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March 2017

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The Lost City of Z and other Explorers' Tales
23rd March 2017

 

 

Explorers' Tales

 

 

Cover of The Lost City of ZJames Gray’s The Lost City of Z , based on the book by David Grann, tells the incredible true story of one of the most famous explorers of all time, Percy Fawcett. Fawcett travelled to the Amazon at the turn of the twentieth century and found evidence of an advanced civilisation that once presided there. He proceeded to visit the area two more times, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925. Fawcett had forty million avid readers on his expedition and his status as a legendary explorer has only continued to grow, with Sir Conan Doyle basing a character on him, which in turned inspired the writer of Jurassic Park. To mark the release of The Lost City of Z, we have collected ten books that document the stories of other famous adventurers.

 

 

 

The Worst Journey In The World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

This is a memoir of Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition, written by a member of the crew Apsley Cherry-Garrard. The book has been praised extensively for frankly and thoroughly exploring the difficulties of the mission, the causes of the tragic outcome and the nature of human suffering under extreme conditions.

 

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

From 1804 to 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States. This extensive and unique biography of Lewis is based around journals and letters from Lewis, Clark, Thomas Jefferson and members of the Corps of Discovery, and details the route, interactions with Native Americans, scientific discoveries, wildlife and the landscape. Lewis and Clark’s story is currently being adapted into a television series starring Casey Affleck and Matthias Schoenaerts.

 

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures Of Stanley And Livingstone by Martin Dugard

Tracing their stories through alternative chapters, Into Africa follows Britain’s foremost explorer Dr David Livingstone who vanishes whilst finding the source of the river Nile as well as Henry Morton Stanley who is commissioned to search for him. With the first account finding a man lost and miles from civilisation and the latter following Stanley as he is awakened to the beauties of Africa, this book offers a fascinating and varied insight into a story of extreme challenges, political intrigue and larger than life personalities.

 

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit  by Michael Finkel

The most recent entry on the list and perhaps the strangest too, this remarkable book centres on Christopher Knight who in 1986 disappeared into a forest and lived there for 27 years. During this time, he developed ingenious ways of storing water and food as well as staying warm. Using detailed interviews with Knight, this book offers a vivid and thorough survival story that explores ideas of solitude, the communal and what forms a good life.

 

Captain Cook: Master of the Seas by Frank Mclynn

Captain James Cook was firmly at the centre of the age of discovery, and this extensive biography offers an account of an outstanding seaman who was constantly at war with himself, his environment and the various institutions he encountered. It also vividly and engrossingly presents a journey into the Pacific Ocean and the crew’s various encounters with the islanders.

 

My Life as an Explorer by Sven Hedin

One of the greatest explorers of the nineteenth century and also a revered storyteller, Sven Hedin describes a life completely packed with breathtaking stories of adventure, from raiding the burial grounds of a secret Asian sect to discovering lost cities in the Gobi desert and outwitting Turgut bandits. This is easily one of the most exciting adventure books ever written.

 

Through the Brazilian Wilderness by Theodore Roosevelt

An engrossing account of survival and adventure, this popular book sees Roosevelt detail his participation in the 1913-1914 Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition, undertaken a year after his failed bid for re-election. The team set out to find the headwaters of the River of Doubt then paddle the river to the Amazon. This book is in equal parts funny, poetic and informative, and is therefore a must-read.

 

Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery      

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a French pilot better known for his work The Little Prince, was both an adventurer and a literary giant. His poetic reflections on the life well lived, combined with his recounting of various calamities he and others faced while flying the mail over the Sahara and the Andes mountains, makes this one adventure book no man should be without.

 

Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger

Explorer Wilfred Thesiger originally went to these deserts to escape the oppression of Middle Eastern society. While there he became the first man to cross the Rub’ al Khali, aka “The Empty Quarter, ”one of the largest sand deserts in the world. It is composed of 250,000 square miles of the most deadly terrain on terra firma and he succeeded in crossing it not once, but twice, between 1946 and 1949. Thesiger's simple style of writing magnifies the barren beauty of the desert regions he crossed and his intimate descriptions of his Bedu travelling companions are enhanced by the wonderful selection of black & white images included in the volume.

 

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson 

Joe Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates set out to climb the treacherous Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, but after an accident throws Simpson into a ravine, he is forced crawl down the glacier whilst seriously injured. An amazing tale of courage, fortitude and the will to live, despite dire circumstances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sally Emerson Relives Her Life
21st March 2017 - Sally Emerson

 

Reliving My Life

 

Picture of Sally EmersonSally Emerson has been a novelist and journalist for more than thirty years. She has written for the Guardian, the Sunday Times and the Washington Post. The novels Fire Child and Heat shocked when they were first published in 1987 and 1998…. ‘The sexual politics run from the extravagant to the outrageous,’ said one reviewer. Are they still shocking? They certainly are, says their author Sally Emerson, six of whose novels are being republished this year.

 

 

 

 

 

Fire Child coverI had a phone call. Quartet wanted to publish all six of my novels as Rediscovered Classics. I read them again and time travelled through my life. At once I was back in Vincent Square in Westminster, the setting of my first novel Second Sight. The literary and thoughtful girl in love with Shelley is very much the person I was, in the house where I used to live (although thankfully I never discovered my dear mother having sex on the kitchen table).

Soon comes the rage of Fire Child set by Highbury Fields in London where I also used to live. Its cool and detached heroine seduces men from the age of 12. They patronise her, as I was patronised as a pretty young girl, and they boast, but in the end it is she who gains all the power, not them. Tessa Armstrong is my alter ego, the me who escaped the shackles of respectability. The dishevelled boarding house where Tessa’s lover lives is one I visited when I looked for a house to buy. It is all my life, but variations on my life – autobiographical in the details of feelings and smells, with the settings and houses even more urgent than I remembered, almost as though the houses I had lived in had made the stories up.

The novel Heat, described as a ‘classic tale of obsession in a claustrophobic city’, centres round our old house in Washington DC. Washington is a strange place, of dreams, built on a swamp, seeming so respectable with its fine white monuments but actually anything but. It is a city on the edge, far more so than old London that is strong and settled and very able to withstand anything as it always has. The house felt very vulnerable and the plot arose out of that.

While living there I found an old rusty sword in the back of the ‘crawl space’ or attic cupboard lined with sandalwood to keep out the moths and discovered the tale of the two male members of the family who lived there and had committed suicide, shooting themselves in the head. (No wonder we managed to buy it cheaply). Outside insects beat against the windows, racoons scuttled over the lawns and the humidity drenched us. I received a letter from a boyfriend who said I’d been the love of his life, when I knew I hadn’t. I read it up in the attic, which was always too hot, with growing disbelief and recall the black looping writing against the white paper. It was a fantasy of his and from that came the idea of Heat’s heroine, unsettled because she can’t get pregnant again, fearing her old boyfriend had come to take her back.

Reading my six novels is not like reading an autobiography but they do cover the ground of a lifetime, from growing up, to savage lust, to love affairs, babies, fear for them, and then a sense of love as part of a bigger picture. But I am as much the young girl troubled by her mother’s sexuality in Second Sight, as the mother in Separation afraid for her child. It is all still in me, in the way that we all contain all our past selves like Russian dolls, one inside the other.

While my novels time-travel me back and I burst into rooms where my heroine sits looking out of a window or draws a moth or seduces an older man with chilling innocence, everyone has moments when the outer dolls get shed and you’re back where you were. A photograph takes you back, an old friend, something you eat, or you walk along a childhood street and suddenly you’re a girl or boy in untidy school uniform. You are still that person, as well as the person you are now.

Did the novels improve in quality over the twenty-year period they were published? Do we ourselves improve as we pass through our lives? Yes and no. There’s a polish and command in the later books, a perspective, but a novel like Fire Child published in 1987 demands attention. It wants to write something that hasn’t been written before. It wants to tell you of a girl who can make any man love her because of her smile, and it tells you of how the young girl coolly seduces and destroys the older men who preen themselves before her. But I tried hard not to make it too erotic. It was about something cooler and stronger and more powerful than that, and it is her detachment, her lack of emotion in her diary entries, which shocks.

This raging book was written after I had had my first and very beloved child. She was gentle and spirited and loving but the novel I wrote in spare moments was anything but. It was as if the experience of having this extraordinary child had unleashed my creativity, connected me up to the moon and the devil as never before (she is a novelist herself now, Anna Stothard). I was never quite as angry again.

But Fire Child’s heroine Tessa is still my dark friend, as dear to me as the sweetest of my acquaintances, because it isn’t just the good people who make up the texture and the clamour of our lives but the bad people too, and our own dark sides – the people like Tessa and her lover Martin who dance on the edge of time and make hay with the devil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Eating Well can lead to Living Better
20th March 2017 - Myles Hopper

 

How Eating Well can Lead to Living Better

 

 

Myles Hopper and Giles HumphriesMyles Hopper and Giles Humphries are two school friends from Devon who founded the healthy recipe box company Mindful Chef, delivering ingredients and recipes to thousands of households, including those of sporting stars such as Victoria Pendleton and Andy Murray. Now they have produced a book, The Mindful Chef: Eat Well, Live Better, featuring 70 of their favourite recipes, each divided into five sections with information on how nutrition can make a positive impact on one's life in the areas of sleep, stress, energy, exercise and the gut. Below, Myles describes how and why the pair became preoccupied with healthy eating.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mindful Chef CoverAs Millennials, living in busy London, Giles and I suddenly came to the realisation that a lot of people including ourselves weren’t living the healthy lifestyles we wanted. Everything moves a little bit faster in a capital city and we started pining for the slower paced life we used to have back in Devon where we grew up. We know how lucky and privileged we are to have access to things like jobs, phones, the internet and tv. However, these do not come without a cost. We work longer hours, we always seem to be dealing with emails and our attention is taken up by our phones or the latest shows on Netflix. We have less time for personal relationships or taking time for ourselves away from our phones and computers.


There does seem to have been a rebellion against this way of life in recent years as people (especially younger people) are trying to find a healthier work / life balance. More and more of us are trying to find information on the positive effects healthy food can have on our mental and physical state. Never before has healthy eating been more present in the news, supermarkets or online. Being more mindful for us is about taking more time for oneself, being in the present and being more mindful of your actions.

 

One of the simplest ways we could translate this was through food and cooking. Cooking is a wonderful way of being more conscious of yourself and escaping the shackles of technology while you concentrate on a recipe and cook your food. We also came to realise that food can have a major impact on the way you feel. For example, we have a chapter in Eat Well, Live Better dedicated to stress and how nutrition can help you feel better. The stress we have to cope today is very different to thousands of years ago but the way our body copes with stress hasn’t changed. We have to deal with stress on a daily basis. We stress over our jobs, our families, our financial stability - even commuting can be stressful. If you are constantly under stress it can lead to a weakened immune system or shut down non-critical functions in your body, such as your metabolism. This can lead to imbalances resulting in further stress on the body.

 

There are lots of ways you can deal with stress and nutrition is just one of them. By avoiding foods that are likely to place further stress on your body and replacing them with foods that can actually help manage stress you’ll actually feel a lot better. For example, essential fatty acids found in foods like salmon can actually have a positive effect on psychological and physical stress. Another example is green tea. It contains L-theanine - a proven stress reducer. Green tea can help inhibit cortisol, which the body releases in response to stress.

 

We believe cooking should be fun and enjoyable and using good-for-you ingredients shouldn’t be seen as boring or bland. Our book is testament to the idea that healthy eating can be really easy and delicious. When you cook with the right ingredients and eat the right foods you really can have a positive impact on your mental and physical state. Living in a modern world where we all seem to be constantly being pulled in different directions
it seems imperative to us that everyone try and take more time for themselves and be more conscious about the food they are putting into their bodies.

 

 

Shannon Cullen Selects Her Top Ten Baby Books
16th March 2017 - Shannon Cullen

 

It’s never too early . . .

 

 

Shannon CullenShannon Cullen is a publishing director for children's books. She has a new baby as well as a toddler. Originally from New Zealand, Shannon now lives in London with her family. She is the author of I'm Wrecked, This is My Journal: The Alternative Baby Book for Frazzled Parents. Below, Shannon talks about the joys of sharing books with babies and selects 10 of her favourites.

 

 

 

 

 

You mayCover of Wrecked, a Journal think that once you have a child, the early weeks of tiredness mean that reading a book just won’t be top of your parenting agenda. And that’s probably true – for you at least. As a lifelong bookworm, I actually had lofty plans for my first maternity leave. However, all my ambitions to get through my ‘to be read’ pile were very quickly revised when I realised that reading was the fastest way to make me drift off. Not ideal when you’re responsible for a small person. But thankfully your baby has other ideas. It’s simply never too early to start introducing books to a child.

Babies respond to contrasting black and white in the earliest weeks, and are fascinated by shapes and patterns. Both of my children stared at their first books almost as adoringly as at me and my husband . . . Some black and white baby books have lovely soft, crinkly pages, which are great for stimulating other senses too, and remove the worry of hard cardboard scratching baby skin, especially when everything starts to go in their mouth. Gradually a baby can start to discern colours and then a whole world of entertainment opens up, and books with textured pages mean they can hit and rub their hands over the pages. They’ll be fascinated by the pages turning too, revealing another bright picture, a flap to lift or a button to press and make a sound.  

But what about reading aloud to your baby – when to start? How soon before you’re able to recite the words to Dr Seuss or We’re Going on a Bear Hunt without even looking? The answer is: as soon as possible too! Even though they don’t yet understand the words, listening to language will help a baby’s speech development. At the very least they will recognize a familiar voice and be comforted by the lyrical tones as you read to them. You can even use audio books in the car.

Until I had a baby I never appreciated quite how hard it is to write a good picture book. But having read hundreds now – and many of them repeatedly – you soon learn why classics (longstanding or modern) are classics. Some of our favourite books are the ones that rhyme, as there is something very soothing about the bouncing word play. But the greatest books are fun for both parents and children, and a bookseller will be able to recommend something that’s perfect for you. It’s especially satisfying to discover a new author and illustrator, or a book that helps with your baby’s next development stage.

The bedtime story routine can start as early as you want it to as well. A baby will love being cuddled up to you, and it’s great bonding time. (Best to pick a moment in the evening when both you and they are the least frazzled, though!) And don’t forget that pictures are part of the reading experience too. They stimulate questions for older children, but also allow you to extend the story by pointing out things like little ladybirds or stars on the page to even the smallest child.

Books allow you and your child to learn together as well as laugh out loud – shapes, colours, numbers, nursery rhymes and then moving on to favourite characters or themes. The earlier a child becomes familiar with books, the more fun you can both have with them. It’s not recommended that babies have any screen time, so books are the perfect tried and tested form of entertainment. And once you start, don’t stop! We all have a favourite childhood book and being the person who creates that magical memory for your own child must be worth working towards.

 

10 recommended books for babies:

Baby’s Very First Book: Faces by Jo Lodge – excellent crinkly black and white fabric book, including a mirror for the baby to check out their own reflection.

Baby Touch First Focus: Things That Go – vehicles in black, white and yellow, with different noises to make as you read.

I Kissed the Baby! by Mary Murphy (currently out of print) – lovely black and white book with splashes of colour, with an excuse to tickle and kiss your little one.

That’s Not My Pirate by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells – this series is the gift that keeps giving, with every conceivable theme and quality touch-and-feel pages.

First 100 Animals by Roger Priddy – a bright animal book that uses photos rather than illustrations.

Sing Along with Me: The Wheels on the Bus by Yu-Hsuan Huang – the classic nursery rhyme includes a QR code to download the music.

Peepo! By Janet and Allan Ahlberg ­– one of the best picture books with hundreds of details to point out, plus classic ‘peepo’ fun

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell – one of the original lift-the-flap books with a playful story to entertain.

Lulu Loves Flowers by Anna McQuinn – a lovely story incorporating garden nature and friendships.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss – a masterclass in language!

 

 

 

Author and Sunday Times Drinks Critic Finds some Fine Wines to Accompany The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
14th March 2017 - Damian Barr

Novel Pairings - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

 

Damian Barr

Great books deserve great wine. And what’s a book club without a bottle or three? Every month Damian Barr, author and Sunday Times Drinks Critic, suggests surprising and delicious #NovelPairings: Would Bridget Jones choose Chardonnay now? Which Champagne does James Bond prefer? How tipsy is Ulysses? Helping Damian make the #NovelPairings are James Franklin from Corney & Barrow and our own Simon Heafield from Foyles. This month it's the turn of Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Miss Jean Brodie is a maverick teacher at Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, infamously in her prime.  Helping Damian choose this month's #NovelPairings are James Franklin from Corney & Barrow and Simon Heafield from Foyles. 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of Prime of Miss Jean BrodieThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is as outwardly modest and inwardly seething as the bourgeois Edinburgh Muriel Spark depicts so acutely. Only just long enough to count as a novella, you can read it in a morning yet it’s so densely packed with theology, art and psychology you’ll be mulling over it for years.

The story follows the infamous Brodie Set – five girls each handpicked by Brodie to be her confidants in matters of romance and school politics. We meet them when they’re sixteen and the story flits backwards and forwards as the Set, still bound by events at school, recall her influence. They are Monica ‘famous mostly for mathematics’; Rose ‘famous for sex’; Eunice ‘famous for her spritely gymnastics; Mary ‘whose fame rested on her being a lump’; and, finally, Sandy ‘notorious for her small, almost non-existent eyes and famous for her vowel sounds’. 

The magnetic Brodie is a spinster, engaged to young man killed on Flanders Field.  Both fragile and indestructible, she is forever fending off plots by Miss Mackay, the headmistress, who suspects (rightly) that Brodie is leading the Set astray.  Maggie Smith won an Oscar for capturing Brodie’s prim perfection: “She wore her loose brown tweed coat with the beaver collar tightly buttoned, her brown felt hat with the brim up at one side and down at the other.”  Her curriculum consists of art, sex and fascism: “She was full of culture. She was an Edinburgh festival all on her own.”

Brodie gets all the best lines: “My girls are the crème de la crème”, “Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life’ and (repeatedly) “I am in my prime.” But she’s more than a series of zingers.  Her lessons lead to the death of one girl and her betrayal by another – no spoilers.

“I can’t work out if she’s the best teacher ever or the worst,” says Simon from Foyles. “Probably both. She can be read in so many ways: funny and threatening and ultimately quite sad.”

“She’s so complex,” says James from Corney & Barrow. “And the book is so rich although it’s got almost no drinking in.”

Certainly not - drinking wouldn’t be seemly for the staff or pupils at Marcia Blaine School for Girls. Sherry is the only tipple mentioned.  “Fino sherry is made over several years in a series of barrels called the solera system,” explains James. “It drips from barrel to barrel, the way the Set absorbs Brodie’s words and ideas.”

“It’s definitely an acquired taste,” says Simon. “It’s so dry, almost savoury.”

Miss Brodie, who says “Hitler was rather naughty”, leans decidedly to the right. “So I’ve gone for a classic Bordeaux from the village of St Emilion” says James. “On the Right Bank.”

Simon and I are smitten by all the Merlot fruit but is it perhaps too voluptuous, too much for Edinburgh?

James’s final suggestion is a Bourgogne Chardonnay by Domaine Francois Carillon: “It’s crafted from young vines that are heavily trained to get the perfect fruit for this classic yet modern wine.”

Young vines, young minds. “I love it,” says Simon. “The oak is really buttery and you get this great vanilla too but isn’t it a bit too likeable, a bit too easy?”

For all its finesse, the Chardonnay is probably too bright and accessible— Brodie would dismiss it.  The St Emilion is delicious but not nearly modest enough – famous for sex, even!  The Fino sherry, like Miss Brodie, is ferociously dry and incredibly multi-layered.  She’s an acquired taste and it is too making it the perfect #NovelPairing.  In fact, the crème de la crème!

 

Bibulous-o-graphy for ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark.

 

A book remarkable for its paucity of bottles - perfectly in keeping with the abstemious upper crust of Edinburgh, where the novella is so memorably set. 

 

S is for Sherry

Every year Miss Mackay, the headmistress of Marcia Blaine School For Girls who is bent on bringing down Miss Brodie, invites the Set to tea. In her study she quizzes them for any evidence she can use to rid her school of Miss Brodie who she suspects (rightly) of being a malign influence.

 

“She likes her wee drink, I’m sure. After all, it’s nobody business, so long as it doesn’t affect her work and you girls.”

 

“She doesn’t drink,” said Sandy, “except for sherry on her birthday, half a bottle between the seven of us.”

 

Miss Mackay could be observed mentally scoring drink off her list of things against Miss Brodie.  

 

 

 

Steve Westaby recalls his years of training at medical school and the part played by Foyles
9th March 2017 - Steve Westaby

 

Medical school madness and the role played by Foyles

 

 

Photo of Steve WestabySteve Westaby is a celebrated world-famous heart surgeon who is renowned for being the first surgeon in history to fit a patient with a new type of artificial heart. During his 35-year career as a surgeon he worked at several of the UK's top hospitals and performed over 11,000 heart operations. He won the Ray C. Fish Award for Scientific Achievement (2004). In 2004 he was featured in the BBC documentary Your Life in Their Hands, which is a long-running series on the subject of surgery. His new book Fragile Lives, offers an exceptional insight into the exhilarating and sometimes tragic world of heart surgery, and how it feels to hold someone's life in your hands. Below, exclusively for Foyles, Steve looks back fondly on his years of training in London, and at the part played by Foyles in helping him qualify.

 

 

 

Cover of Fragile LivesWatching Fragile Lives rocket to the top of Sunday Times bestsellers list has triggered a wave of nostalgia. Fifty years ago, the lad from the backstreets of Scunthorpe gained a place at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School – the first in his family to attend university. I was already determined to be a heart surgeon.

The old Charing Cross hospital sat behind Coutts Bank on the Strand, Nestled between Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden Market. There were still fine old gas lamps in Covent Garden and zebra crossings in the Strand. I lived in an old Victoria hall of residence in Notting Hill Gate and came into the city on the Central Line to Tottenham Court Road. Ambling down to Trafalgar Square, I would pass Foyles daily. I bought all my text books here, many of them secondhand. The second-hand service was a boon to impoverished students like me who spent more on beer than books! It was 1966 and I remember Foyles as an austere and antiquated shop staffed by rather formal middle aged gentlemen. There was never a speck of dust on the regimented wooden shelves. Every academic subject was carefully labelled. For me it was anatomy, physiology and biochemistry at first. Human Embryology was written by our own irascible Scots Professor of Anatomy W J Hamilton, who would stand before a tiered lecture theatre with a rolled linen towel demonstrating ‘rotation of the gut’. Recycled dissecting room manuals were greasy from their resting opening on the cadavers. What stories they could tell.

One of the older assistants who sold me my half skeleton (human in those days) rented a room close to the hospital. He would sit me down whilst waiting to pay and reminisce about my hospital’s distinguished war history. It was 1941 and Gala Night at the Café de Paris. The battle of Britain was over and air raids over the West End had tailed off. Many of the hundreds of dancers were smart young officers in khaki or slate blue, dancing with their girls in pretty dresses. A lone raider came in under the radar, a single Heinkel bomber lost over London. No one in the café heard the sirens. The bomb came crashing through the skylight and exploded next to the band. The conductor ‘Snake Hips Johnson’ was killed outright. Most of the bandsmen and dancers were seriously injured. Many gallant men and bright eyed girls died that night. Young Charing Cross nurses rushed from triage to the scene. The surgeons were called in from home. In the dark and the dust it was difficult to extricate the living from the dead. The operating theatres worked continuously for 72 hours. Amputating limbs. Removing shrapnel, fragments of wood, glass and crockery from the wounds. Some of those surgeons were my teachers. Only two weeks later, two rocket bombs fell close by again with many fatalities. More than 200 injured were brought to the small casualty department. Again all the off duty nurses rushed in to help. It was that sort of hospital - I was proud to be there.

I would watch operations through the leaden glass of a theatre viewing gallery known as the ‘Ether Dome’. That same operating theatre used after the bombing. Less frenetic perhaps but the same life and death struggles. Heart surgery was still in its infancy. As Lord Brock used to say at Guys Hospital across the river, “I have three patients on my list today. I wonder which one will survive?” At Charing Cross, autopsies were carried out in a pathology laboratory on the 4th floor of the medical school in Henrietta Street, conveniently next to the anatomy dissecting room. A tin coffin on rails would bring the bodies under the road from the hospital itself. They emerged next to the medical school refectory in the basement and a few of us rugby stars worked out that we could get into the Friday night dances free that route. One paid then we hauled others through the hospital one by one, occasionally two at a time if his girlfriend was petite.

In those days few of us were straight ‘A’ students. Many applicants were interviewed and the school took those that they thought would make good doctors. That takes more than academic achievement particularly in surgery. Many of the years above had been in the Forces and to Oxford or Cambridge. Few were women. The ‘Oxbridge’ crew jokes that if you could catch a rugby ball you could get into a London medical school. There was an element of truth in that, though I was following in the footsteps of the evolutionary biologist Thomas Huxley and the explorer Dr David Livingstone. The major event of the year was the fiercely contested Hospital Cup played at the Richmond Athletic ground. One year the England rugby captain played for Guys hospital. One year I got to tackle the legendary Welsh fullback JPR Williams when he was playing for St Marys. Their team brought a live elephant to the ground implying that the Charing Cross side were mice in comparison. We said that like Hannibal they would need an elephant to beat us. These hospital games were fierce bloody battles followed by superhuman volumes of beer. In those days the railway carriages had individual compartments without a toilet. I recall one Saturday evening with the team relieving itself through the window as the train sped through Clapham Common station. And a rugby club dinner on Fleet Street about which I remember nothing before being hauled out of the fountains of Trafalgar Square. Professor Hamilton extracted me from Bow Street nick the following morning and I was forced to re-sit anatomy in retribution.

So medical school was very different in those days. As social secretary, I would arrange famous visiting lecturers – politicians, sportsmen, stars of stage and television, then entertain them at Rules Restaurant on expenses afterwards. When arranging the annual hospital ball I would trawl through the stage doors of the West End theatres looking for stars to give us a free cabaret for the price of a free ticket. I never failed. Derek Nimmo, Dame Anna Neagle and others gave their time after the show. Covent Garden market gave us free food, wine and flowers. Everyone loved the old hospital and in turn we looked after them when they needed us.

As a backstreet kid from the North, I always felt I was coming from the back. Perhaps I overcompensated. Six years passed in a boozy haze. We were occasionally allowed to do locum house jobs as a student and I did one in surgery. I was in my element in my starched white coat, stethoscope dangling out of my pocket. The nurses were smoothly pressed blue uniforms with elaborate white hats and silver belt buckles the way hospitals should be. Then I took out my first appendix – rivetingly exciting at the time. I celebrated by taking the nurses to the American Bar. From Scunthorpe to the Savoy! Then I couldn’t afford to eat for a month. I took my preclinical textbooks back to Foyles and sold them on.

Perhaps for my efforts as Social Secretary, captain of cricket and vice-captain of rugby, I was awarded the prize for “most promising student”. Then followed a National Scholarship to study for a while at the Albert Einstein Medical College in New York before my final exams. Gershwins Rhapsody in Blue took on a new meaning for me in the Big Apple. I worked with the heart surgeons by day and went to an ‘Emergency Room’ in Harlem at night. This was my defining time in medicine. I got ‘attitude’ in America.

One night a crazed drug addict went for a nurse with a knife in the emergency room. I saw it coming – she was holding the keys to the drugs cupboard and he was a regular. I tackled him as if on the pitch and got stabbed for my trouble. The security guards hit him with a riot stick and he went up for brain surgery. I went to have my lacerated right hand repaired. But the Englishman had made his mark. The hospital were proud of me and let it be known back in London.

I became that heart surgeon I had dreamed about. But in a way, I never left Scunthorpe. I was never a Harley Street man. I looked to help the sick and disadvantaged, never to profit from them. Eventually, I did almost 12,000 heart operations for the NHS, most of them in Oxford. But I never forgot Foyles and my second-hand skeleton. They gave me the start I must needed. But they don’t do used books now!

 

 

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