Domhnall MacAuley: Memories of the RCGP at Princes Gate

Domhnall MacauleyThe floors creaked and groaned, the doors wheezed closed and the windows didn’t shut properly. The rooms wore the tired look of times past and few were en suite. Hidden behind a curved door in the hallway was a very small and ancient lift that struggled with every ascent. But, staying on the top floor of the Royal College of General Practitioners headquarters at Princes Gate in London had a certain charm. The college was an oasis in central London, there was always a welcome at the door and you could chat to fellow guests without the embarrassment of feeling that you were accosting a stranger. But, that will now change. I stayed on Wednesday night for the last time as the college is closing and moving to new premises.

The ghosts of history will have to squeeze between the packing cases as offices are cleared, pictures removed, and tradition shunted into the back of countless vans and lorries. I sat in the library and flicked through the newspapers one last time surrounded by the wooden panels listing the college officers down through the years, remembering many in their prime, all now older, some passed on. Memories of the Princes Gate are mixed, as with many of my generation, because it is where we came for our Membership examinations. In later years there were dinners and celebrations and drinks in the garden. I thought of meetings, interviews, committees and old friends who now haunt the corridors; recalled jogging in Hyde Park in summer mornings; walking up from the Tube station in the driving rain or; coming from Oxford Street at Christmas, with parties overflowing from the hotels on Park Lane and, the excitement of families outside Winter Wonderland And, more recently, of breakfasts shared with colleagues whom I greatly admire.

But, one morning stands out. Coming back from the shower clad only in a towel, I found the bedroom door firmly locked with the key inside. There was no alternative but to go down to the front desk and seek a spare. The college is a working building, of course so, as I dashed around the ground floor, dripping wet in my little white towel, people were arriving for work. Eventually, I found the receptionist with the key and ran off to the security of the lift. But, as the lift ground to a halt on the first floor, the doors opened, and I can only imagine the thoughts of the bespectacled gentleman in a pinstripe suit as he stepped in to share the tiny lift with a half naked stranger. He stepped out at the next floor without speaking a word.

Domhnall MacAuley is primary care editor, BMJ