Conversations with a Physician

My father had a diligent team of physician, cardiologist, cardiothoracic surgeon and a cardiologist specialising in arrthymias. They were all top of their game; they excelled in their profession.

But before them he had a only physician, in the days when most people had general practitioners. He was top of his game; he excelled in his art. We shared the same first names.

Dr Basil looked like someone out of Zorba the Greek. He was a character. His wife was a model, Spanish dancer and dress designer. They made a handsome couple.

They were special guests at many of the community, federation and school functions. They were both respected and admired, and participated in the festivities, adding a touch of class. I remember whenever my father took him to a table and sat with him, there was always a bottle of whisky, ice and water in between the plates. Don’t get me wrong, any Greek function worth its salt in those days would have had a bottle of whisky in between the plates of meze. Dr Basil smoked, and my father had tried but we three children had blackmailed him into stopping within a few months. We all detested it even in the years of great adverts.

My father and Dr Basil were great friends.

Sometimes a few days after the functions my father would appear at Dr Basil’s consulting rooms for a physical, occasional for an insurance policy.

“Do you smoke?”

“No, my children made me stop.”


“Do you drink?”

“Eh, you know, a glass here, a glass there, like you.”

Dr Basil looked up over his horn rimmed glasses hanging low on his Roman nose, still weak after the last party. “Hmm, socially. OK, so you only drink a glass or two of whisky on weekends.”


Signed, stamped and handed over the form over for my father to apply for insurance.

Shortly after my marriage to Ines in 1993, he stopped at the roadside to assist at a motor vehicle collision. He must have been in his late sixties by then, and was a true Samaritan. After helping he got back into his car.

As he was placing the buckle of his seatbelt a truck drove into his stationary car at full speed and killed him.

My father was lost for a long time without him.

Conversations at a Funeral

Our neighbour, Mr Austen, used to work for MGM, Metro Goldwyn Meyer, in South Africa. In the 70’s my father arranged that he brought films home on the weekend and a projector, and we would show it for the neighbourhood and extended family.

Eventually my father bought a Bell & Howell 16mm projector with Cinemascope with a formal projector stand. We then helped him hang a large roll down screen under the pelmets of the curtains in the playroom, which much later would become the TV room. Sometimes on hot summer evenings we would point the projector out from the glass sliding doors and show the movie on a big screen tied against the fence and above the lemon trees. The screen would billow in the breeze like a great spinnaker, pure white, before the days of commercial advertising.

We would wait in anticipation for Mr Austen to make the delivery. He always brought a “short”, I suppose what we call a series on TV, and then a full feature film. Those were the days of classics, like Ben Hur, the real Bond movies, war movies like the Green Beret, Kelly’s Heroes and Dirty Harry.  Even The secret of Santa Vittoria, which we watched recently on DVD.

Although my father liked a practical joke, he never joked about death. He had a reverential respect, not dissimilar to the Zulus, for the dead. He was also particular about the detail of ritual and superstition created around the Orthodoxy he practised.

So he was upset the night Mr Austen brought home Funeral in Berlin. It was not correct to play on funerals according to my father. But he got even more angry when Uncle Peter walked in, master of practical Jokes:

Gia sou Pete.  Silipitiria (sympathies). Who’s the black armband for?” asked my father. Remember, the ancestors were very important. “ Zoi se mas (life to us).”

Uncle Peter was a master actor.  I remember the detail of him walking respectfully through the French doors to where we were all sitting on the veranda before we moved in to watch the movie. He put on a sad face, drooped his eyes willingly and appeared to almost cry. “What do you mean, you invited me to A Funeral in Berlin, so I was just being respectful.” He slapped my father on the back and roared with laughter

We all cracked up, and he kept repeating it. At interval after the short and before the full feature he dominated the kitchen scene with laughter, while my father was a bit subdued.

Uncle Peter’s humour always added life. He was a master raconteur.