Day 280: …And Nothing But The Tooth

07.10.09:

Being a massive four months behind schedule now, I don’t really have time for dossing about, but today I really needed to get things done. Jeans and teeth where the order of the day. If people are donating me their clothes, then it’s a surefire sign that my Levis ain’t lookin’ the besht. Also, given that the filling I had done in by the dentist in Spain fell out within two days, I thought it would be smart to get my tooth fixed before my high-sugar diet did any more damage to my pearly off-whites.

So off I plodded to the nearest dentisht, getting an appointment for 11am, all is good. Then I headed towards the city, with an eye on getting a taxi. Did I mention how difficult it was to get a taxi in South Africa? I should have done. They just don’t seem to exist. In Pretoria, for example, there are three (and there are only ever three) waiting at the bus station to take you where you need to go, but should you stand outside one of the biggest shopping malls in the city, you’d be lucky to get a taxi next time Hale-Bopp comes into view.

The other option are the minibus taxis, which seem the reserve of blacks – is this apartheid by the back door? If you’re a whitey, do you need to know someone with a car? The minibus taxi I got in Pretoria the previous week was a disaster – it didn’t take me to where I wanted to go and I ended up wandering about like a tool for the best part of an hour looking for the bus station myself.

In hindsight (which, let’s not forget is always 20-20!), I should have headed back to the backpackers and got them to ring a private-hire taxi, but it was uphill!! Sod that. I strode stridently down towards downtown (which was downhill, obviously), asking everyone I could, where I could find a taxi. Everyone gave me different directions (as is usually the case when asking for directions and is also why REAL MEN DON’T ASK FOR THEM, GODDAMNIT) and soon enough, I ended up crossing a massive intersection, hitching my little canvas bag (containing, amongst other goodies, my camcorder and passport) up on my shoulder.

I should have just painted a luminous target on my chest and be done with it. South Africa. Crime Capital of the world. Sh*t.

Luckily for me (I am a lucky so and so, it has to be said… have you seen my girlfriend?), an ambulance that had stopped at a red light ahead of me, started to reverse back towards me.

“Get in! Get in quick!”

On-board was the driver and a chick paramedic, together with a guy that I took to be a medical student. They may well have just saved my life.

“Do you have any idea how close you were to being mugged then?”

“Er… I do now.”

Apparently, I was being followed by a chap who was rather notorious for that kind of shenanigans. Thanking goodness (I love goodness, the best thing about humanity), I rode with the ambulance crew into the city centre where they dropped me exactly where I needed to be to get a new pair of Levis.

Thanking them profusely (and feeling like a ten ton t*t), I headed towards my quarry – a pair of blue 501s, 33 waist (fat b**tard) and 32 leg. Within ten minutes (in your face, GIRLS!), I was walking out of the shop with my new fancy pants. The old ones I donated to the bin.

I also tried to find a new pair of Vans – shut up, I’m racing around the world, this is no time for trying something new – but all the ‘new’ stock were these penny-dreadful white soled creatures with thin canvas uppers. They’d last five seconds on the road I was taking, so I stuck with what I’ve got (after nearly 300 days of relentless pounding they’re still going – but for how much longer?) and headed back to the dentist’s.

This time, I took a taxi.

Now I have to tell you about my trip to the dentist, ‘cos it was BRILLIANT. Best trip to the dentist EVER. He had a look at the gaping hole in my lower right first molar and put it bluntly. “I could fill it, but it would just fall out again.”

Curses, Moriarty.

“But what I could do is…”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. My. God.”

The lovely dentist said that I could get a new porcelain crown, which would be CARVED BY A 3D PRINTER. I said yes before I even asked the price. A 3D PRINTER? The pinnacle of my architectural thinking: the thing that will bring the masons back from the dead and carve statues, pillars, capstones, balustrades… oh sweet lord YES. Carve me a new tooth, good sir, there are possibly more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy but such wonders I am not FIT to imagine!

GREAT SCOTT…!

DO IT, MAN! DO IT NOW!!

And there, in the back room of the dentists, I watched it happen: before my very eyes, the 3D scan that the good dentist had conjured up of my missing tooth converted to 1s and 0s and was piped as if by magic into a machine the size of a office printer and there, oh yes, there, my tooth was forged before my very eyes, rendered exact to the nearest micrometre, buzz-cut via two diamond-tipped drills (and plenty of water). I almost fell over.

THIS TECHNOLOGY, more than any other, will dictate the future aesthetics of the world. Aye, the master masons may be dead and gone, but who needs them in a world were my filling can be rendered out of a ceramic block before my very eyes.

Just imagine the possibilities…

My lord, wonders upon wonders. And it was all so pedestrian. All so…common day. No fanfare, no ta-daaa! Just a piece of artificially rendered missing tooth, but to me it was so, so much more. If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.

A tenth of the price that it would have been in Britain (I’ll have you know!), my tongue glided over my new piece of orthodontistry with glee. I have now, in mouth, hopefully until the ends of my days, the proof (if it were ever lacking) that now, whatever beauty we render in our minds might be rendered in reality, free of human thumbs and frailties. We could sculpt the Black Taj, the capstone of Cheops, Da Vinci’s horse… the possibilities, the possibilities are endless. The future, our future, in my mouth. Heavens No, Hell Yeah.

I returned to the backpackers, mouth still numb and weird. I made a mistake, which was to be hungry, but then, I could never argue with my tummy when it needed something. And what it needed was a bunny.

Not a lovely hopping floppy-eared bunny, but a Durban bunny, a Chicken Tikka-Masala-dumped-in-half-a-loaf-of-white-bread of a dish served up by Indian ex-pats who know the secret of their spice. Never underestimate the power of spice – wars have been fought over pepper, opium and saffron. People have died for this stuff. Yep there it is – a Durban bunny, like what Ghandi possibly never ate when he was here. It’s slightly mad at first – who in their right mind would dump a Tikka Masala in half a loaf of bread? But it works, by God it works, damnit. And therefore gets no complaint from I.

However… I reached the Minibus ‘depot’ at 2pm. The last bus for Swaziland left at 1.30pm. If it wasn’t for that damn bunny… Gutted, I returned to the backpackers for another night, an early one at that. Durban’s not as fun as Pretoria. Humph.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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