June 18, 2007
Harvard Square Observer

English Invasion

Ernest Cassara

Well, Ye Olde Observer has returned from London.  The first part of our stay was quite pleasant.  Heard a lovely concert by the Philharmonia at Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank.  The larger Royal Festival Hall next door has been undergoing refurbishing for more than a year now. At this writing, I understand it is open again.

This being the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Edward Elgar, the program we heard featured his splendid second symphony, and, less familiar to me, his violin concerto.

The British are taking this anniversary quite seriously. The Daily Telegraph included in its news pages a CD by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” on one day and his “Serenade for Strings,” and shorter pieces, on another day.  Then, it included a certificate to be handed in at WH Smith booksellers “on the High Street” for the “Planets” by Holst, and, on successive days, other British classics.

This was not the most pleasant of visits for me, however, I ending up flat on my back in a hospital bed, my system having been invaded by some bug.  Of course, no pain without some gain.  I was able to observe the National Health Service at first hand.

Shortly after medicine was “socialized” in the U.K., we were spending a sabbatical year, 1962-63, from my American university, in Cambridge, that great academic center.  One of our three kids needed medical attention.  The physician who arrived at our door informed me that he was from “north of the border.”  Hearing the burr in his voice, I realized sooner than I might have otherwise that he meant Scotland!

After he had dealt with the kid’s problems, he and I were standing in the front hall.  I said that at home I would at this point be reaching for my wallet.  He assured me that under the new British system there was no need.

And, a couple of years ago, at our favorite hotel in Tavistock Square, my wife rounded the box spring on the bed and separated several inches of skin from flesh.  Off we went in a taxi to the outpatient department of the University of London College of Medicine and Surgery, not far from the hotel.  There, a nurse taped the skin back on.  Again, no mention of a payment.

Well, there was need for money in my stay at the same hospital.  It is handy to have a credit card in such a situation.  So, not being a Brit, I had to pay hospital fees. (I suspect that were I not able to pay, it would have made no difference.  Certainly, many of the immigrants in the streets of London may not be able to do so.)

At this writing, I still do not feel fully recovered, the antibiotics having knocked the bug out of my system, but leaving me quite weak!

In our ward of four beds was a gentleman who had slipped, grabbed onto a lamp post, and, it was thought, may have injured his lower spine.  The tests were a couple of days away, so he wandered about and entertained the rest of us.  He had been in the investment business - he assured me he did not mean credit cards - and had a fund of stories about life in general.  He was working on a book of his earlier life in Ireland, which I look forward to reading.

So, the whole affair was quite instructive.  I’m sure I’ll be even happier about it, once I have my strength back!


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