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Views & Reviews In and Out of Hospital

When I’m 64

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 14 September 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5808
  1. James Owen Drife, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, Leeds
  1. J.O.Drife{at}

Last weekend, the 1971 medical graduates met in Edinburgh. We’ve had reunions before but this one was special. With most of us retired, for the first time in our lives we felt relaxed. The hospital and medical school have moved to the suburbs, so we could admire the new site and reminisce among the luxury apartments that have replaced the old one.

But the real thrill was the rebirth of our student band, the Unbelievable Brass, complete with trumpets, trombones, sousaphone, rhythm section, and contingent of non-medical players. We drew heavily on Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, who were big in the 1960s. What style we brought to those student parties and posh balls. Man, we were cheap.

Forty years on, an out of town rehearsal seemed a good idea. Village halls today are equipped with sound systems, spotlights, immaculate toilets, and almost enough parking for our rather nice cars. Our pianist, now director of music in a cathedral, brought the scores, reprinted on his computer. Concentration was intense as the jaunty syncopations re-emerged, occasionally juddering to a halt when the repeat marks were missing.

I loved that first run-through. After decades in medical politics and academia, it was bliss to be part of a gathering with no subtext. All that mattered was the music—and the logistics. Shifting a drum kit doesn’t get any easier. My role was to play maracas, do introductions, and sing a little: mainly Beatles classics, added to our repertoire when they first appeared.

We were scheduled to perform after dinner in a historic library. When the university heard about this, their emails became tense. Evidently they had heard about bands from the swinging ’60s. How loudly would we be playing? I shall treasure our reply, written by the sousaphone player, now professor of musical acoustics in the department of physics and astronomy.

Our playlist includes Lennon and McCartney’s When I’m 64. Coincidentally the gig was two days after my 64th birthday. As a student vocalist I never really thought about the deeper meaning of the lyrics, but I think I expected still to be working. Of the boys in the band, it is the doctors and schoolteachers who have retired, beaten down by bureaucracy. Bit of a waste, maybe, but at least we have time for maraca practice.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5808

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