Reflections of an ageing Douglas baby
David Ward has been a member of the National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) since he entered the world in March 1946. He shares his memories of the cohort, as well as a neat memory trick that saw him through his most recent examination by the study.
My name is Linda Clark. I live at 59 Meadow Close, Milford, Surrey.
No it isn’t and no I don’t. I still have enough memory left to realise that my name is actually David Ward and that I live in Bollington, Cheshire, though I can’t guarantee that I will be able to remember either fact this time next week.
Linda Clark came into my life last year when the National Survey of Health and Development sent Nurse Mary to my home to assess my failing brain and creaking body. The first test seemed to be whether I was fit enough to carry all Mary’s gear from her car. I staggered into the kitchen with a pile of black bags containing papers, folders, scales, an iPad thing, a height measurer, laptop, syringes, stop watch and probably a cuddly toy. And don’t forget the centrifuge, which took pride of place on the kitchen worktop. Every home should have one.
Nurse Mary weighed me and measured me. She checked the pressure of my blood and then withdrew a decent amount to decant into little phials. She made me leap up and down from a chair and (and I knew this was coming; it always does) stand on one leg with my eyes shut. Then she got to work on my brain. I was prepared for the list-as-many-animals-as-you-can-in-a minute task and zipped through a menagerie from aardvark to zebra. But I’d forgotten her next trick. “I’m going to read you a name and address,” said Mary. “I will ask you to repeat it and ask you for it again later.”
And so I was introduced to Ms Clark of Milford, Surrey. (Is there a Milford in Surrey?) When, about 15 years ago, another nurse asked me to remember an address, I failed completely; couldn’t remember a thing. I determined that this time I would succeed. As Mary read out the name, I stared at a wall (the one with the nice picture of golden-leafed tree in autumn) and willed Linda into my head.
At Mary’s demand, I reeled off Linda’s particulars with ease. Several months on, Linda is still with me and I like to think we will never now be parted.
I’m certain I will never be parted from the National Survey either, for it has doggedly tracked me since I was delivered by Caesarean section in a Middlesex hospital in 1946 and I suspect its researchers and their clipboards will be discreetly following my coffin down the aisle as I make my final journey. Not that I ever mind being doggedly tracked and I would happily invite the researchers to my wake were I to be there rather than dead.
Through childhood and adulthood, I have bumped into only a couple of other survey members. But in March 2011 I was in the British Library with 300 of them as the survey celebrated its and our 65th birthdays. The atmosphere in the room was one of rare wonderment; here was a bunch of people who did not know each other but all shared membership of a very special club to which they were very loyal. No introductions were necessary and conversation flourished.
At times I glanced smugly round the room and decided I was certainly fitter than him or her; but then I’d catch sight of someone who looked no more than 40 and clearly did not share my wrinkles, neuropathic feet or dodgy eyes. The companionship was intoxicating and I was so drunk on it that I had to sprint down Euston Road to catch the last train to Macclesfield.
Now the survey and its surviving members (surviving thanks, perhaps, to the NHS) are celebrating the 70th – platinum – anniversary of a relationship that has always seemed as much a fond partnership as a research project.
In those five years between 65 and 70, a Radio 4 programme took me through my National Survey file which revealed that my mum had acquired for her new-born (and only) son five matinée jackets, eight pairs of bootees and nappies costing £4.
I also learned one alarming biographical detail: she had started potty training me when I was two months old. I suspect I fell off the pot fairly frequently, which could explain a lot. Further on, the file recorded that a teacher described the 15-year-old me as “very anxious, apprehensive or fearful of formal examinations”. I also chanced on an embarrassing record, which I had tried to wipe from my memory: I had once wanted to be an actor. Thank goodness that I had the wit to go in for a thoroughly respectable profession. Journalism.