Popularly supposed to be from a cartoon in the long defunct magazine ‘Punch’ the phrase describes the denouement of a scene in which a person’s confidence subsides like a pricked balloon…but I never came across it in all the long periods spent in the waiting room of the first G.P. I can remember from my childhood.
His house was on the corner….a gloomy hedge of laurel giving way to a gravel drive which circled a monkey puzzle tree. You knocked on the door and a maid would direct you to the waiting room off the hall where you sat under the eye of Rembrandt’s ‘Man in the Helmet’ on a chair which creaked with every movement giving rise to disapproving glances from the assembled patients all of whom seemed to be of an incredible age. Apart from the creaking chair, the silence was absolute.
Entertainment was provided by ancient copies of ‘Punch’….probably the least humorous humorous magazine known to man….piled on the table in the centre of the room.
Given the disapproving glances it was preferable to seize several copies on entering the room and pile them on your lap ready for perusal….as you inevitably had to wait for a great deal of time the idea of creaking on and off your chair for one copy at a time was unthinkable.
I cannot say that I was amused by the content, but it was better than the alternatives.
That was an age when a child found to be considering the odder qualities of its elders was considered to be badly brought up so scrutiny of the various types of hats and garments had to be both fleeting and surreptitious, while kicking the legs of the chair was probably a hanging offence.
And one look at the ‘Man in the Helmet’ was enough to put you off art for life.
So “Punch’ it was.
I learned a great deal about the evolution of costume and of transport – rival horse bus companies racing for custom intrigued me. I wonder if these cartoons gave ideas to those who were to ruin the public transport system of the British Isles in later years or whether the whole beastly idea was a product of their own perverted morality…
In particular I liked a cartoon of a stout party gesticulating wildly for the horse bus to pick him up while the conductor observes that he can see him (stout party) with the naked eye.
Yes, I know it doesn’t sound very funny, but it was the best that “Punch’ had to offer and in that time in that waiting room it offered the hope of eventual escape to a life beyond the monkey puzzle where stout parties might gesticulate – or even creak – in total freedom.
Eventually the maid would summon you to Doctor’s presence and you would replace the magazines with due respect to keeping the pile neat before being ushered through to the other side of the hall where Doctor awaited you.
He bore a great resemblance to the Man in the Helmet, which was not reassuring; a view borne out by his repeated attempts to treat earache with warm cotton wool and olive oil rather than penicillin. The idea of wasting such an expensive drug on an NHS patient was more than he could bear….the nations’s finances would have crumbled had he dished it out to the undeserving public patient, no doubt.
Still I have him to thank that, given the results of his treatment, I have never suffered from seasickness since, while others may be thankful that as it is also down to him that I am unable to balance on a bicycle, my lycra clad form has never disfigured the public highway.
All that is far in the past and on the other side of an ocean but it came forcefully to mind today as my husband emerged from the office and sat down suddenly in the chair in the kitchen.
Was he ill?
No…but he had just realised that he had escaped a peril of an altogether different kind.
Since moving here we have become friendly with a chap from the U.S.A….a ticket of leave man whose family trust pays him handsomely to stay out of the U.S.A. with a view to keeping the family escutcheon in the U.S.A. unblemished.
He has, in his time, tried as many forms of excitement as possible: drugs, drink, drugs and drink, women, warfare – you name it, he’s probably had a go at it – though he must be the only mercenary discharged for inappropriate behaviour.
What did he do, I wonder?
Escort an old lady across the road?
Still, be that as it may, he is intelligent, educated and a great talker – or was until recently.
He has always complained that the only women he meets are those who hang about in bars but has never managed to connect this with the repeated experiments in removing them from the bars and installing them in his large house: experiments usually ending in noisy recriminations and vast payments in alimony before he is off to a bar again to find the next candidate.
He broke with his method a couple of years ago….he had had some furniture made for the house and the decorative wife of the carpenter – after due investigation as to his financial affairs – abandoned her husband and moved in with him.
In the time in which they have been together he has acquired eight workers to keep his house and garden in order – all hired by her and loyal to her; his outgoings have risen to an astronomical level and his health has declined to such a state that she has complete control of both him and his bank account.
Given his history she has no difficulty in presenting him as too damaged to be rational on the times that he makes a break for it into town and his doctor is also in her pocket.
She invites people over from time to time…I think to demonstrate that she is looking after him, which, to give her her due, she does….but on the occasion we were invited to his birthday party we found that while there was a marquee on the lawn, bands and drink flowing he – the birthday boy – had been locked in the house: ‘in case he hurts himself’.
Leo had him out of there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, but he said himself that he was past help…he no longer had the energy to free himself.
His family would do nothing to help him…they were waiting for him to die and be off their hands. This may or may not be true but as I have no means of contacting them I can’t contradict this.
We were invited to lunch last week – sitting out on the lawn, whence the roof of our new house can be seen across the valley.
She was very interested in the house…how many bedrooms, much big was it, was it bigger than our house in Spain and when lunch was over, unusually, as she normally keeps everyone under her eye, she allowed me to talk to our friend while she took Leo off into the house.
We chatted – his mind was slower, but still there – and I asked him if he wanted to come out when we went; he could stay with us and sort himself out.
No…he no longer had the energy. All he wanted was that she would just stop talking all the time and leave him in peace.
He was tired and went off to bed, so I joined the others.
She had suggested to Leo that it would be nice to visit our friend’s finca up in the mountains and we agreed – if he were well enough. We would check on Sunday to see how things were.
Sunday came, and my husband duly called.
Yes, all was arranged. Our friend would not be coming and she would call for Leo on her quad bike early in the morning as it was a long way.
What did she mean…call for him? Were we not all meant to go?
Oh no…your wife isn’t well so the two of us will go..and don’t worry: if it comes on to rain we can always stay at the house there until morning….
In the deathless phrase of ‘The News of The World’ my husband made his excuses and left….only to sink shattered onto the kitchen chair.
Danilo arrived, and was given an account of the whole thing.
Narrow escape, he said. Your friend’s family will have her out in a dose of salts once he dies, so she’s looking ahead for the next victim. Here you are: quiet guy, big house here, big house in Spain….and she reckons men can’t resist her.
I’d stay off that quad bike if I were you.
But I’m an old age pensioner!
All the better.