Category Archives: Personal

Managing in the Middle

My husband Rob’s tenure as an acting head of department at Keele University comes to an end on April 1st, and it can’t come soon enough. It was always made clear that in the long run an outside person was wanted, and Rob was happy to play an interim role until a full-time appointment was made. But enough is enough.

We live on campus and don’t have any internet connectivity at home in an attempt to try and keep some work/life balance. Consequently Rob mainly comes home for lunch, and before his headship, would pop back to the office for short periods of an evening or at the weekend. However, with no respite from any of his “normal job activities” and numerous additional demands on his time, 12+ hour days, 7 days a week became the norm!! Lunchtime (if he got one) could swing between anything from 11.15 to 2.45pm, depending on meeting durations or a sudden summons from “on high” being received. Whole days filled with back to back meetings regularly occur, meaning his “day job” duties would start at 5pm or clocking-off time for many others. This situation is all the more frustrating because much of these head of department meetings are on subject matters that you have no qualification for, health & safety, finance, building plans, HR etc! He is a scientist (with his research withering on the vine right now) but finds himself playing a politics game within a hierarchy that has revealed itself in a less than favourable light. Issues of legacy seem to be far higher on the agenda than issues of staff and student well-being.

Strike action over pensions is about to start in universities. Edicts from the powers that be on how to handle the situation, contradict completely the Union manifest on the same subject. It seems to me as if both sides inhabit some alternate reality called La La Land, because their expectations are so unrealistic. Rob as head of department is placed directly in the middle of this maelstrom, being the frontline face and message boy of information, regardless of his own personal feelings on the matter. He is getting hassle from all sides, the university hierarchy, the Union and most damaging of all, grief from colleagues. Rude, ill-tempered and at times derogatory emails flying back and forth is one thing, enduring highly unpleasant face to face confrontations is quite another. It’s hard to accept the Union rep’s mantra “oh it’s nothing personal” having been challenged by a disgruntled colleague “are YOU proud of what the university is doing?” If only that person appreciated just how desperately Rob is trying to tread a fine line of fairness and diplomacy. How he is filtering some of the commands from on high because they are totally ridiculous, being unworkable and highly controversial. But these efforts are going largely unnoticed.

So as strike action looms over the last few weeks of Rob being head of department how do things look to me? Well as I listen to what’s going on from the sidelines, it’s clear that work relationships are bound to be irrevocably damaged by people reacting both in the moment and to the event, whilst generalising Rob’s role in being “one of the bad guys because he’s in management”. There appears to be little awareness that work relationships will have to continue after the dispute is over, however strained that process may be. The mantras being laid down from both the Union and higher university management seem to indicate a “head in the sand” entrenched approach, which shows scant regard for the dynamics of maintaining a good working relationship in the future. It’s all very divisive and I can’t help but reflect on the miner’s strike of the 80s where families and communities were torn apart, many remaining divided to this day. I can see a parallel with the university sector doing battle over pensions now, tuition fees in the future, and lecturers taking sides. Rob will hand over the reins to a new head of department with a sigh of relief in April, but he will never see the university hierarchy or many colleagues in the same light ever again.



The team skating competition had already got underway before the opening ceremony took place in PyeongChang on February 9th. With the time difference between South Korea and the UK being 9 hours, the action took place in the small hours of the morning, and I relied on replays and highlights to catch the event. This has been made easier for me due to improved signal on my mobile phone, and having a greater data allowance on my contract. So I’ve delighted in finding coverage on the BBCiPlayer and unearthing full result details on the BBC Sport app. We don’t have internet/Wi-Fi connections at home, so catch-up services or paid for sport channels are not an option.

So the team results would be given a points allocation, with the highest score receiving 10 points down to the lowest receiving 1 point. Medals would be awarded to the nations with the highest amount of points accumulated. Initially ten teams began the competition all taking part in the short program, before the top five nations progressed into the free program. All four disciplines (Men’s singles, Women’s singles, Pairs & Ice-Dance) were represented, so obviously nations with a greater depth of talent had a better chance of medal success.

After the short program the following nations sadly took no further part: China 6th (18 pts): Germany 7th (16 pts): Israel 8th (13 pts): Korea 9th (13 pts): France 10th (13 pts). Going into the final phase in order were Team Canada 1st (35 pts), OAR (31 pts), USA (29 pts), Japan (26 pts) and Italy (26 pts). Each country had the opportunity to switch a maximum of two performers over all four disciplines.


Gold CANADA (73 pts): Silver OAR (66 pts): Bronze USA (62 pts)

Team Figure Skating Individual Section Winners


PAIRS: Free Program: MEGAN DUHAMEL & ERIC RADFORD (Canada) Score 148.51 pts

WOMEN’S: Short Program: EVGENIA MEDVEDEVA (OAR) Score 81.06

WOMEN’S: Free Program: ALINA ZAGITOVA (OAR) Score 158.05 pts

MEN’S: Short Program: SHOMA UNO (Japan) Score 103.25 pts

MEN’S: Free Program: PATRICK CHAN (Canada) Score 179.75 pts

ICE-DANCE: Short Program: TESSA VIRTUE & SCOTT MOIR (Canada) Score 80.51 pts

ICE-DANCE: Free Program: TESSA VIRTUE & SCOTT MOIR (Canada) Score 118.1 pts

Canada triumphed by not having any competitor below third place in each program, with Patrick Chan not fully showing his prowess, suffering uncharacteristic falls in both his short and free routines. I was greatly impressed by the Israeli men’s competitor Alexei Bychenko in the short program who came second, between Uno & Chan. Bychenko skated out of his skin and pulled off a complex routine nailing his quadruple jumps, unlike many others. Could he be a dark horse for a podium place in the individual competition? It all depends on the strength of his free routine, which viewers didn’t get to see as Israel failed to progress. Another surprise came from the Italy Pairs free routine from Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek who placed second behind the Canadians. Unlike Duhamel & Radford however, the Italians have only been a partnership for a short time, both having placed 11th in Sochi, Marchei as an individual and Hotarek with another partner in Pairs. Their jaunty joyful routine was fantastic to watch, and I thought they could be a real force in the future, if not today. Where medals are concerned the Canadians in Pairs are dominant, whilst the OAR, Germany and USA are snapping at the heels, with Japan and China lurking. Italy used a different partnership in the short program, so it’s difficult to really measure how Marchei & Hotarek fully compare against Duhamel & Radford. But it could make the Pairs competition a lot more interesting! In the Women’s short program Evgenia Medvedeva for OAR produced an elegant, powerful and very precise routine, whilst another OAR skater Alina Zagitova aged 15 a vision in red, pulled off with aplomb the most difficult combination of any woman, a triple lutz followed by a triple loop in her free routine. Alina reminded me of a ballerina spinning round in a jewellery box, she looked so delicate yet dedicated to her dance, and looked from her skating far more mature than her years suggest. Behind Zagitova came American Mirai Nagasu who gave a lovely performance and Canadian Gabrielle Daleman came third with her Rhapsody in Blue free routine. Her fast footwork and spins into the finale were fantastic. Rounding off the team competition Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir of Canada expressed perfectly why they are at the top of their game in Ice-Dance competition. Their synchronicity, power and passion flowed with the Moulin Rouge music, yet an equally beautiful subtlety and delicacy emerged through the slower movements, making an absolutely sublime viewing experience.

Team Canada top the podium (image credit abmj taken from BBC TV coverage)

Off The Beaten Track 6

BBC Radio 4 has a morning Book of the Week slot on week days, it’s not my usual listen, but due to intriguing descriptions in the Radio Times I’ve recently tuned in.  I’ve been enthralled by the stories concerning two remarkable women, one trying to escape Nazi occupied France, the other honestly chronicling the effects of living with early onset Alzheimer’s. Both have deeply touched me and I will definitely be buying the books, although I admit that the subject matter are areas I would normally shy away from, finding them upsetting to think about. But the indomitable spirit of both these women shone through the readings, and I found myself eagerly awaiting the next episode, in a kind of “wondering way”. Those ten 15 minute slots taught me more about life, survival, history and compassion than anything I’ve seen on TV.  The books are as follows:

NO PLACE TO LAY ONE’S HEAD Francoise Frenkell (Pushkin Press, £16.99)

My interest was caught when the Radio Times commented the book was initially published in Geneva 1945, and then seemingly forgotten until discovered in a French attic in 2010. A second edition was issued in French and now an English translation has been made. A firsthand account of a Jewish woman’s survival and escape from the Nazi’s in France, printed perhaps in the first few weeks of Europe peacetime in 1945, and then untouched until re-discovered in a modern day world.  Wow!

Frenkell came from a Polish Jewish family, was highly educated to degree level (I believe) having studied in Paris, and ended up opening a French bookshop in Berlin on discovering no such facility existed. Her clientele was illustrious, business brisk and successful and the future looked bright in early 1930s Berlin. Then the rule of Hitler and the effect of his policies kicked in. I listened as her beloved bookshop managed to avoid destruction as it wasn’t on an official destroy list. How she had to leave it behind and flee in the night, traversing through Europe from city to city, always somehow avoiding major crackdowns, or invasion, by a matter of days. Her skirmishes with authority and her escape attempts to reach Switzerland, finally successful. Frenkell’s words seem to be beautifully translated into an eloquent yet matter of fact way, and I listened with my “heart in my mouth” most of the time. I punched the air when her escape was successful and breathed a sigh of relief. My overall feeling was one of admiration for Francoise and her determined nature to survive in an intolerable society. But there was anger as well at the same society for its blinkered rule of law. It seemed to conveniently ignore, no doubt because of her Jewish ethnicity,  the fact Frenkell had all the necessary documentation (residency papers, visa) to live peacefully in France and to travel with ease to Switzerland.  My listening ended with Francoise setting foot in Switzerland where she survived the war to write her memoir, about her life before Nazi rule in Europe and her escape from it. The French publishing company Gallimard discovered Frenkell passed away in Nice in 1975 at the ripe age of 86 but could find no relatives.

SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW Wendy Mitchell (Bloomsbury £9.99)

My listening journey with Wendy began with her describing a “fog in her head” and inexplicable falls whilst she was out running. Doctors suggested she could have had a stroke, having discovered a heart condition that was fixed through surgery. The fog continued and eventually a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s was made after a seemingly painfully slow series of visits with health clinicians. Her description of looking at online videos of people living with the condition was searing, the initial thought of “but these are old people nearing the end of their lives” before finding one of a man in his late 50s like herself, who described his experiences in a mirror like fashion to her own.

Wendy worked as a NHS administrator known for her powers of recall and organisation skills. Slowly she had become aware that her grasp on things wasn’t the same. When she told management of her diagnosis the only thing offered was early retirement, there was no procedure to try and enable her to work within her remaining mental capabilities, which were still considerable. Her co-workers brilliantly rallied around to make tasks less stressful and more easy to deal with, enabling Wendy to continue in her job as long as possible. With unexpected early retirement foisted upon her Wendy decided to use her time attending conferences, doing speaking engagements and becoming a leading advocate for those living with Alzheimer’s & Dementia. Through this work she hopes to educate people to have a better understanding of the condition. I was certainly educated as I listened to excerpts from Mitchell’s book. Hearing how familiar things can suddenly seem strange and confusing, city living becoming too noisy to deal with, the use of technology to help try and trick her condition, the coping strategies Wendy uses to deal with the sudden onset of panic. It was illuminating to literally “see the world through Wendy’s eyes” and to hear how her condition is slowly taking over her mind. Her articulation is heartfelt, honest and at times perhaps unconsciously funny with a wry humour, like her wonderment at experiencing a gliding session and how quiet the flight was, whilst knowing she wouldn’t remember a thing about the safety video if disaster struck. The realisation “if you don’t use it you will lose it” after taking a three week break from her work and finding the computer keyboard incomprehensible for a few hours. How the person she is today is someone she doesn’t really recognise anymore, yet for the joys she has lost (like TV shows, long novels, cooking) an appreciation for new joys (short stories, poetry, old familiar films). I shared Mitchell’s sadness and resigned acceptance when her extra income from government support was removed, having been deemed fit enough to function on a daily basis.  Much of the “medical tests” used depended on the person remembering how they were before, a ludicrous concept when you consider the nature of an Alzheimer’s condition. Wendy’s resilience and determination to live life to the full for as long as possible was utterly compelling. Once again I had found a woman living in a difficult situation, making the best of it and triumphing in a way against the odds. Somehow both Francoise and Wendy made me feel empowered too.

In closing, I will mention a book that has been on my bookshelf since 2001. It’s called HAPPY TIMES by Lee Radziwill (sister of Jackie Kennedy Onassis). I read about it in a Sunday newspaper supplement, and asked my husband to look for it in America when he visited a few weeks later. There is little dialogue in it and is mainly a gorgeous photo book, rather like a family album. I’ve delved into it many a time, but only really read the dialogue this week. I’ve been happily updating my photo album with recent activity pictures, and from Wendy Mitchell’s book there is a strong element of how important photo’s can be for memories. We live in such uncertain times; I’ve chosen to look for the joy in things as much as possible. Photography is a passion and a joy, and my husband suggested I look at Happy Times again and actually read it. A quote in the introduction says it all for me: “I believe that without memories there is no life, and that our memories should be of happy times. That’s my choice”.


A Hundred Years of Voting For Women in Britain

Today’s news (February 6th 2018) in the UK, marks the 100th anniversary of an act of parliament which gave some women (property owners aged 30+) the right to vote. Much has changed for women in the political landscape since then, to the point where the country now has its second woman Prime Minister in office. It is not lost on me however, that Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May both became figureheads in the Conservative Party, undoubtedly the predominant ruling class where those early women voters came from! Neither Thatcher nor May had particularly affluent beginnings, yet were drawn to a party historically steeped in privilege and wealth. Interestingly the other main contenders for political office, Labour and to a lesser extent the Liberal Democrats, have never had a female leader, yet are perceived (particularly Labour) to represent the majority of the country’s people.

My beloved maternal Granny was born in 1898 and passed away in 1976. Although I only had her in my life for six and a half short years, her influence on me has been profound. Having lived through a time when women had no voice, Granny rammed home her point “women died for us to have a vote. So ALWAYS vote, be sure to put your cross in that box whenever you can. You may think they are all a bunch of charlatans, but that cross matters. Use it”. And I have used it, never having missed a major election vote since I came of age at 18. At least by voting, I feel I can have an opinion on the state of the country, those who choose to stay away from the polling stations should shut up. I’ve lambasted my younger brother for his lack of voting, whilst being only too happy to take any state benefit going. I know of several countries where voting is compulsory and I’d happily go along with that.

 I don’t understand people who say they don’t know what they are voting for, or that there is no one party that they fully agree on, so they won’t bother. Granny always read the leaflets that were delivered during the run up to elections, all party policies would be considered, and then she would look to her conscience, and vote accordingly. I learned at a very young age that nothing was ever really ideal, and that much of the time it was a compromise between what you thought right and what was being “promised”. To this day I do the same as Granny, read all the pamphlets and make my compromise. I abhor households that bin most of the leaflets delivered, keeping only those of the preferred household political party. I can’t help but think the children in those homes are well and truly indoctrinated from birth, by adults who should know better.

Elections come in several guises, parish council, county council, police commission, general & Euro elections and the occasional Referendum. Each has a distinct difference of influence ranging from very local issues up to national and international relevance. At times I’ve voted with my head and made a tactical decision at other times emotionally with my heart. I’ve tried to discern between local elections and national/international ones because the manifest can be very distinct for a specific area and purpose. I’m always a bit baffled that so many people seem to confuse the two.

Referenda by their very nature tend to have a bit of an earthquake effect, the national foundations are rocked and damage is done to both sides of the argument, regardless of the result. Afterwards an apparent cleanup is made, but nothing ever feels quite the same again. Alas today the UK is still “rocking” from the seismic effects of the EU Referendum, and protracted negotiations continue toward our release from membership of the European Union in 2019. I wonder what the women voters of 1918 would think of the situation we face today, considering Europe was still tearing itself apart in the throes of a savage world war back then.  By 1948 another huge war had once again afflicted the world and from the ashes of a decimated Europe, a vision of an Economic Community was born, which offered perhaps a sense of shared stability and responsibility in a shaky world. Yet we are walking away from it into an unknown future, at a time when the world seems yet again to be more than a just little unpredictable.

In today’s political climate I have no real affiliation to any party as I feel Granny’s description of “charlatans” is quite accurate, the country is not in good shape. And as  I watch the debacle of the Brexit negotiations, and roll my eyes at the much lauded mantra that the government is carrying out the will of the people, I can’t help but think that the Tories  “want their cake and to eat it, whilst maintaining a slim line physique”. But like the country they rule that isn’t going to happen!


Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) 2017

The GBBF17 festival held at London’s Kensington Olympia ran from 8th-12th August, and for the first time I attended the trade session on the Tuesday afternoon. It was great to be near the front of the queue, getting in and grabbing a coveted seat, then viewing the vast hall with nothing more than a scattering of people, ready to enjoy the vast array of ales on offer. I had already reviewed the list of beers available prior to arriving, so after a brief look at my brochure for tasting notes and floor plan study, I set to work armed with two third pint glasses!

            Serious study going on!

There are key words in beer descriptions that I naturally gravitate toward (chocolate, liquorice, caramel, biscuit, toffee, coffee, malt, subtle, floral) and others I tend to avoid, as too much of them can seriously disagree with me (strong hops, citric, tart, lemon, grapefruit, highly bitter, smoke). But I tried this time to mix things up, so deliberately didn’t choose the most obvious ones for me. I also tend to notice “quirky” descriptions and try them out, and GBBF17 was no exception on that front. Thanks to having food sorted (see later) and not going into the high gravity beers until the end of the day, I managed to go beyond my usual 2 pint limit without ill effect, having 9 third samples on Tuesday and 10 on Wednesday.

Everything I tried was nice and a favourite would be hard to pick out, but there are two distinct categories “quaffable” and “memorable”.  Here are my summary notes for each section.

Quaffable: You could sup these all day if you wanted.

Golden Triangle: ELDERFLOWERPOWER 4.2% Light and refreshing, delicate yet robust floral taste with a hint of floral essence on the nose. A lovely refined pure flavour.

High House Farm: RED SHEP 4% A smashing dark ruby mild very smooth with light caramel and fruit.

Palmers: DORSET GOLD 4.5% really nice golden ale with the banana heart giving a mellow vague sweet essence, and the mango providing a hint of tropical fruitiness.

Coniston: ASRAI 4 % with light fruit, delicate hops, mellow orange and a hint of herbs (coriander). Beautiful.

Irwell Works: MARSHMALLOW UNICORN 4.4% think toasted marshmallows on the fire. A mellow beer with a warming burnt sugar essence, smooth and tastes very wholesome. Great for a cold autumn/winter day.

Memorable: With unusual ingredients giving the beer a “quirky” personality

Belvoir: WHITE KNUCKLE RIDE 4.3% smells amazing, sweet and inviting. Taste smooth, distinct white chocolate flavour with a harmonious coconut edge. No bitterness rather like a posh barley wine. Looks like a top class smoky quartz with a dark chocolate heart and a clear caramel edge. Tastes as good as it smells, think melted white chocolate infused with the coconut of a Bounty bar. Wonderful but could be rather sickly if too much consumed.

Metalman Brewing: EQUINOX 4.6% a clean yeasty essence, vague fruit and a smooth quality with a distinct pepper aftertaste. Brochure described this as “wheat aged on sun-dried lemon peel and white pepper”.

Sonnet 43: I SHALL BUT LOVE 6.8% has a pungent roast coffee and coconut heart. Heady yet mellow with no real bitterness though a little smoky.

Birrificio Italiano: DELIA 4.5% has a green, fresh resin quality with a hint of sweetness, slight effervescence and mid bitterness. This Italian Draft Pils was described as having “fruity notes, herbaceous and balsamic resinous hints of fresh flower hops with sweet malt”.

Tiny Rebel: MOJITO SOUR 3.9% the taste was as good as the smell. Literally a wonderful “cocktail” beer with the mint and lime perfectly balanced, giving a wonderful fresh palate. I kept thinking it should have an umbrella and straw in the glass. But the mint also made me think I should be chewing something edible!

Drinking the Mojito Sour made me think of two stand-out beers from past festivals at Stoke. Both of them tasted great, smelt wonderful and yet had a weird twist making them unforgettable, for the strangest associations. Wolf LAVENDER HONEY 3.7% screamed pot-pourri and Woodlands OAK BEAUTY 4.2% furniture polish!! All thoughts told me consumption of these drinks should NOT be happening. It seemed my taste and smell senses were turned upside down, an unusual experience.

Looking back at old diaries I’ve concluded this was my 13th visit to the GBBF and it proved “lucky” in many ways. This was by far the most organised visit I’ve ever had, with military precision planning going into the whole four day trip. Knowing I intended spending two days at GBBF spanning lunch and dinner times (nothing gets in the way of me and my food!!), I ensured that I packed suitable foods/drinks to cover lunch and snacks, so we would only need to buy dinner. There was ample provision of foods and snacks at the venue, many at a reasonable price, but you have to seek them out and fight the queues. All those little nibbles eventually add up to a hefty cost, so I packed a rucksack with fruit juice, fizzy drinks, nuts, savoury crunchy snacks, cake bars and protein bars costing about £25 in total. I organised all these things into individual bags for each day (they actually covered all four days in London) and added some fruit from the hotel breakfast bar each morning. I reckon to buy all that lot in London/at the venue would have been about £100. Had the little flask I’ve taken on my travels not malfunctioned, I’d have had a flask of tea for a cuppa as well.

Unusually I took home some wonderful chocolate from the Oddfellows Chocolate Company having been able to taste some samples. These were sold in small bags with enough content to compliment the beers on offer, but I preferred to enjoy them away from the festival. And I bought two great sounding ales to savour at home as well. Ticketybrew ROSE WHEAT BEER 4.7% from Manchester and Lord Chambray FLINDERS ROSE 4.2 % a Maltese Gose were a delicious way of toasting a wonderful Great British     Beer Festival. Cheers, until next year.

          With little friends at GBBF

RSC Summer Party at the RA Summer Exhibition

The Royal Society of Chemistry summer party was held at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on July 20th this year. As my husband Rob is acting Head of the School of Chemical & Physical Sciences at Keele University, we had the pleasure of an invite to this select event. The dress code of “black tie and decorations!!!” meant we were dressed formally for the occasion, which turned out to be great fun. We were on our own most of the time amusing ourselves, but it was nice to bump into a handful of Rob’s science acquaintances as well.

Having been to see the Summer Exhibition before, Rob knew my tolerance/opinions of the art works involved can be limited to say the least. On entering the first room Rob said “I’ll be interested to see what you think of these”. He smiled as I looked around, drew breath and said as I eyed my first two pieces “I like these, I GET them”. I was looking at the Mick Moon pieces 95 At Sea and 97 Dusk, quirkily made I thought in muted colours with a simple yet beautifully expansive design due to the faintest of details. Then I spotted 88 Untitled (Violin) a massive piece of bold coloured acrylic on aluminium by Sir Michael Craig-Martin. This violin seemed bigger in size than a double bass and I thought “violin on steroids with a psychedelic dress sense”. I loved the colours and the clean elegant lines and it certainly grabbed the attention, as did the selling price of £120,000.

We managed to see about half of the exhibition because my attention was distracted by the lovely food buffet provided. Prosecco flowed all night and dainty canapés did the rounds first. As I was examining the artwork in another room I spotted someone with a small bowl of curry! That was it; culture was forgotten as I sought satisfaction in culinary appreciation instead. I unearthed small bowls of vegetable rice with succulent white fish, mini chicken and full sized vegetable kebabs, gorgeous herby prawns, walnut & apple salad and mini buckets of parsnip and sweet potato chips. These were devoured with vigour and thoroughly enjoyed by us; though I’m glad I didn’t come face to face with the duck/blue cheese dish someone waxed lyrical about as we left the venue.

Having had 3 glasses of Prosecco I switched to the delightful non-alcoholic elderflower and raspberry option and returned to the artwork. Unusually Rob stayed on the Prosecco though white/red wines were available too.  Further exploration of the exhibition yielded more praise than grumble from me and my all round favourite (from what I viewed) was 274 Heligan by Christine Woodward. A nicely sized acrylic piece of what seemed a beautiful garden (or mountain foliage) with gorgeous greens and yellow hues, with swathes of navy blue and light purples that are almost shimmering on a bright summer’s day. Positioned in the middle of a vast array of other pictures on the right wall of a room, my eyes alighted on it almost immediately and I was transfixed.  At £500 it seemed a bargain to me. Another stunner was 138 Calton Hill 3 by Jock McFadyen where an enormous moon hung over a small settlement on a hill, a scene I found very evocative and quite moving. Multiple classical references in 835 Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (After Piranesi) by Emily Allchurch was extremely clever and 544 Yellow Mimosa, July 23 2015 by Donald Sultan simple colourful beauty. My attention was caught by the date which was my Mammy’s birthday.

Just as I came upon two lovely sculptures that appealed to me, a waitress appeared carrying a tray of desserts. This included dinky meringues, tiny mouth watering lemon sorbet cones and delightful milk chocolate lollipops with fudge and salt. Of course I had to try them all (more than once) as I closely studied the sculptures. 770 Venus De’ Medici by Yinka Shonibare was a good looking shapely fibreglass gal with an all over Dutch wax pattern (I thought tattoos but better class) and a hand-coloured globe head! I spotted the globe first as I adore anything with maps but was surprised to see it was attached to a female body. It was sort of radical yet establishment as well and I thought it was terrific, and by far the most expensive item that caught my eye at £162,000. 909 Living Doll by Cathie Pilkington was elegant, graceful and classy and made me think of the little mermaid in Copenhagen.

Whenever I’ve been to the Summer Exhibition before, I’ve made a tally of the items I’ve liked just for fun. This year notched up 35 pieces to catch my attention, ranging from £250 to £162,000, which together totalled £784,195. And I only viewed a fraction of the displays, so I wonder if my appreciation of art is increasing?

In closing this was a lovely evening and I’ve enjoyed revisiting my favourites online where all the display pieces can be viewed at, until at least 20th August.

              Enjoying RSC summer party at Royal Academy



Hospital Radio in the 21st Century

Not everyone engages in today’s modern technology phenomenon where entertainment, news, family and social interactions are accessed in an instant. Society assumes that the majority of us have the means and capability to use modern communication devices (mobiles, laptops etc). However, as a ward walker for hospital radio, I know that there remains a large majority of patients who do not have this facility available to them. Many come from a generation who neither understand nor like or can afford modern devices. Those who do have mobile technology gadgets may not find them particularly easy to use in hospital. Mobile phone usage may be prohibited; the phone/data signals poor to non-existent; keeping phones charged a nightmare; Wi-Fi access unavailable or at a cost, so a longer than expected stay may prove expensive. Consequently those excluded from the mobile technology world, rely on whatever form of entertainment a hospital complex provides. That is why hospital radio still has a role to play in the 21st century. It can provide local news, cover local sports in more detail, convey personal messages and play a much wider more varied selection of music than national/commercial radio stations.

As a ward walker taking patient requests I’ve found myself in a mix of roles over the years. At times I’ve been a patient’s only visitor, other times I’ve felt more like a councillor, social worker, priest, confidante and friend. The music presenter part comes last of all. Through hospital radio a patient has a friend at the bedside, the lonely find companionship, those feeling frazzled by the demands of their illness find a reassuring calming presence and friendly voice on the radio. Having spoken to the patients before I go on air, I’m sure they feel a sense of community and belonging when they listen to me, and have a palpable sense that someone somewhere still does care about them. Speaking for myself, I know that money cannot buy the feelings I’ve experienced over the years serving the patients of Leighton Hospital. It remains an absolute privilege and pleasure helping those who are unwell, feel a little better and more comforted.

Modern technology offers connection and interaction with the world, yet maintains a clinical remoteness as well. Perhaps that’s why many users of social media still claim to experience feelings of great loneliness. By comparison, hospital radio offers an incredibly personal interaction with patients both face to face and over the airwaves. This is a priceless attribute that should be protected and nourished. Long May Hospital Radio Reign.