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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.”

Friday, May 26, 2017

Haiku on Deep/ ?/ Always/ Between/ Challenge/ Plan


Deep in the forest
Jade portal slightly ajar
I enter heaven

Awake in the night
Watching your deep sleeping form
Beautiful dreamer

Your indentation
Deep in bed clothes next to me
A slight hint of lust


Best not write haiku
With a mind consumed by filth
Get therapy first

We're not forever
But what we do in this world
Will be remembered

We travel slowly
Drinking in experience
Savouring our lives


When crossing chasms
Always look before you leap
Where is the far side

My ancient promise
Cor meum in eternal
Always in my heart

Stream of consciousness
Constant flow of memories
Always on my mind


Confusing moments
Between sleeping and waking
Wispy ends of dreams

Between this and that
Devil and the deep blue sea
I just can't decide

Between cool white sheets
We are cuddled up like spoons
Sharing body warmth


Challenged by the night
Fierce storms battered the house
Creating havoc

My challenge to you
Is to put up with my whims
And stay sensible

The truth is, my child,
Life is full of challenges
Resilience wins


I plan to get up
And then have a full breakfast
Maybe breakfast first

Never a grand plan
Our lives evolved over time
Care, love and service

Need emergency plans
A power generator
Or some good torches

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Haiku on Finally/ No/ Practice/ Pride/ Look


At last they can start
Finally a beginning
Slightly soggy pitch

Heated arguments
Our world is full of hot air
Finally agreed

He waited for years
Finally his beard sprouted
Then wished it hadn't


There is no honour
In killing human beings
Never, anywhere

The classic Noh play
14th century stories
Living tradition

No, sorry, you can't
Do not even think of it
Don't need charity


General practice
Never the perfect doctor
Must keep practicing

Dribbled soup again
I should know where my mouth is
Had years of practice

I threw a tantrum
Not quite sure where it landed
Must get more practice


Take pride in your stride
Walk off seven deadly sins
Learn humility

Took pride in her home
Worked her fingers to the bone
Keeping things shiny

Lioness and cubs
You see pride in family
Even in nature


Media driven
Need to look at everything
But not see, or change

You look at my face
But don't see my hidden thoughts
Or perhaps you do

Look into my eyes
You are under my control
Now say you love me

Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (76) The General Practitioner (21); Blue Sky Dreaming

On Family
Of course, listening to a wide range of theoretical approaches to working with families at the conference, and at the same time planning to uproot your own growing family and transport it half way round the world, makes you reflect on your own experience of families. Of course, writing about these events many years after they occurred, and with all the accrued experience of an old psychiatrist and family therapist also provokes you into re-evaluating what you did and why, and the impact it may have had on those surrounding you.
At one level to emigrate is easy. You apply for visas, make sure you have up to date passports for everyone, and if possible arrange for accommodation and work for after you arrive; all very logical. But as humans we are feeling entities, and our links with others are crucial to our wellbeing. Our sense of who we are as individuals in the world derives in part from our family history and the place our forebears created for themselves. Much of that information may not necessarily be discussed in detail, or even openly, but in many families you will hear a variant on the phrase: “This is how we do things.” This may simply be a shortened form of “This is how your mother and I have decided we do things.” Or it can be so much more:  “This is how generations of my family have done things, and your mother agrees we should continue those traditions” (or some variant).
You may only find out about such things if you challenge the status quo explicitly or implicitly. An example mentioned much earlier in this book might be my episode of stealing some money simply because I came across it. My father took to me with a leather belt, and I must admit the shock of that had a profound effect. I was only to learn much later that his father had belted him, and my great grandfather had belted my grandfather (and all much more violently than I was ever treated). Apparently that is what fathers did to stop emerging aberrant behaviour. As Jan and I began our own family, I determined I would never resort to violence. And I have not (unless you count the fact that the whole family was to learn Karate to a high standard! But that is as much defensive as offensive, isn’t it?)
I think my parents leaving for Australia when I was 16 led me to appreciate family life in the Hughes family. I saw how respectfully they treated each other, and there never seemed to be much in the way of friction in their partnership. Jan’s parents were gentle people, and I admired that and wanted it for my own future family. I believe Jan and I have achieved that.
But my parents also took Andrea with them. There had always been that seven-year age gap, and ultimately I did not have the opportunity to begin to appreciate her as a person until she had finished University and begun teaching my two boys at St. Nicholas School, coming often to stay at Old Gates. Andrea had rented the top flat at Kingsmead Court from Bobby and Reg, and had a flat mate. She was also close to an aunt of Bobbie’s (through marriage) who had a rented flat at Kingsmead. Andy developed a strong relationship with her, and I was to be ever grateful to Auntie Kate for her love and support of Andrea.
The sad thing is that our own mother missed so much of our lives at the point when both Andrea and I were developing our professional careers. My father also missed out, but for different reasons. As might have been expected he was very lonely as a widower at 50, even though his post Royal Air Force career at the British Aircraft Corporation in Bristol was all-consuming. Very quickly after Eve died, he picked up with a Winifred Moss who, rather strangely, had been a patient of mine at Birchington. She was a divorcee with two daughters, one of whom became a University lecturer, and the adopted daughter a nurse. Ted and Win were married on 27 July 1971 at Margate Registry Office, 13 months after our Eve died.
Winifred was a very anxious woman, with low self-esteem. Rather than taking pride in her parentage, she hated the fact that she had been born a miner’s daughter and worked hard to change her accent and social manners, educating herself to the point of completing a teaching degree, and developing a social circle of friends who played bridge and enjoyed ballet and the opera. She never talked about her family of origin. She was also a very jealous woman and rather quickly eradicated memories of our mother around the Long Ashton house and subsequently in several moves of house (even though Ted kept a small private collection of precious memorabilia in an old suitcase right through to his death at the age of 93).
She also distanced Ted from the May side of the family, and bit by bit alienated the extended Martin side of the family who found her controlling ways intolerable and used to tell and retell stories and laugh behind her back.
Andrea was still financially dependant as a teenager and a university student, and experienced more contact and therefore more frequent difficulties. Being gradually cut off from her father must have been awful. I had less contact with Win, being wrapped up in my practice and family. But both Andy and I became part of the alienation process; we both loathed her ‘la-de-da’ ways and the subtle nastiness.

I am sure I added to Andrea’s woes with the decision to emigrate. Even though I had never really been available as an older brother, perhaps during those years from 1970 through to 1974 I had begun to take on some of that role. And then we left, and Andrea had to deal with losing her emerging closeness to Jan, and her love and care for our two boys. It was to be many years before I really came to appreciate how difficult it must have been for her with virtually no supports, and a rather evil stepmother who would much later cause immense financial problems before she passed away. I am sure I owe my sister an enormous apology for not being aware of these things, but our primary bonds had been broken 9 or so years before when I was 16 and she a 10 year old – ironically when she left with our parents for Australia. The newly developed 1970s bonds were only tenuous. It was not to be until recent years that those bonds have been strengthened, despite the enormous geographic distance between Australia and the UK.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Haiku on Long/ Slip/ Point/ Turn/ Sad


Watching the sunset
Revelling in achievements
Casting long shadows

He had a long face
Some people thought him mournful
Pulling the old hearse

Long and merry life
Surrounded by family
Universal dream


'Slippy Downs', how cute
No... Aboriginal 'Sippy'
As in 'Place of Birds'

Slipped into dark side
Eyes narrowed and frown deepened
Then an evil grin

Slip sliding away
The essential Paul Simon
Track seven I think


I read your letter
Savouring every word
Yes, I got the point

Mindful exercise
Meditating on a word
The point of haiku

Life's a chain letter
We created to pass on
That is the whole point


We're in a downturn
Fresh government needs a turn
Creating upturn

Living in Margate
Ethereal landscape art
One J. M. Turner

Wind me up again
So that I can turn you on
Spring into action


Saddled with sadness
She took her grief out riding
Horse bearing the weight

Good grief, said Charlie
Of course you should cry when sad
It's appropriate

They're sad in Iceland
Seasonally Affected
By the cold and dark