First off, I want to apologise to anyone from Dunedin who takes offence at this blog post; primarily because they will know that I am not, in any way, exaggerating.
The big news in my life in the past week has been toothache.
I’m not going to wax lyrical about the whole ordeal, except to say (as the eternal optimist) that four days of fever and jaw-related agony enabled me to lose more weight in that period than in a month of solid dieting. I’m tempted to ask the dentist to put the tooth back in and then go back in six months.
What I am going to tell you about is the surreal experience I had while waiting for the anaesthetic to kick in. The dentist, who looked about 23, poked the needle into what was left of healthy gum and squirted the “make numb now” juice.
He then stood back and said: “We’ll just have to wait a few minutes for that to take effect. It’ll work its way down the jaw, so let me know when your lip goes numb.”
“My lip’s already numb,” I said.
“That’ll be the infection,” he said.
Long, uncomfortable pause.
“So… how long have you been dentisting?” I ask.
“Oh, about 10 years.”
“Really? Where did you qualify?”
“Otago. It’s the only place in the country you can study dentistry these days.”
Now, for any foreign readers, let me tell you about Dunedin. Dunedin is the main city of the second most southern New Zealand province, Otago. It was originally settled by Maori who were then ousted by lowland Scots looking for some climatic hardship after the sunny disposition of their native land.
While New Zealand has taken great pains as a nation to rectify the wrongs done to Maori when European settlement arrived in the mid-late 1800s, the general response of Dunedin to Maori claims has essentially been: “Get fucked.”
Otago University is located in Dunedin and has a reputation as one of the country’s leading halls of learning. However, the student populous – known colloquially as Scarfies – has a reputation for being, well, somewhat boisterous. The enthusiasm of these young adults has been met, in recent years, largely by police in riot gear.
The local rugby ground, Carrisbrook, is nick-named the “House of Pain” as a heads-up for visiting teams as to what to expect. Punching, kicking, eye-gouging, biting and rucking (the act/art of raking a downed opponent with your studded rugby boot) all ensue, and often even as the visiting team tries to take the field.
Scarfies, who cannot afford seats in the stands, having spent their entire student allowance on beer, are relegated to the grassy bank to watch the game. Often they bring an old sofa to the match so they can lounge in style while watching the match progress. Should the unthinkable happen and the home team loses, it is not unheard of for the students to depart and leave the sofa behind – usually on fire.
With that background in mind, I said jestingly to the dentist: “So, how many couches did you burn?”
He looks thoughtful and then says: “Um, really just the one.”
This was the man I was about to let loose in my mouth with a wrench.
He saw the panic rising and said: “That was just after the 1995 World Cup final.”
Well that said it all. I won’t pick at old wounds (having already done that last year), but suffice it to say that when an under-strength All Black rugby team was beaten in South Africa by South Africa in overtime, the effect on the New Zealand national psyche was devastating.
“Oh, well, that’s perfectly understandable then,” I said, without hint of sarcasm.
“At least I didn’t throw the TV out the window,” he said, “unlike some.”
His eyes misted as he recalled: “You could walk down the street that day and see broken windows and TVs everywhere. Some of the TVs had shoes still embedded in the screen; or a half-empty bottle of Speight’s (beer) sticking out, or a couple smashed on the side.”
I could picture the war zone. It must have been magical. And while I vividly imagined this vista of the post-battle victims, lying where they had fallen, like soldiers’ bodies, broken, bleeding and disfigured in battle … the bastard ripped my tooth out.