Authors: Robert Clifford
STEADY NOW DOCTOR
Dr Robert Clifford
First published in Great Britain, 2001 by
ARTHUR H. STOCKWELL LTD
Torrs Park, Ilfracombe, Devon, EX34 8BA
Digital edition converted and distributed in 2015 by
Andrews UK Limited
Â© Dr Robert Clifford, 2001, 2015
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales, is purely coincidental.
From Nonentity To Deity
Doctor Andrew Howard lost his virginity at the age of twenty-four, in the third month of his first resident house job to the best looking female Senior Surgical Registrar that there had probably ever been.
She was so good-looking that in her presence even the most eminent surgeons behaved like adolescent schoolboys, and in addition she had an aura of sexuality which made even the hospital Chaplain break into a sweat.
That he should lose his virginity at such a time, would have been a terrible shock, not only to all his friends but also to many of his most brief acquaintances.
One of two things that helped him in his earlier days, was the fact that since the age of thirteen through a misunderstanding at the men's hairdressers, he had always carried a packet of French letters in his wallet. A packet had fallen off the shelf, he picked it up and the hairdresser said, “That will be nine pence.”
Recently he had come across a couple of discarded wallets, each still showing the tell-tale ring that French letters eventually engrave through the substance of the leather.
Where today, you might have a supplier of crack or cocaine, in his circle he was the man to come to if you thought you had a chance of having it away. He never charged for his protective sheaths, even sometimes having to steal from his mother's handbag to make sure that he always had a supply of the readies. He would even give the most profound advice on how to go about things. He was thought to be the complete man of the world; even the football captain was in awe of him. What is more, he was completely discreet. No one knew about his conquests, whereas others did it or nearly did it, just to talk about it. Not divulging his secrets only increased his stock.
It would have been greeted with utter disbelief had it become known that it was not until he was twenty-four that he was literally led by the hand to his first experience of the
Well of Pleasure
Andy had no idea whether his birth was planned or not. His sister Lettice (the second support of his early days) was an accident and was one of the reasons for his parents unhappy marriage.
He did not know whether it was being called Lettice (Lettuce is full of the anti-sterility Vitamin, Vitamin E) or his parents unhappy marriage, but, from the age of fifteen there was always a welcome in his sister's body for any presentable interested male. Initially for a bag of sweets, then as the years progressed, a few drinks, to a formal meal until finally at the age of nineteen, it would have to be at least a weekend away with a bit of jewellery thrown in.
She was five years older than Andy, and the only time in his life he was really popular was this period, when boys, men? who were always eight to ten years older wanted to meet his sister, or borrow a French letter or both. She was a lovely girl, and he thought it was a great surprise to her to find that she was carrying around something so precious that all men were after it.
She was a great Big Sister to him making up for his parents deficiencies who were so busy continually rowing that they did not have much time to take any notice of either of them.
Unfortunately, at the age of twenty-one, she got religion, and immediately became nasty. At twenty-three she married a one-eyed Baptist minister and became a typical “mother Grundy” eventually going off with her one-eyed partner to be missionaries in New Guinea.
They never heard from them again and thought that they had probably been eaten by their flock. Although the family never heard from them directly, they did know of people who had, but they never saw them again.
Andy was born in the year of the General Strike in 1926 and felt that this was a significant factor in his life, that he had entered the world on a day when nothing was happening and no one was working.
He went to a variety of schools, the first of which he could hardly remember was a Church infant school, which could have been the reason why many years later the missionaries nearly signed him up. One clear recollection of this school was the open fire with a guard, on which the lady teacher, who seemed to have a perpetual cold, spread out snot soaked handkerchiefs to dry.
He then went to a prep school where he had a dim recollection of doing well, or at least not doing so badly that he was out of step with everyone. Matters were put to rights at his third school which was coeducational. He hated it. It had no redeeming features. Even girls were an additional source of humiliation.
What absolutely terrified him was the swimming on Saturday mornings in the school baths.
He would try and sprain his ankle, have a cold, anything, so as not to have to face the compulsory jump into the baths. Fortunately his father was always on the move to new jobs, and although it seemed a lifetime, he can't have been at the school for more than two years. In spite of these unhappy two years, it was during them that life really began for him.
It all started when there was a knock on the door and a policeman in full uniform greeted his mother with the words, “I have come to see your son about house breaking.”
It was the beginning of some of the stormiest weeks of his life. For one short period of time his parents were so busy having a go at him, there was no time to row amongst themselves. He was not sure if that is what they mean when they say children bind a marriage together.
What had happened, was that one day he was walking across the land of an unpleasant farmer, who used to spread the contents of his cesspit either side of the right of way to deter people from straying off the path.
He was with two older boys from his street who had discovered that not only had the farmer moved, leaving an empty farmhouse, but had also left a full basket of eggs in the front room.
The eggs were taken outside and all three boys systematically threw them at the house, covering it with yolk, and for good measure threw a few stones at the windows, shattering a few panes of glass.
One of his more sophisticated companions (they were eleven, he was nine), had noticed some games had been left in a cupboard, so he returned that night to purloin them, professionally slipped the catch, then climbed over the window-sill into the arms of a waiting policeman.
His mother had a field day. He would be sent to prison and expelled from school, bringing everlasting disgrace to the family. He remembered about two months after the incident that he made the mistake of coming home from school smiling. How could he smile, et cetera.
The crux of the case was that one police sergeant wanted to take them to juvenile court, and the other sergeant didn't.
In view of their tender years, they were to be spared court if he was prepared to join the Wolf Cubs and the other two the Scouts. This of course he did, and thus began some of the happiest years of his life. He was in his element. Two years later, after another move to another place, he became a Boy Scout and really, now approaching the end of his life, looking back, he realized that he had been a Boy Scout all his life.
As a Boy Scout he won the war against Germany single handed by collecting waste paper in a trek cart, which also gave him the bonus of reading all the personal mail of the beautiful Betty Jameson - always unobtainable, who lived at the top of the road. Many years later when he was a medical student and she a radiographer, he still adored her, and she was always nice to him in a sort of head-patting way, only consorting with men who were at least ten years older than him.
In 1942 he cycled to his grandmother's house in Blackpool with a boy called Joneson, accompanied for the first day and a half by a boy called Ward. When he and Joneson bumped into each other in later years they wondered why they went together. They weren't even really friendly before or after the immediate event. But in later years they did see each other from time to time, and had joint outings with their wives.
Over the years Joneson became very successful, and was almost running the Common Market at one time. His home in Bath was the most beautiful house Andy had ever been in and in 1992 on the 50
anniversary of their trip, Andy and his wife Mary were invited to a most sophisticated lunch. This was followed by coffee and liqueurs in the pavilion of Bath stone the Jonesons had built on the hill, at the top of their garden for listening to his recordings of Schubert.
It was breathtaking with a wide panoramic view of Bath stretching away beneath them.
Never close friends, but always with a great regard for one another and always wondering what happened to Ward, where did he go, and who he actually was.
Driving back from the Jonesons, for no definable reason, Andy recalled not one of his successes, but what for him was one of the most abject failures of his early years. He could have only been six or seven. The family were staying at Uncle Arthur's (with a waxed moustache) and Auntie Alice's at Ramsgate. There was a buzz one evening as the next day Lobby Ludd was to be in Ramsgate, and some lucky person who had to be holding a
would challenge him with the words, “You are Lobby Ludd, I claim the
prize” - to be awarded five pounds, which was a fortune in those days. Andy knew it would be he who would win, just as nowadays everybody knows that it will be they who is going to win the Lottery. He intercepted the paper boy and sped off into town clutching the
- challenging left and right. He spent the day unsuccessfully scouring the town, as his mother, father, aunt and uncle scoured the town looking for this lost little boy, eventually seeking the aid of the Police who found him fast asleep in a deck chair still clutching his
All he won that day was a smacked bottom. He never forgot the incident, the name Lobby Ludd somehow became imprinted in his mind.
Riding to Blackpool was recognized as a great feat in 1942, never mind Dunkirk, and the Middle East - the boys were fifteen years old, cooked their food over wood fires before blackout time, and each had a knife, which as well as blades, had a spike for getting stones out of horses hooves. Joneson still had his diary he made of the event, with entries such as - Ward making a dash for Burton-on-Trent today - and on the finance page, lunch 6d., and 3d. for a tart, later. It must have been an edible one, surely.
When he was aged eleven, the family moved to Surrey where he attended the local grammar school. He didn't enjoy his days there, but it was from this very school that he met Joneson, and four years later they went off on their great adventure.
He was an indifferent scholar, and was almost always at the bottom of the class - out of twenty-nine he was usually 27
When in his early forties, whilst clearing out some drawers, he discovered a bundle of reports which only contained one good remark.
The remark, which many a time he had pondered over, sprang out almost in neon lights, in the rows of poors, very poor and does not try. It said,
GOOD WORK IN WARSHIP WEEK
. Now what on earth could he have done to gain acclaim in this week, and what was
anyway. His only possible reference was Joneson, and he had no idea.
He was once asked, during a TV interview regarding a new book, “Tell me, Doctor, what were your schooldays like?”
Nodding wisely, he replied, “It was reported that I was very good in
The interviewer was momentarily nonplussed. It would be a loss of face to confess ignorance of such an event, so he quickly replied, “That's marvellous, absolutely marvellous,” and quickly changed the subject.
In a way this was gratifying for Andy as it is said that everything you do in life at some time serves a useful purpose, and until that TV interview he had not been able to fit
into the scheme of things.
He did, at the age of twelve, briefly achieve some transitory fame at this school. It was in the end of term boxing, which he hated. He was boxing somebody who was just as bad at it as he was, and they were hurting each other almost to the point of tears, when he noticed, after one right-handed punch, that his hand hurt. When he returned to his corner at the end of the round he told the Games Master, who proceeded to wiggle his hand around, but pronounced it OK. He was not discomforted during the next two interminable rounds, where they almost pummelled each other to death, collapsing in each others arms.
This was an indication of fine sportsmanship, and brought a standing ovation from watching parents and friends. What the crowd didn't realize was that the boys were so shagged out, this was the only way they could stay on their feet.
It should, of course, have been a draw. They were both as bad as one another, but Andy was declared the winner on points.
When they took his gloves off in the corner it was noticed that one of his knuckles was bruised. The St John Ambulance man in attendance was called over for a consultation. He ordered an immediate course of action, and proceeded to put Andy's arm in a triangular bandage, although he didn't feel that there was anything wrong at all. Of course, with his arm in a sling Andy got another round of applause as he left the hall.
His parents were summoned (they had not come to watch him), and they drove to the local hospital where they had to wait two hours for an X-ray. Eventually, a disgruntled Radiographer (he kept on repeating that he had been dragged away from a darts match) held up a negative and said, “He has a hairline fracture of the knuckle of his fifth finger, and will need to keep his arm in a sling for a week.”
Andy was delighted by this. It kept him out of doing all sorts of things, including writing.
Word got out that Howard, in spite of breaking a bone in his right hand in the first round, had fought on and won his bout.
Just be careful with him, he doesn't look it, but he's as tough as hell.
Even his parents, who hadn't seen the bout, wondered if they had bred a tiger after all.
But, of course, it didn't last. He was scared of the vicar who taught scripture, so did not put up his hand to be excused, wet his trousers, burst into tears, and from then on he was treated with the usual derision.
It is strange, there was only one other boy from that school that he remembered, apart, of course, from Joneson and Ward, who neither could recall, and that was a boy called Dinga Powell, who he also didn't remember, but his name was inextricably locked in his mind. Dinga Powell's father was a bus conductor, hence the prefix. It was not in any way, as far as he remembered, derisory - he was just called Dinga Powell. When he reminisced with Joneson about Ward he always asked him if he remembered Dinga Powell and he never did. Of course, Joneson was much brighter than Andy, they were never quite in the same form. Joneson was always in 2a, 3a, 4a, 5a and Andy was always in 2c, 3c, 4c, and when it came to the fifth form he wasn't even in 5c, being put in an ambiguous form called remove, but it was from the remove that he had his one triumph - he was good in
The trip to Blackpool was some undertaking. When he said our trip to Blackpool, Andy was going to his grandmother, who lived on the South Shore end, and Joneson was going to an aunt, who lived in Lytham St Anne's. On reflection, perhaps the subtlety of place of destination was the real difference between them.
Andy and Joneson did all the planning. They thought that Ward joined them for one night only, and Joneson's diary record of, “Ward making a dash for Burton-on-Trent today,” confirms this.
They knew he came ill-equipped, as on their first night, where for some reason they pitched their tent on a rubbish dump, Ward had no sleeping bag, and had to share the large hessian one with Andy.
Today this could have all sorts of connotations, but in those days it didn't. That's how things were.
In spite of it being wartime, they had managed to get a route map from the AA. These maps were joined at the top of the page, and had detailed instructions like, turn left at Brown's Tea Shop, right at Smith's Garage, and as you turn up and over each page, the road for you to follow, with all its accompanying details, ran down the middle of the page.
Andy was later than all his friends in acquiring a bicycle. His father was some sort of Structural Engineer, being moved on and up the scale every few years but never quite catching up to the salary scale he was on, so the family was always hard up.
At the beginning of the war the family were evacuated to his grandmother's at Blackpool, but after some months things were so quiet they returned to their home in South London. The day of their return coincided with the first day of the Battle of Britain, and they had a ringside seat watching Spitfires and Hurricanes fighting against overwhelming numbers of German aircraft over Croydon Airport.
But, joy of joys, some stranded New Zealanders, who had been borrowing the house, had left a bicycle behind. Andy immediately claimed it. It was a sit up and beg bicycle, and had no handgrips on the handlebars. This was remedied by his father, always a genius with plastic wood, who moulded some on. In fact, he was probably the only cyclist with plastic wood handlegrips.
Joneson's bicycle was of the dropped handle, racing type, which had the disadvantage that when he became so tired he couldn't lift his head, which was often, he couldn't see where he was going, so Andy, in his upright position, directed operations.
He was not wearing his Boy Scout uniform as he was not on Boy Scout business, but he did wear his Scout trousers which were dark blue, a leather zipped jacket, Scout socks, plus green tabs on his garters to show that he actually belonged to the Scouts.
He had a borrowed frame rucksack which he wore. His tent, sleeping bag and hand axe were carried on the carrier on the back of his bicycle.
On his belt he had a sheath knife with a silver top, beneath which were two circles of coloured glass between the top and the hardwood handle.
His multibladed penknife hung from a ring on the other side of his belt.
Joneson had some sort of lightweight waterproof gear, and all-in-all looked much more streamlined than Andy.
They went up the old Watling Street that Roman Legionnaires must have marched up in their thousands, and who would have envied their bicycles, as they, in their turn, envied the cars and lorries that passed them.
Nowadays it is not easy to pick out the Watling Street on modern maps with all the new motorways that have sprung up, but he still had a feeling that somehow they went through Grantham, as in one ambiguous town they parked their bikes against a grocer's window, to have the daughter of the house, a bushy blonde with prominent teeth of about their age, come out and hysterically admonish them.
They were a bit nonplussed at the violence of her attack. Fortunately Joneson kept his cool.
“You've got a big hole in your stocking,” said Joneson.
“No, I haven't,” said the girl, carefully examining her black woollen cladding.
“Yes, you have,” said Joneson.
“I'd like to see where,” said the girl, now looking worried.
By now they had safe hold of their bicycles.
“Where you put your legs in,” shouted Joneson as they cycled away.
One day, many years later, when Joneson and Andy had one of their periodical bump-ins on the train from Paddington, Joneson said, “You remember that blonde at the grocers?”
“Yes,” said Andy.
“I bet it was Maggie Thatcher.”
“My God, I bet you're right,” said Andy, “but only if the Watling Street goes through Grantham.”
He remembered Lichfield, Atherstone, Newcastle-under-Lyme, then Warrington to Preston, all cobbles, and he believed it was near Preston he said goodbye to Joneson and, in fact, it was some years before they met again, as he changed schools the next term.
The journey took them four days, and he was given a hero's welcome in Blackpool. His mother and father were there, both pleased to see him. His father more than his mother, not that either liked him more than the other, but if anything had gone wrong with his trip his mother would have blamed it on his father.
His bum was the sorest it had ever been, and he was just about muscle-bound. He was taken to a slipper bath in Blackpool Central the next morning. A slipper bath was just an ordinary bath, one of many in a public bath building. Organizing a bath at short notice at home was much more difficult in those days. For the next few days he basked in the glory of his achievement, then some event of national importance took away everybody's attention.
His mother and father rowed incessantly. There was nothing so small it could not lead to a heated argument. Several Christmas dinners were spoilt by arguments on how the turkey should be carved, with everybody finishing in tears, and as a finale, his mother locking herself in the coal place.
There are many types of sin. Too many to enumerate. But in his limited experience he felt that nagging was by far the most serious. His mother was an expert. If it had featured as an event in the Olympics, she would have won a gold medal.
An example of her skills was the day his father won some award. She was included in the celebrations, but, of course, not the main event as he was. He was up on the stage, blushing about the nice things that were said about him, received his award to thunderous applause, returned to his seat next to his wife, who whispered in his ear, “Did you know that your suit was shabby?”
Now that was really a class act. She hadn't broken any laws, and perhaps had told the truth, yet in those few quiet words she felled him with one stroke, as surely as one can fell a sapling with an axe.
His father held his own through sarcasm. They were really like two plants in adjacent pots, his father growing more quickly in his than Andy's mother, who tried to keep him down to her size by hacking at his roots.
There must have been times when they communicated. There was rarely a noise from their bedroom, and perhaps this was where they communicated best. It was always a wonder to him how Lettice had been conceived. He learned in later years that it was behind a bush in the dark in some northern park. Surely they couldn't have been arguing then.
His father was a bit of a lad, which was confirmed once when Andy was leading the Peewit Patrol through some local forest. They came to a clearing, and there was his father in his parked car with his secretary. For some reason he didn't seem as pleased to see Andy as Andy was to see him.
That night, when he got home, his father was waiting behind the kitchen door, springing out when he arrived, shoving a half crown into his hand and saying, “Don't tell your mother you saw me.”
“What's going on,” said his mother with her antennae raised.
“I'm just seeing he's all right,” said his father.
Andy couldn't understand any of it. It seemed quite natural to him that his father should take his secretary for a spin, though, for some reason some of his patrol sniggered. Years later his father told him that some of the parents of his patrol cut him dead after this event, but this was probably just his guilty conscience.
This was just about the time Andy was beginning to get religion and thought no evil. His Bible was Baden-Powell's Handbook for Scouts, which clearly outlined what was good and what was bad. Under the heading masturbation it said, “Don't do anything you wouldn't want your sister to know about.”
Now there was a time before Lettice got religion, when she would have been quite interested and probably would have encouraged him, but once she had linked up with her one-eyed love there's no doubt she would have been on Baden-Powell's side.
For Andy, who thought he had found something unique that only he knew about, was now in a position where he always meant to stop doing it but of course never did, but from then on had a guilty conscience every time he did it.
Returning to the parental battle, some aspects of it were a complete enigma to him.
In 1938 at the age of thirty-seven his mother decided that she wanted to be an actress and went off for a year to Drama School in Croydon.
Even today this would be a bit unusual. In those days it was quite incredible, and the fact that his parents must at some stage have had a rational discussion to agree it, was almost unbelievable. Sadly, it was eventually to lead to tragedy.
For a year he was a latch-key schoolboy, living off school dinners, which weren't bad, and having unlimited bread and jam as soon as he got home.
He did not get religion as badly as Lettice, but he got it badly enough. When he was fifteenish he joined the Crusaders which was religion for Secondary School children only.
There were camps (nothing like Scout camps) where older men took you for walks and asked you if you had found the Lord. There were Bible meetings, prayer meetings and on a Sunday Andy went to five different services. He was the complete little prick. He was called by a fellow Christian to come to his sister who was weeping uncontrollably after being jilted by some long-standing boyfriend. Andy knew just what to do. He put his arm round her and said, “Why not turn to the Lord, He succoureth all in need.” Hardly turning, she smacked him right in the eye.
He was even elected to, and gave a sermon in church. But he was getting all muddled up with masturbation, the Scouts, and his parents; so one day in church he prayed that God would guide him in the Vicar's sermon as to what to do.
He got a surprisingly direct reply.
The Vicar got up into the pulpit and quoted a verse from St Matthew, “Go ye then before all nations baptising them in my name,” and he went on to talk about the need for medical missionaries in China.
He had been called.
That afternoon, he went to Crusaders almost in a state of trance. On hearing the circumstances of his calling everybody fell about praying. This went on for weeks.
A man from the China Inland Mission called to see him and said that if he did follow his calling the Mission would help with his fees in medical school.
It was settled; he was going to be a Missionary Doctor. Then one day a boy who had been in the same form at the Grammar School was killed whilst riding his bicycle. He couldn't remember who it was as the only people he remembered from that school were Joneson, Ward and Dinga Powell, and he couldn't remember Ward or Dinga Powell.
The death necessitated a special Crusader Prayer Meeting where they all prayed and wept and also rejoiced, as three days before he was knocked off his bike, whoever it was had accepted the Lord and had been saved.
Suddenly it all didn't seem to make sense to Andy. If he was saved, why did the Lord let him get knocked off his bicycle?
From then on he slowly drifted away from the church. He couldn't have one logic for everyday life and one for religion.
His departure was slow and he changed from wanting to be a Missionary Doctor to just wanting to be an ordinary doctor.
As far as he could remember, both through his Baden-Powell and religious days, he was still a supplier of French letters. He always wanted everyone to think well of him. He was also a bit parsimonious in his deliveries during these two phases, accompanying his distribution with smug phrases like, “I'm only giving you this to save some young girl from an unwanted pregnancy.”
He never tried, “The Lord succoureth” bit as most of his recipients were bigger than him.
He continued being a supplier until gradually people had the nerve and the money to buy their own from the chemists or hairdressers, so from then on he experienced a huge fall in status.
When he had definitely decided to be a doctor his parents sprang one of their surprises.
Somehow in the remove at the grammar school he had managed with two other boys to pass the school certificate, but not well enough to take the higher certificate.
His parents, always short of money but who had come up with funds to start his mother's acting career, now sorted out a place for him as a day-boy at a prestigious medical public school.
This was the term after the holiday when Joneson and he had ridden to Blackpool, and was the reason they didn't meet for many years.
The strange thing was that although he had been a nonentity at the grammar school, because his background and origin were working class, somehow at the public school he became very important. It came about like this.
He had never played rugby before, but in his second year he received his 1
XV colours which meant he was almost a deity, and a small boy was even designated to clean his boots. He was made a House Prefect, which meant he could button up his jacket or leave it unbuttoned or something. His success at the public school led the Headmaster to confer with the Headmaster of the grammar school on how the change of social circumstances had affected him, was this some new formula they had stumbled on?
Of course the whole thing was a complete lot of balls. He was just the old inadequate he had always been, but there was a change of circumstances that distorted the picture.
On his first games afternoon at the public school, he was clad self-consciously in brand new rugby kit, surrounded by groups who had been playing since about the age of three when they went to pre-prep school, then prep school and now public school. Whatever were they going to do with this grammar school oik.
At this school they played games in Houses, and this afternoon they were trying to sort out the house rugby XV for the School House Rugby Cup Competition. “I know,” said one heavily Brylcreemed six-footer, “we will make him the opposition hooker.”
“What's a hooker?” Andy asked. Everybody collapsed with laughter at his ignorance.
“Well,” said Brylcreem, “it means you play in the middle of the scrum, and when the ball is put in you have to hook it back on your side.”
They patiently had a few practice scrums to show him his duties, then a game was started in earnest. He kept away from all the rough stuff but kept near enough to the ball to take his place in the scrum down when they occurred. He had never played rugger but he had played that despicable game soccer, and was quite good with the ball at his feet, thus whichever side put the ball into the scrum, whether his side were pushing forward or being pushed back, he always managed dexterously to flick the ball back to his side. They tried every combination but he always got the ball.
Reluctantly they had to put him in the House First team and he continued with his prowess to the extent that they were the first day-boy house ever to win the house rugby cup.
He was moved up rapidly to the school 2
XV, then the school 1
XV, and was the first player in the school ever to receive both their 2
XV and 1
XV colours on the same day. Somebody who had his 1
XV rugby colours at a public school is an outstanding success, even if he is thick as a plank. So he wasn't a triumph of some new planting, he was just good at hooking a rugger ball out of a mound of straining players.
In those days hookers were just hookers, and did not have to know much about rugby. Nowadays, hookers are expected to rush about with a ball and do all sorts of things.
His hooking stood him in good stead and was as useful to him in his medical schooldays as providing French letters had been in earlier days. The medical school he went to was rugby mad. If you were good at rugby you got a place in the school; if you were very good at rugby you got a scholarship, so they always had a very good team.
He hooked against Cardiff at Cardiff Arms Park, Swansea at St Helens, and Harlequins at Twickenham and Waterloo in Liverpool.
He met his own Waterloo in the Middlesex seven-a-side competition at Twickenham. He had always kept away from the rougher side of the game just standing around rucks trying to look useful and never ever handling the ball.
In the Middlesex seven-a-side he actually scored a try in the quarter finals against the Harlequins. The other thirteen players were all struggling in a heap, the ball squirted out to his feet, he picked it up, took one step forward, placed it down for a try and they had won the game.
In the semi-finals against the London Irish in that vast stadium with only fourteen players on the pitch, suddenly for some unknown reason, he was passed the ball. He caught it, stood there not knowing what to do with it, and 25,000 people laughed at him.
He philosophized, anything anyone has never lasts for ever, you just have to use what you've got whilst you've got it. Sadly he was not even able to say that he used to be a good hooker, as the ladies of the streets had pinched the word and like every other area in his life he had explored, the end result was a failure.
He often pondered in quiet moments about those developing years and, one particular Friday evening when in general practice, having been up all Thursday night and worked solidly through the Friday, he looked into the waiting room to see forty people eagerly waiting his evening surgery. Ninety-five per cent of them wanted only to pour out their troubles, expecting a transfusion of his energy in return. He went back into his room and looked up and in his tiredness thought he saw clouds as opposed to the ceiling, and a kindly smiling face saying, “You see, you didn't get away after all.”
He found, as expected, that getting a place in St Jane's Hospital was not difficult. He had a short interview with an elderly man who coupled his work as Dean at the medical school, with shooting round the world as a physician in attendance to the Prime Minister.
The elderly man looked up from his desk.
“What school are you from?”
“Metson College,” he replied.
“Got your higher cert?”
“First 15 Colours?”
“Did you play for the County or England Schoolboys?”
“Right start in October, but keep training during the summer.”
There was a pause as the old man seemed to lose interest in the whole interview. Andy shuffled his feet uncertainly.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said, “is there any opportunity of being considered for a scholarship?”
“No,” said the old man circling on his chair to fiddle with some papers behind his desk, signifying that the interview was finally over.
Andy sat moodily in the compartment of the train on the way home, his mother would not be at all pleased that he hadn't even the chance of a scholarship.
Arriving home she saw him trying to slip up to his room from the back door.
“Did you get accepted by St Jane's?”
“Yes, Mum,” he said trying to look cheerful. “It looks a tremendous place.” In fact he hadn't looked at the place where he was to spend the next six years. He was late for his appointment, ran all the way from the Tube, spoke to the hall porter, who showed him to a row of seats, three of which were occupied by terrified acne covered Welsh boys who were almost clinging to each other on their first visit from the Valleys to the big city. In fact he could hardly remember anything about the place at all.
“Did you ask about a scholarship?”
“Yes, Mum,” said Andy trying to sound casual. “No chance I'm afraid, I was lucky to get a place at all.”
It was like walking into a hailstorm. “If you'd only worked a bit harder instead of playing rugby all the time, all the money your father and I spent on you . . .” and so on. He just had to stand there and let the words hit him in waves. There was no possible way he could tell her that if he had spent more time playing rugby, he would have had a better chance of a scholarship.
His mother had now started to cry in her frustration. There was no warmth about her that he could reach and just hold for a bit and sadly indeed her tears were not for him but for herself. She had hoped to tell her drama group, which was getting progressively more important, and taking up more time, that she had a brilliant son. He was only saved by his father, who had seemed to appear from nowhere, but there was so much noise going on that he could have come in through the door in a Bren-gun carrier.
“Just shut up, Elsie,” he said, “they can hear all this down the street.”
“What d'you mean, shut up,” screamed his mother. “This lazy lout has let us down.” As she turned to his father, he took the opportunity to slip up to his room, he could leave the battle flowing to and fro downstairs. He wondered if all boys who got a place at a medical school went through this.
He lay on the bed nursing his triumph that he'd got past the dragon and could savour the fact that he was now a real medical student.
He began to visualize himself in all sorts of situations: medical officer to an expedition up the Amazon; brain surgeon, no, perhaps discovering a drug like penicillin, perhaps being famous by going out to Albert Schweitzer's leper colony, but underneath it all was an awful dread that he had got a place in the medical school just because he could hook a ball out of a scrum. What if he couldn't pass his exams, having just scraped through higher cert? His day-dreaming was interrupted by his mother shouting up the stairs.
“Are you coming down for supper? Everything is getting cold.”
Suddenly, some sort of energy seemed to flow into him and for the first time in his life he stood up, opened the door, and shouted out at the top of his voice, “No I am not.”
His mother was momentarily stunned, then regaining her composure, “Of all the ungrateful louts, all the money, all the sacrifices . . .” then the flow of conversation eased as the dining room door shut and silence, and they started to eat. He turned, and wearily buried his head in his pillow. He felt as if he had committed a crime, and for no reason at all, he began to weep. He must have drifted off to sleep. He vaguely heard the bus stopping to pick up his mother for an army concert, then he awoke as his door opened. In came his father with a plate of sandwiches in one hand and an envelope in the other. “Where shall I put these, doctor?” he said.
“Well done lad, a medical student at last and here's something for the holidays. We're all proud of you. Don't be too upset about your mum, she's playing the lead tonight in the play. It's her first time, and she's a bit on edge. I've got to go back to the office for a bit, here take this,” and threw him the envelope.
Andy ate his sandwiches hungrily, trying to guess what was in the envelope, was it ten shillings or a pound? He wiped his fingers after his last sandwich, and held the envelope up to the light. He began to flood with disappointment as he opened it. No pound or ten shilling note. His father had strange ideas about gifts. He would often leave a raffle ticket as a tip in a restaurant, and if he was giving something away that he no longer had use for, it suddenly became one of the most valuable possessions he had. Andy pulled out a piece of folded white paper and opened it to see what was inside. There was nothing inside but the paper, incredulously nearly as big as a handkerchief, with black writing on one side.
A whole five pound note
He had hardly ever seen one, never mind touch one. He turned back to his pillow again and wept. It had been a long day.
Andy slept soundly, keeping one ear open for the postman's early knock. He had been waiting for this knock with lessening hope for some days now.
There was a knock at about 8 a.m. He was down the stairs before the letter hit the mat. There were six in all, four for his father, who had left for work at 7 a.m., one in spidery handwriting probably from Grandma, to his mother, and an official typed one for him.
He placed five of the letters on the hall stand, carrying his own as if it was a piece of delicate pottery into the lounge. He sat in an armchair toying with it, not wanting to know its contents.
Eventually with a resigned sigh, he tore off the corner of the envelop flap, then inserting his finger, split the envelope open. He took out the letter, unfolded it, and spread it out on his knee, deliberately not looking at it. Then after a big intake of breath he looked down, and it was as if he was floating up from his chair. There in bold print it read, âSurrey County Council are happy to announce that they are making a full grant for tuition fees and maintenance to Andrew Howard during and until the completion of his medical studies.' He almost wept again, “Christ,” he said out loud, “I must cut out this blubbing stuff.”
The sentence written by Surrey County Council was up to then, the most important sentence he had ever read in his life. It meant that he would not have to depend on his parents for finance, possibly ever again, and perhaps, more important, although his mother was always so snappy at him, this would at least silence some of her heavier guns.
He had never been happier in his whole life. He wanted to shout and sing, but Mother was in bed sleeping off her late night from the troop concert.
He made himself some breakfast, tea, Shredded Wheat, toast and marmalade, all with one hand, the other clutching the letter from the County Council which he read and re-read. He wondered whether he would be able to stick it out to be a doctor, but anyway, whatever happened, he had the place in medical school, and the money to pay for it. It was nearing the end of July, and he was on holiday until early October. All that glorious free time. Perhaps he would try and find Joneson and they could cycle to Blackpool or wherever again. He had three pounds fifteen shillings saved, plus the five pounds his father had given him - the world was his oyster.
At 9.30 a.m., with an impish grin on his face, he brewed a small pot of tea for his mother. It was no good trying to make her toast because it would be too thick, too thin, too much butter or too little butter, and she didn't want marmalade on it anyway, it was spread too thick or too thin, and so on. It was a risk with the tea that carried all the permutations of too strong, too weak, too hot, too cold.
He knocked on her door. She was awake, lost in thought.
Her first words. “It wouldn't hurt you to do this a bit more often Mr Medical Student.”
Andy could have predicted word for word exactly what she would say, then on she went.
“It's all right standing there looking pleased with yourself. Who is going to pay for you at the medical school, who, come on tell me, your father and I have made enough sacrifices for you already?”
Andy handed her the letter from the County Council, all she had said so far really meant nothing, this was how she was. She seemed incapable of ever saying anything nice, yet she took good care of all of them. Andy always had a clean shirt ready, the beds were made, the meals were good, her Sunday lunches unbeatable, her Yorkshire pudding was the best in the world.
She studied the letter for a minute searching for an answer. Then it came.
“This is all very well, but it will be your father and I who have to pay the extras for I don't know how many years.”
Andy smiled to himself as she handed the letter back. Thought it wasn't up to her usual standard, perhaps the play had gone well that night. He went down the stairs as his mother drank her tea, then wandered into the town hoping to bump into someone he knew. Life was a bit difficult in this respect. He had deserted the grammar school to go to Metson College where he had only been for two years and one term; arriving too late, and staying too short a time to make lasting friendships. He was neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor good red herring.
Two years and a bit is a long time in a boy's life. The people he had been with at the grammar school had got on with their lives and he was never a public schoolboy, just a grammar school one who had happened to be attending a public school for a couple of years.
He went to Wilson's CafÃ© for a coffee. When he had been at the grammar school it was the place where everybody who was anybody went on a Saturday morning. Boys from the grammar school and the girls from the high school throwing eye messages to each other across the room. But now the place was nearly empty. In one corner a boy of his own age, whose face looked vaguely familiar, was entertaining two girls and judging from their giggling and almost hysterical laughter, was being highly successful.
Andy thought he had nodded to him as he sat down, and was reading through the local paper, when the boy came over and sat with him. This looks promising Andy thought. Perhaps he is going to ask me to make a foursome.
The youth said, “Long time no see Andy,” then Andy remembered who it was. He couldn't remember his name but he was one of a group of about six who had a masturbation competition whenever the school had to go to the air raid shelters. This youth was invariably the winner.
“Still winning,” said Andy.
The youth flushed with pleasure that his prowess had been remembered.
“You bet,” he replied, “that's why I have come over, could you let me have a couple of Frenchies? I'm on to a dead cert over there.”
Andy wasn't sure that he was too pleased that his place in the scheme of things had been remembered. He knew that he had three in his wallet, but still feeling perverse he said, “Sorry, only one,” fishing it out from his wallet under the cover of the cafÃ© menu.
The youth's face fell. “Never mind, it will wash if I'm careful. Thanks Andy,” he said as he got up to go.
“Whoa just a minute,” said Andy, “have you seen Joneson lately?”
“Gone on the stage,” said the youth edging restlessly towards his girls.
“Ward?” said Andy.
“Don't know him,” said the youth.
“Dinga Powell?” said Andy.
“Army,” said the youth.
“Paul Mason, John Ranshall?” the youth now almost out of earshot just shook his head.
Andy picked up the local paper again, the lead articles on the front page said nothing. Turning idly to an inner page, he was struck by a large print headline, âThe sheer professionalism of Elsie Howard ensured that
Ladies in Retirement
was an outstanding success at the Bendon Army Camp last night.' Then the article went on to explain how brilliant was his mother, and that she had been a trained professional actress, which in a way, of course, she was.
Andy felt proud and excited. He got up to go, dying to show it to his mother.
As he got up the youth beckoned him over to join them. “Sorry,” said Andy, “I'm in a hurry.”
He ran all the way home, let himself in through the front door, then shouted excitedly, “Mum, Mum.”
“There's no need to shout,” said his mother, gliding out of the drawing room like a disturbed ghost.
“Look,” said Andy, holding out the paper.
“What do I want with that rag,” said his mother.
“Just look,” said Andy, getting impatient.
His mother looked startled as she turned to her headlines, read the article at least twice, going whiter in the face all the time, and then, for the very first time that Andy could ever remember, she grabbed him in a huge hug and sobbed and sobbed. Christ, thought Andy, we must have weeping in our genes.
Andy did not know how long his mother clung to him, it seemed to be half an hour, but was probably just a few minutes. Suddenly she regained her composure, shook herself, literally, and said, “I'm sorry, you are a good lad,” she squeezed his arm and went back to her room.