Sunday, 2 May 2010

Totems in Turku and the Immaculately Coiffured in Glazebury

I have been on annual leave this week. I decided I would not read any emails until my return to work on the 4th May. So far I am up to 843 work emails since finishing work last Saturday. It will be a busy Tuesday morning! I have of course continued to look at personal emails, one of which, on Thursday, was from my colleague Leena, who lives and works in Finland.

Now Leena is a special person. She is one member of group that came to be known as the Four Musketeers. Let me explain. In 1998 I visited Finland for only the second time in my life. The first time was to represent MMU at an EU distance learning conference in Helsinki during 1996. The conference was held one month before the IRA bombed Manchester. Following the attack, I was surprised, but pleased to receive emails from the Finnish colleagues I had met at the conference expressing their concern and support during what they saw as being very troubling times.

When two years later I returned to Turku, Finland as part of an ERASMUS exchange, I was disappointed that such colligate empathy wasn’t as apparent. The first 24 hours were puzzling. Then I met Mikko and Leena, in the Old Bank – a pub that was previously a Bank. There are 120 pubs in Turku, half a dozen of which had former purposes – the Old School, the Old Toilet, Old Pharmacy and so on – you get the idea. Mikko and Leena, were nurse educators, and Mikko a former mental health nurse.

This extremely fun evening marked the start of very fruitful and interesting relationship with colleagues who became dear friends. Over the next few days, I was also introduced to Heikki, the original Finnish equivalent of Little John, and the four of us became inseparable. Over the years, we have all been involved in research projects, joint writing and each of us gained our PhDs. We have enjoyed many, many wonderful intellectual and academic debates over the years, often fuelled by fine Finnish beer and the occasional glass of Oban.

The upshot of that first week in Turku was the offer to go and teach their pre-registration nurses whose education and training was carried out mainly in English. Native English teachers were at a premium, so I agreed to teach Medical Sociology and Introduction to Anthropology. Since that time, once, twice or even three times a year I would whiz across to Turku, and spend two weeks working with some of the brightest pre-reg students I have ever encountered. Whilst anthropology as a discipline was a completely new subject area, they willingly embraced many of the fundamental concepts of social anthropology – for example, they had no problem with exploring the concept of Totemism as a relevant metaphor to promote understanding of the contemporary social construction of everyday life! It was Lévi-Strauss drawing on the ideas of Durkheim, Mailinowski and Evans-Pritchard amongst others who originally introduced these ideas, he aligned himself to Evans-Pritchard’s argument that the reason for totems was metaphoric. I returned to this work in 2004 and used these ideas in exploring the use of rhetoric and rituals in multi-professional working

Turku is Finland’s oldest city, it has been there for over 600 years. Much of what one sees today however, was built after the last great city fire in 1827. But it is still possible to see many great examples of the typical Finnish wooden house. Turku also has its own twin tower World Trade Centre.

I was eating lunch with Leena when the first news reports came in about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre twin towers in New York. We rushed to a TV to watch the breaking news. I can remember sitting there watching the drama unfolding in real time, thinking this cannot be happening. I had been to the top of the twin towers on many occasions, and found it difficult to comprehend what was happening. It was a humbling experience.

I had a similar experience on a visit to New York two years ago when I had the chance to visit St Pauls Chapel and Trinity Church on Wall Street. This tiny chapel where George Washington worshiped after his inauguration now stands as the most extensive September 11th museum in New York City. The back of the church houses exhibits that tell the story of the role the chapel played in the aftermath of the September 11th attack. For the fire fighters, police officers and other rescuers who toiled for up to 12 hours at a time in the smouldering space where the towers once stood, the small chapel was a sanctuary.

Leena’s email was to say that she was on the brink of permanent retirement. She had semi retired a couple of years ago, but continued working for a couple of days a week with post graduate students. She felt that the time had now come to retire completely and spend more time with her family and grandchildren. Leena, toivotan teille kaikkea hyvää ja toivon, olet todella rentouttavaa eläkkeelle. Kiitos ihana ystävyyden vuosien varrella juhlitaan seuraavan kerran olen Turussa.

Closer to home, I was delighted to bump into the Salford equivalent of Leena, my colleague Mrs J (senior). The last I had heard from her was that she was stuck in Australia because of the Icelandic volcano. So seeing her in Bents the UK’s No1 Garden Centre (2009/10) last week on a wet and windy Friday afternoon was wonderful, and slightly disconcerting.

Both Lenna and Mrs J (senior) have that unnerving ability to always look elegant, and both sport hairstyles that are always immaculate. And so it was on this occasion. I on the other hand, looked like I had been dragged through a hedge backwards – but I was on holiday after all!