It’s different going to the dentist these days.
When I was little we would wait in a small room, heated by an open fire in winter, then be ushered through to the surgery which was huge. A black chair stood in the bay window, so if it hadn’t been that you had to face the ceiling most of the time you’d have had a great view down to the river and across the valley. There was a large cream machine in the corner. I never did find out what it was for, and some hard chairs that we waited on. There was a rolltop desk adorned with pictures of all four Beatles exhorting us to eat apples. The dentist was in Quarry Street. My sister and I knew one side of the road well. It was round the corner from our grandparents’ house and where I used to go to fetch my grandfather’s newspaper on a Saturday and spend the thruppence he gave me in Piper’s the confectioners next door.
Quarry Street is quite transformed these days, almost chic. Piper’s is long gone. for a while it was a saddlery. I don’t remember the name, now it is a restaurant. Anyway. The dentist was on the other side of the street which Mother warned us against crossing alone as it was Dangerous. So it was only when went to find out if our sweet consumption had decayed our teeth that we got to the other side.
Most excitingly, and this is a very early memory, one of the residents on the far side of the street kept a pig in the cellar. My sister and I used to eagerly look through the grating to see its snout raised looking back at us. Poor pig. Some twenty years ago I mentioned the pig to my mother. “A pig?” she said blankly. Evidently it had not etched itself so clearly on her memory, or maybe she was far more conscious that we were of how cruel it was to keep it in a cellar and what its destiny would be.
But there are no pigs on the way to the dentist now. It’s a different dentist at the other end of town, beyond the Upper High Street and on the London Road. Things have changed there enormously in the last few years. The practice has been taken over by a chain. U2 played in the waiting room which has been transformed. No more copies of the Telegraph and hand me down magazines from the dentists’ homes. It’s a corporate place now. There are ads for teeth whitening. My dentist hates teeth whitening. He sees it as an abomination. When I see people of my age with gnashers that could give the icebergs of Antarctica competition in snowy whiteness, I have to agree with him. Maybe when he retires I’ll switch to a London dentist and rebel against his views, but I do enjoy my trips to the town where I grew up.