In our sixth and final episode of season 4, guests Rose Meikle and Gavin Francis talk about changing landscapes, living through history and capturing memories.
Rose is a first year Sociology student from Stirling, studying at the University of Edinburgh. When she isn't in online lectures, Rose enjoys watching movies with her flatmates ... all 11 of them!
Gavin is a GP and writer based in Edinburgh. He studied Medicine at the University, graduating in 1999. Having spent ten years of his life travelling the world, much of Gavin’s writing has been influenced by his experiences, including his first book, True North: Travels in Arctic Europe (2008) and Empire Antarctica (2012). In his most recent publication, Intensive Care: A GP, a community & COVID-19 (2021), Gavin gives a personal account of his experiences of working as a GP throughout the pandemic in both Edinburgh and on Orkney.
Season 4 is all about student voices. Each episode features a student in conversation with a member of the wider community. Sharing experiences and finding unexpected common ground.
Subscribe now for University of Edinburgh community exploration and really good chat.
You can find more information on the Sharing things website.
Kate 0:05 Welcome to season four of Sharing things. Lots of things have happened, and kinda nothing's happened. We're still recording remotely, but there's a new host. I'm Kate, your guide and conversation wrangler. In this episode, I meet Gavin and Rose. And you know what? I might start writing a journal.
Kate 0:29 Hello Gavin and Rose. Thanks so much for joining us today for this episode of Sharing things. If you could both just quickly say a little bit about yourself so that you're not complete strangers talking to each other.
Gavin 0:40 Go for it Rose.
Rose 0:41 Em hi, I'm Rose. I am a first year studying Sociology and currently in student accommodation in Edinburgh. And I'm from Stirling in Scotland, about 45 minutes away.
Gavin 0:55 Okay, I'm Gavin. I am a GP and a writer and I studied at Edinburgh oh 25 years ago now. And I'm originally from Fife.
Kate 1:04 And where are you at the moment Gavin?
Gavin 1:05 I'm in South Queensferry.
Kate 1:12 I had asked you both before the recording to think about an object that you would want to bring along with you. So I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about what you brought with you today.
Rose 1:22 Um I brought this little book. I bought it for myself as a little 18th birthday present. Em and [unintelligible] so you just have a space for like, each day, you just fill in the year and there's five spaces. So there's like 365 pages. And it started on my 18th birthday, which was back in September. And hopefully it'll go on. And it kind of actually works out quite well because I turned 18 two weeks before I moved to uni. So it kind of lines up quite well with following all of uni as well as my age.
Gavin 1:57 And are you erm-- are you jotting down like a diary or a journal?
Rose 2:01 I kind of write what I did that day. A lot of it is I sat at my desk all day. And then I watched a film with my flatmates. That's a lot of what-- [laughs]. It can get a bit repetitive but I kind of-- one of my friends had one through secondary school and I tried to copy her and I could just never do it, I could never get into it. And I thought like, okay, this is the time to actually try and do it because I have the worst memory, like I never remember anything and my friend who did it like can, can pull out a book and be like, 'Okay, well, when we were in third year of high school, on this Monday in March, we did this'. I would never be able to remember anything like that and she has all these like memories of fun things that I've completely forgotten ever happened. So just things like that, anything that I think was important that day, I just want to write down.
Kate 2:51 So would you say use it more to record like events that happened?
Rose 2:56 Yeah, yeah. It's not always very interesting but yeah just saying, like, what I did, how I felt saying like here I'm talking about it was my last lectures, how I felt about that.
Kate 3:09 Why do you think it's important to record?
Rose 3:12 Like I said, I have a terrible memory [laughs]. I really struggle to remember anything and I started a similar thing on my 17th birthday. I downloaded an app 'One second every day' and I've taken a second every day since that point, and I really liked it but a lot of the time-- and I still do it, but a lot of the time it's just like a clip of my desk or the TV show that I was watching or a lot of the time it's my cat [laughs]. But it's kind of nice to be able to actually write what I've done and I quite like that kind of thing of writing it down, especially if I've had like a really big day. A lot of the time I don't do it every single evening. Sometimes I'll leave it for like a week and then it's quite nice to sit and reflect on everything I've done the last week and think about, I had this, how did I feel like this and it's just kind of a nice way to do it. And sometimes I do it every day and sometimes I forget and either way it's nice to just reflect and then also be able to look back on it.
Gavin 4:15 Yeah, I mean, it seems like a great idea, particularly this year of all years to give yourself a some kind of memorial of this horrendous year. You know, the year in which you were-- you know turned 18, moved away from home, moved in with flatmates. Did you know your flatmates before you moved in? Or were they all a surprise?
Rose 4:33 No, I was very surprised by all of my flatmates. Erm I have 11 flatmates...
Gavin 4:39 Oh wow.
Rose 4:40 Which isn't something that I had ever heard of before. All of my friends from like years above and stuff had all been in flats of like four, five and six, and I got added to the group chat from Facebook and there was 11 other people. It's pretty cool because out of 11 only like four of us are from the UK. It's nice to kind of be able to-- and also like looking back on things like freshers week and reading like how we all like, got to know each other and how kind of-- obviously with 12 people like groups form and like, how we all kind of became friends in different ways, over different periods of time and I'm able to like, they don't remember that much but I can tell you.
Gavin 5:18 And um which em-- can you see which part of the university accommodation has got these massive flats? 12 people?
Rose 5:26 It's Kincaid's Court. It's one of the accommodations on the Cowgate.
Gavin 5:29 Right okay, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Kate 5:31 How many fridges are in the kitchen for 11 people?
Rose 5:35 We have three fridges, two cookers, we have two of most things, two sinks, two kettles, two microwaves, a very, very big living room. It's actually quite nice because we have like a separate, I mean they're all in the same room but there's kind of like a wall dividing the kitchen and the living room, which most student accommodation kind of doesn't even have a sofa, and we have a sofa, we have a big table, we have plenty of space, and then also a massive kitchen. So there are a lot of people and it is very messy, but we do actually have more space than you would think.
Gavin 6:07 And had you travelled a lot when you were younger or was it quite a surprise meeting people from all over the world? Was that something new to you?
Rose 6:13 I feel like I have travelled quite a bit. My parents met when they were both like backpacking. They met in Peru, and my dad's from Edinburgh and my mum is from Australia. They kind of met while they were travelling so then we travelled a lot. And I used to live in Australia so I've kind of been back and forth between the two countries. So I feel like yeah, it wasn't like a massive kind of surprise for me. Em it was just the amount of people I was like, not prepared for. But yeah, most of most of my flatmates are from European countries. So a lot of the countries I've like been to before like France and Spain.
Kate 6:51 And going back to the to the object. Gavin, did you ever write a diary? Or keep a journal?
Gavin 6:57 Oh yeah, I've got hundreds of them, yeah.
Kate 6:58 Oh, really?
Gavin 7:00 Yeah and I think I only really properly started it when I was in first year as well. I've got a similar kind of a diary with spaces for every day, and it's hilarious looking back on what I was up to in first year. Well, you know, I was in first year in 1993. So it was-- seems like a very long time ago now. Yeah, I guess most aspects of student life haven't changed that much except we didn't have mobile phones. But everything else is probably pretty much the same. We didn't have email addresses for a while either, email came in quite near the end [laughs].
Rose 7:36 I mean, hopefully, I'll get the proper uni experience, I've not really left my flat that much but...
Gavin 7:41 I know, I really feel for you guys this year, it's very hard. And I can see that it was a dilemma to decide whether to just postpone the whole thing or just to get on with it and do it and accept that this was going to be a really difficult year, it must have been a hard decision to make.
Rose 7:56 It was, it was very hard and then once I decided to go there was the other problem of deciding whether to move to Edinburgh or not, which, yeah, I mean, we've been in isolation twice so maybe it wasn't the best idea but I've had fun.
Gavin 8:11 Yeah, yeah and it's a big kind of a sort of big step in life isn't it, when you're 18 move away from home? You don't want to lose out on that too.
Rose 8:20 Yeah.
Kate 8:26 And Gavin, would you say that your diary back in the day was your first piece of writing?
Gavin 8:33 Oh, yeah, probably was actually yeah. So um, I did keep one very patchily when I was a teenager at high school but it was very kind of intermittent. And the only time I started keeping one regularly was when I went to-- went off to medical school. So that's, that's 28 years ago. If I look back now I've got shelf loads of these journals, things, but it's very patchy, you know, sometimes you can go 6, 7, 8 years, and just go through one book. And sometimes I go through a book a year, it depends what else has gone on in my life.
Kate 9:04 And would you say it was more about recording events? Or was it more of a sort of reflective journal?
Gavin 9:10 Yeah, I think much more reflective journal. Like if you look at it, if I look back on it now I see the passages of time where I had no-- where I made no entries in it were the times that I was frenetically busy and had no time to stop and reflect. And all the times when I start to write are when I actually have had time to sit down and think about what's happened to me, what I want to happen to me, the kind of things that interest me, follow my curiosities and my enthusiasms, that kind of thing so it's stayed with me, yeah, that habit.
Kate 9:46 Can you tell us a bit about the object that you brought with you today?
Gavin 9:50 Yeah, I brought a lovely old map of Europe from 1949. It came free with a copy of National Geographic in 1949 and we've got in my kitchen at home, I've got the modern map of Europe and North Africa and the Middle East, it's on one kind of frame. And that's up at home in the kitchen because often when I'm chatting with my wife and my kids, and we're talking about places or events or what's happening in the news, it's really handy always to have a big map there that you can point to. But this old 1949 one, I love it just because it shows that within the last 70 years how much Europe has changed a huge amount, but in some ways stayed very much the same. It gives a kind of, it gives me a kind of reminder of the continuity of Europe, you know, I'm one of these many people in Scotland who view Brexit as a disaster. And so I think it's a real shame that the kind of process of evolution that we've been on since 1949 has been kind of put in reverse. You know, it's really interesting, like 70 years ago you know so, my parents were born in the 40s, so this is within their lifetime, and yet, you know, Cyprus belongs to Britain, most of North Morocco belongs to Spain, Germany is still divided into an international zones, Jerusalem is governed by an international treaty, all these kinds of things show up on the map. And you think, wow, that's so different from the world we live in today, yet, it's within my parents' lifetime. So who knows what that map is gonna look like in another 70 years.
Kate 11:27 It looks like a very detailed map.
Gavin 11:29 Yeah, it's pretty detailed, there's, there's Jerusalem and Cyprus, you see the British and there's Spanish Morocco, that's what they called the bit of North Morocco that Spain governed. And ah Germany, you can see it's divided all the little flags of which countries were governing it, so Russia in the East, Britain in the Northwest, the United States in the Southeast, France in the Southwest, and similar with Austria. Yeah. So it's really-- it's interesting.
Kate 11:58 And how does it make you feel when you look at the map now?
Gavin 12:01 Kind of, well curious and fascinated, really. I don't think it depresses me, the negative changes since then. I think I try and look on it a little bit more objectively than that, it's a kind of reminder that the moment that we're living in, the political moment that we're living in, is just it is exactly that, it's just a moment and it's always changing. And who knows what it's going to be in the future, you know. I mean I'm sure for Rose's flatmates, who are-- loads of them are from all over EU countries that-- they'll have lots of fascinating perspectives on what's happening at the moment across Europe, you know. There's kind of redrawing of boundaries all over the place of what's-- what we want Europe to be, and presumably they came to Scotland for-- because they wanted to get an education in Edinburgh, I'd be interested in hearing a bit about that.
Rose 12:49 I think we have a lot of like, interesting conversations within the flat about like, politics and the difference in our countries and things like that, especially with the election coming up. There's only two people from Scotland that are currently in my flat because some of them haven't come back since Christmas, so they kind of come to us and they're like, what's going on with this election and things like that. And it's actually really interesting, cuz, like, I kind of told them that, oh you can watch debates and all this kind of stuff, because a lot of them don't even know they could vote, because some of them are first years and some of them are like Erasmus students, they're only here for a year. Like just things will pop up, where we talk about, like, sometimes just like, silly little things like I remember over Christmas we had a lot of arguments in the flat because in some countries they celebrate Christmas on what we think is Christmas Eve, and obviously we celebrate Christmas on our Christmas Day. It was big drama in the flat, like, when do you celebrate Christmas, just things like that, but it's so interesting, cuz I really have learned a lot that I wouldn't have learned otherwise. I learned this now but in the future similar to like, the map, like, if I ever I don't know, meet someone from Spain, like my flatmate in 30/40 years, I kind of see like the differences and what it's been like, because I know what it's like now but I don't know what it's gonna be like or what it has been like.
Gavin 14:05 And is that part of your interest in Sociology? Why did you decide to study Sociology?
Rose 14:10 I originally wanted to study Law but I decided that I didn't know if I actually wanted to be a lawyer. My dad actually suggested Sociology and I was quite lucky that he had a contact in the Sociology department here, so when I was in fifth year at high school I, like, just went to a lecture and that was really interesting, and I think that's the reason that I ended up applying.
Gavin 14:35 And what is it appeals to you about Sociology?
Rose 14:38 It's just really interesting to like, learn about like, why, and like how we are as a society. I really enjoyed history and I sometimes feel like I'm learning what I was learning in history, like the same kind of topics, but I'm learning about them now.
Kate 14:57 I was just thinking about your objects and sort of the links between them, because you mentioned about them having a moment in time. So Gavin, your map essentially shows a moment in time, and Rose, your journal is the same. So thinking about this past year, and you know, whatever is going to come from that, are you feeling positive about the moments that are to come?
Rose 15:18 That's very interesting actually, I was asked this in a lecture the other day. We were talking about in a Sociology lecture, 'are you positive about what's going to happen?' I think I am, a lot of things have been changing, like in the last month and stuff, like it's looking better.
Kate 15:31 What about you Gavin?
Gavin 15:33 Yeah, I think so. Yeah I feel like-- I mean, I think you have to really, because the alternative is after a year of misery and despair, so we have to look forward and see what a fantastic effect that the vaccinations are having in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of severity of illness. Should point out, Rose, I'm a GP in the University patch of the city, so I've been involved a lot in vaccinating most of our vulnerable elderly people and working in the mass vaccination centres. They're done to people in their early 50s, late 40s now, so work sort of clattering down, getting there through the, through the age groups. So I'm optimistic about that, that things are definitely going to open up and we're going to have a nicer summer. And I've just got my fingers crossed about the inevitable variate of mutations and the variants of the virus that are going to come out, that it evolves and mutates in a way that makes it much easier to deal with. Yeah, the problem with this virus has been so impossible to manage because it's got this terrible twin capacity to A be asymptomatic and loads of people so you can't spot who's got it and B affects a small proportion of people absolutely horrendously, while the majority actually shakes it off alright. And those two characteristics make it almost impossible to deal with because, you know, SARS One killed about ten percent of the people that had it back in 2002, but it was actually really easy to spot outbreaks so you could come down on them like a tonne of bricks, and it didn't really spread very far. Whereas this one, because it kills one or two percent of people and it is so often asymptomatic, you can't really spot outbreaks until they're already really well advanced, which makes it a real public health nightmare. So it is gonna evolve, it's going to mutate more, let's just hope it mutates in the right direction so that we can actually control it. So that's where my fingers are crossed, but from the point of view of Rose having a better year next year, I'm pretty optimistic.
Rose 17:31 I'm glad [laughs]. Yeah, I'm really hoping for a slightly more fun second year.
Gavin 17:37 Yeah, I just I don't teach at the Medical School very much, I just teach the first year modules on Health and Society. Normally, they come to my surgery, and we get tutorial groups of 10 or 12, and we sit and chat around lots of issues to do with health in the community, and I send them off in pairs to go and meet patients of mine in their homes, and all that's been impossible this year, and so we've been doing these tutorials by Zoom are by Teams, which is, you know, a poor substitute. How you treat-- how you teach community health, sitting in your halls of residence, as you know, Rose, can imagine is pretty difficult.
Rose 18:11 Yeah.
Gavin 18:12 But you know, so what, what I think the students have got this year is lots of really good theoretical grounding, but you know, you can't, you can't train to be a doctor sitting in your halls of residence so we need to get people out and into the community soon.
Kate 18:25 Do you think that the world has changed throughout all this?
Gavin 18:29 Oh, yeah, absolutely. Kind of cataclysmically really, I mean it's been horrendous, hasn't it? Really, really awful. And I think at this point in the year it's worthwhile, you know, really just a year since the first lockdown and we can all give ourselves a pat on the back, for getting through it. Remind yourself that rather than concentrating on all the immense difficulties we're still facing, to get on with what we do best as humans, which is kind of be gregarious and social. Just remind ourselves that whatever we've managed to achieve this year has been in the teeth of a pandemic, you know, so and kind of reward yourself and congratulate yourself for, for any achievement, no matter how minor, against these quite extraordinary odds that we've all had to face this year.
Kate 19:12 And Rose, I know that, you know, you've been keeping your, your journal throughout this and it may seem like when you're writing it, it's you know, you're sitting in your halls of residence, and it seems like it's the same thing, but do you think it will be important in the future to look back on that?
Rose 19:28 Yeah, definitely. I think that was another thing that kind of made me want to start it was not only was I going to uni and turning 18 but I was doing both of those things in a pandemic, which not that many people can say they've done. And, I mean, hopefully, we're the only year that have to experience that. So I think it kind of motivated me more to want to do it because I'm not just remembering a standard first year. I kind of have like, we my flat had COVID and I, I have like, written down like how I felt when I had COVID, how I felt about being in isolation with at that point, people I've known for like two months. I'm glad I did it, especially this year.
Kate 20:11 Probably heard that people say we're living through history. Rose, do you feel like you are?
Rose 20:16 Yeah, definitely. Like I was saying, I think it's quite a unique experience, like, being in university halls, during COVID, I think has got a lot of things that not many people will be able to experience. And it's not all good, having COVID and everyone being an isolation isn't good, but it is unique. I think it's important to kind of remember that, even if it's not very interesting or fun, and you're just sitting in your house all the time.
Gavin 20:44 And we're going to need a lot of sociologists to map out the effects of this virus on society for decades to come [laughs].
Kate 20:56 And Gavin, you've written about, you know, your experiences as a GP in your recent book and, and in other writing. So why was it important for you to document your experience?
Gavin 21:07 Yeah, so just to explain to Rose, I qualified in medicine, you know, 20, oh 22 years ago, 23 years ago, and then I travelled a lot all over the world as an expedition doctor and initially trained in surgery, and then in emergency medicine. And then in 2005, I became a GP. And not long after that, I started to write books. And so books about travel, but also books about medicine and about kind of cultural perspectives on the human body. And, and this year I had a book out, a travel book out about islands around the world. But I also wrote a kind of pandemic journal, if you like, called 'Intensive Care', which describes this-- the arc of this year from January when I first heard about the virus on a bulletin from Health Protection Scotland on January the 13th , through to the beginning of the rollout of the vaccination programme, and just before Christmas. I started to write it partly because, you know, I'm a writer as much as a doctor and writing is how I make sense of the world and how I explore things, how I think about things and reflect on them. But the other reason was because I could see very much the media was, understandably, very much foregrounding a narrative of this virus and its response that was all about intensive care and hospitals, intensive care departments. Whereas I could see in the community, you know, I've got 4,000 patients, and I've had four patients die of COVID. But every single one of my patients have had their lives turned upside down by COVID and by the restrictions we've had to put in place. And so I wanted to both document, the way general practice has responded to this virus and the different kinds of roles that I work in, but also show the huge effects, and document them, that the lockdowns are having on people's health, which sometimes wasn't getting the kind of prominence that that I felt it should. So for example, you know, the huge amount of mental health problems that we're dealing with now, the economic consequences of the lockdowns, the people that are drinking so much more than they used to, the very many students that are in my practice that have had such a such a difficult year. And as I'm sure Rose knows many very sad stories like that too. And so that that was the reason behind writing the book about COVID. So I started with, I write occasionally long essays for the Guardian and I wrote a long read for the Guardian in March about the first-- the virus first started arrive and everybody started coming back from their skiing holidays with the virus and it started to spread out, and, and then, I enjoyed the experience of writing that, it was a kind of commissioned piece from the newspaper. And then I enjoyed the experience of writing that so much more that I just kept, kept going. And I kept documenting it month after month, and so the book is basically a month per chapter, and goes on through the year.
Kate 24:14 And thinking about the objects again and how this sort of like links into it, and how the map that you brought, it shows how quickly things can change and, Rose, your diary you would have never been able to have anticipated what happened in the last year. So I suppose, do you think that how we were before in society worry too comfortable with things?
Rose 24:40 I think we were, definitely. I think not all of the-- obviously like horrible things have come from this virus but I think we have also like, as a society managed to find good and good things have happened and good change has been made. So it kind of takes horrible things for good things to happen if you know I mean. Like when you were talking-- like looking at the map and stuff you can see like, there's been all this change, but a lot of it came from wars, and then kind of similar to now. And I'm not saying like people dying in wars and pandemics is a good thing but it does create change that is often positive.
Gavin 25:20 Yeah, and one of the most amazing things this year has been the speed with which loads of red tape has been cut and specialists that are all caught up in their own little silos, the silos are broken down and lots of people have been able to come together in ways-- not just like the international scientific community to try and get vaccines rolled out fast, but also, just like-- one of my roles is I occasionally work as a locum just in the homeless practice in the Grassmarket, GP practice for people who are homeless, and it was realised back in March that it was for everybody's sake, that everybody sleeping rough in Edinburgh needed to be housed. And it happened basically overnight. So it happened thanks to the incredible work of a whole load of charities, charities like the Cyrenians, and the Bethany Trust, Streetwork, it happened thanks to the goodwill of Edinburgh City Council and Scottish Government for putting up the cash, but within a matter of days, everybody who was sleeping rough in Edinburgh was in a hotel room. And that just shows you that when needs must sometimes by the pressures that these kinds of situations such as the pandemic create, that people can come together, trust one another's professionalism and get phenomenal things done that ordinarily in ordinary times would take years of paperwork and committees and bureaucracy to try and achieve. Yeah, we can be-- we can take inspiration from that in the years going forward, when somebody says, 'Oh no, homelessness is an intractable problem' we'll say, hang on, didn't we sort it out in a week in March 2020. And that's a great precedent that we've now set and all sorts of fields of, of human endeavour, across society that we can say, hang on, didn't we just manage that in the middle of the pandemic and we sorted out in no time? I'm sure we can do that again. So, that's what I hope.
Kate 27:12 I do have one final question that we ask on every episode of Sharing things, and that is, if there's a word that you could use that represents your object, what would it be?
Gavin 27:26 [Laughs]
Kate 27:29 It's a tough one.
Gavin 27:30 It is a really tough one. Em yeah, yeah, I would really struggle to bring mine down to one word how about you, Rose? I can give you a phrase, two or three words, but one no way.
Kate 27:42 If you want to use a phrase, that's absolutely fine [laughs].
Gavin 27:45 Okay, how about the necessity of shifting realities?
Kate 27:51 Wow.
Gavin 27:51 Because this map demonstrates that they're always shifting, everything on the ground is always shifting, and each generation has to adapt itself to new kinds of shifting realities and make the best life that they can out of them.
Kate 28:04 What about you Rose? What word would you use?
Rose 28:07 I think probably reflection, because in this book I can reflect on like events and what I actually did, but then also how I felt, and I'm able to see the kind of the two things and how they interact, but also like, look at them as two separate things, like what actually happened and then how I actually felt about it.
Kate 28:28 So I hope that soon you'll be able to, to write some more positive things in the journal as well. Well, yeah, it's been lovely having you both here for this episode. Thank you so much for, for coming along.
Gavin 28:43 Okay, thanks Kate and thank you, Rose.
Rose 28:45 Thank you.
Kate 28:52 Thank you for listening to Sharing things. Subscribe now for more conversations and more people. Take a look at our website to find out more about past episodes and guests. See you next time.
Sonia 29:03 So what is it like to graduate during a pandemic? We spoke to 2020 graduates and asked them to tell us their stories. Join us for a new podcast, Multi Story Edinburgh, available on Apple, Spotify, or your other favourite podcast platform.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai