Saturday, January 17, 2009

Monday 15th November 1943

26 furlongs.

This afternoon, when I was working quietly, all alone in the small book binding room, I had two visitors. Hardy said, in his slow drawl, “Hullo Son,” and Brown said, “Oy, oy, Steve! Thought we could hear your footsteps in here! We've been roaming about the block looking for you.” I showed them the books and all the gadgets, with pride. They played with the book presses and guillotine, glanced through the unbound books, examined the various binding papers etc. whilst I carried on working.

Finally, Hardy sat down and sleepily read aloud a couple of pages from the middle of a Hugh Walpole book (title unknown). Nobby sprawled upon a bench, I continued gluing and cutting. The extract was quite entertaining...

After they'd gone I carefully finished the job I was on, for it was Jeans' “The Stars in their Courses” and destined to remain in my possession. (Yes! a low pilferer; they've another copy in the library.)

Came back to the ward an hour after tea time, resigned to emptiness until supper. However, on my locker I found a bowl of tea, three slices of bread and margarine, and two pieces of cheese, which had been collected by Hardy and Brown. That was a pleasant surprise.

I'll add a few more notes. Just after I finished the above, there was a surprise medical round by our two MO's and a new psychiatrist. as he stood before each patient, our Major told the visitor (almost indecently, in everyone's hearing) various details of the case.

“This is a Depression. He also has feelings of guilt, connected with an act of cowardice whilst in action...”
To “Blind” Ginger Vernon; “He still receives 15 dollars a week from the Canadian Mounted Police – don't you, Vernon?”

The visitor was more interested in Ginger's eyesight, than in his romancings. He asked a few apparently technical questions then said, “Prognosis?” At this point at least, the Major was discreet. “I'll explain later” he replied... “And this man fell down in a fit, whilst crossing the street in Cairo... not epileptic...”

But he apparently knows little about me and merely said, “Ah, this is Corporal Gibbons...” “No, Corporal Dawson,” interjected the other MO. “Ah, yes!” said the Major, and hastily passed on.

Strolling past Nobby, the Major said, loudly enough for Nobby and three more of us to hear, “This is Brown. There's nothing to say about that man except that he is mentally defective.” This was really rich, a ludicrous insult. If he knew Nobby as well as I do, and have heard him talk as much as I have about books and ants and the war and his past experiences, the worthy MO would not have made such a fantastic mistake.

However, he was more accurate about Hardy, in the next ward. Rumpling his fair hair, Hardy just now remarked, “The old man said something about me feigning death and used some long, Latin word...” “Was it “Catatonic”?” I asked. “Yeah,” replied Hardy lazily, “That's it. Catatonic.”

A few weeks ago, old Hardy was in a sort of stupor. Looked like Schiz. Cat. He's always amiable and he had a tired smile then, too. Once he stood before the serving table at lunchtime but forgot to hold up his plate. “Now, what have I come here for, I wonder?” he drawled. He'd stand motionless for half an hour or so, smiling slightly. Or lift a cigarette half way towards his mouth and leave his hand there for ten minutes or so, statue-like.

Eventually, one forenoon, old Hardy forgot to stand-up, as it seemed. Accordingly his knees gave way and he fell like a falling tree. They took him to ward 10 (still beaming amiably) and after a week, and two doses of shock therapy, he came back wonderfully improved. Now, he has a colossal appetite, and a slow, dry humour.
Partly he makes a trio with Nobby and I, in place of Jock Hart, who now lives in the UK. We hope.


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