Back to Fred Unwin…
Like Doug he was served in North Africa and Sicily during the war and, like Doug, he grew up on the ‘mean streets’ of Cambridge (it’s not all college and May Balls, you know and, paradoxically, the war saved them both. After the war Doug, using his experience as a medic became what is now known as a paramedic but was by the less impressive sounding ‘ambulance man’ in those days. (There weren’t a lot of women in the service back then.) Fred Unwin became a psychiatric nurse. (Contrary to popular perception there were quite a few male psychiatric nurses in those days – well, they needed some muscle to keep the nuts in line).
They led parallel lives and yet didn’t meet until they were pensioners and they had both lost their wives. Fred Unwin is (I nearly wrote ‘was’) a locally renowned poet and writer. He wrote an auto-biographical study of psychiatric nursing in the late ’50s entitled Dew On My Feet which focused on nurse training at Addenbrookes (yes, my old psychiatric Alma-Mater – S3, S4 and R4).
I am reluctant to go and see him even though Doug has suggested that I accompany him. As I said, I am unwilling to face what he has become. When I last encountered him it was at a poetry reading. He was tall and broad and did not look in the least like an octogenarian. He was part-poet, part-historian. Many of his books were self-published and before anyone cries contemptuously ‘Vanity publishing, eh?’ might I remind you that my own role-model – Virginia Woolf – owned her own publishing house, partially financed by her husband Leonard Woolf and many other writers – great and not so great – have done the same throughout literary history
He praised my rendition of Dorothy Parker‘s ‘You Might As Well Live’ and Philip Larkin‘s ‘This Be the Verse’. (Choices that rather suit my curmudgeonly personality). He purchased a copy of my book and passed on his compliments through Doug. I want to remember him as he was then, not as he is now.
An alternative explanation is that I am a lazy, selfish cow.
Yes, the latter sounds much more plausible.