Monday, 16 July 2012


      My early memories of being a student at Guys are mainly to do with the non-medical side of life.    I was introduced to climbing, by David Lintott and Frank Schweitzer in North Wales, and later to the epic Skye Ridge walk, completed in 18 hours in glorious sunshine in April.      Rowing in the Guys eight (we never got very far).     Playing trombone in the U.L. Orchestra, and The London Hospitals orchestra, (at which I met my wife, Alison, then a Nightingale-in -training, and violinist)  under such illustrious conductors as Colin Davis, Norman Del Mar, Christopher Finzi and Leo Quale, all earning their pin money conducting amateur orchestras.

    While we were students, the New Surgical block was built on the old car park.     All cars were removed, except a 1932 Austin Seven.     After a few weeks, I traced the owner-Tony Bowyer (Dermatology S Registrar) and offered him five pounds for it.     He said he would be happy to give it away, so we split the difference, at 50 shillings.   With help from Chris Bates (?Standard 8hp)  we towed it twice round the car park before it started. It ran for another four years.      David Lintott, who had a licence, taught me to drive.      He was very patient as we drove to Snowdonia using only top gear, before I had learned to double de-clutch.      The problem of finding money for petrol was solved by Beechams, who paid two guineas a session for their Ampicillin dose finding studies.     This involved us taking a dose of Ampicillin, followed by five vene-punctures, which we were able to do quietly at the back of ward rounds.

    When the New Surgical block was finished, our senior surgical firm were the first to be in residence.    The first night there was a scream from the bathroom - the bath tiles had fallen in on Rosalind Smith.     Ronnie Mac Keith was one of the few consultants who treated us as equals.     At our first meeting, he sat us at a round table, and asked each one in turn what were our interests beyond medicine.     When I told him that I played trombone, his comment was ‘ I always wanted to play a trumpet until I read Freud, and learned that trumpet players are anal regressives - and I havn’t wanted to play a trumpet since’.      MacKeith was also the only consultant to invite us to his house for a firm dinner.

 After qualification, four standard house jobs, (two in the old Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland) with a view to general practice, and a happy year in Dumfries as a trainee GP.      However, I side-stepped into first, general medicine, then paediatrics.      Birmingham University was at that time helping to set up a med. school in Salisbury (Harare), and I returned to Rodesia in 1968 as a lecturer in Paediatrics.    There followed 14 very interesting years, both medically and politically.    We returned to the UK in 1982, with five children, and 500 Zimbabwe dollars in our pockets,(government restriction on export of currency).       Locums in Saudi enabled us to put a down payment on a house in Derby, where I was offered a post as consultant, with an interest in diabetes.

     I retired in 1999, and then spent the best part of four years in Uganda, at a new medical school in Mbarara,  300km south of Kampala, helping to set up a three year postgraduate program (M.Med. Paeds).      In retirement, I continue to row (stroke of a veteran eight), play a French horn in a medical wind group, and try to grow as much food as possible in our quarter acre garden. Have discovered rather late in life, the joys of coastal sailing.              
                                      John Axton

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