Over the serene Serpentine:
Hyde park on a Sunday
Over the serene Serpentine:
Hyde park on a Sunday
When I worked in a dental practice near Portobello Road in west London, I met a lot of ‘colourful’ characters, many of whom I might have avoided had I saw them approaching me by chance in the street. One fellow, Ted, a large patient whose nose had been broken at least once and been badly fixed, said to me once: “If anyone ever causes you trouble in the street, just say you’re a friend of Ted. That’ll warn them.”
One day while I was standing in a queue at a takeaway counter waiting to order lunch, someone standing near me, a patient of mine, said: “Need a motor, doc?” I answered that I did not need a car at that point of time. “No problem, Doc,” he replied, “when you need one, just tell me what you want, whatever colour and make, and I’ll get it for you.” Not willing to sound ungrateful, I thought that when he said “get”, he really meant “steal.”
I had many patients who had been in and out of trouble with the law. Often, I would be told: “Look what the prison dentist did to this tooth, doc. Bleeding butcher, he was. Ought to be put behind bars.” I never asked why my patients had spent time ‘inside’. I felt it would be better not to know.
The last patient before one lunchtime was an aggressive young man. He was accompanied by his friend, a slightly older man. Before I had time to ask the young fellow what was wrong, he told me. Pointing to a lower left premolar tooth, he said: “Get it out. It’s f…..g killing me.” I looked at the chap. His mouth did not seem to close properly. “Don’t just stand there. Get it out, man”. I looked at the tooth. It looked alright. It was neither decayed, nor wobbly, nor tender. That strange mandibular posture bothered me.
“You’ve broken your jaw,” I said. “Don’t give me that crap. Just take it out.” I said: “If I take it out, you will still be in pain. You need to go to a hospital to fix your jaw.” This only angered the patient more, and I began to fear for the integrity of my jaw. “I’m not leaving until you take it out.” “Then,” I replied, “I’ll ring for an ambulance.” The patient’s friend said: “Come on, mate, let’s go.” Reluctantly, the patient allowed his friend to drag him out into the street. I locked the practice for the lunch break, relieved to see them leave.
Some days later, I met the patient’s friend in the street. I asked him whether the young man had been to hospital. He did not answer my question. Instead he said: “He’s gone away.” “On holiday?” I queried innocently. “Yes, on holiday.” “Long holiday?” I asked, beginning to understand what he meant by ‘holiday’. “Yes, very long holiday”.
New developments at King’s Cross, London
Once they stored gas,
now to dwellings converted
where trendy people reside
When I was a child living in north-west London in the early 1960s, I used to accompany my mother on shopping expeditions in the West End. I loved going into the centre of London because I considered that Hampstead Garden Suburb, where we lived, was pretty, but pretty dull – a cemetery for the living! We used to take the Underground to Oxford Circus. Our first port of call after leaving the ‘tube’ station was Dickins and Jones, a now no longer existing department store on Regent Street. It closed in 2007, long after my mother died.
Like many other department stores, Dickins and Jones devoted its ground floor to displays of cosmetics and perfumes. On one visit, when we were walking through the over-fragrant ground floor of the store, a sales-lady working behind one of the many stalls, each representing a different cosmetics company, beckoned to me. I pointed towards myself, and she nodded, meaning she really did mean me. I walked over to her, and then without my saying anything, she said: “Sonny, never ever use after-shave lotion on your skin. Now, get along.” I have never forgotten her advice, nor disobeyed it. I was about twelve years old then.
As I moved into my teens, and I began needing to shave, I was inundated with gifts of after-shave. Well-meaning friends of my parents and adult relatives gave me numerous gifts of cuff-links, which I have never used, and copious bottles of after-shave, which I dared not use. The unopened bottles piled up in my wardrobe and gathered dust.
Many years later, I became a dental student. From the second year onwards, we treated real live patients. They had either referred themselves for free treatment at the dental hospital or they had been referred by general practitioners who could not handle their problems. Many of them made multiple visits. Treatment at the hands of students was often slow. Some grateful patients gave me gifts either during their course of treatment or at the last visit.
One of my patients was a young lady from the Far East. She was always accompanied by her little son, aged not more than four years. Whenever I gave his mother a local anaesthetic, he would pipe up: “Look Mama, dentist man coming with needle. Look Mama, dentist man… etc.” When her course of treatment ended, she presented me with what I regarded as a wonderful gift, a treasure. It was a Casio digital watch with a tiny calculator keyboard attached to it. This was given to me in the late 1970s, and these watches had only been available for a very short time.
Someone, who came to dinner with my parents in the 1970s, brought us a gift of a box of chocolates made by Floris Chocolates, a company that no longer exists. I remember that the chocolates were far, far better than any I had ever tasted. So, it was with some excitement that I unwrapped a gift which a happy patient had given me after I had made him a set of dentures at the dental school. It was a box labelled ‘Floris’. At the end of the day, I took my gift home, and opened it with great anticipation and high expectations. My heart sunk when I found that the box contained not chocolates, but small bottles of fragrant perfumes. I gifted these to a friend.
J, an attractive young lady, became one of my patients at the dental school. I asked her what she did for a living. She told me that she sold men’s fragrances at a leading London department store (not Dickins and Jones). She asked me: “Have you heard of Brut?” I said that I had heard of the company. “Well, I represent Brut at the store,” she told me. “Do you use fragrances?” she inquired politely. “No,” I answered. “Oh, that doesn’t surprise me. Hardly any doctors or dentists seem to use them.” I was sure how to interpret this and hoped that I was not smelling unpleasant. “I’ll bring you some next appointment,” she told me cheerfully.
On the next visit, the Brut seller, true to her word, presented me with a large box, saying: “See how you get on with these.” I took the box home at the end of the day and examined its contents. It was filled with little bottles labelled with names that I found mysterious: ‘pre-shower splash’, ‘shower splash’, after-shower splash’, pre-shave rinse’, ‘shaving splash’, and (the to be avoided) ‘after-shave lotion’. No instructions were provided, so this well-meant gift was consigned to the wardrobe. After what the lady in Dickins and Jones had advised me, I was not going to risk the after-shave lotion nor any of the other even more curiously named products.
With the exception of the cosmetic products, I have received many other gifts over the years, most of which have given me great pleasure. These gifts, useful or not, have been given by grateful patients who have either also paid me or have been treated free of charge courtesy of the NHS. More than my earnings, which were, of course, very important, even a simple heartfelt ‘thank you’ made me feel that doing dentistry was worthwhile.
The sleeping brain
powerhouse of fantasy
fertile playground of dreams
Many of us experience dreams that recur periodically, not necessarily every night, but from time to time. Here is mine.
I dream that I am about to take a mathematics exam. I know that I have had a year to study for it, but have done nothing about it. Maybe, I can ‘wing it’ without study, but I am sure that I cannot. There are only a few days left to study, but something tells me that neither will there be enough time, nor will I ever get started. I will tell you how the dream ends later on.
Ever since I was about 8 years old, I have been writing examinations. First, there were simple tests to enter preparatory school. At the end of each school year, we sat a series of written tests. Then, there were more (and much more difficult) papers for admission to secondary school to be attempted when I was 12. At age 16, I had to write state examinations in eight subjects, the Ordinary Level (‘O Levels’, now ‘GCSE’). A year later, a few more state examinations, and then when I was 18, I had to take the difficult Advanced Level exams that could make or broke a candidate’s chances of entering a University.
At the end of each year of my BSc course in physiology, there were examination papers, the results of each of them counting towards the quality (grade) of the degree I would be awarded.
Following that, I had a three year break from exams while I researched and then wrote up my PhD thesis.
I entered dental school, where for five years I had to pass endless numbers of examinations of all sorts: practical, written, and viva-voce.
Eventually, I graduated as a dentist. However, there was one more examination to be taken: the driving test!
I have never found writing examinations stressful.
My recurring dream ends as follows. After pondering the hopelessness of my prospects via-a-vis the forthcoming mathematics exam in my sleeping brain, it occurs to me that it does not matter after all, because already I had a BSc, a PhD, and a dental degree. Then, I wake up.
This dream ending might have a basis in reality. When I was ready after completing the dental course, I took the set of dental qualifying examinations arranged by the Royal College of Surgeons. I passed them.
Three month’s later, after I had been working with patients in practice for most of that time, I returned to the dental school to take the university dental examinations. I was already qualified, and did not really need the extra qualification, but I went along nevertheless. The university exams required me sitting a number of written papers along with a clinical test. While sitting on an uncomfortable chair, scribbling exam essays at high speed, I paused for a moment. As in my dream, I asked myself why was I bothering to waste time on attempting to attain this superfluous qualification when I had so many already.
Colourful pictures of traditional boat-building techniques in western India…
Get to know Gujarat better: boat-building in Kutch Mandvi
Gujarat has long been an important maritime interface between India and the rest of the world, especially Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Many of its folk have been, and continue to be, involved in mercantile activities, sailing, and boat-building.
Mandvi in Kutch, which until 1947 was an independent princely state and is now part of Gujarat, used to be an important sea port. It is famed for its boat-building, which continues briskly even today. The wooden dhows constructed in Mandvi are now mostly built for customers in Dubai. They are built alongside the River Rukmavati that runs through Mandvi.
The timber used is ‘sal’ wood (Shorea robusta) that grows in Malaysia. This wood is both extremely durable and water-resistant.
With the exception of electrical saws, much of the construction employs age old techniques as can be seen in…
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My late mother was a good cook. I know that you will think that often children praise their mother’s cooking however awful it is. In the case of my mother, her cooking was praised by many people, who still remember her skills in the kitchen many years after her demise at an early age. My mother was a keen disciple of the pioneering food writer Elizabeth David, who helped introduce Mediterranean cuisine to the British. Many recipes from the Mediterranean involve the use of garlic and parsley.
Although my mother did not permit my sister and me to cook in her kitchen, we were ordered to be in the kitchen with her either to keep her company and/or to do the washing-up. Our presence in the kitchen and proximity to a skilled cook engendered a life-long love of cooking in both my sister and me. When my mother died, I took over her kitchen and learned, by trial and error, how to cook. My sister did the same and ran a restaurant successfully for quite a few years.
Many of the dishes I cooked, and still make, contained copious amounts of garlic. This was not a problem until I qualified as a dentist, and moved to a practice in Kent, about 80 kilometres from London in distance, although it felt much further culturally and in many other ways.
Friends have often asked me whether the mouths that I treated emitted bad smells. The short answer is that although they might be malodorous occasionally, the dentist rarely smells them while treating the patient. However, the converse is true for the patient. In modern practice, the patient is often almost horizontal on the treatment chair. He or she can easily smell the dentist’s breath.
Soon after I began practising in Kent, I lived in local rented accommodation. I cooked for myself in the evenings, often preparing dishes with large amounts of delicious garlic.
One morning, Mrs G, a late middle-aged woman, attended my surgery. Soon after I had lowered the chair to a semi-reclined position, I commenced working on her teeth. In those days, the early 1980s, dentists did not routinely wear surgical gloves, nor did they wear facemasks. A paper facemask such as became ‘de rigueur’ after the beginning of the AIDs (HIV) epidemic, would not have prevented what was to occur after I began treating Mrs G.
After I had been at work for about a minute, Mrs G swept her hand in front of her mouth, and exclaimed: “Ooooh, Mr Yamey, you’ve been eating garlic.” I apologised, and from that day onwards I never ate garlic on a day before I was due to work.
After I had been in practice for about twelve years, I began working in inner London instead of ‘extra-terrestrial’ Kent. My patients in London came from all over the world, and most of them ate at least as much garlic as I do. The garlic restriction that I exercised in Kent became unnecessary.
Parsley was another problem I faced when I first arrived in Kent. I used to buy my lunch at the local Tesco supermarket. Many of its employees were patients in the practice where I worked. In addition to sandwiches and potato crisps, I enjoyed eating something containing chocolate with my midday meal. Many was the time when the lady at the check-out till would hold my Mars bar or Crunchie up in the air, and then shout at the top of her voice: “Look what the dentist is eating.” I digress.
One summer’s day, I needed some parsley for something I wanted to cook. I entered the local Tesco and asked an assistant where this herb was kept in the shop. Surprised by my request, she answered: “Sorry, love, we only get that in at Christmas.” I was shocked. Only an hour and a half’s drive away in London, parsley was available throughout the year. The Medway Towns, where I worked, were trapped in a 1950’s time-warp when I first arrived there. By the early 1990s, when I shifted to London, the area was emerging gradually into the present.
Side by side, lying in state,
in solid stone,
… until eternity
photo taken at V&A Museum, London, UK
I retired from dentistry exactly one year ago. This is how I got started 36 years ago…
I began studying dentistry after I had completed my PhD in physiology in 1976. My original intention was to obtain a clinical degree so that I would be able to widen the choice of post-doctoral opportunities beyond the field of specialisation relating to my doctoral thesis.
I entered the dental school at University College London (‘UCH’) ‘armed’ with a doctorate. There were two kinds of teaching staff at the school. The academic staff were attached to the University and the clinical ‘demonstrators’ were dentists who came into the hospital on a part-time basis to assist with teaching in the clinics where the students learned to treat patients. All the demonstrators used to address me as ‘Doctor Yamey’, but the academic staff, many of whom did not have PhDs, used to address me as ‘Mister Yamey’.
At the end of each course we studied, we would have to pass an examination. This consisted of a written paper along with a practical examination. All of the examinations included a face-to-face spoken test, a ‘viva-voce’ (or ‘viva’).
During my pharmacology viva, I was asked several questions by a pair of examiners. One of the examiners told me that I had answered one question incorrectly. I was sure that I had answered correctly, so I said: “I am certain that what I have said is right.” The two examiners looked at each other, and I began to worry. Then, the examiner who had not contradicted me said: “You know, he’s right.”
During another viva, the task was to look at a microscope slide, and then to comment on it to the examiners. When I had looked at the slide, I turned to examiners, and thought I heard one of them saying: “Where is it from?” Absentmindedly, I said: “It’s an unusual surname. It originates from Lithuania.” I had thought that I was being asked about my name, rather than the slide. Fortunately, I was able to give a satisfactory account of what I had seen under the microscope.
At the end of the first year, we were examined in general human anatomy. I entered the room where my viva was being held and sat down with the two examiners. One of them, an external examiner, said to me: Do you remember me?” I looked at him blankly before he said: “I used to meet you walking on Hampstead Heath with your parents. Please give them my regards.” At that moment, I knew that I had passed the examination.
The final year examinations, which determined whether you would or would not be awarded a degree in dental surgery were quite harrowing. Most people considered that the viva conducted by the dean of our dental school and a dean visiting from another dental school was the most frightening part of the finals. And, when I took the finals, we learnt that the visiting dean, the external examiner, had a fearsome reputation. So, I was somewhat nervous when I entered the room to face the deans. After answering a couple of questions evidently satisfactorily, the dean of our dental school said: “Well, of course we’re looking forward to you joining our staff when you qualify…” At that moment, I realised that I must have qualified. I said that during the five-year dental course, I had discovered that I enjoyed treating patients, and that I would enter practice rather than academia.
One of the many things that appealed to me about practising dentistry is the constant contact with a huge variety of people. This is not the case in academic research. It can be a lonely business. The other appeal of practising dentistry is that often, but not always, a problem can be identified and solved. Someone loses a filling. The dentist replaces it: problem solved. In academic research, as each question begins to be solved, many others present themselves: it is never-ending.
Once upon a time there was a country, Yugoslavia … but, no more.
Lost in Ljubljana
Strolling through Bitola