Category Archives: Civilisation

To Reykjavik for the Nordic Congress of General Practice

Back home now after a week in Iceland. Primarily for The 20th Nordic Congress of General Practice, a huge event with 1,500 delegates in the magnificent new Harpa Conference Centre and Concert Hall for which I and four fellow GPs ran a workshop on the subject ‘Doctors as Social Activists’. Link to my presentation

Views of the astonishing Harpa conference centre

I was describing my efforts since retirement to challenge organised climate change denial. Link to my presentation

1,500 Nordic GPs coming out for coffee break from one of the plenary sessions in the main hall

This was the very opposite of a freebie because we paid all our own expenses and discovered, having dutifully followed the advice to book flights and accommodation well in advance, that all five of us would have to pay the £700 registration fee for the conference.

This was on top of Reykjavik being, with Tokyo, currently the most expensive capital city in the world, even without the devalued pound, so that everything – food, trips, entrance to exhibitions, goods in shops – was more than twice as expensive as at home. Nonetheless, Lesley and I gritted our teeth, tightened our belts (I lost 3½ lbs on the trip) and took the opportunity to see something of this fascinating country and its admirable people.


Apart from the conference we were lucky to be in Reykjavik for Iceland’s National Independence Day (from Denmark : 1944). In spite of a cold wind and intermittent downpours, the atmosphere was festive and friendly. We felt it a real privilege to be there. We heard the President give a speech and then an actress gave a beautiful recital of a poem in Icelandic. Then there was a parade to the fair-ground around the lake, where there were circus acts and the world’s oldest strong-man competition.


The houses and buildings in Reykjavik were extraordinarily varied, often brightly painted, and quite a few had large murals painted on them.


The famous Hallgrimskirkja cathedral dominated from the top of the city, It was striking outside, although the concrete was currently under repair – testifying to the extreme harshness of the climate. The inside was serenely beautiful, with the most magnificent modern organ I have ever seen, being played while we were there.


We were unlucky with the weather, but we shared a car for a day out to the Snaefellsjoekull National Park north of the city, and took a coach trip around the ‘Golden Circle’ on our last day – our only really sunny day.

The Golden Circle is very much a tourist route but you see the junction between the American and the Eurasian tectonic plates (separating at about a centimetre a year) at the Þingvellir National Park, the magnificent Gullfoss Falls, and the geysers at the Haukadalur Geothermal Area.

Everywhere you see beautiful blue lupins, apparently a recent, deliberate introduction to stabilise and enrich the soil (lupins of course being nitrogen-fixers) which are proliferating at an incredible rate and seem to be broadly welcomed.  You can see them in the foreground and in the hills in the picture bottom right above. We were told that the country was 85% covered by trees when the Vikings arrived, but they cut them all down for fuel, housing and ships.

 

One thing which surprised us was the sheer size of the country – more than 300 miles East to West and 200 North to South. So we only saw a small part close to Reykjavik.

And this yellow door was the entry to our little room, with its blind to make it dark when it ought to have been night.

A tribute to Robert M. Pirsig

This is a photograph of author and philosopher Robert M. Pirsig taken by Ian Glendinning at Chester, England on 7th July 2005

Talking in some depth about things that seem important – by J A R Willis


This article appeared in the December 2000 issue of Medical Humanities in the series Medicine through the Novel.  It is repeated here as a tribute to one of my greatest inspirations – Robert M. Pirsig – who died two days ago (24 April 2017)


‘Unless you are fond of hollering you don’t make great conversations on a running cycle. Instead you spend your time being aware of things and meditating on them. On sights and sounds, on the mood of the weather and things remembered, on the machine and the countryside you’re in, thinking about things at great leisure and length without being hurried and without feeling that you are losing time.’ (p 17 of 416)

The gentle voice is incredibly familiar, heard now for the third time, a voice that seems to have got itself into my deepest being. Continue reading A tribute to Robert M. Pirsig

Entente Cordiale never more important

How to celebrate the 10th anniversary of our twinning with the town of Pertuis, Provence, way down there in the glorious south of France? And return the compliment of their having named a major roundabout

(circle in American, Rond-Point in French) after us, showing the genuine warmth of their appreciation of the link with Alton.

Well, by a sheer stroke of serendipity, there was a second bird, as one might say, just waiting to be killed with this stone. Because, by a curious historical anomaly, Alton has for some years rejoiced in the possession of two parallel roads both called Whitedown Lane. That’s more Whitedown Lanes, you must agree, than any town strictly needs.

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OS map showing too many  Whitedown Lanes

And, by a further happy chance, one of these two Whitedown Lanes was completely devoid of houses, so that nobody would have to change their postal address were it to be renamed – obviously a no no if it had been otherwise.

So, the responsible authorities swiftly agreed the proposal, new road signs were ordered and erected, Google (if not as yet the OS) updated their map,

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Pertuis Avenue on the (Google) map

and the unveiling of the new road sign was arranged for the Saturday morning of the Anniversary visit by two dozen of our friends from Provence – the 22nd October. Just over a week ago.

First thing that morning I loaded the car with potted greenery and set off to join Don in decorating the sign, leaving Lesley to finish breakfast with our two French house guests

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Not quite the breakfast Ramond and Simone  gave us in Pertuis last year

and then take them to the Mayor’s reception in the Town Hall.

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Nearly ready for the unveiling

It is an amusing thought that Altonians will have as much difficulty pronouncing Pertuis Avenue as  Pertuisians presumably have with Rond-Point d’Alton.

But less amusingly, while I was bending to plant the flags you see on the left of this picture, a bag of rubbish thrown from a passing car bounced off my shoulder. Which interested me, because the marksman either showed astonishingly quick reactions coming round the corner, or, much more probably, took the trouble to get his driver to turn round and come past again for the sole purpose of expressing his (I assume his) xenophobic venom. Which suggests a level of calculated malice sufficient to raise an appreciative editorial eyebrow  at the Dailies Mail or Express. Indeed, should either of these publications wish to award a prize, the till receipt from the Petersfield MacDonalds which the lobber thoughtfully enclosed in his grubby bundle might help them in tracking him down. (Funny that – Petersfield says more ‘Telegraph’ to me, but ‘Daily’, just the same.)

I had these thoughts during the hour I spent guarding (yes, in these Brexit times it did seem to be necessary) the site,

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while Don, in his capacity as Twinning Association Chairman, joined the meeting in the Town Hall.

Passers-by, hearing why I was grumpy, fell over themselves to cheer me up – “Here – let me take the rubbish so that you can forget about it” “That sounds wonderful, I was just setting off for Dartmoor but I love France and I’ll stay for the ceremony” (She did, plus her dog) “Can I get you a cup of tea?” To which – “How very kind of you, but there isn’t a loo…”

The happy Ceremony

That afternoon, in the town, was endlessly heart-warming. Everyone seemed to know about the Anniversary visit. Walking with our guests around King’s Pond, we introduced them at random to a lady with two children feeding the ducks near us and found that she was an enthusiast for twinning, and that her son was corresponding, through school, with a contact in Pertuis. And the little son who was with her, probably no more than five, had learned a few words of French and exchanged them, in an utterly charming scene, with our visitors.

Happy faces at the dinner at the end of the weekend

On the way back from leaving Simon and Raymond at their coach on Monday morning, I stopped to photograph the three flags flying on the Alton War Memorial flag poles, a symbol of our better selves, and of hope for the future.

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Entente cordiale never more important

Tomorrow’s EU referendum- the need to listen to the experts

Does the panel agree with Michael Gove that we’ve had enough of experts?

That was the question I submitted in advance for the EU referendum debate in Alton Assembly Rooms this Monday evening. Unfortunately it was left to the very end – in fact five minutes after the very end (timed for the England/Slovenia match) – and the panel were asked to give it a one-word answer.

I had been hoping for more than that.

I had chosen my question, after much thought, specifically to Continue reading Tomorrow’s EU referendum- the need to listen to the experts

Day 23 : Vancouver – perfect choice for our longer stay

Just as in Monument Valley three weeks ago, and in a Barbara Kingsolver that Lesley has just finished, our fourth and final day in Vancouver brought home to us the extent to which, all over the world, Westerner’s are trying to make some amends for the terrible arrogance with which they set out to obliterate the cultures of indigenous peoples.

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Having proudly mastered Vancouver’s excellent bus service we put our $1.75s into the coin counter by the driver of the C23 into town and then used the same ticket to transfer to a 14 trolley bus (electric) for 33 stops to the University of British Columbia’s beautiful, park-like campus. (Google Maps’ route-finding app once again invaluable) Continue reading Day 23 : Vancouver – perfect choice for our longer stay

Vegas!

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My phone thinks we walked 9½ miles yesterday and Lesley’s pedometer 10½. But we emerged from our “Ultimate” variety show in Planet Hollywood at about 10.00pm surprisingly fresh and hardly at all foot sore.

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Again, the scale of everything beggars description and certainly my powers of photography.

We started in the vast Venetian complex soon after 9.00 while it was all still quiet. So we toured the canal and St Mark’s Square in relative peace – under the convincing artificial sky. Continue reading Vegas!

the biggest science scandal ever

The journalist Christopher Booker has a way of trumpeting his discovery of what turn out to be non-existent science scandals.  Here he is on February 7 this year:

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This article, headed “The fiddling with temperature data is the biggest science scandal ever”, turned out to be a misleading account of perfectly proper adjustments to readings from outdated measuring equipment which Mr Booker mistakenly thought showed that scientists were tampering with the historical record and trying to deceive the world about the need for action over climate change. [Full explanation of his errors here].

Mr Booker is rather given to this kind of language. Six years ago he ran an article in the Sunday Telegraph with the eerily similar heading “This is the worst scientific scandal of our generation“. The full text of this article, dated 29 Nov 2009,  is still on the ST website  [here if you want it]

Christopher Booker in the Sunday TelegraphThat ‘worst scientific scandal of our generation‘ wasn’t a scandal either, although Booker wasn’t alone in trumpeting it and calling it by the ridiculous misnomer, Climategate. And in a curious coincidence of hyperbole (unless they were hand-in-glove) another journalist, James Delingpole, wrote an article in The Spectator the following week [here if you want it] referring to the same events as  ‘the greatest scientific scandal in the history of the world‘. Gosh!

Another curious coincidence was the timing: these journalists, and a few others, broke the news of this 2009 ‘scandal’ – based as it was on a perverse interpretation of a ten-year-old stolen email, selected from thousands and quoted out of context – just three weeks before the Copenhagen Climate Summit of that year. It was therefore perfectly timed to undermine the political will so essential to making that crucial conference a success. What is certain is that Climategate – later described by Professor Sir Paul Nurse (see below) as ‘the scandal that never was’, did indeed play a part in securing the limp outcome which was so bitterly disappointing to all but climate change deniers.

At least four independent enquiries subsequently exonerated Dr Phil Jones and the Climatology Department of the University of East Anglia of all the charges of dishonesty which had been levelled so viciously against them. But the clearest description I have found of what actually happened was contained in a BBC Horizon programme by Professor Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and Nobel laureate. This programme is no longer available online but I prepared a transcript of some crucial sections at the time and posted them [here]. This extraordinary account makes it clear that Dr Phil Jones’ Department was the object of a coordinated campaign to undermine its authority as a world-leading centre for climatological research, and to undermine the credibility of the warnings it, and by implication climate science in general, was giving.

That 2009 campaign by Mr Booker and others of his persuasion was all too successful. The worry is now that they have their (short) sights on undermining the climate talks which are scheduled for this year. They must not be allowed to succeed this time – the world cannot afford another Copenhagen. You might even say that the concerted effort in which they have played a not-insignificant part – either as collaborators or, hopefully, as dupes – to deceive the world over the most serious existential threat mankind has ever faced, really is ‘the biggest science scandal ever’.