Sunday, 25 April 2010

Firing up the Pendolino, Eating out, and the Return of Colleagues.

Giles Coren (food critic), this week spent the best part of £400 on what he described as a mediocre meal at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants in London. I guess the meal may have cost £400 but it is unlikely to have been his money.His review of his experience was scathing and made for riveting reading. I could identify with the poor overall experience of the senses he wrote so eloquently about. Indeed, in the last ten days I have yet again endured some rather strange meals.

Two such offerings came from the University. Regular readers of this blog will know that for a variety of reasons, I no longer eat the food provided by our catering department for lunch time or evening meetings. However, even I was surprised at the lunchtime selection available at a meeting last Friday. It seemed to comprise of various dead animals (cooked) encompassed in a strangely pink wrap, which had the look and texture (I am reliably informed) of a face towel that has seen better days. Things are set to change as we take our Health and Well Being University Theme forward. Hopefully, we will start to have a more healthier range of food available to students and staff.

However, I did enjoy a very good meal with my Head of School colleagues this week. The meal was had at Beluga in Manchester, cost £20 each including as much wine as you could drink! Good selection for vegetarians, but the night we went, the Pizza oven was not working. They also had a wonderful pavement seating area which was ideal for people watching and pre meal conversation.

The other thing food wise, that threw me this week was that some how I had failed to miss that April was Enchilada Month. On Tuesday, I had fired up the Virgin Pendolino, and headed off to London for a series of meetings, one of which, was held over lunch. It was in a famous Mexican restaurant, which whilst normally having a great choice and range of food, on this occasion didn’t. We were expected to pick our food from the totally enchilada based menu. Up to this point in my life, I hadn’t realised that enchiladas had such versatility. It was an interesting lunch, although I didn’t get to eat much.

Equally interesting on that day was that having parked the Pendolino at platform 13, I walked out into the sunshine and bustle of Euston Square to be greeted by a hugely enthusiastic lady, who as is her way, was sporting Sophie Lauren type sunglasses. As usual we hugged each other, air kissed, and promised to catch up sometime soon. This lady was once, a very good staff nurse on a mental health unit I had responsibility for. Today she is an excellent Nurse Consultant for a much bigger range of services that now includes that Unit. We have enjoyed such fleeting glimpses and meetings all over the world.

I was once standing on the Staten Island Ferry waiting to go across when a women approached me, said hello, air kissed and promised to catch up soon. It was her. Four years later, we met in similar circumstances at a Leonard Cohen concert in Birmingham. We have met to do business many times in-between of course. I still find it slightly strange to have had such brief encounters all over the world. Perhaps it is a reflection of the international nature of the community of practitioners that is nursing.

And talking about the world over, the very good news this week is that some of our colleagues at long last able to begin to make their way back to the UK. The last week or so have been a trial for many. It says something that so many colleagues helped each other out in such generous ways. This also included colleagues from other Universities who were stranded in the same place. Back home, colleagues have also unconditionally and very willingly stepped into the breach and taken on extra teaching, attended meetings and been there for the students. It appears that slowly things are getting back to normal. I even had an email form a colleague in Finland that advertised a forthcoming conference by declaring that volcanoes only erupt once in a while, a that Finland is a great place to get stuck in.
Finally, the weekend Times published what surely must be the most surprising supplement they have done for a while. It was entitled the Male Vanity Supplement and was full of tips on how to reclaim that six pack, apply your make up, and yes how to eat well. So maybe a male vanity supplement is not such an oxymoronic idea after all.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Obscured by clouds, Sanbiki No Saru, and Mother Nature’s Lesson

Obscured by Couds is the instrumental first track on the album of the same name released in 1972 by the super group Pink Floyd which regular readers of this blog will know are one of my all time favorite groups. 1972 was also a good year for me as well.

The fact this album came to mind this week results from a number of issues coming to the fore in my mind. The first being the ever increasing problems resulting from the cloud of volcanic smoke and steam hanging over Iceland. This still growing and dangerous cloud is the aftermath of the second eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano this month. The cloud has caused all kinds of chaos with the closure of European airports. Eight European countries closed their airspace last week and many Europe-bound flights have not been able to leave Australia and Asia. There does not seem to be any resolution to this in sight. The situation is fast moving from a humorous inconvenience to something more concerning. Rightly perhaps, the news reports have also grown exponentially to reflect these concerns.

The second story to use up news paper space, and TV time was the first live election debate held in Manchester this week. I am not sure what we gained from the experience and I was reminded of the three monkeys depicted in the old Japanese proverb principle to ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. However, the coverage was immense and frankly quickly became tedious. Perhaps the programme producers, politicians and reporters have forgotten that the Japanese proverb sometimes also includes a forth monkey - symbolising the principle of ‘do no evil’. I won’t even comment on the media clamour that has accompanied the return to our screens of Britain’s got Talent.

The huge amount of time and commentary devoted to these stories nearly completely obscured the other dreadful natural occurrence, the earthquake in Western China. This powerful earthquake registered 6.9 and has destroyed the town of Gyegu in the county of Yushu. At the time of writing the loss of life involved has reached over 800 people. Providing aid and help has been made more difficult by the terrain and isolation of the town and the inaccessibility caused by lack of infrastructure and equipment.

Amidst the reports of such devastation were images of startling power and humility. As if in a Zhang Yimou film, photos of 100’s of Tibetan Buddhist monks clad in crimson cloaks and jackets illustrated the way in which they had flocked to join the rescue effort undertaken by soldiers and rescue teams.

Finally, for those of you who don’t know whilst the album Obscured by Clouds is a brilliant collection of music in its own right, it was also the soundtrack for the film La Vallee. This film tells the story of the wife of the French Consul resident in Australia, who joins a group of explorers in search of a mysterious hidden valley in the forests of New Guinea the world’s second largest island.

She hopes to find the feathers of an extremely rare exotic bird. As they make their way through the dense jungles of Papua New Guniea they come across the Magupa tribe, one of the most isolated groups of human beings on earth. This is a tribe who are completely in-tune with nature, the seasons, and have explanations for the unpredictable as well as the predictable. It is this encounter that allows and inspires them to explore their own humanity, unfettered by their own subjective ideas of ‘civilization’. It seems to me that as dreadful as the volcanic eruption and earthquake might be, it maybe Mother Natures way of allowing us to take a step back from the brink and reconsider what we understand our own civilization to mean.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Letters, Chewing Gum and Communication

Gordon Brown sent me a letter this week. I wondered why he chose me to communicate with. We have never met, we hold fundamentally different political views and beliefs, and Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath is to be found on the opposite side the part of the Scotland I love to visit. In the interest of fairness and equal opportunities I expect I will also receive a letter from David and Nick – it is of course Election time again. Whilst I have voted at every opportunity there has been since I came of age, my interest, has since May 1997, being rather perfunctory. Since the 6th April this year I have become fed up with the wall to wall media coverage of an event that like the Olympics, the World Cup, and who wins Big Brother, frankly doesn’t do anything for me at all.

Clearly the Legacy Projects post Olympics are worthwhile, and the competition itself provides an opportunity for personal achievement, team working and at times an almost jingoistic level of support for competitors. Likewise I was able to see the huge developments and improvements to many areas of the fabric of the South African infrastructure as they prepared for the World Cup. As for Big Brother, the TV reality show named after George Orwell’s dystopian book 1984, and which some would say provides a new opportunity for sociological study, the incessant media hype that has usually accompanied the show turns me off Big Time.

Possibly it is TV as a form of communication media that I find is the rub. Of course, like everyone else, I have the ubiquitous flat screen TVs scattered throughout my house. I like watching the news, and indeed start my day at 5am watching the BBC News, and I try and do so wherever I am in the world. I am immensely interested in the human condition and the relationships that make up our everyday worlds. But I wouldn’t watch Coronation Street, EastEnders or Emmerdale to feed this interest, in fact I wouldn’t watch them at all. Whereas I would go out of my way to watch and or record Outnumbered which I think brilliantly captures and observes everyday family life, and of course who could miss Have I got News For You or Top Gear, both of which connect with my sense of humour. So in many respects I am no different from others, perhaps just have different tastes.

As I observed last week, respecting difference is important. Thanks to those of you who took the time to make a comment. I waited until this post to respond to the question raised in one of these comments. This was around a concern that Blogs as a form of communication were being discouraged by the University.

I don’t know if our University is becoming less keen for colleagues and or students to write blogs. I would hope not. Blog's, as a form of communication can be very effective. Of course there will be boundaries that get set, challenged and re-set from time to time. I have noted in previous blog’s the tensions I experience from time to time in feeling able to present issues that others might feel bring my organisational position or professional standing into disrepute. In response to the other part of your question, I am a nurse and proud to be known as one. I understand the responsibilities to the profession that come from making such an assertion. However, as noted above, I also have views about a whole range of issues, concerns and phenomena that often have nothing directly to do with nursing. I have been fortunate to find many avenues to get my ideas and thoughts into the public domain and have benefited from the resultant discussion as other agree or disagree with what I have said.

Personally, I would suggest that anyone thinking about undertaking a degree which would lead to a professional career such as nursing, medicine, law and so on, should be more wary about their use of more main stream social networks such as Facebook, than writing blogs. Arguably such social networking sites may unintentionally provide a record of personal experiences that would perhaps best be kept private and personal and not given an airing in the public domain. It also seems to me to be a rather sad enterprise that is masquerading as communication. It was Frank Lloyd Wright who once remarked that television is chewing gum for the eyes. This was modification of Karl Marx’s observation that religion was the opiate of the people. Perhaps we need to find a new metaphor for social networking. And finally, I note that Gordon, David and Nick have said they would be happy to make video responses to questions sent via Facebook and UTube about their polices and plans for the future. So perhaps Gordon does know me after all, and hence the letter he sent me on Friday.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Climate, Differences, Conferences and Colleagues

It was reported this week that the size of the Arctic ice cap has increased this year to levels not recorded since 2001. The freezing winds blowing across the Bering Sea over the past few months  resulted in thousands of square miles of ocean to freeze.

These winds are the tangible consequence of something called an Arctic Oscillation. The artic oscillation is an example of what has been called a climate oscillation. These are different to a climate change. Unlike climate oscillations, climate changes do not automatically correct themselves. Oscillations are variations that happen regularly, but are not permanent. It was this Artic Oscillation that was also partly responsible for the cold winter experienced in northern Europe and eastern America, and last week at the University of Lancaster campus, where I was attending the first Mental Health in Higher Education Conference. We had freezing winds, driving rain, and overnight, sufficient snow to lie on the ground.

Unfortunately for some reason not told, the temperature inside the buildings was as low as they were outside.

The conference was the first and possibly might be the last facilitated by the Mental Health in Higher Education project. This was originally a one year project which aimed to enhance learning and teaching about mental health across the disciplines in UK higher education. The projects objectives included:

supporting the development and dissemination of good practices in learning and teaching about mental wellbeing and ill-health; providing a testing ground for new ideas and promoting pedagogic research.

• embedding service user and carer involvement within mental health teaching programmes and facilitating the exchange of good practice in this area.

• providing support, stimulating enthusiasm and facilitating the mutual exchange of resources and ideas.

These aims and objectives, whilst articulated within a mental health context, are equally applicable to our more general ambitions as a School of Nursing and Midwifery. So I was pleased to be able to participate in this conference and share with others many ideas, problems, concerns and importantly, some very creative possible futures for educationalists, practitioners and service users. Over the two days the buzz from what was the most eclectic group of individuals to attend a conference of this nature was fantastic. There were academics, educationists, practitioners from many different professional groups, service users and carer’s. The participants represented all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience.

The conference theme was living and learning. The theme was enacted throughout every aspect of the conference. Feed back on sessions, workshops and presentations was ongoing and continuous. Audience participation was encouraged and it was easy to join in. There was much discussion and debate around accommodation difference. Some of this was very challenging, but all of the conversations were simulating and in the main, individuals respected the rights of others to hold very different views over what might have been the same issue or concern. This debate was most often the consequence of how individuals had experienced their own mental health and well being (concepts which in themselves promoted much debate).

From an educational perspective, the debates were centred on harnessing the notions of threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge, both of which are concepts that resonate with the work Sue McAndrew and I continue to develop in this area. Our interest and work has been in exploring how students, practitioners and educationalists might be better prepared to think, work and respond in that place at the edges of knowledge and knowing, (not knowing).

Understanding and applying these concepts can, at times, be difficult. The thinking involved mirrors that in trying to make the connections between the sometimes complicated and complex factors involved in what we describe as climate change and the impact our behaviour as individuals or as communities might have on these futures.

As I write this blog it is 3C here in Bolton, whereas in Sydney it is 24C and a number of my colleagues have started to make their way to Australia for the 3rd NET/NEP conference. I wish them all a safe journey and I hope they have as productive and experience there as I did in Lancaster – although of course, my carbon foot print in so doing, was much smaller!