Back in the Chair

Got down to the dentist with a good 10 minutes to spare before my appointment for my first check up in over 17 years which needless to say was an excessively long time to leave things but the simple fact of the matter was there had not been any toothache or things falling out of my mouth in the whole of that period. Over the last few months though I had been spitting up blood when brushing my teeth, not all the time, mainly after eating something sweet, sometimes quite a lot of blood, so eventually I had realised it was time to press the button and get back down to the dentist.


The receptionist at the surgery in Woodford happened to be Welsh but she was not from Cardiff which was where I was from, her accent was a bit more sophisticated than the Tiger Bay drawl I was used to hearing whenever I went back home. There were a few well dressed people already waiting for their appointments and I was momentarily embarrassed when I told the receptionist I wanted to go NHS rather than private, but the feeling of embarrassment didn’t last long as I realised it what it was, simple as that, there was no point in trying to pretend things were different; I had the time but I didn’t have too much bread to throw around which meant that going NHS would suit me just fine. After the necessary paperwork was completed, which involved quite a bit of form signing, presumably to get them off the hook if something went wrong, I took a seat on one of the sofas to await my turn to be seen, and after ten minutes my name was called out to go to room four on the top floor where Mr Alex Wood was waiting for me.

Spent a bit of time going over with Alex all the things I did with my teeth, how many times I cleaned them each day, what kind of toothpaste I used, whether I flossed my teeth or not, the blah de blah and a whole bunch of other stuff like that. Whilst we had this conversation I was sitting on the dentist chair, not fully reclined, just kind of leaning back a bit, not too comfortable, conscious of the fact I wanted to try to sound as cool and relaxed as possible. This would have all been fine except I realised I was sweating quite a bit, particularly on my forehead which was not too far away from a bright swivel light shining down on me. I felt my casual replies to Alex, who was young enough to be my son with at least 10 years to spare, were somewhat compromised, it irritated me when I realised this was happening, which only made me sweat that much more.

Needn’t have worried as the check up revealed a fair bit of gum decay but nothing which couldn’t be fixed by way of a couple of professional cleans from the hygienist, whilst as far as my teeth were concerned all was looking good, which was definitely something I was more than a little surprised about. Alex told me that if I wanted to go NHS I would be looking at a wait of 4-5 months before I would get an appointment with the hygienist, whilst if I wanted to go private I could get it done almost right away. It didn’t take me long to get my card out and tell him that private was fine. Funny that, how the goalposts can shift when push comes to shove, but there was no way I was going to wait five months to get my gums sorted once it was confirmed they were on the road to ruin.

Fact of the matter was that since moving to London back in 84 I had got off lightly when it came to having to go to the dentist. Apart from that check up over 17 years ago at the same Woodford surgery, I had had a couple of crowns efficiently fitted back in the early 90s at a dental practice over in Turnpike Lane, and a series of fillings in a surgery in Belsize Park not long after I first moved to London from Cardiff. That that was pretty much it, not bad going when all things were considered and I felt myself lucky.

My Belsize dentist had been a Canadian by the name of Greg Wilcox who had a practice on Haverstock Hill, on the same side of the road as what was then the Screen on the Hill, opposite Belsize Park tube station. This was in the middle of the 80s when I was sharing a flat above a potter’s workshop on Fleet Road, Belsize Park, just round the corner from the Royal Free Hospital, at the bottom of Parliament Hill. I went to Greg a number of times for the fillings which needed doing and the thing I remember most about him, apart from the fact he was an incredibly nice guy, was that he gave you the option of having your surgery done whilst listening to music on a pair of headphones. At the time this was quite an innovation, a world away from the dental horror shows I had experienced in the 70s when on more than one occasion I had wobbled out of the dentists feeling more than a little traumatised, or more accurately, a bit fucked up.

During the course of my series of fillings with Greg I got pretty familiar with Tina Turner’s Private Dancer album, one of Greg’s favourites. Songs such as Let’s Stay Together, What’s Love Got to Do With It, along with the hauntingly powerful title track, more than took my mind away from what was going on inside my mouth. The other thing which made going to see Greg so much more painless than what it had been like in the past was that I was heavily into smoking dope at the time, and I knew that despite whatever happened in the chair I would be going back to the flat on Fleet Road to toke on something which would be guaranteed to take the pain away. It was kind of ironic that we were living above a potter’s workshop when what we were doing had a lot to do with an altogether different kind of pot, one that you smoked and lots of it.

When Jean Hanson, my landlady in Hampstead, had given me notice on the room in her flat she was renting out to me, she had let me know about the flat on Fleet Road. It was where her daughter Emily Machin and boyfriend Gavin Cross had a spare room going and they needed someone to move in to help pay the rent. Turned out to be a no brainer, rolling down the hill from Netherhall Gardens in Hampstead to Fleet Road in Belsize Park was as easy as pie and within a week of moving I was locked into a mega backgammon competition with Gavin which would more or less take us through the whole of 1986. I would come back from working my shift as a residential social worker in Hampstead, immediately get stoned with Gavin and then we would soon have the backgammon board out. He was not working at the time and would spend his day sitting up in bed plucking away on his beautiful dobro guitar which he had bought with some inheritance money that had come his way. By around midnight we would take a break for a session of the munchies in the kitchen we shared, the condition of which by anyone’s standards was an absolute disgrace. Emily worked in a betting shop during the day and although she abstained from smoking weed she did like a drink or two, so this more or less ruled her out of the equation as well when it came to any form of household maintenance.

Most nights I wouldn’t crash until around 2 – 2.30 am and I think it is fair to say that on more than one occasion I made the walk across Belsize Park to begin my shift in Hampstead the next day feeling completely and utterly wrecked. The funny thing about smoking dope is that during the course of the night before you can vow to yourself repeatedly that this is going to be the last time ever you are going to get stoned, but then the next day you find yourself red eyed and blasted before you have even eaten breakfast. Weird really and believe me it was extremely difficult to break out of this cycle, something from which my life still feels the effects of to this day. So yeah, there we go, back in the chair.

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