I love watching movies. The magic which is created on the Big Screen transports me from my mundane (but pleasant) existence of working seven-to three thirty five days per week, with gardening, church, family and friends filling in the rest of the time when I’m not asleep, and moves me to a place where empires strike back, kings return, and very large lizards with very bad breath rise out of the ocean to stomp cities and then return to rest in the lightless depths of the sea until they are needed once again to save us from destruction or, at the very least, entertain us for a few hours. It is therefore not at all surprising that some of my favorite memories from a trip which my wife and I took to Europe many years ago revolve around movies.
That might strike a person as being somewhat odd, but it really is not. One can only bounce from one historic site to another via Tube, bus, Metro, taxi or on foot for so long and then it is simply time to return to bed & breakfast or hotel and recharge for the next day’s adventures. It is when the street clothes are off, the bath taken, a glass of wonderful french wine poured and the weary traveller is stretched out on a big luxurious (or small and cramped sometimes) bed that the television snaps on and the mystical journey into fantasy begins all over again. In this story I will recall one of three movies which stood our among the dizzying number incredible sights and feelings that I stored up on that trip.
This first movie was watched in London, in an unspectacular bed & breakfast that we stayed in for nearly a week. But first, a little background on the bed & breakfast. We arrived in London from Bath early in the afternoon and took the Tube, London’s underground mass transit system, to Hampstead where we had secured a place to stay in advance. The Tube station nearest to our B&B was about five or six blocks away and we crossed that distance quickly as we were traveling very light. When we arrived at the residence we were admitted inside and shown to our quarters. They looked very clean, comfortable, and well lighted with windows and skylights in abundance. The only feature which gave pause to reflect were the two female mannikins on the wall attired in S & M leather. I don’t normally allow trivial things like that to bother me but my wife was instantly put on edge. We were told that the room wouldn’t be ready for occupancy for another hour or two and we cheerfully agreed to depart until the appointed time. Immediately upon our departure we consulted our Rick Steves guide and found another B&B less than a block away. After proceeding to that facility we rang the bell, explained that we were in town without reservations, and were shown the cramped and rather dingy accommodation which was available. These accommodations, for all of their shortcomings, were reassuringly free of any leather-clad mannikins, and we instantly settled upon renting it for the duration of our stay. The landlady agreed to call the B&B which we would now not be taking and inform them of the change in plans.
The next day we spent traveling from one amazing attraction to another, and the tale of those experiences deserves several stories in their own right. The British Museum, which contained artifacts that filled me with awe and in one case led me to tears. The National Library which contains the Gutenberg Bible and the hand-written manuscript of one of the Beatles’ early songs, among a million other things. Harrod’s Department Store which is like a small city itself, and the tiny shops and bakeries that line the main roads and back streets of London. In one hour’s time we left Harrods, I saw my first Mini Cooper, stood in front of the clothing store where Madonna purchased her conical bra whatever thingy that she wore in concert and a little French bakery that would take a story to tell about in order to do it justice. After a full day of being mostly on foot we took bus and Tube back to Hampstead, had dinner at what was probably the only cigarette smoke-free restaurant in London, and returned to our quarters exhausted but not yet ready to go to sleep.
British television at that time enjoyed the same reputation as British cuisine, so I had little expectation of finding something worth watching. I could not have been more wrong. As I flipped through the channels I came upon a scene of a young man on a motorcycle in a motocross race, and being a man (if not necessarily a young one) I was drawn to this movie ever so slightly over the forgettable rest. My wife was initially unimpressed but as the movie proceeded even she was drawn in. And I should point out that the movie moved at a pace that only a culture with two thousand years of history could appreciate. This thing just crawled along! Still it was compelling and we settled on watching it to the end. I opened a very nice bottle of Bordeaux and poured the first of several glasses, and we snuggled under the covers on our narrow and lumpy mattress while we got sucked into the show.
The motorcycle racer was the main character and he was young, handsome, cocky and macho, and living on top of the world. He was very good at a sport for only the strong and reckless and he felt like he was untouchable, just like many another young man in the UK and elsewhere. It was therefore not a great worry to him when some lumps appeared on his chest. His girl friend was concerned but initially he brushed her worries off with his hyper-testosterone bravado. It was only after the lumps became painful and she pestered the hell out of him that he went to his doctor, just to get her off of his back. The doctor delivered the young man a shock however. After poking and prodding, hemming and hawing as doctors love to do in movies, he stated that he was concerned and extremely suspicious that the hero had breast cancer.
The young man almost hit the doctor. “Only birds (English slang for girls and women) get breast cancer, ya bleedin’ quack” he raged. The doctor, expecting this reaction, remained calm and explained in simple and plain English that men too can get breast cancer, and that it has nothing to do with your manhood or want thereof. The doctor recommended that the young man get a diagnostic workup for breast cancer, including a mammogram and ultrasound. After hesitating for a long time and incurring the wrath and severe henpecking of a very worried girl friend and family our hero capitulates and presents himself to a facility where the tests could be made. Seated in the waiting room he sees that he is entirely alone in a sea of female patients and reception personnel. After a considerable wait, and when we are talking about British television drama a couple of decades ago I mean a CONSIDERABLE wait, his embarrassment and shame and frustration boil over and he bolts onto his feet and stalks out of the office before being seen. The drama ends after he sells everything he owns, moves to Thailand where an alternative treatment is offered for breast cancer, and he dies.
I would not have believed that an excruciatingly slow English drama delivered in black and white on a television in a somewhat sketchy London bed & breakfast would have had such an impact upon me. We were exhausted from a day of crawling all around London and I was several glasses of wine into the bottle by the time that the movie ended and the credits began to roll. My wife was not up to the challenge and was already snoring softly, curled up against my right side. I clicked off the television with the remote control, for which I was heartily thankful since it spared me the trouble of having to get out from under our covers in the cold, dank room, and drained the last of my glass of wine before setting the glass on the tiny table next to the bed. After clicking off the gooseneck lamp which arched over us from behind the bed I snuggled a bit closer to my wife and thought about the movie for a good hour before finally drifting off into a deep sleep, resting for another day of museums, galleries and tours to be taken on the next day.
That movie, the title of which I haven’t a clue, has stayed with me for many years now and has even moved me to make a bit of a row once at work. A brand new facility dedicated to diagnosing breast cancer was being built at the hospital where I worked and a host of possible names was being kicked around. A front runner amongst myriad possibilities was the “Women’s Center”. Remembering that movie I raised a stink. “Men get breast cancer too” I opined to all who would listen to me or read their email. “How many men will die because they are not about to go to a ‘Women’s Center’ to get an evaluation for breast cancer?” Apparently the one-person campaign worked. The new facility was named the “Breast Care Center” and several cases of male breast cancer have been diagnosed there in the years that it has been open. I really wish I could find out the name of that drama, its stars and producers, etc. I would like to thank them for awakening me to a problem and maybe, just maybe, impelling me to agitate for a name change which just might have saved a life.