Friday, 30 March 2018

Sprains and strains and darkest hours

Keswick's Alhambra cinema
In my early twenties I visited the Alhambra – the fortified Moorish palace built between 1248 and 1354 near the Andalusian city of Granada. Of course, the grandeur and majesty of the place was impressive but my abiding memory of my visit was pain and exhaustion after climbing the hill in the heat with a swollen (or possibly sprained) ankle. I soaked a towel in a fountain to use as a cold compress for my foot as we rested up on the ancient ramparts.

Now I'm in my mid-fifties and, on a visit last month to the Lake District, I somehow managed to injure my knee at the start of a week's walking holiday. So, once again, I found myself nursing a sprain or strain of some sort at The Alhambra ...this time The Alhambra Cinema in Keswick, one of the few cinemas in the UK to have been in continuous operation for over 100 years, since it first opened in 1914.

We had gone to see The Darkest Hour (which has since deservedly won a couple of Oscars.) The film, in case it's passed you by, is about Winston Churchill, ineffectual government, the threat of invasion and the power of rhetoric. While the story is part-myth, part-fantasy, part-history, The Darkest Hour resonated with me because it feels we are once again living through dark times, contending with tyrannical forces threatening the world's tenuous hold on peace and freedom while our hapless politicians struggle to produce memorable soundbites, never mind speeches that might capture the mood of the nation.

Thomas Carlyle
Later, In the Oxfam bookshop in Keswick, I happen upon a Collins Illustrated Pocket Classic edition of Thomas Carlyle's 1841 book On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History. Originally retailing for one shilling, I pick up my copy for a mere £2.99. I reference Carlyle – the Victorian philosopher and essayist – in my new book Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice, in a chapter called Creative Approaches to Learning and Leadership. Carlyle is credited with creating the so-called Great Man Theory of leadership, of which Churchill is often cited as a classic example. If the idea that history provides great men to lead us in our darkest hours is a questionable one, it remains an attractive and compelling myth, from King Arthur's Camelot to The Darkest Hour. Yet, we all know it is the ordinary men and women, like the character of Churchill's secretary, Elizabeth Layton, and the passengers Churchill meets on the London Underground in The Darkest Hour, who help make peace and freedom possible.

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).