This photograph is of my dentist, Charlie. He’s been my dentist for about five years; before that, it was a colleague of his, called Dave. If I had a picture of Dave to post as well, you’d see that he was quite unlike Charlie. In fact, Dave struck me as being an almost archetypal specimen of the genus dentist: he was slight, wiry, nervy, cerebral and doing his bit to save the earth (a vegetarian, his main mode of transport was by bicycle and he once sang in a choir with my husband).
Charlie, on the other hand, although I consider him to be exceptionally skilled and an ornament to his profession, is no-one’s idea of a dentist. If I’d been shown a photo of him before I met him and asked to guess what he did for a living, I might have said that he was probably a bookmaker; or an estate agent; or a very burly jockey; or a rather emaciated sumo wrestler. If he’d been an actor, he would have made an ideal Magwitch in a dramatised version of Great Expectations.
Charlie obviously enjoys life. His main mode of transport is a motorbike in the summer, a substantial car (forgive me, I’m no good at brands) in winter. For a dentist, he dresses unconventionally, in leather jackets, jeans and trainers.
As my readers know, I like to write occasional pieces about interesting people and I’ve always found Charlie interesting. He’s fascinating to talk to, and I enjoy listening to his take on life while he pokes and pummels at my teeth. When I visited him yesterday, therefore (in tandem with my husband – we try to make our visits to the dentist two for the price of one), I asked if I might take his photograph, and explained about the blog. I gave him one of my Christina James postcards so that he could look up its url.
To my surprise and delight, I struck gold! Charlie is an avid reader of crime novels and was only too happy to have his photo taken. Better than that, he offered me an idea for a plot for my next novel. Not only was it excellent, but it was also based on his own scientific expertise: he trained as a biochemist before becoming a dentist. I promised him that I would use the plot and he said that he had several more up his sleeve when I’d exploited that one. I shan’t forget. Future visits to this dentist will be looked forward to with great anticipation, rather than with dread!
By this time, my husband had taken my place in the chair, but, since Charlie and I were still deep in conversation, I didn’t return to the waiting-room. We started talking about trust in professionals and how people always expect professional men and women to have unimpeachable moral standards, which is why the exposure of serial murderers such as Harold Shipman and Beverley Allitt shocks us to the core. (The Hannibal Lecter novels are actually based on this norm.)
With his eye twinkling and with his customary geniality, Charlie announced that he’d once thought of how to commit the perfect murder. It would be based on his scientific knowledge and next to impossible to detect. (I won’t give away any more, as the plot that he offered me makes use of the same information.) By this time, I was completely rapt. My husband, however, was still lying prone in the surgery chair and showing some signs of nerves.
“Do you think we should change our dentist?” he asked, once we were back out in the street.