Manchester is brimming with street art and the Northern Quarter, playground of the hip crowd, has probably attracted more than any part of the city.
I took a walking tour with award-winning local expert Hayley Flynn AKA Skyliner. I learned more about the street art I had seen and was guided to pieces I would have missed on my own.
Hayley’s knowledge of the history of the Northern Quarter was extensive, giving us background on each artist and work.
Delivered with great humour and a true passion for our burgeoning city of Manchester.
These days we can find our tendency to look down at our phones means that we miss the beauty and spectacle in our own surrounding. So, using my mobile purely for its camera function I set off on a mini adventure.
If we measured their depression with a test that doctors use, before and after working their way through the book (which takes 30 days) would we see a difference?
The test we used, called the PHQ-9 – the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire) – produces a score between 0 and 27, with 0 meaning no depression, and 27 representing the most severe depression possible.
The score range is divided into five bands that, apart from the highest division, are drawn at five-point intervals.
Healthcare professionals use the PHQ-9 to help decide, in part, what treatment – such as antidepressants or psychotherapy / counselling might best help a patient.
They also ask patients to complete the test as one way of determining whether or not a chosen treatment is working.
When the PHQ-9 is used to measure progress, the rule of thumb is that a reduction in score of 5 points or more over a period of 4-6 weeks means the current treatment regime is working, and should therefore be continued.
We asked 51 people to use the book for 30 days, completing the PHQ-9 before they started, and again when they’d finished.
The participants were a randomly chosen subset of readers of the Moodnudges blog who weren’t pre-selected on the basis of being depressed, so the sample included a range of individuals from those who had only the most minimal depression to others who were experiencing moderately severe depression.
The results, which can be seen in graph form, show two important findings:1. Across the board, the average reduction in PHQ-9 score over 30 days was 5.3, suggesting that using Nudge Your Way to Happiness can be as clinically effective as antidepressants or psychotherapy.
2. The greatest reductions in score were seen in those who were most depressed to start with. On average these participants’ scores fell from a level definitely placing them in the Moderately Severe category to one at the very lowest end of the Moderate division: only a whisker away from being labelled Mild.
Future work could involve working with a larger sample, and structuring the study as a randomized controlled trial. But these early results do seem promising.”
It is Saturday and a rainy Manchester afternoon and, along with two friends from Manchester Bliss group, are visiting the home of Martyn Cawthorne – gong practitioner and founder of Gong Spa.
Martyn gives the three of us a warm welcome before inviting us to prepare for the ‘gong bath’ which we have all enthusiastically signed up for.
What is a gong bath?
He describes the experience as:
“A unique experience in which you are bathed (clothes on!) in the sounds and vibrations of the gongs, which lend themselves to enhanced states of well-being, relaxation, happiness and pleasure.”
I’d had one previous experience of taking part in a large gong bath in a church hall, but what Martyn has to offer is a small, safe and intimate space which could be shared by up to three people.
The space is calm and softly lit, with four impressively large gongs suspended from a frame in the room and another resting on the floor. Other instruments are scattered around the room and will form a part of the gong bath experience.
We have a quick chat with Martyn about our needs and reasons for being there, before settling down on a bed and wrapping up with blankets. He explains to us that as the gong bath experience can be both physically and mentally intense, he’s going to give us a relatively gentle time.
What happens in the gong bath?
The session is an hour long and it’s important to feel comfortable. We’re provided us with some egg-shaped shakers should we wish to indicate that the gong sounds have become too intense (we didn’t need them).
Once relaxed on the bed, the time seemed to speed by. Martyn opens the session with some ambient gong sounds before building up the intensity and varying the soundscape with other percussion instruments.
The vibrations from the gongs were instantly relaxing and I felt the sounds resonated throughout mind and body with a calming richness.
What does it feel like?
I felt my mind begin to turn over thoughts as it prepared to relax and let go, it was then that I started to locate the sources of tension in my body.
First comes a fluttering sensation in my side, before I develop an awareness of where the tightness across my shoulders originates – this makes me mindful that I need to take care of my posture each day.
As we opened our eyes at the end of the gong bath, it soon became clear that we had all had powerful but very different experiences.
One bather was so relaxed that she fell asleep (this is apparently quite common and does not prevent the gong bath from working). Another spoke of the vivid images she’d visualised.
We all felt that the gong bath had been deeply beneficial and wished to return, either alone or with partners.
Where can I take a gong bath?
Taking a gong bath aids meditation and is great for relaxation either individually, as a couple or a group.
Gong Spa – home of everything gong including dates of gong baths in Manchester and surrounding areas
Well, “Why wouldn’t you want to interview Helen Arney?”, you might ask?
Of course she is super-smart, funny and chic, that’s undeniable. Which is why, when I was booking my tickets for Festival of the Spoken Nerd at The Lowry, I was struck by the fact that she did not have a Wikipedia page dedicated to her.
Almost a year before the gig, I’d been to a Wiki Edit workshop run for Manchester Girl Geeks by Wikimedia UK.
I was lucky enough to attend the first day of BarCamp Manchester 2015. Having been to the previous year’s event at SpacePortX, I expected great things. I wasn’t disappointed.
The venue was AutoTrader, the same place we used for Manchester Girl Geeks’ Mini BarCamp (aka BraCamp) back in May.
Massive thumbs up to @GirlGeekUpNorth and her fabulous team for putting on the best event of this type that I’ve ever attended.
I’d like to pick out a few highlights from Day 1. With it being an ‘unconference’ format where speakers are giving talks in a number of rooms at the same time, it feels important to say that there was lots of brilliant presentations / discussions I didn’t make it to. Check out the @BarCampMCR Twitter feed for a fuller picture.
This was a strong theme at this year’s events with @GirlGeekUpNorth demo-ing “The Dark Room” an interactive video-based adventure game built by linking YouTube videos together. This is fiendishly difficult to complete. You have been warned!
Elsewhere, @teknoteacher was giving a very quick tutorial on using storytelling software Twine to teach people who are new to coding how to create their own text-based adventures.
A great little session by @stecks@aPaulTaylor and@Andrew_Taylor running through the most common types of clues for cryptic crosswords and how to identify them. I haven’t done a crossword for ages and this really rekindled my interest in them.
Computer programming is always a popular area at BarCamp, and a lively debate was provoked by @RosieCampbell‘s talk on stereotypes applied to coders. This branched into a fierce discussion on whether computing should be taught as part of the curriculum.
Living in a van
So, @tdobson and @czmj2 live in a van. They both have full-time jobs, so how have they managed? A great story about how they’ve made it work for them. Cue lots of questions re parking, sanitation and wireless connectivity!
Next to @erinmaochu‘s ‘Crowdsourcing a recycled Manchester robot orchestra’, a project which will be part of the line-up for Manchester’s stint as European City of Science in 2016. It was great to witness the potential for collaboration erupting in the room as several people, including @matthewshotton, excitedly shared their own experiences with robotics and music.
There’s lots of great geeky, science and tech events going on in and around Manchester (and in fact the whole of the NW). You can find out more at:
So running the ticket confirmation process, meeting and greeting attendees on the day and a fair bit of tweeting from the Manchester Girl Geeks account (as well as my own) was a great way to connect with faces old and new.
In between these activities I made it to a few of the talks – all of which were excellent. Topics ranged from women and digital music production, to what it takes to produce a podcast, and life after PhD study.
I also had a great chat with a teachers @upsideteach and @Mr_G_ICT and digital project manager @ColetteWeston about the challenges of teaching ICT and computing from Year 1 right through to Year 13.
Although I didn’t do a talk myself it was great fun to take part in the ‘slideshow karaoke’. In this challenge you are asked to give a convincing-sounding presentation to accompany a deck of slides that a) you’ve never seen before and b) are on a subject you know nothing about.
It took all my powers of improvisation to busk my way through a talk on combat vehicles in South Africa and try to convince the audience that badgers wearing body armour were capable of driving tanks.
This was topped by @jedw‘s efforts to speak authoritatively about golf – we were all fascinated to hear about the nine erogenous zones of a golf course!
Finally, as I’d managed to lose my raffle tickets, I offered to pick the tickets out for the fabulous prizes we’d lined up for the day. It was great to see the winners faces when they picked up their goodies.
I feel truly blessed to live in a city where there are more ‘ideas’ type events than it would be physically possible for me to attend. This week I gave Pint of Science a try.
What is Pint of Science?
Pint of Science was set up by two research scientists at Imperial College, Michael Motskin and Praveen Paul, who recognised that people from outside academia wanted to learn about their work.
This year, Manchester was one of the dozen host cities in the UK, with talks running from the 18th to 20th May. As the name would suggest, many of the events were held in pubs and bars.
Discovering drug discovery
Dr Allan Jordan, Head of Chemistry at Cancer Research UK, was lined up to tell us about ‘Breaking Bad Stereotypes: Real Stories of Drug Discovery’ at The English Lounge near the Northern Quarter.
The talk kicked off with the speaker asking us what the four most used drugs are. The audience quickly ticked of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, before he revealed that chocolate was a drug too.
This was typical of the accessible way that Dr Jordan explained the concepts involved in drug discovery, from relating DNA codons to a passage from Dr Seuss’ ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ to using marshmallows, strawberry laces and Jelly Tots to model cells.
I’ve never seen Breaking Bad, so I may have missed some of the analogies in the talk, but it was a part of the storytelling rather than the science and I didn’t feel it affected my understanding.
There were serious messages shared too. Drug discovery is a long-term investment for the companies that research new treatments for something as complex as cancers. It is expensive and very few medicines make it to the market.
Dr Jordan closed by saying that there has been a move towards collaboration in developing medicines, with commercial players increasingly willing to work with others, a scenario which seems a world away from the stereotypes associated with Big Pharma.