17 December 2010

A Vote for Someone You Can Trust!

I make no bones about this being an unashamed request for your vote. Not for me but for my daughter.

Back in summer holidays she entered a short story competition run by Arriva Buses to write a story, real or fiction, about a memorable bus journey. She is one of the four finalists from the Midlands Region.

So I ask you to follow this LINK and vote for Shakira. I hadn't read her story until it was published (she keeps things close to her chest) and I wouldn't be asking for your vote unless I thought it had some merit. I think it does.

That's Shakira, Walsall age 10!

Thanks!

14 December 2010

Walsall Council - Budget 2011/2012

I am currently researching for a blog on this to be published in the New Year (before the meeting!) but in the meantime I thought some might find the following e-mail I received interesting. Anyone can make a contribution and I urge you to do so. I'm sure that many people can suggest many different ways that our council could save money!

Dear Sir or Madam,

Involving you in deciding Walsall Council’s budget options 2011/12

Between September and November we have been gathering the views of local people specifically asking what should be the councils spending priorities for the coming financial year. By holding and attending meetings, speaking to people, inviting comment and running our Budget Simulator on our website, we have gathered the views of over 500 people. Our report of findings detailing the feedback from this initial phase of budget consultation is now available on our website. The report also contains the results of our Budget Simulator. This feedback, as well as other information helps us plan our resources effectively and ensures that the services we provide are what local people want and need most. Council’s throughout England are facing unprecedented budget cuts which mean hard decisions have to be made.

Consultation on our Draft Budget Options for 2011/12

The Cabinet report of 17 November 2010 presents the first draft revenue budget options for 2011/12. It explains our four year savings programme, the challenges we face as well as the council’s medium term financial outlook. Appendix 2 and 3 detail our specific proposals. The Cabinet report and appendix 2 and 3 are available on our website easy read versions of the information are also available here.

We are now consulting on the draft budget options as set out in the 17 November 2010 Cabinet report. The final budget will be approved in February 2011 by full Council, so between now and then you can have you say and influence these decisions.

When considering the draft proposals please ensure that you consider all aspects of council services and not just those you are familiar with or use. Our proposals touch all services and see savings of approximately £17m in 2010/11 with further savings being made in the following 3 years.

Having read the Cabinet report and other information we ask the following questions;

1. Do you agree or disagree with the draft budget options?

2. Which proposal(s), if any, do you AGREE with and why?

3. Which proposal(s), if any, do you NOT AGREE with and why?

Remember this is your chance to put your views forward before the final budget is agreed. Your response should be submitted to us by Friday 31 December 2010. You may respond as an individual or as a group using online response from available via this short link http://bit.ly/ijXWKj

You can also email us budgetconsultation@walsall.gov.uk or write to; Budget Consultation, Walsall Council, Civic Centre, Walsall WS1 1TP. When writing or emailing us please answer the three questions above.

Alternatively text the words ‘walsall budget’ followed by your message to 60003.

If you would like any further information about budget consultation please contact Anna Sansom on 01922 653520 sansomanna@walsall.gov.uk If you would like more information on the draft budget options please contact Stuart Wootton on 01922 653554 email woottons@walsall.gov.uk

We look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Chris Towe

Cabinet Member for Finance and Personnel

28 November 2010

Walking in a Walsall Winterland

Or to be more precise Aldridge and Rushall. My thanks to a friend in Sunderland who gave me the title to this blog! These are the parts of Walsall you don't see when rushing (or crawling as the case so often is) through on the M6.
I do this walk very regularly and enjoy it immensely. It takes me from the edges of Cuckoo's Nook and through The Dingle and then onto Hayhead Wood. I then walk along the canal to Park Lime Pits, go around the pits, go back up the the canal to walk past The Manor Arms (well not always past, I've been known to partake of a beverage there) and then through to Aldridge again.
Today was a beautiful, sunny but bitterly cold day but I dressed for the weather, as did many of the other people that I saw walking along the route and thoroughly enjoyed the walk. Most of the time it was peaceful. I always find the noise from the model planes on the Airport Field an irritation!
There's beauty to be found even in Walsall!
The photographs were all taken on a very cheap digital camera, set for automatic.











24 November 2010

Life at the Manor

This article brought back some bad memories for me. It is shameful that an elderly man should be treated (or not treated as the case is) like this. An apology has been made by the Head of Nursing at the Manor and the Coroner commented that Mr Westwood had not received the level of care he needed.

The problem as I personally see it though is that there are few that do get the care they require and need. To me this problem is in the ownership of the management who clearly do not give the leadership and direction that is so sorely needed, so wound up as they are in targets and figures rather than in the patients that they are responsible for. And yes I use the word patients and not service users or other euphemisms that have crept into our daily life.

Let me make it clear; I have met many staff from doctors to nurses to ancillary staff at the Manor who are dedicated and work tirelessly in the comfort and care of their patients but despite the shiny new buildings and state of the art technology, there is an endemic culture of mismanagement there.

Let's start with out patient appointments at clinics. I have had the misfortune of having attended countless such appointments at various clinics run by various consultants. The words brewery, inebriation and organise not, spring to mind. Not one has ever run efficiently. I am yet after 10 years, to see a member of staff within 15 minutes of my appointment time and my last visit ran up a record of a two hour wait before the consultation. No apologies were offered and no information was given as to how long I may be sat there for. Taking into account that my appointment was set for only 10 minutes after the start of clinic I wasn't expecting a flight time check in wait. It's no use making a complaint as I have discovered because all you get back is patronising platitudes that mean nothing are are worth less and a displeased consultant who is none to happy with you.

In the brand new out patient in the shiny new PFI funded building, clinic patients are to be issued with pagers if clinics are running late in order that the patient can go wander around the various franchised catering outlets and be paged when the consultant is ready to see them. Presumably the pager manufacturer is working flat out to furnish the hospital with the outrageous numbers required! Why can't the hospital management come up with a better run system? One say that does not book three or four patients into the same time slot with the same consultant? Other hospitals do. I have frequented the QE in Birmingham and the Children's Hospital also in Birmingham on a fairly regular basis and their clinics do run far more efficiently. Never at either of those establishments have I waited longer than 30 minutes after the appointment time and frequently have been seen on the dot.

The crux though: Mr Westwood was subject to the type of lack of care and attention that my mother encountered at the same hospital in 2004. Since then we have been assured that practices have improved to go with the beautiful new facilities. It seems not. I copy below part of a blog I made back then about the lack of care and treatment Mom received.

"As I entered the ward I was struck by the most powerful and overwhelming smell of urine and faeces. The further you get into the ward, the worse it gets. There is no getting away from it. Unbelievably the ward is carpeted and it is the carpet that I can smell. I was not the first to complain about this and I wasn't the last. The ward was an orthopaedic one which due to its nature meant that many of the patients were elderly who had suffered nasty fractures. Incontinence is no stranger to the elderly especially when they are distressed following a fall. Whoever made such a pathetic decision to lay carpet in such a ward should have their noses rubbed in it.

Mom was a patient for eight weeks. For about half of this time she lay flat on her back unable to move and therefore subject to the whim of the staff when it came to bedpans and feeding. Most of the time her meals were removed uneaten and no remark made. Trying to feed yourself whilst lying flat on your back and being in incredible pain is difficult to say the least. Mom had called for a bedpan several times but had been unable to produce the goodies. This meant that when she called for one again the staff started to get a little slack. She was worried about this and mentioned it to a nurse. The nurse told her not to worry and if they didn't get there in time to "just shit yourself, everyone else does and we have to clean it up anyway". Not only was Mom helpless but she was now having what little dignity she had left brutally removed from her. Naturally the staff member who said this denied it when I made my written complaint but I have since encountered several people who have spent time on the same ward and have been told exactly the same thing. I suspect it is unwritten hospital policy.

A couple of days in I sat down at visiting time next to Mom's bed and remarked that the urine smell was even worse. Mom whispered that the night before her urine bag (she had a catheter fitted) had not been emptied and it had got so full it burst.

One night after a week inside I received a desperate telephone call from Mom at 10pm. They were moving her to another ward. No warning, nothing, just like that. They had waited until after I had left at 9pm and then moved her. Now I accept that people have to be moved in order to take account of operational needs but why is it done when relatives have returned home? Mom was very upset because of the stressful situation she was in as well as the unremitting pain.

The move turned out to be a good one once Mom had settled into the new ward. She wasn't moved again and over the next few weeks through better pain management and physiotherapy began to become more mobile again. However distressing experiences were plentiful. One elderly lady came in with two broken wrists. If my mother had not helped her to feed, that woman would have starved because nobody ever helped her with her food. Another woman discharged herself and went home to no support or help because she did not want to be sent to a care home miles away from her own home, meaning that her only visitor, her lodger who suffered from alzheimer's would not have been physically able to visit her. Pain management for some patients was a joke with them having to fight for something a little stronger than a paracetamol."

It saddens me to ask you to compare and contrast with the lack of care and treatment that Mr Westwood received. Little has changed including the Chief Executive, although the carpets have gone thank goodness. The culture of an organisation for me, comes from the top. If the top executives refuse to address endemic practices and attitudes then they spread and fester. If however they realise that enough is enough and that bad practice, bad care and bad treatment will not be tolerated and stop worrying about financial figures for long enough to actually think about how a hospital should be run, for the benefit of the patients and not to further their own careers, then it can change.

Like I said there are some really wonderful staff at the Manor. Pity they're not having a say in how the place should be run.

9 November 2010

Remembrance: An Ordinary Life



The man above is my Great Grandfather Frank Keys. Frank was born on 13th November 1885 in a back to back house in West Bromwich. He was the third child of William and Martha. William had been born in Adstock in Buckinghamshire, a place where once the Keys had been a prolific family and had owned nearly all the horses in the village along with decent parcels of land. Over the 19th century the Keys family gradually left their Bucks roots and dispersed around the globe searching for work and a better life than the awful agricultural poverty that had become the norm in places such as Adstock during that century. William went with his parents to the Black Country and followed his father into the brewing world and worked as a malster, as Frank later did too.

Frank's mother was Martha. From what I have discovered her life was full of misfortune. She had been born in Evesham Workhouse, the second illegitimate daughter of a single woman who died when Martha was just 10 years old, not that Martha had really known her Mother because she had been sent to West Bromwich at a young age to live with an Aunt. Her elder sister died before Martha's first birthday.

Martha was just 18 when she gave birth to her first son, Frank's eldest brother William. Nearly three months later on New Years Eve 1882, William made an honest woman of Martha and married her. There soon followed Frank's one and only sister Charlotte. Frank never knew her though because she died a year before his birth.

Throughout his childhood Frank would have got used to the regular arrival of a new brother. Eventually Frank became one of seven brothers. He would have known pure, grinding poverty. These were mean streets of the worst kind of back to back housing but the poverty would have been through the low wages paid by the local main employers involved in iron making, steel spring manufacturing, glass manufacturing, mining at Sandwell Park Colliery, chemical production ironically owned by a different Keys family one of whom became the Mayor of West Bromwich and the eight breweries. Labour was cheap because it was so freely available.

By 1906 Frank had met Ellen Smith who worked as a hand gummer in a printers. Ellen herself had roots in Buckinghamshire. Ellen found herself pregnant in early 1907 and at the end of March that year she and Frank married. Their first daughter Doris was born later that year and she was later joined by a sister Edith and then Daisy. Shortly after Edith's birth, Frank and his family moved from West Bromwich to Aston, possibly the prospects in brewing were better there than West Bromwich where breweries were closing.

In 1906 Frank had lost his father William who died at the age of 42 in the month of June through cystitis pyelitis; an acute bacterial infection of the bladder and kidneys possibly caused because William was diabetic or had renal failure. In 1913 Frank's mother Martha died. She had just about made her fiftieth birthday. Frank's brother Harry had left the UK the year before in October of 1912 to seek a new life in Canada.

In January 1915 my Grandmother, Gladys was born. She was Frank's last child and she never knew her father because shortly after her birth The Great War became reality and Frank enlisted in Birmingham in the regiment of the county of his birth; The South Staffordshire Regiment. According to records Frank was attached to the 1st battalion but the Commonwealth War Graves Commission say he was in the 12th. I suspect he was in the former because the 12th although formed in Brocklesbury in June 1916, did not arrive in France until October 1916 and by then Frank was dead.

Whatever battalion Frank served in what is clear is that he was in France on 1st July 1916 when The Battle of the Somme began. Frank died of wounds on Friday 14th July 1916. He left behind his widow Ellen and four daughters whose ages ranged from 8 to 18 months. He was just 30years old. An ordinary man who had lived an ordinary life.

Frank was eventually buried in Serre Road Cemetery No.2, Beaumont-Hamel. This simple fact was not know about by my Grandmother until 1989 when I wrote to the CWGC and they kindly supplied the information. In 1990, nearly 75 years after Frank had died a family group including my Grandmother and myself visited his grave for the very first time. It was an emotional day. We remembered this man who had lay for so long in a foreign land along with all his comrades, who also were ordinary men with ordinary lives, all of whom left behind people they loved to die within the slaughter of their generation.

We cannot know precisely what Frank encountered and what horrors he may have witnessed but because of the experiences of others we can guess. We remember them all and the sacrifice that they and their families made.





This photograph is of Ellen Keys and of her and Frank's daughters.

8 November 2010

A memory rediscovered....

I was going through a bag of papers today. I had discovered the bag at the bottom of a chest in my bedroom, covered by years of bits and pieces. In amongst receipts, old notes and other unimportant bits and pieces I discovered this note:

"hang on the notice board please

When i am a teenager when i leave home remember i am still part of your life. I will visit you and I hope you go to heaven. Same for you dad. I will love you whatever happens. I hope you'll be happy and have a good future

baris age 7 and 3/4"

It was hung on the notice board for the pin holes are there but I have no recollection as to when I took it down. I do remember though the conversation that prompted the note. The usual one that parents have with their children following the declaration by a child that when they grow up they want to marry you.....such memories. I'm so glad that I have rediscovered this precious note.

30 October 2010

Alone and not lonely


Those who are with me on Facebook know that back in September I enjoyed four nights away on my own in Devon. This was the first time I had gone away solo since before my son was born more than 16 years ago. My Mother didn't believe that I was going alone and neither did quite a few other people so I waved my double room for single occupancy booking for all to see!

It's not as though I haven't trod the solo route before. I did frequently before becoming a Mother. It's never bothered me being on my own as much as it appears to bother others. It has many things to recommend it such as not having to take the wants and needs of a companion into account, doing whatever you fancy doing without having to explain why, eating and sleeping when you want to, being free and through being free, using that freedom to allow your mind to wander in whatever direction it cares to take without interruption or disruption. That time to think and to touch your own soul is precious and is experienced by so few.

Ask yourself when was the last you were truly on your own for more than a couple of hours? Do you actually have time to allow true free thought? I value this solitude so much.

Of course there are negatives to being alone. Nobody to turn to to express delight at some view or experience and to share that with them. Nobody to chat about the day that has been. Nobody to discuss some of the things you have had the time to think about! And there is the safety aspect that many seem to place above all other considerations. Whilst walking on my holiday I stopped to pass the time of day with other walkers, to admire the views and all were surprised that I was walking alone but being on my own revealed to me that there are many men that walk alone and I bet they don't get the note of surprise that I get when revealing the solo nature of their exploits. It is amazing that in the 21st century a woman partaking of an activity alone is still considered to be doing something abnormal and yet a man doing exactly the same thing is not. There are many measures of when true equality will have been attained and this is definitely in the top ten for me.

There were two occasions whilst I was away when a worry about what might happen flitted briefly across my mind. The first was when I was walking through a quite densely wooded area which had the added attraction of steep cliffs too. I noticed a man ahead, probably about the same age as myself, also alone and he noticed me. He slowed considerably and it wasn't long before I had drawn abreast of him. We exchanged pleasantries but I made it pretty clear that I didn't want company by picking up my pace in an effort to draw ahead of him. He shadowed my every pace even when I slowed down and then increased pace again. That was when the thought made a brief flit. I came to a halt and decided to light a cigarette. He stood there watching me. He wasn't taking the hint, he even reached into his pocket and brought out his own cigarettes, which was when I firmly but politely explained that I wanted to walk alone and he was preventing me from doing so. He made an unrepeatable remark but moved on and I sat down and gave him a full half an hour and a dozen other people walking in the same direction before resuming.

The second occasion I really was rather silly but it was so invigorating! 'No access to the beach' the sign said. What beach I though to myself. Looks like sheer cliffs to me. So I followed the pathway and eventually it became apparent that there was a lovely little beach some 500 feet below. The path was steep and in very poor repair and I ended up scrambling using both hands and legs, crawling on all fours when necessary to get both down and then on the return, up. It struck my mind that if I did fall I would be without help for a long time as there was no mobile phone signal and there wasn't a soul around but any misgivings were replaced by total euphoria at having that little beach to myself for half an hour, just sitting watching the waves crashing on the sand and the birds circling overhead.

I've never minded being alone in the city late at night either. The nights I spent in the student union bar when I was at university in London, getting the last tube home on my own and then the 20 minute walk the other end. People said I was being silly and taking risks but to be honest the only risk I ever considered I was taking was not being able to make work at 8am the next morning.....I rarely did (good job it was flexi time) or not being able to hold my bladder until I got in....I always did! I still do it now and whenever anyone expresses concern I point out that I really am in the wrong demographic for being attacked. It is young men between the ages of 16 and 25 who are most at risk, not old biddies like me!

The one thing that my holiday did for me apart from rejuvenating me, making me feel exceptionally happy, fulfilled and fit was made me realise that I really should get away on my own more often, money permitting!

As Deeprak Chopra says "To make the right choices in life, you have to get in touch with your soul. To do this, you need to experience solitude, which most people are afraid of, because in the silence you hear the truth and know the solutions."

23 October 2010

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing...

if you live in the Borough of Walsall that is. If you got yourself an education you might then realise that the people in charge of your local council are ignorant. So the council is making plans to ensure that the local population gets no access to books, or maps, or newspapers or the internet through a local library.

It's taken me a while to calm down about the article shown aside. I was so incandescent with rage that I have been unable to put fingers to keyboard and articulate how I feel about this. Until now.

Councillor Mike Bird is the leader of our council. It's his third crack at this job having twice previously in the last ten years been ousted from the role by his own party; the Tories. If ever David Cameron wanted an example of how differently his cultivated image of the national party is to the reality of a local image and how corrupt and bereft of ideas a local party can be, then he could find no better exmple than the Tories of Walsall. Councillor Bird hits the headlines regularly due to his chronic foot in mouth disease. Back in July it struck when he tried to defend the system of councillor allowances in Walsall that give him an amount of £29,000 per annum. Apparently he's worth every penny because if he was in charge of a 750 million pound budget in the private sector he would be pulling in salary in excess of £100K a year, which rather conveniently ignores the fact that as in common with other local councils, Walsall has a Chief Executive on a salary of £180K per annum!

Councillor Bird also defended these grossly inflated allowances for what is supposed to be a public service and an honour by saying that he works so many hours for Walsall Council that his hourly equivalent is £1.64. This is where it's best to keep the local population ignorant and uneducated otherwise they might calculate that £29K, £1.64 per hour mean he works 345 hours a week. Perhaps Walsall Council did a Napoleon and changed the way we calculate and look at time here because much as I try I still can only find 168 hours in a week!

Walsall has managed to pull itself up to the lofty heights of 130th in the pupils gaining five GCSE league tables, that means there are only 20 local authorities with worse results and might be why local schools are enforcing choices at Year 8 for a three year GCSE course, see my blog here. However Walsall has been busy casting aside and losing any cultural identity it did have for many years. You only have to look at how the birthplace of its most famous son, author Jerome K Jerome has been treated as a good example. Still close the libraries and even less locals will have heard of him and therefore it really will not matter!

Another reason for keeping the locals ignorant is you wouldn't possibly want them to know about another literary figure; Big Brother. Back in May this year, it was revealed that Tory Walsall Council were the third most likely to spy on you council in the country and our hero and gracious leader said 'I'm proud that we do this.When I'd heard that we'd come third, I was disappointed. I wish we'd come first. Now we've got something to aim at next year'! He was also proud of the fact that Walsall Council do not tell innocent residents that they have been subject to covert surveillance, sometimes for weeks and months. And this man represents these people!

I have digressed long enough. Walsall Council has some pretty diverse wards. Some are leafy, middle class and a pleasure to live in. Others are some of the most deprived areas of England. In the west of the borough life expectancy is some eight years less than in the east. Whichever way you look at it, in terms of education, health and employment, Walsall figures in the bottom 25% of the country. This does not seem to concern Councillor Bird however who thinks 'People can download books, we don't have to have bricks and mortar to give people access to reading materials any more'. This conveniently ignores that many people he represents do not have access to i-pads and kindles or broadband internet even in the relatively well off ward that I live in. My local library is two minutes walk from house. I use it regularly as do my children. We don't use it for the internet facilities, although they are useful when there for trying to track down books and articles. We use it to borrow books and maps and study materials that we cannot afford to buy. My one observation of our local library is that it doesn't matter what time of the day you visit, it is always busy and the computer terminals always packed; older people during the day and students in the afternoons and early evenings.

Hitler and his Nazi's burnt books. Looks like Councillor Bird and his colleagues are about to join their illustrious company. Unless of course Cameron does take a look at this disgrace of a local party and how it has mismanaged Walsall Council over the last decade or so (making national headlines in several occasions) and that those who are within at a local level take a good, long look at themselves as well and perhaps come up with some other money saving exercises that would mean that this most loved and needed of public services is retained. Personally I would start with allowances for local councillors and the Chief Executives salary. I also sincerely hope that the local electorate do the decent thing next May. However because of the way the wards of the council are made up, it is unlikely that anyone but the Tories could ever gain control of the council.

18 October 2010

Black Stuff

BBC4 have recently been showing the whole of the devastating 1982 series Boys From The Blackstuff.

Alan Bleasdale wrote this comic-tragic commentary on what happens when an economy is not run with the ordinary working person in mind and I had forgotten just how emotionally gripping it is. Like many I watched this series when it was originally broadcast. I was just a youngster back then and politically naive but not so stupid as to not realise what a true to life depiction this drama was of what I saw around me every day. Who can forget Yosser Hughes and his catchphrases 'gizza a job' and 'I can do that' and the sorrow of seeing a man completely disintegrate and lose everything; his wife, his children, his home and his sanity.

There was dissent about this drama when it was shown; some people down south could not accept this as a true to life depiction and talked about the feckless unemployed and how they should get on their bikes and I remember wondering at the time, why would they think that, we all live in the same country, don't we? Two years later I moved to London and discovered that we didn't all live in the same country, not when it came to how Thatcher's policies affected the lives of individuals. It was different down south. Sure there were unemployed people but the ratios were vastly different. The economy was completely different. No wonder there was and still is to a certain extent, a north/south divide.

As I watched Yosser last night, my mind was drawn to what is in store for us all when the levels of budgetary cuts are announced on Wednesday. We like a little self flagellation we Brits, we take it because we know a little pain is good for us, builds our strength and character. Trouble is, it can all get out of hand and those who have the power forget how those at the bottom who don't have a voice or don't shout loud enough to be heard or have simply given up hope, can be pushed to absolute rock bottom 'for the good of the economy' and so that 'your children and children's children don't have to pay for our mess'. What happened in the late 70s and early 80s destroyed a whole way of life for some. Communities never recovered properly from virtually all of the employment in that area disappearing. We lost generations; men in their 40s and 50s that never saw paid employment again and young people for whom there was no possibility of a job until it was far too late for them to know how to work.

I don't suppose our political leaders have been watching the series. Pity really, they might have got a gentle reality check; that the decisions they make affect real people and can ruin lives. I suppose it all depends on your individual political perspective. Me? Well I don't see two and half million jobs suddenly appearing in the private sector to replace all of the jobs that will be lost in both public and private sectors because of the cuts that will be announced on Wednesday. If someone does see where they are going to come from, please tell me. I'm all for believing in miracles. I also believe in a steady and progressive action that is sustainable. A bit like losing weight; lose too much too quickly and you end up in worse trouble than before you started. After all, if you tighten your belt too much, you can't breathe.

1 October 2010

Summer Stolen

In my imagination it was all there. Images of what could come and how it might be. My dream.

The candles were purchased, the cushions sewn, the blankets laundered, the rough edges smoothed. Flowers in bloom, trees fruiting, the garden fertile and alive ready to greet us. I had cooked the meals and poured the wine. The music was chosen, soft and melodic; a perfect accompaniment to warm and gentle summer evenings. Evenings that were just a breath away, yet to happen but real and tangible with my anticipation. The sunsets would be glorious in their deep crimsons and purples gradually fading to black when the flicker from the flame of a candle would then illuminate your face. It would get cooler but never enough to chill the ardour.

They were to be nights to remember. A summer of love. Of golden times making golden memories.

But summer never came. You stole it away all for yourself. The meals were never cooked and shared. The wine was never poured. The music never played. The candles never lit and the memories never made. My dreams unfulfilled.

27 September 2010

League Tables; not just important for football clubs

My daughter has now reached her last year of primary school and so a couple of weeks ago we attended an open evening at our local school. This is the school that my son has recently left, so you would think that I would know it reasonably well. I thought I did but it seems that certain changes have been made recently with no consultation with parents.

We were enjoying a wonderfully hilarious presentation by members of the History Department when a nugget was slipped in regarding the whole of the Key Stage 3 now having to be covered in just two years because ‘options’ were now being made to start at the beginning of Year 9 rather than Year 10 previously. I’ll explain, ‘options’ are the subject choices a child makes for their GCSEs, so as GCSEs are normally taken in Year 11 and are a two-year course, they have been since forever, made at the age of 14 or the end of Year 9; third year of secondary school in old money.

When I got the opportunity I asked the teacher who was accompanying my group around the school, who is also what is now called a Subject Leader rather than Head of Department, as to why options had been moved forward a year and did he not think as I did, that 12/13 was rather too young to be making choices that had massive repercussions for the long term future of the individual child. His response was that some students found the two years insufficient time to attain a decent grade in their chosen GCSE courses and this change would therefore allow those students to fulfil their potential with less stress. Additionally, more able pupils would be able to take all of their GCSEs in Year 10, which would then enable then to take further GCSEs in subjects that interested them in just one year in Year 11. Some students would also be able to take AS levels a year early.

Having had some experience of GCSEs in the past two years I responded to the teacher by pointing out that what I could see happening was that all students would take their examinations early and those who did not make their target grade would then be forced to take and retake the examinations again and again until targets had been reached, thus inducing paranoia and stress and boredom. I added that precious few students would actually be able to take advantage of taking subjects that interested them in just one year and all the school seemed to be doing was extending the GCSE curriculum to three years by the back door. I know that my son got incredibly bored going over the same material in lessons time and time again for the benefit of those who hadn’t understood the first three or four times around, much to his detriment. The teacher was a little taken aback, I could see the thought ‘she’s rumbled us’ written all over his face. He responded by saying that they were only doing what lots of other schools were doing.

It crossed my mind that this change was all about league tables but I had other things to think about until that is I read THIS in last weeks Guardian Education supplement. Seems I was right. Is this what league tables have forced us into? That we now speed through three years of curriculum studies in two years, force children to chose subjects that will have a direct bearing on what A levels they may wish to take and therefore in turn affects the choice of course for university at a ridiculously young age of 12 or 13 and then allow a leisurely 3 years for a GCSE course in order that a school can boast ‘best GCSE results ever!’ and offer increasingly amazing percentages of those students who obtain five or more grade Cs, including maths and English because that is what is recorded in the league tables?

Speeding through three years of curriculum in a mere two also means that the vast majority of students will only study a foreign language for two years at secondary school and other subjects such as History, Geography, Music and so on, will suffer the same fate.

This is narrowing our children’s education even further. All we are doing is churning out children that are eventually taught how to get a grade C in a public examination. We are not educating them in any broad sense of the word. We reap what we sow. It’s a pretty sad picture when I look ahead.

25 August 2010

A journey from a bygone age


Last week I took a return bus journey which transported me back to a time and a service that I had thought disappeared.

The route is between two centres of a decent population but taking in small villages for which this bus is the only service. It travels the whole route return four times a day.

I got on the bus and asked the fare and the driver was meticulous in ascertaining if I needed a return ticket (because it's much cheaper love ) and in informing me of the return times (because you don't want to miss the last bus do you now love?) For the record I don't mind being called love because it's a local thing and it's nice.

As I sat down I noticed that everyone that boarded was given a personal greeting and it appeared that many of the elderly passengers were known to the driver by name. The journey itself took about 10 minutes longer than timetabled, not due to any traffic problems but because the driver really did provide a very personal service. Not only did he stop at all the regulated stops but he also stopped where convenient to an individual passenger. Each one was given a cheery 'tarra' from the driver. And this is why I will not name either the bus company or the route because I have a horrible feeling that allowing passengers to board or disembark at anywhere other than a designated stop is probably against the law or something similar.

At journeys end I was wished a good day along with everyone else.

The return journey was what really took me back. It was the same driver and after responding to his question as to whether I had enjoyed my day I asked whether he was the only driver on the route, which he confirmed he was. This explained why everyone knew him and why he knew them. As the journey was being taken during the rush hour most of the passengers were workers returning home for the evening. I was struck by how they sat in groups, chatting and discussing the days events. Seats were kept free for those who joined the bus later on in the journey. The driver greeted everyone by name and asked about their day and each passenger asked after the drivers day and/or health.

As people reached home there were numerous goodnights' around the bus and to the driver and then as the driver drove off again, the people who had disembarked waved to the driver and their friends and everyone waved back! It was delightful and reminded me of travelling by bus as a child with my Mother who always knew all the drivers and conductors.

This journey gladdened my heart and put a massive smile on my face. The only downside to all of this is the route is heavily subsidised by two councils. I sincerely hope that with all the cutbacks that are being made and are to be made, that this service will not lose out, for neither leg of the journey was full by any sort of description you would care to use. Not only would the villages lose their only service but a little bit of happiness would be lost too.

11 August 2010

There really is no such thing as Society, not when there's CUTS to be made!


This article and associated reports carried in various media yesterday started a few thought processes in my weary brain. Feel free to pick it all apart but these thoughts come from the heart because I've seen it all before.

Last week I watched a programme on BBC Four Britain's Park Story and a fascinating piece of social history it was. Towards the end of the programme they touched and it was only a brief touch on how Britain's Parks became no go areas during the 1980s following savage cuts during the Thatcher Years, in funding. You may remember it all well. Once a park is neglected, plant beds left to the weeds, pathways left to crumble, buildings not maintained, park keepers and rangers made redundant along with the skilled gardeners et al, then the vandals move in to destroy what remains. Graffiti became more prevalent than foliage, children's playgrounds became the haunt of disassociated young people who had nowhere else to go and nothing better to do than cause trouble and take drugs. The families stayed away because of the danger of a child picking up used needles or condoms. Councils couldn't do anything about the problems because the funds were not available and so it all became a vicious circle.

If you allow places to rot and fester then there is no pride. How can you have pride in something that is vile and vandalised? And so the situation gets worse and the behaviour of those who are disassociated becomes worse and society as a whole breaks open a little more. This may all sound so dramatic but think about it. When something is good and well maintained and money is spent in keeping it that way then there is a pride. A pride in a place that is ours, belongs to all of us and that we all as a society use. I don't have a lot of time for the last Labour Government but give them their due, the rise in use of our parks and there has been an incredible increase in the popularity and use of all types of park, does coincide with their 13 years of power.

It is easy for departments that provide for our leisure activities to be subjected to the first and most savage of cuts because they are not considered essential, hence the cut in new playgrounds that would have made such a difference to the lives of those who had help plan them and would have used them. But these services are essential in my eyes and a wider perspective needs to be taken into account. Cut these provisions and we start that vicious circle of decay, decomposition and ultimately destruction all over again.

Everything starts with but a small seed.....

7 August 2010

Single and No Car! A Moan...you're warned.


I write this as Frustrated of Aldridge!

In September my wonderful daughter is off on a venture week with her school so I thought I would take the opportunity to raid the savings of a very modest amount and go away for about four days on my own and recharge the batteries, have some quality me time with good old thinking time thrown in for good measure. Easy you would think. Think again. This world is set against people like me that are not only travelling solo but on public transport too. How very dare I?!

My first thought was to go up to the Hebrides, I've always wanted to go there and I can't think of somewhere else that would be as wild, windy and pretty deserted for quality thinking time. Unfortunately, and I have spent many long hours pouring over the logistics of all modes of travel be it air, sea, coach, bus or even all four and a good walk thrown in for good measure and it is nigh on impossible. I have no desire to spend a night in Glasgow, had enough of that city in the early 90s or to spend the sort of money that would be required in order to avoid a night there!

So my thoughts turned to North Devon and in particular Lynton. Again pretty wild with beautiful coastal scenery and the stunning coastal path between there and Ilfracombe , a mere 21 miles. The area around Lynton is known as Little Switzerland so those who know me would also know why the area appeals. Again however, getting there is an all day job involving a bus to Birmingham and then the train to Taunton, bus from Taunton to Minehead and then another bus from Minehead to Lynton. Now do I want to spend a total of 18 hours travelling the round trip out of my few precious days? I remember now why I always end up in North West Wales: not only is it beautiful but it takes 3 hours door to door! Grrrrr.

My other bug bear though is the local public transport in North Devon. Guess you have to own a car to live there because the bus services STOP for the winter the day after I plan to travel there! So no walking to Ilfracombe or Hunters Inn and then getting the bus back! I thought public transport was bad around here in the wicked West Midlands after experiencing the joy and frequency of London public transport (do Londoners really appreciate what a wonderful service they have?) but at least the service doesn't stop for the winter, well only when it snows!

Then there is accommodation. Nothing flashy. Just a simple B&B is required but as soon as you tell them the room is only for one person they do not have any vacancies! I did try calling a couple back, pretending I was someone else looking for a booking for two and miraculously they had vacancies! Even if they do have vacancies, said B&Bs want 75% of the price of two people sharing the room! Oh yes and this is for single rooms too!

So I'm having a moan. It is unbelievably difficult to try and do something that should be so simple and is if you are a couple and you drive!

Looks like Wales and I'll just have to swallow my anger over the 75%!

4 July 2010

Radio Days


This one comes courtesy of my lovely friend Martin who posted a link to a Nat King Cole song on my Facebook page today and set into motion a train of thought. Listening to Nat croon away reminded me of Sunday mornings when I was a child listening to Family Favourites on the radio, or the wireless as we called it back then.

I don't remember the minutiae of Family Favourites but recall that people wrote in with requests for friends and families all over the world and the programme would link up to far flung places where their loved ones were working or had emigrated or were serving in the forces. This I suppose was all in the days before it was common to have a telephone let alone actually make international calls! It's so easy to keep in touch now that we become lazy in communication.

I digress. Back to the point. When I was a child the radio was always on. Before the birth of Radio 1, Mom listened to the Light Programme and my formative years were spent watching my Mother twist and shout and vacuum to the Beatles amongst others. Once Radio 1 had burst upon us, the radio was rarely tuned into anything else. On Sundays we listened to the end of the Chart Show and the announcement of this weeks new number one in the car on the way back from my Grandparents. Then Radio 1 finished and we 'joined' Radio 2 for Sing Something Simple. I was always glad we were close to home then!

The Top Twenty Chart was such an important part of my growing years, never missed it and often recorded it after my grandfather gave me one of those new fangled cassette recorders! It was of course linked in to Top of the Pops which is an entirely different blog.

I don't remember the name of the programme that was specifically for children that was on weekend mornings for a couple of hours but I do remember Ed Stewart and Tubby the Tuba and Milly, Molly, Mandy, The Laughing Policeman, Puff the Magic Dragon and all the other records that were played. Again this was a request show, so we the listeners chose the music that was played. Heady days.

When I got to being an unruly teenager in the 70s the old Radio 1 Road-show with Smiley Miley et al was de rigour and you were just not part of the scene unless you attended at least one road-show during the summer. One Saturday morning we waited for hours to catch a glimpse of Tony Blackburn who was opening the new shopping centre in Kingstanding.

At school we were forced to listen to a school morning assembly broadcast once a week and all I really remember about this was that it was incredibly boring. Mr Bennett, our Head Teacher had his faults but I think he gave us reasonable assemblies when he was running the show but I guess the man needed one morning off a week. We also used to have to do Music, Movement and Mime from the radio. That was all standing pretending to be trees blowing in the wind type of stuff.

I loved Noel Edmonds and DLT but loathed Jimmy Saville and that programme he did early on Sunday afternoons when he gave you points if you could remember the brackets in the title of some song he was playing from 20 years earlier! Like they were real points!

I still love the radio and have it on most of the time but rarely listen to music stations now. It's all Radio 4, Five Live, World Service....how boring and old I have become or maybe just too lazy.

2 July 2010

Missing

I miss your arms around me, holding me tight, keeping me close. In bed I drifted into sleep with those arms around me and when I woke in the morning they were still there wrapped around my form as though I were some parcel marked 'fragile'. Those evenings watching our favourite TV programmes or a DVD, snuggling on the sofa, arms and legs entwined, a glass of red wine and soft, sweet kisses. The meals alone, candle light flickering across and illuminating the face I grew to love so much. Our laughter peeling together, sharing an anecdote or a joke or just life. The late night phone calls when were not together, letting each other know that at the end of the day there was someone in the big wide world that cared. I miss the touch of our fingers seeking the other out. The smiles of shared moments. The spontaneity of hugs from nowhere. The smell when I buried my face in your neck.

26 June 2010

Clip, clip, cut, cut, snip, snip


I've spent a fair amount of time in two different hospitals recently as those who follow me on Facebook will know and it gave me some time to reflect on how differently two places with the same ethos and same purpose can operate so differently but also on which members of staff would be considered 'front line' and therefore not lose their jobs in the severe cuts in public services that we are to see over the next few years under our ConDem coalition government.

I hope that nurses and doctors will not lose their jobs but what about clinical assistants, care assistants, education and play co-ordinators, cleaners, and the multitude of other ancillary staff who have direct patient contact and who help to provide and decent service to patients?

When you need something or someone it is more likely that it will be a clinical or care assistant that is the first person to respond. They're the people who hold the hands of patients and their loved ones, make sure the bed is ready when a patient returns from surgery and that all appropriate equipment for monitoring is in the right place. They fetch and they carry and they chase up the named nurse who in theory is providing all the care for an individual patient. They are in effect the dogs-bodies but I wonder if they are considered essential front line staff. Certainly wards could run without them but that would put an enormous strain on the nursing staff and patient care would suffer enormously.

On the Children's wards there are education and play co-ordinators and what a job they do! Talking to each child and their parent or carer, assessing what activity might be helpful in directing the thoughts of a child away from pain. Setting up group activities and DVD showings for the teenagers. Sorting out books and games, making recommendations and gently persuading children to make an attempt to get out of bed and go down to the playroom. Again, wards could run without them but what a poorer experience a child would have without them. They enrich the life of the ward and touch the lives of individual children in a memorable way.

I could go on as this subject concerns me greatly and not just with regard to hospitals but for education too. Cutting 25% from an education budget will mean some pretty serious implications for the education of our children. It's almost as though the people of the UK feel that we must go through this agony of cuts and losses in order to attempt atonement for the vast excesses in consumption and lifestyle up until now because there is so little opposition to the drastic measures that have been outlined in the last week. I disagree. The cuts that are going to be made will change the lives of many and not for the better. Those who are least able to defend themselves such as the sick, the young, the old, the disabled, the carers will be the most affected and their voices will not be heard. You can see David Cameron and Nick Clegg et al getting ready with their ear plugs just to make sure that they don't have to listen because they do not want to listen and even if they heard hasn't the Prime Minister already said that protests will not be relevant to the action he has to take. What sort of a country are we going to fashion in the next generation for the generations that are to come?

Summer Days with You

Summer days with you. Long walks holding hands. Through fields and woods, the shade from the trees flickering over your smiling face. Dipping my hot feet in the freezing waters of a stream and you laughing. Carefully making my way over stepping stones only to slip on the final one and you surreptitiously taking photos recording my progress. Finding a bench or patch of land to eat our picnic and then enjoying the peace and solitude of that special place. Talking, chatting, discussing, sharing and golden silences when nothing needed to be said. Cream teas overloaded with suggestion and the promise of a night to come. A pint at the end of the day. Always touching. Kisses stolen and kisses displayed and feeling like a teenager once again. Summer days with you.

31 May 2010

Gongoozling



I enjoy canals. Walking the tow paths, watching the boat traffic, observing the life and people of that world fascinates me. I am drawn to the tranquillity that can be discovered even when one is in the middle of an urban sprawl. When it came to deciding where to walk this last weekend choosing a route along one of the many canals in this region appealed especially if it could be combined with another of my favourite past times; a pint or two of cider. And so it was at 9.20 yesterday morning I set off from Fazeley Junction to walk the 11 miles to Fradley Junction.


Fazeley is urban no doubt but walking just a couple of miles brings a more rural scene with woods and bird song and peace. The walk between Hopwas village and Huddlesford Junction is particularly delightful. I love nosing into the gardens in the villages where they meet the canal or the tow path or both and equally I enjoy the more serene times spent by Hopwas Hays Woods on one side and the river Tame the other. Walking gives me time to think and also to appreciate whatever season it happens to be. At this time of the year the canal is full of lots of mothers with their baby chicks, swifts swooping down to the water and just as quickly soaring the skies again, the bull rushes and lilies are just about to flower and the cow parsley, hawthorn and horse chestnut trees are in full flower.


At the beginning the air was thick with the smells of Sunday morning sausage, bacon and eggs emanating from the boats moored all along. Not much moved on the water itself at this time except the ducks and geese, people were busy enjoying a relaxing breakfast. Most called out a cheery 'morning' and one couple even offered a gratefully received mug of coffee. A fifteen minute encounter with strangers that was thoroughly enjoyable. Dog walkers, cyclists, joggers all exchanged a 'morning' but one thing that struck me, possibly because I have not been walking solo for a fair while is that although the male of a couple would greet me, the female did not.


One word of advice when walking along a canal. The boats don't tend to go much faster than walking pace so if you find yourself behind a novice boater let them move on or speed up yourself and loose them. A nose constantly full of diesel fumes due to their ineptitude at using the engine is not recommended!


After three hours there was no more welcome site than The Swan at Fradley, known to regulars and locals as The Mucky Duck. They now sell their own Mucky Duck ale brewed by a local micro brewery. I'm told it's good. The Swan is apparently one of the most photographed pubs in Britain. It's over 200 years old, it's picturesque, it sells great real ale, decent cider and wonderful home cooked food. Added to that is that it sits at the busy junction between the Coventry and Trent and Mersey canals, a fine spot for gongoozling and you can understand why it is so photographed. I sat for an hour and enjoyed a couple of pints of cider watching the novice boaters make a real pigs ear of the turn between the canals and having a chat with a couple of young canoeists.


I was feeling pretty good at that stage but then I needed to backtrack 5 miles to a village where I could get a bus to return home and it wasn't long before I realised I may have bitten off a little more than I could chew. Nothing new there! I will not bore you with my travails but I finished the walk with four blisters on the sole of my left foot, the knee on the same side feeling as though it might explode and decidedly painful hips. Reporting from 24 hours on though I am happy to advise that only the blisters are still giving me grief.


It was an enjoyable and mostly solitary day. Did I manage to think things through properly and to any particular conclusion? No, not absolutely. Guess I need another walk with a lovely pub at the end of it!

15 May 2010

Love, football and irony


Two years ago this weekend I went to London for a couple of days. My first weekend without responsibilities for many years and so I went to reclaim the past as mine, lay ghosts to rest and I ended up having a ball. Portsmouth won the FA Cup final and having gone down to Covent Garden that evening, I celebrated with them. It was one of those days after the break up with the Ex that life was good and I knew I was going to enjoy life and all its challenges.

Fast forward to July last year and out of the blue love found me again. It was so exciting because it was so unexpected and although it was hard to learn to trust again I had no doubts.

Ironically exactly two years on, Portsmouth are at Wembley again today and yesterday I lost my love. My mood could not be further from the bouncy, joyous woman two years ago and it is hard to face and deal with my emotions but it will be done. But I want Portsmouth to do me a favour this afternoon. I want them to win. I will take it as a omen of better things to come when one is at their lowest, as both me and Portsmouth FC are.

22 March 2010

Assumptions


We are all guilty of making assumptions about people, me included. We shouldn’t but we’re given a set of circumstances, a personality, maybe things are said, perhaps taken out of context and assumptions are made. It’s easy!

One assumption that is frequently made about me by many people including family and close friends is that I support and vote for The Labour Party….that’s the so called pinko lefties to anyone outside the UK. Well I don’t and I don’t and if there is one thing the Labour Party is not, is pinko lefty!

True until 1996 I was a fully paid up card carrying member of said party but I had been unhappy with the direction that the party was travelling in for a couple of years, well since 1994 actually and the election of Tony Blair as Party Leader. A close friend of mine said that I wasn’t to worry because once they got into power all those socialist principles would be remembered and taken up again; the party was just trying to attract the middle class, middle Britain vote. I wasn’t so sure but what nailed it for me was the wording of plans for university education in the manifesto of 1997. There was no mention of abolishing the student maintenance grant or even of tuition fees but the manifesto did state that university expansion could not be funded from taxation and that student maintenance should be "repaid by graduates on an income-related basis".

Maybe I think too much but this sentence struck to the core of my own beliefs about how education should be open to all and not just be the privilege of those who could afford it. And before anyone says a word I was latecomer to further education, a mature student who paid her own fees and didn't get a maintenance grant, so I wasn’t be a protectionist for something I had personally enjoyed. I knew in my heart that if my reading of this one small sentence in the manifesto was right then there were some horrors I could just not defend that would come into being come the labour election victory.

So I didn’t vote labour in 1997 and I haven’t voted labour since, nor will I ever vote labour again until a return is made to many of the old labour principles and beliefs. Presumably that will be the day pigs fly over my house! I do vote in every election, local or national but I flit and float hoping to find something and someone who is worthy of my hard fought for vote. Alas, and maybe I am making some assumptions myself here, there doesn’t appear to be many politicians around these days that are worthy of the trust and the vote of ordinary people. Oh and I have never and will never vote Tory!

I read it right though, that small sentence, because just after the 1997 election, the new labour government not only abolished the maintenance grant but introduced tuition fees too. Ok so the grant is back but it doesn’t even cover the fees. What a waste of time, effort and resources, giving something in one hand to take back with extras in the other, just to keep civil servants and student loan companies in jobs.

I am so frustrated! But not so frustrated as to vote labour!

5 March 2010

Revenge!


Every other weekend my daughter goes to stay with her Dad for 2 nights. This has meant that now my son is a responsible (ha ha) mature (ha ha ha) nearly 16 year old that I take the opportunity to help him gain more independence, responsibility and maturity by leaving him home alone for a 24 hour period. He loves it. He eats curry all weekend, can play his music very loudly and can watch whatever he likes on the 42" TV in the living room.

He's pretty good. I have had no complaints of wild parties (we leave that to the mature (NOT), responsible (NOT NOT) 22 year old who lives next door who goes absolutely wild every time his parents are away) or queues of young women awaiting entrance. I can't smell anything remotely of the wackiest baccy on returning home, just curry. However my gripe relates to the fact that when I leave, the house is clean and tidy and yet 24 hours later it looks like a student flat that hasn't been tidied or cleaned for a term.

I have tried asking ever so politely and pleasantly that he tidy up before I return home; hasn't worked. I have threatened removal of laptop and/or switching off of router; hasn't worked. I've yelled and done the usual Mother Going Nuts impression; hasn't worked. I've tried calling saying I'll be home in half an hour and would he tidy up; hasn't worked.

So now I've come up with the ultimate. I've just informed him that if I get home this Sunday and the house is a tip then I shall be fitting padlocks to all relevant doors so that he cannot access certain rooms. Judging by his reaction it might just work!

4 March 2010

Why do I feel so guilty?


I don't mind admitting that I'm on a tight budget these days. The four holidays a year to foreign climes are long gone. This years holiday is courtesy of my tesco vouchers, hoarded over the last two years for the day I knew would come. I don't buy clothes for myself except with birthday and Christmas money or when something nice and decent catches my eye in one of the three local charity shops. Although the recession has something to do with this situation, in that valued clients of many years standing have gone out of business, the main reason is the departure of the Ex and his utter failure to appreciate just how much is spent on the children plus who would look after my Mom if I didn't? However I'm not complaining. I'm luckier than most. My house is owned outright so at least I don't have a mortgage and if push comes to shove it can always be sold in a downsizing exercise. I grow a lot of my own for consumption in summer and autumn months. I make my own greetings cards and have taken to making presents now too. If I can't afford to buy it cash I don't have it. I still have a good existence and can honestly say that I lack for nothing essential.

This evening a knock on the door revealed the caller to be from the local dairy touting for business for the local self employed milkman. I used this dairy for doorstep deliveries until a few years ago because Mick the Milkman had been a family friend forever but when he left, after being badly treated by said dairy, I waved them goodbye. Dairyman asked me where I purchased my milk. Simple says I, 4 pints for a £1 from Iceland. I felt the intake of breath rather than saw it and knew I was in for a grave look and a lecture on how dairy farmers were going out of business because of this sort of loss leading pricing and had I seen the channel 4 documentary? My expectation didn't go unrewarded and I let him speak without interruption. My response was that I would love to be able to afford the luxury of supporting dairy farmers and also other suppliers of say fair trade products but I can't. It's a struggle on a daily basis and a 70 pence saving multiplied by 4 and again by 52 buys the school uniforms and shoes for a year. He shook his head, thanked me for my time and walked away.

So why do I feel so damn guilty? I used have the luxury of being able to chose carefully what suppliers and products I purchased but now, value for money is the key factor and all these, what appear to be insignificant amounts do add up. Perhaps I should cut down on the few pounds a week I allow myself for my own gratification such as a couple of pints of cider or a bottle of wine? My pleasures are simple and not expensive but now I feel guilty for being part of the mass that are causing the downfall of dairy farming in the UK!

Sometimes a conscience is a burden.

14 February 2010

Chance meetings


I spent a long day at the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham this week whilst my son had surgery. It’s not the first time I’ve done such a thing and so I know the drill, know when I’ll get a little time out, where to get my free coffee and that chatting with strangers in a similar position is part of the day. I am always humbled when at the hospital; humbled by various children and some of the awful diseases and accidents that have endured, humbled by their parents and carers and their incredible stoicism and humbled by the staff from porters to doctors, nurses to care assistants and the wonderful way they operate and make each and every child feel special and that as a parent I am not to made to feel stupid by the questions I ask and because I love my child and that child is special to me.

Following the booking in, the chat with the nurse, the chat with the very junior doctor, the chat with the anaesthetist and then finally the chat with the surgeon and registrar (oh that everyone cared so much for adults!) I knew I had half an hour to get breakfast and catch a crafty ciggie….yes I am still addicted to the dreaded weed. So son being settled with MP3 player and DS, off I went. It wasn’t the sort of day where you wanted to hang around outside the hospital having a ciggie it being snowy and having a bitingly cold northern wind whipping its way around the corner of Steelhouse Lane Police Station but I touched base with a woman I had noticed on the ward. The young girl with Downs that I had seen her with wasn’t her daughter as I first thought but her granddaughter. She was having grommets fitted in both ears in the hope that when she could hear properly, she might be able to start to talk. The child was 10 years old, the same age as my daughter. I thought to myself what sort of system is it that a child has to wait 10 years before this sort of surgery is done?

What is it with speaking with a stranger means you open up and talk about the most intimate details of parts of your life? Is it because you will probable never see or speak with them ever again? Is it because no judgements are made on such a brief encounter? Or are you perhaps chatting about things that are normally left unsaid, lying deep within only to be released when there is nobody else personally involved around? I have no idea, perhaps it is a mixture of all but what I do know is that I am never the one seeking the comfort, rather I seem to be able to elicit secrets that are held within without even knowing how I do it or even wanting to do so.

Soon I was hugging this woman and giving thanks for my blessings. She had mentioned that her daughter was in Germany, in the army, had done two tours of Afghanistan and I had assumed that this was why she was looking after her granddaughter. Unfortunately I was wrong. This career soldier had abandoned her daughter shortly after birth and took no interest in her daughter’s life or care. Grandmother had become mother. But Grandmother was also a daughter and her own mother was with her that day. I saw her up on the ward. She was wearing a headscarf and was thin and wan. She had recently had her breasts removed because of cancer and was in the middle of chemotherapy. No wonder my companion on the street needed a hug.

Following my son’s surgery whilst he was quiet and wanting to sleep I went to get a coffee from the parents room. I struck up a conversation with the mother of a beautiful little girl who was in the bed next to my son. The child was 4 years old and was only breathing with the aid of a portable respirator. Mom had been driving her car when that precious little girl was just 12 months old and was struck by a drunk driver. Mom walked away unscathed. Her daughter was less fortunate. She was there that day to have a full MRI scan under sedation. Four full time carers were needed night and day to help look after that child and what a beautiful girl she was with long, dark, curly locks and the face of an angel. Later I went and sat with them. That little girl could not speak but she watched everything, followed me with her eyes as I stood up and moved around and you just knew from looking at her that she was completely aware of her surroundings. Her Mom told me all about the never ending court cases and the never ending hospital stays and visits but she was happy and so, so strong.

As we left I counted my blessings once again and I reflected upon these strong women who for whatever reason had trusted a complete stranger with their stories and I felt blessed again.