Monday, March 6, 2017
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (59) The General Practitioner (4)
Gradually we settled into Birchington and began to set ourselves up as community members, and re-acquainting ourselves with the Isle of Thanet where we had been brought up. Given we only had one car between the two of us, we sold the Triumph station wagon and arranged a deal on two cars - a somewhat elderly Morris Minor Station Wagon for Jan, and an equally elderly Sunbeam Alpine. We had been recommended to a dealer in Westgate, a Michael Giuntini who was the most recent owner of a garage at one time owned by Jan’s uncle Laurie who, with his wife Elsie (Jan’s former music teacher) now lived a semi-retired life conveniently about 500 metres down Cross Road from our house. They always had small animals and birds around the house and garden, and provided endless amusement for our boys.
I don’t think the Morris was ever put to the test, but it was happy to putter around the district, never broke down, and never caused us any trouble. The racing green Alpine was the first sports car I had owned, and gave me immense pleasure driving around the district doing home visits. It was occasionally let loose on a stretch of dual carriageway. Despite that, there were recurrent minor problems, and I became friends with Giuntini who became Mr. Fixit. He belonged to Margate Round Table, a sort of young man’s Rotary (motto: ‘Adopt, Adapt, Improve’) and said that he thought I might enjoy becoming a member.
I have never been a great ‘joiner’ of organisations, and nor has Jan. Getting together so young, we were quite happy with our individual careers and our time together even if Jan’s focus was now on our two little boys. But we discussed it, and I was nominated. There was a linked organisation for wives of Tablers called the ‘Inner Circle’, the thought of which made Jan shudder, but which eventually became fun. Table and Circle, and the people we met, became an important part of our lives even if we were already busy with the house, the extended family and the practice.
The other odd connection that opened up followed a telephone call to my old Biology teacher at Chatham House; the one who had said to my parents in 1961 that I ‘would not amount to anything unless I applied myself’. I suppose there was a small part of me wanted to say: “So there; here I am a doctor!” But Bob was not only congratulatory, and pleased that his intervention had paid off, he was enthusiastic about a meeting. So one evening after surgery, I drove over to Ramsgate and I had the opportunity to bring him up to date with my career. What I did not know, of course, was that he had an ulterior motive (don’t we all!). After half an hour of general chat and catch up about some other Old Ruymians who had been through his classes, he asked if I had ever considered becoming a Freemason? I was a bit stunned. I had had random thoughts from time to time given overheard conversations with family members. As I understood it, my great grandfather had been a member of a Lodge in Liverpool, my grandfather had followed the tradition, and my father and perhaps a couple of his brothers had also been masons. More than that I knew nothing, although I had seen some smart flat cases brought out of wardrobes at various times (although never the contents). I was not even sure whether they were committed members, although I assumed my great grandfather had been, given the rumour he had been a Grand Master at one time.
Bob took all of this in, and told me that a new lodge had recently been created for former pupils of Chatham House (The Old Ruymian Lodge), that he had been appointed Master, and he and the other members had been looking for their first initiate. I was told it would entail a meeting once a month, and some learning and coaching on a ritual for which there was a tiny book. By the way, did I have a dinner jacket? (Yes!) Somewhat perplexed, given I had just become a father for the second time, a GP with a reasonably busy and consuming practice (and a steep learning curve), an owner of a home which needed some attention before the winter, and a Tabler, I needed time to discuss with Jan as well as time to think. But there was a bit of me quite intrigued, and when I talked about on the phone to my father, he sounded excited that I had been invited.
So, over the months I began learning ritual, and duly attended regular meetings of the Lodge. Given my many years as a choirboy there was some intrigue in the way that religious texts had been adapted to Freemasonry. Of course, there was also the precision of the ritual and the implied threats if anything was divulged to outsiders. The members of the Lodge were somewhat older than I was, and their memories of school shared over the dinner after Lodge were quite remote, and often linked to a wartime Britain that was before my time. So it was sometimes a struggle, but I was determined to complete the pathway followed by my forebears, and I did. But I often gave thought to the purpose of the whole thing. The Lodge was a young one, and had not yet begun to support charities, nor ‘do good works’ in the local community. And it began over the years to be awkward to spend yet another evening away from Jan and the boys. So what was it that had so intrigued my great grandfather and led him to need to go higher and higher up the ranks? I am not sure I ever found out. As I said, I am not very good at joining groups that appear not to have some purpose, especially purpose in the community. Funnily enough, that thinking may have derived from my long years as a choirboy; perhaps I had become imbued by a lifelong need to be useful. Ultimately, perhaps I was never a mason for long enough to learn about the charitable side.
The contrast with Round Table was marked. The members were mainly around my age, they were lively and sociable (if sometimes rowdy), there were events for families, but most of all there were projects specifically designed to assist one or other group in the community, with a large project decided each year, and driven from the chair and executive. And there were like thinking people including another GP David Diggens (who was to become a godparent to our younger son), and Colin Logan - a local dentist who had been a year behind me at school, and subsequently trained at King’s College. And there were international connections. The Margate club was twinned with clubs in Holland and France, and that meant hosting families from abroad, and then return visits. There was a sense of excitement and collaboration; and it provided useful support to the community.
A spectacular example of being part of the community was taking part in the annual Margate Carnival. One year we came up with the idea for a carnival float “The Knights of the Round Table” (not very original I am afraid). Someone loaned us a flat top truck, we spent weeks of evenings and weekends building a set that looked like a castle, and costumes with grey woollen balaclavas, and tunics, and shields and swords. We had a high old time, but best of all we collected money later used for charity.
Somewhat later, (and sadly after my time) the main charity was to become the Anthony Nolan Fund for bone marrow matching for transplants. But that is a story to be returned to later.