Bang the drum

Primary Care Training Bang the drum

You can pay six hundred quid for a real one. Six hundred quid!  And, yes, you can buy a cheaper one on the ubiquitous E-bay.

They are a bit sexist for today’s liking.  They are a drum.  Traditionally played by men….  I’ll gloss over that.  The Djembe drum.

If you’ve never seen one, they are a goblet shape and have a diameter of just over a foot. They can weigh nearly thirty pounds and are traditionally carved from Lenke wood from Mali.

… and they are very loud!

The Malinke people, who are the experts, say a good drummer can make a djembe talk.  The drum gets its distinctive sound from untreated goatskin stretched over a hoop, which can take three or four people to tension.

Ballet aficionados may know the djembe from Les Ballets Africains which toured here before most of your were born. You can hear what one sounds like here. 

My Dad took me to see the Ballet at the Davis Theatre in South Croydon.  My reacquaintance with the drum brought back a host of memories.  

Travelling on a bus, in short trousers, the seat material irritated the backs of my legs.  The sound of the ding-ding of the bell.  Home for Ovaltine and into a bed with a hot water bottle under an eiderdown. Head full of spectacle and excitement and grace… a rare sight for a working class boy.

I was bought up to be a curious internationalist.

It’s a long way, in time and distance, from South Croydon to Exeter and the Devon Partnership Trust but I’m pleased I made the journey.

DPT support people with mental health and learning disability needs.  Really tricky stuff; low mood, depression, eating disorders, personality issues, substance misuse, gender identity, people who are in prison and all the other accumulation of disorders, phobias and syndromes than leave most of us scratching our heads… what do you do…

What do you do?  Indeed.  What can you do to fathom the depths of the human mind, it’s failings and foibles, its fears and frustrations.   

It’s not the complete answer, but you could splash out on a couple of Djembe drums and get someone in to show you how to play them!

Along with Italian bread making, laughter yoga and painting and decorating courses you might be able to provide meaningful daytimes for people for whom luck, happenstance and life’s events have taken the wrong turn.  DPT do it all…

I have to be careful how I phrase this but I think we know each other well enough to have a grown-up conversation…

I can imagine nothing more fulfilling than presenting a new mum and dad with with a swaddling of the next generation.  Helping someone back on their feet with a new knee or some new lenses to see the world and the grandchildren in a new light.

But… how much more difficult could it be if the mum is deep into a psychosis, with a child she neither wants, planned for and has no concept of motherhood or what to do.  How much more difficult is it if the operation is for a delightful patient who has no concept of self or awareness of the world.

Dealing with the body takes skill, care training, thoughtfulness and vocation.  Dealing with the mind and the body takes… takes what?

I can tell you, at DPT it takes the irrepressible enthusiasm and mission and calling of young, healthcare assistants, who, despite the distractions of family and shift-work and travel, are determined to study, be tested and qualify to practice in this most difficult of services… often behind locked doors.  Caring for lives torn apart by addiction, crime and recidivism.

Where do we start?  I’ll tell you; DPT starts with the patient skills of professionals, so hard to come by.  It starts with hands-off management and intelligent leadership who have a shared understanding that the only place to start is with the patient and work backwards.

On the journey home from Devon, I thought of the wide-eyed evening at the ballet, my loving family, how lucky I’ve been. 

My own time, working in mental health services and how we should celebrate them more… bang the drum.     


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Reproduced at by kind permission of Roy Lilley.