Sunday, November 8, 2015
Making of a Child Psychiatrist (30): Interlude & Prelude (3)
At this point in my story, you may rightly be asking what these last two blogs have to do with my becoming a child psychiatrist. “Not much, in a direct sense…” would be the correct reply. Neither Jan nor I had to go anywhere near a doctor during our stay in Australia, and while there was a dedicated children’s hospital close by (The Adelaide Children's Hospital in North Adelaide, which opened in 1879), I had no reason at this stage to make any connection. Nor did I learn much of direct importance toward my career in psychiatry, unless you count my re-acquaintance with my 4% syndrome (which had troubled me). But this trip is strongly connected to the theme of my book. It provides a context to all that happened later. So, in the words of my father-in-law: “All will be revealed”. Bear with me.
There was also something about coming back to family; especially a nuclear family that had relatives spread across Australia. These people were no longer mythical figures in an apocryphal story; they had begun to be more real, with the renewal of direct contact.
An example of this would be my Uncle John. We had arranged to stay with him and his young family in Melbourne, catching an overland bus to get there. Parts of the journey were spectacular, but mostly it was time for snuggling up, and chatting and sleeping. I am not sure we realise at the time what an imposition we were making. John had recently parted from his first wife Moira who had moved interstate leaving him with three young children to manage on top of trying to maintain a full time job. We only stayed overnight, but it was the usual chaos when small children are struggling. David was 9, Andrew only 4 and Monica not quite 3, and we were total strangers messing up their routine. I believe John had a housekeeper, but she had gone home for the night, so John had to juggle getting a meal, and coping with the evening rituals. We were pretty useless. I will rephrase that: I was pretty useless! Jan had had the experience of being around small children at her parents’ hotel, and was happy to join in with the two smaller ones. I tried to get to know the boys, and certainly gained a sense of David; perhaps it was this primitive and tenuous connection that has allowed us to be fairly close to the present day.
After the children had gone to bed, we tried to help a very tired but ever-cheerful John tidy up a bit, and do some washing up. I seem to remember we retired early, and then had a coach to catch the next morning to go to Canberra. Again, though, this tiny episode of contact has allowed us to maintain a strong and affectionate bond with John to the time of writing. It may help that John has been the family archivist for ever, and has helped me to gain access to relevant materials in my own search to understand just how this complicated family from which I come has helped shaped me. John and his second wife Liz have been very supportive of us in recent years. More than that they were extraordinarily kind and supportive to Ted when he immigrated to Australia much later in his life. But I am getting ahead of myself.
In the department in which Jan had worked, she had met a Dr. Alec Roy, visiting from Canberra. In that kind and generous manner for which Australians are known, he suggested that we stay with him and his family in Canberra on our way through to Sydney. He promised to show us the sights of the garden city capital.
So after our night in Melbourne, we caught another interstate bus. Along the way, we pulled into a café for refreshments and a loo stop. The selection of sandwiches was somewhat weird, but we chose baked beans; for the life of me, I cannot think why. We arrived in Canberra, and were met by Alec and his wife, and taken home. We were intrigued by the layout of this city and its suburbs, and Alec was keen to point out that each street had an individual flowering tree – truly a garden city.
Jan was not well. She thinks she may have picked up the strong emotional distress inherent in our trip to John’s. But then the baked beans seem to have had an impact as well. Dear girl arrived at the Roy’s home and had to dash for the loo, not quite making it before vomiting. Not a good beginning to staying at someone else’s place.
The following day Jan had a migraine, that became muted somewhat by some analgesia. Looking rather pale, she managed extremely well as we toured some highlights of the city, were taken to the Australian Academy of Science, a spectacular building designed by Roy Grounds and affectionately known as ‘the shine dome’, and then out to Mt Stromlo Observatory. Alec’s family were delightful, and he and his wife had obviously put a lot of thought into how to entertain us in our brief visit. They were the kind of people we could well have stayed in contact with, but somehow we were always a bit embarrassed that we had not been able to give much energy to their plans and the tour.
We caught the coach on to Sydney.
It is always an odd experience to meet up with grandparents you have not seen for more ten years. As previously noted my grandfather had a reputation for being a very difficult man, narcissistic and self-serving with a history of not treating my grandmother very well. The stories had been embellished over the years, and perhaps refreshed by Ted and Eve in Adelaide, and John during our visit to Melbourne. I find him keen to develop a relationship, taking me round his postage sized back garden, showing me his prized (but not prize winning) orchids in a tiny conservatory, describing in glowing terms his process of developing liquid manure from old scraps. He was delighted that I showed an interest in a carefully cultivated and pruned rose bush (a Floribunda) that at some stage was to score a record in the Guinness Book of Records as having the most flowers on one bush. Apparently someone from GBoR had counted and marked over 5,500 individual flowers. I had not yet come to like gardening, but I was suitable impressed.
I was also impressed by Pop’s stamp collection. He did not know that I collected stamps, and that I had been given my first album in 1949 as a gift for being a pageboy at my Aunt Joan’s wedding to Harry Darlington. I have no idea whether Pop would have known the apocryphal story about that day. Apparently as the bride and groom were leaving for their honeymoon, I had decided to go round the reception and finish a number of half empty glasses. I did not throw up on my cute blue velvet suit, but the adults were amused at my state, and I did gain an early reputation for an ability to hold my drink.
Anyway, Pop and I spent a happy couple of hours after dinner looking at his collections for the UK, Australia and British Protectorates, while Nan and Jan made a friendship that was to last for thirty years. Pop would have been in his 60s at the time, but given old issues he and Nan, while generally amicable did not sleep in the same bed. But graciously, observing propriety, he moved into a twin bed in Nan’s room, so that I could take over his grand double bed for a couple of nights, while Jan went into a single room. I did not tell Jan for many years about the collection of Playboy magazines under the bed. In fact I did not tell anyone, but it was one of those confusing events in life that shapes your thinking about one of your forebears. There were tales that emerged later about Pop’s affairs over the years, but at that time, I came to like him, rogue or not. He was lively; ‘a bit of a lad’, and I did not equate Playboy with possible hurt to my grandmother. And, of course I was never to be party to discussions about how she had remained so stalwart through so many difficulties, to keep her family together over so many years. The presence of Playboy under the bed was the tip of a very large iceberg, with nine tenths carefully hidden from public view.
Our last visit before leaving Australia was to Nan and Pop’s youngest son Mike and his wife Caroline and their young son Justin, about a year old. Mike had qualified as a doctor at Sydney University, and recently joined a general practice in Newcastle, in which he was to work for over 50 years. The bonds were immediate, and gaining some sense of the daily reality of what it was like to be a doctor with spouse and son proved to be a role model for many years later. Caroline was always a superb cook, and Mike a knowledgeable wine buff. Their hospitality was deep, they owned a pool, and we visited the beach, saw the hospital in which Mike had completed some of his training, and visited a winery in the Hunter Valley. There were (as would always be the case), scurrilous stories of extended family, and laughter late into the night. I was only a medical student in pre-clinical, but Mike treated me like a younger colleague. I have always been grateful for that role model. I was not yet a colleague, but it was only a matter of time. I have tried to emulate that stance throughout my career.