As a kid, I could have easily become either a dentist or a crack addict. The dentist was the preferred option as a child as I’d visit two – one on the corner of Ritherdon and Balham High Road, the other on Crescent Grove facing Clapham Common. Both were huge houses and, because I was nearly thirty before I physically lived in a house, I wanted to own a massive detached Victorian house when I grew up (toothless or otherwise).
Because my diet was very sugar heavy – you could buy four shrimps and a Jubilee Bag for less than a sixpence and you could raise your cholesterol level in most Balham sweet shops for less than half a crown (the exact monetary value of a portion of big, big carpet-cleaning 1001), my trips to the dentist as a young teenager were more regular than the mandatory six-moth visits. I would (officially) go in April and September. April was chosen as invariably I’d be on school holidays. One year my mother sent me on my birthday: Happy Birthday – here’s your present of an amalgam of mercury, copper, tin and zinc – hardly Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh!
Nowadays a drug called Lidocaine (originally invented by a swimming dentist who was a regular at the Tooting Bec Lido) is used for pain prevention, when I went, and you didn’t have gas, the drug was cocaine. It was injected, you didn’t have to bring your own rolled-up ten-shilling note, although, if you did possess a ten-shilling note, imagine how many Jubilee Bags you could buy? Death by sherbet dab!
The dentist lived on-site with surgeries and waiting room on the ground floor, no doubt above this there were countless rooms filled with recently-extracted rotting teeth. The dentist must have been wealthy living in such palatial splendour, but this, to me raised one question: why were the magazines in the waiting room always out of date? Before one appointment (in the mid-Sixties) I read, with relief, that Crippen had been apprehended and mother was one year so pleased Mafeking had been relieved. She knew a Mr Mafeking and wondered if this was something she’d been involved in!
There was always a disappointing selection of magazines, not like the barber’s whose waiting area was stocked with copies of Parade and Health & Efficiency. It was only when I went to get my haircut that I took such an ardent interest in naturism. The only chance of sneaking a look at a pair of boobs in the dentist’s waiting room was if they had the 1958 edition of National Geographic which featured ladies from a remote village up the Amazon wearing nothing but a fish-harpoon.
Although I think about it I wouldn’t have wanted to be a dentist – all that halitosis. Plus, you’d never have a decent conversation – unless your patients had the gift of being able to talk with the entire Screw-Fix catalogue in their gobs! Although I would like to use the word gingivitis at work more. Gingivitis derives from the fact that St Vitus was ginger. Open wide.