Disclaimer

BEFORE YOU START: Please note that although I currently volunteer for both the Stroke Association and Age UK, the views expressed in this blog are strictly my own. I am not a spokesperson for either (or, indeed, for any) organisation, and I accept complete responsibility for the views expressed herein. I've tried to use the Glossary to explain any ambiguous terms, but if you think there is anything I've missed, please message me.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Smoke and Mirrors

Since I've been looking for jobs, I've noticed some trickery by either the job boards or the advertisers to make a candidate think that there are more jobs than there actually are.

Firstly, when I opened my email program this morning, I had two emails from one of the job boards. Each advertising a job. The two jobs had exactly the same title. Further, they had very nearly the same description (probably 495/500 words were the same), they were posted by the same person, from the same company, with the same reference. They must have been the same job. So, either the advertiser has posted the same job as two different jobs, or the job board has sent out multiple notifications. Possibly, advertiser saves a job, job board sends a notification, advertiser amends the same job, job board sends another notification?

The other thing is that this job has been doing the rounds for some weeks now. The same advertiser posts the same job every few weeks. Presumably the job can't be filled, and this keeps it at the top of everybody's search results. This happens across the board. Many advertisers, many jobs. I can kind-of see why this would happen, because I, as a jobseeker, would probably not bother searching on "all unfilled jobs, even if they were posted 5 years ago". But, all the same, if you could get advertisers to actually close out a vacancy once it no longer existed.... Or, have an auto-expire on every advert? The job is assumed filled, or the vacancy no longer exists, unless someone posts a fresh advert? Advertisers would probably say that this is exactly what they're doing! But perhaps the job board could restrict recycling to every month or so?

With a combination of these two factors, if you look at one day's job alerts, probably only 5% or fewer would fall into the category "totally new, have not seen before". Some of the job boards which actually send a digest of the previous day's jobs, will actually include multiple references to the same job, in the same email!

I do think this approach is indicative of our view of jobs as a whole. The government will claim that there is very little unemployment, and yet as a society, we rely more and more on food banks. We hear about people having three jobs in order to make ends meet.

I think when you have bad statistics about unemployment, you've got two options. You either fix unemployment by getting more people into work, or you change the way you calculate unemployment so as to bring the numbers down. One method strikes me as genuine, the other as a fiddle. And I see little of the one, and lots of the other. And the job boards are no better, having taken a deliberate decision to crack on as though there are more jobs than there actually are.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Four Eyes

I picked up a new pair of glasses today, they are all-singing, all-dancing varifocals. In theory, I put the things on when I get up, and take them off at bedtime. My eyes have a prescription with distance, and also a prescription for reading. It is weird so far because. as anyone with varifocals will know, the lens transforms from distance (top) to reading (bottom). So today, I'm looking a lot like a nodding donkey today, trying to get the focus right. Even now, whilst I'm supposed to wear these all the time, I find it easier to type without wearing them.

I did have some previous glasses - distance only - and used to wear them mainly for driving. Since the stroke, I don't drive any more and have mostly just left these glasses on the seat beside me, just to help me focus on the tv programme guide. And, with the old grasses, one of the screws came out, lost forever, which meant that the lens was no longer secure. So whenever I popped the glasses on, the first job is usually to pop the lens in the frame, getting fingermarks on it in the process. If I clean the lens, it pops out of the frame. Can't win. Well, maybe I can, by getting some new glasses. So, fingers crossed.

(I've now popped the glasses on. It feels weird, because to see the laptop screen clearly, I have to look over the laptop screen!

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Duh

At certain times, I've worried about my future in the IT industry, just by virtue of being "too rusty" to be useful any more. Then at other times I realise I probably needn't worry.

I have a digital (internet) radio which stopped working a while ago. All was fine from my network, but the radio was meant to connect to some cloud-based service, and couldn't. I resolved to fix it this afternoon.

It turns out that the service provider had discontinued the service, which is why I couldn't connect. Instead, they have a new service. My radio is quite old, must have been one of the first internet radios -we always had poor reception here in terms of RF signals, but good internet. So, over time, I can imagine things get superceded. Annoying, but true - companies think nothing of pulling the rug up from under their users.

The dumb thing is that the firmware of the radio obviously contains the URL to connect to. The old firmware obviously contained the old URL. So, my radio couldn't connect to the new service, to play radio, unless I upgraded the firmware. The only problem was that the "upgrade" function was obviously trying to connect to the old URL. Which no longer existed....

I am fortunate that this radio, whilst it should do everything by wi-fi, also has a USB port. Wires to the rescue!

Monday, 8 October 2018

Jobs (2)

Quite a surreal experience today. Pretty much since I lived in this village, I worked up in London. There was always quite a clear demarcation between home and work.

But today I interviewed with a couple of guys who work for one of the few businesses in the village. It'd be strange to work for them - working within walking distance of home, first time ever.

Realistically, I'm trying to get back into the industry after five years away, so wouldn't really rate my chances - I'm not sure if it is something I'd want to be doing either. But equally, they're a charity based in our tiny village, so they probably won't attract many candidates. I wouldn't mind betting that every candidate they do attract will have a back-story similar to  mine.

Realistically, every interview is practise for the next interview. This one didn't go at all badly, considering the time I'd been away, how much water has passed under the bridge. But then again, I have spent months boning up technically, so really, that shouldn't come as any surprise. I got a little tripped of on some of the most recent language concepts, but that's not really a problem because I have already read up on the question I was asked, and I can easily read up on general updates to the language in the next few days. The only day that I am busy this week is tomorrow. Next time around, I'll be convincing.

One interesting thing: I've never been a fan of "blagging" - pretending I know more about something than I actually do, instead I've always been very "matter of fact", and have generally floated to the top in every environment that I worked in because I have always been stronger than most people, technically. If fact it would surprise you how often I've worked with poor technologists in supposedly prestige environments. Anyway, yesterday I had already come clean about my lack of up-to-date knowledge, so I asked these guys some questions about a few aspects. They didn't use those aspects either! Just goes to show, you have to look past the blurb.And I still maintain that a lot of the languege's innovations, while labour-saving for developers, are not necessarily intuitive for reviewers.

Pharmacy Blunders

The first thing I do each morning is to fire up the computer and see anything that happened overnight, either on social media or by email.

This morning, a friend of mine had posted a story he'd picked up from the BBC. Some pharmacy (in the UK) had issued a chap with the wrong meds, the chap subsequently died. The same thing once happened to me, except I check all my meds, so noticed the mistake before I'd even opened the box.

The error was with Downton Pharmacy. Somebody had picked the wrong drugs. Somebody else had then checked those wrong drugs, and signed them off anyway. Having designed many banking systems, I am very familiar with four-eyed processes.

When I spoke to the pharmacy, their excuse was that they were very sorry, but the staff were soooo hard-worked and always in a hurry.

To compound matters, I complained to the NHS, lest the same thing happen to somebody else. The result was that despite the mistake, the pharmacy's working practises were sound so therefore no action would be taken.

I mean, I never complained to try and make any financial gain from the situation, but maybe I should have? I have a feeling that the NHS just cover up for each other, whereas a court might have taken this more seriously. Certainly, at the end of this process, there was a definite note-to-self: next time, call a lawyer. It can't have been far from their minds either, one of the first things the pharmacy asked was whether I could return the evidence, errrr, the meds back to them.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

The Appremtice

I'm just sitting here with the tv on, and the BBC keep playing a trailer for "The Apprentice". They must have a new series starting.

I must admit I have always found the idea of The Apprentice totally abhorrent. The idea that everything just boils down to profit and loss just negates those other things in life which are, in themselves, valuable qualities. The only thing I find difficult about this programme is finding a suitably negative word to describe it.

I'm sure Alan Sugar must be nicer than the role he plays on the programme - you can't possibly get by in life, let alone prosper, with such a negative attitude towards other human beings.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Prescriptions

I've been trying out an electronic prescription service, my experience so far (3 months) has been quite good. They are Superdrug. I should say, this is UK.

When I set up the account, it took a couple of days for it to work, just because I said I was exempt from having to pay for prescriptions, and I suppose they checked this. But thereafter, the meds arrive through the post 3 days after I order them.

They don't send refrigerated items, which means I have to get my insulin from a pharmacy still (but they issue me with a long number that I can take to the pharmacy, so it still saves me a trip to the doctor's). Of course, there is a reason for that - because refrigerated items wouldn't stay cold even if they sent them by courier! So, I'm wary of companies who say they will dispatch refrigerated meds. Especially as those meds are subjected to a "cold trail", which must end once the meds are put into the post. I did find one company who claimed to post refrigerated meds in some kind of insulated envelope, but i took it a step further and asked them whether they had ever experimented by posting a refrigerated item to themselves, then measuring its temperature upon arrival, just to verify that the insulation was effective. Surprisingly, they didn't reply but I think I know the answer.

My surgery, by the way, aren't as switched on as this online pharmacy. Last time around, I sent a request which was then re-issued to the surgery by the pharmacy. Not only did I get the stuff I asked for, but I got other stuff that I didn't! They're all meds I take, so I'll get to use them sooner or later, but it gives an indication that the surgery doesn't really care about the cost of all this stuff. I suppose receiving too many meds is better than not receiving enough, but it'd be nice if they could just get it spot on.

So, if anyone wants some needles or some test strips, I have some spare at the moment!

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Where's the damn cursor?

I must recount a funny episode from the other day. I'm telling it purely out of amusement, as I don't think this woman has a prejudiced bone in her body.

She's showing me a web application, so we're sitting down in front of a computer. I'm driving. This screen comes up, she's obviously familiar with it, and says, "just press OK". Or cancel, or something.

I can see the button, but the trouble is, my eyes don't see the mouse cursor too quickly, so I have to waggle it about a bit and catch the movement. So it takes a few seconds before I'm able to do as she says. And she points to the button on the screen, as though it's that I can't see. It's easier on a PC that I can customise - on my laptop I have all the regular cursors, but large size and lime-green for added contrast.

Not really amusing, I suppose, but it is funny to observe the assumptions that people make.

Jobs

Gosh, people talk about the staff shortage in the NHS, but I suppose unless you're close to it, it doesn't really register.

I must have mentioned, I am looking for a job at the moment, and, to cover all my bases, I've set up an email alert with the government's jobs web site. I guess this web site is what the traditional Labour Exchanges and Job Centres morphed into.

Anyway, I do a search local to Salisbury, Wiltshire, and yesterday, 12 of the 21 newly-advertised jobs were up at Salisbury Hospital, just over 50%. Today, there are 26 new jobs, of which 12 again are at the hospital - this time almost half. It's staggering that just one employer can be responsible for that many job vacancies. I know you can't just make the leap and say that the NHS employs 50% of the workforce, but even so.....

I suppose just seeing how in-demand my wife (practise nurse) is, should give the game away.

These "new" jobs are not always "new", by the way. Employers tend to recycle the same, unfilled job every few weeks, some even every few days to keep them at the top of people's search results, so you often see "new" jobs which you've seen before. Common sense would tell you that if the job can't be filled, then there's something not quite right about it, but that doesn't seem to alter anything.

https://findajob.dwp.gov.uk/

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

More on progress

Just as a little addendum to yesterday's post, I had to go out yesterday and, when the bus drpped me back, I set the stopwatch and it took me 9½ minutes from the bus stop to home. I realise that won't mean much to people who haven't a clue where my bus stop is in relation to the house, but it means something to me.

From the days when I started getting out and getting the bus, I've always allowed 20 minutes for the journey, so presumably at one stage it would have taken 15 minutes or so.

When I was healthy, of course, I never timed myself, but I used to think of the walk to the end of the road (which is probably half as far again as the bus stop) as taking about 10 minutes.

So, I think that makes me about 2/3 as fast as when I was healthy!

This is it, give or take:

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/dir/50.98468,-1.7476958/50.989043,-1.7442357/@50.9869252,-1.7481561,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!4m1!3e2?hl=en
.
I haven't used my real address because I want that to remain confidential.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Progress Report 02/10/18

I was extolling the virtues of my blog yesterday, just as a way of recording progress. So it seemed a good idea to actually record some!

I look back and the time after the stroke felt "foggy". With hindsight, not at the time. This feels quite clear now - although as I say, at the time, it has always felt pretty clear. The stroke obviously damaged me physically, but mentally, I feel healed. I'm just on 2½ years downstream.

Physically, I'm getting quite near to full range of movement back in my bad arm. By that, I mean that I still need to use my good arm to lift it, but I can quite happily put it on and behind my head before it starts to hurt. I obviously use the bad arm less and naturally, your body has a tendency to seize up if you don't exercise it. So I do e.g. stretches every day to maintain suppleness.

With my walking, I can't put my finger on anything specific, but I'm sure my walking has improved. My stamina, in particular. And I'm quicker - I have a walking pole, and when I use that, I'm quicker still - I can use it just like a ski pole to push myself along. But I don't like to use the pole because I want to get back to how I was, which includes walking unaided.

My stamina has improved. Really, the first trick of the recovery is knowing that when you run out of puff, you just need to stop for a minute, then you can carry on. When I was first ill, for example, I would walk to the end of the road, one seat at a time. Now, I'm able to stay standing, and take fewer breaks (though usually not no breaks, yet). But by doing that 50 yards at a time, I can get myself 100, 200, 400, 800 yards etc. eventually.

My overall health has improved to the point where I'm starting to think of the "little" things once again. I went to the opticians last week, for example. I'm probably going to get to the dentist next. I mean, opticians and dentists will no doubt argue that they're not little things, but given that I was once at the stage where the option was life or death....

In terms of life, I have been deliberately sharpening myself up technically. I have 20 years' experience in IT, and realistically, that's the only area where I could still command a premium. My other qualification, as a bike mechanic, didn't really give me a comfortable life even before I was disabled. To that end, I have spent my working days trying to be disciplined, sitting in front of the computer all day, doing "work"-type stuff, with the tv off, until 5 or 5:30pm. Of course, distractions get in the way, for example we go shopping every Monday, but in general...

At the moment I'm looking at the Entity Framework, by the way!

I mean, none of this has as much value as when you're working on a commercial project and get to know all the ins and outs of something, but at least it means no blank stare when somebody starts to talk about it. In truth, I have looked at EF commercially too, but the conclusion back then was that it wasn't a sufficiently mature technology at that time. And my experience of commercial projects was that different resources (e.g. database and application resources) would frequently work on a project at different times, and unless you had someone who had a bird's-eye view of what was required, there was often a disjoint. I remember working with one particularly poor analyst once, who specified things sufficiently badly that we had to ask the database resource to do everything again. She (the resource) was unsurprisingly miffed, but what can you do?

So alongside this sharpening process, I've also got my CV live and am looking daily for jobs. The trouble is, in Salisbury there was never much IT to speak of, and what there is will probably be nowhere near as leading-edge as I was used to. From an employer's perspective, I could well imagine them thinking, "holy crap!" when they look at my CV. And possibly thinking that I'd want to walk in and take over the place! Of course, there is a flip-side in that somebody will ultimately get to use my skills quite cheaply, if they're prepared to take the gamble.

I have also said I will spend a half-day per week helping Age UK with their telephone befriending service, although I will get some of that time back because I've decided to stop going to the stroke peer support group. When I first started going around the hospital ward, I was amazed that people got any value out of some guy just going round and chatting to them informally, but they did. I'm kinda similarly amazed that people see value in my picking up a phone and talking to them, but at the same time, I'm not, because it is basically the same thing.

The danger is, of course, that the charity work and the job aspirations will come crashing together at some point, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Anyway, for now, I need to wrap this post up because it is 9am and time to start work!

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Labour

A couple of things happened yesterday which re-affirmed my belief that if we elected the Labour Party (in the UK) we might well be getting more than we bargained for.

To explain the first, I need to explain the current news. Over in the USA, a guy has been proposed by Trump as a Supreme Court judge. Once selected and approved, they hold this position for life, so pretty important. The guy is going through the senate hearings at the moment, and a woman has come up and testified against him, saying that he sexually assaulted her. I mean, powerful stuff, but so far it is just an allegation - nothing has yet been proven and this guy has never been charged with any of this. It is, after all, a criminal offence.

Anyway, on the strength of this allegation,my cousin (who is an affirmed Labour Party supporter) shared some posts on Facebook, to the effect that this guy is an abuser, and shouldn't get the job. This would be totally fair enough, if the guy had been convicted of something. But, at this stage, nothing is proven. Indeed, by posting this stuff on Facebook, folks might well be harming the case against this guy, just because his lawyers might say that it shows the guy won't get a fair trial.

But the point I picked up on was the willingness to let due process go out of the window, to forget that somebody is innocent until proven guilty, in favour of lynch mob justice, and that scares me. I'm left feeling that in their ideal world, they wouldn't bother with things like courts, and that worries me.


The second event happened last night. A guy I don't know, but who said he worked for the Labour Party. He posted a clip of some young kid going into the Tory Conference, and being pelted with eggs. And it was posted as if this is an acceptable way for people to behave. In fairness, this kid seemed totally obnoxious, but despite that, it showed that for people who didn't agree with him, it was ok to assault him.

So, I see that event and worry that free speech itself is at risk. I see this, and envisage the Brownshirts.


I can possibly feel for Jeremy Corbyn. It doesn't worry me one bit about his links with the IRA or Hamas - these are groups with a clear political agenda, if Corbyn happens to share the same politics, I'm not bothered. Whether I agree with him or not is a different matter, but I don't really attach any significance to him having those views. But these Facebook posters follow him and are extremely vocal in their support, but he has no reciprocal say about how sound their ideas are, whether he actually wants their support or not. Presumably, as a politician, he's just happy as long as people vote for him? Certainly, when I have seen Corbyn interviewed, his own ideas seem well thought out, but the trouble is, he can't do it all on his own. Sooner or later, you have to delegate to people like these Facebook posters, and you're at the mercy of their prejudices, which aren't immediately apparent from manifestos. So Corbyn, unfortunately, is not the issue, it is his supporters, and, unfortunately, the guy can't do anything about them.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

End of an era

Well, not quite, but I've decided to place some other commitments over my Wednesday afternoon peer support group, Salisbury Stroke Support Group. In truth, the attendances have not been brilliant for a while, and yesterday I turned up and was on my own (again). I actually took my wife with me yesterday, so strictly speaking, I wasn't on my own, I just mean that no-one else turned up. And, at least I got a lift home afterwards, so I didn't have to hang around for the bus. But the two of us spent half an hour just chatting to each other, something we could easily have done at home any day of the week.

It's good, I suppose, that people feel they have recovered to the point where they don't think it is useful to come along to the group any more, but at the same time a little sad. Moreso really because I think of it all as a bunch of mates getting together rather than just peer support. And, of course, there is the perennial question, "what if someone new needs support.?" There are precious few avenues as it is, and we've just closed off one of them.

Certainly, whilst I'm not working, I had a very straightforward view that I had nothing better to do than to go into Salisbury every couple of weeks, so I was happy to go along. By that I mean that there was always other stuff to do, but generally these days I don't have to be in a certain place at a certain time, so I was happy to go to the group. But, really, if I'm going to go along - leaving the house at midday and not getting back until 5pm - and sit there on my own, there are far better things that I can be getting on with. I may even end up going into Salisbury anyway, but at least I won't be constrained by meeting times.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Ties

On the subject of getting myself back into work, I'm really happy because last week I managed to pick up a suit in the sales, which just about fits. And today, I got a pack of white shirts - I'd already got a couple of silk, clip-on ties, and have just checked myself in the mirror and...I look impressive!

I haven't had to wear "smart" clothes since 2013, and really, it's good that I can wear all that garb again. And of course I'm a lot bigger - at the height of my cycling I remember buying 28" waist trousers, and now I am a healthy 34" at least - what few pairs of jeans I have are 34" but when I tried the suit on, I should probably have gone for 36". And my neck has got a lot thicker - I needed 17" shirts! The rest of my torso hasn't increased as much, in fact the shirts look a bit tent-like apart from around the neck! But I can't really complain, I'm coming back after a stroke, after all. And it is true, I'm more sedentary now, but I'm hopeful that a job will get me moving about a bit more in any case.

One other bit of semi-good news today. It's nothing definite yet, but when I was consulting, the first trick was to have a CV which was attractive enough to make agents bite. That was always the key. If I could achieve that, and get the CV in front of the client, then it would normally impress them too, and I would get to meet them at interview. I mean, that was always another kettle of fish, but unless the CV turns heads, you've fallen at the first hurdle.

As I said last time, I consider that when I worked up in London, it was Premier Leage stuff (even though it often didn't feel like it!) and I developed a CV to match. I could pretty much guarantee that I'd get an interview if I went for a job. Anyway, I sent it off in respect of one job last week, and it obviously still ticks the boxes because the agent phoned today to say she wanted to put me forward.

I mean, there is a potential hitch now in that I have all this experience at quite a senior level, and the work around here is somewhat lower-key: my experience might put some people off - although I have to admit this is a good start.

On the same note, I am going to a job fair tomorrow, and am feeling quite optimistic about things, although I'm not sure what to expect, or whether it'll be a total waste of time.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Technology

I must admit I do quite like how I'm able to use technology. Not just stroke-related stuff, but more just to get my old life back.

My working background, before the career break and the stroke, was in IT. I worked in the City for 20-odd years, and before that had a spell in New York. So I was at quite a high level, as IT goes.

I'm now recovered enough from the stroke that I want to find a job. It's not only money, although earning several tens of thousands per year would be preferable to earning £100/week disability benefit. It's wanting to do something productive once again.

To that end, I've spent the last month or two sharpening my technical skills up to where they were in 2013 - at the top of my game. In many ways, it is largely about getting myself back into the discipline of sitting down and spending the day working, but I have been able to be quite productive too, picking up and using new technologies. Or, in fact, there is very little that is new, it's more just moved on a version or two.

Of course, a lot of the stuff I used to do in the enterprise can't be mimicked on my laptop, but, actually, a surprising amount can. For example, I can write code or develop databases. And, some web technologies have come along - or rather, matured to the point where they're usable - which I've been able to pick up. I mean, I have built web applications (as in "programmed", rather than "graphic designed", but the real advantage of the web is that it sidesteps deployment issues. If you can find another way to crack deployment, then putting an application on someone's desktop is far more powerful. And, by those standards, what I'm doing is noddy compared to what I used to do, but you have to do what you can.

On that note, by the way, I have redeveloped the family web site using some of the latest technologies. (It's only a few pages - I have done other stuff too!) One of these technologies is pushed by Microsoft (who you'll likely have heard of!) called ASP.NET MVC. ASP.NET is Microsoft's way of building web applications, which I have been familiar with for many years. MVC stands for Model-View-Controller, and is basically a specific way or organising your web site. I won't get bogged down in too much detail, but MVC has actually been around for 50-odd years as a way of developing applications, and there are lots of these (they're called patterns) out there, all of which are subtly different, but all of which aim to avoid your program becoming one big heap of spaghetti! But it is only really in the last 10 years or so that Microsoft has picked up MVC and built a framework which developers can use to build stuff. What they've done is not absolutely pure, but as long as you follow a few rules (for example, on what you call things), it can be very labour-saving and can help with organisation. As it happens, the way in which the web works fits in well with the MVC pattern, which is no doubt why Microsoft built around it.

To summarise, http://www.hurford.me.uk. It's only really a couple of pages, but I have a contact form on there where I've been able to use this MVC approach.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Salisbury

I guess a lot of posts from now on will be reminiscing about stuff.

I was in Salisbury yesterday, was waiting for Jacqueline who was at the opticians, and sat on the edge of the Market Square just watching the world go by. It is weird about having a brain injury - certainly immediately after the stroke I never thought I'd see Salisbury again, then when I did get out of hospital, going into Salisbury was like going to a different world. Part of that undoubtedly is because my habits have changed - rather than shopping, I've got everything I need so am happy to sit and watch people, but that trend of downsizing was happening anyway, even before the stroke, so possibly a healthy me would have behaved just the same?

But yeah, the fog is clearing now but it certainly felt like the Twilight Zone. I suppose as I've become more able to go places, my world has gradually gotten bigger. I do recognise that getting to the bus stop was my first mega-milestone, just because it allowed me to get further afield. If I hadn't have made that one, I've no doubt it would ultimately be fatal.

What's quite strange is that I must have improved gradually over time, I've always kind thought along the lines "aren't I doing well?" I mean, I'm stronger now, certainly, than a couple of years ago, but even back then I don't remember thinking "I'm a wreck now but I'll be better in 2 years". I mean, I certainly think the second half of that - that I'll keep getting better - but certainly not the first half. I'm confident that there'll come a time when nobody will know I ever had a stroke. I'll always know, but nobody else will.

I probably haven't said things very well. Reading it back, I don't think I've particularly done a good job.

The other nostalgic thing which happened yesterday was that, quite by accident, I met the guy who was my next door neighbour in hospital. They put us next to each other because we were both youngsters, in fact I think this guy was only in his thirties, even younger than me. He hadn't had a stroke, but had had some other brain injury, I'm not sure which. I wouldn't have taken it on board at the time. We both happened to be in a music shop, we recognised each other, I knew I knew him but I couldn't place him. He recognised me, though. He'd put on weight from what I remember, but then so have I. I don't know if he gets fatigued, if that makes him more sedentary than he used to be, but I know that fatigue is not just limited to strokes. Unfortunately Jac and I were just on the point of going back to the car, and this guy was just getting served, it would have been nice to have a proper catch-up with him. I hope he feels he's doing as well, if not better, than I've done.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Schooldays

I remember the first time I ever got into trouble at senior school.

I went to an old-fashioned grammar school, which selected just 90 pupils each year from the whole of the Liverpool area. It sent a few people to Oxbridge each year, and had pretty good sports teams etc.

I must have only been about twelve or so, and a group of us were trying to work out nicknames for classmates. We had a guy in the class whose name was Meneer - this sounded vaguely like "manure", so we decided to call this guy "horsey". Real schoolboy hunour.

Unbeknown to us, this guy didn't like this name, took it personally, and complained to a teacher. This chap never said anything to us - with hindsight this might have been enough, certainly a quiet word from a teacher would have been. It was the kind of place where pupils respected teachers, especially twelve-year-olds.

So, the next thing I know, I'm being publicly identified as the person calling this guy names. I can't remember what eactly was said, but I remember thinking it was all so unnecessary, especially when the guy had himself been taking part in this game with us. It's funny with the passage of time - you forget the details but remember the feelings. I remember being baffled, because this chap had said to us that he liked the name, yet had subsequently complained.

It's funny, in seven years at that school, I never particularly got on with this teacher after that. I suppose I realised which way the cards were stacked.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Steady Joe's

My mum died in early 2012, and my dad followed suit on Christmas Day of the same year. After mum's death, I was concerned at how long the process of probate was taking, a mix between my reluctance to deal with it, and the pace at which external things, over which I had no control, worked. When my dad died, I decided that, rather than renew my contract with my clients, I needed to take time out to get everything sorted.

I finally sold me late parents' house a year later, in January 2014. It was a large three-bed semi, must have been twice as large as my house, and was full to the brim with "stuff". Once the house was sold, I had money in the bank and followed my love of cycling (doing it as opposed to watching it, although I liked that too). Since I was able, I decided to try my hand at a change of career, and in summer 2014 was training as a bike mechanic (training which I subsequently passed). Dates tend to fade in our memories, but events.....I remember watching the 2014 World Cup final from my hotel bedroon over near the course in Lincolnshire.

Fixing bikes was far harder than IT. I knew even from the training that I was slower than my 20yo compatriots, but I was thorough and did a good job. Do you remember Lance Armstrong? At the time he was being talked of in terms of the "best cyclist of all time", and he owned a shop in Austin, Tx called Mellow Johnny's. I guess it is still going, although I don't know whether Armstrong is still involved. Anyway, what a good name, I thought. So I tried to think of something similar. Steady Joe's was the best I came up with. I don't even know anyone called Joe! but it had a ring to it. In my ears, at any rate.

Unfortunately, repairing bikes was far harder than IT, just establishing myself as a business and getting regular clients. Also, most of the money in bike shops is on the sales side, and it was repairing them that interested me.

So, in autumn 2015, I had a long hard think and decided to go back to IT. I was, after all, pretty good. But I wanted to =work closer to home, I didn't want to spend three hours per day on the train any more. It was slow and took a while, but the UK's Ordnance Survey (the "official" UK map-maker) is based in Southampton, twenty miles away from me, and I secured an interview with them.

Unfortunately, the day the interview was scheduled, I'd been in hospital three weeks following the stroke. I never even found out that an interview had been scheduled until I went through my emails after I left hospital, in the middle of March 2016. Timing, eh?

It's funny, because at one of my clients in London, one of the boss-ladies shocked me in a meeting once by saying, "if you see a gap in their CV, it means they've been in prison!" and it kind-of haunts me now that that's exactly how my cv looks! As a consolation, I do have a City & Guilds certificate from the Bike Mechanic course, plus of course I have DBS (criminal record) certificates from the charity work I've done since the stroke.Honest!




Papal Visit

I'm in the UK. The pope is visiting Ireland at the moment. I follow some Irish feeds on social media, plus the UK media has a passing interest, so I'm kind-of aware that it is going on, although it is pretty much a passing interest for me too.

Certainly from the UK media, a lot of the coverage has been from the angle of "abuse by clergy", many of these stories are now quite widely known. Not just in Ireland, although Ireland is certainly included. But I must admit I feel for someone like the pope, who has been very contrite about all this. I mean, I'm making an assumption that he had no personal involvement in any abuse, but really, all these apologies divert from his main aim, which is surely spreading the christian message. Make no mistake, it's a great shame that some people have used the church as a cloak through which to abuse others, but really, these people are responsible for their own actions, it's nothing to do with the church. If anything they've exploited the church as well, just by using it to get themselves into a position where they've been able to abuse people.

I mean, it is good that the pope says something, the abuse was wrong so it is the right thing to do as far as the abused are concerned, it also distances the church from the abusers, i.e. the church recognises that it was wrong.But, really, I don't this he bears any personal responsibility here. Without doubt, The church could have done better, both in terms of its staff selection, and even moreso in terms of the subsequent cover-ups, but most probably, the guy who is now pope would have been some distance from all of this (both time and space).

I do see some parallels here with party politics. How many times does someone say or do something stupid, then someone else, who happens to be on the same team, is forced to try and defent them? How embarrasing must that be? And, of course, because politics is so tribal, they do attept to defend them, while the rest of us are sat there, thinking "what an idiot!" . Worse, in this case.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Hospital Outpatient Appointment

My wife went for a hospital appointment yesterday, it was something respiratory so, before the appointment, she needed to get a chest x-ray. As you can imagine, that's not uncommon for respiratory appointments.

So we got to the appointment and were immediately told to go to another department to get the x-ray. This might have been our fault, we might have turned up at the wrong place to start with. Except that when we got there, the x-ray people had never heard of my wife. Not even late, but non-existent! So there's then 20 minutes in the waiting area while somebody is trying to find out what is happening.

And we see at least three people rock up to x-ray, all with the same story, all patients at this respiritory clinic, none of whom are expected. Presumably this happens every Tuesday, and somebody's day consists of just chasing around after widow/orphan patients. You'd think that, when a respiratory appointment gets created, the system would have the option to create an x-ray appointment too, but that appears not to be the case. And nobody's doing it manually, either at the same time as they create the respiratory appointment, or even when the patient arrives on-site and checks-in!

I've got a lot of sympathy for the Labour criticism that our hospitals are starved of cash, but I don't think cash is the only answer, there's a basic lack of common sense. How many people must go into the NHS with similar ideas to mine, and just get ground down by the system such that nothing changes? That's the serious part, and it's very sad.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

PIP

In the UK, the primary disability benefit is PIP, or Personal Independence Payment, and the stated purpose is to help provide some funds for those little extras you have to fork out for because of your condition. I suppose taxis is an obvious example, although they don't really exist around here. If I took a taxi to Salisbury and back, it would cost me over £50, which would soon nullify the benefit.

Anyway, theyrun assessments for this benefit, basically to check you're as impaired as you say you are. I had mine at 10 o'clock this morning.

I know that PIP works on a points system. No points if you're ok at something, one point if you're not all that good at it, five points if....forget it! A lot of the points are scored if you're reliant on somebody else to do things for you. When you've finished, you tot up all the points, and if you score enough, you get the benefit. I spent yesterday morning reminding myself of all this, as well as looking at the specific areas covered by the PIP questionnaire. My main resource was here.

Having now had the assessment, I'm very glad that I looked at this site, since the questions asked at the assessment were very similar to those presented on the site. I took the time to prepare answers to the questions, to cite examples, and to commit many of those answers to memory. This was a very useful exercise because we go through 90% of life trying to be as "better" as possible, but there are a small number of instances when we need to tell it like it is. I'm glad I put that extra thought in.

One example was cooking. Can I prepare a simple meal? Well, on the face of it, yes I can. I can quite easily process that information, use the hob or oven, and come up with something vaguely edible. But think on for a moment. I'm one-handed, so if that simple meal involved getting something out of a jar, forget it. Slicing things, forget it. My cheese these days comes via an electric grater. Similarly with tins. For these I need to use my electric tin-opener. Even those tins with ring-pulls risk breaking my teeth instead! And then, after the meal, the washing-up. One-handed, so I can't wash dishes all that well. Once again I sidestep the problem by using a dishwasher. There's a pattern forming here - all these gadgets I'm using (or other people) to live a normal life. And I think that's what the PIP people are looking for - things you can't do unaided.

Plus, of course, things like socialising. I could be flippant and say that I never had much of a social life anyway, but actually, I used to work in London, and would sometimes go out with friends up there. I used to ride a bike, and many of the people I used to meet because of that, I don't even see any more, just because I no longer move in those circles. So, really, these things do require consideration.

So, my advice to anybody facing a PIP assessment is basically to look at the type of questions they ask. I've mentioned one source, but there are others. And deliberately take some effort to think about the answers, because the "headline" answer is not necessarily the most accurate. Having said that, I might have been assessed as "null points", so who am I to give advice????

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Anti-Semitism

I must admit I feel a bit sorry for Jeremy Corbyn. He seems to have some dodgy acquaintances, but as far as I know there's no evidence that he himself has ever been anti-semitic.

Having said that, I don't think it's enough for him not to be anti-semitic. It's fine for somebody like me to be judged on what I say and do, but the only person I'm representing is myself. Corbyn, however, is representing thousands of people. So I think he needs to go one step further.

This then begs the question, what more should he do? Unfortunately I'm not sure there's an awful lot he can do, except try to ride this out. I know there was a kerfuffle a few weeks ago about Labour not adopting the same definition of anti-semitism as pretty much everyone else. I think this was dumb, even if, as they argue, their version was better.

But in the last few days, I'm sure I read a story about an allegation that a Labour councillor had called for Jews to be....was it executed? Even if this was meant as a joke, it is pretty way-out. In the actual story, Labour seems to have done the right thing by suspending this councillor, but of course it is worrying that this person is representing Labour in the first place. Poor old Corbyn can affect the present, and maybe will affect the future, but he can't control the past. That's why I think he needs to just do the right thing in terms of disciplinary procedures, and ride the allegations out.

I must admit to having a personal interest in this story, as my mother-in-law came to the UK as part of the Kinder Transport, in 1939. She was born in Belgium, and those members of the family who stayed behind didn't survive. As a result my wife has very few family members on her mother's side. I can totally buy that there must be a mechanism which allows somebody to criticise a state (Israel) without it being seen as criticism a religion (Judaism), but the flip side is that we all have a right to exist. It worries me when I hear people like Ken Loach (a film-maker whose material I generally like very much) talking about history being a matter of opinion, which appears to support holocaust-denial, but then I look at my daughter, for example, and realise that she probably has no idea what the Kinder Transport was.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Doctor's

I must relate something which happened to me last week.

First, I'll set the scene. Last month, I had a blood test to check that the new empagliflozin tablets I'd started taking weren't harming my kidneys. I also need a prescription every month for other meds. The doctor's surgery is a half-mile away - I can just about make it but I need plenty of breaks along the way, and it is exhausting. The upshot is that I combined the blood test with picking up the new prescription. Normally, I drop the request in and it gets fulfilled by the dispensory, but this time the nurse printed the prescription out directly.

When the doctor's normally fulfil a prescription, you get two slips of paper. The first is the prescription itself, which can then be taken to a pharmacy to exchange for the meds, the second is a slip to allow you to order some more meds in a month's time. By issuing this slip, it ensures that the process can go on and on every month.

During my visit to the nurse, she printed the prescription out, but didn't give me the slip to order any more. In fairness, I forgot to check, there and then, but I shouldn't have to. When I did realise this, I just thought I'd pop along to the surgery and ask them to print this slip out for me.

Again to try to minimise my trips to the surgery, I waited until I needed some more meds. Which was last week. So I walked to the surgery - the normal hard work - and asked them to print off my form. The receptionist I spoke to refused me. Just refused me - without even offering any avenue by which I could get my meds.

So I had to walk home empty-handed. bear in mind that my disability must be pretty obvious to all but the most obtuse observer, and there was this woman just sending me away! And from a doctor's surgery!

Once home, I decided that theonly way I was going to get my meds was by seeing someone in authority, so I phoned them up again, this time to make an appointment with a doctor. The doctor agreed that my not having any meds was an emergency, and indeed made all the right noises along the lines "this should never have happened". So I got my meds prescribed, although the process took two trips to the surgery instead of one, and five hours instead of five minutes.

I was still unhappy with how I'd originally been treated, so I decided to complain to NHS England. The consequences weren't over, however. The two trips to the doctor's had exhausted me.....and I had agreed to go grocery shopping later that afternoon. I go to the supermarket, but had to abandon it halfway through because I was exhausted. Lots of things I normally get, I missed. So this last week has been, literally, bread and cheese.

The thing, really, that makes me so angry about this is that this receptionist must have seen that I was disabled, but decided to be obstructive anyway. As a consequence, I had to do without a lot of food for the week, and might also have had to do without my meds. And all this from a place which should be pretty hot on dealing fairly with disabled people. I wouldn't mind, but there are security questions in any case when somebody picks a prescription up, so refusing to print out a request slip for me makes no sense from a security point of view - I'd have had to answer the security questions in any case.

I mean, right now, I don't particularly think there'll be any wonderful resolution - the NHS usually looks after its own - but I'll keep you posted.


Monday, 16 July 2018

Getting Rid (of an MP)

Something I'm thinking about a lot right now. For members of both the Commons and the Lords, I think that there should be a mechanism for subjecting somebody for re-election should they behave sufficiently poorly. I'm clear that, for MPs certainly (as they are elected) the people who should judge "sufficiently poorly" are the electorate themselves, but I'm less clear about how such a mechanism would work.

Because the MP's constituents should be involved in the process, I suppose a petition would be the way to go. But there's a technical issue in making sure that somebody who signs the petition is actually a constituent. It's difficult to get this 100%, even if you cross-check signitaries against the electoral register. But I suppose the safeguard is that the consequences of the petition would only be a by-election, in which the incumbent would be allowed to stand, so I suppose we can get past that one.

The other thing would be, how many voters would need to sign such a petition? It's tempting to say that the answer to that is so many percent of the number of people who voted for the MP. Except, of course, we don't know who those people are. If we say that 75% of voters is enough to trigger a no confidence petition, then what happens in a very marginal constituency, where maybe the winner only got 50.1% of the vote? There's 49.9% from the get-go who might be persuaded to have no confidence in the MP, regardless of the MPs actual performance. If the threshold is 75% of the votes cast for the MP (or even 95%), then that becomes achievable pretty much automatically. In fact, even if you go over 100%, the numbers would skew, say, a very safe seat.

I think if you're going to have a mechanism for getting rid of people, you still have a petition, but you may as well pluck the numbers out of thin air. You have to fall back and say that the worst consequence is that the incumbent MP faces a by-election.

Unless anybody has any better ideas?

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Complex Tasks

I hate how my stroke makes everything so much effort. If you're able-bodied, you probably never worry about complex tasks. You know, when you want to complete A, but to do so you also need to complete B. And to complete B, you need to do C, and so on. But I do. Each of these is, to me, a task in its own right, and the thought of all these tasks makes me give up before I even start.

A case in point today. Over the last few days I decided that I'd quite like to replace the dishwasher. I'm looking online, and I think I've found something which is ideal, but before I buy, I want to make sure it fits in the space. Can I find a tape measure?

I've had loads over the years, I'm pretty sure I'll find at least one of them in my toolbox, but that's out in the garage, which, these days, is a major faff to open up. So I feel I can't have a dishwasher. I wouldn't mind, I'm sitting here with my credit card.

A tape measure would also be useful because I'd quite like to get a chain curtain to put over the back door, which will allow me to keep the door open wide, but will keep flies out. Like you might have in your local butchers. But the first thing these vendors want to know, not unreasonably, is how big the doorframe is. So, I can't have that either.

Reminds me of that old nursery rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

O how true these old sayings are!

Monday, 2 July 2018

DWP

I've already had a productive morning so far, I was up at just after 7am, got straight into the shower, then dressed. If you can call tee-shirt and boxer shorts "dressed" 😄.

I was on the phone to the DWP shortly after 8am, which is when their phone lines open. When I've contacted them in the past, I've had to wait in line for an hour or so, so I've asked the operators whether there is a "best" time to call. I've been told that the best time, compared with all other times, is pre-9am. It seems to be true, as my wait today was a mere 30 minutes!

My question? Well, my PIP benefit is due for renewal. I sent the forms back a month ago, but haven't heard anything back from them. Also, my form would have arrived a day or two after their deadline, so I wanted to make sure there wasn't a problem in that respect. They put my mind at rest. They received the form ok, it was a couple of days late, but had been passed on to my local assessment centre anyway. Because of backlogs at assessment centres, I can be waiting 8 weeks or longer for a response (which will probably be to invite me for an interview). But, as long as the form is received, the benefit continues in the meantime, so I'm not out of pocket.

I must admit, I have heard some terrible horror stories about the DWP, but, so far, I have found them perfectly reasonable. In both their rules and their customer service. I can criticise the length of time it takes them to answer the phone, but at least it is a freephone number. And, I have the time, of course. In the cold light of day, these benefits are the thing that saves me from eating away at my savings, so really, they have to be priority #1.

I'm conscious that I've been in a couple of work environments where my direct colleagues have said "so-and-so is a real bastard", and I've originally thought "they seem ok to me", only to come around to colleagues' thinking over time. But I do try and see the best side. So I wonder if there'll be a moment like that with the DWP? Maybe I get "gold" treatment because I've aleays paid NI throughout my working life? Maybe I get a response which seems reasonable, just because I try to be very reasonable with them myself? My daughter, for example, has such a negative opinion of everything that I can easily imagine her rubbing people up the wrong way. I try not to - I might think it, but fortunately there is a disconnect between my brain and my mouth.

The reason my form was late, by the way, is because I'm unable to write and need to sort out a scribe to help me out. So, I'm reliant on another person, and can't really expect their priorities to fit in with mine. I must mention this at the assessment, to see if they can help.


Friday, 29 June 2018

Drop In 27/06/18

I did my drop-in this week. Visiting the ward.

The Stroke Ward moved premises around a month or six weeks ago. They've moved a couple of times in recent months, although none of the moves seem to have led to upgraded facilities. Anyway, the latest premises contained a room designated a "Quiet Room", a quiet area for relatives to take a pause.

We (the charity) also used the room both as a place to rendezvous, and a place to display a lot of our literature. I mean, strokes obviously take some time for people to get their heads around, so the Stroke Association's small A5 pamphlets, covering a variety on different topics, are quite useful. They would be to me, anyway, if I were a relative.

Anyway, I rocked up on Wednesday and found that the Quiet Room door was closed, and a staff meeting was going on inside. Furthermore, the door now had sheets of paper with calendars on them, nice neat hourly slots throughout the week. So clearly, some enterprising member of staff has hit upon a new room to have meetings in.

Tough luck, relatives.

For two hoots, I must admit I'd stop volunteering there. Whatever benefit relatives might gain from having this resource, somebody has decided that the clinical need is greater. I do end up wondering why I should give my time to chat to relatives, when they are so far down everybody else's list. But the reason I offered to volunteer in the first place is because I didn't think their standards were particularly brilliant. So I'm not really surprised, but was disappointed enough to contact the hospital again when I get home. I doubt I'll hear anything back.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Bluetooth

Only a few weeks ago (here), I posted about the swanky new glucometer I'd been given by my local surgery. Bluetooth. Syncs with my phone. In theory.

In practise, I haven't been able to get it to sync for the last few days. I go into the app on my phone, and say "sync". I go into the Bluetooth settings on my phone, and say "connect". Nothing. I unpair and re-pair the two devices. Nothing.

This all makes me realise exactly why I like the glucometer I bought. It's not the same glucometer, of course, that I've had all this time, but I keep going back and buying same make, same model time after time. The reason? It has a USB port at one end. I take it out of the bathroom, walk it over to the laptop, plug it in.....and it just works. The beauty, really, of physical connections - there's no faffing about wondering why the wireless connection doesn't work.

So I think my flirt with this Bluetooth device might be over. That's a shame, not least since I could also get the testing strips from the local surgery, and don't have to pay any more for them. In contrast, with the Beurer (USB) machine, I need to order the strips privately. Of course, the Bluetooth machine is still a perfectly good monitor - it is only a few weeks old and conforms to all the correct standards - but, if it won't connect to anything, I fear it is now my "backup" monitor.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Motivations

It's interesting - I wanted to leave the EU at our referendum, which was two years ago yesterday. My reasons (I've discussed this in previous posts) were - and still are - that I am represented unfairly within the EU organisation.

Even today, the issue will be guaranteed to split a room in half. I'm very interested, not really to know how people voted, but to know why they voted the way they did. It frustrates me a bit (inasmuch as I do get frustrated in any of this) that many remain arguments run along the lines, "don't you realise how poor we'll be?". The one thing that people don't get is that it was never about economics. People just don't get it.

As it happens, I'm unconvinced either by arguments that I'll be poorer, or by arguments that I'll be richer, just because the future is as yet unwritten. I ran a company for almost 25 years, and the most security I ever had in all that time was my month's notice, and I got by. I did very well, in fact. I don't really pretend that I'm any more gifted than the next person, so I don't see why anything is necessarily different for UK PLC.

Anyway, I was watching the news on C4 last night (which I think is by far the best UK-produced news programme, by the way) and there was a debate, specifically about immigration.

Now, I'm very free'n'easy about immigration. I like that we're multicultural, I think I live in an enriched society as a result. But C4 had done a poll, which revealed that 60-odd percent of <<presumably Brexit supporters>> wanted to reduce immigration, even if it meant that jobs went unfilled. Just thinking about my local hospital, they had an emergency ward which could not open last winter for lack of staff, and yet people (according to the C4 poll) are happy with this. Even though British people might have suffered as a result.

So, just as many remainers "don't get it" about my motivation for wanting Brexit, maybe on immigration, I don't get it?

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Referendums

I've thought these thoughts for a while, but never really thought how to express them. Let's try:

I like referendums. I think the best scenario is where we all do our own thing, but on an issue which affects us all, referendums are a good idea. I still see a role for parliament, to fill in the details, but I think that the pulic are sophisticated enough to indicate a direction of travel. Parliament has a responsibility, I think, to reflect public opinion, not so much to drive it.

In that same vein, people talk about referendums not being binding, but I think that's nonsense. I can accept that there may be timing issues - I think Brexit would have been better put off until the end of a budget cycle - but really, parliament should be bound to follow the public's direction. Remember that we delegate power to them, not the other way around.

So just in the sense that a referendum is the closest that we get to the public expressing its opinion on an issue, I'd actually go for more referendums, not fewer. I think we do have to think long and hard about what questions we ask - for example Cameron's simple in/out question has had people arguing ever since. If he'd have bothered to ask me what I think about immigration, sovreignty, the Customs Union, wealth etc. I'd have been happy to tell him, and saved all the arguments now. The trouble is, it's not enough just to know people's conclusion (in or out), we also need to know their motivation for saying what they say. Gordon Brown (ex-UK Prime Minister, I never really rated him in office but I think he was right here) was on tv only last weekend, saying that people's real issues were things like jobs, personal prosperity etc, things which underlay the headline EU issue.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Vorsprung durch Tecnik

My trusty glucometer went kaput the other day. As I got fresh strip after fresh strip from the tub, each time the monitor told me "Error". I suppose these machines only have a finite lifetime. So I'm left with about 100 unused strips, and almost as many unused lancets. I like the old machine, which is made by a German company called Beurer, it has a USB port which allows me to download data on my laptop. The laptop also has Bluetooth, which might make it boogie with other modern monitors, except that all the manufacturers of such monitors have Android and iPhone apps, but nothing for Windows. So, all in all, I decided to replace like-for-like.

You can buy these monitors for around £70 from UK suppliers - which is really taking the **** when you consider that most manufacturers give their monitors away as loss-leaders, safe in the knowledge that they'll offset this loss by selling consumable test strips to me every few months. I don't keep numbers on this, but I must have spent the best part of £200 these last twelve months, of which probably only 10% was "monitor". I was given a monitor by the NHS only a month or so ago, which is arguably more sophisticated than this thing, for example. And it conforms to the same standards of accuracy.

So I looked closer to source, and sourced one from Germany for about £15. A massive difference, but it probably doesn't surprise me that these monitors are more common over there. With added delivery, it all came to about £20. But that was acceptable, given that it just gave me continuity - I can use the software I already have to get the data onto my pc. Plus, this cost was far outweighed by all the consumables currently in my bathroom cabinet, which would otherwise have gone to waste.

This was Friday. On Saturday morning, I had an email telling me that something was due to be delivered, but I dismissed it as spam. Nothing was coming this quickly - this thing wouldn't be due for another 10 days. Imagine my surprise when later, not only did something arrive, but it was this glucometer! So that is about 30 hours from my clicking "Buy" to it being in my hands, with a trip from Germany in between.

So I'm a very happy bunny. I know that the astonishing delivery is thanks to DHL, not the vendor. But all the same, the vendor was responsible for picking DHL in the first place, so deserves some credit.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Footprints

I think I got to a certain age when I thought I wanted to reduce my footprint. The roof got full of solar panels and the Porsche went, in favour of something much more eco.

It was interesting at the weekend, I had someone round who objected to the tannin in his mug. We don't bother with a dishwasher any more, largely to save water with just the pair of us. Things like tannin have accumulated on some of our mugs, especially when I went through a phase of black tea, just because getting fresh milk is no longer trivial for me. In any case, the tannin is obviously sourced from the tea leaves - drinking water which had been mixed with those same leaves didn't seem to be a problem. I don't worry about it myself, in fact it reinforces to me that the detergents used by dishwashers can be pretty strong. I'm sure that tea ultimately poisons me, to one degree or another, but we could apply that argument to anything.

But it is interesting how people see things with different perspectives - I worry about a zillion things, many of which I can't overly control, but not the tannin in my mug.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Failings

My eyes have let me down a couple of times recently. As you will know from other posts in this blog, my eyesight has suffered as a result of diabetes and/or the stroke. I mean, generally, these days, I live ok with my eyes. Whilst I don't think they've got any better, I certainly don't think they've got any worse.

Yesterday, I was reading something online, which led me off to a newspaper article. I read the article, then made a comment. The only problem I had was that I misread the article - I thought I had read it properly, but I hadn't. It was quite a serious post in quite a serious forum, and whilst it is interesting to discover other views, and share your own, it's generally not a very forgiving place - somebody can be relied upon to pick up on something pretty quickly. True to form, somebody did spot the mistake. Fortunately, they managed to tell me without also adding that I was an idiot, that I was brainless etc. which is often the case on the internet, and really is unnecessary - I often think that when people choose just to insult other people, they're exposing their own limitations. At least, if he did tell me, I didn't see it.

I, of course, deleted my post and apologised. I don't think he made capital out of it, but of course he could easily have said something like "make sure you read things properly next time before commenting", which would have been fair enough. The problem was, I thought I  had read the thing properly.

So as a consequence, as I say, I removed my comment and didn't replace it, although, of course, I still had a view. But I thought I'd forfeited the right to express that view by my error. I might well have left the group as a result, if I can't rely 100% on my eyes, but, as I say, I find some of it interesting. I mean, it probable takes me much more effort than it does the average, able-eyed person to work my way through a post, but that's my problem. The great thing about the internet is that nobody knows how long it takes me to read and write stuff.

The second incident (don't worry, there are only two) was that I had to renew my PIP benefit. I posted about this just last time out. I've had the form a week or so, and when it first arrived, I'd obviously read enough of it to know what they wanted me to do, but I'd missed the deadline, which was a just a couple of days later. We just had a bank holiday in the UK, so there was no postal service, and my form couldn't possibly get back there in time. I mean, I have to rely on my wife to scribe these forms (really annoying, but for another post), and she works four days a week, plus she was away last weekend and part of this, not to mention having her own things to do rather than just being around to fill forms out for me, so it was always going to be tight. I didn't realise just how tight.

So my renewal application will arrive a couple of days late, and god knows what they'll do in response to that. Worst case, I suppose, they might turn around and say that, because I didn't renew in time, that they'd assumed I didn't want to renew and have therefore scrapped my case. But that would be a pyrrhic victory. It'd take me extra time to re-apply, it'd take them extra time to sift through a "first-time" application. If they take that route, I could just appeal I suppose, but it'd have the same result in terms of taking us all more time. I suppose the fallback, as far as I'm concerned, is that I'm certainly not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes - I'm far stronger at walking, but my wrist, hand, ankle and foot are still paralysed, so it's a no-brainer for me to pursue it to the end. With any luck, the DWP will be sufficiently tardy in opening their mail, that they won't notice anything was late. They must deal with many thousands of these applications so I very much doubt that someone is sitting there waiting for mine.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

PIP

I've been told I need to renew my PIP. One of the questions, I believe, is whether I can make a cup of tea.

Under normal circumstances, yes, I can easily make a cup of tea. But take this morning:

From my seat in the lounge, I decided that it was time to get my morning cuppa. So I got up and, because I try my best to tidy up after myself, took a bag full of rubbish to the bin, which is also in the kitchen.

Problem #1 - the kitchen bin was full. So I needed to tie the binbag up and take it out to the household bin. Bear in mind that I'm tying this thing one-handed, which is an art even to start with. And, in taking it outside, bear in mind again that I'm one-handed, so actions like carrying the bin bag, opening the front door into the porch, opening the porch door onto the driveway, opening the bin - these actions all have to be performed serially, I can't do them all at once.

I get the bag into the main bin and come back into the kitchen, the next task is a fresh bin bag. Again, I'd remind you that I'm one-handed (did you get that yet?), but I'll leave it to your imaginations to work out how exactly I got the new bag into the bin!

On to my tea. Problem #2 - the kettle's empty. A doddle, just fill it up again. Put on hold the thought that I should have checked this first, so that the water could have been boiling while I sorted the bin. I forgive myself these little things these days.

Problem #3 - the sink is full of dirty dishes, I can't get to the tap. So, I have to wash the dishes before I can fill the kettle.

Problem #4 - the draining board is also full, so there's no point washing anything just yet, because there's nowhere for it to dry. Fortunately, this task, I'm able to complete. I put the dishes away. I wash the other dishes.

Unfortunately, at this point, I have to take a break and go sit down. So I could reasonably say that on this occasion, no, I was not able to make a cup of tea! In fact I had to wait another half-hour, at least then everything was in-situ and I could just get on with it.

You might argue, with very good reason, that I didn't have to empty the bin, that I didn't have to wash the dishes. And you'd be right, but you'd be missing my point. My point is that my stroke has messed with my head such that I do have to. Does that seem anal to you? The trouble is, when the bin is full, the correct response is to take it out. When the sink is full, my correct response is to do the dishes, and so on. I'm not as good these days at making a decision which I know to be incorrect. And, does it surprise you that I treat such trivial matters as significant enough to mention in my blog? Welcome to my new life.

Malta

Lots of things I hear about the EU leave me thinking, "that's not very good", here's one of those things:

In France, today, the population is 66.9 Million [Google]. This boils into an electorate of around 47.3M [ElectionGuide.org]. France currently has 74 seats in the European Parliament [Google]. The European Parliament is important, since it's the only thing we European citizens cast our votes for. This institution should be the source for every power European, at least in my mind, and should itself be comprised fairly. So, let's summarise:

France
Population 66.9M
Electorate 47,293,103
Number of seats in the European Parliament 74
Number of people per seat 904,054.05
Number of electors per seat 639,095.99

Those two last rows are simple divisions of the numbers, I haven't introduced any new numbers. This is all fair enough, France's number of delegates is in line (using either population or electorate) with somebody like the UK, which has a slightly smaller population/electorate than France, and 73 seats.

But let's look at Malta. Here's that same table:

Malta
Population 436,947
Electorate 341,856
Number of seats in the European Parliament 6
Number of people per seat 72,824.50
Number of electors per seat 56,976.00

My sources here are Google and Wikipedia. You should be able to see it from comparing the two tables, but I'll just state it for clarity:

Seats per person (Malta) vs. Seats per Person (France) 12.41
Seats per elector (Malta) vs. Seats per elector (France) 11.22

So, again just to be explicit, a Maltese person's voice is more than ten times as loud as a French person's. I have to say I'm in no way being critical of Malta here - it's really up to negotiators to secure the best deal they can, so good on them. My only criticism might be that they could have pointed out that they have a disproportionate number of MEPs, but why would someone put fairness above their self-interest? And that's my problem, or one of them. To be explicit for the last time, I expect the ratio to be somewhat nearer to one. Okay, I can live with some small variation, because France is a comparatively large country, and Malta a very small country, but a ratio of 10 is not fair. All countries should have about the same number of representatives, per capita.

Then you get to the method used by each of the countries to elect their MEPs, where again, my support is qualified. You'll pick up from other posts the need to be careful to design a fair PR system, and certainly until John Prescott changed the UK system, our first-past-the-post was less fair still. But all of this might be the subject of another post.

I don't particularly wish to make further capital out of this, really it's down to you to digest these numbers and decide whether they're fair or not, but be aware that these numbers are one of the reasons why I'm happy to walk away from the EU. I have a lot of sympathy with my continental friends, who will readily say that the EU might be imperfect, but there's no way they can contemplate living without it, but I'm less forgiving. I'm quite happy to live without it.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Severance

I must admit that a while ago (it was probably pre-Brexit-referendum) I was looking for facts about the European Parliament. I know that for this body, the UK votes proportionally, but only really based on a "list" system.

I think with this system, the devil is in the detail. Imagine if the proportion of votes cast elected 5 of your delegates - you'd be pretty upset if you were Delegate #6 on the list. So I think how you build your list in the first place is pretty crucial. Historically, the largest parties are no good, because their list is passed down from their party hierarchy. So, basically, if you're a safe pair of hands, well-in with the leader, then you're going to be seen far more favourably than a rabble-rouser.

I thought the Greens might be different (another reason to vote for them). So I posed the question via an email. This was to their central greenparty.org.uk email address, so presumamly went to someone at head office. I waited, and eventually got a response. "It varies by region", they said, and helpfully gave me a contact email for the south-west region. So I tried again, but this time didn't get a response. Strange, I was even in the Party at the time, so if that's how important your supporters are....

Anyway, I let it go. What else could I do?

Then, again, a month or so ago, I found the local branch of my Green Party on Facebook. Last week, somebody posted one of these "party political broadcasts" to the group. It was a poster which reflected how Green activists had been involved in thwarting fracking - I think members were supposed to nod approval, and carry on. For me, though, the issue is interesting because the government have obviously given their permission to go ahead, and yet local people (I assume it's local people) have tried to use direct action to stop them. So for me, it raises the bigger question of when we'd find it permissible for local protesters to defy the government. So I asked that question. Several days later, I'd had just one response to the question, despite it being seen by around 20 people. That disappointed me. I might have offended people in the way I asked the question, although I tried not to. You can judge for yourselves, by reading some of my posts, whether you think this might be the case. Or (worse), people didn't think we should be asking questions. But I think that's perfectly acceptable - how else does a child learn? Or (worse still) maybe none of the viewers knew an answer? A lot of people interested in politics behave like sheep, I think, but I'd always thought the Greens to be more thoughtful than that. Perhaps we just naturally think of "our" party as better than the others, but that's just perception? Maybe everyone who read the post just agreed with the respondent? Possibly, but there were no visible signs of that. I'll have never met any of these people, as I'm not able to get a bus at night, so maybe they don't want to engage with a stranger? But I'm happy to, and I'm the guy who doesn't communicate as well as I used to, I'm the guy who had the stroke.

It's already been 18 months since I paid any subscription to the Green Party, I guess I need to consider my links severed.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Irish Eighth Amendment

I kind-of get the feeling that there can't be many people with this view, but I'll write it and you can shoot me down in flames....

The background is that the Irish constitution was amended so as to recognise that a pregnant woman is effectively two lives, and to give them equal status under the law. This amendment effectively banned abortion in the state of Ireland. There are exceptions here, but I'm talking generally. The referendum, tomorrow, is on whether to repeal this amendment to the constitution.

The reason I am interested in this question is largely just because I take a keen interest in Irish affairs, although I live in the UK myself. So I might well have an interest, but I won't be voting tomorrow.

So my view on this matter is that Irish women are, today, able to hop onto a plane and fly somewhere (nominally, to the UK) to get an abortion. So the current law is simply a matter of geography - an Irish woman in Ireland is bound by the law, but an Irish woman outside of Ireland isn't. So I think the current law effectively says "if you wish to stay here, then you must keep your baby, but if you're able to travel....". So I'd argue that the law currently discriminates against people who aren't able to travel. This could be for many reasons, including the obvious one of somebody's ability to afford the cost of a flight and a private abortion. In that sense, we could see it as economic discrimination.

And even though someone might be able to travel, that's far more onerous than going to a clinic in the next street, plus, of course, it doesn't remove any soul-searching from the process. I've only ever experienced one pregnancy myself, and the baby was healthy and very much wanted, but I can imagine that other parts of the process must be far harder than getting on a plane. But I don't see this issue as particularly critical to the debate. I'm more concerned that, under the current law, the Irish medical profession needs to be careful about "promoting" certain avenues over others - I know from my own situation that I'd expect full disclosure, so as to be able to come to the best decision. But today, resources such as the internet undermine this argument too.

Having decided that the current law is discriminatory, I would get rid of it - the issue becomes a no-brainer for me. It doesn't really really matter what the content of that law might be, I think that we as a society need to use laws to make a level playing field, and not say to some women that they can have an abortion, and to other women that they can't. I'd maybe be happy for there to be a further discussion, and maybe we'd discuss not just whether we'd prevent abortions, but how we'd prevent them without prejudice - if you say abortions are banned, then how do you stop somebody jumping on a plane and having one anyway? Is it reasonable, these days, for the state to even have a view? But this referendum is about repealing the Eighth.

Etiquette

I think when you post a view on social media, there are always two things that go on:

  1. what you say, and
  2. how you present it.
The former just represents your point of view and might be perfectly rational or not.
The latter is the key to your point of view being accessible. It might be inaccessible for several reasons, even something as innocuous as the language you're using. I think there's a pre-requisite that you can convey your meaning in the chosen language. It raises an interesting point with regard to stroke survivors, some of whom have difficulty with the nuts and bolts, although their thought process is intact.

But I think you can cross a line by choice also by your choice of words. Insulting, patronising, swearing, in some cases. I find even just bringing emotion into things can be a turn-off. I followed a post in a political forum this morning (which describes itself as for political anoraks, so judge for yourselves what that makes me!) in which a chap called somebody a **** (they used real letters, but I'm afraid you'll have to guess as it's not something I'm comfortable repeating). The effect of this was that whatever view this guy was propagating, it didn't go any further with me. So it was ineffective in trying to convert an open-minded reader to their cause.

I do think that the goal of social media posts is not to win an argument - people, especially as they get older, have pretty fixed views and aren't going to change them because of something you say - but to convince a third-party reader that your view is a reasonable one. Often, if you happen to be disagreeing with someone, they'll provide that "reason" for you, often by the way they present their argument - being rude or unreasonable or something. I think if you're going to have a view on politics, then a part of that view is understanding other people's position, understanding where there is agreement and where there might be disagreement. And, I think there's generally more agreement than we might first think.

Plus, of course, the other important thing in debating is knowing when you've made your point, then stopping. People can always re-read it if they wish.

Addendum:

Do you see what I mean? I turn off when I see the word "Ayatollah", and any remaining point is lost. I have seen one already about Rees-Mogg, which claimed (incorrectly) that his own constituency (North East Somerset) had voted to remain in the EU. I duspect anybody who follows current affairs would know that, so a fairly obvious lie.



Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Happy Lunch

I had a lovely experience when I visited to Salisbury today. The local bus service is sufficiently infrequent that I frequently end up with having time on my hands before meeting people. Today, I was meeting my stroke buddies for coffee, and had time to eat some lunch beforehand.

So I was sitting there by the side of the river eating my sandwich in the spring/summer sun, and heard both French and Flemish being spoken by passers-by. I mean, fine, I live near a city which is renowned for visitors, but just to be able to sit there and hear other languages was brilliant. It does upset me a little that some of my countrymen don't share this view.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Monarchy

Inevitably in the UK, with this royal wedding, there have been discussions around the role of the monarchy.

With regard to the wedding itself, I must admit I'm not a big fan of weddings in general (I think I'm going back to childhood to think of the last wedding I attended, apart from my own). But I know how hard it is to make a marriage work, so I wish them the very best of luck. Just as if it were your wedding, I'd wish you the best of luck.

So you could take from that, that I certainly think the royals have a right to exist. I think there are big question marks surrounding inherited wealth, but that's a different matter. You can have a similar argument about the UK's benefit from something like slavery. None of us alive today, have had anything to do with slavery, and yet we live quite happily with the benefits that were accrues during that time. For me, these questions summarise why I think the concept of a state is something more than just the individuals who comprise it. It's one of the areas where I think the state has a responsibility to involve itself.

Returning to the monarchy, where I'd draw my line is the involvement of the monarch (I'm being careful not to mention the queen here, since I don't think this is about a person) in the machinery of state, for want of a better term. In things like lawmaking, in terms of royal prerogative, for example - the amount of power a prime minister can wield as a proxy of the monarch. We should be clear that these items benefit the state, not the monarch. When parliament debates and passes a new law, for example, the final act of royal assent is purely ceremonial. And, of course, we have people (Sinn Fein MPs) who have been duly elected, and who refuse to take up their seats because they won't swear allegiance to a monarch. That seems a silly reason to me, and I think we need to be clear whether these people have been elected to serve the voters or the monarch. My own view is that the voters have priority, every time. So if you have a conflict, then the monarch gives way. And it might be fine for the prime minister to have special powers (again, an argument for another day) but we should be clear that these powers are because they are themselves the de facto head of state, rather than the monarch's proxy.So I think we need to look at public service, and ask whether the service is provided on behalf of the monarch, or of the state.

So great news for the royal family about the wedding, but I think we also need to think of their context in our lives. God sabe our gracious state, anyone?


Fallen Ken

I like to keep up with the news. I'm careful to look at other sources too, but one of the sites I use most is the good old BBC. Last night, it ran the story:

Ken Livingstone to quit Labour amid anti-Semitism row

There's been a lot about this one recently, not least because of his subsequent suspension from the Labour Party, and the whole row involving Labour and semitism. I suspect Livingstone has done them a favour by jumping before he was pushed. Having been an MP, and of course, the mayor, it was difficult to imagine him holding further public office anyway.

But in the mass media, this whole story has always been reported with a degree of furore which (I thought) obscured the basic source for contention, so I looked back at the detail on the web. In an interview (i.e. publicly), Livingstone stated that Hitler was a Zionist at one point. Whilst in later years Hitler obviously decided that his best answer to his "Jewish problem" was his Final Solution, he did, in 1933, adopt a policy of repatriation of Jews to Palestine. This is known in histoory as the Haavara Agreement.

There were strings attached to this policy, for example that people would be allowed to take a portion of their assets with them, and to take supplies bought from German vendors - Hitler obviously had one eye on his economy here - and there are further details in the Wikipedia article. Plus, of course, you can decide for yourself if allowing Jewish people to leave your state constitutes Zionism, as Livingstone claimed. Even taking into account the intimidatory atmosphere of Germany at that time, my own opinion is that Hitler's manoeuvrings fell some way short of Zionism. I think his interests began and ended with getting the Jews out of Germany, whereas I think Zionism includes at east a degree of positivity about having a Jewish state. Actually, I think the ideal situation is to have a state which tolerates all religions, but that was clearly not the case in the 1930s/1940s.

Whatever your view on the actual history, I think simply trying to summarise this policy into a few words was erroneous. Brevity is good, but not at the cost of clarity. To claim that "Hitler was a Zionist" makes us judge for ourselves, "well, what exactly is a Zionist? Did Hitler fulfil those criteria?" So, whatever your answer to these questions, there is a need for the reader to apply some processing, so Livingstone was hardly unambiguous in his comment. Even if he meant it with the most decent of intentions, he relied heavily on his own interpretation.

It never fails to amaze me how senior politicians - not just this guy - trip themselves up with the words they use. I mean, even for me, writing a blog, it's like walking a tightrope, but at least here I'm not looking for a soundbite and can (hopefully) talk about things fully.

Even now, it remains unclear exactly what Livingstone's views are, as there have been a couple of other instances where he has allegedly been....less than generous, shall we say.....toward Jewish people. I'm not even sure if the Labour Party was intending analysing these or not.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Sudoku

I got quite stressed yesterday, I was playing a bit of Sudoku and made a few silly mistakes. Admittedly, the tv was putting me off, to say nothing of the cat, but even so, I was angry with myself.

I play these days on "easy" level, it takes me that much longer to read the line. All the online Sudoku games I've found don't allow you to write your working-out, so I find myself having to do mental arithmetic on the same row/column repeatedly. As a result, I normally solve the puzzles, but slowly. One of the sites I visit submits your time, it always comes back and says things like "97% of people are faster than you". I can't help it these days - I used to just see a row/column of the grid in a split-second, then process what the numbers are just by recognising the different shapes. It was all so natural, but now these steps are more deliberate.

It doesn't help that sometimes I will click on a square to undo something I've mistyped, but I must hit the touchpad so lightly that the computer doesn't realise I've clicked on a square, so that when I subsequently hit the backspace key, instead of clearing the entry, it clears the whole grid. But I have the same trouble with other programs, I've had lots of other laptops which have behaved better, so I can quite happily put a lot of this onto things other than my stroke. Also, I am forever right-clicking on everything, when my intention is to left-click, which is purely the dodgy design of this laptop. Finally, I tend to be quite harsh on myself, in that I expect to complete these boards flawlessly, so if I make a mistake (I can highlight where I've gone wrong, often just a typo), I tend to abandon the whole board, rather than just correcting the individual mistake. I am far more prone to typos these days, in Sudoku just as in my blog (you may well see typos here, although I do use a spellchecker and manually review my posts in an attempt to minimise them).

But I need to keep going with these programs, just because they challenge my brain. I spend most of my days on a sofa at the moment, and it would be so easy just to shutdown if I'm not careful.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Smarties

A while ago, there was an advert on TV which claimed "Only Smarties have the answer". For me, Crocs appear to be the answer. Those plastic shoes. Let me explain.

Since the stroke I've had no movement in my left ankle or toes, which appears to be here to stay. Immediately after the stroke, too, I always felt cold. Even now, I don't sweat, just get like a furnace inside. I can be wearing my winter coat on a hot summer's day, no problem.

In the context of these things, the slippers I wear has become a problem. The ones I had before the stroke, I stopped wearing because they left my feet cold. So I got myself some lovely, cosy, sheepskin ankle boots. The trouble is, with no movement in my foot, the bloomin' thing kept falling off. This was great, for example, when I was walking across the garden, and could expect my foot to be covered in chicken poo as a result.

They lasted about six months. One day, I got so frustrated that this thing kept falling off, that I gripped it with my teeth and managed to pull it apart. I think that wasabout £60 wasted.

There then followed some more sheepskin slippers at about £50 - an expensive business. They used to drop off just the same, although this time I had a bit more restraint.

Last christmas, in the January sales, my wife suggested I try some crocs. I got some on-sale, insulated ones (whilst I no longer feel cold all the time, it was the middle of winter!), and, so far so good. I can wear them independently, and can put the strap down to on my bad foot hold them onto the foot. No more slipping off! They're a boring colour but hey, it was a sale.

Little things.