Below is an extract from the title story of the book “The Wind-up Radio Chronicle and other stories” which will be released by Hovel Press in 2013
The Wind-up Radio Chronicle
“In desolaten Landschaften ist es leichter, Gedanken anzusiedeln als schon bewohnten Gegenden.”- Headcleaner, Blixa Bargeld
The skies here are big, perhaps they seem even more so in relation to how tiny the island is. Along with the few other people who live here, the dog, the giant malamute, is here with me. I’m not alone but I don ‘t talk much to him. Words don’t mean a great deal to the dog and we do things his way more and more.
They do say that in any relationship one party dominates and the weaker tends to modify their behaviour to mimic that of the stronger. We become increasingly alike. Except in one important way; his teeth are terrifying, beautiful daggers and I am now entirely edentate, more like a sloth or an anteater than a large dog.
I have my room in the one guesthouse on the island of Noil, my wind- up radio to keep me in touch with the world via the magic cord of long wave and tomorrow my final appointment with Dr. Ray, my friendly personal dentist, just to check that everything is safely finished and complete. I have no real idea of what happens from here but I have a reasonably clear idea of the route I took to get here.
It started with my teeth and with a certain shift in the aesthetic of the mainstream cinema. Take a breath it does make sense.
These two factors constitute what Jorge Luis Borges might have called ‘The Remote Case’ of my present situation; what Nestor the Chronicler writing in the monastery caves of Kiev would have called the ‘ Povest’ Vremmenykh Let’ or the ‘tale of bygone years’.
Despite my good dental health regime and a phobia of the dentist that ensured I maintained a healthy diet, my teeth consistently darkened and decayed throughout my adult life, my gums retreated and my mouth became increasingly sensitive. My genetics weren’t good. At least one uncle had no teeth left by the age of thirty-five. My mother’s gums had disappeared from view around the base of many of her teeth from early adulthood and she survived that pain by painting on fluoride from time to time.
We all have our weaknesses, we all have to go some way as they say in my father’s family and this appeared to be my route.
Pain, like sex, it occurs to me now, is impossible to describe. You can only ever describe what it looks like not what it is. Perhaps we can best outline the biological basis of both but that does nothing to illuminate the experience, how it enters our lives or how it affects them.
When the constant nagging pain in my own mouth got too much, and when I had developed an abscess that caused me to faint with pain, I took myself to a dentist. We got the abscess fixed with antibiotics so strong they made the skin peel from my hands, the tooth removed after several nasty attempts (it is not easy to numb a ‘hot tooth’), but the general unease in the area of my teeth and gums went on. I used sensitive toothpaste of all the major brands and I used the sensitive mouthwash associated with them all too, sometimes in brand sync and sometimes out in the alternating hope that using the products in sync would double the effect or that using them out of sync would have a greater effect by adding something new.
Nothing helped. I went to several dentists who all said my teeth and gums were basically sound, not perfect, I had damaged them by overly aggressive brushing but basically sound.
I used floss of various kinds, I used interdental brushes which were an innovation from Sweden, I used soft toothbrushes and electric and sonic toothbrushes.
I invested heavily in failure. Nothing worked, or rather everything didn’t work and consistently so.
So I decided to have all my teeth removed.
I was working in an advertising agency/publishing company at the time called Yew Haven Press. I was sick of it. I saved my money as best I could and I came up with a scheme, my own personal dental plan. This plan I have been in the processes of putting into action here on the island of Noil, off the coast of Donegal in the North West of Ireland over the past month.
The other remote cause was a return of the 1970s in the movies.
Having been born in the 70s myself it’s just perfect to think that a lot of things got repressed back then and when I found that the seventies were re-emerging in the cinema in my late thirties, a whole lot resurfaced in me too.
I had always loved movies from the seventies, particularly German ones for some reason. I felt the way that Wim Wenders filmed Hamburg in “The American Friend” was the way that European cities should be filmed. It felt like what I felt like walking up the quays from home in Stoneybatter to the city centre of Dublin. It felt right to film these cities from the river up not to try to copy American films where directors could shoot from the sky down past the skyscrapers.
This has always been the atmosphere in which I feel most at home and yet I found it disturbing when I started to notice this look and feel being copied in movies being made by American director’s like David Fincher. The whole look of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a computer graphics generated attempt to pin the look of European cinema from the seventies over an American set of thoughts and images. I saw it again and again. I couldn’t go to the movies without seeing this pattern repeated in the trailers for coming attractions (I give you “Hanna”, for example) and it disturbed me.
When I was young I lived by the Liffey and I spent so much time walking up and down the quays that I got to know it like a sailor gets to know the sea. Not the ‘wine dark sea’ or the ‘snot green sea’ but some filthy brown delta of refuse.
When the river was low it revealed decades of debris all rotted together, everything melting into one misshapen monster and nothing maintaining its form.
All the psychological junk and debris of my childhood kept coming back with the intrusion of the past into the present of the cinema.
A lot of people might find this hard to understand but watching films was the experience that most formed my thinking. From the first film I went to; which, by the way, was “Watership Down” nothing influenced the formation of my ideas and character with the same degree of strength as the big screen. Nothing influenced how I saw the world and imagined my place in it more than the movies.
A combination of these two things I believe started the panic attacks.
The teeth got worse and worse and the panic attacks kept pace until I found myself regularly waking from dreams of horrific dental surgery in the mornings with my heart already racing and my breathing shallow and rapid to a reality of actual dental pain and a terror of everything and everyone.
So I made the decision to get all of my teeth removed. This is not something dentists like to do these days although forty years ago they would actively recommend it to young people just to avoid the future hassle keeping your teeth would cause. If you go further back in history the removal of all your teeth might be given to you as a wedding present; in a sense it was a symbol that you were an adult. Get your teeth out and get on with your life; it’s a sentiment I can support.
I can also think of several weddings I have been forced to attend after which I would happily have removed the main offenders teeth for them as a present to myself but that is another story.
I made the rounds of the dentists of Dublin but no one would help.
So, even though I had my plan in place it was of little use to me without a willing helper. Even I was not desperate enough to consider, seriously anyway, extracting my own teeth.
Then I found Dr. Ray. He worked from what looked like a tenement completely unchanged from the 1940s near the Black Church.
There is a legend that if you walk around the Black Church backwards saying the Our Father backwards or something like that you will meet the Devil. If that were true and you were foolish enough to do it, you might meet someone who looked very much like Dr. Ray.
Dr. Ray looks only slightly over one hundred years old. He is about six feet three inches tall but if you add the height of his wild grey hair he might be anything up to six feet six. He is extremely thin and his skin is almost as grey as his hair. Sitting still he looks like he might not have long to live but I have seldom seen him sitting still and at all other times he has a strange sense of vitality about him, like a very animated corpse. He is surprisingly strong, as I know from the few times I have accepted his challenges to arm-wrestle, it is his grip which particularly impresses me- grip strength is a good indicator of longevity I’m told. Oh, and he only has one eye. He wears the classic black leather eye patch and it rather suits him. I have never learned his Christian name he has never volunteered it and it has never seemed appropriate to ask. I think of him very much in the way I used to think of my schoolmasters, and I know for a fact they didn’t have first names, they were bred without them.
He told me that he would be more than happy to remove all my teeth but that he was retiring and going to live on a tiny island in the Atlantic not far off the Donegal coast. I told him that I thought we could still make it work…