Thursday, 11 August 2011

Speaking in sympathy

I was back at the Ear, Throat and Nose hospital today, finally getting the opportunity to discover whether my operation in June had been a success. I saw the big cheese, Mr Rubin, and the head of speech therapy, a wonderful Israeli woman called, Ruth. They wanted first to talk about the bad experiences I’d had in the hospital, and in fairness I couldn’t have asked for a more sympathetic pair of ears. The first thing Mr Rubin did was apologise profusely, and with that, the anger I'd been carrying around for weeks vanished in a puff of smoke. It's amazing how effective an apology can be. The ability to apologise – and more importantly mean it – is something that separates the great from the mediocre. It doesn’t take very much, and it instantly defuses tension. Even if the other person is still violently angry, he will slowly simmer down, because shouting at someone who is holding their hands up and accepting responsibility becomes ultimately futile.

I’m afraid it’s something of a generational thing. Mr Rubin, I’m sure, will not mind being described as an upper-middle-aged gentleman. He comes from an age of chivalry; an age where people seem to understand the importance of taking responsibility, not just for their own actions, but for the actions of those who work with them. I learnt a great deal in that meeting; mostly about myself.

Anyway, the good news is that my vocal chords have healed “rather perfectly.” Rubin was extremely impressed, and said that I could take full credit, because he could tell that I'd been conscientious, not spoken for a full week after the procedure, and therefore given the chords the time they needed to heal properly. And with that statement my respect for him grew even more. Earlier on, he'd taken responsibility for the bad things that had happened to me - none of which he was personally responsible for - and now he was allowing me to take the credit when plainly the extraordinary success of the operation was entirely brought about by the absolute skill he showed when removing the polyp from my vocal chords. I guess when you're the best in the business, you have nothing left to prove.

In any case, a large weight has gone from my mind. After the session with Rubin, Ruth took me through lots of vocal exercises I can now do to strengthen the muscles and get me singing again.

August 11th, 1661 was a Sunday, and Pepys went to church at St Olave’s in the morning, before heading up to Clerkenwell for the afternoon service, where, by chance, he was able to look longingly at the renowned beauty, Mrs Frances Butler, who was known in society circles as La Belle Boteler. Butler was the sister of the enigmatic friend of our hero, who Pepys referred to as, M. L’Impertinent. After church, Pepys went to Gray’s Inn Fields – a spot where posh Londoners would take the air and simultaneously exchange tittle-tattle. The gossip du jour was about the king, and it really wasn’t very interesting. He’d been out hunting for stags the previous day, and had been so devastatingly thrusting about everything, that all his horses had been run ragged, and only two or three of his courtiers had been able to keep up with him. A man in his prime... And poor Catherine de Breganza was only 12!

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