A lovely spring day with a constant threat of rain; the pilgrimage of car-train-walk to St Mary’s and back (unless my helpful son is driving home) is all part of stepping out of the world of academia and into the world of football.
I love travelling into Southampton from the east by train. The polite houses in the ever filling gap between Fareham and Southampton give way to the gritty landscape around Southampton water (making me wish that I was a landscape painter and could capture the colours and atmosphere of the waterside). There are always a few opposition supporters in the train, and it is fun to watch their reaction as the stadium comes into view across the water, and then a few minutes later the Northam stand is almost within touching distance of the train window.
The twenty minute walk from the station is cheerfully optimistic in the blustery sunshine, so different from previous sleety-rainy trudges in the gloom of the winter months, and today optimism is rewarded with a great game and a 2-0 win over Everton.
Coming home I hear interesting snippets of conversation from two young men (perhaps in their thirties) who had been to the match, and it strikes me, as it has done so many times over the years of seeing patients in my clinics, that we know so little about how others live. These two were discussing jobs and families, sometimes amusing, sometimes horrifying, and sometimes humbling me.
A: We staying at my in-laws, and Suzy and her mum had gone on a girls night out, and I went out for the night with my father-in-law. We get on really well, and there were all these hot chicks where we were. It was really killing me, I mean I couldn’t even go and chat to them. Then my father-in-law brought me a drink, and said ‘go on, try your luck, I can promise you I won’t say anything.’ Well, what do you do?
B: Do you trust him?
A: Dunno, not worth the risk is it? He used to be a bit of a lad when his kids were young, but it could be a test. I mean, I felt that maybe it was a test, he was testing me.
B: Does he still mess around?
A: No, no I don’t think so, I mean he’s too old.
(This last bit made me laugh – I assume the father-in-law must be in his early sixties at most!)
B: What would happen if you did, and Suzy found out?
A: I think she’d be peed off obviously, but she’d get over it.
B: What if she flirted with other guys at a girls night out?
A: She wouldn’t. She knows that would be it. She’d be out.
(Fantastic double standards here).
Their conversation turned to work, and I was really struck by how A felt bad that Suzy had to work more than he thought she should because of their finances, because he wasn’t earning as much as he’d like. He said more than once that he’d like to return to college to gain more qualifications (I had the impression he was a construction worker, but with qualifications – he said he’d left school at 18). However, they agreed that you couldn’t afford to take the risk to go back to college, because you’d lose money by doing so, and then although you’d be better qualified you would have slipped back on experience, and therefore wouldn’t earn more to compensate for time out.
They started talking about doing night work as an alternative – the construction industry is booming and needing more 24/7 workers, and night work is significantly better paid. Would this mean sacrificing time with the kids? B said that his mate came home at 4am from his shifts, had a couple of hours sleep, saw the kids off to school, then slept until they needed collecting from school, and went in to work after having tea with them. His wife could work and they didn’t have any childcare costs.
I thought that this was all very well, but what about the marital relationship? When did they have a chance to have a few hours of quiet together, let alone sleeping together in the same bed or having any sort of sex life?
Obviously I’ve worked nights for many years, but nights for doctors in those days meant working the day, the night, and then the next day, hoping that you would get some sleep (which, although fragmented, you usually did). This has left a legacy of being unable to ever sleep through a night, but there were significant rewards. Massive job satisfaction number one. As two of my colleagues used to say, it is a privilege to be paid for a job that you really enjoy doing. (Things have changed a lot, I’m no longer sure that doctors, junior or senior, have great job satisfaction, and they are being paid too much to try and compensate for it). However, at least when we did it, doctors enjoyed a degree of respect and standing in society, and we knew that if we worked hard and passed the exams we would make our way up the career ladder.
As so often, it left me feeling that not only did most doctors know much less than they thought about life outside the medical world, but our elected politicians (the cabinet anyway) are totally out of touch. What is the solution to this? Back to my completely crazy, off the wall idea (according to all our friends) that life in the UK would be made more equal most quickly by closing independent schools. If everyone had to go through the state system (that educates 93% of the population, including me and my four children) then the poor state schools would be pulled up, and the iniquitous preferential appointment of people through the old school network would end.
I’m sure I’ll return to this!