Mr Bargewick is not a man known for his sense of humour; at least not by me within the timeframe of the twenty years during which he has been a patient of mine.
I am uncertain as to whether his origins are truly of Lincolnshire descent, or whether, some seventy something years ago, he was hewn out of North Yorkshire limestone and then transported to the territories south of the Humber River. What is very evident is that he doesn't like communicating. Once called from the waiting room, his face assumes the appearance of a foreboding, craggy outcrop of fissured rock. Couple that with his verbal ability to articulate each word as though it was meant to be the first syllable of the next, with the resulting sound drawn out into rambling sentences devoid of punctuation or, indeed, any discernable structure, and all delivered at a volume that makes an earth worm sound positively noisy, and you will start to have some idea of the character of the man I am alluding to.
One thing is for certain: I have never before seen him smile. It took a recent, prolonged cold snap, with snow falling over several days, for me to see that a sense of humour, albeit dour, lay beneath the rugged exterior. However, first I must tell you about the weather.
Like much of the United Kingdom, Lincolnshire has just seen its heaviest snow falls for some thirty years. Over a couple of weeks, each day had seen new layers added to those of previous days, causing considerable inconvenience to everyone, and not least to those living in rural areas. Mr Bargewick is one such person, living in a village six miles from the market town. The fact that he had been able to get to the surgery on time for his appointment was commendable, and I made a suitably appreciative comment.
"Aye," he mumbled. "It's been a long time since we've had such a sharp frost."
Momentarily speechless, I turned to the window, beyond which the wall was surmounted by a layer of snow some six inches thick. Returning my gaze to my patient, I shook my amused head, and replied:
"When I was in Ireland last year and happened to be soaked by a deluge which the locals dismissed as nothing more than a 'slight mist', I thought then that I had heard the best of understatements. However, yours beats that hands down. That, Mr Bargewick," I continued, gesticulating to the view beyond the window, "is six inches of snow...it is not a 'sharp frost'!"
I grinned with incredulity, and an amazing thing happened. Mr Bargewick's face burst into a broad smile and for the first time in twenty years, I heard him give a deep chortle of laughter, as though even he was amused at the dryness of his own wit.
In life, some nuts are harder to crack than others. People are much the same. Some wear their emotions on their sleeves, whilst others have solid defences. It has taken twenty years to find a crack in Mr Bargewick's hard exterior. However, it was definitely worth the wait, as it is unique moments like that which add to the delight of general medical practice.