Disclaimer

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

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Vanessa


In the months after the stroke, I was quite convinced that I was going to die. I wanted to tie up some loose ends.

With that in mind, I searched for some of my teenage friends. I lost touch with ptetty much everybody whilst at university, so all the people, I hadn't seen for many years. I didn't even intend contacting them, merely to hopefully see that they'd all done okay.

A big interest my whole life has been politics, although in my pre-eighteen years I was a Conservative. It was 1980s Liverpool, the city was controlled by hardline left-wingers, it was really easy to look at what they were doing and to rail against them. I've only realised in more recent years that my destiny was to rail against anything I perceived as wrong, and university opened my eyes that the Conservatives were just as bad. University for me started in 1986, and I've never supported the Conservatives since then. I've never particularly suported anyone, at least not consistently. But at eighteen, many of my friends came from this base,.

Anyway, I looked people up. Some people I found. I was almost fifty, so they too would have been in their fifties and sixties. All except for one girl. I did find her, but there were reports of her death, in only 1995. She'd have only been in her early thirties, that couldn't be right!

I actually found her details on a site about graves, of all things. I recognised her name, although when she died she was married, and the name of the village in which she was buried. Unfortunately, she was an only child, plus both her mother and her father were now dead, so, for me, the trail went cold. I didn't think it was appropriate to dig further.

The site had a strange rule. Anybody could view the site, complete with low-resolution photographs. However, if you wanted high-resulution, you had to register. With my eyesight, the bigger the better. So, I registered. I didn't realise that my request would be visible to anybody else viewing the site, but no matter.

That was all 2016, the year of the stroke.

Imagine my surprise when, this morning, three years later, I received a message regarding my request. On this web site, my request had appeared alongside a link, "contact the person who made this request". It didn't broadcast my email, but allowed people to send a contact message.

It was an old friend of her's, just as I was. They'd known Vanessa after I'd left Liverpool, and by the sounds of things, right up to her death. Vanessa had an aggressive form of cancer, which took her within a couple of years of diagnosis, aged just thirty-two.

Today, I've had a lovely email exchange with the personwho contacted me. For my part, it was mostly reminiscing about those carefree, extremely drunken, times. It has brought tears to my eyes thinking of it, I realise I have been really lucky, knowing the people I've known. I can sit here and bemoan the stroke, but at least I have had a life, and even today am trying to be a positive influence. Thirty-two is no age to go.


Fandango's Provocative Question

A new friend of mine posts something he calls "provocative questions". Provocative, in the sense that they cause his readers to ponder the answer.

The other day, he posed a question which was basically, "does the end justify the means?" He phrased the question slightly differently, but that was the meaning.

My gut feel is that "no, it doesn't - we should be completely consistent in our behaviour", so there shouldn't really be a difference in our means and our end. But even as I wrote that, it felt like it would only be a matter of time before I thought of something to counter that.

"Time" came this morning, probably a full three days after he asked the question. I still believe that we should always behave in a consistent manner, but the exception is glaringly obvious. Pretty much any war we've ever had. In WWII, for example, the Americans dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Was that about 100,000 casualties in each? Bad things, right? Except the events ended WWII, so probably saved lives overall.

Closer to home (both time and distance) I can look back at all the shenanigans in Northern Ireland, most of which are deplorable, but in the end, they got the right result. The troops are out and there is a peace, albeit quite fragile.

Funny, I wasn't really even thinking of Fandango's question, I was having a shower at the time! It might take a while, but I'll get there.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Referendums

I was quite disappointed this morning. I was watching BBC Breakfast News, Labour's Shadow Education Spokesman, Angela Rayner, was on. I'm not sure of her exact words or even the exact subject (though I can guess), but they are reported here. The thing which disappointed me was when she said, "I think we've had enough of referendums, don't you?" An off-the-cuff remark, not part of her main point.

It did make me think. I mean a referendum delivers both a result (one way or the other), and an indication of how unanimous we are. If a referendum is 99% one way, then it is probably something we'd agree/disagree with little doubt. A result which is 50.1% vs. 49.9% is more contentious.

I'm happy to apply this to the Brexit referendum, which was 52:48 and which has proved pretty contentious, to say the least. That 48% of voters wished to remain part of the EU said to me that we should execute Brexit, because >50% of voters wanted that, but that we should remain very close to them afterwards. At least until we decided to diverge in certain areas, which will be inevitable over time. A very soft Brexit. "But I didn't vote for a soft Brexit!" No, but just as you wanted a Hard Brexit, so 48% of your countrymen felt sufficiently strongly the other way that they didn't want Brexit at all, so if you want to keep these people engaged in the process... And, of course, that is exactly how it has played out.

With the Brexit vote, I wouldn't have complained if Cameron had stated up-front that a marginal vote, between 45% and 55% either way, say, would put the government at "action stations", and another vote would be held a year later, say, to see resolve the matter for good. But that should have been said from the moment the referendum was announced (or even before), and Cameron was complacent.  he didn't think he could lose, so it didn't matter to him. Furthermore, if "Remain" had won the vote 52:48, you could guarantee that the issue would never have seen the light of day again, so it's not surprising that Leavers think as they do. And, it must be difficult for a Prime Minister whose whole ethos was first-past-the-post, who thinks that with 50% + 1 support, nobody else matters, to appreciate think in terms of proportions. To call for a second referendum after the 2016 vote, by the way, is just sour grapes - I didn't like the result so we should run the race again. 

But I don't want this post to be about Brexit. A referendum does, at least, give the public a chance to express its wishes. A straight yea or nea. And if you do things smartly, you can read more into the numbers than just the headline result. And if you ask the question smartly, you can learn even more. I don't think they need to be yes/no, for a start.

By contrast, Angela Rayner is an MP.

At the last election, in my constituency, the winner, John Glen, received 58% of the vote. A high number - I'm in an ultra-safe Tory seat. But that still leaves 42% of people who voted, who voted against him. More if you include people who didn't vote at all (turnout in Salisbury was only 74%, perhaps people don't think there's any point in voting?), but I shan't include them here.

The point is that a guy who gets 60% of the vote gets to make 100% of the decisions as he thinks fit. The other 40%....tough.

Take that a level higher. John Glen is a Conservative. Nationally, 13,636,684 votes (42.4%). The Conservatives were the largest party, despite winning less than 50% of either the vote or the seats in parliament (in our system, the two numbers are different, don't get me started!) so they picked the Prime Minister.

Just now, in 2019, Boris Johnson was elected Conservative Party leader (and therefore Prime Minister). The Conservatives have their own rules for this. Basically, their MPs whittle the field to a final two, and their membership then elects the leader. In this last vote of the members, Johnson received 92,153 votes (66.4%) against his opponent's 46,656 (33.6%) votes.

So in somewhat fuzzy math, I admit, 42.4% of 66.4% chose the UK's Prime Minister. 42.4% of 66.3% is 28.1%. It's fuzzy because one number refers to the proportion of total voters who voted Conservative, and the other number refer's to Conservative Party members who voted for Johnson.

So, which would you rather have? Something where more than half of us make a decision, or something where a quarter of us decide? No brainer for me.

I appreciate that there is a difference between the broad-brush type of question you can ask in a referendum, and the detail that MPs sometimes have to apply. The former gives us a "direction of travel" only. But that's good, as far as I can see. The public decides broad policy and Parliament fills in the details. I appreciate that we're asking a politician's role to change - the're no longer wielding power overall, in terms of defining direction, but are more literal servants of the public. I don't mind that one bit either. And frankly, Brexit is a very good example of the type of questions that we resolve - after that referendum, the role of politicians should have been to implement the decision as best as possible, not to squabble about whether the public made the right decision or not. But whenever I hear a Parliamentarian telling me how bad referendums are, I'm acutely aware that the process is actually taking power from their hands, and putting it in the hands of the voters. I'm happy that it isn't referendums that they dislike, it's loss of control.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Running before we can Walk

Ha ha ha. You've got to laugh.

Here in the UK, there has been a law against using a phone while you're driving since 2003. The purpose, obviously, is to reduce accidents happening because a driver is distracted by their phone. The rule is basically that if you have to pick a handset up, then it is illegal. But if you use a device in hands-free mode, there's no problem.

But they've noticed that, since 2011, the number of accidents which happen where a phone is involved has gone up!

They've done a study - MPs, no less, the people we trust to run the country. They found that at the same time that this increase was happening, only a third as many tickets are issued now compared to 2011. So, drivers must be pretty confident that they can use their phone without consequences.

It might seem blindingly obvious to most of us, that enforcement is an issue.

But instead of recommending enforcement, the study is recommending extending the ban to hands-free devices.

Another law which won't be enforced.

I mean, by all means, if it's going to make a difference then extend the ban. But let's get the basics right first - unless you're prepared to enforce whatever rule you come up with, how do you hope it'll make a difference?

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Privacy

Having an experience at the moment which just illustrates how different people have a different view on privacy.

The voluntary work I do, it gives me a very limited access to client's details. Name and phone number, mostly. The charity take data privacy very seriously, in fact the rules have been written into one law or another for almost forty years now. So, basically, I have to be very careful about saying anything which might disclose a client's identity. Even when I send an email to staff at the exact same charity, just because the nature of email means that it flies across the (very public) ether.

For my part, I'm very conscious to make sure that any client-specific data stays at the charity's office, just because it offers a degree of protection for me if there ever is a data breach. Indeed, that's the overriding reason for going into their office to do my work, rather than doing it from the comfort of my sofa.

So, both the charity and I take Data Protection very seriously.

Let's put that to one side for a moment. Last week, I contacted an organisation (on behalf of one of the charity's clients, as it happens). I suppose the organisation is more kind-of community-based, certainly not out to make a profit. I think they have a .org.uk web site, if that means anything to you.

The enquiry was quite general in nature, just to get their contact details, so my client could phone somebody up and confirm the date and time of the next gathering, etc. I made the initial enquiry just via social media. Somebody - I'm guessing a member of this organisation - sent some details to me, along with what was presumably their home phone number. Not asked for, beyond a general "contact info" request. Bear in mind that, apart from having a name on social media (which may or may not be my real name) I was a perfect stranger.

I don't wish to judge but there is a difference going on here. Perhaps because of the work I've done, both in the charity sector and previously in IT, I'm more clued up than most? Certainly, I'm aware of the statutes. As a rule of thumb, I avoid disclosing anything that might be used to identify a client. I use generics like "a man in his 60s", but not really anything more specific. That could probably only narrow down someone's identity to a few million! The get-out clause here is if the client discloses their own data to someone, but certainly I'm not allowed to disclose it on their behalf. But all the rules make perfect sense, because our information has value to other people. It's funny because you often see things on social media offering their service (a game usually( for "free" (i.e. no money involved), in return for your data. People aren't supposed to realise that their information, too, has a value. So, in my scenario, I wonder whether the responder was aware of what they were giving away? Presumably, they are just a private (albeit very helpful) individual, who hasn't necessarily been exposed to all these rules and regulations.?

Fortunately it ended well in the end. An "official" representative of the organisation got in touch, with "official" contact details. So the information supplied by my first responder got instantly deleted, with no harm done. I'm more comfortable with that anyway - I'm not really happy even to have known this information, even temporarily, it feels far more satisfactory to know that I have a number that they are happy to be distributed to our clients.


Friday, 9 August 2019

Closer Monitoring

When I prick my finger every morning, the results lately have been better than ever, Usually, down in the 5s and 6s. That's around 100 mg/dl, not massively higher than a normal value.

However, I had a blood test last week, and the HBA1C was a bit higher than I expected. Only around 70 (mmol/mol) as opposed to my calculated 60. I have two theories on this. Either my method for predicting the value is wrong (not beyond the realms...), or my sugar is going high later in the day, but is settling down again by morning.

On this second,it is entirely possible. I generally only measure myself once per day. I know from the times I have tested myself through the day, that my highest sugar tends to be pre-supper.

I take two doses of insulin per day. Until now, I've kept each dose the same. For one thing, it's just easier that way. And because my blood sugar each morning has been good, I've just carried on with this regime. But perhaps my blood sugar during the day is varying more than I think?

I backed this up tonight, when for a change, I also measured my sugar before supper. High.

I think that the total dose must be about right, otherwise I'd notice by the measurements I'm taking already. But I think I need to increase my morning dose by a bit, and reduce the evening dose. Plus, I suppose, I need to measure myself every evening to make sure I find the right balance,

Our Collonial History

I read something by the Irish Post yesterday. Some guy went on to Twitter, along the lines "what has the UK ever done to Ireland, that they feel this way about us?" And, of course, there followed this torrent of abuse. Not at all surprising, the history is widely known in places like Ireland, although British people themselves are largely ignorant. So this guy asked for what he got.

The Irish Post reported it. A British woman herself said that the Irish were "living in the past", and should let bygones be bygones. There's a point in that, I suppose. Other people readily reminded this woman that something like the Great Famine was deliberate genocide on the part of the British, but whilst I can have an awareness of the past, I don't really want it to dictate the future. And, of course, I can widen the argument. Famous examples include the UK's invention of concentration camps in the Boer War, or of something like the Amritsar massacre. It is one of those subjects where the deeper you dig, the more you uncover. Morants Bay, in Jamaica, for example. Something I learned about during a Black History Month a couple of years ago, was never taught from history books. The only possible conclusion is that the British past is very murky indeed.

That's really where I feel I'm walking a tightrope. On the one hand, I know that bad things have happened. On the other hand, I, personally, was not responsible for any of them. I can feel that such things were wrong, but I can't really feel guilt, just basically because these events were nothing to do with me.

I can quite easily take patriotism out of this. One nation controlling another nation is simply wrong, doesn't matter whether one of them is the UK or not.

But for all I don't/can't feel any guilt, I am acutely aware that I have benefitted by events of the past. It doesn't feel like it but I grew up in Liverpool, surrounded by magnificent buildings from centuries gone by. On the surface, we're told that the wealth that built these buildings was Liverpool's seafaring traders, although a fair amount was more bluntly due to slavery. Ill-gotten gains. Things like schools and hospitals, many of which sprang up because of individual benefactors, before the state took over. And don't let's forget that the USA was once a colony.

It is indeed a tightrope act. I'm against it, but I've benefitted from it. I don't pretend to have an answer. What do you think?

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Fact or fiction?

Wayne Rooney is in the news at the moment. Soccer star, former England international striker, most likely a millionaire a hundred times over. A story I once heard about him tickled me.

He's being interviewed by some reporter, who is obviously in awe of his presence.

- Gosh, must be great being you. I bet you don't even do your own shopping.
- Yes I do.
The reporter decides to test him.
- You do? How much does a pint of milk cost?
- 42p. I had to go out to the garage the other night to get some.
The reporter is aghast, as Rooney's answer is about right. But they think that anybody who meets Rooney must be as star-struck as he was.
- Wow. What did the attendant say to you?
- That'll be 42p, please.

Tickled me.

Monday, 5 August 2019

More Mass Shootings

In the past 24 hours, we've learned of two mass shotings over in the USA. I've written about gun control before, here. That was a year ago, but my views haven't changed.

It's tempting for us to pass comment on how bad that is. We can use all the fancy language we like, but that won't stop it happening again next time.

I really think it is time we moved on from "what a shame" to "what do we do about it". Rather than lamenting what happened, and crossing our fingers until the next time, we need to change the debate.

 I follow a couple of blogs these days. One of them is a guy, he seems quite switched-on. He also happens to be American. He's written something about the shootings and it has been informative to read both his post and some of the comments. I assume that most of the people who follow this chap are also American, so certainly they will see the problem from far more closely than I do.

It's not really surprising that without exception, the blogger and his commenters are all appalled, but even from the USA there are lots of "what a pity" comments. One of the things that raised my eyebrows though was this guy's distinction between these automatic "assault rifle"-type weapons, and, say, a handgun. He feels that assault rifles are unacceptable (no argument here) but that handguns are. I'd just go the whole hog and say that none of them are. Perhaps a reflection of living in a society without guns? Certainly, in the circles in which I move...

But there was a definite feeling that carrying a gun for personal protection was okay. I shall not judge.

One of the commenters also said something memorable, despondent, really, saying that nothing would change because Washington, D.C. was controlled by money. I very much agree with that, and would broadly echo his sentiment that the whole system needs to change. But again, though, I think we should not only be thinking that, but thinking how it needs to change.

It is a very sad situation. I'm prepared to think that many Americans would want to see gun control in some way or other, but probably not so far as I would go. But I think we also need to be constructive here rather than cynical, and be prepared to think about what we need to change, how we bring change about.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Herinneringen aan België

My eyebrow was raised this morning when I looked at the stats for this blog. It showed that in the last few days, a bunch of Belgian readers had visited.

Made me smile.I used to love going across to Belgium. We went all over, over the years, it was often a "pit stop" place to spend the last few days of a holiday by the sea, but it became more than that.

I used to love my cycling, including track cycling. What better to go to see the Six Days event in Gent? A beautiful place to visit for a few days, too. Gent was also on one of the motorways from Calais deeper into Europe, and was only 45 minutes from the tunnel. Brugge was even closer, although whilst I liked Brugge it was more of a tourist trap.

We'd also go deeper into Belgium. As I said, we liked the sea, and I distinctly remember staying in the resorts of Oostende and Blankenberge. In later years we visited the town of Nieuwpoort, which became a favourite of mine. In other directions, we knew Namur and Liege, we even went to a European Space Agency site right down in the south. In fact, we came north for that one, because we were staying in Luxembourg at the time. Although it's a small country, there is a definite split between the French- and Flemish-speakers. The split is roughly North-South, with the north being Flemish, including both Gent and Brugge. I always found that a little strange, since that land is quite near to France. Relatively-speaking, in any case. But what do I know? I don't know the history of the area; for all I know, Flemish might be prevalent precisely because of the proximity to France. But certainly I found cities like Liege and Namur had a stronger French influence (although if I think of a map, they're probably quite close to France too, just not the northern coast). If anything, I found it easier to communicate there, because my French is okay. Even though I haven't visited since the stroke, I still keep in practise on Facebook. My Flemish was never any more than a few words. I did once try to learn, but the stroke washed away all traces. The capital, Brussels, is a bit weird since it is a French-speaking enclave in the Flanders region, I only ever went there once although drove around its Périphérique a few times.

It is silly to talk about favourites, but I always loved Flanders in particular, I suppose because of the association of the region with cycling. I always felt nostalgic there. Plus, I suppose, Holland became another of our favourite haunts, and the languages spoken are near-identical. Those are places I would one day like to get back to - one of my visits to Gent was by train, so I know it is possible, even to continue up the coast to Amsterdam.

Happy memories!


Friday, 2 August 2019

Strongarm

Had a funny visit from a door-knocker last night, collecting on behalf of the British Heart Foundation.

Started off nice enough, idle chit-chat. Then he asked me if I had any personal experience of heart issues? I must admit, I often fall into this trap. It's obvious to me that I walk strangely, that my arm doesn't work etc. but I suppose it's not obvious to someone else, especially when I just met them. Anyway, I explained to him that heart attack and stroke are very closely-related. I even told him that I did voluntary work myself for a couple of charities - we might be fooled into think that fundraisers are doing so out of kindness, but they're actually pain employees of the charity - it's nothing more than a job to them. I made it clear that my effort was given, not sold.

He then directly asked me to contribute a regular payment. I explained that, because of the stroke, I was disabled, and told him the benefit I had to live on. It puts me in the realm of around £80 per week, so even the £1 per week he was asking for was significant.

Even then, he wouldn't leave me alone. Still wanted money. In the end I sent him away with a rather blunt "no". I went from a state of pleasantness, to a state of frustration, wanting him to go away, because the guy didn't show any signs of understanding what I was telling him.

This guy was obviously being paid to raise money for the British Heart Foundation, but he didn't care about who he raised the money from. In fact, when I thought about it later, it'd probably be more appropriate for them to help me, than to ask me for money. So I wrote to BHF to complain at the pushiness of this guy. Not least, benefit levels are public information. When somebody explains that they live on such-and-such a benefit, they should know the implications of that, in pounds and pence. The BHF in particular, as so many people who've experienced heart attack will be living on the same benefit as me. I do think that, long-term, these charities shoot themselves in the foot because the next time somebody from there knocks on the door, I'll just say a blanket "I'm not prepared to contribute to your charity", just because a previous fundraiser was so pushy. It's a shame, really, because they are probably a good cause - but most charities are good causes, and we have to use more effective criteria to decide whether we donate or not.


Thursday, 1 August 2019

Bus-ted

I was kinda reminded this morning how frail my situation is out here. I live in a rural setting, a small village. We're not far from the city of Salisbury, but nowhere in the UK is ever very far from a town or city.

The village lost its railway station following the cutbacks of the sixties, but still has a skeletal bus service to get people into Salisbury. The service is every 90 minutes or so, just between 9am and 5:30pm Mondays to Saturdays, even then with a gap in the afternoon.

This morning I planned to go into Salisbury for something quite innocuous, a haircut. I wasn't going anywhere or meeting anyone, so had no firm timetable. But the bus just didn't turn up. There might have been a really good reason for this, but that the bus service in unreliable is an unavoidable conclusion. And with 90 minutes between buses, it isn't really practical just to wait for the next one. When a bus doesn't turn up, it's not a case of "I'll be 5 minutes late", but people are automatically in the realm of they themselves just not turning up for appointments etc.

This instance was only a haircut, but what if it happened on the way to one of my charity things? How many people would I then let down? It does kind-of make me worry, because I've just seen the tip of the iceberg. I'm wondering if I need to can the charity work altogether, just because I can't be relied upon to turn up?

I don't know the reason why, as I say it might be perfectly reasonable. It's happened once before in 3 years of bus use. I suppose I should look at this just as a car breakdown. It's a real pain when it happens, but if it only happens once every blue moon... I need to start keeping a record of no-shows just so I have an idea of the frequency.

The result, by the way? No haircut, of course. A walk out to the bus stop and back, probably an hour, including the time spent waiting at the bus stop. I'm fortunate I suppose that there are mostly no consequences of this at the moment, but really, I could have been doing something far more productive.