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Links Index

Posted by DMC on 2 May 2009 in Anecdotes |

Rugger Days

Jamie Oliver -Eat Your Heart Out

New Year’s Eve

The Cricket Match

World Monopoly Champion

Treading the Boards at Sadler’s Wells

China And Thailand

Mark Cato – the life of his carer in China and Thailand, October 20-November 5, 2009

The Top 10 of Everything

Bananas

Old Farmer’s Advice

Astronomers Select Top 10 most amazing pictures taken by Hubble space telescope in the last 16 years

Dubai Fountain

My Introduction Too Golf

 

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Rugger Days

Posted by DMC on 3 May 2009 in Anecdotes |

I should perhaps explain what I alluded to about me being a sickly youth. An obvious target for the school bully. My saving grace was that I was brighter than most of the thugs who set about me, to my further detriment, as their fists rained down, I never let them forget it! The problem stemmed from the fact that I suffered from almost permanent septic throats, inflamed tonsils and adenoids. During this period there was a field of medical opinion which was against the removal of either tonsils or adenoids and, as a result my mother was so advised. With my system being poisoned year after year my growth was stunted and I was painfully thin – something like 6 ½ stone at 13 years old (dubbed with the nickname name Belsen). At which time it was obvious that the infected tonsils could not be allowed to remain and I went into Paddington hospital to have both tonsils and adenoids removed. This was quite a serious operation in one so old, normally being carried out in babyhood. I seem to recall that I had to spend something like three weeks in hospital, much of the time only being able to eat jelly and trifle. The outcome was that over the next three to four years I put on quite a lot of body weight and grew 10 ½ inches.

So it came about that in my entire school career I was excused all forms of physical exertion. Indeed, I have, to this day, a certificate from the school doctor to that effect. When my system recovered from the operation and my health improved significantly I began to feel strong enough to take some physical exercise and by the age of 17/18 I positively yearned to do so. Believe it or not I decided that in order to raise my profile with my peers I would play rugby!

Of course I had never played a game, or indeed, to the best of my memory, had never even made contact with a rugby ball. However, I had seen a number of games played and the physicality of it appealed to me as being a manly pursuit and I was desperate to be accepted as one of the lads.

I bought myself a book entitled something like ’How to Play Rugby Football’ and, after reading it a couple of times, decided that it was not too difficult a game. The next move was too find a club to join. In discussing this with a rugby playing friend and he discovering that I had a Scottish father, said the obvious choice was the London Scottish Rugby Club. This was one of the leading London clubs and I was given to understand that they had several teams and therefore varying standards of players would be welcome. I found the Secretary’s telephone number and rang him. He was very welcoming and suggested that I turned up the following Tuesday at Richmond for a trial. So the die was cast

My next move was to go to Lillywhites in Piccadilly to kit myself out. When I tried on my new boots, shorts, shirt and socks, I look like one of the dummies in the shop window. This clearly would not do so I took the whole lot into the garden, scuffed the boots and rubbed the rest of the new gear into the mud. So equipped I presented myself, the following Tuesday, as requested, at Richmond rugby ground, which London Scottish shared with that club.

When I arrived there must have been 50 or 60 other players all changing for the evening practice. It was not therefore difficult to get lost in this crowd and changing to my, now not so obviously brand new, kit following the crowd. I ran out on to the pitch for the very first time. I felt really great. I had arrived at last! I was one of the lads like everyone else.
It was not difficult to blend into such a large crowd and follow what everybody else was doing. Sprinting from one end of field to the other, then twisting and turning and running past would-be tacklers. Finally, and most exciting of all for me, receiving and passing the rugby ball – the very first time I had even touched one. This ball was gathered by me and passed on as sweetly as anyone else on that field , or so I thought at the time.

After half an hour or so of this strenuous training under the floodlights a halt was called and the coach asked if there were any new members. I raised my hand with half a dozen other hopefuls. When it came to my turn he asked what position I played. Having re-read ’How to play rugby football’ shortly prior to this training session, I decided that the only sensible position from me would be as far away from the forwards as possible i.e. on the wing. “I am a winger, Sir”, I said, “but I must warn you I have not played since I left school and I’m very rusty” I lied. “Never fear” he said, “you will certainly not be alone”.

Having isolated the half a dozen or so new players, the coach then picked the balance of two teams from the regular players who had been training with us. We were told that we would be playing 10 minutes each way under the floodlights. I lined up, as I recalled I should from the book, and, apart from keeping my position, I had little to do other than one throw-in during the first half. After 10 minutes we had a three-minute break and then changed ends. Halfway through the second 10 minute period the ball came right down the line into my arms. I was so startled that I ran like a hare for the try line. On the way I spotted one burly obstacle but such was my terror and adrenalin level that I sidestepped, shot past this man and touched down. That was, in effect, all I did in this practice game. The whistle blew and we all took off. I was a very happy lad.

I stripped off and joined 20 or 30 other young men in a huge steaming bath. I really did feel that I had arrived particularly once I had a small glass of beer in my hands (despite hating the stuff).

Imagine my pride when I discovered that the burly obstacle who I had managed to negotiate was none other than Ken Scotland, the Scottish international fullback. My joy was heightened even further when the coach sought me out after the bath and told me that he was impressed with my performance and asked if I was prepared to playing for the extra A team the following Saturday. I had no idea that the extra A’s were the second or third team in a string of 14. All I knew was that I had arrived, the whole thing was really not as frightening as I had at first thought, in fact, I could see no impediment at all to play and enjoying this game. What a rude awakening I was in for!

The following Saturday, having read the book yet again, I presented myself at the Richmond ground, it being a home game against London Irish. It was a brilliant winter’s day with a startling blue sky and frozen ground like concrete. I changed with some slight trepidation at the thought of playing my first game. Positioning myself in the back line there seemed little to do during the first 20 minutes or so, the ball rarely reaching the extremity of the wing. Then it happened.

After a scrum down one of the opposing forwards hiked a high Garry Owen, up and under. The ball rose high against the ultramarine sky. I can see even now. Rising high above the ground and then plummeting towards me in a gentle arc. It hit the ground about 10 feet in front me shooting first to the left and then violently to the right, first one way then the other. By the time I reached the ball, suddenly my mind went blank. I simply could not remember whether I had to play the ball first with my foot or was I allowed to pick it up and run.

This notion, some 50 or so years later, of having to play the ball with my foot before running with it seems so absurd that I can scarcely believe it myself but that was what I thought in the split second I had before opposition reached me. But then you must remember I totally unfamiliar with the rules.

In this state of indecision I could see a hoard of giants descending upon me with grim determination on their fearsome faces. Their arms pumping hard as they drew closer. Just me and the full back between them and the try line. I now know, of course, that what I should have done was to have fallen on the ball with my back to the oncoming horde and been fallen upon and trampled on whilst my own team retrieved the ball on our side. Not, at that time being in possession of such intelligence, I panicked and tried to kick the ball. To what end I know not. Sheer funk I think. I executed, what many a ballerina would have been proud of, a perfect pirouette and then fell flat on my face. By which time the opposing team had reached me and I was trampled heavily under a score of studded boots into the frozen mud as they swept over and past me. This performance, and the battered and bedraggled being which was me, after that assault was worthy of Norman Wisdom! Whether the London Irish actually scored from my transgression I was too shocked to register. I do know that the captain of our team was so angry he yelled that I was not to touch the ball again for the rest of that game.

As a result I thought that my rugby career was to have been very short-lived. Instead I received a card the following Tuesday requesting me to turn out on the following Saturday for the extra G’s – 14 teams lower than the team I had played for the previous Saturday!!

Nevertheless I was thrilled. I really had made it this time. I had been accepted as a rugby player, albeit that the smell of beer from the overweight, elderly pack could be comfortably picked up on the wing by even the least sensitive nose. Never mind, I had started. Over the next three seasons I rose slowly up the pecking order and ended the last season playing in the B’s and extra C’s.

Sadly my rugby playing career came to an end when I went to Australia. Melbourne being in an Aussie rules state rather than rugby union, I hung up my boots for ever in favour of other out door activities. However, I still wear my London Scottish tie with great pride. I earned it! (Sadly, London Scottish disappeared altogether in 2001 when they amalgamated with, of all teams, the London Irish, and the name was dropped altogether shortly after.)

My last contact with the London Scottish occurred on a year or so ago, 40 years after my fateful first game, when I returned, with an apology, a framed cartoon, with I had ‘lifted’ as a dare from behind the bar of the London Irish. I know they would have killed me if I had been caught at the time and it took all of this time to pluck up courage to admit to my scurrilous deed and return the trophy. After all, I reasoned, they could hardly beat up an old aged pensioner!

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Jamie Oliver – Eat Your Heart Out

Posted by DMC on 3 May 2009 in Anecdotes |

I have always had a penchant for all things culinary so when I returned home from a summer holiday to find our plum trees groaning with fruit and then happened to come across our ancient horde of Kilner jars, it is not surprising that I embarked on the following adventure.

How I lost my Bottle (1992).

The lawns were overgrown when I returned alone from my summer holiday. Two and a half inches of rain had fallen over the previous fortnight and although I was under the impression that most of it had fallen in Wales there had been sufficient at home to green the previously parched lawns and swell the fruit on the trees.

The plum tree was more heavily laden than in living memory and Alice, my wife, was not due back for another week. What to do with this God sent crop. Surely it should not go to waste.

Thirty years ago, when newly wed I had rashly bid, at a house clearance sale, for three dozen fruit preserving jars in the fond hope that my young bride would fill them annually with the fruits of my labour from our country garden. Sadly this had never come to pass and the jars had gathered dust over the years at the back of the scullery cupboard. Here then was my chance to surprise Alice on her homecoming with a array of bottled plums and perhaps too some plum jam.

I located the 1963 edition of Good Housekeeping, which I had suitably inscribed at the time, with the optimism of the newly wed, that it might have been referred to a little more often than the faded dust laden cover showed, all too clearly it, like the jars, had lain undisturbed over three decades.

The recipe for bottled fruit could not have been simpler – an idiot could follow it – what could go wrong! I even found, amongst the crusted preserving jars, the sealing rings without which these jars were unusable.

I cleared the decks and began. I picked my fruit, prepared my syrup, sterilised and rinsed my jars into which I packed my plums. So far so good. I prepared to place the first batch of jars in the oven only to find, to my dismay, that the sealing rings were too large. It was the Saturday of the August bank holiday weekend and I made the discovery at 4 p.m.. Undeterred I leapt into my car and scoured the shops in our nearest shopping town for the right size rings – to no avail. It seems that we were not the only household to be blessed with a bumper crop of fruit. By now it was almost 5 p.m., but there was just enough time to dash to the next nearest town, which was bigger than the first I had tried, to secure the elusive sealing rings. Alas again I drew a blank and as closing time drew near I decided that my only option lay in attempting to adapt the larger rings. Armed with a tube of super glue I sped home to be greeted , once more, with the sight of my dozen bottles of plums begging to be preserved to grace our table over the long winters evenings to come.

The cutting and gluing of the rings seemed to work better than I perhaps could have hoped; the only question was would the join be sufficiently sound to allow a vacuum seal in the lid?

The cook book recommended placing newspaper in the bottom of the oven to catch any overspill from the cooking plums. this seemed eminently sensible – after all I did not want Alice to return to a sticky oven.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees the book said. Now was this Fahrenheit or centigrade? – after all the book was written pre decimalisation. It did say a cool oven and 300 on our split level did seem to me to be rather hot but sobeit, that is what the recipe said.

I carefully lined the oven with the recommended newspaper onto which I placed the first batch of jars. Recommended cooking time was 40-55 mins; just time to have a bath as I was due to go out to dinner that evening. I had just settled comfortably for a good soak when I was alerted by the smoke alarm. I rushed to the kitchen to find the oven ablaze, fuelled, it seems by the newspaper liberally dowsed with syrup. With a bucket of water I extinguished the blaze and rescued the precious jars only slightly charred and somewhat smoky. Having cleared up as best I could I determined to try again this time without the paper, after all a few drips in the oven would be easily wiped away – or so I thought!

I resumed my bath. Half an hour or so later my nostrils were pervaded with the most delicious smell of cooking plums. Could this be right I asked myself as I lay in my watery cocoon. Somewhat apprehensively, half dressed for my dinner party, I approached the kitchen once more. On opening the door I stepped into a flood of hot syrup which was seeping at a steady stream from the closed oven door. When opened it revealed the jars bubbling and steaming merrily away like a mad alchemist test tubes, spilling their contents in varying degrees to all intents and purposes like little volcanoes. By now the flood had seeped under the refrigerator, washing machine et al besides covering a good half of the kitchen floor.

I was due out with the next 10 minutes or so but clearly could not leave things as they were until my return. There was nothing for it but to start mopping up.
The ensuing 15 minutes saw the worst of the mess cleared up but necessitated a complete change of clothes following yet another bath.

I abandoned all further efforts to rescue this first batch of plums and decided to leave, to the morrow, any further attempt at this now seemingly complex culinary feat.

I returned at midnight, mellow from a jolly evening, only to view once more the appalling mess and after a few minutes contemplation to find myself firmly stuck to the kitchen floor. I slipped out of my shoes leaving them in place amidst the wreckage of our kitchen – an exhibit worthy of the Tate; doubly so considering the original benefactor of that gallery and the nature of the substance securing my footwear to the floor.

I retired a saddened but enlightened man. Maybe my young bride had known a thing or two when she left those jars at the back of the cupboard to gather dust all those years.

Tomorrow I would try again before I start on the jam which I also intended to make – after all any fool can make jam! I did learn one thing however, plum syrup makes a most effective oven cleaner!

(Postevent footnote: Four years following this culinary disaster my lovely black Labrador ‘Woody’, still hated crossing the kitchen floor. I believe there was still some residual stickiness which probably made the poor dog feel as though he was walking through treacle.)

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New Year’s Eve

Posted by DMC on 10 June 2009 in Anecdotes |

As a young man I always treated New Year’s Eve as a special event. As a student I used to attend the biggest celebration of all in London, the Chelsea Arts Ball. This was an enormous event and one which was great fun. I always chummed up with a few other people to create some sort of tableau. I remember, the last time I went, it was as ‘Tramersmith’ — the last tram to run from Hammersmith. We built an almost full scale model of a tram that was suitably decorated and those of us who travelled on it, I seem to recall, wore Edwardian costumes. Why this choice I cannot recall other than the fact that it was more amusing than just wearing modern dress.

This wild party tradition rather died on me when I went to Australia and found myself celebrating New Year’s Eve on a beach with a ‘barbie’ (BBQ). It simply did not feel like the New Year as it did in the UK with those dark evenings and snow-covered streets. However, my interest in celebrating was revived when I went to Aden and found that Union Khormaksar Club, which I had joined, went in for fancy dress New Year’s Eve parties in a big way. I remember that we all took our servants along to ensure that we had a plentiful supply from the case or two and champagne that each of us provided. Everybody, just everybody, was in some form of fancy dress and the highlight of the evening was the parade and prize giving for the best outfit.

I remember one year I went as a Masai warrior. I was very slim in those days; nudging six feet tall with a 29in. waist. My costume, or rather lack of it, comprised a Masai headdress, a beaded belt who in which was stuck a dagger and little else. For the reader who does not know I should explain that the Kenyan Masai very tall, slim and elegant and, more often than not, totally naked. You will often see these splendid warriors standing elegantly tall, frequently on one leg, in those National Geographical Magazine type photographs of natives in Africa. In order to achieve the right effect I had my entire body painted with orange ochre and dyed a very small pair of briefs in the same colour, so that, too all intents and purposes to the naked eye, so to speak, so was I. The effect was completed by a full-length ochre coloured cloak and a spear taller than me. It was thus attired that I joined the Grand Parade.

One obviously short-sighted elderly lady, or so it appeared by the lorgnette which she held firmly to her eyes, hissed “disgusting” each time I passed her by. Nevertheless I am pleased to say that the judges did not share her concern, as I won first prize in the individual section.

Most of these evenings finished with a cooked breakfast at four o’clock in the morning and then an early-morning as a sun rose over the horizon. Great memories.

Another year, probably around 1962, 30 of us went as ” The Pill”. It must have been the time when the contraceptive pill was making headlines. A large number of our party comprised the typical Victorian family, all in splendid costume. The children in sailor suits, both boys and girls, some with hoops, under the beady eye of a well-dressed stern looking nanny. This group contrasted with, and was followed by, the modern family, two badly dressed parents with one baby in a pram (which was me). The whole parade being led by one of our members dressed in a six-foot diameter pill costume. My attire on this occasion was, predictably, a large nappy, made from a full-size bath towel (I think I must have put on a little weight by then) a knitted bonnet with blue ribbons, some matching bootees and a dummy made from a piece of cardboard and a half inflated balloon. I really was a sight for sore eyes.

I cannot remember whether we won a prize in that particular year but what I do recall was an incident on the way home, something like 6 a.m. on the morning. I was driving the car down Maalla straight and we came across a group of seriously inebriated Scottish soldiers who was stoning a taxi driver who was crouching behind his cab in an attempt to avoid the rocks which were being hurled at him. I had no idea what the altercation was about but it was quite clear that had I not intervened there was a severe danger that these young men were going to do something about which they would have been eternally sorry. I jammed on my brakes and leapt out of the car in all my glory, nappy, bonnet, bootees and all and shouted, in my best military voice “what on earth is going on here”. The voice alone, thank goodness, seemed to do the trick and the soldiers suddenly looked shamefaced and put down their rocks.

I then said that they would all be on parade the following morning and sent them packing. Thank goodness, in my disguise, they had no idea who I was and clearly mistook me for one of their commanding officers, or at least some sort of officer.

What I would have done had they decided to mete out the same treatment to me as they were giving to the taxi driver, I know not. However, I think is rather belies the old saying, that, ‘ clothes maketh the man’.

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The Cricket Match

Posted by DMC on 9 July 2009 in Anecdotes |

The first time I personally experienced leather on willow was on October 25, 2003 on the former military parade ground, Fort Malabar, Cochin, India – the first such match to be played on this ground since 1947 – that is Europeans against the local Indian team, the Cochin Cricket Club, dubbed by us for this game as the Kerala Killers, we being the Great British Geriatric Gentlemen.

I should perhaps explain why and how we came to be in Kererla at all. The culprit was one Jeremy Richard Simon Brinton (pictured on my right below) who together with his delightfully crazy fiancée, Susannah Margaret Smith decided to get wed in St Francis Church, which boarders the northern side of the said military parade. The wedding ceremony caused a minor sensation, being again the first such since independence in 1947. The battery of television cameras, camcorders and digital cameras was worthy of Madonna.

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The bridegroom, having received acceptances from 55 or so guests from all corners of the globe, decided to round off the celebrations with the cricket match against the locals. This was a stroke of genius except that he failed to ascertain just how good and keen were these locals. He compounded the imbalance by having absolutely no idea what experience he could call on from his guests. Me for instance. Although outwardly giving the appearance of being a seasoned cricketer – although to be fair I had never claimed to be such – being a very keen long-term MCC member, had never actually faced a ball in any form of cricket match in my life. Again some explanation is necessary as to how I had reached my 70th. year without having experienced the thrill of facing a bowler, who is intent on either removing my stumps or my head! The answer is quite simple. I was such a sickly specimen at school that I had a medical certificate, excusing me from all the physical exertion. The danger of being that the boots holding my feet to my legs would not be sufficient to prevent a severe strain should I trip up. The matter was only remedied after I left school, and my mother relented and allowed my tonsils and adenoids to be removed, which had apparently been poisoning my system for some years. I was then able to indulge in sport, but alas, it was too late for cricket, certainly school cricket.

Back to Kerela. Having accepted the invitation to the Brinton/Smith wedding how could I resist the golden opportunity of catching up with my lost youth and enjoying the thrill of actually playing the beloved game as opposed to being a sedate spectator. However, when I learned that the team we where to play was top of the B division – one of seven such local leagues – some serious thought went into compiling some rules, which would go some way towards creating a level playing field. This is what I came up with:

Rules for Cricket Match at Fort Malabar, Kerela 26 October 2003

The Great British Geriatric Gentlemen (Visitors) v The Kerela Killers (Home Team)

1 The Rules of Cricket shall apply except as follows:

2. The Game shall be limited to 20 overs each side.

3. The Home Team shall not bowl medium or fast balls at any visitor over the age of 40 years. Any such ball bowled shall be signalled as a 6 for the Visitors, thus ( Y ) shall count as a ‘no ball’ from which the batsman cannot be out.. The Umpire shall be the sole arbitor of the speed of the bowl following an appeal by any member of the Visiting side.

4. The Visitors may rest or substitute any team member at any time and as often as they like.5. No batsman may occupy the crease for more than 4 overs and , in any event, must retire immediately he scores 30 runs but may return later to complete the 20 overs, provided no more than 9 wickets have fallen.

6. No member of the Home Team may score more than 2 boundaries per over. Any number over 2 shall cause the score of the Home Team to be reduced by 4 runs and be signalled by a circular motion of the hand above the umpire’s head.

7. No bowler may bowl more than 4 overs.

8. All ‘throw –ins’ shall be under arm. Any deemed not to be by the umpire shall cause the offending team to be penalised 4 runs.

9. No batsman can be out first ball from any new bowler.

In the event it proved necessary to add one more rule when we arrived, and inspected the ground, and noted and number of cows and kids grazing the outfield.

10. Any batsman who strikes a ball, which hits a cow or kid shall be credited with five rounds.

Of course my objective was no more than the blindingly obvious one of wanting to give us a chance of putting on a reasonably good show!

On the morning of the match I woke up in the Residency, on the south side of the erstwhile parade ground, to the shrill cries of excitable youngsters playing football on what was to be our cricket square. The football match ceased and the groundsman appeared to prepare the pitch. He brushed off the dust and rocks, disturbed by the footballers, using a bundle of twigs. The outfield was not cut but was being cropped here and there by the cows and kids which had prompted the late insertion of Rule 10. A wide green coir mat was then laid the length of the pitch and a handsome red posted pavilion with exotic drapes (shamiyana) was then speedily erected on the north side. Finally the groundsman circumnavigated the boundary which he marked with the trail of chalk dust. There then was the setting for the duel to come. St Francis Church to the north, Fort Malabar Residency to the south, the Cochin Club on the west side and some undistinguished buildings to the east.

The Cochin Club is worthy of a further mention as it was here that we congregated for the reception following the wedding, with the bridal group being led in by a phalanx of noisy drummers. This club was clearly the smart place to come in the days of the Raj when I doubt that any member of the darker nation would have been allowed to cross the threshold other than in the guise of servant or waiter.

Following the reception, and as we passed by open windows on the way back to the Residency, I observed a solitary quartet of four elderly Indian matrons playing bridge in a vast card room where once the white memsahibs would have sat, over half a century earlier. A little further on, through another open window, I saw the ubiquitous billiard table, now gathering dust and possibly rarely used where once, no doubt, it had been the focal point on mess nights, billiard fives and all that. An echo of times past, times remembered, fading inexorably over the decades until, if ever, another wedding party, or roving cricket team takes to the erstwhile parade ground to try their luck against the CCC, and then passing through the club, will see nothing but what they see.

So much for the surroundings, what of the pitch itself? I was approached by what I took to be a journalist but what could equally have been a tuk-tuk (auto-rickshaw) driver, cricket enthusiast, asking if I could comment on the ground. I had no great difficulty in finding the bon mot, challenging, I said and then strode on leaving the enquirer to mull that over. In the event it was a fair description. Challenging indeed it certainly was. One third of the ground was hard baked mud, created, no doubt, by half a century of football games – organised, official and ad hoc. Somewhere beyond this mud flat lay the outfield, bare in parts or else covered by tall grass being grazed by the livestock (the lawnmowers!). The boundary ran through this variable surface marked by periodic chalk deposits, leaving it to the honesty of the fielder to swiftly assess whether ball had passed over an invisible line between adjacent chalk heaps some 20 feet apart – nothing as sophisticated as a third or fourth umpire for this match! Indeed whilst mentioning the umpires I should perhaps point out that we ended up with only one although there could have been a second one disguised as a fielder at square leg!

The reason for the sparsity of umpires was that all balls were bowled from the St Francis Church end, for whatever reason I never discovered. As there were no lbw‘s allowed, at least for the visitors, the other umpire was kept busy signalling no balls and leg byes and boundaries as well as the confusing new signals indicating runs to be the deducted from a team which infringed my special Rules. In the event when it came to indicating such transgressions the umpire had his own hybrid signal of four runs to be deducted, an action more akin to a tumble-dryer that had suddenly gone berserk rather than the circular motion of the hand above the head that I had suggested. The scorers, who had all the enthusiasm of the bearded wonder, were understandably confused from time to time and to this day I’m not certain that they ever really faithfully recorded what the umpire was attempting to signal. Where the patches of lush outfield occurred even a well-struck ball had little chance of piercing the boundary and twice the match was in danger of being abandoned altogether through loss of the only cricket ball in this thick grass.

The wicket, as I said, had been covered with a six-foot wide green, coir matting. This had the effect of highlighting the erratic undulations, particularly at the batting end. It occurred to me afterwards that perhaps the home team were not so compliant and accommodating as I had originally thought, indeed possibly quite the opposite. Having received a copy of our rules beforehand I suspect that they had decided to impose Rules of their own in order to swing back the balance. In this case to make us receive from one end only — the end with all the lumps and bumps with which, no doubt, they were all pretty familiar. I should perhaps have listened more carefully when the home captain innocently informed me that we must bowl only from one end. I had brushed this aside without really listening and without realising that this may have been the classic two upmanship ploy – i.e. how to be one up on a oneupman (shades of Stephen Potter).

To round off the scene I should perhaps say a little more about the splendid temporary cricket pavilion which would have gladdened the heart of many a hospitality consultant on an English county cricket ground. Four stout poles were erected supporting a sloping, highly decorative linen or cotton roof – ostensibly this was there to protect us from the sun although in reality it created a furnace below it when compared with the shade of the nearby trees were the semblance of a breeze managed to wiggle in. Beneath this canopy and surrounded by highly colourful and decorative cotton sheets were bright red plastic chairs generally speaking reserved for members of the paler nation. The bulk of the locals disported themselves, again many on red plastic chairs, or on the grass, under the shade of the adjacent trees.

Seated at the eastern end of this canopy and pavilion were the two scorers who took their duties immensely seriously and whose anguished cries rang out from time to time ‘who is the bowler’? Did I mention that the temperature was nearer 30°C than 25°C and heaven knows what degree of humidity, but certainly high. Indeed, it may well be that this high humidity saved the life of at least one or more of our alcoholically pickled visiting team some of whom I saw consuming a perfectly good bottle of Chivas Regal only a few hours before they snatched two to three hours sleep ahead of the onset of this great match. Thus was set the scene for the fierce battle to come.

The home team were immaculately turned out in whites whereas the visitors, excepting myself, were a motley crew in shades of white and grey with trousers of variable length and bagginess. As the doyen of the visiting team, in terms of age at least, I bedecked myself in a 1920s style brightly hooped MCC cricket cap with a new MCC tie to match. My existing tie being too badly stained from the Bolly of many seasons at Lord’s, not to mention the occasional dropping from an odd curried egg roll. My lower half was clad in plus fours or more correctly plus twos, as they were rather longer in the leg of than plus fours, crowned below between trouser and shoe with my best harlequin coloured socks, sadly not available in MCC colours.

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Thus adorned the spectators could have no doubt who was the self appointed but, believe me, reluctant, figurehead. All decisions between captains, scorers and umpires being referred to me. I suspect that the word was out that I was some ancient giant of the game, probably dating from W. G. Grace’s era, and thus to be deferred to on all occasions. Goodness knows who they thought I was, probably even they did not know but nevertheless the authoritative (and as you, dear reader, are aware and they were not) yet totally inexperienced air, was sufficient for their purpose.

So to the match itself. I had already determined that we must bat first and therefore win the toss. Dutifully, I spun a rupee coin. Our captain called tails. The coin, now resting on my left hand and carefully concealed by my right, not showing any of our gracious Queen’s profile I took to be tails and so declared without protest. Had the home team being put in first I envisaged they would have exhausted our hungover wedding party by batting through the entire 20 overs knocking up an impossibly high score which we, as visitors, would have no chance of surpassing. My way round this dilemma was to get our 20 overs in first and then the home team I assumed would quickly knockoff our miserly 20/30 rounds, which I anticipated, incorrectly as it turned out, would be all that we would muster. If I was correct in my analysis our agony would not be prolonged too long under the intense heat of the midday sun and we could all adjourn, at a respectable hour, to the nearest hostelry for well-deserved sustenance.

Our captain bridegroom opened with his best man James Grant-Morris. This pair acquitted themselves very well in the 4 overs allotted to them. The captains scoring 10 runs from 13 balls before he was run out and young James, holding up his end well, adding a modest 4 runs to the score, having faced 12 balls. It was then all change. The two fresh batsmen Fraser Slater and Bromley Oldfield taking the field. Fraser lasted only 7 balls before he was caught. Bromley, on the other hand, played a magnificent innings retiring, not out, after his allotted 4 overs, with a handsome score 41 runs from 31 balls. Then another wedding guest Jeremy Kilpatrick took the crease and scored a creditable 15 runs from 15 balls before being caught in the slips. Graham Millar was next stumped after 11 balls having scored 5 runs with Mark Taylor caught in the cover with 2 runs to his name after 6 balls Alistair Castle and James Exelby were next in both facing only 2 balls before the long trudge back to the pavilion. Alistair managing to break his duck before he was caught and this James unfortunately did not, before he was clean bowled. At this point of the game we were 120 for 7, which I considered to be a very respectable score, certainly far in excess of my most optimistic expectations.

I had elected to bat at 11 but captain, in his wisdom, decided there was at least one person likely to be less competent than I, so put me in at 10. I disdained the greying frayed, mismatched pads which the home team had kindly provided. Anyway pads and plus twos are not sartorially comfortable with each other. I would have liked a cricket box but this was a piece of very personal equipment not provided and not the sort of thing that one would think to pack. Whether or not any of our young men had secreted the protective equipment into their own underpants and were too sensitive to offer to pass this lifesaver from sweaty crutch to sweaty crutch, I know not. All I know that I was to take guard unprotected in the vital area.

Accompanied by wild cheering, both from the pavilion and spectators from under the shade of the trees, it was announced, to the delight of the crowd, that ‘Professor Mark Cato age 70 will bat next’. I was not 70 years old but nearer 69, however six score years and 10 sounded much better than 69 in publicity terms. So 70 it was. An innocent enough hyperbole considering the event, the day, the setting and the crowds excitement on hearing that someone twice the age of the next youngest visitor was going out to bat. Our team ranged in age from late twenties to mid-thirties and the home team, barring the ageing captain – late forties early fifties – ranged from 15 years old to mid-twenties.

I strode to the wicket, heart pounding, with the cheers of the crowds echoing encouragingly in my ears. My partner was our captain who had come in again, having retired earlier under Rule 5 after 4 overs. This time he added a valuable 15 runs to our score. Suddenly I was facing my first ball ever. Firstly, I took guard, a comic sight already or at least eccentric. I played to the gallery. After firmly planting my monocle in right eye I asked for middle and off. How to mark the spot? The coir matting, with its wobbly chalk line marking the crease, by now almost obliterated, making runouts and stumpings very questionable, helped me not at all. The wicket keeper ultimately coming to my rescue by deposited a pile of chalk dust in roughly the right spot.

The wicket, as I said, had been covered with a six-foot wide green, coir matting. This had the effect of highlighting the erratic undulations, particularly at the batting end. It occurred to me afterwards that perhaps the home team were not so compliant and accommodating as I had originally thought, indeed possibly quite the opposite. Having received a copy of our rules beforehand I suspect that they had decided to impose Rules of their own in order to swing back the balance. In this case to make us receive from one end only — the end with all the lumps and bumps with which, no doubt, they were all pretty familiar. I should perhaps have listened more carefully when the home captain innocently informed me that we must bowl only from one end.

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Remembering 60% weight on the front foot, I reminded myself, straight bat, don’t hang it out dry and be ignominiously caught behind or in the slips as I have witnessed so many times at Lord’s. Due to my advanced age it was decided to bowl to me underarm, kindly meant but nevertheless an insult, but who was I to argue! The first ball, which was free, in as much as by Rule 9 I could not be out from it, shot across the coir matting at the speed of a giant Anaconda intent on snatching its prey. It went by so fast that despite all of my skills as an erstwhile polo player, able to strike a moving ball from the back of a galloping horse with a flimsy 52 inch stick, I was unable to get anywhere near this fast moving target with a stumpy bat half the length of my polo stick. In fact, I was surprised at how heavy was the bat. Thus, my dream of an opening boundary was shattered.

After a plea from me the bowler reverted to normal overarm but the moment had passed. I chipped at the next ball outside the off but not far enough to risk a single. I then had to change ends with my captain, it being over. J. B. struck a couple of spirited blows which left me huffing and puffing up and down the pitch as we garnered more runs. After another over I was on strike once again. I managed a couple of mildly copybook shots, both of which were non-scoring, before I let loose with a fine blow straight into the safe hands of long off.

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I trudged back to the pavilion, defeated but not bowed, to the wild cheers of the assembled crowd. My first game then was over, well almost. Later, when we were fielding the captain used Rule 4 literally to ensure that I did not have to spend too much time in the field under the fearsome sun. With a duck to my name I wonder if this qualifies me to join the Radio 4 Primary Club – I must drop an e-mail to Blowers.

The match continued and far from being skittled out in half a dozen overs the gallant Great British Geriatric Gentlemen continued to build an impressive score, 129 for 9 before their 20 overs expired. I will draw a veil over the home side’s innings but suffice it to say that at one stage it looked as though we might win. It became quite clear to me that the alcohol was wearing off and our young men had their tails up. They could see a win in sight. This would have been totally unacceptable under the circumstances, particularly as we had seriously knobbled the home team with our special Rules. So serious were our team that they even refused to allow the versatile young bride Susie from bowling which she was very keen to do. I sent out clear instructions to our team that they were definitely not to win. Whether or not this had any effect at all I cannot tell other than to say that there was a very satisfactory conclusion when the home team passed our score in their 19th. over.

The traditional cricket tea took place in the Malabar House Residency – samoosas and rather thicker than normal cucumber sandwiches. Shades of the Raj still. Some things never change. Thank the Lord.

To celebrate my 70th birthday, one of my cricketing friends from Lords, John Fawkes, wrote and declaimed the following tribute to that match. Make of it what you will!

“MARK CATO’S CRICKET CAREER

When Mark was a young man his health was very bad
He couldn’t play like the rest of us, and this made him very sad

He never learnt the noble art of playing with a ball
He couldn’t bat, he couldn’t bowl and he couldn’t field at all.

But he loved cricket and many years ago, you see His love was requited: he joined the MCC.

To Lords he wart loyally year by year
Evan when it rained— he would always appear.

Supporting England, hosting guests, enjoying the scene Drinking champagne, smoking agars, always very keen.

But he never played the game until his 70th year
Now a learned Professor with absolutely no cricket gear.

How did it happen this incredible initiation
Well it happened with the full co-operation of part of the Indian Nation

Two young friends of Mark decided to get wed in an Indian City
It was so far away it seemed rather a pity.

But 55 guests flew in from East and West
For these Indian Celebrations promised the best.

The wedding Ceremony caused a sensation
Watched through a battery of television cameras by the astonished Indian Nation

This was the first wedding in the Church since 1947
And moreover the groom had challenged the Local Cricket X1.

The two elevens met on October 25th 2003
The temperature was at 30 C so Mark rested under a tree.

He wore plus 2’s and MCC cap and tie—nothing white
He certainly looked an amazingly eccentric sight

However, Professor Mark insisted on writing the rules for this 20 over match
The locals agreed and here was the catch

The home team was restricted in the runs each could score.
They could only bowl 4 overs each— but nothing more.

Mark ‘stitched up’ the rules so his eleven could do well
The Indians seemed to be under his spell.

They agreed to him being the rules making boss.
They even agreed when he fiddled the toss!

So first into bat went Mark’s team; they did very well
But batting in the heat was sweaty as hell.

So Mark sat quietly under his tree
Waiting at No. 9 for his cricket destiny.

At last it came at 120 for 7
Mark was now in this cricket heaven

To the wicket he strode with his bat in his hand
The crowd cheered; a rousing tune came from the local band.

Having inserted his monocle Mark took guard
Middle and off he said and thought the wicket looked hard.

A boundary on his first ball he wanted to hit
But unfortunately he didn’t get within a mile of it

Mark’s captain faced the next few balls
And they even managed to synchronise calls.

But Mark once again faced the foe.
He struck a huge and mighty blow

Was this the boundary to which all hats would doff
No, sadly the ball was caught quite brilliantly at ‘Deep Mid-Of.

Back to the pavilion he trudged defeated but not bowed.
His progress madly cheered by the watching crowd

A duck in his ever first cricket game.
It really was a terrible shame.

All out for 129
Now to bowl out the home opposition and in good lime.

The rules that Mark had set out at the beginning
Made it hard for the home team to contemplate winning!

The Indians were nearly beaten at one critical stage.
But Mark intervened as the wise old sage.

We must let our hosts win at any cost
And so on Mark’s instructions the game was lost

But the goodwill created obviously appealed.
For the locals cheered Mark’s team off the field.

And so ended Mark’s short lived cricket career.
Which did not start till his 70th year.

But now at Lords on a sunny bright day
He can talk about playing in India far away.

No longer an onlooker and for a very small sub.
He can now join ‘Blowers 4 Primary Club.

If by chance these lines
Are read by one who in
some common room
Has had his bluff called,
let him now take heart.

John Betjeman
Cricket Master – an incident.”

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World Monopoly Champion

Posted by DMC on 15 September 2009 in Anecdotes |

I will recount how became the first joint world Monopoly champion in 1977.

Messrs. Waddington – the producers of Monopoly – and the Financial Times got together and  threw out a challenge to find the world Monopoly champion. In fact it was the first joint world champions as one of the rules laid down was that only pairs should enter.  Thus, it was that my partner, Trevor Burfield and I, found ourselves entertaining another hopeful pair in his offices to play the first round. The rules was simple enough.  Competitors were to play, according to the rules of Monopoly, for a maximum of three hours, after which the richest pair would be  declared the winners.

We had little trouble seeing off opponents in the first three or four rounds. Possibly because Trevor had provided an ample supply of alcohol served by leggy mini-skirted lovlies. We also employed a very pretty ex-croupier as banker so that  the speed of transactions was dizzying. Our coup de grace however, was to produce Lord Attlee – the ex-Prime Minister’s son – as our referee. Of course, all of this was gamesmanship designed to intimidate the opposition and, on the whole, it worked, until the fourth round that was.

We set up the stage with the usual cast and props but we were thrown momentarily when the opposition produced Queen Counsel’s Opinion on the rules. It was to do with some obscure point about owning all four railway stations when three of them were mortgaged. The question that Earl Attlee had to answer was ‘Could the owner of the  stations claim the full rent if the opposition landed on the one un-mortgaged station.’

I’m not sure that I can recall what the correct answer was to this particular question but, in any event, the good Earl, considered the matter for a moment and then  said that he would deal with the problem should it arise in reality during the game. It didn’t, so he was let off the hook. However due credit to the opposition.  It certainly threw us off our stride at the commencement of the game but we soon recovered and, with the help of our lovely girls, swept them aside in just over two hours.

The final was held, some 12 months or so after the first round, at the Savoy in London. It was played in front of a phalanx of journalists and photographers and presided over by two referees and an umpire, who, in the event, were essential to the outcome of the match.

Liberally plied with gin and tonic the game commenced. Some time into the action, four of our opponents – there were two other pairs in the final – called timeout and disappears together. They returned some 10 minutes or so later and the game recommenced. It swiftly became obvious that the two other pairs had done some sort of deal whereby they were to see us off and then, presumably, to battle it at between themselves.  When this tactic became obvious to the umpire he stopped the clock and consulted with his fellow referees. He then addressed the opposition to the effect that although what they were doing was not strictly against the rules of Monopoly but it was ‘not cricket’ and  pleaded  with them to desist. They did and we swept them aside well within the time limit.

After a short break came the presentation of our trophy and our prize. The prize was £1000 each, which, in 1977 was a substantial sum and one that I could well have done with.  However, we will obviously expected to donate it to charity which, in our cups, we happily did to the delighted applause of the audience.

I sent Trevor up to receive the trophy which was a five bowled clay pipe which had been found in the temple of Mithras on the site of a new office block when excavations had taken place some years earlier in Cannon Street.

Of course, it was unique and therefore priceless. Imagine the gasp that went up when Trevor, receiving it from ‘Mr. Waddington’, managed to let it slip out  of his hand. But for the lightning reaction of one of the Waddington aides, this 700-year-old relic would have been smashed to smithereens. The lad dived and caught the pipe 4 inches above the ground. A catch worthy of the great English fielder, Derek Randall. Boys Own stuff. A great cheer rang out and calm was restored.

We were also presented with a  handmade Monopoly set – now left to my one of my grandsons  -  and a set of every other game made by Messrs. Waddington. In travelling home that evening by train, in a slight alcoholic haze, clutching  my prizes, I felt like Cinderella and Miss World all rolled into one.

A happy day.

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Treading the Boards at Sadler’s Wells

Posted by DMC on 20 October 2009 in Anecdotes |

When I was 19 I shared digs, in Gloucester Road, London with two medical students from Guys Hospital. One day, when they are deeply swotting for an examination, I was asked if I would stand in, for one of them, at Sadler’s Well, Rosebery Ave, East London (since moved to the London Coliseum) the home of the international opera company. I suppose I must have known that they were involved in some way or other with this company but had not taken a great deal of notice in the past. However, having agreed to help out, I was a little alarmed to discover that I had committed myself to appear in a live public performance of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers. I tried to back out but they pleaded with me to do it as they were way behind with their studying.

How could I possibly appear in front of a paying audience in an opera which I had never even seen? No problem, they said, Big John will tell you what to do when you get there. With some trepidation I reported to the theatre. There was no sign of Big John but, having explained that I was standing in for one of the students, I was told to strip off and put on, what appeared to all intents and purposes, to be a bundle of rags. As a rather naïve and innocent 19 year old, and having heard something of the reputation of theatre folk, I was rather nervous at the idea of removing all my clothes, including my underpants.

The ‘bundle of rags’ turned out to be a loincloth to be worn by one of the pearl fishers – me! That and nought else except for a turban. It was February and there was snow on the ground. It was freezing cold in the theatre when I was sent to ‘make up’. In my case, no comfortable, warm dressing room with mirror and lights, but a dark back room with a 4 gallon drum of, what looked like liquid, gorgonzola. The ‘make up’ artist dipped a 4 inch brush into this freezing cold liquid and painting me from head to toe, back and front – a random pattern of yellow, green and brown streaks. Apparently, I was now ready to face my public and, as yet, had absolutely no idea what I was expecting to do, or even what the opera was about. There was no sign of Big John.

Nobody else seemed concerned and some 10 minutes or so before the overture started, Big John arrived and introduced himself. He had apparently been warned of my substitution and my total lack of knowledge of the storyline. He kindly suggested that he would not tell me too much as I might get confused. He said he would give me my directions as we went along, immediately before we were actually to appear on stage.

Shortly after that he instructed me to grab the end of a huge, long fishing net, and, when he gave the signal, I was to drag it onto the stage and stand looking out to sea, while the chorus sang a blessing to the gods for a good catch.

I was to keep my eye on him and he would give me the nod when we were to exit. Apart from almost pulling down one of the scenery flats, with the net, I managed my first appearance without too much difficulty.

I remember little more of this performance except for the disastrous scene which I describe below. However, I now know that the opera was set in Ceylon (Sri Lanka, as now is) in barbaric times. I also know that this opera includes what, fast became one of my favourite male duets – Au depth du temple (In the Depths of the Temple.) This duet is sung between the two principal singers, Zurga, the chief and Nadir. They are recording their love for the beautiful princess Leila and swear that neither one will see her again. In the second act, Zurga catches Nadir and Leila together and sentences them to be burned at the stake.

Enter once more the pearl fishers. Standing in the wings Big John said that, on his signal we were to rush onto the stage and grab Nadir, tying him to the stake on the funeral pyre.

He warned me that the little Welshman playing the role of Nadir would struggle to make the arrest look more realistic. Once we had tied him up, he said, we were to stand back, with arms folded, to keep guard on him. BJ gave me the signal and on I rushed, as instructed. The Welshman was singing his heart out at the time but, unperturbed, I attempted to arrest him. Under his breath, and cleverly between his singing lines, he swore blindly at me and, with a sweep of his massive hairy arm, sent me flying across the stage. Gosh, I thought, this is realistic stuff. I picked myself up and tried again and, after a considerable struggle, and more sotto voce swearing, I dragged him to the stake and, using all my old Boy Scout skills, securely tied his hands behind his back.

As it transpired Big John was getting to the end of his time at Sadler’s Wells so, for a lark, he sent me on stage about 30 seconds early. Quite a long period of time when you are singing an aria. Thus, the ‘under the breath’ cursing from the Welshman. Apparently, I infuriated him even further with secure knot work in tying him to the stake. As all experienced thespians will know, and I learned to my cost, all that was necessary was to place the rope loosely in his hands behind his back, as they were hidden from the audience. The tightness of my rope around his wrists had prompted another string of mouthed expletives. To compound my error, having done what I thought was a splendid job of tying him up, I stood back, again as instructed, with arms folded, to observe the following scene. The flames and smoke from the funeral pyre were licking around his legs and I was no more than 3 feet from him, still on the pyre myself. Realizing my error, a minute or two later, I leapt backwards, 10 or 12 feet. I cannot imagine what an experienced theatre audience thought of my performance, if indeed any of them noticed that there was anything amiss.

I had been blooded and amazingly was not sacked. What’s more I was paid the princely sum of 10 shillings and sixpence (52 ½. p), so after paying my bus fare and buying a bun and cup of coffee, I was probably 12 ½ p. in profit.

What on earth were medical students doing at Sadler’s Wells, appearing in an opera, before an international paying public in the first place, you might well asked. I was told was told, and it may well be apocryphal, that when Queen Victoria went to the opera, two of her household guards were planted into the chorus line in order to be on hand in case of trouble. The tradition, so it seems, continued, after Victoria’s death, until modern times. Just how these two parts had ended up in the gift of Guys Hospital is lost in the mists of time, but there was I. Pressures of studying meant that I was to continue to stand-in in for my friends for some months to come.

My next role was that of a flunkey in J. Strauss’ Die Federmaus (The Bat) 55 or so years later. I recall little of what the flunkeys were required to do other than stand around looking decorative. However, what makes this particular role stand out was that it was the first in which I actually spoke on the stage. It was, I believe, in Act II, the ball scene. Three flunkeys were lined up as a serving table when one of the principals called for a drink of Madeira wine. The order was repeated in turn by each flunky, one of which was me. For that splendid piece of acting and oratory I received an additional one shilling and fourpence – apparently that was the going rate at the time.

A few weeks later I was to play my most important role, that of the priest in Gounod’s Faust. Again with absolutely no rehearsal. Indeed, it was more frightening as Big John, had by then, abandoned the stage and I had been promoted to his part. His name did not belie him.

When I donned on the priest’s cassock, which he had worn previously, it trailed on the ground but there was no time for the seamstress to shorten it. Add to that I was to appear on stage having little or no knowledge of what was going on having received my directions only few moments earlier.

Fortunately I had read the synopsis earlier that day, I gathered that the principal singer, Faust, had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for a return to his youth. The devil had conjured up a beautiful maiden for him, Marguerite. This synopsis however gave me no clue to as to the role played by the priest. Fortunately I did not have to appear until Act II, the fair scene.

I was handed a 7 foot long wooden cross and told to mount the wooden staircase I would see in front of me. Having reached the top I would see the entire cast on their knees looking up to the point where I would appear. I was then to bless them en masse, in the Catholic fashion, fore head, shoulder to shoulder etc. and then, when the music started, to return down the same stairway. All of this explained to me minutes before I was pushed into the wings. The one thing I had been warned about was to be careful how I actually administered the blessing. Big John, it seems, had been rather lax with his fingers and some of the audience had gained the impression that he was giving the V sign rather than a papal like blessing, and this had given offence to a section of the audience who had complained to the management.

Having been given the signal to go, I walked into the wings only to be confronted with two wooden staircases. It was too late to return to ask which of the two I was to climb. I went up the nearest. However, the overlong cassock tangled in my feet as my hands were fully occupied carrying the 7 foot cross. I’m told that it appeared, over what clearly was a scenic hill, in fits and starts. I had little idea of what I was to see when I arrived except that there appeared to be a vast number of people, on their knees, gazing upwards at me. The stage was darkened and the only spotlight was playing on me. Wow, my moment of fame. I dutifully blessed them in the best possible Catholic fashion but with nothing happening, and no music playing, became rather alarmed. I spotted Marguerite and a handsome young man kneeling next to her. In desperation I went over to them and whilst blessing them whispered, “What do I do now” the reply came, “Bless the flag”. I spotted the flag, duly blessed it and then decided I had had enough and turned to leave. At that point the music started, so clearly I was fortunate in getting my timing roughly right.

My priestly services will not required again until Act IV. Marguerite was in prison for the murder of her illegitimate child and I was to excommunicate her. This comprised me standing next to her with the poor girl on her knees stretching your hands up towards the cross. I was told to hold cross just out of her reach with a suitable sneer on my lips. I like to think that this was my finest hour in my musical acting career!!

Despite having successfully carried out my function splendidly, and excommunicated the poor girl, I’m pleased to say, that as she went to the gallows, a choir of angels proclaimed her salvation. Would they had proclaimed mine. Despite my stumbling appearance with the cross the management were clearly desperate enough to retain my services.

Within the season the operas alternated. One night The Pearl Fishers and the next night Tosca, and so on. I was certainly not in all of them and therefore might not appear from one week to the next. One night I turned up expecting to do The Pearl Fishers to be informed that the tenor had a sore throat and that instead we would be doing La Bohème.
There was no adult part in this opera for Big John and me, and as there was insufficient notice to drum up two of the small children who usually played the parts, we were told that we would have to be the urchins.

From memory, these urchins only appear in Act II, the market scene outside Café Momus, where Marcel and Musette are to meet, while the rest of the entire cast of merry friends mill around. Having dressed the two of us in ridiculously youthful and urchin-like clothes we were directed to skip onto the stage holding hands and then get into mischief, for around 12 minutes: stealing from the stallholders; being pursued; knocking over things, etc. What a ludicrous sight we must have made bearing in mind that BJ was 6-2” to my 6-0”. Still, needs must…, as they say. I wonder how many of the audience realized the absurdity of the situation…

My fifth, and as it turned out, last opera was Verdi’s Don Carlos. Ironically, it was the only one for which I ever rehearsed. It was a new production so everyone had to rehearse. I had a rather grand role as the captain of the guard. This is a five act opera set in the 16th century around a Franco/Spanish war. The soldiers appeared from time to time and, no doubt, as their captain, so did I. However, my big moment came in Act III when I was to rush onto the stage and warn the king that “The rebels were revolting”. Like Big John before me I was tired of being tied down to these evening performances, so, in a rush of blood to the head one evening, I tore onto the stage and delivered my line quite deliberately with the emphasis on the word revolting and at the same time cocked a limp wrist. The producer was, of course, furious and not surprisingly my musical career at Sadler’s Wells came to an abrupt end.

It had been a rich and unique introduction to the world of classical opera for a teenager which has lived with me ever since. This may be why I missed out on the pop music generation enjoyed by my peer group.

55 years later I found myself sitting in the Sydney Opera House waiting for a performance of La Boheme to commence. A group of five people came and sat next to me and after some shuffling about the seat immediately adjacent was occupied by an elderly gentleman. Passing the time of day we discovered we were both from the UK then, he said apropos of nothing in particular, “I actually appeared in this opera some 50 years ago”. “Really”, I said, “ Surprisingly, so did I.” It took us no time at all to establish that we had both been performing at Sadler’s Wells during the same season and this, now retired surgeon, who started his medical career at Guys Hospital, was the person who performed with Big John on the nights when I wasn’t there. What an absolutely amazing coincidence, even to the point of which, of the five people sat next to me on that evening, it just happened to be that one. Afterwards, I wondered what role he played in La Bohème. Certainly, not like me, an urchin. He was probably a far more accomplished actor than I, or at least, a better rehearsed one. Sadly we did not exchange cards otherwise it might have been amusing to have caught up with him in the UK, but maybe just those few magical moments were enough to spark a fascinating memory.

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China and Thailand

Posted by DMC on 8 November 2009 in Anecdotes |

20 October 2009

Not a very auspicious start to our journey when the limousine driver couldn’t find the house. However, having persuaded Emirates to pick us up at six o’clock rather than 7.15, in the event, this did not turn out to be a disaster. I cannot imagine how, or why Emirates would have suggested a 7.15 pick up for a 10.15 flight, everyone knows that the M25 can be a complete disaster and you can sit there for an hour and not move – if there has been an accident or there were the inevitable road works – and leaving three hours from home to flight departure, would be courting disaster from the beginning, meaning one could arrive half-an-hour or so before check in and be denied boarding.

At Heathrow there is never any guarantee how long security and such matters can take, so there is always a strong possibility with such a late pick up, one could miss the flight, however, having said all that, the journey to the airport went very smoothly and we found ourselves sitting comfortably in the Business Lounge with a couple of hours to spare.
We were able then to indulge in a very good meal, having made up our minds that once we got on the ‘plane we would doss down for the six-and-a-half hours and would not bother with the food on offer.

The selection of food, in the airport lounge, was extremely good. I started with some quail eggs and delicious smoked salmon, and then followed with one of the best racks of lamb that I have had for a considerable length of time, all liberally washed down with a few glasses of champagne.

This set me up for an early head-down once we hit the ‘plane itself. Sadly, it was a 777 and the Business Class seats really aren’t that comfortable, but the six-and-a-half hour flight to Dubai went reasonably quickly, uninterrupted by those incessant meals that one gets on such flights.

We had something like two-and-three quarter hours to kill in Dubai which, again, in the biggest airport lounge in the world extremely well-serviced with food bars, business centres etc, was no great hardship. We boarded our flight at 20.15 for Beijing and although, it was one of the airbuses, again, the Business Class seats had not been “modernised” and although slightly better than the 777 were still not particularly comfortable, but as the flight was of similar length to that from London – six-and-a-half hours or so – it was no great hardship. Unfortunately the flight was delayed by the illness of a young Arab at the door of the Business Class entrance to the ‘plane and it took about three-quarters of an hour before they decided they would unload him which meant they had to find his luggage in the hold and anything that he had brought on to the aircraft and deposited in the overhead lockers. I must confess I was a little bit apprehensive as to whether he had managed to smuggle on some bomb or other, which was not then associated with his personal overhead luggage and that we might be destined for some incident on the flight to Beijing.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded, and the flight was uneventful although we arrived somewhat later than scheduled. As I can no longer wield a pen Mick is of inestimable value in completing the Arrival and Exit Forms, which seem to go on forever. We were met by a nice young student, Alex ( Sun Ye Ping), who ferried us through to a taxi and to the Friendship Hotel, arriving there around half-past midnight. It took for ever to book us in as we asked for adjoining rooms as this would facilitate the good Doctor assisting me with the various bits and pieces – dressing, washing etc – for which I now need help.

21 Oct.2009

I managed to ring ‘my lovely’ in Cornwall just before I went to bed. around 1.30 a.m. local time,. I was awake at 4.30 after my normal three hours sleep despite the jet lag so-called, and taking my normal sleeping pills etc, however, I held on to around 5.30 when I got up and started dictating this blog.

From Clavering to the Friendship Hotel in Beijing had taken approximately 24 hours so I suppose I wasn’t doing too badly. It augured well for the lectures to come for which Alex told me there were to be around 130 students. I managed to make myself a cup of green tea by tearing the packet apart in my teeth, without disturbing the good Doctor. I did my morning exercises – as I do every day at home – but for the first time ever I was unable to raise my arm and opposite leg from the floor. Maybe it is something to do with the Chinese floors or the out-of-phase timing, but this is a rather an alarming development.

22 Oct.2009

Went to the University to meet Maggie and to check out the papers etc, all very much under control – it looks like 120-130 students so should be quite a good class. Then we had a very good lunch – far too much to eat – and then off to the Silk Market to buy some cashmere sweaters for ‘my lovely’ and Chloe – got the wrong sizes and the wrong colour, sadly because I had left Alice’s clear instructions behind at the hotel, so poor Mick is going to have to go back tomorrow and change them. As he is planning to go to the Forbidden City it not so far out of his way.

The Silk Market is one of my favourite shopping venues in Beijing. It is located quite a long way from the Hotel – way beyond the Forbidden City – but it is well worthwhile a visit. When I first came to Beijing the market used to be literally that – open air market stalls with a tarpaulin thrown over them – now it is housed in a five or six storey building but, nevertheless, retains much of the original souk (market) feel. I go to a particular shop – No 88 – to which I was recommended by a friend from the British Embassy many years ago. I have always beaten down the price asked and got what I believe is an good bargain from the dear lady who runs it. She almost weeps when I turn up but, nevertheless, I think that is all part of the game. I bought two beautiful sweaters – one for each of my. girls. Whether it really such a good bargain these days I’m not so sure. From the asking price 860 yuan each (£76) I beat her down to 550 yuan each (£48) but then someone has to make a living. All I know is that they are the best Inner Mongolian cashmere but they may well have been cheaper in M&S’s in the UK!

Before returning to the hotel we sat in the street having a cup of coffee and a smoke. I used my patent hands-free cigar holder which caused quite a stir amongst the local populace. If I had had a suitcase of them with me I could probably have sold them on the spot. At some stage I will include a photograph of this ingenious gadget on this blog

Then back to the Hotel for a bit of rest – I was a bit weary – before another heavy meal. Gosh, one seems to be eating all the time here! Wonderful food but really far too much! The great thing about the Chinese is that they don’t seem to hang around over their meals – we didn’t leave the hotel much before 6.30, got to the restaurant at seven o’clock and we were back in the Hotel around nine o’clock ready to go to bed early for an early start tomorrow for the beginning of the lectures. I shall be very interested to see how I manage physically. In the meantime the good old Doctor is doing a great job as my carer – he seems to have taken over wonderfully from Alice so I am extremely well looked after.

23 Oct.2009

So, first day of the lectures. Michael was an absolute star, got me up at 7.10 and not only helped me with my bits and pieces but washed me with my sponge, dressed me, got me down to breakfast and in the hall by 8.30. We were at the University just before nine when the lectures were due to start. After a little bit of a problem with the PowerPoint slide projector and so on – which seems par for he course – things got underway and, and I must say, went extremely well.
I was very pleased with the morning performance – I didn’t have to do it all – Bill Godwin did his bit and I did mine – I managed to keep my voice up at a reasonable volume and I believe kept the interest of the students. We then had a nice lunch – as always far too much – I try not to over eat at lunch time when I am lecturing as it makes me feel a bit sleepy. I then had a good rest until the mid-afternoon break when I took over again.

Of course, we went out to supper that evening with the students but did manage to get a relatively early night.

24 Oct.2009

The second day lectures also went extremely well. In the event they were apparent in 140 students. I must say having Bill helping me took some of the weight off my shoulders, certainly I have been pleasantly surprised at the energy I have been able to inject in the lectures and still keep the students attentive and laughing at the right time and so on.

Ironically, my greatest fear has been the lavatory, because the lavatories in the old block at the University are all squats – ceramic lined holes in the floor and you have to squat down and frankly the condition of my knees and legs at the moment is such if I got myself in that position I wouldn’t ever be able to get up again. What on earth happens to one’s trousers and bits and pieces that are down on the floor, in such a circumstance, well, one shudders to think. How does one get assistance to pull up a half naked professor? I won’t go into any great detail, I will just leave it to the reader to imagine the horrors of it. All I can say is thank goodness I was constipated and therefore had no need to squat in the lavatory.

We had our usual delicious lunch in one of the private rooms at the back of the students canteen. Lots of lovely of tofu, prawns and other exciting dishes that you don’t get in Chinese restaurants in London. The afternoon session again went well and after a short rest the helpful Mick got me dressed quickly to go to the famous Beijing Quanjude Shuangyushu Roast Duck Restaurant. The Dean, Professor Shijian (John) Mo, came a little later but when we arrived we were greeted by the deputy dean, Professor Zhang Lying and her lovely daughter Dear. I’m glad to say that the wonderfully helpful students, Alex and Bessie (Yan Guanzu) were invited as well.. It was a fantastic meal interspersed with toasts every few minutes. All terribly complimentary; ‘to the Professor for coming’ and ‘to his wonderful Doctor and so on and so forth – a lot of fun, really a great deal of fun. Again, despite the grand occasion it was all over by nine o’clock, of which I certainly approve. However, this wouldn’t go down too well at home – certainly not with my sister-in-law who frequently doesn’t start eating until 9.30 or 10 o’clock. Anyway, towards the end of the meal there was the inevitable presentation of gifts. Mine turned out to be a magnificent china violin decorated with very delicate flowers and a butterfly.– I have no idea of its significance but it was clearly an extremely fine gift. Different from European taste, admittedly, but, nevertheless, a beautiful piece of porcelain.

Mick, was also recognised. Indeed he has been recognised quite a lot of the time by the staff; his health drunk and thanks given to him for all the wonderful work he is doing in keeping me sort of propped up and sprucely dressed and so on.

They really appreciate that he is making it possible for me to deliver my lectures and, as such, he hasn’t been in the shadows in any way. They have referred to the good Doctor on many occasions, and on this occasion gave him a very nice gift too.

25 Oct.2009

Thank goodness this is the last day as I seem to have survived reasonably well. Fortunately only had one major lecture to give, then after that we had role play and I used some American students, Will, Rod, Nancy and Yolande who were absolutely magnificent. They really were – it was the best role play we have had in he 10 years or so since I’ve been doing this course. We played out a sketch, or at least a part mock arbitration that I had written many years ago in connection with Yangzi River Dam. The dispute was about a software failure in connection with the lifts that take the ships at the bottom of the Dam – anything up to 3,000 tons – and blow them out at the top. There were all sorts of claims and counter-claims and I had written a very amusing piece of dialogue between the barristers over various applications before and during the interlocutory period. That went down extremely well with the students.

On this last day I realised there was a rather smart looking, elderly gentleman at the back of the classroom and I wondered who on earth he was, so I went up and introduced myself and discovered he was an Italian Professor of Finance. Heaven knows why he sat in on my lectures, as I discovered that he had come to the university to see the Dean who was away at the time. He apparently speaks five different languages and seems to be one of those people who can absorb knowledge, so I suppose he thought he might fill in the time he and waiting to see the Dean to learn a bit about dispute resolution. Anyway he was a very nice guy so I invited him to join us for lunch on the Saturday and we sat and had a chat. Apparently, his field, outside his main business I suppose, for he is a lawyer but also a financial advisor, is the purchase of very expensive wines that get laid down and mature and then are sold on – very rarely drunk of course. I took an instant shine to this Professor and decided that I would probably follow up on him, when I got home, and have a little flutter on wine myself.

We finished fairly early mid-afternoon and then we had the certificate presentation. Almost all of the 140 students, for some extraordinary reason, wanted to be photographed with the Professor, which was absolutely crazy, so we did them five at a time and after about 40 of them dear Maggie decided that that was enough for the poor old Professor. So I left, or at least I tried to leave – went through the back of the classroom and they came out in hoards these girls. ‘Professor, Professor, I want your photograph with me’ and so on and so on, How could I deny them, so I stood there like a film star for 20 minutes or so being photographed with all these lovely little girls. After a while I just fled and when back to the hotel to have a short rest before going out to yet another final dinner and then, no sooner had I settled down, than the telephone rang saying not 6 o’clock, as originally planned, but would we be in the lobby at 5.30, so our rest was cut short.

One thing I should stress, and should stress, most strongly, is that although all of my time is given voluntarily, and unpaid, to this teaching assignment, none of it would be possible without the very generous support of the members of the Arbitration Club, which I founded 20 years ago, who has established a China Fund to cover the travel expenses.
As a result something in the order of 1000 Chinese lawyers, or would-be lawyers, reading for a Masters degree in international law have benefited. A truly worthwhile venture for a club whose motto is Excellence through Sharing.

Off we went to the restaurant where I had invited the American students, who had been so good in the role play. Maggie was there too, as was the larger than life Dr. Jonathan Ma – I was delighted to see him (hadn’t seen him for years) but he is the most extraordinary lively sort of person.

We had a delicious meal which, as it turned out was Will (Devenny’s) 24th birthday, who, instead of us giving him a present – we had no idea it was his birthday – generously gave us a wonderful bottle of some very expensive Chinese spirit which, turned out to be 52% proof – pretty potent stuff.

Unfortunately another large box for poor old Mick to carry who will, no doubt, end up looking rather like a Christmas Tree but, nevertheless, it was very kind of Will, who rather unexpectedly insisted on giving me big hug before he went off, obviously to celebrate his birthday with his friends where he was probably meant to be the whole evening but was too polite to reject my invitation to join us.

Again, it was fortunate that the evening was cut short fairly early – about 9 o’clock – we managed to get away back to our hotel – Mick and I sat and had a quiet whiskey together and had an early night already thinking about the morrow when we would have to pack – have one day left and leave about 7 o’clock in the evening for the flight to Thailand.

26 Oct.2009

Maggie had very kindly asked me what I’d like to do on my last day and I had suggested visiting somewhere in old Beijing — not one of the usual tourist attractions. So we packed up, left our bags with the hall porter and went off on a Mystery Tour with Alex and Bessie.

The destination proved to be the Emperor’s magnificent private garden ( Bei hai Park) behind, and adjoining the Forbidden City. Before we did that we went into some lovely old butongs, which is where the Chinese used to live – tiny little courtyards – hidden behind a substantial studded, frequently highly decorated, wooden door. The courtyard would have buildings on all four sides– a studio perhaps, bedrooms, dining room and so on with the elderly parents living in one part of it and the daughter, husband and children in the other and maybe an office in the other part. It was a great excitement to experience what China was really like once. The particularly butong we visited happened to be the studio of a well-known expert in the art of paper cutting. Mick bought a cutting of an owl.

Whilst in this little area of old China we had to travel round in rickshaws because no cars were allowed. Then we went off into the Park – the one behind the Forbidden City. It must have been be over hundred acres with its lakes ( Qian Hai –“Front Sea” and Hou Hai – “Back Sea”), temples and so on – that was really quite exciting. We had a very pleasant modest lunch by the lake. On the way out of the Park, before we left to go back to the Hotel, we came across a lot elderly people dancing and singing and exercising as they do in China and Mick joined in and had a little dance with one of the old ladies. It was so beautiful and so Chinese. A delightful finish to our trip.

Then back to the Hotel to pick up our suitcases and off to the airport with Alex and Bessie characteristically absolutely insisted on coming with us all the way, even seeing us through the departure gate, just to make sure that everything was under control and there were no snags. They have both been marvellous.

We had our flight then to Thailand on Air China, a flight of around four and-a-half hours – we were cramped up in Economy for the first time – but it went quite quickly and wasn’t too bad. Our driver, who I had used previously, was thankfully waiting for us at Bangkok Airport.

27 Oct 2009.

We left the Airport around 1.20 a.m and sped through the virtually empty motorways, arriving at the Anantara in just over two hours, which was amazing. We got to bed at about 3.15 and having had about three or four hours sleep – I got up about 7.30, and breakfasted in what has become very familiar surroundings. We were greeted at every turn by the staff who charmingly, and with great enthusiasm, welcomed us back.

So we started the day as if we had been here all along. Mick stayed in his room and did some updating on his reports and I went off to my usual sunbed. It was baking hot and very sticky so I didn’t stay at it too long, being the first day and then went back to my room at lunch time to ring ‘my lovely’ as I always do at this time of day.

After a very pleasant morning lying on that isolated little platform, opposite our Lagoon houses, I spent the afternoon on my shaded balcony – spreadeagled on very large with a terrifically long soft couch. Being absolutely private I lay there naked listened to music and reading – the sun comes round around two o’clock so I had a little more sun bathing, before preparing to go out for our first evening in town and our visit to Danush, the Royal Boss, the tailor where I had one or two things I need him to make for me.

As usual we caught the six o’clock bus into Hua Hin– the journey taking about five or eight minutes. We marched off to the supermarket, changed some money, got some tonic water and then went up to see our tailor. Unfortunately, Danush has gone home to Nepal – I always thought his was Indian but it seems he is Nepalese – and wasn’t there and probably won’t be back before we leave which is very sad but his assistant took my measurements for trousers and some shirts for Karl, my son-in-law, but unfortunately wasn’t able to even consider making my flannel wrap round draws, which I had so carefully designed and thought was a brilliant idea to go under my kilt for the winter months when I go round with the geriatrics at golf, on Tuesdays, so I am having to think again on that one.

Anyway, from there we went on down the Poolsuk Road to the Bam Bam – by reputation, with the locals ex-pats who live here – one of the best restaurants in the town – where we have been many a time, over the years, and had a meal. We sat next to a rather charming middle aged Dutch couple – they looked rather jolly and I rather insulted them by saying that their language was disgusting but I didn’t mean it quite as badly as that and I apologised – what I meant was that it is an extremely difficult language to master. I explained to them that I had a Dutch son-in-law and that I had spent nearly three months trying to perfect a five-minute address to the 30 odd Dutch guests who came to Karl and Chloe’s wedding, 16/17 years ago.

Anyway we got on very well with them – a very sweet couple. The guy told us that he retired at 50 and they were spending six months of the year travelling round the world, but rather sadly said, when I asked him what he had done for gainful employment he told me that. he had had a variety of jobs – estate agency and so on – that he had only worked to live – I find that a terrible indictment.. I think anybody who does a job and doesn’t enjoy it should stop and do something else, but there we are – everybody is different.

We then we hailed a took took back to our hotel, 120 baht – at least I beat the poor lady down who was driving to took took from 150 baht to 120.

She had a little boy with her, as she drove us back to the hotel and, predictably, when we got there, Michael – being the generous person he is – gave her a 20/30 baht tip which brought us back to the 150 but that’s typical of Michael.

Like Alice he is one on life’s giver. The world is divided between givers and takers – Alice and Michael are givers, sadly, I am a taker but I have tried very, very hard not to be for many years. So, we then go back to our rooms, as we always do, when we are here, we settled down over a nice large glass of Black Label – we enjoy that – propped ourselves up my bed and watched a video. This one was about the young Victoria which was a really lovely and interesting film. I learnt things like the fact that the young Queen Victoria, was the first occupant of Buckingham Palace – I didn’t know that. In fact, I rather stupidly didn’t know that she wasn’t even in direct line for the throne – but she was the only offspring of three uncles – King William IVth. had no children and as she was the daughter of the Duke of Kent, a fourth son of George III, he was next in line. – I should have known that but I didn’t. Anyway, it was a very pleasant film and so to bed.

28 Oct.2009.

Got up early this morning – Mick had a swim and we went off and had our usual fantastic breakfast – it has to be the best breakfast anywhere in the world – the widest variety of food and fruits – all sorts of goodies. We then went back to our rooms and on to the platform across the lagoon, opposite where Michael settled me down on my sunbed, covered me all over in oil, clamped on the I-Pod, so I could listen to some music. I started off the day with some adagio’s, which I adore, soft, sweet and gentle music. I have a fantastic range of music on my I-Pod – something like 4600 pieces –lots of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and so on – all the ordinary or commonplace stuff but, in addition, some lesser known works from composers like Field. At some future date, in my blog, I will list some of these more interesting pieces. So I lay there in the sunshine, happy as a sand boy until about 12 when I then read for an hour and then went to my back to my room.

Last night Michael had two great ideas. One, he suggested that I should get some one to write a paper about the miracle of my artificial urinary sphincter (AUS) ( See May 2008/Jan 2009 entry). How, through this great accident the miracle had happened and it should be written up in one of the medical journals. I agreed that I would try to co-paper with a Professor of Urology – I would write the lay bit and the Professor can write the medical bit – Michael suggests we have an MRI to see, or try to see, exactly what is happening with this AUS and perhaps the bio-plastic insert and try to discover why the whole thing happens to be working and retaining the urine. I am sure it will be a fascinating paper.
The second idea Michael had – and I think it’s a lovely one – is that we should make a short DVD that can be used at the beginning of my lectures in China when I can no longer deliver them lectures myself. The idea of being that I can welcome the students each time, in absentia so to speak, and I’m no longer around to deliver the lectures myself. I love that idea, so I shall work on it before next year’s lectures.

This morning, at breakfast, it was rather sweet, I was wearing my apron, which is what I have to wear because I am so messy now, and it is the apron which was designed by the school which my grandchildren attend and it is covered with little drawings, all done by the children themselves – I think they are four to five year olds.

Most extraordinary little drawings, how they see themselves – I think a psychiatrist could make a great deal out of it and underneath each little drawing is written the name of the child who drew it. A dear Thai lady came up and said I looked very nice and very smart – I don’t know quite what she meant but she was fascinated by the apron.
Then at lunch time, I went back to my room to do a little bit of dictation and had my lunch and then I spent the afternoon on my balcony before showering to go into town. Then back to the hotel for our whisky and video. That is the pattern of things day after day. We don’t get bored. In those few hours that I am lying around listening to music or reading I forget my disability, so it’s completely therapeutic. I don’t know how much more I shall need to say about these eight days because I can’t imagine that there will be many incidents to report but if there are I will do so. Otherwise you can take it that that is how we spend the time in this exquisite hotel at the Anantara in Hua Hin.
After watching the film about the young Victoria last night, who had the Duchess of Sutherland I think it was, as her Mistress of the Robes, I have now decided to dub my dear friend Michael Master of the Robes as he obviously helps me dress etc – that is his new title. He is also great on wiping my bottom; he doesn’t seem to mind performing this task, which, with my crippled hands I now finding virtually impossible. He is very keen on clean bottoms is Michael – he has done a great deal of inspections over the years and seen a great number of backsides! He told me, rather amusingly, of the number of smartly dressed people who used to come into his surgery and after getting them to undress was amazed how many of them didn’t wear any underpants!

Yesterday, I was on the sunbed outside and had to go and use the outside loo in the garden, open on one side but, stupidly having locked the door, I couldn’t get out. I managed to scramble my little swimming costume up to a respectable level and then the only way I could get out was to go through the opening at the end of the lavatory cubicle and struggle through the jungle, clutching my swimming trunks so that they didn’t fall off. Anyway, there we are – this is one of those things I now have to put up with, like it or lump it.

For my lunch everyday I have a nice box of fruit which dear Michael has to fill for me now at breakfast, unashamedly going up to the bench where all the fruit is. The staff don’t seem to mind. He fills it with mangoes, pineapples and water melon and some little bits of lime. This then is my lunch every day, while I am here, which is great. He fills the bottle with orange juice and again, the staff don’t seem to mind – so it is a very healthy lunch.

After my lunch of my fresh fruit, I go out onto the balcony and lie au naturelle after being oiled up by Mick – he applies the oil as if I were an Egyptian about to be mummified! I have an hour or so in the sun before I go on reading my current book which is The Last Apostle by James Becker, light holiday reading.

I found this book in the ‘left books’ tray at the Lagoon Bar in this resort. At first I thought it a pale imitation of Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ but as I got into it I realised that it was a very good and exciting story. Basically, it’s about the pursuit of a sacred relic by a maverick policeman and his estranged wife after the murder of his erstwhile lover in Italy who lived in a 14th Century house, near Ponticelli, where a Latin inscription, HIC VANDICI LATITANT (‘Here Lie the Liarers’) had been found hidden behind the plaster-work. It’s all about this couple getting embroiled in a chase over a number of months to follow a complicated trail of clues to find this sacred relic – which the Vatican itself has been looking for over the past 1500 years – supported allegedly by The Mafioso .

The relic allegedly proves that St Peter and St Paul (as they became) were agents of the Emperor Nero, who started what he called the “Christ Myth” in order to divert the Jews who were being rather troublesome at the time.

Now before I quote from the book (without the author’s consent, I must stress) let me say that I’m quite interested in this subject, though not morbidly so, having read Professor Dawkins’ denial of God, ‘The God Delusion’, and this follows, in a funny sort of way, the same sort of trail, and because of my ‘affliction’ I will obviously know whether God exists, or not ( as I believe to be the case) before most of my readers!

‘The Last Apostle’, is of course, as the author says, a novel; and to the best of his knowledge no documents resembling the Vitalian Codex ( the document buried deep in the Vatican’s most secret vaults which purports to evidence that Peter and Paul were Nero’s secret agents) – existed or ever existed.

However, quoting from James Becker:

“…the central idea of this book is founded on fact because, despite my fiction, there is some historical evidence that St Paul was an agent of Rome, employed by the Emperor Nero in precisely the manner I’ve suggested in this book…”

He continues:

“…for more information about this, readers are directed to Joseph Atwil’s, ‘Caeser’s Messiah.”

The hypothesis is that Paul and Titus Flavius Josephus – a 1st Century Jewish historian – was employed by Rome to foster a peaceful messianic religion in Judea in an attempt to reduce the rebelliousness of the Jews and their opposition to Roman rule. If this is true, this suggests an interesting piece of lateral thinking on the part of the Roman Emperors…”

A little further back in the book is another interesting, if provocative, quote:

“…in the 1st Century AD the Romans had been fighting the Jews for decades and the constant military campaigns were weakening the empire. Rather than initiate a massive military response, Emperor Nero decided to create a new religion based on one of the dozens of messiahs who were then wandering about the Middle-East.

He chose a Roman citizen called Saul of Tarsus as his paid agent. Together they decided that a minor prophet and self-proclaiming messiah named Jesus, who had died in obscurity somewhere in Europe a few years earlier after attracting a small following in Judea, was ideal. Nero and Saul concocted a plan that would allow Saul to hijack the fledgling religion for his own purposes.

Saul would first achieve a reputation as a persecutor of Christians, as the followers of Jesus were becoming known, and then undergo a “spiritual” revelation that would turn him from persecutor into apostle. This would allow Saul to insinuate himself into a position of power and leadership and he would then direct the followers – namely Jews of course – into a path of peaceful cooperation with the Romans occupying forces. He would tell them to “turn the other cheek”, “render under Caesar” and so on.

In order to achieve this fairly quickly Saul needed to “talk up” Jesus into far more than he ever was in real life. He decided that the obvious option was to portray him as the son of God. He concocted a variety of stories about him starting with a virgin birth and finishing with him rising from the dead and proclaiming these to be the absolute truth…”

Admittedly all of this could be said to be fairly fanciful.

In one of those hypothetical discussions about the existence of Jesus early on in the book the author says the following to one of the Senior Cardinals of the Vatican:

“…you can’t prove God exists but I can almost prove that Jesus didn’t. The only place where there is any reference to Jesus Christ is in the New Testament and that – and you know this just as well as I do, whether you admit it or not – is a heavily edited collection of writings, not one of which can be considered to be even vaguely contemporary with the subject matter. To come up with the “agreed” gospels the Church banned dozens of other writings that flatly contradict the Jesus myth.

If Jesus was such a charismatic and inspiring leader and performed the miracles and all the other things the Church claims he did, how come there is not one single reference to him in any piece of contemporary Greek, Roman or Jewish literature? If this man was so important, attracted such a devoted following and was such a thorn in the side of the occupying Roman Army, why didn’t anybody write something about him? The fact is he only exists in the New Testament, the “source” that the Church has fabricated and edited over the centuries and there is not a single shred of independent evidence that he ever existed…”

Is this a good point?

Finally, on that theme, allegedly (in the book) Leo X, the Medici Pope, apparently said that the Christ myth had “served them well”. This is very interesting and I would love to know from a scholar if it is recorded that Leo X ever actually said something similar to this.

In the Epilogue there are interesting things about St Paul (as he is known today); and he undoubtedly, according to the author, existed – born around AD 9 to wealthy Jewish merchants in Cilicia. As a young man he was a violent opponent of Christ and was active in identifying those he saw as heretic Jews and delivering them for punishment.

Tradition holds that he was on his way to Damascus to continue his persecution of Jews when he was blinded by a light from heaven and underwent his celebrated conversion, following which he remained blind for some time. Once his sight was restored he became an ardent Christian. This apocryphal incident may have been inspired by ophthalmia neonatorum, a painful weakness of the eyes that left him almost blind in later life.

The other important apostle, St Peter, the author refers the reader to a Spanish scholar, Josep Puente, who suggests that he may not have existed at all as he is only found within the pages of the New Testament, and there is no independent historical evidence to substantiate his existence.

As I say, a fascinating book, a good page turner – in my opinion, every bit as good as Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’. I certainly recommend it anyone who likes a good ripping tale – true or not – and I wish Mr Becker every success

In contrast to this Michael has read a biography of Hitler; a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer; then a book about the French Revolution and is currently reading John Stott- a book about an English evangelist. I, on the other hand, have now moved on to A.J. Cronin’s “Grand Canary”.

Around four o’clock, most days, we reckon is drink time, we order some ice and have a nice long gin and tonic and sit under the fan on the balcony before getting ready to go out in the evening to catch the six o’clock bus into town.
This evening before we had supper, we got dropped off at the most sophisticated craft shop, just outside Hua Hin, to purchase a beautiful silk square for Dr “Maggie” Quin (the kind, gentle and unruffled Maggie) as a very small token of our esteem and gratitude for the wonderful way in which she organised every single detail of our visit to China including the provision of a fresh red rose every morning for my button hole. After buying that we went back and saw the tailor to have a fitting for the trousers he was making for me. Mick ordered some shirts and then we went off to the Onn Onn Corner restaurant where we had a far better meal then we had the night before at the Bam Bam. Mike had had some hot Thai soup with prawns, mushrooms and coconut milk and some egg fried rice and I had squid, which was a little bit rubbery, with a lot of red and green peppers and things with it and a plate of fried rice. We had a bottle and a half of Singha beer – the total cost was 470 baht – roughly about £8.50.

30 Oct.2009

Last night, we went to the Onn Onn, again, not very adventurous but the food was so good last time we couldn’t resist it. We both had scallops – mine with a green Thai curry (quite a light curry) and Mick with coconut milk. He had a bowl of steamed rice and we shared a large plate of Onn Onn special rice.

Then, as is our usual wont, we got a took took back to the hotel where we settled ourselves down with our Black Label whiskey and watched Clint Eastwood in a really lovely film, Gran Torrino, not too violent, but the language was a little bit strong, and then had a fairly early night 10 o’clock.

31 Oct.2009

This morning Mick banged on the door at seven o’clock having had his second day when he had a swim having started off with six lengths – this morning he managed 12 – he is determined to get it up to 20 tomorrow, so he is getting fit and he is getting a little bit brown – he doesn’t sit in the sun like I do. After I had shaved, lying down, we went off and had our wonderful breakfast, filled my fruit box and then he put me on my sunbed, which is in view of our house, again oiled where I lay for an hour and a half of so with a couple of cool showers and a drink in between. I then read for an hour till one o’clock when I went back to my room for my lunch.

Then my daily telephone call to ‘my lovely’ I have never failed to make a call in the 47 years we have been married, not always getting through but I have always tried. Just the sound of her voice is enough to carry me on to the next day. It all seems to work very well.

The staff here are as wonderful as ever. They know me now very well having been here around a dozen times and the good Doctor – this is his third visit.

We had a talk with Tim Boda, the director/manager, and he told me that he had been following my blog from the beginning, which is interesting and even sent one of my jokes -the one about the two old gentlemen - to his father who found it amusing.

On the way into town tonight we called at the Craft Centre to pick up the silk square for Maggie and Mick bought one – not as nice as Maggie’s, – for one of his friends, Leen in Dubai. Then we got a took took to the corner restaurant near the Temple. Mick was very hungry. He had a bowl of steamed rice, half a dish of fried rice, some magnificent prawns in mango sauce and a terrific seafood soup to start with. I was very abstemious, as he was paying!

I just had some fried squid, some fried rice and we shared a bottle and half of beer. We got back incredibly early in time for our whisky and our film which was entitled Good.  It was an interesting film about a nice young lecturer – be involved in a moral dilemma against the power of the Nazi State – he couldn’t refuse to join them and hated himself for it. It was of particular interest to me because in the film,, he had written an novel about assisted suicide because his mother was ill and it was a terrible shock to him to see her going down hill. The Nazis jumped on this as an example of exterminating handicapped and disabled people and got him to write a paper justifying such extermination on humanity grounds and thus his dilemma.

So we got back last night from the market, had our usual whisky and watched a film and then we tried Will’s very kind and generous present of Chinese liquor – delicious but deadly stuff – the taste stayed with me half the night.

1 Nov.2009

This morning Mick did his 20 laps. For breakfast, I usually have a couple of poached eggs and some streaky back but I start off with a plate of fresh mango, pineapple and water melon smothered in muesli. I finish with a tiny piece of toast and marmalade and coffee, of course, and lots of orange juice. After breakfast I usually ‘bake’ till about 11 o’clock when I go for a freezing cold shower and a dip in the pool and a drink, then back for a little more ‘baking’ before reading for about an hour bringing the time out to up to about one o’clock, lunchtime.

I forgot to mention at breakfast when Michael, my Master of the Robes, rushes around collecting my food, he is now in strong competition with the staff who also seem to know that I need help and it is very amusing to see which can get to me first. One great feature of breakfast is a honeycomb that they hang up over a long wooden trough – about 2/3 feet long – with a bowl underneath it and the honey drips off the honeycomb into the trough and into the bowl and people help themselves. An ancient way of collecting honey.

This evening we decided to eat at the corner restaurant on Deachanuchit Road, just up from the Royal Boss tailor. Although it is a scruffy looking place is reputed to have the best food in Hua-Hin. Mick stayed and queued up while I went for a second fitting for my trousers.

Mick had an enormous bowl of sweet chilli, yam and shrimps – the chilli was a bit hot – but he managed to knock it down with two large plates of steamed rice with which he seems to get on well, in addition to another plate of prawns in oyster sauce, so he had a pretty good meal. I had, on the other hand, some mushrooms and fried squid, which weren’t fried in the end – it was all steamed – with the button mushrooms being a little disappointing but I did have a very nice dish of noodles and five tiger prawns which poor Mick had to peel for me because I couldn’t manage it myself.

We washed the whole lot down with a bottle of Singha beer and the cost tonight went up to 560 bahts, around a tenner – my turn to pay!. Then we got a took took back home and settled down to watch our evening movie.

The thing about this particular restaurant it is a hot and open to the air on two sides – just a deck really with a lot of cheap and nasty chairs and tables but the food is meant to be the best in Bangkok and its reputation is such that the Thai Prime Minister is said to have eaten there last year, which is probably the reason the food there is a little more expensive than the other restaurants in which we eat. The amazing thing is that they don’t have a kitchen – and cook, in the gutter, where they have row after row of all sorts of little pots on charcoal fires. It must be good because there is always a queue of people waiting to get in and 95% of the customers are Thai. The washing up is done in three enormous sort of vats – one of soapy water, where the first food comes off and then it is rinsed in another one, then finally rinsed in a third before being wiped.

You could be excused in thinking that from such primitive washing up you would get the most disgusting diseases and things and runny tummies but I have never had one yet. This incredible industry, all in the street, has to be seen to be believed.

I have decided that Michael is to have a third title, apart from Master of the Robes, dressing me, washing me and all the rest of it and in between, Jeeves attending to my other needs, I think I am going to call him the Kindly Reaper, as opposed to the Grim Reaper, dressed in a sparkling white robe, maybe with a hint of wings coming through his shoulder blades, and perhaps a glimmer of a halo. He knows so many dying and sick people and has buried quite a few of them over the past few years – I don’t know what it is about him that seems to attract him to them or the other way around – I suppose being a doctor he attracts those sort of people, thus the Kindly Reaper – even his dear sister Jenny died only a couple of weeks ago. Anyway that is my third title for Michael.

1 Nov.2009.

Tonight, before we got our usual six o’clock bus into Hua Hin we had been invited to visit Connie (Constance M Heinecke) whom we have got to know over the years. She is regarded as the Grande Dame of the whole place and lives in a beautiful penthouse apartment in the condominium, adjacent to the resort, Anantara. From this rooftop dwelling there was a wonderful breeze and an incredible view of the coast. The apartment has a surrounding balcony, copiously enriched by numerous and variable plants in pots forming a lush garden. Connie is a fascinating, bubbly 90-year-old and the mother of William Heinecke, CEO and chairman of “Minor”, a fast growing international company operating our resort, Anantara, and another 50 or more hotels and 1500 or so restaurants throughout Thailand and internationally. The Heinecke family are committed to ‘giving back’ to the community. They have set up the “Roy E Heinecke Foundation”, named after Connie’s late husband, The Foundation has, and is presently giving, around 300 full education scholarships in Thailand and this number is increasing. Separately, the family have taken to providing regular daily lunches at schools for more than 3000 children. Roy Heinecke worked in American Embassies in and about South East Asia. Connie was a advertising manager for Newsweek Asia for 15 years and woman’s editor for the Army, Navy and Air Force Times in the Korean War. Connie and Roy began their lives with nothing. With Connie we also met another lovely Italian lady, Angela Paola, who lives with her husband in the condominium, as well as in Northern Italy. A delightful interlude.

Then we went into town as usual and went down the little market, at the end of the Buddist Temple where Mick bought four pairs of Calvin Klein XXL boxers for 600 baht – just over £10 for four pairs.

Then we tried a new restaurant The Smile, which is between the Bam Bam and the Onn Onn. The Bam Bam was eerily empty – only four people in there tonight. I have never seen it so empty before. Something clearly has gone wrong – it was, according to the ex pat population who live here – the most popular restaurant in Hua-Hin in the old days. Anyway, Smile was very good. I had crab fried rice, which was delicious and a hot plate of steamed seafood. Mick had a rather poor supper of mussels which he hated because he doesn’t like messing around with shells and some steamed rice. He also ate half of my fried rice, but it was still an inadequate supper for him. With one bottle of beer, the total cost was a 500 baht. Then back to our room where we were going to watch A Handful of Dust – we didn’t watch it last night. Instead we watched The Eagle has Landed – the plot to kidnap Churchill towards the end of the war. Whether it was true or not I know not but it was a very good film.

2 Nov. 2009

This evening, on the way to the tailor, we noticed that there was no queue for the famous corner restaurant so rather unadventurously decided to eat there again.

Being so much emptier it was far more pleasant. We had, in fact, a very good meal. Mick had a bowl of delicious looking seafood soup which was watery and not too spicy and only one plate of steamed rice – he is getting very abstemious. We shared a plate of mixed seafood of scallops, squid and prawns in an oyster sauce. I modestly had a very cheap plate of mixed stir fry vegetables and seafood which I found very much to my taste. We shared a bottle of beer and the total cost was 360 baht.

After supper Mick insisted in walking down the main market. Every two or three minutes he would disappear into some stall or other – it was a real pain. It was very hot. He bought some more pants – he just loves buying these boxers – he must have about 74 pairs by now. Michael’s favours bright red underpants – which is somewhat rather strange because most of his clothes are a sort of grey or brown – rather drab, not what I’m called a snappy dresser! – I can’t help feeling he is a sort of closet dandy somewhere waiting to come out.

After a while I had had enough of the stifling heat of the market anyway and I tried dragging him away, and but he insisted on trying to buy a suitcase but I wouldn’t let him because it was too expensive.

That evening watched a film called Crash which was weird – I didn’t entirely understand it so I went out to clean my teeth at what Mick described as a key moment. Anyway he got a little cross with me but anyway it was OK. A lovely day and a very pleasant evening.

3 Nov. 2009

Tonight the hotel staff kindly invited us to participate in The Loy Krathong Festival which has been celebrated in Thailand since the 13th century. Of Brahmin origin, the Festival involves placing a decorated float, traditionally made of a banana tree stump, but now usually of Styrofoam (sad) into a river or stream to let the “loy”, or “float” drift away with one’s prays or wishes to the sea, where the Hindu God Vishnu resides.

The garden below us round the little lagoon was beautifully lit up and flowers everywhere. Each department of the hotel made an enormous floral wreath to float on the water, something like 2/3 feet in diameter, all different colours and shapes with incense and candles in them and there was a small individual one on every table.

The tables, with their white linen tablecloths were set out on the lawn under strips of coloured lights where we ate – a table having been reserved for us – and the food, row after row after row, of different types – were all in the little shelter where they give cookery lessons on the edge of the lagoon. The scene was enchanting and then, at the end of the meal, we lit our incense and candles and floated our individual loys on the lagoon as the locals sang the Loy Festival song.

It was particularly poignant in Michael’s case because, dear Jenny, his sister – who, of course, I also knew pretty well – died only two weeks ago and Lars Aby, a good friend from Loa, in Sweden, died only a few days ago, so we thought of them both as our little flower wreath floated away.

The wind got up during the night and there was a terrific storm, a lot of branches and leaves came down and things blew over and so on. So the hotel were extremely lucky to have such a lovely evening for their celebration. Amazing enough, talking about weather, when we left Beijing there was with a bright blue sky and the temperature was 23°C. We heard, a day or two ago, that it is now – 8°C and snowing -something that hasn’t happened in Beijing in living memory. What an amazing change and how lucky we were to have such beautiful weather while we were there.

Today, after the storm, it is very cloudy, in fact a little bit chilly. No sunbathing today so Mick and I caught up with e-mails and that sort of thing but the day slipped by very happily. We looked forward to our last night to Hua-Hin, to pick up our clothes, pay the tailor and so on and have our final meal in the Onn Onn and then and start thinking about packing for home.

It was pouring with rain this evening for the first time so we trudged around with our umbrellas through puddles and went to the supermarket where. Mick finally bought himself a new suitcase to carry some more of the junk that he had accumulated. Then we went for our last supper. Mick had some green Thai curry and steamed rice. Then back to the hotel to watch a very elderly Clint Eastwood in The Good the Bad and the Ugly. For a Western – a surprisingly good film.

4 Nov.2009

Our last day. Fortunately the sun came out and I was able to have a final morning on the sunbed listening to exquisite music. I packed up and returned to my room around 1.00 p.m for my fruit lunch and, with considerable help from Mick, completed my packing before spending a last hour au naterelle spread eagle on my balcony couch.

A note was delivered to my room, with the account, enabling an express checkout with the following charming message.

Once upon a time, in the Gulf of Siam,
on the coastline of Thailand’s Prachuap Khiri Khiri province
a Voyager known as

Professor Cato

Found the jewel of the King’s Heart

Seduced by the tranquil setting and lush gardens
as he was leaving this paradise known as Anantara Resor
he forgot that he had scheduled his departure at 17.00 hours

The kind people at the Anantara resor
sent this note as a gentle reminder, saying…

Thank You
We look forward to seeing you again soon.

This charmingly summed up a delightful stay.

Apologies to the reader for the surfeit of discussion about meals, but the food on this trip was absolutely delicious, as you will gather, particularly the seafood in Thailand.

Our car had been booked for 4 p.m. but turned up 20 minute late. However, we had a good driver who got us to the airport in under three hours. We then had time for a glass or two of champagne (or in Mick’s case whisky) and a light supper before boarding the aircraft around 9.30. The ‘plane turned out to be one of the new 380 Airbuses. The seats went flat and were quite comfortable and therefore we were able to sleep for a good part of the 6 ½. hour flight to Dubai.

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China and Thailand – Carer’s Comments

Posted by DMC on 11 November 2009 in Anecdotes |

Now the carer’s point of version of the same trip

CATO Mark The life of his Carer in China and Thailand. October 20- November 5 2009

Hi all,

I have now taken full control of his bottom. I cannot go through another episode like the one at Dubai airport. His bowels are now regular. In China I dreaded the time during lectures he would have to go. The university provides only squat type loos. I had this vision of me swinging around with the crouching professor with first, his trousers going down the huge hole or perhaps me his carer, or possibly all of us!

Aircraft toilets are a breeze. I stand guard at the unlocked door and flip in and out as necessary and finally zip him up as required with me standing in the passage with my charge trying to shout instructions from within. “Careful of my willie” (Evidently it was caught once in a zip by Alice) or “too tight – too loose-or my shirt’s not straight” and so forth.. Always I am getting complaints “I am too hot” but the bugger insists on wearing a vest, shirt, tie and blazer with a (wilting) rose in the button hole and all this when we are struggling along in Economy, Air China with a bunch of indifferently dressed ‘peasants’.

Anyway in Thailand following a bowel action I thrust him in the shower and take to him and his bottom with everything I have. He protests but he now knows I do not tolerate smart English clothes and ‘dirty’ bottoms. Yesterday he escaped and had a bowel action in the toilet near our lagoon. Serves him right for not telling me for because of his useless hands he locked himself in. Fortunately this tropical toilet was open to the jungle on the other side and you can imagine our professor escaping through the jungle with his underpants around his ankles.

He is a sun worshipper, nude, in the afternoons, when in the complete privacy of his balcony. It takes me around 30 minutes to set him up.. First I keep a constant look out to ensure no one is watching this pantomime. Next is the 6 blocker – all over- “rub it well in- now the 50 sun block on my cheeks nose and forehead”.

I shoot this container, it is a bit like a gun. One minute I am dousing a plant or the next not the professor but his hat or glasses. I am getting better. Next, is an oil for his skin which he wants all over and for me then to “rub it well in”. That for his private parts I drop from a height and there is no rubbing business, hoping, with the last movement left in his hands, he can deal with that himself!.

Just now, prior to sunbathing, he wanted to be shaved off some body hair, explaining that “Roman gladiators had this done to them-by plucking while they were taking a Turkish bath”. His eyesight was tremendous as he surveyed my work. “you’ve missed that grey hair by my nipple” and so forth. It took a good 20 minutes and I had a distinct feeling of being a shearer.

The first day here in Thailand, yesterday, I was utterly stuffed as we had arrived at 03.00 a.m. from Beijing. I got the master into bed and unpacked his bag and was not into bed myself until well after 04.00. Up again at 07.00, as I have learnt to do all my things first as there is no time once I begin with him. I got him going by 08.00 but then had to feed him, at breakfast, as well as collecting fruit in a plastic box and orange juice for his lunch. Apparently he has done this for the past 10 years or so, so the staff are quite used to it.

It was 11.00 before I was able to leave him sun baking while I returned to my own devices. At 13.00 a yell across the lagoon, ( I leave my door open so as to keep an eye on him) indicated he was ready to return.

I rush down to fetch his things but again he had quickly escaped to have an outdoor shower. Unfortunately, in the process he splashed a group of nearby indignant German tourists leaving yet another group for me to placate. Last night he insulted a Dutch couple sitting next to us at the ‘Bam Bam’ street restaurant by telling them that their “language is simply disgusting”. Normally we have a drink at 16.00 but I note that the time is getting earlier each day. Whether it is gin, champagne, beer, fruit juice or even coffee I put it in a plastic cup with a top and straw. The straw is long and I have been quick to learn to keep it out of his way as he continually knocks the straw and stuff goes everywhere. I didn’t drink then, as with my fatigue, I would have been unconscious but he was able to put a few gins away without any effect.

After dining in the nearby town of Hua Hin, with him decked out in a large apron, a splint on his right wrist-and another on the left to hold a ‘pusher’- him smoking cigars quite regardless of others nearby – we return to our hotel.

More grog. I have to undress him and then put on his ridiculous night shirt with 20,000 buttons- put toothpaste on his toothbrush, “not the yellow centered toothbrush, that is for the sunshine in the morning” but the “green brush for night” and all this using his revolting electric brush (I plan to clean it soon). I set him up with a drink, and one for myself, and we sit on the bed and watch videos. Last night it was ‘The Young Queen’ about Victoria. Really enjoyed it as there was a lot about Albert who came from Coburg, a city in Germany with which I am familiar, through my friend Andy Schneider.

Great film, but my charge kept talking as each scene reminded his hyperactive and intelligent mind of something. Anyway Victoria had a ‘Mistress of the Robes’ and my master has since promoted me to ‘Master of the Robes’. This includes his laundry “It is too expensive to use the hotel laundry”. So I am into his smalls and everything, plus keep his room relatively tidy. His servant, me, of course, with no time, sends his stuff to the hotel laundry!

What an adventure. There is something compelling and good about this caring. He could barely exist now without help. His disease has progressed and he can barely feed himself. If we are rushing or he is having too much trouble I grab the food and thrust it into his mouth. I must remind him there is no need for him to put his tongue out quite so far as it looks grotesque and is unnecessary, reminding me of a baby magpie. You have to be quick too as he snaps down on his food and a finger could be crushed. Pills I am getting better at throwing them in.

Really though he is an incredible fellow and his lectures to 140 Chinese and international students in Beijing were inspirational. The Chinese students obviously love him and frequently touch him. He has tremendous respect for the young and these people sense it. They were incredibly moved by him coming in spite of his affliction and I could tell that, apart from the wonderful lectures, he has inspired them about living and making use of every second. As his carer it is fun to play some part in all this and even to have made his visit possible. He is now planning to return next year but I do wonder what his situation will be then?. We can consider this at the time. I can understand that Alice at home is enjoying the rest I can provide- a reminder perhaps that carers too require rest.

Bugger, he is calling again – it is 16.00 already. He wants ice and a drink. I must be off.

Hugs and love to you all,

Michael XXXXXXX

30 October 2009 Reply from Penny Long at present in Australia.

Dad – your travels together make for great, hilarious reading….. with loving under- currents…..Have just read it aloud for the second time to the family (Jack, Mary and Leo)..I..think all people, as, a vital life education, need to step into the carer’s-role!!! Imagine, that, instead of military service??? Just read ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, a moving book but I must say, somewhat proudly, my life has somehow already been tuned to much of the meaning it conveys.

Much love to you and the Roman Gladiator,

Penny & Co!

P.S – Perhaps the Carer should put out a little snippet on his charge’s website….nothing too confronting and only with the Gladiator’s approval of course!!

Sunday 1 November 2009.

Well I have his bowels pretty much under control now though I need to cut back on his mango somewhat as he has me running a bit today. He calls when he is “ready” and, as a contribution, he has clumsily torn off a token mound of paper. He is keen for an initial flush of the toilet in order for me to avoid the gloomy mess in the bowl. However I retain a clinical interest in my work and steal a peak- feeling nearly as satisfied as his Lordship with a good result.

We finish with a clean with ‘baby wipes’ or if too bad he is thrust muttering back into the shower. I now run him as an extension of my own body and increasingly anticipate his requirements. In fact I retain that childish irritation when reminded of something I was about to do.

Yesterday he was out of synch with me. He pissed me off with his arrogance to others, insensitivity, intolerance and impatience. I can handle it, but I really get down when I see him doing it to others. So I had a downer and was abrupt with him and went through my chores in a mechanical fashion. Of course, knowing me as he does, he sensed something was wrong and continually asked had he said something to me that was wrong. I did not tell him, except to mention how in one group he said something about Muslims with others around, which perhaps even Muslims, might consider offensive. Also I have made him aware that not infrequently people close to us at dinner in street cafes move away when he attempts to dominate the situation.

Long swim ( I am back to doing many laps early each morning) and then back into my duties today. All is well and we are laughing and sharing as usual. It was an interesting experience though mainly from my reaction of gloom and where my chores were not the fun they had been or are again today.

The staff here like us and have asked us to join them for the special dinner tonight. We are chuffed by that.

The time slots when I have the master immobilised with sun baking are pure bliss for me. I am reading furiously and lie in the big couch overlooking the lagoon outside my room. In the shade of course, though with direct sun daily 10 minutes a side I am developing a healthy glow. The Asian food is really healthy and I am mad about the steamed rice, fish dishes and vegetarian food.

It is Sunday and we leave Wednesday,4th afternoon for the Bangkok airport, 2 ½. hours away by cheap taxi. Get to London about 07.00 a.m. Thursday 5th and I will go to Essex and “Lantern Thatch” with Mark and ‘hand him over’ to Alice. …..
I gain in strength with daily early swimming and the master I suspect is quietly envious as his body slips away. Up at 06.00 to walk alone on the beach then 30 laps in a tropical pool. I wake him at 07.20 give him green tea with a sealed feeder and straw, while he shaves and I return to wash, shower, dress him and before we depart for breakfast do his hair-his bloody hair. He always insists it is wetted, brushed and combed close and for formal situations I have to apply this terrible teenage type spray to hold it all in place. He constantly asks is it OK. I often confirm it is even though it might be sticking out from the sides giving him this mad professor look-which I think fits the situation anyway.

He can be incredibly impatient and intolerant though he says he is OK now and even Alice has remarked on his improvement. He was though clearly a bit hurt when I indicated he was now a B-, clearly a pass, but room for further improvement! He talked incessantly during that wonderful film “Crash” and at one stage was up and cleaning his teeth with the noisy electrical thing-next he has spilled all the pips from the regular mandarin I skin for him each night; insists I collect them all during the film-and they were everywhere.

Another night he dropped his cigar while smoking in bed. He was yelling blue murder for somehow it was under his back and my attention had been diverted by the usual and big blob of ash adorning the pure white bed cover. Anyway he missed all those wonderful nuances in Crash and then says he didn’t understand the film!

I have to be quick in town as he tires with the heat and I have little time to explore. He is bloody murder in negotiating for 120Baht (about $4.00) for the 10 km or so ride back to the hotel. He usually wins and those emotionally destroyed drivers who do get us back are resuscitated by me surreptitiously slipping them something near the correct fare. Money means much to him and like an automatic calculator he is always blurting out the Sterling equivalent of everything. He worries about the expense of every meal (most for both of us under $15 last night only $10.). He says he is not mean, and I agree, though at times you have to cross some sort of cattle grid to get to his clearly generous side. In all aspects of his life he is and has always been incredibly generous and in all those important aspects of life and not necessarily financial. I, along with others, continue to benefit with this generosity of ‘life’.

He is sun baking again with i-pod music which I set up for him. I then have to order ice for drinks for when he re surfaces at 16.00. Then it is all go until I tuck him into bed following the film at about 22.30,-switch out the lights then like a flash, next door to my room for a read.

Incredible fun and a unique experience-particularly with someone whose mind is so sharp and enquiring. I have an hour of bliss ahead. Must go.

Love from a carer (for there are many of them and the place would not function without).
XXXXX
Michael

Tuesday 3 November 2009

The hotel turned on a lavish feast to celebrate the Loy Krathong Festival. My master tore into the white wine from Chile and possibly overate, leaving him a hot sweaty mess. Not though, before we both were able to celebrate the lives of Jenny, my sister and Lars Aby, from Sweden both of whom had just died and who had been responsible for profound changes in my life. The hotel staff had produced a little float of flowers adorned by incense and a lighted candle which we launched and it floated away into the night.

It was appropriate too, that the candle would flare and die away only to flare again and this went on repeatedly for the next half hour. We were both sad with lumps in our throat and Mark was strangely silent.

His legs are definitely weaker. Following the feast he was impatient and wanted to go ahead to the room. I gave him the card key and had some misgivings of leaving him alone. Minutes later as I approached his room I found him a whimpering mess, crumpled up, impacted in the corner facing the door. He was frightened. I hoisted him up from under his arms. Evidently he had dropped the door card key and was endeavoring to pick it up when he realised he couldn’t move and was impacted, facing the corner.

His arms are useless and his legs weak, creating a near impossible situation for him. This is evident too as he climbs into a ‘took took’ when frequently he folds onto the floor before he can be rescued and plonked on the seat by me, the startled driver or a passer by. He has trouble now covering himself in bed and tends to roll out onto his knees as he leaves bed to do things. Frequently now, I see him in a praying position, with a bare bottom and the ruddy night shirt somewhere around his chin. I have suggested that as he is in the praying position it is a pity to waste it and that he should offer a quick prayer or two as he passes!

Yesterday when I called in to get him up there was blood everywhere. He had fallen out of bed, and struck his head on the corner of the bedside table, while trying to get up during the night for a drink. A shallow laceration on his right cheek will surely cause Alice some concern and possibly a rebuke for me when I return him to her tomorrow.

In spite of these difficulties his life and mine continue with hope and a sense of fun. Undaunted he continues to record his day to day life for his blog (www.dmarkcato.com) and always there is this tremendous enthusiasm to instill in others the fun which remains in a disrupted life. Constantly he is inventing devices not only useful to him but for others who might be disabled.

For ‘The Carer’ (I have elevated myself now to capitals), it has been a profound experience to be with him over the past two weeks. Apart from the occasional periods when I want to ‘kill’ him (and like a ritual he does bury his head in a basin of cold water every morning-making such a task easy-and we laugh about that) I am amazed at how the effective Carer grows into the life of the one being cared for. Just like a surgeon and good surgery you develop a rhythm and move with a minimum of fuss to the task. Anticipation of the needs of others appears the key. In the end you become a team a bit like an effective marriage. Those being cared for are very much part of the team.

He has said repeatedly how Alice and I react similarly to many of his situations, even saying the same things! This morning he paid me the best complement ever as quietly and patiently I was going about my duties. “Thank you my lovely” he said absentmindedly confusing me with Alice. As usual we fell about with riotous laughter.

And so now at the airport in Bangkok our flight is due to depart for London via Dubai. I have kept the mango down and here’s hoping.

Lots of love and hugs to you all,
Michael XX

Penny 6 November 2009

Well Done Michael!! And Well Done Mark Too of course (shall I give him more or less or the same exclamation marks??…….more is only fair after all you leave his sickness today……!!!)!!!!!
It’s been a wonderful story to follow ’cause the compassion keeps coming through too……so what we get a glimpse of, is this ‘curly-leaf’, ornate personality bravely and somewhat(!) loudly claiming/igniting his corner of life determinedly with what ever resources are available to him………and we get a good glimpse of you too which is extra good!
…..
Hugs, Penny & Co

On 06/11/2009, at 3:50 AM, Michael Long wrote:
Mark,
Letter to Mark Cato from Paris 7 November 2009.

That was one of the most incredible few weeks ever. You are an inspiration in every aspect. Not only have you, (and continue to do so), greatly enriched my life you are doing that for countless others, including those wonderful Chinese students. I know this will continue right to the end-whenever that might be.

You were an only child but now you have a ‘brother’-me- for that is how we will continue. It seems appropriate after knowing one another for more than 54 years.

When I arrived to enter the Paris Metro last night my pockets were picked with a cleverly contrived maneuver. The man was “helping” me through the turnstiles and I even thanked him and went on myself to help someone else. Immediately the bank in Australia was onto me trying to confirm a recent purchase attempt and their card and all the others were cancelled. My drivers licence and Hertz and Avis cards have also gone but try as I have there seems no way to cancel them until their offices reopen on Monday! Anyway apart from wearing safer clothing it highlights for me that there can be a vast difference between “helpers” and “Carers”- they are not necessarily the same!

I am pleased about you getting rid of those old computers. No doubt you will plan your room at home and just how you will move about downstairs and the bed well before they might be required. You might need a wheelchair too which has to negotiate various threshold about the house and without. Planning does not mean you will need them and perhaps the reverse will apply. I leave all this to you but fully expect to see you in blazer, tie and wilted rose right to the end. Simply, some things can never be changed.

Anyway thanks for the magic and the sharing.

Love,
Mick XXX
PS Those letters written to my family are attached. Now that I have safely left the country it seems safe to send them!

Letter to Mark after speaking to son Tom, November 10 2009

Mark,

I have just been speaking to Tom. He was really moved by “the letters”. He is a real giver and I find him as a result thinking of doing some quiet charity work in Thailand or I suppose any other country. He just wants to do it quietly without fanfare or reward save that from the intense pleasure you find in caring for others. Anyway it is an example of what you are achieving by yourself and through your friends. Just thought you would like to know.
XXX
Mick

The ‘Cared For’s’ Ripost.

As the reader will have noted, many of the good doctor’s events, on which he commented, were a mirror image of mine, if from the other side of the fence, so to speak. He is entitled to use hyperbole and, indeed, has made ample use of it as, no doubt, as I do myself from time to time. I will neither defend nor comment on the isolated severe criticisms made of my character. If that’s away my friend sees me then sobeit. To his credit he has not allowed such defective characteristics to interfere with our friendship. What I found fascinating about the doctor’s account is that where I saw myself as containing my innate impatience and, most of the time trying unselfishly to consider my carer by delaying requests to what I thought was a more convenient moment, this clearly, is not the way the good doctor saw it.

In a nutshell, I don’t think either of us, particularly show up well from this exchange; me as dominating tyrannical control freak and the good doctor as a passively irritated carer who doesn’t seem to have appreciated how immensely grateful I was for his wonderful care. Densely will it affect our friendship, certainly not – not after 54 years – but has the good doctor a future as my carer, even for brief periods? – time will tell, but I hope so.

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My Introduction to Golf

Posted by DMC on 13 December 2009 in Anecdotes |

A short while after I arrived in Australia one of my new found friends asked me if I played golf. Regretfully I had to admit that I did not. “That’s a pity”, he said, “because I belong to one of the finest clubs in Melbourne, Kingston Heath and I heard yesterday that they are looking for some new younger members.” Then he said, “Why not put your name on the waiting list anyway. It takes 7/8 years to get through and by that time you may well be playing golf and be happy to join.” So I put my name down, as he suggested.

3 months or so later, I received a telephone call from the Secretary of Kingston Heath informing me that, following a recent committee meeting, they had decided to admit a dozen new members, one of whom would be me.

Accordingly, I was to present myself three weeks ‘to play myself in’ with the Captain and another committee member. The point being, as I discovered later, that this ‘playing in’ was, in effect, an interview to see if I was the right sort of chap etc nothing to do with whether or not I was a champion golfer, although, having said that, I subsequently gathered that one was expected to have no worse a handicap than 18, ironically the same handicap as I play off today, as I write this, approaching my 70th. birthday.

As I say, I learned all this later on. Having thanked the Secretary and meekly agreed to the assignation I replaced the hand set and felt quite numb. The reason for this and my catatonic state was that, during the intervening three-months since my discussion with my golfing friend, I had done nothing to remedy my total lack of golfing experience. In other words, I had never swung a golf club in my life and yet was expected to present myself, three weeks hence, to play with, what would undoubtedly be, a couple of fine golfers, at what was, considered by some to be, the best golf course in Australia.

When I had recovered my wits, I realized that in order not to let down my friend, who had supported my application to join the waiting list, I would at least have to put up some sort of show. I seriously considered having my right arm encased in plaster and turning up for the match with the Captain pleading the excuse of a broken arm which was so bad that I had been told it could be at least the year before I would be able to use it again. This subterfuge would at least have given me time to learn to play the game. However, I decided that this would be a cowardly way out and so there was nothing for it but to learn to play in the three weeks left to me, or slightly less as it was by this time. After all, I thought, it can’t be that difficult as thousands of people play every weekend.

I purchased a secondhand bag of golf clubs and decided that I would present myself at the local recreation ground to complete my initiation and, possibly preserve my anonymity. I should explain, to those who are not familiar with recreation grounds in Australia, that this is where the general public play who cannot afford to join one of the expensive golf clubs.

So keen is the Australian working man to play golf that hundreds of them turn up at these public courses at sunrise, just off the 4 a.m., in the Australia summer. They pay a pittance and get to play on what are, inevitably, fairly basic and indifferent golf courses.

On this particular summer’s morning there were probably 100 or so golfing enthusiasts patiently waiting their turn to tee off. The system worked like this. On arrival, having paid the necessary fee, the aspiring golfer, places his ball in a metal race located near the first tee.

As the sun rises above the horizon the first ball is extracted by the local government employee who is charged with controlling the games. The ball is held aloft and the owner identified. A single player is then paired up with the next single player from the race and then the next pair until a four ball is made up.

So it was with me. “Dunlop 65”, he said. “Mine”, I said. “You on your own”. “Yes”, I said. “Next single, he said, and so I found myself on the tee, in front of this mass of humanity, with three other chaps, none of whom, of course, I had ever met before. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. My three companions drove off. It was then my turn. I teed up my ball, as I have seen the others do. I took my stance and proceeded to attempt to drive the ball towards the first green. My club whistled over the top of the ball leaving it totally unscathed. If you have ever heard 100 people take a sharp intake of breath you will understand my mortification. I steadied myself & tried again with the same result. Pandemonium broke out amongst the spectators. Following a third unsuccessful attempt to move the ball from the tee, to the delight of the crowd, the little man in charge, in the greasy trilby hat, came over and tapped me on the shoulder and refunding the modest fee that I paid, said, ” Here sonny, I think you had better go t’ the practice fairway”.

Blushing furiously, I bent down removed my ball and slunk off, realizing, as I left, that this game was a little more difficult than I had originally thought.

As a postscript to this unhappy event, I can report that, by dint of some considerable practice, I managed, three weeks or so later, to play myself into Kingston Heath. Six months or so after that I turned up once more to the same public course, in front of the same little man, and drove the first green. I doubt if he knew that I was the same rabbit who had failed so dismally on the previous occasion. But I knew, and that was all that mattered.

I remember one amusing incident shortly after I started playing. I came in one day to the locker room and saw a notice which said ‘Keep a Six off Your Card’. Having just completed a round with no sixes I studied this notice a little more carefully. A generous ball manufacturer was inviting golfers to send their sixless card in and receive the award of a free golf ball. I thought that was splendid and so sent off my card. After all it was true I had no sixes. I did have some sevens, some eights and even a nine but no sixes. I honestly did not realize that the idea was that you are not supposed to have taken any more than five shots on any hole. However I did receive a free golf ball with a rather amusing letter accusing me of being cheeky or words to that effect.

 

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