Tuesday, 28 February 2017

My first visit to the doctor's, Lochee, Dundee, 1950

The NHS was only 2 years old in 1950 when I -  a boy of five years - was first taken to see a doctor in Lochee by my Mummy. We walked to what looked to me like a big stone-built mansion and after stepping through its entrance my Mummy led me by the hand into a large room around which many people were sitting on benches. They were waiting, my Mummy told me, to see the doctor.

Every now and then from one or other of two doors in the room the word, "Next!" would be called out and one of the waiting persons sometimes accompanied by another would get up and walk towards the open door, cross the threshold into a smaller room and close the door behind them. They had gone in to see the doctor. 

It seemed as if everyone knew whose turn it was to go through the doors though there wasn't an obvious queue like the ones at the Pictures or at the Lochee Tram Terminus at the back of Liff Road School. 

After what seemed ages another "Next!" was called out from one of the doors that had been left open by a person who had just departed one of the smaller rooms. It must have been my "Next!" for my Mummy led me by the hand and drew me to the room and we entered. We closed the door and a voice invited us to sit on the chairs situated in front of a large wooden desk. "And what can I do today for this little chap?" said the voice. The voice was owned by a man who sat facing us behind the big desk. He had reddish brown wavy hair which had a hair oil sheen to it. His face was adorned by a moustache, the same colour as his hair,  but twisted to a point at each end.  He wore a green tweed jacket and matching plus fours with beige woollen socks and on his feet were chestnut brown leather brogues but his dress was not the aspect of him that has bemused me over the years. No, it was that in his left hand he held a cigarette holder into which was inserted a lit cigarette while in his right hand he had a thick glass tumbler with an amber liquid in it which I now understand to have been whisky. This was the doctor.

After my Mummy talked about me to the doctor,  he wrote a note and passed it to her. We now walked out of the room leaving the door open for the next cry of "Next!" I was told later that the note was a prescription for medicine that would make me better. We would get the medicine from the chemist's and it was free!  And, unlike sweeties, it was "aff the coupon."

I suppose at that time we were moving from the culture of a private medicine system towards that of a National Health Service which was being provided free for everyone in the United Kingdom. The doctor I met that day may or may not have been representative of what went on in health care prior to the establishment of the NHS and I imagine doctors have changed a great deal and no doubt are now generally better informed since medical science has, we are told, advanced. What was different in 1950 was that the NHS did provide me - by sitting in a queue - an appointment with my family doctor on the same day. Now under the auspices of a Conservative government of the world's 6th wealthiest economy we're lucky if we can get to see a doctor at all. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Grandad Sharpe shaving and Independence.

Thinking back to my childhood I can only remember one occasion when Scottish independence was talked about in my family.

In the early to mid-1950s  every other Saturday we would drive over from Dundee to Forfar to my Grannie and Grandad Sharpe’s house, a stone built bungalow on the Dundee Loan. We would spend the rest of the weekend there and return to Dundee after tea time on Sunday.

My Grandad Sharpe was a diesel engineer of some repute and whenever a local transport contractor’s lorry broke down some out of breath youth would knock at the front door with a message sent out for Geordie Sharpe to repair a broken down lorry . This often happened on a Sunday and the memory I am about to recall was of one such time when we were staying at Grannie and Grandad Sharpe’s over the weekend.

My Daddy and I are sitting in the room behind the big room of the bungalow. My recollection is that this room acted as a kitchen and a washroom. My Grandad is standing, preparing to go out to work following a plea from a road haulage company asking him to fix a lorry which has broken down on the lang stracht near Edzell. Grandad stands in front of a mirror which he is using to guide his shaving. He is wearing only his vest and trousers. While shaving he doesn’t have his galluses over his shoulders. They are hanging down the sides of each of his trouser legs and somehow during the whole shaving ritual his trousers never fall down but remain, albeit precariously, in a respectable position.

In order to shave Grandad heats water in the kettle.  He pours the boiling water into an enamel mug. He unfolds his lethal looking cutthroat shaving razor and dips it into the water. He takes hold of the bottom end of a leather strop  which is suspended on a metal hook on the wall. With quick up and down strokes of the blade he sharpens it against the leather.  He puts his razor down on a wooden shelf fixed to the wall by the mirror where he has also placed the mug, his brush and shaving soap. He picks up his shaving brush and his mug dips his brush into the hot water, and he vigorously rubs the brush on a cylindrical stick of shaving soap and by doing this he  builds up a lather which he applies to his face using his shaving brush. He repeats this operation about three or four times before he is satisfied that he has sufficiently covered his face with the soapy lather. He puts the mug, soap and brush on the shelf, picks up his frightening razor and deftly applies the blade at a fine angle to his face with an elegant sweep. Each sweep of the blade removes a section of the lather along with Grandad’s whiskery stubble which the lather has softened. This done the blade is stirred clean in the hot water in the enamel mug and he removes any remaining lather by wiping the blade on a towel hanging on a peg by the mirror. This ritual is repeated about 5 or six times until all his whiskers are shaved off. 

Grandad shaving: from a contemporary illustration

The blade looks intimidating and dangerous but I am so fascinated by this ritual that I am always able to watch the whole process though I am anxious when Grandad shaves his throat. It seems to me I have watched Grandad’s ablutions many times and yet I have never  seen him draw blood but on this particular morning I sense he is trying to draw blood, but not his. Between each sweep of the blade to his face, he is also addressing my Daddy, his son. He is making short remarks about “home rule” for Scotland. “Of course we can rin oor ain country”. He says it in a plaintiff way as if he is imputing that Daddy doesn’t agree. There is silence as he shaves more foam off his face, rinses the blade in the water and wipes the blade dry. “Why should we believe everything they tell us?” Silence again. More foam is removed from Grandad’s face. The blade is cleaned again, “If the Irish can dae it, if Norwegians can dae it,” more beard is removed, “then there’s nae reason why we cannae . Naebody can tell me that Scotland is no’ a viable country.” The last of the beard has been removed and the last rinse, shake and wipe of the blade takes place. All his utensils are cleared away.

Daddy says nothing in response. I sense too  – though of course I am only 7 or 8 years   - that Daddy is not sympathetic towards Grandad’s views. For some reason, I am.

Grandad puts his galluses back over his shoulders, dons his dark blue boiler suit and says, “I should be back by denner.” He leaves the house.

Daddy remains silent.  Is choosing not to argue with his father  a seemly message for me?