Five go mad in general practice……

BMJ 24 May 2007

Raised in rural Ireland, I used to read Enid Blyton just like everybody else, so a locum in the shires a few years ago was just like going home.

On my first morning the vicar waved to me in greeting, like John Major had promised, although I was then a bit surprised to see him slipping off his bike to trade Es with the local hoodies; things sure have changed on Walton’s Mountain, I thought, but hey, that’s the Church being more relevant, out there on the streets, with the kids.

And even more quintessentially English, that night I was called to the scene of a murder. The body was face down in the local cricket club, blood on his scalp, a bloody cricket bat lying beside him, and the assembled committee looking on in goggle-eyed and enjoyable fascination. There was a sense of nostalgia, that this was a glimpse of something they thought had been lost forever. “And did those feet in ancient time/Walk upon England’s mountains green?” murmured one old colonel reverently (his handle-bar moustache , I noted, was an almost perfect representation of the uterus and fallopian tubes – the clinician in me never sleeps).

The policeman introduced himself as Constable Goode, and I felt I’d known him all my life.

‘What is your opinion, doctor?’ asked the constable.

‘Seems dead alright,’ I observed, facts at my fingertips, though my attention was distracted by a little old lady, scribbling furiously into a tattered old notebook; nosey old bitch, I thought.

‘Excuse me, madam,’ I said oleaginously (just in case she was someone important). ‘Have we met?’

‘Mrs Christie,’ she said, which rang a few bells.

“Cause of death,” Constable Goode pronounced slowly, with the traditional air of intense concentration, writing in a little notebook with the mandatory stubby pencil, “Trauma to head by person or persons unknown.”

I knew something was required of me, and I rolled the body over, squashing some egg-and-watercress sandwiches. The shirt had been ripped open, there were fresh bruises and burns on the chest, and the deceased had an annoyed expression on his face.

“Not so fast, sergeant,” I said (I always address coppers thus—a little bit of harmless flattery goes a long way), “there’s not enough blood. I therefore deduce that the head injuries were inflicted after death, as a cunning red herring.”

“A red herring?” mused the constable, “in this plaice? Then what was the murder weapon?”

I pointed to the corner of the room.

“The defibrillator,” I shouted, “J’accuse!”

The club secretary fell to his knees.

“OK, I confess,” he wailed. “We’ve had that machine for five years, paid three grand for it. All those fund-raising garden fetes and sponsored walks and tea dances—if I ever see another cucumber sandwich I’m going to vomit. But in all that time we’ve never had a chance to use it, despite the publicity that people were dying like flies and about how important it was to have one; it’s just been sitting there in the corner, laughing at us. So when Walter took a weak turn at the bar, we saw our chance; he fought bravely but we got him down in the end.”

Then a small curly-haired boy (or girl) popped her (or his) head round the door.

“Too late George,” said the constable, “this case is closed.”

“F**** it,” said George, “what’ll I do with all this ginger beer?”

Footnote; When I was a child, there were no bookstores, no Amazon, so you read whatever books were available. I remember my dad buying a bookcase at an auction; the bookcase was full of books, Biggles, Enid Blyton, Gerald Durrell, Greek mythology etc. That was one very formative bookcase.

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