Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Innocents abroad

In 1961 the pianist and I moved to Plymouth, Devon with a one and a three year old, to complete my training. The Consultant for whom I worked, was an elderly (fiftyish! ) bachelor, a transplant Australian who was for me, an avuncular boss and friend. Plymouth was still rebuilding after having been destroyed during the wartime bombing. Consultant jobs were scarce, so non-Englishmen were a boon since we were transient, and therefore not competition for consultancies. We lived in the upstairs flat of a decrepit council house owned by the hospital. Budgets for hospitals were tight in a Britain that was regaining her feet. The first thing I was told was that a Registrar should have a dinner jacket. I went out dutifully and bought a "shark skin" dinner jacket, cumberbun, starch fronted shirt, silk black socks, patent leather shoes and a black bow tie (clip on). My first foray was to the Plymouth Medical Society annual banquet. The Consultant prepared me for the customs. Stand to toast the Queen, do not smoke until the toast is over, speak to both sides at the table with your confreres, preferably one with the meal and the other with dessert and don't drink too much. I dressed for show that night. I was elegant. I left my bride , the pianist. to wrestle with children, diapers in the kitchen sink , the kerosene heaters, and went to my dinner. Things went well initially. I avoided smoking until the Queen. I took tailor made cigarettes,Woodbines, cheap, (two and six for twenty) rather than my "roll your own" . When we toasted the Queen however , when I stood with the company, glass aloft, the tail of my dinner jacket was caught between the back of the chair and the seat. As I stood the chair rose with me, hugging my backside. I wasn't sure what to do so I shook a little and it landed with a clatter up side down,coinciding with the declaration "The Queen". The company was faintly amused and forgiving, after all I was a new Colonial needing a bit of polish. I returned to my council house needing a hug. As I now consider it, it was the pianist that deserved all the hugs. Inside and outside, I did need the polish.

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