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BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 22 May 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1429
  1. Colin Douglas, doctor and writer
  1. Edinburgh

    It came in the kind of envelope that tends to lie unopened for a day or two: an alphabetical list of about 150 names and addresses on several sheets of pale blue A4. It might have been dull, something for the waste paper basket.

    It wasn't. I glanced at it, read it, read it again, and settled to enjoy it, reflect on it, ponder the questions it raised, relish its nuances, and then, over a couple of weeks, came back to it a few more times to attempt to decode it, perhaps at too many levels.

    Where are they now? Two at least have no known address. No fewer than eight are dead, one poor chap dead and misspelt too. The rest of us are scattered wide: about half around England, a third or so here in Scotland, the remainder split equally between the United States and what we thought of then as the British Commonwealth.

    Addresses are intriguing. What can be made of not having one? There is more palpable comfort in the occasional Old Rectory or the house with a capital H. And is there something cautious or mistrustful about opting for the neutrality of a professional location (Cardiology Associates, 2108 29th Avenue, etc)?

    Never mind where we are. Who are we now? Obviously, we are the people who graduated together 30 years ago, but how little of current reality that conveys. Scattered clues half help. Women's surnames may or may not change as marriages come and go; men are sheltered from such scrutiny. Addresses including bits of Welsh or Maori evoke a reflex sympathy, possibly uncalled for. Deep rurality suggests general practice or perhaps—no disrespect intended—retirement.

    Titles help too, in their way. As you would expect, doctors predominate. No lords yet, but there is a lady, the wife of a life peer. Misters are few, outnumbered now by professors, some in the strangest places.

    There is, of course, an impending reunion—details enclosed—but that is for the minority: broadly the active, the affluent, the successful. The list is far more daunting: all of us—from the brilliant to the merely dogged; the solitary, the gregarious, and the frankly drunk or mad; the living and the dead, too—are mustered again as once we were in medical school, alphabetically and on a few sheets of A4. Time shrinks and spreads and shrinks again, as lives speed suddenly from the dissecting room to the grave.

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