It was a cold, dreich, drizzley day in Aberdeen; quite common in Aberdeen. The wind blew and drove the rain through the depths of my clothing. The weather suited my mood. I had just visited my friend, Jean, in Woodend Hospital. It is supposed to be a rehabilitation hospital but it was difficult to see what form of rehabilitation was going on. She was very poorly; they hadn’t established what was wrong, so how can you rehabilitate someone? Jean was on a drip. I had watched a nurse tell Jean she needed to drink, that she was dehydrated, and put a glass of water on her table, out of her reach. When we said that she was unlikely to drink water, that she always drank tea, they said they would bring her a cup of tea. Two hours, and several prompts, later a cup of tea arrived, cold and milky, just what she hated. No wonder she was dehydrated. Visiting hours were short so we were not able to sit with her for long periods. We didn’t know what went on in between visiting hours. It’s that sense of frustration, and anger, that here was an 89 year old woman, sitting on her own, at the end of her bed, in a chair where her feet did not touch the floor, unable to reach either the food or drink they gave her, with no one talking to her. This isn’t about the NHS not having enough money, it’s about caring and observation. You can’t say that it is about money; the nurse only had to use her eyes and common sense to see that a diminutive woman couldn’t reach the cup on the table.
It was on such a day that we needed to find something to do while waiting for the next visiting hours. Something to take our minds off what was happening, something to clear space in our heads so that we could problem-solve the situation. I’d been to Aberdeen so many times; I’d ‘done’ the Cathedral, the Art Gallery, the shops, the cinema, the University. But not the Maritime Museum. A Maritime Museum is not the usual sort of museum I would go to, not my first choice of entertainment but it was open. There is no question that I had missed out on something here.
Not only was it bright and airy, there were fascinating, interactive exhibits. There was an oil rig, to scale, that arose through the centre of all the floors, where you could stand on the top floor and look down. The Museum tells the story of the relationship between Aberdeen City and the North Sea: oil drilling, fishing through the ages, shipbuilding, fast sailing ships, port history and the individual tales of those associated with the sea and then there is the Piper Alpha disaster. There are paintings, working models, displays about the marine environment. The Museum is located, appropriately, in the Provost Ross’s House, built in 1593 with a spectacular view over the harbour. The Museum also makes use of other old, nearby buildings including a church. It was opened by the Queen Mother in 1985, and having visited Aberdeen all these years, I had never heard of it and certainly never visited. This was what a Museum should be, engaging, well-presented, with a story to tell. Not only that, it had a great cafe and also sold tea towels! What more could you want? We ate in the cafe and pondered over Jean’s predicament.
The Aberdeen Maritime Museum did three things for me, for which I wlll always be grateful: (a) it took my mind off the horrors of the NHS, cleared my anger and frustration and (b) it gave us time to think logically about Jean’s predicament and options, being able to sit in the cafe and talk it all through without feeling rushed or harassed by the staff and (c) it gave us the space to problem-solve, in a realistic way, and come up with a course of action. Within two weeks, Jean was out of that hospital, living with with her sister in a Nursing Home, happy, on the road to recovery. It was only in the Nursing Home that they established what was wrong with her and therefore were able to treat her.
That day at Aberdeen Maritime Museum was definitely something to remember; it is a place I have been back to and enjoyed once again and as I use the tea towel I remember those awful weeks Jean spent in hospital and how the Maritime Museum gave us space to problem-solve. However, if I look carefully I realise that there is an enormous picture of the Murchison Oil Platform and I am ashamed to say that I am not sure if it is the Murchison Oil Platform that rises through the Museum (and I can’t find any information about it). Sorry. I am sure that someone will tell me.