Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Category: Good Grief Polly

Change Trumps Change

Of the few certainties we get in life, as we circle around the sun, change is one of them. Sometimes it is our change to make. Sometimes it’s a change forced on us. It can be a change around us that we react to. Or we can do nothing, which also changes things.

In the last two weeks we have seen many groups, interests, countries, cities and towns rise up and march against changes they don’t like. These worthy protesters don’t want this, that or the other and they want to change it. As is so often the case it is the groups affected most who protest and it is the young who are the loudest. The art of the protest march had all but died since at the beginning of the millennium but now someone calls, usually using social media, hundreds maybe thousands hear it and rally to the cause. We truly live in an energized political time, but why protest the result?

Brexit is happening. Of those who voted (and both sides miss the point that almost 1 in 3 didn’t vote on 23rd June 2016 so it is not the majority of the people only the majority who voted) Vote Leave won by a margin of 4%. They won. Some are not happy, some march, some want to change it, some even throw a sickie to avoid voting on a bill that will make it happen. The result is clear but what is confusing about all the result is the media got it wrong. It is often claimed by the media that politicians have lost touch with the people. Maybe it’s the media that is scrabbling about in the dark trying to reach out and touch somebody, anybody. 27.5% of the UK electorate were not touched by anyone.

The election of Donald Trump is another example of the media getting it wrong. Early in the Republican Presidential campaign Donald Trump was the outsider in the vast field of political heavy weights. Former Senators, Governors and even a son and brother of two former Presidents all saw this election as their time. It was going to be a Republican win, Clinton never stood a chance as the democrats had the gig for the last eight years. One of these battle tested GOP warriors was going to be the 45th President of the United States. It certainly was not going to be property billionaire and reality TV star Donald J Trump. From “that” hair to never having held or been elected to public office and all points between nobody really took Trump seriously. Except Trump. The media loved him, he would say the most outrageous things and this made him box office for the papers and TV stations across the US. And Trump knew it. He got coverage that the other candidates could only dream of and certainly could not afford. Trump won the nomination despite and because of what he said and how he said it.

There was, of course, no way that Trump could actually win the Presidency though, thought the media. Look at all the things he said he would do. Build A wall, drain a the swamp, cut taxes, make America great again, the ridiculous list was endless. Then came that tape and that phrase “grab them by the pussy”. That had to be the end of it, the end of him. What started as a joke that the media thought they were reporting on was now reality. The media were not laughing.

Trump was laughing and Trump won, democratically elected by the very same system that elected Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush and so on. The biggest surprise was yet to come. All the things he said he was going to do, that the media reported on and the people voted on, that he won the presidency on he is now doing. Like it, him or not the 45th President of the United States is doing what he said he would do in his election campaign. Many are shocked, and not just by what he is doing but by the fact that he’s doing it. Politician does what he says what he was going to do. Maybe some of those who voted for him are shocked by that too?

The media are struggling with the result and so are many who didn’t see it coming. This is where change trumps change. If you want to make change you have to affect the result not protest the outcome. If you didn’t win then you didn’t make the change, win the argument and convince enough people. 27.5% of those who could have voted leave or remain in June last year didn’t vote. What would have been the outcome if they had? Protesting post the result is really is too late. If you don’t like it do something about it. Standing about shouting with a witty banner really isn’t going to change anything. It might make you feel better for a bit though, which is nice.

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50 and not out!

It’s a landmark in life being fifty, so we are told or sold. I have just hit that day of fifty circles around the sun and I’m not quite sure it really means anything though I don’t go for the “it’s only a number”.

I grew up, probably much like you, watching the “grown ups” celebrate being fifty with parties, “having a bit of a do” seeming to mark what appeared to be an achievement. To get to the big “5 O” was an achievement. Wars, the reality of a much less easy life a generation or two ago and the physical nature of work, real labour all took their toll. To get to fifty was something to really celebrate, a milestone in spite of everything before. To be well and fifty was something to celebrate. Now, being fifty means what? I haven’t done a days manual labour in my life. I have worked hard and I have worked long hours. Until last year spent over 15 years holding down at least two jobs, often with just 4 hours sleep between them. I have built a number of businesses in my time and I have been self-employed for over 20 years but that’s either been wearing a suit or a floral shirt, surviving on my wits and sheer tenacity but I have been sitting on my arse doing it.

So what is being fifty? I probably have more days behind me than in front of me but that does not mean the days ahead will be any the less productive or adventurous. Being fifty is not about getting a red sports car, a gold chain round me neck and a young, blonde “popsie” on my arm. I had my mid-life crisis over five years ago with catastrophic consequences. I will live with that arrogance, self-indulgence and stupidity for the rest of my life. It did give me one incredible lesson. There is NOTHING more powerful on this earth than the truth. Truth beats Love, which is fickle little sod in all its forms. The Truth can’t be beaten or contained. If you are stupid enough or arrogant enough to think you can beat the truth then it will beat you, without mercy and when you least except it. So my mid-life “crisis’’ wasn’t all bad.

Back to being fifty. The increasing medicalisation of old age means I could go on for decades popping pills and having bits replaced as and when. By doing this I will add to the real cause of the painful, financial reality facing the future of the NHS; the National HEALTH Service not cure service. The NHS not a church, doctors are not gods and the NHS doesn’t need politicians to save it. The NHS needs us to look after us, and for us take responsibility for our health. If I take care of me then most of my years to come could be healthy and productive. One of the realities of those who are self-employed or freelance is they don’t get as sick as those who are employed. If I can talk I can work and if I can talk I will always work. It’s my responsibility to make sure the arse I sit to do it on doesn’t get bigger.

There is a another reason that celebrating being 50 is a bit off. This time last year my eldest daughter was preparing to go traveling, to have an adventure before coming back and, I have no doubt, forging a brilliant career when she came home. But that was not to be. Polly, my eldest bright, cleaver, funny, beautiful, player of daughter was killed in her car early in the morning on 31st October 2015. She had celebrated her 22 birthday on 17th October at my sisters home, where she was living and working while she saving up to go travelling. October is month that will never be, can never be the same again starting with me, ending with Polly.

As I pass 50 not out, I will look after myself better, I will do my best by those who deserve it, I will be there for my children and I will look up at the sun more than I look down at the ground. I urge you to do the same too.

Experts; aren’t we all?

What makes Doctors think they are special, “so very special” that they don’t have to work 7 days a week like many of us? Actually, in reality, Doctors do already work 7 days a week on rota but they currently get more money for weekends than what’s being offered in their new, soon to be imposed contract. How you side in this Junior Doctor’s dispute, be it the emotive BMA “patient safety” or the Government “manifesto commitment to a 7 day NHS” against the constant “crisis” backdrop the NHS is always in, the whole thing is all about money.

Back to the initial question. What makes Doctors think they are special? Is it the commitment to be a doctor that starts in their early teens when they select their GCSE’s? Is it the vision, commitment and passion to select and get the right A Levels and grades to match? It could be the 4/5 years at Medical School followed by a decade or more of training, exams, more training and more exams? Maybe it is the constant changing of jobs and hospitals to gain vital experience, which could also mean travelling 100’s of miles a day, including at weekends? Perhaps it’s the failed relationships and missed family moments as being a doctor is all-consuming? Hard to know really what makes a Doctor special but in a world of Google and Social Media, where we can diagnose ourselves without having to do any of the above, what’s the point of all that effort and commitment? Doctors aren’t special. We don’t need experts.

During the now widely discredited Referendum Campaign (discredited on both sides in a report by the Electoral Reform Society published this last week) one of the most revealing moments was when Leave campaigner Michael Gove (remember him) said “I think people in this country have had enough of experts”. Experts had been telling us what might happen if we chose to Leave or Remain in the EU. It is fair to say that following the result to leave on 24th June all of the doom predicted by those experts has not happened, so far. In fact, after the initial shock, the UK economy has returned to pretty much where it was when the (then) Prime Minister David Cameron (remember him) called The In/Out Referendum in February this year. It’s been a very long 7 months.

Is Michael Gove right in his assertion that we don’t need experts? Is our existential age a time of instant information and connectivity to anything, everything and everyone making us all instant experts? We can now have hundreds of “friends”, we crave “likes” and most of us have more “followers” than Jesus could manage when he was “alive”. Does this means we don’t need real experts, doctors, elected politicians, public servants, journalists, newspapers, radio, TV because we can all get what we want when we want it, all at a click or swipe or scroll? The internet has democratized information and for those who wisely choose to go beyond one single source of information or a single “trusted” news site we can be better informed. You can check and cross reference anything.

Yet there is a problem with all this. If we don’t like what we see, read or hear we can trash it, troll it, attack it and get our “friends” and “followers” to pile in too. We don’t need experts. Your opinion is not mine. Your politics is not mine. Your race is not mine. Attack. We live in the moment were we can easily be extreme and many relish this. We are entitled to do so. We are entitled. Nobody is worth more money than me. Nobody. Social Media is allows us to be everything including judge, jury and expert.

Starting with newspapers many centuries ago, for almost the last hundred years radio followed by TV was all we had. This so-called traditional media is now changing fast to adapt to the social media world and rightly too. As this old media tries to marry with the new maybe the new needs to respect the old a little bit more than it currently does. Our rush toward Social Media is not taking account of the long path it took to get to this point. It took hundreds of years from the first printing press to create the first mass-produced published book. Facebook is just 12 and half years old. Would you just trust a 12-year-old with your life, business and future? We need to respect what was and how it came to be more than we currently doing or we risk losing the bath water, baby and the bath.

This is the case with junior Doctors too. We need to respect what happened in the past. This past and path gave us the Consultant Medics and Surgeons we rely on today and will have to rely on even more with the coming strikes. Both sides in the Junior Doctors dispute would do well to remember this and would do better to talk less and listen more. Doctors know better than most the power of listening. It saves lives. Taking a “history” is vital to diagnose and treat anyone. We need to respect our past, our experiences and do a little less existential scrolling, clicking, swiping and living. Doctors are special and we do need experts.

Camping should be left to Larry Grayson or John Inman

The last time I went properly camping was in 1985, in Scotland. I was a CCF Staff Sargent leading a troop of men on exercise. This makes it all sound rather though, windswept, brave and fearless but it was essentially a school thing. We were staying in an army barracks for a week with a three-day trek under canvas. The tents, equipment and food were all left over from the Second World War and, although it was sunny and hot, it was still camping. It came complete with all the smells and total lack of facilities that goes with the life of tenting. Yes, you may get to see the stars at night against a clear sky but that’s not really much consolation when you’re digging your own latrine.

Some thirty-one years on much has changed. Six Prime Ministers, four governments, three major conflicts, the advent of mobile phones, digital data, social media, the UK leaving the EU yet there are still many constants to tenting and, it seems, to those who enjoy it. A certain type of person loves camping and I am not one of them. No sane adult possible can.

Caravaning is, of course, something quite else. Not only is it an annoyance to anyone who lives close to or has to use the M5 from Easter until November, they have a club. This can only be where they probably share stories of hogging the middle lane, the best places to empty their chemical toilets and where the press button for the shower in the show block stays in for “just that little bit longer”. If you have a caravan it seems you don’t want to use the equipment it comes with for some unknown reason. If Theresa May really wants to go to the country early, say this Autumn, circumventing the Fix Term Parliament Act of 2010, then a vote winner for me would be ‘caravans can only travel on the UK’s motorway network between 11pm and 6am. This would be a sound policy for a less congested Britain.

Children love camping and it is easy to see why as a parent. All the things you want them to do in the real, normal world like wash, brush their teeth or behave goes out of the window (or tent flap) when you take children camping. You can’t make them do any of these things and many other real world things when it takes twice as long, requires the constant emptying of a chemical toilet or a long trip to the toilet block or the shower block.

Camp toilet blocks shower blocks. These are something else that has not changed in over thirty years. Not since I left school have I smelt those smell or heard those sounds. A thin Formica clad door slamming shut complete with that grind of a sliding plastic latch closing. And then there is that smell combined with a disguising “whistle”. One must always remember to have checked that there is sufficient paper.

One evening, while I washing up in the washing up block (bring your own plug), which was attached to the toilet block (this was a twice daily trek to avoid filling the chemical toilet cassette “unnecessarily”) there were two other men going through the same motions and emotions. One man told the other that he always went camping, ever year, and that he and his family loved the freedom. This was their first time abroad. In a tent. The other recounted how he had to get a new tent this year as his previous tenting habitat had “perished” over the winter. He went on, with huge pride, about how it only took a couple of hours to put up his new tent where he and his four children were “happily” staying. A couple of hours! Four children?! When you go on holiday you don’t normally have to build the hotel room you’re staying in or share it with five others, even if they are your nearest and dearest. There is also a sound principle when you do go on holiday. It should be somewhere better, more comfortable and possibly a tad more luxurious than where you live for the other fifty weeks of the year.

There is, however, one singular, huge plus to camping if you are a parent. You get to spend real-time, proper time with your children when they are young and still want to spend real-time with you. This is truly precious and beyond compare. Quite why you would go camping or caravaning otherwise, as a couple, is beyond me. Maybe it is so you can sit in stony silence under canvass or in a tin box on wheels dreading when it is your turn to empty the chemical toilet.

The Papers and Politics: If in doubt, make it up.

It is only when you look back you realise that things are not what they first appeared or how they were actually sold. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If we learn nothing more from the last four weeks and the febrile previous months before the 23rd June 2016 it must be this. What any public figure says or is what written in our newspapers needs to be checked, at east twice and only then can you know it might be, could possibly be true. I wrote about this last year when my daughter had just died. And it has happened again to me with the news (is it actually ‘news’?) that I have split up with my fiancé. Grief is an unrelenting bastard.

The factual failures (again) of the Bristol Post, The Times, The Daily Express and The Daily Mail are in black and white for anyone to read and again the newspapers don’t care. You should care. You must care. Information does not come from one source. There isn’t only one book to believe. As a journalist you’re told should double source (at the very least) the facts of any story. If you can’t do this then you just don’t publish. Names, ages, time lines (all of which the Daily Mail and the Bristol Post could not have got more wrong if they had actively tried) are facts that can be easily checked. Then it’s down to you, as the reader, to check them again by reading, listening or watching another source. There really is no such thing as face value. Don’t read one newspaper and don’t believe one book. That is nothing but naivety.

The campaign surrounding the EU and Brexit was riddled with lies, half-truths and counter lies. Many of the wild claims made were, at best, beneath those who made them. The competing sides played on our naivety about EU, Europe and on our prejudices. From the black top tabloid papers to the extremes of both sides of the campaigns, the absolute nonsense and falsehoods that were trotted out as “truth” mean many who voted one way feel robbed and cheated of their vote and its result. Is it a surprise that by changing our relationship with the rest of the world, which we related to via the EU, it will cause problems for years? Did you think that the promises made about staying or leaving the EU, made as facts, were in reality nothing more that snake oil sales lines? Did you check them?

Despite the many falsehoods of the campaign the turnout for this historic vote was the largest since the 1992 General election. 52% voted leave, 48% voted remain and we must respect this democratic result. To campaign to have another vote because we don’t like the result is just silly. That would be like Germany campaigning to have another world cup final, as they didn’t like the result of July 1966. It is nonsense to have another referendum.

Maybe some of those who are calling for another referendum should have taken their actual vote in the last referendum more seriously. Maybe they should have all voted on the question being asked, having checked and researched the arguments being made by both sides? That hard-won X was not a protest against the government of the day or thinking it will get rid of immigrants from tomorrow or whatever other silly notion attached to the referendum question. If you are one of those who voted for anything other than then arguments behind the question and are thinking ‘’what have I done’’ then lets hope the next time you vote you will think long and hard about where your X marks the spot.

Now our leaders and politicians need to get on with it and stop asking us what they should do all the time. Why do they do this? To empower us? To blame us as it’s what we said we wanted? To abdicate the responsibility to us for their failures in leadership? Maybe we are just electing the wrong types of leaders and politicians. One thing is for certain. We are in serious times and while we deal with the result of the self-indulgence of our referendum the world is in a perilous state. The world is killing, creating hatred and division while we deal with this and years of self-inflicted uncertainty.

Again, whether you were an “Inner” or an “Outer” the result is the result. If you feel cheated or robbed then, maybe, you should have asked more questions, read more than one newspaper, listen to more than one politician. Maybe you should have thought more about your family and friends before you voted? Maybe the result of this referendum is the result of self in a the world of social media, which is all about self. Maybe that is the thing that needs to change most.

For Facts Sake!

In or out it has certainly been shaken about and what ever happens the day after 23rd of June, Europe will never be the same again. This is not a vote for change or status quo (although their brand of four cord rock is very popular) it is a vote for change or change. Before “that” referendum you have the local elections on 5th May and even if you council is not up for X marks the spot this year, you will still have a Police and Crime Commissioner to vote for. Yes you do. Unfortunately it’s not like the one from Batman with a loveable Irish side kick and a red phone under a transparent cake cover, our Police and Crime Commissioners hold our police to account and set the crime plan to help us feel safe and be safe. Now you know. Do you know who is standing? You should.

So it is pencils to the ready and let’s wait to see who comes knocking our doors wearing a rosette looking to “count on our vote”. You might have a long wait. It’s just not like it use to be in delivery of politics or its outcome. The delivery seems to be more about reassuring the core voter that they are right to back you message (much like most newspapers assure their readers that they have bought the right paper and here is why we are as one by not letting the facts get in the way) or it is about bombarding “the undecided” with a material ranging from simple policy headings to good old-fashioned fear. Project fear.

And here is the real fear. Turnout. Look at the recent turn out for national and local elections. In 2015 the General Election turnout was 66.1% and the best we have managed on one of those since the Second World War was in 1950 at 83.9%. Still, could be worse. In 2001 it was 59.4%. At best nationally a third of the country can’t be bothered to vote. In the European elections of 2014 the turnout was 35.6%, the high point was 2004 when 38.52% of us voted and the lowest was in 1999 when just 24% bothered to play X marks the E.U spot. Our local elections are even worse when these determine our day-to-day governance and management! 2012 saw Bristol make a huge change to the way it was run to being governed by an elected mayor. This massive change to how the residents council tax was spent was decided by just 28% of registered voters. Some Wards didn’t get above 20%. 260,000 people either didn’t care or didn’t understand. This is what we proudly call democracy and this is what we hold as a standard against other countries in our foreign policy and its advocacy.

What can be done? Legislate to make us all vote, have a none of the above box, use the same technology behind Bitcoin to offer secure on-line voting? MAybe we could turn it into an X Factor or The Voice type thingie where Dermot O’Leary has all the contestants, err politicians on a Saturday night TV show standing in a row, complete with tension building, drum beating music and a long pregnant pause before announcing the winner? All of these have been considered.

Surely it is actually down to us. If we can’t be bothered to vote then why should our political class be bothered by us. If our political class seemingly can’t be bothered then why should we. It is down to us to change it. It is our vote not theirs.

Democracy is about the people, about and for us. We need and must be involved, to turn up, to seek out the information and ideas that best suit us and our loved ones and then vote for them. We need to read, listen, ask, check and qualify then turn up to vote as it is our tax that pays for it and our tax that the elected spend on everything. “Taxes are price we pay for civilisation” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr the noted US Supreme Court Judge. Our voting determines how we want our civilisation to be, whether it is for our local councillors or our place in Europe. So maybe it is worth a few minutes of our time to research, discuss and actually vote, stating on 5th May. It’s always much more fun when you take part rather than moaning from the sidelines.

Decisions, decisions

Life can be seen as series of choices, right and wrong turns, decisions. We, as a nation, face a few in the coming weeks and months. Like all choices, turns or decisions they will have consequences and outcomes that we can never fully predict. Change is good thing and it is, mostly, a positive part of life. To not embrace change is to not embrace all life is or can be. Change is possibility realised.

It’s been a while since my last blog, before Christmas last year, and much has changed. And yet much more remains the same, constant, continues. Living with the loss of a child is dreadful. It’s not in the natural order of life. Having lost a parent, close family and friends both older and younger than me, this particular loss is consuming. At times it is all-consuming. Yet from this you have to change, evolve, make new turns and make decisions to combat it, to try to ride it or it will beat you.

This week I made the decision to take two days off work. I was tired, my mind is not as sharp as I want or need it to be (and has been this way for some time now) plus I could feel the hands of depression on my shoulders. I recognise these hands from times past and I am scared, truly scared of them grabbing me again. Work, my role, what I do with and for the BBC is a privilege and it has been my anchor since Polly was killed. For a few hours each day I can take myself out of my own porous wallow and help others, maybe. My fear of taking time off was that I would end up in my wallow with no escape. I was right. Yet I have made a couple of decisions to try to turn my one life around.

Firstly I have begun counselling. My fear of this was that I would end up popping the lid off the container of my life and may not be able to get it back on again. I liken it to a forgotten Tupperware container of leftovers at the back of the fridge that you should never pop the lid off to smell the contents, you should just throw it away, both container and contents. Well my lid is off and I shall see (and feel) what comes next. The hardest thing of all in counselling for me is answering questions, not asking them, and my not trying to control the conversation to arrive at the story’s denouement. I have no idea how this story will end and that is both frightening and comforting at the same time.

Secondly I have joined a gym. I don’t like gyms. They are not my tribe. Why would you run on a machine and not get anywhere? I needed to exercise though, lose a stone and paying to be a member of a gym means I have to actually go or I will fall into what gyms really want from their members, which is their money but not their attendance. I have often wondered what would happen to a gym is every member turned up at once? A week in and having been four times, including a great session of boxing, I can say that it is having a positive effect on me. I have only joined for three months so being a member of a gym has a beginning, a middle and an end.

And this is my biggest challenge.

Memberships, life, relationships, work, love all have a beginning, a middle and an end. The reality is that most of the time we don’t know where we are along this trio of progress and reality. Ends can happen unexpectedly. Sometimes you can see them coming and sometimes you can even avoid facing them. Sometimes you can even pro-activate them, such as our EU ‘in or out’ choice we all face on the 23rd June. But an end, any end is never as simple as that. Never.

The only thing we can all do is to try to make informed choices, to decide based on what we know and try to realise what we don’t. To blindly follow others, to make choices just based the past, on others or plain ‘leadership’ is both foolish and naive. Others choices are not our choices. You own your decisions and choices much like you own your vote.

My aspiration this year is to have the dullest year possible, to react rather than pro act (not ever my natural state) and this proving harder than I thought. I have some big decisions coming over the hill that may surprise me and others in their outcomes. One thing I have certainly learnt since my daughter’s death is that change comes in many guises. It is what you do when change comes that makes the next moment, the unknown, both challenging and revealing.

Here’s to the next choice, turn, decision and revelation.

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