John Walsh: Tales Of The City

'During the encore, my plastic tooth flew out across Wembley Arena. Oh, the wages of vanity '
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The Independent Online


Faye Dunaway looks lovely in recent pictures, belying her 65 years by wearing her hair in a blond mane (more Bonnie Tyler than Bonnie Parker), smoothing her brow and, especially, flashing a dazzling new smile. Cosmetic experts speculate that she's had a full set of "veneers", and I'm tempted to agree. I know about these things. I've had the veneer treatment myself.

I know, I know, it's terribly expensive. Veneers cost £400 each; a fabulous smile like Ms Dunaway's costs at least £9,600. But I had only one tooth done. It's one of the two front gnashers, and its discoloured wonkiness had gazed at me from the mirror for too many years.

I took the plunge on Friday. My dentist, Katherine, said: "This will be quite a tough experience - but think what supermodels go through," which helped greatly as she drilled and slashed and reduced my fang to a stump. While they're making the veneer (it takes two weeks) they give you a temporary plastic shell that's glued around the stump with high-quality adhesive, because they know how hideous you'd look if anyone caught sight of your gap-toothed loveliness. "Don't bite into apples," counselled Katherine, "or eat carrots. Lay off pizza. You mustn't eat anything that requires your tooth to be a lever...

"I did as she said, but the shell lasted just three hours until a tussle with some pitta bread. I could feel it shifting around my gums like a small anaconda.

After work, I picked up my son and we headed to Wembley for a Paul Simon concert. As we talked, I realised that things might be OK provided a) I never ate anything ever again, and b) I refrained from using words with the letter F in them, lest I dislodge the shell. There would be no question of saying, "Isn't he fab?" or "Fancy a pint?" or telling anyone to vamoose, rudely.

All went well. The concert was joyous. The young Belfast lady beside me was chatty. It was only at the end that things went wrong. The first encore was "You Can Call Me Al", and as I yelled, " If you'll be my bodyguard," the plastic tooth flew out into the darkness. My son shrank in horror from the piratical apparition beside him, then whipped out his mobile phone and, by the screen light, we searched for the white lump as the crowd danced around us. "Oh dear," said the Belfast cutie, "have you lost something?" I stood up. "Don't worry, it's nothing," I said, with a friendly smile. She let out a shriek, as you do when confronted by a combination of Albert Steptoe and Shane McGowan.

I've got a replacement now - thanks for the sympathy - and all is temporarily well. But could anything better illustrate the wages of vanity than spending £400 to look hideous, scrabbling around on the floor of Wembley Arena?

***

Funny thing, culture. There's theatre and opera for highbrows, pop and TV for lowbrows, and then there's naff culture, consumed by philistines, couch potatoes and sentimentalists, but which most people avoid because it's - well, naff. One especially naff show was Come Dancing, in which tuxedoed and sequinned ninnies rushed about clutching and twirling each other. Hilarious. Now Strictly Come Dancing is being served up as gold-standard TV.

Even naffer was Opportunity Knocks, a talent show for no-hopers who were scythed down by a bitchy showbiz hack called Tony Hatch. Now it's back as The X Factor, and everyone loves it.

Naffest of all was a film that featured scrubbed children, their martinet father and their virginal governess who sang about kittens in a voice like an antiseptic flannel. The Naff-o-meter needle was off the scale. This week, The Sound of Music makes its bow on the West End stage - and everyone will kill for tickets. When did the apex of naff get reclassified as good? And by whom?

***

Inexplicable Modern Usages, No 17: I've become used to that puzzling litany of questions you're asked at supermarket checkouts - "Have you got a Nectar card/ Do you want cashback/ Have you any idea what I'm talking about?" - and try not to mind the assumption that we're all part of a collective retail endeavour, in which customers are supposed to absorb every cute new initiative by the marketing department, as if learning a catechism. But I hit a low point while shopping in Woolworths with my daughter.

We approached the till, I proffered the plastic rectangle, and the youth behind the desk said, in a flat and uninflected voice: "Wouldyouinterestpreorderintendowy?" Sorry? He said it again, with a subatomic attempt at emphasis: "Wouldyouinterestinpreorderintendowy?" "I'm terribly sorry," I said, "but I don't know what you're saying."

I felt like the horrible granny played by Catherine Tate, who listens to her neighbour's Scots accent with unconcealed horror and cannot begin to interpret the sounds. I looked at my small daughter. "He's saying, Dad," she said patiently, " 'Would you be interested in pre-ordering a Nintendo Wii?' "

My face, I suspect, betrayed my internal confusion. Would I be interested? How could I gauge my exact level of interest or indifference? What on earth was a Nintendo Wee? "I... I..." I said feebly, "I don't..." "It's a new kind of games console, Dad," said the child, "and you probably don't want to pre-order it, really."

The man behind the till nodded approvingly. He understood the situation. A helpful midget had explained his enquiry to the deaf, elderly (and probably foreign) gentleman with the white hair, and the response was negative. The transaction concluded, he could move on smoothly to establish the next customer's urgency of need to possess some fashionable technology???



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