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20 June 2017

“Here’s the nightmare scenario,” the dentist said, and I stiffened in the chair

“Jesus Christ, I thought you were talking about my teeth.” 

By Nicholas Lezard

“Once the transmission goes, the whole car goes,” runs an ancient truism. I believe the phrase originates in America, but the principle holds everywhere.

And not just for cars. As it is, life is unravelling with all the speed and grace of a made-for-television movie. There is the business with the Massive Tax Debt. There is the business with the Losing More Than Half of One’s Income. There was the business of the Restaurant That No Longer Does Takeaways, which I suspect was the first signal from the Eumenides that everything from now on was going to go horribly wrong.

And now there is the Threat of the Corner Shop Closing For Good, which I will get on to in a bit. When I say that the best thing that has happened to me all year, apart from that time I had sex, was having a cracked molar extracted, I am not exaggerating for comic effect.

It was ghastly, of course, but it still beat everything else into a hat, cocked or uncocked. The ghastliness resided in the anticipation, not the act of extraction itself, which was over in less time than it takes to say “tooth”, and hurt no more than stubbing your toe on a table leg while wearing stout shoes.

One is aware that, somewhere nerveless, an outrage has occurred, but it has not impinged, so – so what? The terrors leading up to it were severe, though, and real. As we were waiting for the X-rays to be developed, my dentist, as is his wont, started chatting.

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“Here’s the nightmare scenario.”

I stiffened in my chair. This did not sound good.

“Theresa May gets in, with a reduced majority.”

“Jesus Christ, I thought you were talking about my teeth.”

“The Tories throw her out. They’re good at doing that, you know. And then who do they get to replace her?”

“No. Oh no. Not him.”

“Who else is there? David Davis?”

He didn’t pull the tooth that day.

The abscess under it had caused so much grief to the surrounding area that even my lips hurt. I spent the weekend zonked out on penicillin and antibiotics.

The mouth is feeling much better now. The gingivitis has receded; the pus, which I could feel, if I placed my hand on the skin of my jawbone, swelling up to about the size and consistency of a dried pea, has disappeared.

I can now eat on the left side of my mouth for the first time since the Brown government. (I glanced at the tooth after it had been yanked out. It looked like something that had been recovered from an archaeological site; if you cleaned it up a bit you could have plausibly claimed it came from the skull of a Roman legionnaire who died roughly two thousand years ago, just by Hadrian’s Wall, in the rain, after being hit, with a shovel, in the teeth.)

The election result has lifted the spirits, if one forgets the looming Boris Menace. I gather the subject will be addressed at some length in the rest of this magazine, though the NS should consider hiring my dentist as an oracle.

So, to return to the latest impending disaster – the closing-down corner shop. It’s not exactly on a corner, but that is hardly the point.

The point is it’s a place that has been around, clearly, for at least a century, changing hands and stock but never function: that is, somewhere to get tinned beans, papers, sweets, bog roll, emergency bread and, most crucially, fags, open every night, Sundays included, until 11.

But, round the corner, the forces of Tesco and Sainsbury’s, with their Local or Metro shops fulfilling the same functions for less money, have been gnawing steadily away at its livelihood for a couple of years now, and something is going to have to give. They’ve started closing at ten. And they have more or less, for one thing, given up on stocking tobacco. Anyone primly saying that that’s a good thing will be politely asked to leave this column now. Market forces, eh? You gotta love them.

The other night I took a late Tube back home from Neasden. There was hardly anyone on it. One day, possibly in the life of this new parliament, someone is going to look at that train and say, “Why are we running it? Practically no one uses it. Let’s shut it down. Save a bit of cash.”

I’m a bit worried about opening Overton’s window by even mentioning it, but it’s going to happen, and perhaps sooner rather than later. You do realise that, don’t you?

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This article appears in the 14 Jun 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn: revenge of the rebel