You’ve only one shot at life ……

……so make the most of it.  I’ve always believed that, though all too often, I’ve been too busy doing things, ideas, projects, grand schemes to stop and just let things be.  Success and failure have come in equal measure.  There have been some wonderful highs but these have been balanced by devastating lows.  We probably all carry the seeds of destruction in us.  Our strengths are also our weaknesses. 

I have now reached the age in reflection, not yet sans everything,  so please forgive my self indulgence if I spend a little time just looking back and trying to make sense of it all.


Childhood and Schooldays

When we are children, we just take it all for granted, don’t we?  I didn’t see my family life as different from anybody else’s.  I can’t remember being particularly unhappy.  I hadn’t reach the stage of unhappiness.  My father was a fighter pilot during ‘The War’ and had suffered severe brain injury as a result of a crash in the Orkney Islands.  He was ‘nervous’ and unpredictable, I suppose.  Mother always seemed to be stressed.  I couldn’t ‘talk’ to either of them. My brother, Simon, was strongly independant.  He was determined to follow his own light and has become an artist with a strong interest in the environment.  ‘Art became my family’,  he says.  I, being the elder, felt impelled to carry my parents ambitions and achieve success in a more conventional sense.  I did what was expected of me and worked hard, but part of me always wanted to escape.  

When I was nine we moved to Taunton.  I had to leave my gang  and work hard to get into a good school.  Taunton School was a public school, founded in 1847.  I was not impressed at the time.  I was determined not to become a toff.  I felt isolated and found consolation in work and an acceptance by being good at sport.  I remember the kindness of ‘father figures’,  Sergeant Major Scutt, who ran the cadet force (Britain’s last hope) and Jack Hampson, who introduced me to mountaineering, sailing, music and good food and wine.   My last term as Head of School was purgatory.  I couldn’t wait to leave.   I gained an RAF Scholarship at learned to fly.  I was amused when the Headmaster referred to me as an air-minded youth.  

To my mother’s horror,  my father moved us out of town to a beautiful house on the Blackdown escarpment.  Their marriage was failing.  I spent much of my time exploring the woods, reservoirs and uplands of The Blackdowns.  I knew the Tawny Owl’s nest in the rotten oak, dissected pellets from the Barn Owl’s roost, watched Badgers by their setts in the woods and kept meticulous notes and graphs of the birds I saw, contributing the occasional cringeworthy piece to The Somerset County Gazette’s ‘Nature Notes’.   Although we only lived there for two years, Blagdon Hill became the place I would think of as home.  It was a source of solace and self sufficiency.  My father lived there until his death in 2007.  I kept the house on for six months and lived there when I could so I could take my leave properly.  Alas, despite a rearguard action by English Nature and the roost of the long eared bats in the attic,  the house is to be demolished and replaced. 

My parents both remarried and were happy, but their partners died in the early nineties.  I felt again the same obligation to care for them as I did as a teenager, but as a result my relationship with each deepened and I came to understand their respective vulnerabilities .  


University and Medical School 

My parents were delighted when I gained entrance to Cambridge University; I, less so.  I had just returned from an  ’adventure’  in Spain and Morocco and wanted to keep travelling.  I resented having to go to University and didn’t work for the first year.   I drank too much, talked a lot, fretted about girls, but felt obliged to play rugger and even put myself up for the presidency of  CUMS, the Cambridge University Medical Society.  

Cambridge was a privilege, but only in retrospect.  I remember with pleasure the long discussions after Hall,  the introduction to a wider world of arts and science, living in an environment so rich in intellectual history.   The spirit of an ancient seat of learning emanated from the ancient stones.  it was impossible not to absorb it.   Nevertheless I was anxious to get away.

In 1966, I organised and led The Cambridge Medical Expedition to Ethiopia.  Sponsored by The Explorers and Traveller’s Club, Rothman’s Cigarettes, and numerous other companies, six of us, four medics, an engineer and an ornithologist, bought and equipped two landrovers and travelled by land and sea to Djibouti and then inland to Ethiopia, where we spent four months investigating the prevalence of Schistosomiasis in four economically important regions.  This afforded a wonderful opportunity to visit the remoter regions of this magical country and deep love for Africa.   The following year I returned to work in a mission hospital in Masaka, Uganda.         

Cambridge did not possess a clinical school at the time and so I went to The London Hospital to complete my medical training.  With less distractions and a focus on studies more relevant to the understand of human disease,  I learnt my trade, spending every free moment on the wards, broadening my knowledge of disease, while in then evening I took every advantage of cheap tickets to the theatre and concerts.  

Being appointed House Officer to the Professor of Surgery was a mixed blessing.  I was sent away from The London after six months with his prophetic words ringing in my ears.  ‘Ye mebbe a guid doctorr, but ye’re noo guid for my psychotherapy!’   I learnt how to practice as a doctor under Drs Pugh and Wakefield at the Royal United Hospital in Bath.  Dr Pugh was a gastroenterologist, Dr Wakefield a neurologist.  Although I loved the intellectual discipline of neurology, I was of a more practical therapeutic bent, prompting Dr Wakefield to comment,  ‘I can see you’re going to become an ‘offal doctor’.     

An entertaining interlude back at The London Hospital VD Clinic under the military Dr Dunlop, whom we lampooned as Doctor Funstop,  led, as if by gravitational force, back to the bowels and gastroenterology.    


Viewing life from an eccentric perspective. 

Dr Derek Holdsworth, the consultant I worked for in Sheffield, organised his clinics into disease categories.  Mondays was peptic ulcer disease,  Tuesday – liver, Wednesday – coeliac, Thursday, Crohns and Colitis and Friday Irritable Bowels.  ‘You can have the Friday clinic’, he told me, they’ve all got irritable bowels and I don’t know what the hell to do with them.’   And so the die was cast.  I became an expert on irritable bowel.  I travelled the world on diarrhoea.  It was Harwich for the continent; Sheffield for the incontinent. 

I spent thirty years in medical research trying to find a cause for Irritable Bowel.  This was fun.  I loved the excitement of research.  It appealed to the explorer in me.  What a thrill it was to see something that had not been seen before.  What fun to joust with some of the most original medical thinkers.  At the peak of our productivity I had a team of twenty four researchers and friends all over the world.  But the climate of research was changing.  it was less and less easy to do the sort of original blue-skies research that I revelled in.  I had to be more accountable.  They had organised the fun out of it and the quality suffered. 

And so, when the opportunity came to retrained to study to be a psychoanalytical psychotherapist, I seized it with alacrity.  I had become aware that so many of my patients had emotional difficulties in their lives that had coincided with their illness, in so many the themes of their distress were played out in the metaphor of their illness.  I needed to understand.  Psychoanalysis offered the key that unlocked the mystery of irritable bowels and upset stomachs.  I felt for the first time in my medical career I could offer some real help for my patients.   I devoted a lot of time advising the IBS Network (latterly The Gut Trust), answering patients questions, writing articles as well as maintaining a clinical service.   I saw life from a what might be seen as a strange perspective, but one that held great meaning.     





You’ve only one shot at life.