The Towpath

We were walking along the towpath of a canal on the outskirts of Edinburgh on Saturday morning, when the autumn equinox slipped past unobtrusively in the opposite direction.  A party of about thirty.  We had foregathered on this glorious morning to build up an appetite for lunch, which was a celebration of a Very Important Birthday of a friend of mine from medical school days.  Would I say a few words between courses?  It crossed my mind to read the assembly my friend’s blurb (which, as it happens, I wrote 37 years ago) from our class yearbook.

I was so grateful to my friend, et ux, for dragging me out of my garret into the sunshine.  Speedbird has just topped 100,000 words.  Page 399.  That is seriously wordy.  I must avoid the lure of loquacity with the sole purpose of turning on to page 400.  I am at the stage of final revision.  I read the tome and see how far I can get before some ghastly, graunching, clunking cliché of a literary artifice brings me up short and I think, “Well, that never happened!”

Our rendezvous on Saturday was an hour away so I gave my journey 90 minutes (+ 5 to set up the sat nav).  Remember the Cahoots doctrine (Campbell Adds Hours On Over The Schedule) which instructs you to work out your journey time and then add half as much again.  Consequently I arrived half an hour early.  I had coffee in a nearby hostelry and sat and contemplated the timeline of Speedbird.  It is contemporaneous (contemporanean… contemporary?).  A key event occurs on 8/9/18.  So I was able to reconstruct the entire novel in real time and put a date to every single episode.  Part 3 in the life of the troubled doc runs from April 25 through to October 1st – which, from the prospect of the equinox, is presumptuous.  I used my diary to give each chapter a specific day.  So, for example, on September 6th, my diary states “30 Euston Square… Climb Stac Pollaidh.”  Euston Square and Stac Pollaidh are about 650 miles apart, which implies a punishing schedule, but for the fact that Euston Square refers to me, and An Stac to ACS.  So Euston Square is real, and An Stac fantastical.  (Actually they are both fantastical: I refer you to my recent blog Caveat Emptor, but that’s another story.)  The distinction between that which is real and that which is imaginary is becoming blurred.  You can see that I am leading a Walter Mitty existence which is bordering on the delusional.

I might share some, but not all, of Speedbird’s precise dates with you, gentle reader.  I feel I ought to know more than I necessarily reveal.  In going through the book with a fine tooth comb I’m really copy-editing; Ms Hathaway cannot have blue eyes on page 385 when they were hazel on page 14.  It’s like a huge jigsaw puzzle.  As Mrs May and M. Barnier say, nothing is decided, until everything is decided (although we are beginning to suspect they will say, nothing is decided).

Anyway, after our stroll by the Union Canal, we repaired to a lovely old world hotel in Ratho and dined.  What a sweet occasion.  There were fine speeches, not least from the man himself, and one of considerable charm and wit from the older of his two wonderful daughters.  I got through mine more or less unscathed, but then all I had to do was read a text.

It was fun to look at the yearbook, and reminisce.  My friend was an academic high flier, and he chose to become a GP.  That sentence might have read: My friend was an academic high flier, but he chose to become a GP.  Medicine is going through a tough time at the moment, but it will survive and prosper so long as it chooses “and” over “but”.  The essence of my friend’s work, and his life, as his daughter pointed out, is kindliness.  He is a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practice.  The motto of the RCGP is “Cum Scientia, Caritas.”  His daughter, a classicist, will translate.

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