In England Now
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In England NowA Running Commentary by Peripatetic Correspondents" Frozen!" Was it unconscious irony when officialdom
first coined this phrase ? How apt it is-but one wonderswhether they realise the cold, numb, frustrated despairwhich grips a man when he hears he is not to be releasedin his age and service group. Near madness clouds themind : for five years and more one has been buoyedup with dreams of leaving it all behind ; of rejoiningone’s wife and home. The calculated date stands ringedbefore one and crawls nearer hour by hour. Thereare but a few short days to go. Already preparationsare under way at home-perhaps a celebration party ofold friends, a job fixed up, appointments made-then,and not till then, cold icy officialdom strikes to " freeze."The date that was ringed for joy now stares in empty
mockery from a meaningless calendar. One wondershow to tell a wife without too great a hurt. One seesa long-worked-for job going to a rival of student days ;the holiday of holidays planned and booked now can-celled-no wonder one is frozen, benumbed in mind and
soul. Is this the brave new world where all is fair ?Is this the reward for working to get " That little extrasome others haven’t got " ?-Wild schemes of rebellion jostle through -one’s head,
till finally one falls into an uneasy paranoic sleep, halfglimpsing pre-views of the soulless bureaucratic Bevan-world to come. * * ,
We were very grateful for the steaming coffee whichappeared in tin picnic cups on a tin tray, together withwhite rectangular sugar-lumps the like of which wehadn’t seen since last in Cairo. And the coffee- tastedgood-unusual in local establishments. For more thanan hour we had been sitting in the hall space at the endof a short corridor, between the street and the houseproper. In addition to the through-and-through draughtwe were also subjected to a still more piercing down-draught from the bomb-damaged roof. Even in thehalf light our pale faces were clearly reflected in the glass-fronted show-cases on the opposite wall. The oldlady who sat behind the counter was wiser. She wasperhaps better acclimatised than we, but she wore
a heavy winter coat, while we had removed our Burberrysand our hats on arrival, so warm were we after a briskstep which in the last stretch had tried our wind.
It was of the nature of a social visit-or so we imaginedby now. We had introduced ourselves as serving witha captain whose name recalled girlhood memories." Do I know him, Ser ? I remember him as a lieutenant,and his father before him !" And she lapsed intoreminiscences dating from the sunny days of Edwardianpeace, names of commanders-in-Chief (Mediterranean)falling from her lips like so many " Hail Marys." Asshe leant back from a position of confidential whisper,the smoke from her cigarette framed poster-portraitsof members of the senior service to whom we wereintroduced in turn. Truly we were with the great!And she herself is a great lady, known to three generationsof fighting men by her christian name-Carmela. Yearshave dealt kindly with her. Her hair is silver, herhealth robust and apparently unaffected by the shortageof siege and the bombing. But from one eye her sightis forfeit. " I prayed, Ser. I prayed for four hourseach day, and God spared us." " Yes, Mother." Herson and some grandchildren had joined us.We scarcely dared to mention the purpose of our visit ;
but her son had just brought in some new " pieces."" These are verra fine, Ser." And we were at onceprivileged-Private View ! Members’ Day ! Wrinkledfingers smoothed each piece against the black velvetwith suitable descriptive incantation, and revealed ineach a characteristic beauty. A’ few were fine, likespider’s web against some dark pool, transformed tosilver in the light of morning sun ; others showed likedaisy-heads on summer’s lawn, or again as frost-patternson winter’s pane. We ignored the larger net-like varietieswith emblem-cross emblazoned and those which in oneword declared their origin. Carefully we chose thedainty and the pleasing, for our Christmas, or birthday,or home-coming presents.But could we really offer to purchase ? cm We were
paying a call. Fine points of the art had been explained-indeed, we had seen uncovered, but a few minutesbefore, the very technique of the fabrication ; the pinned-pattern, part-wrought, with all its peculiar pendant" pirns." Yet, still we felt that these objets d’artcould scarcely be translated into pounds, shillings, andpence-or rather pounds and shillings, for war-timevalues here are such that only paper-money is seen.
Reassurance came from the recollection of a remarkby a lady-artist that while " acceptance " of her water-colours gave her satisfaction, the attached white labelsbearing four red letters were what afforded true delight.Thus emboldened, we put together our selection, gently,one by one.... Quick hands almost seized our choice;an appraising eye searched the pattern....
" Yes,Ser, that iss good, verra good ! Registered, Ser I Ipost them registered today ? No ? You take them!Verra fine work, Ser. What I say, just my war-timework, but verra best, Ser ! "We shall treasure those Maltese lace, collars and hand-
kerchiefs dearly. * * * .
A soft answer may turn away wrath ; and so may anexplanatory one. On a beautiful sunny afternoon I wasat Lord’s sitting behind a man with black hair, when Inoticed that he had two symmetrical patches of greyhair where the great occipital nerves become cutaneous.At the end of the game I.--asked the man -bluntly if Icould have a photograph of the back of his head. Afterlooking at me in blank astonishment he told me to goto the devil. Whereupon I told him I expected some suchan answer and elaborated my scientific reasons for myquestion. After being assured that the grey patcheswere not indicative of dangtrous bodily complicationsand that if I could give complete physiological andpathological reasons for their presence I would be F.R.s.tomorrow, he became a mollified accomplice and promisedme a photograph if I paid the expenses. Eventually Igot the photograph and paid the bill, but the photographwas blown to smithereens in a blitz. I would like topossess another photograph to see if any changes in
pigmentation have occurred after all these years.’* * *
I am rather addicted to news-films-that is, I revelin the short coloured Disneys and Disneyoids whichpass under that name-and since there is a news cinemahalf-way between the Royal Society of Medicine and thehospital where I do my outpatients I often indulgethis taste. I am also rather an amateur of psycho-analysis, and it has gradually been borne in on me thatthese films exhibit phenomena which are of someanalytical interest. Thus they - are almost withoutexception about animals ; this means that there needbe no restrictions in portraying -behaviour and motives,and the animal is a well-known symbol for the uncon-scious. Further, they have to be turned out with suchfrequency and regularity that the process of compositionmust have become by now one of pretty free association.So perhaps it is not surprising that they should recurrentlyportray some very basic features of the human mind.Two points particularly occur to me. One is the
common situation where Pluto is trying to rid himselfof a fly-paper by frenzied efforts which only result inattaching it to another part of his anatomy, or, Mickeyis having similar troubles with a coiled spring or a mouse-trap. The other is where, having escaped (as he thinks)after a furious chase from some enormous pursuer suchas a bear, the hero-animal finds himself sitting downunawares in the creature’s lap or backing into him.
I leave all this to the professionals to interpret; theywould find it an interesting field for research. But itdoes seem to be related to questions of compulsive andobsessive behaviour, such as the unsuccessful attemptswe all make to lose unpleasant traits which are after allpart of ourselves, and the unhappy regularity withwhich our more primitive emotional drives catch upwith us and make nonsense of our higher aims.
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When in one of his recent " Good Health " talks theRadio Doctor was extolling the value of fish as food,at one stage his professional interests overcame’ hisgastronomic, so that caviar was distinctly described asthe " roe of the surgeon." Would this be " chirur-giophagy"?