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What do you do when a gorgeous woman tells you to get your teeth sorted?

You’ll never get anyone with teeth like that, said C, and packed me off to the dentist.

To Chelsea Harbour, and a dentist. This is something of an adventure for me. The dentist part involves a free consultation, arranged for me by C——, who, you may remember from a couple of weeks ago, gave me that nice kiss. She has given me to understand that anything more exciting than that will not happen to me, at either her hands or anyone else’s, if I do not get my gnashers sorted out.

She has a point: years of smoking and drinking red wine have taken their toll, and sometimes, when the lighting is in the wrong place, it looks as though my two front teeth have been knocked out when I smile. They’re still there, just a little . . . eroded.

This being a private dentist, I entertain no illusions about ever being able to pay for such treatment as I will need, apart from an idle fantasy that not only will the dentist be a beautiful woman, she will also decide that I am so wonderful that she will perform her services upon me for free. This falls at the very far end of the range of possibilities, way beyond “unlikely”, and indeed nudging the borders of “impossible”. Still, I need something to motivate me to get out of the Hovel.

And getting out of the Hovel and into Chelsea Harbour is a drag. For one thing, I haven’t been to Chelsea Harbour – to actually walk around it, as opposed to clocking it while driving over Battersea Bridge – for about . . . God, it must be getting on for thirty years. I was with Deirdre Redgrave, the ex-wife of Corin, mother of Jemma, sometime lover of Jeffrey Bernard and, in her own right, one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.

“Let’s go and see my friend Lemmy,” she said. “He’s on a barge in Chelsea Harbour.” I was terribly excited about meeting Lemmy, but he wasn’t in. (There used to be a website, called something like Hall of Lame, on which people would post their hugely anticlimactic stories about meetings or non-meetings with rock stars.)

I wonder how I can have avoided a whole area of London for so long. Well, getting there is fiddly; it involves getting on the right kind of District Line train, always an anxious process, and then, I discover, getting the Overground. Which is like a weird cross between a District Line train and a real one. I’ve been on the Overground twice before in my life and on at least one of those occasions got horribly confused and agitated when it came to remembering whether one pushed the button to open the doors or not. The trains also come at very infrequent intervals, and you have to wait for them – the clue is in the name – above ground.

Travelling down there hauls me, somewhat painfully, down memory lane. I’d heard some of John Hurt’s performance in Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell a couple of days earlier and, as I may have mentioned once or twice before, he and I had a little history. It was when I lived in Earl’s Court; and I can date my departure from there to the day, because a few hours after I left, the 1987 hurricane happened and the fourth floor of the mansion block I’d been living in became the third floor; if I’d stayed there one more night, I’d have been killed by the masonry.

Anyway, I get to my stop, Imperial Wharf, and look about me, and I recognise nothing. Instead of what used to be there – that is, a visible stretch of Thames, with boats on it – all I can see now is some kind of sanitised Ballardian mall, fake Georgian architecture nestling up to more unapologetically modern stuff, and in front of me an utterly typical car park.

Such traces of individuality as the area may have had have been erased. It is remarkably dispiriting, and I have to call the dentist’s three times to get my bearings and point myself in the right direction, though Google Maps told me they were only three minutes’ walk away.

Well, as it turns out, the dentist is not a lady keen on giving herself and her dental skills to me, but a nice man in (I suppose) his fifties with a picture of what looks like Stirling Moss in his Maserati 350S at some point in either the 1956 or the 1957 Mille Miglia. I can’t tell for certain, because the photo has been taken from behind.

I am also distracted because I have been totting up the costs that would be involved in making my teeth sexy again. It comes to about a grand; and the chances of finding a spare grand are remote – as remote as finding a time machine that will take me back to 1987, or the keys to a Maserati 350S in the car park downstairs.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The far right rises again

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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