September 9th, 2013


No Stern Untoned

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.