Sunday, September 13, 2015
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (22) On work cont...
From about February 1962, I worked at my study, doing what everyone else does – refreshing my memory of notes, scouring the set textbooks, and working on past exam papers. I was fortunate in that Jan and I were much more settled, and committed to our relationship (albeit young), and she was studying Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics. Jan had developed aspirations of studying Science at University; so we shared dreams in all sorts of ways. We spent considerable time together going over problem topics, simplifying our understandings. I can even remember times when we studied on the beach (a pink gingham bikini comes to mind, though the actual topics have long since faded).
I still played bridge at lunchtime; occasionally we plumbed the depths of blackjack. But more and more, Fred and I focused on discussing work. I was House Captain of Searle’s for my last year at school, and we were not doing well in the house competition. So there were times when books had to be set aside. One occasion stands out. I begged at our House assembly for a fifth runner to join our cross country team; I was met with silence. We had four agreed participants, two of who were actually training and reckoned to be competitive. After several weekly meetings and beggings, all I could do was to step into the breach and become the fifth person; me who hated running, and had not practiced anything longer than running for a bus. Ultimately, I dragged myself through the last 2 of the 5 miles, coming in 48th of 50. Such is life!
I had applied to King’s College London, but also had fantasies of attending Cambridge University. I had researched the course in medicine, and it sounded really interesting. With considerable optimism (that I could come close to 3 ‘A’s at Advanced Level) I put in an application. There was a written examination, prior to face-to-face interview, and on the appointed day I sat lonely, but supervised, in an empty classroom with my lengthy exam paper, which seemed to have little to do with Medicine, and a lot to do with the state of the world, History and Politics, and a large section on General Knowledge. On the day in question I had the worst head cold I have ever had in my life, accompanied by a mild temperature, and a severe headache. I gradually worked my sniffling way through three cotton handkerchiefs. I did my best, but left the room at the end of the 2 hours somehow knowing I had not achieved any sort of standard that would get me a place (I was right, too). I reset my sights on King’s College.
Part of the Biology Examination involved a trip to London for the practical. This was both exciting and terrifying. I did not know London well, even though I had been part of school trips to the Tower of London, and other major monuments. Strangely, I had little experience of the London Underground, and knew more about the Paris Metro. Somehow I managed to get from Victoria Station to a London University college just off Queen’s Square. I met up with Fred in the designated laboratory, we were assigned specimens and answer sheets, and the two hours began. Part of the exam was to dissect a rabbit and lay it out in such a way as to demonstrate key points demanded by the exam questions. Sadly, I have to report I had done this on several occasions at school; luckily this time we did not actually have to gas the poor rabbit first. I felt good about the exam overall, and particularly felt I had done well with the dissection. The two hours flew by.
Fred suggested we use our time to ‘celebrate success’ before we needed to catch a train home. He knew of a Chinese restaurant fairly close, and we walked and chatted about how well we had done. As I noted, my family had not been in a situation to have spare cash for entertainment, and I had never been to a Chinese restaurant. Of course, I had no idea how to use chopsticks, and felt somewhat young and foolish in the face of this man of the world. My lessons from that night have stayed with me to the present.
The Advanced level exams came and went, and I felt I had done rather better than the previous years. The results eventually came through, and I had gained 2 ‘B’s and a ‘D’ (for Physics of course); not exactly stellar, but an improvement, and sufficient to gain me an interview at King’s. Jan had also passed her ‘A’ levels, much to the delight of her family (and her head teacher Mrs. Campion, who had had long term doubts that Jan would succeed, given the ‘sort of girls’ she had enjoyed being with at school).
King’s College Hospital is an enormous sprawling affair on Denmark Hill, in South London. It began as a training centre for medical students in 1840, but moved to the new building on Camberwell site in 1913. The original entrance is imposing, and once inside the central corridor stretches for half a mile. I was overawed.
Interviews were held in the Medical School Library and eventually, having waited my turn on elderly wooden benches with a number of other hopefuls, I was confronted by six people behind a grand table. I remember the whole affair as very friendly; they were simply trying to find out who I was, and whether I would fit in. I was made to feel reasonably relaxed, and having always been a sociable person, I am sure I was my usual rather confident and perhaps verbose self.
I remember questions about rugby and hockey, but had to say I had never played squash. I did mention my two years of playing bridge with a school friend who also wanted to be a doctor. Of course there were questions about why I wanted to be a doctor, and I talked about how fascinated I had been with my toenail experience, and also how much I had enjoyed my two weeks of ‘nursing’ at Margate Hospital. Then we moved on to books. Of course I mentioned having read extensive science fiction and fantasy, and had the chance to say how much I had enjoyed my tasks as a Librarian at school. What books had I read recently? I talked about Freud, and how intriguing I had found the discussion on the unconscious, on dreams and slips of the tongue. Everybody seemed to be beaming at that point, and after some other minor questions about school life, I was let go.
Only a few weeks later, I was to find out I had been accepted, and very quickly wrote and accepted my place; understandably, I was over the moon. So, perhaps hard work pays off. Mmmm.
There was further cause for joy. Jan’s results were also good but not stellar. She had applied to Bedford College, London University, and although she was not directly accepted for a place, she was invited to do an entrance examination. She passed, and gained a place to study Biochemistry. We would be studying in London, together. My future partner would be just across town.
We each heard within weeks that we had also gained scholarships from Kent County Council. These consisted of the grand sum of 94 pounds sterling per quarter. In 1962, these grants were a legacy of the war. England had need of educated people, and someone at some level had decreed that one way to achieve the full recovery of the country, studying for a degree would be free. Without such grants, neither of our respective parents would have been able to support us through University. We would have been saddled with some enormous debt to be paid off over time. I have never forgotten my debt in this regard, and my later service as a general practitioner was in small part a contribution back to the country of my birth. I have always believed that a first degree should be freely supported by the state. If a country wants to develop its skills, and also gain devotion, then this is one way to achieve it.