Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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My father died almost nine years ago, but the two big bath towels I inherited from him, which receive constant use, still occasionally fling out a little whiff of sandalwood, bringing him instantly back. In their former incarnation he used them to keep his clients warm on his massage bench, and they became slowly steeped in his own special blend of oils. (I learn from tonight's University Challenge that "masseur" is an anagram of "Erasmus", a fact that would certainly have pleased him.)

Massage was something my father took up properly in his sixties, and he devoted much of the last twenty years of his life to it - first in its conventional Swedish form, and increasingly as a component of his wider interest in alternative healing. Having worked through acupressure, Bach Flower Remedies and numerous other approaches he settled eventually on medicinal dowsing with the aid of a pendulum as his method of choice. He was a good masseur, but I was never so sure about the pendulum, still less the homeopathic tissue salts he used to tape to one's chakra-ends at its behest. He had an embarrassing habit of informing people (on behalf of the pendulum) that their stiff hip was a result of their great-grandmother's having caught gonorrhea. But it was worth it for the first-class pummelling he gave my neck and shoulders.

For all his eccentricities he had a loyal clientele, including many of the teachers from my school, an England football international (she taught me PE), and not one but two TV detectives. Actually, the first of these was just a detective's foil - Hugh Fraser, who played Hastings to David Suchet's Poirot - but foils are essential, and thanks to my father this one's legs were of a length. The other was Inspector Wexford, otherwise known as George Baker, otherwise known as Emperor Tiberius of the Capri minnows. When they made The Wexford Mysteries for TV they filmed it in my home town, and Baker liked the area enough to move there. How my father inveigled him onto his massage bench I have no idea, but he was a charming and charismatic man, so I don't find it entirely surprising.

So, now I dry myself with the towel that once warmed the ruler of the known world. Kevin Bacon, eat your heart out.

He sounds delightfully eccentric. (Oh, Sandalwood!)

It's a very evocative scent, for me.

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Re: The Erasmus Pendulum

He had several pendula, though he certainly had his favourites, and presented me with more than one in his lifetime. I have hung on to a couple - just in case.

Never having seen these shows, I'm more impressed that your towels once cushioned Number Two from The Prisoner.

Interesting. I realised that The Prisoner had crossed the Atlantic when I saw it parodied on The Simpsons, but I was too young for it the first time round, and although it's been repeated since I only dipped in. Here it's a cult show, but I'd say it's a pretty small cult. I, Claudius, on the other hand, is widely considered a contender for the best drama series the BBC ever produced.

Oh, I, Claudius played here as well, and was very popular; I just didn't see it. How many remember The Prisoner I couldn't say either, but it made a big impression on the science-fiction community. I wasn't part of that yet; I was just 12 when I saw it, old enough to realize that I was missing a lot that I'd understand if I were a little older, so it became the one show of my childhood I was anxious to see again - though it took ten years before I was able to, which was rather longer than I'd had in mind.

Actually, the first of these was just a detective's foil - Hugh Fraser, who played Hastings to David Suchet's Poirot - but foils are essential, and thanks to my father this one's legs were of a length.

That's pretty awesome.

The other was Inspector Wexford, otherwise known as George Baker, otherwise known as Emperor Tiberius of the Capri minnows. The Prisoner, so all his Roman appearances without striped scarf and umbrella were faintly puzzling.)

I must have seen him first in The Dam Busters, though I didn't realise that until I looked him up a minute ago. He first doggypaddled into my ken in I, Claudius - which was also the first time I became properly aware of Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, Brian Blessed, Patrick Stewart, and much of the rest of the British acting establishment. (The 13-year-old me was particularly confused by Stewart's character. I remember thinking: "Sir Janus? Surely they didn't have that title in those days?" When I came to read Ben Jonson all was made clear.)

Heavens! The more you unwind your family history, the more curious, enchanting trinkets are revealed.

Erasmus indeed!

Nine

It's only since I started writing it down that I've realised how strange it is. But then, perhaps that's true for everyone.

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