Sunday, 25 January 2015

Clearing Snow, Sleeping in at the Weekends, a Danish Bun in the Oven, and Remembering an Ordinary Man

There was one morning last week when I jumped out of bed at 04.30. It had snowed the previous evening and overnight. The drive had a few inches of snow (7-8cm to you metric readers) and had to be cleared in order to get the car out and get off to work. It was the third time in week that I had cleared the snow off the drive. These days I have a routine that gets it done in double quick time, but I have long harboured a desire to own a tractor with a snow plough attachment. I came close to achieving this ambition this weekend when I was able to acquire a fully operational John Deere tractor. However, I think the grandchildren will enjoy it more than me, and it hasn't snowed since!

I have never had a problem about jumping out of bed at an early hour. I normally start my day at 05.00. These days my circadian rhythm has changed and I am no longer a night owl, much more a lark and definitely my best in the morning. I start my day at 05.00 even when it is not a work day and have done for years. A longitudinal study in New Zealand has revealed that people who find it difficult to get out of bed at the weekend are more likely to suffer problems such as obesity and diabetes compared with those who get up early even when they don’t have to go to work.

The study described people whose sleep patterns differ significantly between work days and rest days as having 'social jet lag'. Whilst the study doesn't claim that social jet lag causes health problems, they are able to claim that people whose body clock is perpetually out of synch with their work patterns are putting their metabolism under strain, which can cause chronic health problems.

People in the small town of Thisted in Denmark, might however, have a good reason to stay in bed at the weekends. Denmark has a declining birth rate. The average birth rate is just 1.7 children on average per family. In Thistead, this rate has dropped to 1.6. There are just under 14000 people living there. Local services such as Schools, nurseries, social services and so on are being threatened by the low birth rate. The Local Council have pledged to keep the services running if the local population promise to have more children. This deal follows the 2014 national initiative 'Do it for Denmark' where couples were promised to be reimbursed for their holiday if they conceived during the trip. The campaigns advertisement is well worth a watch – see here.

And this morning, for some reason I woke up even earlier and have spent the time reading about the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of  Winston Churchill’s death. He retired as Prime Minster in the year I was born. I can remember watching his funeral on TV – it was a black and white TV. Colour television programmes didn't come to the UK until 1967 (Wimbledon coverage). It is said that a staggering 350m people around the world watched his funeral. 112 countries were represented at his funeral service.

What I have found fascinating is how my perception of him has been challenged by this morning’s reading. I totally agreed with the BBC poll, which in 2002 put Winston Churchill as the No 1 Greatest Briton. He beat Darwin, Shakespeare, Bob Geldof, Margaret Thatcher, John Lennon, David Beckham and even Prof T. Yet he was very much like the rest of us. He made mistakes, sometimes with catastrophic results for others. He had views on other nationals that might be considered as racist, and occasionally these were revealed. These included relatively uncharitable views of Islamic and Jewish people, Indians, from North American ['Red'] and from Asia

Of course, as far as the UK was concerned, in 1940 Churchill got it absolutely right. And in destroying Hitler’s despotism every political leader since, like all of us, has benefited. He was both a great leader and amazingly ordinary. Although he only slept for 5 hours a night, and was awake and up early, he did have breakfasts that could last for many hours. Whether he ever had a Danish for breakfast is not known.  

Sunday, 18 January 2015

11 years between beers is a long time, too long maybe – but it might be better for your health

I was at the Restaurant and Bar Grill in Manchester last Tuesday evening. Our VC, Martin Hall, retires in June. As he is just about to start a sabbatical between now and then we were out celebrating his time with us and wishing him well for the future. The weather outside was bitterly cold with a strong wind blowing. It made arriving at the restaurant looking half way presentable almost impossible. There was a good crowd of people there to join in proceedings and to share memories of the VC's many achievements. However, the speeches were brief, and the service was slow, and as I was driving, it was non-alcoholic beer for me all night – deep joy.

My vegetarian option was a butternut squash and goats cheese tart with a lemon and thyme butter sauce, served with winter vegetables. It was an OK vegetarian meal, but like Mahatma Gandhi had so often found, it was a somewhat bland offering. In 1888, Gandhi came to London to study law. He had promised his Mother that on coming to England, he would abstain from sexual activity, meat and alcohol. However, he found the vegetarian meals prepared by his landlady to be both boring and bland. It was perhaps not surprising then that Gandhi joined the Vegetarian Society, a group established in 1847 to support, represent and increase the number of vegetarians in the UK. He was later to be elected to the Society’s Executive Committee.

Last Friday evening I was reminded of this story. I was in conversation with someone describing a paella they had made that week. Whilst he had used tiger prawns in his recipe I was reassured that it was possible to make vegetarian paella. This conversation led on to a tale of how Ghandi's dissatisfaction with the vegetarian food he found, and his subsequent education of the Inner Temple cooks has resulted in there always being a vegetarian option on the Inner Temples restaurant menus. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it was a good story. On this night out I wasn't driving so the beer was alcoholic – great joy.  

In fact not only was the beer alcoholic, it was real beer brewed in the Bank Top Brewery (a micro-brewery in Bolton). The occasion was an educational trip with friends and neighbours to the brewery. Again the night was bitterly cold, the wind blowing, and eventually snow falling. The night started at the breweries own pub the 'Ale House'. And then it was a taxi ride on to see the brewery, learn how the beer was created and brewed and taste as many of the real ales as possible. What surprised me was finding out it had been 11 years since I had last taken this trip.

I think my Mother would prefer it if really was 11 years between beers. Unfortunately for my Mother, and fortunately for me, I have discovered a micro-brewery close to the House in Scotland (the Solway Brewery in Castle Douglas). However, there is another almost sobering reason for the gap. The last time I went, instead of taking a taxi home, three neighbours and I decided to walk home. One of my neighbours, possibly due to a rapid onset of flu, struggled to stay upright. So my neighbours and I helped him home safely. We left him just 6 feet away from his backdoor and then rest of us went our own ways and called it a night. All he had to do was get out his key, open the backdoor and he was home and dry.

The following morning my neighbour turned up to say thank you for helping him home. And to say that on leaving him the previous evening, he had slipped and cut his head open. Indeed, he did look like a younger version of the former USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev. Not a problem normally, but 4 days later he was due to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. I am not sure if this influenced the fact that we didn't go for a beer as a group of neighbours for another 11 years. This time we provided our neighbour with some Health and Safety advice and equipment. Moral of the blog, drink responsibly, and keep healthy!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Departures, True Love, je suis Charlie, and that Operational Planning Challenge

I found the first week back after the Christmas break to be a real roller coast ride in lots of ways. The weather was all over the place, with high winds and driving rain one day and dry balmy mildness the next. It’s still that stage of the year where it’s dark when I leave for work and dark again when I come home. Monday saw me having dinner at Albert’s Shed. The food was the usual high standard, but unusually it was quiet enough to have a conversation without the need to shout at each other across the table.

I was with the Greater Manchester health Deans and Heads of School. We were saying goodbye to 2 of our colleagues, Ian Jacobs (moving on to a VC's role in Australia) and Vince Ramprogus, who was retiring. It was good to be able to celebrate our time together and wish them well for their futures. It was also Day 1 of our Operational Planning Challenge – 3 years of ambitions on just 3 sides of A4.

Tuesday, I read of the death of Irene Jorden. I never met Irene or her husband who had died the week before. But like many people, I had heard of them both. And their story warmed my heart last year. Bernard Jorden had wanted to be part of the 70th D-Day commemorations in France last June. Despite the best efforts of the staff who looked after him and his wife at their nursing home, arranging a trip proved impossible. Not to be deterred he took himself off and made the trip without telling anyone, sparking a huge manhunt for him.

Last year’s D-Day commemorations were particularly poignant as it was possibly the last time the remaining veterans, most now in their late 80s and 90 will gather together to recall the day that 'changed the world'. Bernard was 90 when he died and his wife 88, they had been married for over 50 years, and were said to still be 'truly in love with each other'. Research suggests that there is a 66% chance that a spouse will die within 3 months of their partner dying.

France was also in the news last week for other events, and events that have also been said to have changed the world. On Wednesday, 2 Islamic terrorists attacked and killed 11 journalists at the offices of the sartorial magazine Charlie Hebdo they also killed a community policemen. By Friday 17 innocent people had been killed along with the 3 terrorists. As the opinion pendulum has swung this week between security and freedom in the narratives of many commentators, I found the 'je suis Charlie' to be an immensely powerful yet simple statement to identify with. 

However, back in Salford, early Friday morning saw the Associate Heads of School and I meeting for one more sense check of Version 6 of Operational Plan Statement. It wasn't a very long meeting as the work had largely been done. I think the final result effectively captures our aspirations, our responses to the challenges and opportunities facing us as a School. What pleased me more than anything was that the finished plan was delivered at 09.30 rather than the more usual getting to 16.59 before I can press the send button. Many thanks to all my colleagues for making it happen! As I sit and write this post the wind has died down just a little, and the rain stopped. Thankfully for once, I am speaking meteorologically and not metaphorically!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Goodbye 2014, Well Done Teresa, White Coats and a New Generation!

After what has been an extended Christmas and New Year break, the last of the visitors have left the House in Scotland. The village, which had been very busy over the holidays, is now once again quiet and the beaches deserted. Cello and I can walk without the distraction of other dogs, small children, or Christmas kite flying Fathers. Apart from Christmas and Hogmanay entertaining there have been lots of other distractions over the past couple of weeks.

For example, I attended our local Village Community Meeting. It was an extra-ordinary meeting as someone had offered to buy a small parcel of land owned by the residents of the Village. The offer was a tempting one as the sum of money on the table will have wiped out most of our community debt. After much discussion and debate, the decision was taken to proceed with the sale of the land. It was an interesting meeting and revealed in full Technicolor, the way in which different generations view the world and the changes occurring around them. The meeting and possibly the time of year made me think about some the changes I have seen.

So it was great to see Teresa Chinn (of the hugely successful Twitter site @wenurses) being recognised in the New Year’s honours list. Teresa was an agency nurse who found herself professionally isolated and reached out through social media to connect with other nurses. She has been credited with bringing the concept of Twitter chats to nursing in the UK. Many congratulations Teresa for some well-deserved recognition.

The world was a very different place when I undertook my nurse education and training. Mobile phones and social media didn't exist. I recall being given 1 charcoal grey suit (with 2 pairs of trousers) and 6 white coats. The white coats were sent to the laundry each week and returned to every male nurse freshly laundered and pressed. Student nurses benefited from heavily subsided meals in the hospital canteen, and there was always cheap beer in the Hospital Social Club.

Nurse education is very different today. Based around a strong partnership between University, Hospitals and other clinical practice areas, and patients themselves, nurse education is aimed at providing future nurses with the underpinning theoretical knowledge the practical and technical skills of nursing practice and the interpersonal relationship skills required when working in caring and supportive therapeutic relationships.  

The nurses of the future will need to be able to practice in a world that has changed so much since I did my training. What makes Teresa’s achievements so good has been the way she has encouraged nurses to embrace the digital age. Today there are over 100,000 health apps available to purchase and many more to freely download. Social media is being used in a variety of different ways. People blog about their experiences, and social media is used for self-support and networking. Digital communications have increasingly become central to the way we live our lives. 83% of homes have internet access, 72% of all adults claim to have purchased goods or services on-line, 50%of us use internet banking and 53% of adults in the UK access social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Here at the House in Scotland there is a new digital innovation. At long last I have fulfilled one of my life ambitions and have started to generate electricity through solar power. The system was fitted over 2 of the coldest days of 2014 – but now on the 4th day of 2015, electricity is being produced. My new digital meter tells me moment to moment how much is being generated as well as providing a running cumulative total. I can, of course access the information from my phone, laptop and iPad, and will be able to do so wherever I happen to be in the world. If I sound a little pleased, it’s because I am – and I am also very proud about being able to contribute to our sustainable futures.

I am also looking forward to a different kind of generation. The calendar working year starts tomorrow and with it comes the opportunity for me to work with a new School senior leadership team brought about by retirements and new colleagues joining the School. The first job we have next week is to generate the basic structure of our Operational Plan for the 2015/16 academic year. I am very confident we will get there with some great ideas for how we address the challenges and changes facing us. But between now and then there is just time for one more walk with Cello in the woods.