I have learnt since I started this work placement that days off are not actually days off - Graham calls them recovery days, which is more accurate. If I work a couple of thirteen hour shifts in a row, then I spend most of the following day off napping and washing piles of uniform. However, occasionally the shift pattern works in my favour and I have just one shift on, followed by a couple of recovery days . Then the second one of those days becomes impressively full of possibilities as I am awake enough to leave the house, and do something interesting.
Today was one of those days. I headed for the National Portrait Gallery, which always has new things to see, and is a delightful and not too busy treasure right in the middle of London. I wanted to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait prize exhibition, which only has another 10 days or so left. It was as good as I hoped it would be - the photo of Mo Farah was my favourite.
I prowled around the rest of the gallery, catching sight of the Kate portrait, swinging by the Tudors and the Stuarts and playing 'spot the women' in the Victorian galleries (other than Queen Victoria herself, there are not many). One of the few I found was this one of Florence Nightingale.
After I was tired of wondering around, I retreated to the wonderful Digital Space on a mezzanine in between the ground and first floors. Here you can sit in comfy chairs and play with the gallery's Portrait Explorer software on large touch screens. I had fun looking up the other portraits of Florence Nightingale, which the gallery holds but does not usually display. There are 33 of them, and after looking through all of them I felt I had a much better idea of what Miss Nightingale looked like than I did after looking at just one portrait. She had a very elegant, slim face, a determined mouth and rather captivating eyes. I am not surprised she was a force to be reckoned with.
I left the National Portrait Gallery, and as I crossed the road heading for Embankment tube station I stopped to admire the large statue opposite me, which has long been one of my favourites in Central London.
The statue is of Edith Cavell, another nurse who should really be as famous as Florence Nightingale. In most hospitals today, you will still find a ward called Cavell Ward, after this legendary figure. She was a great nurse, and a pioneering teacher of nurses, who was executed by the Germans during World War I for helping British and French soldiers escape from the Red Cross Hospital she was matron of, in German-occupied Brussels. The National Portrait Gallery holds four portraits of Edith Cavell, none of which are currently on display, but all of which can be seen on Portrait Explorer here.
As I the tube rattled me home, I even travelled past the hospital where I am doing my placement, and I reflected that even on my days off I don't seem able to stray too far from nursing.