Most people go to Leicester Square feeling a little bit excited. Maybe it’s a red carpet event, or an evening out at the cinema or theatre, or a dinner in a fashionable restaurant or just a hurried walk through to Piccadilly Circus or Covent Garden. But for me it’s a place of horrible memories. The Dental Hospital. An imposing building, which seemed to monopolise the whole area, a place of dread and torture. Whenever I see the Square the gut-wrenching fear returns as I look up at the facade and back to my childhood.
When I was little I was always told I had good teeth. My milk teeth were evenly spaced, kept reasonably clean and nothing to worry about. I smiled with my mouth closed and laughed with my mouth open.
And then they started falling out – which is what milk teeth do. Fine. I collected about twenty thruppenny bits from under my pillow, sometimes after a day or two of suffering, but nothing to write home about. The new teeth grew.
But then the troubles started. The remaining milk teeth were strong. They didn’t want to leave the vice-like grip of my gums. The new teeth were fighting to come up for air. I had a mouthful of agony.
My mother took me to the dentist. A person characterised by fear and loathing. Not helped when he tried to take out the offending molars. With pliers. And no anaesthetic. I was a quiet child generally. But not in the dentist’s chair. I bit. I fought. I yelled and screamed and cried. Poor man. He shut everything down and said I would have to go to hospital to have them out with gas. Gas???
My mother was furious and ashamed of me. I was just happy his pliers brandishing fist was no longer in my mouth.
We went home. I gargled with salt water yet again. The milk teeth remained.
A few weeks later it was my weekend with my dad. He gaily informed me that we were going to the West End. To Leicester Square. Ooh!
I thought. We’re going to the Swiss Centre (which happened occasionally). Not quite, he said.
And in we went to the Dental Hospital.
They strapped me down in a big chair and then put an enormous mask on my face and told me to breathe. The smell was horrible. The feeling of claustrophobia was worse. The nightmares were ghastly. You don’t fall into a dreamless sleep as with modern anaesthetics.
I woke up with a mouthful of blood and cotton plugs. The look on my father’s face was worse than any of it. He had had to sit there and watch. A more squeamish person cannot be imagined.
And then they told me that they’d only taken out two of my teeth. The other recalcitrant gnashers would have to go another day. The same way.
And so you see why Leicester Square is more like a Stasi police station than a place of ephemeral joy!
I’m sitting in a dentist’s
waiting room just now as I’ve broken a tooth. I’m apprehensive but not terrified. Over fifty years have passed since that experience and since then things have improved considerably.
I had a wonderful dentist for years whose sideline was in animal dentistry. She would enthrall me while I had my mouth wide open for root canal treatment, with tales of filling tigers’ teeth in London Zoo. But then she gave it all up to devote time to her art and jewellery making. I miss her.
My childhood dentist, Mr Taylor, not the one whom I bit (that was Mr Fox, his brother) was very famous in Polish circles. Very dapper, handsome even, with his dark longish hair and moustache, he was a charmer. He enjoyed a great reputation as a pain free dentist and all the ladies of west London especially used to visit him on a regular basis.
I loved his waiting room which had wonderful embossed silk wallpaper and an aquarium with tropical fish. They were beautiful.
And he was nice.
Coincidentally one year we ended up at the same hotel as my father and about ten of his friends in Lido Di Jesolo. I was twelve. My father had toothache. Nice Mr Taylor helped. At a price. But the pain stopped.
Then a few years later we couldn’t get an appointment with him. Had he retired? Well, no. He had been detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure for two years for defrauding Her Majesty’s government. Apparently he had been claiming for dentistry work he hadn’t, or even couldn’t have, performed. My mother was one of those called up to be checked by a governmental dentist and he couldn’t find forty fillings in her mouth. Oh dear.
But his charm and his reputation were such that everyone waited for his return. And they flocked back to him! Forgive and forget! Even Terry-Thomas had his middle gap filled by him, so he didn’t have to flaunt his trade mark on a daily basis!
I still don’t actually like going to the dentist, not because of pain but because of the noise. Though nowadays sometimes I am so tired that the very act of lying down in the dentist’s chair sends me off into a pleasant doze and then I am so relaxed that even the whine of the drill does not disturb too much. Who am I kidding?