As far as I can assess it is now ten years since, by virtue of starting an archaeology degree course, I quietly (and with absolutely no fuss at all) became an official ex-doctor. I’m not precisely sure when my application for voluntary erasure from the medical register was approved but it must also have been around this time. Once you are a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians you cannot ever buy yourself out; I don’t even think you can be expelled except for extremes of moral turpitude which I am not likely to have the energy to commit or the enthusiasm to attempt. So that honour remains.
I had been appointed as a consultant physician in Bradford 25 years earlier. Was early retirement from the NHS a sensible move? For me in 2004 it was certainly the right thing to do, although several of my previous colleagues seemed a little disappointed to learn that actually I was not totally heart-broken to be leaving. Of course it was never easy to contemplate abandoning the society of such agreeable nursing colleagues and patients as I had. Still, every actor has to learn the right time to end the performance and hopefully leave everyone wanting just a little (but perhaps not too much) more. My sadness at departure was somewhat mitigated by the appreciation that I was trained for a rather different health service from the one we had by then acquired. I had come to feel like the last dinosaur left standing after the comet has hit the earth. I couldn’t see any good reason for waiting around in the darkness with only extinction to look forward to.
So, after ten more years, did the archaeology course fulfil my expectations? It certainly did. I found the subject as interesting as I had predicted. It was very stimulating to be in a learning environment with the young and enthusiastic. I was introduced to an amazing part of the UK, Shetland and Orkney, which I would never have otherwise visited. After graduation I reluctantly decided not to squander more family resources on my education, so no masters or PhD for me. The recession inevitably meant that there was never the possibility of an Indian summer of paid employment, indeed many of the talented young graduates are still really struggling in this respect. Now I regularly lecture amateur groups and have had several articles on historical subjects published. There is not much local demand for my preferred area of Iron Age and Roman material culture, but a switch to industrial archaeology has not been too difficult. Bricks and old coal pits are now a large part of my life and who could have predicted that in 2004, much less 35 years ago?
Oddly enough there is a pale ghost of my former life that still hangs around and gives the occasional gibber. It is named ‘medical advice’. I was last asked to opine on a medical topic as recently as two weeks ago. Earlier in the year it was even suggested that I might put in a couple of skin stitches, although even in my great days I should not have kept the necessary kit at home. This is all fine of course but my transition to archaeologist will not be complete until a concerned friend seriously requests my advice on post-Roman Britain.