Magazine article The Spectator

Marvels of Therapeutic Engineering and the Epiphany of the Giant Man

Magazine article The Spectator

Marvels of Therapeutic Engineering and the Epiphany of the Giant Man

Article excerpt

I wandered out of my dentist's, off Sloane Street, a fortnight ago, reflecting on the principles of architecture: that is, the way in which space is enclosed, and forms upheld, by human contrivance. I had walked there all the way from my house, through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, observing the Gothic naves, transepts and sanctuaries of the trees, with their vaults and canopies, the leaves just falling, which do not need to be impervious to rain and can therefore be much more beautiful. Nature does not require ugly durability, having its own system of seasonal renewal. It always uses the finest materials, too, growing them on the premises; unlike the terrace of 'super-luxurious Regency town houses' I observe sprouting in my neighbourhood, whose cream-plaster finish conceals an ugly reality of breezeblocks.

In dentistry, however, the age of false teeth is over, and architectural confections of high-tech artistry are now implanted in one's mouth (at a price) by procedures involving calculations in micromillimetres and metals such as titanium. I had just been the epicentre of such an operation, half-anaesthetised and listening languidly to the whispered surgical conversation. It seemed to me as though I was at the heart of a miniature building site at which one of the glittering stations of that Spanish genius, Calatrava, was being constructed from glass and rare metal. William Blake taught us to see a universe in a grain of sand, and one's own mouth becomes an experimental centre for the latest digital-oral engineering, not without a good deal of whirring, cranking, granging, grinding and electronic pinging, which supplies a mechano-musical accompaniment.

These post-dentistry thoughts took me to Knightshridge, where I suddenly spotted a 52 bus approaching my stop across the angry conflux of roads near the Hyde Park Hotel. Now I am of an age and wealth when taking a cab ought to be a rule, certainly as an alternative to running for a bus. But I am also of a moral generation taught to regard cab-taking, except in cases of absolute necessity, as the high road to ruin, far more likely to have caused the fall of the Roman Empire than excessive hot baths: it was all those chariots to Trastevere and up the Appian Way, to the luxuries of Caracalla and the maidens of the Sabine Hills, which let the barbarians through the gates. So I ran for the bus, plunging into the tumultuous traffic, took alarm, changed my mind, switched to the other foot in mid-pelt, slipped and found myself on the hard street, curiously unable to rise. Another mechanical image immediately struck me: it was as though a key chunk of the motor system of my body, connecting my brain to my right foot, was missing. The old iron-clad, laid down in the same year as the first King George V class of battleships, was not responding to the helm. My supine position attracted the benevolence of a middle-aged couple from Philadelphia, who lived up to the name of their home town, 'the City of Brotherly Love'. They tried hard to raise me up and, failing that, managed, with much effort, to get me into a taxi. If this account reaches them I hope that they will accept my thanks, delivered more formally than I was able to do at the time. Once home, the seriousness of my plight became obvious, and I sat on a chair outside my house while an ambulance was summoned: I had clearly broken my hip and needed an immediate operation.

Of course, if 75-year-old men run around in heavy traffic like schoolboys they must expect fatidical rebuke. But the pursuit of health can be equally dangerous. The great Guardian critic, my much-loved friend Philip Hope-Wallace, then 67, told me one day, 'Paul, I have determined to enter a new regime. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.