From Brussels to Norwich

LIKE FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE, Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was a heroine of the nursing profession. In fact, Edith, who was born in the county of Norfolk, was martyred because of her compassion and goodwill.

Recently, we spent four nights at an excellent bed and breakfast place in Norfolk. It is located in the village of Swardeston, which is only 4.7 miles southeast of Norwich Cathedral. After leaving our accommodation in Swardeston, we spent several hours in central Norwich. At least one hour of our visit to the city was taken up by exploring the interior and exterior of the cathedral. We attended part of a Sunday service, which was held in the part of the church east of the nave. The cathedral’s choir sounded magnificent. The reason the congregation was not in the nave is that part of the cathedral is currently being used to display ‘Dippy the Dinosaur’ from London’s Natural History Museum. On Sundays, Dippy is allowed a day’s rest from being gawped at by crowds of visitors, so we did not get to see this prehistoric skeletal attraction, apart from a short section of its backbone, which could be glimpsed through the window of a locked door leading from the magnificent cloisters to the nave. You might be beginning to wonder why I began this piece by telling you a little about Edith Cavell. Well, now I will tell you more.

Grave of Edith Cavell next to Norwich Cathedral

After the service and a wander around the cloisters and the east half of the cathedral, we walked around to the outside of the southeast corner of the building, where we were told that we would find the burial place of Edith Cavell. The original gravestone surmounted by a cross stands close to a newer monument, which does not bear a cross, but resembles the kind of gravestones often found in Commonwealth war cemeteries but has a circular inscription that reads: “ECOLE BELGE D’INFIRMIERES DIPLOMEES”. While we were looking at these two memorials, we chatted with a lady who was passing by. When we asked her why Edith Cavell was buried in Norwich, she told us that the nurse had been born in the village where we had been staying, Swardeston. When she was born, her father was the vicar of the village’s church, which we would have visited had we known about its connection to the famous nurse.

Close to the cathedral, next to the western wall of the Cathedral Close, there is yet another monument to Cavell. A bronze bust of Cavell tops a rectangular based column with a bas-relief showing a soldier attaching a wreath to the monument. Erected in 1918, the bust’s sculptor was Henry Pegram (www.racns.co.uk/sculptures.asp?action=getsurvey&id=289), who lived from 1862 to 1937. The monument was commissioned by the physician John Gordon Gordon-Munn (1863-1949), who was Mayor of Norwich between 1914 and 1915.

After finishing school, Edith Cavell first became a governess, including for a family in Brussels. Then, after caring for her ailing father, she trained to become a nurse. She worked in various English hospitals until 1907 when she was recruited by Antoine Depage to become the matron of a recently opened nursing school in Brussels, L’École Belge d’Infirmières Diplômées. This helps explain the inscription on the newer of the two memorials next to the cathedral.

When WW1 broke out, Edith was visiting her widowed mother in Norfolk. The Red Cross took over her clinic and the nursing school, to which she returned after seeing her mother. It was in Brussels, after it had been occupied by the Germans, that she began helping British soldiers to escape from German-occupied Belgium to then neutral Holland. Harbouring and helping soldiers who were in armies fighting the Germans was against German military law. In August 1915, after being betrayed by a collaborator, she was arrested by the Germans, tried at a court-marshal, and found guilty of aiding a hostile power. She was executed by firing squad at Schaerbeek, a district of Brussels.

Cavell was first buried next to St Gilles prison in Brussels. Then in 1919, her body was shipped to England. At first, it lay in state on Dover pier for one night before it was transferred by train to London, where there was a state funeral in Westminster Abbey.  On the 19th of May 1919, Edith was buried at the spot next to Norwich Cathedral, where she ‘rests’ now.

Next time that we are in Norfolk, we will try to visit the church in Swardeston, where Edith’s father officiated. As the bed and breakfast accommodation was so excellent in Swardeston and we fell in love with Norwich, I hope it will not be long before we return to Norwich and its environs.

PS: there is a large memorial to Edith Cavell in London, near the south end of St Martins Lane and just north of St Martin-in-the-Fields church.

Uganda and me

UGANDA IS ONE OF many countries that I have not yet visited. Yet, I can relate some personal anecdotes related to it.

When we had our Hindu wedding ceremony in Bangalore (India), several of my wife’s aunts, whose families originated in Kutch (now part of Gujarat State in western India) were present and quite concerned that there were elements of Kutchi marriage traditions incorporated into our three-hour long ceremony. I cannot remember what these were. One of the aunts had lived with her family in Uganda until they saw the ‘writing on the wall’ and left for India before Idi Amin forcibly expelled all of the other Asians from his country. Her son, who lives in the UK, introduced me to Uganda’s national alcoholic drink ‘waragi’, brewed from bananas, which did not appeal to me as much as other drinks with 40% alcohol content.

Soon after I went to India for our wedding, I began working in a dental practice near Portobello Road in west London. It was there that I worked with ‘A’, who was the best dental surgery assistant I have ever worked with. She was resourceful, bright, friendly, polite, efficient, and never lost her cool. When equipment went wrong, I used to want to ring Andy, our repairman, but A would say:

“Let me fix it, Mr Yamey, I saw what Andy did last time.”

And usually, she fixed whatever had broken down.

Occasionally, A worked at the reception desk. Patients used to come up to the desk, often impatient and desperate to obtain dental treatment immediately. Instead of getting flustered, as other receptionists might easily have done, she used to say calmly something like:

“Good afternoon, Mr Brown, how are you today? And how is your family?”

When the patient had been calmed down by her questions, she would get down to the business of making arrangements for the patient’s treatment. She had a civilising influence on others.

A was born in Uganda after Idi Amin had given up ruling the country, but she lived through the troubling times that followed his downfall. She told me that she had witnessed a member of her close family being shot while she hid in a bush nearby. On another occasion, she told me:

“I heard some soldiers coming to my home, and, Mr Yamey, I jumped out of a window at the back and ran into the fields. I ran and ran and ran.”

Despite these and other horrific experiences, one would not imagine that A had had such a traumatic childhood.

A was an evangelical Christian. She kept a small edition of the New Testament in one of the drawers in my surgery alongside tubes and bottles of dental materials. It was printed mainly in black but with some words in red. These were, A explained to me, the words that had been uttered by Jesus. Every day, she used to say to me in her gentle voice:

“Mr Yamey, all you need to do to be saved is to accept Jesus into your life.”

This did not bother me, nor did the evangelical Christian radio station that she liked to hear while we were working. However, one day a particularly nervous dental patient, a frequent attender who had been born in the USA, was lying in my treatment chair, when he lifted his hand and said politely:

“There are two things that upset me. One is having dental treatment and the other is having religion thrust down my throat. So, A, will you please turn off the radio now.”

A did as asked, and we never listened to that station again. Often, A encouraged me to try ‘matoke’, a Ugandan dish made from a type of banana. She thought it was delicious, but I have not yet sampled it. I have not seen A for a long time now and hope that she and her husband are thriving and enjoying a life far better than she experienced in Uganda.

Long before I became a dentist, in my teens (in the second half of the 1960s), I loved collecting travel brochures: leaflets, maps, and booklets issued free of charge by travel companies and national tourist offices. My friend ‘F’ shared this passion. One day during the summer holidays, F suggested that we, that is F and his brother, me, and ‘H’, another close friend, should have a brochure collecting competition.  F and H formed one team, and F’s brother and I the other. The plan was that we start together at Oxford Circus and then work our way down to Trafalgar Square, collecting as much free travel literature as we could gather. The winning team would be the one which had collected most material, but taking duplicates was not allowed. Speed was also important, so we tried to waste as little time as possible in each place.

My team entered one travel agent or national tourist office after another, taking whatever was on display and asking the people working in them for any material that was available but not on display. We piled our ‘loot’ into the rucksacks we were carrying and moved from one location to the next. Our loads were quite heavy when F’s brother and I arrived at the locked door of Uganda’s tourist office on the south side of Trafalgar Square. We rang the door and were admitted by a man who led us upstairs to his office. There, we were asked to sit in front of his desk. He chatted to us politely, passing the time of day, whilst we sat there anxiously as the minutes, which we could be using more profitably, slipped past. Eventually, we got around to asking him for travel literature. He handed us three thin coloured brochures, which we considered to be a poor haul given how long we had spent with him.

Passing the Ugandan tourist office, which is still where it was during the 1960s, today in January 2021, soon after a recent election in that country, brought back memories of our brochure collecting dash and made me wonder whether at that time I should have been chasing after girls in my spare time, as many of my schoolmates were doing, rather than picking up leaflets about exotic destinations. By the way, F and H won our competition by a narrow margin.

So, finally, this is almost all I have relate about my somewhat tenuous connections with Uganda. All I wish to add relates to my father’s regular purchases of the satirical magazine “Private Eye”, which gave the term ‘Ugandan discussions’ a new meaning in March 1973. If you do not know what I mean, then I will leave you to search for the term on Google.

What? No kitchen…

During my early years in dental practice, I came across two instances of people living in houses without  kitchens.

 

antique burn burning close up

 

The first instance concerned one of my fellow dentists. He bought a house from a lady, who only used a microwave oven. Her home had no kitchen. My colleague had to convert one of the rooms in his new home into a kitchen. 

The second example was also connected with dental practice. It was the home of one of my dental nurses, whom we shall call ‘S’. She was a delightful young lady, who worshipped the late Marilyn Monroe. Sadly, her eyesight was not quite adequate enough for working in a dental surgery. She and the senior dental surgeon in the practice decided that she should seek another type of employment, which she did.  On her last day of working with me in my surgery, I gave S a small bottle of Chanel No 5 perfume as a ‘thank you present’. S was thrilled. I could not have chosen a better present. S told me that Chanel No 5 was all that her heoine Marilyn Monroe wore in bed. Well, I had no idea about the filmstar’s habits, but I was pleased that inadvertantly I had chosen the right gift for my visually-challenged dental assistant.

If you are now thinking that I have strayed from my subject, you are wrong. While S was working in our practice, she revealed that her mother hated cooking, so much so that there was neither kitchen nor dining room in the house where S lived with her family. S told me that the family ate every meal, including breakfast, at restaurants and cafés near their home.

Maybe I am too conventional, but I was surprised to learn that people who are able to afford accomodation with a kichen or kitchenette choose not to have one. In complete contrast, my wife told me that some of her ancestors lived in homes (in India) with two widely separated kitchens: one for meat and one for vegetarian food.

 

 

Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

Good Friday

Years ago, I knew a dentist, who owned his own practice. His residence was in the same building. His patients could ring him any time of the day or night. If there was an urgent out-of-hours problem, he would usually open the surgery and try to help the unfortunate patient. Most of his patients were considerate and did not ring him at inconvenient times. However, once someone rung him at three in the morning. The caller said that his toothache was so bad that he was unable to sleep. My friend, an intelligent man, said to him:

“You come and see me at eight in the morning. That way only one of us will have a sleepless night.”

 

boy

 

Occasionally, I had to be ‘on call’ for out-of-hours and weekend emergencies. When I worked in Kent before the widespread use of mobile ‘phones had begun, I had to carry a small radio receiver in my pocket during the hours I was ‘on-call’. If the gadget bleeped, I had to ring the telephone number of some remote call-handling centre. The centre would then provide me with the telephone number of the person in trouble. Usually, the ‘emergency’ turned out to be someone wanting to make or cancel a dental appointment in the middle of the night or on a Sunday or bank holiday. There was little I could do about these abuses of the emergency system.

One Easter weekend, I was contacted by a mother, whose son’s front tooth had snapped off and he was in pain. I asked the caller to bring her son to see me in the surgery, which I opened specially for her son. The boy arrived. The situation was not good. The child had managed to snap off a lateral incisor, leaving the root below gum-level. The tooth was un-saveable and needed to be removed. To extract it, I knew that I would have to perform some minor surgery, lifting the gum and then replacing it (using sutures). It was a job that would have been difficult to perform alone without an assistant. Fortunately, I had the ‘phone number of one of the practice nurses, who lived nearby. Luckily, she was able to come to assist. The operation was done without problem.

When I had finished treating the child, the mother neither thanked my assistant nor me.  She was typical of many National Health Service (‘NHS’) patients, who do not appreciate what is done for them because it is done free of charge. Many of the services provided by the NHS are free, and because of this a proportion of patients show no gratefulness. They take the system for granted, feeling that what is done for them is their birth right.

It was Good Friday morning when this emergency treatment was carried out. The boy’s mother said:

“What a shame that this happened today of all days, Good Friday.”

Silently, I agreed with her. I said:

“Well it’s been a bad Good Friday for your child.”

After a few moments, I added:

“It was also not an awfully good day for Jesus Christ.”

The mother gave me a dirty look, and then took her child home.

 

[Picture source: “Der Zahnarzt in der Karikatur” by E Henrich (1963)]

Through the tongue

During my three and a half decades working as a dentist, I have been assisted by numerous ladies varying in age from sixteen to over seventy years. ‘Carly’ was one of them. When she joined me in a practice west of London, it was the first time she had worked in a dental practice. She was a quick learner, but far from discreet.

CARLY

When we had a new patient, we recorded the person’s details on the outside of a record card. One day, a smart-looking woman sat down in my dental chair, a new patient, and I asked her for her personal details: name, date of birth, address, and so on. Carly entered the information on the record card. When we had finished, Carly asked the patient:

“Are you M.R.S. or M.I.S.S?”

The lady replied:

“Miss.”

Quick as a flash, Carly said:

“I can’t see why you ain’t married. You ain’t ugly or anythink.”

The lady took this quite well. She could see that Carly meant no harm.

One Monday morning, Carly arrived and said to me:

“Ere, look at this”

She stuck out her tongue, which had a shiny silver-coloured metal stud pierced through it. I was lost for words for a moment, and then asked her if it was uncomfortable.

“No, it ain’t,” she replied, “It makes eating spaghetti difficult, though. It gets caught up on it.”

All morning, whenever a patient sat in my dental chair, she would tap the patient’s shoulder, and then say: “Wht d’ya think?” before sticking her tongue out to display her stud to the person in the chair. Most of the patients were either politely complimentary of just smiled. By now, my regular patients had got used to Carly and her friendly but cheeky manners.

Another day, Carly arrived at work. Very excitedly, she told me:

“You’ll never guess how much I paid for a large pack of prawns at Tesco’s.”

“Four pounds?” I guessed.

“No, just a quid.”

“That’s a good bargain,” I said.

“What me and me boyfriend do,” Carly explained, “is we swap the labels on the packets in the chiller so that we get the special offer prices instead.”

“Be careful,” I advised.

On yet another occasion, Carly arrived at work looking distressed. I asked her what was wrong.

“I crashed me boyfriend’s car.”

“But you haven’t got a license have you, Carly?”

“No, but I was drunk. I got in his car and drove it backwards into a lamppost.”

I am sure that the boyfriend was not pleased because throughout the day Carly was rung up by him on her mobile ‘phone. She would go out into the corridor, but because she was screaming at her chap so loudly, everyone could hear her.

During one appointment, I was beginning to scale (remove the dental tartar or calculus) a lady’s teeth. After a few minutes, while I changed instruments the lady, a well-dressed woman with airs and graces, asked me:

“Excuse me, Mr Yamey, but what exactly are you doing to my teeth?”

Before I could answer, Carly replied quickly:

“E’s cleaning the crap off yer teeth.”

The patient seemed quite happy with this simple summary.

Despite Carly’s occasional rather undignified comments, she was an excellent assistant. Patients appreciated her unpretentious, friendly, open approach and the fact that she was rarely silent. After a few months, when she had gained some experience, Carly left our practice to take up a better paid position in another dental practice. Some weeks after she had been working there, she dropped into our surgery to say ‘hallo’. I asked her how she was getting on in her new job. She replied:

“It’s ok, but they have told me not to open my mouth during the day.”

Picture source: “Der Zahnarzt in der Karikatur” by E Hinrich (1963)