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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (72) The General Practitioner (17); Characters

Of course some characters exist within your own family, and leave indelible marks on your lives. As I write, I am sitting not far from a grand piano made by John Broadwood & Sons, reputed to be the oldest established piano manufacturer in the World today. It is elderly, I have had to replace several of the ivory keys, I understand that it has a small crack in the sounding board, and it is badly in need of tuning. But it made its way to Australia as a bequest to our family from an aunt and uncle of Jan’s, is much loved and finds itself in service now to our own children and grandchildren.
I mentioned Jan’s uncle Laurie and aunt Elsie earlier, but in their own way they were larger than life characters and highly influential in our lives. Elsie came from German stock, with paternal grandfather Kneller and his family migrating to England in the late 18th century. However, on the other side her father Wilhelm Hanneman had been born in Potsdam, Germany in 1880 and migrated to England prior to his marriage in 1904. Of course this side of the family had been treated with deep suspicion during both World Wars, and menfolk had been interned for the duration. Elsie (b. 1912) never talked about this, but we always had a sense that her mother and six children had struggled both financially and as a result of prejudice during her husband’s internment during World War 2. Rather strangely, Elsie’s older sister Frances had married Will the oldest of the five Hughes brothers in 1934, and Elsie married the third son Laurie. Although subsequently Laurie and Elsie were unable to have children of their own, they had a special bond with Brian and Roy, Will’s two sons and their families.
But they were also very caring of Jan and her sisters who got to see quite a lot of their uncle and aunt, especially at Christmas when Laurie had penchant for playing Father Christmas to the gathered Hughes family all staying at a wintering Kingsmead Court. From my perspective, I found it delightful and at times overwhelming to be included in such a large extended family – all of whom enjoyed each others’ company.
At some stage Laurie had been a fully trained as an accredited driving instructor. So as Jan and her older sister got to driving age, Laurie took them over and with infinite patience and gentle encouragement trained them to be lifelong careful drivers. In due course he accepted me into the circle, and imparted his wisdoms for safe driving. None of us had trouble passing the formal test and gaining a licence to drive. And I still retain some of the tricks he taught me in the context of fast cornering, wet conditions or gravel on the road. Such patience. Such gentility. Such care.
Laurie worked at the Hornby factory on the Margate Industrial Estate for many years; the same Hornby that I used to pass almost every day on the bus going to school each morning. There were often a number of people descending at the bus stop, and joining others swarming to the gates. I guess I had the link back to my old Hornby train set from when I was 8 years old, so I knew what at least one of the end products was. But I wondered what they all did every day. Laurie had risen to a Manager status, and was apparently much loved. This, of course was no surprise to us; he was always jovial, enthusiastic, happy and laughing at family gatherings.
I suppose one of the major advantages to working in a factory that made model trains, is that someone has to try everything out. Over the years, Laurie had acquired a very large collection with literally miles of tracks. When I was in my teens, he would promise to take me up into the roof space of his chalet bungalow to view the layout, but we were always too busy, and perhaps I thought I had to be a bit too cool for toy trains (despite the fact that to the present day I have never been able to bring myself to relinquish my own clockwork Hornby set). Or there were other excuses, like it needed a good clean before Elsie would approve a visit. Later, when I was in general practice, somehow it seemed a bit juvenile, or frankly there just was too little time. And sadly, our two boys were too little to climb ladders into a hole in the ceiling. But I always wish that I had pressed the issue.
Laurie and Elsie were wrapped in each other, always referencing something the other had said, or touching while making a comment; brilliant examples of how to run a long tem relationship. They were also a bit eccentric (shall we say). Every single morning, rain or shine, winter or summer they would walk the half mile down to the beach and have a brief swim and then walk back for showers and breakfast. Perhaps that is in part why they both lived well into their 90s.
Elsie was a brilliant pianist, and had taught generations of young people, including Jan. She had been much in demand for performances. Later she had a whim to play the harpsichord. Laurie found one he could make from a kit which duly arrived by parcel post, and with the careful precision of a highly trained engineer, he assembled it over time, cutting each key and creating each hammer, and even creating a small design in the sounding board which included their intertwined initials. The idea had been to have a harpsichord that was portable enough to travel. They bought a small van to take the very carefully protected harpsichord on a specially padded roof rack and would travel from festival to festival but especially to the annual Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk. On arrival, Laurie would set up and tune the instrument, and then bring out a range of recorders, and he and Elsie would become part of an orchestra. In addition, they both had good singing voices and would join in the choral activities. They were much in demand.

One final area of endeavour deserves a mention. Laurie and Elsie were life long animal lovers. Many people are of course, but they sometimes took it to extremes. In fact, if any bird in Birchington was found with a broken wing, Laurie was well known as the ‘go to’ man. You might go into the kitchen to assist in the making of a cup of tea, and find a couple of guinea pigs nudging the biscuit barrel. There were birds in cages, both indoors and out. I am told that in the past, Laurie and Elsie had agreed to look after a young lion cub in their flat in London, and on another occasion a pet monkey. These were way before my time, but make for a fascinating story connected to two beautiful human beings who loved life and each other, and provided striking role models for Jan and I.

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