2013 Grateful 40

I’ve had a series of peculiar things happen lately. In Munich airport last week, I picked up my phone to send an SMS to check on dinner plans that night in Budapest. Before I could type a letter, it beeped with an incoming SMS asking me that very same question. A couple of days later, I again picked up my phone to text a reminder to send contact details I needed. Again, it beeped before I could put finger to button and the message? The phone number I needed.

Fair enough. These things happen. I’ve been known to addle a few minds by answering unspoken questions.  This time though, I was on the receiving end. And both involved the same person. Perhaps I’m being oversensitive or am overexposed. Had it ended there, I’d have thought no more of it except perhaps to suggest he add some basic form of telepathy to an already accomplished list of accomplishments.

teaI went to make a cup of tea during the week and found the tea caddy empty. No Barry’s! All I’d left was a drawer of funny-flavoured teas and I wasn’t quite that desperate. As I was dealing in childlike fashion with my disappointment, the doorbell rang. And there stood the postman, parcel in hand. In it? Some Barry’s Tea from the lovely Messes Stein and Nugent. Timing or what?

In Prague on Thursday, wandering the streets, I wondered fleetingly where O’Ché’s pub might be. I’d heard MH & Co talking about it and was vaguely curious to see it. Not curious enough to look up the address beforehand, mind you, but curious enough, nonetheless.  I turned a corner and there it was, as if manifested by magic.

The lovely LN on her last trip to Budapest had mentioned a ceramic phenomenon called the Prague Ladies. I couldn’t remember where she’d found them or which end of what bridge they were on. On Friday evening,  as I reached the top of the steps to Charles Bridge, I went for my phone to text and ask. Just before I pressed the send button, I looked up into a shop window and there they were…

It seems as if things just keep on happening as I need them to happen. You’ll know, of course, that I am in Prague this weekend for a reason. I scattered Lori’s ashes from the Bridge on Friday and cried myself silly. Then, I got back to the flat we’d rented and logged on to find a host of messages from friends sending me good thoughts (thank you all). In amongst them was an e-mail that said: ‘I feel that Lori wants you to know this …..’ addressed to me as ‘Hey Girl’ – just as she would have done herself.

I wish so much you wouldn’t cry the way you did today
While thinking of the many things we didn’t get to say.
I know how much you love me, as much as I love you,
And each time that you think of me, I know you’ll miss me too.

At the end of what has been a week of high highs and low lows, I’ve decided to stop questioning why these things are happening. Call it synchronicity or whatever… labels don’t mean as much as they used to.  I prefer to think of it as a guiding hand from heaven. And that thought alone will surely confirm the madness for some 🙂

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

In memory

Many years ago, I went to see a psychic of sorts near Oxford. She had worked with the local police on a few cases and had quite the reputation. I can’t for the life of me remember anything she told me, apart from an answer to an off-the-cuff question I asked as I was leaving. Would I ever be published? Her answer: Yes, your poetry will be well received. Poems? Mine?

I quite fancied that idea for a while, as back in my twenties I had a bit of reputation for being able to jot down a ditty about someone, on the spot, usually in the pub or at a party, and then recite it to great acclaim. Needless to say the acclaim was more in proportion to the number of pints that had been consumed than to my skill as a poet.

Lori 001 (800x552)Then, about three years ago, in Budapest, I had the good fortune to meet the talented Neil McCarthy. And I knew for certain that whatever latent talent I might have with words didn’t come close to how he can master his. I was mesmerised. A few months ago, I asked Neil to pen a poem in memory of my mate Lori, who died a year ago today, aged 49. I miss her terribly. And while I know that she’s at work on my behalf and probably ratcheting up the fun factor upstairs, the pain of her passing is showing no sign of dissipating. I talked to Neil about her at length. He read some blogs I had written while she was ill. And then he patiently set to work, drafting a memorial. I returned each one with comments. I didn’t know quite what I wanted it to say but knew that if he could capture the essence of what I am feeling, I’d recognise it. We went back and forth until earlier this week when I received the final version. I think it’s beautiful.

Today, as I scatter some of Lori’s ashes from the Charles Bridge – she always wanted to go to Prague – I’ll read it to her. And I’ll remind myself, for the millionth time since her death 12 months ago, that life is too short to wonder what if. We owe it to ourselves, and to those who have gone before us, to make the most of today, to live life to its fullest, and to make sure that nothing that matters is left unsaid. I love you, girl.

A breath of wind through the long grass

                                    i.m. Lori Stephens

1.

Rest assured that the storm will never settle long enough for a smooth crossing,
that the tide has tied tightly its opus of memory to the stern of the boat; nor will
an enduring thought or concern from the shore settle into any intelligible order,
disruptive as a breath of wind through the long grass harrying the sands beneath.
Hindsight is a delicate bequest when surveyed from a careful enough distance,
smiles stifled by grief once again coming to the forefront; a break in the weather
or a high pressure moving in from the sea – perhaps the face of the forecaster in
the hall mirror announcing with buoyancy that we are all but over the worst of it.

2.

There is no space wide enough for consolation to take root, no exemplary words
to sate the hollowness, no charts to leisurely unfold and map the geography of  loss. Faraway cities run blue dye through the retina and birds move in, circling, drifting, diverting attention as the world below races on, stumbling every now and again. San Francisco comes thundering back, slows once it’s found itself perfectly still in the focus of your attention, as if a cinematographer has rolled back a velvet curtain in your thoughts and adjusted the resolution of that view from Columbus Avenue, the traffic out on the Bay in no rush whatsoever to get anywhere in particular.

3.

You make your offerings to the gods with trembling hands, not quite sure whether or not they will be received; or if through your hesitation and reluctance to let go they will be blown clean from your grasp, as a breath of wind through the long grass passes ever so gently, touches the back of your neck, carries her words onwards.  To stand and take this moment in is to feel the world shrink; to walk the cobbled streets of Prague, shake your head in wonder at the distance you have brought her; to pause on Charles Bridge and wait for a break in the clouds to encourage you with the swans asleep on the gentle lap of the Vltava like a white flag on the water.

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A grave decoration

As Easter beckons and as my mate Lori’s first anniversary draws near, I find myself thinking more and more about death – not that I have any intention of popping my clogs any time soon. I feel in some odd way that life is just beginning. Convinced as I am that I’ll live till the ripe old age of 87, I’ve time yet to fit in the odd piece of reflection.

In Hawaii earlier this year, I went to visit a cemetery. I’ve written before of this odd fascination I have with graves and tombstones and all things cemeterial (is there such a word?). While I thought it difficult enough to marry snowmen and sunshine, I found it a tad surreal to see the graves sporting Christmas trees, too.

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As with most of the cemeteries I’ve visited, the graves showed varying degrees of care and neglect. Some of the occupants seemed to have been the last in line, or perhaps the last in a line of those who cared enough to keep vigil. Oddly enough, although I rarely visit a town or city without paying my respects at the local graveyard, I have no great attachment to the graves of those deceased members in my own family. Perhaps it’s because the graves in Ireland are so sterile, so lacking personality, so … dead. Or then again, perhaps it’s because my close friends who have died have all eschewed a lasting marker and opted instead to be cremated.

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I think (99.9% certain) that I’m going to opt for the burning, too. I’ve gotten used to having a little bit of Lori sitting on my kitchen table and find myself talking to her quite regularly. I know she’s been working her magic for me and I’ve seen first hand the results of her interventions on my behalf. And, of course, there’s the beauty that ashes are so portable. Physical graves are all well and good for those who stay put and are available to tend their dead, but I’ve seen too many  testify to the transience of time and memory.  The Jewish cemetery in Budapest is a case in point.

Hawaiians are a happy people despite being nearly eradicated by disease when Captain Cook discovered the islands. This celebration of life shows even in their death. Perhaps the most poignant of all the graves I saw that day was a simple white cross around which a wild tomato vine was bearing fruit. This juxtaposition of life and death was a beautiful reminder than even in death, the dead live on.

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2013 Grateful 41

glassI can bitch and moan with the best of them. Depending on the day that’s in it and the mood I’m in, it’s either glass half-full, glass half-empty, or simply a case of too much glass. So when a steady stream of people started commenting recently on how well I’m looking or how happy I seem or that something about me is different, the self-deprecation default switch kicks on and I find myself wondering exactly how drab and dreary I was before.

Before what, you might well ask. Not that I’m going to answer… and not out of contrariness either, mind you. It could be one of many recent changes in my life or a combination of two or three or indeed of all of them. Or it could simply be a growing understanding of just how lucky I am to be live where I live (despite the insane political situation), to work at what I do (despite the ridiculous hours I sometimes put in), and to have such a fascinating coterie of friends.

Earlier this year, in February, I went to Las Palmas.  Not from any great desire to see the place again but because I sought, paid for, and then had to listen to the advice of an astrologer. Something in my life needed to change. I needed all the help I could get and I wasn’t too particular about from whence it came! I was fortunate in that he told me that were I to present myself in Las Palmas at 8.39 pm on 2 February,  every aspect of my life would improve over the course of the next six months.

Now some I told thought me mad. For others it just confirmed the madness. For me I thought – why not! And since then, whatever the planetary alignment did to change the energy in my life, the balance has shifted and indeed, by all accounts, I’m positively glowing.

I’ve noticed a strange domino effect lately, too, whereby ye olde adage of one good turn begets another has kicked in. I was helping a mate (A) find some work using what contacts I have. And then this mate thought that they might be able to help another mate of mine (B) out in the same vein. And then it turns out that (B) was in a position to do a favour for third mate (C)… such linear synchronicity is just lovely when it happens. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a more positive frame of mind that I’m noticing these things. Or perhaps it’s because, set against the worsening political situation in Hungary (has anyone been reading the testimonies at the US Helsinki Commission’s hearing on Hungary?) these types of simple good deeds are more noticeable.

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In any event, as I sit in my hotel room in Malta, overlooking St Julian’s Bay, after yet another successful, energetic, and inspiring Modern Diplomacy Workshop (which, coincidentally, was the subject of my 2012 Grateful 41, and has forever changed the way I look at brown sugar!), I am grateful for the turn that my life has taken, for those in it (both long-term residents and those new to the world of MMMM), and for having the wherewithal to be able to do what I do and to enjoy doing it.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Do manners maketh the man?

mannersDM1203_468x680Manners. Manners. Manners. The concept of behaving well was drummed into me as a child. From the minute I could sit upright at the table, I was on constant alert as to how I held my knife and fork. From the minute I could talk, I knew the value of greeting people, particularly adults, with respect. From the minute I could form an opinion on my own, I aware of how that opinion should be delivered. From the minute I began that subconscious search for a mate, good manners became a key ‘must have’ on my list of criteria.

The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any – Fred Astaire

Go to any restaurant, from the cheapest fast-food joint to the poshest of posh and you’ll see the epitome of bad table manners. You’ll see diners talking with their mouths full.  You’ll see them chewing with their mouths open. You’ll hear them slurping their soup or their coffee.

People will reach across the table rather than ask for something to be passed to them. Waiters will serve from the left not the right. Some will start eating before everyone is served. Plates will be removed before everyone is finished eating. And few people know to put their cutlery at the four o’clock mark to show that they’ve finished, or where to lay their napkin when they excuse themselves from the table, if, indeed they remember to do so.

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use – Emily Post

Yes, of course there are cultural differences. It’s highly unlikely that America will ever stop cutting up its food into small pieces and then switching fork hands, laying the knife aside. It’s equally unlikely that some of my Indian friends in Bangalore will ever take up a knife and fork in the first place. And I know a couple of elderly Irish lads who will always pour their tea into a saucer and lap it up from there.

But it’s more than simple dining etiquette. It is about awareness. The beep of mobile phones interrupts the flow of conversation. Invisible interlocutors take precedence over those present at the table. We are rude to the point of ignorance, and ignorant of how rude we are being.

Having a sense of propriety is something that is much undervalued in twenty-first century society. Knowing what to say and what not to say, and when to say it or not to say it, is a skill that few have. Knowing how to shake hands, how to address people, how to engage in polite conversation that is appropriate, tasteful, and conducive to pleasantry – these are skills that don’t seem to be taught any more, either in school or at home.

Yes, it’s good to let your hair down amongst friends and not to have to worry about what you say or how you say it, yet being aware of this freedom, this license to engage, is important.

We have become a world filled with recalcitrant, demanding adults; it is little wonder that our children are left rudderless as they try to navigate the world of nicety.

Good manners sometimes means simply putting up with other people’s bad manners – H. Jackson Brown, Jr

Yet there are those who argue that protocol and etiquette no longer have a place in our times. But these should not be confused with manners. Publicly shaming the offender is just as offensive as the lack of manners in the first instance. Rude, boorish behaviour, if accepted, becomes a norm. Showing someone that you’re not prepared to listen to their rudeness, by walking away, can be as effective as pointing it out in front of everyone. Choosing the company you keep is one way of pinning your colours to the mast.

And yet, if the occasion requires it, if people are behaving a certain way because they know no different, then perhaps a quiet word in their ear wouldn’t go amiss. If you’re upset with me because of something I’ve said or done, you need to tell me. Tell me and then I can decide whether or not I need to change. Divine inspiration is rather scarce these days.

A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

How many children today are taught the importance of good manners? Very few that I know of anyway. Instead I see tantrums that are sated by parents giving in. The lesson being taught? The louder you are, the more obnoxious your behaviour, the more likely you are to get your own way. While that might (and I stress ‘might’) be endearing in a child, it’s positively abhorrent in an adult.

And right up there in the abhorrence stakes, is superficiality. That silver-plated niceness that is skin deep. Manners, while they can be taught, are better bred.  And, in the words of Henry Ward Beecher: Clothes and manners do not make the man; but, when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.

First published in the Budapest Times 22 March 2013

A bet is a bet

Fancy dress and all that comes with it makes me break out in a cold sweat. I hate dressing up unless we’re talking ‘put on your best boots and I’ll put on my pearls‘ sort of fancy. So when Tim Child agreed to participate in the GOTG on condition that I ‘dress up’ for the St Patrick’s Day parade, I reluctantly agreed. If it’s attention you seek, try dressing as a leprechaun and taking the M3 from Klinikak to Arany János utca on a quiet Sunday following the national holiday. There is no crowd to get lost in! If anything, it’s cured me of any latent desire I might have had to be famous.

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The occasion? The third annual St Patrick’s Day parade in Budapest. Alongside 1346 other people (and yes, me and my team of four stalwarts counted them all) I walked the route, decked out in my leprechaun hat and beard, silently thanking St Patrick himself that no one seemed to recognise me. Unlike last year, it was bitterly cold. Zero degrees. With sunshine. The pace was brisker than usual. It wasn’t weather for sauntering. As the crowd made its way from Szabadsag tér to Erszebet tér, it gathered momentum. In a city where demonstrations and mass gatherings are becoming more and more common, it was a refreshing change for many to have a mass of people partying not protesting.

IMG_2690 (574x800)Only the hardy braved the outdoors at Godor while the rest of us supped on our whiskies and pints of Guinness while enjoying Irish music and dance inside. Everyone who should have been there, was there. From the Irish wolfhound to the Pipe Band. From the Ambassador to the representative of the Garda Siochana. Irish, Hungarian, Spanish, English, Scottish, Welsh, American, Czech, Lithuanian, Russian, Latvian, Norwegian, Chilean, Canadian … it was an all-encompassing multinational crowd that had one thing in common: the colour green. My award for best-dressed went to Dalma Jeney  – what style!

There’s something quite remarkable about St Patrick’s Day. It doesn’t matter who you know or don’t know… everyone is the best of friends. Total strangers have the craic, friendships form on the basis that one looks more ridiculous than the other. Conversations that strike up at the bar lead to lasting friendships.

IMG_2619 (599x800)I’m proud to be Irish. I’m proud of my heritage, my tradition, and everything that makes me, me. To be Irish, away from home, on St Patrick’s Day, in a city where others share your passion for life if not your bloodline, is quite an experience. Hat’s off to Mark Downey, the IHBC, and the team of organisers that made Sunday yet another day to remember.

Don’t tell Tim Child… but loathe that I am to admit it, dressing up was actually fun!

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2013 Grateful 42

It’s been a tumultuous week. Applause at the GOTG final, my first TV interview, and seeing myself in a short film at a public screening and not having apoplexy at the sight, all made it rather strange indeed. Perhaps I’m getting older or just more accepting or just plain mellowing – or maybe it’s a new attitude that came with the new glasses!

My mates LN and VS are in town and we’ve been having the craic. They were here last year so have met a lot of people already and know as much about my life here in Budapest as most. What’s interesting though, is their take on the people they meet. Perhaps a little coloured by things I’ve mentioned in passing – but that’s to be expected.  But we’re women who know who we like/don’t like and it’s been interesting to see their reactions to people, places, and events – and then to calibrate their opinions with my own. On a superficial first-meet level, I see them react to things I’d never have noticed. What’s more interesting though, is that when we don’t agree – it doesn’t matter. Each of us has strong opinions – and these opinions are very much a product of personal experience. That we can still sit around the table and have a decent conversation despite our differences is what makes us friends.

Years ago  at a conference at MIT, I remember meeting a young economist who was thinking of breaking up with her boyfriend because he worked for an organisation she didn’t approve of. She loved him, but not what he did. I wondered then about unconditional love and am still wondering. People are regularly dismissed because of their politics, their religion, their age. I’m guilty of this myself. And yet, how much does it all matter? If, deep down, someone is innately good, does it matter how they vote or what religion they are? Who am I to judge?  I’m constantly in a state of revision – and when I revise a first impression, I feel the need to explain it to the subject of my new-found wisdom. (‘You know, I used to think you were a plonker, but you’re actually alright!) Perhaps I should stop being so quick off the mark in the first place.

I received this poem in my inbox earlier this week. While it’s done the rounds, it’s a nice reminder of how easy it is to misjudge… and how much better life would be if we looked for that hidden inner value rather than preoccupy ourselves with what’s visible on the outside.

violin‘It was battered and scarred and the auctioneer thought it hardly worth his while to waste much time on the old violin, so he held it up with a smile. “What am I bid for this old violin? Who’ll start the bidding for me? A pound, a pound, who’ll make it two? Two pounds, and who’ll make it three? Three pounds once, three pounds twice, going for three,” but no; from the back of the room a grey- haired man came forward and picked up the bow. Then sweeping the dust from the old violin, and tightening up all the strings, he played a melody pure and sweet, as sweet as the angels sing. The music ceased and the auctioneer, with a voice that was quiet and low, said, “What am I bid for the old violin?” and he held it up with the bow. “A thousand pounds, and who’ll make it two? Two thousand, and who’ll make it three? Three thousand once, three thousand twice, going, and gone,” said he. The people cheered, but some of them said, “We do not quite understand. What changed its worth?” Then came the reply, “The touch of the Master’s hand.” And many a man with his life out of tune, battered and scarred with sin, is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd, much like the old violin. A mess of pottage, a glass of wine, a game, and he shuffles along: going once, going twice, he’s going and almost gone. But the Master comes, and the thoughtless crowd never can quite understand, the worth of the soul, and the change that’s wrought, by the touch of the Master’s hand.’

At the end of a rather hectic week, I’m grateful to those in my life who help calibrate me… thank you.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Edward de Bono meets Walt Whitman

IMG_4084 (800x600)A couple of weeks ago, a good mate of mine here in Budapest who reads my blog commented that one entry was shorter than usual. It was the one about moving statues, since commented on by  U.Cronin, whose book is worth a read, by the way. Apparently, they’re used to me rambling on and this sort of flummoxed them.

But yet, much as I love to use words, to make them work, to make them say things together that might be lost in a single utterance, I know the value of simplicity. Edward de Bono told me once (yes, I had a night out with the great EdeB in Budapest) that his book ‘Simplicity’ had to be drawn out for the publisher – it was too short. But there’s something to be said for simplicity and right now, I feel the urge to share Walt Whitman (1819-1892) with the world … and if you recognise it, it’s you.

Among the men and women, the multitude
I perceive one picking me out by secret and divine signs,
Acknowledging none else – not parent, wife, husband, brother, child, any nearner than I am,
Some are baffled, but that one is not, that one knows me
Ah! lover and perfect equal
I meant that you should discover me so, by my faint indirections;
And I, when I meet you, mean to discover you by the like in you.

As Leonardo de Vinci said: simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

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‘When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.’
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

The very nature of how I’ve chosen to live my life means that I regularly meet new people. I touched on this briefly last week with my reference to reason/season/lifetime. Many people might find it hard to believe that I’m an introvert. Yes, I do the stage thing. Yes, I can party with the best. Yes, I can engage, entertain, and perform. And enjoy it, at the time. But being around people constantly takes its toll. Human interaction drains me, physically, mentally, and emotionally. So many people simply don’t know how to sit comfortably in silence. I’ve gotten better at keeping my distance, at not immersing myself in the lives of others. I’ve gotten better at protecting my soul from those who want from me all that I can give… and more besides. I’m much more discriminating about with whom I choose to spend my time and what I say ‘yes’ to.

There was a stage when I resented the fact that I did so much for others and got so very little in return. And then I realised that the fault lay, not with others, but with me. My motivation was wrong. My compulsion to help was skewed towards some weird form of self-validation. You ask. I help. And in doing so, my life is somewhat justified. I felt that I had to ‘do’ to be appreciated, that I had to give, to be accepted, that I had to play to the gallery to earn my place. And I was wrong.

I learned my lesson many years ago, in Valdez, Alaska, when I broke my back in a snow machine accident. The town of 4000+ people rallied round and people I’d never met before showed up at my door with casseroles and cups of coffee. Some are still good friends today. They came to my bedside with grandchildren and conversation. They came to do my nails, to read to me, to keep me from thinking the worst of what might be. It was a truly humbling experience.

I came across the Nouwen quotation recently, not long after a conversation with a yet another new entrant to my world, one who is teaching me a lot about myself and what I want from life. A friend of theirs is ill. Very ill. I find myself regularly asking for updates, genuinely interested in their progress. My friend Lori’s anniversary is just around the corner and perhaps that has something to do with it. I feel their pain and I know that what’s ahead won’t be easy. So it is natural for me to ask and to be concerned, not least because what concerns my friend, what upsets them, what distracts them, also has an effect on me.

So, when, after one solicited update, they thanked me for my interest, I was a little taken aback. I must have looked a little surprised because they went on to explain that this wasn’t something they came across regularly. Yes, a casual ask about the health of a loved one, that was to be expected. But a genuine interest? A willingness to listen? That, albeit much appreciated, was unusual in their world.

Curious, now, about the power of empathy, I did a little more reading and found the answer to my surprise, and to theirs.

‘Our bodies have five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing. But not to be overlooked are the senses of our souls: intuition, peace, foresight, trust, empathy. The differences between people lie in their use of these senses; most people don’t know anything about the inner senses while a few people rely on them just as they rely on their physical senses, and in fact probably even more.’
C. JoyBell C.

LituaniaI rely heavily on these inner senses. They are very much part of who I am. I am the product of a happy childhood, supportive parents, understanding friends, and a calm and sure certainty that what will be will be. I trust in my God implicitly and from that comes a security that allows me to indulge these senses, no matter what the advice the world might give to the contrary.

This week, as I wait patiently to have my stitches removed and somewhat impatiently for the GOTG final on Thursday, I am truly grateful for the God-sent, those who cross my path to remind me of how truly blessed I am.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Getting to the root of it

To say that I’m annoyed, would be putting it mildly. To say that I’m furious would be a tad too strong. But somewhere between annoyed and furious you’ll find me as I vent my frustration at the pace of modern society and the ensuing damage this does to our health.

For the best part of two years, I’ve been attracting every bug known to man and a few that have not yet been catalogued. I’ve had MRIs, injections, antibiotics, steroids, tablets, and tonics. I’ve seen doctors, neurologists, nutritionists, psychotherapists, ophthalmologists and all sorts of alternative practitioners. And not one of them could explain what was going on with me.

Last month, I changed dentist. Since I’ve been to Budapest, I’ve had three. This is my fourth. My first was clearly in it for the money. Never trust a dentist whose greeting is: ‘do you have insurance’? I got fillings I didn’t need and a bill that left me reeling. Obviously my nem was lost in translation somewhere as dental insurance is something I’m singularly lacking.

The second came highly recommended. Clean surgery, pristine reputation, reasonably priced. I went twice a year – two cleanings and an annual check-up. But the waiting drove me mad. I was never seen on time and never, ever had his undivided attention. The third was by far the most personable but I lost faith when he tried to convince me to invest in my mouth by replacing my porcelain fillings with gold.

Tomorrow will do

Before Budapest, in the UK, I made my bi-annual visits. I’m quite religious when comes to my teeth. Back in the early 1990s, I’d had all my amalgam fillings replaced with porcelain and was told I’d need them redone in about ten years. Every dentist I’ve been to since has commented that I’d need them done ‘at some stage’. Yet not one of them ever took the time to make that ‘some stage’ a reality.

Yes, they took x-rays. Yes, they took photographs. Yes, they poked and prodded before pronouncing me fit to munch again. And idiot that I am, not having spent seven years in dental college, I took them at their word. All was well and would be well as long as I flossed some more.

Calling time

So, this fourth guy, checked me out, took some photos, and called time. I had to have those fillings replaced. Now. And, I needed my crown replaced as well. The figures totted up to quite a healthy sum but I knew I couldn’t escape forever. All went well until he removed my crown. When I saw the state of it, I nearly threw up. As for my tooth – it looked as if it would have been more at home in the mouth of one of Macbeth’s witches.

Not satisfied, he insisted on x-raying the root. And lo and behold, the root canal filling stopped 3mm short of the root itself. And in this 3-mm gap festered a pool of bacteria that had been seeping into my blood for God only knows how long. A little reading about the theories of one Dr Weston Price, a dentist from the 1900s, and his thoughts on root canal treatment, and hey presto, all the pieces suddenly fell into place.

Every last symptom I had presented with in the last two years could have been a result of this infection. Every last one. Without exception.

Making money

My gripe? Until now, not one dentist has had time for me. Like so many others, I’ve been slotted into place between patients and as I waited for my injection to take effect, they’d be off working on someone else’s mouth. As for the doctors:  Try this. Try that. We don’t know. We have no clue. It could be this, it might be that. Let’s see. Let’s wait and see some more. And in the meantime, I’m having trouble keeping my life on track and am beginning to doubt my sanity.

I’m not naïve enough to think that efficiencies and economies of scale are unimportant. I know that people have to make a living and the more patients in the chair, the more hours that can be billed. I know that Dr House is just a TV character and doesn’t exist in real life. I know that doctors are underpaid and overworked and like dentists are often harried and hassled. I know all this. I do.

But when did quantity win its fight with quality? When did more become less? When did the treatment become more important than the cure? When did we lose sight of the basics? Did you know that football coaches won’t take on a player without a full dental check-up? I didn’t. But now, I’m left wondering why no doctor or dentist thought to check my teeth.

Do yourself a favour. If you’re not feeling well, and despite their best efforts, if no one can give you answers, have your teeth x-rayed. I know just the chap who can do it for you, too. You’ll have his undivided attention as he sees only one patient at a time. Dr Imre Mohos www.dentist-online.hu

First publishing in the Budapest Times 8 March 2013