‘We’re all fat gits; there’s no point in worrying. You worry too much. You’re too old and it’s too late' Dick gets a healthy dose of reality from a doctor friend

Nancy, my mother, drummed into me a set of lower middle-class rules, the origins and the validity of which remain, a lifetime later, lost to comprehension. Yet still I stick by them: I never stack plates when eating out; I never refer to a napkin as a serviette; I never utter the phrase ‘Pleased to meet you,’ instead of ‘How do you do?’ upon fresh introductions.

And having been introduced I never – with professionals – bring my own concerns to their attention. Until now.

Ma told me lawyers should not be plagued with leylandii debates; architects with failed planning issues and – grossest of all – dentists with a gaping maw and a forefinger pointing at a rogue molar.

Later in life I got to know how they feel. There’s nothing makes my heart sink deeper than hearing the cry: ‘I’ve got a story for you.’ I don’t even bother smiling benignly anymore as the would-be reporter regales me with a speculative non sequitur, received third hand for which he has zero evidence.

And yet…and yet.

Last season I cruised the Western Isles with a retired vascular surgeon, Dr Martin Thomas, well-known to this magazine as a venturesome voyager, former Commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, Royal Cruising Club lecturer and Royal Yacht Squadron member. And for the first time I ignored my dear departed mother’s advice and pitched my own health concerns Martin’s way.

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It all began with the morning watch, and a double bacon and egg sandwich wedged between white bread dripping with butter, which he handed me at the helm.

By day three I ventured to ask: ‘Do you ever worry about your cholesterol levels, Martin?’


‘Oh, that’s good. Er, this is delicious, and a real treat. As a rule, I don’t eat a fry-up at home.’

‘There’s muesli if you’d rather?’

Of course, I’d rather not and didn’t, but I’d opened a new take on the Hippocratic Oath.

‘Cholesterol?’ said Martin, ‘Brilliant. Die from that, you don’t even know it’s coming.’

Later during the cruise, I had another tilt for reassurance from our skipper. After all he is the man who must know what is good for health and what is not, I thought. This was after day five which had seen us both, plus the third member of our crew, semi-retired judge, Peter Haworth, taking copious draughts of Shiraz after dinner.

‘Do you have any dry days, Martin?’ He threw me a look. ‘I mean when you get home, of course, not when cruising,’ I added hastily.

‘It’s too late. You have to say “Your liver’s good.

How did you manage that?”’ he said.

Boats moored in the anchorage at Tobermory on Mull

Tobermory is charming and provides a well-sheltered anchorage. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

While walking ashore at Tobermory I lagged behind the others as my knees have stiffened up in recent months.

‘Would you recommend an operation?’ I ventured, by now more out of desperation to glean some expertise, rather than in the knowledge it would be what I wanted to hear.

‘If it’s arthritis then don’t bother. In fact, don’t bother anyway. You’re too old.’ I must have appeared a tad crestfallen as Martin added: ‘You could try cycling.’

Over dinner, Martin read from the menu: ‘What is vegan cheese? Cheese comes from a bloody cow doesn’t it?’ Then he noticed how I skirted round the dessert anyway. ‘We’re all fat gits; there’s no point in worrying. You worry too much. You’re too old and it’s too late,’ he reaffirmed.

Martin’s bleak, but honest take on Father Time’s scythe was revealed towards the end of the cruise when he fulminated against ‘quack’ doctors offering miracle cures for various terminal illnesses.

‘They trade on fear,’ he said, ‘and people with money waste it on them.’ Martin had known lifelong smokers diagnosed with lung cancer who’d flown out to some private clinic in California with a false hope of salvation.

‘They know it’s their own fault yet are cruelly deceived into believing they can be cured.’

As we sailed back to Oban, I found myself enjoying the sunsets more than usual, with a new rule to add to mother’s list: ‘You’re too old, and it’s too late!’

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