Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (52) Moving towards General Practice (1)
As I have mentioned before, I have an Uncle Tony, a younger brother to my father. He is a vague memory from my past as a small child about the age of 3-4yrs. He was studying psychology at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, and spent some of his holiday time in Westgate staying in Cuthbert Road, visiting my mother in her isolation. He was a quiet and thoughtful man, with a dry sense of humour, obviously focused on his studies and the future. But I imagine there were stories that we were never to hear. He, like his brothers and his father had been in the RAF during the war. Tony had been a navigator in a Catalina flying boat. He has never talked about it during the few times we have met up over the years, but I imagine he was in grave danger much of the time and must have seen appalling sights. Flying boats were used in anti-submarine patrols, and had the ability to land on the sea to rescue downed airmen.
Tony used to go for what he called his ‘constitutional’ walk at about 3pm each afternoon, and would sometimes return with molluscs and other animalia found on the beach. I have a memory of him dissecting one of these on our kitchen sink wooden drainer in the small flat at Cuthbert Road. His response to my question about what he was doing, was an amused ‘”trying to find out how it all works”, and this must have been my introduction to dissection long before I did biology at school. How understanding molluscs was related to psychology, I have no idea; perhaps it was just a representation of scientific curiosity.
The only other memory from about that time is an episode when I fell into the toilet. I have no idea how long I had been using the big toilet, but there I was standing on the mat. As I finished, I leaned forwards to pull the chain, and the mat slipped from under me, sending me head first into the toilet in the process of being flushed. I must have made quite a noise, because both Tony and my mother were there to rescue me. I was dried off, changed and cuddled. Tony’s wry comment was: “Only Graham could fall down the toilet and come up smelling of violets.” I understand the joke went round the Martin family, and I was affectionately known on and off for several years as ‘Violets’. I quite like the name; it does represent what I feel overall about my life. I have been fortunate, and even when things have appeared to go seriously wrong, they do seem to come back to an even keel in the end.
Sadly, I was to see little of Tony even though I have felt a lifelong affinity, always wishing I could have more in the way of serious professional discussions. There was to be a small disaster the next time we met. Tony had emigrated to the United States many years ago, married and settled down with his family of three children in Connecticut. He was an organisational psychologist, and rose to prominence working for a large management consultancy company called Rohrer, Hibler and Replogle (RHR International), based in Illinois. Tony did well in the US, even writing a book on transformational change in management systems circa 1965 (sadly, I have not been able to find a copy).
We met up with him in 1967, when he was on a business trip. He was staying at the Hilton on Park Lane in London, and invited Jan and I for lunch. We met up and Tony took us up to the Roof Top Bar of the Hilton, where we sat and ordered pre lunch drinks. An obsequious waiter crept up behind Tony, saying: “I am sorry sir, the young man cannot be served drinks in the bar; he does not have a tie.” “Tony’s response was something like: “That’s fine, we will just sit here quietly.” To which the response was: “I am sorry sir, the young man cannot stay in the bar; he does not have a tie.” “Do you have a spare tie the young man can borrow?” “No. sir.” We left, perplexed and slightly huffy, and went elsewhere. Tony was not amused. We apologised, but he remained somewhat offended and distant; I guess we had embarrassed this rather formal and important man in public. Neither Jan nor I had given much thought to mode of dress, although I had (and still have) a number of formal ties. We were casually attired given it was a weekend; as I remember I was in grey slacks, a shirt and a light brown button up men’s cardigan. Despite our embarrassing Tony we did enjoy our discussion and, at the end of it, he invited us to stay with him and the family if we were ever in the United States.
The opportunity for us to travel did occur in 1969, when Jonathan was about 18 months old, and I was finishing my year in psychiatry. Early in our student lives, we had had contact with Jan’s cousin Michael who was studying science and mathematics at university. Mike’s father had worked for the Hoover Company, and his grandfather had been part of the team who developed the rubber tyre at Dunlop, so I guess science was in the blood. Sharing a grandfather, Jan and Mike had always felt a bond even though the families rarely got together. So it was always great to catch up a number of times with Michael and his partner Pauline. She was an absolute livewire, a go-getter, also studying at university until she fell pregnant with their son Dean born in 1965. After Michael had gained a job in Canada, they emigrated and contact was restricted to occasional cards. They seemed to be settled in Montreal, and the offer was there for us to stay with them in their well-heated apartment.
So we planned a trip to Canada for a week, followed by travelling to the US to stay with Tony, Myra and their children across the border in Connecticut. Everyone was happy except Jonathan who at 18 months found it difficult to settle to sleep on planes and in strange environments. It was all our fault. He had had a lightweight knitted shawl since being very tiny, and this had become a constant companion: his ‘bye-byes’ which settled him often with only three or four deep sniffs of its familiarity – a mix of smells from both he and Jan (perhaps more than me). The smell of course could be disrupted if ‘bye-byes’ ever went into the wash, and Jonathan always knew, even if we connived to do it while he was asleep. I was learning about the crucial importance of the ‘transitional object’ for little people, even before I read any of the work of Winnicott. Anyway, we had been staying in Westgate and, in our rush to catch the train to Heathrow, we forgot this crucial object. Jonathan was distraught; as we were just about to become! We phoned from London airport while waiting for our flight, and Jan’s mother promised to send the shawl airmail. Long story short, it arrived several days later, but there were two new problems. Jan’s mum Bobbie being a pragmatist had washed the slightly grey object for the sake of cleanliness. Secondly, she had noted that the edges of the shawl were frayed, so she removed them before sending. The initial problem of a clean ‘bye-byes’ was overcome quickly as Jonathan’s relief flooded his senses. Sometimes we did wonder whether he looked at his ‘bye-byes’ with a slightly perplexed frown. However, when we got him back to the UK, we were to find that the spare pieces had not been thrown away! So ‘bye-byes’ became a triptych, and all three pieces had to be found each night for several months.
Anyway Montreal was fun, borrowing outer clothing to stay warm when we left the apartment, sightseeing the city and climbing Mont Royal, driving 250 Kms to sightsee Quebec, eating and speaking French again, and then on two of our last days, the 650 Kms to Niagara Falls (an extraordinary experience of white noise at its loudest contrasted with black macs and headgear to match the black wellington boots). We managed the closeness of the apartment well, never stopped talking, and the only slightly sour note was that Dean had ownership of his parents and his bedroom, but seemed anxious to reassert that from time to time. Jonathan collected a few bruises, and shed a few tears, and we had slightly bitten lips. We coped, and were incredibly grateful for how much they had put themselves out.
Myra picked us up from John F Kennedy Airport after our short 2 hour flight from Montreal, and proudly showed us ‘the fall’ colours of the trees and the architecture all the way to Connecticut, while we caught up on family. They had a large New England home on what seemed to us to be a park. Once inside we were introduced to the Nanny maid, and we settled into spacious accommodation, while Myra went for her afternoon nap. Later we met our cousins Susan, Renna and Chris when they returned from school, and Tony who always took the train into the city and needed to be picked up from the station. I guess we were overwhelmed and slightly awed at the strangeness of wealth and the American ways. It was a wonderful time, and everyone was generous with time and space. Tony took us on a business trip to Boston where we became re-acquainted with the grand Hilton style, but enjoyed our tours and the sense of history left by the founding fathers.
Myra generously offered to look after Jonathan for the day while Jan and I went into Manhattan, toured the United Nations, the Guggenheim Art Gallery, and the circle line tour by boat under the bridges of New York. We then had one of those bizarre experiences in life that remind you the world is a small place, and humans have an odd connectedness across place and time. We took the lift to the top of the Empire State Building and stood on the viewing platform watching the sun begin to set, and the lights of New York appear. For a moment I was distracted by the crunch of a young woman eating from a packet of chips. Perhaps I was beginning to be hungry. Then I looked again, thinking: “I know that person. She was a physiotherapist at King’s”. I introduced myself, and then her husband joined us from the other side of the platform – none other than Dr. John Sutton–Coulson, the man who had helped Jan deliver our son some eighteen months prior. How can such a moment occur? Across all that time and distance and in such a spectacular place? Surreal! We chatted, caught up on mutual contacts and then, because they were hungry too, we phoned Myra to delay our return home and went out for an early dinner, and continued our animated conversation. Sadly we went to a ‘Zum-Zum’ bar and the meal was later to cause quite painful diarrhoea. I am sure it was that; I am sure I was well over my ambivalent feelings toward John - who, after all, had ensured we gained one of Life’s greatest gifts. I was never to find out if they were as indisposed as we were. But it underscored the memory of the event.