Sunday, 13 January 2008

Rats, arts and parks

A lone protestor on Abbey Street, Old Lenton.

Djanalogy Arts Centre 'tower', Highfields Park.

Ice lingers in Nottingham University Millennium Garden at 3pm.

Carved stone, Nottingham University Millennium Park.

Thursday and Friday were really awful wet and windy days when going out was a real chore. Had the students been back and the buses full, even with air conditioning, it would have been like travelling in a mobile smelly sauna. The windows and your glasses steam up and everyone is wet — if you use buses you will know exactly what I am talking about. I know quite a few people who will not use buses and I can understand why. Until buses are roomier and have good air conditioning then it will always be a problem. In fairness to our local bus operators they are trying. Ideally, we need a Bus 'Tsar' like Ken Livingstone in London to force down fares and push standards even higher.

Today (Sunday) is also overcast and the forecast says there is more bad weather to come, but yesterday (Saturday) it was dry with a bright blue sky. It was also cold. Had there been wind it would have been bitterly cold. It was the perfect day for a wander. The morning was spent in bed reading The Guardian and when Susan mentioned that there was a retrospective exhibition in the Djanology Arts Centre of paintings by Dod Proctor, I suggested we go and have a look and have a sandwich there as well.

It was gone mid-day by the time we left the house and walked through Lenton Recreation Ground (there were no more flowers, but lots of new green shoots, so any day now the park should be covered with little pockets of colour). As I have said on countless occasions Lenton is a fantastic place to live for easy access to the arts, heritage, museums, open space on foot, by bike or public transport. You really don't need a car to enjoy life if you live in Lenton.

Walking down Abbey Street in Old Lenton we saw a man protesting against experiments on rats by Nottingham University at the QMC. He kindly let me take a photograph of him. He was a quiet man who seemed more bemused by my interest than I was by his lone protest. I told him that I sympathised with what he had written on his placard and left it at that. When I left school in 1959 at the age of fifteen I trained as an animal technician at the Chester Beatty Research Institute in South Kensington, London, until I was eighteen and left because I wanted to earn more money. By then I also had doubts about experiments on live animals.

Everyone who worked with the animals in the laboratories were as compassionate and kind as it was possible to be in such circumstances and no one seemed to see any alternative. I do remember discussions about the rats in the smoking machines on the roof which were my responsibility. On the floor below I had a large room full of cages with 4–5 rats per cage. Every day I cleaned them, watered them and fed them. I took them to the roof and put them in the smoking machines which were set to different numbers of cigarettes per day Monday – Friday. There were 'control' groups of normal rats whilst others had implants of various kinds to see what happened when these were combined with smoking. The rats were also fed different diets on bread. I remember feeding them Marmite, butter, meat paste, Bovril and, for a while, caviar! Some developed tumours and I measured then. I also killed rats and dissected their lungs after weighing them. I would pin the lungs onto boards for inspection by my professor (a Professor Passey, then in his 70s, who had worked with Madame Curie). After seeing my first dissected rat lungs at fifteen it was obvious that smoking was for mugs (even though most of the staff at CBRI did smoke), so I never started, despite the temptation of free cigarettes.

I thought it was all in a good cause for a long time and I liked the people I worked with. When I left my job it was taken by someone called Ken Livingstone! It was a great place for arguments about politics and meeting girls, but the topic which never went away was sport! Fulham -v- Chelsea and Surrey -v- Middlesex provided banter day in day out. Perhaps these things kept our minds off what we were really doing to the animals in our care?

So, as you can see, meeting the man with a placard, stirred up a great many thoughts, especially now that Laura, my eldest grand-daughter, is studying to become a vet and doing dissections and the like. Reading her blog I take comfort from the fact that she and her fellow students (or some at least) even give chicken embryos names. I am against needless animal dissection and experiments, but how is a student to learn in the absence of a dead animal to dissect? Humans can give their consent for their body to be used when they are dead, but animals have no such choice. On balance, I have to go with the man I met on Abbey Street because my heart always rules my head!

As for the Dod Proctor exhibition at the Djanology it is well worth catching if you can. It's on until February. I loved an early morning view of Newlyn, Cornwall, over the rooftops and into the harbour. I also loved a kitchen table with a child, perhaps waiting for tea to be served, and I liked a picture of Eileen. I also bought a resin brooch for my winter hat.

We then walked around the north side of the lake in Highfields Park and across the university campus into the Millennium Garden where, even at 3pm, there was ice still to be seen on the grass and a good indication of how cold it was, given that the grass was in full view of the sun. Like so many places one goes to, it never ceases to amaze me that it doesn't matter how many visits you make, there is always something to be discovered or appreciated for the first time. On this occasion it was the carved stone which caught my eye. The Garden looked bare and everywhere there were signs asking visitors not to walk on the grass, even barriers in places. Unfortunately, most of the other people we saw simply ignored the signs.

From the Garden we made our way down to Cut Through Lane and up past 'China House' to an unmade footpath we had not used before which took us along the edge of the campus beside the Lenton Abbey council estate to Woodside Road and a No.36 bus to Devonshire Promenade. We then went to see a neighbour for a chinwag and tea. She also gave us organic ginger and dark chocolate biscuits, which at our age is nearly as good as making love and was the perfect end to an afternoon out and we never left Lenton — what more could one want?

A revolution in the way organs are donated for transplant has been called for by the government's chief medical officer as concern grows over the acute shortage of donors and the rise in unnecessary deaths.


Rosie said...

Sounds like a lovely walk and Susan being with you is good news as that probably means that the worst of her cold is over. I read a review of that exhibition and thought that it sounded good - glad you enjoyed it. I like the stone sculpture too. I'd meant to comment on your last post as it was so cheering to see the lovely fragile snowdrops:)
Take care

My profile link said...

Heya Grandad,
My chick didnt actuallu exist :(
anyway, I can totally understand reservations about disections and stuff, and although I havent actually done one of them yet, it is a neccessary to becoming a Veterinary Surgeon, sorry.
Anyway, It's good to know you're still reading my mindless blog.
Love ya both lots
Laura xxxx