Written by Erskin Quint
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Sunday, 10 June 2012

image for Dr Zhivago Sketch You can tell George Osborne and Colin Jackson have never sat with a duck doing balloon modelling in the early hours

Phone rings.

Receptionist (R): Hello.

Customer(C): Hello, I want to see the doctor.

R: No, sorry, you must have the wrong number.

C: Sorry, I'll hang up.

Phone rings again.

R: Hello.

C: Hello. Can I see the doctor?

R: How can I help you?

C: You said it was the wrong number just now.

R: Ah. That's our new rigorous customer interface. It sorts out the serious from the trivial enquiries.

C: Well, I'm not that easily discouraged. I want to see the doctor. The one I saw last time.

R: OK. Which doctor was that?

C: No, he was a medical doctor, I think. I can't be doing with this New Age medicine. Load of twaddle that is.

R: No. I meant, which was the doctor you saw?

C: It was Doctor Zhivago.

R: Doctor who?

C: Are you deaf? I said Doctor Zhivago. Doctor Who is a lot of tripe, all that time travel in a Police Box and cheap alien costumes. This was a Russian doctor.

R: We don't have any Russians here.

C: You did have the last time. He looked like what's his name, that sheriff bloke, you know, with the 'tache. I think he's an Arab, but he was a Russian was this one. There was snow everywhere. Roads were all blocked, you could only travel by sleigh.

R: When was this exactly?

C: Ah, let me see. It must have been 1965 or 1966.

R: What? That's nearly 50 years ago.

C: Well, I don't get out much these days, what with the duck's disease and having to sell the Triumph Herald in 1974.

R: You've got duck's disease, have you?

C: No. The duck. The duck's diseased. I don't know what's got into him, his beak's all mottled and he waddles with a limp.

R: Waddles with a limp?

C: Yes. Well, to be more accurate, he limps with a waddle really. Poor thing. I made him a crutch but he won't use it. I wonder if he's pining for the Triumph Herald. He used to love going out in that. I used to pop him on a crate in the back seat so he could look out.

R: He must be very old by now if he used to go in a car you sold in 1974.

C: Eh? Ah, I see. You must think I'm a bit of a fool. Well, I'm not, see. This was a different Triumph Herald. I borrowed it last year from a friend who restores classic cars. He wanted it back. Poor Homer was mortified.

R: Homer?

C: The duck. He's called after the sheriff, the one with the 'tache.

R: Oh really?

C: No, I don't think he was Irish. You're just not listening, are you. I said he looked like an Arab.

R: Of course, I see now, sorry.

C: I should think so. Anyway, the idea that he could have travelled in a car I sold in 1974 is simply ridiculous, isn't it?

R: It certainly is.

C: Absolutely. I didn't have any crates back then. I didn't start collecting crates until 1981. Homer wouldn't have been able to look out like he could in the one I borrowed last year.

R: OK, so now we've cleared that up, how exactly can I help you?

C: I mean, he would have been bored, and when he gets bored he starts thinking.

R: Thinking?

C: Yes, thinking. He hangs his head and stares at the floor. He must be ruminating.

R: Ruminating?

C: 'Homer's ruminating again', I say to myself when he hangs his head. Then I know it's time to get out the balloons.

R: What?

C: Balloons. I do balloon modelling. They love the balloon modelling, do ducks.

R: Look, I think...

C: Oh, don't start getting like that. They do love it, you know. They do. You're just like the Vicar, and the man from the Conservative Party. They were sceptical. You should have seen the Vicar's face when I got the balloons out. He nearly choked on his absinthe.

R: He was drinking absinthe?

C: I'd run out of tea.

R: Well, perhaps I should, I mean I don't think I can...

C: I bet you don't. But if you'd only taken the time, as I have, to sit with a duck. And yes, I admit it, he didn't like it at first. He turned his beak up, if we're being honest. But as I say, half the battle is just taking the time to sit with a duck. And gradually, over the months, and years, he did get to enjoy it. How his little eyes light up!

R: How do they light up then?

C: That's what I want to know, how do a duck's eyes light up. His never show so much as a glimmer of interest, they're so dark and opaque.

R: Well, then, about the doctor?

C: You're doing it.

R: Doing what?

C: They all do it, eventually.

R: They all do what?

C: Change the subject. Nobody's got the time for a duck these days. Time was, people would take the time, but they never seem to have the time to take the time to spend with a duck nowadays. I blame all this reality TV and George Osborne and that Colin Jackson. I mean, you can tell George Osborne's never sat with a duck doing balloon modelling in the early hours with the sleet driving against the mullions and the lone candle guttering as another day dies in the depths of Winter. These politicians have no idea what goes on in the real world. And I'll tell you this for nothing: I wouldn't want to have to rely on Colin Jackson to dress my sores and empty my bedpan of an evening. He's too straight-backed to have any work in him. Besides, he's what my Dad used to call 'light on his feet', if you see what I mean. You wouldn't want to expose your nether regions to Colin Jackson in your hour of need.

R: Right, well, thank you for sharing that. Is it perhaps a vet that you need? For your duck? Is that it? I could get you the number and then...

C: A vet? What are you talking about? Are you mad? I want to see Doctor Zhivago, the one I saw in 1965, or was it 1966.

R: Are you sure it was here that you saw this doctor?

C: Yes, of course I'm sure. It was definitely the Odeon.

R: The Odeon? What's that? A cinema?

C: Er, yes, that's right, it's the cinema I have just rung and the cinema where you work, since it seems to have eluded you. Good grief, how did you get this job?

R: Look, sir, if you're going to be abusive I'll just hang up.

C: All right, I'm sorry, but you are being obtuse, you know.

R: I'm afraid I am not being obtuse, sir. This isn't the Odeon.

C: Not the Odeon?

R: Not the Odeon.

C: Well, where is it then?

R: I don't know, sir, I think it was shut down in the '90s. It's luxury apartments nowadays.

C: But who am I speaking to then?

R: This is Pasternak Street Surgery.

C: It's not, is it?

R: It certainly is. Now, sir, if you don't need a medical appointment, then I suggest you try to contact another cinema, or perhaps a vet, or even an authority on diseases of the domestic fowl. I have already spent far too much time on this call and we have patients waiting.

C: It's me, Lara.

R: I know it's you, Doctor Zhivago.

C: Oh, it's useless. I know I can't hide for ever. I know I'll have to come into work, but it's so difficult.

R: It's not easy for any of us. Don't you think I get tired of being compared to Julie Christie all the time? And the patients are always dressing up as Cossacks to frighten poor Doctor Antipov.

C: But it's worse for me, Lara. At least they don't make you play the balalaika during a consultation. You have no idea what it's like, trying to look up someone's bottom while playing Lara's Theme on the contrabass balalaika. Have you seen the size of those things?

R: Now, now, you're exaggerating. It's not a contrabass, it's only a prima. And there should really be no need for a skilled prima soloist to have issues with any of the simpler examinations.

C: (sighing) Oh all right, Lara, you're such a tower of strength, I know what I have to do.

R: So we can expect you in what, half an hour or so?

C: More like an hour, I'm afraid.

R: Why, what's the problem?

C: I sold the Triumph Herald, so I'll have to come in the sleigh, and I'll have to get a sitter for Homer.

R: Fine. Do what you have to, but you know the sleigh will only encourage them, especially in June. You're your own worst enemy sometimes.

C: I'm a martyr, that's what I am. See you in an hour or so.

(Lara's theme plays)

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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