Monday, December 31, 2012

The accident

One of my father’s more eccentric habits was whenever possible to photograph the relatively minor childhood illnesses and injuries sustained by his sons—a slightly scarifying suite of mumps, measles, playground scrapes, cuts, bruises, splinters, casts and bandages. I am not quite sure what lay behind this curious habit, but it has certainly left us with a powerful resource for memory-jogging. I suppose he must have felt that no record of an essentially happy childhood is complete without including at least a few of its less comfortable moments. The others are better able to date this photograph than me, but I think Dad must have taken it in the drive at 18 Denham Place while Simon was building the catamaran, ca. 1969, when I was about five. I am standing between the twin hulls of that fine, handmade work-in-progress. Some days earlier Mum took me to watch Hamish playing football on the oval at Grimwade House, and, in a moment of genuine joie de vivre—ignoring the football—I scampered along a low parapet in the direction of Orrong Road, tripped, fell headlong into a blocky brick quoin, and smashed my little nose to smithereens. I can see the spot, not too far from an enormous Moreton Bay fig that rises next to the dark blue scoreboard, but the subsequent images are but flashes of vague recollection. I remember the first aid room in the old house, along dark corridors, then staring into the white enameled kidney-shaped dish in my lap with spots of blood dripping down and rapidly accumulating in it. A large and sensible nurse is there in a white apron and starched cap. Mum is on an old black bakelite telephone. I remember the ward at St. George’s Hospital in Kew, at the end of another very long corridor, then bravely waving goodbye to Mum and Dad when in due course they had to leave me there. I remember the kindly old men in the adjacent beds, set at right angles to mine, who I imagine did their best to divert me, and the kindly nurse who, the next morning, after my operation, showed me my bandages and my two purple black eyes in the mirror and told me that I looked just like Batman. There is a bright shaft of light slanting in from the window next to my bed. The tears came fast and strong, for I had no idea who Batman was. The operation was performed by Mr. Ham, the ear nose and throat surgeon; not our general practitioner, Dr. Richard Ham, but Mr. Ham the specialist. In that old-fashioned locution, the medical specialists of Collins Street still went by the slightly superior “Mr.,” or, in the case of the surgeon who removed my appendix some years later, “Sir Edward” (Hughes). Lady HughesAlison—is still alive, and a loyal member of the 8.00 a.m. congregation at St. George’s Church of England, Malvern. I have a strong feeling that the basis upon which both surgeons were engaged was that they were golfing cronies of my father’s, but that is neither here nor there. Certainly my little nose was never quite the same afterwards, and to this day it lacks an underlying bone structure extending far past the uppermost portion of the bridge. My brothers have rather elegant, straight Roman noses, but mine was from then on different, broader, and a little spongier. This vaguely bothers me. Still, it has served me well, and shows no other outward signs of trauma. It is a matter of conjecture whether any lingering inward trauma is helped or hindered by a close perusal of Dad’s slightly weird photograph. Look at the posture: little hands clasped behind my back, gently biting the bottom lip, gazing up quizzically, feet firmly planted, delightful little knees—rather formal. Obviously I have never since scampered along anything remotely resembling a parapet, and much less one punctuated by squat brick quoins.

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