24 August, 2013

The effect of alcohol

At a work dinner recently, I was struck by the effect that alcohol has on people. I don't really need to say this, of course. We're all aware that people can be affected very strongly by alcohol--getting blind drunk, throwing up in the street, waking up in the morning not remembering what they've done the night before...

But I was struck by the more subtle effect that alcohol can have.

I work with a  bunch of academics who are generally quite shy. They like talking shop (geeky science), but when it comes to interacting socially, really talking to people one on one, building relationships, they're not so good. And, since I'm not a scientist, and so can't talk scientific shop, they're generally at a bit of a loss with me.

However, at our work dinner, this all changed. With a few glasses of wine inside them, they suddenly came alive, engaging me in conversation about all sorts of things.

A bit later on in the evening, the conversation turned to alcohol and one of my newly-talkative colleagues said he thought it was interesting how the British needed alcohol in order to have a good time (he was drawing a comparison with his time living in the States where, he said, his American colleagues managed to have a good time, even without the aid of alcohol!).

His remarks made me smile. I'd consumed barely a glass of wine, was still sober, and had managed to have a good time, conversing with my colleagues in much the same way as I do at work. I felt that his observations may have more to do with his own personal state of mind, rather than being an accurate reflection of the national identity.

18 August, 2013

A day out at Chessington

It was my daughter's birthday recently and, rather than have a party, she decided that she would like a day out en famille at Chessington World of Adventures. So we duly booked the tickets. Tesco Clubcard vouchers to the rescue once again!

Now, we're not a family who often visits theme parks. In fact, we've only visited the one: Legoland a couple of years ago. We made the mistake there of going on the Jolly Rocker as our first ride. Not so jolly, as it turned out--iffy tummies and shattered nerves all round. So, we knew what to avoid at Chessington...

These are some of the things we did:

  • We went on the Zufari, which was a very short truck ride round a dusty circuit to see a handful of animals--a giraffe, a a rhino and a couple of zebra. It was all very orchestrated--we went 'off route' at the end of the ride which took us through a (man made) cave in which we briefly stopped and were splashed with water from a 'waterfall'. Hence the wet floor of the truck when we got in... The waiting time for the Zufari was 45 minutes but they'd done their best to make it 'authentic'--right down to the fake dried and cracked mud path on which we queued.
  • We watched the sea lion show, which was impressive. It's amazing what the sea lions can do. In the back of my mind, I wondered whether the show was cruel. But the sea lions appeared to be very happy and, as their handlers pointed out, they are intelligent animals and the training stretches them mentally as well as providing physical exercise...which is more than can be said for the big cats which you see in enclosures in these places with no space for anything other than prowling. That, I am sure, is cruel.
  • We didn't go on many rides as such and all of those that we did try were pretty tame--the jungle bus, the log flume and the carousel. Thankfully we avoided another Jolly Rocker experience.
The children had a good time at Chessington, I think, and so did the adults--although I have to say that it's not something I'd choose to do, given an option. There's something about the whole theme park concept--the endless queueing, the going on stomach churning rides simply for the thrill of being scared, the entirely artificial environment (what on earth is the point of it all?)--that I just don't quite 'get'.

11 August, 2013

Hospital aftercare

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post about psychiatric hospitals and what it is like visiting a relative who is detained there.

Something else that we have become familiar with over the past few months is the after care that people receive once they are released from psychiatric hospital. This support is (predictably, I suppose, given the strain that the NHS is currently under) pretty minimal.

Our relative was released from hospital, but was still detained under the Mental Health Act. This meant that they were obligated by law to take the medication prescribed by their psychiatrist and to comply with any request to attend out patient clinics or indeed to return to hospital.

But the only support or monitoring they received was one visit per week from a psychiatric nurse. And when it was half term and the nurse was on holiday, our relative received no visit at all. Shortly afterwards, our relative was discharged from detention under the Mental Health Act.

Interestingly, our relative reduced the medication that they were taking as soon as they were released from hospital and stopped taking it altogether within a few days of being at home. This was obvious to us and so was surely obvious to the mental health experts as well. But it seemed to make no difference. Our relative was still discharged from detention under the Mental Health Act on the understanding that they would continue to take their medication -- even though they had already stopped taking it when they were still obligated by law to do so!

This is obviously a very difficult area to manage. It's all about balancing the safety of the public against the liberty and rights of the patient. I don't think our relative ever posed much of a threat to the public, but clearly some people with severe mental health issues do. And, given our experience of care and support following release from hospital, it's not surprising that sometimes poor judgements are made and tragic consequences result.

04 August, 2013

Human bingo: never broken a limb?!

We had our work annual retreat the other day. This involves the whole of our department going away to a hotel for two days to talk business without the interruption of everyday working life.

The first day usually starts off with some kind of ice-breaking activity, and this year it was human bingo. Yes, I know, I didn't have a clue what this was either... But I soon found out.

Human bingo involves everyone having a sheet of questions (there are about three different versions of the sheet involving different questions). The aim of the game is for each person to go around the room trying to find a person who can answer 'yes' to one of these questions. Questions are things along the lines of  'Have you seen all the episodes of Friends?' and 'Have you ever been camping?' The first person to have 'yes' answers to all of the questions on their sheet shouts 'Bingo!' and is the winner.

What I found really interesting, though, was that one of the questions on my sheet was 'Have you ever broken a limb?' Try as hard as I might, I couldn't find someone who could answer yes to that particular question. In a room of around 40 people, I thought that was pretty unusual. And I wondered whether it had something to do with the type of people in the room--academics who are far more interested in dealing in the cerebral than the physical.

Not that I can talk--I haven't broken a limb either!