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Cafe highlights w/c 28 Nov

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Clare English Clare English | 16:20 UK time, Thursday, 1 December 2011

Life is a mystery (as is quantum physics in our house). Sometimes we enjoy trying to solve the puzzle and other times it's best if we just leave it with no obvious explanation. When strange things happen, it can freak us out; alternatively, it can prove rather stimulating.Take an example from this week's Book Café. Our intrepid reporter Tom Allen set off on the trail of a mystery artist who'd been leaving exquisitely crafted sculptures made from books at a variety of cultural locations across Edinburgh. This has been happening for the past nine months but now the artist behind the stunts had called it a day; the final sculpture was left at the Scottish Poetry Library. What was the point of this guerrilla art? Who was the unknown artist? Does it matter? What we can conclude is that the sculptures made people feel curious and more often than not, happy to have had an unexpected encounter with a beautiful object. I do like a mystery!

Luckily another one cropped up on the same edition of the Book Café. The number 26 may not seem that mysterious but it turns out it is! It forms the basis of a fascinating cultural collaboration between authors and 26 objects from a museum collection. "26 Treasures" had its genesis in London's V and A but now the National Museum of Scotland is getting in on the act. Two of the Scottish end collaborators were with me on Monday to talk about their input; James Robertson and Sara Sheridan. Both were assigned an object and required to provide a " voice" for it. In James's case, it was a rather macabre guillotine, quaintly named THE MAIDEN and he wrote a poem in old Scots to accompany it. Sara was allocated a musical instrument - Mary Queen of Scot's harp. What a great jumping off point.. but there was one snag.. the writers' submissions were limited to 62 words, the reverse of 26. James Robertson was not deterred - he said he'd rather enjoyed the restriction and, having heard the result, I have to conclude that brevity is best when you've also got the inspirational object in front of you. The project looks set to be enthusiastically received and Sara mentioned talk of a spin - off book. If that's the case, sign me up for one. More details about the 26 Treasures www.nms.ac.uk

As the autumn statement was being debated in the House of Commons, The Culture Café became an immediate victim of cuts; we lost quarter of an hour thanks to George Osborne and co, but no matter! We still managed to cram 45 minutes worth of show into the time allotted. We talked about the upcoming Scot Trad music awards in Perth and there was also a sneak preview of the newly refurbished National Portrait Gallery thanks to reporter Tom again. ( Must be on something and it ain't double time !) I can tell you having been there for my own post programme walkabout with my editor, the National Portrait Gallery is a MUST SEE! A glorious addition to the capital's cultural portfolio.

Oddly for a cultural show, we kicked the show off with a health angle; considering how art helps patients in hospitals, especially children. Prof Sir Kenneth Calman is a former Chief Medical Officer (along with about six other titles!) so he was eminently well qualified to judge whether art had a place in a medical environment. Sir Ken was adamant that there were significant pluses if you introduced a slice of creativity into the mix. I asked him if he thought cash pressed Health Trusts would agree, given the pressures they're under to fund treatment, state of the art equipment and staff but Sir Ken insisted that the case for MORE art was building. He said there was evidence to prove the efficacy of the argument. Now, that's not altogether suprising is it, when you think how grotty and grey some of our older hospitals buildings are. How would you feel if you were feeling under par and you went into a soulless place with precious little relief from the bleak strip lights? The mere addition of an arresting wall hanging or painting is bound to raise the spirits a bit. It's a no brainer. Which brings me right back to mysteries again. If it's so simple to do something positive for patients who find themselves stressed out and in pain in our hospitals, why isn't something being done about it now?

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