One of the less welcome accompaniments to getting older is dreaming about school, university and previous jobs. Last night I was yet again feeling guilty for not ‘getting on with research’ as a lecturer in Anatomy at Nottingham. The boss, Rex Coupland, made some barbed remark about it being too much to hope that he would see a publication soon.
How long does this sort of tripe go on? I thought I’d ditched this sort of stuff! Ah well, at least the dreams about the pecking order of school playgrounds have died down. Maybe I’m becoming demented with long-term memories shoving out short-term stuff. I can’t find my fountain pen—lost it last Wednesday I think. I’d much rather be able to remember that than some jerk in a 1962 playground.
As it happens, publications from Nottingham days did trickle along eventually, after I’d submitted my PhD dissertation. I vividly remember the viva voce examination: it was embarrassing. People had commented on how easy it was to read the dissertation—‘like a novel’ said the examiner from Glasgow, but the examiner from Sheffield, the foremost expert in one of the techniques I used, was (rightly) scandalized that I had made some sweeping journalistic statement that conveniently ignored facts (they always get in the way of a good story). I had to modify and resubmit.
I’d begun to write the dissertation the previous year. I first put pen to paper (no computer or word processor) on a week’s holiday to the Isle of Mull. We rented one of the cottages attached to Glengorm Castle near Tobermory. I’d been rather taken by the place as Madam Sin’s (Bette Davis) HQ the film of the same name, a kind of silly James Bond romp in the Highlands and Islands. There we pitched up: Susan, her mum, three kids and me just after Easter.
Ye Gods, it was cold. Never been so cold. Was the cottage heated? It was not. There was a wood burning stove that made my eyes run, and there was a bath with some hot water if you turned the heater on and did a Highland Fling to get it to work. The children slept in their overcoats. I think I did too. The seaward views were terrific though: Coll quite close, and was that South Uist in the distance?
Those were the days when I was daft enough to think that I should take work on holiday with me. Never did any, mind, but felt I should. Despite an inauspicious start the dissertation was completed and submitted later that year.
After that I applied for promotion to Senior Lecturer. Those were the Thatcher days of University squeezes, and that year there were, I think, fewer than 10 such promotions in the entire University. Needless to say, I was not one of them. I started to look about at other opportunities. Early in 1987 the Professorship of Anatomy at the College of Surgeons in Dublin was advertised. I don’t quite know why I applied: no Irish blood, no golf, no shooting, no fishing. But I did. The interview was in March. East Midlands to Dublin was in a Fokker with elastic bands. All very cosy. I must have charmed the panel.
The job started on 1 January 1988. Those were the last years of Catholic Ireland, and that’s another story.