Sunday, 13 August 2017

In my dream world there would be no if’s or butts!

Where do ideas for writing come from. I've read some really good blogs in the last few months from my friends in the #earlyrisersclub – often taking an idea or a thought and using these to explore their own sense of self and place in the world. My approach to both my blog writing and paper writing also tends to be a result of something I've read, or a conversation I've been part of (or overheard), or I have seen something that sets off a train of thought. I often don’t know what it is I'm going to write or how I want to try and say something until I put fingers to the keyboard. This week it was different. This week I had a dream.

In his most significant work, The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud described dreams as being ‘the Royal Road to the Unconscious’ - a way to unlock the information held there. Information in the unconscious is often disturbing, and it is held in check by the preconscious so that it cannot be passed into the conscious mind without being first of all altered. Although at originally Freud described dreams as being a form of ‘wish fulfilment’ in his later work he moved away from this position.

I am not sure how my dream would have been interpreted by Freud, but he was into the detail of peoples dreams and would often ask them to describe such detail in his analysis. It was one of the details that sparked the stream of consciousness that is this blog. My dream saw me attending a play (in New York) that started off in a ‘Smokey Joe’ type cafĂ©, and which as the play progressed was slowly transformed into a modern chic wine bar. As the audience applauded the end of the play, the whole wine bar rose into the air, and in a moment we were all flying across the New York skyline. 

In my dream I was delighted and poured another glass of red, reaching into my jacket pocket to pull out a cigar, which upon lighting up, brought a sense of contentment and happiness. At this point I awoke from the dream to find myself still in bed with an almost full moon shining in the night sky.  

I have no idea what the dream might have meant – (and vivid dreams are a possible side effect of the medication I am taking) – but it was the smoking of the cigar that held my attention. I once was a smoker, and smoked French cigarettes and French cigars, the latter much more habitually. One day I decided enough was enough and stopped smoking overnight. That was a long time ago now and whilst I no longer hanker after a cigarette, I do sometimes fancy having a cigar. But I have resisted the temptation now for some 12 years.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am very much opposed to smoking in any form. In the UK, over 100,000 people a year die from a preventable illness that is attributable to smoking. Yet there are still nearly 8 million people in the UK who continue to smoke. Men on average, smoke 12 cigarettes a day (compared to 11 for women) which shows a continuing and welcome decline in the rate of smoking. However there has been a corresponding rise in the number of people using e-cigarettes. Often it is smokers trying to give up. However, and perhaps more worryingly, is that information that people aged 16 -24 years of age are among those most likely to have taken up e-cigarette smoking, and 20% will progress to smoking tobacco. 

To put this into perspective, way back in 1974 almost 50% of all adults in the UK smoked, with one in two smokers dying from a smoking related disease. However, smoking is still the biggest cause of early preventable death. So maybe some readers might find it surprising to have included Freud in a blog that talks about not smoking. He regularly smoked at least 20 cigars a day – and said ‘that smoking was one of the greatest and cheapest enjoyments in life’ - we now know that is not true. For me I dream of a day when tobacco is no longer available because we recognise it kills. Now that would be an enjoyable thought! 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

It’s a dickens of a story: A Tale of Two Christies

One of the things I have on my to do list is to visit the Edinburgh Festival. Despite spending half my time in the North West of England and the other half in Scotland, I have yet to get to the festival. I was reminded of this last week as the festival started on Friday (4th August). Although it runs through until the 28th of August, for much of that time I am back in the North West of England - I have, however, been to the Glyndebourne Festival, and strangely there is a connection.

John Christie, was an English landowner and founder of the Glyndebourne festival which was held at his house in Sussex. If you not been and have the opportunity to go, I can recommend it – it’s a chance to dress up (evening wear is the dress code) and picnic in wonderful surroundings and listen to fabulous music and opera. John Christie fell in love with one Audrey Mildmay, a Canadian soprano. He was smitten. When Audrey went down with appendicitis and had her appendix out, he declared his was troubling him too and had his removed at the same time. Despite their age difference, she was some 8 years younger than he was, they eventually married. Together they set up a wonderful musical legacy that from its inception in 1934, still receives international acclaim.

In 1947, the very first Edinburgh Festival was held. The idea was conceived by one Rudolf Bing, who at the time was the manager of the Glyndebourne Opera Festival. With the help of both John Christie and in particular, his wife Audrey, and Harvey Wood, Head of the British Council in Scotland, the idea was brought to life. Ever since for 3 weeks in August the festival brings top class performers of music, theatre opera and dance from around the world to show their talent. The Fringe Festival has been going just as long and this allows aspiring performers to have a stage and create a new audience. Both national institutions Glyndebourne, and the Edinburgh Festival, are recognised the world over for the high quality performances they showcase.

Back in Manchester there is another national institution that also has an international reputation for excellence. This is The Christie, a hospital specialising in treating and researching cancer. The hospital was originally supported by a wealthy industrialist by the name of Joseph Whitworth (engineer, inventor and philanthropist). He died in 1887, and left large sums of (£500,000 equivalent to £60,000,000 today) to 3 trustees, one of whom was Richard Christie. Who as far as I can find out, was no relation to the John Christie above.

In 1892 some of this money was used to build a Cancer Pavilion and Home for Incurables. It was the only hospital outside of London that specialised in cancer treatment only. In 1901 it was renamed the Christie Hospital in honour of Richard Christie and his wife Mary who had done so much to establish the hospital. Richard Christie was an interesting person in his own right. A professor of history and then political economy, he used some £50000 (equivalent to £5,900,000 in today’s money) to build the beautiful Whitworth Hall (now part of the University of Manchester campus). He also left some 15,000 books, many of which were first editions, to what is now the John Ryland’s Library.

The Christie is the largest single site hospital in Europe for the treatment of cancer. It sees some 44,000 patients a year. The hospital employs 2500 members of staff, who are supported by over 300 volunteers. It is one of the largest hospital charities in the UK. Like Glyndebourne and Edinburgh festivals the work of Christie is excellent and world renowned. The hospital I have a connection with proudly entered into a partnership with The Christie and Macmillan to establish a chemotherapy and treatment centre at the Wrightinton, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust. It opened its doors to patients in 2015. For the patients of Wigan needing chemotherapy, the centre means they avoid a 60 mile round trip to the Christie for their treatment, which in terms of improving patient care, is absolutely music to my ears!