memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for August 16, 2012

Life is a roller-coaster

After being struck down for the first time with one of these cerebral tumors, for a while my life slipped through a series of dramatic cracks in time.

I was on a roller-coaster.

Stomach-churning plunges into the broiling abyss were followed by heart-soaring rushes, like a lark I soared into the great blue yonder. I was the pebbly sandy tide surging forward and then being dragged back at the mercy of the moon.

Hospitals and care-homes witnessed my triumphs and then my falls from grace. I was convulsed, my limbs twitching in spasms before being medicated back onto the dreary plane.

In short, I was not my usual self.

I went back to work after the first time – you’re cured, mate, the doctors said, and indeed I believed that I was. The habit of control was still strong in me and I itched to take up the reigns again. We agreed Lisbon and I, that I would not have a regular teaching schedule but that I would do the odd private student and ease myself back in gently.

No such luck, no sooner had I allocated all the intensive courses (it was September, the last the three summer-course months) than I got a call from Lisbon: could I possibly give an hour a day in-company to the three young probationers who worked in the Chambers of the Company Lawyer, which happened to be located in the Rua dos Clerigos?

So next day after lunch I went round to the office which was housed on an entire restored floor of an old 18th century stone building in the old historic part of Porto. The offices were extremely tastefully restored, laying bare the original granite where possible, white walls and gleaming polished wooden floor with minimal furniture; one waited on a low chunky sofa and leafed through glossy art catalogues from Sotheby’s and Christie’s; the collection of paintings displayed discreetly around the reception was dominated by a large sea-battle-scape featuring the blowing up of the French flag-ship L’Orient at the battle of the Nile, one of Nelson´s decisive fleet engagements leading up to Trafalgar. It was a glorious painting in a rich carved gold frame signed by an artist at the top of his game – Sir William Beechey R.A

(I could have committed murder for that painting).

So I started going there every day after lunch to increase the language skills of the three charming young lawyers. I found that, decrepit as I felt myself to be, at least I had not lost the ability to make women laugh – that particular chip in my brain had remained intact. From time to time I chatted with their boss, a tall, burly urbane gentleman, whom I already knew slightly (he was our company lawyer) and expressed my admiration for his Beechey. I mentioned diffidently that the same painter had executed a full-length portrait of a member of my family, an earlier and much simpler work painted in 1794 at the beginning of Beechey’s career before he got his knighthood and became a member of the Royal Academy.


As for the language course, it turned out one might say satisfactory and my life settled back onto an even keel.

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