British Medical Journal, Published 19 September 2012. Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6069



Sitting up in the tree gave me time to reflect, to think about how unfair it was for George Osborne to be booed by 80 000 people at the Paralympic games. I understood his difficulty: the sick will always be with us, and there are more of them every day, and no matter how much money we pour in we will always come up short of expectations.


And the sick are not only inconvenient but inconsiderate.

“Don’t mind the dog,” I’d been told by the patient over the phone, which ranks right up there with, “He’s pulling at his ears,” as Things GPs Don’t Like To Hear. So there I was, cornered like a rat, gratified that animals have different climbing abilities: squirrels are good; cats can manage; rabbits only embarrass themselves trying. Fortunately big fierce dogs can’t.

I tried shouting at the house to attract attention, but only succeeded in startling a nearby vulture. I contemplated leaping from the tree and bolting for the car, but age has withered me and I no longer have that strength that in older days moved earth and heaven; if I was an actor I’d be Brad Pitt’s homely chum, the comic relief.

But that which we are, we are; as Nietzsche might have said, “Cherish your enemies, even big fierce dogs, because they bring out the best in you.” Age has lent me a certain serenity, to make the best of a bad job, to enjoy the small things, like when somebody you dislike gets indicted for a crime and has to spend years in a dank, poorly ventilated penal facility making new and very intimate friends.

If you could get past the slavering monster at the bottom of the tree, the beauty of the Irish countryside was breathtaking, and after relieving myself, as men are wont to do in high places with panoramic views, I whiled away the time by scrawling some obscene graffiti.

I was surprisingly comfortable in the leafy shade, enjoying the cool, manure-scented breeze; bumblebees hummed in the foliage, a robin trilled its liquid song, and a butterfly whispered by. If Piglet and Winnie the Pooh had turned up and outed themselves, I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.

But my idyll was all too brief: “Some there be that shadows kiss / Such have but a shadow’s bliss.” The owner appeared, and dragged the dog away and me back into the real world.

“We’ve been waiting for you for hours,” he said accusingly.


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