I broke my first tooth on a blackjack when I was seven and I’ve hated the dentist ever since. Creepy old men with big needles who like to inflict pain on children, that was my early experience. My most recent venture into the world of dentistry, was a relatively painless affair with a rather pleasant young lady who liked to hum as she worked. My God the world has changed. Women dentists, they’ll be driving buses next! Yeah yeah I’m joking of course so keep your powder dry. Really my experience just goes to show that one’s early experiences can taint you for life, for despite my last few fairly uneventful visits to the dentist, I still get a cold chill down my spine when I even think that I may need to sit in that chair.
It doesn’t apply to everything or indeed everybody, but fears and phobias are easily created as a child and hard to shake off. For years I have struggled with bees and wasps for example, yet I cannot imagine why anyone is afraid of spiders. Oddly enough, when I was a kid I used to catch dirty big bumblers in jars half filled with flowering clover so they’d have ‘something to eat.’ I was even stung by both bees and wasps which was never that bad, so I can’t quite recall where that fear began.
I’m much better these days and even forced myself into a little aversion therapy by standing in a flowerbed surrounded by literally dozens of bees buzzing around my bare ankles. Wasps still freak me out though. The biggest problem in that regard at the moment is that I have a ruptured bursa in my shoulder, so I have very limited movement in my left arm. As this is wasp season, this week I have twice been buzzed by the angry little baxtards, and instinctively tried to swat them with the arm attached to my messed up shoulder. Well! Jesus wept! The flippin’ pain.
Now I have a theory about wasps that I’d like to share. You see when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, my Ma told me that if you killed a wasp, all the other wasps would know that you killed it. They would in fact, hunt you down in some twisted insect revenge scenario. The first thing to happen is that they find the place where their fallen comrade has died by some hyper sense of smell, or perhaps through a super high-pitched call for help with its last breath that we couldn’t hear but they could. Then and while this part was never fully explained, it was in fact an accepted logic among my peers as a child, every wasp who came across your path, would know that it was you, who had killed their friend.
Now ok, to be fair that wasn’t exactly what my Ma told me, but I was a kid growing up in different times. We had no telly during the day and we had to fill in the blanks with our imagination. Mine was pretty vivid. Either way, the wasps would get you and they had long memories, and given that I am still being attacked by them, I suspect they pass that knowledge about wasp killers down through the generations.
Somewhere right now, there is a family of wasps sitting around a fireplace, the auld grandpa wasp telling the story about how his great-great-great-great-great grandfather was slain, stamped down in his prime by a little fella called Power and how the family had vowed ever since, to keep track of me so that they would always recognise me to enable them to exact revenge for the death of their beloved family member. He’s probably telling them that in recent times there is a rumour that my left shoulder is fecked and that if they attacked me from that side, not only would I be unable to swat them, but that in making an effort to do so, I would suffer great pain.
It all makes perfect sense of course. Now you see there are a few holes in the story I know, this but let’s not get bogged down by the facts. I learned many things in my Dublin childhood from days of yore, much of which turned out to be less than true. Like for instance apparently according to Robert Brennan, if you wet your finger and scratched out the contents of your ear and smeared it on your lips, then gave a girl a ‘Frenchie’, she’d get pregnant. Fortunately this turned out to be bad advice which even more fortunately I never tried to follow. To be fair when I heard it at first, even though I was only seven, I was kinda thinking I might give the whole sex thing a mix.
Speaking of which the old ear wax thing was only the tip of the Iceberg when it came to dodgy information back then. When eventually at the ripe old age of thirteen, the fine Christian Brothers decided to explain the mysteries of sex to us, they left me even more mystified than I was when I started. There were prayers beforehand, prayers afterwards, all devoutly completed on one’s knees, there was a ‘ladies go up to the auld scratcher first’ to ‘prepare themselves’ though what that involved in that preparation routine I still haven’t worked out ,and they made sure the light was out before you got to clamber in beside them.
Apparently in between prayers, the fella would ask “Are ye ready?” and then there would be a performance of ‘The act.’ The good brothers gave us the impression that it might be best to get that sort of a thing over with as quickly as possible, so all in all if it wasn’t for my very confusing, raging hormones, I would have been put off sex altogether at that stage.
Early experiences can be damaging and lasting, if not life changing. I caught my little eight year old tinkler in my zip , a story retold in some detail in another blog and that tear inducing, eye squeezing, butt clenching event, left me scarred for life. It was not a physical scar you understand but an emotional scarring, largely due to the fact that my mother brought in the neighbours from either side of us to help unhook my twinkle from the grasp of the metal zipper. Oh the flippin’ shame! You have no idea how careful I have been with my precious appendage ever since.
There are some weird aversions for me though. Accordions – I feckin’ hate accordions! Whether it was some Rumplestiltskin-faced, Irish Gypsy cursing, auld gouger that scared the life out me in my pram, or some other lugubrious event that turned me against them, I don’t really know. Maybe I just hate the noise they make but they give me the willies. But my weird pet-hates don’t stop there…oh no.
I don’t even know if they make Charlie perfume anymore, but I can tell you that if you spray it on, I will literally leave the room. In the case of Charlie I recall the actual event that scarred me and it wasn’t good. For some reason back in a time when hot water wasn’t always available, in fact central heating in our neck of the woods was a pure fantasy, some people didn’t see a bath (forget the idea of a shower) except maybe once a week – on a Saturday and it wasn’t unknown for multiple siblings to share the same tub, if not bath water. Ah the good auld days. It should come as no surprise therefore, that the occasional burst of body odour didn’t catch you off guard as much as it might in today’s shower obsessed, deoderant infused world. It was not uncommon to sit beside someone on a bus and get a belt of B.O. You just took it in your stride unless it was particularly bad.
The problem of course, was that I was brought up under the theology of sugar and spice and all things nice, relative to snips and snails and puppy dogs tails, so one didn’t expect girls to have quite the same stank as us scruffy street playing boys. To some extent they generally weren’t as bad as us lads to be fair, whether the auld rhyme was true or they actually washed more often was debatable, but with the odd exception, I was happy with the general principle that girls …well… smelled fresher.
As we hit our teens there were attempts for some girls to mask the odd festering odour with perfume and embedded deep in my mind is the combined smell of Charlie over sweat. O sweet Jebus! Specifically, I recall being cornered by an amorous young lady who had spent quite a bit of the evening at the school Disco actually dancing. The upshot was a rather pungent odoriferous outpouring that became particularly malignant when she attempted to mask if with the aforementioned Charlie.
Lord above she trapped me in a corner and in her sleeveless dress raised one arm against the wall near my face as she tried to flirt with me. I have a strong gag reflex at the best of times but it really was too much. To this day the bang of Charlie would make me physically sick, even without the added puissance. I suppose whether we like it or not, the things that happen to us in our lives influence our behavior and our way of thinking. Whether it is being stung by a wasp, getting trapped by sweaty betty at a school disco, catching your nethers in a zipper or something perhaps far more deep and meaningful be they small things or great, we are more than our genes. I remember a quote from Carl Sagan;
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
But of course we are much more than that…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
You can find more details about Max Power’s books here : –