My father’s dad was called Grandad Smith whilst my mum’s dad was called Papa or Pa. When I was almost five years old, my older brother fell ill with rheumatic fever followed by rheumatic heart disease; after some time in the Belgrave Hospital, South London he was sent to the Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital in Banstead, Surrey. He was there for many months.
Pa had a car so he used to drive us to the hospital in Surrey on Sunday afternoons to visit my brother. The journey seemed to take forever. Due to the hospital regulations of those times, I was only allowed to look at my brother through the glass panel on one side of the children’s ward.
After the visit we would go to Banstead Common or as my pa called it, ‘sharp right, sharp right,’ because of the bends in the road. I loved being in the countryside.
Things have changed so much since the early 1960’s: hospital regulations, increased car ownership, the speed with which we get from one place to another and the amount of traffic on our roads.
I used to go and stay with relatives during this time, probably to give my parents more time to visit my brother. I must have been about six years old when I went to stay with Grandma and Grandad Smith for the week.
One morning, I was cleaning my teeth when my Grandad asked me, ‘Would you like your teeth to be as white as mine?’
Grandad had very white teeth so I said I would.
He gave me a bar of soap and a lump of chalk which he said was from the White Cliffs of Dover. I had to wet my toothbrush, rub the bristles across the bar of soap and then coat them with the chalk.
That night and every night, I brushed my teeth with soap and chalk. It tasted awful. Still, I wanted white teeth like my Grandad.
At the end of the week, when I returned home from my parents, Grandad gave me a piece of chalk wrapped in a cloth.
That night in the bathroom, I was brushing my teeth when my mum came into the room.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked
‘Brushing my teeth with soap and this piece of chalk.’
‘Grandad cleans his teeth with the soap and chalk; I want teeth as white as his.’
‘Grandad doesn’t have his own teeth,’ said mum, ‘his teeth are false. They’re not in his mouth when he cleans them.’
Hence, the title of this blog – White teeth by Grandad Smith, not Zadie Smith