Sunday, 18 December 2011

Another Six Hours Travel, but its Plymouth and not Dubai before its Red Shoe Time and an End of Week Surprise


Last week I spent an extraordinary amount of time sitting in railway carriages, waiting at train stations, searching pockets for wayward tickets, but also meeting some amazing and at times, unusual people. I am coming to the end of the Christmas Party season, and I have found it’s much easier and safer to imbibe the occasional tipple and then travel by train rather than get in a car and drive home. However, in the middle of the week I travelled down to Plymouth to take part in a PhD examination.

On the morning of this journey BBC News 24 hours started their broadcast from Plymouth Hoe. The report was about the storms and the winter weather that had engulfed the UK. We were due to have our first snow of the winter. Of course with the storms came the usual disruption of everyday life. The journey down to Plymouth took some 7 hours. The Hoe was just a collection of some distant unconnected lights seen from my hotel window. In the morning it was just possible to view the Plymouth Hoe through the buildings.

The students study was on how service users might best contribute to the acquisition and development of interpersonal skills in student mental health nurses. I was privileged to sit with another external examiner who had Hildegard Peplau as her own PhD supervisor. Peplau was possibly the first nurse theorist after Florence Nightingale and her life’s work was devoted to exploring the importance of the nurse - patient relationship and its primary importance to nursing practice. Unsurprisingly perhaps, her area of focus was on mental health care.

The journey back to Manchester was another 7 hours of disrupted travel. I will be happy if I don’t see Birmingham New Street Station for a long time to come. The last time I traveled 6-7 hours to and from Manchester the destination was Dubai – and Plymouth, as attractive as it may be, wasn't Dubai. Thursday was a second PhD viva – strange, like waiting for trains at BNS, nothing arrives for a while and then two come together.

 Friday was the last School Development Day of 2011. Traditionally, (in my 5th year as Head of School) it is when the Red Clogs come out. These are my Christmas Clogs, worn only from the School Development Day to Boxing Day – then they go back into storage. As those readers who have met me know that black is absolutely the colour of the day. I got my Red Clog inspiration not from my friend, colleague and Professor of Mental Health Nursing, Phil Barker (who habitually wears red clogs, and once claimed that Hildegard Peplau would be one of the six people he would include in his personal life boat) but rather from the 1948 film the Red Shoes. This is a film of a ballet dancer (Vicky) and the dilemmas she faces in choosing between love and a career. There is a wonderful conversation between the ruthless but charismatic impresario of the ballet Lermontov, who questions Vicky at a critical point in her career:

Lermontov: Why do you want to dance?
Vicky: Why do you want to live?
Lermontov: Well, I don't know exactly why, but... I must.
Vicky: That's my answer too

Of course the film is loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale in which a young woman sees a pair of red shoes in a shop window, and which are offered to her by a demonic shoemaker – of course after she accepts the shoes her life is cursed as wherever she goes and whatever she does the shoes refuse to stop dancing and the young women eventually dies from dancing exhaustion.

Dancing exhaustion is a state of being that I do understand. Unexpectedly I found myself at the MEN in Manchester on Friday night dancing to a band called Duran Duran. How I got there is a tale almost as complicated as the ballerinas and the shoe makers. Duran Duran is a British band, formed in 1978. At which time I had two children, and despite my other three children still being just a twinkle in my eye, this was a band that didn't feature on my musical radar even though the band initially were part of the New Romantic scene.

The band became popular for their music and some fairly controversial videos, which featured partial nudity and suggestions of sexuality. In the early 1980s these were shown on what was then a new music video channel on the television called MTV. However, it was another film from the mid 1940s that was the start of this revolution. Brief Encounter (1943) tells the story of housewife Laura who meets a doctor called Alec at a train station. Although she is already married, they gradually fall in love with each other. They continue to meet every Thursday in the small café at the station. This passionate pair, who don't ever exchange a kiss during the film, eventually decide to part. When Alec puts his hand on Laura's shoulder at their final meeting in the station café, it's as erotic and far more touching than just about every sex scene you'll ever see in a Duran Duran video .

But enough of such musings, Cello, who has loved the snow of the past week, is awaiting his first walk of the day and its time for me to get up and make a start. As I appear to have acquired a cold from somewhere, I can only think that walking is definitely better for my health than train travel.