Low pain, low music tolerance

Joe Bennett is an English-born travel writer and columnist who lives in New Zealand with dogs. His columns are syndicated in newspapers throughout New Zealand.
Joe Bennett is an English-born travel writer and columnist who lives in New Zealand with dogs. His columns are syndicated in newspapers throughout New Zealand.

I've been explained by science twice. The first time was a few years ago when boffins in Kentucky confirmed what I'd known for 50 years, which was that I had a low pain threshold. Mine was so low, I told people, it did limbo dancing.

They didn't believe me, of course. Coward, they called me, wuss. Toughen up, they said, and be a man. I said I'd be delighted to if only it didn't hurt so much. But then the boffins discovered that I really did have a low threshold, I and every other redhead.

As a kid my hair was the colour of a road- mender's vest. I was visible from space. Goldilocks, they called me, and carrot-top and worse. The names stung. but they didn't sting as much as pain did.

The first dentist to probe my mouth had qualified during World War I. If you'd asked him about anaesthetic he'd have said he'd never met the girl. I'd start screaming as we turned into his street. Once he'd strapped me into his chair the old booby would tell me to be a brave little soldier. I'd have happily co- operated by shooting him. Perhaps someone did, because one day there was a new dentist who offered injections and suddenly all the troubles were supposed to be over.

But not for me and other redheads.

Even when I was numbed to the point of coma the nerves in my teeth were still very much awake. "You're imagining it," everyone told me. I knew they were wrong and I am grateful to the boffins who later proved that they were wrong. And I'm equally grateful to another set of boffins who've just explained my attitude to music.

I play no music at home. I've never owned a record player, or a tape deck, or a ghetto blaster, or a Walkman, or an iPod and I won't own whatever's coming next.

I know people who will travel hundreds of miles to a rock concert. I'll do the same to avoid one. If music comes on the car radio I turn it off. And I've always felt sorry for Panamanian hard man General Noriega.

In 1989 the Americans invaded Panama so he took refuge in the Vatican embassy. Even the Americans didn't dare storm that, so they put speakers at the gate and played rock music at him day and night. Ten days it took for Noriega to emerge with his hands up. He was a broken man. I'd have snapped after 10 minutes.

Then just last week I learned that my dislike of music is a recognised neural condition. And if I'd known that two weeks ago Emma might not think I was such a grouchy old sod.

Emma's not her real name. It's actually Anna Pearson, but I don't want to embarrass her. She's a young journo and she emailed a couple of weeks back to ask if we could meet for a beer and a chat about life and literature. She signed off with the words "my shout".

"Name the time and place," I said and she did.

Being old, bald and bent I'm not in the habit of meeting young women in bars. So I arrived on time. During the next 45 minutes I composed a little lecture on the virtue of punctuality. But when Emma arrived she smiled a smile that would have melted the heart of a South American hard man, and the lecture vanished like mist.

I've always liked bars. I like the way booze greases the wheels of conversation and lets it go places it might otherwise not reach. And conversation with Emma was heading towards all sorts of good places, and I was beginning to feel at one with the world, when somebody started singing. He had a microphone and a guitar and a fake American accent and I looked around the bar to see who was going to hit him first. I didn't want to miss the chance to land a couple of blows myself.

No-one was going to. Indeed, most of the patrons had stopped what they were doing and were now paying attention to the singer rather than to the people they had come in with. And when he finished a song they clapped. I didn't and don't understand.

The music ruined the evening. What had been conversation became shouting and lip- reading. I grew surly, the evening ended early and I've no doubt Emma thought me a grumpy old goat at odds with the modern world.

And it's probably true, but it's also true that I'm sick, so it's not my fault. My affliction is called musical anhedonia and 2 per cent of the population's got it. We ought to get together and open a bar.

The Southland Times