DOC LEAVES, the Book
Contents - Volume Two
1. Intro 3
2. Honi soit… 5
2. Black on the Catwalk 10
3. Sally Roles 12
4. Ker-ist-offer Robin 20
5. Autopsy 22
6. Locum tenens 26
7. Little Home in the West 31
8. Marooned 33
9. Jargon 39
10. Inequality of the Sexes 40
11. Peak Experiences 41
12. #Not.I 46
13. D-Day, 1945 48
14. Communion with what? 50
15. Sound Advice 52
16. Queen Anne’s dead 56
17. Killings and Conspiracies 58
18. Trying to pull rank 61
19. The God Particle 63
20. That Summer with Ann 65
21. Mr.Smith and his Farm 70
22. Death of a Doctor 72
23. A Trip around my Dad 74
24. Who hid Mount Sinai? 79
25. Mary, the Witch Lady 80
26. Life is Short,.. 84
27. Wholly spiritless 86
28. Something in the Air 88
29. Ah yes,.. I remember it well 89
30. Lying politics 93
31. Emm’s Last Gift 95
32. Are we Missing Something? 101
33. Trish 103
34. Arrest, Trial, Conviction 110
35. Safe Bet 115
36. Yes, Headmaster 116
37. Brandy 118
38. Are we what we eat? 121
39. Some catchy puzzles 126
40. Chief Resting Bird 127
41. Fairy Stories 133
42. Marvellous Teachers 135
43. Onions! 138
44. Taking Risks 143
45. Danger 145
46. Domestic Episode 146
47. French, Frogues et Fromages 147
48. Heavy Laden 149
49. A burst of flame 150
50. Leviticus,..and all that 151
51. The Fortieth Birthday 153
52. Monte Carlo or Bust 155
53. Sexual-Medical puzzles 160
54. Oh, - de Nile 161
55. Out of Africa 164
56. Politics clarified 166
57. On being a House Surgeon 168
58. Giving a donkey 174
59. The Old Enemy 175
60. Something big is coming 177
61. Monkey Business 179
62. Mnemonics 180
63. Changes to the NHS 181
64. Dan yr Ogof 182
65. Playing with Words 187
66. Choosing an Older Woman 189
67. Not what they seem 190
68. The Sky Sailor 192
69. Snake Oil 197
70. I remember it well 199
71. Tasteless items 203
72. Clocking 204
73. An Alternative for Easter 206
74. The Cowboy Hat 208
75. The Economy of Society 210
76. The Ring of Kerry 213
77. The Body,.. medical facts 215
78. The Sea Captain 216
79. The Pothole 218
80. Anno Mundi 221
81. Welsh Xenophobia 226
82. Penultimata,.. Charivaria 228
83. Zinzan San 243
84. Wales 247
Brush and Ink, 1985
’ ... being more collected memoirs, yarns, opinions, lies, tales and terrors of
Dr.Dick Richards MD [etc]
... doctor, soldier, author, mercenary and part-time hit man [Gold Medal, Ret'd].
My Ought-to Biography
André, a simple French peasant, had only one thought in his mind as he crept silently along in the shadow of the wall,..
‘André creep,.. André creep.’
If that proposed first line for an as yet unwritten novel tickles your sense of humour,.. then, in all probability this book is for you.
Or what about this one.
As a senior physics professor, David knew that if he broke wind in the echo chamber he would never hear the end of it.
The Doc-Leaves Project - for thus it was known for many years within the family – began in about 1960. We were moving house to the small Kentish village where I would be one of the village doctors for the foreseeable future. There seemed to be mountains of stuff to be transported. Amongst it all was a group of old shoeboxes into which, since my student days, I had crammed and stored various things, - scraps of paper, scribbled-on old envelopes, stained beer mats – all of which bore ideas, jokes heard, interesting memories, quotations and the like that for some long-forgotten reason had, at some time or other, seemed worth preserving.
Over a period of years the collection grew until the shoeboxes half filled one of the old wooden tea-chests stored in the attic. Time after time someone’s baleful eye would settle on the chest amid mutterings of ‘Don’t know why you don’t throw all that stuff out.’ With great fortitude I refused all such efforts at intimidation. To tell the truth I had no idea what to do with the stuff. I just felt I was not ready to part with cast-off droppings of what had once mattered enough to save or get written down.
Then, over coffee one day in Broadcasting House, [Note name dropping], I related some anecdote or other to the chap who was producing some material I had written for BBC. He expressed the opinion that yarns such as I had just told him would make excellent material for some more programmes he had in mind. ‘You really ought to write your memoirs,’ he suggested.
There was, of course, no way, at that time, that a doctor could write real memoirs. Mine would involve confidential occurrences, recognisable public figures and some pretty unsavoury episodes that, for one reason or another, would never pass the censor. However, the basic seed had been planted and, increasingly over the following decades I kept returning to the idea.
Time went by and there was always some more pressing reason - like making a living which in large part depended on the wielding of a pen – and that meant endlessly staving off the start day. I remember thinking that perhaps, if I became ill, I would start the book during a boring period of convalescence. As my Granddad used to say ‘Nothing gets a job finished like starting it.’ The snag was that I never got ill. Apart from recovering from a mainly superficial injury or so I never missed a day’s work in about eighty years. I never even had a cold in all that time.
As retirement approached - and it hasn’t properly arrived even yet – I did spend some spare time sorting through the material, deciphering the illegible bits, and writing or re-writing drafts of some of the stuff,.. even if just in my mind.
When I had worked on what seemed might be enough, in about 2010 I actually started assembling stuff methodically. The writing and re-writing took ages. But it was so enjoyable that it used up all the spare time. When most had been done I was astonished to find there was far more material than would fit in a sensible size of book.
When ‘Doc Leaves’ was first self-published it sold only a few dozen copies,.. mostly to dutiful old friends. For a while that was all that happened. But gradually, people here and there saw the book, enjoyed it and recommended it. It took a couple of years but after fifty years in shoe boxes the material eventually became quite an overnight success.
Interested publishers began to enquire whether there was any chance of a second volume. By that time, the spare material had all been properly written up and I was able to offer Part Two.
Here it is, and it is, in finest pharmaceutical jargon,.. ‘The mixture as before.’
Honi Soit qui Mal y Pense
[Evil to Him Who Evil Thinks]
Do you believe in evil?
I don't mean evil in the sense of someone doing something nasty. I mean, actual vivid, living evil,.. something that can take form, exert power and create malign influence over other things. The kind of evil you read of in old grimoires and religious texts. The kind of evil that is seen as truly the work of the devil and his foul entities.
I'm not sure that I do but there was one episode back in the mid-sixties when the passage of events came close to convincing me. I'm not a religious man but I report this story as near as I can remember, exactly how it happened.
One of my more engaging patients at that time was a semi-retired parish priest. Officially he was the Reverend Huw Medway. To me he was Huw and, although he was some twenty years older than me, we spent many a happy hour down on the marshes for a spot of rough shooting on the cold winter weekend afternoons. When it was near to dusk is the time the wood pigeons come swooping home from pillaging the farmers' best acres of cabbages and skim down into the trees to roost. That is the time to bag a few brace for the pot. There is no need for silence. You just stand very still under the branches and chat while you wait for them. It is a good time to talk, and Huw and I did just that. We talked about people, the villagers who were my patients and who had been his flock. He'd a fine education and a wild Celtic sense of humour. We enjoyed our time together. Even our gun dogs were good friends.
I mentioned that he was semi-retired for, since he had given up the day to day cares of the parish, he had become, quite officially, having been selected by the Bishop, one of the two exorcists accredited within the diocese.
Now it may seem strange to modern day thought that there should be such an official priest as an exorcist. Even more so that there might exist any reason for such a person to be needed at all. But that was the case. Huw was the senior of two official exorcists. He very seldom discussed this, to me, curious aspect of his life.
That's what made it all the more intriguing when he brought up the subject of the Chandler family. These were a group of people, patients of mine, all living in the same rambling country cottage, and amongst whom it was hard to work out exactly who was what and to whom. There were the two Chandler men, father and son, who were hard working chaps both driving heavy trucks of market-garden produce to the various city markets. They were rarely at home, at least when I called, and I never recall either of them ever being ill enough to take a day off. Then there were the womenfolk. A grandmother and her elderly sister, three or four women of middle age, three teenagers or thereabouts, and about six children who never seemed any more certain than I was who were their parents. It was the grandmother who was giving Huw cause for concern.
He'd first been called to the cottage some six months earlier after a call from the local curate. The curate, it appeared, had told Huw that the old lady was convinced she was being 'got at' by some wicked spirit or other. The parish curate had visited three times and found nothing amiss but, so insistent had been one of the younger women that her mother was genuinely troubled, that he thought it best to ask advice.
Following this, Huw explained, he also visited the family three times. On the first two occasions he had learned and experienced nothing, though he observed that, in retrospect, he had felt a sort of unease,.. 'More an unpleasantness in the surroundings,' he said, though he found that strange in what otherwise seemed a very contented if disorganised household.
It was on his third visit that he became more troubled. That time, just three days earlier, he had been phoned during the evening, by the woman who said she was the daughter, to say that her mother was having one of her episodes of being got at. Huw told me that when he got there, while he was still walking up the path and had not even entered the house, he had an oppressive feeling of cold and clammy despondency,.. as if he was having a fit of depression was how he described it. He said he had had the feeling as if someone had brushed against him while hurrying past him down the path towards the gate.
When he got inside the grandmother was sitting wheezing and gasping and looking very shaken. She expressed her gratitude that Huw had been kind enough to come, but, now that 'the beast' had gone there was nothing more to do.
Huw talked to the other women at some length. They told how her mother got these funny feelings about twice a week but that this particular evening she had been shouting and fighting and complained that she could not breathe. Huw's very sensible idea was that the woman might have been having panic attacks about something and that these were bringing on sort of asthmatic spasms.
I agreed that that sounded all very likely. The upshot of our chat was that we agreed that should it ever happened again that the Chandler family called, Huw and I would go together to the house so that I could help make a diagnosis.
We did not have to wait long. That very evening at about nine o'clock Huw phoned. 'It's the Chandlers,' he said. 'They sound to be in quite a pickle.'
I told him I'd pick him up in a few minutes,.. he lived only three hundred yards away. I did so and off we drove.
When we got there and went inside the entire female contingent of the family was there. I had to admit they looked pretty shaken. But at that moment I could detect nothing at all to be wrong.
The story was that an hour earlier they had all been sitting watching television when they saw 'a kind of shadowy shape' moving about the room. At times it actually seemed to touch or brush past them as it moved, they said. Apparently, after they had phoned Huw the apparition, or whatever it was, had disappeared and not been seen since.
The story left me entirely unimpressed. I had had, like all doctors, plenty of urgent calls to patients, who, upon my arrival, were able to report that they felt miraculously better. I could not see or feel anything the least bit odd apart from feeling the room was rather overheated. I certainly had no feeling of anything being wrong or unusual, let alone evil. However, I could see that Huw took it all seriously and was obviously concerned by what he was hearing.
He suggested to the women that they should all sit down and follow him in a prayer for protection. I did not join in but just sat quiet, watching them and listening to Huw. In retrospect I think my thoughts were that the whole thing was probably a mild hysterical phenomenon.
I quickly changed my mind.
All of a sudden old Grandma Chandler let out a gasp, then a cry. She was sitting rigidly upright in her armchair shaking from head to toe and making gurgling sounds. Then she began to flail and beat at the air just in front of her face and shouting. 'Help me. Take it away. Get it off me.' I started out of my chair and moved towards her. 'Get it off,' she shouted again, 'It's strangling me. Get it off me.'
She was struggling in her seat as if to try and get out of the chair and squirm down onto the ground. Her face was suffused and looked red as she tussled with whatever she could see and feel but which was invisible to everyone else. Next moment she was on the floor, eyes open and rolling, and still she tried to keep her hands in front of her as if to protect her throat.
Huw was astonishing. Without the least sign of panic he knelt down beside the woman and placed both his hands on her head. His erstwhile gentle prayers of mere moments before had died on his lips. This time his words were deep and resounding,.. full of a palpable authority. Later, at home, I tried to scribble them down as closely as I could remember. I still have the notes I wrote.
'Your name matters nothing, you evil creature,' he boomed. 'And you mean nothing. But I call the power against you that is greater than yours. In the name of Almighty God and the Holy Jesus Christ I command you to be bound,.. bound and shackled and to go back to the place appointed for you. I tell you,.. leave this woman. Leave this place and never again return. Do you hear me? I command you,.. be gone,.. now!'
The old woman shuddered again, several times, but she at once looked calmer. Then her face grimaced into a horrid snarl. In a deep and distinctly masculine voice she growled at us all, at me in particular, I felt. 'It's not finished,' was all she said. Nothing more. Her breathing returned to normal, as did her colour. Five minutes later two of the other women were brewing tea,.. though in my case I felt something a little stronger would have been welcome.
Huw wandered around the cottage repeating his quiet prayers and splashing all over the place from a plastic bottle of font water he had brought with him. When he too sat down for his tea he asked Mrs.Chandler if she could tell him how she had felt during the episode. 'I can't really remember,' she said. 'It was almost like dreaming. But I could see this horrible thing, - it was like one of those little mechanical tin dolls they have in fair-grounds. It was trying to choke me with its hands around my throat. I was frightened to death.'
Huw and I drove home talking about the event. We each had our own thoughts, but we agreed on one thing. This had been no ordinary bout of hysteria.
I dropped Huw off and, as I pulled into my own driveway I was surprised to see the light was still on in our bedroom. My wife usually turns in early if I have to go out on a call. Instead, when I went up, she was in bed with a book lying closed on the duvet beside her.
'Thank Heavens you're back,' she said. 'I've been really terrified.'
'Why? Of what? What happened?'
'Oh,' she said. 'I think I must have been dreaming. I went straight off to sleep when I came up. But then, in my dream, I dreamed that there was someone trying to get at me and the kids because you had been unfriendly.'
'I dreamed that I went down stairs and it was there at the bottom of the steps waiting for me. It was a dreadful feeling. It tried to get at me but I grasped it by the throat and tried to bang it against the wall. It was all sticky and damp,.. like metal that's been out in the rain.'
'Then I really woke up. And I couldn’t help feeling it was more than just a dream. It felt so real.'
'So what did you do?'
'Nothing, really. I just went into the kids rooms and checked they were sleeping. They were fine. But, don't laugh. I sat down by each bed in turn, gave them a kiss,.. and said their 'Gentle Jesus' prayers to them very quietly. Then I came back to bed.'
I asked her to describe whatever was the 'thing' she had dreamed about seeing at the bottom of the stairs. I'll never forget her reply.
Her very words were that 'it looked like a sort of ugly metal 'doll' thing.'
That story is as true as I sit here writing it. So, now I'll repeat the question. Do you believe in evil? You, as you sit there and read this? Do you feel a certain remote chill? A doubt, perhaps? A vague shadowing at the back of the mind that makes you just a little uneasy and uncertain?
Me? Even all these later I'm still not sure.
[THINKS: If you don’t pay your exorcist, do you get repossessed?]
This purported brush with the supernatural has, in fact, one special feature that helps reinforce my own belief that there is no such thing as ‘supernatural.’ Let me explain.
The second law of thermodynamics states, inter alia, that entropy [disorder] must increase. Numerous people who have experienced alleged supernatural events generally tend to mention the concurrent incidence of lower temperature in the zone around the manifestation. This would fit precisely within the requirements of the second law. Any ghost or apparition perceived by a living person must, in order to manifest itself and ‘appear,’ have drawn energy for that purpose presumably from the only available source,.. the nearby surroundings. [One reasonably assumes that ghosts don’t eat or digest food and derive energy from that source as would living folk]. This would mean that the energy for manifestation could be drawn only as heat and from the environment,.. hence the sensation of suddenly cooler surroundings.
And that is a perfectly normal and natural occurrence in full accord with natural, universal, physical laws.
Black on the Catwalk Published 2018
Funereal black on the Hollywood red carpets. Men who touch female knees condemned in the media without a hearing. Ethnic minorities that mustn’t be offended however much they merit criticism. Apologies from anyone, male or female, who was ever outspoken.
I just don’t believe it. How has it come to this?
The Equality Act 2010 rather vaguely defines sexual harassment and makes no attempt precisely to define some of the other words it uses,.. intimidating, degrading, humiliating. So how, exactly, do you abuse power? And where are the dividing lines between what is OK and what is illegal? No wonder that accusations are common while trials and convictions remain very few. And there are natural rules applying as well as legal restrictions.
In countless nature programmes males, everywhere, seek to attract females,.. an inclination also said to influence some female behaviour. It’s natural. Birds of paradise grow fabulous feathers,.. kangaroos indulge in displays of courage,.. men sport beards,.. and all these and thousands more costly physical attributes and behaviour patterns are designed under the influence of evolutionary pressures to attract the potential female partner. All this in exactly the same way as nylon stockings, and pretty underwear are expected to prove attractive to likely male contenders for partnership.
There is nothing wrong with any of this. And if, in some way, one or other of these features is offensive to you then it’s probably time you had a serious rethink.
Let’s get down to basic facts. Boys will always try to get lucky with girls. Their methods may be as simple as when, in the days of glossy hair slicked back with Brylcream or of kipper ties or blue suede shoes, they portrayed themselves as being at the burning edge of fashion. Others displayed bullying tactics against their associates in order to look the toughest in town. Some studied so that their brains and abilities would appeal to the more discerning of females. One way or another men will never stop trying to make it with girls.
When I was a medical student one of the things taught was that, where appropriate, one should make a physical contact with a patient,.. even if only by shaking hands or when taking a pulse. This made the relationship physical and more intense. [It’s a minor example of what biologists call primate-grooming]. The same thing, we found, worked with girls. Touch her hair as you pass her chair,.. hold her hand for a moment longer than necessary,.. take her arm crossing the street. These moves became embodied in much of what was regarded as gentlemanly behaviour.
The ladies too had similar wiles,.. the fluttered eyelids, the pursed lips and varied body language of early or tentative courtship.
Today it seems much of that has changed. But be sure it has only changed on a superficial societal level. Fundamentally nothing has changed the least bit.
Now, understanding these biological features does not in any way excuse the behaviour of rapists or wealthy or powerful men who use whatever prowess they possess to enhance their reproductive urges. But to a large extent it does explain them. Rich men have an easier time attracting women,.. as do healthy men and handsome men, and in just the same way as the head lion of the pride attracts his partners.
When we see someone as physically unappealing as Mr.Weinstein propositioning would-be young actresses it looks repulsive. But it’s just a different aspect of the same principle. Some of the women who co-operated with him really did make progress in their careers. Even if they regarded it as an unpleasant task at the time a fair proportion of these, we can assume, were quite happy with the bargain struck. Furthermore, some of those doing most of the complaining now seem to be the ones who didn’t enjoy quite such success. Whether that was due to a failure to co-operate or to an absence of talent remaining unsure.
The point is that men will always chance their luck. They are deceivers and sexual predators by design. Their biological impulses are wired that way. Approving or disapproving will make no more difference than legislating that dog shall love cat. The pressure stems from Old Mother Nature or the Almighty,.. whichever you prefer to blame.
Illegal acts like exploiting young boys or violence towards women should not and cannot ever be tolerated. Rape is a crime. But for a man or a woman to try to seduce someone, even persistently or clumsily, is not. And neither does a man making approaches to a lady comprise a chauvinist assault. We need caution in accepting the legally dubious hearsay about non-consensual contacts,.. and, likewise, the current Hollywood black-gear fluff and the indignant squeals and tantrums of the rather unrealistic femino-liberal sector.
Why do so many doctors drink?
It’s a question I have often been asked. I’m not sure there is an overall answer. I am sure there are lots of reasons,.. hard work, excessive responsibility, thirst.
I can only offer my own explanation. I was seldom a serious drinker, but, looking back and for the most part, the reason I drank was to try to make other people sound interesting.
One of my most memorable patients and friends was a lady named Sally Roles. She was of independent means the details of which I never knew. She was a tallish, smart, well-dressed lady of sparkling wit, wide experience and devastating charm. She was rather retiring by nature and was usually to be found gardening or walking her energetic Dalmatian dog, Prinz, across the fields and polders around her delightful cottage in the village of Finglesham.
Sally’s father had been in the Diplomatic Corps and was posted to Paris in the years immediately after the end of the Kaiser’s war. She joined the family there when she left school in England in around 1919.
She was always quite blunt about her life after that. Her mother was tubercular and spent most of her time just wasting away in bed, - there being no cure for TB in those days nor, indeed, any worthwhile treatment. If you got it you either made a spontaneous recovery or you died, and a miserable death at that. Sally’s father was a very busy man. The post-war years were filled with feverish activities over various punitive efforts like the lunatic reparations scandal, - Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Orlando [of Italy] and President Woodrow Wilson all intent upon outdoing each other at short-sightedly being beastly to the Germans. Sally was young, unsupervised, - and feverish. As she put it. ‘My ovaries must have been bouncing around like tennis balls.’
In about 1921 Sally married an up and coming young diplomat who had been introduced by her mother. It was Sally’s feeling that there had been something ‘informal’ between her mother and the young man though she admitted she was never sure. The marriage lasted less than a year. By the time it was over Sally’s mother had died and her father was pleased to be posted as soon as he was promoted to ambassadorial rank. In fact he never became an ambassador as he died in an insurrection in India two years later while attempting, literally, to read The Riot Act to some unruly natives.
At that point Sally was suddenly alone in the world but with a considerable income and a fiery zest for life. For her the Paris of the 1920s was the perfect place. Her second marriage, like the first, was rather brief. ‘Seven months I think it was,’ she told me. She had given up on her new groom partly because, like so many new grooms, he slept clean and partly because she was willingly befriended and bedded by a famous society photographer on more or less the same day, - a gent who’s name would be familiar to most readers even now. Several of the nude portraits he took of her still exist in books relating to that period. I, the present writer, am pleased to have one of the originals in my personal files.
Sally became well-known in artistic circles. She was attractive, shapely, wealthy, vivacious and promiscuous. ‘I had the very attributes that work,’ she said. ‘It was a hectic life but I was never able to take it seriously. It was too much fun.’
Before the 1920s ended she was married twice more. Once was to a man who threatened to fight a duel over her with a competitor. No such event took place, she told me, as the man who was sure to be the loser in fact shot himself. ‘I’m always trying now to remember which one of them was which, she told me with a grin. But just fancy men wanting to fight a duel over you. Quite goes to a girl’s head.’
Two of that first group of her husbands, dying some years later, remembered her in their wills with substantial bequests. ‘For all kinds of services rendered,’ she claimed.
I don’t believe Sally lied, - she wasn’t bragging about it at all, just stating facts as she recalled them about ‘My Paris period,’ but she claimed to have modelled for several artists including some quite famous ones. ‘There was Dali, rather later on before I came home for the first time. The gang used to call him Sally Two because he was a bit sweet on me. Then there was Pabbo, - you’d call him Pablo but he was Pabbo in those days, - Picasso that was. I also worked quite a bit for Ed Steichen. He was an artist too but he made his name and his money as a fashion photographer.’
Sally went back to Paris a few years later. ‘Things had changed a lot,’ she said. She married again in 1938 and with war drums once more sounding in the distance she and her husband left Paris and moved to Vienna. ‘He was a big business man and he thought we’d be alright there. But he was Jewish and we were lucky to get away six months later. He wanted to move to America – but I didn’t . We broke up just after the war started.
Two or three other marriages, or ‘Near misses’ as she termed them happened during the war years. ‘Then I lost Derek, my last husband, in Normandy,’ she recalled.
Apparently she moved about a good bit after that. Then, in the early 60s, she decided she’d had enough of the gay life and the bright lights. She bought a delightful if rather dilapidated cottage in a village just a few miles from Sandwich. She telephoned my office soon after that and asked if I accepted private patients. I didn‘t like private work but I accepted her just the same,.. she had a persuasive magic, and we became good friends over the several years she lived there.
Much of the rebuilding and refurbishing work on her cottage she did herself. Carpentry, a spot of stone masonry and brick-laying, electric wiring, even plumbing were just up her street. When it rained she worked in the cottage, when it was fine she worked in the garden. In less than two years she transformed the place into the most perfect English garden you ever saw. She didn’t own a car but spent her time either walking of rambling across the fields. Once a week a taxi took her to Deal for her to shop for her provisions. The taxi driver was, like most men, rather taken with her. So was the painter, the butcher, the postman and so on. As a said, she had a certain magic.
In all the time she was my patient, - about ten years, her records showed that she had received two bottles of cough mixture and, about once every two years a prescription for twenty five sleeping capsules. She said she needed them only rarely,.. ‘When my past sins catch up with me and keep me awake.’ I also remember recommending some Deep Heat, - a warming embrocation to rub into her shoulders when she’d been cutting brush or felling small trees with her power saw. She just loved to work. She also liked to entertain and many a weekend there would be one kind or another of smart car parked in her drive and which I would see as I passed by her place on my rounds. She never told me who these mystery guests were and the only one I ever met was one of her childhood friends, Julie, who lived about ten miles away in Ramsgate.
One day I well remember she asked me to visit her. When I got there it was to find that she had no medical problem but was concerned about security. She thought she had heard people in the garden at night,.. more than once. It was a very lonely spot. Knowing that I was a keen hunter and had several guns she wondered if I could get her one that wasn’t dangerous but which, fired into the air, would make the appropriate noises. In those days you could have bought a Browning 9mm automatic for a tenner so it was easy.
All around our area there were huge greenhouses growing mostly cucumbers and tomatoes. Stray birds easily got in through the ventilators and could do loads of damage. Every so often someone would therefore walk through and shoot the birds. In a greenhouse that can be a risky business, - how to shoot and yet not break the panes. The answer was a small pistol that fired tiny cartridges filled with shot that was just heavy enough to kill, or at least scare, the sparrows. The spent shot just rattles off the windows. I got Sally one of these and a box of rounds, - then I showed her how to load, cock and fire into the air. It was perfect for what she needed. Several times I enquired and she said it was marvellous insurance, - in fact, since she’d had the gun there had been no more unexplained sounds.
There is a sad and miserable ending to Sally’s story here. She requested a visit and when I got there she announced that she had found a lump. I had previously shown her, as I had most of my female patients, how to do a routine breast examination in the hope of making early and possibly life-saving diagnosis of any tumours forming.
I examined her and found a nodule so small that it might easily have been missed. It’s easier when the patient already knows where the lump is. I had no doubt that this was a simple fibro-adenoma, - a small lump of unimportant gristly stuff. It was inert and was no cause for alarm. Still, the diagnosis of a simple country doctor that everything was alright was clearly not to be relied upon. I therefore referred her to a colleague, - a general surgeon in Canterbury. She asked if I could be present during her ‘op’ so it was arranged that I would ‘scrub-up’ and assist my friend. The operation was simple and routine. The lump, - less than a centimetre across, came out easily and had no sinister attachments. It was sent to the pathologist to be fixed, microtomed, stained and examined under a high power microscope. It was, as expected, a totally benign chunk of nothing important.
There is always an element of relief, however sure the doctor might be, to see the completely reassuring report that everything is ‘all clear.’ I took the report to show Sally. Four times in the next six months she asked me to call again ‘Just to check everything is still alright.’ I did so,.. and it was. No re-growths were expected and none appeared.
On about the third visit I thought I noticed that she was somehow a little less amicably inclined to chat than was normal for her in our long and friendly relationship. Then there was a gap of several months when she didn’t call at all. I was vaguely anxious and decided that next time I was in the village with a minute to spare, - and as long as there were no cars there, I’d just pop in on the off-chance. By pure luck before I made the call she rang my secretary and asked if I could visit next day, a Saturday. She had some other arrangements to fit in, she said, and needed to time things fairly closely, - so could I call between nine and nine-thirty,.. about an hour before she expected Julie to arrive. I confirmed that that would be OK.
At a little after nine next day I got to her cottage and was somewhat surprised to see Julie’s car parked outside in the drive. It turned out that she had arrived an hour before the time planned,.. unexpected by Sally. As I got out of my car Julie came hurrying out, obviously flustered. ‘Come quick., Dick,’ she said. ‘Quick. It’s Sally. She’s in the bedroom.’ I hurried inside and up the stairs.
Sally was in her bed, calm and peaceful,.. but the briefest glance told me she was dead. I went through the usual routine of checking her vital signs,.. pulse – none, respirations, - none, temperature, - cool to the touch. I looked into her eyes with my ophthalmoscope. There were the tell-tale gaps in the blood supply network of her retinae. I took her temperature which, considering the air temperature in the room, told me she had been dead about six hours.
I went downstairs to phone the police. It was virtually certain that it was suicide but it was certainly a coroner’s case and the police were therefore the first step. ‘Did you see there was a letter for you?’ Julie asked. I opened it in front of her. At the time of writing this I still have it.
This is Sally’s letter less only a few personal words which I have erased.
I know from our long friendship that I can depend on you and I’m sorry our last contact is to give you yet another job. I arranged for you to come early so that you would be the first to find me and to make sure I don’t look too dreadful. Julie will come soon and will be a great help I know.
First, the package you loaned me [the pistol] is with others in my bureau. Please remove it and dispose of it as you see fit. No-one will notice that it’s gone.
You will have realised, I expect, that quite early on I saw through your well-meaning deception. I think you underestimated the tough inner me. I have been well able to stand up to the cancer business and now that it has spread I am not afraid of the circumstances. I am taking the quick way out not at all out of fear but in order to save everyone I know a lot of protracted trouble and inconvenience.
Dick, thank you for everything and, most of all, for being my trusted friend. Goodbye, and I wish you well.
PS: I expect you’ll get involved in the usual legal questions about my wicked deed. As you’ll eventually learn I’ve tried to make it up to you.’
I retrieved the firearm and put it in my anorak pocket. A few minutes later the police arrived. I knew the two officers quite well. ‘Morning, Doc,’ said one. ‘Hearse or ambulance?’ ‘Hearse I replied, ‘No hurry.’ That kind of familiar flippancy was common in those easy-going days when everyone knew each other The officer went out to his car radio, - they didn’t have hand-held mobiles in those days either. From then on everything was pure routine. Check the body in front of witnesses, identification if possible. Regular procedure. I was able to sign a death certificate as she was well known to me but, of course, it could only be signed after the inquest.
The coroner and I were old acquaintances and, for the most part, everything was routine. The verdict was predictable,.. ‘Suicide while the balance of the mind was disturbed.’ That was always the verdict in those days. If a person took his or her own life,.. a crime against the law and against God, it was held that it could only be while the balance of the mind was disturbed. Normal, sane people didn’t do such things. To me, and in this instance, that was simply not true. Sally’s arrangements had been carefully planned and executed. Every detail had been considered. Her farewell letters had been written and had been posted the day before. She had tied up every loose end meticulously. I could not agree that she deserved the stigma that her mind was disturbed. To me, she was in full possession of her faculties. She had simply decided to end her life.
As a result I declined to be a co-signatory to the accepting of the verdict. I went on record as raising objection to the disturbed balance bit. At the time it caused something of a stir but, during the following year or so there were numerous other serious objections to the routine and anachronistic phraseology. The phrase was later phased out.
Sally was dead. I missed her. Gradually other things about her were discovered. We had never known of her many secret good deeds. Of down and out locals helped financially. Of local charities supported. About the three old people she visited regularly with home made cookies and for a little encouraging chat.
The saddest thing of all to me was that all the way through Sally had been wrong. I had not been keeping things from her. She was all clear. The coroner’s post mortem, not conducted by me, - confirmed the total absence of any malignancy anywhere.
It also showed gastro-intestinal contents including about ninety sleeping capsules, - almost all of those that I had ever prescribed for her over ten years,.. carefully hoarded.
In her will Sally left me a thousand pounds, - no small sum in the Sixties. But it’s not that for which I remember her most. It was for her wild sense of humour, her endless reminiscent stories of a glorious if chequered past. And it was for one special remark that so very few people I knew could ever have delivered.
I had once commented, with a wink, about the strange cars I occasionally saw. ‘Aha,.. old spouses mostly,’ she said. ‘They pop in from time to time.’ I must have looked a bit quizzical for she then said, ‘Oh yes. I’ve always remained on the best of terms with all my husbands.’
In many ways, - but not in others, - Sally always reminded me of another unusual and memorable lady patient. I shall call her Miss Coates for reasons that will become understandable. Miss Coates was a living remnant of the days of the Great British Raj when India was still the jewel in the crown. Her father commanded a brigade of Bengal Lancers and the pictures of him on horseback leading the 1903 Royal Durbar show him as a ramrod straight horseman in full regalia, all stiff upper lip, bristling moustache and pork chop whiskers.
Being daughter of this renowned field commander made Miss Coates very much the darling of the regiment and she had many a tale to tell of escapades at the Governor’s Ball or in the Viceroy’s Summer Palace. The endearing thing about her tales was that she always spoke precisely and without hyperbole. There was never a strong word and even criticisms were expressed politely as if over afternoon tea, - cucumber sandwiches cut very thin and with the crusts trimmed off, - cream scones and Earl Grey tea drunk with the right little finger delicately raised and hooked.
As she was careful to point out every event related appears to have been conducted with complete decorum and according to the pecking order of rank accorded one’s status. ‘There was never any actual hanky-panky,’ she often assured me. ‘Whatever was done was done after an exchange of calling cards on silver trays,.. and mostly with white cambric gloves on.’
‘The things they do these days are quite disgusting,’ she once said. Then, almost in the same breath, ‘The subalterns blues were so tight they were forbidden to carry even a pocket handkerchief so not to spoil the line. But oh, Doctor, the effort was rather flattering. Most revealing. And when they were mounted,.. ooh those marvellous horses could have some pretty disturbing effects.’
Miss Coates had been married to a young captain,.. ‘He was so dashing. He won the Delhi Tent-Pegging Cup in 1899’. The story of her marriage was short but tragic. She and Herbert were married in the cathedral and with much pomp and circumstance, then, after a lavish ball they travelled by carriage and with full military escort,.. ‘All the officers of his regiment, - no other ranks,’ on an all night journey to an official Assault at Arms in Gurugaham some twenty miles away. Herbert was captaining the lancers polo team. ‘What a wedding night,’ she said. ‘We hardly saw each other.’
By eleven o’clock next morning the horses had been unloaded, fed and watered. The officers and their ladies stood around drinking lemonade until it was time for the first chukka. The game plan involved Herbert walking at a slow pace to be ready to receive a swift pass. He had taken but a few paces when his horse bucked, - probably stung by an insect, they thought. Totally unprepared for such a sudden move Herbert was instantly unhorsed. He fell almost in front of the now calm animal, landed on head and shoulder and never moved again. His neck was broken. Herbert died where he fell. And from that moment Miss Coates resumed her maiden name. To use her own phrase, ‘I went just a wee bit off the rails after that.’
When I knew her Miss Coates lived in a tiny self-contained bed-sit on permanent loan from the wealthy owners of a big house in Sandwich’s Mill Wall Place, Group Captain Guy and Mrs.Jane du Boulay. Some members of her family had been long term staff of her benefactors and, knowing her of old, when she was reduced to penury they took her in and cared for her. Ranking families used to do that sort of thing for their unlucky servants in those days, - it was a kind of noblesse oblige. In fact Jane, the lady of the house, used to visit Miss Coates virtually every day. She often sent meals around. And the domestics who cleaned the big house also ‘did for’ Miss Coates. In fact many a time I saw Jane roll up her sleeves and do the difficult or messy jobs herself. She too, was an astonishing woman, loved and highly thought of by many,.. very much including myself.
It was from her little pied-a-terre that Miss Coates entertained all comers with her often wicked tales of the sub-continent. I heard tales of ‘bedroom swapping’ and of the way the virile new officers were ‘initiated.’ The fiercely applied rules of decorum, it appears, were strictly observed, - but, she explained, ‘That was mostly downstairs. Upstairs could be very different.’
One day she asked me, ‘Doctor, did you ever see that one of the Aldwich Farces,.. what was it called,.. something like ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest?’ I explained that at the time of those famous West End plays I was about five years away from getting born yet ‘Well, that’s a pity, - it was really very like that. In the middle of the night there were always bedroom doors opening and closing somewhere or other. One way and another we didn’t always get much sleep.’
Looking back I have the feeling that Miss Coates rather enjoyed the kudos she accrued from her Rabelaisian tales, some of which were really pretty vivid especially coming from this sweet and demure seeming old lady.
Some little while after she died I was chatting to the Group Captain and I mentioned my doubts. We exchanged recollections of some of the stories and the names we’d heard from her. I commented that one female however rampant and randy could hardly have done so many such things.
‘Oh,.. I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘It’s hard to confirm them all of course but I’ve often heard that she was quite famous and much sought after for a decade or more. She was seen with all the top people, - officers, colonial bigwigs and even the occasional Viceroy or two. In fact she was famously known as ‘The Romp of Simla’ and ran the most salacious soirées ever seen in the sub-continent. She’s referred to by one name or another in no end of books of fiction as well as historical memoirs. Be sure that the Romp of Simla once carried very high acting rank indeed.’
What a girl.
Ker-ist-offer Robin Published Sep., 2016
When I was a little boy I loved Christopher Robin [CR]. I remember one story where he was a little lad getting bullied and he consoled himself with the lofty thought that ‘When I grow up one day they’ll need my help,.. and when that day comes I’ll forgive them and help them.’
What a bloody wimp. Sounds like a Social Worker. And it was A.A.Milne’s own son,.. Christopher Robin Milne around whom all these stories about Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore were fashioned. There were several books,.. The House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, Now We Are Six,.. and so on all of them relating his ideas, ramblings, rhymes, drawings and chicken-livered behaviour patterns.
Why remarkable? Because CR was, in fact, a wretched, spoiled, poncey little twit who talked to himself and wore a sun hat and leggings. He was pretty girly and had absolutely no street cred whatsoever. He didn’t climb trees, there is no record that he ever farted and he never used naughty words. He wouldn’t have said ‘shit’ if he had a mouthful. He was actually about seven years old and he’d not yet even been introduced to Guinness. He never had anything to do with girls.
His idea of a cool dose of Saturday Night Fever was to go for a nice walk with Nanny. They’d talk about good wholesome things like porridge for breakfast and changing the guard at Buckingham Palace. When they’d finished all that walking they’d sit under a tree in the orchard and drink cool lemonade. Or, if it was winter that would all happen in the nursery and the drink would be hot milk or cocoa.
He didn’t have a computer or an iPhone. He didn’t tweet or have a Facebook page. Word was what dictionaries were full of. Windows were for gazing through into the middle distance. Texting was many blissful years into his future. If you mentioned xxnx he probably thought they were Roman numerals.
When he went for walks he always kept his feet dry and he absolutely never got dirty. Furthermore he always got home on time. When he wasn’t walking he rode his tricycle, - the one that had a little basket on the front handlebars in case he wanted to bring home some bluebells for Mummy. His trike had a dainty wee bell he could ring with his little finger if he needed to keep somebody out of the way of his breakneck speeding. He always had a clean handkerchief. He wore sweet little shorts that showed his little sissy knees,.. and he didn’t even care. He’d once had iodine on his leg that jolly well stung.
He always said his prayers before bed and he’d even kneeled down to say them. His main prayers were always for others,.. especially that God would send lots of warm clothes to all those ladies who didn’t have any,.. like he had seen in the books Grandpa kept in the bottom drawer of his desk. He also went to Sunday School and he knew ‘Gentle Jesus’ and similar maudlin tripe off by heart.
He thought that crumpet was those soggy bun things you could toast in front of the nursery gas fire on cold afternoons when Jack Frost had been about. And he could play Snakes and Ladders,.. and Snap. Sometimes he talked to animals or,.. and I kid you not, to flowers and trees,.. a bit like that Prince of England that they wishfully call Prince of Wales does.
Next door he had a little friend named Mary. He’d roughly figured out that she was a bit different from him,.. probably something to with her pink socks,.. and things. It remained something of a puzzle though that she didn’t have any of those girly sort of wobbly bits on her chest, - like Nanny had.
Saturday night was always bath night followed by Ovaltine while Mummy and Daddy listened to ‘In Town Tonight’ on the wireless. He slept with his teddy-bear,.. named Pooh,.. so called because he was a bear and he smelled accordingly. Bears tend to be like that.
Fundamentally speaking CR was a dead loss. He was more like a girl really and totally uncool. Today he’d never get as far as the corner shop before someone would throw sand in his face, half-heartedly mug him and nick his Saturday sixpence and his mobile phone.
Of course this nauseating nostalgia does not work today. Now we are all able to stand a little headlong irreverence and rude words, insults and dirty jokes.
Well,.. aren’t we?
I suppose that for most medical students, much like for any other young people, the first sight of a dead body comes as a bit of a jolt. In every way I can think of there is such a great chasm of difference between a living and a dead human. Even the old, tired, gently departing person might, right to the end, exhibit some features of life. Be the eyes closed and the respirations brief and shallow the feeling that life is still present is unmistakable.
The change that takes place in the moments after death are equally so. Death itself is an extremely brief, - even momentary event. The moment before it happens the person is alive. The moment after the person is dead. The transition, and I have witnessed it many times in very different circumstances, takes place in an instant. From my experience of it I would suggest that whatever might have preceded it, it is not the death that is feared so much as the fact of afterwards being dead, - and forever.
My grandmother, who died ridiculously young, I had seen the very day they put the lid on her coffin. It was a brief and emotionally overflowing moment. She was, apart from my own mother, the only woman I really knew and at that time I loved her more than any other woman alive.
After that the next corpse I saw was the first day when, as an extremely junior pathology student in my second year in medical school, I first walked into the mortuary-cum-post mortem room in the Cardiff Royal Infirmary. It was a shock to the senses in a number of ways. About ten mobile slabs or gurneys were spaced around the room. These were on lockable wheels so that they could be wheeled up to the observation glass screens that partly separated the room from the students benches. At any time most of the gurneys had a body on top of them, some already being autopsied while the others waited in turn, - and very patiently.
It is a recognised and very sound principle of medicine that a great deal of one’s eventual knowledge derives from the time spent in the post mortem room. Consequently, at any time there were sure to be a number of students engrossed in the proceedings and examining the organs that were brought to the screens to be demonstrated.
Post mortem [PM], - Latin for ‘after death’ was the more common name for the procedure in the old days. Autopsy has largely replaced that as it avoids any mention of the word ‘death.’ There is no other difference. By far the majority of PMs are just matters of routine. Some may be needed for insurance purposes or where, as in cases of coal miners suffering from silicosis, there is a question of state compensation to be assessed, quantified and paid to the family. The coroner may require a PM if he or the police doctor have even the least grounds. This may happen when someone dies in somewhat unusual circumstances, - or if the deceased had not been seen by a doctor for a long period before death occurred. Many PMs are done as part of continuing research into various medical concerns. Other than by coroner’s order a PM can only be conducted with the consent of relatives. No body parts, - with the exception of very small laboratory samples for further examination, may be retained without similar permission. Apart from such samples all organs and parts of organs must be returned to the body when the procedure has been completed.
If there are suspicious circumstances, - anything from unexpected death to cases of public notoriety, the PM is often conducted by a widely experienced pathologist. He will pay attention to factors not of the run-of-the-mill kind. He and his forensic assistants will vacuum the hair for clues from dust, chemicals and the content of the hairs themselves both of recent growth or those that grew months earlier. Ears and other body orifices will be meticulously examined. There will be a search in the webbing between toes, behind the back teeth and in the walls of the rectum just inside the orifice. These are all sites chosen for the injection of poisons. Intestinal contents, lung linings and sexual organs will all be under scrutiny and tissue samples will be taken from several areas for subsequent histological [microscopic] examination. Pre-existing or recent pathology, the presence of injuries, the skin discolouration will all be searched for and recorded in minute detail. It is a skilled business in the hands of a qualified expert.
That said, most PMs are not like that at all. They are just simple routine examinations needed for some reason, - legal, statistical or, sometimes, mere curiosity. Commonly the pathologist will dictate his findings as he goes along as his hands are usually not in a suitable condition for note-taking.
‘The body is that of a well-preserved, average weight, white male. Post mortem lividity [a discolouration of the skin caused by gravitational effects on the blood after death], is present in the dependant [lower] parts. There is no external sign of injury or abnormality.’ That might well be the start of a routine report. The body is turned this way and that to check, confirm and report the way in which it was received for autopsy. From this point on the procedure is not for the squeamish.
The first incision is just skin deep and runs in a near straight line from immediately below the larynx [Adam’s Apple] down to the pubic symphysis, - the ridge of bone that marks the lower border of the abdomen. Unless there is good reason the spot below the larynx is the start point as, if it extends above that point, it becomes harder to conceal the incision later on when the undertaker prepares the body for viewing by the family. The long cut also deviates a little around the umbilicus [navel] as that way it is easier to open the abdominal cavity. A two-inch snip in the mid-line and immediately below the breastbone [sternum] now opens the cavity itself. The pathologist will usually insert two fingers of his left hand into the hole, part them, then run his blade downwards between the fingers. This protects his fingers which slide down behind the knife while the fingers also push the abdominal contents out of the cutting path to prevent lacerating the bulging and often gas-filled intestines and thus preventing premature release of the rather offensive odours that will come later.
The slack margins of the abdominal incision are now, in turn, folded back away from the midline thus deflecting the body wall skin and muscles outwards and pulling them away from the margin of the rib cage. The knife is then used to separate both skin and muscle of the chest wall from the bony parts of the rib cage itself. The process is exactly the same as when you see a butcher slice the same tissues away when he is exposing the area to make spare ribs. This is done on both sides.
It is usually the job of the assistant, if there is one, now to open the chest, - thorax. Using a simple carpentry saw [tenon saw], - though nowadays a low speed electric circular saw can be found in the better places, - a saw cut is made down through the ribs from and including the collar bone [clavicle] to the bottom, - then repeated on the opposite side. The breastbone and attached rib stumps can now be lifted off exposing the heart and lungs inside. It often comes as a surprise to inexperienced spectators that there seems to be remarkably little blood about. Dead bodies don’t bleed much, - they just ooze a bit.
Next, the internal organs must be removed. A knife with a fairly long blade is slipped up alongside the larynx then passed around, fore and aft, to sever the muscles around the throat. The tongue can now be grasped and drawn down into the open chest wound, - rather in the fashion of the so-called Mafia Necktie. With little or no strokes of the knife the entire mass of tongue., trachea, heart and lungs now pulls easily away from the posterior wall of the thorax. By cutting through the diaphragm sheet of muscle the liver, spleen, stomach and intestines can be drawn out and put aside for further examination thus leaving the chest and abdominal cavities more or less empty.
If deemed necessary the skull must now be opened for examination of the brain and major blood vessels that supply it. A single incision is made up and over the top [vertex] of the head from just behind one ear and then back down to just behind the other. The reason for this route is, again, largely cosmetic as the re-stitched wound is not too difficult for the undertaker to conceal. The assistant next grasps the forward flap of scalp and tugs it forward until it lies, rather grotesquely over the forehead and eyes. The action is similar to the familiar N.American Indian method of scalping except that the scalp is merely displaced rather than completely removed as a trophy. The rear part of the scalp also comes away quite easily and is pulled back to form a second flap over the back [occiput] of the head. The bone dome of the cranium is now widely exposed.
Before the arrival of the electrical circular saw the next step required the use of a ‘coronet.’ [It is still quite widely used is less well-equipped facilities]. It consists of a foldable circlet of metal which fits loosely around the skull from about the level of the forehead bones to the bulging of the back of the cranium. Adjustable thumbscrews anchor it into position. Using this rigid frame as a guide a saw is now used to saw all the way around the skull. The skullcap lifts off quite easily and the pathologist will now examine the exposed brain before separating its nerves and the spinal cord and completely removing the organ for closer examination.
Each pathologist will have his own routine but most will complete work on the near empty body carcass next as this gives the assistant chance to get on with re-stitching and making good the scalp incision.
The main arteries passing along the posterior abdominal wall will be checked for evidence of damage by ‘hardening’ [atheroma] and maybe for specimens to be collected. Likewise he will take out the kidneys and carve them into thin slices. The urinary bladder too remains in its natural position and will be opened and observed. There will also be need to check the internal and external sexual organs in some instances with close and detailed attention.
The assistant can now get on with his job. He will pack the empty skull with something, crumpled newspaper or old cotton waste, to stop the skull cap wobbling as he stitches the scalp folds back over it for appearance sake. Meanwhile, the pathologist will carefully slice the brain and the heart looking for the blood clot blockages or hardened arteries or, in the brain, for signs of haemorrhage from a stroke, - these being very common causes of death.
Other internal organs, liver, spleen, intestines and pancreas will all be closely checked and perhaps further specimens reserved for the laboratory. Then it’s time to pack the shredded but unwanted organ remains back into the cadaver so that the long incision can be re-stitched using cord, a heavy curved cutting needle and a simple over-and-over stitch. After that a thorough hose and sponge down will restore the body’s external appearance ready for handing over to the undertaker’s disposal team.
Post mortem examinations are seldom an exciting branch of medicine. Some doctors, indeed, never become accustomed to the task partly because it can be a pretty smelly business but also, very often, because of the psychological stresses it can produce. Personally I never found the task particularly unpleasant and I’ve done many hundreds in my lifetime. Mind you, I had a very good start as a senior pathologist in my hospital group, Dr.David Stern and his ribald assistant technician, Phil Wheeler, taught me the tricks of the trade long before we got around to that stage in medical school. I owe them both great debts for techniques taught and wisdom passed on so freely and so effectively,.. and for the numerous small fees thus collected for my services..
The worst case I ever had was once when, in a small village in Wales, a local man had disappeared for several days. He was found late one Saturday evening after spending almost a week on an exposed hillside decomposing in the hot summer sunshine. The local police decided that they need swift answers to some questions as to whether there might be grounds for suspicion of foul play. I was the only available doctor without a good excuse to decline the job, - that weekend I was the only duty doctor on call at the local hospital. Rotten luck. And believe me it was a rotten job carried out on a more or less rotten corpse. The smell was dreadful and despite vigorous swimming and showering it lingered for days. I do not propose to relate the details. Suffice it to say that I found no suspicious circumstances and the coroner agreed it was ‘death from natural causes.’
At least I got my name in the paper,.. and a very welcome fee.
Back in my day, when you had completed your first two house jobs you were, in theory, entitled to start to practice medicine. You were free to prescribe dangerous drugs, you could deliver babies, treat venereal diseases and you could commit surgery. There are rules about all this freedom nowadays. Back in the fifties when I finished my house jobs there were far fewer rules,.. more or less none, to be precise. Doctors were still respected and trusted people. Thus it was that I was approached by a single-handed GP in my home town in South Wales. He wanted to take a couple of week’s holiday. Spare doctors that could take over from other doctors just like that were few and far between. It so happened that a friend of my father was an eminent surgeon in the area. He knew that I had just come home from completing my ‘house-year’ in hospital and was awaiting call up to do my National Service of two years in HM Armed Forces. Word of my circumstances reached the ears of the busy doctor. He called me and asked if I could come to see him ‘about a professional matter.’
When I got to his surgery it was to find a very simple set-up. He had a rather shabby waiting room, a small consulting room and an even smaller box-room-cum-cupboard where he kept his various pills and potions. It was common at that time for doctors to stock their own frequently used pharmaceuticals,.. antibiotics, cough mixtures, morphine and all sorts of other goodies which they could then dole out to the sick, lame and lazy as they saw fit. He explained to me that it was a very small, quiet practice. He seldom saw more than half a dozen patients a day and he did his few home visits in a little Morris 1000 car. If I accepted the job as his locum for two weeks the car would be mine to use as I wished in my spare time,.. which was most of the time. Surgery was one hour each morning and evening. All this sounded child’s play to me after the hectic hurly-burly of a frantically busy hospital unit. I was tempted. Then he mentioned what fee he was expecting to pay for my services. I gulped. For my first six months in a house job the pay rate was £425 per year,.. and the second six months at the rate of £475p.a. This was for an approximately 90-odd hours per week. When he mentioned a cash payment,.. in advance,.. of £200 for two weeks as his locum I was instantly sold. I’d never had that much money in my hand in my lifetime. When was I to start? Tomorrow. He was over the moon when I accepted the job. He showed me all around his establishment,.. both rooms and the cupboard,.. handed over a wad of cash, gave me both the car and the front door keys and we shook hands. Deal done. He left that very evening. He never even checked who I was, whether I really had a medical qualification or whether I had any experience of anything. The next morning I turned up at 09:00 to start my duties.
There was no-one there. I sat there for an hour listening for a knock on the door or for the phone to ring. Neither of these actually happened. On a sort of surgical bench was a gas ring in case anyone needed to sterilise instruments, I supposed. There was a tin of instant coffee and a small jar of sugar. I brewed myself a coffee and sat back down at the desk to do my best to enjoy it. Sod’s Law being what it is that was the very moment when there came a knock on the door. The door opened and a head poked around it. It was a uniformed policeman, - helmet and all. His eyes widened. ’Doctor not yer then?’ he asked. His South Wales accent was unmistakeable.
‘Gone away for a couple of weeks,’ I told him. ‘I’m his locum. Any problem?’
‘No, no problem, Doctor. I just thought it was funny for him to put his car where it is. Everything’s alright. Just thought I’d look in and check.’
I still look back and recall that that was how local cops were those days. They knew everyone and everything. They missed little and cared a great deal. Those were the days.
Later that day I did evening surgery. Only four people turned up. It really was money for old rope. I’d never dreamed of getting paid so much for having such a quiet time. But I was about to learn two little medical treasures of experience.
Mrs Hilda Jones was a really sweet little old lady,.. well over eighty according to her medical card. I swear that as she came in I could hear her bones creaking. There was no receptionist. No surprise there,.. they were rare enough anywhere let alone in a tiny single-handed inner city practice like this one. [Come to think of it, our city was so small it probably didn’t actually have an inner]. Patients just let themselves in and sat in the waiting room until the doctor called them in. Mrs. Jones was very surprised to see me instead of her loved and trusted usual doctor. I think she warmed to me though as after a few minutes conversation she told me that although I was so young it seemed to her that I was bright enough that I’d get the hang of things quite soon. She meant it as a compliment.
She told me all about how she lived alone and managed very well except for the aches and pains. ‘Doctor knows all about me,’ she said. ‘He’s very understanding.’
There were no entries in her notes for over a year. ‘What’s the problem then, Mrs.Jones?’
‘Oh no real trouble,’ she said. I’ve just come for some of my usual tablets.’
I had no idea at all what sort of tablets these were,.. and the notes gave me no clues. ‘That’s for the arthritis, I expect?’ I said,.. feeling for data.
‘That’s right. When it’s not too bad,.. like it is now, he gives me the white shiny ones.’ She must have thought I looked puzzled, which was right. ‘I think you’ll find them in the dispensiary,’ she nodded across to the little door into the storeroom. ‘I know they’re in a bottle with my name on it. He told me so.’
‘So how many would you like, Mrs.Jones?’
‘Doctor always gives me sixty. That’s one night and morning for a month.’ I nodded. ‘Mind you,’ she added, ‘If things get a bit bad he gives me the yellow tablets instead,.. but only about half the number as he says he doesn’t want me to get too used to them.’
‘That sounds very sensible to me,’ I agreed.
Then she added ‘Once or twice when it’s been really terrible he gives me the pink tablets. But they’re very strong he says so he only gives me enough for a week. Very careful he is, you see. But I’m sure he knows best.’
‘Very well,’ I said. ‘As soon as surgery is over I’ll put up the usual supply for you. I’ll leave them on the table for you to collect sometime tomorrow.’
That’s how it was done at that time. Everyone operated on a level of trust,.. so different from the way things are now.
Later on I went into the storeroom to search for the tablets. Perhaps there would be a clue as to what were the tablets required. There was nothing like the shelves and shelves of different tablets and capsules to be seen in today’s pharmacy, no more than a couple of dozen items altogether. I looked around. There was really very little there. There were several huge carboys,.. roughly two gallon containers of medicines. I read the labels.
Mist.Pot.Cit – For urinary infections
Mist.Tuss.Nig - The famous ‘Black-Jack’ expectorant cough mixture.
Linct.Squill.Opiat - So called Gee’s Linctus, - a soothing cough mixture.
Mist.Kaolin Sed. – To control diarrhoea.
Mist.Mag.Trisil. – For heartburn.
Mist.Strych et Fer. Strychnine and iron. Surely the world’s most offensive tasting ‘tonic.’
There were also three large glass screw-top bottles each about half full of tablets. In one the tablets were white. In the second they were yellow. In the third they were pink. It was all just as Mrs.Jones had said. Doubtless these were the good doctor’s armamentarium of pills. White ones as a routine,.. yellow ones when a stronger dose was indicated,.. and pink ones for the more serious problems. I read the labels.
Tabs.Acid Acetylsalicyl. Aspr. 300mg
Tabs.Acid Acetylsalicyl. Flav. 300mg
Tabs.Acid Acetylsalicyl. Rub. 300mg.
They were all the same. They were all ordinary aspirins. The only difference lay in the Latin suffixes,.. aspr. is the abbreviation for white, flav. is the abbreviation for yellow, and rub. is the word for red.
If that was not a lesson in thrift,.. how to keep the stock to a minimum, keep the patients happy, and apply medical psychology all in one go,.. then I never saw one.
I learned another useful lesson a few nights later. A very charming and engaging lady came in. As, once again, her notes told me more or less nothing I guessed that she was about fifty years old. She was attractive, shapely, well-dressed and well spoken. She obviously warmed to me and proved a most amicable conversationalist. Being fiftyish she probably didn’t remember the feelings and opinions that tend to go along with youth, namely, that to a lad of twenty five that fiftyish classification actually qualified her pretty much as an old woman, - a category into which all women from about forty upwards were collectively grouped.
She complained of a recurrent bronchitis and asked me to listen to her chest. I crossed to the table to pick up my stethoscope and as I turned back to her I saw that, in a trice, she had dropped the front of her dress to reveal a small bra and nothing else. She did the old chin in and chest out posture the whole movement making things just a shade obvious. I listened to her chest. Nothing. As much to get away as anything I moved around to listen to her back. When I had finished she turned to face me again and said ‘The doctor always says this is the spot he’s a bit suspicious of.’ She pointed more or less over her right nipple. I dutifully listened over the spot. Still nothing.
I explained that at the moment anyway I found no troublesome signs. I suggested that if she had any more bother with it she pop in again for me to have another listen. As soon as I said that I had the feeling I had made a mistake. I had.
The following Friday was my last evening surgery in the practice. I was due to finish my locum duties on Saturday, the next day. By that time people were starting to get to know me and I was getting a fair sprinkling of folk attending during the consulting hours. Friday evening was quite busy. I saw over a dozen patients and quite enjoyed my evening. The only snag was that from about half way through the consulting period each time I opened the door to usher a patient out and invite the next one in I noticed that the ‘bronchitis’ lady was in the waiting room again. When her turn came and I gestured for her to come in she indicated that she would pass on her turn and wait to see me at the end of the session,.. ‘When you have more time.’
Finally the last case left and again I invited the lady into the consulting room. She sat cross-legged in the patient’s chair and, before I could ask what was the problem or even say a polite good evening, she spoke. I was dumbfounded at her words.
‘Doctor,’ she smiled. ‘I have something to tell you.’ I wondered what was coming.
‘You see,’ she went on. ’I’ve fallen completely in love with you,.. and I’m wondering what you think we should do about it.’
Words like that are pretty likely to shake any unsuspecting young man. From an ‘old lady’ it was even more shocking. Worse still I realised that there I was, a presumably virile young chap, all alone in a private room with a very attractive lady. No chaperone. No nurse. Not a soul in the place but we two. To say the least it was a somewhat precarious position for a young doctor to be in. Frankly I didn’t know what to do or say. Rescue came from two unexpected sources.
My mind flashed back to a lecture we had once had in our Medical Ethics course. After describing a somewhat similar possibility the lecturer had given the class a priceless piece of advice. I had no option but to try it.
‘I’m most flattered,’ I began, and watched her preen a little. ‘I think that as soon as I’ve cleared up here and locked up, we should go to your place,..’ Her eyes widened. ‘And discuss the entire matter with your husband.’ I hoped that that would do it. But I was about to get a second burst of help.
There was a tap on the door and the local bobby, whom, by then, I knew quite well, poked his head around. ‘I know you’re off tomorrow, Doctor. So I just popped around to say cheerio while I’m on my rounds.’
I can’t tell you how relieved I was. With that however, he noticed the lady. ‘Oh,.. it’s you, Martha,’ he said. ‘What are you doing out at this time in the evening? Come along,.. I walk you home. I expect Walter is really worried about you.’ He winked at me over her head, took her by the elbow and started to steer her through the door. ‘I’ll take care of her, Doctor,’ he said. ‘She gets a bit silly now and then,.. don’t you Martha. Say goodnight to Doctor.’ She mumbled a sort of crestfallen farewell word or two and allowed herself to be led away. Without more ado the Bobby shepherded her out and off the premises.
Looking back I think the policeman probably grasped rather more about the situation and my predicament than I thought of at the time.
Since that day I’ve always thought policemen are wonderful. Well,.. almost always anyway.
Enjoy the proclaimed compliment,.. but treasure the soft word spoken close to your ear.
Dear Little Home in the West
Once upon a time I had a home in California. [I was also once arrested there and spent the night in jail]. My place was small and not much really but it was in one of the Malibu canyons, - my next door neighbour was Barbara Streisand and her huge ranchero spread. We used to wave to each other most mornings. It was handy spot when I landed the occasional job of script-writing in Hollywood. Quite frankly I found California a nightmare,.. apart from the money, of course, that is. It was nothing unusual for a man to be shot dead in the car park and have nothing stolen from him but his rather snappy new pair of trainers.
As one does I eventually came away with memories of a few things about the place,..
For example, to the locals California is known as The Golden Rule State,.. because it’s where those who have the gold make the rules.
It used to annoy them so when I reminded them that if it had not been for the English they’d all have been speaking Spanish. Furthermore, the only people there who aren’t foreigners are the Native American Indians,.. which really goes for the entirety of the rest of America, too.
We were knee-deep in wealthy TV evangelists and red neck religious citizens spilled over from the Bible Belt and mid-western states where they believe that the only Christian thing to do, world-wide, is obliterate all blacks, Jews, Mexican immigrants and commies,.. then, if there’s any time left, Rome and its occupants, too.
One of my co-workers and his wife, between them, had eleven body piercings and twelve tattoos, - none of which were visible during daylight hours.
I often went downtown by bus,.. ‘Ride the Big Blue Bus’ was its logo and once aboard one would be quite shocked to hear any two other passengers conversing in English.
Next door to me lived a sweet little girl of about seven. I treated her several times. I often wondered how she got on in later life as her parents were two married [to each other] mothers and a sperm donor. Most afternoons she got dropped off by her 3rd-grade teacher who had purple hair, a nose ring, and was named Tree. I never was really sure about the gender.
I soon learned that, in the studio, most staff were making over $500,000 a year yet still couldn’t afford a house. Neither could they precisely remember whether pot was still actually illegal. Yet they all had a very strong opinions about where their coffee beans had to come from and they could easily taste the difference between Sumatran and Jamaican Blue Mountain. And they always knew which restaurant served the freshest arugula [rocket] in town.
If you go into one of those restaurants you find that all groups of black guys chatting there call each other ‘Mother.’ But the guy in there at 8:30am wearing the baseball cap and sunglasses who looks like George Clooney really IS George Clooney.
It’s a crazy place. A really great parking space just when and where you need it can totally move you to tears. A low speed police pursuit will interrupt any TV broadcast. Gas costs $1.00 per gallon more than anywhere else in the US. Your car insurance costs as much as your house payment. If it’s sprinkling rain there's a Storm Watch report on every TV news channel. A guy walks past you in the park in full leather regalia with crotchless chaps, - and you don't even notice.
Your barber is straight, your plumber is gay. The be-ringed, be-studded and be-chained woman who delivers your mail is well into S &M, and your Avon rep is a guy in drag. Both you and your dog have therapists.
Everything seems dedicated to life, liberty and the happiness of pursuit. People think Camp David is a ladies’ hairdresser and the Yankee Clipper was a New York rabbi. Furthermore, The Terminator really was my governor.
California is the other side of the continent from the original settlements in America. Believe me those blokes on the Mayflower knew what they were doing.
An old colleague of mine,.. who wisely lives in New England, claims that about five hundred years or so ago the Good Lord caught hold of the North American continent by its eastern seaboard and gave the whole place a damn good shaking up as he figured it was time and could do nothing but good. As he shook, all the crap from the whole sub-continent rolled down into California,.. and is still there.
I find the argument hard to refute. For today only I spell California with a capital letter; mostly I think it doesn’t deserve one.
As we did most years at that period when the kids were in their early teens we were spending August at a fabulous beach camp site just north of the fishing village of Platamon on Greece’s Thermaic Gulf coast and just across the bay from the Chalkidiki. After a week or so of sunning, skiing and swimming we felt rested enough to do something a bit different. We decided to take a trip to some of the nearest offshore islands, Skiathos and Skopelos in the Sporades group. Our then current ski boat was an 18 footer from Stuart Stevens in Cannock. She was both roomy and steady especially at speed. Her name was Pix-sea – Dick-sea which, at the time, we thought was pretty cool. She was a cathedral, double hull and was powered by a three-step jet propulsion unit from a 2.5 litre inboard engine. After lunch one afternoon we loaded her up with all the gas we could carry, our sleeping bags stowed in the waterproof bunker, and a few basic supplies.
From Platamon to Skiathos is a little over one hundred kilometres and at cruising speed, - which is the most economical of fuel, - we reckoned on about a four hour trip all of it within sight of land. We aimed to find a suitable beach, eat our canned supper, then sit around the campfire and sing songs with the guitar until it was sleeping bag time. At about four in the afternoon we waved goodbye to our friends and set off out into the Aegean.
In those days sea charts covering the east coast of the Volos Pelion peninsula were of little value. We decided to keep about half a mile offshore as, nearer to the shore, unmarked rocks were common and seldom marked even on what charts there were. Anyway we didn’t have a chart. We navigated using the AA road map of the area. It was a great ride. Apart from an occasional fishing boat we saw no other vessels for the whole trip. That stretch of the coast was very remote even by Greek standards, - just a few tiny villages occupied only in summer when the fishing was sufficiently profitable.
Sunset comes early and is very brief compared with northwest Europe so as soon as the sun started to touch the water we started to examine the passing coastline. In no time at all we saw lights coming from a few shacks at one end of a long beach. We decided to have a closer look and, dropping speed to about five knots and with the kids in the bow keeping watch for rocks, we headed in. We had reached the little village of Ayios Ioannis and it was a great stroke of luck. Little did we suspect at the time that it was to be the centre of a family adventure we’d all remember.
Using a pair of inflatable rollers we pulled the boat a few yards up onto the sand. The tidal range in that part of the Med is, at most, a few centimetres so we had no worries. Anyway we’d be sleeping the night right alongside the boat and, in those days, I never went anywhere unarmed. We felt safe,.. as indeed we were,.. for a while.
From where we were beached we had lost sight of the lights we’d seen but we knew they must be just beyond the dunes at the far south end of the beach. We needed to see if there was any firewood to be had. It was thoroughly dark by the time we got there by the light of our torch. And we still remember the looks of astonishment on faces as we four emerged from the darkness into the tiny clearing where a couple of bare electric bulbs illuminated half a dozen men and three or four women sitting around chatting. They were open-mouthed at these four souls appearing from nowhere out of the shadows.
It didn’t matter. Within thirty seconds that famous Greek hospitality took over. Who were we? From where? What nationality? Did we need to wash? Had we eaten? Would we like a little wine? All this was conducted without real communication. No-one spoke a word of English and we, typical Brits, had no Greek. Suddenly inspiration dawned and a little lad was sent to find Costas who turned out to be the lad’s grandfather. Minutes later he returned hand in hand with Costas. This gentleman looked about seventy years old, - it turned out he was eighty three, - and he was a lone fisherman. But he had been wounded long before in the 1942 German invasion of Greece during Hitler’s war. He had lost a leg but had gained a smattering of German. I also had enough German remembered from grammar school. Fluency there was not, but basic communication became a possibility.
We spent a wonderful evening with these lovely people. There was fish and a few vegetables and we ate both with Greek salad and lots of very rough local red wine,.. dopio crassi kokkino. We had to take them all down to the beach to see the boat and the neatly laid-out sleeping bags. They were clearly very impressed that anyone could own such a vessel merely for pleasure purposes instead of using it to make a living. After that it was back to the huts for more laughing and singing. We taught them to sing Sospan Fach and Guide me oh Thou Great Jehovah and they were amazed at the way we Taffies sang automatically in harmony. It was one of the happiest times of our family life, - and we’ve had a tremendous lot of those.
Next morning I was awake as soon as the sun was up and checked over the boat and contents. Everything was OK. There was a tiny toilet near the village, - just a few cemented breeze blocks making a rough screen. No plumbing of course but a freshwater spring proved adequate. We each visited this splendid ablution centre as we individually surfaced. Then came a most magnificent sight. The three ladies we’d sung with the previous evening came traipsing along the beach towards us their aprons held out in front of them and filled with fresh figs, - the dew still on them, - which they had collected from nearby wild fig trees. We all sat on the beach and devoured them. The whole venture was proving an altogether most memorable and enjoyable trip,.. so far.
By mid-morning we were off again. This time it was with help from our new friends. Half a dozen of them lifted and slid the boat into the shallows. I jumped in, fired the engine and we were away and waving goodbye. It was another perfect day and we made our way south on a calm sea. In no time we spotted the islands and, turning eastward, we ran past Skiathos and then Skopelos. Rounding the extremity of Skopelos we more or less circumnavigated it before we were abreast of Skiathos again, - this time on its south-facing side. The actual town of Skiathos lies on a wide bay and as we approached the town we could see pleasure boats, yachts and cruisers lined up stern-on to the long quay. It was clearly a very popular tourist spot and very different from our ideas and preferences in Greece. We moored up and paid up our ten drachmas,.. about a shilling, for the privilege.
Lunch was a mediocre tourist nosh-up in one of the endless clone restaurants. Judging by the number of flabby old gents in expensive yachting caps, - all worn at a rakish angle and bevvies of almost naked bikini nymphs this was clearly a place where the girls come looking for husbands,.. and the husbands come looking for girls. We bought ice-creams and silly hats for the kids but we were all glad when it was time to get back aboard. It was not at all our kind of place. The harbour had every possible facility and, for once, it was rather nice to pull up direct to a fuel point and tank-up without then having to hump the cans in the heat. By tea-time we were skimming past the Skiathos coast and heading back towards the mainland. We had but one thought. Could we find the way to return to Ayios Ioannis and spend another happy night there?
We found it easily. The same lights were already winking as we approached. This time I had loads of help with beaching and unloading. We’d been spotted while still a mile or so out and the fisherfolk were already in party mode.
So began another happy evening and, as a bonus, the sons of one family had arrived for a day or two and both spoke quite good English. We had brought along some extra rations from Skiathos so we all ate rather better this time. Again we talked and ate and sang and this time there was even some dancing. I remember asking what was the news from the outside world. They simply didn’t know. They had a battered old radio but most of the time either it didn’t work or there was no broadcast signal reaching that remote corner. They often went days without hearing anything.
For us the problems started at about ten in the evening when we spotted obvious consternation as people talked and looked dubious and with much to-ing and fro-ing eventually approached us. The message was clear,.. ‘Listen.’ The music and the chatter ceased as everyone turned seaward and cupped ears to listen. Far out at sea we could all hear the rushing sounds of a rising wind. Costas said it all. ‘Kommt viele luft. Wir haben ein stunde.’ [There’s a big wind coming; we have one hour].
Immediately there was activity. Tables and chairs were taken inside. Windows and shutters were closed and fishing nets were stowed away. Some of the men beckoned me and together we went down to the boat and manhandled it a hundred yards further up the beach. By the time we had finished the first warm gusts were reaching us.
There were no spare houses amongst their shacks but with candles guttering they showed us to a half tumbledown remnant. It had no doors and about a third of what had been its roof simply was not there. They explained that we could spread our sleeping bags under the bit that had survived and, as no rain was expected, we would be OK and at least be protected from the wind.
There was one final gesture that was hardly comforting. Costas’ grandson, - we now knew his name was Pavlos - was settled on the beach on a pile of old oilcloths and discarded rope. Why? So that in the unlikely event of a serious storm developing the wind would heap up waves and send them scurrying landwards across the sand. If things got so bad that the seas reached Pavlos he would be wakened and would then rouse the village with the news that serious danger threatened. The very idea that on that tranquil bay waves could reach danger level seemed so daft that we all settled into our primitive bedroom and were soon asleep. My last recollection was hearing a light wind in the distance as I watched the panorama of stars through the broken roof.
Vaguely, I later remember thinking, I might have heard some rain lightly pattering around. I also saw several flashes of lightning. But in general and considering the odd circumstances I slept pretty well. At about three o’clock all that ended and my peace was disturbed by a great clamour and shouting. The waves had come up. They had come up far enough to wake Pavlos and he had done his job of rousing the fisherfolk. By the time we got to the beach sizeable waves were rushing up and across it and the boat was already almost afloat. We were in a lot of trouble.
Now, a boat on the water is in its element. It can be reasonably expected to cope with whatever conditions it was designed and built for. A boat on dry land or on a wave-lashed beach is a very different thing indeed. To start with it’s only when it’s beached that you realise how heavy it is. Also our boat, by this time, had about twenty gallons of seawater in the bilges. This can add to stability in some circumstances but should not be left there when beached. I had overlooked to empty the bilges the previous evening while she was high and dry. Black mark! Despite all and with everyone helping we dragged her some fifty yards up to the top of the beach where there were some rocks adjacent to the first line of trees. We then did the same with the two fishing boats that were in daily use and put them to lie alongside her. We made everything fast with ropes and then roped all three boats to the nearest of the trees. We had done what we could. It was almost enough.
The storm blew like crazy all through the night and the whole of the next day. But by sunset it had abated a little and we could go down to check the boats. The sea had come right up to the rocks and partly over them. Though it had, by then, dropped enough to give us access across a strip of sand it was nowhere near finished with its antics. We examined the boats. Both the fishing boats had solid, heavy, clinker-built hulls and were hardly affected though there was no question yet of moving them let alone launching. The fibreglass hull of our boat had fared much less well. The apex of one of its twin hulls lay across a large stone and the rocking and rise and fall caused by the waves must have repeatedly thumped it up and down on its unrelenting surface. The seam of the hull was cracked open wide enough to push a finger through. In that condition Pixsea-Dicksea wasn’t going anywhere far by water.
Although much less severe the storm blew throughout the next two days until, by evening of the third day, it was almost blown out and the beach was clear sand again. Meanwhile two of the men had driven into a small town some ten miles inland to get provisions and to shop for whatever fibreglass repair components they could find. They didn’t have much luck but with these limited bits and pieces we used the last of the daylight to do what we could. I filled the crack with a tube of mastic called Stokos,.. I still have the cap. It sealed the hole but was as soft as putty. I couldn’t read the instructions. Over the entire area I painted liquid impact adhesive both inside the hull and out. Then I glued on layer upon layer of plastic sheeting cut from polythene bags and, finally, topped everything with a layer of tarpaulin. By the time we went to bed she was as ready as she was ever going to be,.. which is to say, not very.
To complicate our problems even further we had totally run out of money. The last of the currency we’d brought we had spent in Skiathos town buying goodies with which to thank the kind villagers with a feast to remember. Knowing we’d be back in the campsite by next day we’d eaten rather well in the hours before the storm hit. Now we were paupers and relied on our new friends for everything. There was fish, - now three days from fresh. There was no refrigeration in the shacks. There was bread and there were a few cans of dreadful beans. It was poor fare but at least there were plenty of fresh figs. We quickly learned however that one can safely eat only just so many wild figs.
I was on the beach by the time the first rays of sun were peeping over the east-facing sea. Being careful not to scrape the flimsy repair patch we rolled the boat into ankle deep water and loaded kit and kids aboard. Most of the villagers were still asleep as I primed the engine, put the drive into neutral and touched the starter. Would she fire, - or was everything so wet and waterlogged that it would need a day or two drying out?
She fired at once, coughed just a little and then I could feel the jet starting to churn out water astern. We were off and heading north along the coast and on a sea so calm you’d never have believed what it had been like just two days earlier.
I kept looking down at the botched repair job. On the inside it was holding but I couldn’t see what the outside in contact with the water was like. I dared not risk more than barely planing speed so at about fifteen knots we knew it was going to take around four hours to get home. And that was if the patch held and if there was no water that had leaked into the fuel tanks. Gradually gaining confidence and with plenty of room for hope we motored on through the moist superb conditions, - an early sun on the starboard side, a blue sky deepening overhead and a near mirror calm surface.
And then something completely wonderful happened.
It was just turning six o’clock when the kids first raised a shout. In front of us and on both sides were the unmistakeable leaps and dives of a pod of perhaps thirty dolphin. Some came so close they almost touched the boat. To me it was a remarkable thing that as the nearest of them surfaced I saw their eyes turn towards me and make deliberate eye contact. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
The appearance of these magnificent mariners as if from nowhere was an occasion not to be missed. I cut the engine to idle and we settled in the water with the dolphins flashing about us this way and that. I looked down and there was no sign of water coming in through the patch. That meant that there was only one thing for the Richards Waterbaby Family to do. We all stripped off and dived in to join the dolphin. I’d swear they were as pleased as we were. Without any sign of fear they were coming right up close especially to the kids who were reaching out their hands to touch them. Two small ones came close enough to nudge me on my shoulder. They just streaked and rolled and dived all around us as we laughed and called to each other thrilled by the sheer excitement of it all. Surely this was a peak experience. It made up for all the hassles and worries of the past few days. Truly this was what it was like ‘to play in the Paradise Lakes and cavort with turtles and with dolphin.’ Whoever wrote that knew what he was talking about.
The dolphin stayed with us for about ten minutes. Then, in a flash, they were gone. We heard no sound. Maybe some secret signal passed between them? But suddenly they all turned away and were dipping off towards the horizon. What a thrill. What a magic moment of sheer joy. And there was another thing. From time immemorial the peoples of the Greek islands have always regarded dolphins as good luck harbingers. They commonly carved them onto amulets, bangles and necklaces. They painted them on the walls of their houses and they carved them into harbour walls. Dolphins were believed to steer lost boats towards safety and to protect drowning sailors even keeping them afloat enough to breath. After that experience we felt sure we were going to be OK as, if they’d felt otherwise, they’d have stayed longer. We accepted what we took to be a good luck omen. We climbed back aboard, towelled off and, throwing caution to the winds I opened up the jet to near full thrust. The boat leapt forward and we skimmed the blue wavelets towards Platamon. Ten minutes later we could already see the outline of the old Venetian castle on the hilltop near the campsite.
As we came nearer to the beach we could see it was almost deserted. It was still early in the morning and very few were yet up and about. A chap we knew, one of the workers who daily raked the beach clear of unwanted pebbles and sweet wrappers saw us first. He was waving to us and virtually jumping up and down with excitement. He knew us well and we couldn’t think why we were causing such a reaction. We could hear him shouting while we were still some way off. Within moments other faces were appearing and people were all waving to us as they came out of their tents and caravans onto the beach. By the time we got to the water’s edge the whole strand was full of people and there were fifty willing pairs of hands to pull us up onto the dry. There were hugs from the women especially to the kids and there was much handshaking and backslapping for Pix and myself. But why such a fuss?
We soon found out. The radio and local press had reported the sad loss at sea of ‘popular British doctor and his family’ who had been heading into a serious storm when last spotted on the radar. When they heard and saw nothing more of us for so long it was assumed that we were ‘missing presumed lost.’ Apparently, instead of delighting everyone it had cast a sad gloom over the entire place that that crazy Doctor Deek, his boat and his family, had been drowned.
Happily, reports of our demise were dramatically premature. But what a homecoming party we had that evening.
The whole thing had taken place during the years of the military junta, - The Colonels, who took over Greece in 1967. There was thus immense prestige and excitement when the local commander, - an old friend of mine from other times and circumstances, arrived later in the morning in his big, shiny, black Mercedes complete with two armed motorbike outriders. All eyes were wide open and agog as we shook hands and he, half jokingly told me he would now call off the search. He pointed out to sea as, around the castle headland came a sleek grey gunboat which was already flashing its all clear signal lamp to us onshore. Where had they been when we needed them I wondered?
The very next day we towed the boat into Larissa for proper repairs. Then we loaded up the Landrover and drove, - overland this time, - back to Ayios Ioannis. We got there in late morning just as the early morning fishermen were pulling up their boats. It was our turn to play hosts. We borrowed tables and chairs and spread out the things we had brought. It was a treat to see those kindly folk tuck in to what we hoped was their best spread for a good while. They certainly did it great justice. Then, last thing before leaving,.. and remembering the difficulties they always had with their makeshift radio we presented Costas with a good medium and short wave set. It would even run off batteries.
We’ve often talked about it all since. And the things about that adventure that we remember most. For Sue it was using the ‘horrible’ broken-down toilet. For Bill it was catching crabs near the rocks on the beach. For Pix it was the ladies with the fresh figs in their aprons. For me it was the massive response of relief that greeted our safe homecoming.
And for all of us, most of all, it was the marvellous moments spent with those glistening, streaking dolphins frothing up their domain across their blue Aegean waters.
What a memory.
I once attended a lecture and discussion at The Royal Society of Medicine - of which I was Fellow – and given by a well-known and highly successful American paediatric surgeon. His lecture was interesting, learned and erudite,.. but, he was addicted to the habit,.. common now but rather rare at that time,.. of using hi-falutin jargon in place of standard phraseology.
His very finest example came when he spoke of a case involving two of his patients who were ‘co-synchronously conceived female siblings.’ What he was really trying to convey was that they were little girl twins.
In case you should ever need to use such a bizarre figure of speech you could do worse than select, entirely at random, one word from each of the three lists below and just string them together.
Of course no-one will understand though it can be amusing to watch some listeners try to ponder your meaning.
Personality conciousness meridians
Mind-body cosmological relationship
Theosophical hollistic panpsychism
Secular shamanic meditation
Spiritual esoteric enlightenment
Rhythmic creationist mysticism
Psychotronic reductionist detoxification
Synchronous transcendent prana
Collective transpersonal synergy/energy
Biodynamic homoeocranial syndrome,.. perhaps
Planetary paranormal alignment
Suprarational hypertensual force field
Suprarational intrinsic catharsis
Dawkinsian reductionist logic
Darwinian logarthimic calculus
Scientific legal theory
Lucid incarnative karma
Basal multifunctional invocation
Inequality of the sexes
Back in the Seventies and Eighties and all the way from Kampala to Calcutta, with many stops in between like Manilla, Cairo, Mexico City and most of Thailand, on many a backstreet slum corner there was to be found a little stand on the sidewalk where a young local lad sat behind a placard announcing some local variation or other of ‘Suck Cock and Swallow – 50 cents.’
Usually just behind him would be a battered old easy-chair and a flimsy sackcloth screen. His client could sit there, more or less in some degree of privacy while getting serviced. In the marginally higher class of such street emporia he might even be taken a few yards to a room in an adjacent doss-house to receive attention.
During the brief servicing period the proprietor would remove his shorts to allow the customer to watch or fondle his tumescent genitalia while the main event was taking place.
Sordid? Most certainly yes – by our current standards. But in places where day-to-day survival might depend on a few crusts of dry bread it was a way to stay alive. Everywhere small children were being sold or traded to monsters who were part of the slave-trade business,.. that was the only way some families could survive. Even today while we, quite justifiably, criticise and condemn the child pornography and sado-masochism trades and the unutterable horrors into which those little mites are marketed, we tend to overlook the immense drive of the constant hunger with which their parents and siblings daily live. Factors like that are seldom considered while we’re busy booking a week-end shopping flight to New York.
But what drew my attention when I spoke to these ‘service agent’ business-boys was that many also offered the services of their ‘little sister’ who, stripped naked,.. performed exactly the same procedures umpteen times a day. The procedures offered stopped only just short of actual or even attempted intercourse as that might have drawn the attention of the law.
The girls displayed by the proprietor in detailed close-up promotional photographs might be anything from mere toddlers to about twelve years of age. They were always provocatively dressed, painted and posed. Nothing unexpected there.
What seemed grossly unfair however was that these luckless infants were available not for the going rate of fifty cents but for only twenty five cents a trick. That tells little about the children or their market-bosses but much more about the customers,.. yet it somehow still seems a grossly unfair sexual inequality.
Just five miles from my childhood village of High Cross is one of the most noticeable landscape features of South Wales. Risca Mountain is not really a mountain, - being less than 600 feet in height it is classed as a hill - but it is smooth and rounded in shape and the curves of its breast-like outline dominate the surrounding area. Perhaps because of the prominent position, some time back in the iron age the sparse population felt it was the very place to build a defensive fortress. The summit is still surrounded by the remains of the deep trench and heaped up inner incline that, between them, rendered the place hard to attack successfully.
Many years later Roman legions built a beacon in one corner and, when the Normans came, they expanded this to form a round motte-and-bailey ‘castle’ typical of their invade-and-hold system of conquest. It is the remains of this mound that form the ‘tump’ or twmp which gives the hill its distinctive outline. The mound nowadays has been worn down by centuries of Welsh weather and the depredations of uncontrolled visitors but it remains spectacularly visible to people crossing the Bristol Channel and the Severn Estuary. To the locals it is known as Twm Barlwm,.. Barlwm’s Tump. No-one seems to know for sure who or what was Barlwm. The tump was a favourite spot of us lads. We could cycle up the valley to the village of Rhisga [Risca]. After that the road was too steep to cycle up the mountain itself. We usually had some stolen apples, maybe a jam sandwich or two and bottles of water to be consumed at the top. We pushed our bikes up happy with the thought that later we would free-wheel down at full pelt. That was the bit that made it all worthwhile.
In the early fifties I had a very lovely girlfriend, - a ’best girl’ really, and for a year or more. That made it a long-term relationship for me. I was very fond of her. Hazel, was her name and, like me, she was a keen cyclist,.. it was, after all, near enough the only transport system we could afford. On one particular day we decided to take a picnic up to Twm Barlwm and spend the afternoon there.
It was a beautiful day in late August but with distant gathering clouds that threatened the end of the usual Welsh summer of three hot days and a thunderstorm. We eventually got to the top and were not surprised to find it deserted. That suited us very well. We ate some of our picnic then settled down to one of those religious rituals during which the emphasis was on the worship of the Goddess Venus. Afterwards and again as is customary if not obligatory, we cuddled up together and slept for a while. Hunger had set in again by the time we woke so we ate the last of the provisions and thought about setting off for home.
Spotting the gradual approach of very dark clouds and the close feeling of the rising humidity we started gathering our things, checking tyres and packing saddle bags. We never made it in time. The jobs were only half done when a fresh breeze started up. It blew hard for about ten minutes then abruptly stopped. Everything went absolutely still. We were in the quiet centre of a sudden storm,.. and down came the rain. Sheets of it deluged us. We had been wearing very little when it happened so we just stood there laughing and enjoying a little horseplay as the rain splashed and soaked us right through to the wishbone. [I used some of the remembered feelings of those moments years later in my ‘Love Book’ series of erotic short stories. See ‘Rain’ at www.doc-leaves.com].
I remember picking up a near empty bottle and asking Hazel if she wanted a drink of water. ‘Not really,’ she said as the rain ran down her pretty face and into her mouth. The rain was pouring water everywhere. We fooled about enjoying it for a few minutes,.. we couldn’t get any wetter. Then, like the crack of doom there came one almighty crash of thunder with a simultaneous flash of lightning. We were at the very centre of things and I admit I was a little alarmed. Then a most surprising thing happened.
Trying to look unperturbed I again picked up the water bottle. It was glass, - an old pop bottle, there being no plastic bottles at that time. As I held it I could feel it shaking in my hand enough to make my hand shake with it. We both looked at it, eyes wide open, as it shuddered and wobbled in my hand. I grabbed it with my other hand as well just to steady it. It went on shaking. Then, and we both saw it - the mouth of the bottle had a shimmering blue light around it, - something like sparks but not flashing and disappearing as sparks normally do but just glowing and flickering, brighter at one moment then less so the next. It must have been doing that for several seconds as we watched. Then the label began to peel away from the glass. It was not hot, - I was still holding it in the perfectly ordinary way. We did nothing but stand and watch for a few more seconds. There were three or four more lightning flashes and thunder peals but this time the gap between them told us they were centred some hundreds of yards off and moving away. The air went still again, the rain eased off and with the exception of the partly curled label the bottle too returned to normal more or less at the same time. I put it down, still most puzzled.
We dried each other off with the swimming towels that always lived in our saddle bags on the off-chance. Nothing else happened and we dressed and began the downhill journey home.
To this day I can not explain what we saw though I imagine it had something to do with static electricity. There are thousands of episodes of strange phenomena, - like ball lightning and the Blue Ripple Effect in the literature. Precise explanations however are as rare as chicken’s teeth.
Twm Barlwm is visited by hundreds of people in a year. Most just enjoy the spectacular views. But the tump is focus of all kinds of strange tales from Druid trials and executions held there to swarms of predatory bees appearing as if from nowhere, fiery beacons and strange sounds, and the old wives tale that women living near the tump are able, - like thunder, - to curdle the milk. Certainly the tump can be a strange place at times,.. as we saw that day.
It’s always hard to tell whether reported anomalies are genuine and of the venue itself or whether they are influenced or even actually caused by the observers. People vary very widely in their degrees of what I call their ‘fey quotient.’ Most folk have some degree or other of this. Yet there are others that seem totally to lack it. I term these people odd-blind. This is a characteristic similar to being colour-blind but on a non-visual level. I have encountered plenty of folk who, like me, have been lucky enough to stand on the Stonehenge Altar Stone or in the Great Gallery of Cheops’ pyramid or in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem but, very unlike me, have seen and felt nothing but the surroundings and the stones.
And this point brings me nicely to another somewhat similar peak experience I had,.. this time on the missing peak of the Cheops Pyramid just mentioned, on the Giza Plateau on the outskirts of Cairo.
How many people reading this, I wonder, have actually seen the Great Pyramid. Quite a few I imagine. I suspect, further, that for most of them their first sight of it was a striking and memorable moment. I know it was for me. In about 1955 while I was an MO posted to the Canal Zone I went with two other officers up onto the plateau from the old Mena House Hotel,.. on camels. When we stood before the formidable slopes a group of locals offered to carry us to the top for about ten piastres. Yes, I said ‘carry us’ and that’s what they did. Using strategically placed stones as steps it took them about ten minutes to piggyback each of us to the top. From the flat top,.. the actual peak having been removed in antiquity,.. if, indeed, it was ever actually there, [But that’s another story], we could see the spectacular view for miles around over the city and the Nile delta. And there we enjoyed our packed lunches and chilled champagne,.. officers lived well in those days,.. all carried up in the same way. I can tell you it was an experience that has been in my mind ever since that day, so memorable was it.
When we got up there we found ourselves on a more or less square and flat area some twenty five or thirty feet across. There were about twenty or so roughly dressed stones forming each edge. A few other stones lay in something of a group to one side. Roughly in the centre was an iron stand consisting of three stout bars supporting a central fourth bar that pointed up straight. We later learned that this tripod thing had been erected decades before, by some scientists, and was intended to show where the real summit, the peak, would be if it were still there. It wasn’t.
Looking back I suppose we would have been about half way down the second bottle when we all felt a curious shudder and a dull sound that seemed muffled yet quite close. We exchanged puzzled glances. Supersonic bangs were rare in those days and, anyway, the sky was clear and blue with no sign of tell-tale vapour trails. We decided it was probably a small temblor, - a sort of mini-earthquake and we joked about how safe we were on a massive chunk of rock that must have withstood far worse in its four thousand years or so of existence. It was time to drain the last of the champers and start the climb down. The wogs, - and that really was what they called themselves, - so-called political correctness still being a blissful sixty years in the future, - were not available to carry visitors back down. That was rightly considered to be far too dangerous.
All three of us being Welshmen we decided to leave a message to greet the next visitors. We wrote ‘Cymru am Byth’ [Wales Forever] on a slip of paper and rolled it to slip inside one of the empties. We wedged the bottle as firmly as we could and more or less upright in a suitable crack in the stonework, knowing that the Wily Oriental Gentlemen would probably remove it anyway next time they carried anyone up there. Then, with the perfect harmony that comes naturally to nearly all Taffies, - one a bass, one a sweet, melodious tenor and the other a rich resounding baritone, - we sang Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau,.. the Welsh national anthem and rather well at that.
Our Welsh national anthem is not only a jolly good song well suited to close harmony. It is also rare amongst anthems as, apart from one brief mention of its past defenders there is none of the conquering, bragging and war, soldiers and killing with invincible might or gods being on our side. It just praises our lovely land and its poets and music. What is more, the third note from the end is a resplendent top A which can shake the very foundations of Cardiff Arms Park and the Millenium Stadium. [Many Welsh people do not accept that Wales is sometimes referred to as ‘The Principality’ because of the English-Scottish-German-Greek English Prince. We have our own real Prince of Wales if he’s ever needed].
When we got to it we realised that none of us knew the second verse. That didn’t matter however as we never quite got around to it anyway. Almost as if on cue, as we hit that superb note there came a second almighty crack. This time it was like a real explosion and very near at that. We all felt it in our ears as a sensation like a pressure wave, and also under our feet. There was absolutely nothing around us to be seen for miles and miles and which could possibly have caused it. It was loud and sudden yet over in a moment. To say we were pretty startled is something of an understatement. We were looking all around at this and that and trying to find an explanation. Below us we could see a few other visitors all walking around and taking no notice,.. just as if they had heard nothing. There was nothing to be seen that might account for things. There was complete silence for some seconds until we all noticed a sort of clinking sound. We focussed on the sound and looked wide-eyed at the empty bottle. It was still in its crack in the stonework but it was shaking and shivering. The nearest of us,.. me, was about six feet away from it. There was no sensation of the pyramid itself shaking, - indeed, that would have taken some doing as it consists of over two million stones each of up to about ten tons in weight.
As we stared the bottle clearly vibrated and we could hear the chattering sound, typical and familiar, of clinking glassware. In spite of the brilliant and hot sunshine we all saw a sort of pale blue frothing at the neck and opening of the bottle. I immediately remembered the pop bottle up on Twm Barlwm some two or three years before. It was all very similar. Then, without anyone touching it and although we thought we had wedged it fairly firmly in, the bottle simply fell over. There was not the least vesper of wind and none of us was near enough to have touched it. To us, and in one word, the whole little episode was impossible. Yet we all saw it. Nothing else happened and, after a few minutes we climbed back down to ground level and were glad to be there in more ways than one.
Of course we talked about it a lot amongst ourselves and with others. The others, to a man, concluded that we’d all been pissed and the ethanol effects amplified by the elevation and the hot dry atmosphere had been the cause of the phenomenon. On the other hand we were all scientifically educated and did not agree. There was some mention of static electricity but we could find no fully satisfactory explanation, - not even for years afterwards while we still corresponded. We heard all the rumours about strange phenomena up on the pyramids on dark and storm-swept night. Fires had been seen and strange melodic sounds had been heard. But these tales were little more than can be heard in any number of curious or different from normal places. Maybe being odd-blind had something to do with it. I still look back and remain puzzled. The pyramids are certainly strange in their own curious ways, and I shall comment further below.
Anyway, one might say,.. it was all another peak experience.
Three decades or more after the events just related I had cause to do some research concerning the pyramids and early Middle Eastern religions. I offer part of the piece I wrote for a prominent publication of the day,.. without further comment.
One would think that these enormous pyramidal piles just north of Cairo would be memorable to anyone seeing them during the past few thousand years. That includes even those living close and seeing them every day. Yet somehow they seem to have been forgotten by thousands,.. or deliberately overlooked. I say that for, in the Bible, which is very largely a history of the Jews of the area, those vast man-made constructions are never even briefly mentioned.
That seems strange. Large numbers of the Chosen People lived within a few miles of them. They spent their lives virtually within the shadows of these, the biggest things ever constructed on earth. That’s where they started on their journey to the Promised Land. Yet not a mention. We heard about Hanging Gardens, Pharaohs, Towers of Babel, temples and Gardens of Eden, Jacob’s stone staircase, - all these feature in one place or another as do Galilee, the Reed/Red Sea and the townships of north-east Egypt. Yet the biggest and most spectacular edifice in the world, - The Great Pyramid, merits not a mention.
Or does it?
I suspect, and I am not alone in that in fact, it is mentioned but under another name perhaps in order deliberately to obfuscate. Being a racial history the writers did not want it put about that most of the Biblical events actually took place in Egypt, - that their own gods used to be Egyptian gods, - that their rituals derived from Egyptian rituals. Even their leader, Moses, was Egyptian,.. hence the name Moses which was certainly not Jewish. And so on.
Now let me list the things we’re told about Mount Sinai,.. some three hundred or more miles away in the south of the Sinai Peninsula,.. and no, I am not changing the subject. The Bible tells us that this mountain was very hard to climb as it was very steep. It also tells us that Moses ordered it to be fenced off, - and how do you fence off a big, rambling mountain? Third, we’re told it was the highest point for far around. Finally we learn that the Israeli god sometimes dwelt somewhere within it. Note that it several times says in and not on. There is also a claim that occasionally there was fire on the top. The point to be made is that there are no such mountains within reach of where the wandering Jews did their wandering and which can satisfy all these features.
At this point does it not occur to anyone else that the one option that does satisfy all requirements is right there on the spot,.. Cheops’ Pyramid. If the pyramid had simply been renamed as Mount Sinai the whole thing fits like a glove. In its smooth, marble-clad days it would have been near impossible to climb. It is easily fenced off,.. as it sometimes is nowadays. It is the highest point for miles around. It has a flat top on which a fire of dried [burning?] bushes could easily be set. And it had several secret chambers within, where a god or two, - or someone cast as a god, could skulk.
I suspect that Mount Sinai and the Great Pyramid might well be one and the same. That’s why no other candidates are as convincing. There are tissues of lies surrounding the whole scenario of Judaism and its derivatives, Islam, Christianity, Mormonism and the rest. For example, much is made in the old tales of the ‘escape’ of the Jews from Egypt. But Egypt held nearly all of the lands of the entire area in those days. So when they escaped, where did they escape to? Well, actually, just into another bit of Egypt.
The lies and the careful obfuscations, - deleting awkward bits, hiding here, disguising there, have made vast fortunes for generations of the priestly class. But like all untruths they ultimately fail to withstand the inexorable scrutiny of time, fact and reason.
After living quite long enough to notice, one detects a curious herd instinct that affects humans from time to time. Despite his modern mental abilities man still carries most of the characteristics of his earliest tribal origins. Amongst these there was,.. and remains, this herd inclination for a group to behave more like an individual. Mob hysteria is an example. Groups of normally sane people can suddenly form an unruly mob and take actions out of all proportion to the way the component individuals really and usually think. They may then attack some real or imagined hate-figure in the street. They may form a lynch mob intent on taking an official prisoner out of jail and hanging him there and then from the nearest tree. In the middle ages they seized crotchety old ladies and, calling them witches, they attacked and beat them all the way to the heath where they were burned alive at the stake while the crowds sang holy songs and chanted prayers.
Sixth form schoolgirls can be affected by unexplained causes which result in virtually all of them falling ìll at the same time. Once, in my own grammar school, we had all heard one of these nitwit prophets proclaiming that the world would end on a certain Friday afternoon. At about three o`clock that afternoon groups of girls started to gather in one corner of the school yard. In no time at all they were all squealing and sobbing,.. some of them even praying, as they had all been taken over by the temporary conviction that the world really was about to end. Half an hour later it was all over and they were wondering what on earth had possessed them.
On occasions the hysteria can be wide enough to capture much of a country`s population,.. as happened in Nazi Germany, and, more recently, in some Middle East countries during the so-called Arab Spring. It also happened in UK with a disproportionate response to the murder of Princess Diana. Millions of citizens were piling great heaps of flowers all over the place. This had little to do with whether they thought she had deserved her death or whether they thought she`d been snuffed out by some part of the establishment,.. the hysterical and frenzied outbursts of pseudo-grief threatened national security and the position of the government and the royal family were placed worryingly in jeopardy.
This kind of sheep-like mass response happened yet again quite recently when the obese Harvey Weinstein was vilified for some of his inappropriate approaches to young female would-be actresses. Instead of what one might have expected,.. a reasoned scorn for men who try to exploit women, there was, in fact, a hysterical world-wide media onslaught based really on the utter dreadfulness of men.
A few of the more perceptive and responsible women set out to influence social feelings and even national laws as a start to curtailing offensive exploitation. But the huge majority remained unaffected by the much publicised retaliations. They sat back amazed by the hysterical and screaming cohorts of incensed ladies forming yelling mobs, lobbying governments and wearing black dresses at some media events that a rather rarified few regarded as of international importance. The focus of this abreaction became, overnight, a movement known as #ME.Too which dominated the social media,.. or, perhaps, that should be the antisocial media. To the rest of the world it looked a massive groundswell of disenchanted folk railing against the aforesaid dreadfulness. Others felt more like St.Peter when, while chatting to Jesus, he promised etiam si omnes - ego non.’ Even if all others, - #NOT.I. [Matthew 26:33].
As an aside however, I still have many contacts in California from the time when I lived and worked there in the film industry. They tell me that the only result noticeable in Hollywood is that the smarter girls have eschewed all the hip-hop politics. They have made the most of things quite differently. While the resisters, the publicity seekers and the talentless have had their attention and indignation focused elsewhere they’ve taken advantage of the somewhat reduced throngs forever battling their way towards the casting couches. I gather that many erstwhile vacancies, - of one kind and another, have since been filled.
It’s an ill wind,.. eh?
Meanwhile those aforementioned loathsome predatory males are said to have retreated to lick their wounds. Don’t you believe a single word of it. Plus ca change,.. but in fact, actually rien ne change.
The first time I visited the Normandy invasion beaches my first impressions were twofold. I looked at the three hundred yards of sand between the sea and the high dunes of ‘Omaha Beach’ and I looked at the hillocks and dunes that marked its landward limit and I wondered how in the name of pity anyone could have survived that attack. For the entire beach was thoroughly enfiladed. From a hundred batteries of well dug in machine-guns on the edges of the dunes came the rapid rattle and staccato chatter of guns that broke legs, lacerated flesh and pulped the chests and heads of thousands as they battled ashore and across that hundred miles of sand,.. for that’s how far it must have seemed.. Those guns could rake and rake the pinned down Allied troops who were totally without cover. The cold, wet, sick and scared soldiers were trying to cross a terrifying open killing ground. For the Germans it must have been easier than shooting fish in a barrel.
After that horrifying appraisal of the first hours of the invasion I walked up to the American garden of remembrance. It is lovingly maintained. You walk up a slight incline and as you climb, suddenly, the graveyard itself appears over the crest of the rise. It is a shock, I can tell you. Lines of thousands of crosses stretch across the close-clipped greensward and run for hundreds of yards in every direction. I felt a dreadful heart-sink and a stone-like weight of sorrow and utter misery as the first tears oozed up out of my very soul, I swear. I had never experienced such an oppressive despondency. Here were buried many of the estimated ten thousand young lads who came to Europe to fight for freedom and came not home again. None of the words we hear can anywhere near equal the downright horror of such a sight.
Too easily we forget the way America stood by Europe and, having put an end to Nazism stemmed the threatened communist takeover of our continent for the next half century. By my word they did us a great and selfless good.
I re-visited the American, British and Canadian beaches several times in later years. In many ways it was similar to visiting the trenches and mined areas of the Western Front of the Great War. It is always a renewal of the nausea of that first horror when an old soldier feels the loss of so many of his kind and bows his head in shame for his part in the way the peace was lost after the war was won.
Then, a few years ago, there was a chance to visit Normandy again. Two British artists hit on the idea of organising a ‘happening’ to commemorate World Peace Day in late September, 2013. And where better to commemorate peace than on one of those now quiet holiday beaches? I think about fifty people originally went there for the event. I was not one of them. By coincidence though, for I had not heard about the proposed event, I was on a sketching and writing holiday in Normandy and I heard about things by accident. I heard about it all from a group of children over breakfast in my hotel. When I got to the beach near Arromanches it was to find some hundreds of other volunteers who, like myself, had turned up and joined in. There were Brits, French, holiday-makers from various countries. There were kids from nearby schools. There were local residents and there were passers-by.
As the tide went out we collected cut-out, life-size stencils representing fallen soldiers. Placed flat on the sand the cut-out part could be raked by small tools or bare hands so that when the stencils were lifted the outlines of the men were left in the sand. By the time the tide had gone right out, and around and among the rusting remnants of the famous Mulberry harbours, thousands of figures lay randomly and symbolically to mark a spot where a man might had died.
Then the tide turned and once again the fallen figures were washed over by the salt water of the English Channel. By evening it was as if they had never been. Much like, perhaps, the empty places each one had left in a home somewhere on that one dreadful summer’s morning.
Shockingly little was made of the event in the British media. So I would like to remind that we must never take freedom for granted,.. for freedom is never free.
Freedom is not just another name for nothing left to lose. It is a precious commodity, - a fact sometimes hazardously overlooked by those who have always had it.
Communion with what?
Some people believe JC was a god,.. or at least part of one. Others think otherwise. Some people believe Mohammed rode to heaven on a winged horse named Buraq. Others differ. What I find astounding is that in this day of enlightenment anyone at all could still believe there is or ever was a god of any kind anyway. I rather suspect that if they had not been deliberately taught it they’d never have dreamed up such an outrageous idea in the first place. But let’s take the aforesaid JC and his purported theme of belief as an example,.. and stick to just the facts available.
Apart from alleged ‘miracles’ it would appear that Jesus carried out at least one remarkable deed. Most of the others are of far less reliable certainty. It was a rather special matter and there is, just for once, little doubt that it really happened. It is, in fact, one of the very few incidents that is related almost without variation in the synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark and Luke] as well as in John’s. The dubious Paul also added his input later.
The event took place at the alleged last supper in the ‘upper room’ and at the time of the Jewish Passover. It was then and there that Jesus initiated the sacrament now known as Eucharist. During the ceremonial meal he ensured that his followers, albeit symbolically, ate of his body [bread] and drank his blood [wine]. This was held to enable them to become united with him. This close association or ‘communion’ with the godhead is now believed, - as a basic tenet of their faith, by millions of Christians all over the world.
Delve a little deeper into the episode however, and you’ll find curious features that may influence or even adjust your thinking.
Jesus was a circumcised Jew brought up in some part – there is discussion which – of the Holy Lands. Now, the consumption of blood – any blood, is a fundamental taboo for all Jews. In fact it comprises much of the reason for kosher foods. To drink human blood ranks as a most dire abomination. To a Jew the very idea - even in a mystical or mythical allusion - would incur utter and total abhorrence. It is something so monstrous and so horrific as to be unthinkable. Some then, might think it an odd idea to originate from one who was in every way a devout Jew.
There arises another point of some possible note. Going through some ritual consumption of a god’s body and blood actually was a common feature of some pagan cults of Greece and Rome. Such rituals were, at the time of Jesus, commonly practiced by non-Jewish communities in the area. Paul himself, while he was still Saul of Tarsus, came from a zone where Mithras was a senior god and whose blood was, symbolically, much quaffed. Such idolatry, to Jews, was a damnation and indeed the dissent of some disciples is recorded in the Bible
There are only two likely explanations for this apparently anomalous event. Either Jesus was a very unusual, - even heretical, Jew or the whole idea is an invention. Yet it is said to have happened. The overwhelming majority of historians accept that Jesus was, in fact, devoutly Jewish. So either they are all wrong or this core belief of the Jesus cult and later Christianity did not originate with or from the Master.
What, therefore, seems to be in question is not whether Jesus was a Jew or whether he really performed the aforesaid deeds but what he meant by them. And that is where the likelihood of outside intervention appears. No prizes for guessing the identity of the main suspect.
Of course it was the self-proclaimed thirteenth disciple who manipulated things, distorting Jesus’ ideas and intentions – all of them originally Jewish to the core - into a new, easy, more comfortable and yes, more profitable form of religion suitable to Gentiles as well – namely, Christianity.
Renamed Paul, this wily fellow knew that few if any Jews would go for Jesus’ drinking blood idea – and few Gentiles would, likewise, opt to undergo circumcision. So he changed the whole concept. According to him consuming the wine and the bread was only ‘in remembrance of me’ as Jesus was then claimed to have said thus using Paul’s subtly different words [1 Corinthians 11, 24/5] as written later.
That brilliant lie was a huge success,.. it was away with the mystical union and in with the ‘remember me’ substitute. Mark’s inclusion of the ‘this is my blood’ phrase differs only because it predates Paul’s variations.
So, Jesus loses and Paul wins, - again.
Sound Advice Written in 2016
I have an old friend, Nicos Protopapas, who lives near me in Cyprus. He is a man of many parts. In the past he was a citrus grower who lost everything during the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974. He was a teacher, a pharmacist and held numerous prestige jobs as representative of his people, their culture and their search for justice. When he retired he qualified as a welder,.. then as a plumber and then as an electrician. At well over seventy he tragically lost his life-long wife and partner, Eleni. He thereupon set out to get familiar with a new ‘adopted girl-friend,’ a computer. He is now learning to play chess in the hope of eventually trouncing her.
In the interim, completely unsatisfied with the narrowing perimeters dictated by increasing years he next set out to write a book relating some of his collection of anecdotal stories. The book is called Nicos’ Whispers, and in it he distils his general advice on life. He wrote the book in English which was not one of his mother tongues. Quite an achievement in itself. But, somewhat revised for language by me, [and with his permission] the advice itself merits passing on.
A brain is like a field. To remain productive it must be continually cultivated and have nutrients added.
When there are pains in your body try to ignore them,.. after a while they will ignore you.
There are times in life when you are penniless. There are other times when you have more money than you need. In general it was better when I had more.
And, finally, one precious piece of advice for all men.
Faced with a small disagreement with Eleni over a certain item Nicos asked his father-in-law for advice. It would be a good thing for all married men to keep his reply in mind.
‘Nico,’ said his father-in-law. ‘I can’t really advise you on this particular issue but I can give you a valuable piece of general advice that applies in most circumstances. It is that if your wife ever tells you she wants you to jump down a well the best thing you can do is to get on your knees, hope and pray that the well will not be too deep and the water in it will be warm. For be sure that sooner or later you will jump down that well.’
Thank you, Nicos, for the words and the wisdom,.. and for the friendship.
And while on the subject of advice there are a few random fragments that I personally have collected on the way through and which just might be worth passing on.
First, when people ask you for advice they are really, more likely, asking your approval for what they have already more or less decided to do.
If at first you don’t succeed,.. maybe failure is your thing.
If at first you don’t succeed why not try doing it the way your mother told you in the first place?
A myth is a religion in which no-one any longer believes.
If you talk to God, that’s prayer. If God talks to you, that’s paranoia.
Some years ago two people whom I had known for ages decided to get married. Both had lost earlier much-loved partners and felt that this was a way to limit the loneliness that had hit them both. I am pleased to relate that their new marriage has proved very successful,.. and still goes on.
They decided that, after their wedding, there would be a big celebratory party at which a chosen few of their friends were asked to contribute something on a suggested theme.
I was very pleased to be asked to be a contributor. I was, however, not by any means as pleased when the subject on which I was to contribute was to be that of advice. I have never felt that the offering of advice was anything of a forte for me and it came as a surprise to learn that some others thought differently.
The following is a transcription of a recording made at the time.
I've been asked to speak at this party on advice derived from the lessons life has taught me - and I promise that there will be no priestly platitudes or offensive chauvinism or bad language. My hostess has insisted on these restriction. So,.. there goes my usual repertoire,.. in shreds for a start. The trouble with this sort of thing is that it puts one in the position of a bald-headed man selling hair restorer - 'He's a fine one to talk', people will jeer. But that's only because they can't see the scars on my soul where I've paid the price for not following my own rules. So,.. what have I learned the hard way that I now feel I ought to pass on? In no particular order I'd like to recommend the following:
First, never start to believe your own publicity.
Never go back to places where you've been happy. They don't keep.
Don't waste time feeding hay to a dead horse. I've squandered much life substance in keeping up relationships that have become a burden way beyond proper obligation, going through the motions of observing codes or customs or rules I had no confidence in just because people said I ought to. And when someone says 'you ought to', be sure they mean something more fundamental like ‘You ought to be more like me.’
You've a right to change your mind. I also wasted years in tortuous explanations and elaborate self-justifications when three simple words would have sufficed, 'No, thank you', or, if it had to be put in writing, one sentence rather than pages of reasons that got more involved and less convincing as they went along. To change one's mind is not only a basic right; it's also a sufficient explanation. Remember though, that this phenomenon is not always what it seems. Frequently I find that I have not so much changed my mind as that my mind has changed me. There is a difference.
Many of my worst mistakes have occurred either because I didn't compromise enough – when pride prevented me from saying those liberating words, 'I'm sorry,.. I was wrong' or else because I compromised too much and discovered too late that the compromise itself was costing me more than the things I was compromising about. And without exception, whenever I've compromised myself, I've paid dearly for it.
It is comfortably tempting to live life at half-cock. So I say, if you really want something then, within the limits of morality, really go for it; or else decide it's not for you, and become comfortable about that. But it is utterly draining of emotional energy to live by half measures and be committed to doing something your heart isn't in or declaring yourself a non-runner and then fretting about it.
And now, to matters of age. Grasp the essential realisation that being old is not a disease. Neither is it something to be feared of itself. The unwelcome consequences that come with it are varied and progressive but the compensations, the features that develop, more than make up for the difficulties at least for a long time. This is a new period,.. a rare opportunity for many, a chance for reflection and self-discovery. Many of the pressures have eased. The testosterone poisoning abates. The essence of competition assumes a different proportion. Similarly, one’s life assumes different priorities. This can mean that we sometimes grow away from the people that frequented our past. It is not that we don’t like them any more. It is that we no longer have the same things in common that made us friends or acquaintances. This may seem a sad and depressing circumstance. But that is not what it is. It is simply part of life’s natural sequence of events and stages. Something to be welcomed rather than resisted.
Understandably,.. for that is what they have, young people tend to see old age through the lens of their own age and era. Old folk may well live alone but most of us are very far from lonely. A life well lived is brim full of memories and experiences. This is sustaining and comfortably supporting. There is time to read, and think and remember. Both to regret and to rejoice.
The fear of loneliness is a concept of the younger generation. By no means does it inevitably comprise an essential component of age.
Be positive about as many things as you can and for as long as you can. And when one of them,. or someone is past, don’t cry because it’s over. Rather rejoice because it happened.
Finally, and above all, cultivate a proper self-esteem. That's not egotism, but recognition of personal dignity. Curiously, though it seems to reverse the order of priorities as they are so often taught, self-esteem is the essential. I've never known anyone who could base an adequate concept of life on the foundation of a diminished view of self. And as for loving our neighbour - any love you offer is a poor thing if it comes from a personality riddled with self-disparagement.
And that's it, my friends,.. a lifetime of guidance in a single page.
Oh, just one last thing,.. never buy hair restorer from a bald man.
Queen Anne’s dead
Sometime in the mid-seventies I was waiting to meet Pix. She had been with an antique-loving friend and our meeting place was to be on London’s Portobello Road in Notting Hill, - then centre of the antique zone of the capital. It is extremely rare for Pix to be even one minute late, - her Dad was a naval officer, - and when the deadline had been passed by ten minutes I started looking in the nearest shop windows, almost all of which, to me, seemed to contain various scruffy looking forms of rubbish. I walked into one of them pretty much at random.
The place was vast,.. I’d seen smaller aircraft hangers. Everywhere were bits of neglected furniture, ornaments and glassware, flaking paint, dust and a pervasive aroma of long term neglect and decay. On one wall was hung a row of crucifixes and I was thereby reminded of the only antique shop joke I ever heard,..
There was an elderly Jewish would-be entrepreneur whose routine it was to have a daily snoop around the antique shops in the hope of finding something at a low price that he could then do up a bit and sell on for a higher one. An honourable enough style of commerce. On one such visit he spotted a rather ornate but well carved crucifix complete with the customary writhing Christ, crown of thorns, nails,.. the whole nine yards. Spotting its possibilities he buttonholed the proprietor, gestured up at the ornament and enquired how much it was. ‘Twenty five quid,’ replied the fellow.
The customer stroked his beard and gave the usual shrug. ‘Oy vey,’ he said, as such people sometimes do. ‘Oy vey,.. that’s too much.’ It was the proprietor’s turn to shrug. ‘Take it or leave it, Guv,’ he replied. The old chap muttered a bit and said, ‘It’s too much for me,.. still,.. make me an offer,..how much is it without the acrobat?’
Still, I digress,…
As I wandered around the emporium there, pushed away into one corner, I spotted a most beautifully made escritoire. One of its drawers looked to be in need of a little attention but it was otherwise prefect. A decent carpenter, - which I am, could work wonders on it. I reckoned it could be mine for a fiver or so. It was a little treasure just being used to support a pile of far back copies of Film Fun and Beano. On top of all was a hideous Tiffany lookalike light, - that actually didn’t. It portrayed some unlikely looking siren lounging against an artificial rock and flashing one thigh from the folds of her artificial gown. I just knew I was onto a good thing.
Not wanting to give away my interest I thought I could easily outdo the bloke who ran the place. When he came by I asked him if the lamp was genuine Tiffany. In the broadest of cockney accents he said, ‘Nah, mate, it’s just a piece of replica junk.’ He gestured around. ‘Like the rest of the stuff in this corner.’
I was thrilled. I was about to make a killing. What a show of kudos when I met up with Pix and her friend. I’d show ‘em.
The chap was turning to leave when, with my finest show of offhand nonchalance I ventured, ‘Er,.. that old desk thing underneath it,.. I reckon I could do that up a bit,.. how much do you want for it?’
He looked at me over the top of his dusty wire-frame specs. ‘Ooh. That one’s a Queen Anne, mate,.. five ‘undred guineas to you,.. for cash money.’
I was crushed. I swear I heard him snigger as I went out onto the street to resume my husband-in-waiting duties. I’ll bet he catches out conceited smart-alec nitwits like me every day of the week. Damn him.
Killings and Conspiracies
Were the NASA moon landings faked? Is Elvis still alive? Did they clone Hitler? Is there really a Jewish plot surreptitiously to take over the world? Did M.I.5 effectively bring about Harold Wilson’s fall into powerless penury? Is there a secret group of fifty or so mega-rich men who manipulate all planetary affairs? Are the Rockwell aliens still imprisoned in experimental laboratories?
Probably,.. and I carefully insert that probably,.. not. But that does not mean all suspicions of conspiracies and deliberate state-conducted illegalities should be scorned. Believe me. I’ve been along to a few strange events and I can tell you such things happen.
Politically, or otherwise motivated,.. some might say necessitated, killings are more commonplace than you imagine. It’s not just in Mafia-managed Miami or thug-controlled Chicago that people are ‘accidented’ or ‘heart attacked’ with astounding frequency. Sometimes even a man in jail and under a suicide watch can turn up dead on the floor of his cell one morning. Mind you, it’s not always an actual killing that is needed. A spot of cheap bribery might help. Many a time it is only necessary to suggest to the perpetrator that he probably wants his little granddaughter to keep on coming home safely from school. Promise that a troublesome tax investigation could be easily dropped might work. So might the threat to divulge antisocial activities,.. embezzlement, homosexuality, playing away in other men’s bedrooms for example. All have had their little successes.
During my military service I learned a good deal about quiet killing,.. also noisy killing, come to that, but it’s the quiet kind I’m talking about here. After leaving regular military service, from time to time my other abilities were enlisted on an ad hoc, fee-earning basis. Seldom indeed was any overt killing involved in the activities into which I occasionally got seconded. Indeed, my own duties were more often mainly to do with planning, logistics, observation and transport. It was most rare for ‘wet work’ to be required. But an insight into methods and techniques did come my way. I was several times used as an observer in some sort of a stake-out. Despite being over six feet tall and weighing [then] about 190 pounds, I was possessed of the uncommon quality of being inconspicuous to the point of transparent. People just didn’t notice me,.. they used to call me The Man in the Empty Suit,.. and that could be very useful.
Most activities followed the standard five-part operations plan of insertion, approach, assessment, action and extraction. Funny people were forever being taken to funny places to do funny things. Sometimes significant persons were spirited out of danger perhaps, or out of a place where their presence was no longer regarded as advantageous to someone or other, They sometimes underwent ‘rendition’ commonly to a place of greater safety,.. though not always.
Contract killers are occasionally employed. The snag is that they entail using the services of strangers who may get drunk or talk for money. Other methods are usually better. A man kidnapped into a white van is wrapped in a blanket so he is restrained without rope marks. He is then popped into a deep freeze in the back of the van and driven around for a few hours. Next morning, adequately re-thermalised he is deposited in a lonely but not unlikely spot where the coroner’s verdict will probably be death by heart attack. Alternatively, the victim may have been injected with a lethal drug. Few pathologists would think to look for the miniscule puncture wound between the fourth and fifth toes or behind the furthermost molar or just half an inch within the rectum. Another common trick is for a team, usually of three, to jostle a man in a crowded street. One operative puts a spring-loaded syringe into the back of the victim’s thigh as the other two accidentally jostle him. The killer leaves the scene instantly and ‘passes’ his weapon to a waiting disposal assistant who also fades away swiftly. With luck the other helpers can also de-materialize in the confusion when the ailing victim collapses and the melee starts. Very popular for this purpose is the plant poison, aconite. Subtle chemical derivatives of this are much more quickly fatal than the original. But, especially in a warm place,.. a prison cell, a hospital bed, a cosy Mercedes in a Paris road tunnel, the aconite actually denatures very rapidly and leaves no remnants likely to be discovered,.. even they were looked for.
In spite of the official denials, if you thought the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned accidentally I think you’d be wrong. If you think Chairman Mao died peacefully in his virgin-populated bed, - likewise. If you think President Sani Abacha of Nigeria really did die of a self-administered overdose of Viagra, - likewise again. And so on. The list of suspects goes on and on. Makarios? Idi Amin ? Hariri of Lebanon? Russian General Lebed? Numerous other less famous and familiar names came suddenly upon unexpected, dubious and certainly premature ill-fortune.
One Pope died, but strangely, in his sleep. One of his bankers was found [but did not necessarily also die] hanging under a London bridge. Another Pope survived his assassination attempt. President Kennedy died from a bullet that ballistics clearly show did not come from Lee Harvey Oswalds’s vantage point, - and a remarkable number of the actual witnesses have since become untraceable or, oddly enough, have been taken suddenly dead. Take pot luck at another few names,.. Arafat, Dr..David Kelly, Milosevic, Princess Diana,.. and one has even heard rumours about Ariel Sharon.
Never mind the inquests and the government enquiries held by last gasp, retired legal luminaries. As an example just single out poor old David Kelly, - the above-mentioned scientist at the centre of the Iraq war contretemps with the BBC. Wasn’t he just too dangerous to be allowed to live in case he cracked and spilled some beans? What about the astonishing silence of his family. What happened to all the letters written by doctors [including the present writer] to the press expressing their professional doubts about the clumsy way he was suicided. The story is that one day he took a few paracetamol tablets,.. a dose that would not have harmed a child. He then walked into the woods where he was found with cut wrists. Now, as every doctor knows, the chances that cut wrists can cause death by haemorrhage are virtually nil. And even if they did there would be correspondingly lots of blood at the scene. Yet, as the para-medics who dealt with his body pointed out, there was very little indeed. There wouldn’t be,.. slashed wrists seldom bleed much. The point is that there is a popular but incorrect myth that slashed wrists can kill. Doctors everywhere knew the story was nonsense. Quite a few tried to draw attention to the matter. Little or nothing appeared in the press and what there was quickly petered out. The doctors went quiet. The Kelly family withdrew from the debacle. The official report did not mention the details of the post mortem. Nor did it mention whether anyone had looked between the Kelly toes.
And the others? Arafat had become a loose canon and was jeopardising the new contenders for Middle East power and oil money. General Lebed was a serious contender for the Russian presidency. The crew of his aircraft had been ordered to fly him,.. yet were disciplined and imprisoned after the crash that killed him. They have since apparently disappeared. Milosevic was proving too costly, - and it was even starting to look as if he might win his case. And did anyone really seriously think that certain people would ever allow the presumed future king of England to have an illegitimate, Moslem, half-caste, half-brother?
And as for the reviled and luckless Saddam Hussein,.. watch this space.
[NB: This item was written and published just four months before Saddam’s death!]
Trying to pull rank
Have you ever noticed the multiple rows of ribbons on the uniforms of senior military officers,.. or the ‘Royals’? Some have as many as eight or ten rows each of some six or eight ribbons, - sixty different kinds is not all that rare. Wow, - they must have been in a helluva lot of wars. Some of them have, of course,.. now and again. Indeed several have been in half a dozen wars. But how do they get that many ribbons awarded to them nowadays? We don’t have that many wars that involve the dwindling British army, do we?
There are a number of possible explanations. Perhaps they get a ribbon for being consistently early on parade, - or for having especially well-polished boots. Perhaps there really are lots of little wars they don’t tell us about. Perhaps they nicked the ribbons off a passing corpse. No. None of these is the truth. I can tell you how most of those ribbons are legitimately, if dubiously, obtained.
My odd work, in the past, led me to lots of fairly insignificant spots on the globe where, for some little publicised reason or other, British service personnel were active. The creaking military mechanism is such that in order to release certain ‘contingency funds,’ permit the issue of unusual weaponry, increase the financial rewards [called ‘allowances’] due to participants and so on one of these odd venues is, usually temporarily, classed officially as an active service zone, - or some such. For service in one of these a ribbon is often awarded later, commonly when everyone else has forgotten about it. Everyone but the generals and assorted big-wigs, that is.
We used to dread it. No sooner would the nasty stuff be over and done with, the bullets had stopped flying and decent rations has replaced the emergency packs, - than the generals would start to arrive on ‘tours of inspection.’ They would cause a bit of a flutter and a lot of unnecessary paperwork and bullshit, get driven around with an armed guard, make a series of fatuous suggestions then disappear again. We used to call these ‘seagull tours’ because they swooped in out of the blue, crapped over everything, did nothing useful then flew away again. Of course that brief visit earned them another little coloured ribbon to tack onto the dollop of ‘fruit salad’ they were already displaying.
On one memorable occasion the DGAMS or, to give him his full title,.. upon which he always insisted, the Director General of Army Medical Services made a flying visit to the Trucial Oman States which were in uproar and semi-revolt. I was the temporary M.O. there for a brief part of that time though I still insist that the revolution was honestly not really my fault.
Sanitation, water supplies and power all having been disrupted by terrorist activities there was a serious risk of disease especially cholera and smallpox. We were under strict orders that all personnel had to receive protection and the deed had to be recorded on the official International Certificate of Vaccination thereof. All my chaps knew the rules.
One morning at about 02:00 hours a tired, dirty, hungry and thirsty Lieutenant General tottered down the steps of his aircraft and began to walk towards his waiting jeep. My duty medical orderly stepped smartly forward and saluted. ‘May I see your International Certificate of vaccination, please, Sir.’ There was a silence. The general did not have one.
‘Never mind that now,’ said the general and went to step past. The orderly stood his ground in front of him. ‘Sir, may I please see your International Certificate of Vaccination?’ The general drew himself up to his full height, - which, as I recall, was only about five feet seven inches. ‘No need for that at this time of night, Lad,’ he said.
‘Sorry Sir, but my orders require that I check your International Certificate of Vaccination or I am not allowed to let you pass.’
‘Then that order is hereby countermanded,’ said the general;. ‘Do you understand?’
‘Yessir. I understand. But current regulations do not permit order changes while being enforced, Sir. So,.. Sir, may I please see your International Certificate of Vaccination?’
‘Orderly,’ barked the general, ‘Do you know who I am?’ [I later learned from the orderly that he was sorely tempted to turn to all the other people around and say,.. ‘Attention everyone,.. there’s a man here who doesn’t seem to know who he is,.. can anyone help him?’ But he wisely resisted the temptation].
‘Yessir,’ he said. ‘I know who you are, Sir. May I please see your International Certificate of Vaccination.’
I had not been witness to all this palaver but heard it all related several times by several different people later when it was being repeated amid fits of mirth and merriment.
The result of it all was that the general ordered me,.. an M.O. and five ranks below him, to be awakened and to come and administer his vaccination and issue and sign a certificate for him.
No doubt he got his wretched little morsel of ribbon,.. as I, later, got mine. But I rather think the job satisfaction of the episode fell mostly to me and my orderly rather than to his nasty, bombastic, cheating ego. Doctors,.. and he really was one, should be made of better stuff.
The God Particle
Buried astride the Swiss-France border near Geneva and almost six hundred feet below the surface is the world’s biggest machine,.. ever. It occupies a twelve feet wide circular concrete-lined tunnel some seventeen miles in diameter.
Known as the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] it is the biggest and most powerful high-energy particle accelerator in existence. Its job is to smash atoms so that their component parts can be studied. Some see this as the cutting edge of scientific exploration. Others regard it as an almost neolithic idea tantamount to smashing two Rolex watches together so you can examine the parts. To achieve collisions the tubes house a series of super-cooled superconducting magnets. As atomic particles,.. protons and neutrons, pass along the tube the magnets, in turn, give them extra bursts of speed until the particles achieve speeds approaching the speed of light. Streams of particles are programmed in opposite directions and, when brought into contact rush headlong into each other at these enormous speeds. The impacts send various sub-atomic particles shooting away from the impact zone. Although the whole process is, hopefully, subjected to precise controls, at best it really only amounts to a controlled crash.
As far as the public is aware the purpose of this sphincter-contractingly expensive gadget is scientific research. The collisions, theoretically, should afford us data leading to some of the urgent questions facing contemporary physics. Instead of being just a theory can the Higgs boson – the so-called God particle - be created in reality,.. and identified for certain? Can we further the idea that the three known atomic forces are just features of a greater single force? Are there unknown dimensions to the fabric of space-time? Is gravity such a weak force because it is ‘leaking’ away to somewhere else,.. and if so, where? Is there really such a thing as ‘dark matter?’ Come to that, why is there, thankfully, more matter than there is anti-matter?
It has been suggested that this sort of research is much like a blind man blundering about in a dark coal cellar looking for a black shirt that someone might have left there. But there are more serious problems that must occur to the serious sceptic. There have been previous, smaller but similar machines built in the past. One was built on Long Island, another in Illinois and a huge supercollider was built in Texas some twenty or more years ago. All have undergone serious and unexplained problems. Even the LHC was taken out of service after only a few months activity because of serious errors. Odd things have been associated with every such device. One that baffled me in particular was a few years ago when particles from LHC were announced as having reached laboratories in northern Italy having travelled at speeds faster than light. Within a few weeks this incredible announcement was retracted,.. the explanation given having been inaccuracies in measuring equipment. An odd thing for equipment at the very burning edge of hi-technology some might think.
So what are the anticipated problems that so many seem to fear yet which are seldom discussed in the open?
Well, first, could the colossal energies released start to create minute black holes? Black holes are places where gravity is so huge that nothing, not even light, can escape. They are one-way routes for anything in their vicinity. So could they gradually receive all nearby material and, as they grow, consume absolutely everything? The theoretical mathematics surrounding the possibility are the subject of much debate as they are far from conclusive. Second, what if dark matter really exists and is located,.. or even created in and by the LHC? The consequences are too horrifying to be contemplated.
Third,.. and here we enter the realms of metaphysics,.. is there a hidden significance to those many unexplained ‘accidents’ that have plagued all the previous collider devices? For example, that US supercollider in Texas, having costs billions to build was suddenly and inexplicably cancelled. Why?
Was it because scientists in the distant future or in distant galaxies have been observing our blind and dangerous fumblings and have sought to stop the search for Higgs bosons before we destroy the universe? Daft! Ridiculous! And yet this very suggestion has been postulated not by Gene Roddenbury or other StartTrek enthusiasts but by some of today’s most advanced scientific brains.
The solution to this conundrum seems to depend on time. Are scientists of the future aware that the search for Higgs really was in some way aborted perhaps just in time? It sounds idiotic. Yet time is funny stuff.
As Einstein himself once pointed out, ‘The separation between past, present and future is only an illusion.’
That summer with Ann
It was 1975. Her name was Ann Loverford and she and her five-year old daughter, Mindy, lived in a small cottage in the village. Of all the girls and women I ever knew she was to be one of those that could be counted on the fingers of one hand,.. one out of all the hundreds of those who had had at least some physical association with me,.. one of the mere five who ever mattered. What we had lasted a good deal less than a year but its sweet, savoury,.. and salty, memories have been in the front of my mind ever since.
Her husband had, officially, been a patient of mine though I don’t remember him ever being ill. The same was true of Ann. It was only the delightful little Mindy that I really knew as she was in the process of having her pre-school injections over the period I knew the family. She was one of my favourites, full of smiles and she never once whimpered or made a sound when given her shots. She also thought it was very grown up to call me Doctor Dick as most of my kiddies were allowed,.. indeed actually encouraged, to do.
To my surprise,.. as I had never detected anything amiss,.. Ann and her husband had amicably parted getting on for a year before the first time I was ever called to see her. Her mother, a well-known and respected business lady from a town about ten miles away, phoned me and explained that Ann had been in bed almost a week with ‘a terrible chest.’ As she had no history of anything like that before and as she was not the wimpy cry-baby type I was sure it merited an early house call.
I went to the house at about mid-morning and found the front door key hanging in the lock. Nowadays that seems strange but in those days and in our village it was a perfectly safe thing to do. Ann was in bed, slightly feverish and looking rotten. I listened to her chest and heard the typical harsh bubbly sounds of a considerable bronchitis. I gave her the customary advice and also an injection of a loading dose of antibiotic. A prescription was left for her mother to take to the local pharmacy. I took a swab of her phlegm to send to the lab so they could confirm that I had chosen the most effective antibiotic for that particular bug.
Again it seems strange these day when it can take a week to get the result of such a test. But back then I had only to take the suitably wrapped specimen to the local bus station to be confident that it would be at the Canterbury hospital pathology lab within the hour and that I’d get at least a preliminary result by nine o’clock the next morning.
I promised I would come back in and have a more thorough check of the chest when I had seen the report and the worst of the frothy rasping bronchitic sounds had abated a bit. Two days later I again let myself in with the key hanging in the front door. She was still in bed but looking and feeling much improved,.. antibiotics worked that well and that fast back then, before they had been over-used and their benefits squandered by unthinking physicians.
My patient was still in bed but was looking worlds better. Her hair had been brushed and there was a trace of lipstick,.. a sure clinical sign of early response to treatment in the female of the species.
At this point I need to explain how I saw the various pitfalls that, naturally, are encountered by healthy and normal young doctors and attractive lady patients. I never had the least difficulty in separating the two main classes. Females of all kinds were regarded as ‘fillies in the paddock’ and available for whatever further attention they deserved or offered. Female patients on the other hand were never at risk. They were protected by medical etiquette. However attractive or willing they seemed to be,.. and that was, respectively, often and a lot they were to be regarded as untouchable. I knew many doctors who broke the rule with some regularity. Very few indeed were ever caught,.. or at least publicly. It was always a matter of near disbelief the way that one could admire an attractive outline out in the street only to find that as soon as she entered the consulting room she stepped into the ‘beyond the pale’ category.
There were other groups of ladies whose status fell somewhere under the heading,.. ‘anomalous’ For example, during my first hospital job we house surgeons were automatically categorised as the doctors of all staff, male and female. For the most part we never actually treated them professionally. This was just as well as many were found attractive, ready at short notice and available. Most were also willing. A doctor was the esteemed ‘catch’ of the majority of female staff,.. nurses, - both trainee and qualified, radiographers, physiotherapists and all the general and catering staff. It was very much a buyer’s market.
With the exceptions of such groups of exceptions all ladies who were regarded as patients were untouchable. For myself I can truthful say that I broke that rule only half a dozen times in a professional lifetime spanning over sixty years. And for a man who was as dedicated to the pursuit of the female form and to whom sex was the major hobby of a lifetime to the extent that I was,.. and facing such a daily smorgasbord, I feel able to look back on that as a considerable achievement.
Although, in sequence, she came second on my short list of transgressions, nevertheless, Ann was certainly one of them.
On the day when I returned for my second visit to Ann it was to learn that Mindy had gone to spend the weekend with her grandmother. Looking back I still can’t decide whether there was any connection of that arrangement with the fact that it was known I would be calling in. Ann never told me anything,.. but I later came to suspect that there was.
Anyway, it was necessary to give her improving chest a thorough listening to, and to arrange some check X-rays and so on. I tapped [percussed] all over the front of her upper chest. It sounded clear enough. More importantly I needed to listen all over her back. I sat on the edge of her bed and leaned across behind her.
‘Can you just lift up your nightie at the back here,’ I said. She pulled it loose from beneath her and tugged it up until it lay across her shoulders. I put the stethoscope against her,.. she squeaked a little and shivered.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘My hands a bit cold are they?’
Then things suddenly changed.
‘No.’ she replied.’Just cool. But does everybody feel that sort of thing when you touch them?’
I didn’t understand. ‘Why, what happened?’
She took a huge breath. ’I felt it,.. sort of all funny,.. right down to my toes.’
Then she shook her head. ‘Wow!’ She gasped. ‘Phew! That really made me shiver and shake.’
I smiled and went to say something. I can’t remember what.
‘Do it again,’ she said. ‘Please.’
To this day I don’t know what possessed me. But I dropped my stethoscope and placed both of my hands flat against her shoulder blades. She shivered again and gasped once more. Then she raised both arms and reached back over her shoulders towards me. I took my hands away from her back and took hold of both hers.
I think that was when it must all have triggered. I don’t really subscribe to unexplained happenings,.. and, in my experience, love at first sight is a most unlikely proposition, but something happened then that was very, very different and sudden.
For several seconds,.. seconds that have never dimmed in my memory,.. we just held hands in that oddly unexpected and inappropriate position. Her hands were cool and smooth as they gripped mine. I was aware, too, of the way her arms, raised as they were to reach me, made her breasts rise up and appear more prominent. It was a potentially hazardous situation.
Then, on impulse, I let go of her hands and slipped my arms around her, still from behind, and held her warm breasts gathered in my palms.
She grabbed my hands and held them just where and how they were. I could feel the tips of her buds stiffen between my fingers as she massaged herself, moving my hands this way and that.
‘Oooh,.. that’s so wonderful,’ she said. ‘Do all the girls react like that?’
I’m sure we were both aware of the rising tempo. I remember putting my head against the back of her shoulders. It acted like a trigger. She wriggled, loosened the sheets around her and turned over so that her head was against me,.. her head in my lap.
It had to happen,.. and it did. For an astonishing few minutes we made love,.. tender, sweet, sensitive love. For me, and for once, it truly was a kind of love,.. a new-born love and not at all like just the sex I was so used to with my numerous erstwhile partners.
When it was over we just lay there and talked. We had much to talk about as neither of us knew anything much about the other.
I learned that before she was married she had been a not-very-successful actress. Following her time at RADA she had had some small parts in London and a few times in the provinces. She also told me that she had once had a brief affair with Peter O’Toole but that it had only lasted a few days and that it was long before she met her husband.
Ann was a typical actress. She could turn every simple event into a small drama. At the drop of a hat she could turn on the sad act,.. the crestfallen look,.. the outrageous ribaldry,.. the simpering child,.. the aggressive huntress. That was the thing about acting, she told me,.. you get the chance to be everyone and everything,.. and you get the chance to be all things to all men. I always felt she was right about that. She was kind and loving. On the few moments when I could call on her she was ready to put everything else on the back-burner to enjoy our time together. She loved to cuddle. She was warm. She was fire in the tousled bed and calm in the hectic day. I was crazy about her. I think she felt the same. In every way it can only be remembered and described as a pretty feverish affair.
As the summer months came we would meet at certain trysting spots we had found. If one or other turned up at one and the other was not there we would leave little cryptic notes in the splits in tree trunks or in hidden cracks in gate posts. We ran through the ferns. We walked barefoot through wet grass. We made love,.. sometimes almost casually, sometimes encompassed by the fiery heats of boiling rock. We read each other poetry. We talked of what we had done,.. and we talked about what might be. My own marriage was in a disastrous state. Only a year or two before I had discovered that my own adored wife had been wantonly cheating on me for years and with an uncertain number of other men,.. and, even after the first discovery, had gone on cheating with new partners.
With my whole world shattered it and I were ready for a change. I knew it. She knew it. We were on the brink of new lives. For both of us the times, they were a-changing.
Then, one weekend, we were able to get away for three whole days. I had been due to slip abroad for one of my other kind of commitments but everything got cancelled at short notice. [I later learned that that very week-end almost certainly coincided with my wife’s claimed last extramarital fling when she was getting laid on the floor of her brother’s home by a chap, Bill Kemp, who, like all her others, was not fit to polish her shoes].
Ann and I spent our precious days at a delightful little pub, the Red Lion in Wiltshire within the Avebury Ring. It was a happy time,.. for the most part. We talked and planned and thought of how we might move forward. Then, on our last morning, we ate a quiet breakfast,.. both of us lost in thought about the commitments we were about to make.
As we drove away from the ancient stones we faced our modern problems. It was clear that we both had doubts,.. fears perhaps. I think she was rather scared at the idea of real responsibility coming into a state of affairs that had, up until then, just been headlong and happy summer love.
For my part I knew I still loved my wife, my lovely Pixie, in spite of all she had done to me. I could see my children’s faces bewildered and a bit scared at their Dad no longer being there.
I remember that we stopped for coffee at some little roadside watering hole. We hardly spoke,.. we just held hands across the table. We were both aware of the huge decision that had to be made.
Finally, ‘Well,’ she said.’We have two options. Either we go back home to the village. Or, right now, we turn the car around and go together towards a new future,.. for ever.’
We got back into the car and drove silently home.
It was over.
The next day I wrote a poem,.. On Going Home, that was published shortly afterwards. It is still in the collection of poems on my website. [www.doc-leaves.com].
It had been an altogether wonderful year. I had not known such a sustained period of happiness, physical, emotional and sexual since the early marvellous years after I was first married. Ann and I still went on seeing each other perhaps once a week for a couple of months. But the magic was drifting,.. the flames dying down. Gradually I came to hope that, despite all, the future of my real relationship with Pixie might well still hold more undreamed of delights. I realised that I wanted, more than anything, to be with her. Perhaps it was just a silly hope that things would one day come right again. Sadly they never really did. She, too, had tasted of things that were too much for her and she, too, had been in love.
My candle had burned at both ends, and, as the saying goes,.. it could not last the night. But ah my foes and oh my friends it had given a wondrous light.
Realistically speaking, of course it could not have lasted. And it didn’t. As the end of the year approached I was sure that something was wrong. It must have been the same for her. While I was involved in the contradictory joys of a family Christmas she quietly slipped away from the village. Mindy, I found, had gone to live with her grandmother. Of Ann there was no sign.
It was over two years later that I saw her again, briefly. She was in an open-top car with a very gruff and determined looking lady in a tweed jacket and leather gloves. Ann introduced me to her, calling her ‘my partner.’ I am glad to say that after many years I learned that they had had a long term and very happy lesbian relationship.
Mr.Smith and his Farm
Smithy was our name for Mr.Cadwell Smith who ran Pendern Farm. We got on well with him as he was tolerant and knew that boys will be boys and, if treated decently, would respond with respect and courtesy,.. well, up to a point anyway.
Smithy didn’t mind us climbing his trees, playing in his fields or snaring rabbits up on the hill. As a gesture therefore, we didn’t scrump his apples or poach his chickens. And if we found some hen or duck eggs being laid out we collected them and returned them to the farm,.. several times [over a period of years]. He had a wonderful old dray horse that did most of the jobs around the farm. Her name was Poppy. She was huge and gentle and on the appropriate Saturday mornings one of us lads was always available to walk her up to the blacksmith and make it look as if we were holding her bridle steady while she got trimmed or shoed. There was not really any need to hold her bridle. She was so experienced and so calm that she would just have stood there calm and busily chomping out of her nosebag of hay and oats. Then, the job done, a couple of us would climb onto her back,.. as wide as a trestle table, and be carried home. She had no reins as none were needed. Poppy knew her way everywhere around the village.
Kind though he was the most unfortunate thing about Smithy was that he was not very bright. He was also not lucky. If he planted corn it was a wet year and his sheaves rotted in the rain. On a dry year he planted potatoes and they hardly reached market size. His dozen cattle were forever getting through the gate and wandering about in the lanes,,.. or finding their way into the half grown filed of mangold wurzles and either trampling them to a pulp or scoffing the lot.
He was well aware of the problem. More than once I heard him relate that ‘If I wuz in a land of famine and it rained soup I’d be caught with a fork in my hand,.. and it’d be my left hand,.. and then I’d bloody drop it.’
After several years of failure Smithy had really run the farm into the ground. It was all unknown to us lads but in fact he was destitute. He had not even the funds to buy his seed for the following year. He knew it was all over but he had no idea what to do. He had no wife or family to talk to and was utterly confused. Smithy was a chap who could not really see as far as tomorrow morning.
He decided to end it all. We pieced the story together later.
Late one winter evening Smithy went out to his big barn with a rope. He fastened the rope to the main crossbeam in the centre of the barn. To one side were stacked a few dozen or so bales of straw. He carried the rope to them and climbed up on top. There he fastened the rope end around his neck. Then he jumped off.
My brother and I were going milking and, by chance, we were the first two people at the farm next morning. We found Smithy. He was stiff and cold and long since dead. I doubt if two lads ever so quickly covered the ground between the farm and the house of P.C.Peacock, our village bobby
As usual Smithy had got things wrong. Instead of a fairly quick death it all must have taken some time. What happened was that as he jumped off the straw he swung out towards the centre of the barn where the rope was tied. When he reached the hanging position beneath the beam he must have realised that his calculations were all wrong. He had estimated things so badly that he found himself hanging directly beneath the main beam,.. and such that his toes were just about touching the ground. One can only shudder at what his last moments were like. Instinctively he would have tried to unfasten the noose that was gradually throttling him,.. we knew that from the torn remains of his fingers and fingernails with his dried blood still on them. He had clearly tried to jump up or otherwise loosen the rope. We knew that from the way the earth beneath his feet was scuffed and scratched from his heavy boots scraping in agony.
And throughout those all too long last terrifying seconds or even minutes he would have realised that he had even bugled his own suicide.
What a history of failure.
Of course we boys hatched up a story that from that moment on the old barn was haunted. And we always showed the younger boys who were growing up in the village the gruesome marks in the earth where Smithy’s boots had trodden their last few twitching steps.
Death of a Doctor
One of the biggest stories in UK at the time concerned events surrounding the curious death of weapons inspector Dr.David Kelly. Mainly it’s been a did-he-fall-or-was-he-pushed argument. I’d like to add my pennyworth.
After becoming a major news item in 2003 the doctor was found, dead, in circumstances that were to say the least, strange. Officially, the cause of death was a self-inflicted wound that opened his left ulna artery in the wrist, - from which he bled to death. He had also taken about twenty fairly mild pain reliever tablets. Trained first-aiders at the scene found there was very little blood to be seen. The examining pathologist said there was some up the sleeve of his jacket. In other words the wound to the artery was pretty small. Strange?
There are four main arteries running to the hands,.. two in each wrist. The smallest of the four is the left ulna,.. the very one that was damaged. In my time as a casualty doctor I saw dozens of damaged and severed ulna arteries. I also, in Rwanda, saw a four year old boy whose hands had both been deliberately chopped off about fifteen minutes before I saw him. In none of these cases was there much blood about. The artery is quite small and the natural mechanisms contract it down thus reducing the blood flow to a trickle. Clotting then stops further haemorrhage. It needs a pretty sharp knife to open the artery. The doctor’s knife, found nearby, was old and rather blunt. For that to have opened the artery would have needed not a slash but some hacking. There were no signs of any such collateral damage. Strange? The doctor was found to have quite severe coronary artery disease. This could have resulted in a heart attack at any time. Yet no such heart artery blockages were reported at autopsy although the pathologist was said to have gone over the blood vessels ‘millimetre by millimetre.’ Strange?
If all that is not odd enough there was no coroner’s inquest. Instead there was an official enquiry by Lord Hutton. His Lordship not only declared himself satisfied that this was suicide, he ordered the relevant papers to be concealed for seventy years. His reason was to spare the Kelly family’s feelings. In my numerous court appearances for one thing or another I have never known evidence to be ordered concealed to spare other person’s feelings. Strange?
What then is different here? We may well ask. Well, it is likely that at an inquest VIPs like Blair, Bush, Campbell, Straw, Prescott and others might be subpoenaed to give evidence on oath. Circumstances about and motives for starting the Iraq war were not publicly explained to the satisfaction of many citizens.
The entire affair, not surprisingly, led to calls for greater openness. Many doctors, myself included, wrote to the press to voice our concerns. Astonishingly few of these letters appeared in print. Rumours grew. In August a group of high profile doctors jointly drew attention. So did erstwhile Home Secretary Michael Howard. Then the pathologist who did the autopsy declared that the case was a text-book example of suicide by this method. Could this have been a deliberate, though in the event unsuccessful, attempt to talk the matter down and end it? I ask as, despite the popular idea that slashed wrists mean inevitable death, this is simply not so. Indeed, none of the Forensic Medicine textbooks I checked regarded a damaged ulna artery as expected to cause death. Strange?
Now there are many ways to kill a person secretly. A common garden flower contains a poison which, carefully extracted, is not only lethal but which decays to the level of undetectability after a few summer hours. Another common garden shrub produces a gas which can be collected in a polythene bag which, held near the victim’s face causes unconsciousness or death in seconds. Then there are neurological microtoxins. Ricin was used to impregnate needles housed in umbrellas and murder defected Russian agent, Markov, in London some years ago. Derivatives of these are now so toxic and pure that one fatal milligram injected through hair-sized needles slid between toes three and four would leave a mark virtually undetectable,.. especially if the pathologist never even thought to look for same. All this without the hassle of using radio-active polonium.
One could go on and on. But forget conspiracy theorists. The point is that there are far easier and better ways of suiciding someone than making what looked like a botched but successful attempt. Like many others I regard the status quo as unsafe.
I think,.. and hope this case will run and run.
A trip around my DAD
I deliberately use capital letters for that word in my title for this piece because that’s what he was to my brother and myself. He was absolutely capital. It would be hard to imagine a more solid, reliable, kind and good Dad. He was not a demonstrative man. Almost always it was I who hugged and kissed him when we met after a time apart. But hug him and kiss him we boys both did right until the last time. My brother and I still do that to each other. So do my son and I. And so, thanks be, do my grandson and I. No shyness or shame, no concern for what those of stiffer upper lips may think or do,.. or not do. It is what we do. Being Welsh we need no other excuse.
What do I remember most about him? His tall, slim, neat and smart appearance. His brisk walk always with metal taps on his heels and toes so that he could hear himself walk. His cleanliness. His loathing of gardening. His lifelong unreciprocated affection for our mother. His daily starched white collar that seemed to near throttle him when put on. His witty after-dinner speeches. His tolerance. His lack of self-indulgence. His reliability. His honesty and integrity. [‘A man’s integrity can visit the marketplace but once, Son.’ I’m sure his never went there even that once]. His loyalty. His gentleness. His courtesy. Above all, perhaps, his kindness. I truly wish I were more like him.
And what, I am sometimes asked, was the best piece of advice he ever gave you? If I allow a little personal prejudice to creep in it was probably when , after my mother has shown her disapproval,.. amounting to near animosity, for my intention to marry the girl to whom I have been married for half a century, he said. ‘Be advised by no-one. Follow your heart, Son. Marry her.’
However, I suppose that the most valuable,.. and valued, piece of general advice was ‘Enjoy the proclaimed compliment,.. but treasure the kind word spoken close to your ear.’
Dad’s formal education ended early,.. when he was only about two years into high school. That was the age when, realising his widowed mother’s poverty, he secretly left school and got a job as tea-boy in a large office. From then on he was self-educated. He easily passed an entrance examination for personnel wanting to join the Inland Revenue. It was probably his astonishing head for figures that, more than anything else, helped his promotion within that national facility. I remember the way he would hum gently to himself when he was adding up columns of digits,.. as if he were actually enjoying the job. One can always feel respect for those who find music and song in responsibility. Whatever it was, in about 1954 at the age of 52 he reached the top of his particular tree and became the Chief Regional Collector of Taxes for Wales. Not bad, some thought, for the self-educated son of an impoverished, mining-valley widow. An MBE followed more or less automatically but not before yet another prestigious opening came his way.
The entire taxations system of the British Empire in the Caribbean needed to be modernised. Dad was offered the plum job of transfer there to devise the new system, build it up and get it running. It was a task for which he was very well suited.. He would be centred in Jamaica and both salary and life-style would have been something beyond his modest imaginings,.. a smart new office, a free five bedroom home with garden and swimming pool, two cars and several servants. My mother, however, would not leave her family and her background not even for the two or three years needed. Dad was free to go, she told him, but there was no chance of her ever leaving Wales. Part of the truth lay in that she lacked the courage ever to get on a train or a boat. An aeroplane would have been out of the question. Despite the immense value of the opportunity to him and being personally bitterly disappointed, Dad turned down the offer as part of his unrequited affection for my mother. Most of us thought he had made the wrong decision especially so as there was a young lady who was desperate to enter his personal life and become what, for the entirety of their marriage, my mother had not been. Such was his affection and loyalty that he stayed in the final dead end and uncharitable relationship until retirement, endless further rejection and early death seized him. I often wonder what that sacrifice must have done to him inside; whatever it was nothing of it ever appeared on the outside.
Part of Dad’s annual routine was to visit, sometimes unexpectedly, each of the several taxation offices throughout Wales. Two of these little tours of inspection happened to take place during the long summer vacation while I was a junior medical student. On each of these trips he invited me to join him for a few days. That was a rare treat for a hard-working student with very limited free time and even more limited funds. ‘Holidays’ of that style were unheard of. The routine was to drive to some chosen town where Dad would spend the afternoon on his business in the office while I was free to visit the castles, museums and other spots of local interest. Then we would make for some pub that was well-known from his previous trips. There we’d have a simple, wholesome meal and have loads of time to chat or play darts before bed.
On one such occasion, I remember, Dad had been busy all afternoon in the Brecon office. When the office closed we moved on to a rather splendid hostelry just a mile or so away. We ate well and headed for the billiard room where there was a full-sized table. Dad was a very good billiards player,.. a sure sign of a misspent youth, as he called it. He proceeded, as always, to give me a sound thrashing. The traditional game in those days was won by being the first to score exactly 101-Up. In billiards you can only score either two or three points per stroke and it was always a surprise to see how quickly he got to that 101.
That day there were a few locals also watching as, time after time, Dad ‘cannoned’ or ‘in-offed’ and left me trailing. They quickly recognised that they were watching something of an expert. In due course one fellow who’d probably already had a couple, started making comments. Dad alternately smiled or simply ignored him. Eventually however, the fellow challenged him. ‘I’ll give you a game next,’ he said, preening a bit to his pals.
‘Oh, I don’t think so,’ said Dad.
‘Yes, come on. I’ll show you some real billiards.’ Despite wanting to avoid it Dad was eventually compelled to agree. ‘I ought to tell you,’ he said, ‘That I was once Eastern Valleys All-comers champ for three consecutive years.’ I was amazed, never before having heard of this irrefutable evidence of the aforesaid misspent youth. ‘That might make a difference to you? ‘he added.
The chap was not to be thus easily deterred. Dad finally agreed,.. ‘On one condition,’ he said. ‘I’ll play you 101-Up for half a crown the frame. But, I don’t want it to get around to the boys at my club that I took your money without giving you a chance. So, - the condition is that whatever I score I chalk up. But whatever you score, you double and then chalk up. OK?’
The man smirked at the other locals. This was going to be all too easy, he knew. The whole thing was agreed and several other customers, hearing the rare burst of excitement, crowded in to the billiard room to watch.
Dad’s opponent won the toss and made Dad break off. For that first stroke there are only two balls on the table and it’s quite hard to score. Dad didn’t. The other chap then opened his turn with a modest seven break. He winked at the audience, doubled it and chalked up fourteen.
And so the game went on. Dad hardly made any effort. Just once or twice when there was an attractive but difficult shot he would crisply score two or three, draw a little applause and chalk up his score. He had about twenty on his slate as the challenger reached the ninety mark. Dad’s calm imperturbability was proving a lesson to me.
Next shot the challenger scored five and stepped across to the slate. Two times five is ten. He rubbed out the 90 and substituted 100 with a chortle. Then he stopped in his tracks. There was a hushed silence around the room as the horrid truth dawned. There exists no way to score a one in billiards. And, even if there were, doubling it would make it two. Either way the challenger had bust. He turned to Dad. ‘You blighter,’ he smiled. ‘I never could have won from the word go, could I?’
Dad shook his head. ‘You were beaten before you started. 101 is an odd number and whatever number you double it will always give an even number. You can’t get a 101 using the system I offered you.’
At that point the barman went round with the hat. Dad put the winning half crown in plus another from his own pocket. The barman finally poured £4 “ 3 “ 4 into the Boy Scouts collection box on the bar. As we walked away I said, ‘Dad, I never knew you were once a billiards champ.’ Silence. ‘I wasn’t,’ he said. ‘I just thought it would make his inevitable defeat easier to bear if it were at the hands of a real toff.’
I was full of admiration. Dad had shown great style and great aplomb. I had learned a profitable lesson or two. And I doubt if that fellow ever again challenged a stranger.
The other favourite family story about Dad was one that did not involve me. But I’ll tell it because it is a good story,.. and because I’ve heard it so many times I almost feel as if I were there.
Once again it took place on one of Dad’s countrywide inspection tours. I’ve not named the town this time for obvious reason. He arrived at the office a little before noon on a fine, sunny morning. He was surprised to find the office front door was shut but not fastened. It opened to his light touch. Inside he could hear nothing and the lights were off. That was odd. The office stood on one side of the main road through what was then little more than a large village. It is a much bigger place now. Just opposite was the lych-gate of the church and, next to it, the main pub of the village. There was no sign of life in any of them.
Puzzled, Dad walked around the side of the building. The windows were all closed. Knowing the building well from previous visits he was aware which window was that of the head man’s office. He needed to be on tip-toe to peep in and even then his view just cleared the window sill. What he saw came as something of a shock for there, sitting around the desk, were the boss, his cashier, and his two counter clerks,.. playing cards.
Dad decided to give them a bit of a shake-up. He went back around to the front door and pressed hard on the alarm bell button. Loud chimes pealed out for a few seconds then automatically shut down. This was a system used during security drills the alarm being able to be programmed to discontinue its Wagnerian signal in order not to disturb other people nearby.
To Dad’s surprise there was no visible response to the alarm. He slipped back around to the window and, peeping in, saw that the revenue officers were still playing cards. He decided to go in and speak to them but, as he returned yet again to the front door an even more remarkable sight met his eyes.
At that very moment the door of the pub opposite opened and, hurrying across the road, came the publican himself carrying four, foaming pints of Guinness on a tray. He made for the office, nodded at Dad as if he were vaguely familiar, and, pushing the door open with his backside, hustled inside with the drinks he thought the alarm bell had ordered.
It was Dad’s opinion that an Inland Revenue office alarm bell had seldom, been put to better use.
I last saw Dad about two weeks before he died. I was taking the family on a much needed holiday. The destination was a remote village in Greece. One of the attractions of the place was the near absence of communications. I wonder now if I should have cancelled the trip. We all knew Dad was coming to the end and he knew it too. The daily ration of forty cigarettes for decades had had its usual effect. When I suggest a delay he would have none of it. He wanted us all to go and have a good time. Neither we, nor, I think, he, dreamed quite how near the end was. Anyway, away we went and I never saw him again.
We were already in Greece when I knew he was dead. It was in the middle of the night and everyone but me was asleep. I woke knowing that something dreadful had happened.
Later, in the evening of the next day, I went, alone, up to the ruins of an old Venetian castle that stood hard by. I danced there then, - in sorrow and remorse and regret. I danced because I know of no deeper way to respond to the measureless grief. The desperation and finality of ultimate bereavement was filling my soul. I sobbed and cried and groaned and my mind reached out in every direction for some touch, some grasping point that I might use to hang onto while the desolation and the misery deluged me, - while the utter dismay of this permanent and dreadful loss had me helpless.
At times like that there are no thoughts, no words, no signs of salvation. In that extreme and chillingly lonely darkness only the most primitive levels of the human body seem to operate. Expression by dancing is a function discovered by all peoples throughout history. This is not the strict tempo dancing of some fashionable phase. This is blind, fundamental movement of a body activated only by the atavistic impulses that lie at the outer edges of, or even beyond, full comprehension. This is the dance of the single soul in torment, searching, expiating, hoping and eventually passing beyond the grip of horror into a new and more enlightened state of knowing. It doesn’t matter, I think, where the dancing happens, - in castle ruins, in a remote glade, in a darkened garden, - or even in the mind alone in a silent, midnight bed. What matters is the dance, its expressions, its explanations and the relief it brings.
I danced when my father died. And when the dancing was finished he was gone from everywhere but memory. He was not dead, for no-one is really dead while there is still someone alive who remembers. But he was gone.
I still miss him every day. And every eighth of January, - his birthday, my brother and I talk about him with love, gratitude and lifelong respect.
I only wish I had remembered to say thank-you.
Who hid Mount Sinai?
How many readers, I wonder, have seen the Great Pyramid on the Giza Plateau on the outskirts of Cairo. Quite a few I imagine. I suspect, further, that for most of them their first sight of it was a striking and memorable moment. I know it was for me. Many years ago I went with two other officers up the hill from the old Mena House on camels. When we stood before the formidable slopes a group of locals offered to carry us to the top for about ten piastres. Yes… I said ‘carry us’ and that’s what they did. Using strategically placed stones as stairs it took them about ten minutes to piggyback us to the top. From there we could see the spectacular view for miles around over the city and the Nile delta. And there we enjoyed our packed lunches and chilled champagne,.. officers lived well in those days,.. all carried up in the same way. I can tell you it was an experience that has been in my mind ever since that day, so memorable was it.
One would think that these enormous piles would be memorable to anyone seeing them during the past few thousand years. That includes even those living close and seeing them every day. Yet somehow they seem to have been forgotten by thousands,.. or deliberately overlooked. I say that for, in the Bible, which is largely a history of the Jews of the area,.. say from the Nile delta up the coastal zones of the Levant,.. those vast constructions are never even mentioned.
That seems strange. Large numbers of the Chosen People lived within a few miles. That’s where they started on their journey to the Promised Land. Yet not a mention. Hanging Gardens, Towers of Babel, temples and Gardens of Eden, stone staircases, - all these feature in one place or another as do Galilee, the Read Sea and the townships of north-east Egypt. Yet the biggest and most spectacular edifice in the world merits not a mention.
Or does it?
I think, and I am not alone in thinking, that it may well be mentioned but under another name in order to obfuscate. Being a racial history the writers did not want it put about that most of the Biblical events actually took place in Egypt, - that their own gods used to be Egyptian gods, - that their rituals largely derived from Egyptian rituals. Even their leader, Moses, was Egyptian,.. hence the name Moses which was certainly not Jewish. And so on.
Now let me list the things we’re told about Mount Sinai,.. and no, I am not changing the subject. The Bible tells us that it was very hard to climb as it was very steep. It also tells us that Moses ordered it to be fenced off, - and how do you fence off a big, rambling mountain? Third, we’re told it was the highest point for far around. Finally we learn that the Israeli god sometimes dwelt somewhere within it. Note that it several times says in and not on. There is also a claim that occasionally there was fire on the top. The point to be made is that there exists no such mountain within reach of where the wandering Jews did their wandering and which can satisfy all these features.
At this point does it not occur to anyone else that the one option that does satisfy all requirements is right there on the spot,.. the Great Pyramid. If the pyramid had simply been renamed as Mount Sinai the whole thing fits like a glove. In its smooth, marble-clad days it would have been near impossible to climb. It is easily fenced off,.. as it sometimes is nowadays. It is the highest point for miles around. It has a flat top on which a fire of dried [burning?] bushes could easily be set. And it had secret chambers within, where a god or two, - or someone cast as a god, could skulk.
I suspect that Mount Sinai and the Great Pyramid are one and the same? That’s why no other candidates are as convincing. There are tissues of lies surrounding the whole scenario of Judaism and its derivatives, Islam, Christianity, Mormonism and the rest. The careful obfuscations, - deleting awkward bits, hiding here, disguising there, have made vast fortunes for generations of the priestly class. But like all lies they fail to withstand the inexorable scrutiny of time.
Mary,.. the witch lady
I once had, on my NHS medical list, a self-confessed witch. She was also a moderately well controlled schizophrenic. Most of the time, and when she was taking her tablets, she was not much of a problem. She used to wander around the town mumbling to herself and selecting other people, more or less at random, for a burst of invective and the most sulphurous language. People learned to keep out of her way.
There were other times when she forgot or deliberately chose not to take her medication. At these times she could go pretty berserk. There were three occasions,.. all of which I remember well, when I had to go looking for her only to find that she was skulking about, still in her petticoat or nightwear and armed with a kitchen knife with which to threaten any luckless soul who approached her. Even at those bad times she seemed happy to tolerate me and my customary routine was to talk her into my car and let me drive her the ten miles to our nearest mental illness inmate facility,.. where they usually kept a room and bed ready for her sudden unannounced appearances.
On one particular day she turned up at my morning clinic. As part of our system my receptionist called me on the intercom to say that ‘she’ was here, had parked her broomstick on the coat hanger and was insisting that her case was so urgent that she must see me at once before any of the others waiting.
She was well known and, despite the inconvenience caused, everyone knew that it was better that her declared urgency was respected as that was the quickest and easiest way to get rid of her,.. which was in everyone’s interest.
In she came and sat in the usual chair. She was wearing a wide-brimmed hat, high heel sandals, a see-through blouse and her skirt hitched well up above her knees. Heavy make-up circled her eyes and her lipstick was an aggressive shade of scarlet.
If I tell you that, at that time, Mary was in her mid-seventies I’m sure you’ll get the picture. She launched at once into that day’s complaint.
‘What has happened between us, Doctor,’ she began. ‘Have you gone off me?’
‘Of course not, Mary,.. why, what’s the matter?’
‘You’re refusing to take my phone calls aren’t you,.. and you are not answering my letters.’
Now I doubted very much whether Mary knew how to use a telephone and I had certainly never seen her write anything. The best response seemed to me to humour her then pack her off home to her long suffering husband, Derek.
‘Now, Mary,’ I said. ‘Nothing has changed. So how are you off for your tablets? Are you needing some supplies?’ It was usually possible to deflect her by switching the subject. This time she was not so easily deterred.
‘I hope you mean that, Doctor,’ she said. She dropped her eyes and her voice. ‘You see,.. if you jilt me again I’ll have my revenge ready. And so will my sisters.’
I had heard her before referring to this mysterious coven of witches with whom she claimed to commune. I had no information whatsoever but I always assumed they were just a figment of her wild imagination.
‘We all know about you,’ she said. ‘We watch you, you know.’
‘Now, Mary,’ I began again. ‘There’s nothing to worry about. Everything is quite OK. But Mary, I want to put your name down for your flu shots. Is it OK if I put your name on the list for an appointment?’
She was momentarily deflected and nodded her head.
‘That’s OK then, Mary,’ I smiled. ‘That’s everything sorted out.’ I stood up to guide her towards the door. ‘Thank you for coming to see me.’
I had my hand on the door handle as she looked me straight in the eye.
‘We have a little doll of you, you know,’ she said. ‘We call it an heffigy in the sisterhood. We can soon put pins an’ things in it. And you know what that can do, don’t you?’ She smiled a rather malicious smile and walked out through the door.
I was amused by her silly threats. I had no beliefs in superstition so it had no other effect on me. To me ghosts and goblins and spirits and gods and magic and all that stuff are just so much folk superstition. I thought no more of it.
Mary died in rather odd circumstances some seven or eight years later. There were some police investigations at the time as there was some evidence that she might have had some unidentified visitors the day before she died. Various unrecognised items of female ownership were found in her house and looking as if they had been recently used,.. handkerchiefs, sewing items, a decorated belt and some make-up items that no-one who knew Mary could identify. The post-mortem report showed no unexpected abnormalities and the coroner closed the case without further hesitation.
But there were two things that occurred to me that I felt had been passed over without adequate explanation. Amongst her personal items in her bedroom was an old leather suitcase that contained nothing but about thirty crude home-made dolls. Several of them had puncture marks where pins might have once been. Some of the others had limbs almost twisted off and, yet others, had slashes on their limbs that might have been caused by razor blades or small knives.
Most of the dolls had what might have been initials marked onto the soles of their feet. I was intrigued. In the back of my mind I just wondered if the dolls might really have represented actual people. I made a list of the initials and the damage that had been done to the various dolls. Later on I compared the initials with the medical records of patients on the current and recent medical lists. Most produced nothing of significance.
But four left a lasting doubt in my mind. Three were ladies, since deceased. To my certain recollection all three had suffered from medical problems in exactly the regions that had been damaged on the relevant dolls.
One doll was male and had had one hip badly mangled. I myself had had very bad arthritis in one hip and which had started at an unusually early age. I had had to have a hip replacement quite early on,.. when I was only sixty one years of age. It was my right hip that had been
involved. The opinion was that the hip had been damaged during a fall from a tree during my teens and which I remembered very well. It was also the right hip that was damaged on the male doll. Even more strange was that the initials on its feet were D.D.
In those days everyone in the village knew me as Dr.Dick. Probably just pure coincidence,.. don’t you think?
‘Life is short,.. have an Affair’ Published Aug.2016
That headline is one of a number of come-ons for an internet dating facility that arranges introductions between possible amatory partners. The aim is not to help form long term couples but rather more to facilitate short term couplings.
Divorce rates across the country have noticeably reduced over the past thirty years,.. but this decline not only does not apply to the ‘affairs-rate’ but clearly reverses it. Reliable figures are difficult to obtain and harder still to assess but even applying the most stringent interpretations the increasing frequency of affairs is certain. Many, indeed, are not actually extra-marital as a state of matrimony doesn’t always exist. Women who are partners rather than actual wives, are showing similar increases in extra-partnership dalliances.
This is an area where, like it or not in terms of political correctness, the female seems to operate under rather different motivations from the male. The male is easy to assess. He is wired from the cradle to the grave to be promiscuous and predatory. Instinctively he has a roaming eye,.. if nothing else. He is constantly watching and noticing the possibilities of female availability. Many men, of course, never move further along the divergent path than just wishing and hoping and watching and waiting. But, even in these the interest, as a background activity, is rarely very deeply hidden and even more rarely is it absent for long. That’s men categorised. Predictable.
Women however are a very different matter altogether. Women, being, as they undoubtedly are, far less predatory and far more inclined to what one might think of as traditional values of domesticity, mothering and homemaking. Yet the figures speak for themselves. More women are now having affairs than ever before. Such things have never been rare,.. ‘Tis a wise man who knows his own father.’ But they have become much more common.
So,.. why do these presumably ‘spoken for’ females take the considerable plunge into the warm and exciting yet troubled waters of adultery, profligacy or promiscuity? Believe me there are plenty of reasons to be heard - and I have heard my share - within the modern consulting room.
My own experience suggests that the number one impulse comes from a mixture of boredom at the state of things as they know them and the possibility of excitement in contemplating a flutter. Another factor is that the erstwhile view of the wandering female is no longer as anti as it was. Affairs are much more easily tolerated by those whose business it is not anyway.
Some are motivated by revenge. They want to punish the regular partner. [This is not always surprising]. The adulteress may be actually, if secretly, partly intending to be found out. She is, perhaps just getting her own back. A variation on this reason is that of relieving the boredom of living with a workaholic man perpetually thinking only of business.
Sexual factors certainly do feature amongst the reasons one hears,.. but surprisingly less often than might be expected. The highly charged lady who does not get as much physical attention as she craves at home is no rare discovery. Neither is the person who openly admits that one man is simply not enough while an increased supply of partners with different specialties has much appeal.
Financial influences are not common but a generous friend for the cinq a sept hours can apparently be an extra help.
What always used to come as a refreshing revelation is what I call the socio-selfish group. Here I include the basic womanly needs of warmth, friendship, respect and love. I see nothing offensive in a person seeking these life-lubricants when they are not forthcoming from elsewhere.
Then, finally, I must mention those with the verve and spirit recklessly to indulge ‘Just because at sixty I felt I was leaving things a little late.’ What the ladies at their coffee mornings talk about as the ‘buzz’ factor is strongly appealing. Blind, careless, uncaring oafish husbands need to perk up a bit. Affairs really are pretty fashionable in these days of the second half century of the Permissive Society,
And now,.. to lighten things up at the end, a quote. Once, I remember, there was a most attractive lady,.. probably the most sought after in the entire village who became involved with a widely disliked and mediocre looking little fellow. When their rather sordid but sustained affair reached the daylight there ensued the common result of legal wrangling in which I would probably be called as a witness. I felt I had to ask my patient,.. ‘Betsy, what on earth was it about him that first so attracted you?’
She answered,.. ’Well,.. he was very polite,.. and he wore a lovely yellow shirt. Nothing more than that really’
There’s no accounting for taste, now is there? Or for women.
Wholly Spiritless or Aude Sapere [*]
I listened to a Very Prominent Churchman last week as he sought to explain the Christian take on what he calls The Holy Spirit/Ghost. This is that equal bit of the One True God that is not a father or a son. Though not all followers of Abrahamic religious offshoots concur. What a job he was having explaining this curious entity, - no wonder. I looked up the Wikipedia offering,.. ‘’The Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is one God, but three coeternal consubstantial persons or hypostases—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—as "one God in three Divine Persons". The three Persons are distinct, yet are one "substance, essence or nature". Sounds like waffle to me. My case rests.
It seems that this spirit or ghost is some sort of ‘emanation’ or energy derived from a god. It appears to have some sort of separate yet associated existence with the other parts and exists somewhere within the milieu that hovers some undefined where between god and man.
What was clear to me was that the man had virtually no understanding of what he was explaining. No surprise there as the real answers are not known,.. not even to Wikipedia. The consequence was yet another effort to cloak ignorance with a load of meaningless metaphysical jargon. It was obvious that the man’s hope was that the enquirer would eventually be satisfied - or swamped, by the voluminous twaddle and simply give up on the question. As Ralph Ellis once so aptly put it, no ‘...cardinal or pope will permit himself to say ’I haven’t a clue what it is,’ as this would rock the foundations of the organisation.’
Nevertheless no precise definition of Holy Ghost or Spirit [whichever you prefer] is available. And that’s that.
There is, of course, no way to reconcile the oddities, errors and deliberate obfuscations of the Old Testament. The one thing that’s virtually sure is that the events related had little to do with the wandering nomads of Palestine and their self-appointed, capricious and multiply criminal YHWH. The Jewish religion and its daughter sects, Christianity and Islam, have all had to prop up their unlikely stories by introducing a total dependence on faith,.. defined as belief without reason in things without proof. If there is something inexplicable and which cannot be understood, then apply faith to it and it ceases to matter. All you need is faith and you magically avoid all the glaring inconsistencies and the lack of historical confirmation. But I suggest that nowadays, in the 21st century and three hundred years since the Enlightenment doing the ostrich bit and pretending the difficult parts are not there just isn’t good enough.
Miracles, partings of the Red [or Reed] Sea, sticks changing into serpents are obvious nonsense. Things that are physically and chemically unable to happen do not happen, even magically. All the magic in the world can’t get a rabbit out of a hat if there isn’t one in there. The events written in the Bible seem almost certain to have been fragments of events occuring in the greatest culture of that place and period, namely Egypt. Forget fairy tales like gods bellowing out of burning bushes and starving wanderers wolfing down manna. These are all distorted reports of things that just might have happened alright, but which happened in Egypt. Who would have cared about a few traipsing Jews. There were empires, cultures, religions galore without any fiddlesome new sand-trekkers.
Of course it’s hard to see beyond the deliberate indoctrination to which most of us were subjected. Our grandparents believed and taught our parents. So our parents believed and taught us. No one sat back and said ‘Whoa,.. let’s stop this bullshine.’ Only with the pitifully slow spread of education have a few been able to shake free from early brain-washing. Islam is currently stuck in a cruel medieval time warp. But it has a great tradition of science, medicine and learning. Once the imams and the ayatollahs lose their grip then Islam will surge forward again. Cultured Jews everywhere are turning from Judaism. I suspect that if the religion were not so closely tied up to nationalism and ‘jewishness’ there would be far fewer adherents; no wonder circumcision has to be commited before the years of discretion and the right to resist. Christians everywhere except where the priests have a stranglehold,.. Italy, Spain, Ireland and so on, or in the Red-Necked-Lunatics Bible Belt of the US, are staying away from religion in their thousands.
Meanwhile the priests who usurped a fictitious authority stemming from their utterly unfounded claim of intercession between gods and men are starting to run scared. Some of the more enlightened thinkers amongs them are already starting to recant on their erstwhile beliefs in imaginary godheads.
They need to come up with much better ideas than blind faith if they are to get away with things much longer.
[*] Dare to think
Something in the Air
My life has involved a great deal of flying. Here comes a collection of things overheard [sometimes by accident] in various aircraft:
1. As the plane landed, somewhat fast and steeply I thought, and was coming to a rather shuddering stop at Washington National, a lone voice came over the loudspeaker: ‘Whoa, big fellah. WHOA!’
2. After a particularly rough landing during thunderstorms in Memphis, a flight attendant
on a Northwest flight announced: ‘Please take extra care when opening the overhead compartments because, after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted.’
3. From a Southwest Airlines employee: ‘Welcome aboard Southwest Flight 171 to Chicago, Illinois. To operate your seatbelt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seatbelt and if you don't know how to operate one, you probably shouldn't be out in public unsupervised.’
4. ‘In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the ceiling. At that point stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your nose and mouth. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with two small children, decide now in advance which one you love more.’
5. ‘Your seat cushions can be used for flotation and in the event of an emergency water landing, please take them with our compliments.’
6. From the pilot during his welcome message: ‘In this airline we are pleased to have some of the best flight attendants in the industry.... unfortunately none of them are on this flight. ‘
7. A flight attendant's comment on a less than perfect landing: ‘We ask all passengers please to remain seated while Captain Kangaroo bounces us the rest of the way to the terminal.’
8. Part of a Flight Attendant's arrival announcement: ‘We'd like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you'll again think of us here at US Airways.’
And my prize goes to a BOAC flight into an African city in 1972,.. ‘We are now descending towards Khartoum,.. will passengers please set their watches back twenty years.’
Ah yes,.. I remember it well
It happened on the 1st of August, 1947,..
Like most of the others I had never been out of the country before. This was the first of the post-war school holidays. The Sixth Form trip to Switzerland. We left our homes, many of us for the first time ever, in late July for ten incredible days travelling,.. abroad!
We travelled from South Wales all the way to London,.. by train. That in itself was more or less amazing for very few of us had ever been to London before. Travel during the war was difficult and often dangerous,.. and we had been only about ten years old when the war started. We crossed London from Paddington Station to Waterloo by bus and then took another train to Dover to catch the ferry boat.
Those who are familiar with crossing the Channel today would have little idea what things were like in 1947. We were astonished to see individual cars driven onto wooden pallets and hoisted, one-by-one, up onto the decks where they were squeezed into the smallest spaces. Drive-on-drive-off was still years in the future. We crossed from Dover to Ostend, a trip of over four hours, then found our places on the old, worn and well-weathered trans-continental train from Ostend to Istanbul. Much of the journey from Dover across Belgium and France was through country where the war had been waged. We recognised the names of a lot of the places we travelled through. It became commonplace to see houses still carrying the signs of battle. Many were still ruins. The black teeth of scorched walls and chimney stacks became familiar sights. Some of the towns had areas untouched since the wave of battle had passed through in 1945. Scarred brickwork, pitted roads and demolished factories were everywhere. It was something of a shock to see what terrible damage had been done while we, feeling safe across the Channel, had no wartime experience apart from the result of air-raids. Abandoned lorries, twisted guns and burned out tanks dotted the countryside just rusting steadily until their turn for removal finally came.
On the French-Swiss border we left the train at Basel and transferred to the Swiss train from there to Interlaken. What a difference. Clean, well-kept, painted and efficient the Swiss towns and villages as well as their trains were like something out of a film. High snow-crested mountains and lush green valleys were everywhere. At the station we stopped and bought fruit juice and bars of nut chocolate,.. things most of us had not seen for years. And you could buy and eat as much as you wanted,.. an opportunity few of us could even remember.
From Interlaken the lovely Swiss trains took us to Spiez and then on to the village of Frutigen in the Berner Oberland. Even the local trains,.. just two carriages long, ran on time literally to the minute. It was unbelievable. Eyes were wide open and mouths hung open. No-one could really recall such a life-style.
We were shared out between two Frutigen hotels,.. the Adler [Eagle] and the Simplon,.. named after the great road and rail pass through the Alps. My room was on the top floor of the Simplon. It had a wooden outside terrace overlooking the main road through the village. It was paradise and when we got downstairs for supper,.. or ‘Abendessen’ as the hotel called it, we were in for another shock.
Out from the kitchens came wonderful smells and plates heaped with enough fresh meat to feed a regiment. Steaming potatoes, carrots, beans and a sort of thick onion gravy. To kids who lived under strict rationing, and had done so for several years it was unbelievable. Back at home we still had severely curtailed food supplies. My allowance of meat for a week was one shilling-worth [the equivalent of less than three pounds in today’s  money. There were cheeses, puddings and hot biscuits to follow. We could eat as much as we liked and the lady staff, seeing us all as famished youngsters, encouraged us to fill and refill our plates. But despite the wonderful food there was, for me anyway, another revelation about to be revealed.
Sex began to rear its beautiful head.
One of the waitresses was Greta,.. Greta Coronalli, to be precise. She was a tiny little thing in her first training job, having arrived in Frutigen only a few days earlier from her home near Lugano,.. a Swiss town down near the Italian border. She was one of the most strikingly pretty girls I had ever seen.
Instead of the well-worn and well-darned cloths of our girls,.. and most other people back in our Welsh villages and schools, Greta wore typical Swiss costume,.. although it was not really costume in the sense that it was daily wear in this village. She wore a knee-length black dirndl skirt embroidered with flowers, a silk-embroidered belt and a white blouse covered with more embroidery right down to its puffed sleeves. To her it was almost a uniform but I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever set eyes on. I was instantly smitten,.. knocked out,.. bowled over. If ever there was love at first sight this was surely it.
I fancied that she took some kind of a liking for me, too. She smiled every time she came near and I began to imagine all kinds of wonderful things. I was Young Lochinvar with bits of Dick Turpin, Robin Hood and King Arthur Pendragon all in one. Suddenly there was no love in all the world like this one.
The Swiss, in those days, went to bed early. Greta’s duties ended at exactly nine in the evening,.. not a minute sooner, not a minute later. On the second evening we sat, just we two, at one of the roadside tables outside the hotel. We drank apple juice,.. an unheard of luxury back home in Wales. It cost 2 cents a tumbler. We talked in German of which we had, between us, rather little. It was enough. She told me she had three older brothers at home so she was quite used to boys.
Next evening she needed to post a letter to her parents. We walked through the village to the post office. And on the way back we held hands. This was pretty racy stuff for 1947. And the very next evening I put my arm across her shoulders and she responded with her arm around my waist,.. which was about as high as she could reach. I thought I was walking into the paradise gardens. We strolled up along the fast-flowing stream – the Dorfbach – its cold grey snow-melt waters bubbling and gurgling. We sat on a massive wooden bench and talked about absolutely nothing, as I recall, but just thrilling to the sound of each other’s voices. A vista of many years of loving happiness seemed to stretch out in front of us into a future too wonderful even to imagine.
The next day was a Friday. It was Swiss National Day,.. a public holiday. We both realised it was the end of the line for us. Greta would leave first thing on Saturday morning to visit her family. Our school party was due to leave the village on Sunday afternoon. With our love still a tender wee seedling a mere five days old we could already see the sickening horror of what separation might mean.
After supper we walked, hand in hand as was now usual, up the river bank to our favourite seat. She was so sad,.. I was her first love, she told me. She said that already, after only a few days, she didn’t know how to be without me any more.
We talked of what would be, in one more year, as soon as I could leave grammar school, get a job and come to find her,.. as, of course I surely would. We talked about what our families would say. Nevertheless, we decided, it was all only a matter of time,.. of somehow getting through the long cruel year of separation that faced us. Neither of us would be able to afford telephone calls. But we would write to each other every single day, of course. We would send each other our local flowers and leaves pressed between the pages of letters. We would be in love for always. We knew all these things with the certainty of youth that sees only the successful end though not the thousands of hurdles to be faced and leapt in between.
It grew dark. We held each other very close. Once or twice we got close to kissing each other,.. though, really, that was pretty much out of the question.
Eventually it was time to make our way back to the hotel.
Then, suddenly, we gasped. All over the tall mountains and shadowed pine forests glowing lights started to appear. Across the outlined trees and hillsides hundreds of fires were being ignited. In no time they were everywhere up there blazing and flickering. There were far too many to count. Then, on the face of the steep incline leading to the nearby hills one fire grew into the shape of a burning, fiery red cross that was the national symbol of Switzerland. Church bells were ringing out. A children’s choir was singing as, all in national dress, the members wended their way through the village streets. It was a magical moment. We were stunned. Half way back along the riverside path we stopped and looked around at the sheer splendour and wonder of the place and its thrilling sights and sounds,.. the rushing river, the vivid fires, the smell of woodsmoke, the spots of lights from the streets and from little farmhouses up on the slopes.
We strolled along slowly, walking in time step by synchronised step. Then she stopped and turned around to face me. She held both my hands, snuggled close and looked up at me. I could see the teardrops on her lovely face. She was so tiny I had to stoop a little for her to kiss me. I remember I could see the flickering of the fires in her eyes and on the sheen of her hair.
I was overwhelmed. Everything was so unspeakably wonderful and magical. I had no words at all. She hardly spoke,.. just breathed and moved her lips a little as she hugged me. Then she sighed and in a half whisper she said ‘Amore mio tesoro,.. ti amo cosi tanto.’ Then another sigh, another whisper and ‘Ed io ti amero per sempre,.. per sempre.’ [My darling I love you so much – and I’ll love you forever,.. forever].
I don’t for one moment imagine that she did,.. or does.
But those phrases she used fired me with a wish to learn Italian, so beautiful were they. I tried several times but, having no great aptitude for languages I never really managed to master that most beautiful language. But one thing is sure,.. from that day to this those words remain the most romantic that have ever been spoken to me.
Greta,.. sweet child love Greta, in my fashion I still adore you,.. Nel mio modo,.. ti amo ancorare.
Lying Politics Published July 2013
I was recently surprised to read an article bluntly claiming that Tony Blair was a liar. However, it was not a questions of veracity that raised my eyebrows. It was the thought that anyone would expect a politician not to be one. To a politician truth is a today matter. It’s true now but probably was not last week, - and the odds on it being his truth next week are always pretty long.
That said, those lies being told by the odious Mr.Blair [still Mr. – no knighthood or peerage you’ll notice,.. as yet, anyway] concerned the way he lied about weapons of mass destruction [WMD] prior to Gulf War II. Now I understand that anything said by this fellow has a good chance of being interpreted as untrue. But, in the case of those missing WMDs I’m not at all sure.
To start with there certainly were WMD or fairly advanced places working on them scattered throughout Iraq. British and US Intelligence knew about some of them. We also knew that various component supplies had been purchased from places around the world. Some had even come from or via UK-based manufacturers and dealers. In other words there was not the remotest doubt that such things existed within Saddam’s dictatorate. We knew too, that feverish activity was the order of the day. The Boss wanted everything up and running a.s.a.p.
There were facilities full of centrifuges needed to refine nuclear fuels. There were factories making the precision components for missilies and atomic warheads. There were laboratories breeding strains of pathogenic bacteria and others manufacturing mustard gas, dispersable thymoleptic chemicals and sarin. Some had already been successfully tried out on remote Kurdish villages. Others were in varying states approaching functional weapon readiness.
To put it differently some WMD already existed and others were well along the pipeline. Then, during and immediately after the invasion another remarkable thing happened. Iraqi citizens smashed open shops, offices, museums and hospitals and began a days-long orgy of looting; anything that could be moved was stolen, - even infant life-support cubicles that no unskilled person had any idea how to use. Invading forces, when present, did little or nothing to control the mayhem.
Now let me point out something that few seem to have realised. This free-for-all theft and looting was not the spontaneous gesture of selfish defiance as which it was portrayed. It was a deliberately planned smokescreen. For, while the rest of the world gobbled up stories of priceless ancient artifacts being stolen and smashed something far more sinister was happening. During those days of late spring 2003 fleets of flat-bed trucks and low-loaders turned up at weapons plants like Al Hateen and Al Adwan and, in an organised routine, removed vast amounts of machinery and stores. Looting,.. maybe; organised certainly.
UN inspectors claimed that satellite pictures showed potentially thermonuclear items being moved. Indeed, it puzzles me that although they could see that, they claimed not to have found any similar photographic evidence of their prior existence. Bungling incompetence,.. or liars, take your pick. Furthermore some of the items nicked can’t just be parked in disused garages and garden sheds. They need special storage facilities,.. and these needed to have been built and prepared in advance,.. somewhere or other.
Before the war there had been fear that if war came Saddam would use his WMD. In the event that didn’t happen but one thing is certain. Far from protecting the Iraqi people, the Middle East in particular and the rest of the world into the bargain the invasion of Iraq has rendered the entire planet at a greater risk than ever if only by spreading and sharing out lethal explosives, drugs, chemicals and nuclear know-how to many wealthy buyers. At least we once knew where they were, - now most are in unknown locations dotted about where unscrupulous people are hiding them for their own eventual purposes.
Somewhere in the world fissile material ‘unaccounted for’ from the USSR when communism collapsed, together with Saddam’s goodies and, who knows, added to by noxious items now in use in Syria, are in the hands of rich purchasers. My bet is that they are not there as collectors items. What happens when the regime of Saudi Arabia,.. the great paymaster, falls and their stores are looted. Who’ll have those weapons then? Nobody good, I’ll be bound.
The match is already too near the fuse for anyone in the Middle East to feel safe. And, remember, Megiddo [Armageddon], via Galilee and Nazareth is only about forty miles from the Golan.
Emm's last gift
Robby and Emm lived together and had done for most of their lives. They were never married though I was probably one of the very few that knew that. It didn't seem to matter at all to them so why it should matter to anyone else I can't imagine.
Robby was half gipsy. His father had been a respectable enough farm worker and there had been a lot of scandal in the early 20th century when he was believed to have married 'the gipsy woman.' She, apparently, had been dishonest, foul-mouthed and profligate. I never knew either of that old pair. They were dead long before I came to the area. But tales of the gipsy woman and her nefarious doings still crop up from time to time.
Robby was a casual labourer. That was not because he was incapable of better. He was a very bright chap indeed. The point was that his Romany blood did not fit in well with the idea of regular work for all of the time. He also had similar ideas to my own on the question of land tenure and husbandry. That a piece of land could belong to a man was understandable. That the land may have a stream through it that belonged to that man was also more or less acceptable. But that that same man, by virtue of his ownership, also owned the fish that swam in the water or the birds of the air that visited its banks was something quite outside Robbie’s understanding. In the same way as he regarded a little harmless smuggling as a branch of commerce, so, a spot of discreet poaching was to be interpreted as a branch of agriculture.
One of the things that always struck me about this old couple was their absolute integrity. Yet many people didn’t trust them. It was known that Robby poached, that he spent a lot of time walking in the wet wild woods by his wild lone, that he only worked enough to ensure financial survival. Furthermore, he was often to be seen with his arm around Emm strolling through the Thursday market,.. and them in their seventies or more. Shocking! My opinion was different and even included a little envy. I would have trusted either of them with my life or my gold watch.
The principles of these two came over to me very strongly in their attitude towards the health service. To come to the doctor on the rare occasions when that was needed was sensible enough. But to enjoy his services for free was unthinkable. So when their most infrequent visits took place there was always a small gift proffered as payment. They saw it as right and proper that men, including doctors, should help their fellows with what brains and skills they had and should be paid with whatever the patients could offer. I was never able to find fault with that concept. It worked well in the 20th century rural practice of physic.
My only doubts were aroused when the bag of freshly collected walnuts, or the brace of meticulously plucked teal, or half a dozen huge and perfect Cox’s Orange Pippins were handed over with a brief ‘Thought you or Mrs.Doc might fancy these.’ Robby and Emm had no walnut trees, nor teal streams of their own. I often wondered to whom the gifts had once belonged,.. and did it all make me an accessory after the fact of their unnoticed change of ownership.
Emm I knew very well. She was one of my first patients when I came to the village. She was already in her seventies then but as straight as an arrow in her ways and her body. Her problem was her eyes, deteriorating in her later years as a result of an uncontrolled, probably undiagnosed, diabetes in her youth. She was developing cataracts in both eyes. There was nothing I could do to help her myself but the surgical operation for replacement of clouded lenses was being widely offered in London and I had professional friends there who willingly would accept cases from me. I sent Emm up to be seen by them. They watched her for two years until the cataracts were regarded as 'ripe.' By then she could see only a little and already could only get to market with the help of a white stick. Two weeks after the operations were done she was able to see again. Her gratitude was endless. Nothing I said would induce her to share the credit with the 'London Gentlemen' whom she regarded with all due respect but rather as technicians who had simply done my bidding. The credit for her renewed sight was something to be shared only by myself and the Almighty,.. and even for him she had only limited admiration. Certainly from that time on there was nothing I could ever have done that was wrong. It was not an easy role to live up to.
Once Emm was well over her op I noticed the changes around their cottage soon enough. Everything was back to the usual spick and span state in which she had previously always kept everything. As a couple she and Robby had very little, but they ate well from their own produce and from the generosity of the farmers from whom Robby was still able to get ample work. It was no surprise to me when, a few weeks after everything got back to normal, Robby turned up at morning surgery. He waited his turn with the other patients and, when he came into my consulting room all he said was ‘ Nothing wrong with me, Doctor, but Emm said you might enjoy these cabbages.’ He gestured to the bag he was carrying. That was a small act that, in those days, was typical of a lot of country folk. Many was the day when a sack of spuds or a big bag of carrots would turn up in the corner of my garage without a word as to who had left them. It was a time when people were grateful,.. and showed it. I suspect that most of today’s doctors are deprived of the warm glow that comes in the form of a tiny gift from someone who just wanted to say a thank-you,.. for a night call maybe or for a piece of advice or just for being nice to a grandchild.
Within the cottage everything was well cared for,.. cleaned, mended, darned, repaired. Even Emm's dishcloths were mended and re-mended. I used to say that I knew it was fashionable to make new clothes out of old materials, but she was the only person I knew who made her new clothes out of her own old clothes. Emm kept the tiny place as if it were a corner of Buckingham Palace which, she once confided to me, it was for her.
In the cottage there were always good smells of fresh vegetables or rabbit stew or pigeon pie, doubtless provided by the bountiful hand of a nature they well understood how to induce to do just that.
As a couple they had nothing of luxury or possessions. But everything that human warmth and kindness could offer they had in teeming abundance. Most of all, it struck me, was that their obvious love for each other more than made up for any material shortcomings. I even remember Robby once saying,.. in front of Emm, 'Well, you know, Doctor,.. we still 'aves our little cuddles and frolics a bit from time to time.' They were the most devoted couple I ever knew, even more so than my wife and myself. Indeed, I fashioned some of my own thinking on the maturing of marriage and its conduct on what I observed from them.
Robby is mentioned elsewhere in this book for some of his own acts but this tale really is Emm's,.. though she does not feature much in it. The story proper starts the night she died.
It was bitterly cold. The last week in February had brought a moderate fall of snow which had started to thaw but had then been re-frozen by a howling east wind that
came to Kent, unopposed, and direct from the Ural Mountains. The roads and fields were as smooth and shiny as a glass bottle. The only warm place was bed and that was where
I was when, at almost three in the morning, the phone rang. It was Don Testall a young farmer from about two miles away.
'I've got old Robby here, Doc. He says could you come and see Emm. She's pretty rotten.'
The phrase 'pretty rotten' was Robby's strongest term for anything he thought was wrong or didn't approve of,.. like people on strike or women who talked at breakfast-time. For him to have gone the icy mile that separated his cottage from Don Testall's place in that biting wind to send me a message that Emm was 'pretty rotten' was a comment that made my flesh crawl. Emm must indeed have been pretty rotten to have merited such a response.
'Doc,' offered Don, 'Shall I come over and get you in the tractor?’
'No need,' I said. 'I'll come in my Landrover. Tell Robby I'll pick him up at your place.'
'I think he wants to get started back rightaway, Doc.'
'Then tell him don't. It'll be quicker if I pick him up,.. tell him I'll maybe need some help getting to the cottage.'
Fifteen minutes later I found Robby, pacing up and down outside Don's gate. With the huge tire teeth crunching into the ice we crept back down the lane and into the
track that led to the cottage. There were flurries of snow in the air again. I grabbed my bag from the back and followed as Robby rushed into the cottage.
Emm was quite dead.
She was lying in her spotlessly clean bed with her spotless flannel nightie primly up to her neck. Her teeth were in a tumbler of water on the bedside table next to her book. I remember noticing that it was Dylan Thomas' 'Under Milk Wood' and that the worn leather bookmark said 'A Present from Tenby.'
Emm had had a massive heart attack.
She had died in her sleep and without knowing it. It was the best possible way to go and a way she deserved,.. though I could not, and cannot, help feeling it was a bit premature. She was only a few weeks short of her eightieth birthday.
Robby was dazed but very calm about it. I explained that I'd tell him all about what he needed to do.
'What about an undertaker?' I asked him. It seemed such a stupid question. 'Who do you want?'
'Oh, Dave Collins,' he said at once. 'Emm had a paper with him for both of us.‘
I later learned from Dave that the paper was Emm's name for the insurance she had taken out with him several years before to take care of these inevitable eventualities. She had never missed a payment and the whole affair was covered.
It was clear to me that one thing bothering Robby was that Emm would have to undergo the procedures of the undertakers art. The thought of anyone being stripped and washed and dressed by strangers is far from pleasant to most folks. To Robby it was horrific. It troubled him and he said so. There was nothing else for it. I sent him to find her Sunday best and then to brew tea. I did what was called ‘the laying out,’ the washing and dressing, myself. It was not a good experience. It felt as if I were tending my own mother. By the end though, Emm had her teeth in and her best blouse, skirt and shoes on. She would need nothing more. I thought she looked very beautiful.
When I left it was nearly seven o'clock and another wintry day was just breaking. Fresh snow had settled everywhere. It was very beautiful too.
That was the only time I had ever done a service for Robby or Emm and received no gift afterwards. But then, it was not a time for gifts.
I hardly saw Robby over the spring and summer months though I once or twice waved to him in the distance from my car when our paths chanced to cross. Then one day in early November he called at the surgery to collect a prescription for a neighbour and asked if he could see me. I happened to be there at the time and in he came. After the usual pleasantries he came to the point.
‘Do you still keep that shotgun in your car, Doctor?’
It was no secret that in the boot of my practice car and in the back of the Landrover I kept two very different items. One was a bag of hopefully life-saving drugs and doctor's tools, the other a five-round automatic shotgun and cartridges. There was nothing irregular about that in those days and, driving around country lanes that I knew like the back of my hand, I also knew where there was a chance of spotting a partridge or two, or a hare perhaps. A nice pheasant was always welcome on the dinner table and, in winter, we were sometimes visited by some very tasty groups of geese good enough to grease anyone’s chin.
I nodded at Robby. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘There's three very fine mallard, two drakes and a duck, feeding in the north stream. It’s a funny thing but every morning at exactly twelve o'clock I see them three birds get up together and fly low over the Thistle Field hedge just down in the corner by Molly's cottage.’
I knew the spot well. ‘Really?’ I said.
Robby frowned for a moment as if pondering. ‘I reckon that if there was a good gun on the other side of that hedge he could take all three of them.’
I smiled. ‘I'll bear that in mind,’ I said.
By pure coincidence, and upon that I insist, later that morning I happened to be driving around the corner near Molly's cottage. I just happened to think of what Robby had said. It was a lovely morning, warm and with the ground dry under foot. I wouldn't even need to put my boots on. I glanced at my watch and by another coincidence it was just ten minutes to mid-day. I parked the car, took out the shotgun and walked the hundred yards to the Thistle Field hedge. It was three minutes to twelve.
There was not a sound anywhere for a while then suddenly a soft, low whistle reached my ears from across the hedge. At once there was the sound of wings, that furious flapping as disturbed birds clamour for height and speed. They came low and fast over the hedge at about thirty yards range. Five minutes later I was driving away again with three splendid mallard in the boot. As I drove around the corner I could almost swear that out of the corner of my eye I saw an elderly figure striding across the meadow next to the Thistle Field and away from the hedge.
Later on, just after one o'clock, the morning calls over, I was driving back home for lunch. I had to pass Robby's cottage. He was in the back garden trimming the corner of his blackberry bushes. I wound down the window and greeted him.
‘I was just passing,’ I said, ‘And I wondered if you'd like a nice tasty mallard for your
dinner, Robby?’ I asked him.
‘Not really, Doctor,’ he said. ‘There's been plenty of stuff about lately and I've no place to store it as you know,.. Emm didn’t hold with using a refrigerator.’
‘Pity,’ I said. ‘I got those three you told me about.’
‘Did you now?’ Robby smiled. ‘Emm would have been pleased,’ he said.
It was then I understood. The three mallard were really Emm's last thank-you gift. Robby had merely seen to it that they were delivered.
Are we missing something? Published, May.2011
Mind-set, psychological gestalt, attitude, view of the world,.. what do we call that state of affairs and that state of mind that explains our general view of the world, its inhabitants and everything about it? None of my reference books can help me find the exact word in English. It’s just the way one feels. French offers ennui but it’s not quite right. Neither is the German word weltanschauung. And that’s the point.
Each individual is likely to have a different variation in many of the factors involved. But overall there is generally a sort of generation gap difference between the age groups.
Consider yourself,.. the average person reader of today. Compare yourself and your current overview with what might have been that of the average reader of twenty or forty or sixty years ago. Comparing with your own parents and their contemporaries is a good place to start. I would hazard that your attitude is more tolerant than theirs. It is no longer unthinkable to see a white woman with a black man. It no longer seems ridiculous that people elsewhere could believe nonsense like the Trinity or lunacy like white supremacy,.. and not only believe in them but kill for them. We expect to see elected MPs brazen things out and refuse to resign when caught red-handed with their grubby paws in the till. We recognise as unsurprising fact that numerous clerics are kiddy-fiddlers and that the churches have forked out millions of collection-plate quids in hush money. We are aware that we are too poor to maintain armed forces that are adequate for our defence. Our parents mostly held such things as inconceivable.
And our grandparents knew that god was in his heaven,.. a British heaven, of course. A quarter of the world was coloured pink because that was the appropriate order of things. Today, unlike then, no-one would dream of sending a gunboat up the Nile even if we did have a spare one. Zulus, Boers, Afghans, Jews and other assorted foreigners had to be tolerated but they were undoubtedly different, - in an inferior sort of way.
Parents, again, were less sympathetic towards those of different persuasions. Today’s reader is probably better able to try and see the other fellow’s point of view. Instead of foaming at the mouth we are better able to comprehend the differing features of class, gender, sexual orientation, creed and colour. Because of Freud’s enlightenment we tend to be aware more of ourselves and the significance of our underlying motivations and impulses. Things like Nazism, Fascism, Communism remain in many ways abhorrent but at least we can now see the economic and racial pressures that produced them. In all probability you, dear reader, are less repressed, less scared of the policeman and other forms of authority. Your family ties are less significant. You question things more. You have become accustomed to lies from politicians and priests everywhere and that tends to have made you less truthful than were your parents. You are likely to concentrate less and have a shorter attention span. It’s entirely possible that you no longer feel a lifetime relationship is the best of options. One partner for life is no longer an automatic inclination,.. rather the opposite. Whatever you vote you are probably more liberal even in the application of your political views. The chances are that you do not afford religious belief anything like the significance attached to it by parents.
You can now see the gulf that separates our overall view today from that of our parents only a few decades ago. And the difference between us and our grandparents is far greater yet. Now, extrapolate that difference back a few generations. You need to go only a few steps like that to see that the concious view of our distant forbears must have been like a dreamworld,.. or nightmare world, - compared with ours.
Gone is much of the magic, the sheer wistfulness of a life that remained bound to the earth, its weather and its seasons; the life that had faith in its gods; the life where everyone knew his or her place; where hard work was the modus operandi rather than the slovenly and idle search for the easy quid and the fleeting trappings of materialism.
We have squandered too much in pursuit of the fast buck. We have sacrificed our gods instead of to our gods. The cost has been appalling. The great leap sideways has brought more people, less food, too little water and too many guns, rules and laws. We have lost rather than gained freedom. Overall we are the poorer not the richer.
Anyone else feel like shooting themselves?
As a sort of introduction to my second-best-selling book ever, and that’s out of just over thirty to date, I want to tell you a story, - a true story. It was during the day’s activities, soon to be revealed, that I told the lady involved about the sex-related stories I had collected and collated from hundreds of consultations with patients during my time at the very forefront of practicing Sexual Medicine in London’s Harley Street. The stories tell of the strange fantasies, longings and behaviour patterns of a wide variety of interesting sex-lives. She said she would like to read them. As they were not written yet that was not then possible. But I was encouraged to start editing them and putting them all to paper and, later, recording them for private listening by others. Eventually the stories were collected into an illustrated folio. It was never openly published and, so sensitive was some of the content, that it was distributed only confidentially and by word of mouth. That lovely lady never read the stories. I wonder what she would have thought and how their material, characters and episodes might have come across to someone of her wisdom and experience.
Anyway, on my website [www.doc-leaves.com], published openly for the very first time, is offered The Love,.. [and Sex] Book of Stories. I expect it will shock and impress you,.. and please you, too. It is also sure to enlighten you,.. for very few have seen and known what I have seen and experienced.
The huge buzz of a sexual encounter is one thing. Calmly writing about it later,.. perhaps years later as here, is much harder. How to describe the actions and feelings retrospectively when they are not actually happening? I imagine that many readers will regard this story as a mixture of a little truth with much wishful thinking. But I give my word that every detail took place more or less exactly as related,.. according to my limited abilities of expression. It’s not easy.
Her name was Trish,.. at least that’s the name she gave me and by which I called her for the several years we were associated. I don’t for one moment think it was the real name on her passport.
Now, I have often declared my personal belief that sex is the most ultimately enjoyable pleasure known to man. And so much for the better is it when that sex takes place within a loving and long term relationship. But, that said, sex is also a great thing even on its own in isolation. Between experienced individuals sex is perfectly capable of being enjoyed simply for itself,.. just as can a good book or a splendid meal. There was never anything emotionally profound in the relationship between Trish and myself. Certainly there was friendship and respect and, on my part anyway, fondness, a good deal of affection, and gratitude. [I have almost always been grateful to the ladies who have shared their time, secrets and bodies with me]. But profound love was never part of the picture. We were both of wide and long experience and we sought each other out just because, with each other, sex was at an altogether different,.. I would say higher, level.
I met her first at a house party given by a then Welsh MP at his London home in Holland Park. That was sometime in the late Seventies. It was a time when relationships started easily from the slightest flicker of interest or attraction. Most of those relationships were simple experiments and didn’t last longer than a one night stand or, at most, the first couple of dates. They were short and sweet and none the worse for that. Once in a while though things would click and become longer term.
The majority of the people who went to ‘that kind of party’ had no interest in or even time for, involvement in serious or protracted affairs. They were aiming at instant gratification and, three months later, their ‘affairs’ would have been long gone, superseded and more or less forgotten. Over the years I had many such little escapades that served their purpose of supplying the participants with whatever they felt they didn’t get at home. I’ll not go any deeper into the motives.
To start with Trish seemed no different from any of the others. She was shapely, sophisticated, educated and possessed of a sharp wit and an entertaining style,.. all as lots of the easy girls in that environment were. We were instantly attracted. This was no simple little bored housewife looking for extra-marital thrills to which they brought nothing but their bodies and enough lust to get them into gear.
Trish, I soon discovered, was, in fact, very different. From the start she was the kind of girl for whom the dedicated philanderer would always find time. She had huge promise and she was clearly skilled and experienced. With her there would be no sitting on her hands and waiting for someone to start the action. At her best she would come at a man in custom-built sections,.. each part skilled, willing and welcoming. What’s more she could pout and then turn her big, cushion-like lips almost inside out,.. and they always tasted of Baileys Cream,.. like a couple of chocolate-flavoured molluscs kissing you,.. only warmer. Much warmer.
One of the first things I remember about her was the forthright way in which she enlarged upon what was a spot of advice that I found to be sound and reliable loads of times in later life. It is quite a good idea, when some slight infringement in the conduct of a new lady acquaintance provides the opportunity, to draw her, face down, across your knee and raise her skirt at the back. You then slightly pull down her flimsies,.. the very fact that she wears them being an unfailing pointer that shows she has made at least some preliminary moves in the right direction,.. lightly smooth her bottom and make as if to give her a gentle spanking. If she kicks up her heels and squeaks a bit you know at once that you are onto a good thing. If, however, she makes serious objection and starts off on some feminist diatribe then discontinue the process at once,.. and be grateful that you have just, in one brief moment, spared yourself a longer period of wasted time, disappointment and fruitless misery,.. god knows, perhaps even life-long.
There is no kiss as sweet as that first kiss at the start of an affair. Nothing ever quite equals it again,.. until, that is, the first kiss of the next affair. Still, however sweet that kiss, with any luck things later make progress and other factors creep in and dim the earlier events and memories. So it was with Trish. So exciting was she that in no time at all the simple, innocuous early moments became dwarfed by subsequent overwhelming phenomena.
It is wisely said that a man never knows how to end an affair,.. and a woman never knows when. With Trish this was no problem. After we had met up it could be weeks or even months before I heard from her again. She never returned calls. She never replied to letters. I learned not to let that bother me. She was a law to herself,.. a real Ruby Tuesday. She had her own ways. And, with her, the good times were so good that one just overlooked everything else. We knew each other, on and off, for about ten years.
I could relate what she told me of her earlier years,.. even her childhood and school days. But there’s no point. She lied much of the time. She described events but got them mixed up so that if you’d heard one before it was likely to be quite different next time. None of this really mattered. Trish was so remarkable and sex with her was so unlike with anyone else that nothing of the relationship, - if you can call it that, - really matters to me now in retrospect except the recollections of her inventive enthusiasm and her insatiable sexuality. We got on well and we were intimate to the closest degree but there was never anything deep or involving between us. We were like ships that went bump in the night,.. except that we bumped hard and, for those years, fairly often.
Looking back over most of a lifetime devoted to sex, adultery and fornication, - the latter two of which felt largely the same most of the time, - I think that my own greatest-of-all peak sexual experience so far took place one day in about 1980. It was a Sunday and it was just four days after the lady, - and she was a lady, - had celebrated – a word she questioned – her fiftieth birthday. I learned later that her choice in selecting me was deliberate and well thought out. The day was to be a re-dedication of her habitual sexual freedom, and, during that day, she wanted to prove a number of things to herself.
First, she wanted to check if she was still able to enjoy a sexual encounter without the middle-aged inclination to become so enchanted with a partner that the perfect lust and polished performance can become confused with unnecessary and certainly unwanted asociations with some or other interpretation of love. She also wanted to exercise her ingenuity and her staying power. We were old friends. We had tasted of each other’s wares a number of times during the preceding years. Each of us was always ready to come back for another little nibble at the fringe of the permissive society then enjoying such a boom. She knew of my own wide, past experience and professional involvement in Sexual Medicine, and she was aware from past conversations that I regarded sex as being something that could often be associated with feelings of love but was completely capable of being enjoyed just for its own sake simply as an act of sex.
I was never asked to award marks for her prowess but, if I had, she would have scored very highly in all categories. For me it was also a testing if wonderfully thrilling and deeply instructive experience.
The entirety of the day’s scenarios were enacted in a very comfortable little appartment just a stone’s throw from Broadcasting House in Central London. It was a venue shared with a number of my professional and business friends who also had occasional need for the silken dalliance such a place can conveniantly offer. On the day in question Trish had said she was coming, ‘for a memorable day’ as she put it and at a little after noon she tapped on the front door.
I opened the door and before it was even wide open she popped up on her tiptoes and gave me two chaste kisses, one on each cheek. She glanced to either side, - ‘Someone might be watching,’ she explained.
She was wearing a very cute blue hat perched rather on the front of her head and, from it, a wide-meshed, spotted veil hung in front of her face. As I closed the door, and again on tip-toe, she kissed me through it. This time it was a real kiss and only the veil limited its progress to something deeper and progressively more involving. ‘Am I late?’ she asked.
Apart from that saucy hat she wore a knee-length, belted trench-coat and shoes with heels so high one would not have been surprised if she got a nose bleed. She also carried a small leather hold-all which she set down on the floor beside the foot of the stairs which started just behind the door. All very normal and routine I remember thinking. But that was the first moment of several when normality, or at least my usual kind of normality, ended.
She unfastened the broad leather belt that held her coat closed and sat down on about the third or fourth step of the stairs. She stretched out her long legs and opened her coat. She was as slim as a twenty-year-old and apart from shoes and stockings she was absolutely naked. And not only clothes-naked but hair-naked, too. Every trace of hair from her legs her arms and her groin had been shaved clean. She was well aware of my personal preferences. A dull gold barbell pierced through each nipple and a single, long, blue drop-earring hung from the gold ring that dangled from the hood of her clitoris,... I well remembered the day I had inserted both the ring and the barbells for her. She smelled fresh and fragrant. Both her nipples and her lower lips had been rouged with a smokey-pink lipstick.
I never remember anything quite as confidently deliberate, as provocative or as calculatedly wanton. She bit her lower lip and looked at me, challenging me to look everywhere. I looked. ‘How do you like your Sunday whore?’ she smiled, fingering that single tantalising earring. I could see at once from the pink flush over her face and the front of her breasts that she was already well into early excitement. She swept her coat to one side, turned, and walked slowly, step-by step up the stairs. I had never seen anything quite to match that either. The view from below was magnificent. It took my breath away.
I wonder how many men have ever been as lucky as I felt at that moment, climbing the stairs just a few steps below the sight of that most magnificent bottom and black-clad thighs, her coat drawn forward around her so as not to impede the view she knew she was deliberately using to inflame. It’s hard to tell how much of the effect was pure physical lust or a focussed psychological impact. But whatever the details there was no mistaking,.. or forgetting, ever, the monumental effect of this provocative display of intimate flesh.
Upstairs, she unfastened my tie and collar and kissed the front of my neck and chest. ‘Why don’t you carry on what I’ve just started?’ she asked, ‘I’ll be back in a moment.’ She put her handbag on the bedside table, unfastened her coat and rolled out of it letting it slip to the floor.
I undressed, she went to the bathroom. When she came out she still wore her shoes and her veiled hat,.. and nothing else. What a picture. She kissed me with a wide-open mouth and tried to suck my tongue through the veil. It was a novel and fascinating sensation. At last I began to realise that veils had other purposes than mere appearance. She took off the hat and threw it aside. Down onto her knees she went,.. right in front of me.
‘I’ll show you my new trick,’ she said. From her bag she had taken a tiny package. She ripped off the top. Inside was a condom. She slipped it into her mouth and put her face against my responding erection. With a few deft movements of her tongue I felt her unrolling the condom onto my erection. It was a skill I never expected to master. When she had unrolled it all the way she sucked the whole of me in and just held everything there and still. I could feel her tongue moving like a newt in a sack. I wasn’t sure I could stand it for long. I think she guessed because she stopped teasing and came away from me. She reached for the condom and pulled it away, dropping it onto the bedroom floor.
‘We don’t need that,’ she said.’I just wanted to show you my trick. I hate the horrid things really anyway.’
Suddenly the entire scene changed or, rather, she changed it. ‘Take me to bed,’ she said and I could see the glint of a tiny droplet of perspiration in the centre of her upper lip. I knew the signs. She was warm, active and eager. She was ready,.. ready as any woman I ever knew had ever been.
She was onto the bed as soon as we were in the room. She flung her legs wide showing off her everything utterly without shame. I finished stripping and joined her. She kneeled over me and astride my hips. Then she straightened up and stretched her arms over her head.
‘I’m going to drive you crazy,’ she said.
She leaned back, still astride me, until she was lying full length on top of my legs. Her hands came down and parted her lips. Her love bud was swollen and shiny. She rubbed one moistened fingertip over it.
‘She looks as if she’s going to help, too,’ I said.
Trish rolled off me and put her lips to my ear.
‘God, I’m so randy,’ she said with a sharp intake of breath. She rolled over away from me again and poked her bottom into the air. ‘Smack my bum,’ she said. ‘Hard.’
No second order was needed. I slapped her with the flat of my hand several times and watched as the cheeks, holding the print of my hand, coloured up. And not only her bottom. Across her chest and neck a pink flush was spreading, - one of the few sure signs that a woman is getting sexually turned on. She turned half away and grabbed her handbag, rummaging in it for a moment. Out came what looked like a small folding umbrella. It was actually one of those self-protection gadgets that were getting increasingly used, - and needed. At the press of its button out came a telescopic wand that looks like a radio antenna. She handed it to me.
‘Whip me,’ she said. ‘Everywhere.’ I gave her a few taps across her bare behind. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Not like that. Real hard. Humiliate me,.. hurt me. Do anything you want with me,.. and don’t stop,.. not even if I tell you to stop. I’ll love it,.. go on.’
This was something I’d heard of many times,.. and read about in the literature. But I had never personally experienced such an episode even in my considerable exposure to matters sexual. Naturally reluctant to hurt her I gave her a few strokes with the ‘cane.’ She was choking and gasping with every swish. ‘Harder,’ she pleaded. ‘On my bum,.. and my thighs.’ I gave her a few more.
I was aware of the reluctance I had felt quickly diminishing. It was a completely new and overwhelming thrill. I soon got a whiff of the excitement. I was quickly aware that I wanted to do just what she asked. She opened her legs again and I could see her lips glistening with her own secretion, - another sure sign of arousal. She was torrid and fragrant with that phenomenal scent of a woman that so many men never encounter. Happily I was familiar with it and recognised it but I’d never before known it within these exceptional circumstances. She was on fire with her own lust. She was in charge. I was just following her lead as fast as I was able.
I knew at once what she meant when she indicated the swollen and pouting lips of her opening. ‘Hit me there,’ she said, straining her legs apart. ‘Whip me on my pussy,.. hard.’ She put her hands between her legs and held herself spread open. Knowing well how sensitive that area is I was hesitant about ill-treating her clit in such a way. But she was inclined otherwise. She drew back its lips and exposed its tiny head, rubbing it fiercely.
‘Beat me there,’ she instructed. ‘Go on,’ she said. ‘I love it,.. don’t worry. It only seems kinky the first time.’ She was right again. I obeyed. I beat her several times with the whip antenna. She was snivelling and half-crying, clearly transported to some other Eden of her own. I turned her face down and raised wheals across her buttocks. She flinched then relaxed with every stroke. Then she came up onto her knees, buried her face in the pillow and reached around with both hands to open and offer.
I was well aware of the way some,.. perhaps even most,.. women enjoy a bit of rough use, a spot of domination and humiliation,.. even cruelty. It is an atavistic characteristic that is none too deeply buried in the psyche. Most women, I have found, have at least some measure of this if discovered or revealed gradually and appropriately in the right circumstances. [The authoress of ‘Fifty Shades’ knew what she wrote about and the favourable response of millions of women came as no surprise to those familiar with sexual medicine].
Is it any wonder then, that now, years later, I find it hard to capture the visions and their sequences in words. It’s like trying to describe some sordid clips from a porny film. But instead of a couple of actors scratching at each other and going through the motions for their measly fees this was an educated and beautiful woman behaving according to a deeply felt need and compulsion. I shouldn’t think I was the only one ever to share such moments of extreme intimacy and headlong lust but, while it was happening, such thoughts were insignificant. And even now it’s hard to put it all into words.
When it was over we ate prawns with a cold rosé, feeding each other. Then there came peppered strawberries and champagne, - one of those great and perfect combinations of flavours that most people have never even heard of let alone tried.
Then it was time to sleep. As I let go of consciousness she spoke.
It was hard to answer. ‘Mmmm?’
‘Do you ever wake up in the night?’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘Well, when you do,.. if I’m awake, - fuck me. And if I’m asleep, - wake me.
We slept. And when we woke we did as she suggested. Lying thigh to thigh and hand in hand. I remember she tried to get both her nipples into my closed eyes,.. but they didn’t fit so she kept pointing her tongue into my ear. It was all much quieter this time,.. a kind of slow burn,.. easy and gentle and deep and thorough,.. and altogether wonderful.
When we parted at around six in the evening it was already starting to get dark. I gave her a squeeze. She kissed the end of my nose.
‘All along,..’ she started to speak. ‘All along, I felt this might be a day for the record books.’ She smiled and for a moment in the strange light of the open door she showed her age.
‘And was it?’ I asked her.
‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘Oh yes,.. it surely was.’ She pulled her mac around her naked body and tugged its belt tight. I held the door open for her and got another kiss on my nose for it. I heard her click-clack her high heels away along the pavement.
Indeed a day worth remembering.
It was maybe ten years after we started meeting that I actually got a letter from her. It simply said,..
I have entered a long-term relationship. It’s probably time, you’ll say. But I thought I should tell you that it means I won’t be able to come out and play anymore.
So this is goodbye.
Thanks for all those very good times.
I’ve often wondered how many notes like that she sent to other addresses.
Arrest, Trial and Conviction
When people dare, the one question I find I am asked more often than any other about my arrest, trial and imprisonment in America is not so much the true facts about how it all happened but how I so nearly got away with it,.. and, indeed, did get away with most of it. At the outset of the whole thing I faced a possible sentence of a lifetime in prison. This was quickly reduced to a possible period of eighteen years, ten of them to be spent in a high security jail. In the event I served two years all but the first ten weeks of which were in an ultra-low security prison camp which had a huge library, a nine-hole golf course and an Olympic size swimming pool.
There are several component reasons why things all went so easily for me. The first and foremost, perhaps, is that the villain who eventually sentenced me, Judge Rittenband, was a Jewish gentleman who found himself on the horns of a dilemma he could have done without. He was well known as a ‘Prosecutors’ Judge’ and had a reputation for harshness and vindictive responses. He was also very near to retirement,.. one of the reasons why he was nominated for my case to start with. He also badly wanted to join an exclusive retirement golf club in LA which was normally all-but closed to non-Aryan citizens. Additionally he also found himself under two opposing sources of pressure. The US authorities, notably the CIA, wanted my sentence to be heavy enough to carry a robust message to other security rebels like myself. Of course the Americans themselves cared nothing about me but found it politic, in the endless horse-trading that goes on between countries, to concur with and assist the UK authorities that were the source of the pressure. On the other hand, Israeli authorities,.. a very strong lobby in the USA, pressed the judge for leniency on my behalf. It was their way of repaying old favours. Rittenband was Jewish and, like most Jews who retain a strong association with Israel and its covert groups like Mossad, he was susceptible to their pressure.
In the event he sentenced me to four years instead of eighteen, knowing that that would mean a reduction to two years for good behaviour. Even then there was a let-out. After about three months behind the wire and when the worst part was over but still very fresh in the mind I got a sudden message to attend for interview with the judge’s Assessment Officer. Only later could I tell the more shrewd and experienced of my fellow inmates and learn the truth behind this strange episode. Ostensibly the man’s job was purely humanitarian. He assessed the circumstances of the prisoner, how he reacted to conviction and incarceration, his health, his family circumstances and so on. Given his report the judge was entitled and enabled to re-assess his original judgement. He could not increase the sentence but he had the authority to reduce it proportionately or even quash it altogether. I later learned that this most plausible gent had a dual role. By the other inmates he was immediately recognised as a ‘Bagman.’ That explained the conversation we had had.
After we had talked over matters for a few minutes he asked me if I felt I would wish to make a contribution to a charity group run by the judge back in Santa Monica. I thought it was a pretty saucy request in the circumstances and answered something to the effect of ‘No, not really.’
The man then said, quite shamelessly, ‘Well, y’know, if you made it worthwhile to the fund you could find yourself on a plane home in two weeks.’ I shook my head in amazement. He took that as a refusal. Persuasively, he must have thought, he said ‘We could give you your freedom, y’know.’ At that I was really incensed. ‘Oh, no,’ I recall saying, ‘At best you bastards could give me my physical freedom. But I’m Welsh. My freedom is here inside. I was born with it and I’ll die with it.’ I added a few remarks best left unrecorded here and the man left. I never saw him again. I served my sentence to the last day.
American justice took on a new meaning for me that day, and I recall the sardonic old lawyers axiom, - the law has nothing to do with justice.
The second reason in my favour was that the rather dim-witted Deputy Sheriff who logged me in, took my details, completed the paperwork and, eventually formally charged me, made a first rate blunder. I suppose he was a bit out of his depth. It is not likely that in the small local police facility the arrival of a clearly intelligent, unalarmed and educated ‘English’ gent who spoke well and was visibly unphased at what was going on was something of a rarity for him. Let’s, anyway, give him the benefit of the doubt. His blunder was that acting purely on hearsay he had officially charged me with ‘Homicide in the First Degree,’… murder. The next day when the DA came to check things over there was a rapid discussion and I was informed that I was to have the charges dropped and, in exchange, I would be charged only with ‘Attempted homicide.’ I objected that this was not lawful unless I was legally represented. Further discussions took place and the severity of the charge was again decreased. Now the charge was to be ‘Conspiracy to murder.’ This was a whole different ball-game.
The entire matter was further complicated, by the next day, when the alleged victim of this murder-that-never-was had been found to be living in London and to be in excellent health, thank you.
Needless to say, by this time a huge publicity exposure had commenced. UK, American and international press organs and TV channels had splashed the news everywhere. In other words, as a result of the original officer’s bungle I had already been subjected to damaging publicity. ‘London sex doctor charged with murder in Hollywood’ was the gist of it. There was no way to hide that what they had done was not only a bungle but actually an illegal bungle.
To sum it all up there were several who wanted the whole matter dropped as a sort of partial cover-up but they knew that if they did that my pursuit of damages would have been astronomical,.. a charge that would fall upon the state. As the judges and the DA had to run for office in periodical elections there was no-one who wanted to admit that they had bungled to the extent of costing the ‘People of California’ several million dollars worth of damages.
They had little option but to allow me to plea bargain and, at the same time, reduce the charges and promise a serious effort to reduce all the unpleasant consequences.
Next,.. during the trial, the judge heard evidence from about twenty different people including two expert lie-detector operators who gave identical opinions as to the truth of my own evidence. The blunt conclusion he came to was that I was innocent. Indeed, he was heard to observe, in chambers, his opinion that I had to be innocent because if I had wanted Peter Stephan [the alleged victim-to-be] to be dead then he would have been dead. However, Rittenband could not escape the aforesaid pressures.
I often wonder which of the various reasons is of the greatest import. There’s no way to be sure, but the third in this list, I feel, weighs in very heavily.
In my earlier, wilder days part of my time was spent moving in an environment where people of note, position and influence were also to be found in substantial numbers. My occasionally high profile work in the media together with my moderately famous [or infamous] position as a Harley Street Sexual Medicine Consultant,.. what the media like to call ‘a sex doctor’ as if there were something wrong with that. This occupation had always afforded me the opportunity to, as it were, nibble at the fringes of permissive society. By the early Eighties this dubious prestige was opening many doors and was enabling me to encounter powerful people in a variety of circumstances, - not all of them of the spotless kind. Furthermore, a fair number of these VIPs were actually patients of mine and details divulged in the consulting room are, like any other words, incapable of recall once uttered. In short, I was the repository of much personal information of both medical and more individual nature.
As just one example I will mention a certain organisation which frequently provided the venue for all kinds of happy gatherings and jolly fun. The London girl-friend [I say ‘London’ as he had a number of others dotted around elsewhere] of a certain socialist MP had a large home in Belsize Park. From there she ran a bevy of the most co-operative ladies, perhaps not exactly of the night, but rather, say, of the more murky shadows than you’d expect to find on a sunny day in Harrow-on-the-Hill. Now, these were not call-girls, though, doubtless, occasional used fivers did surreptitiously change hands in returned for services rendered. Neither were these the coldly methodical young bimbos of the massage parlours and other suchlike of the capital’s prostitution industry. No lady under the age of thirty did I ever see there. Many were in their forties and quite a few were in well preserved fifties. Most had husbands and children at home, they hoped, looking after each other if it should be the nanny’s night off. Who knows?
Every one of these ladies was shapely, smartly dressed and of pleasing appearance. These are all details that matter in such an environment. But what was really extra special about them was that they had been chosen because of their devotion to sex. Here there was no grudging frigidity or bored tolerance. Every one was there to enjoy large helpings of their favourite indulgence. Here was excitement, immense enthusiasm and a desire to widen experience that would make the eyes of the average suburban housewife shoot up like roller blinds.
There was, I feel sure, nothing that these most accomplished ladies would not or could not do or try in furtherance of their headlong worship of Aphrodite. It was a place that quickly sorted the men out from the boys. It was a very good place to be. I shall say no more,… except to tell that, tragically, it is no more. The MP lost his seat. The girl-friend changed her political allegiance, the Belsize Boudoir went on the market and the ladies, one hopes, went on to even greater things elsewhere.
The point of that tale in the context of the main story relates mainly to the people I met there and in other situations. For example, I arrived there one evening to find a member of the upper house and a prominent, incumbent cabinet minister lounging, completely naked, in two facing armchairs while interestingly attired houris dressed their hair for them, made up their faces and other zones and then dressed them up as little girls. A macabre spectacle, I assure you, to see two such eminent gents in nightcaps and nappies. On other occasions I met MPs, senior ranking officers, industrial moguls, reverend members of the Cloth and, indeed, of the judiciary.
All too many secrets were known to me, some thought. When the crunch came, and before I had let it be known that I intended to fight things out, I did, on a few occasions, actually fear for my life. I was more than familiar with how the ‘wet boys’ and sandbaggers operated. This was all well before the days when prominent people like Arafat, Yevtoshenko, General Lebid, the Princess of Wales and Dr.David Kelly could be publicly and with deliberately simulated amateurism, be ‘accidented’ or ‘heart-attacked.’ But, nevertheless, such things were certainly going on more surreptitiously.
I took the obvious precautions and let it become known that I had kept copious records, photostats of maps and orders, even occasional photographs. No-one knew exactly what I had but many knew that it was potentially embarrassing. The consequence was that a lot of punches, many of which, I stress, would have been below the belt, were pulled with beneficial effects for me.
There was one fourth and final factor that probably influenced the judge. He knew something that I didn’t. My lawyer was about to be arraigned on charges that, shortly after my imprisonment, were to have him incarcerated for federal offences and, later, disbarred. At the time he was defending me his troubles had already started. Although not then in the public domain they were one of the talking points in the Californian legal offices. His mind just was not on the job. Rittenband knew that and, although shyster lawyers are a dime a dozen, he just might have had the integrity to let that fact count. Furthermore, Rittenband had already suffered an undignified legal smear as a result of him having allowed the French film director, Roman Polanski, to retain his passport and thus get away and evade the American justice system. He did not want a reversal of the verdict on me on the grounds of inadequate defence, which he must have known about, to be later levied against him.
Nowadays, when I look back on the whole horrible thing I see that it changed my life for the better. It opened new doors, brought new horizons and, almost incidentally, made me a great deal more money than I could otherwise have ever hoped to acquire. Additionally it gave me the challenge of a lifetime to rise to. I did my best. The entire series of events, seen in retrospective proportion, I regard as an episode when I paid taxes in one lump for all the other times when I didn’t.
The reasons behind the whole thing are clear enough to me now though, apart from what I have said above, they cannot be divulged, - probably not in my lifetime. Not all the people mixed up in the affair are yet dead. Many details still remain subject to the Official Secrets Act. Others involve promises and reassurances given. Yet others might still jeopardise ‘friendly assets still in position.’ Other than if the need ever arose for self-defence exposure I expect and intend to die without disclosing anything relevant. There would be no advantage to me other than to help prove my word. I do not regard that as in need of any proving.
Oh,.. and just one last thing. In case anyone reading this is interested,.. that hidden ‘insurance’ data still exists. It is alive and well and living in,.. all kinds of places, while patiently awaiting, as I did, its day of freedom.
Sometimes something very simple seems so strange,.. so counter-intuitive, that it is hard to credit.
For example, in any group of 30 or more people the odds – in your favour at 3:2 – are that there will be two persons present who share the same birthday,.. day and month that is, NOT year. Furthermore, in a room containing just 75 people the odds become 99.9%
Half of [(30 x 30) - 30] = 435
364/365 multiplied by itself 435 times is [approx] 0.3.
So chance of shared birthdays is about 70%
This gives long-term odds of 3 : 2.
The headmaster of my Grammar School was Mr.Rhys T.Harry. He was a teacher of the old school, a strict but benign disciplinarian who always wore his academic gown during school hours. In his day he had played rugby for Wales and his ideas and coaching on the field of both rugby and cricket were always something to be heeded. He was a quiet man who spoke little and infrequently. Ramrod straight and always looking important and purposeful his was a quiet, calming influence. But when he spoke everyone instantly jumped to it. His was a natural superiority wielded without the least effort.
For the most part we always did our best to avoid him,.. he was authority and there was no point in incurring his displeasure.
To the pupils he was ‘Harry’ but to his face he was always called ‘Sir’ or ‘Headmaster.’ He ran a good, well-mannered school and there was seldom any friction. In short, everyone,.. pupils and staff alike, knew that he was the boss.
There was only one occasion when I saw him wield his power of authority.
It was in about 1942. The school stood directly in the flight path of German bombers coming over the English Channel and then the Severn Channel to bomb certain strategic targets in South Wales. Prominent amongst these was the Northern Aluminium plant,.. a mere two miles away as the Heinkel flies, on the edge of Rogerstone, - the next village to ours. There were, at that time, no air raid shelters in the school. The school was only two stories high and with plenty of wide open spaces around such a priority belonged elsewhere rather than in Bassaleg Grammar School. If and when the air raid warnings sounded during school hours we simply put our gas masks ready over our shoulders and carried on as we were,.. unless something untoward happened. One late spring afternoon it did.
The sirens sounded,.. that eerie, undulating wail that, in itself, had a way of being more frightening than the actual raids themselves. We heard the planes coming over very low,.. they were already on their bombing runs towards Rogerstone. Perhaps a minute later we heard the first explosions. Windows shook and doors rattled. After several sounds of detonations we heard the shrill whistles coming from downstairs. The head and the senior master were blowing the warning to take cover.
As there were no shelters the experts, when they visited the school, had decided that the safest areas were in the two main stairwells. In each of these two flights of concrete steps could easily afford some protection to students crouching beneath them. In an orderly fashion classroom doors opened and long crocodiles of students, obeying their air-raid drill, walked swiftly towards the staircases. We’d all done it a hundred times so it was not difficult.
At that very moment there took place an event that, nowadays, everyone knows can happen but which, in those days, was a virtually unheard of phenomenon. A group of girls around the thirteen to fourteen years age group and who were squeezed in under the stairs suddenly got the jitters. We learned later that someone had said something like,..’They’re going to kill us all,.. we’re all going to die.’ Others took up the cry and there began a great clamouring and screaming and wailing. It was a typical, pubescent mass hysterical attack,.. and it spread like a forest fire. In seconds there was a seething mass of yelling and crying girls all but trampling each other to get out,.. or wherever they thought they might go.
As a young lad I’d never known anything like it. I remember standing at the top of the stairs bewildered by the way girls I knew were howling and clamouring, clawing and squabbling with each other in an uncontrolled babble of struggling and squealing panic.
At that moment the headmaster appeared almost next to me. It was part of the routine drill that he and a couple of other masters would walk swiftly past the classrooms and glance in to see everyone had left and gone to the staircases. He arrived as the riot was at its worst. His response was instant and dramatic.
At the top of his voice he snapped out ‘Stand still!’ And again,.. ‘STAND STILL!’,.. Everybody! STAND STILL!,.. where you are. Nobody move. DO-YOU-HEAR-ME?’
His word was imperial. In a trice every pupil froze, rooted to the spot. He glared at them all with one sweeping stare over the top of his half-glasses.
The noise stopped. The children were looking at each other bewildered at what had just happened,.. but utterly dominated and controlled by the head’s orders. ‘Now, take your places as you’ve practiced,’ he said quietly. ‘You know what to do.’
We all finished moving under the stair-covers and settled down. The hysteria had abated. Rather sheepishly the girls were looking at each around and gently hugging each other. My pal Tom Martin took out his mouthorgan and started to play ’We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line.’ Gradually we all joined in until his music was drowned out by the all-clear sirens piping up.
It was a lesson worth learning. It was also a lesson in crowd control that I was able to use myself many years later.
But that’s another story
To the best of my recollection there were only four kinds of medication known to the people of the village where my grandmother lived. First, there were buckets of a powerful cough mixture known as Black Jack. [Pharmaceutical name – Mist.Tuss.Nig. which just means Black Cough Mixture]. That was most appropriate in a place where almost every man worked underground in one or other of the neighbouring coal mines. At a rough guess perhaps some fifty per cent of them already had ‘the dust’ in their lungs. This was a mixture of coal and stone dust. It was a toss-up whether you died of pneumoconiosis from the coal or silicosis from the stone. You could pick out the worst affected ones as their skin colour was the unhealthy ashen pallor we called Rhondda Grey. Also, when they coughed up or spit out,.. which they all did copiously and a lot of the time, it was a black stream that hit the already coal-dust laden street pavements. Little did I realise then that perhaps twenty years later I, as a medical student, would daily carry out post mortems on the limp rotted lungs that walked by me every day of my childhood.
Next in popularity to the Black Jack was a laxative made from the dried pods of Senna, a yellow flowered leguminous plant of wide tropical distribution. A couple of pods were mashed in the bottom of a cup of boiling water,.. then drunk. It tasted vile but half the villagers, who lived on a diet low in roughage being mostly of white bread and potatoes, swore by it. Third on the drug list was ordinary aspirin,.. a name derived from the Greek word for ‘white.’ This was so commonly used that there was a standard joke known to all we kids,.. ‘Why are aspirins small, smooth and white? Because if they were large, grey and wrinkled they’d be elephants.’
And finally, furtively stored at the back of Gran’s kitchen cupboard was a quarter bottle of very fine French brandy. This was used for every other diagnosis not handled by the first three on the list. Antibiotics didn’t exist. The nearest thing was a dessertspoon of brandy in a tumbler of warm milk or Ovaltine when going to bed.
The village doctor was a revered man – often the only educated man around. He was commonly a well-qualified physician and surgeon who had fallen from his earlier potential by dint of over-enthusiastic ethanol worship. Our own doctor, Doctor Bob, was just such a treasure. He was tough, brave, bold, skilled and, in his day, a renowned outside half. But most of the time he was far too drunk to employ any of these attributes. If anything much happened it was always his wife, ex-nursing sister, Mrs.Bob,.. affectionately known as ‘Lady Bob’ who dealt with it.
Most medical services in the 1930s, and including those of Dr. and Lady Bob, were funded by the Miner’s Union contract. Under the terms of this each miner was levied with a one penny [1d] per week charge direct from his wages while the mine officials were charged 2d,.. tuppence. [One penny or 1d was one 240th of a pound, or about 2/5 of the modern 1p]. The levy was seldom enough to keep the doctor in any kind of luxury. In fact, most of the year Dr.Bob’s old Morris 10 car didn’t leave the garage. Petrol only cost 3d a gallon but just the same he mostly used a horse and Lady Bob a bicycle. Still, every man touched his cap and every lady did a little bobbing curtsey when the doctor walked by. This was a respect for his past and for his envied education rather than his sobriety.
My kid brother, Jeff, was born about two weeks after my own fourth birthday,.. on 31st of December, 1934. I knew I was going to have a brother or a sister and actually I preferred the idea of a sister. But I was so thrilled when I first saw him that having a brother instantly became one of the most important things in my life. He has retained that elevated status consistently for the more than eight decades we have been friends since.
When he was a little over six weeks old I began to sense that something was wrong. I have no actual memory of the events, just a mixture of things I’ve heard since and the few old photographs that have survived. Suffice it to say that Baby Jeff was seriously ill.
At the time we lived in High Cross, a village that was little more than an area of ribbon development about three miles from Newport in Gwent. We had a real doctor, Dr.Hill who practiced in the town. He had delivered both myself and Jeff and when Jeff became ill he came to the house several times, - an almost unheard of expense. He made the right diagnosis, - a difficult and quite rare one, and recommended that Jeff be taken to the big hospital in Cardiff,.. Cardiff Royal Infirmary, to see the exceptional young surgeon who was working there, - Mr.James Berry Haycraft. This eminent young man confirmed the diagnosis and planned to operate three days later – if Jeff survived that long. The diagnosis was pyloric stenosis a congenital blocking of the outlet of the stomach. Jeff could absorb no food and, worse still, no fluids. Everything that was put down him was immediately vomited with great violence. He grew more and more dehydrated as he gradually started to dry out, shrivel and die.
On his last night at home and with just a lingering flicker of life left to him it appears that Gran, my adored grandmother, stayed up all night with him just moistening his lips with a piece of cotton wool repeatedly dipped in a saucer of water with a little of her precious brandy. At six in the morning my father drove the emaciated little fellow to Cardiff and by ten o’clock he was in the operating theatre.
The surgeon was one of the few who had pioneered the operation which is still used today, to open the babe’s abdomen, locate the muscle that was over working and slice its fibres to curtail its blocking effect. At that time Jeff weighed about four and a half pounds down halfway from his birth weight of eight pounds. One can imagine the skill needed to open this tiny rabbit-sized human under an anaesthetic of only open ether and then correct what nature had got wrong.
By later that evening we learned that Jeff had been given his first feed of milk and water half-and-half. Miraculously he kept it down and the uneventful recovery had begun.
Twenty years later, as a medical student at that same hospital I counted myself privileged to become Mr.Haycraft’s senior student and he well remembered the case and could describe it in some detail. I revered him. He was yet another of those wonderful teachers I had the luck to encounter time and time again.
I later went to some length to check things like newspaper items and parish records in areas lived in by my antecedents. It was of some interest to find out that within the last four generations of my various family sub-branches there had been several male deaths in infancy. For those days that was no rare discovery. What was of interest was that two of the babies were marked on their certificates as dying of a ‘Failure to thrive.’ That could have meant anything, including the unrecognised condition of pyloric stenosis. What was even more impressive was that two others had their cause of death entries as ‘An excess of vomiting.’ There is little doubt that these were similar cases. This forewarned us and all family members from then on have been aware of the possibility of this genetic error recurring somewhere or other. It usually does. Male children are far more likely to be affected than females, but we watched all the next generations carefully. Jeff’s children, both boys were lucky enough to be unaffected and likewise their own sons. But my son, Mark, was diagnosed at about six weeks when he started those sudden bouts of powerful vomiting. The diagnosis was confirmed by myself and by our GP. At two months he was operated on,.. quite a common routine by then, and never looked back,.. though he too, still carries his ‘herring bone’ scar on his epigastrium.
I wonder now whether it was Gran’s brandy that helped Jeff through that last long night. And although he is not much of a drinking man Jeff’s favourite tipple is still a really good Armagnac.
Are we what we eat? Published Oct. ‘05
I detest Brussels sprouts. In fact, apart from people who abuse women and children they are probably the only things in my life that I have ever been able actually to loathe and hate. But I surely detest Brussels sprouts, - passionately, fervently, remorselessly and to the very bottom of my soul. As a kid I would do anything and everything to avoid them. I quickly discovered that you can’t hide a sprout in a glass of milk. But I did develop other tricks like keeping an old paper bag in my pocket to receive them. I also routinely tucked them into the tops of my socks for subsequent disposal. My socks smelled dreadful.
Apart from sprouts I eat anything that doesn’t eat me. As a result I have eaten some very odd things. Ostrich meat and omelettes in South Africa, rattlesnake in Texas, some dreadful-looking, fat, sea-slug things in Hong Kong and even the occasional Big Mac. This is why I occasionally dread that that old foreign fellow might be right when he said we are what we eat.
Two morsels of past nutrition however, stand out in my memory, - one of them amusing, the other so shocking as to be almost unbelievably repugnant. Both episodes serve to make me hope there is no truth in the saying.
For a short while in the 1950s I was attached, as M.O. to a contingent of the Trucial Oman Scouts. Transport was mainly by camel, a remarkable species of beast all members of which took an immediate dislike to me and showed this frame of mind by displays of total obstinacy. A combination of this unfriendly disposition with, perhaps, a little deference to my professional status, meant that I was accorded the shared use of one of the only three Land Rovers possessed by the unit. It was in one of these that a young RASC lieutenant and I one day set out across the desert to visit a small detachment then posted at the Baranduh Oasis in the camp of a local sheik.
After the day’s journey it required to travel twenty five cross-desert miles,.. up-dune and down-dune, we arrived at the collection of nomad tents grouped in the sparse shade of some fifteen or twenty date palms that surrounded a small, open pool of water. We were truly treated like royalty. Rugs were spread, coffee was brought and tiny sweet cakes offered. Later, in my tent, I stood naked in a small copper bucket to shower while a gnarled and scarred old warrior poured brackish water over my head.
Then came the evening meal. In the sheik’s tent we lolled on carpets and thick, cylindrical cushions while wonderful and, to me, very strange dishes were offered. A hot broth smelling fragrantly of cinnamon was followed by cubes of fried, salted fish in lemon juice. The main course was lamb baked slowly in a mud-oven and served on a pile of saffron rice studded with, cloves, raisins and fresh cardamoms. At the very end came mint tea and trays of small oval, chocolate balls, sweet on the tongue and crunchy to the teeth. I loved them. Most of these things I had never eaten before and all were delectable. The chocolate nuts however, were the best of all. My obvious weakness for them even attracted the notice of the sheik and occasioned some ribald jests that I could not understand. They all laughed out loud and the sheik insisted that a further bowlful be taken to my quarters to ease any risk of night starvation. I wolfed the lot.
I wondered if it would be polite for me to try and get some more to take away next morning. The lieutenant spoke fair Arabic and would either know or be able to find out.
We learned at breakfast that the sheik had left at sunrise and extended his wishes that we would return again soon to enjoy the hospitality of his tents, - that God is Great, - and that he wished his peace would be always with us. Breakfast was a very different repast. Eaten with the UK detachment it comprised army porridge, beans and fried eggs of shoe-leather flexibility. I mentioned the chocolate nuts to the lieutenant who burst out laughing again. I asked him what kind of nuts were they. Oh, - he laughed again, - they’re not nuts. They’re the dried heads of locusts dipped in camel fat and cocoa powder.
I decided not to take any home after all.
The other culinary episode that sticks in my mind was far less entertaining. Many might prefer not to read it. Many others, having read, will wish they had not. I hold that preamble up as a warning.
One way and another I have met some vile people but no others of my acquaintance can anywhere near equal the officers of the North Korean regiment with whom I was once unfortunate enough to spend two long days and two even longer nights. Associates of mine have assured me that worse men than these exist. In particular they name the Cambodian staff of the late and utterly unlamented Pol Pot. These men, they say, were capable of the same debased behaviour yet were commonly cultured men, educated at the Sorbonne, who could understand a Mozart symphony and who could quote Voltaire and recite Verlaine. They could, nevertheless, plan and execute, often personally and with relish and delight, programmes to slaughter hundreds of thousands of their own people.
Perhaps rightly they claim these were the worst people in living memory and who could make Attila the Hun and Reinhardt Heydrich look like cuddly toys. Be that as it may the officers of the, - as translated, People’s Communist Army Police [PCAP] of North Korea remain my own epitome of remorseless human villainy. This isolated episode should provide evidence enough.
At the time I was there Peace Commission representatives were meeting at Panmunjom. For all the progress they made I imagine they are meeting there still. I had no particular duties being merely one of a group of pawns in an idiotic charade of posturing that, I gathered, went on more or less continuously. Being there only for show and to make up numbers our orders were absolutely precise. On the first night we were to entertain the senior PCAP officers royally. Under no conditions were we to refer to politics, religion, wartime events or any other delicate subjects. In short, we were to go along with and agree to whatever they wanted. On the second night the Peecups, as they were called, would entertain us. The overall purpose of this eleemosynary disbursement of taxpayers’ funds remains, to this day, a mystery to me.
The first night was crushingly boring. We were sumptuously fed, as I recall, by the staff of the Australian contingent. After that the serious drinking began. Now, I have never been a teetotaller and I can remember at least three occasions [or, rather, my wife remembers them] when I have been so drunk that even while lying on the floor I still had to hold on in case I fell. Despite these rare displays of human frailty I have always preferred rather a small alcohol intake. A pre-prandial peg, - fine. But the idea of regularly guzzling enough alcohol to dull my brain, - the one organ capable of raising humans above the level of dumb animals is sheer lunacy. Why impair the functions of your most valuable possession? I have no intelligent answer to that question. Furthermore, when I am having a good time I want to know about it and to remember it later.
Anyway, our chaps, having been firmly required to remain sober, we left the running to our Korean ‘friends.’ They needed no more encouragement. Within an hour of the end of dinner they were all as drunk as could be. They drank until their back teeth were awash. I swear not one of them could have leaned forward without spilling it. They drank everything and mixed the lot,.. whisky, gin, brandy, rum, whichever bottle was nearest. All went down in gulps and in no particular order. Then the vomiting began. I decline to say more than that, when we left, the mess hall was a reeking tub of human puke mixed with other unspeakables where, unable or disinclined to seek the toilets, they had urinated against the walls and even where there were no walls at all.
If that sounds like a wonderful evening the second was immeasurably worse.
We were driven in Russian limousines to a cantonment about twenty five miles away. We arrived outside a very big sort of restaurant-cum-gaming-and-dancing palace hung with dozens of neon lights and Chinese lanterns. Inside, the place was crowded and noisy. Tinny music, hammering drums and shrill chatter was everywhere and very, very loud. Behind it all there was rather a pleasant aroma of food and other smells we could not isolate or identify. We were to become better informed very soon.
I sat with one other chap, a lieutenant-colonel from one of the home regiments, at a round table with four Peecups. First came Russian vodka frozen down to an oily consistency and, with it, strips of lightly peppered raw vegetables. I enjoyed them. Only then did I notice that the table was somewhat unusual. It was circular with comfortable space for six of us to sit at it but, in the centre was an oval hole some three or four inches across.
After a few minutes the one Korean who could speak some English announced ‘Now our great delicacy especially for our old enemies but new friends.’ He beamed around and proclaimed, flinging his arms wide, ‘ Monkey meat,.. and monkey brains.’ I saw the colonel wince, close his eyes and shudder. He quickly re-imposed discipline.
To be honest, although I’d never thought of eating monkey brains I had often eaten lambs brains either coddled on toast or firmed then fried as thin strips in garlic butter. Delicious, both. Certainly nothing to turn the nose up at. The idea may sound unlikely but the flavour is delectable. Scrumptious, in fact. Those Welsh lambs’ brains however, were a long way from what we were about to receive.
The Korean chap beckoned us to follow and we all picked our way between the tables into a large, shabby side-room. The unidentified smell was thereupon at once made identifiable. Animal droppings. There were tanks filled with fish, - far too crowded for them to swim and with several already floated to the top. There was a box of frogs, several cases of chickens and pigeons and two or three more full of rabbits. All, it was explained, would be killed and cooked on demand. ‘Very fresh,’ the Korean said with obvious pride.
To one side was a larger, roughly cubical cage perhaps four or five feet per side. It was packed with a writhing mass of live monkeys,.. mostly alive, that is. Looking at it I’d guess there were about sixty of the little things packed in like sardines with scarcely room to wriggle or breath and all of them squeaking, squealing and gibbering with fright. It was a horrid sight.
The Korean chap pointed to three of the larger monkeys that had, by strength, worked their way to the top of the cage. An elderly fellow in stained clothing slipped his arm into a sort of long leather gauntlet, inched open a small door and grasped the first selected creature around the neck. It tried to evade capture but had nowhere to go. With practiced ease he slipped the monkey’s neck into a one inch wide slot in a metal disc some six or eight inches wide. Once in position it looked as if the monkey was wearing a wide, metal collar, - which I suppose it was. Worse was to come,.. far worse.
Next the attendant took up a cone-shaped canvas bag. He thrust the monkey, fighting and screaming all the way up into the bag until its head appeared through a hole at the apex. The rest of the animal could struggle and writhe all it wished after that. It was helpless and harmless. Carrying the wrapped animal back across the restaurant the attendant ducked under our table and poked the creature’s head up through the hole in the centre. I peered underneath and saw that he had secured the plate up to the table by two long, metal pins located through holding rings on the under-surface of the table. The unfortunate monkey was wide-eyed with terror, its eyes rolling as it emitted teeth-chattering whimpers and shudders of fear. Diners at other tables had paused to watch. An awful realisation began to dawn on me.
The attendant disappeared to get monkeys for the other two tables. His place was taken by a waiter. As quick as a flash he whisked a sharp knife back across the monkey’s scalp from the bridge of its nose to the nape of its neck. He padded a thick cloth down onto it to stop the blood spurting from severed arteries. A moment later he removed the cloth and sliced again, this time from ear to ear. The scalp was sliced open into four quarters like a pie crust. The monkey was gibbering and shrieking with fright and pain. As I was at its back I was lucky enough not to be able to see its face.
From its place, hanging on his belt, the waiter took a specially designed tool. He used it to lever up each ‘leaf’ of the monkey’s scalp in turn. He grabbed each between finger and thumb and peeled it back from the apex. The bone of the skull-cap was exposed. The waiter then cracked one end of the tool into the front of the skull above the bridge of the nose and I heard the bone splinter. Then he twisted the tool and the bone cracked again as the skull-cap itself came away in one piece. This must have been an admired skill, for the watchers and bystanders all clapped.
The monkey’s brain, still in its inner membranes and still alive, was widely exposed. I had many times seen human brains exposed during neurosurgery and I recognised the pulsating blood vessels as a sure sign that the now silent monkey was still living. Several small, silver spoons were now placed on the table and the Peecups fell to with alacrity. Each plunged his spoon into the grey tissue and scooped out a spoonful for himself and gobbled it up. At that point the monkey died.
[Just a passing thought. Nowadays, long retrospectively, I occasionally hear of animal rights activists in UK who have stolen from their graves the bodies of dearly loved old ladies in order to protest against drug development testing. I wonder if, with greater effect, these people could not turn their attentions to the infinitely greater horrors so selfishly perpetrated on other animals in other countries and without one tenth of any ultimate benefit to mankind].
If all that sounds vile and inhuman it was yet further outclassed by the evening’s later events.
After dinner the dozen or so hideously drunk N.Korean officers led us across the garden to a secluded, separate building. Once inside we saw it was dimly lit like a whorehouse. Sitting around were about eight little girls and three or four young boys. My colleagues and I figured that with our hosts that drunk we could safely excuse ourselves on the grounds of waiting transport. We drank toasts to continued friendship and left. I later heard, from a Pakistani officer who stayed the full course, of the events that followed our departure. I do not care to report them but I understand that not all the occupants of that bordello-like room survived the unspeakable activities that took place.
Yes, I reserve my right to claim that those people were the most foul and vile I had, or have ever since, met. I hold this up as a warning of the kind of people they are and as a tocsin for any civilised people who, in the future, ever have cause to deal with them.
And I just hope and trust that we are not exactly what we eat.
Some catchy puzzles
1. You are a participant in a race. You overtake the person currently running second. What position are you now in?
Answer: If you overtake the second person you take his place,.. so you are now in second place.
2. Again, you are in the same race. If you overtake the very last runner then what position are you in,… ?
Answer: How can you overtake the last person? It’s you.
3. Take 1000 and add 40 to it. Now add another 1000. Now add 30. Add another thousand. Now add 20. Now add another thousand. Now add ten. What is the total?
Answer: the correct answer is 4100. [It’s true! Try it again with a calculator].
4. Mary’s father has five daughters. He names them Nana, Nene, Nini, Nono and ???
Answer: Her name is Mary!
5. A mute man goes into a shop and wants to buy a toothbrush. By imitating the action of brushing his teeth he successfully expresses himself to the shopkeeper and the purchase is made.
Next, a blind man comes into the shop and wants to buy a pair of sunglasses. How does he indicate what he wants?
Answer: He asks for them.
Chief Resting Bird
In 1987 I knew a man called Chief and this is part of his story.
He was always known simply as 'Chief.' He was short, - no more than five feet two or three inches and of slender, sinewy build, - lean to the point of skinny. His face was long and deeply weather-lined but handsome in an aloof, rather disdainful way. When he smiled he shone, crinkling up the skin around the large, curved beak of a nose so typical of his people. His skin was not so much red as a polished, beech-wood brown. He wore his straight, white hair long, - right to the shoulder and held back in place by a beaded strip of cloth around his forehead.
Chief didn't know how old he was; 'About eighty five, I reckon,' was his best guess. His grandfather, he knew, had fought alongside Cochise and Vittorio, and later, as Apache envoy to the Sioux, had died on the long, winter march to Wounded Knee. The grandson of Geronimo had been his childhood pal in their young days in the Dragoon Mountains of Arizona before the tribe's first enforced move to the white man's reservations in New Mexico. His words about all of this were, to say the least, unforgiving.
He was a full-blooded member of his tribe, the Chiricahua Apache where his rank and his name was Chief Resting Bird. He was one of the most remarkable men I ever met.
At the time I knew him Chief was an inmate of Chino, a state prison in Southern California at which I worked, part-time, for almost two years. His was a menial task. He mopped and cleaned the hospital corridors. For this he was paid six cents a day and every day he worked earned him one day's remission of sentence. His education was not of the kind that would fit him for a better job. But a shrewd and wise man I soon discovered him to be. We became good friends. Or, rather, I became his pupil. He taught me many things I have not dared pass on, until now, for fear of ridicule.
It was Chief who told me the two Indian folk tales [The Brave and the Snake and The Maid Cari] that are scheduled to appear elsewhere in this anthology. He had a fund of witticisms, yarns and tribal anecdotes. It was hard to tell fact from fiction, memory from imagination, and it never seemed to matter much anyway. He also knew a great deal of the lore of desert life. It was one of my pet pastimes over a long, holiday week-end to hire a horse and a pack mule and go off into the desert for a few days living rough and alone. I lost track of the number of times when little things he taught me came in useful. He knew the desert and its ways like I know the human anatomy.
He was also unique in that, of all the inmates I met in that or any other prison, he was the only one to agree that he was guilty of the charges that had landed him in there. All the others swore they were framed, wrongly accused or mistaken for someone else. But Chief was first to state,.. I won't use the word 'admit' for that was not the style of it at all,.. that he really had torn down fences, burned plantations and buildings and rustled cattle. 'How dare they put up fences,' he said. 'That land is ours. They stole it from us because they were bigger and stronger.' He explained that his cavalier ways with the law were his method of showing contempt and of retaliating against the 'wide-eyes' who now stood possessed of his ancient tribal lands and had even forcibly moved his people to reservations, - some as far away as Oklahoma, - a very long walk for those whose only method of transport was on foot.
I learned from him that it was as recently as the late 1920s,.. a mere few years before I was born, when the last Indian armed uprising had taken place. There were plenty still alive who remembered the fighting and the terrible aftermath when the troops quelled the skirmishing. I told him that much the same thing had happened in my country though the broken skulls there were not the result of enemy action in the accepted sense. They were received because hungry coal miners had dared to strike against the English pit owners and ironmasters for better pay and conditions. For that, they too, felt the retribution of the mercenary troops sent to force them into submission,.. and back to work. In memories like that and in our mutual love of freedom we certainly had something in common.
We chatted about these mistakes of history where one more powerful culture clashes with another, older, even better perhaps, but weaker one. Laughingly I told him that it was the wish of every red-blooded Welshman, when he died, to be buried with a sword in his hand, standing up and facing England. In return he told me of the Chiricahua method when facing overwhelming odds, When there is no chance of anything but defeat, he explained, the brave would take off his blanket and spread it on the ground. He then stood in the centre of the blanket, weapon in hand, as a sign to the foe to prepare himself, for he would not retreat from this spot but would fight and die there. When braves did this, he told me it was called, in his language, 'going to the blankets.'
Usually he was pretty evenly critical about it all. But there were times when his smouldering anger nudged through. 'They hate me, these bar-room sweepings,.. these gay perverts,.. these white trash,.. these pigmies who have not the moral fibre of pismires. And they are just longing and waiting to have their own back on me. Just you wait and see.' I remember him saying those very words. They were prophetic.
'If you play their game,' I suggested, 'Then maybe they will give you your freedom.'
'Oh no, Doctor,' he differed. He tapped his forehead then his heart. 'I was born a free man. My freedom is safe where no-one can touch it.' As I already said, we had much in common.
People from his homeland came to see him twice a year, - once in springtime and again in autumn. To get there they walked the miles from their homelands down towards the Mexican border near Sonora. They were not allowed to visit him as not one of them was ever granted a visitor's permit. Instead they pitched three or four tepees on waste ground about a hundred yards from the prison perimeter wire. 'They won't give me visiting rights. They call me and all of us activists subversives,' he spat. 'Subversives in our own land. That's American democracy for you. Don't ever mistake it for the real thing.'
He then explained to me why it was that the other Indians came to visit at the times they did. 'They are my times,' he explained. 'I was born on the day of spring when darkness and light are the same length. I shall die on a similar day.'
On his locker in the dormitory was a piece of broken mirror on which lay two eagle feathers and six small brown objects which he claimed were 'The knucklebones of an old enemy. His strength is now my strength. It belongs to me.' I had once looked at them very carefully. They were not knuckle bones, - whatever those are supposed to be. But they were human wrist bones. He was clearly a man who remembered old foes.
In the mid-summer of 1987 it was obvious to me that Chief was not well. He still mopped and cleaned but the movements were slower, his shoulders sagged and he tended to shuffle rather than walk softly and quietly as always had, hitherto, been his way.
More to please me than anything, I suspected, he agreed to be admitted to the prison hospital for tests. The results were bad. His liver was full of secondaries; his biochemistry work-up looked like a war zone casualty report. There was nothing to be done. Palliative care, which, I felt sure, he would decline was all that was left to me. He had an abhorrence of any kind of drugs or medication. Some dialysis might make him at least feel a little less toxic.
I went up to his bed to try and talk him into it. His eyes were closed, his breathing soft and shallow. 'I see you, Doctor,' he said. He opened his eyes and smiled. 'You have good news, I see. I shall soon be set free you will tell me.'
I asked him if he would let me initiate a course of therapy that would make him feel a bit better. 'I feel well now,' he said. 'But I know you feel you should try to interfere between me and my future. Doctors can seldom leave things well enough alone. Still, you are in charge of my body. You must do what you think is right.' I had nothing useful to say. 'But, Doctor Friend, you know as well as I do that this body is no longer suitable to be lived in. I must therefore leave it. It is time for me to move on to my next stage.'
He caught hold of my hand and turned his head towards me. Dropping his voice to a whisper he said 'Doctor, remember what I told you about the dangerous path I walk?' I nodded. 'Then you watch what happens. They will not let me survive their opportunity,’ he said. 'They have waited too long.' 'You don't mean to tell me that anyone would deliberately try to do you harm?' He smiled and slowly shook his head from side to side. 'You British think everyone is fair like you,.. the old never-kick-a-man-when-he-is-down principle.' He shook his head again and refused to be drawn any further. then, rather as an afterthought he added 'But I shall cheat them,' he said. ‘I will not be pushed into the hole. I will run up and jump in feet first.'
I admit I was disturbed by what he said. I had had other reasons, little fragments of reasons really, to wonder at some of the curious episodes and accusations I had heard from one place and another. I often wondered whether things were quite the way they seemed,.. or were supposed to seem.
A little over a week later and just ten days before I was to leave Southern California once and for all there was to be a massive, state-of-the-art major incident exercise. Resources, especially medical, from three counties were to practice what would be done if a terrorist attack caused huge casualties in the area of Riverside,.. a town a few miles from the prison. Everything available from Riverside, Orange County and San Bernadino County would be put to combined use. Medical staff from Chino and even some of the medically trained 'trustees' were involved. It was correctly assumed that just a skeleton staff could manage the jail's requirements for a while.
Chief had been deteriorating steadily. Nothing I did made any difference. The evening before I was to be away I did a last ward round in the evening. It was late and the night staff were already on duty. 'Duty' is a word I use loosely as most also had day jobs and did little but snooze or watch TV during their periods on nocturnal duty.
At one point I went into the small side ward where Chief had been moved. 'Good evening, you Wicked Indian,' I said as I entered. He did not respond. I stood by the bed and felt his pulse. It was there, but soft and thready, - the sort of weak, faraway pulse that seemed hardly to be reaching my fingertips. More like the fluttering of a small bird.
'Can you hear me?' I said. 'It's Doc.' He lay quite still, his face pale to the point of yellow in the lowered light. I put my stethoscope on his chest and said 'Look out,.. it's cold.'
His lined old face smiled ever so slightly. Without opening his eyes he said. ' Yes. It is cold.'
I made a few perfunctory gestures of checking the pulse in his neck, and of looking at his yellowing eyes.
'It's nearly over now, Doctor' he said. 'The bird has rested long enough. It is time for him to take wing again. There is a long way for him to fly.' His brown fingers stroked the back of my hand. 'Good-bye, Britisher friend. Think of me sometimes, eh?' He smiled and patted my wrist then turned his head away. 'For as long as someone, somewhere still thinks about you, - you are not really dead, are you? You are just somewhere else.'
I put the blood-pressure cuff around his arm and pretended to check it. 'There,' I said. Not too bad. Not too bad at all.' I had no idea what his pressure really was, - if it was there at all. I hadn't actually looked at the mercury column. 'Not bad at all,' I repeated and waited to see what he would say. He did not comment or even move an eyelid. He just lay there motionless.
There was nothing. No response. Not a smile, a word or even a glimmer of recognition. I thought for a moment that it was as if I were not even there. Then I realised the truth. I was there. But he was not. He was gone. The bird had flown though his body was still sort of living,.. just running on empty. It was the twenty first of September, - the day of the autumnal equinox.
The 'major incident' event began next morning. It stretched over an entire weekend. When it was over a further three days were devoted to discussions, debriefings and re-formulating plans in the light of the experiences gained. When I returned to my quarters after an absence of almost a week there were just two days before my official departure and my pre-booked and long awaited flight back to UK. Just time enough to make my farewells.
I was surprised, therefore, to find on my desk an official letter from the California Institute of Corrections reminding me of my imminent departure. It also stated, and I quote,.. 'Accordingly and as of this date, you are hereby relieved of all duties and your hospital security pass is hereby rescinded.'
I went at once to the hospital. The duty guard, who was well known to me, was obviously embarrassed. 'Sorry, Doc,' he said. 'There's been a regulations tighten up. I have to ask you for your ID.' He knew, of course, that mine was invalid. He looked at me then dropped his eyes. We both knew the score. 'Sorry, Doc,' he said again.
It was an uneasy walk back to my place. To be treated like that was intolerably rude to the point of insulting. What I couldn't imagine was why anyone would want to take such an action. There had to be a reason. I was quite surprised when I got back to find that my computer was still active. Presumably someone had forgotten to isolate the terminal. That was typical of the prison's standard of efficiency. Hardly surprising. Few who are any good at what they do want to work there,.. which is why they pay so many semi-literates and local losers at such high rates and with such extra perks.
I typed in my name and was asked for my ID number. It was accepted. Access was not difficult. I called up the day's Patients List. Most of the names were familiar. But Chief's name was missing. I tried the individual search route and entered his name. 'No record exists with this name.' That was ridiculous. In deference to the aforementioned semi-literates I tried three different routes and three different variations on the spelling of his name. No records for any of them. I checked my own personal notes for the date he had been admitted and typed that in. 'No patient of this name admitted on this date.' I broadened the search. 'No patient of this name admitted these dates' and likewise for a search of several days before and after. Same result every time. Next I tried the discharge lists for the past three weeks. Same results again.
The last resort was to try the overall hospital lists for everything from X-rays to pathology tests and medications prescribed. Another blank. So was my search of the entire prison inmates list of the past year ,.. on each day of which Chief should have appeared. Nowhere was he listed. All I got was the 'No inmate of this name listed.' Quite frankly it was as if he had never been there. I was astonished. I had seen and spoken to him almost every day for a year. There could be only one explanation. Chief's records had been deliberately erased. Yet I knew they had been there. I had written quite a lot of them myself. I was far less astonished when, at that moment, my screen went blank except for an error message. 'Access via this terminal is denied.' Someone, somewhere had spotted my activities and belatedly closed the option.
It didn't really much matter. I knew that Chief had already left before I went away. Then his body had died while I was away. It was how it died that concerned me.
It took me two weeks to pack up, get back to UK and settle into my new routine there. Only then was there time to start looking again for Chief and his whereabouts, - by this time becoming something of an obsession.
I tried a number of routes. I wrote to him. I wrote to friends of his, both inside and outside the prison. I wrote to the Bureau of Native American Affairs and to the various Indian Charities. At my request, a friend of mine who was a prominent lawyer in LA, also wrote to some of these places as well as to both state and federal prison agencies. What came back was either nothing at all or claims that 'our records contain no reference to anyone of this name and description.'
I kept up the search for well over a year. I got nowhere and eventually discontinued my efforts at remote investigation. It was fruitless. But if I ever come across even a splinter of light I will follow it through and start the search again. Whoever was responsible for whatever happened to Chief retains my animosity and the certainty of my retaliation if the chance arises. Woe betide if he ever comes under my hand.
By pure coincidence, about three weeks after I wrote the foregoing story I received a strange and unexpected letter. It's message was simple.
'Chief Resting Bird went to his blanket. We reply to you as we think he would wish you to know. We thank you, as he would, for your help and friendship.' The letter had no address and no phone number. It was signed with an Indian ideogram and the name 'Falling Rock, War Chief of the Apache Nation.'
I still wonder what happened that had to be so meticulously covered up. And I shall never forget Chief and his words, teachings, escapades and actions, - including,. especially, his last.
If he was right, and because I do still remember,.. perhaps, as he said, he is not really dead,.. just somewhere else.
‘Just for once,’ said our Highly Esteemed Editor, ‘Leave the politics and the chauvinism and write something ‘summery’ that even children will enjoy.’ So, here, today, are two harmless little fairy stories,.. each with a useful moral.
Once upon a time, far, far away and long, long ago there lived a penniless young man called Tristram. Despite the name he didn’t work for a television company or anything as splendid as that. He was a simple village peasant lad who earned an honest living slaving in the fields and planting mangold wurzels and other useless and unspeakable root crops that most people have never heard of or wanted to eat,.. this, mostly, because they are grown for animals.
But never mind that. Tristram grew very good ones. Sometimes his mangolds were rather bigger than his wurzels but that doesn’t really matter in this story.
Now, Tristram was head over heels in love with the most beautiful girl in the county. Her name was Mercedes-Chardonnay Higgins, and her father had made a lot of money being a scrap dealer and second hand car salesman.
Tristram was ever so in love,.. and he could hardly sleep or eat his food,.. even when it was not mangold wurzels but was more interesting things like bread and dripping with boiled gruts for tea. It was pretty terrible for him because everyone agreed that, nice guy though he was, he hadn’t got the chance of a pork pie in a synagogue of winning the hand of the fair Mercedes.
Nevertheless, he decided to risk all on one impassioned plea for the focus of his dreams. That afternoon as she walked past his field of early mangold wurzels in her new Jimmy Choo shoes and her feather fascinator he approached her, cap in hand, and asked her to marry him,.. ‘For,’ said he, ‘I have saved over three hundred pound and don’t I grow the best mangold wurzels in the county?’
She turned him down flat so, broken-hearted, he invested his three hundred pounds in Poseidon shares when they were at twenty two pence each. [Well, I told you it was a long time ago]. He also sold his little mangold wurzel field and rented another much bigger one. His efforts were rewarded so he devoted his time to making huge piles of negotiable loot. He soon owned a Rolls-Royce so big that when it stopped his Ferrari got out, and, when he went for petrol the pump attendant would ask him ‘Please switch orf your engine, Guv,.. you’re gaining on me.’. He had a nice detached villa with swimming pool in Coral Bay and a co-operative new girl friend whenever he wanted one. He had no noisy kids about the place and didn’t have to go to PTA meetings. He used to go out with his mates any time he felt like it, or he would trip off fishing or golfing or to the rugby match upon the least whim. He ate what he wanted when he wanted it, drank what he liked, holidayed frequently and all over the world,.. and he grew very, very rich.
And he lived happily ever after.
And another fairy story,..
Once upon a time,.. etc. etc.,.. you catch the drift,.. there was a beautiful princess named Cilistor who, one day, found a lonely frog croaking around in the palace fishpond. When she picked him up she was amazed to hear him speak.
‘I,’ he said, ‘Am not really a frog but a dashing young prince trapped by an evil spell in this froggy body. If you kiss me I will turn back into a prince. Then we will get married and you will have my children,.. all princes. You will clean my castle, attend to the laundry, darn my socks, cook my meals and most wonderful of all, - be nice to the Dowager Queen, my mother, whom I especially adore.’
Somehow the story sounded familiar to the princesss [she wasn’t the brightest candle in the church, you’ll have guessed] and she found the strange words intriguing. She gazed into the huge bulging, wet eyes and without hesitating she leaned forward to kiss the frog. At that very moment she heard her maidservant calling to her from the palace and she paused.
She looked again at the frog, stroked its pulsing chin and thought of all he had said.
Then she shook her pretty head, said, ‘No-o-o,.. I don’t think so,’ and, so saying,she chucked the slimy little blighter back into the pond.’
Another happy ending, you see,.. and it reminds me of something I’ve often pondered,.. how many frogs does a girl have to kiss before she really gets a prince?
Snippet,.. Me and you is Friends.
You smile. I smile.
You hurt. I hurt.
You cry. I cry.
You jump off a bridge.
I’m gonna miss you.
My marvellous teachers
One of the many strokes of good fortune that came my way was that, at every place of education I attended, I struck up with the most superb teachers. Admittedly they were not as rare then as they seem to be nowadays. Now they are just people and community members. During my childhood they were respected and esteemed members at the front rank of those comprising the community. They were, by comparison, educated people. What a shame that it has now come to the state where we are paying colossal sums for education yet end up with a vastly inferior product. I meet, all the time, kids who don’t know their nine-times table, can’t prove Pythag, have no idea what is a gerund,.. and who think Churchill’s most famous saying was ‘Oh,.. yes.’ No wonder, really, after they stopped teaching the children and, instead, spent the lesson time showing them how to make pretty things out of eggshells and the inside cardboard cylinders of toilet rolls.
With war imminent my father moved his family out of London and back to Wales. I was nine years old. It was mid-term and it was decided that I should join my Uncle Roy’s class in his Elementary School. At once I jumped from the lackadaisical standards of schooling of the London suburbia and into the very serious educational standards operating in Wales,.. and it was so much more interesting,.. which is the real secret of successful education.
Roy was a wonderful teacher, a marvellous friend and my life-long Big Pal. I shall write much more of him elsewhere.
When the next academic year began we were settled in our new house and I joined the newly built, state-of-the-art elementary school in the village of High Cross in Gwent. There were several good lady teachers , an excellent headmaster,.. Mr.Herbie Jones, who was an erstwhile colleague of Roy’s, and a very good senior teacher,.. Mr.Percy Hallett. The Head was a quiet, much respected man who exerted his authority and discipline smoothly and totally. ‘Percy’ on the other hand, though also a first class teacher, was an outright sadistic bastard. I was a keen student. I wanted to learn and I did learn. I was also a shade on the individual side and a born prankster, truant and liar as well as being instinctively given to every known kind of mischief as well as several quite original ones I more or less invented for myself. It was a rare week therefore, when I didn’t get the cane at least twice. I never got a caning from Mr.Jones but Percy singled me out from the start as the one with whom to set an example. Indeed, with deliberate effort at intimidation, when I came into classroom he would pointedly take the cane from the cupboard and hang it, within easy reach and with menacing intent, on the corner of the blackboard.
In about June of 1941 I passed the scholarship and moved to the Grammar School in Bassaleg,.. a name derived from the original Welsh Maes Aleg or Aleg’s Field, some four or five miles away. It was my turn for revenge on the hated Percy Hallett. Packets of seeds,.. made by ‘Bees Seeds’ cost about tuppence. A couple of pals and I laboriously saved up enough pocket money to afford several packets of mustard-and-cress seed. You got a lot of them for tuppence in those days. When Percy went away on his summer holiday fortnight to Porthcawl and, after that, spent a further week with his brother in Cardiff, one evening, in the gathering gloom, I crept into his front garden abutting the main road. His lawn, immaculately kept, was the object of my intentions. I sprinkled the seed in the appropriate pattern.
The growing cress was already visible by the time he came home. And it became increasingly visible to passers-by. Clearly outlined in the middle of the lawn were the two words and seven letters suggesting that readers who spotted it, every one, should make love elsewhere.
Selective weedkillers were unknown in 1941. To Percy’s undoubted horror and shame the words FUCK OFF remained plainly visible for some years. They may even still be there for all I know and, so I’m told, some nights when ‘the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas’ they say that the groans of the long-dead Percy can still be heard bemoaning his lovely lawn before being carried away on the light Welsh breeze.
In Bassaleg Grammar School [BGS] the standard of teaching was phenomenal. The war was in its bleakest years. Most of the teachers of suitable age were in the armed forces. The staff were, therefore, the unfit, the aged or those recalled to fill the gaps. This did not mean any fall in standards. Far from it. Especially so this, with the older staff who had so much experience from which we were all able to benefit. The school, small though it was with an annual intake of around seventy pupils already had a growing reputation. It had been built only five years earlier and its first pupils were just reaching ‘The Sixth’ when I started. My luck held again. Splendid teachers, well liked, highly respected and, here and there, a little feared in just the right proportions. Even the ones we didn’t like were good.
I start by singling out Edna Evans,.. aka The Ferret, because of her over-prominent incisors and her unfortunate, rodent-like features, who taught English Lit. Anyone having the rotten task of teaching poetry,.. Lycidas, Prothalamion, Lear and such to adolescent boys has my sympathy. I hated and despised the woman,.. and she me. I recall once when she set us to write a character study of Cassius as portrayed in Julius Caesar. There is not really a great number of clues to his ideas and motivations outside of the basic needs of the plot. But what there were I pounced upon,.. and allowed my imagination to adapt, embellish and exploit them to build a virtually fictitious study. I think she must seldom have seen such a piece of nonsense from a fourteen year old. I did not know how to interpret her written comment on marking the piece, which was,.. ‘Mmm. Richards,.. you appear to have a substantial capacity for making something out of nothing. I’ll give you eight out of ten,.. more for the surprise value than anything else.’ I was even more baffled by that as I had never before scored more than four out of ten, at least one mark of which was for getting the date right on the heading.
Despite the mutual animosity, effectively The Ferret drew back the curtains and created in me a lifelong love of poetry and grammar and the sheer beauty and power of words that has been so endless a joy ever since. Even now it is rare for one of my weeks to pass without me spending the last hour of at least one day in one of my favourite bedside poetry books. And, what is more, my most treasured possession in the world is my well-thumbed and battered copy of Palgrave’s that Pixie bought me when we were first married and we were very, very poor. It has travelled with me everywhere and I have never opened it without pleasure, comfort and inspiration. I do so wish Edna Evans might have known.
The other staff, - their names familiar in our mouths as household words [CHECK quote from Henry V], - were, every one, respected, admired, emulated like a lot of friendly aunts and uncles. Edward Evans [‘Ted’: Latin, History,.. and also Senior Master], Johnny Stevens [‘Stevo’ : Chemistry], Merlyn L Jones [‘ML’ : physics and maths], Bertie Beale [‘Bulgy’ ; maths, carpentry and metalwork], Frank Greenwood [‘Baldy’ : maths and sense of humour], Gwenda Meara [‘Ducky’ – geography and geology], P O Davies [‘Pod’ – French], [‘Fraulein’ : German], and dear, dear and treasured biology teacher and illuminator of the wonders of Natural Sciences,.. Gwenda.
Gwenda it was who taught me and opened for me the suitcase full of answers that came with reading Darwin. Johnny Stevens showed me that however complex things could appear they could be broken down into their simple atomic and molecular structures. M L revealed the total and eternal reliability of the laws of physics,.. that e really does equal mc² each and every time and everywhere Ted put things in order so that instead of knowing dates one remembered when and in relation to what else things of the past had happened, - and their consequences,.. so far. And, as a slight undertow of all else Edna showed me that although the literature of high quality fiction broadens the mind, poetry deepens it and, within its pages it contains the hopes and despairs of the great artists who have so much from which we can constantly learn, thrill and delight.
‘Oh,.. my Dead Dears,’ how grateful I am to you. Thank you, thank you, thank you every one.
Piles and Piles
In the western states of the USA they say that a cowboy hat is like a haemorrhoid,.. sooner or later every asshole gets one.
We have a somewhat similar saying in South Wales.
We say that the North Walian is like a haemorrhoid. If he comes down then goes back up he’s not too bad. But if he comes down and stays down,.. he’s a pain in the arse.
One of the regular events that marked the passing of that part of the year in my grandmother’s village, Ynysddu [pron: Un-us-thee], was the arrival of Shwny Onions [pron: Shoonee]. That expression might refer to just one man or, more often, a group of half a dozen working as a team. They came in about late September. Most teams had a traditional selling area and those who came to Ynysddu were well known to many of the locals. Up through the valley they would wend their way wheeling or occasionally riding massive old-fashioned bikes of indeterminate age.
Shwny Onions is just a celticised version of Johnny Onions and these Frenchmen, for such they were, had come to sell their long trusses of huge, hot, sweet onions. Their crop, from Normandy was carried in a huge battered old lorry. At night they piled their bikes on top then spread tarpaulins and blankets beneath it to sleep.
Being a mining village Ynysddu operated more or less twenty four hours a day as, in those days, there were three shifts per day. That meant there was always a group of colliers either going to the pit or coming back from it,.. and needing food at different hours from the other residents or needing water heated for the big zinc hip-baths that the coal-dust black colliers washed in,.. usually placed on the linoleum in front of the kitchen fire.
As a result of this and depending on which shift there were always some of the housewives who’d be hard at work by six in the morning when the first valley train of the day signalled with its hooter that it was passing the Wylie Halt on the other side of the valley. At the same time we would hear the Frenchmen calling out ‘Shwny Onions, Lehdies,.. ‘ere we are.’
The onions were carried on ‘cords’ or ‘strings’ to make which their dead leaves had been plaited with lengths of raffia so that full strings had about fifty on them so they could hang over the handlebars of the bikes and still be just clear of the ground.
Back in the nineteen-thirties there was very little of imported food compared with today. There were oranges and bananas sometimes but potatoes, greens, root crops and onions were all seasonal. Almost every miner had a garden and grew an annual crop of onions – for there are very few meals that don’t need at least an onion or two in the recipe. However, in the cool, damp valley onions and shallots had to be planted early and harvested late – usually in October or November. By then last year’s store had dwindled or disappeared so the arrival of Shwny Onions was an important culinary event.
As soon as the familiar cries were heard housewives clutched their purses, pulled shawls over their shoulders and hurried into the street. A whole string, I well remember, cost five shillings [25p in today’s money] while a half string cost three shillings. My grandmother always bought a whole string,.. but then, she was one of the better off villagers. Having chosen her string my brother and I, perhaps with the help of a pal or two, struggled to carry the string – weighing perhaps twenty five or thirty pounds - into the house then up the steep garden steps to Grandad’s cwtch, [pron: cootch], – his garden shed-cum-workshop-cum-storage space - ‘Unbeliever House’ as he called it. The onions were hung in a dry corner until needed. Every few days he’d unfold his enormous pocket-knife, slice through the raffia and give us lads a couple of whopping great onions each to take down to the kitchen.
No sooner were the first onions on the premises than Gran would peel and slice a couple then drop them into ‘The Pot.’ This was a large black cauldron with an eighteen inches long handle. When full it was far too heavy to lift but that mattered but little as it was seldom moved anyway. The Pot simmered away on the hob all day long, - and every day.
Each miner, as one of his perks, got three tons of best domestic, soft ‘Rock Vein’ coal per year, free of charge. It was dumped in the road outside the house from the colliery lorry. At the end of his shift Pa [my grandfather] and a couple of neighbours would carry it bucket-by-bucket through the gully [in Welsh, pronounced goolley] - the alleyway that separated each pair of houses - and stack it methodically in the coal-cot so that Gran could take whatever she needed. Thus it was that the kitchen fire was always burning. The fire consisted of a large cast-iron range kept shining by daily ‘black-leading’ – a thorough scouring with Zebo. The fire place itself threw heat out into the room or the heat could be diverted using a outside handle to heat a large oven alongside. There were also three lidded openings in the top, – the hob – to be used much like modern day gas rings. In the oven the bread was baked and the main meals cooked. But, on the top, hissing and bubbling was The Pot, - a stockpot fed [or fed from] as appropriate and whenever needed. Into the pot went every scrap of left overs whatever they might be. Fresh vegetables were cleaned, sliced and dropped in as required.
Depending upon what was going at a good price from Mr.Durston, the butcher across the road, one day might see a couple of pounds of diced ham dropped while another day there’d be a chicken or a rabbit or an oxtail. Many a time if Gran felt it needed something extra I would be given a coin to take over to Mr.Durston and ask for ‘A pennorth of bones, please.’ And I always had to tell him ‘And Gran says she doesn’t want any rubbish this time.’ Mr.Durston would pocket the penny, roll his eyes and say ‘Your Gran always knows what she wants,.. so she does.’ Meanwhile he’d select the bones and wrap them in a sheet of newspaper for me to take back. When he came home Pa would smash the bones with a small five-pound sledge he called his ‘clouting hammer.’ Sometimes I’d be allowed to help and, if there was a juicy veal shin bone, Pa and I would have a couple of pieces for ourselves to suck out the fragrant raw marrow. Then it was back to the kitchen to watch the bones being dumped into the pot.
As a result Gran’s kitchen always smelled so wonderful that you could get hungry even just thinking about it. There was a stack of porringers in the scullery. These were about two inch deep earthenware bowls some six inches across. They had short stout handles and you just caught hold of the handle, dipped the whole thing into the Pot and scooped out a bowlful, wiped its outside and got it to the table before the bubbling ‘all-in stew’ made it too hot to hold. We called it pot-luck because you never knew quite what you’d land up with. But it was all wonderful and highly nutritious and with a chunk of fresh-baked bread to dip into it it was perfect for the rumbling tummies developed by a day of bird-nesting or tree climbing somewhere up on the Graig.
You can tell from all this how important the arrival of Shwny Onions was. I remember they came, rather to everyone’s surprise in the autumn of 1940. By then even I as a ten-year old knew there was a terrible war going on somewhere. The Shwnys never came again for five years. They were badly missed. But during the war supplies of nearly everything were diminished and most were rationed. We gradually got used to it. We each got four ounces of bacon, eight ounces of sugar, two ounces of cheese and two of butter and one lonely egg - per person per week. We snared what rabbits and hares we could. We netted pigeons. We grew what we were able within the rather narrow valley. There was nettle soup [delicious], crow pie [horrid], potato pie, carrot cake, tea without sugar. Coffee disappeared altogether. For five long years there was no chocolate, no ice-cream, no ‘pop’ and only rarely a few boiled sweets. The things most small boys liked to live on just didn’t appear.
Then, in June of 1944 Normandy was invaded. There were long and terrible battles and it took six months for that place to be free of guns, tanks and bombs and most of the crops were lost. But by harvest time of 1945 the war had mostly moved on. Many of the older men were being released from the armies and back to the land. Peace was breaking out all over,.. at least for a grateful while.
And how I remember, late that September, stirring in my early morning bed in the village and hearing, once again, that once familiar old cry,.. ‘Shwny Onions,.. ‘ere we are, Lehdies.’ I leapt out of bed and rushed down to the kitchen to tell Gran.
There was no need. The kitchen door was swinging open - there was scarce a door in the village in those days that ever owned a key let alone felt one turn in its lock - Gran’s purse was gone from its place on the shelf and, clutching it, Gran was scrabbling down the goolley to be first in line.
It was really only then that I realised that the war truly was over,.. and, to prove it, all the way from war-torn France, the Shwny Onions men were back in our lives.
Tolerant, as we always were, of the disgusting, unruly, outrageous and irresponsible ways of ourselves as medical students, there were times when we got involved in events that, in retrospect, reflected little credit on we participants. On the other hand, some were quite entertaining,.. and, perhaps, worth relating.
One such event took place in the Philharmonic Hotel which, in those days, was situated quite near the Birmingham University Students Union. It was not much of a hotel but, downstairs, was an extensive, dingy and largely disused ‘ballroom.’ It requires a substantial leap of credulity to describe that room as a ballroom. But it did have a decent sized area for dancing, a stage for the performing musicians and, hanging from the ceiling, about ten globe lights that could be dimmed for special smoochy dances. It also had one other advantage that endeared it to impoverished students,.. as we all were in those days. It was very cheap to hire. In fact, by the standards of the late Fifties it counted to us as pretty luxurious.
There was always considerable rivalry between students of different faculties,.. medicine, engineering, arts, and so on, and even more so between the different universities. I recall that on one occasion the Birmingham Faculty of Engineering built a working model mock-up of a Roman ballista. They moved it, in sections, and reassembled it in Cathays Park [Cardiff] whence they used it to bombard our Students Union with five-pound bags of flour.
Anyway,.. after our rather successful rugby weekend against Birmingham, the Saturday evening hop,.. for those who could at least still totter, was held in the aforesaid ballroom of the Philharmonic. When it was all over, and as a jolly wheeze, several medical students took down a number of the globular chandeliers. Into these, with total disregard for the public health requirements they were studying and for educated behaviour in general, were inconspicuously deposited smallish portions of fresh human excrement. We replaced the globes inconspicuously back into their correct positions,.. then departed in a hurry.
Nothing much appeared to have happened during the week while the ballroom was out of use but, the next weekend, when the lights were switched on and the globes grew warm, the consequences can be imagined.
On the Monday morning afterwards our Medical Club received a telegram from Birmingham containing the following plea couched in words that comprise a masterpiece of understatement.
‘We know what it is. And we know whose it is. But for God’s sake tell us where it is.’
A year or two before I qualified, and along with a fellow student, my pal Norman, I took a job as Mess Orderly to a local Territorial Army Field Ambulance. The unit was on a six weeks summer training camp in a remote area of Pembrokeshire. Everything was under canvas. We were paid five pounds a week plus overtime. In those days and to us that was wealth worth every effort.
The officers of a Field Ambulance are mostly doctors and, as such, have little grasp on the simple routine essentials of every day living.
One of the tasks given to the ‘other ranks’ of the unit was to construct two DTLs. These are Deep Trench Latrines. To construct a DTL a long trench is dug in a straight line and some three feet deep. Wooden poles are placed across the trench and astride each pair of these is placed an old wooden box from which the bottom has been sawn off. In the top of the box is cut a twelve inch circular hole. These devices are known as Thunderboxes. Our ‘Officers Only’ DTL had a row of ten thunderboxes,.. complying with the then Army Rules Book [Hygiene] 1947, Sub-section 201B, Para 9. Apart from numbers of thunderboxes the only differences between our DTL and that of the other ranks was that our boxes were partitioned by lengths of hessian in the interest of privacy. There was never enough hessian to do the same for the ORs except, of course, for the very end place at the upwind end of the row which was reserved for use by the RSM only.
Each morning at about five ‘clock the latrine orderly [also known as the shit-house wallah],.. the lowliest and dimmest member of the unit, had to pour a few gallons of creosote, derv, chlorine, disinfectant or TVO, - whatever he had – into the latrines to deter odours and flies. His work seldom achieved more than limited success. Even for we mess orderlies, for whom reveille was half an hour earlier than everyone else’s so we could prepare breakfast, the visit to the latrine was not the best experience of the day. One never knew which odour or mix of odours would be most prevalent on any given day.
There came one particular day when the orderly officer of the previous night had had cause to reprimand the latrine wallah. You could tell he,.. the officer, was not the brightest, as reprimanding the latrine wallah is even more risky than reprimanding the cook. Still, he was dumb enough to do it.
Next morning my pal and I were, as usual, the first users of the officers’ DTL. We noticed nothing different. But half an hour latter as bleary-eyed and still semi-intoxicated officers reluctantly responded to reveille there was the usual rush for places. From the kitchens we could hear the usual grunts, groans and straining sounds that were customary. One or two officers usually grabbed this moment of isolated peace to grab a quick smoke before parade.
It was as the first of these reprobates struck a match, applied it to his cancer-stick and dropped the match into the pit beneath him that there was one almighty bang. The disgruntled orderly had also poured a jerry-can of petrol in with the other materials. The fumes hung low in the trench just waiting for that first flame.
At that moment, ‘tis said, ten hairy backsides of various ranks shot screaming and still scorching off the top of those thunderboxes.
Norman and I were so glad that we couldn’t afford to smoke.
One of my earliest memories is of my seventh birthday. I remember it so well as that day I was given my very first sheath-knife. It wasn’t very big, - perhaps a five inch blade - but it was new, shiny and sharp. At once it was slipped onto the belt of my khaki shorts and off I went out to play and to show it off to the other lads. About ten minutes later I was back, my left middle finger streaming bright red blood. My Granddad grunted, held my hand under the cold tap then squeezed the wound until the bleeding stopped. A sticking plaster was applied and off I went out to play again. This time also to show off a whacking great plaster that signified a recent brush with death.
I earned numerous more sticking plasters after that initiation ceremony. A plaster on one finger and a scab on each knee was more or less school uniform in those days. But the point is that I soon learned the ways of knives and how to handle them. Indeed, later on, in my military days, a heavy combat knife became and remains my weapon of choice, - for most circumstances anyway. Later, for me, sheath knives and fighting knives gave way to scalpels. That’s another story, - though somehow scalpels were never quite the same fun.
Today no-one would dream of giving a seven year old kid a sheath knife. Is that because kids today are less reliable? Or maybe it’s because there’s a handful of laws somewhere that forbid it. I hear, furthermore, that it is now not permitted to play conkers unless wearing gloves and protective goggles. In the Chem. Lab. they wear padded overalls and face masks if actually boiling water. We had nothing like that. Teachers were careful and sensible but also we learned the dangers first hand. Mini-explosions were not rare,.. and once we made some nitrogen tri-iodide and blew my pal’s kitchen grate through the wall and into next door’s garden. But we developed a sense of awareness of problems and dangers and, with that, a balance between the unquestionable thrill of risk-taking and the appreciation of possible consequences.
Looking back it was something of a miracle that any of us survived infancy let alone adolescence. Our toys were covered in lead-based paint. Lots of mothers-to-be smoked. We had cap guns with real gunpowder in them. We had ‘bangers’ on bonfire night and home-made phosphorus bombs to light the fires. We drank cold water from streams. We built swings out of old rope hung from any trees we could climb. We swam in the canal and dried off with our vests and pants. No-one ever caught cold. We poached trout, salmon, crayfish. Then we made a fire and burned them near to cinders and ate them with simulated relish. We wrapped hedgehogs in clay and baked them. We scrumped apples and strawberries. We ate everything as it came. No-one ever got a tummy upset.
We jumped out of trees. We learned how to get into orchards over walls with shards of glass set into their cement tops. We ate oysters straight from the sea. We built our own commando courses. We got smacked, caned and clipped around the ear. The village Bobby carried a switch to slash across any calf exposed by sagging socks. When we started to shave - oh happy day - it was with cut-throat razors. Safety razors were for cissies. We scoffed butter, dripping, cheese and as many eggs as we could find. We built three-wheeler bogies from old pram wheels. On our bikes we’d hang onto the back of any lorry going uphill.
I got my first airgun at eleven and a 20-bore shotgun as soon as I could lift it. That was fair as by then I was ploughing with two shire horses. We learned to tickle trout and gaff any unwary salmon. We knew every lock that wasn’t locked. We swapped people’s dustbin lids. We exchanged bottles of fresh milk on doorsteps for sour milk from behind the dairy wall. Our school dentist had never heard of anaesthesia. We were never protected and seldom supervised. The only rule was that when the village lights went on we went home. We were naughty but never malicious.
Last week I bought a new electric toaster. Its leaflet had two inches of printed instructions and nine print inches of safety precautions. On the TV some ambulance-chasing lawyer was offering legal help to the compensationitis proles of the admass.
What’s next, I wonder? Tin hats for hamsters? Crush barriers for the budgy cage? Galoshes for ducks? Parachutes for pigeons? Knuckle dusters if you want to play conkers?
That’s modern living for you. Pale faces, mobiles, computers and a wide range of apps.
On Danger September, 1982
In what, to me, has been a world wonderfully replete with all kinds of temptresses and sirens, Lady Danger has always been and I suspect, always will be the Arch Temptress, - Danger and her little sister, Challenge.
I know I'll always hunt for her as I always have, earnestly and helplessly. It's not deliberate. I seem no more able to help it than I can help breathing. I know she'll always scare me. And after I've had her I'll be shivering and I’ll feel sick,.. and I'll say 'Never again.' But it doesn't work. After a while I always have to go looking for her again,.. I’ll need to find her, take her and possess her again. Sooner or later. Just for the few moments while it lasts. And she always yields. Yet, as Shakespeare alludes, she too, bears submission as the flint bears fire, which, swiftly struck, sparks for an instant then straight is cold again.
I've been out hunting her in a dozen places. And she's always there when I call.
I've hunted her on the autobahn, racing away from the checkpoint at a hundred and twenty miles an hour and heard her voice in the screaming tyres and the howling engine when its revs are red-lined to far beyond their sanity limit.
I've hunted her in the waters of the Gulf when her voice was the scrape of the scuba valve and the harsh gasping of the air cylinder on my back; when her shape was sleek and fast and grey and deadly, just a dozen yards away and razor-toothed in the clear water.
I've hunted her in a power-boat with all the taps open and a headwind of forty knots, when she was dressed in spume-laced green and her teeth were the unseen yet nearby, black, jagged rocks.
I've hunted her in the clutch of gravity when, bungee-jumping with eyes closed and heart shuddering with terror, a single step moves you out into the unsupporting air and safety is no more than an elasticated hope tied to one ankle.
I've hunted her in the sky, as the door opens and your stomach crawls and there is nothing between you and death at too many miles an hour for survival, but a canopy you know will open,.. or be a shroud. Her voice hisses through the helmet and tries to get at your face,.. and her breath is sweet but as chill as the air that rushes past you.
I've hunted her in the bush when she wore a leopard skin. And I've hunted her in the city when her touch was another man's hand shaking mine in false friendship, arms across shoulders but knife poised at the ribs.
I've hunted her on the island when her eyes peeped out of the darkness at my Land-Rover and I stood up partly to encourage my lads,.. but mostly to let her see where I was,.. to face her down, to tempt her.
And I've hunted her at home,.. where her face smiled and her ways were gentle,.. yet her actions were the ultimate betrayal,.. and that was the one single occasion when she nearly won.
Each time there was the giblet-wrenching, bowel-voiding fear down in the ganglia. Each time I swore it was enough,.. that it was over between us,.. finally and forever. And, of course, each time it wasn't,.. nor ever will be. To be beckoned by the Lady,.. the Arch Temptress, just once, and to obey, is all she needs. Thereafter she will always offer new ways for you to woo her, catch her,.. have her. From then on the thraldom is eternal,.. a love affair to the very end and beyond.
Believe me, ye who read,.. I know whereof I speak.
One evening a man was just getting into his shower as his wife was getting out of hers. The front doorbell rang.
After a few moments of discussion as to who should go and answer it the wife gave up, quickly wrapped herself in a large towel and ran downstairs.
She opened the door and there stood Bob, their next door neighbour.
Before she could say a word he said ‘If I give you $800 would you drop that towel and give me a good look?’
She thought for a moment,.. just a brief moment,.. then she dropped the towel and stood there naked in front of him. She rather enjoyed the sheer naughtiness of the situation and moved a little here and there,.. just to give Bob his money’s worth.
Bob took in the pretty sight, handed her the money and left. Confused but quite excited by the event,.. and the money, she wrapped herself back up in her towel and went back upstairs.
When she got back to the bathroom her husband yelled out from the shower ‘Who was that?’
‘It was only Bob from next door’
‘Great,’ said her husband. ‘He owes me $800. Did he give it to you?’
French, Frogues and Fromages
Let’s offend someone, just for fun.
First, let me make it clear, - I would never wish harm or even misfortune to fall to anyone. I’d even have a job with Mother Teresa or Adolf Schicklgruber. But the other day glimpsing a page-ten-bottom-of-column news item that told how two Frenchmen had the bad luck to be killed by an avalanche, it struck me, to my shame, that I had never before associated the idea of the death of Frenchmen with bad luck. Why? Because be it on the rugby field or in the current Brexit debacle those French are not a people given to much affection for Brits.
There are lots of people who love loads of different things about France. Their cuisine, obviously. Their wines, too, I am informed, are very fine. So are parts of the country,.. the Vosges, the Massif Centrale, the picturesque villages of Provence. Then there are the hundreds of beaches and lakes and mountains. Many people love some or other of these things. But however many people admire these components of the gallic ensemble I seldom meet anyone who actually likes the French themselves. They’ve a sort of entirely unmerited, smug, elitist view of themselves and their assumed superiority just does not suit the Brit personality.
To start with there is the perpetual vague presence of a malodorous combination of garlic and none too recently washed armpits that tends to move like an aura with your average Frenchman. Even their womenfolk may well wear expensive perfume but still feel rather undeservedly proud of what, out of gentlemanly courtesy, is called their cassoulet.
Also there is the way that despite many triumphs in their history they have so much to be jealous about, and it shows. They haven’t forgiven Britain for the battle of Crecy yet,.. never mind Agincourt. Napoleon’s and Hitler’s failure to invade us still bugs them. Their politicians, including the odious little twerp now strutting about the Elysée Palace [Nicky Sarkozy], are an even sorrier lot than ours. Remember Charlie de Gaulle? Gall was the word, alright. No-one doubted de Gaulle’s sincerity in seeing himself as a Messiah. But d’you remember, years ago, when Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was in France. Charlie told him he wanted all American soldiers out of France soonest. Rusk responded, ‘Does that include those who are buried here?’ Hear a pin drop, eh?
I think a lot of the current wave of scorn derives from the reluctance of the French to help in the campaigns to get Saddam out of Iraq, Gadaffi out of Libya and Mugabe out of Rhodesia. Not unexpected really. After all there were an awful lot of French people who didn’t even help the Allies to get Adolf out of France. In fact that reminds me of a lovely story from the 60s when an elderly American gent landed at Orly airport. He walked through until a uniformed guard asked for his passport. ‘I don’t need a passport here, - I’m an American citizen.’ ’M’sieu,’ said the official, ‘Of course you must show your passport.’ ’No,- I tell you I’m American.’ When the guard persisted the old gent said. ‘Now listen, young man. The last time I was in France was the sixth of June, 1944. And that day, as I strolled up Omaha Beach, d’you know I couldn’t find a single goddam Frenchman to show my passport to.’ I think it was General Norman Schwarzkopf who reminded us all that going to war without France would be like,.. World War Two. ‘In fact it would be like going deer-hunting without your accordion.’
Mind you, it’s not true that the reason it took the Nazi Panzers a week to occupy France in 1940 was because it was raining. Fair play, - the French have always been there when they needed us. Furthermore, having been invaded by Germany three times within a century they are pretty wary now. In fact I hear it on the grapevine that this week the French Government will announce a ban on fireworks at Euro-Disney. The decision comes the day after a fireworks display there, just outside of Paris, caused the soldiers at a nearby army garrison to surrender to a passing group of Czech tourists,.. just in case.
But let us be charitable and understanding, - where such responses are actually due. France reminds me rather of an ageing actress, of the 70s say, who is still trying to dine out on her past looks but no longer has the face for it.
Zut alors,.. c’est la vie du monde.
Heavy Laden 2003
Poor old Archbishop Rowan Williams, - the man with perhaps the most beautiful speaking voice in the world, has yet again opened his mouth and put his foot in it. He seems always to do pin-table lurches from one misunderstanding to another. All he explained was that the killing of an unarmed man left him ‘very uncomfortable.’ So it should. Few bothered to listen to his reasoning,.. that such a sudden killing meant that justice was not seen to have been done. Once again that should leave any thinking man uncomfortable. The deliberate killing of an unarmed man, - even one that needed killing, is certainly disconcerting.
For me, these matters of principle have other priorities and show up other weaknesses. Someone somewhere gave the wrong orders,.. or the right orders for the wrong reasons. I won’t go so far as to suggest any connection between the event, its timing and the start of a re-election campaign. To kill the wretch was a big mistake. Exactly where the mistake was made is open to question. By far the best option was for him to have been taken alive,.. and more on that later. It could not have been difficult once they got into the room with him and saw him helpless and shielded only by a woman and a couple of youngsters and with only one armed associate present.
Now, elite troops like SAS and US Navy Seals are highly trained not to shoot the wrong person. Errors are always possible in such confused and stressful scenarios but to kill four unarmed people seems a very big error indeed… or was it perhaps a mission the order for which, from the start, was simply ‘Kill Osama’? If so that was the wrong order. He was much more valuable alive. But did he know too much to the detriment of other people in high places for that to be an option? One does wonder.
Captured alive would have had the advantage that, suitably pressured, he might have exposed the entire Al Qaeda network. After that he could have been spirited away so that the burial place could never become a shrine. Yet shrines are odd things,.. the room where he was killed will do just as well as his tomb should the latter remain unlocated. Plenty of precedent there,.. see under A.Hitler, a sometime German chancellor.
But considering this whole thing one is left with the near certainty that there was more to it than has leaked out. Ten long weary years. Armies, spies and political pressures applied everywhere. The Afghan/Pakistan borderland repeatedly scoured.. Massive expenditure. The CIA geared to get Osama using every state of the art spy satellite, infiltration, hi-tech surveillance. Two wars started. Thousands of dead soldiers,.. and where was he all the time? Home watching TV in comfort. If that were so then he must have had excellent communications. Police authorities are repeatedly catching drug-smugglers, tax evaders and buyers of childporn. Yet we are asked to believe there was no electronic trace of this creep. Mmmm.
Then there were confused announcements from the US government. And what about photographs too gory to be released for fear of upsetting viewers,.. or the whole of Islam? We see gory material every day,.. remember Abu Graib and the Nazi deathcamps. No, there has been massive obfuscation that convinces few. Smoke screens are up just like after the Kennedy and Princess Diana and Dr.David Kelly assassinations. Let the prelates whinge,.. escalate attacks in Libya,.. suggest anxiety for the safety of the Grey Seals,.. and soon it all cools down and becomes yesterday’s newspapers,.. useful only to wrap the fish and chips.
While mulling things over these past days I was struck yet again by the fact that although we and the Americans share a common language there are startling differences. They say tomaytoes and we say tomartoes. They say ‘sidewalk’ and we say ‘pavement.’ They say ‘buried at sea’ and we say ‘Chained naked to an iron bedstead, connected to a power supply and beaten senseless for answers.’ Funny, really.
Anyway, it’s all too hard for your columnist to work out. Instead I’ll let you into a little secret. The night before last I located, shot and killed Colonel Gaddafi. I didn’t take any pictures. I didn’t interrogate him about Locherbie or the missing Libyan billions. I just dumped the body in the sea. But one thing I can tell you for sure. He IS dead. I guarantee it. And, would I lie to you?
A Burst of Flame
Once upon a time, somewhere in the early 1970s I used to carry out army recruitment medicals. The local recruiting sergeant was an old NCO of mine from my regular army days and when he learned that I had come to practice in the area he asked me if I was prepared to do preliminary medicals for his prospective recruits. As I was very familiar with the army system of medical status,.. known as PULHEEMS, we formed a happy and successful little partnership.
Most of the tasks that came my way were pretty humdrum routine events. But there was just one event that has stayed in my mind as worth remembering,.. and repeating.
One particular evening the sergeant introduced a thirty years old potential recruit who, earlier in his life had served three years in the Royal Navy. He was a fit healthy chap and there was little doubt he would pass his medical.
Just about the part of the examination routine was to check that the candidate was not suffering from haemorrhoids or any other condition in the region of the rectal orifice. I explained that this was necessary which did not surprise the chap. He knew exactly what to do,.. drop his trousers turn away from me with legs well apart and then draw open to expose the orifice.
Now I have seen many tattoos in my time but this one was the most spectacular of all.
On each buttock was tattooed a small scarlet devil complete with horns and forked tail. The pictures were mirror images of each other. Both the devils held large stokers’ shovels. With these they were setting to on a large heap of coal drawn across the mid-line as if to stoke the fuel into the actual orifice of the rectum,.. from which there burst a rosette of yellow and scarlet flames as if from an internal fire.
When I chuckled the recruit smiled too and explained that he always got the same response. His wife, he said, had also come up with some pretty saucy comments.
Leviticus and All That
My neighbour, Fred, and I get on well but for one thing. Depending on the direction of the evening breeze either his BBQ aromas drift across my patch,.. or vice-versa. We eat late so his fumes drive us nuts with hunger pains. He eats early so our fragrances hit him later when he is full to overflowing.
I pointed out to him that the Good Book says the scent of sacrificial meat burning is pleasing to the One Above . Surely what is good enough for him should be good enough for Fred. He says my cooking isn’t sacrificial burned, - merely burned. Where we can we seek informed advice on this point, we wonder?
While we were scouring The Good Book for help we found some other confusing points.
For example,.. it says that we are permitted to own slaves,.. male or female, it doesn’t matter . These slaves must be purchased from neighbouring heathen nations. Both of us would quite like to have a slave or two,.. if we can get our wives’ permission. The problem is that here in Cyprus we do not actually have any exactly neighbouring nations. Fred thinks citizens of the Occupied Zone would qualify but probably not any other near neighbours. Furthermore as the Occupied Areas are not officially regarded as a nation by the UN I personally harbour doubts as to whether they qualify. We have written to the United Nations HQ and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nicosia but so far have received no reply.
Furthermore, at the moment my granddaughters are sweet young things, polite and obedient. However, one hears stories of daughters who become wayward and depart from the firm principles they were taught. Consequently, at some time in the future I might choose to be rid of them by selling them off. This is expressly permitted . However, such transactions being perplexingly rare nowadays I have no idea of the going price. They are comely of appearance and well housetrained in all the usual domestic requirements.
On the other side from my neighbour mentioned, I have another neighbour of a less savoury quality. To my certain knowledge he indulges in the vile practice of working on the Sabbath. In fact he does this on virtually every Sabbath. Now, Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. My question is simple. Am I morally obliged to attend to this myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination  it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. Now, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. So I can’t say I’m happy with this. Also I am very partial to a few prawns myself. Our local padre seemed uncertain when I asked him whether there are any officially recognised 'degrees' of abomination.
My uncle has a large allotment and repeatedly violates Lev.19:19 by planting different seeds in the same patch. Furthermore his wife wears garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/wool blend). She also sometimes cooks certain kinds of food in the same pans used for other things. Also they both curse and blaspheme a lot,.. altogether a very bad business. The question is, is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? . Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we should with people who sleep with their in-laws?  Sadly, cremation facilities are still not legal in Cyprus and this further complicates the issue.
On a more personal point, I know that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean , but may I still play rugby if I wear gloves?
Finally, most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, and some have tattoos even though these are expressly forbidden . How, exactly, should they be punished?
I was brought up knowing that The Word is eternal and unchanging and I have consequently thought about attending church to pray for guidance on these points. But  says that I may not approach the altar if I have a defect. I have had two cataract operations and I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be perfect or is there some room here for negotiation?
Thank you for any guidance you can offer.
 Lev. 11:10
 Lev: 21:10-13
 Lev: 11:7-8
 Lev: 19:27-28
 Lev: 21:17-21
The Fortieth Birthday
I first heard this story in the autumn of 1972 just two or three months after I had discovered that my wife’s infidelity with a friend and professional colleague had been going on for several years. He was a despicable little fellow who was in my debt for a number of reasons,.. and for which see elsewhere. He repaid my help and friendship by fucking my wife for several years. That, of course, is the way of the weasel. Despite the heavy blow that that proved I had found it very easy to forgive her,.. though not him, of course. For him there would be other plans that would gradually bring about his destruction. But that could wait a while. I just knew I would enjoy the chilly repast of revenge,.. an unusual flavour to me as it is not normally a favourite. However, I did very much enjoy his plight and I can personally confirm that nothing inspired or fortified my feelings of forgiveness for Pix quite as well as did my superbly successful revenge against the weasel.
What mattered more at an immediate level was that it was at around this same time that I started getting warning messages from my security colleagues that all was by no means as well as I had thought and hoped. As was appropriate for the wife of an operative who had so carelessly and so repeatedly shown herself to be a security risk, the relevant authorities decided that from then on Pix must be under regular observation. I knew that such things were a question of routine but I was not asked or even informed about matters. It was by piecing together fragments of data from all this watching that everyone came to realise that despite the understanding and forgiveness, within weeks,.. perhaps even within days, she had resumed her infidelities not only with the same old culprit but, by then, with two or three other lovers.
At last I was awakened and fully alert. I realised that things would never be the same again and I also saw that as there was no longer a marriage vow between us there was also no longer any reason for me to be the dedicated and faithful husband I had always been,.. even while things were by no means as they should have been. In short I too began to feel a new sense of freedom.
When some of the details that came along and which found their way into the lines of the story my own particular circumstances made me feel that there was a certain association that added to the overall piquancy,..
But on with the story. An unknown lady relates the events that made up the tale.
‘This morning was my fortieth birthday. I don’t suppose many girls wake up entirely happy about reaching The Big 4-0. Certainly I didn’t. In fact I felt distinctly miserable. Still, it would be nice to see the family and, in all likelihood, their birthday greetings would cheer me up a bit.
John - my husband - was on breakfast duty today so I washed and smartened myself up, put on my best and prettiest dressing gown and went down to the kitchen. John was busy at the stove. He hardly even turned his head and just said his usual ‘Oh, hi Honey. Goodies will be ready in a moment.’
I felt a bit more crestfallen. He’d probably remember in a minute.
The kids came in and they both echoed ‘Hi, Mummy’ as they closed in on John to see what he was cooking for them. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat at the table feeling more crestfallen than ever. Everything went as usual. The kids gobbled their breakfasts, grabbed their satchels, gave me the usual peck on the cheek and went bursting out through the front door to wait for the bus on the corner.
John plonked my breakfast down in front of me. ‘There’s some more bangers in the frypan,’ he said. ’Just help yourself. I must rush,.. big day today.’ I thought he was going to say something more but all he added was ’Don’t be surprised if I’m a bit late this evening. We’ve got a couple of chaps coming down from head office.’
He pecked me on the cheek,.. just like the kids had,.. and in moments I heard the front door close.
I just sat there and cried. It was awful.
I picked at my breakfast, gave up and put the sausages in Bess’ bowl. At least she’d wolf them.
Felt wretched all the way to the office. Then, as I went into the main room the first nice thing of the day happened. I saw Ben,.. that’s Ben Duggan, my rather dishy boss. He spotted me through the glass partition wall of his office. He immediately got up, come out and straight across to my desk.
‘Good morning, Jenny,’ he said eyeing me all over. It actually felt quite nice. ‘And a very special good morning today to wish that you’ll have a lovely day on your birthday.’
At least someone had noticed,.. and bothered to mention it. He really was a lovely boss. If only,.. I thought to myself. Well,.. any girl can dream a little,.. on her birthday.
He shook my hand really warmly and went back through the office to his own desk.
I settled down to the dull routine of the morning. Just like any other day.
It was a little before one o’clock when Ben came over to my desk again.
'You know,.. it's such a beautiful day outside, and it is your birthday, what do you say we go out to lunch, just you and me?'
I said, 'Thanks Ben, that's the greatest thing I've heard all day. Let's go!'
We went to lunch. But we didn’t go to any of the usual nearby places where most of the staff go. Instead Ben chose a quiet little bistro with several private tables.
We had two martinis each and I enjoyed the meal tremendously. At one point he actually took hold of my hand for a moment and said ‘I really do hope I’m helping give you a really good birthday.’
He had no idea.
On the way back to the office he suddenly said, 'I have an idea,.. it's such a magnificent day... we don't need to go straight back to the office,.. do we?'
I was so surprised I really didn’t know what to say. I just answered, 'Well, I suppose not. What do you have in mind?'
He said, 'Let's drop by my bungalow, it's just around the corner.'
When we got there Ben opened the front door and ushered me into the hall and then into the lounge and onto a big comfy looking sofa. He turned to me and gestured towards a door on the far side. ‘That’s my bedroom,’ he said. ’If you don't mind, I'm going to step in there for just a moment. I'll be right back.'
'Ok.' I replied,.. a shade nervously.
For a minute or so I wondered what Ben was doing in his room. My God, I thought, could he be up to something,.. could he have something in mind,.. could this just be the moment of a lifetime,.. but,.. but,..
With that the bedroom door opened and out trooped Ben carrying an enormous birthday cake and closely followed by my husband, both the kids and several of our closest friends,.. all bearing gifts and singing ‘Happy Birthday to you.’ Somebody had remembered after all.
I could have cried. I felt such a blithering idiot just sitting there on Ben’s sofa,.. crying and naked.
* * * * *
By the way, and with no connection to the above,..a story is told of the high ranking cardiac surgeon who went to the garage to collect his Bentley after a full service.
The mechanic knew the doctor well and said ‘Here she is, Doctor. I’ve opened her heart, cleaned out her tubes, repaired and reset her valves and she’s all ready to go.’
‘I’m grateful,’ said the doctor.
‘Mind you,’ added the mechanic, ‘Although I’ve done everything to this beauty that you do to your patients I still wonder how it is that I make thirty thousand a year and you make two hundred and fifty thousand. How do you explain that?’
The doctor smiled. ‘Try doing the whole job with the engine running,’ he said. ‘You’ll understand.’
Monte Carlo or Bust
Early in 1972 I was appointed as doctor and addition crew member to the local entry into the Monte Carlo Powerboat race. It was hoped that this spectacular race would become an added attraction to the annual London-Monte Carlo race. Sadly it was the first,.. and, so far, the last such power-boat race. There certainly has not been one since.
I enjoyed the time, the thrills and the comradeship of my time as team-member of the TigerShark Racing Team. And I especially enjoyed the times when I took our boat,.. TigerShark I out into the choppy waters of Sandwich bay then out into the crowded waters of the channel and doing about seventy knots at full chat.
The main episode of the entire TigerShark event was, of course, the actual race itself. However, there were other spectacular moments that have stayed in my memory.
Best of all was the one involving Magdalena Brigado. Even mention of the name still gives me a shiver or two. Our chance meeting came at a time of my life when I was coming to the conclusion that I was destined to be partner in yet another unhappy marriage. For a complexity of reasons that will - later and elsewhere – be explained. I had never been unfaithful despite the misery but with Magdalena things got the closest they ever did before my marriage actually foundered.
We met during the lap of that great round-Europe race that took us from La Coruna in Spain to Leixos in Portugal. Magdalena was daughter of a prominent family of vintners and growers based in and around Oporto. She was well into her forties but still absolutely ravishing. Her husband was a keen powerboat man and his company together with others was acting as hosts to the itinerant mixed bag of hobos, drivers and gofers of the race personnel. At the big soiree, which she had largely organised on behalf of the Port Wine Producers Promotion, I was introduced to her,.. at which moment we both – we later discovered – were at once strongly attracted to each other. Such is the sheer animal magnetism of rare moments like that that as I kissed the back of her hand I distinctly felt the tiny and absolutely infallible giveaway tremor that reached me from the small fingers I was holding. We exchanged glances that held each other for that slightly longer than usual moment that confirmed the mutual feelings triggered.
I wish I could explain such things as that because I am well aware how useful it would be to others to know.
I hovered just a few yards away as she finished greeting those behind me. Two or three times our eyes made contact. As she came to the end of the line we glanced at each other again and I saw her eyes swing away and focus on a different doorway to the room in the big boating club premises where the event was being held. I knew what she meant.
I watched as, for a few minutes she made her way towards the door but having to stop every yard or so to speak to one or another. She eventually went out through the door and as soon as I felt it was safe I followed her.
Once the door closed behind me she turned and put her back firmly against it. There followed a very enjoyable couple of minutes as we sort of got to know each other.
The problem, as I saw it, was how we were going to get any better acquainted. Next morning we would be off on the next leg south to Cascais and then through the Straights of Gibraltar as far as Marbella. Our only opportunity was right then and there,.. that very evening.
She explained that her husband,.. a really super chap, by the way, would be completely plastered within the hour. He’d then either go home or find an easy chair to sleep in. We planned to meet for me to walk her along the quay ‘to look at the boats’ at about ten o’clock.
A minute or two before that there she was,.. looking very bright eyed and bushy tailed. We walked, hand in hand to start with, along the boardwalk past the two dozen or so moored boats. I kept looking around for a suitable spot for what I knew we both had in mind.
Eventually, almost at the end of the row of boats, Kara was lying absolutely motionless in the still evening air..
‘I’d love to go for a ride,’ she said.
‘And I’d love to take you,’ I replied. ‘But her batteries are ashore in the boat shed on charge.’
‘I could lift you in,’ I offered. ‘You could at least get the feel of her controls.’
She peeped over the side.
‘There are no seats,’ she exclaimed.
‘No,’ I told her. ’In power boats of this kind the crew stand on a sprung floor,.. or the hours of thumping would shake your fillings loose.’
I’d love to get in,’ she said.
‘Then I’ll lift you.’
I went to sweep her up into the air but her skirt simply would not allow such liberties.
She looked all around. There was no-one in sight.
‘I’ll soon sort that out,’ she said. And with that she unfastened something and her skirt was lying on the planking.
I was shattered.
‘Well, you’re a doctor,’ she said. ‘You must have seen ladies with not much on before,.. haven’t you?’ I lifted her up and over into the cockpit.
She pointed at a small door in the fascia. ‘Where does that go?’
‘It goes under the foredeck,.. just for access really. So someone can get out through that forward hatch and on to the foredeck,.. just to set lighting bulbs or fix pennants or something.
She tugged open the hatch, bent low and squeezed through into the space beyond.
As an officer and a gentleman I am compelled not to mention the sight of her semi-clad posterior disappearing for’ard. I alone saw,.. and that is part of the reason why I said I would always remember certain features of that race.
A moment later her little head appeared through the foredeck hatch.
‘How did you open that?’ I asked.
‘Oh,.. I’m very used to boats, remember.’ Why don’t you come through and join me. It nice up here.’
There was need to crawl the way she had done. I inched along the side panels, stepped over the windscreen and joined her. We lay there for a few moments, legs stretched out towards the huge expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, our backs leaning on the windscreen.
At last a fairly suitable place. Not comfortable for sure. But my experience of what we had in mind meant that I realised that discomfort tends not to be noticed during the excitement of the events.
I was loosening my clothing and she, I could see, was in the process of removing the insane items of froth that she probably thought of as her underwear.
A long, deep and searching kiss.
The thrill of that first kiss has a certain magic that doesn’t last. No other kiss,.. of however many follow, is never quite like that one. Her tongue moved like some small, juicy plum as its tip explored me, .. everywhere she could reach.
I pulled her over on top of me. She was a mere featherweight. She slipped her arms around me, lifted her head to look at me,.. savouring the next first thrill that was imminent.
We both knew what was going to happen.
At that very moment we heard voices. There were people coming along the boardwalk where we had just walked. Damn!
We were back down through that hatch so fast that it would have been hard for anyone to know anything had happened. There we crouched, holding our breath, until the voices of my fellow crew members finished their conversations and their voices started to dwindle into the distance as they made their way back to the clubhouse.
Needless to say the natural and mutual ardour had somewhat diminished by then. We, too, sauntered back towards the boathouse car park and in five minutes she had driven away.
Next morning I kept watch for her everywhere as we busied ourselves getting Kara ready for the open sea of the Atlantic coast. She was nowhere to be seen.
More by accident than intent my marriage vows remained intact,.. albeit by just a whisker.
It was four months later when a friend whom I regularly used as a confidential mailing address passed me a small envelope bearing an unknown handwriting. Inside was a short note from Magdalena. It said that she would be in London the very next week-end and was there any chance we could meet.
During that four months my wife’s first series of infidelities had come to light
Needless to say Magdalena’s visit turned out to be a hectic and happy week,.. something of an oasis in a barren place.
Toasting those Mexican girls
There’s a saying in the league of gentlemen circles of Mexico that their girls are the best in the world as they are ‘Bueno, Bonito, Barato,’… good, pretty and cheap.
And their toast is ‘Salut,.. e fuerte en el carne [or ‘Fuego en el carne’] … Cheers,.. and fire [or strength] in the meat.
The implication being obvious enough.
I was once a contestant in a general knowledge quiz. I didn’t win as, relying on my considerable anatomical knowledge, I incorrectly answered the question,.. ‘Where do women have the curliest hair?’
Apparently the correct answer was ‘Fiji.’
Sexual Medical Puzzles
During my work in Sexual Medicine I would often come across things that were difficult to explain. Even now, perhaps fifty years after some events, I still find myself without a proper explanation.
For example one lady I remember and who was, if anything, rather under-sexed, astonished herself and everyone else involved by what she said, - and I believed - was her one and only episode of infidelity. She had been happily married to a remarkable husband for almost thirty years. She adored him and had never felt any interest in any other men since her adolescent years. Yet, out of the blue, one day she accepted the blandishments of a most unsavoury character know to be sexually profligate, a liar and a braggart.
They were caught in flagrante delicto and she was without any explanation. She destroyed the career of a great scientist who took his own life. She was abandoned by her family and lived in a self-imposed misery for many years. Yet, when we discussed what could possibly have been the reason for her decision she professed that there was no logical explanation, but it was just that ‘on that particular day he wore such a beautiful yellow shirt.’
Another thing that I commonly found puzzling was the way one person would be excited and even get a bit silly about something over which another person would be unmoved,.. might even find distasteful.
Why are most men stimulated by black mesh stockings while another finds that white stockings are his dream?
It is possible to detect a small and pathetic reason why a man exposes himself to a woman and hopes he is instilling fear and a power of domination into her,.. illogical though that really is. It is also possible to see the appeal of high heels, kinky gear, sado-masochistic inclinations and so on.
But there is only one such variation,.. or aberration, whichever it might be, and which it is really easy to explain. This is the male devotion to a girl who dresses in leather gear,.. thigh-length boots, shiny leather underwear, latex face mask,.. the whole ‘skin’ gear spectrum. This one is very easy to explain as to why it excites so many men.
It’s because she smells like a new car.
Oh, - de Nile
In a bid to avoid the horrors customarily surrounding winter solstice the plan was to go where christianism enjoys a more muted obeisance than in Cyprus. So we took the family on a tour down the River Nile. It was a great trip.
There are numerous travel agents offering ‘individually tailored’ package tours from about three days to thirty. There’s a similar variety of standards and costs. We chose the Cairo company StarMaker Travel, - they’re on the web, - and we were very pleased indeed. [Strongly recommended]. It’s cheaper to make flight arrangements from here as there are higher taxes if flights are booked from Egypt. Expedia offers a ‘pick-and-choose’ option so you can select preferred choices, timings and costs.
Despite arriving in the late-ish evening the StarMaker courier was there to meet us, carry bags and shepherd us through buying entry visas, duty free and immigration. There is no difficulty about these but Arabic signs being incomprehensible to most the guide’s services were invaluable. Tourist visas cost $15 and the Egyptian Pound exchanges at around 7.2 to the Euro. At midnight the ‘rush-hour’ [which lasts from about 05:00 to about 04:45 next day] trans-Cairo traffic was a nightmare. It took over an hour to get to the Horizon-Pyramid hotel. The hotel is 4-star standard and perfectly adequate, - clean, pleasant, helpful staff and average cuisine, though plenty of it. Waking up next morning it was most impressive to see, from our verandah, the huge outlines of the Giza pyramids standing out of the early haze about half a mile away.
In Egypt there is an immediate sense of excitement and a pervading air of total chaos. Cairo must be the easiest place in the world to drive as, clearly, there are absolutely no rules whatsoever.
There was a lot to pack in so we finished our hearty, buffet breakfast by 08:30 when the pretty, vivacious and fluently English-speaking guide, Mary, arrived to take us first to the three pyramids of Cheops, Khefren and Mykerinos, and afterwards, the Sphinx. I first saw the pyramids in 1954 when it was possible to go inside right into the King’s Chamber. There were also bearers who would carry a grown man on their backs, piggy-back style, while they ran, hopped and clambered up the side to the dominating flat top, - all for about fifty piastres. These options are unavailable today but the enormous size is still overwhelming and the sneering superiority of Rameses II’s face on the Sphinx towering twenty metres high, has, to this day, an ability to convey the sheer power of the then mighty pharaoh of the then greatest power on earth.
All around the pyramids aggressive camel jockeys charge two euros for a ride,.... and then ten more to make the beast sit down again for you to get off. Tourist police try to restrain persistent vendors who literally stuff goods into your hands, making them harder to refuse. Solution: keep hands in pockets or clasped behind you. They hate it, but it works. If pressed shake your head and your index finger and say ‘La la la, shokran.’ [No, thank you]. Or, if courtesy fails turn sharply, glower and snap ‘Imshi, wallah.’ [P-off]. Under no conditions accept invitations to a papyrus or alabaster factory, a camel-leather workshop, perfumery, precious stones studio or carpet-weaving display. All are just ways of selling you cheap imported tat. Avoid.
After lunch we were off on the 25km drive to Memphis and the nearby Step Pyramid at Sakkara, the oldest on earth, built by Imhotep for the Pharaoh Zoser over 4,500 years ago to mark but conceal his underground tomb. Little remains of Memphis, once the greatest capital city of the known world, but close by is the magnificent Alabaster Sphinx and the truly gigantic, beautifully preserved, recumbent statue of the ubiquitous Rameses II.
Next day the tour continued up to the dominating fortress comprising the Citadel of Salah-ad-Din [Saladin] with its magnificent view over Cairo. Within its walls stands the delightful Alabaster Mosque dressed with stone pillaged from the casing of the pyramids. [And before you howl “Phillistines” remember that Christian bigots similarly recycled the beautiful bronzework of the Roman Pantheon to cast the hideous Papal Altar now in the basilica of the alias of Saul of Tarsus].
After an exhausted night’s sleep we caught the sleeper train to Luxor, eight hours south. All I can advise is ‘go by air’ whatever extra it costs! The train sways and rattles, the bunks are hard, the food is awful and the windows are barely transparent. Whatever you do don’t drink the water. And, come to that, be pretty careful about the water everywhere. Especially this is true of the Nile itself. They say that if you fall in they don’t bother to fish you out because with so many bugs living in it you’re going to die anyway. Reaching Luxor, transfer to our next temporary home, the luxurious Hotel Ship ‘Osiris,’ was a great relief,.. and a very fine 5-star vessel she is.
The first day of the Nile tour was to the immense temple complex of Karnak and Luxor. No guide book I ever saw does these anything like justice. I’ve been there a dozen times and my mouth still hangs open. It’s as well the rest of the day is taken up with something pretty spectacular as almost everything is an anticlimax after Karnak. The Colossi of Memnon are grotesque but breathtaking. Then it was on to the Valley of the Kings. Expect crowds but be sure that you will come away with memories enough to last all year. The burial temple of Queen-Pharaoh Hatshepsut, - known to all as Hot-Chip-Soup, is nearby. In the evening we rode, in a horse-drawn ‘fiacre’ around the fascinating streets of the town before going back to the boat,.. moored and waiting on the town quay, for dinner. Come morning the boat paddled up the Nile to dock at Edfu. There, smaller but still huge, is the temple of my own favourite god,.. Horus [aka Horace!]. Next day the visit was by motorboat around the island of Philae and the next great temple, Kom Ombo.
The last day we spent moored at Aswan. Some made the six hour return trip even further south to see the Abu Simbel facade of the four statues of the sitting Rameses II. It’s the one that was literally dismembered and re-erected on higher ground when the Aswan High Dam threatened to submerge the statues for ever. For those of us seeking a more restful option after a quick sortie to see the dam and Lake Nasser behind it, we boarded one of the graceful feluccas that ply around the broad reaches of the Nile alongside the town.
We were all glad to do little but laze beside the pool trying to smoke sheesha [hubbly-bubbly] on our last day in Cairo after another horrid train journey back north. We had lunch in the Cairo Tower beside the Nile. The food is awful, the service superb, and the view simply astounding.
A few words of general advice. Visit Egypt in wintertime. It’s far too hot in summer. Even so take a sun-hat, keffiyeh or brolly. Wear a sun filter,.. hours of sunny rubber-necking catches out a fair crop of the careless every day. Loose clothing and two or three changes of comfy shoes are top of my suggestions list. Oh,.. and so is Imodium or something similar. They don’t call it gyppy-tummy without reason.
The whole 10-day trip cost $1000 each but you’ll need extra cash for tips,.. everybody expects one for everything, and for entry fees to the various sites. Be warned, too, that alcohol is very expensive so take your own from Duty-Free. Most other things are cheap. Genuine imitation Rolex watches cost about twenty euros. A good quality cotton gellabaya or dishdash [Arab male dress] comes at about E25.
On reflection I am left with some lingering thoughts. If you dig up the corpse of a dead president it is a crime. If you dig up the corpse of a dead pharaoh it is archeology. On what day does the one change into the other? There we were, entering the Holy of Holies of one of the greatest civilisation in history. We gazed on forbidden mummies and photographed heiroglyphs and carvings meant never to be seen by mortal men. We stood beside the holiest statues of the greatest gods. Was this sacrilege? Or was it all mythology? Are today’s replacement gods any different? And are the old gods really gone? Or are they still there, just biding their time?
I ask you,.. if you were a great god would you give up without a struggle?
Here lies Martin Elginbrod.
Have mercy on his soul, Dear God.
As he would do if he were God
And Ye were Martin Elginbrod
Out of Africa 2013
A couple of thousand years ago the estimated two million or so population living in what is now UK were mostly farming people. At best their short, brutish lives were mostly a matter of subsistence with mediocre yields coming from wet farmlands, unpredictable weather and primitive hand-operated tools. The expectation of life has been calculated in wildly different ways but, in general, at birth there was only a small chance of living much past the age of thirty five.
Gradually along came better tools, better land management, improved husbandry. Everything got gradually better, though it was not until around the eighteenth century that hygiene and disease treatments got seriously better. Steadily the population increased. The life expectancy grew longer and longer.
Now we have high-efficiency farming, pesticides, huge machines, organised labour and the benefits of modern science. Commensurately the population now numbers some 65 million. Sadly this means we can no longer feed ourselves. We have to find other ways of making enough money to buy what we need from somewhere else. Up to a point that works. So we’re alright then,.. yes?
Elsewhere in the world, on the other hand, malaria remains a terrible disease. Westerners incline to think of it as happening far way and not to many Europeans. That might be some sort of comfort, but I’ve treated hundreds of cases,.. and I’ve had it myself. Every few years yet another survey tells us how many helpless kiddies have died of the disease. Our hearts are wrung and we send what we can to the charities that address the problem. So that’s alright, too, then,.. yes?
Even the great Bill Gates has donated a huge chunk of his enormous fortune towards stamping out this dreadful scourge. One can only applaud the generosity.
His charity plus our lesser efforts to help, save a lot of lives. That makes us, too, feel better. We’ve done our good deed for the day.
But have we? The question arises because at this point we incur the Law of Unforeseen Circumstances.
The population of Ethiopia thirty years ago was around 40 million most living at or below starvation level. Huge aid programs flooded in. The population surged towards its current 120 million,.. and is still rising at over two million a year. The point is that that population now needs vastly more charity to feed it. And this at a time when disposable funds in the western world are everywhere diminishing.
Similarly, fifty years ago Somalia could not feed its population. Terrible droughts killed millions. Nowadays the droughts are rather less severe. But there are now three times the number of people to feed,.. thanks to outside aid.
In many places around the world situations like this are being recognised as unsustainable.
So what are we expected to do? Should we let them starve back to more natural proportions? That very idea produces a dilemma for our Judeo/Christian/Islamic ethos as well as for Hindu/Buddhist morality.
There are other complications. To start with much of the money sent never got where it was intended. It fell into the hands of the war-lords who spent it on weapons to prolong their wars. For example, it prolonged the Eritrean-Ethiopian war by nearly a decade. Alternatively, much was filched by political manipulators who used it to prop up political systems which would otherwise have collapsed.
While all this has been going on the populations still remain at or near starvation level. Which raises yet another disastrous consequence. Recent studies have shown that the mental development of undernourished children results in a lower level of educability. Pre-birth malnutrition compounded by the inadequate neonatal and subsequent living standards of the first decade of life breeds a dangerous kind of human. I was in Somalia two years ago and saw at first hand youngsters being rounded up to be disarmed.
The shocking truth was that the wide-eyed boy-child we saved 20 years or so ago is now a low IQ, AK47-carrying, perpetually tumescent, sexually hyperactive, illiterate thug siring children whenever he can, eager to join an ocean pirate gang, and blaming the world because he is uneducated, poor and abandoned.
How much morality is there in saving a wide-eyed little Ethiopian girl from starvation today, for her to survive into a life of brutal circumcision, poverty, hunger, violence, sexual abuse and repeated adolescent pregnancies resulting in another half-dozen such wide-eyed children, with similar jolly little lives ahead of them?
There is, of course, a good argument why we should prolong the growth of this catastrophic, dysfunctional economic, social and sexual system,.. but at this moment it escapes me.
Surely,.. now is the time for all good men to come to!
Politics Clarified by Richard Dickenson
Now that the UK election fever has thoroughly abated for, hopefully, a few more years, we can really get to grips with the problems of politics. My residential constituency [Thanet South] failed to elect its UKIP candidate [Mr.N.Farage] last time but, during a public debate session, I posed what I thought was a fair question, viz. Why is it that ‘a marginal tax increase’ always costs me about eight hundred quid whereas ‘a generous tax cut’ saves me around thirty quid. The glib rhetorician replying graded my question as silly and declined to answer,.. a typical politician’s way of avoiding difficulties. Mind you, they do a difficult job. In their hearts they know that nothing they do will change anything much. If there were such a serious risk then democratic elections would soon be dispensed with altogether.
I’m sure that everyone must, by now, be longing for the next election and seriously pondering where they stand in these Battles of the Midgets. So here’s a list of ideas on things so that readers can assess where they belong on the political spectrum.
Religion: Most Tories are, at least nominally, affiliated to some branch of believer mumbo-jumbo. Socialist ranks, on the other hand, include lots of atheists. If a Tory is an unbeliever he simply doesn’t go to church. Atheist socialists however, tend to want God abolished and all his various religions silenced,.. unless that religion is foreign-based, - like Islam or Rastafarianism, in which case it’s OK.
Gun Law: Lots of Tories enjoy shooting. Targets and clay pigeons are OK but their real buzz comes from actually killing something. It’s a sort of atavistic inclination. It’s especially esteemed if there are cheap casual labourers to use as beaters and ‘the guns’ wear tweeds and green wellies and get there in Range Rovers. If a Tory doesn’t like guns he doesn’t own one. Socialists who don’t like, own or approve of guns protest in the streets and try to prevent all other people having guns.
Sex: Lots of Tories enjoy ‘severe discipline.’ If, perchance, they are homosexuals/gays/poofters/queers,.. or Gentlemen Brownies [delete as preferred] they just quietly get on with whatever such people do. Socialists, if they are any of those on that list of options [again delete according to choice] hold Queer Pride Parades that bellow for respect, legitimisation, permission and free advertising for their inclinations.
Prospects: If a Tory is broke, busted and unemployed he looks through The Times ads and scours the internet for job options. A Socialist first spends a lot of fruitless energy wondering who will support him, his overweight wife and their six kids. Then, eventually, he signs on for as many benefits and charitable hand-outs as he can locate.
Hunting: Lots of Tories object to blood sports. They stay away from them. Socialists and other unrealistics do go to them all the time mostly so that they can hurt other people and cripple horses.
Diet: There are such things as Tory vegetarians. I’ve met several and you can hardly tell them from normal people. The thing about them is that they don’t eat meat. Socialists vegetarians go a great deal further. They campaign for meat products to be banned, rationed or artificially made out of soya, nuts and tofu.
Television: If a Tory doesn’t like the language or the manner or even the smile of the anchorman he changes channels. The Socialist clamours for the dismissal of petrolheads, military personnel and commentators who speak good English without an impenetrable regional accent.
If, after those clues, some are still unsure of their political status here’s a helpful story that gets dusted off and updated at least twice in every generation.
A bright young university student aged 21 was a keen socialist. She wanted extra taxes to subsidise university students and their alcohol bills. She told her opinion to her dad, a local cardiac surgeon. He didn’t argue but, instead, asked how she was getting on in her studies.
She told him she was doing well, working very hard and expected about 90% in her exams and a double first degree. How’s your friend Sue doing, her dad asked. Not very well, he was told. She does no work and is out getting drunk with her boyfriends all the time. She’ll be lucky to get 50%.
Dad came up with a suggestion,.. why not ask your professor if it would be possible for you to give Sue 20% of your marks? That way you’d each have 70% and get a degree. No way, said the girl. That’s not fair. Sue has a whale of a time being idle while I work my butt off night after night.
The doctor smiled and winked. ‘Welcome to the Conservative side of the fence.’
On being a House Surgeon
I worked for a short but very happy time in the hospital of a small holiday town in mid-Wales. All kinds of interesting things happened while I was there,.. some of them are to be found related elsewhere in either this Doc-Leaves Part Two or in the Part One that preceded it. One of the things that was very special indeed about the place was that outside authorities and influences were invariably and most effectively side tracked,.. usually by simply being kicked into the long grass and forgotten. Requests for data or for co-operation from one or other government department,.. or from the various ministries or from the outside police forces and so on, had a habit of disappearing into some dusty file or other and, miraculously, being seen no more. In other words the chaps who ran the town resisted all outside interference.
It worked wonderfully as the following tales will clearly show.
The first example is a small one but will convey the general picture and the general routine. I was houseman in what was a well run one hundred bed hospital. It had an excellent and thoroughly deserved reputation. But it was in a pretty remote area. Nursing staff were always available,.. Welsh women are a caring and reliable species. There were also first rate visiting consultants from the nearest big cities. Junior medical staff, however, were another problem. Few well qualified young doctors were interested in doing the jobs of house surgeons and house physicians. Medically speaking it was just not a glam place. Applicants were few. I was there only because of a mistake.
As soon as my final exams were over in late May of the year,.. 1954, there was a long and daunting wait until the results would be revealed, normally in about early September. That created a most useful slot in one’s calendar and, as most students were perpetually broke most of us hunted for the most lucrative summer jobs that we could find. As I was used to stage work, was a decent pianist, raconteur and personality boy I was accepted on my very first application to become a Junior Redcoat at the Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Clacton. The pay was not all that special but the work was one happy and endless round of events. Not only that but there was an equally happy and endless availability of pretty girls enjoying their week or so of freedom from the drudge of their office and shop assistant jobs. Most of them were all set on having themselves a ball,.. of one kind or another. In short it was a little paradise for taking part in which one was well fed and housed and, furthermore, at the end of the week someone put money in your bank account just for enjoying oneself. If they’d only known I’d probably have done the job for free.
So seductive was this life style that I failed to take appropriate notice when the exam results came out. I knew I had qualified, of course, and with a rather good set of marks, but I just carried on confident that everything would eventually turn out for the best. [It was one of those small decisions concerning a relatively trivial matter that can radically change one’s lifetime direction]. When I realised my negligence all the best house jobs in Wales were taken already. My pal and I were lucky,.. as it turned out, to get about the only two jobs left in the country. Thus it was that I became a working doctor for the first time.
It was paradise re-found. Not only the hospital and its staff, but the entire town, was thrilled to realise that for once,.. and after a rather long gap,.. there were two young doctors actually working in the town. They thought they were lucky. We, for our part, quickly realised that we had very much landed on our feet. We were welcomed, invited everywhere and treated with the kind of grateful respect that is virtually unknown to the just-qualified doctor. I won’t even mention the way we were treated by the ladies of the town. All the young trainee nurses were set to try and catch a promising young doctor if they could. So were the older nurses, staff nurses, sisters, the general staff, the womenfolk of the town,.. to say nothing of the Young Wives of the various chapels, the Church-ladies groups, the Sisterhood members, the Inner Wheel members and a useful proportion of the various Milfs and Gilfs that conformed to the high integrity standards of the town in public while covertly fostering a weakness for the hot salty longings of the majority of the Celtic fringe female population. There was a huge crop and the standard was exceptional. In fact, I have never encountered anything like it since. Talk about a sexual smorgasbord.
I made what some would regard as a mistake half way through the year when I fell seriously in love. Mind you, it was with a lady living two hundred miles away. I was thus able to visit her only once in a while but, for the most part, having an affianced such a long way away did leave the local spectrum of availabilities within easy reach.
And this is where that highly protective environment which I mentioned above and in which all ‘useful’ locals were unofficially enrolled came into play. I had set off to drive south one happy weekend and, thrilled to be off duty for a while to drive across country and spend a couple of days with my VIP girl-friend, I have to confess that my driving was of a rather carefree and cavalier standard. I overtook another pale blue car that was being driven by a ravishingly long-haired femunum. I glanced her way, waived her a wave and blew her a saucy kiss. My concentration thus distracted I understeered and the two cars brushed hard and noisily for a few feet before we parted. I remember she shook her fist at me. Quite right, too. It was my own silly fault. The episode having been what I thought of as a trivial matter I didn’t stop but just drove on at high speed to get away. It was before it became obligatory to stop for an accident unless there was some serious aspect. I thought nothing more of the matter.
It was towards the end of the following week that I received a message from the local police chief that he would like to send one of his junior officers up to the hospital to get some information from me. As I was the main casualty doctor dealing with injuries and drunks, and as I did most of the coroner’s post-mortems such a visit was a pretty frequent occurrence, I agreed at once. Punctual to the minute a Detective Constable arrived.
As he explained that there had been a complaint from ‘an English Police HQ’ he walked around the car. There, on the front passenger wing, was a pale blue paint smudge a few inches across and a foot long. He crouched down and scraped it with his thumbnail.
‘Tell me, Doctor,’ he said, ‘In your path lab do you still have some acetone and some benzene?’
I confirmed that we had.
‘Perhaps someone could mix me a few drops,’ he said. ’About a tablespoon would be enough.’
I made up the mix as requested and was back with him within a few minutes. From his pocket he took an old yellow duster and again crouched down by the smudge. For a few minutes he dabbed and rubbed at the smudge with his duster soaked in solvent. Then straightened up and said, ‘I think it would be a good idea to turn the car around so this side is facing the sun.’ I took the hint and turned the car. ‘Now,’ said the policeman. ‘I’ll bet Sister James in Casualty has got a nice cuppa brewing by now. Shall we?’
He knew the hospital and its staff very well indeed and, as we walked into Casualty, sure enough, Sister was just ‘wetting the tea.’ The three of us sat for a few minutes enjoying the brew and talking over local events,.. what the fishing was like off the pier,.. how Glamorgan was doing in the county cricket championship, the crowds of tourists and suchlike.
‘Now,’ said the policeman after about ten minutes. ‘As you know I’ve really been sent here to examine that car.’ He turned,.. ‘Thanks for the tea, Sister-fach,’ he said, using that familiar, female-diminutive of affectionate respect of the Welsh people.
‘That’ll be tuppence each please gentlemen,’ said Sister. She held out her hand and received two threepenny bits. She dropped them both into a cardboard box with a slot in the top and marked ‘Kiddies’ Comforts.’ Most of the children in the town knew that if they had to attend Casualty and didn’t cry they would, as a reward, get a free dip into Sister James’ Goodies Box.
The policeman and I walked back out the hospital yard where the car was parked. He got down on his knees and examined the side of the car. The superficial smudge had entirely disappeared as if by magic.
‘Well,.. there we are,’ the policeman said. ‘I can’t find any evidence of any mishap,.. can you, Doctor?’
I shook my head.
‘I’ll just report that everything has been checked and no evidence was found of whatever it was ‘those others’ were looking for. Sorry we had to trouble you. But you know,.. rules are rules. Good afternoon, Doctor.’ He touched the brim of his trilby.
And that was that.
As the months went by I saw several other examples of this umbrella of protection that was spread over the ‘elite’ of the town. Small traffic mishaps usually received a smile and a gesture of ‘carry on’ and parking errors of judgement simply never got followed up. Everything was very relaxed,.. and everything ran wonderfully smoothly.
I was even remembered later on, I recall. After I completed my house jobs year I received my call-up papers. I had to do my two years National Service in the armed forces of the crown. It was a little over two years later that I was back in UK and without a job to move to. The word went round like lightning and at the end of two weeks I was booked for a series of short locum tenens jobs in and around the town. It was nice to be remembered,.. and to know that the old ways were still operative. The umbrella was over me again and it felt very comforting.
I was glad of it only a few days into my first week. I was doing a locum for a doctor in a small village. So glad was he to get someone to cover his holiday that he not only paid me handsomely but he loaned me his second car. It was a small Series II Minor. Like everyone else who drove one I loved it.
I needed to go to the local chemist for all kinds of supplies,.. dressings, local anaesthetics, cardiac stimulants, morphine,.. the most important drug in the world, bronchodilators respiratory antibiotics and, of course, syringes and needles. I put them all in my bag on the back seat of the Mini and went across the road to get a newspaper.
My first call of the day was to a rather remote farmhouse some five or six miles away. The case was only an abrasion of the patient’s knee and thigh. The farmer’s wife,.. an ex-nursing sister had already cleaned and dressed the area. All I needed to do was give the workman a tetanus shot. I went to get my recently replenished doctor’s bag from the car. It was not there.
Panic! Who could possibly have nicked the bag in the short time I had taken to get a paper? I jumped into the car intent upon returning to the chemist shop, starting some enquiries and, of course, informing the police that dangerous drugs were missing and unaccounted for.
As I entered the street I steered towards the chemist and, approaching it, I saw that there was another identical Minor parked outside with a policeman was standing beside it. I parked behind it and went rushing into the chemist. Before I could speak the pharmacist started to introduce me to a most charming lady.
‘Ah, Doctor, there you are. This is Mrs.Cadwell-Jones,’ he said. ’It’s her car you’ve just been driving.’
I apologised for my mistake which was laughed aside. The lady had spotted that her own car was gone and had spoken to the pharmacist. They had guessed what had happened,.. her car gone and mine, in error, left in its place. He checked with the usual doctor’s surgery by phone and realised that I had probably gone out to the farm and would soon be back. The local cop-shop, it turned out, was very used to helping the medical contingent of the area. Smiles all round. The patient policeman who had been detailed to keep an eye on the medical bag until I discovered my mistake and returned gave me a smile and a salute.
While on the subject of motor transport there are a couple of other tales worth telling. One of my seniors, a semi-retired surgeon named George, was a most affable friend. We used to play tennis together. He was almost seventy and very wobbly on his pins; I was twenty three. He always had great difficulty in getting to a ball in time to hit it. When he did hit it, however, he was pin-point accurate. I, on the other hand, was all but an even timer,.. I was very fast at the ball or at the net but wherever I hit it the ball it always went somewhere else. In short we were pretty evenly matched.
George was the proud owner of a most magnificent old vintage Bentley. It was a gorgeous car,.. a 4½ litre strap-down bonnet model in dark green and built in about 1928. He kept her in immaculate condition as befitted her regal status. Even the clasps holding the spare petrol can on the left running board and the clasps holding the spare wheel on the other side had their brasses regularly polished until they glinted in the sunshine. I was not a witness to the next story and I expect George burnished that, too, with a few embellishments of his own. It is a good enough story to repeat anyway.
On a beautiful summer morning he was bombing along at about his usual 40mph when he approached a wide curve in the country road he was on. Forever careful of his precious Bentley he reduced speed a little, changed down a gear and sounded his horn. He began carefully to negotiate the bend when, to his shock and horror, a drop-head sports car as long and as low as a wolf whistle swerved towards him around the bend and started to approach him broadside on and already half onto his side of the road. He took evasive action which meant moving left to the maximum possible and simultaneously crossing his fingers that the other car would miss him. It did by the thickness of a cigarette paper.
As the car passed him he saw that it was driven by a very appealing looking young lady who was doing her best to miss him. She just made it but, to George’s shock, as she passed she shrieked out just one word at him,.. ‘Pig!’
With that she was gone and George could see her fast disappearing into the receding zone of his rear mirror.
George was furious. No only had the wretched woman all but scratched his Bentley but she had then compounded the insult by blaming him,.. and at the top of her voice at that.
Too late George gathered his wits and threw a V-sign over his shoulder at her.
He then completed his own turn around the bend all but to run headlong into an enormous brood sow that was lying feeding her litter of little piglets in a puddle slap-bang in the middle of the road.
This next story is also about George and his car,.. and this time I was present and witnessed it all.
He and I had spent the evening playing one of our famous games of tennis. It was no surprise that no-one came to watch. It was already growing dusk when we finished and went into the club house to shower and change. Those tasks completed we looked at each other and decided that we had earned a pint or two of Guinness at our favourite hostelry in a village just a mile or so from his home. We piled into the Bentley and were there in no time.
As we arrived we could see that there was a concrete mixer and various builder’s tools tidily positioned at the roadside. Just off the pavement and carefully stacked in the gutter was a huge pile of builder’s sand,.. doubtless ready for the next day’s work. Spotting the potential of the sand George very cautiously backed the Bentley up towards the sand. At least, he observed, that would protect one end of his precious car. He got out and together we gently pushed the car a further foot or two until it was just clear of the sand heap. Great.
We enjoyed a massive ploughman’s supper and the afore-mentioned two or so pints each of Guinness. Then, just before chucking-out time we returned to the Bentley for the ride home.
Very much to George’s consternation the cart did not start first time. Nor the second time. Nor the third. George checked that the car was in neutral, returned to the front of the car and unclipped the long and gleaming cranking handle. This he inserted into the slot just beneath his front number plate. He pressed it home to engage.
Oops! The well lubricated car was parked on a very slight slope which we had not really noticed. One push on the starting handle was sufficient. While we concentrated on the task in hand the car slightly,.. and only just very slightly, rolled a foot or so back towards the sand. Horrors! The exhaust pipe of the car was now actually in the sand.
George was immediately in a panic. I remember watching his feet and shoes sinking into the sand as he crept around to assess the damage. It was as he thought. There was actually some sand in the orifice of his exhaust pipe. The problem was,.. what do you use to get sand out of an exhaust pipe, late on a dark evening and when not entirely beyond the affluence of incohol?
Inspiration. George removed the starting handle from its socket. Then, armed with this he returned to the rear and very gently indeed inserted the handle into the exhaust pipe to begin scraping out the sand.
As lousy timing will have it that was the very moment when a police patrol car came around the corner. It was, after all, just closing time and there were often transgressors to be apprehended. The sight of an elderly man clearly trying to start a vintage car by poking the cranking handle up the exhaust pipe was all the gents in blue needed. They invited both George and myself to blow into some silly little gadgets they had.
As the crystals in their little plastic bags changed to a pale nausea green we knew in a flash that we had both failed the test.
It turned out that these particular cops had come over that evening from the next county as the result of a sort of demonstration of unity between neighbouring police forces. The chances were that if they had been members of the local constabulary,.. who would have known us and we them, that would have been the end of the matter. In fact it almost was.
Forty eight hours later George got a phone call from our own town police HQ. The inspector in charge,.. another long term great friend and drinking partner of George’s, laughingly told the tale as reported to him. He explained that he was detailed to deal with the matter appropriately and he felt that what was needed was a jolly stern warning. We were to kindly remember that this had now been given, he suggested.
Thanks again to that Great Celestial umbrella we never heard another word.
Giving a Donkey,..
Some years ago I was travelling with a friend in Central Mexico. We drove around a small village and there, beside the road, were a dozen or more stalls all selling strawberries,.. clearly a big local specialty at the right season. There were thousands of strawberries and we stopped and bought a bag each and sat in the shade to enjoy them. The cost was almost nothing and they really were delicious. However, we quickly found that you can only eat just so many strawberries.
Nearby, two little donkeys that were used to transport the stalls and contents were dozing standing up,.. another Mexican specialty,.. so we tipped the remains of both bags onto an old newspaper and, knowing the old saying about ‘giving a donkey strawberries’ we held them out for the donkeys to enjoy.
They wouldn’t eat a single one and we were dumfounded. Of course the answer was that every day they got the leftovers that were no longer fit to sell and, as the head honcho peasant explained, they were sick of bloody strawberries at that time of year.
The Old Enemy Richard Dickenson 
I see that some Arabic students in a university in Ireland are filing complaints because no dedicated space for prayers has been provided. Apparently they have to pray in corridors and classrooms. And I thought, - how lucky for them. What luxury. Just imagine being a student and having time to pray. When I was a medical student ‘free time’ was from 2 - 5pm on a Saturday. Time for a game of rugger, a shower, a pint,.. and back to the books. Some people just don’t know they’re born. So what is it that is making thousands of them leave their countries and risk so much to get into Europe.
During the 1940s and 1950s many Cypriots felt they had reason to leave Cyprus. Hundreds of them joined up in UK and did themselves great honour - including at least one future president of the nation. Others, later, risked everything to fight for the freedom of their colonised island,.. and they won.
During the late 1930s every Jew who could left their homes in Germany and Austria and travelled to ‘safer’ parts of Europe. Thousands stopped off along the way and joined the armed forces of other nations so they could fight their Nazi enemies and get their homes back. I still have strong military connections but I’ve not heard of many of the current vagrant ‘immigrant’ hordes doing this.
Why, I wonder, do not those large numbers of the currently immigrant masses who are young and of military age find the necessary courage to stand and fight for and in their own countries? Surely they are brave enough? Why, only this week I watched a film-clip of a crowd of some twenty strapping lads in Iraq beating a young woman down with baulks of timber then putting her in a hole and hurling rocks at her head until she died. Another group stood around a tied and helpless young woman while one of them held a Kalashnikov to her head and blew her brains out. No shortage of courage there, eh? Then there was that so-called Jihadi John who was slick enough with a combat knife to cut the throat then sever the head of a kneeling manacled and helpless prisoner. Oh, what sheer courage. [This is not just me talking; although the scenes are blurred out on YouTube and Google they are available to watch in all their horror on the ‘dark’ zones of the internet].
I don’t know why these courageous lads choose not to display the same fighting nerve as did their Jewish neighbours.
Maybe it really is because they’ve heard of the pots of gold that will be forced into their hot little hands when they get to Wolverhampton. Maybe they’ve heard of subversive, hook-handed imams living in five-bedroomed houses free of charge. Maybe they think they’ll get handfuls of quids in return for not working. Maybe they just want to get their hands on the weapons we know to have already been smuggled into UK. Maybe they have heeded the encouraging words of their spiritual leaders and are ready to embark on the recommended lone-wolf attacks on British streets,.. or the mass killings in downed aircraft or rock concerts. Who knows what twisted choice will be their preference. But one thing is certain. We have been infiltrated successfully and according to plan. And further legions of recruits are well on their way.
I was in Munich in August and at a hospital of two of my colleagues I noticed that a new rule had been imposed. Female medical staff are not permitted to tend Muslim patients because of the number of times they have been molested. Why? Because educated women are a cause for offence in their eyes.
Now, I don’t like religions. They are divisive, antagonistic and based on just plain lies. There are many things about Judaism and even more so about Christianity that I don’t approve of. Likewise with Scientology, Hinduism, Mormonism and the rest of the nonsense. Good gracious, - I can even quarrel with Buddhism. There are strong arguments for tolerance of people more ignorant and less advanced than ourselves. But a belief that accepts the ramblings of some medieval mystic inscribed in a ‘holy’ book and regarded as permission to slaughter those of differently nonsensical beliefs and deny an education to the female half of their people has got to be something the entire sane world must see as vile and cancerous,.. and must therefore unite to destroy.
Where are those great British leaders who could make a start on this,.. I need to speak to them.
How it’s pronounced
One of the vagaries of the English language is that the word ‘ghoti’ is pronounced as follows.
Gh as in enough,… f
O as in women,… i
Ti as in emotion,… sh
So ghoti is actually pronounced,.. fish.
Something Big is Coming [August, 2017]
I recently flew from Israel to UK and later on to Egypt. It was an opportunity to watch and compare the different security arrangements currently in operation. What I saw meant I was rather surprised and given reason for grave concern. Indeed, I now feel able safely to predict that disasters aren’t far away and not disasters just involving the airlines and flying public.The wreaking of massive and multiple terrorist havoc is now so easy compared with a few years ago. Consequently, the surprise I feel derives more than anything from the fact that nothing much has happened recently while we have all been distracted by beheadings and other Islamic atrocities in Syria and Iraq. Read on and become concerned, too.
We obviously have to stop reacting to past problems and become pro-active across the board. Generals, they say, are always re-fighting the last war, and we must not do this. To start with, having to take your shoes off in airports is daft. No-one is ever seriously going to re-try that old, failed trick. Neither is anyone going to try to bump Boeings into skyscrapers; it’s too difficult and expensive. Furthermore, tomorrow’s hi-jacked planes will contain passengers who know they are going to die if they don’t fight. There are far easier and cheaper ways for the thugs to operate,.. even if they are getting vast financial support from certain ‘west-friendly’ Arab sources.
So we can sack all the sullen security staff from the conveyor belt and X-ray searches for contraband metal objects. No more pathetically confiscating nail-files! Today’s guns and explosive devices are not made of metal. They are made of special synthetic plastics most of which, - as is known to terrorist bombmakers, don’t show up on X-ray as they are not radio-opaque. And it’s far too late to start looking for bombs when passengers are going through our so-called security checks.
Actually it’s no big deal nowadays to blow up a plane or two. It’s been overdone. Today’s fanatics are planning something far bigger than another Locherbie, - and far, far cheaper, too now that dim-wits like Osama are no longer in charge. Just driving a truck into a crowd of tourists costs almost nothing.
My guess is that plans are also well in hand for big multiple strike. The enemy will want to show us how fearfully vulnerable we are to their savagery. They will simultaneously attack numerous targets, probably world-wide. They will choose places where lots of people congregate, - railway stations, football matches, theatres and crowded events like carnivals and bonfire-night parties. To show their ability to strike anywhere they will choose more remote venues and small towns,.. Oxford, Canterbury cathedral at Christmas, Paphos, Copenhagen and Las Vegas.
There will still be suicide bombers,.. it’s an appealing roll to young Moslems and they’re cheap, expendable, easy-to-find youngsters who believe the instilled drivel about paradise and copious supplies of virgins. In most cases though, there is not even need for suicides. A fellow joins the check-in line with his suitcase and asks the next guy to keep an eye on it for a minute while he dashes to the gents. From fifty yards away he detonates the bag and, in the confusion,leaves the airport to meet a waiting pal with a car. Alternatively he just leaves his car, full of explosives, in a busy parking lot next to the supermarket.
I could see the Israelis were very clear on this system. Their security starts as you enter the airport or even the bus centre, not when it’s already too late.
Something that bothers me is that western governments know all this as well as I do. Yet they keep quiet rather than alarm people. They exude a near-felonius smug and reassuring silence suggesting they are on the ball and watching. When the bombings happen we’ll then get the usual claptrap about ‘lessons must be learned.’ Another reason the authorities give is that they don’t want to offend citizens who are Moslems [that is, voters] by suggesting that their co-religionists are bloodthirsty lunatics.
Think now,.. don’t you feel that things are eerily quiet? Be sure, then, that something big is coming soon. Problems of global warming, violence in the streets and political correctness will move to the bottom of the list.
And one more worry,.. tomorrow’s bombers will, mostly, not be foreign agents surreptitiously infiltrating. No, they’ll be the real home-grown variety from our own schools and universities,.. men and women who are legally British, who speak our language and know our ways and the ways around them.
Concerned yet? I am.
To assess a woman's readiness adequately requires the practiced skill and intuition of the gifted philanderer,.. for it is, indeed, a gift, - being mainly genetic in origin. There are, however, ways in which the dedicated seducer can enhance his gift,.. mainly by the training of experience. The signs are always there and anyone can observe them,.. a woman approaching ready acquiescence has about her a detectable aura of eager and compliant submissiveness. There are small and subtle signs,.. changes in the breathing pattern, a flush to certain areas of the skin, indicative movements of body language, her poise and disposition and even a distant but detectable odour. It is the knowledge, acquired from previous involvements, of when to make the appropriate moves and how far to lead or push each stage that yields the greatest success. It must never be forgotten that, nature being the powerful dictator it is, the seducer is only gently edging his quarry along a road she is pre-programmed to tread.
Medical and scientific experiments can produce some startling results. For example there is the sequence of events reported in this intriguing character study of one of our nearest pongid neighbours in the evolutionary tree.
The experiment starts with a cage containing five chimpanzees. Inside the cage, hangs a single banana on a string. Beneath the banana is a set of steps leading up to it. Before long, a chimpanzee will go to the steps and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the first step all of the other chimpanzees are suddenly sprayed with ice-cold water. This they find most unpleasant. After a while, another chimpanzee makes an attempt with the same result - all the other chimpanzees are sprayed with cold water. It is remarkable how quickly they get the message. Pretty soon, when another chimpanzee tries to climb the stairs, the other chimpanzees will try to stop it doing so. They have all learned the lesson.
The cold water is now finished with. At this point one chimpanzee is removed from the cage and replaced it with a new one that has not previously taken part in the experiment. The new chimpanzee sees the banana and wants to climb the steps after it. To his surprise and horror, no sooner does he initiate this innocent act and touch the steps than all of the other chimpanzees attack him. After one or two further attempts produce the same kind of attack, he realises that if he tries to climb the steps, he will be assaulted.
Now another of the original five chimpanzees is taken out of the cage and replaced by a new one. Of course the same thing happens. The newcomer goes to the steps and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Now, in sequence, the third original chimpanzee is replaced by a new one, then the fourth, then the fifth.
Every time the newest chimpanzee touches the steps he is attacked. The crucial point is that by this time the chimpanzees that are beating any newcomer have not been involved in any cold water spraying. In fact, they have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest chimpanzee.
After replacing all the original chimpanzees, not one monkey in the cage has ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no chimpanzee ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.
Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done around here.
And that, my friends, it occurs to me, is how company policy begins.
Deriving from the Greek word for ‘mindful’ a mnemonic,.. and the ‘m’ is silent, has come to mean those little tricks that aid the memory. For example, in order to remember which way the hour changes twice in every year a useful mnemonic is simply to say ‘Spring forward – fall back.’ The idea may be an acronym or a phrase whose words have helpful initial letters.
In medicine, one of the hardest things for many young anatomists to remember is the sequence of the twelve pairs of human cranial nerves. It is vital for all doctors to know these, where they go and what they do,.. but they can be damn hard to fix in the memory. Here’s what they do:-
Olfactory - sense of smell
Optic – visual images
Occulo-motor - eyeball movement
Pathetic or Trochlear - upper eyelid and ears
Trigeminal – facial sensations
Abducent – lateral eye movements
Facial - facial movements and expressions
Auditory - hearing
Gloss-pharyngeal – tongue and throat muscles
Vagus - diaphragm
Accessory [spinal] - supplies some neck muscles
Hypoglossal - tongue movements
Most students find the list very difficult to memorise, but trying using one of either of these easy-to- remember sentences:
1. Old Officers Often Praise The Army For A Glory Vague And Hypothetical
2. On Old Olympus’ Towering Top A Fat Armed Girl Vaulted And Hopped
Another anatomy aid speaks of a ‘Little French Tart Sitting Naked In Anticipation.’ This helps remember the sequence of tendons and nerves etc across the front of the ankle joint.
My own favourites are,..
1. Many Volcanos Erupt Mulberry Jam Sandwiches Under Pressure,.. which neatly gives the clue as to planetary sequences from the sun,.. if you accept that there are eight. Viz: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Pluto.
2. And the colours of the rainbow are ROYGBIV,.. red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet,.. or Roy Groped Big Ivy.
Proposed changes to the National Health Service
The British Medical Association has just held a conference on the new health care proposals recently announced by the Prime Minister.
Nursing staff in many hospitals said they’d take care of it all. The Allergists voted to scratch it, but the Dermatologists advised against making any rash moves.
Haematologists thought the entire thing bloody silly, while Dieticians everywhere simply gulped. The Gastroenterologists had a sort of a gut feeling about it, but the Neurologists considered that the Administration had a lot of nerve.
The Obstetricians felt they were all labouring under a misconception though their unanimity was impregnable.
Ophthalmologists considered the idea short-sighted. The Trichologists hair stood on end at the very idea.
Hypnotherapists were in a daze though some were en-tranced about it.
Pathologists cried,’Over my dead body!’ while the Paediatricians said, ‘Oh, Grow up!’
The Psychiatrists thought the whole idea was madness, while the Radiologists could see right through it.
The Surgeons were fed up with the cuts and decided to wash their hands of the whole thing. The ENT specialists either didn't swallow it, or just wouldn’t hear of it.
The Pharmacologists thought it was a bitter pill to swallow, and the Plastic Surgeons said, ‘This puts a whole new face on the matter....’
The Podiatrists thought it was a step forward, but the Urologists were pissed off with the entire plan.
The Anaesthetists thought the whole project was a gas, and the Cardiologists didn't have the heart to say no.
In the end the Proctologists decided to leave everything to those gentlemen in government deemed to represent their own particular organ of specialisation.
Dan yr Ogof
Deep into the Brecon Beacons there runs an extensive and complicated series of adjoining caves and passages. It is usually classed as the most spectacular natural formation in the British Isles. It is known as Dan yr Ogof which, in Welsh, simply means ‘Under the cave.’ It is called this as it starts at a large cave in the hillside and nowadays it is a much visited attraction for hordes of happy tourists. I have been down some of the passageways and pools and the whole thing is well worth a visit.
However, a few miles away is another cave system which is not so spectacular and not at all famous except amongst one particular sector of the population,.. the pot-holing community. Now, I have been in some pretty harrowing situations and some of them have been very frightening. But I have never experienced anything quite as terrifying as the hour I spent in that cave one autumn afternoon in 1952.
It all began with an over lunch chat between several of my fellow medical students. One, Kev, was a keen and experienced pot-holer and so well did he describe the great experiences he’d had that he interested several of us. As a result, about two weeks later a group of three of us, Kev, Mop and myself cycled up to the opening of the cave one Sunday morning.
We’d brought good boots, warm pullovers and coverall dungarees. Kev had spare helmets for we two newcomers to the game. We had a light breakfast of cold baked beans and hard-boiled eggs then, without more ado we entered the first cave. It was easy going. Kev had a heavy duty torch and we all had miner’s helmet lamps. As our eyes got accustomed to the increasing darkness all we had to do was negotiate the crumbled rocks of the cave floor. About a hundred yards in we realised how dark total darkness is. Experimentally we switched off all our lights and waited for our eyes to penetrate the darkness. They didn’t.
Total darkness is a very strange thing when you first encounter it. The word ‘total’ takes on a different meaning. If you think about it it is never totally dark,.. not quite. But down there when your lights are turned off it is,.. utterly black. You soon get used to it but without your lights you are helpless. There is no sense of direction. You can tell up and down but nothing else. It’s remarkable how helpless you instantly become,.. and it’s far from a pleasant sensation.
Using just our small lights we picked our way along a few wider and narrower areas and going steadily downwards until Kev told us to be ready for a surprise. He switched on his big light and we saw, all around, the thousands of glinting reflections from the surrounding walls where tiny crystals covered the surface. It was spectacular. We stopped and took flash photographs. Developed later, these showed three scruffy looking cavers but unfortunately the reflections did not appear. We pressed on.
After about half an hour Kev assured us that we were about a thousand feet below the entrance and some six hundred yards in. It was not a particularly comforting thought. However, Kev assured us, there was only one difficult bit to negotiate next and then we’d be in the Big Cave,.. and when we saw that we were going to be very impressed.
The difficult bit was difficult indeed. To me it was also pretty alarming. I had no great liking for closed spaces even in normal conditions and this next bit was unpleasantly extreme in that context. The face of the rock-wall in front of us was blank,.. just a lot of ragged surface where some areas projected less and some more out from the surface. Where we stood, the floor was wet and we could see that there was a very small trickle of water dripping out of the only gap,.. a hole at floor level and leading away into the darkness. The opening of the hole was about three feet wide and a little over two feet high. Known as ‘the gully’ this opening led to a passageway that sloped slightly upwards into the rock. Kev explained that this was the easy bit for, throughout its thirty five yards length it was quite easy to creep along, on our bellies, but easily enough apart from that. I didn’t fancy the idea at all but as one of the reasons for being there was to prove how tough we were I accepted the ordeal.
There was only one problem Kev told us. About two thirds of the way through there was a ‘nip’,.. a small constriction extending for about fifteen yards. To get through there we’d have to squeeze a bit. Apparently the width was adequate but the roof was only about eighteen inches from the floor. That was a tight squeeze indeed for three fairly hefty chaps.
It was Kev’s opinion that we should all pump ship before entering the gully as where we were was regularly washed out by percolating rain water whereas the Big Cave was drier and the rule was not to risk any sort of pollution.
Kev was to lead followed by myself and with Mop bringing up the rear. We checked each other’s knapsacks to make sure they were properly fastened and to ensure they were packed as flat as possible ready for that tight squeeze later on. Kev disappeared into the opening in seconds. He’d done the route several times before. I soon got the knack. It was much like in army cadet training. You had your arms stretched out in front. Hands and elbows helped one to wriggle along and the toes, stretched out behind also helped to edge us forward.
The plan was for Mop and myself to switch off our lamps as Kev’s cast enough light back for us to inch forward. There was no need for light to achieve movement. It was just a matter of blindly creeping forward and there was only one way to go.
To me this was an absolutely hateful few minutes. I could see adequately and moving forward was easy enough. What was horrible was the sensation of being so tightly enclosed. It wasn’t like squeezing between tables and chairs or amongst the crowd in rugby matches. This was the feeling of constriction, above, below and on both sides. And constriction by solid unyielding rock all around. The only way was forward. It was a huge effort of will for me and I loathed every second of it. I suppose we had been going for about five minutes and I estimated we must be about half way through when Ken shouted back that he was just starting into the nip and there was, he assured us, no problem. We inched on. Two minutes later disaster struck.
I had noticed that, over the last few yards, my hands, stretched well out in front of me, had been getting wet. Kev, just four yards ahead of me had been noticing it too.
‘There’s water coming in,’ he called. ‘You two just hold on here where you are. I’ll push through the nip and see if it’s any better the other side,.. the floor dips a bit there.’ I watched his feet wriggle away from me. Ahead of me I could see the light from Kev’s lamp wobbling as he moved. The gap between us lengthened. Two yards, three, four,… five. Then he stopped.
‘Bad news, chaps,’ he said. ‘The dip is already half full of water and I can see there’s more coming in. Must have been raining up top.’
We later discovered he was right. There had been quite a steady rainfall since just after we started down.
Another pause as I saw Kev’s light shining about checking the state of affairs.
‘It’s no good.’ said Kev. ‘There’s quite a lot of water coming in and it looks as if it’s getting worse. It can get quite deep in the Big Cave,.. and then it overflows down this gully. ‘I think that’s it for today. We should go back. Does everyone agree?’ We all agreed. Kev was the only one who knew what he was doing and it made good sense to listen to his advice. The idea of squeezing backwards along the gully we’d just crept through filled me with horror but there was clearly no other choice. I could now see the nip in front of me and I couldn’t imagine, despite Kev’s optimism, that I could ever squeeze through there. Perhaps going back was the lesser of two evils.
Of course, the lesser of two evils is still evil. But we started pushing back with hands and elbows and with much scraping of toe caps in the wet sludge behind and beneath us. Mop was now leading,.. feet first. I found it much harder than it had been going forwards. We progressed a yard or two then disaster struck again.
‘Hold on, fellers,’ called Mop from behind me. ‘I’m stuck.’ I couldn’t see him. I was facing forwards and there simply was nowhere near enough room to turn my head and look back. ‘I think it’s my knapsack,’ he went on. ‘It seems to be wedged up against the roof.’
‘That often happens,’ called Kev. ‘It can get stuck on a knob of something. Inch forward a few inches then try backing up again.’
‘No joy,’ called Mop. ‘Hold on I’ll try again.’ He tried three or four times more. No luck.
‘Try wriggling side to side a bit, ‘ suggested Kev. ‘There’s nothing there for it to get really stuck on. It’s just a question of working it loose.’
There was an anxious silence before Mop announced. ‘Can’t budge it at all. No way I move seems to have any effect.’ Another silence with much scraping and scuffling.
‘Shit,’ said Mop. ‘I think I’m really stuck. Wonder if we might all die stuck under here and never be seen again.’ How anyone could joke in such dire circumstances I couldn’t imagine. ‘It feels as if it’s something on my left side,.. sort of on the shoulder.’ Mop added.
Kev called back to us. ‘Mop, can you get your right arm forward a bit then up over your left shoulder to push it loose?’
‘A lovely thought, ‘ came the answer. ‘But I’m bigger than you chaps. There’s hardly room to move even stretched out as I am. Kev, what’s the water level like up front?’
‘It’s OK,’ said Kev. ‘But it is rising just a little. Fingers crossed.’
‘OK,’ said Mop. I’ll keep working on it. Suggest lights off in case we need them later. I don’t need light for what I’m trying to do.’
His light and Kev’s both went off. Mine was already off. That total blackness came back.
The full horror of our predicament now asserted itself in my mind. We were some half a mile below ground. We were part way along a constraining surrounding gully of solid rock. We could not move. And the water was steadily rising. And it was black dark. I had never known such fear. It was what the old clinicians used to call angor animi,.. the primitive animal fear of death.
In fact it was not really fear at all. It was the nearest thing I ever, before or since, felt to utter panic. There was an overwhelming desire to lash out,.. to sort of attack the bare rock with fingernails and every muscle clawing at full steam. Except that my remaining sanity told me that was useless,.. worse than useless. Look on the bright side. Count your blessings. With immense effort I imposed my tattered will power. There was a bright side. We had plenty of air. We were three strong and virile chaps. We played rugby together. We studied medicine together. We were healthy. We chased girls. We were in a jam but in a few minutes and with a bit of luck we’d be out of it. The unnatural,.. or was it all too natural, impulse to panic died down,.. quelled at least for now.
‘How’s it going, Mop?’ Kev’s voice from the darkness in front.
‘Not all that well,’ came the answer. ‘I’ve managed to get my right arm out of my dungarees in front. Now I’m trying to wriggle it back down beside me to get at the bottom of the pack and maybe pull it down and free. But it’s a bloody tight fit. To be honest I’m a bit afraid the extra pressure of the arm taking up space will make it hard to breath. Just have to risk it and hope for the best, I suppose.’ He added.
My admiration for Mop went up by a factor of ten. So that was how he put up with life in the scrum. He played second row. It was a horrible position down there in the dark and surrounded by about sixteen other brutes all pushing, and grunting. Yet he did it every Saturday afternoon and still ended up with a smile on his face.
Behind me I could hear him grunting and shuffling in the darkness. The seconds dragged by.
‘Got it,’ he yelled. ‘I’m through. And I can still breathe,.. more or less. Now, if I can get this,.. that’s it. I’m there. Just trying to grab it.’ More scraping and wriggling.
‘Got it,.. now come down out of there you nasty bastard.’ Grunt,.. grunt.
‘I’m free,’ yelled Mop.’ OK for lights on. I’m moving back. Sorry for the hold-up chaps. It’s all clear for you two to move too.’
In no time we were back out of the gully and standing in a group face to face again. Our lamps showed three very relieved pot-holers.
Kev had timed everything,.. as a good cave-master should. ‘We’ve been down just sixty five minutes,‘ he said. ‘Not bad when you think we lost seven minutes stuck fast in the gully.’
Seven minutes, I thought. It couldn’t have been only seven minutes. Just time to hard boil a couple of eggs end-to-end. To me it had seemed like a lifetime. I felt as if I had aged a decade. Three very happy blokes made their way back up to the mountainside.
Oh,.. and I never did see the Big Cave .
Playing with Words Richard Dickenson
Some of the better class American newspapers,.. and, oh yes, there are some,.. run annual competitions for people who like quirky ideas and funny ways with words. Knowing for sure that some,.. well, two actually,.. readers of this column enjoy the intellectual pursuits of toying with syntax and tossing about a few vagrant syllables I thought some mementoes from my own collection might entertain.
For example, there are witty alternative meanings for well-known words. Who is there that realises that the word balderdash really means a rapidly receding hairline, or that a testicle is a funny question on an exam paper? And did you know that a gargoyle is olive-flavoured mouthwash or that negligent means absent-mindedly open the door in one’s nightgown? A coffee is the person on whom one coughs and Beelzebug is the Devil in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
To be flabbergasted is a sure sign of being appalled at how much weight you have gained. Abdicate, alternatively, is the act of giving up all hope of ever losing that weight. A circumvent, did you but know it, is the correct name for the opening at the front of a pair of Jewish undershorts, while an oyster is someone who peppers his conversation with Yiddish idioms.
To lymph means to walk with a lisp and a flatulence is an emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steam roller. Rectitude,.. and I especially like this one,.. is the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists while Pokemon is a Rastafarian rectal surgeon. Which reminds me that Frisbeetarianism is a cult belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
Caterpallor is the colour you turn when you find just half a worm left in the apple you were eating whereas an arachnoleptic fit is the frenzied dance performed just after you walk through a spider’s web.
And I wonder if your editor will let me tell you that the medical word for willy-nilly is impotence.
Changing the pace a little, what about the knack of also changing the meaning of a word just by altering one or two letters,.. here come a few winners.
Carasthmatic (Adj) means getting wheezes instead of a spell of motion sickness. And Henovarian (n) is a battery of egg-layers. Then there is ambilence (n), which is a pleasantly decorated conveyance to hospital. Beethoven’s Erotica somehow sounds unlikely music for the period, but testomonials,.. well, I won’t risk that one.
More to the point, as it were, is egotesticle, - meaning bragging about one’s personal endowment dimensions, whereas an ignoranus is a person who is both stupid and an asshole, to boot. Also in the brainless class there is Dopeler Effect,.. being the tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
Intaxication is a state of semi-euphoria at receiving an Inland Revenue tax refund,.. a condition that lasts only until you realise that it is your money to start with and they just ‘borrowed’ it, interest free, for a while. Cashtration is the act of buying a house thus rendering the buyer financially impotent for an indefinite period.
Reintarnation is an American event meaning coming back in your next life as a hillbilly. The Bozone Layer is the name given to the invisible substance surrounding dim witted people and which stops bright ideas penetrating.
Foreploy is the deplorable practice of misrepresentation of oneself for the purpose of getting laid.,.. and osteopornosis is a degenerate disease. [Geddit? Porn is used by ,.. oh, forget it].
Sarchasm is the wide gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who just doesn’t see the humour of it. Inoculatte is a method taking coffee by injection.
To draw this list to a close what about Karmageddon which is hard to explain but it’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the whole thing explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer,.. man.
Decafalon is the gruelling process of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you. Giraffiti is the vandalistic employment of spray-paint used very high up.
And we end with my own particular favourite,.. Glibido,- All talk and no action.
Choosing an older woman
Benjamin Franklin wrote a famous letter of advice to a young friend. In it he listed a number of reasons why he advised the friend to choose an older mistress rather than a young one. It’s a well known morsel and you can look it up online. Whether you think his reasons were good or not,.. here are a few that he might have added.
A woman over 50 will never wake you in the middle of the night and ask, ‘What are you thinking?’ She doesn't care what you think.
If a woman over 50 doesn't want to watch the game, she doesn't sit around whining about it. She does something she wants to do, and it's usually more interesting.
Women over 50 are more dignified. They seldom have a screaming match with you at the opera or in the middle of an expensive restaurant. Of course, if you deserve it, they won't hesitate to shoot you.
Older women are generous with praise, often undeserved. They know what it's like to be unappreciated.
Women get psychic as they age. You never need to confess your sins to a woman over 50.
Once you get past a wrinkle or two, a woman over 50 is far sexier than her younger sister.
Older women are forthright and honest. They'll tell you right off that you are a jerk if you are acting like one. You never need to wonder where you stand with her.
Yes, we praise women over 50 for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately, it's not a reciprocated courtesy. For every stunning, smart, well-coiffed, hot woman over 50, there is a bald, paunchy relic in yellow golfing trousers making a fool of himself with some 22-year old waitress.
Some male chauvinist pigs used to say ‘Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?’ Now there’s an update. 80% of modern women are fundamentally against marriage. Why? Because women realize it's not worth buying an entire pig just to get one little sausage.
Is it any wonder then, that behind every successful man there is an astonished mother-in-law.
Not What they Seem
Things are not always what they seem,.. as in the story of what befel the two young newlyweds when they mistook Vaseline for putty. [Explanation later].
There’s another even better-known story that all Welsh granddads tell the kids,.. about two angels who, long ago, were on their travels busy doing whatever it is that angels did on their travels in those days.
It was growing dark when they knocked at the big manor house where lights blazed, and asked if they could be put up for the night. The footman who opened the door informed his master that there were two travellers begging food and a place to sleep. The master ordered the servant to give them some bread and let them sleep in the old, disused dungeon in the crypt. The two angels made themselves as comfortable as possible but spent a miserable night. Next morning before they left the older angel noticed a crack in the dungeon wall and, using his angel powers he repaired the crack almost as good as new.
The following evening they chanced upon a tiny hovel in the wood and again knocked and sought shelter. The old couple who lived there invited them in and gave their unknown guests the better part of their own supper of fresh bread, cheese and creamy milk. The milk and cheese, the old lady explained, came from their only possession, a very fine dairy cow. Then they spread blankets for themselves on the floor in front of the dying fire insisting that the guests slept warm and well in the only bed,.. theirs.
In the morning they all awoke to discover the cow lying dead in the field. It was a disaster for the old people and the angels expressed their dismay as they left. They were just out of sight of the cottage when the younger angel could no longer contain himself.
‘Why?’ he asked. ‘Why did you treat that mean old nobleman so well by mending his wall,.. yet for the old couple who were so kind to us you let their prize cow die? I don’t understand.’
The older angel smiled and replied ‘You will learn, Little Brother, that things are not always what they seem.’ The younger angel looked perplexed.
‘You see,’ went on the other, ‘When I found that crack in the dungeon I saw, peering through it, that behind it was a room packed with long forgotten treasure. I sealed up the hole. Now it’ll not be seen again for many generations.’
The young angel nodded and went to speak. The old one stayed him with a sign of his hand and continued. ’Last night at the darkest hour the Angel of Death came to the cottage. We knew each other well of old and we talked awhile. He told me he’d come to take away the spirit of the old lady. We discussed things and he agreed he would spare her. But as he couldn’t return empty handed he had to take the cow in her place. So you see, I did what I could in the circumstances.’
The younger angel went to speak again but once more the older omne held up his hand.
‘What is more,’ he went on. ‘When they move the body of the cow they’ll find she was lying on a box half buried in the ground. It contains so many gold coins that they will never want for anything again.’
‘Now do you understand? Things are not always what they seem.’ The young angel had learned a sage lesson.
I often try to believe the same thing when I observe the seemingly strange and unlikely things that appear to be happening all around us today.
Just look, then, how many things are clearly not what they seem right now France and Germany behave uncommonly friendly. Now, the French haven’t succeeded against UK since about 1066 and the Germans never. But don’t imagine for a moment that they won’t be back for further tries. I suspect that the superficial cordialities are not what they seem.
Then there’s Afghanistan. Everyone planned their military withdrawal dates just as if the war will be over and won by then. But the Mission Accomplished banner simply meant that the war was over,.. and not won, but lost. Meanwhile the Taliban rejoice that their hard times are almost over as they prepare to resume business as before.
In poor little Cyprus the partition preferred by the great powers is being ensured by decades of deliberately protracted ‘negotiations’ which are certainly not what they seem.
Finally, a lifelong professed communist becomes President of the EU, - an organisation whose senior members in the all-too-recent era of another none-too-distant nation would have been doomed to Siberia and the Gulag.
Believe it if you choose but be warned,.. things are not always what they seem.
Oh yes,.. one last thing. Whatever did happen to that young couple I mentioned earlier who had confused Vaseline and putty? I’m sure you’ll have guessed. Why,.. all their windows fell out.
The Sky Sailor
Once upon a time, many years ago, I was touring through Wales on my own. One lunchtime I pulled into a small fishing village, remote and lonely, far out near the tip of the Lleyn Peninsula. There was a church, and steeple, a chapel, one pub, and perhaps a dozen cottages grouped around a tiny fishing harbour. I parked the car and wandered about looking at the boats, several of them fitted with auxiliary engines, but still relying on sail for their daily duties.
I had a sandwich and a beer at the pub then strolled back through the village. It was a calm, perfect early October day. I came across a path that lead away, up towards the clifftop. A few minutes later I had reached a group of trees that stood in a tiny hollow just a matter of yards from the cliff's edge. It was some sixty feet straight down to the beach, yet there, at the base of those clifftop trees, was a remarkable sight.
The remains of an old sailing boat lay smashed beneath a large oak tree. The timbers were aged and rotten but they had once come from a small one-man dinghy, perhaps ten or twelve feet long. On the old decaying transom I could clearly read her name,.. 'Cariad.' Near the wreck, sitting on a tump of grass was an old gent, quietly looking out to sea and smoking his pipe. He heard me approach and turned to greet me, noticing at once my puzzlement at seeing a wrecked boat on top of the cliff instead of at the bottom.
‘Strange isn't it?’ he said, adjusting his pipe.
‘Yes, it is,’ I replied. ‘However did it get here?’
‘Well, in the village they say that one day there was a huge storm and she was wrecked in waves so high they swept her right up here into the trees and left her smashed to pieces.’
‘Hard to believe,’ I said. ‘Hard to imagine waves that tall even on this exposed piece of coast.’
The old man looked at me for a long moment as if sizing me up. He must have been satisfied. When he spoke again he had lapsed into the soft deep Welsh accent of the mountains and the fisher folk, so different from the usual speech of much of North Wales.
‘Mind you,’ he went on. ‘There is another version of how it really happened. But it's not a tale to everyone's taste.. Not many around here believe it, anyway. A bit imaginative some say.’ He could see he had my interest. It was the only encouragement he needed.
He pointed to the pile of old planks. ‘She used to belong to a lad in the village. He was an orphan and everyone called him Dewi. He was forever doing odd jobs around the harbour. Anything to be near the boats. Sailing mad he was. The boat had been holed rather badly, some years before, and she'd lain, pulled up on the beach for a long time. When the Council decided to clear the beach they told old Morgan Phillips who owned it that he had to repair it or pay to have it removed.
‘He was too mean to do either. But with a fair amount of cheek young Dewi,.. he must have been about fourteen at the time, he said that if Morgan would give him the boat he'd repair it. That way he'd get the boat and it would be off Morgan's hands without costing him a penny. Morgan agreed.
'Within days, young Dewi was working wonders. He scrounged bits of timber from other wrecks, or cut and shaped pieces of driftwood. He stripped the old boat's battered planking and meticulously replaced every worn or damaged section. When anyone stopped to watch him work he'd say "I'm building her out of wood that already knows how to sail, you see. She'll have nothing to learn will she? She'll go like the wind, just you wait and see." And how very true his words were to become.
'Four months later young Dewi had his new boat afloat. It took him another two months to fit her out, raise mast and boom and lash up scraps of tarred rope into new rigging. Morgan had given him the old sails and he spent endless hours cutting, patching and re-stitching them.
'Mind you, his hard work was well worth it, because once he got her into full commission, she really was a lovely little boat. She handled beautifully. She responded to every breath of wind, and to every touch on the tiller or tug on the rigging. "She can feel the air," Dewi used to say. "She really can."
'And no-one sailed her like Dewi. Indeed, no-one sailed anything quite as well as Dewi. He was always sailing. Any boat, anywhere, anytime, for any errand or just for fun, Dewi sailed. In the early morning, the hot midday, the roughest water,.. it made no difference to Dewi. Cariad could find a breath of air on the calmest evening. Or she could heel over until the edge of her deck was awash in the curling foam of a wind that howled through her cordage like a gale through a winter orchard. Together, Dewi and Cariad were a perfect team.
'One late Autumn, we had a series of tremendous storms. One after the other. They raged for almost two weeks, with scarcely a break, and no boats could get out for all that time. Then, one evening it all calmed down. No sooner had the waves dropped than Dewi was down at the harbour rigging Cariad for the sea. The older sailors warned him the storm would be back within an hour or two. Dewi smiled. Nothing was going to deter him. If there was a storm he'd ride it out then run for home again.
'He swept out of the harbour entrance with a good wind on the quarter, and in mere minutes he was almost out of sight of land. But very soon the wind was backing and he realised he ought to head home for safety's sake. He began constantly adjusting his tacking and reaching. But try as he would, Dewi couldn't make enough headway to landward. He could maintain position about three miles offshore, but he couldn't get any closer. To make matters worse, the wind backed further until it was directly offshore and it began to pick up strength. In the decreasing light he could see the white capped waves slipping by him, their crests creaming in the gathering wind.
'Dewi was not the least bit afraid, but he quickly realised he had to change his plans. It would be a long, hungry sail, but he'd have to run in front of the wind out into the open sea until the wind changed or dropped enough for him to sail home. For hours, it seemed, Cariad sped before the gale, slicing the wave tops and heeling over until her keel was almost exposed. Dewi was cold and tired and perhaps it was that that caused him just a moment of carelessness.
‘A sudden gust leaned the boat and wrested the tilled from his hand. He shifted his weight and snatched at the flapping rudder bar. He grasped it and pulled it towards him, but too late. The spar swung across the cockpit seat and struck him a glancing head blow. He fell unconscious into the lapping bilge water at the bottom of the boat. Cariad sailed on,.. but with no hand at her tiller.’
The old man took his pipe from his mouth and thumbed down its contents. It smouldered obediently.
‘It was already light when Dewi woke up. He was lying on a strange beach and alongside him, well above the water mark, Cariad was also stranded. Her sails were drying in the early morning sun. Rubbing his head, Dewi checked that his boat was secure then set off up the path from the beach in search of help. He met a fisherman coming out of his small stone cottage and told him what had happened.
‘We'll go to the harbour’ the man said. ‘They'll bring your boat in there soon enough.’
‘Dewi followed him up the cliff path. From the top he could see they were approaching a small village much like his own. Then, to his utter amazement, around a small hill near the edge of the sea he saw two boats sailing,.. but sailing in mid-air! He stared and shook his head in astonishment, but there, towed safely behind the second boat was Cariad. The three boats came in over the sea and settled on the water at the harbour mouth. Dewi rushed to catch up with the fisherman, who had drawn well away from him while he was watching the flying boats.
'All Dewi could think of as they came down towards the harbour was the incredible sight he had seen. ‘How is it done?’ he cried. ‘What kind of a boat can,.. can I learn to do that? Who can teach me? ‘
'The fisherman smiled and explained that it took many years of learning and practicing to sail that well. His was probably the only island left where men still learned the difficult and almost forgotten art of sky-sailing. Once the knack was mastered it was easy. But only over the sea. Boats would only fly in sea air, not in land air. To attempt to sail over land meant certain disaster. Dewi was not to be deflected from anything less than learning for himself. He begged and pleaded and pestered the man until he finally agreed to take Dewi out and show him how it was done.
'They set off in the fisherman's own boat and in no time the man had his skiff lifting from the waves and back down gently as he skilfully eased and adjusted tiller, the cordage and his own weight. When Dewi took over the man showed him every move and every subtle gesture of handling the controls. Several times Dewi got the boat to the crest of a wave and felt as if he could make it. But try as he would, he could not make her lift. Eventually, worn-out, tired and frustrated, he gave in and the man brought them back in to moor alongside Cariad in the harbour.
'Back in the man's cottage, they ate a simple meal of bread and eggs and cheese. Dewi had a thousand questions. The man answered everything as well as he was able. The only thing he would not do was agree to sail with Dewi again next day. He could not spare the time from his work. And anyway Dewi must leave the island if he was to get safely home before the next storm struck.
'In the middle of the night Dewi woke up. A gentle breeze was stirring the curtains of his room. It was a sailor's wind. He thought about Cariad and he thought about the man's lessons. He was sure, deep down in his heart that if he had one more try, and in Cariad instead of a strange boat, then he could do it. His excitement mounted. Sleep was out of the question.
'He got up and dressed quietly, in the darkness. At the harbour wall his hair was blowing in a freshening wind. He stepped down into Cariad, slipped her painter and raised his mainsail. She leapt beneath him and sped out towards the open sea. The dawn was a pink smudge on the eastern horizon. Setting course by the last of the fading stars he steered for home.
'Cariad flirted with the air and the water as Dewi held her firmly and edged her closer and closer to the wind. Her prow lifted and the rush of water beneath her hull grew louder and louder. He used every move the man had taught him as he inched her faster and faster, higher and higher. The wind heeled him hard over, the water of his wake was a white torrent. Cariad danced and darted towards the light seeming to skate along the very line of the wave tips. Dewi felt her yearning for speed, clamouring for freedom,.. the water roared and the wind in the rigging howled. He was at the crest of a long roller, just skimming the surface when he felt it. Just as if Cariad had really whispered to him and told him so, he knew she was ready,.. Cariad wanted to fly.
'He leaned his weight far out and tight hauled the line in as hard as he could. She swept along the wave, hesitated for an instant,.. and was airborne. The sound of the rushing water was gone. There was air beneath the keel, as boy and boat lifted up into the clearing sky of the early dawn. Dewi's heart sang. ‘She flies,.. she flies, he cried. ‘She flies,.. I knew she could. 'Once up in the air, Dewi flew Cariad back and forth, revelling in the new freedom. Together they soared to the lowest of the pink-tinged clouds and back down almost to touching the waves, the only difference being the tone of the wind singing in the ropes and across the arched white sails.
'It felt like no time at all before the familiar coastline and his home village came into sight. It was still early morning and as he circled the harbour he could see there was no-one yet about. He wanted everyone to see. Yet there was not a soul in the quiet streets.
'Suddenly an idea came to him. He'd climb up over the cliffs then swoop down past the church steeple and throw some pebbles from his ballast bag to hit the large single bell. That would rouse people and they'd come out and see what a wonderful sailor he was.
'He gained height and came in high over the cliffs shortening sail for a tack inland then back towards the church on the return leg.
'It was not until he had made the turn that he realised he was in difficulties. He had forgotten the rule not to sail over the land. Cariad was losing height and the sail was going slack in his hands. Desperately he turned hard about to try and get back out over the cliffs to where there would again be enough sea air beneath him to give him lift.
'He almost made it too. Diving dangerously fast he hurtled towards the cliff edge. The only snag was that great clump of trees here just behind us now. They were right in his path. He cleared one tree and felt the topmost branches of the next scrape the bottom of Cariad's hull as she limped over them. The next tree was the biggest. He flew straight into it and both he and the broken planks of Cariad fell down through the branches to this very spot where you now see them.’
The man had finished his story. I was fascinated.
‘Did Dewi never try to re-build Cariad?’ I asked.
‘Well, there was no way to carry her pieces back down without breaking them smaller. Dewi just couldn't face doing that. He decided against it and left her here at the end of her maiden flight. He built another boat exactly like her though. She's down in the harbour now.’
‘Dewi was all right then?’ I asked.
‘Well, he survived, yes. He lost a leg and badly broke the other. But the worst thing was that it took him two years to recover. And by then he'd lost the knack of the sky sailing.’
‘Surely he could have gone back to the island and mastered it again properly?’
‘Ah, that was the greatest puzzle of all. Just about every day since then, whenever there's any wind, Dewi has sailed out far and wide looking for that island. And he's never been able to find it. He's never given up hope, but it's near broken his heart.’
The old man's pipe had gone out. He took it from his mouth and tapped it out with a loud rapping sound on the heel of his boot. Looking up at the sky then out to sea he rubbed his hand across the name-board ‘Cariad' on the abandoned transom beside him.
‘Well,’ he said, looking up. ‘I fancy there’s a bit of an offshore breeze coming up. I must be about my business. Good-day to you.’
He started off down the track towards the beach. I saw that he had a distinct limp.
Anyone for Snake Oil?
I suppose it was inevitable. The start of every new year generally shocks us as we look in the mirror and see the ravages of yet another twelve months that have passed. We see what we cosseted, warmth-loving guzzlers and boozers have suffered over the hi-indulgences of December. There is more padding. There are more wrinkles. Those bags under the eyes are getting too heavy to lift let alone carry around. Tongues are coated. Skin is pimply. The whites of the eyes look jaundiced. Posture leaves a little more to be desired and the ciggies have left an irritating cough. Is it all ever worth it, we wonder?
Then, when we are weak and feel at our lowest the newspapers, magazines and colour supps all simultaneously blast us with their hi-technicolour pictures of rabbit food alongside articles that tell us how to achieve the impossible,.. making rocket and dandelion leaves, mixed twigs, buds and ground up tree-bark into something delicious. They are, in fact, tempting us into that hitherto unknown miracle of the 21st century,.. the ‘detox’ gimmick.
Everyone simply must do this about twice a year. You embark on a rigid regime of sipping fruit juices or herbal teas, sniffing rather than eating succulent pork pies and nibbling at a sparse regime comprised mostly of a few raw vegetables grown under organic supervision and free of all pesticides, artificial fertilisers and, of course, [horrors] GM crops. If you absolutely must cook them at all you are only allowed to lightly stir-fry them all in a sort of Chinese bowl thing, and with a cooking medium composed mostly of bees wax.
Experts in nutrition and assorted dieticians of every colour and creed regale us with their endless claptrap. Of course it also helps if they have foreign sounding names or if they have written another new book on ‘How to Detox without giving up Meat, Fat, Smokes and Gin.’ I stopped to look at some of the latest volumes in Waterstones. I tell you there are hundreds, and they all carp on about the sins of the flesh and how to avoid imminent death from liver failure, hypercholesterolosis and gout.
Once in a while there surfaces a renegade escapee from more ‘establishment’ circles. He will have discovered a wonderful new ploy. If you make him rich, - and that won’t be hard at £750 a throw, - he’ll look into his crystal ball or its modern equivalent, - and he’ll run a computer scan on you using his latest microchip. This will scrutinise your DNA and pinpoint exactly how fast you degrade your collagens and what particular antioxidants will rejuvenate you fastest. His address will usually be somewhere within a hefty stone’s throw of Harley Street.
Everything will make use of the latest knowledgeable sounding blarney. Did you know that soon after the shortest day ‘your body is in hibernation?’ Neither did I. Forty years of medical study hid that fact from me. Did you know that whole grains balance your blood sugar? Or that nuts calm your nervous system? Have you even considered what the right foods might do for your soul while reducing the suffering you experience from food neuroses? Me neither. My God, what we’ve been missing,.. and these are all quotes from the current spectrum of vogue health eyewash. The answer to all the problems, it turns out, is to consume liberal amounts of fat-free rissoles made from grated raw cacao beans together with beetroot brownies. Alternatively, why not ‘soothe the intestinal tract’ with salad containing wheat grass powder, ginger and turmeric. How exotic can you get?
So, off we go with the latest faddy eating programmes that will ‘boost’ your health, skin, energy and immune system. All kinds of recently discovered medical words will be drafted in. The latest I’ve spotted concerns ‘glycaemic load’ which is medispeak for carbohydrate intake.
All their high-flown and expensive garbage is then piled in the centre of the plate and sprinkled with half-germinated aduki beans and a few raw hedgerow weeds. I own what is probably the world’s most voracious canary and even he won’t touch it.
The truth behind this whole multi-billion dollar heap of hogwash comes down to just one or two common sense sentences. First, the human body is far, far cleverer and more efficient at eliminating toxins than any diet yet invented, - and it needs you only to drink lots of water to do it. Second, to control weight all you need to do is eat less and walk or swim more.
Everything else is just the 21st century update on the old knack of getting rich by selling snake oil.
Ah yes,.. I remember it well
It was on the 1st of August, 1947,..
Like most of the others I had never been out of the country before. This was the first of the post-war school holidays. The Sixth Form trip to Switzerland. We left our homes, many of us for the first time, in late July for ten incredible days travelling,.. abroad!
We travelled from South Wales all the way to London,.. by train. That in itself were more or less amazing for very few of us had ever been to London before. Travel during the war was difficult and, often, dangerous,.. and we had been only about ten years old when the war started. We crossed London from Paddington Station to Waterloo by bus and then took another train to Dover to catch the ferry.
Those who are familiar with crossing to the Continent today would have little idea what things were like in 1947. We were astonished to see individual cars driven onto wooden pallets and hoisted, one-by-one, up onto the decks where they were squeezed into the smallest spaces. We crossed from Dover to Ostend, a trip of over four hours, then found our places on the trans-continental train from Ostend to Istanbul. Much of the journey from Dover across Belgium and France was through country where the war had been waged. It became commonplace to see houses still carrying the signs of battle. Many were still ruins. Some of the towns had areas untouched since the wave of battle had passed through. Scarred brickwork, demolished factories were everywhere. It was something of a shock to see what terrible damage had been done while we, feeling safe across the Channel, had no wartime experience apart from the result of air-raids. Abandoned lorries, twisted guns and burned out tanks dotted the countryside just rusting steadily until their turn for removal finally came.
On the French-Swiss border we left the train at Basel and transferred to the Swiss train from there to Interlaken. What a difference. Clean, well-kept, painted and efficient the Swiss towns and villages were like something out of a film. High snow-crested mountains and lush green valleys were everywhere. At the station we stopped and bought fruit juice and bars of nut chocolate,.. things most of us had not seen for years. And you could buy and eat as much as you wanted,.. an opportunity few of us could remember.
From Interlaken the lovely Swiss trains took us to Spiez and then to the village of Frutigen in the Berner Oberland. Even the local trains,.. just two carriages long, ran on time literally to the minute. It was unbelievable. Eyes were wide open and mouths hung open. No-one could really remember such a life-style.
We were shared out betwen two hotels,.. the Adler [Eagle] and the Simplon,.. named after the great road and rail pass through the Alps. My room was on the top floor of the Simplon. It had a wooden outside terrace overlooking the main road through the village. It was paradise and when we got downstairs for supper,.. or ‘Abendessen’ as the hotel called it, we were in for another shock.
Out came plates heaped with enough fresh meat to feed a regiment. Steaming potatoes, carrots, beans and a sort of thick gravy. To kids who lived under strict rationing, and had done for several years it was unbelievable. Back at home we still had severe rationing. My allowance of meat for a week was one shillingworth [the equivalent of less than three pounds in today’s money . There were cheeses, puddings and hot biscuits to follow. We could eat as much as we liked and the lady staff, seeing us all as famished youngsters, encouraged us to fill and refill our plates. But despite the wonderful food there was, for me anyway, another revelation about to be revealed.
Sex began to rear its beautiful head.
One of the waitresses was Greta,.. Greta Coronalli, to be precise. She was a tiny little thing in her first training job having arrived in Frutigen only a few days earlier from her home near Lugano,.. a Swiss town down near the Italian border. She was one of the most striking looking girls I had ever seen.
Instead of the well-worn and well-darned cloths of our girls,.. and most other people, back in our Welsh villages and schools, Greta wore typical Swiss costume,.. although it was not really costume in the sense that it was daily wear in this village. She wore a knee-length black dirndl skirt embroidered with flowers, a silk-embroidered belt and a white blouse covered with more embroidery right down to its puffed sleeves. To her it was almost a uniform but I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was instantly smitten,.. knocked out,.. bowled over. If ever there was love at first sight this was surely it.
I fancied that she took some kind of a liking for me, too. She smiled every time she came near and I began to imagine all kinds of wonderful things. I was Young Lochinvar with bits of Dick Turpin, Robin Hood and King Arthur Pendragon all in one. All at once there was no love in all the world like this one.
The Swiss, in those days, went to bed early. Greta’s duties ended at exactly nine in the evening,.. not a minute sooner, not a minute later. On the second evening we sat, just we two, at one of the roadside tables outside the hotel. We drank apple juice,.. an unheard of luxury back home in Wales. It cost 2 cents a tumbler.
Next evening she needed to post a letter to her parents. We walked through the village to the post office. And on the way back we held hands. This was pretty racy stuff for 1947. And the very next evening I put my arm across her shoulders and she responded with her arm around my waist. I thought I was in paradise. We walked up along the fast-flowing stream – the Dorfbach – its cold gey snow-melt waters bubbling and gurgling. We sat on a massive wooden bench and talked about absolutely nothing, as I recall, but just thrilling to the sound of each other’s voices. A vista of many years of loving happiness seemed to stretch out in front of us into a future too wonderful even to imagine.
The next day was a Friday. It was Swiss National Day,.. a public holiday. We both realised it was the end of the line for us. Greta would leave first thing on Saturday morning to visit her family. Our school party was due to leave the village on Sunday afternoon. With our love still a tender wee seedling a mere five days old we could already see the sickening horror of what separation might mean.
After supper we walked, hand in hand as was now usual, up the bank to our favourite seat. She was so sad,., I was her first love she told me. She said she just didn’t know how to be without me.
We talked of what would be, in one more year, as soon as I could leave grammar school, get a job and come to find her,.. as, of course I surely would. We talked about what our families would say. Nevertheless, we decided, it was only time. We would write to each other every single day. We would send each other our local flowers and leaves pressed between the pages of letters. We would be in love for always. We knew all these things with the certainty of youth that sees only the successful end though not the thousands of hurdles to be faced and leapt in between.
It grew dark. We held each other very close. Once or twice we got close to kissing each other,.. though, really, that was pretty much out of the question. It would have to wait for another day.
Eventually we had to make our way back to the hotel.
Then, suddenly, we gasped. All over the tall mountains and shadowed pine forests glows started to appear small and dim up in the darkness. Across the outlined trees and cliffs hundreds of fires were being ignited. In no time they were everywhere up there blazing and flickering. There were far too many to count. Then, on the face of the steep incline leading to the nearby hills one fire grew into the shape of a burning, fiery red cross. Church bells were ringing out. A children’s choir was singing as, all in national dress, the members wended their way through the village streets. It was a magical moment. We were stunned. Half way back along the riverside path we stopped and looked around at the sheer splendour and wonder of the place and its thrilling sights and sounds,.. the rushing river, the vivid fires, the smell of woodsmoke, the spots of lights from the streets and from little farmhouses high up on the slopes of the Oberland.
We strolled along slowly, walking in time step by synchronised step. Then she stopped and turned around to face me. She held both my hands, snuggled close and looked up at me. I could see the teardrops on her lovely face. She was so tiny I had to stoop a little for her to kiss me. I remember I could see the reflections of the fires in her eyes and on the sheen of her hair.
I was overwhelmed. Everything was so unspeakably wonderful and magical. I had no words at all. She hardly spoke,.. just breathed and moved her lips a little as she hugged me. Then she sighed and in a half whisper she said ‘Amore mio tesoro,.. ti amo cosi tanto.’ Then another sigh, another whisper and ‘Ed io ti amero per sempre,.. per sempre.’ [My darling I love you so much – and I’ll love you forever,.. forever].
I don’t for one moment imagine that she did,.. or does.
But those phrases she used fired me with a wish to learn Italian, so beautiful were they. I tried several times but, having no great aptitude for languages I never really managed to master the language but one thing is sure,.. from that day to this those words remain the most romantic that have ever been spoken to me.
Greta,.. sweet child-love Greta, in my fashion I still adore you,.. Nel mio modo,.. ti adoro ancora.
Tasteless items available via the internet
Belsen Barbecues: Small size replica; will take one small lamb, pig or infant.
Bog-o-Grams, - delivered at your convenience. Also Latrine-o-grams and Crap-o-grams
Coffin Photovouchers: have your dear ones photographed ready for their embarkation to the Next World.
Recording: Armistice Day, 1918: hear the very sounds of the battlefield just as everyone let loose all hell before it stopped forever. Genuine, bullets, shell-bursts, screams, groans, gasps, death rattles and other field hospital sounds.
At Home on the Loo: recordings of assorted grunts, farts, splashes and squeals of delight/relief.
Cadaverine Perfume [aka Esprit de Corpse]
Intravenous heroin ampoules [recycled].
Steam powered automatic nose pickers.
Self-inserting aerosol suppositories.
Ear borers,.. for waxing lyrical.
Fragrances: Essence of Armpit, Hiroshima Scorch, Fleur de Cabbage, Downwind Auschwitz.
Wife poisons, various.
Dehydrated H2O, - just add water.
In Memoriam table mats.
Foetus lockets: A tiny human baby embedded forever in acrylic and inscribed 'In Memory of [almost] Little Fred' etc.
Tinned items: Fricassee of Lizard, Rat sauce, Canine cutlets, Cat liver, Spider soup, Skull Juice, Brain, Liver and Kidney Extract.
Loo room Snacks: Strong mints, candy bars and sandwich fillings that can overpower the pong of the khazi. Help make delicious on-your-knees type goodies for the dedicated long-term crapper.
Shithouse newspapers and magazines: guaranteed perforated for ease of use. Fully absorbent. Also Recycled loo-paper and rectal brushes.
Finger and Toenail parings,.. ‘Better than pork scratchings any day.’
Herpes Ointment, soothes that embarrassing itch.
Self-inserting dildos, colour-coded for preference.
Insomnia tablets: they won't cure your insomnia but they'll help you enjoy it.
Occasionally some of my non-medical activities placed me in contact with characters best described as 'different' from the normal or average chap you might meet on the High Street. I'm not criticising them,.. having always felt, myself, that normal or average were not states to be aspired too but, rather, to be scrupulously avoided.
Nevertheless some of them were distinctly criminal folk and others of them more than somewhat connected with grey or shady areas of the law and the economy. One such was Bert Martyn who ran a second hand car business, mostly as a legitimate front to other even less appealing activities, somewhere in the Home Counties. [Exactly whose home being deliberately omitted from this yarn].
I was sitting in his office one morning discussing the sort of things that such persons usually discuss,.. the weather, the price of fish, and so on. There came a knock at the door and, unannounced, in walked,.. or rather crept, a small, foxy man with a long, grubby mac and a furtive look on his sharp-featured face. I knew him of old, Jamie Taylor. Jamie ran his own little one-man business,.. as what the trade calls a pavement car salesman. His game was to buy a clapped out old bucket of bolts for about fifty quid first thing in the morning, give it a spruce up and then park it in a busy area. He hoped to sell it for an easy hundred, in cash of course and by lunch time, to a passer by. He was clutching a tattered poly bag with something heavy in it.
'G’morning, Bert,' he said, and nodded briefly to me.
'Bert, I was wondering if you could do me a bit of a favour?'
'Mmmm?' Bert was suspicious and wisely cautious.
'Well, I got this car on the market. Nice little runner she is too,.. and I've got a likely buyer. But the mileage is causing me a bit of grief.'
He unfolded the bag and fished out a rather battered and rusty looking milometer. He tenderly placed it on Bert's desk. Bert's eyes scarcely flickered.
'Jamie, you know it's not legal to disconnect one of those.'
'I know, Bert. I know. But,.. see,.. I was hoping you'd just clock it a bit for me.' By this he meant using an extremely high-revs power drill to turn the reading back by some thousands of miles. He would then replace it and convince the buyer it showed a genuine mileage. It was always worth an extra few pounds.
'Jamie,' said Bert. 'You know that's against the law. How many times have I warned you?'
'I know Bert. And you're right. You are right. I know that. But just this once, Jamie? It would be a big favour. I can't do it meself, Bert. These things are buggers to open, - 'cept for an expert like you. Whaddya say, eh? For an old friend?'
How could Bert refuse, I wondered. He didn't.
'Alright, Jamie. Leave it here and pick it up tomorrow. It'll cost you a fiver.'
'Thanks, Bert. I knew you’d help. You're a real gent,' he said,.. and, like flash, before Bert could change his mind, Jamie was gone.
As we resumed our interrupted conversation Bert started twirling a screwdriver and taking the back plate off the dilapidated old instrument. He worked around its edges with the lever on his Swiss penknife, a push here a prod there until, gently and smoothly, the backplate came away as easily as could be. Bert peered into the works and suddenly let out a great belly-laugh of mirth. He was literally shaking.
'Just look at this,' he said, handing the milometer over to me.
There, on a little strip of sticky label on the inside of the housing someone had scrawled,..
'Wot? Not this one again!'
An Alternative for Easter [Published 2018]
Easter again,.. and what a happy coincidence when it falls on April Fool’s Day. On this day some rather portly gent in a white nightshirt and white yarmulke will appear at some little window in Rome and spout a load of aged platitudes about world peace in a well-practiced display of benign, avuncular chit-chat. He’ll probably single out the poorer nations from which so much of his company’s wealth is wheedled penny by little penny and tell how sorry he is that the world doesn’t do more for them. He’ll usually avoid any mention of the plight of Moslems in Rohinga, he’ll gloss over the centuries of infant abuse by priests of various ranks and only very rarely is he likely to say anything very nice about Israel.
In general he seems to be a kindly fellow. Apparently not belonging to any particular faction he may well have been chosen as a sort of caretaker Pope. The fact that he hailed from a South American homeland was all to the good as that part of the globe is one of the strongest centres of his religion and they’d never had their own Pope before. Their contributions to the exchequer could certainly not be neglected.
Mind you, he does have one or two very curious attitudes to world affairs. He is on record as claiming that the Falkland Islands,.. aka Malvinas, actually belong to Argentina. Oh dear me.
When he was elected,.. or, as some put it, selected from his peers acting under the direct influence of a deity, I admit to having had high hopes of him. He came over as a rather nice guy. Furthermore he was such a cut above the previous incumbent. That was the so-called Ratzinger Pope - a man who now, you’ll have noticed, never leaves the safety of the Vatican for fear, ‘tis said, of falling foul of certain authorities on account of earlier alleged little errors of judgement. Amusingly he was one of two people of whom the late, great Christopher Hitchens anxiously awaited the chance to read an obituary. [The other was Mother Teresa who, bafflingly, somehow came across to the world as the kindest, simplest holy nun on earth].
Since those early days many of those non-catholics who formerly saw Mr.Francis as a beacon potentially illuminating the darker reaches of Vatican theory, have gradually lost their erstwhile hopes for him. Despite his modern thinking there has been no sweeping descent of this Arm of the Almighty. More and more cases of child molestation and, let’s not use such a polite euphemism for it,.. the rape of underage children, have surfaced. And, along with that, have come more and more examples of the Holy Mother Church’s world-wide response of protecting both the church itself and the individual homosexual pederasts rather than the cruelly damaged victims. That, of course, has been repeatedly exposed as being the chosen fundamental response.
Another disappointment has been the failure to recognise that the population of the planet is in obvious need of control. But then, no businessman wants to curtail the customers that provide his profit,.. and much of the church’s profit derives from the simple, half-educated proletariat. That shows us where the true priorities lie.
When he first took office there were high hopes that condoms would not only be permitted but actually recommended. It didn’t happen. Not even in countries riddled with AIDS are they permitted. Again we see the true priorities. Prevention of disease spread is clearly less relevant than