“THAT’S NOT FAIR!”, I screamed at the top of my voice.
Only I didn’t. I absorbed the unfairness in miserable, grudge-laden silence. Even if I’d asserted my (genuine) innocence , I wouldn’t have been believed and would have seen a count of dishonesty added to my invisible charge sheet. Even if I’d been quick witted and articulate enough to challenge my accuser, to demand evidence and seek out the truth, I’d still have lost the argument. I would have lost because I was a child and he was an adult and that’s how things worked back then. I would have lost because the truth was so blindingly obvious that it was invisible – like hiding a book in a library.
So maybe I learnt a lesson that day. Maybe I learnt that sometimes life isn’t fair. Maybe the instinct not to argue with the dentist was the right; after all, he was not only an adult, but an adult with the power to inflict pain. Maybe I was right to keep my mouth shut (or, given the circumstances, open).
But it wasn’t fair. The accusation that I need a filling because I ate too many sweets wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t true. Of course I consumed the occasional penny chew or sherbet dab, but I wasn’t a great sweet eater – even at the age of 9 or 10 I had better things to do with my money.
What I did eat was a good balanced diet. Cereal with a sprinkling of sugar; bacon and eggs; toast and marmalade. Meat and two veg. and a pudding (sponge, treacle tart, rice pudding with a sprinkling of sugar) for dinner and a high tea (more meat and veg., more pudding or cake (held together with butter icing), bread and jam). Often accompanied by squash or drinking chocolate (with the obligatory spoonful of sugar).
So was it my mother’s fault? She came from the industrial working class and, like every generation before her, had done physically demanding work from the time she left school – her idea of what constituted a good diet must have been influenced by this background. As it happens, she was quite a good cook (her schoolgirl ambition had been to train as a baker and confectioner) and her cakes and pastries were never over-sugared. Moreover, she took a lifelong an interest in food and nutrition- buying recipe books, trying new ingredients and cooking methods, collecting supplements and cuttings from magazines.
One of these was More Fun With Your Food (price 1/-) from Family Doctor Magazine – a guide to healthy eating published by the British Medical Association. All the illustrations are from that booklet.
So, why do I have a mouthful of fillings? Why am I over-weight and diabetic? Well, processed food, cheap food, more cars, less exercise, going from weaving cloth to weaving information in a single generation, not listening to expert advice. Or, perhaps we did listen to expert advice – in fact, scanning through More Fun With Your Food (price 1/-), I’d say that my mother’s cooking was pretty much spot on.
You see, I told you wasn’t eating too many sweets, I was eating a healthy diet – you might even say that we were following doctor’s orders. Put that in your lower left incisor and bite on it.
Illustrations: ‘More Fun With Your Food’ (‘Family Doctor’ magazine), British Medical Association, c. 1958. Illustrations are reproduced on the basis of fair comment, although, to be honest, I think they speak for themselves; comment is superfluous.