Getting the Long View of Politics and Life In and After Politics
Twenty-seven members of Exeter U3A attended this talk on 14th January, 2015. The speakers were Alan Lee Williams, who was the Labour MP for Hornchurch throughout the 70s and thereafter moved into work with the English Speaking Union and the Atlantic Council, also specialising in Defence. His co-presenter was Sir John Hannam, who was the Conservative member for Exeter from 1970 to 1997 and has a particular interest in disability rights and in cultural issues.
Both of these sharp-witted octogenarians now belong to an organisation called The Former MPs Outreach Association and are holding discussions to inform and encourage more people to re-engage with politics. They would especially like younger people to enter the debate on important issues or even to embark upon a political career, but they are also addressing the wider cynical public who have become disillusioned with party politics and with politicians in general.
It was an intriguing session, providing insight into motivations, opportunities and opinions within the Westminster world and liberally laced with fascinating historical titbits and entertaining anecdotes. At the end we had a chance to pose those questions we had always wanted to ask - providing we could summon up the nerve to speak out!
I am thoroughly enjoying this series of talks at the University and would happily attend at least one a week for the sheer pleasure of being a student again. I can feel my flagging brain cells reawakening to
the joy of active interest and curiosity! I know we would all like to thank Bertram, Maggie and Carol for organising U3A members' participation and thanks also go to the enthusiastic and immensely likeable Dr Claire Dunlop, Senior Lecturer in Politics, for reciprocating on behalf of Exeter University.
'You are as Old as Your Genes!', 23rd January 2015
Thirty-six members of Exeter U3A attended this talk by Professor Lorna Harries.
Increasing age is associated with most common, chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. 'Healthspan' is not the same as 'lifespan'. Different people age at different rates and this is influenced by such factors as exercise, diet and genes.
When switched on, genes send messages (RNA) to cells to make various proteins e.g. insulin. Diseased or old cells may have different genes switched on, and research at Exeter has found that only 7 out of 1060 groups of genes were switched on differently between old and young people. Five of these genes can be used to predict 'biological age' with 96% accuracy.
By looking at the number and types of messages that are produced from our genes as we age, we may be more able to understand age-related diseases and ultimately to extend 'healthspan'.
Our members were keen to ask questions and afterwards Lorna said to me "I can honestly say that I rarely encounter such an engaged and motivated audience."
How Germany remembers its Nazi Past: Museums and Museum Objects,
13th February 2015
Forty-two members of Exeter U3A attended this thought-provoking illustrated lecture by Professor Chloe Paver about National Socialism seen through German museums and their exhibits since the Second World War.
Immediately after the was, there was a 'silence.' People were possibly too close to the trauma to confront their immediate past, so they chose to look forward rather than back. Nowadays, every county has several museums or permanent exhibitions about the Nazi era, displaying items such as the typewriters used in Bremen to process Jewish people, or a collection of wooden coat hangers from a Jewish department store, Landauer. These hangers remind us not just of the missing coats and tailors but also of someone's business seized under 'Aryanisation', part of National Socialist legislation after 1933, and of the ramifications: who took over the business? who made coats after that? where did people shop instead?
One pair of chandeliers from a former synagogue that were stolen on Kristallnacht were recently handed back to the local council after decorating someone's sitting room all these years. Did the owners know their provenance and hence what they represented?
We came away pondering how a nation comes to terms with atrocities in its past (e.g. us and slavery) and about possessions and the dispossessed; objects and the shadows they leave behind.
The European Union: Myths and Evidence Discussion, 27th March 2015
Seventy-five members attended this talk which followed on from a highly successful one on myths about Health and Safety. It was delivered with a combination of charm and erudition by our hosts and was followed by a delicious buffet lunch.
After a welcome from Associate Professor Claire Dunlop, we filled out questionnaires on our opinion of the EU, before she introduced the first speaker, Professor Claudio Radaelli, Director of the Centre for European Governance and holder of Chairs in both Political Economics and Politics.
Professor Radaelli gave us a brief outline of the history of the EU from its beginnings in post-war Europe to the present day. He then handed over to Elisabeth Sweeney. Following a twenty-seven year career in the political and administrative secretariats of the European Parliament, Elisabeth is now based in the Information Office of the European Parliament in London. She presented a wide-ranging analysis of common misconceptions and myths about the EU and suggested various ways of finding reliable information. Questions were then invited and Professor Radaelli and Ms Sweeney provided detailed and insightful answers to a long series of questions on all aspects of the EU.
The Galen Roadshow Workshops, 17th and 24th April 2015
Two workshops on consecutive Fridays in April at Exeter University were facilitated by John Wilkins, Professor of Classic and Ancient History, and attended by over 30 Exeter U3A members. The topic was “Galen”, the great physician of antiquity (2nd Cent. AD) who, in Prof. Wilkins words “systemised Hippocratic medicine and provided the basis of Western & Islamic medicine up until the mid 1800's”.
In the first workshop we discussed Galen's view of the four humours and what he termed the 'six non naturals' – air & environment, exercise & rest, sleep, physiological balance and mental well-being, and followed this up in the second workshop by looking at how Galen's holistic approach to well-being may be used in the 21st Century to head off predicted levels of obesity, heart disease, depression and diabetes in the future. The second session was particularly stimulating, helped no doubt, by a selection of foods handed around for U3A members to pass judgement on. Both workshops were fascinating and imbued with much humour and laughter all round.
Mood Disorder Centre THINK-TANK SEMINAR, 8th May 2015
The Mood Disorder Centre, part of University of Exeter, invited a small number of U3A members to this seminar. The event offered an opportunity for the seventeen members who attended to hear from a variety of academics within the School of Psychology about their current cutting edge research. This was then followed by an opportunity to meet a number of the academics within the department to talk more informally.
We were so fortunate to hear from five academic leaders in their field of research covering the following areas:
Professor Linda Clare: Research programme aimed to improve the lives of older people and people with dementia through promoting well-being, preventing or reducing age-related disability and dementia, and improving rehabilitation and care.
Professor Manuela Barreto: A social psychologist whose work focuses on identity, belonging, and well-being. She is interested in how people negotiate their own sense of self with how others see them and how this impacts social interactions and individual well-being.
Dr Anna Adlam: Research focuses on understanding the relationships between working memory/executive control and mood disorders (e.g., depression), and developing and evaluating treatments.
Dr Thomas Morton: Research concerned with issues of self and identity, how these are shaped by experiences of social inclusion or exclusion, and the consequences of this for individual health and well-being.
Dr David Llewellyn: Research focuses upon the lifestyle, clinical and genetic risk factors for dementia and strategies to improve the diagnostic pathway.
It is hoped that a range of opportunities for engaged research opportunities will open up to our members who might be interested. The whole atmosphere of the two hour session was very positive and it soon became clear that the majority of those presenting have a high regard for U3A both nationally and locally; only two of the five were new to the U3A ethos and practice.
Future opportunities of this type will be open to all members.
(See Mood Disorders Centre in Links)
You are as Old as Your Genes!', 29th May 2015
Thirty-six members attended this talk, which was a a repeat of the talk held on the 23rd January. It has been encouraging to see such a high demand for this event and again Lorna commented to me about the high degree of engagement of the audience.
“Listening to Patients”, 18th June 2015
This lecture was part of an inaugural lecture series and provided an insight into some of the ground-breaking work at the University of Exeter Medical School’s Institute of Health Research. I attended as a member of the Exeter U3A and the Unversity of Exeter Liaison Team and an active Patient Voice in the Exeter area.
We are so fortunate to have Prof Rose McCabe and Prof Jose M. Valderas working in their particular fields of research which it is hoped will guide doctor training in key ways, recognizing that skilled, quality communication can prove to be even more powerful than drugs.
Rose McCabe, Professor of Clinical Communication: gave a lively and engaging presentation entitled “Words are the most powerful drug” where she explored the structure and effectiveness of communication in mental health care whilst Jose M Valderas, Professor of Health Services and Policy Research: offered to us an insight into his research which is focused “Towards truly patient centred care in General Practice”
Jose M Valderas is an academic GP committed to developing the evidence base for health services that deliver what patients need.
German History Museums
A small group is continuing to work with Professor Chloe Paver and her assistant, Charlotte Drohan, on the project to produce attractive and accessible website information for British tourists about a variety of German historical museums. In June, we were invited back for a progress report on the work that had been done so far for The German—Russian Museum, Karlshorst, Berlin, the focus of the first meeting last autumn. There was also the chance to see photos of some of the fascinating exhibits in the Central Museum of the Danube Swabians, which recorded the movements of German people into Eastern Europe in the eighteenth century and their subsequent return in 1944. There is a wealth of really interesting historical, social and cultural material in lesser-known museums such as this, which are off the usual tourist track. It was interesting to compare the different approaches taken by museums in terms of the most appropriate method of handling their materials. Some give high priority to everyday, family and personal objects, such as significant articles of clothing, which everyone can relate to. By contrast, the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism emphasises the importance of written documents, taking an objective, impersonal and factual approach in presenting its
materials, which is equally successful in making an impact on the visitor.
Wave-particle duality', 3rd August 2015
Forty-two of us attended the meeting on ‘Wave-particle duality and the frightening consequences’ given by Prof Roy Sambles, FRS. It was an amazing talk which provided food for thought to all – those with little previous understanding of ‘light – electromagnetic radiation’ and to those who thought that they had some understanding. The talk included ideas from Isaac Newton via Thomas Young and on to Albert Einstein.
This all makes it sound so dry and in no way was the talk that. We kept ‘soap’ bubbles in the air to look at their amazing colours so that we could understand how the hydrophilic / hydrophobic nature of the ‘soap’ enables a very thin double skin to the bubble, where interference (wave theory) provides some explanation of the colours. We also saw the two paths of light through calcite which helped Newton to propose a particle theory of light (the light beam being pushed to one side by the crystal structure). We saw diffraction patterns off a DVD surface from a laser (wave theory once more).
Also Young’s slits – where a beam of light passing through 2 slits forms an interference pattern (light and dark stripes).
Then we had our minds stretched by ideas of single photons/electrons (particles) arriving at one of the slits that appear to be ‘aware’ of the other slit, so that, as individuals, they form a light and dark pattern. Thus do all particles have an ‘awareness’ of all of space?
I wish that I could do justice to his talk. His ability to interact with our questions as he went along was just fantastic!! Thank you to all the Liaison team for enabling us to be stretched and feel so alive.
Exeter Clinical Skills Event, 12th August 2015
Twenty members of Exeter U3A joined the clinical skills staff of the Peninsula Medical School to find out how we can get involved in helping to train the doctors of the future. Dr Karen Mattick, Programme Director, introduced us to the curriculum and teaching ethos of the Bachelors degrees in both medicine and surgery, whilst Naomi Johnston, Clinical Skills Tutor, told us how the clinical skills work fits in to the rest of a medical student’s timetable. In layman’s terms, clinical skills work involves putting ‘theory into practice’. Medical students also have to work on communication skills so that they may sensitively and effectively work with patients. Interested members of Exeter U3A would be engaged in a voluntary capacity to support the students’ learning in several ways; for example in the development of their video resources where we could be involved in a ‘patient’ role.
We were given a tour of their very impressive facilities – and it was easy for a Casualty or a Holby City fan to get an idea of what happens behind the scenes, particularly in the use of very lifelike –and technologically controlled ‘mannequins’!
During the morning U3A members were provided with wonderful refreshments - including croissants, fresh fruit and muffins – with quite a few left over – I wonder if some of our members felt a little squeamish after our tour!
It was a fascinating morning with plenty of areas for discussion and we agreed that as ‘users’ of the NHS services, we were very glad that this sort of training is going on in modern medical schools in universities.We hope to be involved in another session like this either next year or over the next few months and I would certainly urge you to take the opportunity to find out what sort of excellent work is going on in the Peninsula Medical School.
The 1960s Revisited, 2nd September 2015
'If you can remember the 60s, you weren't there!'
This old putdown proved true for many of us who attended the workshop at the university on 'The 1960s Revisited'. It was led by Hannah Charnock and Lynda Pooley, both PhD students who are are using oral history to examine the myths that have built up around the period. The very interesting overviews they gave us of their research findings on sexual behaviour and youth culture related to some of our own experiences. Our memories of the decade were strong - we became adults then - but perhaps, like many of their informants, we were not 'there' at the swinging centre where the myths were made, where love was free and drugs were abundant. Still, it was good to learn that even Exeter had its youth 'scene' then and that the Clock Tower and City Arcade were at the heart of this swinging city!
Hannah Arendt, 26th October 2015
Dr Andrew Schaap of the Department of Politics introduced and then showed a 2012 film about Hannah Arendt, a German-born Jewish philosopher and political theorist, who escaped to America in 1941 and took American citizenship ten years later.
Her major philosophical work is The Origins of Totalitarianism, which she wrote in 1959, but the film centred on Arendt's response to the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, which she volunteered to cover for the New Yorker. Her writing on the trial became controversial for its depiction of both Eichmann and the Jewish councils and for its introduction of her now-famous concept 'the banality of evil'. The film also showed aspects of Hannah's personal life and the effect of her writing on some of her closest Jewish friends.
For many of us it was a first encounter with the work and thought of Hannah Arendt and the concepts were difficult and challenging. It is no easy thing, I imagine, to make a film about a 'thinker' and to keep your audience engaged throughout, but for more than two hours we remained in thrall. When the film was over, the spontaneous buzz of discussion and exchanges, which broke out in the lecture theatre was testament to how thought provoking and stimulating we had found it. Many of us will continue to mull over the complex and subtle moral issues raised for a long time to come. But that's philosophy for you!
The Family Class, 5th November 2015
There are many foreign students studying or researching at Exeter University and many of these visitors from overseas are accompanied by a spouse. Because these wives and husbands do not necessarily have a good command of English, their lives in a strange country can be quite lonely and difficult. For this reason, the University gives them the opportunity to attend English conversation classes twice a week and it was to one of these sessions that U3A members were invited.
About 10 of us attended and, after a few suggestions about areas we might like to cover (hobbies, customs of our countries etc.), we were each introduced to a small group of 3 or 4. Once the ice was broken with an exchange of names, we had no trouble in finding fascinating topics of conversation, from Guy Fawkes to education. We were particularly interested to hear how much their children enjoyed English schools, mainly because they had less homework here than in their own country!
We found all the students were most enthusiastic and very pleased to be able to speak to ‘ordinary’ English people. We, in our turn, were treated to an outsider’s view of English life. This made us think about, and be grateful for, the many things we take for granted in Exeter: our excellent transport system and our Senior Bus Passes and free bus travel anywhere in Britain.
We really felt it was a most enjoyable and rewarding experience and we hope we will have the opportunity to repeat it sometime in the future.
Sweet genes – a talk on the Genomics of Diabetes, 23rd November 2015
Having explained the genetics of ageing to us earlier this year, Lorna Harries, Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University Medical School has turned our attention to the complex group of diseases called diabetes mellitus. A group of 35 Exeter U3A members attended her talk. Lorna described diabetes as a 'genetic mixed bag' - people with some forms of the illness are more affected by their body's response to sugar and insulin, than to a range of small genetic changes. However there are two forms of Type 2 diabetes which arise solely from a single mutation in one gene. These are MODY – maturity onset diabetes of the young – and neonatal diabetes.
The numbers of people affected are comparitively small – in MODY 1 -2% of all Type 2 diabetes, and in newborns, a handful. Yet the effects are devastating. Occurring in young people, and not associated with obesity, both diseases are often mistaken for Type 1 diabetes; patients are started on a life-long course of insulin to regulate their blood sugar, a treatment which requires constant monitoring. The genetic mutation in neonatal diabetes also affects brain and muscle cells, leading to learning difficulties and mobility problems.
Lorna's department is now a world-wide centre of excellence for research into MODY and neonatal diabetes. Investigating the locations of the mutations on these single genes, her team and their associates discovered that patients could respond to a drug called sulphonylurea - already an existing treatment for Common Type 2 diabetes. Instead of directly regulating blood sugar, this drug acts on a specific process in the pancreas, stimulating insulin production. Some of the patients in their trials had been using 5 insulin injections a day and yet became effectively diabetes-free. Others were sceptical that simple tablets could replace their insulin regime and at first refused to take them! A world-wide network of nurses has been set up, both to support patients and to raise the awareness of health professionals, as there are specific ways these conditions can be diagnosed correctly. All babies under 6 months old presenting with 'Type 1 ' diabetes world-wide were screened and 300 were found to have neonatal diabetes and started on the tablets.
Professor Harries makes her highly complex field accessible and fascinating, conveying her enthusiasm for the research process itself, as well as her excitement at the results. She is very generous with her time, answering numerous questions, and says she appreciates having an intelligent audience! Another enjoyable and thought-provoking morning, thanks to Lorna and our University Liaison team.
Greek Comedy for the over 18s, 14th December 2015
A talk by Professor John Wilkins
Twenty seven members, some of whom had attended sessions on Galen earlier this year, attended this talk and most joined in, making it a very interactive session.
Prof Wilkins introduced the subject by asking us for definitions of both drama and comedy – bringing out a variety of responses. He explained that early Greek comedy had a lot of what people might see as toilet humour and hoped no one would be offended. He opened by asking if anyone knew Aristotle's Poetics 1449a, which included drama, comedy, tragedy and the satyr plays. The word tragedy, from the Greek tragodia literally means 'goat song'. tragos, meaning "goat" and oide, meaning "song". The art form tragedy probably arose from a ritual incantation over the sacrificial slaughter of an animal.
Aristophanes’ comediesused ridicule and buffoonery to attack the state. Gods, artists, politicians and ordinary citizens were legitimate targets of comedy. This is what is termed "old comedy" and was around in the 4th century. New comedy came later, with Menander.However, there are also stories of rape and incest (something which we all found difficult to understand as being funny).
So old comedy in the 4th century, through the works of Aristophanes was high-spirited, composed of personal invective and outspoken political criticism, whereas in the 3rd century Menander's comedy became a lot more sedate, full of intrigue and mistaken identities, much more like Shakespeare. After the Peloponnesian War old (slapstick) comedy became marked: there was a sense of disillusionment with the heroes and gods who went before; the political climate was quite grim and it wouldn't have been possible to poke fun at authority in the same way as before.
A fascinating insight – and another enjoyable morning with Professor John Wilkins.
Lesley Churchill-Birch and Carol McCullough