Monday, November 16, 2015
Making of a Child Psychiatrist (32): Back to the Grind (2)
Two events occurred close together in time, but disconnected. Both had an impact on me.
The first related to an Engineering student resident at Halliday Hall. He was charming, somewhat naïve, and had a habit of saying dumb things. He was to be married in that early spring of 1964, and seemed not to talk about much else. I rather liked him, but many people in the Hall would groan when he joined their group or said something silly related to a television News item or program. There was a stag night at the Hall, organised by all the Engineering students, and this character got absolutely plastered, and passed out. Some of his friends carried him upstairs and put him to bed. At breakfast the next morning he came down looking most odd. He had been growing a rather wispy young man’s beard for some weeks – I guess in an effort to look more grown up and manly at his forthcoming nuptials. His so-called friends had decided to play a prank, so after they had got him to his room, they organised a razor and some soap. And shaved the left half of his face. I am not sure he had quite realised what had happened. He was bleary-eyed, not quite with it, but had decided he needed breakfast to help with his hangover. He clearly was miserable about what had happened, but had taken it fairly well. I was later to learn that the so-called friends had also shaved half of his pubic hair.
Why do people go that far with practical jokes? At one level you could say that he had not been harmed physically, but given his nature and behaviours in Hall, he was not only naïve, but rather sensitive in nature. He had a sort of funny story to tell (for the rest of his life), but I have always wondered how he explained what had happened to his new wife, and how he himself came to terms with friends who were somewhat less than caring friends. They were perpetrators who treated him like a victim. What I now know about practical jokes is that they invariably include a modicum of anger, malice, or sometimes envy. The perpetrators (we might use the term ‘bullies’) are actually courting real physical or emotional damage. “That will teach him!” they say, laughing amongst themselves. They would be horrified if something really did happen, and might even be horrified at my explanation, not wanting to recognise their own underlying feelings.
It took me a long time before I could make sense of my discomfort about the incident. I had not been a direct part of the bullying; had not known it was about to occur. But (post hoc) I was a passive onlooker. Our poor friend did look odd enough the next morning to make us smile. But I was uneasy, could not shake off the discomfort, and wondered for a long time whether his personal image had been damaged permanently in some way. At least our coffin in the Lord Mayor’s Show, and then on The Underground, had harmed no-one.
The other incident occurred at about the same time, and was in the context of a Spring Saturday Open Day at Halliday Hall. There were events during the day with stalls erected around the grounds. There was a tennis competition. And later that night there was to be a Halliday Ball with a band; I was never to find out who, or how good they were.
I had invited Jan, and while she could not come during the day, I looked forward to seeing her in the early evening. She arrived looking tense and teary, clearly did not feel anything like joining in the frivolities downstairs, and we went up to my room (strictly against the rules, but who cared). She just wanted to be held, and it was some time before the story leaked out in its entirety. She had got dressed up, gone to Kidbrook station to catch the train, and in the early evening darkening light had been followed. Anxious she began to walk faster, and as she neared the station she had been grabbed. She had rolled down a grassy bank. It was not clear what his intent had been, but the best we could understand was that he was a lonely man seeing a pretty young woman, and wanting her. She fought him off and he ran away, luckily not stealing her handbag or her student bag with notes for an upcoming paper that had to be written. Luckily Jan was not seriously harmed physically, though she did have some scratches and bruises, and her coat had got pretty dirty. But emotionally, Jan was very bruised again. She had been through the episode in Adelaide, and survived that well, but this new evidence for the dangers of being alone left her confused, numbed, distressed and questioning why men did such things. We talked and talked, and I held her fully clothed, fully protected and loved, throughout a night of weeping. We had some tricky manoeuvring the next day to escape The Hall without being seen. We had listened to the music, dancing and frivolity outside in the night, and I guess everyone was exhausted and sleeping off the effects of alcohol and a slightly wild night. We got on with our lives, but I know that it left Jan scarred; it wrecked her confidence and self-reliance for some time, and she became more tentative than I had ever known her. But, if it were possible, we bonded more deeply during that night of upset.
With a group of others from my year I stood, anxiously fearing the worst, in front of the list of those who had passed 2nd MB, my eyes not really seeing the names. “Well done Ged!” said someone, and I had to shake myself to clear my vision and find my name. Apparently I had passed. It took a while to sink in. And then several of us were thumping each other on the back, and laughing somewhat maniacally. Others sloped off, heads hung low. My physiology partner Chris Lines had failed, and I did not find him in the melee, nor later. As we moved forward going with this particular tide, there were rather a few friends I was not to see again, and failed to follow up. I have regrets about that, but we all got swept up in the excitement of the moment, and the need to make a myriad new arrangements. Of course, as I have mentioned before, the successful students were now split into 3 groups to go to their respective hospitals. So there were highly successful people, whom I had admired, who I would not see again, and never until now wondered how they got on, what avenues they followed, and ultimately how successful they were in their careers and lives. One of these was Rob Walton, a rather formal and correct person, hard working and thoughtful, and one of our bridge group at Halliday Hall. I miss his solemn advice, and (what seemed to me) his almost encyclopaedic knowledge base. And I wonder where he got to in life.
But a small group of us got down to planning a new place to live; we had to move out of our beloved Halliday Hall within weeks. Jim Flower (later to become a GP), Richard Lenz (later to become an anaesthetist (and my best man), Barry John King (also later to become a GP in Norfolk) and I decided it would be great to move in together. I can’t remember who found the place, but someone came across a small two-storey house at 4, Melon Road, Peckham. It only had one large bedroom (that would take three beds) and a tiny one that took one, but we jumped at the chance, and got ready to move. I think Jim Flower scored the single bedroom (much to my chagrin).
It was dirty. It had previously been abused over many years by students, and we had to work really hard to clean the place up to make it habitable. The focal point was the kitchen, which had one of the most filthy and abused gas stoves I had ever seen. Jan, bless her, used up nearly a whole day of her life to ensure we did not get food poisoning. And then she cooked a stew for us that night. There was basic furniture, which needed attention, but we had to supply our own sheets and blankets, and then had to arrange food supplies and arrange utensils, crockery and other things that were not part of the deal. We loved it. We wanted parties. But we also had to discuss the realities of house rules and some rosters for cooking and cleaning. I was fairly relaxed about it all, Barry was enthusiastic about everything, Jim had his own strong ideas about how life should be, and Richard was the sensible, organized grumble bum, who made us see reason from time to time. It became home.
Melon Road was only a short walk from The Rye in Peckham, our local shopping area, and only a short bus ride to Denmark Hill, Camberwell. From memory, Jim had a mini, and was generous to ferry us around. Sadly the house no longer exists, having been knocked down several years later (to build flats, of course).