Friday, July 31, 2015
Beat eggs together
Tip in flour and sugar
Invite friends for cake
The tip of her tongue
Invite to come together
Two hearts beat as one
Invite best fighters
Tip to beat the enemy
Uncover your scars
Let the world see your struggles
And admire courage
Expose to the light of day
Let it decompose
Two undercover police
Uncovered of course
Sinful self idolatry
Greed, lust, pride, sloth, wrath
Not a deadly sin
Can get away with murder
Are birds full of sin
They bicker over nest sites
And fight over food
Promised in dark chocolate
Not a sin at all
Painting dark with age
Gently scrape away the grime
Scrape away the accident
Guilt and baby free
Chewing gum under the pew
A small childhood scrape
Monday, July 27, 2015
Many of you still following this journey, and who know something of me, will have already seen through the narrative so far. However, I am sure some of you will be wondering how my stories from childhood and adolescence have any relevance at all to my becoming a Child Psychiatrist.
Let me begin to explore some themes to which we may well return in later chapters of this book. I suppose the first is a curiosity about people, which I began to notice from about age 12. This has remained with me to the present day, and has never been accompanied by that judgment of what is right or wrong. I was curious that people seemed to interact in ways different from my experience, but they were they, and I was me.
There were people at both my primary and secondary school who seemed to flare into anger very swiftly, and retaliate to an accidental nudge with force that seemed out of proportion to the situation. I have hinted at this before, but my relationship with Marlene Wright seemed to provoke resentment, which at times led to verbal abuse, and on a couple of occasions near violence. I guess the boys involved were envious, or just thought I was soft in some way, because I preferred the company of a girl. The latter was probably true. I probably was a bit soft.
I had not seen violence at home. In fact, I cannot remember much in the way of anger between my parents, although sometimes my mother had what I would now recognise as a ‘tight-lipped’ expression as if she resented something and was working it through. But I am certain it never reached the level of a verbal fight, and although my father’s voice was fairly frequently raised if I spurned my cabbage at dinnertime (sometimes even accompanied by threats of an early night, or the possibility of having to eat it for breakfast), there was never physical force involved. His angry expression and stern voice were quite enough to cower me.
So I could not make sense of physical violence. Even when we had achieved the status of a television, the programs rarely showed overt violence of the kind that is included today in the nightly News, Current Affairs, or almost every serialized program. Our neighbourhood was quiet to the point of being boring. Walking home at various times of the day, I don’t remember hearing raised voices or the sounds of broken furniture or glass. Newspapers were rare in the house, and I would have thought the content all rather boring or irrelevant. I have to admit to rather avidly reading ‘Beano’, and ‘Dan Dare’ comics (with that nasty vicious green Mekon person) but, in those times, the violence was implied with words like ‘Bam’ or ‘Whack’, and the broken limbs and pools of blood were never shown. So I was not immersed in a culture of violence and, in the absence of threat, I was not schooled in responding to threats or attacks.
So it came as a big surprise in first year grammar school to find that there were groups of boys (usually from the year above) who took delight in using wet towels to lash out at naked bodies in the changing rooms after physical education or sports lessons. I had no skills to combat it, or even think through useful strategies, and must admit to ending up in tears on several occasions. This, of course, simply led to greater efforts on the part of abusers, who could now add a variety of words to their vocabulary of verbal abuse while enjoying the physical attacks.
I know that I never related the episodes to either parent. As I have said elsewhere, school was school and home was home. Equally, I cannot remember ever making an attempt to tell a teacher, and I am not sure what would have happened if I had.
My memory suggests these events became quite common towards the end of first year, and then began again at some stage in second year. By this time I was a bit bigger, but still had no skills of any note. Perhaps I had developed some courage, in that I began to be verbally abusive back, and at least made some attempt to protect the softer parts of my anatomy. I believe it came to head with me saying that I would tell our form master. Having got dressed and gone out onto the grounds to join some friends, one of the main perpetrators approached me threateningly with a group of about 5 toadies from third form. He, himself, was about my height, even if several of his supporters were somewhat bigger. He warned me that if I told anyone, I would be ‘for it’, and the group were all jeering and agreeing with their leader. I must have stood up to him verbally, because the next I knew, he had me by the shirtfront and tie and was frothing at the mouth with abuse. I don’t know where it came from, but I threatened to hit him if he did not let me go. I was quaking inside, but determined. “Go on then, you baby…” So I did. I have no idea where it came from, or how I knew how to make a fist, but it was an almost perfect right cross (I now know), and hit him squarely on the left side of his jaw. I still have a memory of the imprint of his teeth on my fist. He almost fell but was held up by a crony. He began to bleed from the lip and, through the pink froth, threatened he would get me if it was the last thing he ever did.
I was stunned by what I had done, almost in sight of the headmaster’s bay window onto the grounds. I remember shaking with reaction, but being capable of saying I would “look forward to that”, in response to the threats to report me. There was much muttering as the group retreated. “And that” said Pooh, “was that!” I was never attacked again at school, in the showers or on the grounds. I was never accosted by a teacher to tell me what I bad person I was. My parents were never told. I must admit I spent the next few weeks nervously checking out my surroundings, and was waiting for the hammer to fall, but it never did.
So I was, and am, curious. Why did this person need to physically abuse others when they were vulnerable and unclothed? Why did he lead a group of hangers on? What drove his approaching me in the grounds? What stopped him reporting me? What stopped him, or members of his group, from attacking me at some other time? I never did find out. I knew nothing about his background, or his family. I knew nothing about his performance at Chatham House. I can only surmise that he felt small inside, and desperately needed to make himself feel big. Much later we were to research bullying in schools as a precursor to suicidal behaviour, and we found out that such young people are almost always bullied at home long before, and use the school environment and vulnerable others to make themselves feel better. Both bullies, and those who are bullied are at heightened risk for suicide attempts, but that knowledge was to be 50 years into the future. I am curious now though, that when the opportunity arose to investigate the problem, I was keen to join several colleagues and publish the study.
After some weeks, I began to feel confident nothing more would happen. I don’t believe I behaved differently, but perhaps I did. Some other boys had congratulated me on what I had done, but I don’t remember ever gloating, or thinking I was special in any way. It happened, and that was an end to it.
I remain curious about my about my physical reaction, and my apparent skill. I have never used that punch in anger since, and don’t know whether I would if threatened. As far as I remember there has only been one other time when I reacted with focused violence, and that was in my first job after qualification, when I was working as a casualty officer at King’s College Hospital in London. One night, a young angry drunk grabbed my white coat by the lapel and threatened to hit me if I did not immediately stop what I was doing and attend to his best mate whom we later found out had a broken jaw. I am afraid, my right knee rose rather sharply into his groin, almost as a reflex. I can remember the slightly squishy feeling, the subsequent threats to my person, and the anxiety I felt waking down the road to our hospital flat later that night. But I remain curious as to how I had learned such a technique. Is there a well of such knowledge in each of us? Are we as humans all capable of such violence, and if the situation were to be worse, just how far would such violence go? Curious…
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Those of you following this evolution of my story, and with some knowledge of boy’s schools, will note that I have not yet mentioned sport. I am sure the reason for this is that I was not awfully good, and not awfully enthusiastic. It was to be much later in my life that I discovered sailing, and then the challenges of training to run a marathon, and subsequently many years of training in various disciplines of Karate. But those are stories for later.
So, there was an expectation that all boys at Chatham House would play some form of sport. In winter this was either rugby union or hockey, and in summer, we were expected to learn how to play cricket and take up some form of athletics. Of course this was built into the house system, with teams playing against one another for house points. But there was obviously a staff scouting system to build teams to play for the school against other schools.
One of my problems was that I was of only average height, and somewhat hefty (and at times fat) for my height. In fact my friend Alan nicknamed me ‘Tub’, and he has continued to use that affectionate term until the present day. Everyone else used the nickname ‘Ged’ (my first three initials, of course) right through to themed 1970s.
Outside of school I certainly walked fair distances (and never complained). I also cycled whenever opportunity arose, and enjoyed developing the skill. But I could not run. I just did not have the fitness, and found every excuse to get out of athletic activity. I did, however, learn to play rugby, my skills being confined to being part of the scrum – where my weight could be used to good effect. To actually catch the ball and travel rapidly down the field to score a try, did not seem to be in my nature. I preferred to pass the ball as soon as I could and follow everyone else. I was taught the correct way to tackle, and do not remember ever getting seriously hurt. In fact I remember a certain pleasure in applying the skill to tackle as low as possible, bringing someone down to be piled on by the rest of the pack. But I always preferred someone else to pick up the ball.
I can remember playing on Saturday mornings in house competition, but I don’t remember ever being good enough to be chosen to play in a team against another school. Of course there were other discomforts. Rugby, historically, has always been a winter sport. In Britain this meant either bitterly cold with a patina of ice crystals on what passed for grass across the pitch until the sun was high enough in the sky to melt it all. Alternatively it was frequently pouring with rain, our efforts stirring up muddy puddles in which we later could fall.
Early on a Saturday morning, I would travel to Hawtrey’s Field by bus in a reasonably pristine condition, change into rugby kit and boots in a cold change room and join the others to ‘warm up’ before beginning. There was always a sprinkling of hardy parents and other supporters courageous enough to stand on the touchline and cheer or jeer. Sadly, I can only remember one occasion when my parents attended, thank goodness. My father had been a much better sportsman than I was, had played hockey for the Air Force at some point in his career, had excelled at Javelin, and had medals to prove it. But he tended to be of the ‘jeering parent’ variety, and I remember being seriously crestfallen at the end of that single experience. I was happy to survive on my own, thank you.
Of course after the game we had to complete the ritual with cold showers, and ribald comments from both sides alike. The muddy gear and boots had to be scraped clean as far as possible and then packed into the sports bag for transport home, where my long suffering mother never seemed to have a problem washing off the mud for the following week.
It was the same with hockey; the same kind of weather, the same fields, the same bunch of schoolboys, the same cold showers. The only difference was that I did gain a modicum of skill playing on grass, began to understand the rules, and did not seem to have much fear of that hard little white ball. I still could not run all that well, and eventually the team solved that by putting me in goal – where, all wrapped up in special gear, I seemed to be large enough to stop the odd shot at goal. The Firsts was reserved for a group of stars which included the unbelievably talented Wilson brothers – who later went on to Oxford, both gaining Hockey Blues. But I did end up playing several games as the goalie for the school in the Seconds or Thirds. Despite the odd goal scored against us, and the fact it is always the goalie’s fault of course, I still remember these events from my life as adding to my self-esteem.
In the athletics season, in what passed for summer in Ramsgate, I always tried to take on the role of team coordinator. That is, I did not compete. I was there to make sure others got to the right event at the right time, and look after all the coats and other gear. I did not compete because I could not find an event at which I could excel. I could not run fast over a short distance. I did not seem to have the legs or the breath to run over a longer distance – fast or not. I did not appear to have to coordination or the requisite strength for javelin, shot putt or discus. I could not jump any kind of distance at long jump – I was lucky to make the sand pit, however long my run up.
And my efforts to learn to high jump, about aged thirteen, ended in disaster. We were practicing under supervision of a master. The bar was set at about three feet high. We had been shown, and practiced, how to do a Western Roll over the bar onto the soft matting (the Fosbury flop method was light years into the future). So I did my approach run up, went through the bar, and somehow managed to get my arm pointing backwards for the landing. A small fracture of the trochlea of my left humerus was to mean 6 weeks in plaster with a sling, somewhat to everyone else’s amusement at the story. The worst part of that was that I had been taking lessons toward achieving my Bronze Medal at lifesaving, with only one week to go. The fracture meant that I missed the test, and never did achieve my lifesaving ambitions.
The other consequence was that I was forced to miss a swimming championship at school. This was a great pity. I might not have been able to run, I was obviously hopeless at jumping, I could not throw objects very far, I did not excel at team sports like rugby and hockey, but actually I had begun to show promise at swimming. It is often the case, is it not, that at least at the amateur level of swimming competition, a competitor with a bit of flab has surprising buoyancy, and can often do well? Well, I was carrying a bit of flab at that stage, did have buoyancy, and had got into the habit of winning races at the school trials at the heated baths in Broadstairs. But with an arm in a sling, it was all not to be.
So what do you do when you are not good at sport? You either find some other sport that suits your physique and mentality, or you become a Library Monitor!
Saturday, July 25, 2015
The drama group swelled, and became a little big for the Burley’s lounge. An old school called Gainsborough House, behind the main shopping centre, became a new home. As I remember it we had the whole top floor to ourselves, which meant that plays could be mapped out on the floor, and then acted out. There were places to do some of the costume design and making, and as time moved on it became our ‘home’. From my point of view the roof space had rooms and nooks that were not being used. When we were not gainfully employed, we could get lost for a kiss and cuddle, returning somewhat pink and overly excited.
When Gainsborough House was eventually sold to a developer after a couple of years, Jan’s parents offered their hotel as a venue for rehearsal. Kingsmead Court would be thought of as a boutique hotel these days, with only 12 bedrooms. But there was a courtyard to take 6 or 7 cars, and the dining room was a vast area, with wood panelling, a large antique mirror at one end, and a real fireplace where fires could be lit on cold nights. And of course there were cold nights!
The summer season in Westgate on Sea only lasted from June through to September (what my future father in law once called: “four months hard labour followed by eight months solitary confinement”), and this was the time for the English summer break from school and family holidays. Drama Club took a break during the summer, and then got into full swing through Autumn and Winter, with performances and competitions around Easter (in Spring). So, in the winter of 1961-2, our last drama hurrah before going to University, that dining room fire was a necessity to take some of the chill out of the north easterly winds that blew across the cliffs directly at the hotel.
Learning drama and theatre from the Burleys was to hold me in good stead for many years. One immediate spinoff was at school. Having been through the doldrums of 4th form (Removed), going into 5th form in 1958 coincided with my emerging new skills, my increasing acceptance into the Drama Group, the beginnings of a relationship with a young woman, some early skills at ballroom dancing, and a return of confidence. So, I began to find myself in bit parts of drama at school – both in the house system, and also at the school level, culminating in my taking on the role of the Reverend James Mavor Morell in the 1962 school production of ‘Candida’ by George Bernard Shaw. This was a very dramatic ‘adult’ play steeped in Victorian politics and sexuality, in which a youthful poet, Eugene Marchbanks, tries to win the favour of my wife Candida. It was probably way beyond my maturity and life experience, but appears to have been a success playing to full houses, and with moderately good reviews. One thing it did do was to allow me to take on the mantle of a Christian Socialist clergyman, and play out some of my issues from my own experience of priests. The play would have been produced for June 1962, and my parents had flown to Adelaide in Australia at the beginning of March 1962. As noted in an earlier chapter, I was deeply troubled by living with an Anglican vicar and his wife. I suspect that in the acting, there was an interesting catharsis.
Sadly, I cannot remember the names of many of the school and house one act plays, and I have been unable to find relevant programs in our store of memorabilia. I do remember the name of one spectacular play - ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’ - by a Czechoslovak playwright Carol Capek. It predates some of Isaac Asimov’s books on the complexities of being a robot. The cyborgs are made from spare parts, and initially are happy to serve, but eventually there is dissatisfaction and a rebellion that leads to the extinction of the human race. All very dramatic, and in some ways the play follows the dystopian themes of George Orwell’s 1984, reflecting on the one hand the deep seated human fear of otherness which might come from a Frankenstein’s monster, but also the fear of a totalitarian society and its controls; such a common them in a post war world. However, the high drama, enacted violence, and the theme very much suited a bunch of teenage boys from the early 60s.
I think the changes in my confidence must have been increasingly obvious to school staff. I had been a school library monitor for several years (with a special badge on my blazer to let everyone know this important piece of status). The library was a place of quiet safety, where I could ensure access to the kinds of books needed to feed my voracious reading habits. It was also somewhere to complete what little homework we had during spare lessons. This meant my evenings were relatively free for choir, drama, and my favourite medical TV programs.
To be honest, I think there was a hidden reason for becoming a monitor. There were books on the shelves that were only to be read with permission, and in the library. That is they were forbidden to do a disappearing act into a school satchel. Many of these books were about the human body, its anatomy, and how it all worked. My study of biology towards the GCE Ordinary Level examinations, and my ever-growing wish to become a doctor, could be used to explain my fascination. My focus, however, was on the naughty bits. I seriously wanted to know how female anatomy worked, and what all the bits were for. I wanted to know the background facts about sexual activity to go along with my fantasies about my emerging relationship with Jan, even if reality was to lag some years behind. As it happened, the basic facts are not of much use, unless you could understand the subtleties. But this subtle knowledge was to evolve out of our teenage experimentation and fears. That useful little guide to living, the ‘Kama Sutra’, had been around since the 2nd Century of the Christian Era, but somehow had not found its way into a boy’s grammar school library. And ‘The Joy of Sex’ (by Dr. Alex Comfort) was not to be published until 1972. So what was a curious young man supposed to do? Answer: become a library monitor.
I had learned to play chess in 2nd form. While I would not rate myself now as much of a player, had never read a book or anything about strategies for chess, (and electronic and online computer programs were not to be developed for many years), I was well schooled by the chess master. In inter-house competitions I believe I did reasonable well, though my interest and skills faded from 5th form onward, and I never played for the school as far as I remember. I was also involved in debating at the inter-house level, and I believe my drama training held me in good stead when proposing arguments. Again though, I don’t remember debating for the school, and do not feel I missed much by not being chosen.
I was a part of the school choir (given quite a nice treble voice and my lengthy training in the choir of St. Saviour’s church), and this not only meant rehearsal time for singing at assembly on many occasions, but also several engagements outside of school hours. One spectacular choral event occurred in about 1957. Sir Edward Heath, later to become prime minister of Britain from 1970 -74, was an organ scholar and conductor of some renown, and headlined a Christmas Carol service in Broadstairs (the town of his birth in 1916) every year. Heath was also an old boy of Chatham House (1930-35) and, for this year, asked for the school choir to be part of the proceedings. My memory is that I sang bits of a solo with the choir, but memory is fickle and I cannot confirm this, nor the piece of music concerned, though it may have been ‘Mary’s Boy Child’. Perhaps the whole occasion was so overwhelming that I have forgotten, or perhaps it is a piece of unconscious wish fulfillment and self-aggrandisement. I was certainly there, and I do remember that my parents attended, given the special nature of the event. Sadly, they are no longer around to confirm or refute my memory.