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!