Chapter 18


Harriett Jaffe would never forget the day she introduced George Baynes to her childhood friend, Nicola Perry. She and Nicola had last seen each other on a warm August day at Heathrow as her friend left for America to study psychology. Harriett had knitted a thick sweater to protect Nicola from the harsh Michigan winters, and it would not fit into her over-stuffed luggage. Tying it about her shoulders, Nicola laughed that she would wear it the next time she saw Harriett, no matter the weather.

Making good on her promise eight years later, Nicola was draped in the sweater when Harriet met her at the Philadelphia airport. This time, she also wore a coat as it was a blustery January day with the threat of snow. Nicola had traveled from Michigan to the University of Pennsylvania to participate in a Psychology Department colloquium on neuroscience and language. George Baynes, a doctoral candidate in psychology, joined Harriett for the programme.

Like many on Pradeep's ultimate Frisbee team, George was shy, brilliant and quite oblivious to the world. Resisting Harriett's many efforts to attach him to one of her many friends, George would only duck his head and mumble: "I'll let you know if I see someone I like."

As Nicola presented her paper, Harriett became ever-more impressed with her old friend's intellectual depth and eloquence in explaining her research. Ten minutes into her talk, George turned to Harriett and whispered: "I like her."

Surprised at his interest in Nicola, Harriett dutifully introduced them afterward. It was as if she and the other participants had disappeared. Nicola and George were instantly enthralled with each other and were married within six months. Three years later, George broke his mother's heart by leaving the States for Plymouth. Nicola took a faculty research post at the medical school, and George began a private psychology practise. They had twins the next year and insisted that Harriett be a Godmother to Celia and Pradeep a Godfather to Alexander. They joked that their four differing religions would work out if need be.

After seeing Martin Ellingham in Oxford, Harriet rang George telling him to expect a call from her former colleague about his haemophobia. She provided the slight background gleaned from Ellingham and warned the psychologist that he would be a "tough nut to crack."

"My specialty," George wryly noted. "Everyone in England is perfectly sane until you scratch a little below the surface. Half the menopausal women within 20 miles of Plymouth are agoraphobic and the rest are frightened by everything from Marmite to their daughters-in-law. Ellingham will be a welcome change. I haven't had a blood phobia since the paramedic in Philly."

"That's more than I can say. I've never treated a haemophobic, but that's only how his problems manifest themselves. You will find him quite intriguing if he'll say more than: 'My childhood is not the problem.' I assure you, it is."

Now, on another brisk January day, Martin Ellingham looked coldly at George Baynes and said in clipped tones: "My childhood is not the problem. As I have explained to you for the last half hour, I have a simple phobia to blood and the smell of cauterized flesh. It developed in a high stress surgical environment, and I would like to be done with it and return to that environment. I have completed the NHS on-line course of treatment and am following a desensitization regimen as the literature suggests. My aversion to blood and the resultant panic attacks have lessened. Dr. Jaffe thought that you could treat me with cognitive behaviour therapy, but it seems she was mistaken. I'll not take any more of your time."

My God, why did everything have to come down to his vile parents. Every psychiatrist and psychologist wanted to witter on about them, analyse his relationship with them, re-visit the details of his inconsequential childhood. None of which he wanted to do or saw any merit in doing. Surely there was a way to treat the last bit of the phobia without considering his parents.

He understood the theories. All problems stemmed from childhood and so forth. Rubbish. His childhood was not spent with his parents but with nannies and in boarding schools where no one cared a wit about him. It was only Aunt Joan and Uncle Phil who provided any semblance of parenting to him, and that was for brief periods during summer holiday. Otherwise, he was on his own. He raised himself. But no simpering American would understand that.

Of course, that was the problem. He would ask for a referral to an English psychologist. Someone who understood the British way of life, not the permissive "parents as friends" nonsense that the Americans found perfectly acceptable. He would make his excuses and return to Port Wenn immediately. No reason to linger in Plymouth. But then there was no reason to hurry back to Port Wenn. Any attraction he had to the village was now in London, where he aspired to be but couldn't quite reach.

Roger Fenn had called in yesterday after surgery with an excuse for a cup of tea and a chat. It had been another trying day, and the rain made the approaching night all the more bleak. Feeling tired and lonely, he invited Fenn into his kitchen.

"Martin, I know you aren't one for advice, but you need to see Louisa in London. You go on about how you want nothing more than to be in London and how much she hates London. Why not go on to London. The place must be brimming with shrinks who can help even a stubborn bastard like you. Forget this bloke in Plymouth. Get on to London, sort things out with Louisa and get treated. She's made the decision to leave the village. You could do the same. The PCT can find another GP for Port Wenn. Not as good as you, but good enough for this lot."

More to be rid of Fenn than any thought he would follow the man's suggestion, Martin agreed to consider the plan. Any decent psychologist could put him through CBT in about eight intensive weeks, and he might then ease his way back into surgery. He had followed the postings and knew what was available. Even with the needed re-training, he could soon return to one of the major London hospitals. Maybe Roger was right. The life he had been only considering was possible.

Outside the prying eyes of Port Wenn, he and Louisa could take their time to sort things out. She had a post teaching at a good school, so there was no worry that she find a job. Maybe she was as fed up with Port Wenn as he was and happily rid of the village. London offered many things to an intelligent, interesting woman like Louisa. He often wondered what kept her in Port Wenn. She did not have the brittle veneer of London women, but she was every bit as smart as they were. And beautiful, so very beautiful. My God, he missed her!

Driving to Plymouth the next day, he thought to give George Baynes a chance to help him. If he was not comfortable with Harriett's American, he would let it be known and work out his own way to leave Port Wenn. Clearly, this Baynes was not what he needed, and he could pursue Roger's suggestion of treatment in London. He pointedly consulted his watch before the psychologist continued:

"Please calm down Dr. Ellingham. You are as familiar with the Freudian theories as I am. We have to examine your childhood if you are to finally cope with your problems. CBT will treat the phobia, but it will not help with your underlying depression and anger. You want to return to surgery, and I can help you. Are you willing to do what it takes?"

"No, I don't wish to talk about my parents. I may be slightly depressed because of my condition, and I am only angry because you have wasted my time rather than proceed with a course of treatment. I'll pay you for your time today and get on with it. Send the bill to this address," Martin commanded, as he extended a business card.

"There will be no fee for my time, Dr. Ellingham. You do not value the advice I have given you, so let me give you a little more free advice. Harriett saw in you a very hurt, depressed and lonely man who is too stubborn to do anything about it. In my brief conversation with you, I understand your problems.

"I believe it was your countryman, Shakespeare, who paraphrased the Bible by writing 'Pride goeth before the fall.' You may foolishly imagine that you need not address the underlying issues causing the haemophobia and other problems in your life. That level of arrogance has left you unfulfilled and alone in a village that you hate.

"As you return to that village today, please ask yourself if you want to be miserable for the next thirty to forty years. Or do you want a life in which people will respect you professionally and you will be satisfied personally. Now, please leave Dr. Ellingham. I have a waiting room filled with patients who – unlike you – value my time and advice."

So stunned was he by this bloody American's brusque manner that Martin turned on his heel and left the office. Head down and barely containing his anger, he hurried to the car park where he clicked open his car and fell into the seat. With his eyes closed and hands pressing the wheel, he laboured to normalize his breathing.

Slowly, equilibrium was restored. But his eyes remained closed as his left hand slipped to the seat next to him, imagining Louisa was there with him. Returning from dinner with the Parsons in Truro, he and Louisa had said little as a John Tavener piece played on the CD. Few cars were on the road, and his hand would fall from the wheel to rest on her thigh, caress her arm, stroke her face. How she shivered at his touch. How he marveled at the feel of her.

That was what he missed most and now could only remember. Her hand sliding into his with a brief tightening of her fingers to reassure him. Her hair grazing his cheek as she examined the tiny pieces of the clock he was restoring. Aroused by her eyes meeting his as they walked toward each other. Feeling the warmth radiating from her body as he woke next to her in the morning. This feeling, this pleasure of Louisa was not a sexual craving, it was a primal craving. It was a craving he had never realized until Louisa. Being in accord with another human, so unknown to him for so many years, was what he lost. What he tried to forget as he opened his eyes, but knew was only forestalled.

Then he methodically punched into his sat/nav the address of Augusta Ada Lovelace School in Turnham Green.

Continued . . .