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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

Photo: Getty
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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.