Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Dentally challenged

In recent weeks thousands of NHS doctors have found themselves under fire for the sheer, unbelievable vastness of their salaries and I know that I should feel massively aggrieved on behalf of all my hard-working relatives and friends who pay for them via the tax system. However, I prefer to direct my ire at a different breed of healthcare professional.

Last week I finally took the plunge and went to the dentist. Yes, I know – I'm a mad, extravagant bitch, but I had seen an ad in one of the local freebies offering a check-up and clean for 19€. Much to my amazement this was, in fact, the amount that was charged. It was a bargain, especially considering that I hadn't had my teeth examined or professionally cleaned since a cavity necessitated a visit in 1998, an experience that still gives me nightmares of the darkest and most depraved kind. Later I discovered that the same butcher already had several complaints lodged against his name with the British Dental Council, a fact that didn't surprise me, but it has left me with a lasting grudge against the profession and a more general disinclination to subject my poor, plaque-ridden gnashers to any more rough treatment.

Yet it's not just the pain and suffering that has put me off going to the dentist, despite the fact that my gums are receding faster than the Spanish economy; it's the mind-boggling bill that accompanies it. A friend of mine went to the dentist this week, a visit necessitated by an exposed nerve. The cost for a temporary filling and a squirt of fluid to kill the nerve was 150€! Of course, he still has to go back in a few days to have a permanent filling – another crafty 150€. At those prices the Civil List begins to look like good value for money.

I'm not suggesting that dentists shouldn't be rewarded for their years of training and their expertise, but this is now beyond a joke. Unfortunately the profession's insane get-rich-quick mentality is having dire consequences for the health and welfare of the people of Britain. Every day we are bombarded with some new warning of what health horror lies in wait for people who fail to look after their teeth, yet with NHS dentists becoming an endangered species and private treatment being beyond the means of many, what are we supposed to do?

When I lived in South Africa my medical aid scheme was so comprehensive it allowed me a pair of specs every other year and two dental check-ups annually. It helped that my dentist was so skilled that I experienced not even the vaguest twinge of pain in all the years that he treated me, so I was quite happy to book my next appointment before leaving. No worries about payment – as long as it was a necessary procedure and not a cosmetic job, the medical aid scheme would take care of it. These days, while it's still possible to find a few vaguely affordable private healthcare schemes, it is a rare thing indeed to encounter a medical aid deal that includes dental treatment. Therefore, it's either a question of finding an NHS dentist (good luck with that, boys!) or going private.

Admittedly I'm slightly out of touch but it seems that the closest NHS dentist to my hometown of Pembroke is 25 miles to the east in an even smaller town called St. Clear's, which is in Carmarthenshire - a different county! As for getting on to his overcrowded books you might have to offer sexual favours or clean his car every Sunday for a year.

Over the years Americans have delighted in taking the mickey out of us Brits for our dodgy dentition and, while I have no desire to see U.K citizens turning into the Osmonds (I am quite fond of teeth looking functional rather than purely decorative) I am beginning to see their point.

If these insane dental charges continue I fear that a return to a nation of medieval mouths is inevitable.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Things that make me go hmmm – on TV (Part 3)

These days almost every TV genre now has its list of cliches that can be called upon at will, but I can't help thinking that, despite the frequent pasting that X Factor and the other reality TV shows receive for their sob story-strewn inanities, the worst offender in the cliche stakes is the property programme.

The fatuous cliches of property programmes
Oh God, where do I start? The phrase 'an embarrassment of riches' is bolting to the forefront of my brain like a rampant stallion. Perhaps it's the omnipresence of these programmes that makes it seem that every other sentence contains some trite horror or other.

The unwritten rules of daytime TV dictate that every property or lifestyle programme (and here I include such offerings as Escape To the Country, Wanted Down Under, Location Location Location, Homes Under the Hammer and a myriad others) contains the following triumvirate of terror:

Talk of “going on a journey”: by no means confined to 'talent' shows, this particular abomination can now be used to describe nothing more emotionally arduous than a couple of days spent viewing property in Rutland. At least X Factor contestants have had to endure the hardship of being separated from their families and the trauma of singing live on TV with millions watching and without an ounce of originality or talent to back their quest for superstardom.

“Ticks all the boxes”: there is no other phrase that has quite the power to reveal the paucity of imagination of the average participant in these celebrations of mental mediocrity. Wouldn't you, dear reader, turn puce and go blind rather than utter such a prime example of brain-fart? I know I would! What's wrong with, “Yes, this does appear to be just what we're looking for” or “Well, we asked for three bedrooms and this has four, so it actually exceeds our requirements”?

“The wow factor”: this well-worn description is liberally applied throughout, whether the property being viewed is a sixteen-bedroom mansion in Buckinghamshire or a two-bed maisonette in Catford. Obviously some properties are genuinely impressive but the constant expectation that the featured home should be a palace fit to make Marie Antoinette weep with envy is as tiresome for the viewer as it surely must be for the presenter.

Come on, people! We really can’t be THAT short of originality and intelligence – can we?!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Things that make me go hmmm – on TV (Part 2)

So, as I have demonstrated, women are frequently portrayed as raging hormonal timebombs with no sense of hygiene. This, in itself, would be bad enough, but the wily TV execs have yet more fiendish tricks up their sleeve. In a further attempt to make them all seem what Irvine Welsh would term “silly wee girlies” they have determined to carry on the old Marilyn Monroe-esque tradition of the tiny, powerless bint in her boyfriend's massive shirt.

The Tiny, Powerless Bint in her Boyfriend's Massive Shirt
Like the madwoman with the pregnancy test, this scene knows no genre and is just as likely to turn up in the corniest sit-com as it is in a tense drama.

Cynics might claim that this aversion is due to the unlikelihood of my ever being able to fit into any of my ex-boyfriend's shirts – even with straining seams and unsightly bulges - and I must confess that, unless I suddenly recall dating Giant Haystacks during a previously undiscovered amnesiac period in the 1980s, this is indeed true. Yet nothing is guaranteed to send me screaming up the wall faster and louder than the scene where, clearly after a night of coruscating passion, the woman is seen wandering winsomely around her apartment dressed in her boyfriend's shirt.

Apart from the hygiene issues of choosing to wear the same clothing that the sweaty herbert thought fit only for the bedroom floor last night, there is almost always a disconnection of logic. For example, this very scene was reprised by the extremely curvy Letitia Dean playing Sharon Watts in Eastenders when she was engaged in a particularly insane sexual affair with Dennis, played by the rather skinny and not especially towering Nigel Harman. There is no way – I repeat no way – that Letitia Dean would fit into a shirt of Nigel Harman's but, when she opened the door clad in that very item it was so capacious you practically could have fitted another Letitia Dean in beside her. Unless dear old Dennis was moonlighting as the Incredible Hulk and extending his wardrobe to equip both of his guises, I would humbly suggest that this was a risibly unlikely scenario.

It's almost enough to make me want to work in TV. If so, I would write a drama of a smouldering affair between an older, golf-obsessed businessman (played by Ronnie Corbett) and a middle-aged TV executive (played by the Amazonian Julie T. Wallace). Then when, after the obligatory night spent ceiling-gazing, she could answer the door wearing his shirt, that reaches way beneath her knees and THEY MIGHT GET THE BLOODY MESSAGE!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Things that make me go hmmm – on TV

If you can cast your mind back almost 20 years you might recall Things That Make You Go Hmmm, the splendidly silly hit by C&C Music Factory,. This inevitably acted as an invitation to hacks and serious journalists alike to discuss the things that made them go hmmm; it certainly made fascinating reading.

Attempting a comprehensive list of things me go hmmm in everyday life would occupy most of my remaining lifespan, but I have lately been struck by how many TV conventions make me wince. Having grown up during a mini golden age of British TV when excellence was a frequently achieved ideal and the vast majority of the presenters and participants were both more talented and more intelligent than the average audience member, it's easy enough to find tendencies to rail against (Mrs. Slocome's Pussy by Stuart Jeffries is a particularly fine account of this era). Yet, funnily enough, I don't seem to spend as much time fulminating against the confederacy of dunces currently appearing on our screens in programmes like Big Brother, as some of the small screen's more infuriating conventions.

This is audience participation spot on A View From A Broad and a chance for you to air your pet peeves. Just e-mail suggestions to me and I'll post them. In the meantime, here is the first of the many things that make me go hmmm.

The Pregnancy Test
Picture the scene: it has come to that point of the soap opera, drama series or sit-com when a female character has gone to the local pharmacy and bought a pregnancy testing kit. This is invariably hidden from view in a brown paper bag of the sort that died out in reality sometime during my teens. If anyone knows of a pharmacy anywhere in the world that still uses brown paper bags, please let me know.

While in the bathroom (this is not an American euphemism – the bathroom rather than a boring old bog is usually the chosen venue) the boyfriend or husband arrives home and heads for the kitchen (these scenes ALWAYS take place in a food preparation area).

Seconds later the woman bounds into the room, pregnancy stick held proudly aloft. Still clutching the offending object she throws her arms around boyfriend's / husband's neck and announces that the test result is positive.

Surely I cannot be the only person in the world thinking: “Yuck! You just pissed on that!”?