09 December 2014


I seem to be surrounded by jobsworths and incompetence at the moment. My already-complicated life is made even worse by people who stick to the rules and can't think out of the box.   

The first instance is the ambulance collection service that our local hospital operates to take patients between the hospital and their homes. I make it clear that this service is not the same as the ambulances you get when you dial 999. The ambulance collection service uses minibus-type ambulances with ramps for wheelchairs or stretchers and only have about 5 seats maximum. They are used purely to take incapacitated patients home after their hospital stay (hence some are on stretchers) or to appointments if walking is difficult.  I encountered this service for the first time when  my mother was discharged from hospital after she broke her knee and was barely able to walk. Unable to cope on her own at home, she opted to come and stay with me for what turned out to be six weeks. During that time we had several appointments at the hospital either at the fracture clinic or for heart scans or to see consultants.  As her leg had to be kept straight, it was in a foam brace with velcro straps but did the same job as a plaster cast. It therefore required the ambulance service to turn up at my house, carry her down two flights of stairs in a carry-chair, put her in the ambulance with her leg stretched out and drive her to her appointment, then do the whole thing in reverse once the appointment was finished. I was given a phone number and I had to book this service every time, days in advance. Each time I was told we had to be ready for collection 2.5 hours ahead of the appointment. It meant that for an appointment at 2pm, say, we had to be ready and waiting at 11.30am. It could mean having a really early lunch or snacking instead in case there was a sudden ring at the doorbell. There was always a lot of waiting, just in case they were early.

In reality, the ambulance usually turned up about an hour before, so there had been a lot of useless hanging around, but we understood the problems, as we were never the only patients on board and they often had to pick patients up after us before they set off to the hospital. At the end of the appointment, you could wait around in the hospital foyer for anything up to five hours to be  taken home again. On average it was two hours, but the five-hour one put us off ever using it again, as we didn't get home until 9pm! Again we were not the only ones going home, so we had to hang around for others to be collected from wards or clinics.

The crews were by and large very lovely people who were caring beyond the call of duty. We saw some of them several times and got to know them very well. On the last occasion, however, the crew that collected us from home had a jobsworth who wouldn't lift my mother down the stairs with her leg outstretched because he might hurt his back and he moaned and groaned more than my mother whose knee he tried to yank into a bent position without any prior warning to make her easier to carry. Once in the ambulance, he lay down on the empty stretcher and closed his eyes for the entire journey, while his colleague drove us to the hospital. If her knee ever heals, it will be no thanks to him.

Still on the hospital theme, my mother was discharged from hospital in early October with two items issued by Occupational Therapy: a zimmer frame and an upright leather armchair at the right height to help her stand up and sit down with a gammy knee. In truth, she did not really like the chair. It was too uncomfortable for her arthritic back, but she put up with it, hoping the hospital knew best. When my mother went back to her flat two weeks ago, there was certainly no room for the chair, so I rang the telephone number on the back of the chair for the equipment agency to collect it. Herein started my nightmare.

We can't collect it as it is not registered to your address.
        Where is it registered, then?
 At the hospital address.
 So how do I get rid of it?

You either need to take it back to the hospital or get the hospital to register it to your address and then we can collect it from you.

But I am telling you now what my address is.

Sorry. You either need to take it back to the hospital or get the hospital to register it to your address and then we can collect it from you.
Last week, I rang the hospital and spoke to the Occupational Therapist who sounded a bit vague when I explained the problem, but she cheerily told me to leave it with her and try ringing the equipment agency again on Monday, which I did yesterday.

We can't collect it as it is not registered to your address.

Well look, this is silly, isnt it? I can't keep ringing you and the hospital and getting nowhere. Why don't you just collect it from me. My addresss is...

Sorry. You either need to take it back to the hospital or get the hospital to register it to your address and then we can collect it from you. Maybe you could take it to the hospital?

The chair is up two flights of stairs. I am 64 years old and a widow.  Even if I could single-handedly carry a huge leather armchair down to the ground floor, how am I going to get it in my car?

Well, in that case,  get the hospital to register it to your address and then we can collect it from you.

Look,  I am sick of being piggy in the middle.  I'm telling you now, if you do not collect the chair by the end of the week, it will end up on the tip.


It would break my heart to see it on the tip so I rang the Occuptional Therapist again yesterday  .......12 times. Each time I was told she was at a meeting/on a ward round/at lunch/assessing a patient/not there/in Timbuktu/ gone homeEach time I left a message for her to ring me to see how the chair could be re-registered under my address. I finally got hold of her this morning! She's promised to get back to me. Hmm. Watch this space. I'm not over-confident.

Meanwhile I was due to have a new radiator put in my bedroom last Thursday. The two men who turned up told me they had only been allocated two hours for a five-hour job, so it was rearranged for today. I got a call this morning from the gas company to say, one of them is off sick, so the job has been rescheduled for next week. Hopefully, third time lucky.

Yep, I'm not dreaming. It's not the first day of April either. Life can be a bitch.

03 December 2014

Good times and bad times

It was my birthday at the weekend and I spent it up north with Kay who spoiled me rotten. She treated me to a night at the ballet, made me a birthday cake, took me shopping and we went for a bracing walk across the Moors. It was a lovely weekend to recharge my batteries after the last tiring six weeks looking after my mother with the wonky broken knee.

Back home on Monday, I discovered some scum had tried to forge another of my cheques for nearly £3000, (see the end of this when it happened earlier in the year) but the bank fortunately managed to stop it going through, alerted by the fact that the cheque's serial number was some 400 cheques into the future from the last cheque I signed last week! I spent all day sorting it out and was all stressed out again.

Today my mother is going for an 8-week check on her knee. At the six week check they said it had still not healed, so wanted to give it another 2 weeks before deciding whether they need to operate and wire it together. A bit of a worry considering she is 91 years old. Fingers crossed it won't come to that.  I'm taking her to the hospital by car as the minibus ambulance transport to every appointment has not been without its problems. We used it because mum needed to be carried down my stairs while she was staying with me and couldn't bend her leg to get into a car. However for the last hospital appointment the minibus ambulance driver who collected her bent her knee without warning to make it easier for him to carry her, despite knowing she shouldn't bend it, and at the end of our appointment we had to wait FIVE HOURS in the hospital lobby for an ambulance to take us back home again, as they were all out on journeys. Never again, declared my mother, so we are attempting the journey in my car today. Wish me luck!
Broken Leg coloring page | Super Coloring

24 November 2014

O what a lovely War

There's been a lot of fuss about the Sainsbury's Christmas advert depicting the Christmas 1914 truce between the British and Germans in The Great War. A lot of it negative, accusing Sainbury's of capitalising on the horrors of war for financial gain. Critics also say the uniforms are too squeaky-clean and nothing like the blood- and guts-covered mess the real soldiers faced. Come on, this an advert not an accurate blockbuster trying to scoop up an Oscar. The point of the advert was surely not its accuracy to detail but the overall mesage that in the middle of horror, humans can rise above that to be nice to one another. Surely the true spirit of Christmas. Also, unless I am very naive, when all's said and done, aren't all adverts for financial gain? 

As one who had grandfathers on both sides of that war, I do not find the advert in the least offensive and it comes a week after I saw the BBC series The Passing Bells, which I thoroughly enjoyed (if that is the right word) for its portrayal of two young boys on opposite sides, from ordinary families, dragged into a war they didn't understand and quickly wanting out of it. The Germans as a race weren't evil, any more than the British were. The soldiers on both sides were just puppets dancing to the tune of their masters. If you haven't seen it, it The Passing Bells is still available on bbc-iplayer or on DVD. 

18 November 2014

Family matters

I was chuffed to get all your supportive comments about tattoos. I thought we must be the last family in the universe not to have them and was steeling myself for a load of hateful venom in return, but I was wrong. Many of you feel the same way as me and it was reassuring that there is some common sense left in the world.

Here are some lilies presented to my mother the other day - they are such an unusual colour. I cannot say I have ever seen lilies that colour before. In fact in reality they are a much darker electrifying purple.

Other news... I had to go to a family funeral last week down at Hastings. I had to get two trains with six minutes between them. I should have known better. Man can engineer a spacecraft which takes ten years to reach and land punctually on a speeding comet (see here the amazing achievement of Philae) but Southeastern could not get my first train to do a fifteen-minute journey on time and and I arrived at the connecting station 12 minutes late thus missing my second train. Thank heavens I had originally arranged to get to Hastings with an hour to spare, so I could first meet up with a relative and have a coffee before the funeral. Being late meant I missed the coffee/catch-up but got a taxi straight from the station to the crematorium with ten minutes to spare.

As an only child, I have always felt I missed out on the joys of having brothers or sisters, but it seems it's not all it's cracked up to be. The two sons of the deceased were always close as children and young men. Then they went to different universities, got wives and children, in one case got divorced and remarried and have ended up arch-enemies. Nobody quite knows what has caused the vitriolic rift but apparently there is much harking back by one of them to childhood resentments. The younger one lives in Australia now and came over for his father's last few days but the older one, who lives in Scotland and was staying in his father's house for the last few weeks, would not even meet up with his younger brother, let alone talk to him. They made sure they did not bump into one another during visits to the deathbed at the hospital and the older one refused to have the younger one at the wake afterwards. I felt so sorry for the younger one, as he genuinely has no idea what he has done wrong. He originally said he would avoid the funeral altogether, but turned up at the eleventh hour, sobbed his heart out during the service, and then magically disappeared with his car into the sunset, before we had all had a chance even to leave the chapel, so we never got to say goodbye before his return to Australia. Apparently the younger one has waived his rights to the whole inheritance as he does not want to put up a fight. So sad to see two men, both lovely as individuals, being so divided. Their parents would turn in their graves. Maybe being an only child has its compensations  after all!

11 November 2014

Giving me the needle

I realise what I am about to say may upset, offend or stir up a hornets' nest. But I am going to say it anyway and wait for a hundredweight of hate-mail to drop in my in-box. I expect I am in an infinitesimally small minority here, but I think anyone who consciously gets a tattoo is mad, sixpence short of a shilling, a pepperoni short of a pizza, or more appropriately a picture short of a gallery. I say "consciously", as I know there are those out there who after a night of drunken debauchery wake up next morning not only clutching their overhung heads but a sore spot somewhere on their body, declaring their undying love for Sharon, whoever she might be. 

In my day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and it took only 6 months to get to Australia and back on a slow boat to, well, Australia, only sailors got tattoos. Big burly blokes would come home from their travels with M.U.M across their knuckles or exotic birds carved onto their forearms. Skull and crossbones were quite popular too, presumably added on afterwards when M.U.M looked a bit naff. Come to think of it, a lot of those tattoos would have probably been done "unconsciously" when the ship pulled into port and the lads went wild in the nearest town. 

But now? Unless the whole world has joined the Navy, someone please tell me what the point of a tattoo is? Call me old-fashioned, but why does every woman (or man) with less than a full set of brain cells feel the need to go through the pain to end up with a star behind their ear or a swallow on their shoulder?  Don't get me started on the ones that have an entire tabloid-size picture on their............

back or chest. Why and why again? I know it's a generational thing. It masquerades as a fashion statement, just like mini skirts, punk hair, platform heels and hot pants were. But at least hair could be grown out or clothes  relegated to the back of the wardrobe or the charity shop. Even piercings can be corrected when the mood wears off by just letting the holes close up. But with tattoos, what if, in years to come, you hate the tattoo or the reason you had it done?

Can you imagine what people with tattoos are going to look like when they are old and wrinkly? The star will look like a squished spider, the swallow will look like a tit (well, I suppose it was ever thus), and the rose garden will look unkempt and needing a definite dead-heading. If they require surgery, as inevitably people do as they age, will the "You'll never walk alone" scrolled across their abdomen be changed to "You'll never walk" plus a ropey scar across the rest?


Can you imagine living with the same wallpaper for the rest of your life? You'd fancy a bit of a change wouldn't you, but you can't do that with tattoos. Unless you have more painful sessions to cover it with something else or leave a horrendous scar. What if Sharon runs off with the man next door? You're either going to have to look in earnest for another Sharon to date or incur the eternal wrath of a Tracy or Emily who has to look at it for the duration of your time with her.

I've heard the excuse, well, mine is in a discreet place, so nobody can see it. So again, what is the bloody point? You might just as well look for a few moles instead and join the dots up. At least the design would be unique. And if nobody can see it, you included, you might just as well stick a plaster on your back or show off your haemorrhoid scar to full effect. Why bother with a tattoo?

Another reason I've heard is that it has a special meaning, such as it represents the birth of a child or a special place visited. Why not be satisfied with a photo or memento instead? Does a tattoo really make it any more special? At least you can get a photo out and share it at a dinner party. Then again, maybe you can with a tattoo. Depends on the party, I suppose.

I often look at press photos of gorgeous celebs in expensive evening dresses with that tasteless tattoo peering out like a sore thumb. It so spoils the look.  All hopes of elegance sails out the window to me. Tramp stamps.  They look like tramps not ladies. And why do women over fifty who ought to have more common sense feel the need to have them? I saw a particularly wrinkly specimen at the supermarket checkout the other day. Wrinkles everywhere and a bouquet of something etched across her entire upper chest and snakes all down her arms.  It was definitely not an attractive sight. She looked like Nora Batty gone mental.

Tattoos used to be a sign of being a bit of a rebel. In fact, you're more of a rebel if you DON'T have a tattoo these days, as at least it shows you have a mind of your own rather than following the herd. If Kay ever succumbs to the idiocy, I'll know the world has gone mad, but thank God for the moment she has not got one. If she ever did, I'd run away.......and join the Navy, but I certainly wouldn't be getting a tattoo!

03 November 2014

The Tower Revisited

Kay was home for the weekend. I say "home". In fact she was out for some of the time - flitting in and out, as young people do, catching up with old friends, burning the candle at both ends, recharging the batteries on home cooking and much needed TLC. We had some quality time together on Saturday afternoon, travelling to the Tower (once again for me) to see the poppy display and wandering along the riverbank as the sun set. 

What bright spark decided to close the nearest Underground station to the Tower (Tower Hill) for enginering works on one of the busiest weekends for the Tower  (namely school half-term holiday and the weekend before Remembrance Sunday when the poppy display is almost at its crescendo)? The crowds for miles were amazing as they thought of inventive ways to get there and then stand at least ten-deep to study the sea of red all around the moat. Here are some  pictures of our our afternoon in London.

View of the City from the South Bank

It took us over 20 minutes to queue to get onto the Bridge

I wonder whether Boris Johnson ever gets a bit dizzy

We could see the enormous line of crowds from across the river

The sea of blood

Trying to get a photo!

The marshalls (in yellow jackets) getting the crowd to go in a one-way direction

An orderly queue

Time to head home

The Shard on the South Bank

29 October 2014

One year on

How time marches on. It's a year since Snoopy died. I cannot believe a whole year has passed.  I still miss him like mad. If truth be told, I was more upset at his passing than that of Greg's. I guess because Greg in his last year or two was so difficult to deal with, whereas Snoopy was a loyal, loving being right up to his last breath. People keep asking when I am going to get another dog, but for now I don't feel I could, as it would seem disloyal to him. He was such a wonderful dog. He is irreplaceable.

23 October 2014

Day at The Tower

A very good friend/relation on Greg's side of the family contacted me a few weeks ago to say she was coming down to London from Scotland and could we meet up. We agreed to meet yesterday, long before my mother had her fall and broke her knee, so I was not sure whether I would be able to keep to the agreement. However, my mother is managing OK to get from her bed to to the ensuite with the help of a zimmer and urged me to have a day off for a change.  I made sure she was stocked up with a year's day's supply of sandwiches, yoghurt and drink in a coolbag and set off on my journey to The Tower! Both my friend and I wanted to see the poppy display there.

I knew it was going to be crowded before I left the tube station, as hoards of pensioners were disembarking from the train with me and surging up the stairs to the exit. Having met my friend, this was the sight that greeted us as we emerged at the Tower.

so many people

I managed to push my way to the barrier to get one half-decent photo, but had to take it quickly as thousands were waiting to swap places with me.

I managed to get a few more shots....

It takes quite a while to assemble just one poppy let alone thousands

As always when I am at The Tower, I always love to go along the river a a few steps further and wander around St Catherine's Dock.

This time, we stumbled upon Gloriana, the royal barge commissioned as a tribute to the Queen for her Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

We had a late lunch at the Dicken's Inn (in the background of the last picture), an atmospheric old place that always summons up visions of Bill Sykes kicking Nancy out of the way as he enjoys a pint. It was beautiful weather too so a much needed recharge to my batteries.


16 October 2014

Rapunzel's Tower

Why did I never notice I had so many stairs in my house before?  Forty to be precise. Five flights of 8 stairs between my six levels. To remind those of you who can be bothered, my house looks like this in cross-section with the staircase going through the middle vertical connecting the six levels:
I try to describe my house to strangers over the phone. It has six levels - well not from the outside of course, but from the inside. I tried explaining it to the house insurance company when I had the roof leak. I've tried explaining it to the social workers who are responsible for my mother while she stays with me following her recent hospital stay. They think I live in some quirky lighthouse in the middle of the sea of London. A room on every level with a staircase up or down to somewhere else. Sometimes, I feel like Rapunzel looking down from the window at the top.

Because my elderly mum has broken her knee, because she cannot stand or walk very well, because she has a brace strapped over her leg to keep it straight, because she cannot cope yet living on her own, despite the hospital in their wisdom abruptly chucking her out after only a week in their care, she has moved in with me - on level 4.  She has sole occupation of my bedroom and my ensuite. I have been banished to the bedroom on level 5. The kitchen is on level 1. The front door on level 2. So many stairs inbetween. So many cups of tea, coffee and meals for the patient.  Delivering post, newspapers and medicine to the sickbed. Entertaining social workers and agency carers about needs and finances and long-term plans. Up, down, up, down... I'm cream-crackered and then still have to climb from the kitchen to my bedroom (32 stairs) to fall into bed at night.

Yesterday there was an appointment (the first time her knee has been addressed since the fall) at the fracture clinic. The hospital had laid on ambulance transport to take her there and back. I was not allowed on board so had to drive separately to attend the appointment with her. Afterwards, when I got home, I waited for the ambulance to return with her. Some two hours later Mum returned in an ambulance with a young girl pushing her in a wheelchair to the front door. On opening the front door (level 2), I pointed out that there were two flights of stairs to the patient's bedroom on level 4. The girl's face dropped. She was all on her own. My mum bravely suggested she try to climb the 16 stairs and so she did, albeit every step taking about 30 seconds to climb. So much for resting the knee straight, as the doctor ordered! Who sends a patient with a broken leg home from the fracture clinic in an ambulance with only one paramedic to drive and get them back into their home?

Anyone know of any bungalows for sale?

06 October 2014

A nice break in more than one sense

I spent a few days last week in Eastbourne. It was meant to be a treat for my dear 91-year-old Mum who used to live there until I wrenched her out of her lovely big house and moved her to a small retirement flat near me in London last October. We wanted to see old friends, visit old haunts and take in some sea air to see us through the winter. Mum hasn't had a holiday in ten years, so was really looking forward to it.

The first few days were lovely and on the very first morning I even managed a brisk walk along the promenade at 7am before the dogwalkers and joggers got out..............

We had a nice view from our hotel room

watched lovely sunrises

It was sad to see the poor old pier after the recent fire
but they are working on it to get it ready for next season.

At the moment it looks like the Titanic on stilts

We had a few laughs

Sat and watched the sea with loads of others
All was going so well.........

until my mother fell up some stairs at the hotel (she was sober, honestly!) and fractured her kneecap. We spent the last day of our four-day holiday here..........

Mum was transferred by ambulance up to a London hospital on Thursday evening (where she still remains) and I followed on the next day by car with all our belongings. Not quite the visit to old haunts nor the kind of break we were expecting!

25 September 2014

Yours disgusted

Every now and again, there is a situation where you feel you would like to send one of those "yours disgusted" letters to someone. I stumbled  across this one today which is classic. Thought I'd just share it with you.


There are some other gems on that website too.

14 September 2014


Well, Kay's come and gone. Thankfully on Friday she arrived in one piece from her 10-week adventure in Tanzania, but I only found out two days ago how close she came to not being here at all.

I was so relieved to see her walk through the arrival gate at the airport on Friday. Slim, tanned and looking good.  Hours later we were home chatting non-stop into the early morning next day about all her adventures in Tanzania. It was then that she dropped the bombshell.  She hadn't been entirely honest about the mugging five weeks ago. Yes, she had been mugged. Yes, she had had all the contents of her bag stolen.  Yes, it was two men on a motorbike who had driven up alongside her and then driven off again with her bag. But there was one small detail she had decided to keep from me until we met up again. One man had got off the motorbike and walked purposefully towards her. As he approached her, she could see he was holding something behind him. When he was inches from her, he produced a machete and motioned to her to hand over her bag. She said it was amazing how everything around her froze and various scenarios flashed through her brain at one and the same time until reason quickly dictated it was safer to hand over the bag and run. When she got back to her hostel, the enormity of the situation overpowered her and she burst into tears. It was because of that the hostel manager took her to the police to report the crime, although the police were pretty unconcerned about it.

The fact that my daughter was faced with such a traumatic experience and her first thought was to spare me the worry and swear her friends to secrecy too on any facebook comments, in case I read them, has made me realise what an amazing girl she is. I always knew that, of course, but that just confirms it.

The washing machine worked flat-out this weekend removing the African dust, sweat and tears from her things, though not from her mind - it has clearly shaken her.  Four washloads in all which I was able to dry in the autumn sun and fold up fresh for her to pack this morning. She left in her overloaded car at 3.30pm this afternoon with no more room for a pin for the 6-hour drive north. She'll be there by 10pm, just in time to unpack umpteen suitcases and fall into bed. Her last (sixth) year of uni starts tomorrow with a whole day of lectures at 9am. Like I said, she's bloody amazing, but I may be a little biased.

11 September 2014

Almost there

I've been counting the days - one more to go to be precise. One more day until my gorgeous 23-year-old daughter and all her luggage walks through that Arrivals Gate at the airport and I can give her the biggest hug on record. To make up for no hugs since the first week of July. To be the real thing as opposed to snatched facebook messages, poor internet or frustratingly disjointed skype conversations over the last ten weeks. 

Testing her independence, Kay has travelled alone to another country in another continent. She has climbed Africa's biggest mountain; worked 5 weeks in an ill-equipped hospital; collected £500 in donations to  provide much-needed supplies for the hospital; seen conditions the like of which we just don't see in the western world; been mugged; lived with Masai warriors for a week; shared a public bus for an hour's journey with goats and chickens; sat next to the pilot in the cockpit of a small plane over Tanzania; and dived/swam with turtles in Zanzibar.  She left London on her own and will return on her own, but has met zillions of people on her travels with enough "facebook friends" to crash the system. She's my one and only, my baby, but she's seen more in the last ten weeks than I'll probably ever see. The stories she'll be able to tell her grandchildren (and me)! I can see our throats will ache with all the catching up conversations.

Our reunion will be shortlived - she has to leave London on Sunday to drive the six hours North to unpack and unwind in time for the start of her final (sixth) year of university on Monday. But inbetween, I'm going to proverbially kill the fatted calf. My baby's coming home.
The first of three aeroplanes that will bring her home

26 August 2014

The Health of a Nation

We really are so lucky in this country to have the National Health Service. We complain about it, but seriously have nothing to moan about if you consider what other parts of the world have to put up with. In an article in the press this weekend some one had got into a lather about the meal presented to them in hospital. I admit is was not the most appetising of meals, but food should not be the criteria for judging the NHS. It should be about the level of medical care. You could, I suppose, argue that medical care includes nutrition when we are in-patients, but honestly I'd sooner have a bad meal and the right medicine, than the other way round. In fact, I think we should pay for our food whilst in hospital and then we would have the right to complain and maybe expect something more palatable.

The stories Kay has been feeding me from Tanzania have made my toes curl and changed my view on what we should expect (or not) from our poor old NHS.  The hospital she worked at is in a major town, providing care for 1.3 million people. Although partially government-subsidised, apparently under-5s go free in Tanzania, but everyone else has to pay - for everything - consultations/medicines/anaesthesia. Consequently people are loathe to seek help or cannot afford what is prescribed if they do. Women in labour will forgo the luxury of a local anaesthetic for an episiotomy (ouch), as they can't afford it. A young girl having a miscarriage in A&E (with the cord hanging out) had to wait over two hours for the clerk to come back from her lunch, so she could pay for her treatment, before they could start to treat her. Kay said there wasn't even a speculum in the entire hospital to examine her. 

Another story which made me sit up was one of an elderly man brought in with the advanced stages of TB. He was put on an oxygen mask and urinated over the bed while he was there. The nurses apparently wiped the bed down with existing water in a bucket that had been used for something else and then washed out the oxygen mask with a bar of soap before handing it to the next patient to get on the bed - a 16-year-old girl with asthma.

There were many more stories, some of them very upsetting, concerning small neo-natal babies and the lack of facilities for them. It does put our gripes about the NHS into context and make them seem petty. It is not just the under-developed world who have bad basic healthcare systems. Look at medical care in the US.  You have to have lots of money or take out vast loans to pay for what we consider as granted here.  I understand you have to pay in Australia too, including for the call-out of an ambulance, regardless of whether they take you to hospital or not.  

Kay and her fellow British students working out there decided to put a fundraising appeal on the internet a few weeks ago and managed to collect just over £500. On Thursday she was taken  to a medical wholesale supplier and bought amongst many other things the following items, some of which can be seen in this photo.....

1 blood glucose machine
200 blood glucose test strips
2 adult Blood Pressure machines
1 paediatric Blood Pressure machine

4 bottles of disinfectant hand gel
3 bottles of disinfectant spray
10L of disinfectant fluid for the sterilisation of equipment
4 digital thermometers
24 suture packs
6 pairs of scissors
500 latex gloves
50 pairs of sterile gloves
10 boxes of small dressings
5 boxes of large dressings
100 malaria testing kits
2 enormous bags of needles
1 pen torch
10 paediatric nasal oxygen masks
2 standard paediatric oxygen masks
1 set of weighing scales
500 urine dipsticks
120 umbilical cord clamps
4 bottles of ultrasound jelly
5 tubes of KY jelly
1 large roll of guaze swabs
5 pairs of episiotomy scissors
100 hydralazine (BP) tabets
12 bottles of hand wash
20m of wipe-clean polyethene material to cover surfaces

She presented it to the hospital on Friday - her last working day - and they were very pleased to say the least. It may not be much to us, but to them it can make such a difference. It really does make a moan about a gristly bit of meat on our plate or a curled up sandwich in hospital seem trivial. The NHS has only got a certain amount of money. Food or medicine? I know what I'd choose.

19 August 2014

Happy Again

I worry when Kay's out of physical reach, so I cannot scoop her up and comfort her in trouble. When she was mugged a couple of weeks ago in Tanzania, I could hear it in her skyped voice and written online comments that she was rattled and a bit nervous of going out. I have been counting the days to her return - sadly still another month away from now. But two little words and the following photo on a networking site have calmed my fears a little. She's happy again.

zebra crossing

11 August 2014

Who do I think I am?

I've always been a big fan of the programme Who do you think you are? I find it fascinating to delve back into the pasts of celebrities and learn that their forebears were criminals or rich landowners or destitute and living in a workhouse.  I have always been interested in my own ancestors, although I have lacked time to go into my ancestry in any sort of systematised way. I have mentioned that I had an English grandfather and a German one, and from the little I know, their lives are worth documenting, but I have never had the time to go into it in more depth.

Other relations in my English family have done some of the foot-slogging work for me, so I have quite a bit of information about them, but I would love to go back further when I  have the time to research it.  My mother was one of three children, but the other two died in their infancy, so I have no cousins or aunts on that side. As an only child and a widow, I am aware that in time I shall have very few relations, if any,  to count on and at times feel a little saddened by that.

On my German side of the family, I have very paltry information, particularly as my father's only brother deliberately broke off from the family and did not stay in touch. We later learned that he had died and nobody had thought to tell us. He did not have any children though and so I grew up with not a single cousin to call my own on either side of the family. I also imagined researching the German side would be difficult, both because I do not know the system for tracing relatives in Germany, but also because somewhere way back in the past, there were some Jewish connections, so I imagined many had perished in the holocaust, not to mention a lot of records had gone missing or been burnt.

Some years ago I joined Genes Reunited and started to put a bare skeleton of a family tree on there. Occasionally I would get approached by someone asking me if my Joe Bloggs or John Smith was the same as theirs and, when the dates or place of birth or siblings were not in common, that was the end of that. I had in fact in the intervening years forgotten all about Genes Reunited.

On Thursday I received an email  from a man called Ed via Genes Reunited.  He was trying to trace a family member who had my German ancestor's name in common. It's a very rare name, even by German standards, so the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. He sent me his tree and I sent him mine. Turns out we are second cousins twice removed or whatever the terminology. We share a great-grandfather and his wife. He even sent me photos of their gravestones in Berlin. Well, blow me down with a feather!

He is the direct descendant of my grandmother's brother. My German grandmother was one of eight children - three girls, who all stayed in touch, and five boys, whom we lost track of, presumed dead in the holocaust. However, the line of two of the boys did survive. One (Louis) eventually died in a Polish ghetto but his children survived and moved to the North of England; the other (Richard) was shot in Berlin but his son was taken to a concentration camp in Holland, liberated in 1945 and emigrated to the USA.  Ed was Richard's grandson who contacted me from the USA on Thursday!  He was delighted to have found me, as I was able to fill him in on the fate/history of the three girls, one being my grandmother, whom they knew very little about. He meanwhile has filled me in on the fate/history of the 5 boys, especially the two whose families survived. I  am suddenly awash with relatives I didn't know existed.

Changing the subject,  Kay contacted me over the weekend to say she was mugged in Tanzania on Friday. She and nine of her new friends had been out for the afternoon sunbathing at a hotel pool and were returning along a quiet road in a group about a minute away from their hostel, when a motorbike with two men roared up to her, the passenger grabbed her bag strap which was across her body, cut it off and they rode off into the distance with it. Fortunately not a lot of money was in it, no bank cards, but a brand new Kindle I had given her for her birthday a few weeks ago, a cracked crappy camera and her university-issue i-phone with all medical apps and contacts on it. She was shaken, but, as I said to her, at least alive and well, given the fate of those two poor boys in Borneo. She went to the police station to report it and apparently they don't work at weekends. I'm guessing the robbers knew that, as the theft took place at 18:45 on Friday. They could be anywhere from Alaska to New Zealand by the time the cop shop opens again on Monday. That's Africa for you.

07 August 2014

There but for the grace of God

I was shocked to the core to learn that two young medical students had been stabbed to death in Kuching (Borneo) yesterday. Kay was there last year (see here) with her older friends who were doing the very same thing in the very same Sarawak hospital as these boys and Kay herself is now in Tanzania doing the same. I imagine two sets of parents much like myself who now have the awful prospect of bringing their dead children home for burial. It makes me shudder.

Of course the lads were up and about in the wee small hours of the morning and it would seem drink was involved. As anyone with teenagers or twenty-somethings know, there is always a lot of alcohol involved in their socialising. Maybe the noise levels got stoked up a bit in the process. If you are in a Muslim country, as they were, then maybe the locals were offended by this. Who knows what really happened until the details emerge. Whatever the case, two young hopeful doctors did not deserve to die. It goes without saying I shall not breathe freely until Kay returns safely.

04 August 2014

One hundred years ago

I have written about this before, but today, the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, seems more pertinent to mention it again. Both my grandfathers were in the First World War but on opposite sides.

My mother's father William was on the side of the English. Born in Bermondsey  as the oldest of ten, he enlisted at the age of 19 at the very start of the war and fought at the battles of Ypres, the Somme and Paschendale - the latter where he was badly wounded. He was in the Royal Artillery and had a horse called Smiler that used to pull the gun carriages. The horse was also badly injured and had to be put down. My grandfather luckily was brought back to England with injuries to his leg, head and eye. He lost his eye and from then on had a glass one. He was plagued by bad headaches for the rest of his life too, whenever the schrapnel moved around.

My paternal grandfather Erisch was on the side of the Germans. Born in Berlin, he also enlisted early on in the war. He fought for a time in France, where he was shot in the leg and then, after he had recuperated, he was sent to the Russian front which was notoriously freezing and conditions were unbearable. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery. He went on after the war to marry a girl with Jewish connections (my grandmother) and in 1939 they were forced to flee for their lives and settle here in England, some number of months after their two teenage sons (one of them my father) had already come here with the Kindertransport.

 My German grandfather in exact centre front row.
When my mother and father got together in the Second World War, announced their engagement and introduced both sets of parents to one another, my two grandfathers amicably shook hands and joked "I bet you were the b*****r that shot my leg/eye".  It was good that they could be so forgiving, given the extent of their injuries. It does however highlight the futility of war - human beings but for the grace of God on oppposite sides ordered to kill one another. We haven't learned the lesson - it still goes on all over the world......Ukraine/Russia/Gaza/Israel/Afghanistan. The futile killing of fellow human beings.

28 July 2014

That'll teach me

Well, I obviously spoke too soon.

Things to be thankful for - yada yada. 

I am so grateful - etc etc.   

Glad I am safe - de-dum de-dum.

Then a big foot comes out of the sky (literally) and squashes me.

Last Friday morning had been yet another hot, oppressive, humid one with temperatures well into the high 20s if not nudging early 30s. I had rather foolishly been vacuuming the bottom half of my house, as I had not done it in weeks and was fed up with accumulation of dead spiders and cat fur. I had probably lost half a stone in perspiration whilst doing it. Afterwards I had decided to go up to my laptop upstairs with a long cool drink and clicked on to the Internet to relax for a while, reading emails/facebook comments etc. 

I had just received a lovely set of photos via facebook of Kay enjoying herself  at a club with her new friends in Tanzania, as well as another photo of her in her scrubs taken on the hospital ward. I was just thinking how happy Kay looked and was so proud of her. Then suddenly the skies got darker, menacing clouds started to scud by and I heard the all-to-familiar sound these last few weeks of thunder accompanied by flashes of lightning. At the same time, the trees started to toss to and fro as well as swirl some of their leaves to the ground, as if they were about to uproot themselves. The lightning and thunder also continued remorselessly and the rain, at first a light drizzle, became a pounding deluge. The humidity seemed even worse.  Although I have never been to the Tropics, the whole spectacle had the feel about it of a tropical storm, monsoon even. Not the kind of one you ever ever see in England as a rule. The rain was not just coming down in buckets, it was coming down in dustbins. Within minutes the road outside was like a river, the drains couldn't cope with the force of it.

When I had finished looking at what I needed to on the computer and was sufficiently refreshed  to continue with more housework, I suddenly noticed water running down the walls of my study. The carpet was soaked and there were bubbles forming between the wall and the wallpaper. A little trickle of water was also heading for the light switch. To my horror, the water was then soaking through the carpet, through the floorboards and running down the walls into the lounge downstairs, soaking the wallpaper, sofa and the carpet down there too. More water was causing a crack in the lounge ceiling and running out of that across the room. In the stairwell damp patches were appearing on the walls there. I rushed upstairs to the bathroom at the very top and looked out of the window onto the flat roof outside it. Water was pooling on the roof I had replaced two years ago and was also overfilling a small gully. Somehow the water was entering my house and had seeped through two levels of the house.

With pounding heart and dry mouth, I rang the dreaded roofing company. Dreaded, because you may recall the problem I had had with them when the roof was totally renewed two years ago (see here). I was promised they would send a team out to inspect the problem. While I waited for them, I also rang my insurance company and initiated a claim with them, as it was more than evident that I was going to have to redecorate at least two rooms and part of the stairwell. The landline phones had stopped working, no doubt the cables doing the breast-stroke somewhere underneath the flooded ground. Instead of a dialling tone, I got nothing but a sloshing sound. Grabbing my mobile instead, I was able to make contact with the insurance company. The questions were endless. You would think I was applying to spy for the KGB. The insurance company told me to get the leak fixed immediately to prevent further water damage and they would send a surveyor along sometime this week to see for himself what the damage was.
two rooms with wallpaper like this

stairwell ceiling

water coming through lounge ceiling
stairwell wall

study carpet and water underneath bookcase

The roofers duly turned up and inspected the inside of the house and then headed for the roof. The man in charge said he could see the problem - the roofing felt had blisters. I nodded as if I knew what he was talking about, although of course I hadn't the foggiest. He seemed to suggest it was unusual for felt to blister like that, so I assumed I had got some faulty felt up there. I felt reassured that if that were the case, the 12-year guarantee I had been given two years ago would cover it. I rang the roofing boss back to ask i) whether any repair to the roof would be covered by the guarantee and ii) whether it would also cover redecoration of the rooms or whether I would need to get that from the insurance company instead. 

You may recall from that previous encounter with him (see here again) that he is not the nicest of people to do business with. He shouts (more like explodes) when challenged and can threaten to involve his solicitor when in a tight corner. This time was no different. He refused to accept liability, said his men had given me false information and that the problem had been caused by a blockage in the downpipe. He must be extremely clever, I thought, being able to make this judgement from the comfort of his office some 4 miles away without having seen the roof for himself. I was then able to hear both sides of the conversation with the workmen ( he phoned them while still on the phone to me so I heard his side of the conversation and I deliberately went outside and stood next to the workmen , unbeknown to him, so I heard their replies.) He basically convinced them that they had seen a blockage to the downpipe and that the blisters on the felt were not causing the problem. I challenged him and said he had told them to say that and then he exploded on me. By this point I couldn't have cared less any more, as I had lost the will to live and did not want to provoke the boss any more than I had already done.  I felt I should leave it to the surveyor to contest it.  It still didn't explain why, if the water couldn't get down a downpipe, it would not just eventually pour off the flat roof. Why would it find a way in to my rooms below, if the roof was watertight and not at fault? Furthermore, once the men had gone and I was able to look out of my bathroom window again, I noticed the men had painted some white stuff along all the joins of felt. Why do that, if the roof was not to blame?
Why paint stuff on the joins of the gully?
Why? again

I now await the insurance company surveyor and will see what his view is. But whatever the reason or whoever is at fault, I am not feeling so thankful today. That'll teach me to speak too soon and be self-righteous in the process. Right now, I could murder someone or something!

Mind you, I am still thankful for these lovely flowers from my garden

and for lovely neighbours who brought me these to cheer me up when they heard what had happened.