allows for balance, to  think, take stock, plan, strategise, synthesise. Taking time is taking control not just reacting to  the last txt or email. Running to the next meeting, or moving to the next item on the never ending  list of stuff to do.

Coming back to being haunted by In Time, getting up early one way of putting some more time on my meter. Consider: If you discount my indolent teens and party-centric, night-clubbing 20s … oh and the first half of my thirties that I spend recovering from the former … working on the assumption (and I am) that I will make it to at least three score years and ten, that’s two extra hours a day for some 40 years. Incredibly an massive 29.2 years that I might have slept through or squandered in some meaningless way that I have excavated slow the flow and offset the feeling of always running backwards.  AND it only gets better the longer I live!

Of course, I don’t factor in the two hours earlier I have to go to bed in order to get up at the crack of dawn. But then, it’s arguable that those two hours, when you think about what I actually did with them — out on the town, chick flic on TV, obsessively flicking through old fav music, adding to my already extensive knowledge of wine — didn’t really count. I’ll take the win.

So I raise my Americano to the other early birds everywhere. Long may you chirp away in your happy and annoying-to-everyone-else song-filled mornings … but you can keep the worms!

What next — locusts?

Many Christians believe we’re careering towards The End of Days as defined by Revelations, and that Armageddon is bearing down on us at the speed … well … at the speed four apocalyptic horsemen can gallop.

At times last year, it certainly seemed like it here in New Zealand’s capital. What with the big quake in November, all those aftershocks and slips, followed by the sort of catclysmic floods that caused Noah to take to the Ark. “What next?” we Wellingtonians all thought. “Swarms of locusts?”

Actually all the seismic shifting and biblical-style tempests did seem to be incredibly portentous as Trump pulled his sleight of electioneering and got voted in as leader of the western world about a week later… after the earlier astonishment of BREXIT. Even worse, the very same week, the peerless Leonard Cohen left us for the great tower of song in the sky — presumably accompanied by celestial choruses singing the Hallelujah? By the way, anyone else remember his lyric about America being “the cradle of the best and of the worst” (Democracy is coming to the USA)? Even more prescient as things have turned out!

Anyway the catalogue of disasters and sorrows kept flowing through the year like Tattinger at a socialite’s wedding. Topping it all, my own life and times could only have been described as a comedy of errors … more on that in other posts.

Comes the New Year. Wellington had stopped shaking, there was that incredible last album Leonard left us for consolation. A heap of other stuff had resolved with the closing of the old year and a perplexity of good things rung in with the new. I’m starting to think that 2017, in spite of Trump, is going to be a good year. Life was feeling, if not like a bed of roses, at least close to a pot of pretty pink petunias. Then the curved ball from left field. Last week’s spoiler; the hands on the Doomsday Clock were moved forward 30 minutes!! Apparently, we’re now only two and a half minutes from midnight, the time at which humanity is considered likely becomes toast! Bummer.

If you haven’t caught up with this somewhat disturbing news, the Doomsday Clock is the brainchild of a group called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board (ASSSB) which includes 18 Nobel Laureates. It was established in 1947 by experts working on designing and building the first atomic bomb. They wanted a simple way of conveying their concerns about the potential for nuclear annihilation and came up with this chillingly simple solution — the hands of a clock moving towards or away from midnight, depending on how us humans are behaving towards each other. The closer we get to midnight, the more likely we are to annihilate ourselves.

Of course the clock is symbolic rather than scientific. Without getting bogged down in the matrices and algorithms involved (and I could), suffice to say our heroes in the ASSSB contemplate all the prevailing horrors of the world at any given time conjouring up the contents of a contemporary Pandora’s Box — nuclear weapons, climate change, political flash points, pandemics etc. If some later day Pandora opened the box and let loose any or all of these, we’d move forward to midnight and it would be all over Rover for humankind.

The clock was originally set at seven minutes to midnight in the dark days post war. The only time we’ve got closer than we are now was in 1953 at the time of the early US/Soviet nuclear standoff. In the interim there have been regular recalibrations. When the Cold War ended in 1991, greatly reducing the number of deployable nukes in the USA and the USSR, the world reached a comparatively super-safe 17 minutes to the hour. Fun times!

So what’s changed? Apparently, for the first time ever, a unique individual — Trump in case you were wondering — has been factored into the calculations. Think Trump’s pledges to impede progress in nuclear disarmament. His reluctance to discuss climate change mitigation and a cavalier (to say the very least) take on human rights. Quite honestly, I’m surprised they only moved the hands 30 seconds forward!

Despite it all, I’m going to run with my New Year spirit of optimism. Keep believing that the lid will stay on the box. That we will … as the old protest song goes … overcome. It may not be comfortable, but maybe everything that’s going on provides the catalyst we need to move beyond complacency and stand up for the things that matter. If we are indeed at a tipping point, every single one of us needs to push positive vibes out and do small things to ensure that we tip in the direction of the angels. Towards the paradise that this earth should and could be … for all. Not just complacently bitch and moan our way to The End of Days and then get pissed at suffering the ‘pains of the inferno” as a consequence. Our date with midnight is not yet a done deal — we still have two and a half minutes. I’m working out my game plan to do what I can to reverse symbolic time. What’s about you?

There will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth!

And no, I’m not talking about the world’s response to the Trump! The other day I was reminded rather poignantly of a joke that did the rounds when I was a kid in  Scotland.

A stentorian and very ‘no frills’ Minister of the Church of Scotland is haranguing his hapless flock,

“… and there will be weeping, and wailing and gnashing of teeth …”

(For the Scots or Scotophiles currently reading, for fullest impact, if you can, imagine the dialogue in a strong Teuchter accent.)

Anyway, just as our Reverend Brimstone is getting into fully cry, a tremulous hand goes up towards the back of the congregation.

“Well, Mrs. MacDonald, what is it?”

“Minister, I don’t have any teeth.”

“Mrs. MacDonald, where’s your faith?” he thunders, thumping the Bible emphatically.  “TEETH WILL BE PROVIDED!”

And my point? Teeth matter. Tenuous connection, I grant you, but  really they do. Not necessarily in St Luke/Matthew’s context that our Minister above was alluding to where the ability to gnash teeth is a key accompaniment to weeping and wailing as one is thrown out of heaven and cast into outer darkness. No, my hypothesis was a little less New Testament and more New Age. Not only are teeth pretty important in helping us chow down enough food to stay alive, they’re also kind of important in other ways; like the level of dazzle in our smiles. I’m thinking the sort of smile that Charming in Shrek managed to muster where the sunlight gleamed off his perfectly even, blindingly white set. Frankly, he wouldn’t be Charming without them. Toothsome even.

So let’s just accept that teeth matter. Or they do to me, so that’s really all that matters. Perhaps that’s because the dazzle quotient of mine is beginning to slide a little. I guess the expression ‘long in the tooth’ wasn’t coined for  no reason. OK, I know we can get the damn things capped and whitened and have access to all manner of other dental alchemy, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the fact that the little darlings have minds of their own and don’t always co-operate however much brushing, flossing, mouth washing, tongue scaling and similar we do. At least these days they don’t just whip ‘em all out the minute they start to show signs of wear and tear — many of us are likely to die with a fair number of our own pearly whites in place.

Given how important they are to us, I wouldn’t be unique in wondering what sadist designed them with so many built-in flaws that resulted in the dental profession. I swear it’s not just regression to childhood that makes vision a dentist so traumatic — it genuinely is not fun. Take my most  recent experience. You know the drill (LOL). A lot of poking around and scaling with scary-looking miniature instruments that the Auto da Fe would have been glad to have dreamt up. And it has to be said, the person who came up with that spray thing whose sole function seems to be to inflict eye-watering pain by blasting jets if ice-cold water at those very sensitive parts just reclaimed by the scaling cannot have been overflowing with the milk of human kindness, can they?

I was actually at the dentist about two weeks later than scheduled — a bad cold caused me to cancel my original appointment. My dentist was on holiday the following week so I was unable — and I was devastated about this — to get an another appointment any earlier.  That’s when the shit started to hit the fan. In the interim, my not very severe cold turned into sinusitis, which converted my right cheek into a manufacturing facility for brightly coloured nasal emissions that flowed like the Niagara Falls and in similar volumes. An excruciating pain then colonised the lower right hand side of my face. Happy though I was at the weight loss from not being able to eat anything substantial for several days, I’d have gladly traded the pain for several additional kilos.

As it was, the nasal emissions slowly dried up, but the jaw ache got steadily worse and the right hand side of my face was as swollen as a puffball before someone’s squished it. I popped Nurofen like Smarties, moaned a lot to anyone who would listen — a diminishing number as the days wore on — and generally grumped around like … well … er … yup … a bear with toothache. By the time of my appointment the pain was such that I couldn’t wait to get there – practically ran in the door and threw myself at the chair. And there I was. In the hot seat and up to my eyeballs in trouble.

Readers are advised that the following content contains subject matter that contains violence and bad language — discretion is advised.

“It’s going to have to come out! You know that don’t you? We can make a temporary repair, but that’s only postponing the inevitable.”

“FXXX!” I think, overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all.

Turns out I have an abscess. Given the symptoms, not much of a surprise. What was a surprise was that the remedy of choice was to remove the offending tooth. My eternally cheery dentist smilingly told me that antibiotics would clear up the abscess, but there was no alchemy that would save the tooth (or words to that effect). “Damn!” I say (thinking much stronger expletives), trying not to become hysterical. What kind of Hobson’s choice is this? Take the tooth out immediately and be done with it OR pay for a course of antibiotics AND THEN take it out anyway. Even for an abject wimp like me the choice isn’t a difficult one!

So, it’s agreed. The tooth must go. Out of consideration for the delicacy of my readers and my own disinclination to re-visit the trauma that followed, I will not provide a blow-by-blow account. I won’t mention the two enormous injections — “you’ll only feel a little sting”. Who do they think they’re kidding? The little sting was like I imagine you’d feel if you landed in the midst of a smack (the applicable collective noun I believe) of Box Jellyfish. I’ll also spare you the details of the routine check up that happened while the injections were turning my mouth to that slobbering insensitivity that can only be achieved by anesthetic. A cracked filling that needed a running repair was identified … “might as well do that too” … “er, um”, I mumble. Anyone else find it a practical impossibility to say “no” in such conditions? Why do they insist on asking you questions and not just accept that if they need to talk, it’s going to be a monologue?

Anyway, I can tell you reader, my cup ranneth over! The chipping away of tartar involved in the subsequent scale and polish seemed like a positive celebration of life in comparison to the knowledge of what was to come. Finally the dreaded moment of truth arrives. He starts poking around THAT tooth and I know it’s time.

“Let me know if you feel any pain.”

I close my eyes and assume the white-knuckle position, mind dredging up Hogarthian scenes of Victorian medicinal brutality. I feel a strange sensation in my jaw. Is there really a crunch or do I imagine it? (On reflection, it could have been my knuckles popping.) Then it’s over. He pats my head like I’m his favourite puppy and tells me I’ve done very well. I feel ridiculously proud of myself at this, temporarily forgetting my ordeal as I bask in the warmth of his approval.

I leave the surgery with a wad of cotton wool in my face which gives me a passing resemblance to a hamster, sporting an unattractive rigor around my mouth courtesy of the anesthetic. My bank account is in a new stratosphere of red. I’m sniveling gently. I read the post procedural instructions and note to my huge dismay that I can’t even go home and drown my sorrows in a bucketful of medicinal wine. DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL is prominently displayed in letters large enough to be seen by even the partially sighted. “FXXX” I think to my self again … experiencing extremely negative feelings about whatever moron coined the expression “this too will pass”!

Happily it was a back tooth and I can still gnash away with the best of them, but there’ll certainly be weeping and wailing that would compete with the outcast from heaven if I have to lose any more. Toothless wasn’t something I wanted to be when I grew up!