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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (62) The General Practitioner (7)

I used to get the British Medical Journal through the post, and although many articles did not interest me, I tried hard to keep up my knowledge. Sadly, when I could get time to disappear into my corner study in Old Gates with its beechwood home-assembled bookshelves and a comfortable swing chair, there was often a backlog of journals still in their postal wrapping. In addition to the BMJ, being a paid up member of the Royal Medico Psychological Association since 1968, I had the advantage of continuing to get the British Journal of Psychiatry every month, and this was devoured. It was rare for this one to stay in its packaging for long. Some articles did not resonate given they were highly technical, or related to matters I had not experienced. But I skim read them anyway.
I think this behaviour speaks to three things. First, as must be clear from the earlier chapters of this book, I have always had a thirst for new knowledge, and throughout my life have taken every reasonable opportunity to disappear and read. I know that even as a very new GP, there had been a very conscious sense of needing to continue to educate myself. I was really happy and apparently well settled in my new life, and loving almost every minute of my new job, but I did not want to simply be a country GP. I knew there would be more, even if I did not know what that ‘more’ was to be. I think this relates to the second thing which was not clear at the time; in having a thirst for new knowledge and quirky bits of medical information, I was already an ‘academic in waiting’. I did not know what the future held, or how our lives would pan out, but the seeds had been sown. The third thing relates to the BJP. I had moved on from psychiatry through obstetrics to become a general practitioner, but clearly my heart was still firmly in trying to understand human interaction and nature. The boy on the bus watching people and trying to work out what they were thinking was now a trained general doctor, but still with the thirst to understand the mind and how it functioned. I am not sure I ever enunciated this; it was just always there.
Not that there was not a whole complex and intriguing family life outside the study door. Each day had a routine, and Jan was superb at organizing this and her two boys. By the time I got home from evening surgery, it was often teatime and then bath time with battleships. And there were stories to be read before settling the boys into their bedroom upstairs. And then there were jobs around the house that I relished.
As winter approached it became clear that the house was always cold despite large bore sometimes noisy central heating around the ground floor, driven by an old boiler. I came across a fairly cheap ‘do it yourself’ double glazing kit which looked simple enough. So I began with the landing window upstairs, measuring things carefully, cutting glass and edging to size, and carefully fitting the whole thing together. Then the boys’ bedroom, and then ours. I suppose it was a bit amateur. There were problems with condensation, and in retrospect I could have stopped the problem by boring small holes at the base of each piece of glass. I did not know that at the time, so if necessary we just moved the frames and cleaned up. The system made a considerable difference to the overall warmth of the house, but we still took immense pleasure in our log fire in the lounge.
The kitchen was a large space, without much in the way of cupboards. It was utilitarian, but not awfully welcoming. And again it was a cold place in winter. So we came up with the idea of cladding the whole thing in pine timber boards, building the necessary cupboards, and building in a seating area with the seats able to be lifted on hinges to create more storage space. Very ambitious, but with limited time, youthful enthusiasm, and emerging carpentry skills, the project emerged to our satisfaction. For Jan it meant a welcoming and warm space with the smell of pine and a look to match our existing kitchen table and chairs. All the seats were padded and covered in red vinyl to lift the atmosphere, but also to allow the cleaning off of small boy sticky handprints.
The original kitchen had been across a hallway to the back door, and was inconveniently far away from the large formal dining area in the front of the house. Our new kitchen solved the problem given it was close to the lounge and the log fire, but also not as far from the dining room – which, with our family and Round Table contacts, was beginning to get some social use.
Dad came up from Bristol to stay with us during a holiday time, and he and I stripped the old kitchen, and he papered the walls with an elegant green paisley pattern and turned the room into a cosy semi-formal small dining area for family meals.
As winter passed and spring emerged, we began to work on the outside of the house. I hired an extendable ladder and a spray-painting backpack, and renewed the whiteness of the stucco wall for the whole upper part of the house. A massive task to achieve, but when you are young and foolhardy and full of energy with a ‘can do’ mentality, you just do it.

There was an old ‘lean to’ shed off to the side of the house, and we thought it would be a good site for a garage, given we had two cars and some bikes to protect. So we actually got a flat-topped building erected, and had plumbing organised so it could double as a laundry. But then once that was done, we really needed to have a drive up to the garage. This was a straight stretch of about 50 metres or so from a double gate. I discussed it with Reg, and various friends from Round Table. They thought it would be a great afternoon’s fun doing the driveway as a joint effort. So we laid out the drive and had some stones delivered which covered the bottom of the drive inside a temporary frame. Then we had a concrete truck arrive one Saturday and gradually pump concrete. About 8 of us worked on the drive, ensuring everything got tamped down well and that the slope would allow run off in the right direction during rainstorms. Working together built a thirst. It also built relationships like I had never experienced before. I had always been a bit of a loner, and often felt overwhelmed and somehow a bit guilty that my friends had done so much for our family. There was a bonding, which also came with the obligation to return favours. And during our time in Birchington, there was a lot of time to be able to do that. And both Jan and I felt part of a community like never before.

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