One Long, Boring, Grinding Day After Another

WHO HATH WOE? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes?

No prizes for guessing the answer: they that tarry long at the wine, of course, especially what the Bible calls ‘mixed wine’, the ancient equivalent of our White Lightning and Special Brew snakebite.

The current favourite among the park-benchers, if I may so call them, is 8.4 per cent cider, an appalling liquid which comes in two- and three-litre bottles known technically as ‘rubber ducks’.

‘Why are they called that?’ I asked a patient who belonged to the park-bench culture.

‘I don’t really know. It’s because they float in the bath or the pond, I suppose.’

‘Not with two or three litres of cider in them.’

‘But they never have two or three litres in them for long.’

True enough: I’ve seen many a rubber duck in the gutter, but never a full one.

‘And when did you last work?’ I asked.

He screwed up his eyes and scoured his brain, like an archaeologist scratching around in the sand for traces of remote antiquity.

‘1976,’ he said, after much delay.

‘How have you kept yourself since then?’

‘I’ve been on the Sick.’

‘What illness?’

‘Drink. It’s not that I’m stupid, doctor, it’s just that I’m addictable.’

A sudden happy thought came to him, like a mitigating circumstance after an unexpected verdict of guilty.

‘I did do a bit of work, though, for a couple of weeks.’


‘In this factory. Only I couldn’t do it for long, I kept getting nervous and shaking in the morning and being sick.’

‘So either the work or the drinking had to go, and you chose the work?’

‘Well, I didn’t know about the morning drink in those days, doctor.’

Happily, his knowledge of morning drink had increased since then.

He lived with an alcoholic woman – ‘one of the best pianists in the country, doctor, when she’s sober’ – and together they rose early.

‘We wake up and start drinking at 5 o’clock in the morning.’

‘I suppose it’s a question of the early bird catching the vermouth. And why did you come to hospital?’

‘It was my doctor who sent me. His name abates me. He said I had no blood in me. I said it wasn’t because I cut my wrists or anything, it must be because I keep throwing it up.’

He shook his head sorrowfully.

‘To tell you the truth, doctor, the drinking is abysmal.’

‘Are you sure it’s the drinking that’s abysmal?’ I asked.

‘Of course, it doesn’t help that she’s an alcoholic too. She’s a lovely woman, but put a drink in her and it’s like playing with a snake.’

‘Are you violent towards her?’

‘Yes, but it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. She beat me up on video once, it’s humiliating, me being a bloke and all that.’

‘And are you going to stop?’

‘Well, I’ll have to, doctor. I mean when you’re drinking it’s just one long, boring, grinding day after another.’

‘Unlike being at work,’ I said.

Old Isaiah was right after all: woe unto them that rise early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!

British slang converter for readers from overseas:

‘Snakebite’ – a mixture of cider and lager, said to produce violent outbursts in those who drink it (and awe-inspiring hangovers). ‘White Lightning’ was a brand of very strong cider, first reduced in alcohol (from 8.4% to 7.5%, and then 5.5%) and finally discontinued in 2009 as a brand because of its association with alcoholism. Carlsberg Special Brew is a very strong lager, 9% abv, originally brewed to commemorate a visit to Denmark by Winston Churchill in 1950.

Taken from Second Opinion: A Doctor’s Dispatches from the Inner City

Available in trad book form here with free postage and packing worldwide, or here at

Also available as an eBook at (and other relevant Amazon sites)

Men Who Say ‘On My Baby’s Life’ Always Abandon Their Children In The End

WHAT ARE THE most terrible words in the English language?

Without doubt, they are ‘I love her – or him – to bits, doctor’.

For loving someone ‘to bits’ in modern British parlance connotes regular strangulation, either given or received. I leave it to marriage guidance counsellors to decide whether, in this context, it is more blessed to give or to receive.

Of course, the words ‘on my baby’s life’ are also pretty terrible, irresistibly conjuring up as they do images of Old Testament sacrifice; but, in fact, ‘on my baby’s life’ means only that everything that follows is an unadulterated lie.

Thus ‘On my baby’s life, doctor, I never touched her’ means ‘I beat her unconscious regularly and broke several bones in her body’.

It is also a fact that men who say ‘on my baby’s life’ always abandon their children in the end.

A man who both loved his girlfriend to bits and swore on his baby’s life that he hadn’t laid a finger on her took an overdose because she had left him. It seemed that he had smashed up the flat in which they lived and which he had just redecorated.

‘Every time I try to do something, doctor,’ he said, ‘it just explodes at me.’

‘And would you take another overdose, then?’ I asked.

‘Sod that, man,’ he said. ‘It’s caused too much pain in my head.’

He was a strangler, of course, though only an amateur by comparison with some I have met. In any case, a true strangler needs his strangulee, for as everyone knows it takes two to strangle. And, as it happens, there was a classic strangulee in the next bed.

She, too, had tried to kill herself with pills because she had had enough. The problem was that the strangler in her life kept telephoning, and each time she weakened and let him back into her house.

‘When he’s not strangling me,’ she said, ‘he’s very nice.’

‘How did you meet him?’ I asked.

‘In a pub.’

‘And how long had you known him before he moved in with you?’

‘A few hours.’

‘Has he a criminal record?’


‘Has he been to prison?’


‘What for?’

‘He was in eight years for murder. He ran over someone with his lorry.’

‘If I’ve understood you correctly, you met a murderer in a pub, you started to live with him a few hours later, and he has repeatedly half-strangled you.’

‘Yes, doctor.’

‘I hope you don’t mind me asking, but why do you stay with him?’

‘I love him to bits, doctor.’

I howled. I laughed. I wanted to bang my head on the wall and climb straight to the hospital roof and throw myself off. In the event, I merely clutched my head. She started to laugh.

‘Silly, isn’t it?’ she said.

‘Silly?’ I replied. ‘It’s positively insane. It’s so stupid that it’s wicked.’

‘I know, doctor. My kids don’t like him either.’

In the next bed was a young woman who had asked social services to look after her three children by three different men. I asked her why she had delivered them up to the care of social services.

‘I couldn’t be arsed with them no more,’ she replied, with that typical British elegance of phrase which so exactly matches contemporary delicacy of feeling.

Still, I know perfectly what she meant, and I often feel that way myself.

British slang converter for readers from overseas:

‘I love her to bits’ – I love her more than words can say (usu. said with mystified shake of head after a good strangling, stabbing or beating).

Sod that’ – absolutely not.

‘Lorry’ – truck.

‘Couldn’t be arsed with’ – could not be bothered with, no longer wanted anything to do with.

Taken from Second Opinion: A Doctor’s Dispatches from the Inner City

Available in trad book form here with free postage and packing worldwide, or here at

Also available as an eBook at (and other relevant Amazon sites)