Sunday 31 March 2019

Woman's Own, Woman's Dream and Deluded Sparrows

Regular readers of this blog will know that it was assiduous study of my mother's copies of Woman's Own that made me the man I am today. One of the regular features I enjoyed (along with Mary Grant's Problem Page, the adverts for mysterious women's things, and the musings of Beverley Nichols) was 'Doctor's Diary' by one Roderick Wimpole, M.D. This invariably took the form of a dialogue between the doctor and a worried woman patient, who as often as not was suffering from some form of 'nervous exhaustion' (a housewife's lot was hard in those days when most of them didn't go out to work and had only to do the housework and wait on Hubby). The patient's anxiety would soon be allayed by Dr Wimpole's reassuring, fatherly words, and perhaps a prescription for a mild sedative – though, as the image above shows, there was sometimes talk of more drastic treatment.
  Naturally I assumed that the chap with his back to us in the picture was Roderick Wimpole in person, and that the words below were his. I was very young. In fact, as Katharine Whitehorn recalls in her memoir Selective Memory, the 'Doctor's Diary' feature was written by a woman in the office who happened to be married to a gynaecologist and knew how to use of a medical dictionary.
 I was reminded of all this while reading the latest Auberon Waugh novel I'm enjoying (after this and this). The hapless hero of Who Are the Violets Now?, Arthur Friendship, earns his living by writing for Woman's Dream, a magazine that sounds very much like Woman's Own. Among his responsibilities are writing 'Padre's Hour' (as the Rev Cliff Roebuck), and, as Dr Dorkins, a medical column full of such stuff as this:
'When Mrs B came into the consulting room, it was clear she had something on her mind. She needed a bit of drawing out, but I was soon able to discover that she was worried because she no longer enjoyed her housework, was listless, and felt tingling in her finger-tips in the early morning...'
Pure Roderick Wimpole.
  At the point I've reached in the novel, the semi-deranged proprietor of Woman's Dream has had the bright idea of publishing a shock special issue devoted to cancer (about which, of course, Arthur knows almost nothing). Feeling that this might be his moment, Arthur, as Dr Dorkins, is diligently pursuing his researches (cue darkly comic hospital scene – a bit of a Waugh speciality) and has high hopes for the success of the special issue. Something tells me it might all go horribly wrong...

Meanwhile, I'm being woken early every morning by sparrows charging beak-first at my bedroom window pane. The first time this happened it was accompanied by much frantic chatter, fluttering of wings and scrabbling at the roughcast. I thought there must have been a squirrel (or corvid) attack on a nest, or a lost chick somewhere, but I could see no evidence of either. As it persisted day after day – and mercifully got rather less noisy – I realised that it must just be a case of sparrows fighting their own reflections, mistaking them for intruders on their territory. They are birds of very little brain. Let's hope it doesn't end badly –

I was the shadow of the sparrow slain
By the false rival in the window pane...


  1. An interesting debate sparked by those lines here:

  2. Yes. For myself, I admire the Shade poem far more than I did when I first read Pale Fire. I think it stands alone perfectly well (though obviously its real place is in the novel).