How The Rime of the Ancient Mariner helped with a visit to the doctor - Ian McMillan

Time for my annual check-up at the doctor’s; I’m 65 and when you’re approaching the foothills of late middle age, this kind of thing is more important than ever.

Poems and stories can help us in all kinds of different ways. (JPIMedia).

I’m convinced that, despite all my strolling, I’ve put some weight on, so I decide to walk the long way round to the surgery in the hope of shedding half a stone.

Yes, you’re right: I’d have to walk to the surgery via Norwich to shed that much timber.

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I stick my headphones on to give me a soundtrack; usually I’d listen to music but today I’m listening to that grand Radio 4 show In Our Time, where Melvyn Bragg and a trio of articulate eggheads examine some milestone of culture or science,

and on the show I listened to they were discussing one of my favourite poems, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a wonderful ballad about the eponymous mariner who regales a wedding guest with a chillingly powerful tale of a sea voyage and an albatross and some kind of horrible revenge.

If you haven’t read it, I’d urge you to do so.

So, because I’m a writer and because I’m a bit apprehensive about the check-up, I start to construct a narrative about my wander to the doctor’s and my narrative feels like it should be a ballad or a folk tale.

I wander past the cricket field and somebody is rolling the grass ready for the start of next season and I imagine that the person sitting on the roller is singing about this endless voyage he’s making, up and down the field, over and over again, a bit like the Ancient Mariner who is condemned to tell his tale over and over again. I’m multitasking here, listening and creating.

I walk through the old Miners’ Welfare park that was opened in 1923. I imagine the old pitmen playing bowls on the brand new green, pleased to be out in the sun after all that time underground.

There’s a cohesion to the narrative here, I guess; something about the cricket pitch and the bowling green being places where these working people can come and relax into being their authentic selves.

I’m early for my appointment and they’d asked me to arrive right on time because of Covid so I wander across the road to look at the war memorial.

On one side I read the dreadful litany of names of those who didn’t make it home from the Second World War. There’s no doubt that some of the men recalled in stone would have played cricket on that pitch and would have rolled bowls on that perfect green.

In fact, if I really was to write a ballad about this morning, The Perfect Green might be the title, which might recur as a kind of refrain, contrasting the perfect green with the horrors of war.

Right, I’m at the doctor’s. The moment of truth.

And I’m pleased to report I’ve lost a stone in a year! That’s worth a ballad or two.