Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Running in Literature iii - The Vertical Hour

The vertical Hour is a play by David Hare concerned with the relationship between private attitudes and public events. It starts with a definition of politics being about ways to reconcile the differing desires of people and then shows how the failure to do that in the character's personal lives has led to a certain amount of wreckage.

The bulk of the play involves three people talking. The son is a capable person, a successful physiotherapist, now living in America. His girlfriend is an academic,who had previously been a war reporter, supported the war in Iraq (which was one of the topics). The father used to be an eminent doctor in London but now lives in isolation in Shropshire and practices as a GP..

The father has an unsettling, clear eyed intelligence, whilst the son's temperament is more ameliorating and he is therefore more easily put on the defensive.

About half way through there is a nice exchange about the medicalisation of exercise, and in particular running

S - There is a fine line between formal physiotherapy and providing a client with a sense of well being

F - What does it mean?

S - I've just explained

F - Its not strict medical practise you say, its not orthodox medicine what is it? what do you offer? give me examples

S- Well I've got people on my staff: therapists, osteopaths, personal trainers

F - Personal trainers! Jesus Christ what do you do? do you send people out for a run?

S - Dad!

F - I was just asking a question.

S - What's wrong with running what's demeaning about that?

F - Nothing. Do you go running?

S - No not me personally. I employ people
F – If you want to know what I think. Well, I've done lots of interesting things with my patients but I've never sent the fuckers out for a jog. . I mean are you serious? ..putting in all that effort years of study , hard work , what do you do? Handing out those ridiculous little bottles of water and lifting weights?

S - You know as well as I do there are cultural factors in medicine You yourself used to teach me there is no such thing as pure medicine.

F - No but there is such a thing as charging 25O bucks to take obese Americans for a spin in the park

S - You think that's what I do?

F - And there's a word for it too

S - Jesus do you really think that's what I get up to?

F - I don't know what you get up to I'm a doctor not a personal healer

S - Personal Trainers Dad! Personal trainers. Not personal healers. Dad look, I take on people. Ordinary people. You say tell them the truth and stay with them to the end well what about delaying the end. What's wrong with that? Its not ignoble is it? Put off the end why not? Get fit. Feel better. Sort out your problems

F- Sort out your problems? Good God don't tell me you talk to the bastards as well

PS The dialogue is a bit approximate as it was taken down from listening to the radio

At the heart of this is the scorn of a medical man for an industry which charges a lot of money for feelings of well being. The word 'running' is voiced with such a mixture of incredulity and contempt, it is funny (as is the last line). Alone this is enough to make this snatch of dialogue noteworthy.

I must admit it adds nothing to our understanding of running as thats not the really the subject (illustrating the differences of outlook, the relationship between a father and son, and the mixing of medicine and the treating of illness with the vaguer concept of wellness, are the main topics). However it serves to remind us that, from the outside, what we do can be open to a certain amount of mockery.

From the inside though, running has more in common with the rather neat aphorism of what it means to be a doctor: ' tell the truth and stick with them till the end'. Running is a way of learning about our limitations, accepting them and then carrying on.

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