Ministerial Meandering

Losing your surface


‘It’s like anything,’ she said, ‘they all lose their surface eventually.’

Sheila was referring our George Foreman Lean, Mean, Fat-Grilling Machine,

which is now so old and used that the non-stick surface is time-expired, and trying

to get a rasher of bacon off it results in shredding the meat, and barely contained

frustration. Even with so-called ‘thick cut’ bacon. I must get back to curing my

own - then I do get thick cut slices!


Being a creature who enjoys lateral thinking, I began thinking of other possible

interpretations of her phrase. And being a doctor too, I had to start thinking of

parts of our anatomy that ‘lose their surface eventually’.

Teeth, hair, intestine, bone - though the latter one tends to lose its insides before its

outsides - hence, osteoporosis. Then, of course, I started thinking about the

cerebral cortex, and our loss of cognitive power as we age. I am aware that not all

forms of dementia arise as a result of cortical atrophy (= ‘losing the surface’), and

some take origin from deeper in the brain. Nonetheless, the end result is the same,

and the loss of myelin on the axonal sheaths of the nerves allows the nerve cells to

degenerate. Take the skin off your sausage and it will fall apart - same idea.

Suppose, however, that it is not just my ability to count backwards from a hundred

that is lost (I’m not sure I ever had it!), but something more central to my ability to

relate to the world; recognition of familiar faces and names, the knowledge of what

to do with a toothbrush or a pen, how to ask for a cup of coffee?


These would be much more significant ‘losses of the surface.’ Yet we can go

further, and not only lose our sense of identity, but lose our consciousness of the



This does not mean that we are ‘unconscious’ in the medical sense of the word -

we are not asleep or comatose - but our connection with the world and other

people is stretched so thin that the essence of ‘us’ is hidden, almost as though

looking to see who is behind the frosted glass.


Some take refuge in such a state, and deliberately seek out this asylum - for that is

what it is - or so people may think. But an asylum is not always a place of safety

and protection, it can be a place of isolation and loneliness. It is also a place that

some mystics will deliberately seek out, to cut themselves off from the world. Not

healthy. Most psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that total isolation is not

compatible with sanity in the long term. Take a break, by all means, but ‘no man

is an island’.


Lastly, some people ‘lose their surface’ on purpose, as an excuse for eccentric

behaviour. Jenny Joseph, an English poet who died 5 years ago, wrote a poem she

entitled, ‘Warning.’ I am certain that many of you will know it, but it is worth

another read:-


‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,

And I shall spend my pension

on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals,

and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,

And run my stick along the public railings,

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens,

And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go,

Or only bread and pickle for a week,

And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats

and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,

And pay our rent and not swear in the street,

And set a good example for the children.

We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?

So people who know me

are not too shocked and surprised,

When suddenly I am old

and start to wear purple!’

And some vicars just don’t like wearing shoes!



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