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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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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.