They were playing ‘I’m still standing’ by Elton John this morning on the radio, and I was reminded that for an old friend of mine (OK, kind of ex-girlfriend) this was one of anthems, one of the songs that made her feel better when not everything is going right. I think most people who are interested in listening to music have their smile inducing tracks, just as you if I am ever feeling down a good dose of The Princess Bride will inevitably perk me up. Quite often the Lovely Wife and I talk about Beachy Head songs at the other end of the spectrum, of which there are the tonally obvious (Sinead O’Connor warbling Nothing Compares 2U for example) to the annoyingly cheerful sounding tracks that are, on reflection, incredibly depressing (personal favourite – ‘Hello, this is Joannie’ by Paul Evans, where *Spoiler alert* the protagonist is left pathetically listening to his dead girlfriend’s answering machine message in a fit of guilt).
I was wondering about what lies for me at the positive end of the spectrum for me and immediately came up with ‘Thinking of You’ by the Colourfield and ‘Bluetonic’ by the Bluetones (love the cheeky second verse). But I am sure I can come up with others.
I think it is important we have things that can pick us up when we are down as being happy in the head is a something that we need to hold onto. When we cannot be cheerful about something then I think that we are in a slippery slope.
This musing all stemmed really from spending last week near Ashdown Forest and East Grinstead. I knew nothing about East Grinstead before booking a cottage nearby, but it is an odd little place, not spectacular in any way but interesting for me in two ways. Least interestingly is that having spent a number of visits to the Cincinnati in the US, which kind of sits at the border of three US States I think I have now found the English equivalent, as East Grinstead is at the border of four counties. More importantly, it has self-styled itself rather proudly as the ‘town that didn’t stare’.
During the Second World War the Queen Victoria hospital in East Grinstead was one of the places that a lot of injured servicemen were treated that had suffered burns or other disfiguring damage. The surgeon there, Archibald McIndoe, was one of the first to realise that skin grafts worked better if the skin still had connections to blood vessels etc. so managed a much greater success rate in treating such injuries. But it was not that which made things special here. They also realised that, in the end,’ not matter how successful the surgery there would still be extensive disfigurement, and the crucial insight was that the mental impact of this could be just as important on the patients as the clinical outcome. So he encouraged his staff to socialise with the patients in the town, to show openly that while people might look a bit odd, that they were perfectly normal people that should be treated normally with acceptance and warmth. The patients met at the self-styled ‘Guinea Pig Club’ in town, in a classic bit of British depreciation and by all accounts it was a huge success. The town not only accepted their guests but positively became proud to have them. And the condition of the patients improved as a result. For some more colour see http://www.theguardian.com/weekend/page/0,,1945108,00.html or http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-sussex-13618639
The hospital there still specialises in this kind of treatment, and although The Guinea Pig Club has gone in its physical form it continues to provide support. But it just brought home to me again just how sometimes someone thinking a little differently – and with a hefty dose of compassion to balance the technical skill, something scientists of all types should keep in mind – can make such a difference. More generally, we have a responsibility to be good to each other – and ourselves – because with a relatively low effort we can all have an important positive impact on our neighbours. And looking at the news every day we need that so much.