Thursday, 31 March 2016


During my second year in university I had an income of one shilling and six pence.  It was earned by taking part in the Question Time quiz which was held every day in the Theatre Royal in Dublin.  The quiz was held as part of the cinema and was part of a stage show at that time.  The question time was held every afternoon and my friends and I attended every Friday.  We almost invariably won because I had with me three other members of the university and we were way ahead in general knowledge then the other contestants who entered the quiz. 

The prize was ten shillings for the winner.  The admission for the show was one shilling per person and that left us with 6 shillings, 1 shilling and 6 pence per person pocket money!  We always sat in the front seats in order to get up to the stage first but soon we were told by the quizmaster that he could only deal with us once every week in order to be fair to the other contestants. If we didn’t comply with his wishes he threatened to ban us altogether.  

This practice went on for about a year or two and it provided us with enough money to survive. One of my colleagues, who later became a secretary of UCD and who was well known as an international bridge player was often the first in with the correct answer. 

A year or two later I was employed by the Sunday Independent to correct the crosswords entered in the competition during the previous Sunday.  For this I got 10 shillings every week and I was probably then one of the richest members of the faculty and possibly better off than some of the staff.  This employment was to continue until my last year in college when I had to settle down to do some work for my final medical examinations.  As a result of my intense interest in rowing, I barely scrapped through my first four years but the last year I devoted entirely to my studies.

I was advantaged by the fact that the standard of lectures was poor and sometimes irrelevant to the exam itself. I retired to the library during the lecture periods and probably learned four or five times more that I would have if I had been confined to the lecture theatre.  As a result, I shared second place with a colleague in the final examination.  He subsequently went to the Mayo Clinic where he became a faculty member there and only died recently.

The Royalettes (when they were more numerous and slimmer)
To return to the Theatre Royal and our various antics there, we were also entertained by the stage show which involved the Twelve Royalettes who did much of the dancing and other frivolities.  They were dressed in colourful if somewhat gaudy costumes and were a great source of interest to the young men in the audience.  We were there on the afternoon when the first show of “Bumpsadaisy” was revealed to the public.  The four of us, among other enthusiasts were invited onto the stage to join the Royalettes in performing this new number.  I was a little late arriving on the stage and I was left with the shortest but strongest member of the Royalettes.  As the music started, I took her hand, danced a few steps, then we took two or three turns around followed by a bump between my right hip and the dancer’s left. This contact was followed by two more turns and a further hip bump.  This procedure carried on for a few moments much to the enjoyment of the audience and the participants. However as the dancing came to an end I turned to have a final bump with my partner. This bump was perhaps more enthusiastic than the previous ones and I was thrown by the rather hefty weight of her hip and I went sprawling right back onto the stage. This caused much amusement in the audience.  As I collapsed in confusion I saw the big screen on the stage advancing rapidly towards my head but I was quickly moved away by two sprightly stage hands.  I soon came too as I was lifted up by the stage lads and removed to the side like a piece of old stage set.  I was then pushed out of a side door back to the audience area.  All this was much to the laughter and mirth of the onlookers. 

The theatre closed on June 30th 1962 and was demolished soon after.
As regards to my medical education, it was not until the end of the third year of college that I came in direct contact with a patient.  I was officially admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital to clinical sessions which were held every weekday morning. My first three years in university were virtually irrelevant from the academic point of view, but my interest in medicine and in my career was transformed as soon as I reached the hospital.  There I found myself working with physicians, surgeons, nurses and other members of the staff.  The transformation from the lecture hall to the hospital was for me a great moment in my life.  I was fortunate to have joined a great profession which suited me wonderfully. 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Art of Travel

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. Penguin books. 2002. 

This review was written on December 30th 2011 

The nine chapters are made up of a pot-pourri of essays about travel, observation and the appreciation of beauty. Chapter 1 On Anticipation starts with a holiday from home;  later chapters deal with business trips, scientific exploration and finally with the appreciation of one’s own bedroom. It was bought by Louise on an impulse about possible holiday reading.

Holidays - Irish style.
The author provides insights into why we travel and into the problems and the impulses that induce people to travel rather than remaining at home. To the holiday seekers it provides an answer to the question ‘’ How did you enjoy your holiday?’’, the answer being not infrequently ‘’ It was fine but I was glad to get home’’. 

Ahhh...that's more like it
Chapter one is about the author’s holiday in Bermuda. He makes the point that the boredom which drives us to need a holiday is not necessarily avoided with our change of scene. There is a compulsion about a regular need to satisfy our challenging expectations in being elsewhere. During his stay with his accompanying person in Bermuda, a holiday he chose after seeing an alluring photo of a dazzling beach, some palm trees leaning in the breeze and an azure sea, he found that interpersonal domestic hazards are not unusual even during such idyllic times away. After a silly squabble the second day out, they did not speak for the rest of the day. He spent his time alone on the beach and in general felt miserable.

The Beach - China Style
Other chapters deal with his belief, or rather hope, that we can find many features to occupy our minds whether we are following the tourist guide to the parks and churches of Madrid or standing alone in the Sinai Desert with apparently nothing to see except limitless expanse of sand. His account of his visit to the Sinai was full of observations and impressions sufficient to provide a separate chapter. It was clearly more exciting than wandering around Madrid.

Chapter 4 entitled On Curiosity provides an account of the German, Alexander von Humboldt, and his extraordinary explorations and scientific discoveries during the five years starting 1799 in South America. This chapter is advanced to emphasise how our observations of strange places can provide us with an unlimited amount of interest and information as in the apparently absorbing desert.

The book makes light reading suitable for going on a holiday, although the author’s last chapter about the many fascinating things to be found in your own bedroom might tempt you to stay at home!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The night of the play and Lavelle.

I first met Lavelle in the boat club at University College in 1939.  He was in his last year of medicine and had already been rowing number seven on the senior team for two years.  I had joined as a cox and got to know him and his family very well.  They had lived quite close to us in Rathmines.  Lavelle was obviously senior to myself and had left the club by the time I had become an active cox and later, oarsman.  I had no contact with him until 1947 when I joined the hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in London. 

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth
This was a bad time for a newly qualified doctor to join the ranks of the profession as the war had just ended and the profession was awash with young doctors who were being discharged from the forces.  After leaving St Vincent’s, I was left for five months without an appointment except as an assistant to Dr O’Reilly in the Dept of Local Government and Public Health.  It was before the Dept of Health was established. 

During the five months I received the handsome sum of one pound a week.  I was about to consider going to America as had most of my colleagues until a friend of my fathers, a London surgeon from a well-known Dublin family invited me to do a one-month locum at very short notice in the hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in St John’s Wood in London.  I came across Lavelle again when he was doing a locum in Hampstead in the same area.  A few days before I was due to finish my locum Lavelle called me and invited me to join him at a play in one of the London theatres.  At that time it was customary for theatres who where not fully booked to contact the local hospital or local doctors and offer the tickets for free.  At the last moment I got a call from Lavelle to say that he had two tickets for a play in Piccadilly and would I like to join him.  

Picadilly 1947
He was driving a very old and dilapidated Rover at the time.  He picked me up and we parked close to Piccadilly.  We were at the play in good time but after one act we found it so thoroughly boring that we retired to the bar in the playhouse.  We remained there until we were asked to leave.  We moved to a very well known underground pub in Piccadilly where again we remained drinking until we were asked to depart.  By this time we were well stoked but nevertheless showing no serious signs of drunkenness.  Lavelle drove the car from Piccadilly to the University Club close to Victoria where there were no strict rules about departure times!  We remained there until about 2.30 or 3am. Even in my inebriated state, it was obvious to me that he was far too drunk to be driving a car.  Nevertheless, the more he drank, the more he insisted on driving the car home to my hospital. I had grave doubts about accompanying him but I realised that it would have been frightfully disloyal of me not to remain with him as he was in such a state.  We drove the short distance from the club to Hyde Park Corner and I recall striking the back of a red post office truck in front of us at this point.  I recall that he backed the car away and turned right and blindly crossed Hyde Park Corner.   

The type you might come across...
What happened after that, I do not recall until I woke up to be hauled out of the car by two policemen. I recall that the car was lying upside down in a building site.  We were transported to the police barracks in Hampstead which was of course, close to my hospital and also close to his surgery.  I slept fitfully most of the night in the barracks but I was conscious of Lavelle shouting and roaring and abusing the police, particularly in connection with the Irish and the treatment the British establishment give to the Irish.  There were also several rude and abusive remarks shouted about the North of Ireland and its British occupation.   

The next morning I and my sore head was put into the police car and driven to my hospital. The hospital had a grand entrance with the nun’s residence and the church on one side and the nursing home on the other. We were facing the hospital and I was pushed out of the back of the police car just as the nuns, in rows of two, were leaving the nunnery and walking to the church. Nothing was said by the bobbies as I followed my lonely and embarrassed path to the front door of the hospital.  Nothing was mentioned about this event until later that afternoon when I was asked to meet with the chairman of the medical board, the chief surgeon.

In days gone by at St Johns and St Elizabeths.
When I arrived at the meeting he said that he was deeply sorry that I had behaved so badly and particularly as other young doctors had applied for my job and therefore my departure from the job was inevitable and I was promptly sacked.  However, he followed this by saying that there was no suitable candidate immediately available because the others arranged alternative employment and therefore I could stay for a few days.  As I left the room in shame, he continued to look suitably strict and authoritarian; however I am sure I saw him wink!  I never heard another word from him or the nuns and I continued on in one way or another in the hospital for the next two years! 

Lavelle also remained in his surgery without a word being said.  A tribute to the London bobbies who treated the Irish with the same respect as the locals despite the abuse from the vocal Lavelle! I never heard anything about the fate of the dilapidated Rover!