Bairbre Power: Midlife
I know, I know, it's rude to stare. It's something my mum drummed into me as a young child because maybe I did look a little too long at some people. I was a contented only child but I was utterly intrigued by big families and the dynamics within - there was the noise, the rows, and the ability to look almost like clones of each other.
In midlife, you come across this quite a bit, when people you know look like themselves, but not quite. What have they done? Shaved off a beard? Grown their hair long, or changed the colour of the hair they still have?
Recently I met a pal and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what she had done, but she definitely looked different. Eyes or lips? I tried not to stare but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. However, I wasn't going to ask.
Asking a woman if she has had facial enhancement is like asking a competitive golfer if they 'inadvertently' moved their ball in the rough. I partly guessed my pal with the 'tweaked' face had moved beyond having an age spot removed because we'd discussed that years ago, sitting on deck chairs where the irony of sunbathing sans sun block seemed totally lost on her.
But now her face just looked plumper, especially her lips. Not quite the 'trout pout' of Lynne Perrie, the Corrie actress whose pneumatic lips earned her a 'Jagger' moniker. I said nothing and waited to see if they would subside with time. They did.
Which brings me back to the tale of my own 'bodyguard lips' as I now call them.
It all started in Heathrow Airport, where I found myself with a few hours to spare before my flight home. My fondness for getting to airports early makes total sense to me, but it's not always shared by my travelling companions and the older I get, I like to ease myself into the whole flying thing.
An experienced commuter suggested I might approach the airline desk and 'volunteer' to hop on an earlier flight on the basis that sometimes they are looking for spare seats on later flights.
My volunteering went down like a lead balloon. I was invited to pay €340 plus for the pleasure for an earlier departure. On a ticket that originally cost €32, that was not going to happen so I took myself off to have lunch, little realising the financial implications of just what I was about to do.
I made use of my extra hours at the airport to peruse the menus in the various restaurants. I wouldn't sin and go for fish and chips, so instead I went for the healthy option - with consequences.
I ordered avocado bruschetta followed by a fishcake. With a bottle of water and lots of lists to compile, the plan was to stretch out my usual lunch beyond the normal 15 minutes.
When the starter arrived, I swooped with gusto. Normally I ignore the accompanying bread but on this day, I munched away on the toasted slice as I fought the boredom and idly colour-coded lists and a spreadsheet of upcoming shoots and deadlines.
And with the final mouthful, I felt something slippery in my mouth. I thought it might be the outer skin of the avocado stone. To my horror, it wasn't. I put the evidence on the table and stared at it in disbelief, shrieking silently.
It was my front tooth. Well, to be exact, it was the tooth immediately to the left of my two front teeth. A dental crown had been placed over my tooth to cover it, restore its shape, strengthen and improve its appearance, but with one last bit of the bruschetta, it was liberated after years of faithful service.
I hadn't felt a jolt or any pain and there was no trace of blood, but here it was, staring back at me from beside the avocado plate.
I nervously investigated the gap in my front teeth. I pulled out my phone, took a selfie and gasped at the sight which greeted me. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I sent a text to my daughter and she was back like a light.
"You lost your what?" she typed back, so I sent her photographic evidence of my predicament. She rang me back in lightning speed to commiserate and we laughed it out while I huddled under the table trying to get a better look at the damage in a compact mirror. The waiter came along and when I told him of my misfortune, he offered the charm card and told me I was lovely even without it.
Needless to say, I'd lost my appetite. The fishcake was ignored and I paid my bill, tip and left, wrapping up the shiny lateral incisor in tissue. My voice was breaking, somewhere between hysteria and black humour as I rang the dentist I've been going to in Dublin in recent years and explained my dilemma.
How was I going to interview designer Roksanda Ilincic when I got back? I looked in the mirror and tried speaking with my lip extended out over my teeth. You couldn't see the gap that much but I sounded different speaking with lips extended forward in 'bodyguard' position.
Thankfully my new dentist Conor Gallagher fitted me in for an emergency appointment when my plane landed in Dublin and for that I'm eternally grateful.
This drama is finally coming to a conclusion and yes, it will cost more than changing flights would have, but you live and learn. What have I learned from all this? It was a new reality. I discovered that I'm really not invincible and that it pays to smile through the brickbats life hurls at you, even if you're missing a front tooth.
I'm still pursing my lips. It's now become an instinctive thing to protect the re-installed crown. I can't look at an avocado without wincing, but at least I can laugh at the irony of losing a tooth eating the equivalent of baby food on toast.