Writer’s diary: stardate:16.01.2014
You’d need to be of a certain age to know what this is a still image from. It obviously made a deep impression upon me. It’s from episode ten of Colditz and it dates from December 1972. That’s forty-one years ago. I would have been nine and sitting in our lounge probably on a Sunday night glued to the TV. I don’t remember any other episode or incident from the series. What was it about this that made it stick in my memory? Maybe it was portentous.
Wing Commander Marsh (Michael Bryant), an assistant to the British Medical Officer, decides to use his extensive knowledge of mental illness for an escape. (Mmm, this might be worth looking into.) He proposes to “go insane” and be repatriated. Colonel Preston agrees to let him, so long as he follows through with it to the bitter end. Marsh does a very thorough job: his bizarre, disruptive behaviour continually annoys the other allied officers, who remain unaware of the scheme. (I’m already half-way there – none of my colleagues can stand to be in the same room as me.) However, the Germans are not convinced, and Ulmann asks a Corporal to observe Marsh closely. The Corporal has a brother who is insane, so Ulmann believes he is a better judge of Marsh’s condition than any doctor. The Kommandant initially refuses to allow the Swiss authority to examine Marsh, but relents when Marsh’s evident madness embarrasses him in front of an important visitor. (I can do that.) By the time the Germans are willing to consider repatriation, Marsh has done such a convincing job that even the Doctor is uncertain whether or not Marsh is simply pretending to be insane. After Marsh has been successfully repatriated to the UK, it is revealed that his feigned psychosis has become genuine and irreversible, and that he has been committed to a mental hospital for long-term care. (Oh. Not a happy ending. Back to making the glider in the roof space for me.) Colonel Preston immediately forbids any further escape attempts along the same lines. (Of course he does. Historically, the British military needed all the insane for officer material.)
The method of escape is based on that used by Ion Ferguson, a Royal Army Medical Corps doctor imprisoned in Colditz, who certified a number of prisoners as insane in Stalag IV-D, who were then repatriated to Britain. Ferguson then feigned his own insanity to gain repatriation in 1945. Ferguson detailed his escape in his account of his wartime experiences, Doctor at War, and the episode, Tweedledum, is a fictionalised account of his means of escape retold as tragedy.
(Thanks to Wikipedia for that. I do donate.)
What’s it got to do with me and my writing? Not too hard to guess, I would have thought, when one understands that I’m still reading through my Romney and Marsh (what a coincidence!) Files for the second time in a month. I feel like I’m going effing mad. My head is full of R&M Files bits and pieces. Yesterday, I read something and thought, ‘Oh crap! I wrote that exact same line in one of the other books.’ It took me nearly an hour to realise that I hadn’t. I’d just remembered it vividly from a previous reading. The plots of the three books are blending into one great lump of story.
In last week’s blog-post I touched on my apparent affection for the word ‘that‘, which I seemed to pepper my early writing with like a drunk absently salts his chips. I’ve lost count of the number of ‘thats‘ I’ve chopped from Making a Killing this week. But it’s worse than that. I fear that in my quest and gusto to cut them all out – like a surgeon digs out cancerous tumours – I might have removed some ‘thats’ that maybe should have stayed. Christ on a crutch!
I still read other people’s books at night in bed. Just for a break from my own stuff. And now every time I come across the word that I find myself pausing to wonder whether the text could have done without it. More often than not I think it could.
On to Joint Enterprise now. I have to hope I don’t end up like my abiding memory of Wing Commander Marsh – standing to attention at role-call in the yard and pissing himself just at the camp Kommandant wanders up to him.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQUbuDh033o (It’s @ 9mins 20 secs if any one’s interested in a trip down memory lane.)
It would not do my career prospects much good to suffer such an embarrassing episode at the Friday afternoon playing of the Turkish national anthem in the school playground with Herr Headteacher standing next to me. Actually, now I come to think of it, there are a number of other striking similarities between the school and that infamous old castle.
Disclaimer: It is certainly not my intention to suggest that work is like being in a WW2 prisoner of war camp in Nazi Germany. I would not like any one who dropped by here to think that. For a start, I understand that the meals served in Colditz were usually hot…