I will be at a memorial service today for a retired G.P. colleague who died recently.
The very first G.P. I worked with when I emerged naive and blinking into the bright, exciting and promising new world that was the Primary Health Care Team back in July 1978 and I rolled up at his surgery to start being a real health visitor.
Look at my first ID card, not a wrinkle to be seen. I'm too embarrassed to show you the latest one taken a few weeks ago. When I said I didn't like the picture they refused to take eighty-eight more until I was happy and wouldn't let me revert to this one for some reason.
But 1978, it was high summer, it was sunny, I'd learnt to drive and passed my test in three months because I absolutely had to (Dartmoor on a bike didn't appeal) and just passed a heap of written exams and vivas at the end of the most intensive year of study I'd ever done and I was oddly terrified.
What was I doing here?
Suddenly I was in a strange and surreal heaven, this couldn't be right.
After the hierarchical cauldron that had been hospital nursing for me, to find myself out in the community, free to organise my own work, and drive across some of the most exquisitely beautiful countryside while I did it, seemed like a privilege not to be sniffed at. Indeed as I drove onto high and deserted Dartmoor this week I drank in the space and that freedom in huge gulps.
I always do.
But my first encounter with a GP as a working colleague was going to be an important one and thankfully it was with Dr G who was kindness personified. In retrospect I see that he must have looked at me 30 years ago much as I look at doctors and policeman now; young health visitors were very unusual, most in their forties or fifties then (plus ca change) and all called Betty and Shirley (and now called Lynne).
But Dr G and I hit it off and many's the time he offered guidance and advice that has stood me in very good stead ever since. He was a New Zealander, a family man of deep religious conviction and a real listener, beloved by his patients in that old-fashioned rural way and always inundated with gifts of salmon, fresh eggs, a bunch of rhubarb, half a sheep and more and surrounded by a dedicated team of staff.
Remember the old-style 1970's doctor's receptionists? Full and quietly attentive waiting room, mega-decibels as they answer the phone,
Is that Mrs Smith of Back of Beyond Farm?
You want to see a doctor Mrs Smith ?
Is it really necessary?
What's wrong with you?
(Increase in decibels) PILES?
But we let you see the doctor about that last week.
The nurse who would quickly shove her cigarette in a Bovril jar when I went in the room, realise it was me and get it out again.
I've mentioned her before, the Jamaican district nurse - midwife who took me out on my first day to show me the MOST important place I needed to know about. I was mystified as we pulled into a car park, deserted but for a lone ice-cream van and with far reaching views right over the moors and across to Plymouth Sound.
99 or Raspberry Mivvi she said to me and went and bought accordingly (99 for me, never did like Mivvis) and we sat in silence and looked at the view. I was still mystified and asked where the house was that we surely must be visiting.
No no she said, never forget because they won't have taught you this bit. This is where you come and park up when it all gets too much and you need a breather.
Duly never forgotten and my car knows its own way there now.
That was the surgery and the job I left to go off and have babies and I cried a river because it was such a perfect time (not without its moments of course but ideal working conditions) and I somehow knew that it would never be repeated (I was very right) . When I left I bought them a huge teapot because Dr G was always complaining the teapot was too small. That surgery, which I did eventually return to nineteen years later and for eight years until last summer, still has afternoon tea and cake behind reception as instigated by Dr G.
Dr G in fact convinced back in 1981 that I needn't leave, childcare non-existent, we all gave up work. We could put a cot in the corner of the office and you could carry on, we'll look after the baby while you're out he said.
Those of us still around have had little gatherings this week to help the giver of the eulogy, another retired partner, and many laughs ensued as we recalled some of the very funny moments.
Dr G memorably the recipient of what would now be considered a very non-pc April Fool letter actually from us, but on council - headed notepaper (probably illegal to do that now too) informing him that planning permission had been granted for the establishment of a traveller camp on wasteland right next door to the surgery, in fact right outside his window, and would he accept "this happy band of people " as patients and allow them to use the toilet and washing facilities in the building.
When he dialled the phone number and found it was Dial-a-Recipe he laughed like the proverbial drain but doubtless had it been true he'd have willingly added them all to his list.