Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Art (Deco) of Conversations

Last night I was at a garden party to celebrate someone's 50th birthday. I didn't know her, and apart from my wife and one other person, I didn't know anyone else there either. However, it was great to meet new people and start new conversations. The party was at the end of a week during which I took part in and enjoyed, many wonderfully diverse conversations. Some of these conversations were with people I have never met before and in all likelihood will never meet again. Some were in real life and some were Twitter conversations. Last Thursday evening for example, there was a @wenurse twitter chat on sexual health, a conversation that lasted an hour and was wide ranging and informative. If you missed it, the chat can be found here. Some of those that participated were known to me, but like last night’s party, there were plenty of people who I didn't know.

Twitter is a strange phenomenon, one is able to gain a voice in a way that is very powerful and unique. You can communicate with people who perhaps up to now you wouldn't have been able to get to. You can also gain the attention of those that otherwise wouldn't want to speak with you. Last week, I watched with great amusement, which quickly changed to sheer admiration, as one of my sisters tried to get Virgin Media to respond to them. Having waited in vain for nearly 2 hours for the Virgin centre to contact them through a call back phone call, they launched a twitter onslaught with great effect – 10 minutes later Virgin Media had sorted the problem and made contact. Of course there are many other service providers who can also supply you with wi fi services.

Friday morning saw me at Manchester airport on my way to Dublin for a PhD viva examination. Airports are a great place to have conversations with people you have never met before, and so it was last Friday. I don’t usually do breakfast, unless I am traveling. Then I like a Full English Breakfast (vegetarian). I was seduced into having breakfast by a young waitress who engaged me in conversation at the entrance to one of the Terminal 3 restaurants. I should have known that somewhere professing to do really great pizzas, and pasta, was unlikely to do equally great breakfasts. It was dreadful, and the conversation as I left was considerably shorter and less friendly than when I entered the restaurant.

I flew with Ryanair, and I think it’s possible they train their staff so that all conversations have to include asking you for money. The taxi driver on the other hand was a great conversationalist. He had an opinion on everything from the weather that morning, to the Scottish referendum (he would vote NO), and what did I think about Boris Johnson contesting Nigel Farage in the next general election. I was surprised at this turn of the conversation as I hadn't picked up on this news. It turned out that he was talking about the notion that Boris should contest the by-election in Clacton caused by the Tory MP Douglas Carswell defection to UKIP.

By this time we had reached our destination, the School of Nursing at Trinity College. Trinity College is a fascinating place, steeped in history and well worth a visit if you happen to be there. I was there however, to conduct a PhD viva. As the candidate was a member of the Schools academic staff, I was 1 of 2 external examiners. I like to approach PhD viva's as an opportunity for an academic conversation, a chance for the candidate to present and defend their work, but in a collegiate rather than adversarial manner. I was pleased to find that my co-external examiner was like minded.   

Now the School of Nursing is not located in the wonderful Trinity College buildings and main campus. The School is to be found in the rather splendid if somewhat quirky old Gas Building. This protected Art Deco building was originally constructed in 1818, and remodelled in the Art Deco style in 1934. It is a fantastically well preserved and interesting building. Its neo-Tudor and jazzy Art Deco styles, side by side to each other in one building make it one of the finest of its kind in Ireland. Such is the transient nature of PhD conversations that one can find oneself back in a taxi and on the way to the airport before being able take any photos. This was my experience, so most of the illustrations in today’s blog come from the Schools web site.

Completely coincidently, my middle daughter (Sally) who like my eldest son (Samuel), lives in Hastings the Art Deco capital of New Zealand, is returning to the UK for a brief Art Deco tour next weekend. I have arranged to meet with her. As my parents will be up visiting as well, I am hoping that this time next week there will be 4 generations in the house, all holding a conversation with each other. I'm looking forward to it. As BT once said in their advisements, 'its good to talk'!