"I'm turning into a grumpy old man," Dr Grumble said to one of his distinguished and even older colleagues from Cambridge recently. The distinguished older man explained to Dr Grumble that old men become grumpy because they know more. The longer you have lived the more experience you have and the more you can see the folly of what is going on around you. When you are young you think others may know better than you. Quite often they don't.
There is one advantage Dr Grumble has over younger people that they will never have. He can remember what it was like before they were even born. That is not something they will ever be able to do. No one can ever go back to the time before they were born. You can read books about the past but it is not the same as having been there.
Dr Grumble can remember when students used to protest about anything and everything and when Afghans were coats. Dr Grumble has always been one to make up his own mind about things. In those days he never protested and he never owned an Afghan. Now that protesting is less fashionable Dr Grumble sometimes does now go on marches. But he still doesn't have an Afghan.
Protesting is necessary. The political class do need to be made to listen. The only time Grumble has ever heard David Cameron speak to a group of doctors was on a protest march. If you can make a prime-minister-to-be come out into the street to talk to you, surely that makes your own efforts worthwhile.
Living a long time enables you to see change that young people are oblivious to. Dr Grumble has a lot of contact with young people. It's part of his job to teach and he works closely with young doctors. He listens to what they say. He reads their blogs.
The other day Dr Grumble overheard a final year student from Lily's medical school telling a another student not to sign on for the alumni. "They're just after your money ," she said. Can this be true? We never thought that way in our day. We never had any fears about given our contact details to our medical school so that they could keep in touch.
Here is the beginning of a letter Dr Grumble has just received from the Rector of his old Oxbridge College:
Dear Dr Grumble
I have asked a current student to ring you in the next few weeks - not to ask you for money, but.....
What a relief. They don't want Grumble's money. Lily and her friends clearly do not need to be concerned.
OK. Dr Grumble is playing with you. The letter does rather give it away in the first line. A polite way of asking for money is to say that you are not asking for money. It may not be a straight lie but it is somewhat disingenuous. The details of the letter are very interesting. It would appear to have been written by a professional and it uses the word alumni which is quite American. We always used to be called Old Members. Why this change? Was this letter really written by the Rector? Probably he was given guidance by the experts who know about this sort of thing.
The last time they telephoned from Grumble's old college it was in the evening. Dr Grumble was still in the hospital working. He was busy. A student telephoned the Grumble home and asked for Dr Grumble. Mrs Grumble, thinking it was a junior doctor that needed Grumble's help, gave the caller his mobile number. She seemed determined to talk and Grumble just didn't have time. As she plainly wasn't going to take a polite hint and Grumble did not want a long phone call while he was on call for emergencies, he gave the student an earful. In response the Rector wrote a polite letter saying they would not phone him again. Plainly they have forgotten.
THANK YOU emblazoned on the front. They realise Dr Grumble is trying to enthuse them and pass on what he knows before he retires or worse.
What grieves Grumble about all of this is that his old college, which happens to be relatively poor, is having to go cap in hand to old members to try and balance its books. Oxford and Cambridge are national assets. There is a case for our government to support them. But the ConDems (just like New Labour) seem to want them to become like businesses with hefty fees. And Dr Grumble does not feel inclined to bail out a business - not that he has the sort of money to make a difference.
But unfortunately this government, which is beginning to show a nasty streak, does seem to expect old members to keep their Oxbridge Colleges going. In response to this there appear to be private money-raising enterprises advising these academic organisations how to squeeze money out of their old members. Raising money for Oxbridge colleges is now a money-making business which employs, yes, Oxbridge graduates. Dr Grumble knows one. He does not like the job much but it pays handsomely.
There is something rotten about this. It is connected with the increasing Americanisation of Britain. Our governments no longer see it as their job to support important academic institutions. They have abandoned them. In these circumstances you really cannot blame them for turning to desperate measure such as phoning Dr Grumble on his evening ward round.
Grumble has kept in touch with some of his old Oxbridge mates. More than a few are now earning silly sums of money. One was head of a company in the footsie 100. Another owns one of those enormous town houses alongside a famous London park and is regularly heard on TV and radio. These people really do have enough spare money to make a real difference to Dr Grumble's old, small and impoverished Oxbridge College. Dr Grumble does not blame the Rector for asking them. He has to do things the way our government wants things to be done. The problem is with the way our governments have not wanted to tax the better off in order to support good causes like worthy academic institutions. We are gradually being turned into America and Dr Grumble doesn't like it one bit.
Dr Grumble's old college was founded in the early 1400s. He is concerned about it. He wishes it well. He doesn't blame the Rector for bribing students to phone him on his ward round. But it grieves him very much that it has come to this. It never used to be like this. Lily's friend is right. Whether you are Oxbridge, London or red brick, these days they are just after your money and is it very very sad. And to add insult to injury they now call you alumni.