The Power Of Speech

This morning, Jackie drove me to New Milton where I caught the London train. It is the first week of the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Naturally the train was to have an additional stop at Wimbledon. Naturally it was a little late. Naturally it contained only four coaches. Naturally one of those was designated First Class. Naturally the other carriages were crowded.
As an introduction to to Cicero’s ‘In Catilanum’ I-IV, D.H.Berry’s article on ‘The Catiline Conspiracy’ which I read today offers a clear account of this event and Cicero’s action in opposing it. We are also told that Cicero’s speeches ‘Against Catiline’, which I went on to read, were published three years after the happenings that took place during the great orator’s consulship. This is significant because, although presented by the author as what he had said at the time, they may be construed as a later defence of his position.cicero
Cicero was responsible for implementing the senate’s decision to execute the five captured conspirators without trial. This was not legal. The consul’s action, although praised at the time – he was honoured as the saviour of Rome – was ultimately to lead to his death in dishonour.
The four speeches deal, in order, with his exhorting Catiline to leave Rome; with warning the senate that the rebel was gathering his armies against the state; with the capture of those criminals left by their leader to act in the capital when the time came;and with the execution debate.
There were many such events in Roman history. What makes this one unique is that it occurred during the time of a man with the ability to sniff it out, to combat it so eloquently, and to write it up so cleverly to preserve the story for posterity.
From Waterloo I travelled by my now customary underground route to Preston Road, and a short walk to Norman’s. In the recreation ground through which I pass, I noticed two patient carers helping a severely disabled young woman prepare her headgear, presumably as a protection against the strong sun. They passed me on their way to the enclosure where I had seen Yaw practising his footballing skills on 19th March. I greeted them. The carers returned the greeting. The young woman took that as an invitation to sit on the bench I was occupying. With good humour she was persuaded otherwise.
The carers then began a game of catch with their charge inside the fenced off area. They were encouraging when she managed the task of grasping the basket ball, and all three seemed genuinely to be enjoying themselves. I realised that the younger person seemed without the power of speech.
I did not think it appropriate to produce my camera.
The Roman orator employed his considerable skills more than two thousand years ago. He used them to climb to a position of great power. Ultimately they caused his violent death. His name and influence have been valued throughout the world, and down the centuries.
Today’s nameless young lady will have a very different life. May it, and its ending be happier than that of the man whose name will be forever remembered.
For lunch my friend provided an excellent beef casserole with mashed potato and vegetables followed by juicy summer pudding with which we shared a superb bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape 2012. I then took the tube from Preston Road to Westminster via Finchley Road and walked on to Carol’s. From there I took my usual transport back to New Milton where Jackie was waiting to drive me home.

Terminal Illness

Last night I watched ‘Prime Suspect’, the first of that iconic long-running television series starring the brilliant Helen Mirren. This episode charts Jane Tennison,┬áthe female DCI’s gradually earning of the support of all but one of her initially resistant male team. Tom Bell’s superbly odious sergeant is the exception. Such institutional prejudice was a real issue at the beginning of the final decade of the 20th century.
Today was dull, cold, and overcast. This morning I finished reading Susan Hill’s ‘The Betrayal of Trust’, and occupied myself with domestic chores preparatory to my departure for England tomorrow. I had been unaware that Susan Hill, one of our most gifted writers, had written a crime series focussed on DCI Simon Serrailler.
Written at a pace engendered by skillful use of short sentences and crisp dialogue, this is a gripping tale worthy of the author of ‘The Woman in Black’. It is only towards the end of the book that she drops in a couple of clues. The denouement draws together the strands of the lives of the expertly depicted personnel, all of which display the novelist’s gift for characterisation. Her descriptions of place and dwelling contribute economically to our understanding of the people.
But. As one would expect from this author, her book is about much more than the unravelling of a crime. It is a treatise on disability, dementia, terminal illness, and euthanasia.
One evening, late in 1997, over the space of three hours, what seemed to be ‘flu’-like symptoms reduced my wife Jessica to a terrifying inability to swallow. I telephoned the emergency GP service and spoke to a most unhelpful doctor. He refused to visit and told me to give Jessica aspirin. ‘If she can’t swallow, how am I going to give her aspirin?’, I asked. The response was that I should contact my GP in the morning, and if I became concerned in the night take her to casualty.
In the small hours of the morning I drove my wife to Newark Hospital’s casualty department, by which time panic had set in. There we were seen by a man in white, presumably a qualified medic. He stuck a spatula into her mouth, peered into it, and said he couldn’t see anything. He took a blood test, told us to go home, and said we would have the results in three days. I stood between him and the couch, faced him squarely, and asked: ‘If you can’t see anything, why can’t she swallow?’. At that, without a word, he walked out of the room leaving us alone. After what seemed like an age another man came in and announced that we were being sent to Nottingham. There followed a 25 mile ambulance trip.
Within minutes in one of that city’s casualty departments, with the aid of more sophisticated equipment, epiglottitis was diagnosed. I asked the doctor on duty what would have happened had I not stood firm. He replied that at the next stage Jessica would have been unable to breathe and would not have lasted the night. She was treated, rapidly improved, and we thought that was that.
Jessica seemed well, we forgot about the blood test, and I resumed my commuting to London. A couple of days later, in my consulting room 125 miles away, I received a phone call from my GP sister-in-law. ‘It’s myeloma’, she said. I had no idea what that incurable bone barrow cancer was. This is what the test had revealed.
There followed ten years of various treatments, including blood transfusions, two stem cell transplants, and finally, an unsuccessful donor transplant. Initially, periods of remission were such that Jessica was able to continue working as an emergency duty social worker. The months of relief gradually became shorter and shorter, and the relapses longer and she retired on ill health grounds after about five years. She died on 4th July 2007.
I am unable to follow this with what I had for dinner at Le Code Bar. Perhaps I’ll do that tomorrow.