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With this issue the curtain falls for the last time and as the lights go out I feel that constriction at the back of the throat. The outgoing team that managed STI can take some credit—not least because it operated as a team. Or, more accurately, teams: there were those who accepted the onerous role of associate editors in the first years and thought through the fundamental changes needed to prepare STI for the new age. This included a name change that made sense to the non-British and a less bilious cover. Then came the hanging committee whose members, spread over three countries, did much more than meet (or email) every 2 weeks.
We started on the strategic road from a “journal of fact” to a “journal of [expert] opinion”. For this we shamelessly pressured friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers to commission (gratis) review articles of various hues that we disguised under a range of titles: tropical medicine, research methodology, continuing medical education, public health, from bench to bedside, clinical knots, in practice, and update. We introduced humour and the personal and put Chester on the STI map. We entered the electronic age and began to explore the possibilities of the web for interactive education.
A central objective was to make STI more international and we asked Jonathan Zenilman to act as editor for the Americas. We went on to broaden the editorial board to levels seen only in very large circulation journals. We tried to marry the contradictory objectives of increasing impact factor and our obligation to resource poor countries by introducing the global view. We tried to make the editorial process more democratic and transparent by introducing a hanging committee and opening up its meetings to the readership. With submissions becoming fully electronic the reviewing process is even more open to scrutiny. As the curtain falls we believe we have been partially successful. Without a curtain call we will never know.
Only partially though. As a doctor in training commented to me this summer, “your journal caters for writers, not the reader”. He (and it was a he) certainly has a point. Although we have made a few steps in the right direction, the road to making STI as readable as the Economist (or Cosmopolitan) is long and full of potholes. But now that we have the two versions of—a paper and electronic—STI there is a whole world to explore. And to create, as we hand over to Helen Ward and Rob Miller, themselves old hands.
I would like to end on a personal note. I learnt a lot. At dawn I learnt that there is a huge ocean of goodwill. People are prepared to give their most precious commodity, time. They accept cajoling, bullying, and begging with a smile. They might take their time to give up their time, but they give it generously in the end, without any obvious payback. Yes, it is increasingly difficult to get people to look your way when the pharmaceutical industry vies for the same pen waving golden handshakes. The wonder is how many people ignored the glitter and took our outstretched hand. And it was wonderful to work with so many young people—the team was young and we went for the young. A specialty that has such stores can never fail.
As dusk falls I will come to an even more personal note. Perhaps the best way to paint it is through the words of another exiled writer.
Don’t knock any nails in the wall Just throw your coat on the chair.
Why plan for four days?
Tomorrow you’ll go back home.
Leave a little tree without water.
Why plant a tree now?
You’ll pack your bags and be away
Before it’s as high as a doorstep.
Pull your cap over your eyes when people pass.
What use thumbing through a foreign grammar?
The message that calls you home Is written in a language you know.
As whitewash peels from the ceiling (Do nothing to stop it!)
So the block of force will crumble That has been set up at the frontier To keep out justice.
Look at the nail you knocked into the wall:
When do you think you will go back?
Do you want to know what your heart is saying?
Day after day
You work for the liberation.
You sit in your room, writing.
Do you want to know what you think of your work?
Look at the little chestnut tree in the corner of the yard —
You carried a full can of water to it.1
©Surhkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main. All rights in this work are strictly reserved. Reproduction of any part of this poem is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce any part of this poem must first be sought from the publisher.
In exile it was friends, my colleagues, and the family hive, headed by Alex Williamson (QB) followed by Janet O’Flaherty, editorial assistants Kathryn Walsh, Michelle Dimler, and Camilla Spears (and others who fleeted during Kathryn’s and Michelle’s maternity leaves), and all-seeing technical editor Glyn Hughes, that allowed me to nail the wall. I will do so, metaphorically, with their pictures and those of all my Associate Editors and Hanging Committee members—all friends for keeps.
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