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Friday, 3 March 2017

Book review – Doctor on the Ball

If you want an amusing gloriously politically incorrect comic novel, you could do a lot worse than read one of Dr Richard Gordon’s doctor series of books.

Gordon Ostlere was born in 1921, so he was sixty-four when he wrote his penultimate Doctor novel, Doctor on the Ball (1985).  He left the medical profession to concentrate on writing in 1952 and has produced many novels, screenplays as well as non-fiction. He’s now 95.

When we encounter his fictional doctor Gordon in this tome, he has been a GP in the market town of Churchford, Kent for twenty-five years and is probably ready for retirement and spending his time trying to catch fish. His first person narrative, delivered tongue in cheek, relates several hilarious or touching medical cases.

Mr Farthingale, the shop steward at the General hospital is one of his regulars. He was ‘shop steward for the Association of Confederated Health Employees (ACHE), whose complicated disagreement with his rival shop stewards for General Ancillary Services Personnel (GASP) and the Organisation for Unqualified Cooperatives in Health (OUCH) over deploying the new electrical floor cleaners had earlier kept the General’s brand-new Elizabeth Wing empty and idle for months.’ (pp80-81) It transpires that Farthingale has stolen a new bodyscanner – it’s in his front room at home, and now he wants to return it, without being caught…

This is not so unusual, as we all know. The parlous state of the hospital system is perhaps not helped by misappropriation of commodities: ‘Is there much thieving at the hospital?’ He guffawed. ‘You must be joking. Don’t you know, the National Health Service is Britain’s Sin City? Makes Chicago look like Lourdes.’ Items stolen include X-ray films for the silver, oxygen cylinders for the steel, for example, he relates.

Gordon’s targets are not only the NHS management, either. ‘The Foreign Office is for ever leaving top secret papers in bistros, the Army litters Dorset with unexploded shells, and the Exchequer loses millions of quid every time it tries to add up.’ (p90)

In the doctor’s rare spare time, he grows things: ‘In June the greenhouse became as rewarding as the end of a multiple pregnancy, cucumbers dangling as plump as green salami, aubergines as burstingly purple as nasty bruises, tomatoes pressing against the panes like commuters crammed into rush-hour trains.’ (p93) Unfortunately, it’s been a bumper year and he has too many tomatoes, and his wife Sandra has to be very inventive to use them all (which raises a chuckle or two).

The good doctor doesn’t like the women’s liberation movement or lawyers; concerning the latter, he says, ‘Perhaps because they are trained to be nasty to people and we are trained to be nice to people. And doctors are spared from growing pompous. We have to look up too many fundamental orifices.’ (p98)

There are plenty of amusing one-liners, too: ‘I’m a pathologist. All my patients have to be dead first.’ (p100).

And bearing in mind this was published in 1985, times haven’t changed much: ‘Everyone knows the NHS is tighter for cash than the Church of England.’ (p151)

Inevitably, many asides on once current personalities are no longer relevant – whether that’s mentioning politicians, TV personalities or sports people.

I imagine there will be a few PC individuals who could finds these books offensive; if you can’t appreciate a joke, then please leave the human race.

The doctor books are:

Doctor at Sea. 1953.
Doctor at Large. 1955.
Doctor in Clover. 1960.
Doctor on Toast. 1961.
Love and Sir Lancelot. 1965.
Doctor on the Boil. 1970.
Doctor on the Brain. 1972.
Doctor in the Nude. 1973.
The Sleep of Life. 1975.
Doctor on the Job. 1976.
Doctor in the Nest. 1979.
Doctor's Daughters. 1981.
Doctor on the Ball. 1985.
Doctor in the Soup. 1986.

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