"The past exudes legend: one can’t make pure clay of time’s mud. There is no life that can be recaptured wholly; as it was. Which is to say that all biography is ultimately fiction"
Professor Rodney Taylor, Apothecary, 2012
Let me tell you my story. I was a war baby growing up in London, surrounded by the consequences of conflict. Born in the depths of winter I spent my early days in a drawer as there were no cots to be had.
My father, the son of a Lancashire coal merchant, was much the brightest of four siblings and graduated in chemistry from the Victoria University of Manchester. He went into fuel technology with a MSc at Manchester and a PhD at Leeds, but did not join the family business. My mother was the only daughter of a ladies’ tailor and dressmaker, married to a clerk in local government. Ladies’ tailoring involves the proper ‘building’ of ladies’ suits. My mother went to Art School to learn art, design and fabrics and was apprenticed to her mother.
My parents’ wedding was at the height of the wartime bombing in Lancashire, which caused so much concern that the doors of the chapel were locked during the ceremony, raising the question of the legality of their marriage! They moved to London for war work; he was in war service maintaining electrical power generation, and she was a school dinner lady briefly, until the need for maternity leave. Doodlebugs, the bombing of London, nights sleeping in the temporary shelter under the dining table are distant childhood recollections.
Then, after the war, I went to school in rural Botany Bay on the edge of Hertfordshire. From a tiny (two classes increased to three when I arrived) village school to The Grammar School, Enfield – a dramatic shock of scale and culture. The school, founded in 1558, grew from the fourteenth century Chantry School. It gave a traditional, classical education, covering a broad spread of the humanities for the scientists, though possibly a lesser balance in the other direction. Music, drama and the arts competed for my attention, but I went to Bristol University to read physics. Involvement in revue and the broader aspects of university life resulted in my change from the mathematical rigour of academic physics to honours in psychology, followed by a few years as a clinical psychologist. However I found that working with people whose behaviour was influenced by things going wrong in their brains needed a better understanding of neurology and, in fact, medicine.
After sixty hours work to get grade A in A level zoology, I went to University College London and thence to UCH. Fascinating times, with so much to learn that made sense and mattered. There was also Fallopians, for whom I co-directed the medical school revue. I met Janet, a fellow student, whom I subsequently married. I did both my house jobs at UCH, first on the Neurological Unit and with John Stokes, and then on the Surgical Unit. SHO posts whizzed by at an alarming pace at West Middlesex, Whittington, London Chest Hospitals, and then a Registrar post at Central Middlesex Hospital. Not neurology after all but gastroenterology; but I learned that the gut has its own nervous system, so that was all right!
It was an easy transition from registrar to DHSS Research Fellow and thence to a Wellcome Senior Research Fellowship in Clinical Science, jointly between the old MRC Gastroenterology Research Unit at Central Middlesex, the Middlesex Hospital Medical School and the University Laboratory of Physiology in Oxford. That gave a wonderful mix of basic and clinical science, presentations, publications, an MD, whilst maintaining a toe in clinical practice as senior lecturer and consultant physician.
An interest in boats, ships and the sea led me to join the London Division, Royal Naval Reserve, and this was a link that took me into the Royal Navy on a medium career 16-year commission. Despite sea-time in the RNR in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and UK waters, proper sea-time was needed to obtain ‘sea-credibility’, so winter exercises in the Arctic and then a prolonged winter South Atlantic patrol followed, with visits to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. On my return, after three winters back to back, I was appointed to the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar as consultant physician and gastroenterologist and subsequently Royal College of Physicians’ Professor of Naval Medicine. This appointment lasted nearly fifteen years but was interrupted by active service in the Gulf War 1990-91, in Bosnia, Kosovo and Northern Ireland, as well as occasional ‘jollies’ in Akrotiri and Gibraltar. There were a number of additional roles as Medical Director, Associate Postgraduate Dean, Consultant Advisor to the Surgeon General, and outside appointments to the Royal College of Physicians, Southampton University, the GMC, the Healthcare Commission, King’s Fund, the National Clinical Assessment Service and other national and international organisations. These roles prompted me to take an MBA. I spent eleven years on the Council of the British Society of Gastroenterology (Treasurer for six years covering UK hosting the European Gastroenterology Week in 1997) and was Medical Director of the Digestive Disorders Foundation. As I left the Navy I was holding eleven roles within the military, as well as others outside! When I retired in 2001 to the RN Emergency List (on which I remain for life) I had visited thirty-three countries in five continents in the course of my work. I returned to the NHS, taking the post of Medical Director at Ealing Hospital.
I first became involved with the Society in 1991 when I took the History of Medicine course, passing the Diploma the following year. The Philosophy of Medicine course and Diploma followed, as did involvement with the Faculty of the History and Philosophy of Medicine and Pharmacy variously as Fellow, Secretary, Deputy President, and President. I gave the Osler Lecture in 1994 and the Gideon de Laune Lecture in 2004. I have been an examiner in the history of medicine since 1996 and the Society’s Convener of Examiners in that subject 2000-04 and 2008-12. I became a Yeoman of the Society in 1997, a Liveryman in 2001, an Assistant in 2006, and joined the Private Court in 2010. I am also a Liveryman of the Barbers’ Company and gave their inaugural Charles Bernard Lecture.
Cultivation of my interest in the ethical issues around healthcare practice through the DPMSA led to taking a MA in Bioethics. This led to my current appointments as Visiting Professor in the School of Theology, Philosophy and History at St Mary’s University College, and Tutor in Medical Ethics and Law at Imperial College Faculty of Medicine.
I am a trustee and chairman of two cancer support charities, one national and one regional but open to all. I was a Churchwarden; a responsibility that involved managing an interregnum, and coming out smiling! I am a Wandsman at St Paul’s Cathedral.
My wife, Janet, is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, who is currently seconded to the NHS Institute (for Innovation and Improvement) as clinical lead for improving outcomes in maternity services. We love music, sing in Concordia, a chamber choir, and greatly enjoy opera. We also get great pleasure from boats (any, but especially yachts and narrow boats), travel, English churches and Choral Evensong. Our three children have flown the nest – a daughter who is a vet in Cheshire, an economist and linguist son turned banker in Cleveland Ohio, and a daughter who teaches in London. The first and second have parented our two grandsons and our granddaughter respectively.
The Society’s new website is a much more up to date and friendly channel of communication for all members who are able or prepared to use it. I have worked, with others, to make this so. I am totally committed to the Society and its activities, especially to ensuring that the dual celebrations of the quadricentennial anniversary of the Society in 2017 and the bicentennial of the Apothecaries’ Act in 2015 are recognised in full and appropriate style. The two Faculties, the Archives, maintained by its loyal Friends, and the Livery Committee are very much part of this and I support them wholeheartedly. The celebration and recognition of these major anniversaries involves additional fundraising to allow the Society to achieve all that it sets out to do, whilst maintaining and sustaining its normal charitable activities. Meanwhile I am committed to managing the Society’s properties responsibly and effectively as securities and as sources of income.
This might be time’s mud, but it is not fiction ... not really ... if at all.