Dr Leo Mortimer was left with nothing but a sense of guilt after performing a post-mortem on his own Aunt Ethel’s corpse. ‘She had a long history of feeling faint, falling to her knees and talking gibberish,’ said Dr Mortimer, ‘and I should have known better, even as youngster, than to go running round the house shouting ‘Oh my giddy aunt’ every time she had one of her do’s.’
It was at a family Christmas get-together when Leo, as a seven-year-old, first became aware of his aunt’s propensity to collapse in a spin. ‘Ethel’s husband, now widower, Robert, had taught me the phrase ‘Oh my giddy aunt’ and the whole family fell about laughing the first time I used it, as Ethel lay on the living room floor babbling about a peanut-seller stealing her sandals,’ reminisced the doctor, now 46. ‘Been at the cooking sherry again,’ Robert would venture with a twinkle in his eye.
Leo comforted his own mother over the death of her identical twin sister, fondly remembering how the two of them would swap clothes and confound even the closest family member over who was who, until one of them collapsed in a heap and Leo could declare ‘Oh, that’s my giddy aunt!’
‘The post-mortem revealed a rare form of unilateral vestibular dysfunction,’ Leo told his mother, which explained Ethel’s partial deafness as well as her regular keeling. ‘It’s a type of blockage behind the inner ear,’ he continued, ‘almost impossible to detect until an appropriate incision can be made in the lifeless skull. I made the cut and there it was, clear as day.’
‘Well, there you go, Bob’s your uncle,’ said his mother; ‘except he’s not. He’s your father.’