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Tooth Is Stranger Than Friction

Robin had been away for a week, visiting her parents in Australia. The cats and I were looking forward to a weekend of incredible debauchery.

"Will there be creatures?" asked Harpo, flexing his claws. They slid in and out of their sheaths like evil stilettos. "Things to kill?"

"Yes there will," I said. "There's one quivering in fear behind the fridge even as we speak."

"Is there?" Harpo sounded doubtful.

"Yes – it sneaks out at night when nobody is around and eats the remains of your dinner. Haven't you noticed how fast the food has been disappearing lately?"

"We'll see about that!" declared Harpo and he went and sat to attention by the fridge, waiting for action.

Bess was less certain about the weekend of sin. "I'd really rather just sleep on my new cushion," she said. "Is all this really necessary?"

"If that's what floats your boat," I said, "then sleep away. This weekend is all about doing what makes you feel good."

"What are you going to do?" Bess asked.

"I've got a book to read and a DVD to watch," I said, "and I'm cooking a curry. It's going to be the most debauched weekend ever."

"Oh YES!" said Harpo, and all three of us gave each other high fives. As we did that, one of my teeth gave a little twinge. I ignored it.

The Saturday of our weekend of unalloyed pleasure arrived. There was a mild, throbbing pain in my tooth now, but I paid it no attention. I had far more important things to concentrate on; I had a curry to cook. Shortly after breakfast, I began to concentrate on frying onions and adding pinches of this and that to the increasingly savoury sauce that the lamb was simmering in. Curries are best cooked the day before they are eaten. The longer they rot in the fridge before you re-heat and serve them, the tastier they become. It's never too early to cook a curry. The cats watched anxiously.

"Don't you think you should add a bowl of mice?"

"How about a dried lizard to give it some body? I've got a spare one under the sofa."

I took their advice very seriously. Always listen to your cats. They are wise in the ways of the world. Then the phone rang.

"Hello, Laurie here," said Laurie.

"Hello, Laurie Here," I said, "this is Alan There."

It's our little ritual. We find it amusing. Nobody else does. I can't think why...

"What are you doing this evening?" asked Laurie.

"I have a curry, a book and a DVD," I said. "The cats and I are planning some decadence"

"No you aren't," Laurie hinted.

"Aren't I?"

"No," suggested Laurie gently. "You are coming round here for dinner."

If Laurie ever invites you for dinner, you should always accept. The man is a kitchen god, similar to, though considerably less shapely than, the Nigella herself. However he compensates for his lack of shape by singing in a much higher register than the comparatively husky Nigella – he sings counter-tenor with the Orpheus choir.

I took my twinging tooth to Laurie's where I was pleased to find that the food was soft and delicious. I was starting to doubt my ability to bite anything hard. My tooth was feeling very sensitive, and so was I.

By the time I left Laurie's to go back home, my tooth was really the only thing I could think about. I was in quite a lot of pain and when I got home I collapsed straight into bed. But I didn't sleep very well. A blacksmith had moved an anvil just behind my tooth and a never ending procession of dwarves were rhythmically beating swords into ploughshares on it. I dosed myself with pain killers. They didn't kill any pain.

The following day being Sunday, all the dentists in the country were out playing golf. I lay in bed with a throbbing jaw. I drank lots of tea – the warm liquid helped a bit and I chewed on the hot tea bags. That also helped a little. Eventually I had a bright idea and I put a wet rag in a plastic bag and warmed it in the microwave. I spent the rest of the day and most of the night holding it to my cheek and jaw.

As soon as the dentist opened for business on Monday morning, I rang and asked for an emergency appointment.

"Come round immediately," said the nurse, so I did.

The dentist sat me down in his torquemada chair. "So," he said, "let's see what's going on here. The first order of business is to find out just which teeth are causing the problem."

He picked up the silver hammer that he had bought from Maxwell's Dental Supplies. Bang! Bang! Maxwell's silver hammer came down upon my tooth. Bang! Bang! Maxwell's silver hammer went seeking for the truth. "Does that hurt?"

I shook my head. Wrong tooth. He tried again.

Once he and the nurse had pulled me down from the ceiling, he said, "I'll take that as a yes."

Eventually we determined that two teeth in my upper jaw were very sensitive. X-Rays were called for.

"Aha!," he said. "There's an abscess under one of the teeth, but I can't see any reason for the other one to be hurting. Perhaps it's just a sympathetic pain. Well, let's work on the obvious things first. I'm going to drill down through the root and let the abscess drain. I'll just numb you a bit before I start."

He produced the needle of necessary things and pumped several gallons of paralysing fluid into my gum. All sensation fled from my face and for the first time in several days I was feeling no pain.

"That'll do," I said. "Let's leave it there. I'll just come back every couple of hours for a top up."

"Sorry," said the dentist. "It doesn't work like that." He began to call for the tools of his trade and the nurse handed them over, one by one. Black and Decker drills whirred, dynamite was packed in the holes and titanic explosions rocked my jaw.

"Gosh," said the dentist, "that's the longest root I've ever seen. I wonder how far it goes? I think I need another X-Ray."

Another X-Ray later, the dentist said thoughtfully, "What's the longest drill we've got?"

"42mm," said the nurse.

"That should be long enough," said the dentist as he resumed drilling. "I might even reach the brain with that one. I always wanted to drill into a brain."

Eventually he seemed satisfied with his progress. He packed the enormous hole in my tooth with a temporary antibiotic soaked filling and sent me on my way. My wallet was so light after paying his golf club membership fees for the next three years that I almost floated out of his office.

Overnight the left side of my face swelled up to the size of a football. The swelling was so huge that I could barely open my left eye and my nose was twisted several millimetres off centre. I rang the dentist. The nurse answered the phone and I explained my symptoms.

"Oh gosh, that's not normal," said the nurse. "You'd better come back straight away." So I did.

"That's rather impressive," said the dentist when he saw my face. "Looks like the infection from the abscess has spread into the soft tissues. I think we'd better put you on a course of antibiotics. Meanwhile let's see what's going on with the teeth."

Maxwell's silver hammer revealed that the second tooth was still sensitive. "That worries me," said the dentist. "There's no obvious reason for it. There's nothing on the X-Rays. I think I'd better drill into it and see what's going on."

Drills drilled. Have you ever noticed how good drills are at drilling? You'd almost think they were designed for it...

"Aha!" exclaimed the dentist triumphantly. "There's an infection actually in the root itself. No wonder it didn't show up on the X-Ray. I think I'd better drill the whole root out."

"OK," I gulped.

"Nurse," he thundered, "fetch me a size 84 Ryobi and Makita with the patented left hand twist reverse power screw."

Afterwards, I staggered off clutching a prescription for massive doses of antibiotics. I wondered if I had enough money in my wallet for the prescription charges. My dentist now had a lifetime membership of his golf club, and as I left the surgery, I overheard him on the phone booking an extended cruise to the Solomon Islands.

I returned to work. Since the swelling had closed my left eye, the monocular vision from my right eye left me with no depth perception whatsoever. This had strange and interesting results when I tried to draw diagrams on the white board. I couldn't tell how close the marker was to the board and I made lots of squelchy squiggles as it constantly took me by surprise. Fortunately my students were very understanding and they only laughed at me when I wasn't looking.

Over the next few days the swelling started to die down as the antibiotics kicked in. I had binocular vision again and my nose straightened up. There was no pain any more, thank goodness, but there were extremely high levels of discomfort, which was almost as bad. The dentist couldn't put permanent fillings in yet because of the infection. He put another set of temporary fillings in and gave me a prescription for more antibiotics.

"Let's see how it looks in a week," he said presenting me with yet another enormous bill.

The following week I was pleased to see a new Rolls Royce parked in his private space when I arrived for my treatment. "Nice car," I said.

"Thank you," he said, rubbing his hands gleefully. "How's the tooth?"

He had a good look around inside my mouth and decided that it was time for the permanent fillings at last. "I'm going to use a rubber dam," he explained. "It stops nasty tasting things falling into your mouth and it keeps the saliva away from the holes in the teeth. Horrible stuff, saliva. Full of germs. We'd all be better off without it."

He stretched a thick green condom-like object around my teeth and hammered some wedges in to hold it in place. Then he drilled out the old fillings.

"Cement," he said to the nurse.

She turned on the cement mixer and it churned away for a while. "We're running out of sand," she observed.

"Better order some more after we've finished this job," said the dentist. He shovelled cement into my tooth and pounded it it flat with a pneumatic jackhammer. "There," he said in tones of deep satisfaction, "that should do it."

I paid the final bill.

"Thanks," he said as he showed me to the door. "Any idea what's involved in gold-plating a Roller?"

"No," I said. "But I'm sure you'll tell me all about it when I come for my routine check up next month."

I went home feeling glad it was all over and things were back to normal. As I opened my front door, I saw Bess looking anxiously at me.

"Are you OK now?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Oh good," she said. "So is it time for my debauchery at last?"

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