Monday, October 19, 2015
Making of a Child Psychiatrist (27): Med School (5)
I used to try to get to see Jan as often as possible. When we could not meet, we spoke on the phone although it was sometimes difficult to get access to the phone at Halliday Hall given the numbers of students needing access.
Jan was living in Swiss Cottage in a rented flat with her older sister Wendy who had a secretarial job in London. It was a lengthy journey on the underground from Clapham South to Charing Cross on the Northern Line, changing to the Bakerloo line to Swiss Cottage. A short walk and I was there. The flat was small but had 2 bedrooms a kitchen and a lounge, and while I was very keen to spend time in the bedroom it was just not possible – so we sat in the lounge room. Wendy is a somewhat reserved person, with little in the way of conversation, so we would sit on the couch or the floor and discuss our progress at Uni with uncommon propriety, while Wendy sat and stared into space. There was no television of course, though we could play music at a reasonable level. We had to keep a steady supply of shilling pieces as the weather cooled towards Christmas, and the gas metered heater seemed to have a voracious appetite.
At the end of an evening I would troop back to the underground and sit in uncomfortable reflective isolation, often gnashing my teeth that I could not get physically close to Jan with her sister sitting guard. The sap was definitely rising.
We did get out sometimes, going to the Tate or National Galleries, and may have gone to the cinema, though I have no memory of what we saw.
On one memorable occasion in, the two of us went out to dinner to celebrate Jan’s birthday. I had come across an advertisement somewhere for a restaurant called the ‘Tun O Port’, which advertised a free glass of port after your meal. In the way of all medical students, this deal seemed very hard to pass up. The restaurant was small and intimate, and we shared a main course of beautifully cooked and presented Chateaubriand, along with a bottle of Medoc. We took our time, enjoying each other’s company and the meal, but by the time we had finished the dessert, we were slightly ‘Brahms and Liszt’ to use the Cockney expression. We could not refuse the port, of course. We lingered over coffee, but eventually Jan had to go home, and did not want to miss the last underground; so we parted, and she went north and I went south. We both had study to be completed during Sunday before returning to College.
I am always aghast at my naiveté. I was not to hear the full story till many years later. Jan had caught the underground, but somewhere along the line had lost her ticket (or perhaps had forgotten to purchase one). Apparently she felt ill for most of the journey, and when she got to the exit gate must have looked very green and unwell. Despite her lack of ticket the ticket collector, recognising her state and the possible consequences, ushered her quickly through. Jan was ill for most of Sunday. On reflection, this is not a surprise. At 5 feet 2 inches, and only a petite 7 stone, Jan did not have the capacity for half a bottle of Medoc and then a port – even over a reasonably lengthy meal. Why it took me such a long time to learn that she could not manage too much alcohol, and that certain wines could provoke a migraine, I just don’t know. I suppose the classic medical student story was that if the girlfriend was a bit drunk, then conquest was easier. But at our age and stage and circumstance, conquest was never going to be a possibility. I eventually learned a special lesson in the long path to loving this special woman.
Christmas is always a special time, and luckily Reg and Bob had invited me to stay with them in Westgate (given I had nowhere else to go). I had organised a job with Margate Post Office to earn a bit of extra cash toward our planned Australia trip (if it happened). So I slept in the ground floor number 15 bedroom at the Kingsmead Court hotel on the sea front, while the rest of the family stayed at their house (‘SeaWhiff’) on Ethelred Road. Each evening, dear Bobby would make me a bacon sandwich and a thermos of coffee for my breakfast the next morning, as well as a sandwich for lunch. I would walk down the silent dark winter world of St. Mildred’s Road to the sea front, let myself into the empty hotel, and snuggle up in the blankets until the 5am alarm the next morning. Then fortified by the ‘buttie’, I would cycle several miles into Margate to the post office sorting office, collect my full bag of post and the post office ‘treadlie’ and cycle round my route until I had correctly delivered all the missives.
Back at the sorting office I learned how to sort the incoming post into all the labelled alcoves in preparation for the next day. I joined the banter of the regular workers, and made a number of special friends very quickly. However, on the third day I was taken aside quietly by one of them who told me I needed to slow down. If I worked too quickly, then somebody might end up surplus to requirements; I got the implied threat very quickly and slowed down.
Christmas ended up with the family driving up to Farnham to stay with Bobbie’s sister Sally and her family. Her husband Jack was a builder, doing very well; so much so that he owned a couple of racehorses. The house was very large, and had a stable and a couple of paddocks out the back with horses. Jan had had riding lessons as a young girl, but my horse riding had been limited to the donkeys on the beach. So it was a new experience to actually get up close and personal with an ex racehorse.
Jack was a very sociable and inclusive man with an ebullient nature. So the routine after dinner was for the men to retire to the study, and drink whisky and smoke cigars; much to my surprise, I was included. Both my parents had smoked, and I had taken it up as a student, so I relished the opportunity to experience the habits of the wealthy, fully imagining that one day, as a doctor, I would naturally be included in their company.
Shortly after our return to our respective colleges, we heard from the IUAC that our applications to spend the summer of 1963 in Australia had been successful. So a level of excitement recurrently threatened to derail the several months of study necessary to complete first year Uni. We had to plan jobs for the three months in Adelaide. Jan received a favourable reply from the Professor at the University of Adelaide Department of Biochemistry. I had been recommended to apply to the Waite Agricultural Institute a short distance into the foothills up the road from where my parents were living and would host us. Eventually I had a positive response from a Dr. Jim Silsbury, a senior researcher at the Waite. The job would be nothing to do with medicine, but everything to do with science and practical work.
Excited, and with passports and travel details organised, we settled back down to study, and the routine of our first year of University. The dream of exploring Australia was an immense reward dangling at the end of a string of lectures, practicals, tutorials, study and ultimately some trial examinations