It’s a normal Monday afternoon at the West Cornwall Hospital. The most important problem on their minds is the blackout arrangements: still “imperfect” despite a three-figure spend. The shortcomings are put down to human error, but it’s acknowledged that fearful householders nearby would consider it just desserts – and their own homes safer - if the place was blown to smithereens. There’s the annual meeting tomorrow, and the blackout will be top of the agenda.
But it’s still afternoon, and no need to draw the curtains yet. The patients are no doubt occupied, perhaps making raffia baskets or reading quietly, and we may imagine the nurses in their stiff white caps busily acting on instructions delivered during matron’s ward round.
None of them will know that trouble is on the way. But there’s a bull on the loose. Taking a dislike to the cattle market at the top of Causewayhead and perhaps fearing for its own prognosis, the beast has made a bolt for it. The creature’s already disturbed a cricket game at St Erbyn’s School before “running amok” in a garden. Attempts to divert it by offering a tempting red cow have been unsuccessful – in fact the only result of that bright idea has been that there are now two animals at large. But it’s the bull that will shortly demand medical attention.
The bull, named “His Majesty” for journalistic purposes, arrives at the X-ray unit where he is successfully driven off by the House Surgeon. In the Men’s Ward, though, the patients clearly aren’t up to such a show of bravado. So the staff – hearing the clatter of hooves - deploy their cunning, and wheel spare beds into place to bar the doors.
The Men’s Ward escapes untouched, but alas not so an observation ward, where the bull decides to make observations of its own and puts its forelegs up onto an occupied bed. The alarmed patient – never having expected that “coming in for observation” would be quite this exciting – has the presence of mind to swat it on the nose. There it falls, “with a sickening thud” before recovering and running out through the Casualty Ward into the fresh air – at which point we might consider the creature’s own story of its experience: the journey to market, the fear and flight, the smells and the labyrinthine corridors.
“This story”, the Cornishman will begin its account in unusually anecdotal style, “is not a flight of fancy nor the fertile imaginings of a reporter’s mind”. And, with remarkable restraint, the writer has made no allusion whatsoever to any of the town’s china shops.
Cornishman May 14th 1941: page 7, report of the May 13th meeting featuring the blackout problems, page 3