I thought, or anyway hoped, that once I’d finished the chemotherapy I would spring back to vitality. Seven weeks on and I’m still creeping about like a two-toed sloth. Now and then I study my face and head in the bathroom mirror for signs of rejuvenation. The narrow skull now boasts a light covering of baby fuzz. Sprouting from my upper lip are some widely spaced bristles. But no sign yet of any eyebrows. From their pouchy sockets the eyes look back at me uncertainly.

Listening to the BBC’s In Our Time a few weeks ago, I...

I thought, or anyway hoped, that once I’d finished the chemotherapy I would spring back to vitality. Seven weeks on and I’m still creeping about like a two-toed sloth. Now and then I study my face and head in the bathroom mirror for signs of rejuvenation. The narrow skull now boasts a light covering of baby fuzz. Sprouting from my upper lip are some widely spaced bristles. But no sign yet of any eyebrows. From their pouchy sockets the eyes look back at me uncertainly.

Listening to the BBC’s In Our Time a few weeks ago, I heard Melvyn Bragg read aloud Thomas Hardy’s poem “I Look into My Glass.” The three short, deceptively simple stanzas, concluding with the phrase “throbbings of noontide,” undid him. He faltered and choked as though one of the guest academics had crept up from behind and was trying to strangle him.

Hardy was still relatively spruce when he wrote his poem of complaint about an undimmed spirit imprisoned in dying flesh. I suppose that sitting down and writing a great poem about this paradox is a good way of coming to terms with it. A simpler solution, however, would have been for him to buy himself a preposterous wig and set of novelty teeth, as I did, and take another look at himself in the mirror. I think theatrical wigs are the answer, I really do. If only he’d got himself a party wig and a set of joke teeth, and put them on, and made everyone fall about laughing, I’m certain that Mr. Putin, for one, would have felt better about himself and spared us the hissy fit.

Over Christmas and New Year I wore a party wig when going out and I’ve lately revived the habit. Last weekend, for example, I wore wig and teeth to a restaurant to celebrate the foreign correspondent’s birthday. It was a new wig: soot black, center parting, wholly ridiculous. The teeth were an upper set of four snaggleteeth with joke gum disease. The restaurant was in a neighboring village of great antiquity. The village would make a fine location for a period drama, though if the period in question was any later than the eighteenth century, the scenery technicians would have to modernize it for authenticity.

From the outside the restaurant looks like any other old house. I entered through a door in the street, pushed aside a heavy curtain, and found myself in the rather old-fashioned, solidly bourgeois family-run dining room. The woman who owns the place also waits on the four or five tables. She’s pleasant enough but uncompromisingly reserved and I find her politeness and her blouses intimidating. Occasionally, in her establishment, I am also paralyzed by an irrational fear of posh restaurants. So I’m not keen on the place. The preposterously voluminous wig she pretended not to notice. I got the usual graceful, reserved bow. The rotten gums and crooked teeth revealed by my wooden smile momentarily staggered her, but she quickly regained her composure and led me between two quiet couples to our reserved table along the back wall.

We were a table for eight. The rest of the birthday party was in place and the foreign correspondent was already on rip-roaring form. When he spotted the wig and teeth he flung himself violently back in his chair in a seated star jump and gave a deafening shout of laughter. It was as if the Serb sniper who had potted him through a window all those years ago had tracked him down to have another go from the restaurant garden.

When the woman came to take our order for the starter, I thrust out my four snaggleteeth and leered at her. In mid-sentence she faltered and choked as Melvyn Bragg had done and her upper body wilted sideways. And whatever it was that held her, it had her in an iron grip because when she tried to speak again she found that she couldn’t. And then she made this extraordinary high-pitched keening noise, like a distressed rabbit. She looked quite lovely in her travail, and not at all embarrassed, because perhaps she lets herself go like that quite often when you get to know her, though not if she can help it while she is working in the restaurant.

And Michael was there, telling us that the Russian old-bottle collectors on his Instagram group had proclaimed themselves haughtily for Putin, then signed off for the duration. Also, that one of his Palissy ware pottery pieces had that very day been bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum and he was tickled pink by the recognition. I had to take the teeth out to drink the toast. But I kept the wig on. After a while nobody paid any attention to it and I forgot that I was wearing it.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s May 2022 World edition.