Author: Crispin Swinhoe (Retired consultant anaesthetist)
Published by Gibson Publishing.
The book is available via Crispin Swinhoe’s website:
In a deceptively simple beginning to his autobiography, Crispin Swinoe’s recollections slalom around the sticks and stones of childhood, related with a refreshing bemusement at such happenstances. It slides effortlessly into the ubiquitous angst and brickbats of school days. But then we are surprised by some potted philosophical and social personality analysis. A short digression from his school days to air some circumspect curmudgeon that you will find pleasingly in tune with the grit of your personal bugbears. A sprinkling of pedantic anecdotes that slowly firm up the carapace of the authors personality as it raises a conspiratorial smile.
School years are fleeting but even these few endearing recollections engender common feelings from these salad days, and a view that they are wasted on youth.
Similarly, Crispin’s days at medical school accelerate as a white knuckle ride, and for all the raucous imbibing of alcohol and assumed laissez-faire, the pages are stained with the sweat of goal-orientated hard work.
We are then jolted with another discourse on his personal experience of the insidious nature of alcohol addiction, and the words are as frank as they are dark. Straightforwardly stated they are a sharp pivot point in his jaunty tale. Brutally honest, they are the metaphorical iron fist in a velvet glove, and they caught me unprepared as the prose cut to the chase in such an alarming way. A sagacious tremens that reaches out from the pages to offer support.
By the time Crispin’s steps have jogged through his Royal Marine training one knows that the lighthearted humour of the recounts is inversely proportional to the blood and tears of the actual experience. Crispin’s personality comes across as a devil-may-care kick-back at pedantic authority, whilst maintaining the self-discipline of optimal professional competence. I could not fathom by mid-book whether his throw-away humour was a shrewd defence mechanism against the slings and arrows of life, or a facade to hide his various insecurities.
Liberally sprinkled with short asides that will have you nodding in agreement, this curmudgeonly love letter to the good old days will trigger the irritation of the burrs in the seat of Crispin’s pants even as you empathise with the frustrations.
From the middle to the latter part of Crispin’s book his self-effacing musings on his marriages are somewhat cathartic, with incisions into the guts of many fragile interpersonal relationships.
I found myself nodding in agreement with the conservative comments (with a small c) on the various social mores. I suspect Crispin enjoyed being able to offer such forthright social comments without the jurisprudent constraints in this era of open access to patient’s notes.
Towards the end of his Royal Navy career and his detachment to the SAS the narrative has acquired a patina of due providence, and is genuinely interesting. But still sprinkled by his reassuring antiestablishment barbs.
Nearing the end of the book his lifeline seems to have taken on a mind of its own and Crispin is riding along with it, like so many of us do, as the years unfold and the trajectory seems to be almost pre-determined.
The autobiography is interrupted by a short stereotypical diatribe about the problems of the NHS, which would have been as depressing as the reality if the biographer had not made the decision to spit it into the wind and move on. I am sure this is not a fair reading of the situation, but by the time Crispin had earn his consultant’s post he had “grown up” and the wild oats were growing into a stout oak providing a strong trunk and ample shade for his efforts to nurture the burgeoning anaesthetic department at Barnsley.
Approaching the end of the book I felt that I knew Crispin as a person which, I would posit, is the ultimate gift of an autobiography.
As a postscript I must add that Crispin’s observation about desynchronized progress of a queue of vehicles when a traffic light turns green had me jumping up and punching the air that someone else shared my frustration at this irrational behaviour. Then there is the issue of vehicles parking on pavements – a pet hate of mine. Then the observation about traffic lights that are synchronised to car flow and not pedestrian flow is another eerily shared bugbear. I am seriously concerned that Crispin and I are doppelgängers with a dictatorial bent!
The book is worth reading for the effusion of such “kindred spirit” moments that endear the author to the reader.
There is something for everyone in this autobiography, a genre that Crispin has extended to include the reader in the plot. My caveat would be that if there is nothing here for you, then you might see your persona reflected in the characters who are the worthy butt of Crispin’s deliciously sharp sarcasm.