Monday, July 6, 2015
The Making of a Child Psychiatrist (5)
I can honestly say that I have never liked parties. I know that people will find that strange, but I can’t stand all that nonsense of rushing around having inane half conversations with people, greeting all newcomers as if they your best friends. It has always created a blurred mess in my mind, and afterwards you think back through what occurred and wonder what it was all about.
I have enjoyed creating or hosting parties for others, and we had some spectacular ones in the 60s (like the so-called Roman Orgy at our flat when I was a med student, and Jan a recently qualified biochemist – but more on that later, perhaps). I love watching other people having fun in a range of environments, and I have always tried to make others happy. But that is where my satisfaction comes from. I am not particularly keen on grand events either. Again, Jan and I have attended some grand balls, important state and national gatherings, gala sporting events, rugby matches, rodeos, large and small circuses including the glorious Cirque du Soleil, horse race meetings, motor racing events, air shows, and on and on. But it is all ultimately part of someone else’s passing show, and I am left with a feeling of ho-hum tedium, and often a thumping headache. I would rather watch a film at the theatre, although these days it is so much more practical to download the movie and watch it in the considerable comfort and privacy of our own home. On second thoughts, and coming back to a thread in my life, I would rather read a book.
We don’t refuse to go to parties or events; I don’t like or seek to be rude. But, for different reasons we both prefer to sit on the edge of the maelstrom and try to have real conversations with those we love. I am sure this peripheralism has not been that good for my career, or for many relationships, but as I said at the beginning, I am an observer.
I am sure that many people might resent my attitude. I know I have been called a range of names – including ‘party-pooper’. Apparently if you are not pissed up to the eyeballs, staggering on slightly cerebellar-challenged legs, spilling food on the floor, and making superficial conversations with people you hardly know (neither side of which will remember the content tomorrow), you are a no-hoper.
It is not that I have not enjoyed alcohol. During my medical school rugby days, I was rather too regularly known to sink 6 or 7 pints of Keg beer after a match (win or lose) and still play a mean game of darts, and lead the chorus of several slightly dodgy rugby songs. But luckily or unluckily, there were a couple of occasions when I was quite ill after a party. One spectacular one was after going to see the brilliant Red Army Ensemble at the Royal Albert Hall in London, thence retreating to someone’s flat somewhere (I have forgotten exactly who or where for obvious reasons) to partake in an over the top Russian style party with Borscht and Vodka. Jan and I were going through a small bad patch, and after sinking nearly half a bottle of vodka over a couple of hours, I was taken home to bed. Half way through the night I was slightly sick. The nearest receptacle I could manage from the bedroom was our bath. When I eventually emerged the next morning I was appalled to see dark red stains in copious amounts – an acute gastric bleed. I was poorly for some days (if not a couple of weeks), and learned a couple of very hard lessons. The first was that issues with my dear partner in life were always better worked through calmly, and in the clear light of day, preferably without an audience. The second was that my stomach would not tolerate large amounts of spirits, and alcohol was no way to manage anger or distress. I guess the third was that if I was serious about becoming a doctor, I needed to work hard at looking after my body, but also my mind.
One final escapade into substances somewhat later (in about 1967), occurred when I was a house officer on call in the medical quarters. Someone had gained access to some marijuana (ooh, exciting), and suggested we all give it a go. So began my first (and only) introduction to a dark ritual. We sat on cushions in a circle of about 8, and someone prepared a couple of fat cigarettes which were then passed from person to person. The room began to fill with sweet smoke, and the conversation got more and more dopey. I began to feel not very well after about an hour, and withdrew, seeking my own room. I got the worst headache I have ever had in my life, which lasted about 24 hours. Hey say that if you remember the ‘60s, you were not there. Well, I was there, and I do remember that era as a generative time of brilliant and joyous learning of my trade. Parties, who needs them?
But I have always needed friends. I prefer to have had close friendships with people of a similar background in ones and twos. So when we lived in Watton in Norfolk, I remember a friendship for about 18 months with Chris Green whose father was also in the RAF. He had a bicycle, and I pleaded to get one, and then of course had the fun of learning on the perimeter of the airfield. Once I had wheels, Chris and I roamed the area collecting bird’s eggs, dropping to the ground if we were too close to the runways when one of the new jets began to take off. This may well have been one of the new Canberra bombers that came into service only in May 1951, and originally based in Lincolnshire. At the time we just thought it was noisy, left behind a wake of hot air, and scared all the bird life.
Across the main road were the remains of a concrete box, quite derelict, and slightly smelly. No windows or doors, it would have originally been an anti-aircraft gun emplacement during WW2, and there were remains of metal bolts on the roof. It became our cubby. We gathered popcorn and butter, and an old frying pan, and tried without much success to make popcorn. It sounded so simple. But nothing really mattered and we just played our feral games with a few other youngsters, for hours, before returning home before dark.
Of course we got into the odd scrape. The bicycles both had pumps for the tyres. On one occasion we investigated a spoon drain, following it to the road. I can’t remember who instigated the lark, but it was probably me. The spoon drain had a small amount of running water at its base, and we thought it would be terrific to fill up the bike pumps with water and squirt water at the traffic on the main road. It was terrific and harmless fun, until the vicar on his bicycle got in the way. I don’t remember him getting very wet, but it must have been a shock, and he did wobble a bit. We were sprung, and later I was punished. I had to accept responsibility... So, miserable, I got sent to my room to read a book. Damn.
An RAF camp was a fascinating place to live and explore, even if you were only the son of a flight sergeant. Once a year there was a display with all sorts of pomp and ceremony. The most exciting object was a flight trainer – probably quite advanced for its day. We got to have turns, and I can remember the wonder of sitting in the dark confined space at the controls with all the instruments and flashing lights, and having this thing respond to pressure on the joystick. It never made me want to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather who flew planes at the end of WW1, or of uncles who flew during WW2. It was an amusement, some fun at the fair, something for a 7 year old to brag about at school.