Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Yerkes-Dodson test

First there were seven, now we are six. Sadly Lou, from Emergence, who was going to present the KUF model with Andrea, has to pull out a couple of days before we left. Then, just to test the rest of us for our ability to cope with anxiety, four of us nearly didn’t make it to the airport. Emma was coming from a village outside Norwich by train – and she had allowed for trouble by getting one train earlier than she strictly needed. But, with one train cancelled because the driver had a cold and the next one missing its connection, this was not enough. The next train from Norwich was running ten minutes late – but the airport passengers were relieved to be told that the connecting train to the airport would wait. But it didn’t, and sadly unsurprisingly to those of us who often use British trains, the staff at Ely were inflexible and unhelpful. One very expensive 50 mile taxi ride at breakneck speed did eventually ensure that Emma did manage to get to the airport in time. My own resolve was severely tested when I looked up the M4 on Google Traffic about half an hour before going to pick up Kath then Yousuf at different points along it, en route for Stansted. I usually prefer trains, but I had been watching the M4 at that time of day for the previous week, including going to work that way one day to check it would be okay for the airport run. But random events are much less forgiving than careful planning can always cover: Google Maps (bless it for its amazing technology!) showed a string of black with a few red beads along the M4. Black is stationary and red is very slow. Radio Berkshire was on in the kitchen and the Breakfast Show presenter was getting quite excited about it all – getting people to phone in from the stationary traffic jam and tell their stories of why it was so important to get to where they were going this morning. Purleez! – as they say. But Kath was going to on the train to Theale by now – so I had to go and pick her up. She and I discussed the various cross country routes and she much calmed my jangling nerves by pointing out that, although we had no idea of whether we would get to the airport on time, there were no more decisions to be made, once we decided to head up through Wallingford, and meet Yousfuf at Lewknor on the M40 near Oxford. Thankfully, Yousuf had emailed me his new mobile phone number about an hour beforehand… We made it. Not being at all superstitious, I did hope that those three (Lou, Emma’s train and the M4) were going to be our full measure of troubles. Well, there was the slight matter of being charged about double what we should have for the people-carrier taxi from the airport – ‘it’s on the meter, guv’ would be the London cabbie translation. But, reading the guide book, I just took that as NPP (normal for Prague).

The opening ceremony was what you expect – a long table full of civic dignitaries and big cheeses on a grand stage in a plush but three quarters empty auditorium, interspersed with Czech folk dancers and local musicians. Just an hour: quietly dignified, and quite good fun. But not exactly setting the soul alight with passion, imagination or fire-in-the-belly!

The ‘cocktail reception’ afterwards had a funny idea about cocktails – red wine, white wine, beer and tea. But with some interesting canap├ęs – in good quantity – pressed upon us by friendly waiters. An hour or two there gave us time to do carpet bombing of hundreds of copies of our ‘come to our session’  leaflets we had brought with us, because we feared absolutely nobody would come to our session at 8am the next morning. My guess was 17 people.

The flier for our symposium (front)
The flier for the Kabul paper

But distributing the leaflets was quite interesting in itself – as most of the reception was in the congress’s exhibition area, which was dominated by a few vast and elaborate pharmaceutical company pavilions (eg ‘redicovering trazodone’), and a few small stands for organisations and future congresses. I rather enjoyed putting our leaflets on the Big Pharma tables, smiling and saying ‘maybe this is the antidote to too much psychopharmacology and neuroscience’. Yousuf and I took over one of the small non-drug company tables and finished our powerpoints, as everybody else’s were long done by then. We tried to check out our room, but it was chained up – although we did ask a technician how big it was, and were not exactly relieved to be told it seated 200. I kept my estimate at 17, others were more optimistic. Another glass of wine and back to the hotel for a rehearsal…

Because we had paid for the hotel in advance, we couldn’t get any refund for Lou’s room – though one of our number (I shan’t say who) had suggested we sub-let it on a half hourly rate basis as an income generation proposition. Instead, we decided to use it as our rehearsal room, and we all gathered there when we had done the four metro stops from the congress at Vysehrad to our hotel at Florenc. But once there, in the knowledge we had an early start, we had run out of steam – so we just discussed how we would coordinate the 4 talks. Then all went to bed, with the intention to be together again at breakfast, at 0630 sharp (5.30am UK time).

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