Book review: Tales from a Country Practice by Arthur Jackson

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When Dr Arthur Jackson was studying ‘eyes’ for his final examinations, in reality he only had eyes for his future wife.

However, this was the early 1950s and the very idea of a medical student getting married was a non-starter with many senior physicians who believed that, rather like a monk, a doctor should take professional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

As the medical Dean at Cambridge University was, on balance, less formidable than his prospective mother-in-law, and as he had already paid for the hotel reception, Jackson slipped away quietly and unnoticed to his wedding, passed his finals and set out on a long career as a country doctor.

First published 26 years ago and now getting a very welcome reprise, Jackson’s funny, down-to-earth and often moving memoir transports us back to a bygone age when the family doctor was at the heart of rural communities, providing advice and sometimes unorthodox treatments to a mixed bag of colourful characters.

The local GP was a listening ear who was expected to solve personal problems, diagnose perplexing symptoms, be at the beck and call of his often impatient patients and attend an endless procession of night calls.

Jackson’s love for his job came second only to his love for his wife and four children, his treasured rambling manor house and the beautiful Norfolk countryside which provided the backcloth to both his home life and his career.

At work, he encountered comedy, joy and tragedy and at home he wrestled with renovations and rewiring, a resident ghost, a clutch of children, a gaggle of geese, a brood of chickens and a raft of unruly ducks.

A busy rural medical practice called for initiative, compassion, flexibility, resilience, an endless supply of energy and tact and a passing knowledge of everything under the sun.

From childbirth to deathbed, the good doctor was expected to be in attendance whether to use his medical skills or to simply hold a hand and offer much-needed reassurance.

Patients would seek him out at social functions to keep him up to date with their symptoms or phone regularly at bedtime, imagining that he was constantly agog to discover the latest developments in their ongoing constipation saga.

From the accident prone and the worried hypochondriac to the endearingly disingenuous to the terminally ill, they all came expectantly to Dr Jackson’s surgery.

It was a practice where absolutely anything could happen... and often did!

Whimsical, enlightening, funny and nostalgic, this delightful book takes readers through the highs and lows, the ups and downs and the sheer hard work of life as a country doctor 60 years ago.

(Sphere, paperback, £7.99)