Saturday, 12 April 2008

A sideways look at the world of Dr Crabbe

Hope you enjoyed your Easter hols, everyone. Nice, wasn't it, waking up cosy in bed last Sunday to see two inches of snow outside, and thinking great, the cricket season starts this week?

Like most of us I've taken a couple of weeks off from thinking about Grimes. I've just started looking at the score afresh, uncluttered by preconceptions such as remembering any of the notes or the rhythms.

Next Thursday's rehearsal is the first of the summer term. It will also be, as you know from Nan's txts, an all-day affair. Principals at 11am, rest of chorus to join at 1pm. Rather like cricket, in fact: lunch and tea breaks, and perhaps some scampering off for rain or snow showers or bad light or another bollocking for not knowing the music well enough. I hope we perform as a team rather better than England's middle order.

I've got a temporary job which is based in Lincoln's Inn Fields, right in central London. Rather excitingly, it's just next door to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. This is another of those curious, free, London gems. In its display cases are jars of pickled foetuses, five-legged lizards, and skeletons of eight-foot Irish giants. Most entertaining are the gleefully annotated nubs of diseased offal hacksawed off some Regency pauper without the encumbrance of anaesthetic. ("This grapefruit-sized tumour was removed from a Mr Phillibert of Crouch End on 6 June 1784. His screams were said to be audible as far as Islington. He died at 6am the next day.")

It's only one of several attractions in the area for the lunchtime flaneur. The Oxbridge-like tranquillity of Lincoln's Inn itself, the weird and wonderful Soane Museum, are there too. But for sheer rubbernecked fascination, the Hunterian is something else, a show-and-tell casebook of eighteenth-century medical misfortune in freeze frame. After a while you get blase about it all, like the surgeon bantering about lunch while in the middle of slicing up somebody's pancreas. You happily work through your Sainsbury's egg and cress sandwich while staring at encephalitic skulls, monster cysts, prolapsed intestines and Mr Hunter's mighty surgical toolshed.

It's all a world that would have been familiar to two characters in Grimes: the dodgy pharmacist Ned Keene, who would probably have misappopriated the pickling alcohol and sold it off to Mrs Sedley, and Dr Crabbe, the non-singing physician, dismissed by Boles as a drunken charlatan ("He drinks! Good health to all diseases!"). So I'll count my visits as research.

Talking about surgeons, Mario, I hope we'll have the pleasure of your company on Thursday? I'll bring some egg sandwiches for the Tea Interval, and you can entertain us with stories from the operating table...

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