… OK just to be clear, I didn’t wear a flower in my hair. Although I did hear that song playing as I walked along Haight Street.
I’ve done a fair bit of international travel over the years and, as my friends will know, have had more than a few adventures along the way. Most of the trips has been for pleasure alone though. My business trips abroad mainly came during my time working in European funding, with a few visits to Brussels and two real highlights: an exchange visit to Cork and an invitation to speak at a conference in Marseilles.
Last year I was invited to take part in some discussions through an inter governmental body called the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership, or IIMHL for short. A group of us from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England and the Netherlands met in New Haven, Connecticut, which many will recognise as the home of Yale University.
We spent a few days together, including sessions in the Yale University Library, which was great. The result was a proposal to form what we provisionally termed a Leadership Academy for People With Lived Experience. The theory is simple: change in mental health systems will best come from those who know best what it’s like to live with a condition. So we need to develop the leadership skills required to challenge and to lead change in a constructive manner. Our hope is to create an Academy at Yale University that can deliver educational opportunities directly, remotely and through partner institutions in other countries.
Over the past year we’ve been meeting as a Steering Group, working through teleconferences and e-mail. We’ve got a draft proposal together, we’ve interviewed some key people throughout the world and we’ve carried out a survey to get the views of those involved in mental health in various capacities throughout the world, and that achieved over 1,200 responses.
To refine our draft proposal we decided to meet for a couple of days’ hard work – and San Francisco seemed a good place given the vast geographical spread of our group. Hosted by the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, we planned our sessions, set our agenda and travelled across the world.
Now it goes without saying that the five thousand mile journey to San Francisco took a while. Door to door this one took me almost a full day. I’m not sure if the eight hour time helped or not – the clock said the journey was 15 hours but my body made it 23.
I’ve done a lot of air travel over the years and the hard part for me is always the amount of time you seem to spend sitting around doing nothing. The six or seven hours on a plane is actually fine. A book, a laptop to get some writing done and frequent meal and drink rounds by the cabin crew see to that.
I left the house at 6am on Saturday, dropped the car off in Paisley and then hit Glasgow airport. By 10am I was on the way with a seven hour plus flight to Philadelphia first on the agenda. Three hours turnaround made it my shortest stay in Philly ever, which was a shame. Still, another six hour flight and I was all the way on the other side of the USA in San Francisco. It didn’t take too long to get into the city and I checked in around 9pm – or 5am Sunday morning UK time.
I got a pretty good night’s sleep and was awake by 6am on Sunday. After breakfast I decided to head to Fisherman’s Wharf and spent time wandering around and seeing the sights. Pier 39 has all sorts of attractions from shops to sea lions – great for the photographers. I also had some very nice clam chowder served inside a sourdough bun, a real local delicacy. One of the great things about a port city is of course the variety and quality of the seafood.
I also headed out onto San Francisco Bay in a small boat. At only $15 (about £10) for an hour’s trip under the Golden Gate Bridge, across the Bay and around Alcatraz it was well worth it. The sun was shining, the water was pretty calm most of the time and I got some great photos too.
There’s so much to see in San Francisco and it would take a lot longer than I had to spare to do it any kind of justice. But then this was mainly a work trip, and so Monday and Tuesday saw a lot of hard work. We spent a very productive couple of days going through an awful lot of information and refining our proposal. All of us left feeling that we’d achieved a great deal. Our ambition of an International Academy for Lived Experience at Yale is getting closer.
That left me with just one day to see a little more of San Francisco before tackling the lengthy journey home. I’ve done City Hall tours in quite a few cities over the years and it was great to add SF to the list. It’s quite a building too, opulent and full of wood and marble inside – and there’s even real gold on the dome.
The official tours are taken by volunteer docents. Ours was very knowledgeable and the hour flew by. The building has changed a bit since it was constructed, mainly due to a couple of rather large earthquakes that moved the entire building, causing cracks to the marble as well as structural damage. The building now sits on what are effectively shock absorbers, added in a major renovation of the foundations that took years. Quite a feat of engineering.
The other place I really wanted to see was the historic Haight-Ashbury district. It’s clearly not the place it once was, but there are some good photo opportunities and a range of very interesting shops. I’m sure I caught the odd whiff of illegal substances being smoked several times too. I also came across a couple of great book shops and bought a fair few to bring home, including a Janis Joplin biography. Well, it seemed appropriate.
The long journey home is always a chore, and this one was no different. But I got a fair amount of writing done and made it home twenty some hours after leaving the hotel. Needless to say it was raining In Glasgow.
So my first visit to San Francisco was both very productive and a lot of fun. It’s quite a place and I’d love to return for a longer visit sometime. There’s an awful lot I didn’t have time to see. Maybe one day.