Friday, 29 January 2016

The War on Silence

My wife was excited when it was announced that a branch of Target would be opening on Austin Highway, just a few minutes from where we live.

'What's so great about Target?' I asked.

I don't remember her answer in detail, but what I took from it was that Target was like a Walmart which had bothered to wipe its ass, brush its teeth, and maybe made the effort to pull a comb through its hair every once in a while. It was just a store, basically a warehouse selling more or less everything from inside a space in which you might otherwise store a jumbo jet. If we're going to accept soulless corporate retail as an inevitably, then at least you don't feel the need to take a shower each time you enter a branch of Target.

We passed by and would note the progress of the building work as what had once been a branch of Hobby Town gradually shuffled towards its new identity. Then the day arrived and the fences came down, and we went in to buy bars of chocolate for the sake of making a purchase in the new store. As I have discovered, despite being the land of unnecessarily sweet unhealthy shite, the United States nevertheless scores poorly when you want a bar of chocolate. Hershey bars aren't entirely without merit, but they're more or less all you can buy of their general type and are no substitute for Cadbury's Dairy Milk. Only certain stores carry proper sweeties as I recognise the category - or candy as I still refuse to call it - and Target is one of them.

We looked around, located the Dairy Milk, then headed for the checkout, and as we approached we became aware of a noise; and as we became aware of the noise we realised it had been there in the background since we first entered the store, something like how whining would sound if it was cheerful. We approached the till and saw that the noise was produced by Douglas, our cashier.

We probably didn't know him as Douglas at the time, although there's a chance we saw his name tag, but for at least a couple of visits he was just that guy.

We waited patiently in the short queue. Douglas was dealing with a woman buying an item of clothing. He was talking about the weather and how hot it had been, which seemed a slightly unimaginative topic given that we were in Texas, and that even I had given up passing comment on days when the river catches fire. Exhausting meteorology as a subject, Douglas moved on to bludgeon his customer into revealing all with his relentless interrogation.

Yes, she was going on holiday.

Yes, this was the reason for her purchase of clothing.

Yes, it was true that she was looking forward to the holiday.

Douglas dropped items into bags and touched virtual buttons upon the screen which operated his till. His voice was loud with an upper register that carried a long way without quite being shrill, and he never stopped talking, sing-song and sounding not so much effeminate as just unnecessarily friendly; and now we were going to learn all about his holiday plans.

My wife and I gazed across the store, considering adjacent queues. There were two other cashiers on duty, each getting on with the job, more or less silent but with an occasional glance in our direction, towards Douglas. Everyone else stared openly in something approaching disbelief.

We made it to the front of the queue.

'Oh I just love chocolate!' he told us with undisguised delight, and then delivered an essay on the subject as though he were a contestant on a game show requiring one to discuss a topic for a set length of time without interruption. I grunted and mumbled to show that I was listening and that I would be paying by debit card, words too brief to reveal my English accent. I already felt certain that he had either been to England, or knew someone who had, or owned every episode of Keeping Up Appearances on DVD and just loved that show.

It's always Keeping Up Appearances.

My wife's family all told me how much they enjoyed it when we were first introduced. Even bag-packers in my local supermarket have told me how much they like Keeping Up Appearances as soon as they've identified my accent. The thing is that I'm not sure I ever saw an entire episode until recently, and that was mainly in order to see what all the fuss was about. I mean it's okay, but not a patch on One Foot in the Grave, and the irony is that my father lives around the corner from the house of the fictional Hyacinth Bucket from the television series in Binley, Coventry. He knows the man who grew up in that house, and who was a child when the BBC chose his home for their outside shots, and who vaguely remembers how he used to wonder whether Hyacinth was an aunt of some kind. Furthermore, the house of Daisy and Onslow from the television series is in Stoke Aldermoor, also Coventry, and I'm fairly sure I delivered mail to it back when I was a postman.

Lacking any pronounced enthusiasm for Keeping Up Appearances, I'm tempted to relate some of the above for the sake of something to say when the subject arises, as it does from time to time; but I never do because I always fear it will sound weird. In any case, it was unnecessary on this occasion as our dialogue with Douglas required only that we listen as he shared his opinions on different brands of chocolate.

We left and didn't think of him again until our next visit to Target. There he was, still holding forth, talking up a storm, oblivious to the stunned expressions of everybody within earshot. What a happy guy, we said to ourselves, loitering with our jar of curry sauce and bag of cat food until the queue went down at one of the other tills.

'You know, when you come in here, you always buy potatoes!,' Douglas warbled to his current customer. 'When you came in I saw you and I said to myself, I know just what she's going to buy.'

'What the fuck?' I mumbled, not quite under my breath. 'Maybe the woman likes potatoes. Who cares?'

The guy working our till rang up our curry sauce and cat food, trying not to laugh.

The next time, Douglas was on the till of Target's in-house Pizza Hut concession, just next to the in-house Starbucks; and after that we spotted him wandering the aisles with a clipboard, still delivering one of his monologues. We got into the habit of stopping off at Target just to see if Douglas was there, and he always was, and with each visit we told ourselves his performance simply couldn't have been anything like so loud or weird as we remembered - he was just a chatty guy who liked to keep the customers happy - and with each visit we realised we were wrong, and that he had been at least as loud and weird as we recalled. He was at college studying something managerial, as we learned over the course of subsequent addresses, and Target was just how he paid his way, and like me, he wasn't native to San Antonio, which possibly explained the earlier discussion of the weather.

Bess took a photograph and posted it on facebook. It was greeted with a flurry of enthusiastic responses. It turned out that everyone knew of Douglas. One of Bess's friends described him as a national treasure. His popularity made sense in so much as that if you'd spent more than a minute within earshot of the guy, you would be unlikely to forget the encounter.

Then the day came when there was no Douglas.

Week after week, he remained absent. Sometimes we went in just to check without buying anything, and eventually my wife summoned up the necessary cheek to ask one of his colleagues, 'what happened to that guy who used to work here, the one who talked a lot?'

'You mean Douglas?'

The cashier immediately knew who we meant, even though it transpired that she herself had not been working there very long. Recalling Douglas referring to some sort of managerial course, Bess and I assumed our boy had been promoted, or moved some way up whatever ladder is available to Target employees, but the woman told us that he'd been fired.

We were overcome with an entirely new emotion, one which had not existed before that moment, a form of astonishment containing no element of surprise.

It has been a full year since we set eyes upon Douglas, or heard that faintly invasive call-centre receptionist voice wailing away in discussion of traffic, pyjamas, places to eat, Texas wildlife, or your plans for the weekend. We don't know where Douglas has gone or what he's doing, or how that vaguely quantified course of study worked out for him, but the Target on Austin Highway is a poorer, quieter place without him. Wherever you may be, Douglas, we salute you and your never ending war against the forces of silence.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Traditional English Teeth

A popular truism held by Americans regarding the English is that they - or rather we - have terrible teeth. Obviously it's a generalisation at best, approaching not entirely accurate providing you can afford to spend the whole day sat on your arse seeking out online articles to the contrary. I would say the truth is to be found in dividing the popularity of the Osmonds by how many American children end up wearing braces for most of their teenage years, and then adding the English love of sweets, cigarettes, and not getting too hung-up on appearance. I would say this, except I am myself English, and whilst I couldn't claim to have had the absolute worst teeth, I can think of only three individuals with marginally more disgusting oral furniture; and this is across the entire fifty year span of my life and is limited only to people I've actually known, so no Shane MacGowan or whoever. So even if it isn't strictly true that the English have terrible teeth, it feels true, as Spike Milligan acknowledged in his poem:

English Teeth, English Teeth!
Shining in the sun,
A part of British heritage,
Aye, each and every one.
English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
Always having fun,
Clamping down on bits of fish,
And sausages half done.
English Teeth! Heroes' Teeth!
Hear them click! and clack!
Let's sing a song of praise to them -
Three cheers for the Brown, Grey and Black.

My own engagement with this proud legacy began early, possibly through a combination of my grandmother filling me with sweets roughly every fourteen days and a suspicion that brushing didn't make much of a difference given that my teeth always looked exactly the same when I'd finished; so up until as late as my thirties, I was brushing once a day or not, depending on whether I could be bothered. Of my twice yearly childhood visits to the dentist, I can recall maybe two which didn't result in another filling, and yet somehow I never managed to quite make the connection between this and not brushing my teeth. My diary entry for Friday the 29th of April, 1983 accordingly observes:

Today I had five fillings done at the dentist, although to be fair I suppose three of them were minor.

My friend Andrew visited the dentist only twice in his life, once as a child, and then as he approached forty. He told me he'd made an appointment as we sat in the pub in Lewisham. I'd always found his teeth odd, fascinating even. They were small and peg-like - pale yellow, but a uniformly pale yellow like they were supposed to be that way. I said nothing because I had no positive forecast to share.

'They're all fine,' he told me next day, once again in the pub.

'What? Seriously?'


'You haven't been to the dentist since you were a kid and you don't even need a filling?'

'He told me that I have naturally strong teeth.'

From this conversation I deduced that there might be such a thing as naturally weak teeth, and that this probably applied to me. Teenage periods of what I considered diligent brushing had been rewarded at six-monthly intervals with more fillings regardless, and so I had ceased caring because caring led to thoughts of dentists and injections and drills and pain. Besides, my teeth looked okay from the front and no-one had complained of my having bad breath, so it didn't seem like they could be that terrible. At least I didn't think so when I was a kid. Once at school I'd laughed out loud at some comment made by Juliet Prouse, and I'd laughed with such vigour that I threw my head back, mouth open.

'I don't know why you'd want to kiss him,' observed James Renton who was then busily waging some sort of weird hate campaign against me for reasons known only to himself. 'It would be like kissing a dustbin.'

I wasn't even sat next to him. If my breath had been that toxic there would have been other clues, so I assumed James had been referring to the quota of dental amalgam inside my mouth, the bilateral arcs of metallic grey exposed when I opened wide. More puzzling was the possibility that Juliet Prouse might have wanted to kiss me in the first place. Were it true, this would have been problematic because I found her slightly annoying but didn't feel myself in a position to be choosy. Given that she had exhibited more obvious and undisguised interest in at least three other boys, I assumed the romantic aspect of the jibe was simply what James had chosen as framework from which to launch his critique of my gob.

It probably didn't help that I enthusiastically took up smoking as soon as I left home, and that in leaving home I had removed myself from an environment containing anyone who might occasionally give a shit about my teeth or the wisdom of my going to see the dentist every once in a while. I still brushed at least some of the time, but my technique was closer to voodoo than actual brushing - movements to appease the spirits of the undertaking rather than specifically tailored towards the removal of plaque. It isn't that I was oblivious to the perils of poor dental hygiene so much as that I felt it was already a lost cause. I'd been having nightmares in which my teeth fell out one by one ever since I was a kid. The lore has it that such dreams tend to stem either from the subconscious fear that one may actually be a bit of a munter, or else anxiety regarding the security of one's living arrangements, but my theory is that these dreams were more to do with a fear of my fucking teeth falling out. Accordingly, a diary entry dated to Wednesday the 18th of May, 1988 states:

I've got a very strongly ingrained fear of dentists, but on the scale my fear of dentists has been balanced out by fear of my teeth falling out because the other day I was prodding about and there is a hole in one of them into which you can insert about three millimetres of fingernail and then waggle it about; and when you look at that tooth it looks like it has come out of a packet of Rolos. It's very worrying so I went along and made an appointment, and I have that at 2.30PM tomorrow. It's the first time I've been to a dentist in about five years, so it serves me right I suppose.

Then on Friday the 17th of June I report:

I went to the dentist as I said I would, and it was quite good. In fact I find it difficult to understand what I was so nervous about. I had to go back about four times and like I say there's that tooth which was really rotten - he put a completely new crown on it and it was all right; and this last time that I went he said right, that's your lot, which was good because I thought I would need about six months worth of treatment.

My next visit was in 1990 and I was living in Coventry with my dad. It was two years since the above cluster of appointments, from which I had somehow developed the idea that it will probably be all right might reasonably be adopted as a practical philosophy of dental hygiene. I think this degree of optimism sprang from the fact that he'd said right, that's your lot and that I still had teeth despite that which I had foreseen in my dreams. The Coventry dentist seemed to regard my optimism as premature, warning me, you really need to start looking after your teeth right now. You're going to have serious trouble with them by the time you're fifty if you're not careful. He also told me that I had gum disease, but I'd heard this one before. You have gum disease, without explanation of what it was or how it might be treated, and I was reluctant to ask because when sat in a dentist's chair I usually feel sufficiently well stocked for bad news and am reluctant to seek more. He may as well have said I see that you are wearing shoes for all the difference it made.

After Coventry, I moved to London, failed to make the effort to hook myself up with a new dentist, and then on Friday the 29th of November, 1991 I noted:

I've had a couple of shocks this week. The second was, you know how you probe around your mouth with the tip of your tongue after you've just eaten something? Well I've come across an enormous hole in one of my teeth - big enough to use as an echo chamber. I can only assume it's where a filling has come out because I looked in the mirror and it is a long way back and that tooth already has other fillings in it; and that size of hole, I'm sure I would have noticed before. It can't just have appeared out of nowhere. It looks like a visit to the dentist is in order at some point.

But I wasn't in any pain so I decided a period of adjustment might be okay, a month or so during which I could really dedicate myself towards working up the courage to think about making an appointment. Months inevitably became a year, and then disaster struck. Surprisingly the agony came from a wisdom tooth which had suddenly decided to act the cunt, although the tooth with the echo chamber was still fine - which I felt rather proved my point, whatever it had been. Equally surprising, this was the first time I'd experienced genuine dental pain of the kind which isn't induced by a dental practitioner using either a needle or a drill. Until that moment my understanding of toothache came mostly from the comics I'd read as a kid, Whoopee or Cheeky Weekly in which toothache necessitates a spotted handkerchief tied around one's swollen jaw with a knot the size of a tropical butterfly flapping around on top of your head, with treatment generally involving a door handle and a length of string. The reality of toothache turned out to be at least as agonising as Whoopee and Cheeky Weekly had promised. I dabbed the tooth with oil of cloves, a natural analgesic recommended by Peter Laycock from work, and while it took off the edge, it was obvious that I really did need to get myself to a dentist.

I found one on the Lee High Road, just across from the pub in which Andrew had told me of his own perfect free-range teeth. The dentist asked me whether I was aware of having gum disease, and then out came the needle like an old friend looking very much as I remembered, a huge silver assagai of the kind you would expect to see piercing Kenneth Williams' quivering buttock in a Carry On film.

'Are you numb?,' he asked after a minute or so.

'Not really.'

'Well, if you go and wait in reception, I'll call you back in when you are and we can take a look at that wisdom tooth.'

This was a new, slightly puzzling development, but there didn't seem to be much point in arguing. I shuffled out to the waiting room and sat down. Another patient was called in. Fifteen minutes passed and this second patient came back out, because it was now his turn to wait for the anaesthetic to take full effect.

'If we could have you back now, Mr. Burton...'

I resumed my position in the chair and he poked around. It was still painful. He gave me another injection and told me to return to the waiting room a second time whilst he continued treating the other patient. I suppose if the practice had been able to afford more chairs he could have had a whole line of us, five or six in a row all being worked on simultaneously.

Eventually the anaesthetic kicked in and he was able to yank my errant wisdom tooth using an instrument resembling the sort of pliers with which I might adjust the gears on a bicycle. There was no pain, but it felt as though I was wearing a motorcycle crash helmet and someone was attacking the side of my head with a hammer. Following this he turned his attention to the echo chambered tooth after another spell out in the waiting room as further patients were juggled. He ground the tooth down to a nub, glued a crown in place, and informed me that I had terrible gum disease and should therefore be sore afraid.

My mouth seemed to be back in some sort of working order, and I considered a vow of not bothering to go to see a dentist ever again if I could help it, without actually quite making that vow. An indeterminate count of years later I found myself once again obliged to see a dentist as the crowned molar flared up. I'd moved to East Dulwich and so signed myself on at the Townley Road dental practice, clutching my swollen gob and making muffled noises about how their earliest available appointment would be nice. The dentist to whom I was assigned seemed to take the state of my teeth personally, and may as well have suffixed most of what he told me with you piss-taking fuckface. It transpired that the Lee High Road dentist had done something of a rush job on that back tooth - which didn't come as much of a surprise given the multitasking which had characterised the appointment. The decay had continued beneath my hastily fitted crown and there was some infection involved. This newest practitioner did what he had to do, then asked 'did you know that you have gum disease, you piss-taking fuckface?'

I'm really never going to the dentist ever again, I told myself as I paid up and left, not out of choice, I'm not. I might be hit by a bus whilst crossing the road tomorrow, and then the future state of my gob won't matter one way or the other. Who can say what will happen?

I was back again six months later, same tooth but more agonising than ever. The dentist numbed me up, had a look, and deduced that the nerve within the same naughty molar was now at death's door and had hence begun to make a fuss. This was a detail which the previous dentist - the one who had taken the state of my teeth personally - would have been unable to detect as he capped my molar with the sort of care it should have received first time around.

'We'll need to extract the nerve.'

I didn't even know this was a thing. Unfortunately, once my latest dentist had drilled enough to get at the nerve to perform an extraction, her next action felt like several thousand volts of electricity passed through the tooth, regardless of anaesthetic.

'Oh dear,' she said, 'it seems the nerve is not quite dead.'

She told me she could cover the tooth with a temporary cap then try again in about a month, and at least I wouldn't be in any pain in the mean time. Under other circumstances my response probably would have been fuck off, but for the first time ever my dentist was female and - as I couldn't really fail to notice - gorgeous.

'Yes,' I said, adopting a serious expression to show that I understood, and that I really, really cared about my teeth, and that together, we could crack this thing. So I went back another four or five times at two week intervals, Dr. Patel attempting to extract the nerve on each occasion but having to admit defeat, still finding it was too sensitive. In the end she gave the tooth a semi-permanent cap and suggested I return when I experienced further discomfort. This seemed fair enough. Quite aside from the obvious appeal of my dentist being what might be described as a hottie, she was also a whizz with the anaesthetic. As she worked I had realised with considerable surprise that, aside from that electric jolt of decaying nerve, I'd otherwise felt nothing and that this was a first. There had always been some small degree of pain during the drilling or the chipping away or whatever else they got up to in there. Either anaesthetic practice had come some way since the late eighties, or Dr. Patel was just a better dentist than her predecessors.

Another decade passed, or something like a decade, although  I'm no longer certain quite when this particular divide occurred within the natural history of my teeth. It was almost certainly the frequently capped molar with its seemingly immortal nerve that sent me back, muttering a sheepish apology for having left it so long. The molar was at last dealt with by means of a root canal undertaken by Dr. Shane Curran. I'd initially resisted the notion of seeing a practitioner other than Dr. Patel on the grounds that I could tolerate some discomfort if I fancied the dentist a bit, but being in my forties I had at last begun to grasp that not having shit teeth should be considered sufficient inducement. I began to see the hygienist on a regular basis and agreed to twice yearly check ups from that point on - this more or less coinciding with a significant downward turn in the state of my teeth, even considering that they had never been great at the best of times. The Coventry dentist had warned me, you're going to have serious trouble with them by the time you're fifty if you're not careful, and my dental chickens were coming home to roost.

This was all due to a combination of gum disease, inexpert brushing, and smoking. I still had no idea what gum disease was beyond that I had it, and I was brushing morning and night more or less without fail, but without the sort of technique which would have made a difference. I had the vaguely expressed intention of giving up smoking at some point but found it difficult because life was otherwise just too depressing and miserable. Eventually and inevitably, some of my teeth had begun to feel loose.

Gum disease, as it was finally explained to me, is expressed as the gum receding from the tooth to expose the lower parts of the root which it would ordinarily protect, ultimately resulting in the decay of the bone surrounding which should support the tooth; which was why mine were beginning to rattle.

'What can I do?' I asked, uncomfortably aware of an irony black hole created in the wake of this newest display of concern. There didn't seem to be any single answer, possibly because you're probably fucked has never been considered a helpful expression in the context of medical diagnoses. 'Are you really sure this isn't just moving deck chairs around on the Titanic?' I asked Dr. Patel as she gave me yet another filling. 'I mean if I'm looking at false teeth, maybe it would just be easier to get it over and done with.'

She didn't really have an answer, but she chuckled at the joke about the Titanic which made me feel warm inside.

I was signed on for a course of deep cleaning at King's College Hospital, once a month, six sessions or something like that. The specific problem was that gum disease creates pockets down the side of the tooth wherein bacteria can collect and flourish, gradually destroying both the tooth and the bone in which it is set, and with all of this occurring below the gum line, brushing doesn't make much difference. My dental pockets were measured as being of about 5mm depth on average, but some were deeper and getting worse. The hygienist at King's College Hospital wrote me a prescription for Corsodyl, an antibacterial gel which I was to use in conjunction with interdental brushes referred to as tepes which could be inserted into the gaps between teeth; and I had to floss daily; and to brush properly, angling the bristles down towards the gum line. In addition to this I had an appointment roughly once a month during which the hygienist would manually scrape and chip away the plaque which had calcified around the roots of my teeth. It wasn't a huge amount of fun, but it seemed to be making some difference in that my pockets weren't getting any worse. Some were even beginning to close up and heal, although by now I had a few over one centimetre in depth - the point of no return, so I was told.

In 2009 I left London and returned to Coventry for a spell, living at my mother's house whilst preparing for my move to the States. Unfortunately this meant it became impractical for me to continue treatment at King's College Hospital in London. Simply I couldn't afford the train fare. I reasoned that with America being the land of Osmond brothers and perfect smiles, I would be living there soon enough providing everything worked out. I would worry about my gob once I'd moved because I had other seemingly more pressing concerns for the present; or so it appeared until I lost a filling whilst eating a cheese sandwich. I found a dental surgery in Coventry, but they were unable to continue my course of deep cleaning treatment owing to the convolutions of NHS funding and my no longer having an income, so it became a matter of damage limitation. I kept on with the Corsodyl and the tepes, and the dentist at the Balkrishna clinic pulled a couple of the really rotten ones which now, having lost all support, waggled freely from side to side in the back of my mouth. He never seemed particularly happy to see me, and even pulled one of the worst teeth without charge, having taken pity on me because the extraction had been performed with a simple tug, like removing a pebble from the tread of a bicycle tyre.

'Make sure you are seen as soon as you've moved,' he warned me darkly. 'You no longer have the luxury of sitting around and thinking about it for a while.'

I moved to America.

Prior to our marriage, I had warned my wife about my traditional English teeth and how they would almost certainly require work at some point, and that the work would doubtless be quite expensive; but having moved to the States, I was reluctant to bring the subject up again because I was fairly certain that the work would comprise someone pulling the lot and then measuring me for a pair of dentures. I presumed it had always been on the cards, yet despite everything I was still in part banking on my teeth eventually returning to full health of their own accord. I didn't want to commit myself to the idea that they definitely wouldn't return to full health of their own accord, and I was therefore naturally cautious of making any hasty decisions. I had given up smoking, and I knew at least some of my trouble had stemmed from the necrosis of the gums caused by tobacco smoke. My gums would probably grow back, and my teeth would begin to feel firm once more, I decided.

Typically, within a week of my arriving in America another filling popped out as I chewed on a soft, slightly crappy McDonald's cookie. Oh for fuck's sake, I thought.

I visited a dentist in Alamo Heights. He took an x-ray, then shrugged and delivered a verdict along the lines of how he wouldn't even know where to begin, and that the tooth from which I'd just lost a filling was probably a write off so there wasn't much point in him fixing it; for which he charged me eighty dollars.

Months passed, and then a year, and a second dentist told me the same as the first regarding the lost filling, specifically that he couldn't really commit to the idea that the tooth was worth saving in the first place. He proposed giving me a bridge - pulling a couple of teeth and attaching a sort of armature to those left standing, along which would be arranged a couple of false ones. He also recommended I seek a second opinion from one Dr. Stalker, apparently something of a whizz in this particular field. 'If anyone can help you, it's Stalker,' he told me, a slightly faraway look in his eyes as though he were referring to the last of the fabled Jedi Knights.

The proposed bridge sounded complicated and unpleasant, but my wife had been left sceptical of Dr. Stalker having been treated by him on a previous occasion. Nevertheless, a second opinion couldn't hurt and so I went to see Dr. Yarbrough who, rather conveniently, practiced just a block away from where my wife and myself were living. Dr. Yarbrough's second opinion was pretty much the same as the first had been, right down to the invocation of the mighty Dr. Stalker. He could deal with the lost filling, but it wasn't really even worth considering until Dr. Stalker had taken a look.

'Well, what do I know?' my wife sighed. 'They all seem to think he's the best. Maybe I was just unlucky.'

Dr. Stalker proved an amiable and knowledgeable practitioner, one of those people who immediately puts his patients at ease, or at least he put me at ease.

'Give it to me straight, doc,' I said, if not in those exact words, 'have you seen anyone with teeth worse than mine?'

'Well, they're not great,' he chuckled, not unkindly, 'but we're not without options.'

He took x-rays, prodded around for a while and then made his proposal. It wasn't going to be cheap, but it seemed worth a try. My wife's medical insurance covered some of the expense, and we borrowed the rest; and so Dr. Stalker went to work. I was unconscious under general anaesthetic for three hours as he pulled those teeth which were beyond repair, then opened up my gums and scraped the rest of the decaying matter from out of the bone support. Then he introduced some newly developed concoction utilising my own blood plasma which would, so he hoped, stimulate fresh bone growth around the roots of my remaining teeth, giving them greater stability; and then he sewed me back up.

I had a mouth full of stitches for a couple of weeks, and I was on a diet of pain killers and soup for about the same length of time, but when the stitches came out, Dr. Stalker seemed optimistic.

'It's looking good so far,' he told me, 'but I guess we'll know for sure in a couple of months. In the meantime you should get that rear molar capped.'

I returned to Dr. Yarbrough's office and was seen by a young Polish dentist. Without quite being able to say why, I found her abrasive, far from the reassuring presence which had been presented by Dr. Stalker, or even Dr. Yarbrough himself on my previous visit. She prodded and poked, drilled and filled some minor cavities I hadn't known about. She told me she had once been to London but couldn't remember much about it - which I presumed was her equivalent of bedside manner. Unfortunately any charm generated was quickly dispelled by her habit of discussing me and my terrible teeth with the dental assistant as though I were either deaf, stupid, or absent.

'Has Dr. Stalker treated him yet?' the assistant asked.

'No, I don't think he has.' The Polish women scowled into my mouth, apparently finding no evidence of several thousand dollars worth of surgery followed by a couple of weeks spent in serious pain.

She spoke directly to me. 'You have terrible gum disease, you know. It really is quite bad.'



'I thought the surgery was supposed to deal with that.'

'You have already had the surgery with Dr. Stalker?'

'Yes I have, and apparently it hasn't made the slightest bit of difference.' I was almost in tears.

'You are going to have implants?'

This had been an earlier proposal, but a vague one depending on the success of Dr. Stalker's work. The gaps between my teeth left by those pulled might be filled with implants which could be screwed directly into the bone of my jaw, depending on how much bone was there. It sounded painful and expensive, and not entirely necessary given that I was getting on fine with the teeth I had left.

'No. I'm not going to have implants.'

The dentist returned to her conversation with the dental assistant, again discussing me as though I had left the room. 'Make a note, would you? When he comes back for his implants we shall—'

'I'm right here, you know.' This was too much. 'I can actually hear what you're saying; and I'm not having implants as I'm pretty sure I just said.'

She made some noise along the lines of well, just think about it, and then you can decide a bit later, and then ground my rear upper molar down to a nub and glued a temporary crown in place. This was the tooth from which Ronald McDonald had robbed me of a filling now over a year before.

'This is a temporary crown?'

'Yes,' she said. 'We need to order the permanent replacement, and then you will come back in again.' She showed me a catalogue offering a choice of different types of crown. I didn't have a fucking clue what I was looking at or why what seemed to me like a single job should require multiple appointments, and so got my wife on the phone and had her speak to the woman. After further discussion the dentist ordered the most expensive replacement crown, it being the best option, from what any of us could tell. I would need to return in another couple of weeks in order to have it fitted.

'Can you come with me?' I asked my wife. 'That dentist makes me nervous.'

Bess assumed I was probably freaking out over nothing, but nevertheless agreed to accompany me. The dentist fitted my new crown and we left.

'You were right.' Bess told me. 'I don't know what it was, but I didn't like her at all.'

A month or so later I returned to Dr. Stalker's office for the first of my regular deep cleaning appointments. The surgery had not been a success, I knew, so I was dreading it.

Dr. Stalker had a look around in my mouth and seemed quite pleased. I related what had happened at Dr. Yarbrough's office, and he responded with a slight frown. 'Trust me,' he said. 'It's early days, but there's already significant improvement here.' He didn't actually say, the woman doesn't know what she's talking about, of the dentist who had failed to recognise several thousand dollars worth of surgery, but I'd begun to suspect as much. I told him how keen she had been to sign me up for implants I didn't want, and he sighed. The impression I got was that things had been much better when Dr. Yarbrough himself had been running his own practice.

I've been back to Dr. Stalker's office every three or four months since, and on each occasion the cleaning has been less and less laborious as what teeth I have left have begun to recover from four decades of abuse. I have ten teeth less than most people, but the gaps are all at the rear of my mouth and I have no difficulty eating or chewing. I have a gap on each side of my upper jaw, same place each side, so where there were once three molars in a row behind each upper canine, there are now two with a space between them leaving those at the rear isolated, each stood alone at the back like the rock tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or the stumpy tusks of some weird Paleocene herbivore; it felt weird at first, but it's really no big deal.

My most recent appointment was distinguished by the announcement that the pockets which once ran so deep into my gum line are now entirely gone, fully healed despite my having once been told that I was stuck with those over a centimetre in depth. Dr. Stalker's verdict is that I will almost certainly be keeping those teeth I have left because my mouth is in good shape with no sign of gum disease for what is probably the first time in my life. Bess has concluded that her own initial scepticism regarding Dr. Stalker most likely came from frustration. He'd been unable to treat a fragment of shattered bone that had come loose in her jaw and had suggested that her only option was to grin and bear it, not through professional indifference so much as simple honesty. The fragment would work its way out and it would heal, but in the meantime there was nothing he could do. With hindsight she has concluded that this was at least preferable to snake oil, or to the practitioner who sees the patient only as a fountain of revenue.

On this latter note, the hygienist at Dr. Stalker's office recently noticed the beginnings of a cavity in one of the borderline teeth, one of those which almost got pulled but was left in the hope of it being worth saving. I was recommended to the excellent Dr. Woodbridge as a dentist who dedicates himself to the work which needs doing rather than what he can justify. Dr. Woodbridge filled the cavity and then asked about whether I'd intended to have implants. I said no, told him why, and asked what had prompted the question. He told me that my most recently and expensively capped molar had been fitted with a crown of a kind quite specifically tailored to accommodate neighbouring implants.

I suppose I might be justified in feeling slightly angry about some of this, as I was when I submitted an unfavourable account of my treatment at Dr. Yarbrough's clinic describing some of the above to Yelp, a website by which members of the general public share their experiences of medical centres, dental clinics, hospitals, restaurants, garages or anywhere else you might hope to avoid getting fucked over for the sake of a dollar. Curiously my review has been removed from the supposedly impartial site, leaving just the one which gushes with praise; but it no longer bothers me given that I no longer have to worry about my teeth falling out, or rotting into stumps, or the lottery involved in seeking further treatment should it be necessary. Given that I've spent my entire adult life having nightmares about the state of my teeth, I'm still not sure I've even quite taken any of this in.

Of course it also means that I am essentially the English male equivalent of a Thai bride as purchased from a catalogue; and that I no longer have quite such traditionally English teeth because Bess had me all fixed up just as soon as I came out of the packing crate, but I think I can live with that.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Ant vs. Antlion

I never took part in a science fair at my school because I went to school in England in the seventies, and like Trick or Treat, the school science fair seems to be an American thing. The school I attended at the age of twelve was tailored mainly towards preparing its pupils for life as a pair of legs occasionally seen protruding from beneath a tractor. The closest we came to the school science fair was Project Technology, a lunchtime club organised by Mr. Kneale, the physics teacher. Everyone loved Mr. Kneale because he blew things up with fertiliser, or perched kids on skateboards and fired them the length of the class room using a length of rubber hose as an improvised catapult, and he undertook such acts for chuckles at least as much as for the sake of illustrating some scientific principle. My friends Tom and Paul built a working hovercraft in Project Technology - a large plastic tray inverted with a circular hole cut in the base in which they mounted the battery driven propeller from a model aircraft. I aspired to follow in their footsteps with a working ground-effect vehicle, but it never got further than drawings and a vaguely stated ambition. Tom mocked my notional ground-effect vehicle on the grounds that I'd simply flipped ahead to the next chapter in the library book about hovercraft, which was true. Mr. Kneale pointed out that whilst my proposed design for the dramatic sweep of a dorsal fin running along the back of my vehicle might have worked just fine on an episode of Thunderbirds, out here in the real world it seemed more to do with cool than actual aerodynamic principles. Unfortunately he was right, as was usually the case.

Anyway, now that I'm living in America with a stepson of some description, the school science fair has become part of my present reality. Junior announced he would be embarking on a science project which entailed catching ants and feeding them to antlions in order to deduce which species puts up the most fight, as revealed by who is left alive. Bess relayed this information to me and I found myself making the noise often produced by Tina from Bob's Burgers.

'At the risk of sounding like some sort of Communist,' I explained, 'it's the whole killing stuff for entertainment aspect that bothers me.' Junior actually isn't so bad on this score, having thankfully grown out of the bugs under the hot sun with a magnifying glass stage, and he now refuses to eat fish or seafood owing to a seemingly spiritual over-identification with aquatic life in general. We haven't bothered pointing out where burgers come from, or that he knows full well where burgers come from, because it's difficult enough getting him to eat anything new as it is; plus we're keeping that one in reserve for the next time he tries to claim the moral high ground just because somebody ordered a fish taco.

Anyway, we all thought about it for a while, and managed to extricate just enough coherent information from the boy to get a handle on his proposal; and we decided yes on the grounds that antlions have to eat too, and it wasn't like anyone was going to be getting their jollies from the Formicidae body count. Furthermore, it would be interesting for me, having always assumed the ant-lion to be the invention of Finnish children's author Tove Jansson. Her ant-lion is a leonine head sticking out of the sand in an illustration in Finn Family Moomintroll. Her ant-lion is caught by Moomintroll, who imprisons him inside a magically transformative top hat, although no-one realises that the top hat has special powers, and everyone is mystified when next day they find that the ant-lion has vanished, seemingly replaced by a quantity of water and a host of creepy crawlies. I don't think I quite realised there really was such a thing as an antlion until I moved to Texas five years ago and began to notice the neat little inverted cones they leave in sandy ground.

Bess sent for some antlions in the mail. We set them up in little plastic bowls with the supplied sand, and Junior retired to his room to continue with the more pressing matter of Minecraft. He'd informed us that ants go into a dormant state at low temperature, and so my wife gathered a few scoops of ant-infested soil from the garden and stored it in the fridge. Every evening she fed sleepy ants to our antlions who had by that point excavated a few half-hearted cones in their sand, but otherwise seemed to be suffering from jetlag.

A weekend came and we went out in search of different species of ant for transportation back to our Guantanamo Fridge of Doom, prior to their introduction to the death zone so that Junior could take notes about who was winning what in evolutionary terms. We drove out to Phil Hardberger Park, trying to ignore the obvious point that ants were likely to be in short supply, it being November. We walked around and failed to find any ants. Bess telephoned a former colleague, a guy from her previous place of employment who, by absurd coincidence, has taken to mapping local parks and wilderness areas in terms of the distribution of flora and fauna. He drove out to meet us and then took us to where he had last seen ants.

'It's a bit cold for them,' he admitted as we continued to draw a series of blanks. 'They're not very active at this time of year.'

We said nothing, and certainly not hey kid, great choice of science project, because it wouldn't have made any difference, and he was already pencilled in for Ant vs. Antlion, and educational scowling would have ensued had he changed his mind. Ultimately it was Byron, his father, who saved the day, bringing plastic tubs of both ants and antlions back from his ranch near Bandera, a little way north-west of the city. We had ants to keep our subjects fed and happy for a while, and the new antlions seemed more vigorous than the finicky pedigree breed we had ordered through the mail. Their little tray of soil was soon studded with inverted cones, and my wife would coo over how cute they seemed as she fed them their evening meal, dropping dozy ants into the traps with a pair of tweezers and watching as tiny jaws snapped away from below. All that was left was for us to find some red harvester ants, to make the card display, and for Junior to think about it and come up with some sort of conclusion. We found red harvester ants out at the Spanish Missions to the south of the city, their nests easily identified by large circles of barren ground around the entrance, usually three or four feet across. Red harvester ants are large by European standards, but fairly docile and oddly amiable. It was hard to keep from feeling a little guilty as we filled our containers, whilst somehow doubting that the distinctly smaller antlions would really be able to subdue these guys.

The day arrives and we duly show up to support our boy at the school basketball court, now turned over to display of science projects made by the children of at least three adjacent grades. Junior hasn't been doing particularly well in science, so we all have fingers crossed hoping this will impress his teacher. Sure enough, the display looks decent, but then it should do given the effort the rest of us have put into that thing.

My wife and I wander around, taking a look at what everyone else has done. The girl next to Junior has been throwing things from a high balcony in order to compare different kinds of parachute material. She has photographs, and my wife's question is answered with a long, long lecture accounting for the complete history of this project and what we are to conclude. The girl's delivery could maybe use a little more enthusiasm, but she nevertheless impresses upon us that she has really engaged with her work. Most of the presentations comprise a kid stood in front of a large sheet of card on which are stuck photographs, diagrams, and short pieces of writing accounting for whatever was under investigation. Sometimes there are also a few relevant props, such as the container of soil with antlions all doing their thing in the case of our boy's submission. Most of the writing seems a little perfunctory. The account given of the toothpaste project is fairly typical of its kind:

I wanted to know whether one type of toothpaste was better than another at whitening your teeth or whether it was just a scam to sell more toothpaste and so I brushed my teeth with different types of toothpaste to see if my teeth were whiter after brushing with one type of toothpaste than with another.

'Yes. I think I understand,' I mutter to myself with uncharitable pleasure, then move on to take a look at the portentously named Optimal Vortex Cannon. The creator of the device is a little younger than our own contestant and is dressed as Magnus Pyke. His invention is a cardboard box with a circular hole cut in one face. You aim this circular hole at a pyramid of styrofoam cups, then slap a hand against the side and air pressure does the rest, scattering the styrofoam cups across the table. For something so simple it's quite impressive, possibly thanks to the theatricality of the project.

Additionally we encounter the boy, the transgender child, who will be returning to school as a girl next term. This development has caught everyone off guard, but thankfully most of us are able to roll with it. I thought he was a girl when I first met him, Bess has told me several times, and I now see her point. Inevitably there are about four or five children who will be starting different schools next term, so as to prevent the homosexual radiation of a small child turning them into faggots - or whatever stupidity it is their mediaevally inclined parents believe. Given that this is a religiously orientated school and that we're in Texas, it seems like the thing to take from this situation is not the existence of parental bigotry, but the fact of the school supporting this child. I watch him - that being his present personal pronoun - telling people about his project, what he's done, and what he has concluded. He is a slight figure. His appearance and mannerisms seem feminine without being necessarily affected. His case may be out of the ordinary, but how anyone could take against such a child for the sake of preserving the sanctity of their own bullshit is beyond my understanding. It might be argued that he's too young to make such decisions, but in this case I'm not convinced.

We meet the science teacher, my wife and myself, and find ourselves reminded of Luschek from Orange is the New Black. He seems enthused about the whole event but will not be drawn on our own proverbial horse or how he's fared in the race. As we leave, we agree that he surely can't have done too bad given that his project at least shows some level of imagination. The research for the toothpaste project has been, by its own testimony, brushing teeth and then looking at the websites of toothpaste manufacturer to see what claims are made of their products.

Next day Bess sets the antlions free in the garden, specifically under the tree in the front yard beyond the reach of the lawn mower. A couple of days later we notice tiny inverted cones scattered around the soil, and it is strangely comforting.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Rock and also Roll

I haven't been to a gig in a while, excepting Devo in Austin which was different because it was Devo and was as such more akin to a religious experience; so this is the first live music event I have attended since moving to Texas - excepting Devo, like I said, and I suppose men in restaurants with accordions. We are in Jack's Bar, somewhere on the outskirts of San Antonio. It doesn't resemble anything I would recognise as a music venue, or I suppose even a bar for that matter. All of these things were different in England. Gigs were either in pubs or much larger buildings, usually made of brick. My wife and I are at a table inside a large tin hut, something in which I might ordinarily expect to find cows; but here in Texas this is a bar as signified by the presence of a bar with stools arranged along the front supporting booze enthusiasts from diverse walks of life. There are three well-dressed office girls of a certain type characterised by conversation in which one person is customarily all like ohmahgerd and the other is all like shut up, and there are a couple of people my own age, just guys. Maybe they're waiting for the gig. My wife and I are trying to work out just where the bands are going to play. There's a table to one side from which someone is selling t-shirts, but no other indication of Jack's Bar being a music venue, excepting the billboard outside listing tonight's acts - the Fixations, Henry & the Invisibles, Channel One, and Fishbone - who are headlining.

The bar sells bottled beer, something I still haven't quite got to grips with over here, although the term encompasses Newcastle Brown Ale - peculiarly quite popular in these parts, it turns out - and so I stick to that because it at least tastes like you're supposed to drink it, rather than just pour it over either your head or your tits whilst yelling awesome! to the appreciative grunts of other morons. I am familiar with the names Coors, Miller Lite, and Lone Star as typeset in neon letters above the bar, but I'm not sure which of these I've drunk, if any. They all taste like the connection your tongue makes across a couple of battery terminals to me.

A door opens next to the bar, just beneath Coors spelled out in neon. I point this out to my wife. 'Maybe there's a stage through there.'

She nods and we watch three men emerge from the other room. They talk to the woman selling t-shirts, or rather waiting to sell t-shirts, the present clientèle of Jack's Bar numbering less than ten including the staff. One of them might be the janitor. Maybe he's just finished his shift so he's telling t-shirt woman where the cleaning supplies are kept in case she needs anything of that sort.
They don't look like people who would be in a band, but then what do I know? I'm way out of my depth here. 
'I'm going to text Jenni,' my wife tells me, texting Jenni.

Jenni is part of the reason we are here. She's Bess's cousin from a branch of the family I've thus far encountered only twice, which is a shame because I like Jenni and haven't even yet met Skip, her husband. He plays guitar in the Fixations who are first on the bill tonight, but annoyingly this is to be their farewell gig because Skip and Jenni are moving to Tennessee at the end of the week. I'd hoped I might get a chance to know them a bit better seeing as we share a fair bit of musical common ground, but it's just the way it's worked out.

'She's back stage with the bands,' my wife tells me, studying her phone. 'She'll meet us later.'

Well, at least we seem to be in the right place, despite appearances. I know there's the table with the t-shirts and the names of bands we'll be seeing are printed on those t-shirts, but there hasn't been much else to support the hypothesis of our having come to the right place. Fishbone were massive at one point, as I recall. I saw them on some television show in England, which itself suggests some kind of scale, and even if that was over a decade ago, there should surely be more people here given that Fishbone are apparently still big enough to headline.

The doors at the side of the bar open, and stay open. Something is happening. People with coloured hair are arriving, and so we follow them through into the other part of the cow shed. There is a second bar and a decent-sized stage. The place is of modest scale, about the equivalent of the Amersham Arms in New Cross, but it's definitely a music venue. I buy another bottle of Newcastle and Bess and I inhabit a ledge at one side of the dance floor. The crowd are slowly filtering in - students, regular people, a few leather jackets with the green or pink hair. There's something reassuring about their presence. When I started at Maidstone College of Art back in September 1984, the college canteen at lunchtime was a joyous riot of spiky, back-combed, or otherwise sculpted colour. By the time I left, the student body resembled Val Doonican's studio audience and were as such seemingly indicative of a downward conservative trend in English culture which continues to this day. I no longer have the inclination to grow my hair and dye it purple as once I did, but I'm glad that some do. Of course Jenni is one of them, and I think she even uses the same colour dye I once favoured - or something fairly close. I spoke to her about it at Gwen Arnold's birthday lunch, and she expressed a few minor but related concerns about moving to Tennessee, as she and her husband are doing.

I got the impression that there may be circumstances under which it's perhaps not always so easy to stand out here in the American south, so I have some admiration for her and Skip keeping the freak flag flying, so to speak. Contrary to the lazy Deliverance-lite clichés perpetuated by means of the usual received wisdom, the south is disarmingly friendly, but it's also very, very big with a certain quota of relatively isolated communities full of people who rarely encounter strangers, and who may not have any idea how to act on the rare occasions when they do. So dyeing one's hair bright pink constitutes a much bolder statement here than it does in Camden.

Jenni emerges from a door at the side of the stage, gorgeous as ever - a detail I'm acknowledging because there's no point denying it. Like Bess, she has a certain excitable quality and brightens any room she enters. She is fun to be with. They both revel in terrible puns, so it probably runs in the family. The two cousins catch up - news, work, babies, and moving house. There is a certain quota of giggling and an occasional shriek, then suddenly the Fixations take the stage.

The janitor seen earlier now more closely resembles Hunter S. Thompson, and he makes for a dynamic vocalist. The band hit the room like a bomb going off, if you'll pardon my stooping to 1970s rock journalism. Skip rocks lead guitar with all the stage presence of your traditional hellfire preacher; and significantly he actually is a preacher, although not one who invokes hellfire so far as I am aware. The bassist looks vaguely Samoan, a man-mountain in skater shorts who stands staring either into the future or another dimension as his gymnastic fingers twang all manner of heavy shit from the instrument, grimacing occasionally at the odd riff plucked directly from his soul, so it would appear. I was looking forward to seeing this band mainly out of curiosity, but I had no expectation of their sounding this good. They are electrifying. I try to pinpoint something familiar in the sound by which I will later describe them to account for their appeal. I run through the Sex Pistols play ZZ Top, AC/DC meets the Damned, the drag race Terminal Cheesecake, but it's settled when they play a song which I gather must be called Motherfucker for Love; so they're the kind of band who would play a song called Motherfucker for Love. They're the kind of band I wish I were in. Their set is amazing.

I finally get to meet Skip after the Fixations are done, and I wish we had more time and preferably somewhere in which I could hear what is being said, but never mind.

Henry & the Invisibles turn out to be just Henry, a little Dilbert man in a silver jacket surrounded by sampling technology. He pings out a bass riff and it loops and repeats. He takes off his bass, pulls on a guitar and adds some choppy rhythms which are also looped and repeated. He builds up a sort of one-man Parliament of sound, then stomps around clapping his hands and whooping woah yeah, can you feel it!, but I can't because he's a little round white dude wearing a fluffy balaclava with teddy bear ears doing his hardest to channel George Clinton; but it's closer to Bill Clinton and I'm just not buying it. He sings the blues, albeit a sampled p-funk blues, yet somehow I can't find it in myself to believe that Henry really knows how it be when you down and out and ain't nobody gon' lend you a hand, my brother. All the technology in the world, no matter how expertly applied, can't raise him above being only the projects manager of funk. The crowd seem to love it, but then they're kind of young. Henry's set comes to an efficiently sweaty end, and his dad helps him pack all that gear back into the van.

Channel One are next, a local band featuring a lead singer who has flown all the way from Louisiana to perform tonight, such is the import of this performance. Weirdly, they are a ska band, nine or ten members and all white*. I say weirdly because the phenomenon of the white American ska band is new to me, and having lived in Coventry, England - home to the Specials, Selecter, and that whole Two-Tone thing - I feel a certain connection to the form, or at least to the revived form, even if it's only a tenuous connection. American ska seems to come from a punkier angle and has a peculiar penchant for anthemic choruses which sound incongruous to my ears; but tonight it's well played and it feels good. I engage in some of that old moonstomping so as to show everyone how the fuck it's really done, but no-one takes the hint, and I have to stop after about ten seconds because I'm fat and fifty. Jenni and Bess seem to find it entertaining anyway.

Skip returns to the stage to guest with Channel One. He and the singer know each other from a seminal San Antonio band called the Resistors. The Channel One guy introduces Skip as the man who got him into music. It seems Skip is something of a local hero.

Fishbone finally come on, and they are amazing, but Bess and I are knackered. We watch a couple of exhausting songs and leave. Tomorrow, if I remember the details correctly, Skip will be driving a truck full of all their belongings from San Antonio to somewhere I've never heard of near Knoxville, a distance of over a thousand miles. Jenni will be following in the car with her mother and two young children. I'm a bit pissed off that I've really only just met them, but I'm happy for them, and tonight has been a great way of saying hello and safe trip.

*: I've just deleted a couple of replies submitted to this blog post on the 19th of June 2016, two minutes apart, the second completing the first's oddly truncated sentence, and therefore probably both from one Laith Fisk who wrote:

Channel one an all white ska band? With last names like garza, Covarrubias, Valdez And Garcia? Haha.

Disregarding the mocking - some might say insolent - tone of the haha, the fact is none of them wore t-shirts with their names printed conveniently on the front and I'd never heard of Channel One before that gig, so how the blistering fuck I'm expected to know their surnames in advance, I have no fucking clue. Furthermore, as a former inhabitant of the fine city of Coventry, home of the Specials and Selecter amongst others, I am accustomed to ska as a genuinely multiracial music almost always involving representatives of the Afro-Carribean community and not as something invented by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in 1993; and what I saw that night looked one hell of a lot like a stage full of white dudes from where I was stood.

You're welcome.