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Journal of Distraction - by Michael Kelly

Week 1 - Saturday

To the dentist, my favourite thing to do on my day off. The narrator of Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus suggests that the rise of the Nazis could have been predicted by noting the decline in the standards of dental care in the years before: whereas in happier more liberal times the dentists had patiently laboured to reconstruct bad teeth, as Weimar crumbled and the storm clouds gathered they would simply yank them without any ado, like a society summarily doing away with the misfits or the weak.

It's a nice conceit and one that always troubles me whenever I visit my own dentist. He has no patience with weakness or cowardice. He describes anaesthesia as 'The Jewish science' and rebukes me for bleeding on his jackboots. He watches 'Marathon Man' in between patients... No, but I have heard people whimpering and pleading inside his room, and him screaming at them for their wetness. He chased one of them out on the landing yelling at them for wasting his time. He's actually OK with me, as after my first couple of visits I became more scared of him than of the pain. Actually his worst vice is starting a really interesting conversation just when I can't talk back. I reckon a lot of them go into it for the sake of the captive audience for their monologues. (Maybe one of the reasons there aren't enough dentists now is they all discovered internet journals...)

There's nothing wrong with my teeth but I had to get a check-up in case he struck me off his list for not visiting in a while, as is his wont. He's the only NHS dentist left for miles around so I can't afford to lose him. He spent most of this session ranting about the government. He did this the first time I came, too - he could barely make a living back then, and now they've just introduced some new scheme which is going to make things much worse for them, so even though he's committed to the NHS he probably won't be able to afford not to turn private for long. Whenever he drills a tooth now he imagines it's the prime minister's head...

...A Thomas Mann reference describing a trip to the dentist? Was that a bit flash? It can't be helped. Whenever I'm forced to work the gratuitous literary references tend to increase to bolster my ego.

And why not? To hell with money, status, crappy job or joblessness, achievement or lack thereof - deep down everyone knows that whoever has read the most books is the best person - and, actually, and without a shadow of a lie, the happiest.

I may never have earned more than ___ a week in my life and that rarely for longer than a couple of months; I may be 35 and riding on buses; I may have failed in every conceivable way by the world's standards. But I've read___ and ___ and ____ and dear old_____. Therefore I win.

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