“Meet you at the statue in an hour”

A poem for my wife Sian. Written 10th November 2016:

Thank you:
For meeting me (we are part of serendipity)
‘at the statue in an hour’
(more than serendipity)

Thank you:
For marrying me (we are part of serendipity)
We are arresting in our togetherness
(more than serendipity)

Thank you:
For being there for a temperamental artist
We are all scientists!
(more than serendipity)

Thank you:
For your beauty (beyond serendipity)
I have no sky without Cimbrone

Thank you:
Our world together.

The Temple of Decision

When I chatted with Onesiphorus yesterday in the “Temple of Decision” he asked me if ethics had perhaps been overlooked by rather too much of “modern science”?

Yesterday I chatted with Onesiphorus from omphalos on Vimeo.

“I wish to be independent”

The latest film by Omphalos is a “two culture” film. There are of course many more  than two cultures, as Ian Hamilton Finlay rightly pointed out:


This film is for James Sheridan Knowles. Thanks go to Hale Bopp, the teddy bear, for ‘dropping by’ this auld doctor, playwright and artist.

Only the grave from omphalos on Vimeo.

“The art grows larger and the science grows smaller as I think about it”

Unfortunately I could not make this recent conference. This debate was one that I had wished to attend. I have debated with Professor Alistair Burns before: however it was the subject of this particular debate, given the philosophy behind Hole Ousia, that captured my interest:Science has little placeI have just come across this most thoughtful reflection, following the debate by Professor Susan Benbow, Chair of the Ethics Committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: CropperCapture[1]CropperCapture[2]CropperCapture[3]And here is a reply to Professor Susan Benbow by Dr Dave Jolley:CropperCapture[4] CropperCapture[5] CropperCapture[6] CropperCapture[7] CropperCapture[8]I may have missed this conference debate but this communication between two colleagues heartens me enormously.

An Interview

For the first time in 13 years I attended a job interview. I had feedback after my interview which indicated that the panel had felt I was “too personal” in my manner and that the panel had wanted me to be more emphatic: to give crystallised answers to the complex questions asked.

It occurs to me that the two areas of feedback I received return to the use of language. This is an aspect of self.

I am proud of my self.

I am of the view that an effective medical practitioner should be true to himself. I prefer not to play-act a professional role. My view is that being true to oneself is important to healing. Others agree with me: Psychiatric Bulletin, August 2014: “Openness, transparency and candour”


Reflecting today, many months on from my interview, I am wondering if my experience presents another example of a cultural shift in the “professional” use of language?

At my interview I may not have been attune to the current language of healthcare. Equally possible, perhaps it was the interview panel that struggled to attune to my language that has developed in my wider reading of science, in medical humanities and in the arts.

Whatever may be the case, I am of the view that we must be careful in categorising language as “pathological”. This is because what may be determined to be “pathological” may not be the same for all people. I have come to appreciate that the cultures of Arts and Sciences, for example, may approach our use of language quite differently.

“Pathological” language: on what basis and decided by who?

This post is about our use of language.

Recently I made a film called “language is the dwelling place of being” about the poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay who is recognised as one of Scotland’s most internationally renowned poet’s.

Language is the dwelling place of Being from omphalos on Vimeo.

In his letters, Ian Hamilton Finlay describes, without fondness, several periods in hospital. Ian Hamilton Finlay’s earlier periods of psychiatric hospitalisation were described in “Selections” by his son Alec.

In middle to late life, but not right up to the end, Ian Hamilton Finlay lived his life in exile, in his kingdom of “Little Sparta”


Hamilton Finlay was an artist and wordsmith. His ideas were conceptualised in the form that he termed “concrete poetry” which he defined as: “a model of order, even if set in a place full of doubt”

Hamilton Finlay’s creative ability with language developed into a whole new form of language as an art form in itself. Such ideas, explored with other poets and artists were developed in Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. a journal published by Finlay.


I have often wondered what my colleagues in psychiatry made of Ian Hamilton Finlay. My suspicion is that they might have designated his language as “pathological” I say this as I was taught in my medical training that “language disorder” can be a cardinal feature of mental illness. Indeed in psychotic illnesses, one form of this “disorder” is described as “loosening of associations” and another form, the making of new words “neologisms”. I once heard an eminent professor and his wife, who had met R D Laing at a conference, say “well we think he was mad, he used to Clang a lot”. To Clang is another form of “pathology” and is defined as: “a mode of speech characterized by association of words based upon sound rather than concepts”

Hamilton Finlay used to describe his garden “not as a retreat but an attack”. I now wonder if he was attacking the “pathological” view of psychiatry and/or medical reductionism. If this is the case, I for one, welcome Hamilton Finlay’s attack.


A year or two back, I attended an NHS meeting that had a mixture of senior medical staff and senior managers. I struggled at this meeting to follow some of the language of medical and managerial discourse. I gave up trying to understand and thus simply recorded (as much as I could bear) the language used in the meeting:

“Sign-off the work done to date and migrate into RAG report”

“We need to use the same mapping & gapping analysis”

“It is all about generic input with cognizance of those factors that tie-in to the Work Plan or GAP analysis that we have agreed in the Improvement Team. I am happy to populate that.

Below is a short extract of text from Julian Barnes novel “Talking it over”odd-word

I would argue that this sort of language could also be considered “pathological” but those at the meeting would surely resist any label of “mental illness”.

My own pet-hates are mechanical metaphors which are now everywhere in “healthcare improvement work”: toolboxes, dashboards, kits, route maps etc. These words imply that we can be treated as machines.

I am wondering if the language of my profession is changing to become more detached.