Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Getting under the skin

London is the place if you want to see the weird and wonderful. And the Body Worlds exhibition is no exception – expect giggling teenagers and voyeurs.

The exhibition, held at the O2 Bubble, has a number of models on show, which are all real human bodies donated at death for medical science. They have been preserved using a technique called plastination and are displayed in various poses, skin removed and cut open to show the anatomy of the human body – all in the name of education.

It’s sort of gruesome and probably not recommended when hung-over.

They don’t smell, which is a plus, but some of the exhibits do look like their sweating. And viewing them, other than the desire not to get too close, is the overwhelming thought of beef jerky.

But it was the eyelashes that did it for me. Here were these models stripped of their skin, eyeballs staring unseeing from their sockets and still complete with a set of bleached eyelashes. One word – creepy.

In fact the hair in general wasn’t particularly pleasant. One model whose skin had been removed and modelled next to the body, like a piece of clothing, included all the body hairs – if you get my drift. To top it off the soles of his feet were dirty.

With gentle music playing in the background there was a hushed silence as people viewed the models and had quiet discussions about various parts of the anatomy. The quiet was often punctuated by the giggles of a teenager who thought some body part was worth a laugh.

The R16 room was considerably more, shall we say, lively where a man and woman model were in the midst of a passionate sexual act (well as passionate as you can be when you’re dead and your skin has been removed). The abdomen of the woman had been cut away so as to view the erect member in place. It’s not like this was anything new – I’m pretty sure we’ve all seen the images in sex-ed class – yet everyone crowded around staring intently and whispering furiously behind their hands.

What I couldn’t understand was the point of an R16 room when the room next door, albeit not so graphic, was still along the same lines with various organs on show.

Besides the plasticised models there were exhibits of diseased lungs from smoking, haemorrhages in the brain, and a cross section of an obese person.

But top on the list was a plasticised giraffe. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Detesting the dentist

Ok so call me weird, but I actually quite like going to the dentist. It’s sort of therapeutic having my mouth yanked in various directions as the tartar is chipped off my teeth. Maybe I see it as absolving my sins so to speak, some puritanical flagellation to make up for any bad things I’ve done.

Of course, I’m not stupid and I avoid seeing a dentist for as long as possible. However, I clearly pissed off a lot of people since I last went almost three years ago because my latest trip went from mere flagellation to outright torture.

All I wanted was a check up and a clean. It wasn’t like I was asking for a root canal or a full on extraction.

It all started on arrival where I was forced to wait half an hour because they were running late – how at 10am you’re running late I’m not sure, but anyway. But there were no magazines to read – unless you could understand Portuguese. So all I could do was admire the way the paint had dried on the walls and get increasingly worried about whether I might need a filling. Now I wasn’t freaking out, but any sane person who has a fear of dentists might have found the wait uncomfortable to say the least.

So finally I get through and hand over my patient survey. Am I taking any medications? No. Do I have a history of heart disease? No. Am I allergic to penicillin? No. How many units of alcohol do I drink a week? I veer on the side of conservatism – um 10 units.

I’m not quite sure of the relevancy of some of the questions. Really, how is arthritis going to affect my dental health?

But once the latex gloves are snapped on and four different items of torture are thrust into my mouth I think they have made a bit of a mistake with the patient survey. They really should have asked: Do you have a phobia of dentists? Where do you rate your pain threshold on a scale of 1 to 10? Do you produce excessive amounts of saliva?

It was a half hour of agony.

Clearly technology has advanced since I last visited the dentist. There was none of this chipping off the tartar with a pick. No, instead it was blasted off with some high-speed supersonic evil device that ended up devouring half my gums at the same time. This was one sadistic dentist. He even had that manic look.

And then, stupid me, agrees to upgrade to a whitening as well, which involved hundreds of sand-like particles being gunned onto my teeth at more supersonic speeds while giving an effective facial dermabrasion at the same time as the particles ricocheted out of my mouth. And all the while I’m trying not to gag on my saliva – those vacuum things really are a great invention but only when used properly.

To top it off, I can’t even notice the colouration difference and all this for some £77. Frickin NHS my arse.

I’ve decided to reassess my views of dentists. After spitting blood for several hours I’ve categorically come to the conclusion that dentists are evil and I am endeavouring to brush my teeth at least twice a day plus flossing to avoid going through that again in the foreseeable future. Oh and from now on I’m going to be good.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Getting stoned

“Got any drugs man?” the scrawny teenager with bad hair asks. One can only assume his eyes are bloodshot, but it’s hard to tell in the 2am darkness.

After the third stumbling random approaches out little group, my friend gets the balls to ask if we look like drug-dealers.

For all intents and purposes we are an unlikely crew – a nurse, another healthcare professional, a teacher, a lawyer and a journalist. Maybe it was the striped purple blanket my lawyer friend was wearing to keep warm that gave the wrong impression – I had dubbed him Joseph and the technicolor dreamcoat.

Indeed, old Joseph seemed to fit in quite well with our surroundings – an eclectic mix of some 35,000 people, druids and hippies, and a mass of rocks plonked in the middle of an English field known simply as Stonehenge.

It was the summer solstice – the shortest night of the year. A big date on the druid, hippy and new age reveller’s calendar.

Every year they come in droves to Stonehenge to pay tribute to the rising sun at the ungodly hour of before 5am.

While the real reason for the existence for the massive stone circle is unclear with much disagreement over its mystical and ritualistic significance, there is the distinct fact that the stones are perfectly aligned along the sun’s axis on rising in midsummer and setting in midwinter.

And for years, people have taken up the opportunity to “camp out” all night to await the first rays of light while seemingly getting away with sampling herbal and synthetic substances despite a strong police presence.

The teenagers asking for drugs are the least interesting of the sun-worshippers. It’s the others that are so alluring – it’s a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” environment.

They wear cloaks, with flowers in their hair and wizened staffs in their hands. Some are in need of a finding a hairdresser, others a shower. Many need to revisit their toilet manners and potty training (in my mind, long grass is not classed as a human toilet).

There are drums of all types, tin whistles and even a guitar played with a bank card. And all the time a lingering pong permeates through the air.

The hard part isn’t really trying to stay awake until the 4.45am sunrise; it is trying to stay warm. Our massive tarpaulin soon becomes a plastic blanket around a group hug. I have to admit the cold is good for one thing – it keeps the nudists at bay.

But if it was warm you were wanting, being crammed in the middle of the stones with several hundred other people dancing to the beat of bongo drums and tin whistles is a pretty good way to go. It is also the place for an inside picture of the summer solstice frequenters – a guy with a shrunken head on the end of a staff, another with a musical instrument a cross between a horn and a didgeridoo. Between foot-stamping and chanting the revellers irregularly whoop and cheer loudly as if calling on the gods. It's a frenzy to say the least.

As sunrise approaches we all stand around waiting with anticipation, almost expecting some giant cavern to open in the centre of the stones and for Armageddon to be upon us.

But it is an anti-climax. Should have guessed the awesome British weather would get in the way. Sun? Ha, there is no sun. And after 15 minutes of waiting, just to check there are no sacrifices of interest, we follow the masses back towards civilisation, a strong coffee and a warm bed.