I initially thought of calling this piece 'No teeth. No teeth, Mrs Tittlemouse
, said the smiling Mr Jackson'. Anyone of my generation brought up on the children's tales of Beatrix Potter will instantly recognise this as referring to The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse
, the story of a very particular, house proud little wood mouse. She finds herself beset in her tiny sandy burrow by some very annoying visitors, including a cluster of bumble bees in a pile of moss and the egregious toad, Mr Jackson. He lives in a ditch, blows thistledown about like bubbles and leaves his dirty footprints all over her nice clean floors in his greedy search for honey. She had first offered him a dish of cherry stones, which gave rise to his comment. He could snap up an insect in a trice, though he didn't like bees (too furry) but he hadn't a single tooth in his mouth.
The comment came to mind as I was digesting a letter from the dental practice I've attended in Edinburgh's residential Comely Bank for nearly 30 years. I've seen it gradually change from a largely NHS practice, to a majority private one and now from 1 February 2023, it is to become wholly private. I am being offered two choices: either to join what is called the Lothian Independent Dental Plan (LIDP), asterisked as 'Most popular', or wholly Private Pay as you Go. Aside from a monthly payment upfront 'starting at' (ominous phrase) £17.17, there is no detail as to fees for specific treatments nor any comparison between the band costs for private and NHS treatments. Naive to expect as much, I suppose. Two recent appointments for some necessary fillings set me back rather more than I expected, so I wasn't altogether surprised by this new development.
The good times are over with dentistry. Others have told me that it is increasingly hard to find a dentist willing to take on new NHS patients. My husband, who left the practice when he retired, although I did offer to subsidise him, is now suffering NHS dentures, which do not let him eat in comfort. Just like my father, who used to hide his in a glass of water on the kitchen cabinet while he ate. All my life, so far, I have been lucky to get what I did, from braces in childhood to several root canal treatments a few years ago, the last actually during the pandemic, when many people could not get appointments at all and were reduced to pulling out their own teeth. My sweet tooth has been much exercised over the years and yet, thanks to the patient skill of a number of UK dentists as I moved around the country, I still have my own teeth.
In my husband's home country of Morocco, where there is next to no subsidised care of teeth or even of general health, you regularly see older people munching away with one or two stubborn old molars doing the job a whole mouthful would have done before. It's not a pretty sight. Is that the way we're going, I wonder? And, if so, can the NHS itself be far behind?
For an update on this, please see Gillean's entry in Cafe 1 on 16 November 2022
Immigration has dominated the headlines this past week, with Mrs Braverman finally emerging from wherever she normally closets herself in the Home Office to actually visit a couple of overcrowded holding areas for asylum seekers. You wonder why it has taken her so long, the lady who dreams of sending those space invaders of ours on a one-way ticket to Rwanda.
While we were in Morocco over the summer, one of my husband's nephews and his wife decided they would like to come and visit us for a month after we returned home to the UK. I wasn't exactly overjoyed at the prospect, given the ongoing strikes and general unrest, but didn't want to appear inhospitable. He and his wife are young academics with doctorates and tenured university posts in Fes. They have both had Schengen visas to visit Europe at various times.
So, in late July, they duly filled in the application form for a visa to visit the UK during September, costing between them around £300 (unrefundable) to do so, and sat back in some confidence to wait. At the end of September, they received the Home Office's response. It was negative. The suggestion made by the Home Office was that there seemed to be a discrepancy between the amounts on their payslips and the amounts in their bank accounts, copies of both of which they had to provide. Given this, and despite my assertion to the contrary in a letter of support I had to provide, the Home Office assumption was that they were not satisfied that my nephew and his wife would return to Morocco at the expiry of their visit. They were left with no right of appeal and were told not to apply again unless their material circumstances changed.
It was pretty brutal and puzzling. My nephew and his wife hadn't falsified their financial credentials. They had no intention of staying in the UK. They are well set up where they are, with some social and educational status. They speak French fluently but are not so fluent in English. Why would they come here to drive a taxi or take a housekeeping job in a hotel, as existing compatriots of my husband do here? They're considering starting a family and wanted to travel a bit while they're free of additional encumbrances.
Well, as they say, 'the warld's ill divided'. Just so.
Gillean Somerville-Arjat is a writer and critic based in Edinburgh