With his working life newly at an end, Jonty muses on changing times

Well, R-day has come and gone. I have now joined the ranks of the newly retired. It all came as rather a shock; imagine a fully loaded express train reaching its terminus without slowing down as it entered the station. I was trying to finalise management plans for patients I’d looked after for up to 29 years right up till the last afternoon. In modern General Practice there is now no option to slow down and grow old disgracefully – it is an all or nothing scenario. The transition from that all to nothing therefore came as a bit of an anticipated shock; with this in mind I had wisely booked a break in a remote cottage in the Shropshire Marches without electricity, TV, or much mobile reception to start the very Friday night I finished work. After an epic retirement party, an endless stream of my wonderful patients all bidding me farewell, and an emotional packing up of my consulting room and desk, I was indeed ready for a spell of isolation and retreat.

The cottage sits high on a hill looking west, without neighbours. It is heated by log burners, and lit by Calor Gas lamps. Comforts do include a bottled gas cooking range and shower, and a proper toilet, though said loo does have the option of an open door looking out over a sheep filled countryside. Or, for the more private minded, a closed door. In the evenings several examples of my Tilley light collection add to the ambience; I am writing this next to a gently hissing Tilley whilst being warmed by a toasty warm fire, and am very comfortable – and with a glass of wine and a portion of Carol’s fish pie inside me my bed is starting to call seductively.

The whole scenario is very Arthur Ransome; the Swallows and Amazons could easily have been sitting around the firepit toasting marshmallows as the sun set an hour or two ago. Which is all very appropriate – my reading matter for the break comes from Carol’s treasured boxed set of the adventures of said Swallows and Amazons. I have enjoyed their initial book describing dinghy sailing and camping on a lake reminiscent of Coniston; in their second book, Swallowdale, they hole their dinghy and take to land while repairs are made. Peter Duck, the third novel, is a imaginary tale spun by imaginary children of an imaginary Atlantic crossing and treasure hunt. I have just closed the cover on the fourth, Winter Holiday, describing a mumps isolation extended stay on the same lake, albeit now so frozen as to allow skating from end to end in the dark and snow.

There is no doubt that Social Services and Childline would be involved if such adventures were to happen today. The glorious freedom the Walker and Blackett children enjoyed is unimaginable in modern times. My Swallow-esque stay in this cottage and, to a certain extent, my privileged childhood background which included comparable freedom in Welsh and Scottish bothies (both without ‘conveniences’), makes me sad that such tales are unlikely to be repeatable. Instead of getting lost in the fog and sailing a sledge through a blizzard on a frozen lake, today’s young are more likely to be seen watching TV, glued to a mobile phone, or in battle with a computer game. The dangers the Walkers and Blacketts faced and overcame are considered too risky now. I might throw in the terms character building, natural selection, and personality development, but have to accept that we now live in a very different world and that times have changed.

Despite this protectional attitude, history does have a habit of repeating itself and fashions do have a tendency of coming round again. I hope that an environment where our offspring can run free and learn their own lessons may present itself again; I shall always remember being invited to visit ‘Secret Water’ with my best friend aboard his family’s Nantucket Clipper at the heady age of 11. The experience may well have been the influence that tipped me into the freedoms of dinghy and subsequently, yacht sailing. We must always endeavour to offer our own young opportunities that allow them to grow and develop in ways that will enrich their own lives. Swallows and Amazons for ever!



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