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Greetings from the Antipodes

Douglas Death

Knee reconstruction surgery has prevented me from being there in body but I am certainly there in spirit!

Reg has asked me to make a contribution to the evenings proceedings and I can best do that by recalling the memory of a great character of our earlier days - Professor Merlin.

Prof. Merlin was a man known for many things not the least his graphical explanation of the mechanism of the “descent of the testicles” inviting us to envisage the lecture hall to be likened to the abdominal cavity, with the descending testicles “swinging from the bell ropes of St. Cremaster” a lecture hard to forget!

He was also a classical scholar with more than a passing interest in Greek mythology. This was particularly exemplified for me in our first year at the RVC. I had attended one of the College dances and at the end of the dance it was too late to return my partner to her Hall of Residence. Somehow I managed to get access to the Sick Bay for the night. We were disturbed in the early morning by the arrival of a cleaner: a long, lean and cadaverous character known to us all as “Creeping Jesus” and well known for his total lack of humour, he reported the incident to the College authorities. In due course I presented myself to a group of senior staff in the Board Room, standing as a lone figure in front of a long table with the august gentlemen including Prof. Merlin sitting in a line across the table. I was reminded of the gravity of my sins and my responsibility of upholding the good name of the College and the profession. There was then some question of my suitability in continuing as a student. Naturally, this was somewhat worrying! I was asked to leave the room while the matter was discussed and spent what seemed to be an eternity waiting outside. I was recalled and was given a severe “dressing down” by the chairperson and was told that on this occasion and subject to my future good behaviour, I could continue on the course. I assured the gentlemen of my good intentions and was allowed to leave. As I left, I couldn’t help but notice the severe and disapproving looks of all the gentlemen sitting at the table with the exception of Prof. Merlin who had a huge grin on his face. A day or so later, walking along a corridor, I met Prof. Merlin, who drew me to one side, and said “Mr. Death, the recent incident reminds me of the gods of Greek mythology, Morpheus and Somnus, don’t you know, Death and his brother, Sleep" Whereupon he gave a chuckle and meandered off along the corridor – I believe I owe Prof. Merlin a debt of gratitude!

Which brings me to a second incident, in which I believe I am owed a belated apology. During our final year at the Field Station I had invited a young lady to visit and to have lunch in the refectory. When lunch time arrived, we went down and enjoyed our lunch but upon our return, I discovered that I had forgotten to lock the room and various persons (who shall be nameless, but some I know are here present) had seen fit to unscrew and remove the door to my room and remove all the furniture from the room except for a solitary chair sitting in the middle of the room! So much for my intentions for the afternoon!

After a spell in rural practice in Devon, I set off to see the world, starting with a working holiday in New Zealand I never got round to leaving and should any of you make the perilous journey to the other side of the world, you are sure of a warm welcome. Similarly, when fully recovered, I intend to make a further return visit to the UK and you may well find that I turn up on your doorsteps like the proverbial “bad penny”. All in all our time at the RVC must be among the most memorable times of our lives and we all will have similar stories to tell. I regret enormously not being there to hear some of them being told over a few drinks. Thank you all for the wonderful contribution that each and every one of you made to my life and for the memories that still give me a chuckle in my old age.

Thank you, and all the best to all of you - Doug.