The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks. Revised Edition (1966) by Robertson Davies

Tuesday: The doctor tells me that I must have a test tomorrow to discover what is going on inside me. This throws me into a frenzy of apprehension. Respectful and even reverential as I am toward the medical fraternity, I wish upon occasions like this that I could escape to some desert island where no doctor had ever set foot. Such dreadful things happen when doctors begin their tests. I think about the Blue Baby which has been so much in the press of late. Could it possibly be that I am a Blue Adult, and that all the tests will be for nothing? I roll and toss in my bed (which has become as hot as a blast furnace) and wish that I had lived a better life, and given more to the poor. I resolve that if I survive the test I shall become a holy hermit and live in a cave, giving good advice to all who visit me. The only thing which deters me is the reflection that the standard of cooking in hermitages is notoriously low, and most hermits have ulsters.

Wednesday: The Test: I am forced to swallow about a pint of liquid cement, flavoured with chocolate; this stuff is apparently impervious to X-rays, and a giant X-ray lamp is placed behind me; a doctor who looks like a scientist in a horror film puts on a large pair of red goggles and stares right through me; I have even less concealment than a movie star in one of those new bare-bosom bathing suits. He watches the cement on its odyssey through my gizzard; every once in a while he murmurs with pleasure as my digestive system does something particularly clever; I wish that I, too, could have a peek, but it is impracticable. . . This process goes on for some time, and I begin to wonder if it is a deep plot to turn me into a living statue by stuffing me with cement, so that I may be stood outside the clinic with a lamp in my hand, as a sort of advertisement. I begin to wriggle slightly just to make sure that I retain the power of movement. . . At last it is over, and I can go home. The Test is finished. But what did it reveal? Shall I ever know?

Thursday: Spent the day recovering from The Test. Fortunately quite a number of people dropped in to see me, and I was able to describe it to them in juicy detail. But all my friends are amateur doctors, and insisted on diagnosing me themselves. Those who had gallstones were morally convinced that I was also a mass of limestone, and should be quarried immediately. The appendix veterans, on the contrary, maintained that I showed every symptom of appendicitis in the last and most horrifying stages, and urged me to be separated from my appendix within twenty-four hours or never to speak to them again. The ulster man came to put a washer on a tap and looked through the door to ask after my ulster. I denied that I was harbouring an ulster. He said that his brother-in-law had taken the same pigheaded attitude, and had eventually been seized with something resembling spontaneous combustion, and had been taken to the hospital, screaming for a drink out of a fire extinguisher. Upon the whole it was a lively day.

Friday: A woman whom I know slightly, and who knows me, sent me the following clipping from a Toronto daily: “Bristol, England, March 14. Five pints of beer, leeks, figs and liquid paraffin have been given recently to Alfred, the Bristol zoo’s 15-year-old gorilla, who has been suffering from stomach trouble. Keepers said what finally cured him, however, was a pint of cider.” I suppose this is meant to be a jocose reference to my indisposition. Humph! I reflect cynically upon Cornelius Whurr’s deathless couplet:

What lasting joys that man attend

Who has a polished female friend!

She does not realize what I have been going through; she has not heard about The Test; probably if I told her about ulsters she would interrupt with some irrelevancy about the time she had a baby. The idea that women are sympathetic is grossly overdone. Fifteen-year-old gorilla indeed!

Saturday: Received a letter today, which promised me good luck in four days if I would only copy it and send it to four other people. A TV star is alleged to have won $40,000 after receiving it, and David Van Brooks (whoever he may be) is said to have lost $20,000 after breaking the chain. . . I am joining David Van Brooks’ party, although I have no $20,000 to lose. I am capable of many varieties of idiocy, but sending chain-letters is not one of them. . . Was talking to a man today who had a long and beautiful chain running from under his waistcoat into his trousers pocket. I was agog to know what it was for, and at last I found out. On the end of it was an ingenious little machine for piercing the ends of cigars. It reminded me of another golden gadget which I once saw a man carry on a similar chain; it was a little thing like an umbrella (without any top) for stirring champagne to make it bubble. I suppose it could be used in beer, or pop, for that matter, but I have always thought of that champagne-stirrer as a symbol of luxury and abandonment.

– XII –

Sunday: Was delighted this morning to receive a tribute from the other inhabitants of my tenement on the able manner in which I have coped with the furnace this winter; it had never been cold, they said, the fire had never gone out, the ashes had not penetrated too searchingly into the living rooms, and the cries of anguish and the profanity and execrations from the furnace room had not too far transgressed the bounds of reverence and decency. I mumbled my thanks with a full heart, and dived into the cellar, to look at my old enemy. The thermometer outside registered 62, and he looked sick and beaten; I gave him a malignant kick in the lower draught and left him. . . Had to relight the monster at 11:45 p.m.

Monday: Had an opportunity this afternoon to examine the finest two-headed calf I have ever seen; it was no monstrosity, but a calf with two perfect Durham heads on one pair of shoulders; it lived for a week in this interesting condition, and when I saw it it was well preserved in ice and was on its way to the taxidermist’s. It is destined to become a macabre little ornament on somebody’s dining-room wall, and probably a nasty shock to anyone who has been too free with the dandelion wine. . . I am sure that I would not make a good taxidermist; the temptation to improve upon nature would certainly be too strong for me. Think how easy it would be, when stuffing somebody’s pet terrier, to slip a couple of human glass eyes into the sockets, instead of the usual buttons. Then the owner would really be justified in saying that his pet looked almost human. If I were stuffing this two-headed calf, for instance, I could not resist making one head smile and the other one frown, so that they looked like masks of Comedy and Tragedy. But such irreverent antics would ruin a taxidermy business, in which self-restraint is the first requirement.

Tuesday: Was passing some time in a barbershop, turning over the pages of that sterling periodical The Police Gazette, when I came upon a page of pictures of lightly-clad girls who were described in the letterpress as “beauties.” To prove that they were beautiful, their measurements of ankle, calf, thigh, hip, waist, bosom and neck were given. But I maintain that this mechanical, mathematical symmetry has nothing whatever to do with beauty. Beauty in a woman is largely made up of mystery, charm, and aloofness; these girls were about as mysterious, charming and aloof as those paper cups which are supplied with water-coolers. . . Musing thus I laid aside The Police Gazette and took up The Gospel Witness and permitted my mind to heave and roll upon the troubled seas of its passionate prose.

Wednesday: If I were a burglar, I should choose the houses I would rob by a careful inspection of their garbage cans. High livers, whose houses are sure to be stuffed with valuables, have large garbage cans from which chicken carcasses and the rinds of costly fruits protrude. Less favoured mortals have small cans, smelling of old tripe and onions. As it is the quaint custom in Eastern Ontario to expose the garbage cans to the public several times a week, this handy credit index is always available, and peeking under the lids is quicker than wiring Dun and Bradstreet. I offer this suggestion, gratis, to book agents, magazine salesmen, and such needy riff-raff.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson