Saturday, July 25, 2015
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (10) Healing continued…
The drama group swelled, and became a little big for the Burley’s lounge. An old school called Gainsborough House, behind the main shopping centre, became a new home. As I remember it we had the whole top floor to ourselves, which meant that plays could be mapped out on the floor, and then acted out. There were places to do some of the costume design and making, and as time moved on it became our ‘home’. From my point of view the roof space had rooms and nooks that were not being used. When we were not gainfully employed, we could get lost for a kiss and cuddle, returning somewhat pink and overly excited.
When Gainsborough House was eventually sold to a developer after a couple of years, Jan’s parents offered their hotel as a venue for rehearsal. Kingsmead Court would be thought of as a boutique hotel these days, with only 12 bedrooms. But there was a courtyard to take 6 or 7 cars, and the dining room was a vast area, with wood panelling, a large antique mirror at one end, and a real fireplace where fires could be lit on cold nights. And of course there were cold nights!
The summer season in Westgate on Sea only lasted from June through to September (what my future father in law once called: “four months hard labour followed by eight months solitary confinement”), and this was the time for the English summer break from school and family holidays. Drama Club took a break during the summer, and then got into full swing through Autumn and Winter, with performances and competitions around Easter (in Spring). So, in the winter of 1961-2, our last drama hurrah before going to University, that dining room fire was a necessity to take some of the chill out of the north easterly winds that blew across the cliffs directly at the hotel.
Learning drama and theatre from the Burleys was to hold me in good stead for many years. One immediate spinoff was at school. Having been through the doldrums of 4th form (Removed), going into 5th form in 1958 coincided with my emerging new skills, my increasing acceptance into the Drama Group, the beginnings of a relationship with a young woman, some early skills at ballroom dancing, and a return of confidence. So, I began to find myself in bit parts of drama at school – both in the house system, and also at the school level, culminating in my taking on the role of the Reverend James Mavor Morell in the 1962 school production of ‘Candida’ by George Bernard Shaw. This was a very dramatic ‘adult’ play steeped in Victorian politics and sexuality, in which a youthful poet, Eugene Marchbanks, tries to win the favour of my wife Candida. It was probably way beyond my maturity and life experience, but appears to have been a success playing to full houses, and with moderately good reviews. One thing it did do was to allow me to take on the mantle of a Christian Socialist clergyman, and play out some of my issues from my own experience of priests. The play would have been produced for June 1962, and my parents had flown to Adelaide in Australia at the beginning of March 1962. As noted in an earlier chapter, I was deeply troubled by living with an Anglican vicar and his wife. I suspect that in the acting, there was an interesting catharsis.
Sadly, I cannot remember the names of many of the school and house one act plays, and I have been unable to find relevant programs in our store of memorabilia. I do remember the name of one spectacular play - ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’ - by a Czechoslovak playwright Carol Capek. It predates some of Isaac Asimov’s books on the complexities of being a robot. The cyborgs are made from spare parts, and initially are happy to serve, but eventually there is dissatisfaction and a rebellion that leads to the extinction of the human race. All very dramatic, and in some ways the play follows the dystopian themes of George Orwell’s 1984, reflecting on the one hand the deep seated human fear of otherness which might come from a Frankenstein’s monster, but also the fear of a totalitarian society and its controls; such a common them in a post war world. However, the high drama, enacted violence, and the theme very much suited a bunch of teenage boys from the early 60s.
I think the changes in my confidence must have been increasingly obvious to school staff. I had been a school library monitor for several years (with a special badge on my blazer to let everyone know this important piece of status). The library was a place of quiet safety, where I could ensure access to the kinds of books needed to feed my voracious reading habits. It was also somewhere to complete what little homework we had during spare lessons. This meant my evenings were relatively free for choir, drama, and my favourite medical TV programs.
To be honest, I think there was a hidden reason for becoming a monitor. There were books on the shelves that were only to be read with permission, and in the library. That is they were forbidden to do a disappearing act into a school satchel. Many of these books were about the human body, its anatomy, and how it all worked. My study of biology towards the GCE Ordinary Level examinations, and my ever-growing wish to become a doctor, could be used to explain my fascination. My focus, however, was on the naughty bits. I seriously wanted to know how female anatomy worked, and what all the bits were for. I wanted to know the background facts about sexual activity to go along with my fantasies about my emerging relationship with Jan, even if reality was to lag some years behind. As it happened, the basic facts are not of much use, unless you could understand the subtleties. But this subtle knowledge was to evolve out of our teenage experimentation and fears. That useful little guide to living, the ‘Kama Sutra’, had been around since the 2nd Century of the Christian Era, but somehow had not found its way into a boy’s grammar school library. And ‘The Joy of Sex’ (by Dr. Alex Comfort) was not to be published until 1972. So what was a curious young man supposed to do? Answer: become a library monitor.
I had learned to play chess in 2nd form. While I would not rate myself now as much of a player, had never read a book or anything about strategies for chess, (and electronic and online computer programs were not to be developed for many years), I was well schooled by the chess master. In inter-house competitions I believe I did reasonable well, though my interest and skills faded from 5th form onward, and I never played for the school as far as I remember. I was also involved in debating at the inter-house level, and I believe my drama training held me in good stead when proposing arguments. Again though, I don’t remember debating for the school, and do not feel I missed much by not being chosen.
I was a part of the school choir (given quite a nice treble voice and my lengthy training in the choir of St. Saviour’s church), and this not only meant rehearsal time for singing at assembly on many occasions, but also several engagements outside of school hours. One spectacular choral event occurred in about 1957. Sir Edward Heath, later to become prime minister of Britain from 1970 -74, was an organ scholar and conductor of some renown, and headlined a Christmas Carol service in Broadstairs (the town of his birth in 1916) every year. Heath was also an old boy of Chatham House (1930-35) and, for this year, asked for the school choir to be part of the proceedings. My memory is that I sang bits of a solo with the choir, but memory is fickle and I cannot confirm this, nor the piece of music concerned, though it may have been ‘Mary’s Boy Child’. Perhaps the whole occasion was so overwhelming that I have forgotten, or perhaps it is a piece of unconscious wish fulfillment and self-aggrandisement. I was certainly there, and I do remember that my parents attended, given the special nature of the event. Sadly, they are no longer around to confirm or refute my memory.