Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (77) The General Practitioner (22); Blue Sky Dreaming
Jan had had a good pregnancy, and was feeling well, but given the rather precipitate birth of Rod we felt it was appropriate to have the safety of the Margate Hospital maternity ward. Given Rod had had jaundice, and Jan had been blocked from breast-feeding, she wanted one more opportunity to experience it in the context of a restful environment and with the support of the nursing staff. Our beautiful Harriet Louise was born with no complications on the 26th October 1973. She thrived, and we were able to take her home on the 5th November.
I mention that date, because it was Guy Fawkes night, that weird annual celebration of someone trying to blow up the British Houses of Parliament. Of course with Jonathan being 5 and a half and Roderick being 3 and a half I had had the fantasy of giving the boys the experience of being like the rest of the population in celebrating with fireworks in our front garden at Old Gates. I had not been extravagant, but did have a couple of Catherine Wheels, several small rockets to be set off from milk bottles, a packet of sparklers and a couple of Golden Rain fireworks which could be held in a gloved hand.
It was not a success. I had trouble fixing the Catherine Wheels to the back fence so that they spun correctly, and one fell off and continued trying to spin on the ground; causing much alarm. The rockets worked, but were less than spectacular. Every time something went bang, Rod became frightened and ran to hide indoors, and no-one wanted to hold sparklers or Golden Rain. And of course Jan was not really in the mood, being rightly focused on our new baby and protecting her from all the noise. Not one of my finer moments.
The following morning I picked up the sad remnants of spent fireworks, the smoke covered milk bottles and the wires from dead sparklers. I looked round the garden, and back at the house, and felt a sense of pride in what we had achieved. It was such a beautiful house and we had invested immense energy in painting, remodeling and upgrading. Why would we want to leave? Why would we want to uproot a very settled and well off life, now with two fine and healthy young boys and a healthy infant daughter, all of whom would be only 14 months older for our emigration if the plans all fell into place? It all seemed so insane. And yet, I could not see myself mouldering away as a GP for the next 30 or so years; professionally there had to be something more. And we had started a ball rolling down a hill, and the process was slowly gathering its own momentum. We had discussed the whole thing over and over, and Jan continued to be supportive of the decision despite the enormous practical difficulties. We argued that if it did not work, if we were not happy, then after 18 months or so we could always come home. We were alternately anxious and excited, and focused on the opportunities rather than the problems and the sheer hard work that might be involved in creating a new environment for our growing family. And we did not know just how much we did not know about our chosen new country, and how harsh and unforgiving it could be.
I wrote to Australia House in London, seeking the necessary application papers to emigrate. I was told we would need UK passports for everyone, and would also need an Australian sponsor. So in my correspondence with Dr. Gerard, I asked if he or a member of the staff would be able to do this. That apparently did not fit into the rules. Yes, we had to have confirmed employment, but the sponsor had to be 'independent'. So I wrote to my grandfather in Sydney asking him to sponsor us. He made some enquiries, and apparently a sponsor had to come from the state to which we were immigrating. We did not feel close enough to our old friends Kiah and Jan from 1963, having had little contact in the intervening years, and for the same reason felt unable to ask my parents’ old friend Alf in whose house they had lived for the three years. We considered Jim Silsbury from the Waite Institute with whom I had worked for three months, and although he was still working there, again we felt it would be an imposition. Eventually reading about migration and sponsorship we came across Hutchinson’s, a building company that sponsored migrants – with a catch. You had to purchase one of their newly built houses to live in. An odd arrangement to get around bureaucracy, but if that was what we had to do, then so be it.
If we could sell Old Gates quickly, we would have enough of a deposit on a house. We would certainly need to set up a home quickly, and did not know Adelaide and its suburbs well enough to worry about where the house would be. We remembered it as a compact city, with no journey in any direction taking that long, compared to the years we had spent in London.
On the other hand, it has always seemed to me that sponsorship should be by someone who knew enough about you to. Curiously, we ended up with a sponsor who knew nothing about us except we were locked into a commercial contract. Jeff did very kindly arrange for us to live in a ‘hospital flat’ – a house just across the road from the hospital, though this was going to be limited to 6 weeks after arrival.
So the arrangements slowly fell into place throughout 1974.
We did our planning around beginning work in Adelaide to begin in January 1975. I suppose that was good from the point of view of being paid, but ultimately I was to learn that not much ever seems to happen in Australia in January. The weather is hot, children don’t go back to school after the summer holiday until early February, and many staff members take the opportunity for a long break over Christmas and New Year. We were to arrive just before Christmas, which gave us time to settle in somewhat, but meant not having Christmas with the family in England; which was probably a mistake.
The other way you find out about family and how they really feel about your actions in life is when they write down their experiences in their own memoir. Jan’s mum Bobbie did not do this until prompted in the late 1980s when staying with us in Adelaide, and sometimes with time on her hands. Her story of our emigration to Australia is worth recording because it reminds you that families are systems, and every action somewhere in system has a reaction somewhere else. That is just a technical way of saying that my choice of a new career direction caused immense pain to others in the family, and ripples through the community of Birchington. For us, the future was an exciting adventure, admittedly with a range of anxieties, and problems to be solved. For others, we left a vacuum. I take the liberty of publishing Bobbie’s story because I could not write it better.
“Now the next bombshell! That pine kitchen at ‘Old Gates’ is starkly etched in my mind coupled with Graham’s announcement that they were emigrating to Australia, and would we join them. Was this to soften the blow, as blow it was. A gorgeous baby girl Harriett had been born the previous year. The close affinity between her and Graham was unbelievable from the start. The pressure of general practice was very heavy on Graham and the attitude of the other partners did not help. His heart was not in it, and Barbara Castle’s harassment of the medical profession during the term of a Labour government proved the last straw. He and Janet had spent a holiday in Australia in 1965 while his parents were there. His grandparents lived in Sydney, several uncles and numerous cousins were strewn around that large continent. An advert in ‘The Lancet’ for a trainee child psychiatrist at Adelaide Children’s Hospital proved irresistible. He applied for the post and got it; much to his surprise I think. We could only stagger under the blow, force a smile and wish them luck. There was no question of us going. I could not desert Wendy and Sheila was young and having a difficult time. Graham’s mother had died of cancer while they were living at ‘Kingsmead’ in 1970. A shattering blow for him, as they were very close, so he had no one to leave that he cared about. Those lonely, lonely years for Jan, the heartache, I don’t honestly think Graham had any idea of how she felt. Our family ties are so close. My three sons-in-law find it difficult to understand.
Living so near we were involved in all the packing up and selling of the house. For a few weeks they lived with us after the furniture had set sail. Bitter sweet memories. Lovely, lovely Harriet, just over a year old, giving Reg an indignant piece of her mind when he picked up the newspaper or a book instead of attending to her. She was just learning to walk, but used his index finger as a prop while she explored the house and garden. Graham was enthusiastic and excited, at last a new career, a new beginning in the field of medicine he had always wanted. We were desolate. Sheila cried all night. On our return from the station after seeing them off, there was the empty button box, the buttons all over the floor; Harriet had been playing with them. The stiff upper lip crumbled and we all dissolved into tears overwhelmed by a crushing sense of loss. I remember Kate taking over and making the inevitable answer to a crisis – a cup of tea. Reg and I were numb, and behaved like zombies for weeks. Dear Sheila, how wonderful, thoughtful and caring she was in our misery. She came home every weekend, organised a Christmas day with my sister, a Christmas Eve dinner at a Greek restaurant in London, even a Christmas stocking for each of us on Christmas morning. To my everlasting shame I did not think about one for her. They had flown away on 16 December.”