What I should have done, I suddenly realised as I rubbed at my finger, was to follow my dentist's tip. It was before Christmas that I last paid a visit to the dentist, a man I always enjoy chatting to as he has a fund of interesting opinions and facts which I can clandestinely recycle into articles. But during one of those enforced bouts of silence where he is concentrating on getting as many fingers as possible into your mouth, I found myself thinking about his gloves. I still haven't quite got used to dentists in gloves. Most professions get more informal as time goes on. Chauffeurs scale down their uniforms and policmen look more casual. But dentists have recently taken to wearing gloves, for the somewhat chilling reason that they do not want to catch HIV infection from their patients (and we do not want to get AIDS from our dentists), and so they pull on these five-fingered contraceptives before delving among our roots.
"What's it like having those gloves on all the time?" I asked him when first I could.
"These?" he said, looking at them as if he had not noticed them before. "Oh, they're great. You get used to them very quickly."
He leant inside my mouth again. When he came out, he said: "I wear them at home a lot."
"?" I said.
"For the mucky side of family life, anyway. There are lots of things you do round the home which make your hands very dirty, meaning you have to spend hours with Swarfega afterwards, but if you wear these gloves there's no problem. Mucking around with the car engine, changing oil, clearing drains, anything messy - then chuck the gloves away ..."
I suddenly thought of the last few times I had had to replace the chain on my bicycle, and how there is no way round getting incredibly oily hands, which is always embarrassing if you have to shake hands with anyone within the next couple of hours.
"Where do you get these gloves from?" I asked.
"Man comes round selling them. Got piles downstairs. Want to buy a box ? Could do you a special price ..."
And that is how I became the proud possessor of a box of 100 Latex Medical Gloves. Non sterile, beaded cuff, ambidextrous, high tensile strength (I am reading from the box now), optimum sensitivity, single use, lightly powdered, made in Malaysia. Oh, and low protein. Why it is good for gloves to be low protein I do not know ...
Since that day I have on several occasions had my bicycle chain come off in the middle of nowhere, and every time I have had the comfort of knowing that I am the sole owner of 100 medical gloves which would have been ideal for the job if only I had remembered to bring them with me, instead of leaving them at home.
So when my son came to me and said, "Dad, the tail's come off the plane again," it was but the matter of a moment to get the superglue and the medical gloves, and at last put them to good use.
"Why are you wearing strangler's gloves, Dad?"
I explained. He was impressed. He took another pair of gloves for himself, and tried to strangle himself. I got to work. Ten minutes later the plane was fixed.
"You can fly the plane again now," I called.
He gave up his strangling experiments, came and took the plane from my hands. As he took it away, a long finger came out from my hand and stretched with the plane.
"Dad," said my son, "your hand is glued to my plane."
"Not my hand," I said. "Only my glove! That was the whole idea! Clever, eh?"
"Not if you're trying to fly it," he said gloomily.
I have to say that it didn't fly very well with a latex glove streaming behind it, though it did look rather good in a surrealist sort of way. Later we tried to peel the glove from the plane. Wouldn't come off. Damned good stuff, superglue. So we snipped and snipped, and now there's only a finger stuck to the plane.
"Why is there a finger on your plane ?" his friends ask him.
"It's an on-board windsock," I have taught him to reply, but I fear his heart is not in it.