…Squigglers!

My goodness. The drama and the tragedy. Once you start realising that everyone has comic squiggly lines on their forehead – even those poor people who have spent many years doing their best not to frown or laugh, in an attempt to hold them off until the grave, the poor, stupid, silly, vain, yet admirably patient bastards – you can’t see anything else when you look at them. Nothing else. Once you’ve seen them, there really is no going back. Previously serious-looking people will now look utterly ridiculous, thanks to these devious, indiscriminate, credibility-knackering things. People who you once thought Wow, they look young for their age! I wish I was like them! will now put thoughts into your mind like That’s ridiculous! They look absolutely fucking ancient for anyone’s age! How did I not notice that before!? Not being them is something quite beautiful! Following this realisation, you will then be plagued by a feeling of awkward, uncomfortable concern for the smooth safety of your own special forehead – which is not so special any more. Unless of course you’re old enough to have your own set of well-defined squigglers, that is (squiggli?). In which case, all of this will be old news and frankly you’ll be sick of it. If so, you’re probably hating me right now, or at least resenting me a bit. Which is spectacularly unfair when you think about it, because for one thing it’s not my bloody fault that you didn’t realise you had squigglers until I pointed it out, and for another, how do you know that I, myself, don’t also have a set of insidious squigglers?

That’s right, I have my own gang of squigglers to worry and panic about. They gather and they mock…they congregate on my forehead whenever I dare question someone, or when I try and guess the answer on a game-show and I get it wrong yet again (perhaps the squigglers like to remind me that I am wasting my life?). Sometimes it feels like they come just for the hell of it. Who the hell knows. One moment I’m fine, I’m normal, but the next…Squigglers of massive proportions. Sounds like a playful name for some nasty disease, doesn’t it? Maybe a US created weapon designed to sound fun, but actually it’s lethal. Lethal as the evening TV vortex created by the rather questionable Take Me Out is to your brain.

Squigglers, those doom-mongers, those despicable little shits, appeared on my forehead shortly after my 28th birthday, and I don’t need to be a biologist to know that they are going to stick about. Not just stay…but evolve. This is just the beginning of a routine that’s been practised an infinite number of times before. I’m not an expert or anything, honest, but even I know that there’s about ten more incarnations to go through before they are even close to being finished, and even then they’ll probably do something weird and unexpected that both undermines and celebrates all those previous years of torment. The only question is…what form will they take in the end? Will I end up with lots of little ones, or some of those deep-ingrained whoppers? (I’d rather the latter to be honest. At least then it’ll give my face character). Will they be curved and even or curved and hilariously uneven, as if chucked at my face by someone with their head on wonky and their vision all skewed? What a way to live…what a way to live. Thinking all these bloody things.

Squigglers

The good thing for most people, of course, is that squigglers aren’t there constantly. Up until you’re about 40 or so, they seem to come and go when you laugh or frown, so there is something fair in the world at least. After you pass that point, shit gets real, however. Real and serious. Look at anyone over the age of 40 and see for yourself what a mess they can make. If the subject of your squigglers-inspection doesn’t have even the barest trace of squigglers and yet has managed to reach this grand-old-age, then that’s really something. In fact, why not congratulate them? Why not shake their hand and surprise them.

And watch the squigglers show!

OH NO I JUST HAD A HORRIBLE THOUGHT

Just realised something quite awful which could bring the police and the world’s prosecution services to its/their knees…think of all the people who have witnessed crimes over the years! Think of the effect of squigglers on crime! By now, many millions of people will have thought that they were mugged or burgled by a young person if they’d been mugged or burgled by someone whose squigglers didn’t happen to be on display (or had been carefully taped-down), and all kinds of madness just like that! Or the other possibility, which is equally as sinister…

“What did the suspect look like?” An officer might say. “How old would you say they were, roughly?”

The victim might then reply: “Well, based on their forehead, which seemed to really jump out at me at the time…I’d say about ninety…”

The officer replies: “ninety? Nine zero?”

And the victim says: “yes, ninety…I’m telling you…”

“Well other witnesses say thirty-five…”

“I know what I saw. They had serious squigglers…”

“I am not saying that they did not, madam. But thirty-five and ninety…I see…”

“Good.”

“That’s a contrast we weren’t anticipating. But so be it, we know some pretty dodgy elderly folk around here. We’ll have to arrange a line-up. It’s time the scum paid.”

Oh no.

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No more manual toothbrush. It’s time to join the big people’s club

Readers of this blog will likely have come across the odd tooth-related post (such as this one here and this one here). And why not blog about this subject? When you consider the importance and significance of the tooth – or more accurately teeth – in our every day lives, it seems bizarre that everyone isn’t blogging about it/them.

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Sound advice from Dalai

I often wonder why human teeth exist at all. It is a conundrum. If Evolution is so progressive, then by now you’d have thought they’d be all joined-up together. I can’t stand the fact that so many other animals have undergone intense & impressive evolutionary transformations, losing arms and growing extra ears and getting rid of nobs, and yet, after many millions of years, we’re still stuck with loads of annoying teeth which require constant maintenance. Not the best when you have always favoured the manual toothbrush. It’s not because I’m a Luddite – although I probably am – and it’s not about being deliberately difficult as my dentist would surely insist (although I probably also am). It’s just me being me. I have never liked that weirdo-buzzing feeling of using an electric toothbrush. I don’t care that it’s meant to be easier and I couldn’t give a toss if everyone is doing it. I’ve just never liked the idea. I’ve always preferred my manual one.

In the past-past – by this I mean before the past, which is any time up until a few months ago – I have worried immensely about trips to the dentist’s and hygienist’s. Like anyone would if they never did what the dentist recommended. The days leading up to my appointment(s) comprised of me first pretending that I had done t least some of what I’d been asked to, then realising that lying about it wouldn’t work, again. The final stage was always one of resentment towards my rebellious inner-self. It was only me who had ever messed it up. If I’d have actually bothered, things would have been better. And I would not have got bollocked so much for having bad teeth.

In the most recent past, I wasn’t quite as concerned. I had made more of an effort leading-up to the appointment – I’d become obsessed with using mouthwash and those prohibitively expensive stick things you shove between your teeth, making your mouth bleed on purpose – and I had benefited. I was still a manual toothbrush Luddite, but at least I was changing, or willing to. I was definitely caring more, that much had to be true. So this time, when I arrived at my 6-monthly dentist’s appointment, I felt OK. Not brilliant, obviously, but I did feel like I had done half as much as I could have. This could only be interpreted as progress. It must have had something to do with reading all those Dalai Lama quotes on Facebook.

And the appointment went well. Very well. Alarmingly well, truth be told. At one point, she even said something about me having regularly used my electric toothbrush. My electric toothbrush! I had somehow managed to fool her! There she was, staring directly at my uselessly brushed teeth, and she couldn’t even tell I was a bloody Luddite! This was a shocking thing.

Then she said “Do you use your electric toothbrush once or twice a day?”

I said: “Er…”

It would have been very easy to lie. I should have lied, it would have saved me all kinds of hassle. But the poster on the wall to my right, the one depicting someone’s harrowing tooth-rot, someone like me, someone who’d done nothing to help their teeth for years, got to me. I ended up saying “I’ve actually only got a normal toothbrush. A manual one.”

“A manual one?”

This was a cry for help if ever there was one.

“Manual. No electricity.”

“Oh…I see.”

It could have got very awkward. Me pointing out how she really should have known. Her knowing she should have known and trying to hide it, badly. Yet it didn’t. Instead, almost as if she respected me for so capably pulling the wool over her clearly poor vision, we began a discourse on electric toothbrushes. Well, they began a discourse and I sort of just stood there and nodded. Why hadn’t I ever got into that whole scene? What was it about them that I didn’t like?

“How long have you got?” I said.

“No offense but about thirty seconds.”

“Oh.”

And it all came pouring out in those 30 seconds (once she’d finished calling her numbers out to the dental nurse, and I’d taken a swig of the nasty pink liquid and spat it out, streaming with blood). I decided to give it to her straight. There I stood, calmly explaining that I just had never liked the electric ones. So there, stick that up your bum, I thought but did not say.

Then began the pair of them talking in-depth about electric toothbrushes and all the different kinds there are. Sonic ones and oscillating ones (it is never a dull day when I get to use that word). Which ones they preferred. Ones which cost several hundred pounds (the wrong approach to take with me) and ones which don’t (the right). And all through it I found myself changing…thinking about what could be if I could just allow myself to entertain the idea.

I was to leave with a smile on my face. I’d done it. I wasn’t even out of the room yet and I had already moved beyond that horrible bit when you have to part with loads of money at the Reception desk, and I was now walking out of the surgery with my electric toothbrush. All in my mind. Thanks to my imagination.

Before I could change my mind, I thanked them, walked out of the room for real with the free little tubes of toothpaste which they’d kindly given me – nothing like it for making a person feel special – and picked up the first blue box on the display cabinet to my right. On it were the words Oral-B PROFESSIONAL CARE 1000. Beneath these words were several statements which made me feel instantly at ease. The first promised that it would remove up to twice as much plaque as a regular manual toothbrush. Good because plaque had always been my number 1 enemy. The second assured me that the 1000 was gentle on both teeth and gums. Good because both teeth and gums had been enemies for me at one time or another. Let’s just say they were all number 1.

At the bottom, with black writing on a yellow background, it said

PATIENT STARTER KIT

For dental professionals

And yes, I know what some of you will be thinking: why the hell didn’t you just buy it off ebay? Good question, but you needn’t be so modern about it. Not everything is about saving money, you know. Simple truth is that I wanted the Oral-B PC 1000 there and then. I didn’t want to wait and give my stupid logic a chance to derail what was happening. I wanted that money spent so that I had no choice but to join the new world. So there you have it. With that, so it was done.

An essay on Hope

This post comes with a warning. This post may make you feel uneasy, annoyed or frustrated if you currently hate the world and everything in it. Like if you were expecting a pay-rise from that meeting with the boss, for example, but actually the meeting was about you integrating your job role so that, in actuality, your work-load doubled. So you can’t say that you haven’t been warned now, can you?

Considering a few things that are happening right now in my life which I won’t go in to here, today would seem like a strange day – the word surreal comes to mind – to write about hope. Yet that, conversely, is precisely where hope blossoms (yes. This kind of irritating optimism is why I gave you that warning…). Theoretically, whatever is going on, however difficult things may be, there is always hope. It’s just not always so easy to practice that theory and make choices which allow it to manifest. Especially when life as we know it is more in flux and transient than it ever has been. The Neanderthals dealt with the flux that was basic every-day survival, at a time pre-communication where learned knowledge must, surely, have been something of a mystical affair – something largely unrecorded, maybe even un-thought of. Not surprising when you’ve got bigger fish to fry, like making sure a hungry tiger doesn’t kill every surviving member of your family. Now, we deal with flux while navigating a swarming world of information – that’s without even taking into account misinformation – technological breakthroughs and ever-changing theories. All of which are recorded, argued, challenged and eventually bettered (except for things like the re-imagining of the Lion bar, which transpired to be a toxic, ultimately pointless and humiliating affair for the chocolate bar’s makers). We may lack much in common with our stone-wielding, shit-scared of the unknown buddies of early civilisation, but our challenges never diminish. Crap roads, pot-holes and if we should bother to vote or not. And psychological survival can be as hazardous as anything – just because cave-people never had to deal with the obsessive addictions of 2014, that doesn’t mean that we have it any easier. In particular when all of us outside North Korea are susceptible to unlimited choices that consume our lives, making following – and staying on – any kind of path a momentous achievement in itself. Go this way, you’re in trouble. Don’t go this way and you can always post about it on Facebook, where, if you’re not very careful, you may just find yourself believing all the hype. That everything is shit, from boilers to relationships. That, in fact, all hope is lost, so the best any of us can do is carry on as we are and not really give a shit.

Yet today, I was once again made very aware that there is and continues to be tremendous hope and love in the world. Just last week I, along with thousands of other people, read a story on the guardian which cemented this perception. Six years ago at Waterloo Bridge, a man called Neil Laybourn noticed someone ominously perched on the bad side of the edge. Rather than doing the easy thing, the thing which many would hold characteristic of Londoners who have forgotten what the individual in society actually is, Neil stopped and took direct action, speaking to the man, making a choice which was just as brave as it was stupid – from a wholly selfish point-of-view. The article, if you haven’t seen it, makes for compelling reading, and charts their meeting up recently, enabling the then-victim to convey his heartfelt thanks in person. Until someone stopped to tell him that there was hope and things could change, the guy on the bridge had no idea.

Earlier today I decided to go for a walk in a local nature reserve. And by local I am fortunate enough to be able to say Just down the road – it being a 10 minute walk. It is a true escape, far and yet so close. Upon arriving there, a guy, probably about my age, approached me with his dog and began to ask me if I knew the area very well. We soon got talking about various connected things. The free parking – this he struggled to comprehend – and the impressive and unique geographical features which make the reserve something of an anomaly in our flat landscape. It’s still the barest trace of a hill by any proud northerner’s standards, but when land around you is flat forever, you have to take what you can get.

The way the man approached me made me smile: his lack of reticence about simply striking-up a conversation with a total stranger, and his blatant lack of guard – something I could liken to western tourists we had met in Vietnam last year, who were so happy to be surrounded by others of similar mind-set that the tragic and so-called normal social rules of many large cities went totally out the window.

Walking around the reserve on this cold, very windy day, I thought about a few sporadic, largely unconnected things, in that floaty and relaxed manner that is, much of the time, too interrupted by daily activities to be really sustainable for long. I recalled Russell Brand’s article from the guardian, which I had read and pondered earlier in the morning, in-between client emails and pretending not to have a look at Facebook. Candid as usual and disarmingly honest, Brand’s piece was, in my opinion, more serious and notably more poignant than many that have gone before it. Speaking openly and without seeking approval is, of course, a thing in which he excels. But what I was not prepared for, this time, was the thoughts that would come out of reading the piece. Love him or hate him, the article is a striking piece of writing that, uncomfortably and unapologetically, conveys the grim realities of being held in the hopeless grasp of substance addiction. For me, it displayed tremendous hope. That, even when something as dark and harrowing as substance addiction refuses to let go, there are people and organisations who want to make people feel much better. There is something other, something huge, something worth the fight. Even if it feels like hell. And it takes courage to write like that.

Despite all this, the obvious truth is that I, just like you – just like everyone who has ever lived, I argue – often need to take my own medicine. It’s fine for me to say “We should all be hopeful”, but I am all too aware that throw-away comments like this – or worse, mantras or lectures as some might consider them – can be insulting to those people who are in a desperate situation. A situation which would seem more or less impossible to anyone experiencing it. People who genuinely feel like there is no way out, no way to make a change. At times like this, hope is not easy to come by, and it may not be offered. Particularly when someone exhibits only normal character traits and appears to largely be OK. Not everyone is lucky enough to have good friends that watch out for them. Who email or text or call when life really does feel like total shit. So I am grateful for having that. I have to be. I have friends. I have family. This is a privilege. I am employable and, if I vanished tomorrow, I know that people would question where I had gone, if I was OK, if I was coming back. It does not give me satisfaction to know that this is the case, but it does make me realise how very fortunate I am and how much of life is up to me to affect. To have arrived at this point in time and to know, with conviction, that hope is attainable to me.

On the way back from the nature reserve today I saw two young lovers, somewhere between youth and adulthood, the male awkwardly handing over some kind of badly-wrapped present – I empathized with him. I simply cannot wrap things. All this, viewed in just a second or two and nothing to do with me – a fleeting show of perfection. In a way, it was like a kind of gift. Their whole lives ahead of them, I wondered who they were and what their stories might be. Where they’d go and what they might do and achieve. I wondered if life was actually, for them, as good as their faces and obvious happiness seemed to make out.

There is hope in the world, even if you can’t wrap gifts. Really. There is hope in the world if you are depressed and life, slowly but surely, is becoming too great an ordeal to survive through. But you’re allowed to moan about things, and you must. Moan about things on Facebook or to friends and work them through in your mind – I don’t know any other way, and that’s something I won’t be apologising for. Something I can’t change. Realise the imperfections, and, possibly, the greater advantages of your situation will flourish and become more distinct. So obvious that hope is the only rational by-product. That, with a smile, you can turn someone’s life around or make them think that, actually, life can be good sometimes and is worth living every single day.