Zero Quark Thirty; Or how the RCGP saved the world in time for Christmas.

David Misselbrook was a South London GP and is currently deputy editor of the BJGP.

The evening started with the prestigious Branston Pickles lecture at the RCGP (mind you, quite a few members felt that the College’s sponsorship policy had got completely out of control.) It ended with saving humanity from the most ruthless villains ever to darken the pages of our tortured history.

The lecture was being given by Norbert Lang, Professor of Family Medicine at Harvard, and quite possibly the only actual GP in Massachusetts. He looked suspiciously like Tom Hanks. The lecturer was introduced by the influential and somewhat mysterious new College President, Professor Max Phobius.

Following the lecture Professor Phobius had invited Lang up to his isolated penthouse, occupying the top three floors of the prestigious RCGP Euston complex, complete with Prof Phobius’ private helipad. Lang’s lecture on “Post Humanist Semiology in the Ten Minute Consultation” had generated much discussion. But little did they realise the sinister and terrifying forces gathering around them.

As Lang entered the penthouse he was alarmed to find Phobius lying, spread eagled on the floor, strangled with his own stethoscope. In his hand was a scrap of paper with a mysterious scrawl – Lang thought he recognised it as Sanskrit. Or it might just be a doctor’s normal handwriting – how would we know? A tall and attractive woman dressed in a Fellow’s gown suddenly appeared for no obvious reason and Lang’s heart sank – surely, not again!

The woman helpfully introduced herself: “I am Carrie Tas de la Rochfoucault Fry-Tudor-Hart of Ulm (I’m particularly well connected) but you can call me Carrie. You are in terrible danger. We must leave immediately.”

Lang sighed. “Is this the part where we have to ride through the city at 90mph on a motorbike for no obvious reason, but not actually crashing into the traffic or getting a speeding ticket, whilst you explain the plot to me?” “I knew you were smart” replied Carrie.

Lang listened as the mysterious Carrie explained the fearful forces unleashed against them. “There are fearful forces unleashed against us. For centuries a secret society, the Exterminati!!!, have been plotting against mankind, held back only by the Fellows of the RCGP.” “But the RCGP was only started in 1952” said Lang. “Don’t start picking holes in the plot” replied Carrie, “who knows where that might end? Anyway, the RCGP has powerful allies with the RCP and the Society of Apothecaries. Did you never wonder why the RCGP, the RCP and Apothecaries Hall form a triangle on the map?” “What, an equilateral triangle” asked Lang, puzzled. “No, just a triangle. Anyway, have you worked out the Sanskrit yet?”

Lang scrutinized the spidery scrawl as they hurtled towards the Embankment. “We must go to the 3,500 year old obelisk of Thutmose III from Heliopolis.” Carrie brought the superbike to a screeching halt. “Quick, back to the helipad!” “No” said Lang. We’re here – it’s Cleopatra’s Needle.” Hurriedly they dug down into the base of the obelisk where they found a time capsule. They sorted through a box of hairpins, cigars, some old British coins, a rupee, a portrait of Queen Victoria, a rotisserie and a mysterious vellum parchment. “Ah, Old Kingdom hieroglyphics” said Lang. “The parchment directs us to the statue of a woman who would change history, at a place where an Emperor would cross the water with elephants and ostriches. Well, I might have got the ostriches wrong.” Carrie snorted! “It must be Boadicea, further down the embankment – to Westminster!” she cried, her RCGP Fellow’s robe flowing out magnificently behind her. At Boadicea they found only an old beggar. They asked his advice. “Ah no” he said. “You’ll be wanting the statue of Florence Nightingale outside St Thomas’ Hospital, on the very spot where the Emperor Claudius ferried his military menagerie across the Thames in 43AD.” (“Quite some time after the Old Kingdom then”, Lang muttered under his breath.)

Arriving breathlessly at St Thomas’ Lang was astounded to find none other than Max Phobius, cackling insanely and chewing the furniture. “Yes” cried Phobius “I am the head of the Exterminati!!! My assistant Carrie has deceived you into tracking down the vellum manuscript. Now the recipe for the ultimate Christmas Pickle will be mine!”

Lang sprang away from Carrie. Deceived – yet again! “But what is so special about this Christmas Pickle?” “Why, it is so devilishly saucy that it will cause Quantum Tunneling in the diced gherkins and give off deadly bursts of Zero Quarks until the space time continuum is destabilized. The Exterminati!!! win at last!”

Lang was having none of this. Big Ben was almost ready to chime in Christmas Day – just 30 seconds to go – 30 seconds to save the world. Lang whipped out the portrait of Queen Victoria and held it in front of him, like a holy relic. Phobius started to steam and melt, crying out in terror. Phobius and Carrie (who in fact was not Carrie Tas de la Rochfoucault Fry-Tudor-Hart of Ulm) stepped backwards, plunging over the parapet into the icy waters of the Thames, which closed darkly over their heads.

“Well” said Lang to the statue of Florence Nightingale, “I’d like to see them make a film about that. No-one would believe a word.” The chimes of Big Ben welcomed in another Christmas. By inviting Lang the RCGP had saved the world – again!


Christmas Quiz:

Three significant elements of this story are true (sorry, not the RCGP President’s private helipad.) What are they? Answers below.





Christmas Quiz answers:

  1. The RCGP, the RCP and Apothecaries Hall do form a triangle on the map. (Suspicious, eh?)
  2. There is indeed a time capsule under Cleopatra’s needle containing a box of hairpins, cigars, some old British coins, a rupee, a portrait of Queen Victoria and a vellum. (I got a bit carried away with the rotisserie though.)
  3. In 43AD the Emperor Claudius crossed the Thames at the point where Florence Nightingale’s statue now stands. He did indeed bring elephants and ostriches with him. Roman Emperors travelled in style.


Featured photo by Mathew MacQuarrie on Unsplash


  • David Misselbrook
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