Personal Views

St Valentine's Day

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 23 December 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1717

For nearly everyone else, whether successful in love or not, the 14th of February is St Valentine's Day. For me it has a different significance. On 14 February 1957 my mother killed herself. The causes and consequences of this event have made it the most important of my life. Though I have a BA in European Studies from Sussex and an MSc in, effectively, modern European history from London, for nine years I have been a cleaner. In the University of Reading I polish the floors of the Faculty of Letters and sometimes look out over the rabbit-nibbled grass at the library, where books I have written sit on the shelves.

My parents were doctors. My mother was the only child of a wealthy Scottish businessman. Her mother was, to say the least, a little odd. After a row at my birth in 1943 my mother never spoke to her mother again. My father was the son of a Presbyterian minister who had managed to get him a free place at a public school. My parents met as medical students and as young doctors they settled in a northern industrial town. They had many children, of whom I was the eldest, and took a prominent part in local affairs. A northern town in the 1950s was as rigidly stratified as France under the ancien regime. It consisted of the working class topped by a thin layer of interlocking patriarchies of industrialists, lawyers, doctors, etc. Our family differed from the other medical families. We children went to an ordinary elementary school instead of a prep school. We were the only children of graduates there. We did not usually play with the other privileged children. My father kept changing cars. He had about 30 in succession. My mother had only one—a small …

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