Monday 31 March 2008

Brain surgery

Did you see The English Surgeon last night on TV? Sorry about this, but we don’t have a water cooler here to have these chats around; and apart from sport I watch about one TV programme per year, which is plenty (I tried some Poliakoff drama last year, and its turgid ponderousness put me off for another six months), so I tend to get excited when I chance on something (I missed the beginning) good.

Anyway: an old-style English neurosurgeon called Henry goes off to the Ukraine to do some brain surgery; his host is a buttoned-up medic whose favourite painting shows Cossacks rampaging; he uses a battery-powered drill and some none-too-sharp looking bits bought off a market stall; and he’s been doing this for fifteen years – going off to the Ukraine with a suitcase full of used NHS hi-tec stuff that would otherwise be binned. He has to tell a grandmother that her grandson is going to die within months and there’s nothing he can do about it; there’s a gorgeous 23-year-old woman who is going to go blind first, and then die; and sometimes he wins, he enables someone to start living again, he makes a difference.

At the end of it Henry stalks across a muddy field in his big black hat in front of some stark and spindly trees and a piercingly blue sky and mumbles something so obvious and true it shouldn’t need saying but it does, again and again, and you cry.

Meanwhile, while we’re into foreign fields, I’m still waiting for words from Oliver, who is living what I hope he can make a CBe book out of: Portrait of the Artist as a Night-Watchman in a Factory in a Provincial City in China. This isn’t brain surgery, but good things however small are welcome.

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