All classical epics begin with what scholars call a proem: the introductory lines that announce to the audience what the epic is about – what will be the scope of its action, the identity of its characters, the nature of its themes …

Daniel Mendelsohn, An Odyssey: a father, a son and an epic

Sonnet from the sixties[1]

They came from all the corners of the globe,

They weren’t pursuing their own fame and wealth,

Their wishes all, as surgeons, to enrobe,

They gave their all to Bevan’s National Health.

They slaved by day with men of high renown,

Caught many a train to courses at St Bart’s,

And down to Apley’s men at Pyrford Town.

Then, all with fear and trembling in their hearts,

They gathered in that lustrous college hall.

The test was searching – patients and path pots;

Outside they stood to hear their fate befall,

A gowned and gloved praeposter call’d the shots –

He spoke, “My sirs, I do regret to say,

There are no candidates that passed this day!”[2]

Author, August 2014

[1] With apologies to Shakespeare for this attempt to retain the iambic pentameter essential to the sonnet)

[2] This did occur on one memorable occasion in the history of the college

Hanging in the entrance hall to the College is the 1894 Henry Jamyn Brooks painting ‘The Viva’, depicting the FRCS examination with Mr John Wood leaning across a table while a bearded Sir Jonathan Hutchinson looks on.

Short then is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short too the longest posthumous praise, and even this continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

(Marcus Aurelius, AD 121-180, Roman Emperor, AD 161-180. The last of the ‘Five Good Emperors’. A Stoic Philosopher – the only emperor to claim such a title.)

For some years I have been aware that I have not recorded my recollections of some 40 years spent as a practising surgeon. Now, at the age of 88, time is running out. Not that the passage of time necessarily impairs recollections. On the contrary, often the memory of these events becomes distilled with the passing of the years and perhaps this record will be more philosophical whilst retaining its accuracy, as the events are still clear.

I have become a compulsive writer and find it is a discipline above all others that focuses the mind and encourages embryonic ideas to come to fruition. It is relaxing and engaging and with the miracle of computers and scanners the end result can be pleasing even if the content does not always come up to expectations.

The question of chance in life is an intriguing one and postulating on the possible outcome of a particular situation remains endless. Had my seventeen year-old great grandfather not appeared before that just and merciful judge, Lord Lyndhurst[3] in 1833, and avoided hanging at Lancaster Castle…had that particular sperm not outswum the other millions to reach the egg first…had I not failed the final examination in Medicine, I would not have finished up in New Zealand…and would not have met my future wife…and not had four children. Hypothesizing different outcomes quickly enters the realms of philosophy and even theology.

One might hope that future generations find these musings of interest. I most certainly would have been fascinated by the experiences of my own forebears, had they troubled to put pen to paper. Life has been lived to the full. It has been exciting, rewarding and I have been extraordinarily lucky in my immediate family; their caring and loving attitude towards me and each other, is very humbling but at the same time immensely inspiring.

[3]The pre-eminent legal mind in England at the time, having been Chancellor of the Exchequer in the time of Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington in the House of Parliament. He was also a personal adviser to King William IV. It just happened to be his turn to travel on the Judges Summer Assizes Circuit and be at Lancaster Castle to adjudicate at the trial of my great grandfather on August 15, 1833.

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