Monday 7 February 2011

Guns for Llandysul

Two snippets of mental health interest from beyond these shores ...

Hafal Chair Elin Jones has just returned from a conference on education in Venice. She reports that the conference centre was located on the island of San Servolo (picture below) which was used as a mental hospital from 1725 until 1978 and still has a sinister museum looking back at that era. Perhaps appropriately for a city built on water the hospital had a particular focus on hydrotherapy – a fancy term for trying to get patients to snap out of their mental illness by alternating hot and cold showers. This is reminiscent of the Greek mental hospital island of Leros though I recollect that the patients there (typically left to wander around naked) were routinely hosed down outside in the interest of hygiene rather than therapy.

Meanwhile I see that Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary to President Obama, was challenged on the very liberal gun laws in Arizona (where she was previously Governor) following the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by Jared Loughner, a mental health patient. She argues that the case should prompt rethinking about mental health services in the state and elsewhere rather than a look at the right of citizens to bear arms. On Sunday I held a lunch party for a brother, nephew, niece and cousin (plus Skype link to the family diaspora in England and Spain) where we argue about this. I make a habit of trying to see things the American way but find it hard to defend their approach to firearms though we should not sneeringly underestimate the principle of keeping the government in its place which is generally a good aspect of the political culture of the U.S.

Anyway, we all agree that Arizona’s gun laws are not always used for bad purposes. My great uncle Dick left Wales to make his fortune and did so by building the city of Coolidge, Arizona, (named after the then President) where he is still celebrated as the founder. In 1939 he was keen to support his motherland and took the very practical step of buying a dozen Winchester carbines - the Model 10 0.401 blowback-operated repeater (see the picture above: this is a formidable weapon and the successor to the “gun which won the West” but with the advantage of being fully self-loading rather than requiring the lever action so familiar in cowboy films) - and shipping them to his family in Llandysul for use against the Axis hordes in the event of them invading Ceredigion. Needless to say the UK’s more severe gun laws prevented them reaching my family’s eager hands though my cousin David says some of them were released in due course and used for hunting. Meanwhile it is beyond question that the best-armed unit of the British army during the last war was the Llandysul Home Guard.