Lost Horizon, Samsara, and a Visit to the Doctor

samsaraDon’t you hate it when you wake up with a tune in your head and can’t seem to get a handle on it? No matter what you do the half remembered tune is playing away in the back of your mind and you cannot concentrate on anything else because you desperately need to identify that tune. It happened to me recently and I was stuck with a tune tinkling away in the background of my head, annoying me no end when eventually a line of the lyric came to me and I was able to track the song down using google. It was a song called  ‘The World is a Circle’ and it came from a musical version of Lost Horizon.

 

I must have mentioned Lost Horizon by author James Hilton many times in this blog. It’s one of my favourite books and it was made into a classic movie by Hollywood director Frank Capra which is well worth getting on DVD. Surprisingly, the film was remade in the seventies as a musical. It was, perhaps, one of those movies generated by the huge popularity of the Sound of Music but sadly it wasn’t a success despite some great songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and it was they who wrote ‘The World is a Circle.’

Lost Horizon is about a community in the Tibetan highlands hidden in a secret valley known as Shangi-la. There the people led by the High Lama, Father Perrault, decide to make the valley into a place of safekeeping for great art, literature and music, fearing it could all be lost in a catastrophe like a world war. The religion of the valley is a mixture of Christianity and Buddhism and that is where the lyrics of the song come from. Samsara, in the Buddhist way is the cycle of life; birth death and rebirth, represented by the circle. That circular vision of life is not always so easy to explain but it brings to mind a little anecdote that I think is worth sharing . .

A long time ago, years ago in fact I had this really bad pain down my right arm. It didn’t get any better, in fact it got worse and worse so I called in for an appointment at the doctors. I got to see Doctor Kowalski (as usual names have been changed to protect the innocent.) The thing with Doctor Kowalski was that anyone could see him any time because he wasn’t a doctor who was much in demand. Why not you might ask? Well, he wasn’t a particularly popular doctor. No one really wanted to see him because all he wanted was to get you into his office and get you out again.
I sat down and the doctor smiled and asked ‘how can I help you?’
‘Well’, I began, ‘It’s this pain down the side of my arm . .’
I stopped because Doctor Kowalski was already writing out a prescription. Already, and this was before he examined me and before I even finished speaking. Moments later I was on my way out of his surgery and the next patient was already on his way in. All I had to show for it was a prescription for pain killers.

Dr Kowalski must have looked good on the surgery stats as it looked like he dealt quickly with a lot of people but as we all know, statistics don’t always tell the full story.
A few days later the pain was as bad as ever so I went back but I asked to see Doctor Edwards. Now Doctor Edwards was one of the most popular doctors in the surgery. Why? Because he actually listened to you! He was fully booked up for a while and it took me a week to get in to see him but when finally I sat down in his office, he listened attentively, asked a few questions, took a look at my arm and then sent me for an X ray. It turned out I had a nerve trapped in my neck which was referring pain to my arm and I needed to see the physiotherapist but the waiting time was about six weeks so I decided to go to a private physio.

The fee was something like £50 an hour and my first session was pretty good. A good check-up and a great shoulder and back massage which did me no end of good. The next week I went back but this time the physio said, think I’ll try you on the ‘machine’. He explained quickly what it was: Something which stimulated the muscles and increased blood flow which apparently was a good thing for my condition. I lay back on his couch and this machine with lots of suckers was attached to various points on my neck and shoulder and went to work. I was on it for thirty minutes. It did nothing for me but lightened my wallet by £25 and I noticed that in the other room another patent was getting the helpful massage I had been expecting. When it came to booking the next appointment I decided that a free day in my busy schedule wasn’t available. Anyway, a week or so later I got to see the NHS physio. She was a lady, a little old lady in fact. When I walked in to see her she offered me a seat then shouted at me to ‘sit up straight!’ No wonder I had neck and back issues because my posture was dreadful! She may have been a little old lady but she gave me some stick, not only verbally but she did a lot of work on my neck with her hands and eventually the pain in my arm slipped away and I gradually returned to normal.

At the end of my treatment she told me not to bother going to the doctor again; ‘Come straight to me and I’ll sort you out but for heavens sake, sit up straight. Get your posture right and you’ll be fine!’ ‘OK,’ I said, ‘thanks.’

Some months went by and I began to get the same symptoms again so I went into the doctors surgery and asked to see the physio. The lady on the desk said no, I had to see the doctor first. I told her what the physio had said, go straight to her but the receptionist was adamant- I could only see the physio with a referral from the doctor. As I was dejectedly leaving the surgery I saw the physio and went over and told her what happened. She took me back to the reception, gave the receptionist there some first class stick and booked me in the next week to see her. Happy days!

About six to eight months later I once again began getting the neck and arm problems so I returned to the surgery. The receptionist advised me (with far too much smugness, I thought) that the physio had retired and a new younger model had taken over and this one would not see me without first seeing the doctor.

I made an appointment, went into to see the doctor and found myself with Dr Kowalski, pen in hand, ready to write me out a prescription for painkillers!

See, the world is a circle after all!


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The Joy of a Second Hand Bookshop (and two particular gems)

There is nothing more pleasurable, certainly to me, than messing about, not in boats but in a second hand book shop. I do love flicking through the old and worn books on the shelves and if you persevere and have patience you will always find at least one book worthy of your attention. Here are two of my finds, one new and one old.

Michael Powell: a life in the movies.
IMG_20150608_221725edMichael Powell is perhaps not a name that leaps out at you but he was a movie director who made movies in partnership with screenwriter Emeric Pressburger. His most famous film is probably ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, a movie starring David Niven and Kim Hunter. Niven plays a pilot who miraculously survives certain death in plane crash returning from a bombing mission in World War 2 Germany. He is then visited by a conductor from the next world, advising that his survival is a mistake and he should be dead and he now must be prepared to enter the next world. Niven decides this is not on at all as now he has fallen in love with Kim Hunter and he decides to appeal. This fantasy is interwoven with another explanation of his issue, that of a serious brain trauma that needs the help of a neurosurgeon. I loved that movie and you can see it for yourself as it’s regularly shown on British TV.
Powell and Pressburger made numerous movies together but hit a downturn in their fortunes when they made the controversial film ‘Peeping Tom’. The film was about a murderer who films the death of his victims and was not well received at the time.
Years later, directors like Martin Scorsese revived the film and praised it as a lost classic but at the time Powell and Pressburger’s career stalled fatally.
Powell’s autobiography is a wonderful read. His career as a film maker spanned some exciting times in the industry and the book is divided into three sections: Silent, Sound, and Colour. Not many directors can boast of covering a filmmaking span like that. The book is a wandering, meandering look at Powell’s life and career. It’s a rather disjointed read -Powell tends to go off at a tangent about various things- but somehow that seems to add to the enjoyment of the book rather than detract from it.

Little bit disappointed though to get to the end of this pretty hefty book to find that it’s only volume one! Better get back to the shop and see if they have volume two!

James Hilton: Lost Horizon.
8391034163_f7c1b5accb_bI picked up this wonderful gem of a book at charity shop years ago for the bargain price of twenty five pence and if I could convert the pleasure this book has given me into pounds, shillings, and pence, it would be a figure that far eclipses that initial outlay. James Hilton has become one of my favourite writers and one of my personal writing heroes. (Check out my blog about him here!) This highly original novel reflects the fear and sadness that many must have felt in the days prior to World War 2. There must have been a feeling then that with new technology the approaching conflict could be the end of civilisation.
In this wonderful book, a group of lamas in a monastery hidden from the world by a chance of geographical fate decide to look ahead and ensure that the riches of the world, not gold or silver, but literature, art and music, should be preserved should a holocaust engulf the world. To ensure that their creed of respect and compassion endures they select a British diplomat, Conway, to carry on their work and set about bringing him to Shangri-La. Shangri La is a small community in Tibet insulated from the world by mountains on all sides and the people here enjoy unheard of longevity.
Despite his capture Conway is taken into the confidence of the High Lama and given his task of continuing the community and its traditions but his fellow captives have differing ideas, especially Mallinson, his young vice-consul who is desperate to escape.
I won’t spoil things for you just in case you come across the book, or the outstanding 1937 movie directed by Frank Capra but I will say that this novel is one of my top ten books of all time, and one I return to time after time.


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