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. As indicated by the domain name, I am based in the UK and the blog therefore has a UK bias - 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.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Water Into Wine

I'm very good these days at turning a negative into a positive. Let's face it there aew so many negatives!

I've run out of Pyrex bowls in which to cook my porridge. I'm just trying to wait for the dishwasher to be full before I put it on, so a couple of empty bowls are in there waiting to be washed.

Havever, I need breakfast, I NEED breakfast, and remembered some Pains au chocolat in the freezer, ready to bake. I mean, porridge may be good for my carbs but....fuck it!

I just need to train myself not to burn my tongue, and let them cool a while as I get them out of the oven!

Wednesday, 19 June 2019


Meant to mention, lunch from hell last week.

4 hours, 10 miles from home (far too far to just walk out). I wouldn't mind, I've now kicked off my new development project so I had definite things to do once I got home. I don't work particularly quickly these days but there is at least a to-do list.

Still, made the decision for next time a no-brainer!

I heart Paris!

I saw a nice surprise yesterday. Way back in a previous lifetime I used to read a particular blog. I shan't use the blog's name because, the Internet being what it is, that'll probably give the author's identity away in 2 seconds flat! Her tale was interesting anyway, plus she was an English woman living in Paris. I used to love it there and would have liked to have lived in Paris myself, although my choice of career made that impossible. In IT you tend to regard London, New York and possibly Sydney as the places to be, and I was lucky enough to work London and New York - something like IT is very Anglo-Saxon and France is, well, French! We must've been around the same age, had kids the same age, etc. I think mine was a bit older than her's - enough at least for me to easily remember what life was like bringing up a young kid. We diverged because whilst I was settled down by then, she was going through the turbulence that is life - maybe that was partly why she was interesting, because she was experiencing something different to what I had? 

The woman wrote in a time when a good blog could lead to a book deal (maybe it still can? Reading - actual paper books - is too much effort for me these days so I don't keep up) and she duly published stuff. I definitely remember reading the first, but it was largely a re-hash of the blog, so I think I stopped at one.

At some time later I got myself a Facebook account, and must have said I "liked" this woman - she was on Facebook too but I don't think she wrote the blog any more by that time. I must've re-read her book at some point.

I forgot about it until I logged on yesterday and saw a post from her, linking to a fresh blog she now writes. Lots of water under the bridge etc., and she now writes from the perspective of having bipolar problems. There are parallels there with this blog, where I write from the perspective of having had a stroke, although obviously one is mental and the other physical.

I think a big marker, not really of recovery, but of whether you manage the illness or the illness manages you, is that our horizons get broader - like they used to be before we knew it could be different. Certainly for me - I suppose I can't speak for anyone else. Health once again became a subject, one of several, rather than the subject. I notice these days that I write a lot about politics - I mean, of course I agree with this stuff because I wrote it, but I expect it would bore everyone else to tears! But the point is that the posts have moved beyond the subject of stroke. I always said that I didn't want the stroke to define me, and political posts show that it doesn't any more. Politics is a bit of a cop-out, because you can engage from the comfort of your armchair (and I do!) but you're still contemplating something other than your health and your mortality.

Another, more direct, reason for me to blog is to record my physical recovery. One day I walked 10 yards, the next 20, and so on. So to a large extent, I don't really care how interesting the blog is to other people - it's a bonus if you enjoy it too, but really, I write it mainly for me. I guess writing on different subjects charts recovery too, but altogether more subtly. I've always thought of myself as long-winded, but rather than fitting into a newspaper story, I can use the blog to properly explore issues, so long-winded deliberately doesn't bother me. My posts are as long as I feel like writing about something.

I scanned through the new blog yesterday and saw posts on what seems like a variety of subjects - there's certainly been a change over the last couple of years, and seems to have moved away from health. I hope that's an indicator of recovery from her perspective too, claiming life back for herself. The posts are quite infrequent, so presumably there is a whole load of other shit going on, and the blog is just the stuff she chooses to share with the world. I don't detect a lot of conscious "recovery" stuff, but there again for something mental, how does one quantify recovery? I suppose that, like me, you set yourself goals, but unlike me thost goals will be mostly subjective. What might be a mountain for one person will be a molehill for the next.


Incidentally...trying to work things out...I think the last time I was in Paris was in 2008.

I used to visit maybe one weekend a month back in the nineties, before I went to the US, before marriage, before parenthood, before flying was bad! I used to live in and fly from Southampton, and home-to-city-centre could be as little as a couple of hours. The areas I knew well were those around the fifth and thirteenth arondissements, a bit out, the area around the Rue Mouffetard out to the Place d'Italie, if those places mean anything to you.  I used to stay in a tiny hotel on the Rue Censier.

I used to love going to the Louvre on Sundays before I flew home, first because it was free on a Sunday. and second, because the bus to Charles de Gaulle went from the nearby Opera. Even now, if I had to pick a favourite artist, Corot would be right up there. My wardrobe was mostly French, and as I got better jobs I used to frequent the Rue du Faubourg rather than the Galeries LaFayette. I'd have places to myself when I shopped - Saturday morning was my favourite - because other folk wouldn't get up until lunchtime!

But Paris was really my bachelor playground and after I got together with my wife, and certainly after my daughter was born, we still went to France regularly, but stays in Paris were sparse. I have a friend who still lives just outside so we would meet up occasionally, and kids with very little else in common (including language!) would play together for a few hours. Daughter and I did the obligatory trip up the Eiffel Tower etc. - if it hadn't been for her, I wouldn't have bothered but it was worth it just to see her face when we came out of Bir-Hakeim and she saw the tower for the first time. I think the last time, we took a day trip there - Christmas shopping - from one of our new favourite haunts, Rouen, and had to fight our way through the crowds on the Boulevard Haussmann.

I don't now know when, or even whether, I'll get back there given my mobility these days. And, I'm reluctant to travel without money coming in. It's one of a long list of places with very fond memories, but not really vital to go back to.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Don't Ask

Partially as a result of my volunteering, I follow an Age UK news feed.

Last week, the UK's BBC announced plans to scrap a concession, that there is no need to pay for the license if you are over 75. If you're under, I think the rule is per-household (so if a household has 10 TVs at the same address, you only pay the fee once), but although this tax goes to the BBC, it covers any live streaming into your household, even, say, if you use the BBC's iPlayer to watch live tv on your iPad. As the Internet has developed, however, the line has become blurry - while you need a license to watch anything being broadcast live, you don't need one to watch YouTube videos, say, because they're not live.

I mean, it is to all intents and purposes one of those indirect taxes which people are just conditioned to pay. Whenever the subject is raised, there are always calls for a rethink on this tax. I must admit I can see two sides to the issue - on the one hand, it seems a very old-fashioned way to fund a broadcaster, and even the BBC has introduced subscription-only feeds of some of its content, so it seems to be moving away from that model. On the other hand, it is handy not to have content directly controlled by advertisers. Of course, add to this mix the fact that the BBC seems quite wasteful - digital projects costing millions have been canned with no tangible results, well-known presenters have been paid in the millions for their services - and it all becomes quite murky indeed.

Anyway, to raise more money the BBC wants to scrap this concession. That's the headline at least, although in the fine print, the plan is to keep the exemption for people on some benefit. So, I asked a question of this charity - how many people will this rule-change actually affect? How many over-75s are in receipt of this benefit, so will still not be required to pay?

Even within that question, there is grey area. It is accepted that many people who are eligible for the benefit, don't actually claim it. But I thought that there, the Age charity might have estimates. I have heard it said that some old people are too proud to claim the benefit and wish to live life standing on their own two feet - that may be true, but I suspect they don't come into this equation anyway, since they'll presumably be paying their £150/year fee regardless - because the over-75s concession is, after all, a benefit. What, I suspect, people mean when they say "too proud" is "it's easy to claim the concession currently because it is just a tick-box, but actually claiming the benefit is far more onerous". Which is something I can understand, having navigated the minefield of disability benefits. But, maybe that hits the nail on the head? Maybe the real issue is that we need to make this benefit easier to claim?

So I asked for these numbers. My hope was for the Age charity to respond, but they didn't. Instead about 20 other people did - some sensible answers but mostly negative in tone. I very much got the impression that I was being chided for daring to pose these questions. I mean, especially if somebody is campaigning for something, they should expect to be scrutinised. Even then, all I did was to scratch the surface.

One particularly offensive woman said that the numbers didn't matter because the whole thing was a misogynistic plot (given that women tend to live longer and would therefore pay for more years, there's a kind-of logic to that), and that being male, I came from a privileged background and couldn't possibly empathise anyway. Her tone totally wound me up, so I introduced my disability and said that, yes, I felt very privileged. I don't like to bring my disability into things because it really shouldn't be relevant to all but a very small part of my life, but... And, when arguments like that are presented, I think they do immense harm to a cause because they changed my attitude from one of open-mindedness to one of hostility.

Ultimately my attempt to find out more was not particularly successful, I mean, the BBC have introduced this rule change so as to make money, so certainly some people will be affected, but how many? In principle I've got no problem with some 80yo millionaire having to cough up £150/year. I would, however, like to see the poorest people protected, but by exempting people who are in receipt of this benefit, isn't that what they're trying to do? I'm yet to hear an argument that isn't really motivated out of self-interest.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Junkie News

Yay! I've measured and recorded my blood results each day as normal. The values have been pretty unspectacular, 9s and 10s mostly. However every reading gets entered on a spreadsheet - there are now something like 1100 of them - and I wrote a macro to keep a rolling average. It calculates the value over the previous 50 days. So, my average today would have included whatever was calculated 50 days ago but not 51 days ago, my average yesterday would have included 51 days, not 52, and so on.

Because these few days of results were unspectacular, I was surprised to learn that my average for most of the last week has been sub-9 (mmol/l. That's about 160mg/dl). That's pretty much lower than it has ever been since I started measuring.

'Course, all you non-diabetics can scoff, your sugar will still be half of mine! And, I didn't see those numbers this week, but my current insulin dose will take me down into the fives, and will quite easily take me into hypoland if I eat a late meal.

On positive discrimination

It's funny - one of the artists I follow on Facebook is Tracy Chapman. You might have heard of her -she particularly had a string of hits from the late 1980s. She is American but obviously the music travelled across the Atlantic.

I guess those early hits must have set her up for life, and I noticed a while ago that she was doing philanthropic stuff like organising concerts, where unknown wannabe musicians could perform. I thought that this was a nice idea, except she restricted the performing musicians to women. Tough luck if you were a wannabe-famous male politician, I thought, and said as much.

I was quite quickly reminded that women needed all the help they could get, and that the recording industry is very top-heavy in terms of its white, male executives. That might all be true, but how does positive discrimination  help the struggling male musician?

Funnily enough I saw this same effect once in a left-wing organisation, an event which brough out something which I thought was far more sinister. This group happened to mention that they applied some rules to election results, meaning that elected officials were split 50:50, men and women. Ironically, in this organisation, it was not at all uncommon for more women to be elected "naturlly" than men, so the rule had the effect of bolstering the numbers of male electees. I made a comment, more in mischief in order to gauge reaction, and was really quite surprised at the hatefulness of the reactions. The lesson I took from that experience was that dissent is not allowed (and that is the sinister aspect, forget your broad church!).  The irony there is that there is an argument for positive discrimination, an example being to enforce quotas of men and women, provided such measures are seen as temporary, until an equilibrium is reached. But nobody actually put this argment to me, something else which I found disturbing. It was kind-of, people knew that positive discrimination was good, but did not know why, or rather when, it should be applied. So I had nothing further to do with the group, which was a shame because, on probably 70% of the group's policies, I was sympathetic, but they lost my support over their intolerance towards dissent.

It strikes me that if quotas are a problem, then yes, positive discrimination is a sticking plaster fix, but it doesn't really address the underlying causes. I think we, at the very least, need to devote a big chunk of our efforts to solving these.

Next PM

This Tory leadership contest. I mean, I am reluctant to say anything since I've never even been a supporter of the Tory party, let alone a member. But isn't it a good idea that its MPs get to express their preference, but that the entire membership gets the final say? The members can cast their vote, taking parliamentary preferences into account, but finally choosing somebody with broader appeal than just the Westminster bubble.

My only criticism of the process, really, is that their MPs whittle it down to a final two candidates before this members' vote happens. Surely, if they just whittled the list down to a half dozen, say, then the MPs could still be able to express a preference, as they did yesterday, but the membership would have a wider choice in selecting the leader?

If you have many candidates, as there were yesterday, then you could use the MPs vote, just to whittle the list down into a "top six", say. So, we'd know from a process such as yesterday's, that Boris Johnson is by quite a distance the favourite amongst MPs, say. That seems totally fair enough. If you have fewer than six candidates, then every candidate could be put forward to the members, but you could still have an initial MPs ballot, just to sort out their preferences. The only time this system falls down is if there is only one candidate, but in that scenario, the one candidate would automatically be the winner, whatever system you use.

My half-dozen number here is pretty arbitrary. I'd see a number large enough to give a decent choice, but small enough that filling out the ballot paper does not become overwhelming. In parliamentary elections, it's not unheard of to have a dozen or so candidates, so I'm sure six would be bearable.

I mean, if you wanted even more from your process, you could get people to express an order of preference, pick your top three candidates, say, although it'd be difficult for the Tories to use such a system internally, while at the same time resisting any proportionality in terms of parliamentary elections. But it boils down to a simple choice : would you sooner have a leader who, say, received 50.1% of people's first choice, but 0% of their other choices, or would you sooner have someone with 49.9% of people's first choices, but with >50% of people's second choices. It seems to me that the latter person, more people would describe them as "acceptable".

But, as I say, this is all centred around a party which I find unacceptable anyway, so not something I am prepared to get too animated about. These people, from the outset, have a different idea of representation to mine.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Why do so few people get involved?

My wife and I were at something called a "Step Out" event in Salisbury last Saturday. The event is specifically designed as a sponsored walk for stroke survivors, even on a paved path so, if needs be, you can complete the course in your wheelchair. The course was, in total, three laps of a Salisbury park, making a mile in total. It was the distance which attracted me - I've never managed that far since the stroke, but I made it - albeit with one or two - or ten or twelve! - breaks along the way.

It probably took me about ¾hour to complete - that's just the speed I am these days. My wife somehow managed to keep up. Because my foot doesn't work, my lower leg acts like a kind-of pendulum. Anybody who remembers their high school physics will tell you that the period of a pendulum is dependent on its length and nothing else, so I'm kinda constrained by the length of my lower leg - things like faster and slower go out of the window.

Anyway, we got round, and that's how long it took. I was so knackered by the end of it I just went straight to the car, we drove home, and I hardly moved a muscle the rest of the day. That's how fatigue gets me. I thought back to the first time I rode my bike any kind of distance - a whopping 20 miles! - and I felt the same after that - just not enough energy even to move. A few years later and I was a bit fitter and did a hundred miler - furthest I ever rode - and felt the same afterwards. Legs like jelly for the following 24 hours.

Despite my personal triumph, I was a little disappointed that only two other people turned up. A guy and his son, probably looked about ten. They were able-bodied and ran the course. We spoke at the start, just to say Hi to each other, but of course they were finished long before I was so we didn't speak after. I'm not sure how able I'd have been, anyway. I think I'd seen this pair before, at another event (that time, we'd volunteered to help), but I've never heard of them apart from that. Presumably they too have some personal connection with stroke. So, just the four of us.

It does make me wonder - every fortnight I do my drop-in. Every fortnight, the ward is full - 28 beds. That must be a throughput of hundreds, if not thousands, per year. And yet, none of them comes to an event like this.

I understand only too well that some people must be left more disabled than I am - it's not uncommon to be housebound after a stroke - but equally, there must be people as-good-as-if-not-better than me? I mean, I had a full-blown stroke, I'm left without the use of my foot and my hand, I can't, seriously, be in better nick than anyone else who had a stroke?

It's funny, but at our coffee sessions at the Playhouse, I used to think and say the same. Why were there only ever four or five of us attended? When, as I say, thousands must've passed through that ward over the years. I mean, with the Playhouse, it was sometimes so sparsely-attended that I sat there on my own - I wasn't really prepared to do that, so in the end I stopped going too. I think that part of the problem with that group was just circumstances - nobody really came along after me. Maybe I scared everyone off??? But it was a group of survivors who'd had their strokes some time ago, several years in some cases, and who were all getting their lives back on track. Unsurprisingly, our get-togethers just competed with "life". For me it was a bit different - I was definitely still recovering and had time on my hands.

I don't know. I can't pretend I'm not disappointed that stroke survivors don't get more involved, but there's only really so much I can do personally. With the coffee group, and most definitely with the charity, I'd like/have liked for them to do well, but don't/didn't really feel that it is my responsibility. I will, of course, help where I can. For the coffee group, I wrote a web site and got leaflets printed up and distributed on the ward, for example. But it is funny - I felt that as soon as I was able, I had to reach out and find other people in the same boat, but obviously other survivors can't feel the same way.

Tick Tock

Hahaha - you have to take this stuff with a pinch of salt!

The stroke charity gave me a certificate yesteray for 100 hours voluntary work. I did say to the co-ordinator that the number was nonsense, but hey, it was just a bit of paper. In fairness, this woman has quite diligently recorded the time I've spent volunteering - since she joined last September! Her predecessors were a bit more variable. Certainly, going up to the hospital in the early days, I would go up to the hospital and not see another soul up there, apart obviously from the patients I visited. So, all-in-all, how anyone could even hazard a guess at how much time I've spent doing charity work is beyond me!

So I will try to hazard a guess myself. As a rule of thumb - I've been volunteering for approximately 3½ years. Every 2 weeks. So, that's 91 visits. There have been a few times when I haven't gone along, but not as many as you might think. If you think of an employee having 4-5 weeks off every 52, I've probably attended more regularly than that. We haven't gone on holiday much these last couple of years, don't forget.

So, let's say 85 visits. Then it starts getting harder. For each visit, I leave the house at 1:20pm and get back at 5pm, so, just in terms of "time away from home", that's 3½ hours per visit. Easy! That works out to 300 hours. But, not all of that time is spent at the hospital, a lot of time is spent travelling to and from. These days, I'm there for up to 1½ hours at a time, so that would be 127.5 hours actually on the ward. But this time itself fluctuates. Yesterday I was up there nearly 2 hours, but 1½ is really my safe maximum. As yesterday, visits tend to take the maximum amount of time these days, I think because we target patients a bit better with the help of staff, and we tend to chat to each patient for longer. But certainly that was not always the case - there have been times when I must've been in and out in 20 minutes flat. Equally, the bus times used to be different so I was up at the hospital slightly longer than I am now. 85 visits at 20 minutes per visit is only 30 hours! So, what do we say? Somewhere between 30 and 130 hours actually on the ward, is my best guess - that's a mighty big variation!. Time spent out of the house is a bit firmer, but you can't really count travel time as "work", can you? And, after all, when you're donating your time anyway, does it really matter?

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Maillot Jaune

I wish to pay homage to cycling. At 40, I had a bit of a paunch and decided that I wasn't getting any younger, so decided not to use the tube, in favour of cycling my two-stops-each-way instead. It took me a few years, but actually that short distance really helped with weight loss. So much that I rapidly dropped clothes sizes.

I reached the point, on a Friday afternoon, when I would miss not riding the bike at weekends. So, I bought a bike to use at home - a road bike, which is constrained to proper roads, but is good for speed and distance. This led to even longer rides still. It was not unusual for me to cover 300km/month - 200 miles? - on my bike. Mostly this was probably no more than a 50km/30mi radius from home, although I also took the bike on the ferry over to France for short breaks, and used to regularly put the bike on the rack when we went on holiday. In that manner, I cycled not just in France but also Luxembourg, Germany, Holland and Belgium. As you might imagine, starting at 40, I was never particularly a brilliant cyclist, but my enthusiasm was there.

I'd always quite liked professional cycle racing, but as somebody who was now a cyclist myself, I took a greater interest. I took days off from work to watch a few Tours of Britain, and even headed over to France a few times to watch Le Tour - I remember one year I flew the whole family out there for a few days so we could see a stage in the Pyrenees (the last time I flew). I loved track racing - passed all the training levels at my local track, Calshot, although they seemed only to want to train people for competition, which never really interested me - but I also went to meetings over in Flanders in Belgium - hallowed turf, the home of the sport. There was definitely something special about standing watching a race from the middle of a cycle track, with thousands of other peoplea a beer in one hand and a sausage in the other. And the professionals get up such a speed - in the region of 50 mph in some races - that each lap of the track is only 25s or so.

It turns out that stroke is a lot like cycling. When climbing a hill, for example, you've given your all, you're running on empty, but there is no alternative other than to keep going. Stopping isn't really an option, because you know you'll never get going again. Even over time, you'll get faster on a climb but you'll never stop giving 100%. You develop an attitude to keep going - in a large part, it really is a state of mind rather than anything physical. There is no "can't", there is only sweat and effort as you "do".

To a large extent stroke is similar. It can be, anyway. You can say "can't", you can spend all day every day in bed, but really, what is the point in doing that? You might as well just say your goodbyes and trot off. Especially somebody like me - the meds I take would do the job nicely, if I took enough of them. But, of course, I keep going. I climb that hill every day, just because that's my nature. And I do my charity stuff. I'm not sure how much I'm appreciated by stroke survivors - I know I'd have appreciated speaking to someone like me, but equally I know I'm not typical of survivors - but I know my clients at Age UK appreciate my calls.

Plus, of course, in more specific things. You have to walk a half mile to the end of the road. You try and walk it taking eight breaks instead of twelve, say. You try and make each break last one minute instead of five. And all the while, the lactic acid is building and you calves are screaming for you to stop. When I first started walking (and had recovered enough to even get to the road in the first place) it really was getting from one wooden bench to the next, where I could sit and rest. But, you keep going. And you improve, but like any sportsman, you can't ever get too satisfied, because there is always further to go.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Audible Update (9th June 2019)

I must quickly mention my current, excellent Audible read. I've had a few disappointments recently but A Very British Coup seems excellent. It was written in the early Eighties about the late Eighties, so I suppose from that perspective, you could describe it as Dystopian.

Obviously with the word "coup" in the title, I had imagined that there might be some armed insurrection involved - that might still happen, I'm only part-way through - but despite the word "British" I hadn't realised that it would be set in the UK.

A left-wing government is elected, just through the normal electoral process that we have today. From Day #1, they are undermined - by the Civil Service, by the Secret Services, by the Americans, by the newspaper barons, by corrupt leaders of trade unions. I suspect this is the "coup" bit, as they are forcing the government out of office every bit as effectively as if they held a gun to their heads. It all sounds very 1970s - but also quite ominous in terms of Corbyn, now. I mean, none of this is particularly visionary - inasmuch as we know what we understand actions and reactions. It's just interesting to see the possible effects if a few people act in unison, nicely collated in one place.

I mean, it's written as a novel but really it seems to be a manual on how to topple a government. It's actually a very serious read, although it is dressed as fiction.You could imagine it still happening today, especially if ever we elected a government on an anti-establishment ticket.

It does kind-of make me think of how over-arching the establishment is, and how the odds are stacked against a government which wants to change things. Tony Benn used to say that when we have an election, it is not a vote to change the system, but merely to change its manager. The author, Chris Mullins, is a politician, by the way. Not really any surprise there. He held minor office in one of Blair's governments and I remember he wrote an entertaining autobiography about his time in office. Seemed to focus on the sheer impotency of junior ministers.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

What's in a name?

I smile sometimes at the names of some stroke support groups. Not being critical - but I think you make a choice between punchy and ambiguous, and between precise and a mouthful. I never really managed to get a happy medium.

For example, around here the groups include the Onward Club and The Forward Club. Now, please don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising either of these groups or their names. Onward and Forward - those are directions in which we all want to move, surely?

In that, though, lies the rub. Unfortunately, neither name conveys anything about stroke without further digging.

I must admit when I struggled with this problem myself, I jumped the other way. Salisbury Stroke Support Group. The plus is that it described the nature of the group quite well. We should probably have had the word "peer" in there somewhere too. But all this has a minus, basically the name was a total mouthful, "peer" or not. Imagine typing all that into a web browser, say.

Our name was christened when the local coordinator for the stroke charity offered to get some flyers printed. In the end, that never happened, but it set us thinking. If we got the flyers printed, they would need to conform to an existing template. But at the time, we had nothing, so I thought "so what". It didn't stop other people criticising the template, but, in the end it boiled down to whether we wanted the leaflets or not.

The template required us to think of a name for the group. From experience, thinking up the name is the hardest part of any project! I was at a loss, although I did think we should have a name which went some way to conveying what we were. I was guided by a friend of mine, who was involved in a support group over in Essex. Harlow Stroke Support Group. If it could work in Harlow, why not Salisbury?

So, Salisbury Stroke Support Group was my suggestion. I took this to the group and it was agreed although with little interest. If we talked about the group previously, it was just to refer to it as the "Playhouse coffee group" or something. I didn't think we could use that as a title, so argued against it in favour of something else. No arguments.

In the end, the leaflet offer fell through, but the cost of a few leaflets was so trivial that I ploughed on and designed something myself. I was lucky in that, being computer-literate, I was familiar with how to approach such a task. It took a bit of time, but not much. But, of course if you come up with any kind of flyer, you need to call yourself something, so I stuck with the name.

Anyway, that was the history. Somebody did criticise the name later, but I just told they that changing the name would be fine by me, but if they wanted to print leaflets, they'd need to pay for that. And I'd happily tweak the web site, but they'd need to pay for renting a new domain name. Never heard another peep. But, of course, we ended up with a mouthful. I wonder if things might have been different, if we'd adopted a punchy name?

Tuesday, 4 June 2019


I did my voluntary session today, as normal. I ring around some people, just to say hi and chat. I usually refer to these people as "clients", although there is more to it than that. Over the months you get to know people, they get to know you, so they become friends. In fact, I deliberately use the word "client" to remind myself that ultimately, this is professional. If they decided they didn't want to speak to me any more, for whatever reason, I wouldn't have a choice but to not call them any more.

I've been doing this for almost a year now, and it has happened a couple of times. You can't take it personally - one of the clients said after only a couple of calls that she would prefer to speak to a woman. Reasons can be that fickle. For the mst part, however, you build a relationship with somebody which, like any relationship, grows over time.

I had a first today. One of my clients I've only spoken to intermittently for the last few months. I knew she was ill, and at one stage she told me she'd had a spell in hospital. Today I phoned and was told by her husband that she'd died last week. I mean, I was very shocked. Perhaps I shouldn't have been - the work is by definition with the elderly, this lady was in her nineties, plus I'd known she'd been unwell.

But I'm afraid I did find it quite shocking. I remember saying how sorry I was to hear that. I used to really enjoy speaking to the client and told the husband so. But it is only really now, after the news has had a few hours to sink in, that there was other stuff I could and should have said. The obvious thing should have been to ask the husband how he was holding up. I mean, he must be a similar age, I suppose, and they had probably been married for many years.

I did at least tell the Age UK woman all about this, so hopefully she will have had the presence of mind to call the guy at some point, but I know only too well how stretched the charities are. At the very least I must learn from this.

Lost for Words

I might have talked of this in the past. Way back in the years before the stroke I used to love going over to France and just soaking up the atmosphere. I loved the culture, the language...

Since the stroke I have very much gone into my shell. Of course, travelling there now presents new problems, and certainly, in the early days, my wife was very keen on not going abroad, in case anything happened to me whilst we were over there.

I've come out of my shell again somewhat, in the time since the stroke. Social Media is great for allowing people to keep in touch with each other, remotely. I started off by joining a group of French ex-pats living in London. They talk about "London" and "British" things, which I know only too well, but they talk in French. I've kind-of expanded to follow some groups based in the geographic areas that I know best - Normandy and Brittany. Obviously these groups are based in France so are, by definition, French-language.

I do have a fair grasp of the French language, but I'm not perfect. I have French friends who are professors of English, who will readily correct everything I say (if I ask them)! But it occurs to me that one of the effects of stroke must be pretty similar. Certainly sometimes, there is something I wish to say in French. I can say it in English but I am constrained to say it in French, and I don't know how to do that. So I try to think of another combination of different words, which has the same approximate meaning. If I'm on the ball, I can think of such a formula - it is like a key turning in a lock. Otherwise, I have to resign myself to not saying anything, very frustrating, because I just don't have the words.

The reason I mention stroke is because one of the possible effects is on speech, and is called aphasia. Aphasia is a very over-arching term. If you think about the process, something comes in, gets detected and processed by the brain, which then formulates a response and sends it out via the muth. Aphasia is a loose term covering all the parts of this process. I've seen this most regularly in that very last step - getting the mouth to say the desired thing - but that is just my personal experience. Despite the words not coming out, there is perfect comprehension. I was lucky - I have experienced a slowdown, but in my best Spinal Tap analogy, I have gone from 100% to 99%. I would be impressed if you could notice it, most of the time, even my wife can't, although I know I'm not as quick, certainly, as before. It is just finding the correct word - although there are many words to choose from, there is normally one one which evokes exactly the right meaning - must be very frustrating when you can't, to the point of just giving up. I saw that in my dad, who had dementia, although, unfortunately I wasn't switched-on enough to recognise it at the time.

I don't know. A lot of the time we struggle to describe the effects of stroke to people who have no experience of what it's like. I mean, that's got to be a good thing, right? That most people can go through life without that experience? But maybe if you ever tried to learn a foreign language, this gives an idea?

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Costing Projects

Oftentimes in my career, I've been asked to produce project plans. I have a few simple rules I worked by, but they were not rocket science and I usually just ground them out.

By grinding them out, it was basically sitting down and working out, as best I could, all the different little tasks which went into the whole project, and, as best I could guess, the duration of each task. From there, just basically adding up the numbers together. The end goal was to be able to say how many man-years of effort would be required. I let other people juggle with the number of people involved, and, frankly, a lot of the time it really was no more than juggling!

A lot of tasks were repeated across the board. For example, every task finished with a unit test, so "unit test" was always a sub-task. A unit test is simply testing the part in isolation. But again, unless you realised this and took account of it, you wouldn't allocate enough time for it.

I had a basic rule that a task would take a minimum of half a day. Sometimes a task might be a single change to a single line of code, so a half-day was overkill. But over the course of the project, it averaged itself out. Conversely, if I costed a task at more than a fortnight, I knew I needed to break that task down into smaller parts to get a better idea. Overall, there were normally the same feelings on each project - when you first worked out the numbers, you, and other people, would say "crikey, will it really take that long???" because the number you calculated would always exceed your gut feel. But at the end of a project, I was generally happy with my initial estimates, although requirements invariably changed during the course of the project, par for the course.  After all, because the duration of an entire project was just the sum of these small tasks, for each task if would have been very difficult to miscalculate by all that much. So, unless you hadn't thought of all the tasks... Project Managers would often be not happy at the end result, but that was their problem - ultimately tweaking the numbers at this point would just have been wishful thinking - they'd have the math right there in front of them, so it'd take a degree of bravery (foolhardiness) to ignore it in favour of their gut. But some of them did, and they invariably got burned. If my advice had been wrong I'd have been concerned, but if they'd chosen to ignore my advice and subsequently got it wrong, that was their problem.

In my last few years, I met another guy who claimed he could estimate the cost of projects without grinding things out as I did. Quite funny, really, I'd regularly meet people in my career who could do things more efficiently than I could. For some reason, I survived despite being so inefficient. This guy just used his gut feeling. The difference, as always, is the working out - the documentation. My detail would be used as the basis of the plan that would span the entire project, the final number that I produced was just the headline. I was fortunate, I suppose, because I encountered this behaviour early on in my career and developed coping strategies - the guy, often parachuted in, who tells you. ever so nicely, that what you've been doing is crap, so you just had to cover your backside.

Friday, 31 May 2019


Here's a scenario for you all to consider. I've criticised my current Audible read in a previous entry, but it does provoke some thought.

The woman, originally from the C20th, has been transported (somehow) to the C18th.
The man is, and always has been, of the C18th.
The tale is set in the C18th, when they are also married to each other. Bear with it.

They're having a row. She snaps at him, "why d'you always want to behave like bloody John Wayne?" Obviously, the response in "who's John Wayne?"

Think about it. To try to explain movie star, you first have to explain movie. You probably then need to go back to still photography, how an image can make its way onto a piece of film...

What a nightmare! 🤣

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Giving Up

A friend of mine happened to mention that her mother-in law was 87, was in a nursing home with dementia, and was diabetic. She likes chocolate cake, so my friend and her husband take some over to her when they visit.

I can fully go along with that. At that age, and with the other things going wrong, I too would place her pleasure ahead of her sugar levels.

I happened to mention that a few of the stroke survivors I've seen have been smokers. I just shrug my shoulders at this, for exactly the same reason. Whatever gets you through the night. Having a stroke is a shitty experience, more often than not you're left disabled, so if you can derive some pleasure from smoking a cigarette, go for it.

Interestingly enough, my friend disagreed. I mention it because it made me think - exactly how did she see that giving somebody chocolate cake (known to be bad for them) was different to somebody smoking (also known to be bad)? It seems to me that you're storing up long-term issues for a short-term gain.

I do like this friend but sometimes they say something which surprises me. None of us is immortal and I do think that there comes a time when it is appropriate to give up on life.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

75 Years Ago

I must admit I can generally be quite immune to things like Poppy Day. There is a certain insincerity about a politician who, in one breath, says "we will remember the fallen" and who, in the next breath, is ordering troops to drop bombs on people. The single most important lesson we must take from conflicts is that we should avoid the failure of dialogue, where we can, to prevent this sacrifice from ever being required again, and frankly, I think some politicians have trouble with that "where we can" bit. They're far too willing to give up on dialogue in favour of force, especially now that we (the western powers) have the means to fight wars remotely, such that the public don't experience the horror of war.

Anyway, I saw this clip on social media - I'll post the link to Facebook but I've managed to download a copy of the video and upload it to my blog, just in case. This is obviously as we are coming up to the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings. I used to visit the Normandy a lot and know the debarquement beaches very well, including the serenity of these cemeteries. Listen to the May birds singing in this video. The caption alongside the video reads:

Veteran Alan King, East Riding Yeomanry, at the grave of his friend Louis Wilkes, who he carried from his Tank after Louis had been hit in the head by a sniper. He could not save him. Never Forget.

This sums it all up for me. No politicians with crocodile tears, no cenotaph, no world leaders, no tv cameras, just a guy paying his respects to his comrade.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

European Elections

Here in the UK we're a bit skewed. You can take this weekend's EU elections as simply a vote on Brexit or not. Either "it should never have happened" or "get on with it".

But I see that the in the rest of Europe, there is also the fear of "right-wing nationalism". Those are the BBC's words, not mine.

I don't know about right-wing. I'm certainly not right-wing. Nationalism, perhaps. To the extent that countries don't wish to receive instructions from Brussels, but would rather decide their own course.

I do hope that the EU doesn't see these numbers just as a protest, dismissed with a "fuck you". That certainly seems to be how they've reacted to Brexit. Brexit happened for all sorts of reasons, including how the EU is run, so to simply dismiss that discontent...well, you're just asking for trouble. I predict other countries following the UK, and concluding that their only way is outside of their club.

As for the UK, Cameron's requested reforms would not have satisfied me - he was more concerned with his own popularity than in making the system fairer - but certainly the EU's stance that "there is no appetite to re-open treaties" didn't help.

I hope, therefore, that these elections lead to a period of introspection by the EU's governors. At their next meeting, they might wish to ask why they are in 5* surroundings while some of their citizens are using food banks, why they have set themselves as the elite, at the expense of taxpayers.

It's funny, because not long ago I finished reading Ken Clarke's autobiography. It struck me that when he was at large departments like Health and Education, he concentrated a lot of value for money. I think he came along with the attitude of "concentrate just on what you're good at". Identifying a narrow purpose and concentrating on delivering it. I don't necessarily agree with him that value for money is the main goal, in nationalised industries - the society as a whole has more dimensions than just the finances of a nationalised industry - but that is his view. It's a shame therefore that nobody ever put the EU into the spotlight, and made it focus on perfecting its strengths. I'm not just

My own reservations are more along the lines of how well the EU represents me - I never had a say in Jean-Claude Junker being president, for example, or Donald Tusk or Michel Barnier. I have no way of recalling my MEP if they're doing a bad job. Fine, I can vote them out next time around but that is five years away! What other employer would commit themselves to hiring an employee who turns out to be no good, and only having a five-year get-out clause? And Brexit has certainly had people highlighting how "democratic" the EU is - if this is the case, ask your local MEP to show to you some legislation they introduced. Ask your local commissioner how they got their job.

If yon want my support, show me a level playing field.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Audible (23 May 2019)

I mentioned the other week about my last Audible read, with some hope for the new one. A report so far...

This one is called Outlander, and I'm only about a third of the way through it. It starts just after WWII, when an English couple are on holiday in the Scottish highlands. She is miraculously transported back in time 200 years, with the highlands full of the old clans and the countryside interspersed with Redcoat forts.

She's a fish out of water, very English in very Scotland, so regarded with suspicion by the Scots although taken to live with a clan. In the Forties, she's meant to have been a war nurse, so has a smattering of French and some healing knowledge. That she has French makes her suspicious to the English too, but that she has nursing makes her a bit useful.

I mean, at that point, it was kind-of interesting. I thought there were a few ways in which the story could go, not least how to use her 20th-century knowledge to try and help people (whilst presumably managing not to be burned at the stake!), trying to explain how she'd got there in the first place. You can imagine that she might have wanted to get back home, but how on earth do you explain "home"? And so on.

But actually the direction that the book has taken is not so interesting, for me anyway. She's taken in by some Scots but is wanted by the English. To try and protect her, she's forced to marry a Scot, After just a month or so. Thereafter, there's a lot of time spent describing the many and varied times they shag as newlyweds. I mean, I was a bit surprised because I tould assume that these sex scenes would titilate a man rather that a woman, and the book was written by a woman. Maybe it is written like that purely because men would appreciate it, and maybe buy the book?

I mean, all of that is harmless enough but it turns the book more into romance than sci-fi. I can obviously handle the sci-fi aspect - hence starting the book in the first place - but I'm not so much interested in the romance. We all have our own experiences of romance so, to me, other people's are not something I'm particularly interested in.

It is a bit more sinister than that though. I don't know whether this is just the story being faithful to the time, but I've picked up on this woman behaving very deferentially to the husband. In the scene I just read, this guy wallops her - that'd be enough for me to walk. I mean, you maybe don't have a choice about the walloping, but you do have a choice about the dynamics of the ongoing relationship. In my world it is very simple - men and women are just 50:50, so I tend to notice when one partner becomes dominant. But as I say, that might just be the author's portrayal of 18th-century Scotland.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Healing Wounds

Inasmuch as I can trace my history, I don't have any Irish in me. But I come from Liverpool, which was often the first port of call for Irish people settling in England.

But I have a view that colonialism was wrong, that people should be free to run under their own steam, rather than to be somebody's possession. I think that because of the UK's past, this is bound to make me anti- to some extent. But of course it's not limited to the UK - I cam immediately think of the other European countries who were expanding at the same time as the UK, all of which is unpleasant.

So I can look at things and think that the UK was wrong to behave as it did in Ireland. Not just Ireland, but many places where the benefits of colonial influence are.....arguable. But certainly in Ireland, I can understand the rebellions going back hundreds of years, culminating in the Easter Rebellion a hundred years ago which was a final catalyst for independence.

Of course, the history in Ulster is far more recent, with the fighting over the six counties or Northern Ireland (whichever term you prefer). But we now have peace. I do think though, that as part of tat peace, we need to make a decision. British and Irish. Do we look back and focus on the evil perpetrated (by both sides), or do we look forward and visualise a pluralistic society?

I think we have to look forward, but I think that comes with strings attached. I think that there needs to be an amount of sweeping things under the carpet. Not necessarily forgiving or forgetting, but sometimes forsaking justice in favour of the bigger picture. This has to be on both sides - amnesties even for known perpetrators. Including the IRA bombers. Including the soldiers. Because if you're going to heal the wounds, I think you have to let go of the past.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Telltale Signs

When I worked in the City, people (agents) would often call me to see if I was interested in a new job. I got into the habit of asking them to sent a spec (specification) over to my email address. Why? The spec itself might go on to be important or it might not, but relly, in the first instance, I just wanted to satisfy myself that a spec existed. A spec showed that the clients had, at least, put some thought into what they wanted. Furthermore, clients often need to produce a spec internally to receive budget, so a spec helped to know that they weren't just on a fishing expedition. I'd sometimes get some bright spark of an agent saying, "this role is so new that there isn't a spec yet", to which I'd just say, "well, when there is one, send it over".

Another thing with the type of work I used to do, was duration. If a client had a permanent need for somebody in my role, but only wanted to offer a short-term contract, a probation period, if you like, then fair enough. I was quite happy usually to take my chances that I'd do enough during that initial period to impress. Alarm bells started ringing, though, if a client said they wanted a designer for just a couple of months, since a decent project could be around the 10-man-year length, or maybe 18 months duration, and you really need a decent amount of time to get your teeth into something.

So I ended up looking more for things that should be avoided, rather than things with potential. The things with potential were the ones left over after I'd rejected the things which fell at one of the hurdles. It is the same, really, now, although there are altogether fewer vacancies locally so the scale is smaller. Indeed I haven't seen anything in almost a year which ticks all the boxes. I saw a funny one yesterday. Somebody was offering just a three-month contract for a Head of IT. Obviously interim - someone must've been taking a leave of absence and the company didn't feel they could manage. But who do they seriously think will take that on? What do they think somebody can achieve in just three months? I must admit that I could happily take on a "head" role these days, but reall, I'd want to have a bit of time to see the effects of any changes I introduced.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

More Veggie stuff

Funnily enough, on the same subject as yesterday, I had my first interrogation yesterday about my reasons for deciding to be vegetarian. From one of my fellow-volunteer friends. I think I did ok, although it is not really an argument I had presented before, certainly not to other people. Obviously I've mulled these things over myself, and come to my conclusion.

This volunteer is the wife of a dairy beef farmer, so I would assume that she knows far more about farming than I do. "I just don't think a lot of vegetarians think it through", she said, "they become vegetarian in order to see lambs gambolling around the fields [rather than ending up on someone's plate], where in fact these lambs are only there in the first place as part of somebody's commercial venture". And, "a lot of land that is grazed by sheep or cattle is unsuitable for farming crops instead". Both of which, I can imagine, are perfectly true. Certainly, a lot of this woman's grazing land is the water meadows surrounding our village. That they are water meadows certainly means that they flood in wintertime - I have no idea whether this also makes summer crops unviable although I don't really see it as important.

My point in response was simply to say that I didn't expect to see more animals frolicking around fields, rather I'd hope to see fewer animals altogether. The only reason there are so many animals in the first place is because there is a market for them, so if I can help to reduce that market... And, even if we are already devoting every possible acre to farming crops (my gut feel is that isn't the case, although I think there's certainly something in what this woman says), then fewer animals would mean less animal feed, meaning that instead of growing crops for animals to consume, people could grow things for humans to consume instead. So it is kind-of recognising that we have force-bred animals for years, and simply doing less of it.

Of course, there are knock-on effects here. Fewer animals would undoubtedly mean less "managed" land (every square inch of western Europe appears to be managed somehow), although I'm struggling to see a downside to this. Is there one? Apart from the obvious that people make money by using the land, so there is less money to be made?

It is funny debating with someone, because your gut feelings will inevitably reflect your overall opinion, but unless you actually discuss things with someone, those opinions are often not very articulate. It is easy to believe these veteran politicians who have had to hone their arguments, improve them over time. It's all very well for someone like me to hold a view, but I don't spend all my time trying to polish my views, they're often quite raw. Plus, of course, the only person I need to convince about something is me, so thinking is usually enough. It kind-of surprises me therefore that somebody who has chosen to become a professional politician, can sometimes be so un-persuasive in their arguments.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019


I might have mentioned in the blog already that I've mostly gone vegetarian. I say "mostly" - it isn't really an ideological thing. I've read a lot recently about climate change, how many more resources it takes to raise an animal for slaughter, compared to "raising" a plant. But it isn't something that I have become evangelical about - I've kind-of decided that, for the moment, fish and dairy are still on the menu - I had a fish finger sandwich yesterday! - but obviously this might change as I learn more.

Actually, I was vegetarian for several years, starting when I was a student at university. My diet then was quite poor, Margarita pizza and chips, and this time around I have resolved that I must eat better. I always had a downer on ready meals - you never know exactly what is in them - so even though the selection is far better now than when I was first a vegetarian, I've been trying to cook for myself. One of my staples over the last few weeks has been tofu stir-fry. Probably four nights per week.

The funny thing is that I've seen really good results when I test my sugar each day. i suppose it shouldn't be surprising, since the tofu is high in protein and the stir-fry is just vegetables. Rather than those sugary, ready-made sauces, I've confined myself to cooking in sesame oil and adding a little Soy Sauce. Soy Sauce is low in sugar but, I think, quite high in salt. It certainly tastes salty. Yesterday I tried Worcester Sauce instead, but that didn't really work.

I mean, in the grand scheme of things, my sugar is only abou20% lower, but, actually, 20% is quite a lot. My average sugar over the last seven weeks has been just over 9mmol/l (about 170 mg/dl) but in the last seven days has been in the low 7s (130).

Mixed in with the stir-fries, so far, have been a couple of ready meals, although I'm weaning myself off them, there is still the one pizza per week, plus other assorted things from the vegetarian aisle - I picked up some frozen mushroom Kievs yesterday, which will prove to be interesting! But I'm still really in the experimental phase, finding which foods I like etc. I know so far that I love tofu (have always liked it), but never really knew how to cook it, but not so much Quorn. And not Linda McCartney sausages! These last few weeks I have gradually been getting rid of my meat meals in the freezer, e.g. chicken Kievs, to be replaced with veggie food, although I'm finding that quite a lot of veggie food must be eaten fresh. I need to replenish my supply of frozen fish, just in case I run out of fresh stuff.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Reasons for Brexit

I've mentioned before that I used to take vacations in France, I love it over there and we would often go over there, sometimes just sailing across for 36 hours, to get our weekly shopping from Carrefour.

I have a little French. Not fluent, but enough to get me by. Especially in hotels and restaurants. But I like the language and wish to improve myself. For that reason, I am a member of a few French-language groups on social media. In one such group, a London-centric group of French ex-pats the other day, was a thread on the subject of immigration. Somebody had commented to the effect that although there were no concerns about immigration in London, London did not represent the whole of the UK, just as Paris didn't represent the whole of France, and that basically, immigration was the big reason for Brexit, if you looked at the UK as a whole.

I responded to this, by saying that I was perhaps not typical, but that immigration, for me, had nothing to do with Brexit. In fact, having worked in London and enjoyed the cosmopolitan environment made up of many nationalities mixed in together, I feel my life has been enriched by immigration.

I see overnight that, rather than replying, somebody just put a "laugh" icon against what I said.

Sure, I can go on about the EU not being perfect, can represent me better, and all that is true but but the real reason that I want to Brexit is because the EU doesn't even acknowledge this concern. The rulers of the EU are doing nicely, thank you very much, and have no wish for its pesky citizens to rock the boat. My concerns aren't taken seriously. I might imagine that same "laughing" icon. So, in response, I am quite happy to say "ok, but then we go our separate ways". Which is what I've done. I generally think I'm pretty alone in what I think, but especially in France, where the Gilets Jaunes have been so active, I think I have company.

You want to look for a reason for Brexit? For Trump? Look no further. And politicians should be worried because nothing has changed.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Brexit Party

I must admit I'm quite interested in the Brexit Party. Not really for the obvious, but because they are talking about their desire to reform our system. The trouble is, all the heat and noise is currently surrounding the Brexit process, where the question I'd like to ask is "how do you wish to reform the system?".

Because I write this blog free of noise, however, I can, at least, say how I would wish to reform the system. Actually I am quite open on how it happens, but my end result is to have politicians who will collaborate with each other, to work to achieve a particular goal, even if they don't totally see eye to eye. Politicians who are able to take a broad directive from people, and fill in the details responsibly, even if they don't necessarily think that the directive is a good idea. I mean, it goes further than that - how the head of state fits into the representational system, how the Prime Minister fits into the representational system, the representational system itself - but in the interests of finishing this post today...

I spent my life doing that as a consultant. My primary goal was to help the client achieve their goal, regardless of whether I agreed with their goal or not. Frankly, I expect the same of a politician, I don't think I'm being unreasonable. So, in the sense that I am able to define them in a few lines, my requirements are simple.

Unfortunately I think that this might require a new generation of politicians. I don't want somebody who feels that their role is to make decisions on my behalf. I can quite happily make my own decisions, thanks. At least to the point where I issue a broad instruction. I want somebody who is then able to take my instruction and to work out how to implement it, to put flesh onto the bone, so that we end up with a society in which we feel we are taking part. I fear that the "not being in charge" part of this is an anathema to some of today's politicians.

Incidentally, I heard Nigel Farage this morning about how he sees the goal of the Brexit Party, in the first instance at least, as delivering a WTO Brexit. I would like to see a deal (in fact I think May's biggest mistake here was not to portray herself as a broker - it was always ludicrous for her to talk about "red lines" when the two sices were the UK Parliament and the EU Brexit Negotiator - but that again is just a politician thinking they are a Field Marshal, which exemplifies my point), but I have to accept that he is probably right. Nobody can agree on a deal which *is* acceptable, so I think that probably the only way forward is to strip the relationship down to its bare bones and to start trying to rebuild it, over time, along some kind of consensual line. I'm in no doubt that's what'll happen anyway, on Brexit + 1 day - whatever we agree with the EU now (which might well be nothing), people will immediately try to build a little bit more onto it. That'll become more urgent on both sides as we realise how were all impactd. With WTO, it's not so much the trade aspect that bothers me, but more of the surrounding infrastructure - guaranteeing the safety of medicines, protecting the standard of goods, protecting workers etc. - which I think have been beneficial to us. At best, it'll be costly in terms of time and money to replicate these structures.

Thursday, 9 May 2019


After that Ken Clarke book, I've got back into listening to my Audible subscription. I tend to start work quite early, but by late morning I'm ready for a soak in the bath - and of course I listen while relaxing.

Anyway, I saw a News article a month or so ago. Somebody had an autobiography out, they were one of the people who'd been part of kicking off the #MeToo campaign, so for that reason I thought it might be an interesting read.

So I have been listening to a book by somebody called Rose MacGowan. (I'm afraid anybody who knows me won't be surprised to learn that I just needed to look the name up!) I used to read a lot more than now, I used to like factual books, including biographies, but tended not to be interested in the entertainment or sport industries. I mean, of course these people entertain me, but let's not lose our perspective, it is just something that transports me to a fantasy world for a short while, but after that....well, there's enough going on in the real world, isn't there? I suspect that most stories by successful/famous actors or sportsmen are not really any more than "I have a talent, and got a good job because of it". Great, I'm pleased for you. So do I, just not in the same sphere as you. But obviously, when somebody is talking about abuse, that is real life, a whole level more serious.

I must admit to being a bit naive about how abuse happens. Naive is the wrong word, it is more really that I don't understand what the turn-on is, if the other person is not a willing participant? It's not even "what is the turn on?" but more "why is it a turn on?". OK, it boils down to a "power" thing, but why is having power over somebody a turn on?

This woman - it sounded like she's six or seven years younger than me - had quite a heart-wrenching childhood. I know from being a father myself that the one thing you try and do for your child is to provide some stable environment in which the child can feel secure and loved, but it is fair to say that she had little of that, and had a spell homeless before getting parts in movies almost by accident. She must have been quite successful at things before the abuse, because she says it happened at the Sundance Festival one year - something I have heard of, although I'm not exactly sure what it is. I don't know whether she's talking about Weinstein or not - she doesn't use the name - but in any case, that's just a detail. Her abuser was supported by other people who enabled the abuse to happen. So I get the feeling that the whole scenario is reflecting something more institutional than a lone wolf opportunist. Which means that it is the institutions which need to change - it's not acceptable for someone to say "he's the boss, so it is ok". But that's what the #MeToo is all about, I think. Plus, of course, she talks about the fallout, the blacklistings as soon as she opened her mouth - the punishment for daring to blow the whistle.

It's a desperately sad story, and as a result, her book sometimes goes into a rant, which in turn made it difficult to read. She sees a lot of this as men vs. women, but I think there's more to it than that. It might be true within her world, but I think it is probably more subtle than that. Especially as you get older and past child-bearing age, the male/female distinction is more blurred - to me, it doesn't matter, although I do think we process things differently.The things that my wife picks up from something, say, are different from those that I pick up. I can only speak for myself but I was horrified by her story - as a white male. From my own experience, I know that when I was able-bodied I never consciously discriminated against disabled people, but now that I am disabled, I know that discrimination happens, so how do you square the circle? As far as I am aware, I have achieved what I achieved based on merit - no-one ever did me a favour - but there again I'm a white male, so perhaps I've just taken it for granted?

Still, all of this is food for thought. The only real point to any of this is that it improves the situation for people going forward, and in that I hope she succeeds.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019


I did a volunteering stint at one of my charities yesterday (Tuesday). Normally it is pretty uplifting but on this occasion I felt that I could have done better. When I go in, I have a small list of clients that I try to speak to. The amount of time I spend speaking can obviously vary from week to week, but I do try and speak to everybody. In fact, it's a classic case of the size of a task varying to fit the time available - I often end up getting out only when my alarm clock goes off to tell me that it is time to disappear.

But I spoke to one of my clients who seemed quite down. Apart from speaking to people that day, she hadn't spoken to anybody since Friday, so spent the whole bank-holiday weekend home alone. I have to say that being alone is not something which particularly bothers me - I was an only child and even in adulthood, would prefer being on my own to being with people I didn't want to be with. Before I got married, I spent a lot of time single, or not really being part of a couple. But I know that other people can be different. I immediately thought that I ought to spent some time talking to this client, although it became clear that they didn't have a great deal to say. My normal get-out of a conversation is to say that I had better let them get on with their day, but how do you say that to someone who's already said that lack of motivation has made them lethargic? What are they going to go and do? This really is where I fall short. I can happily chat to people, spend the time of day, etc. but I don't have any professional training to deal properly with this. I basically rely on taking their mind off their predicament, at least for the duration of the conversation. As it was, I suggested maybe going for a walk to enjoy the spring flowers, but I don't suppose that was much more than a sticking plaster.

I really feel for people who seem to need human company more than I do. I, at least, know that I was quite happy to get by before my wife came along. And vice versa - neither of us will be lost without the other. I'm quite happy not really to have any contact with my daughter, the fuss she caused in 2015, and the indirect fallout afterwards, have always felt like the final few nails in the coffin.

Sunday, 5 May 2019


I have to say, I was anti-EU because I don't believe that the EU represents its citizens well enough, and don't believe that the EU leaders even accepts this, let alone has any desire to correct it.

But I am under no illusion that the British system is any better. For most of my life I have been denied a voice in Westminster because of our "winner takes all" system.

So make no mistake, I am pro Brexit, I'd happily just let them get on with their lives, and wish them well, but I think that is only the start of the process. I want the UK to reform too. But that's just a view, and other people will vigourously defend First Past The Post.

What does perplex me is where people sit somewhere in the middle, in the sense that some votes are ok, but others are not. More specifically, it surprises me a little that when I hear parties quite happily talk about overthrowing the Brexit vote, or having another vote to overthrow the Brexit vote, what do they think will happen? For me, consistency has value - if we ignore the result of one vote, surely that means these people are advocating ignoring the result of every vote? Or, is this a special subject? What makes it special? And, even more importantly, who decides? You do, I suppose?

Especially in the wake of our local election results, I am very surprised that somebody can, in one breath, say "ignore the result" and, in the next, say "cast your vote for me", Why, if you want to ignore the result?

Saturday, 4 May 2019

My read

So, I finished my Ken Clarke bio last night. I can provide something of a review.

Obviously I was interested enough in the guy's story to have read his book, so I naturally have a soft spot for him. But I've never been a Conservative supported, at least in adulthood, so there are areas of disagreement. I think it is very important, where we disagree with someone, we understand those areas where we agree, and those areas where there is difference.

Heath and Education are good examples of monolithic, nationalised industries and I can easily buy that Clarke's reforming attitude was needed. I think it is possible to spot a trend in his beliefs, though, to run a ship as tightly as you would in the private sector. Each department delivers a particular service, and the goal was/is to deliver that service as leanly and efficiently as possible. Where I differ is that I think there is more to a nationalised industry than simply delivering the service. I think you use a nationalised industry to try and crack other problems, too. In particular with health and education, the end goals are not as obvious, say, as if you're building a car. You can often only measure the effect of something many years later, and even then, the effect is so mixed in with other effects that it is debatable how muxh of a difference it actually made.

I've got more straightforward disagreements with him about the current political system. He holds FPTP up as a winning formula, and expresses satisfaction that in 2015, the extremists [his word] of UKIP received something like 12% of the vote, yet they only had one MP thanks to FPTP, and pointing out that, under a proportional system, they would have achieved around 80 seats. There, I flatly disagree with him. If a party receives 12% of the votes, then it seems perfectly proper that they should have 12% of the representation in parliament. Whatever their beliefs. And, as for "extreme", what right does Clarke have to assert that his views are acceptable, but other people's aren't? I'm not sure that anybody who supported UKIP, say, would see themselves as "extreme". I mean, I share Clarke's view that having far right parties in parliament would be undesirable, but I'm afraid the role of parliament is to reflect public opinion, not to keep undesirables out.

My other area of disagreement is also constitutional. Clarke's views on the relationship with the EU are well known. They happen not to be the same as mine but I really don't mind that. But I think his views on the relevance of referendums are more significant. He argues that issues are too complex and can't be resolved into a binary yes/no, or a short list of preferences. To a certain extent I agree, although his implication is more patronising - that an MP is fit to make decisions on the country's future, but that I'm not. Apart from finding that suggestion offensive, I think he is correct in that you can't determine policy vie a referendum. What you can do, however, is to establish a broad direction of travel. So, I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask a question, do you want to be in or out of the EU, and to get a sensible answer. Of course, that answer doesn't tell us how exactly we want our future relationship to look, because that is probably far too detailed to ask in a referendum - you'd need a hundred different checkboxes to cover all the different options. As I see it, that's where politicians come in - the people provide the direction of travel and the politicians fill in the details. I therefore have little time for "we need a second vote because parliament is deadlocked" because, frankly, the exact reason I elected these people was in order to put the flesh onto my broad instruction. So deadlock = not up to the job, as far as I'm concerned. Rather than a second vote specifically on membership on the EU, we should be having a general election to elect people who are ready and able to do this job.To get back on-topic, Clarke obviously believes that we elect somebody every five years, and thereafter, we defer every decision to them. I wish to be more involved than that.

Anyway, I shan't get over-excited about this. I've always been on the left so it isn't really any surprise that I don't quite see eye to eye with somebody from the right.

Friday, 3 May 2019

My Left Foot

A few weeks ago I wanted to draw a plan of something. The graphics package I always used to use in business was something called Visio. It's a Microsoft package but it is not included in their Office 365 subscription. I have Office 365 these days because it is the cheapest way of having access to the latest versions on Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc.

Anyway, not included. So I decided to take the plunge and buy myself a copy separately.

Visio is not the kind of graphics software that can be used to e.g. manipulate photographs, but is really good for things like drawing diagrams. And it has lots of clipart, although a bit less now than I seem to remember. I had the bright idea that I could also use it to show graphically how my leg gives me problems at night, but unfortunately, the only hit when I typed in "leg" was a very functional-looking table!

Anyway, not to be deterred, I did a quick web search. As you might imagine, I got a zillion hits, (some of them very attractive!) but struggled to find something which demonstrated what I wanted to show. But I did find these:

I mean, ignore the fact that she is exercising. I'm taking it right out of context but do you see this woman's (left) ankle, the one in the air, how her foot is pretty much flush with her leg? When I'm lying down, that's how mine rests, although I'm mostly lying on my back or side, so my leg is on the mattress.

This can sometimes cause a cramp in my calf. When I say "sometimes", I'm talking in terms of several times per night. I suppose in the same way that my hand tends to curl up into a fist, this "flush" position is natural for somebody who is (a) lying down and (b) has no movement in their ankle.

So, I get cramp. Or, at least, I would do, if I didn't take remedial action. Unlike when I was healthy, I can feel this cramp coming on, and have one or two seconds to react. By changing the position of my foot, I can stop the cramp. I have to hinge my ankle to look like:

 or as close as I can get to that. Do you see, the foot is at 90° to the leg? Both legs? If I can make this adjustment, it puts the brakes on the cramp.

Of course, I have added complications. First and foremost, my ankle doesn't have any power, so I need to use something to put the foot into that position. In fact, I have learned to use my good foot to lift my bad foot - with anything else, I wouldn't get there in time. The second complication is that through having nothing in my ankle, the joint has become a bit seized up. (In fact the exercises I still do are aimed entirely at keeping both my leg and my arm supple, although there has still been some "seized" effect. But, although I have no power in my ankle, it will at least flex enough so as to allow me to walk, say, and this is enough to stop the cramp. I'm kind-of left with the feeling that to recover physically, I should really be stretching things whenever I get the chance. But one day I'll talk about motivation...


From Microsoft Visio, I could do with one of them.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Out of Step

I was up at the hospital, visiting, yesterday, and a funny thing happened. I was talking to one woman and her friend, who were talking about her imminent relocation to some dedicated rehab facility. "That's really good", I said, "because you generally have to be prepared to fight for everything." I then went on to talk about how I received 1 hour of physiotherapy per month, for six months, then nothing. It's a while ago now, but I think I didn't even receive a visit Months #5 and #6 - I definitely remember that the woman who did come out to me was based in a neighbouring district, because my district didn't have anyone. So I was made to feel that the little attention I did get, somebody was doing me a favour.

The person who was with me quickly said, "oh, it's better now". Maybe it is? Maybe they just don't like people speaking out of turn?

It is entirely possible that things are, in fact, better now, as my knowledge isnow more than three years old. But the episode reminds me of something which happened just after my stroke. I'd just started taking the first steps outside the front door, I'd just started volunteering, and went to a Stroke Association training session. "When X happens, then the Health Service do Y" said the voice, with absolute confidence. And I'm sitting in the corner incredulous, thinking to myself "Er, no it doesn't". That particular course also had a "let's pretend we've had a stroke" section, where I just rolled my eyes. Suffice it to say, I'm very skeptical about the correlation (or not) between real-life and training courses. And that the inaccuracy has changed.

I'm thinking more and more that one of the most difficult things with my volunteering, with the Stroke charity in particular, is my own ability to be consistent with their message. I guess that's no different to any employee, who doesn't agree with how an employer does things, but who feels obliged to go along with it. As I used to run the company, I never really had that, although of course I would learn things about clients that they'd not thank me for repeating.

Not least in all of this, it hasn't escaped my notice that somebody with out-of-date knowledge is not very useful as a volunteer - it's all well and good being a cheery presence to help brighten up the day, but really, if I no onger know the details, how much use am I? There again, what do I do? Have another stroke to refresh my knowledge?

Wednesday, 1 May 2019


I find myself getting more and more depressed about the world - dissatisfaction, mainly, as I discover more.

I've just heard about the loss of the challenge against the new runway at Heathrow. I'm sure a new runway would bring economic benefits, whether it is at Heathrow or anywhere else. I'm equally sure that there will be a cost associated with it, in terms of the environment, whether at Heathrow or anywhere else. The two priorities - economic and environmental - are in direct competition with each other. However you dress it up, sooner or later you come to one winner and one loser.

I suppose the people who support the economic arguments will say that we keep developing economically until we have to worry about the environment, and that hopefully, by that time, we'll have learned ways to build our economy without harming the environment. My concern here is that the timescale during which we make the planet uninhabitable is sufficiently large, it is difficult to see how we are affecting things. So it's not obvious, although it's become more so these last few decades, but even now, "so what?" is an argument for inaction.

I suppose I get depressed about things because I think the moment when we have to say "now we really do need to clean up our act" has probably already been and gone. The saving grace is that I can probably defer disaster long enough to shuffle off this mortal coil, but I do worry for my child.

On a related note, I'm making a conscious effort to reduce, if not eliminate completely, my meat intake. I haven't travelled on a plane in more than 10 years so my meat consumption is the next big thing. I suppose in the context of what I've just written, it is all a bit pointless, but at least my conscience is clear. But this is something we all need to decide for ourselves, so I'll leave the protests to others.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019


They had an interview on breakfast TV this morning on the theme of stroke. Of course, my ears pricked up.

They had a survivor on. In some ways, a very good example of a survivor, because she'd had her stroke at just 22. A lot younger than many people think is possible. Actually, even a baby could have a stroke, although it is also true that the probability increases with age.

They did at least mention that stroke was the biggest cause of disability in the UK, although I thought they could have made it a little more obvious by interviewing a disabled stroke survivor. Maybe a pretty young woman is considered better tv than somebody who's chair-bound (especially over breakfast!)? Nothing against this woman - I'm sure she's struggling to get her life back, however the stroke's left her. But tv producers think in terms of viewers.

The (first part of the) fatal mistake, in my opinion, was when the interviewer asked, quite innocently, something along the lines: "I suppose it took you a long time to recover?" This was completed when the survivor didn't correct him. Past tense, just like a cold, or a bout of chickenpox. I think probably all survivors - all the survivors I've met, at least -  would describe themselves as "recovering" at best. Present tense. I know a guy who had his stroke in the nineties and who still feels the effects. It never goes away - I think the biggest "win", if you could have such a thing, is to get to the point where other people don't notice the effects. I'm met several people like this too, I've probably seen many more without even realising, and I'm in awe. But it'll always be obvious to the survivor that they had a stroke.

I will readily admit to feeling very alone at the start of the stroke, something which made me reach out and find other people. I've written about that in the past, it was certainly one of the reasons for volunteering. I've kind-of come full-circle now - I feel alone again because although I know there are people out there, those who speak out never quite hit the mark. I've seen how the benefits system leaves people with benefits at such a level as to be meaningless - make no mistake, if you have a stroke, the system just casts you off, to sink or swim on your own. I've seen how the medical system abandons people for the simple want of transport to get to an appointment.

You eally want to show what it's like? Get a survivor on, ask them to write their name. Ask them to butter a piece of bread, to cut up a steak. Ask 'em to type something without making stupid bloody typos.

Friday, 26 April 2019


I hate it when people consider themselves infallible, because none of us is.

I remember a while ago, I'd been volunteering up at the local hospital for a year or so. There's a specific aspect of strokes (I'll try not to say which because I'd prefer this post to be anonymous), and a training course had been organised aimed at members of staff. "There's a few spare places. Why don't you come along?" I thought that it might well be useful to learn more about the subject, so accepted.

The first half of the course was to be the theory. The second half, a group of people who'd been afflicted with this aspect of stroke had been invited in to be guinea pigs, so we could test our new-found knowledge.

On the appointed day, I arrived nice and early, and introduced myself to a somebody who happened to be lurking around the reception area, who I think I later found out was one of the doctors. "Hi, I'm Pete. I'm a volunteer from the Stroke Association, I'm here to do the training". "Oh, there is training today but you're an hour too early." That's funny. I note stuff in my diary as soon as I find out about it, but maybe I'd made a mistake? So I thanked then and actually went to the coffee shop for the next hour.

When I went back, an hour later, it transpired that I'd missed the first half of the course. This woman had heard the words "course" and "volunteer", had isolated them together and not bothered to listen to the rest of the sentence. She had assumed that, rather than being a course attendee, I was one of the people who'd been recruited to test the attendees in the second half of the course,

To say I was pissed off is an understatement. If this woman had been diligent, she could have checked, but no, she was sure that I was wrong. I could have been more assertive, I suppose, but I did realise that I might have indeed have got the time wrong.

It's funny because I've since recognised this trait several times in doctors - I must be right because I'm infallible. With the benefit of hindsight (i.e. I now know that I was correct) I should've just gone home, or not have bothered making the journey in the first place. I have at least learned from experience  - if anybody from there asks me about future training, my response is always a quick "no, thanks".

Thursday, 25 April 2019

The Irish Solution

I'm really fed up with the intransigence in Northern Ireland.

My solution is for the UK and Irish governments to get together and to govern NI jointly. Their main purpose should be to hold elections in NI, then to step back. If NI people vote again for parties who won't even talk to opponents, then they deserve everything they get.

'Course, it's a very reasonable question to ask why this hasn't happened already. Perhaps those 10 seats in Westminster have something to do with it?

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Scottish Independence

I must admit that, like Northern Ireland, I don't have any strong feelings about whether Scotland remains tied to England. I live on the south coast of England, just about as far as possible from the Scottish border, so I can hardly claim to have a direct interest. Like Northern Ireland, I'd be happy for the Scottish population to self-determine, but I'm not fussed which way they go. I'm certainly not a unionist in the case of Ireland and frankly, don't see Scotland (or Wales, for that matter) as any different.

Furthermore, I have a good amount of sympathy for a Scottish Independence referendum. Not because I'm either pro- or anti-independence, but just because the earthquake of Brexit has drastically changed the landscape compared to the earlier referendum.

I think the effects could be interesting, however. Presumably, if Scotland did vote fore independence, the UK by then would have left the European Union (although that in itself is a big "if"!). So they'd be wanting to join the EU just like A.N.Other nation. One of the conditions for joining the EU these days is that a state must at least be planning to join the Euro. Not actually adopt it, but plan to do so. So a knock-on effect of independence might be to ditch Sterling. Equally, I suppose the nationalist reaction is "so what?" I suppose they would just be going from one circumstance where they can't really set monetary policy (Sterling) to another (Euro).

It's interesting that as far as the UK is concerned, we too would nominally need to adopt the Euro, should some future government with to rejoin the EU. I suppose that's one of the things you negotiate on entry, but I can't help thinking that the reaction of the English to ditching Sterling might be somewhat more reactionary than might the Scots.

I mean, these are all just musings but, certainly, a subject with a surprise around every corner.

Saturday, 20 April 2019


I must admit that I don't really have any strong beliefs on the unification of Ireland. I can certainly sympathise with past horrors committed by the British against the Irish, but that doesn't realty translate to what the future should be. Actually, that's not quite true. I believe that Northern Ireland should determine its own future.

As regards representation, I feel that NI's citizens have the right to be represented, wherever they decide they belong. It particularly concerns me that in the current situation, Sinn Fein don't represent their constituents' interests in the UK parliament. I say this from a standpoint of very much sympathising with Sinn Fein's existence, although I wouldn't vote for them purely because they don't take up their seats.

I know that SF not attending at Westminster is old hat. I also know that the problem they have is in swearing allegiance to the queen. The queen? I'm sorry, but this is my parliament. A UK voter. MPs should be swearing allegiance to their constituents, not to the head of state. So I can understand totally where SF are coming from.

My solution? Swear allegiance to the right people, and don't give SF the excuse. Make sure that all the people of NI are represented in parliament.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Role of Nationalisation

I'm just finishing off Ken Clarke's autobiography on Audible. I tend to think of Ken Clarke as very moderate, as right-wingers go, plus he's been a cabinet minister through large parts of my life. Now that I'm older myself, I can appreciate some of the issues he's had to grapple with. A lot of what he says is interesting but like most Conservatives, he sees a world of profit and loss, where I tend to see it as people's (and the planet's) well-being (or not). I think ultimately it boils down to what the main function of government is - to have prosperous people or to have happy people. (To a large extent, but not completely, I think that the two are mutual.)

For example he's just recounted a French attitude he experienced whilst at the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), visiting the Airbus project in Toulouse. This is at the time of Mitterand, so the socialists were in control in France. Clarke's notion was primarily to make Airbus commercially competitive versus Boeing, whilst other people's priority was to offer stable jobs to local workers (bearing in mind that Airbus is dotted across Europe). I mean, sure, you needed a viable aircraft at the end of the process, but to me, the latter seems a perfectly acceptable viewpoint.

It's kind-of like the arguments about nationalised industries. Is the role of the health service (say) limited to delivering healthcare, end of story, or do you also use it as a vehicle to get you towards full employment? That seems to me to be the whole purpose of having nationalised industries - instead of having the goal to supply some goods or service with 100% efficiency, as you would in a private company, you settle for maybe 80% efficiency. That 80% is just a number I plucked out of the air, but, you know,  something deliberately a little bit short of full efficiency. The wins being that whilst you pay out on salaries, you both save on benefits, and you're left with somebody who feels they've made a contribution. I think that's important because, by and large, I think people want to contribute. I think that some people do epect a free ride, but that they're in a small minority.

Interesting also to hear Clarke describing some of the things he encountered in the early Eighties and his analysis of the problems, at least, seem reasonable. I think something had to change from the Seventies, although I'm not sure that Margaret Thatcher's solutions took us entirely in the right direction. But you do look at things like the power of the unions... It's a great pity that we had to have a miner's strike (amongst others) to force the issue.


I think lastly that you need to be careful with political biographies. No matter who the politician is, they will present the facts so as to make their actions appear reasonable, and as a result, you end up feeling a degree of sympathy for them. No matter whether left or right. So I think you need to finish the book and give yourself time to digest its contents before drawing any firm conclusions.