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InFocus

“Unless you are having a bit of a laugh my feeling is that you’re not learning as well as you could”

When I die my gravestone may well read “as ever… the late David Williams!” In the ambulatory referral practice I run, visiting about 40 veterinary practices around East Anglia, I always seem to be running a little late! Sometimes it’s road works and traffic jams but more often it is practices saying “While you’re here would you mind having a look at this dog/cat/guinea pig/snake?” And I always say the more the merrier – what can be more enjoyable than another eye, especially if it’s a pro bono examination for a little old lady with only a pension and a crossbred with dry eye or a cat with conjunctivitis – something that will take five minutes to sort out… or half an hour once the owner gets chatting or it’s a particularly interesting case, and then I’m late for my next appointment 30 miles away. Or maybe not – who knows, I might arrive at my next port of call on time, at which point the receptionist apologises and tells me that they organised the consultation half an hour later than I said I’d be there, because they figured that I normally arrived a little later than I said I would. All of this is complete anathema to my wife who never likes to be late but would prefer to wait in her car for half an hour rather than be late. There’s just too much to do for me to organise my life like that, or so I tell myself. And life is too short to sit around for half an hour waiting!

Although having said that, I did turn up early at the clinic I’m in this morning. So, what better than to have a cup of coffee and sit down to type out these few thoughts. Carpe diem… seize the day, always make the most of every moment.

Which is just what I’ve done with the cat I’ve just seen, rescued off the streets of Cairo with a remarkable set of eye issues. This cat had the most beautiful radiating golden lines in its anterior chamber together with an absence of its lateral upper eyelids. A perfect image to put on my Instagram feed which sees a new case every day. Now that latter abnormality I’ve seen in stray cats from Cairo before and from inbred cats on a rubbish tip in Dubai as well, but I’ve never seen it associated with this amazing anterior segment dysgenesis. But Disce aliquid novi quotidie – you learn something new every day.

If you haven’t heard that Latin aphorism before it’s because I’ve just invented it – or rather translated it into Latin using Google Translate. It sounds much better in Latin, don’t you think? Telling an owner that their dog has idiopathic epiphora is much more convincing than saying there are tears flowing down its face – which is why they brought in the animal in the first place – and that I don’t know what’s caused it, which won’t exactly inspire confidence, will it, though I guess that’s better than saying iatrogenic to cover up the fact you’ve caused the problem in the first place!

I tell the students on their first day at vet school that they have until the end of their degree to learn enough jargon to convince the owner into thinking they know what they are talking about and hence are happy to pay. And idiopathic is a really useful word in their vocabulary from that perspective. And before you get worried about what first impression I’m giving the freshers, I also tell them that with any luck half of what I tell them is true. Maybe a quarter I’ve got wrong in the first place or misremembered. For a quarter the science has changed since I first learnt it and the rest is a joke. But they are now Cambridge students, I remind them – it’s up to them to work out which category whatever I’ve just told them fits into. And that includes what I’ve just told them – ie everything I say has an element of fun in it. Because unless you are having a bit of a laugh my feeling is that you’re not learning as well as you could. Not, of course, that I’ve any sure-fire evidence for that.

A quick Google Scholar trawl through the words “education” and “humour”, though, has just led me to Bakar and Kumar’s paper “The use of humour in teaching and learning in higher education” in the Journal of English for Academic Purposes. And if you thought that was an unusual journal title, try Lovorn and Holaway’s paper on teachers’ perceptions of humour in classroom teaching from the European Journal of Humour Research back in 2015! In case you haven’t got the time to read those, they showed that while humour increases student attention, motivation and enjoyment, most lecturers had negative views of it and few, if any, planned it in their teaching. Well, there’s an interesting topic for a future research project, don’t you think? And with that I must leave you as my next case has arrived!

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