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Comical tales about my reading habits

By Dr Pat Harrold - 01st May 2023

reading habits

Before laptops and cell phones, the arrival of your comics was the highlight of the week

When I was a lad in Galway, about First Med or so, a consultant of terrifying demeanour told us that we would be asked about the periodicals we should have read when we would inevitably end up in the dock. He went on to say, while glaring at us with extraordinary venom, that we had better have The Lancet, the BMJ, and other heavyweights on the list, if we were to have any hope of avoiding court martial as a fraud and imposter, and keeping our scurvy hides out of the slammer.

I would have little to tell the judge at that stage, as it was not that long before medical school that we read comics. I did anyway since I was tiny, and way before laptops and cell phones, when there was one channel on the telly, and the days were long, and the arrival of your comics was the highlight of the week. I would creep off to a quiet spot (behind the couch was a favourite) and read and re-read my haul.

They were all English, and celebrated sport and war, and what boy could fail to be inspired by Roy of the Rovers or Captain Hurricane? They were guaranteed to stir the long, long thoughts of a boy (girls had their own comics in those days) and if you wanted a bit more information there was Look and Learn, a sumptuously illustrated digest of history, science, geography and geology, art, nature, and literature, as well as a really good futuristic comic strip called The Trigan Empire. I would read it today if I got it and it is the main reason that I am really good at pub quizzes, which I doubt was the editor’s intention.

As I quaked before the pathologically bad tempered consultant I had a secret. I still read a weekly comic. It was 2000AD, a wonderful, imaginative mirror of 1980s Britain in a cornucopia of dystopian universes. It was as cool as black Levis and Docs to be seen reading 2000AD in Smokey Joe’s or the college bar, but not on the wards and certainly not in a white coat. You might think you were an anarchist, but the establishment, especially the medical establishment, thought you were a moron.

At the time I also read The Irish Times every day. There was a scheme where university students could buy the Times cheaply if they signed a register in the shop. The signed names on it ranged from Mr Spock to Santa Claus, but they still got it at half price. I have been reading the Times since I could read, starting with the Asterix strip and working my way up through Michael Viney and an Irishman’s Diary. That well written thoughtful, honest paper has done a huge amount to form my world view. I now get it online, which tends to skip over the best bits, but every Saturday I read the real paper from end to end, even if I usually don’t finish it until Tuesday night.

Is that it? No M’lud. I also get BBC Wildlife, The Irish Gardener, Birdwatch Ireland’s Wings, An Beachaire, and Gardener’s World. Will that keep me out of jail?

As I quaked before the pathologically bad tempered consultant I had a secret. I still read a weekly comic

Oh, medical magazines you say?

Well: There is the green Mindo, especially my good friends Muiris, Christine, and Lucia, and Terence my neighbour over in Irish Medical Times. The ICGP Forum is a must in GP-land. The great thing about medical papers is you can see how your contemporaries are ageing in comparison to yourself from the photos. It is a win win, because if they look worse you can congratulate yourself and if they look better then you can fool yourself that you look like that too.

All right, your worshipness, I admit it. Fair cop. I am free from the sound of the BMJ or The Lancet or even the NEJM squeezing through my letterbox while the dog lets rip. The heavy (medical) stuff now comes electronically. I am on more committees than is good for me and I do get a lot of information. Mind you, when I do find myself in a medical library and I pick up a real paper I enjoy it and find all sorts of things to interest me, and not just the obituaries. If I ever retire I will regularly drop into the hospital library and read the BMJ contentedly. It will be completely pointless, as I won’t need to know any of it.

I doubt the hospital library will stock 2000AD. The
newsagent closed down years ago and I stopped buying it. I have a lot of catching up to do. I wonder if Judge Dredd is still the law?

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