Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (41) Settling Down Sort of… (4)
As I remember it, Christmas 1965 was a rather fleeting time because Jan had now become an employee subject to rosters; being one of the newer employees, she was down the hierarchy a bit in terms of taking leave.
So we travelled down to Westgate on Christmas Eve on our blue Vespa, with a case full of clothes and carefully wrapped loot for the families. It was freezing, and although we were both dressed as warmly as we could, we did not have leathers to fend off the chill; we were ‘mods’ rather than ‘rockers’. We did have woollen gloves inside sheepskin gloves, and Jan had taken the precaution of wearing thick tights under her ski trousers, and tucked herself in tightly behind me. But we froze. I know that when we arrived in Kent having negotiated the road out through Blackheath, the newly completed M2, and then the Thanet Way, the day was fading, and we were immensely relieved to reach dear old Westgate-on-Sea in its seaside town winter emptiness.
As it must be for all newlyweds, it was complicated having to satisfy two families. My recollection is that we stayed at Kingsmead Court with Jan’s family and its extensions, and that Christmas Day was shared with my parents and Andrea coming for Christmas lunch and the afternoon. On Boxing Day we went to my old family home, now re-occupied by Ted and Eve and Andrea after their return from Australia. We certainly have black and white photos of a delightful day showing us all in smart clothes and silly hats, standing around a Christmas tree as tall as the room, and stacked with more presents. We look happy, and I am sure we were. I was delighted to have my family back again, and reachable. The three years of absence in Australia had made me self-reliant, and that was never to change. But it is important for all of us to have that readily accessible emotional connection, and the potential for support if it is needed.
Having said that, at that time my side of the family were in many ways very different to Jan’s side. The vast majority of the Martin side of the family migrated to either Australia or to America in the years after the Second World War. As I noted in an earlier chapter, my mother’s side of the family (the Mays) have been a bit thin on the ground. Her paternal grandmother Charlotte (May, née Hirst) had died in January 1923 (aged 55), when my mother was only 4, and only two years after her own father Harold (aged only 26 in 1921) had died from tuberculosis after being gassed in the First World War. The other grandmother (Hannah, née Howie) died in 1924 (aged 69). These three deaths must have left my grandmother (Louisa née Barrett, then in her 30s) reeling, grieving very much on her own while trying to survive with two small children. Life must have been emotionally very hard, as well as stressful with little income except that from her war pension and her dressmaking. Her father (John Henry Barrett) was to die in her house in Feltham in July 1938, when my own mother was 18. Then Grandad May had an argument with a London trolley-bus in 1941, and died from his injuries. Admittedly, both were in their 80s, but Louie must have felt surrounded by death with so many over those twenty years.
Louie had developed a close supportive relationship with an aunt Emma (born in 1864), who lived in Twickenham, looking after her tobacconist father Thomas until his death in 1912. But travel was sometimes hard on public transport, and the correspondence between the two reflects Louie’s somewhat desperate need for closer support.
Admittedly there were supports. There was an uncle Ernest, younger brother to her father Harold, and a City of London policeman. He and his wife May had two daughters born in 1925 (Barbara) and 1928 (Dorothy). They lived in Feltham, and became close. Uncle Ernie was to become the family patriarch, a role he filled vey well. Eve’s brother Harold (born a month after their father had died) was later married to Ruth, and they had a son, Brian, born in 1947, also living in Feltham. Even so, I sense the ongoing sadness that permeated the extended family, and this filtered down to my mother, and was amplified when her own mother died in 1945. Eve was not aloof, but despite her apparent gregarious nature in company, she was always a loner with few close friends, and sometimes a bit distant. Even when at her happiest, there was a self-protecting wistfulness. And her happiest was when she was painting or sculpting, somewhat solitary pursuits.
So Christmas 1965 was special, but even after our 1963 trip to stay to with my family in Adelaide, the relationships were never overly close, always a little reserved. On the one hand Jan and I were respected for developing professional careers and doing well at University (something both of my parents would have wished for themselves), but we were expected to live our own lives. That was fine but I always felt slightly guilty in having such a relaxed and comfortable relationship with Jan’s family. I guess at the time, there had been fewer deaths in their families of origin, they were consistently light-hearted, and their lifestyle as hoteliers reflected a naturally gregarious nature.
The difference in styles of our two families shows in several ways. When Jan’s parents were not running the hotel in what passed for summer in Kent, they were always looking for opportunities to get together with family, or spend a couple of weeks on holiday. In my teens, I was privileged over the years to join them in North Wales on one occasion, and the Lake District on another. I was always made to feel welcome as a part of their family. In addition there were two skiing trips – one when I was only 14, another when 16. The latter was a ten-day gathering of extended Hughes family in Saas Fee in Switzerland. Sadly, my own family never took the opportunity to go anywhere for holidays. I guess money was always an issue, but I suspect a ‘home body’ attitude was also in play.
Another example is an episode that occurred in about March 1966, when Jan and I had been married nearly a year. I had to do a month of intensive midwifery training, and allocations to various units were made without consultation or redress. You were placed, and expected to perform for the month. That is you had to be an active part of at least 20 births, attested to by a supervisor midwife. I was allocated to Derriford Hospital a large teaching hospital in Plymouth, in Devon. So, fairly recently married, I was going to be forcibly separated from my life mate. I found this irksome and irritating, but just accepted it was something I had to do, in that somewhat blind male way of my extended family not really considering it might have major implications for Jan. She fretted, despite frequent phone calls and the odd letter.
If my family had had to deal with that, I suspect my father would have said something like “Well, you just have to get on with. It will be over soon enough”. Jan’s family reacted in a totally different way. Admittedly they were free to travel given it was pre summer season for the hotel. But they arranged to bring Jan down to Plymouth for a week, and make it one of their active holidays. She managed to get some time off from work, and we were both thrilled about connecting. Unfortunately, it went slightly awry. Jan caught some virus, was not well for most of the week, and then had one of her extended migraines. She was happy to be there, but not very happy. In addition, I was on call for births. As we all know, babies decide their own time, so the time Jan and I had together was disrupted a couple of times. Life is like that.There was one quirky event that happened in Plymouth at the Royal Hotel where the family were staying and we were having lunch. Behind us there was a table with a rather large and somewhat elderly woman holding forth. She had a strong Australian accent, and Jan and I looked at each other bemused, remembering our own time in Australia. After lunch we went over to introduce ourselves, and talk about our experiences in Adelaide. We ended up sharing afternoon tea. Turns out the lady had been living in the street next to the one in Adelaide where we were housed for our three months. And she knew the Davidsons, in half of whose house we had been living. Life is strange like that with coincidences in time and links made around the world; if you are open to them. And you wonder whether there was some reinforcement of our enjoyment in Adelaide as a city, given what we now know about our future. But those are stories to come.
While the majority of you will understand immediately why I have taken time to explore these matters, I know that some may be asking: “What has all this go to do with learning to become a Child Psychiatrist?” The first thing to say is that, while death is a universal fact of life, grief affects us all in different ways. I believe as a doctor I have had to work with grieving people all my professional career. Not only have I had to come to terms with my own losses, but also I have had to learn how to help others manage loss and grief and make some sort of recovery so that it did not continue to have an impact on both their emotional and physical health. More than that, I believe I have made a partial case for how grief may shape a family style of living in the world. As a general practitioner I always thought of myself as a ‘family doctor’, needing to be able to work fairly with all members of a family. As a Child Psychiatrist, I have always thought of myself as a child and family therapist. My hope is that this will become amply demonstrated as this narrative unfolds.