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In a recent Practical Neurology, Alastair Compston rightly extolled ‘gut feeling’ as an essential ingredient in choosing a career.1 But, bearing in mind the sensitivities of the Royal College of which we are both Fellows, it must be left to the barber surgeon to dare to suggest that the grape and grain may sometimes play their part, which might be more pleasurable than Alastair's gut.
So how did that third gin and tonic push me over the edge from the academic delicacy of medicine and neurology into the abyss—or at least maelstrom—of neurosurgery? We medics who went up to Cambridge (Emmanuel) from school in 1948 were very much young innocents among the mature ex-servicemen, but we quickly learnt of pleasures and pursuits from which our cloistered educational establishments had shielded us. The capacity of men for beer was phenomenal, and some of the sounds from their rooms were quite unidentifiable, sound effects of pastimes before 10pm when the gates of our all-male colleges were closed to outsiders, including of course the ladies.
Looking back it is difficult to pretend that Cambridge was truly a university education rather than the beginning of a vocational training. Anatomy under the misogynist Harris, feared by all, and to be found usually in the Blue Boar Hotel, was a fun game, especially in the social ambience of the dissecting room, with god-like demonstrators (real doctors) swapping one obscene mnemonic for another. I can still remember the ‘lewd French tarts, etc’ passing through the superior orbital fissure. But there were moments of academic excitement: the bearded Baldwin and biochemical origins of life, ‘Daddy’ Dean and bacteriology. Sadly, the great Adrian was too dry for us games players but at least we could say later that we had sat and snoozed …
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