Thursday, 8 November 2012

Healthy Escapism…

Posted by Sara McCafferty

My mother lent me a book at the weekend, her only sales pitch: ‘it’s a little high brow for me’.

On the one hand this hardly encouraged me to read it, a novel – I hardly have time for novels at the minute – I am in the, somewhat dreaded, ‘writing up phase’, so the last thing I feel like doing after a long day at the office is more reading. On the other hand, my (healthy) competitive nature spurred me on to at least pick it up: my mother is not one to easily admit defeat, nor is she lacking academic qualification herself.

Without going into the whole plot, for one I haven’t finished yet, for another you can find a synopsis of the book here, the author (who has a background in economics and psychology) essentially describes how the world would be if she ran it, in the modestly named ‘Darcy’s Utopia’.

Fay Weldon's Darcy's Utopia
Now I was interested – you see, these sorts of things tick over constantly in my mind, (not running the world specifically, I am not some sort of power crazed junkie), more generally how should we best make things work? Granted, not just how anything works…mainly with regard to health, and probably the NHS. How can we stop people eating ‘junk’ food? How can we get people to exercise more? Should we provide gastric band surgery on the NHS? If people were happier would we have better health? When is down to personal responsibility? How should we organise the NHS? Does policy work?...the list goes on.

This is something that they* didn’t warn me about before I embarked on a PhD. When you spend so much of your time critiquing articles and exploring concepts, you are required to ask a lot of questions. [How does that sit with x? Isn’t that in conflict with y? Is that not dependent on a range of other conditions being present? Can you really illustrate that this is a causal link?] Coupled with considerable quest to provide a solution, or at least an adequate attempt to address your thesis question**, this is a powerful concoction that seemingly conditions one’s mind to adopt a position of continually questioning. Sometimes the questions themselves are circular, which can result in many hours whiled away in procrastination. This is true for me at least, and I have been known to drive friends and family slightly barmy over a glass of wine, when I am floundering around in the ‘big questions’, provoking them to join me in at least proffering solutions, when really they would much rather discuss frivolities of ‘Downton Abbey’, or ‘X-Factor’.

Aside from the implications of a reduced quality socialising on a Friday night, a more pressing implication is the need to find a way to ‘switch off’. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, I have found marathon training a really useful endeavour to help me run away with my thoughts for an hour or two and return centred and all out of questions. It is, however, Newcastle and winter, thus running, at least outdoors, in the dark and rain is quickly becoming an unfeasible option.

As such, I am very grateful for the loan of said novel which has reawakened me to the joys of fiction, helps me to switch off, and all this can be done whilst curled up snugly indoors – result!

*who this elusive ‘they’ applies to is not quite clear, however it must remain in order for me to devoid myself of personal responsibility for fully identifying all the pros and cons pre-PhD registration.

**this may of course change, to be more in line with the solution that you have actually unearthed over the course of your research.


  1. Yeah yeah, this is all very well and good, but did you catch Downton on Sunday?!

  2. Absolutely spot on for the need to switch off. Balancing work within the NHS, part time PhD and young children, the days of the week for me roll into each other swiftly and its the weekend. I also find reading a good method for relaxing, or a game of snooker.

  3. Thanks for you comments. @Peter no I didn't but perhaps you can brief me over lunch, and I will be better positioned for weekend socialising. @Hashum, I can only imagine that having young children further dictates when one is able or allowed to switch off!