It was a warm sunny day by the sea, blue skies and light at last replacing the dull, dark, dreary months of winter and early spring. The tide was going out, the beach was quiet and the ice cream parlour was nearby. What more could anyone want after several years of confinement and isolation due to a painful, breathless illness, an illness, I add, that was none of my own making.
I have retired from working as a doctor specialising in psychiatry. I worked and treated and sick people, with dedication and hard work for over 35 years. I had to observe actions, listen to words, understand the backgrounds and histories of my patients and their relationships, as well as knowing their problems and symptoms. My knowledge increased, and, though now retired, I carry the legacy of that work. It is ingrained; embedded in my brain, almost part of my DNA.
It is a fairly useless and quite painful legacy now that I am retired from all medical work, as that knowledge causes me to observe other people and their behaviours, without really wanting to do so and without being able to do anything. I notice the breathlessness of the obeise lady who sits next to me on a seat, the way a child is ignored when talking to a parent, the ‘too early’ thinning patches of the young woman with dyed bright red hair, the expression of anger/stress of the car driver who cannot wait a few seconds, the dark rings round someone’s eyes. And on it goes.
In particular, I see the consequences of actions. Now, concern is being gradually but irrevocably changed, not to anger but gradually to sadness as I see an increase in the unnecessary choices, which lead to self-damage and the possible future alteration or even ruination of life.
Some may say, ‘ you need to ‘get out more’ or has ‘society has changed’, ‘ignore it all’ and such like ‘helpful’ and no doubt well meaning phrases.
Whatever, what I observe is here and now. I may not be working to help change anyone’s life for the better, but a lifetime’s habit persists and I still observe even the little things of life.
Early in the morning, I saw a grey haired man and his wife, with small rucksacks on their backs and walking boots, setting off up a track to a fairly strenuous coastal walk, chatting as they went by. They looked both healthy and happy, and I felt glad for them, though I didn’t know them at all and hoped, to myself, that they would have a good day.
In the afternoon a mother and teenage daughter came to the beach with a child of about 20 months of age. The teenager spent about 10 minutes maximum playing with the child, with a bucket and spade. She then phoned someone on her mobile phone and the child had to amuse herself. However, at this tender age, the child had no resources available and, after a short while, she simply started to throw sand everywhere until the sand went into her own eyes. The mother stayed away from the beach most of the time talking to people she knew. The child, sand removed, eventually just wandered around to others on the beach nearby. What did the child gain from that experience, I wondered.
Behind us, sitting on the mid height sea wall from around 5 pm were two lads in their ‘twenties’, drinking. I say ‘lads’ as, to be truthful, they sounded like boys. They had not needed several years of schooling or higher education of any kind to perfect their language, being limited to ‘f---g’ and ‘pi---‘, and the conversation, for all to hear, ranged from information about their bowel actions and mobile phones to what and how much they had been drinking. Nothing else. An example of this conversation - ‘you are drinking, I am topping up. You were not drinking until 3 in the morning, like I was.’ I wondered if he wanted a ‘bravo’ or just someone to know or even care? A few others joined them eventually, but the conversation was not broadened by their intervention. Now, I didn’t expect a discussion on the European monetary crisis on such a lovely afternoon, but maybe a word about the football final, or even the forthcoming olympics? Something of even minor interest would do.
At one time, on the beach, I would have been tempted, and, what is more, I probably would have done so, to ask the lads who were drinking, ‘Have you arranged who is going to look after you in a few years time?’ If they continue to drink at the rate they are drinking at present, then they will be either physically or mentally ill or both or incredibly lucky.’
My knowledge is still there, and my memory of working in a unit for alcoholics is still vivid. Many of those I treated in that unit were in their late twenties and drank less than many of the present day culture, yet those lives were ruined at that early age by liver and/or brain damage.
The sea was calm, the sky was blue, the scene was quite beautiful – to me, it was a bit of long awaited magic.
But, was it just commonplace to these lads? Whatever, it had apparently no power to inject these young men with any interest or activity other than drinking. In fact, most of the time, they had their backs to the beach and sea.
A girl walked past in a skirt that just covered her bottom, not a centimetre more. How she could sit down with any decoram, I do not know. She wasn’t the only one. On none did the style look attractive, enhance anything or even look comfortable! So, they had a different agenda.
A woman brought her two children and their beach paraphernalia up from the beach to her parked car. She opened the hatch back door and her comment was ‘I hope it is still alive’. From the back of the car, in a small covered cage, she took out a small dog. It wasn’t given a run around, it was put in the front of the car, fussed about for about a minute and the woman drove away. Why was the dog brought with them?
At that point, these ‘snapshots’ made something akin to despair enter my mind. I could have been interfering most of the afternoon!
Next morning, I looked out of the kitchen window, where I was staying, and saw two young teenagers waiting for the school bus. At no time did they speak, instead they were texting on their mobile phones. Is this how they see friendship these days, just a few words on a screen, in silence and, ‘as if’, alone. Does this suffice? To me it was a missed opportunity.
I no longer have the energy to ‘climb mountains’ of any kind and certainly, the teenage/twenties drinking culture and the mobile phone continual ‘virtual’ communication are modern mountains in the making.
Concern seems useless without action and other than writing, there is little I can do or even want to do. My friend’s husband says to her ‘just don’t look at people’ – as she similarly observes and gets upset.
The child was in no danger and the dog was apparently unharmed, so lack of action did no harm either. Do I need a blindfold or simply to stay indoors? Maybe an isolated island retreat would do!
It seems that something in society has been lost? Will it ever be found again?
What is important to understand is that teenagers (at least until their brains are damaged) and the adults have choice in their behaviour. Children and dogs need care and guidance. The teenagers and adults will all have to take the consequences of their choices and actions and will reap what they sow in an appropriate manner. Nothing is clearer or more certain in the future than that!
As I am no longer working, my poems -in my various poetry books ( see books) are based on my knowledge and experience and are written for a purpose.
All my books and details re 'where to buy' are on my website.