Then someone came to help.
“Hello“, said the newcomer. “You may remember me. We have much in common.”
“I used to be in show business – and charity. Now, I’m just plain Jimmy Savile from Leeds in Yorkshire, England. But stone me, y-you must be …!”
“That’s right,” said the figure. “I’m Ludwig Guttmann. I founded the Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckingham.
“I don’t believe our paths crossed there as I finished my clinical work in 1966 and your best days were during the 70s and 80s. Anyway, I’m your ‘mentor’ here, so I’ll look after you while you’re still on probation – having your first taste of ‘eternity’. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.”
“Thanks Poppa,” replied Jimmy, easing back into the familiar, fond hospital nickname. “Can I see my mum – ‘The Duchess’?”
“Not yet, Jimmy. We’ve got some explaining and thinking to do now. To begin, we’ll chat. You must know that the London 2012 Paralympics start this week. To think that we arranged them in 1948 to coincide with that year’s Summer Olympics - also in London – and that the interest in and enthusiasm for them is greater than ever. They’ve now become so ingrained in people’s minds, many wrongly believe ‘para’ is shorthand for ‘paraplegic’ instead of ‘parallel’ like the term ‘para-medic’.”
“Quite wonderful,” said Jimmy. “As I’ve always loved sport, I’m also thrilled about the games. I was really lucky to suffer no more than a bad back from my days as a wartime ‘Bevin Boy’ miner, just at the time you started to treat men who’d never walk again. It must have been my destiny.”
“I’m pleased to hear you say that. But I bet that like me, you’re also furious about the rumpus which cast a shadow over this year’s main games.”
“Y’know? How Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee President, prohibited a public silent tribute at the opening ceremony, marking the 40th anniversary of the massacre of the eleven Israeli athletes at the Munich Games. Believe me, Jimmy, as a Holocaust refugee, I boiled with rage. I was still alive when those fine young people were murdered and even then I recalled that Bavaria had always been a hotbed of Nazism.
“Now as more of the truth of what happened in ‘72 is uncovered, it hurts like hell that the world has forgotten that Israel stepped into save the paralympics in 1968.”
“Er, I think I do remember, Poppa. Weren’t they still then called the ‘International Stoke Mandeville Games’? And yeah, I‘m still deeply upset myself about what happened this year. If only I’d lasted a few more months, I’d have given Rogge such a hiding …”
“Oh, we wish! My belief is that finally it had little to do with widows, politicians or even the opinion of the Moslem world. I think Rogge simply didn’t want to give way. So he just dug his heels in and refused to budge.”
“Not good athletics, eh?”
“Ha, ha! By the way, you were spot-on about the 1968 paralympics. The Israel Government offered to help as Mexico City – that year’s hosts - felt it couldn't cope. Although everything felt strange, all went like clockwork at the Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv.
“What’s more, Israel wanted to make the games part of its own 20th anniversary of Independence celebrations, so the Opening Ceremony was held at the Hebrew University stadium in the presence of the-then Deputy Prime Minister, Yigal Allon. More than 10,000 people turned up along with 750 athletes from 29 countries. It was a marvellous moment for me as Jew, a keen amateur fencer and of course, as a medical man.”
“Great days, Poppa. I was also then living life to the full and you may know that one of my favourite boasts is that only a little later, I found myself telling the entire Israeli Cabinet how to behave!”
“Yes, ‘young man’, I know about that! But now for some more serious business. Are you aware that the restless fidgets you’ve experienced are a metaphor for your less savoury activities on earth? Before you go further here and meet someone really important, you must start telling yourself the truth.”
Jimmy blushed. “You mean those stories about me and young girls? Or that the radio psychiatrist, Anthony Clare once said I had no real feelings? Both are unfair because they’re barely half-true.
“I’ll explain. I’m a fella who liked being the centre of attention in public but preferred his own company at home. The Duchess was the only one who understood. So I used ladies – often young ones - for ‘animal warmth’. Look how much society has changed since I was a youngster. At the time you began your work, the world regarded disability as shameful and the disabled as second-class.
“In the same way, people living in community homes and such were often dismissed as rubbish to be used as we liked, even if we secretly knew it was wrong. I couldn’t help myself. It was an addiction. So I took ice-cold showers. They weren’t enough. Then came the charity work and the portering stints at hospitals like yours and Broadmoor. People thought me weird. I was punishing myself. But mostly I ran - up hill, down dale - trying to banish the demons. Still they stayed. Right to the end. Then I came here.”
“Very honest,” said Sir Ludwig. “But I think people ‘downstairs’ won’t consider that enough. So let’s take everything a step at a time.
“Now, if you fancy a break, there’s someone new here you might like to meet.”
“Wow!,” said Jimmy, feeling quite deliciously free. “If it’s Neil Armstrong, I’d love to help him. After all, he’s made the biggest leap ever. But this time, just for himself!”
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 27 August 2012)