Coccium Clips Volume 3 – The Tooth and Nothing but the Tooth
I hope that you are all bearing up Brethren, and that your families are keeping well. I hope that my scribblings help to put a smile on your face during these difficult times. I’ve included a little bit of Coccium dialect later on in the piece. I might offer another pint of beer to the first Brother to give me a realistic interpretation. No expense spared here (but don’t tell my editor!).
Well, the jungle drums never stop beating, and information from one of my informants about a the antics of couple of Allied Brethren (you know who you are) has caused me to question whether the bottom has dropped out of the shredding market, and also whether memorising one’s own car registration number should be part of the car test criteria? Important questions which, unfortunately, will need to be left over ‘till the next issue. The reason being that I am being pressurised to divest myself of the tale about my traumatic encounter with my dad’s false chompers.
This encounter occurred when I was but knee high to a grasshopper, and a number of factors contributed to my agitated state of mind at that time. I come from a largish family of nine, and in my early years we lived in a two bedroomed council house on large estate in what may be described today as a deprived area of downtown Coccium. Being one of the youngest of the siblings, I was always on the receiving end of sage advice from my older brother and sisters. This advice included things like, “don’t go in the coal shed or the black oozles ‘ll get yer’; or, as four of us lay in bed top to toe with the wind howling around the eaves and the roof timbers creaking, in the pitch darkness my older brother might say, “Can you hear Red Clogs in the loft?”, or, “Listen for Nanny Green Teeth slithering up the stairs.” This ensured my nerves were always frazzled, with images of these horrible monsters permanent features of my young mind. He would then go on to warn us of what dark doings might happen if we set foot out of bed, even if we wanted to use the lavatory.
Picture the scene on a cold winter night, a hoar frost hanging from the trees and bushes, grass glistening a ghostly white on the gardens below, frozen condensation patterning the window panes (resulting from perspiration vented as a result of these ghoulish tales). None of the siblings dared to get out of bed, even to answer calls of nature, for fear of the appearance of the slithering monster or Red Clogs. Inevitably, the bed got damper and damper so that as the first morning rays of the sun flickered through the window, it would illuminate a perfect rainbow in the bedroom. As an aside, as I’ve grown older I wondered whether this experience answers why I was drawn to join the Royal Ark Mariners? Anyway, you may now understand that, as a result of these tall tales, my encounter with my dad’s gnashers was simply a continuation of a series of traumatic experiences in my formative years, but it was of special significance to me as you will find if you read on.
Funnily enough, the experience with these chompers gave me a gnawing hunger for knowledge about false teeth, in fact at one point I was contemplating taking an Open University degree in the subject would you believe. Now, Coccium Quips is not meant to be a vehicle for such serious subjects, but did you know that dentistry is almost as old as civilisation itself? An early example of the use of false teeth included the stone-age period, and many examples of sculptured stone top and bottom sets have been found in archaeological digs over the years. It couldn’t have been comfortable walking round with a gob full of stone but I suppose needs must. With the technological advances of the iron-age, metal dentures were introduced (similar to the ones used by the Jaws character in James Bond). From examples kept at the Museum of Antiquities, it’s obvious that they encountered problems as a result of corrosion, with the consequence that the top and bottom sets frequently rusted together and seized up (no WD40 then!).  
The Bronze-Age brought a few advances and obviously the rusting problem was overcome with relatively corrosion free bronze castings which could be polished daily to a gold like appearance (forerunner of gold fillings?). The big problem with them was weight which caused a version of lock jaw if the wearer wasn’t careful.  Eventually this drawback meant that they were only used on special occasions such as ritual sacrifices. They were essentially used as a type of musical instrument, emitting a hollow but distinctive click-clack sound by a deft manipulation of the top and bottom sets, (this was the inspiration for the invention of knitting needles by the way). You can imagine that if a large number of Brethren congregated together wielding these glinting gilded glories, what a sight this would present combined with the melodious musical clacking. It must have been awe inspiring as they made merry over their burnt offerings, or BBQ’s as we now know them.
As time went on, more lightweight versions were developed, using moulded paper-mache and subsequently carved wooden chompers (beech wood seems to have been favoured). Both types were ok for short term use, but problems were encountered over time. The paper-mache version tended to dissolve in saliva and got stuck in the throat, and wood was prone to things like splintered gum, dry rot, wood worm or death watch beetle.
Jumping forward quite a bit, I’m sure that you will all have heard of ‘Waterloo Teeth’? Dentists in London paid agents to remove teeth from dead soldiers amongst the mass slaughter at the battle of Waterloo back in 1815. These were sent to London and mounted in ivory bases to produce the dentures which were then sold onto the gentry. Now, oral hygiene in those days wasn’t, let’s say, highly advanced, so you can imagine the condition of teeth used. Notwithstanding, a bit of beautifying, grinding, filling, bleaching and a coat or two of varnish got them to an acceptable standard, and many a Lord was then seen promenading up and down the Strand sporting a new set of Waterloo sparklers as his crowning glory.
Enough of my academic prowess and back to my dad’s pearly whites. He kept his beloved gnashers in a glass of beer which stood on the bathroom window sill. He always maintained that dark mild was best to keep them in tip top condition; and he was of the opinion that when he put them in his gob they put him in fine fettle for a night at the pub.  To all intent and purposes, the dentures gave the impression of a couple of rows of grinning mint imperials sat around the bottom of this ale filled glass.
When I washed my hands I couldn’t take my eyes off them. It was equivalent to the swinging watch trick, and consequently they held me in a hypnotic trance, imploring me to set them free. If I touched the glass, the swirling beer and movement of the dentures gave the impression of them pleading for emancipation from their morass. Later on I wrote a poem on this experience called ‘Please Release Me’, to help me cope with my trauma.
Speaking of mint imperials reminds me of an experience I had in later life, which I promise is relevant to this story. In those days, at the end of a hard day on tramp, I was accustomed to enter a road side hostelry in Lower Coccium called ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ or the ‘Slaughter’ for short, its original name was the ‘Lamb’ but its reputation made Slaughter more appropriate, but I won’t go into that. It was a good old fashioned pub where men were tough and the women were, er, tougher. It was well kept, as far as Coccium ale houses went, they washed the glasses at least once a week (to coincide with the Landlords weekly bath – waste not, want not – he was an early conservationist), and the sawdust on the floor (including all the dropped crisps, peanuts – and blood) was changed at least weekly and fed to a gigantic Alsatian kept in the back yard. It was one of those pubs that when a stranger came in, he could feel eyes burning holes in the back of his neck. I well remember sitting there on a summer midweek evening having a quiet pint, when a stranger rushed through the door pale faced and sweating profusely. He shouted, “Does anybody in eer own a big black cat wi’ a white neck”? Everybody in the pub were suspicious as usual, none comital and just shook their heads. “b@%&$r,” he sobbed, “Ah must uv run oer’t Vicar.”
All strangers to this house of the rising sun were viewed with the same suspicion, the locals wondering whether they were CID or from the DHSS. In fact the pub had a ‘Monday Club’ held in the vault (just in advance of the Tuesday dole signing on day), and the most experienced of the assembled Brethren held court as the Thrice Illustrious Oracle of the Ducking and Diving Fraternal Society; he worked tirelessly to keep the oppressed Brethren free of the chains of toil. For a small fee the TIO would mentor a worried DHSS recipient and give all the advice he needed to enable him to respond to any questions which may be put to him at the dole inquisition. The TIO ensured that the faithful could continue to avoid work and remain upstanding members of this select Fraternity.
“Top Cat”
I bet you’re all wondering where this story is leading to, I’m not quite sure myself, but bear with me. One of the clients of this delightful hostelry was an aging exponent of the 1950/1960’s music scene, we’ll call him Billy Fury as that was the name of his favourite singer, and he wore T shirts sporting faded images of his idol. He still had a good head of hair dyed black, set in the teddy boy stile which I’m sure that Brethren of a certain vintage will be familiar with. Plenty of best butter gave it a high gloss, and a sprinkling of  gold top milk (used as a primitive lacquer) which was massaged in before combing, thus keeping his quiff in perfect order at the front and a assuring a permanent ducks arse finish at the back.
Now, the thing about Billy was that he always arrived at the pub around 6pm and only left around midnight, he never bought more than two pints of dark mild in the evening, but was always found to be very drunk at the end of the night. The clue to the conundrum of how he achieved this state of grace lay in a haversack he always carried with him, and this is the way that he worked the deception. When he arrived at the pub, he always engaged in friendly banter with the landlord and then ordered a pint. He carried his pint into the pool room and started to partake. As the level of ale in the glass lowered, he would with great dexterity reach into his haversack and pull out one of a number of coke bottles filled with his own home brewed mild and with which he topped up his glass. I know what you’re thinking, if the landlord ever got suspicious he would sample the beer in the glass and know instantly that it wasn’t the pub brew. This where the saying ‘up there for thinking and down there for dancing’ comes into play.  Billy used his well coiffured noggin, and on the pretext that he liked his beer minty (I kid you not), he would drop half a bag of imperials into his glass and so disguise the taste. These settled into the bottom and gave the impression of a set of dentures basking in dark ale.
Now you can imagine that this vision brought back to me all the anxieties, trials and tribulations I had experience as a youngster. The only difference was that in my dad’s case it was a set of dentures in mild beer that looked like rows of mint imperials, and in Billy’s case it was a couple of rows of mint imperials in mild beer which looked like dentures!
Sorry for the digression, but hopefully your still following the story. I left off earlier when I was looking nervously at my dad’s chattering dentures on the bathroom window sill. I couldn’t take my eyes off them even though they filled me with some dread. It was uncanny, I tried to avert my gaze but they would have none of it. The click clacks followed me around, one minute I was looking at them in some trepidation as they glowered at me from the glass in the bathroom, half an hour later I might have spotted them in the Kitchen, just sat on the table without the glass, ogling me. Later on, there they would be sat on the side board, dentures akimbo, as if they were readying to take a chunk out of my arm. These humanoid chompers put the fear of the almighty in me I can tell you. Then suddenly it was all over, just like that! I recall to this day as my dad shouted from upstairs, “Meg, ast sin mi teeth”? Mam shouted back, “Noww, ar thi norrin int glass int bathroom.” “Ther norineer,” he shouted back. Mam had a think, “Didn’t tha lend um to Jimmy next door, he wanted a good set to go to ther Martha’s weddin” in? He thought for a moment then shouted back, “Oh I, ahd forgeet abeat that.”
I never saw the pearly whites after that, after being hounded by them as I grew up they were suddenly no more, just like Monty Python’s dead parrot. I likened this final scene in the saga to lending a lawnmower to your next door neighbour which you never get back, and in time it changes ownership to him by stealth. I think that Jimmy would always argue now that the teeth were his in the first place. Perhaps they were and he’d loaned them to my dad for a special occasion, who knows! Whatever, I bet he kept them in fettle for the next wedding resplendent in its beery abode. He can keep them for me, they bring back memories that I thought had been pushed to the darkest recesses of my mind. That was until I met up with Billy Fury at the ‘Slaughter’. Seeing those mint imperials in his glass of mild brought all the trauma and dark memories flooding back. I wonder if Red Clogs is still trying to get out of the Loft?
Put your teeth back in dad, and smile for the camera.
Article Courtesy of the Coccium (White) Knight.