Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Category: Uncategorized

Two years on, good grief

It has been two years since we lost Polly. She was born on a warm, autumnal October Sunday afternoon on 17th October in 1993. I was there to see her enter this world. I wasn’t there when Polly died, losing control of her car at around 1am on 31st October 2015 in the New Forrest. It was just two weeks after celebrating her 22nd birthday. I was told she was killed instantly. One of the many things I now live with is the thought of the sheer terror she must have felt in the seconds between losing control of the car before being killed by hitting a tree. No parent ever wants his or her child to be truly scared. Ever.

After the death of Polly so much has changed in my life. I still have four children and yet I don’t. On holiday with my two youngest children, just the three of us this summer, I was asked by other couples at the resort, in polite conversation, about my family and me. Why not? I was the odd one out, a single man with two young children.  Single and being divorced was not a problem. Having four children from two marriages was a “so what”. Having an eldest daughter killed in a car crash resulted in pity and real fear in the eyes of those who learned this bit of my history. I can’t and don’t blame them. Who wants to be the parent of a dead child? Who wants to hear about that as a parent? It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. A child dying before its parents not natural. A child dying in a car crash, alone, is just wrong. Two years on I still can’t comprehend it so how can I expect others to understand or respond meaningfully?

Two year on from the death of Polly I still struggle to understand my loss, our family’s loss. I fail to understand the loss of a daughter to Sarah and Simon, a sister to Oliver, Elliott and Imogen, Emily and Henry, a grand daughter, a niece, and a friend. Maybe I won’t ever get it. Maybe I’m not supposed to.

The worst of all of this has been all consuming grief. Occasionally it does lift its hand and the sunshine breaks through. Then grief grabs me again, without warning, and it won’t let go. It never fully lets go. I now understand grief never will never let go, no matter how hard I fight it.

Coping with grief and all its layers has been a rollercoaster ride. I’ve struggled with alcohol. Actually I’ve never struggled with alcohol, I’ve only ever struggled with stopping. There have been times in the last two years where I have still been drunk the morning after the night before. That is nothing to be proud of. At best a few, many drinks blur the edges but the stark reality in the wee small hours of the morning remains untouched.

I’ve struggled with my mind too. Following the death of my brother in December last year, my grip on reality was, at best, loose. In the spring of this year I went to see my GP. I thought I was going insane, that I wasn’t me anymore. I crumbled before her. In a matter of days I was seeing a psychiatrist for an hour long assessment. I was there for three hours. She was fantastic. The result of this consultation was I’m not going mad. I’m not mad. I’m grieving. I’m also still me.

I drink a lot less but I still drink. I try to eat a Mediterranean diet. It’s good for your mental health according to the physiatrist, but I live in Portishead not Cyprus. The NHS won’t send you to the Med to live and eat the diet and I think they are missing a trick. I’ve written two articles for grief charities and a chapter on grief for a book coming out in the spring of next year. Me. Dyslexic. Writing and being published. That would never have happened two years ago.

Why am I sharing this with you? Yes, it’s a confession. I’m managing and I’m not. Just because I smile or make you laugh it doesn’t mean I’m all right. I’m mostly not but sometimes I am. I’m getting there.

I have leant more about others and myself in the last two years than in all the previous 49 years. I was so wrong about so much and, Polly, I have you to thank for learning so much. Your mum and the dad, who you grew up with, are beautiful, kind, wonderful people who gave you so much. They love you beyond compare. Your brother Ollie draws on you every day. He misses you every day and is flying in his 25th year.  I have seen his strength, his courage and his sheer tenacity because of you Polly, and I’ve seen how much he loves me. I never knew. Your half brother Elliott and Imogen were touched by you more than you know. The same and more go for Emily and Henry. Your many friends still cherish you.

You never truly know what you truly mean to someone, to anyone until you are not there.

That is one of the biggest lessons in all of this. Those in your life you know and love, you must appreciate and work on the ties that bind you. Let them know they are loved and give them love. And be kind. You, my dear, cleaver, canny, beautiful Polly were kind. Kindness is the greatest gift we have. From kindness comes love. Polly, you have made me more kind. Thank you.

Advertisements

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.

What are you doing on 4th May?

This year the annual Star Wars “funny” date will have a serious and profound change to the way we are governed in the regions of England. We get to vote for a Metro Mayor, a “metro metro mayor, who wants to be a metro mayor?”… sorry, I went all Village People there.

This is election is rather important. A Metro Mayor will be responsible for key priorities in the English regions they are being elected, which will affect you every day. A Metro Mayor will be able to spend around a billion pounds of your money on these priorities over the next ten years. One Billion pounds. 10 years. Metro Mayors will be taking over these key responsibilities from the current local councils and authorities.

Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset along with South Gloucestershire councils have all come together with their 900,000 people to have a Metro Mayor for the West. You get to vote for the one you want on 4th May. So what will she or he actually be able to do for you and me?

Our West Metro Mayor will be responsible for planning, transport and education (apprenticeships) so you can expect that they will build more houses, more roads, improve rail and airport links plus create more jobs and encourage new businesses to come here with apprenticeships schemes. All good news. Well, not quite. There are some key problems with there being a Metro, Metro Mayor.

One. North Somerset are not part of it and Bristol Airport is on their patch. Will the other three council areas vote to hand over their Metro Mayor cash to support North Somerset and improve the links to the airport? North Somerset gain from this but North Somerset are autonomous, not having to answer to a Metro Mayor.

Two. North Somerset are going to be building more than 20,000 homes in the next ten years, some 6,000 more than they wanted to build. That’s central government for you. Those new residents are going to be drawn up the M5 to Bristol and Bath for work and play. That’s a lot of people using the region’s already struggling roads and public transport without any controls on them or where the homes will be built. Will all Metro Mayor spending stop dead at Gordano, like three lanes of caravans on a wet summer Saturday morning?

Three. The Metro Mayor’s spending money is £33m a year. This sounds like a lot when you look at the cuts our four councils are having to make. The new South Bristol link road, which took 18 months to build, is just over three miles long cost £45m. So, by that maths, our new Metro Mayor can build 2(ish) miles of road a year and that’s it. Of course he or she could use that money to borrow more money, which will happen, but this means a Metro Mayor will be more creating debt for the future.

Four. The actual election of the Metro Mayor. There is only one reason to vote in the West on May 4th this year and that is for a Metro Mayor. You will be voting for a new and an extra layer of government on top of our councils and between the West’s MP’s and Westminster. That is going to be a hard sell for all the political parties. The result will be an even harder sell if the turnout is low. Anything less than 20% turnout is going to look a bit rubbish.

As Nat “King” Cole once sang “there may be trouble ahead”. There may also be some answers to some of the key issues of the West on transport, housing and creation of new jobs in a fast changing jobs market. This may help the West with the back ground of both Brexit and a more protectionist United States. We live in a world where adding layers of government or management seems to be an answer. This often seems to be the result of those in charge who say they want to “remove” layers of government and management. Maybe this is a way of deflecting responsibility or maybe it’s a way of creating accountability?

You decide, on May 5th, if you vote on May 4th (be with you).

A kindly Brexit?

Today would have been my brother’s 66th birthday. Francis would have celebrated it in his unusual way, doing all the things he loved and being with those who loved him. But no, he didn’t make it as he died on the 6th December last year, my sister’s birthday. She would have been happier with a wash bag.

My brother lived his life on his terms and, when those terms changed, others helped him get back on track. Francis would be the first in your corner and the last to leave your side with his generous, kind, loving heart combined with creativity that knew no bounds or boundaries. His pictures, from various phases of his painting hang proudly on my walls. One water-colour that he painted 20 years ago when we were on holiday is one of the most precious things I own.

Francis was no saint. Who is? It would be trite to wax on about him yet, as I reflect on my brother and on my own last fifteen months, the one thing that stands out as the greatest attribute anyone can. It is kindness. Love is okay, but it is often confused with lust, sometimes mixed up with duty and invariably comes with strings attached. Generosity has the same conditions. Kindness is whole. In its true form it requires nothing than for you to show it. Kindness doesn’t even require acknowledgment. My brother was kind, truly kind. I try to be kind and I could do a lot worse than aim at his mark.

This year will see a lot happen. I predict nothing. Polls will tell us one thing and the opposite will happen. Bet against any poll. The world holds its breath for the 45th President of the United States to take office, start doing deals and building walls. As a country we about to divorce the EU and anyone who has been through a divorce (I have two under my belt) will tell you that you may start out in one place but you never, ever end up where you think and, long after it’s over, it is not. It might as well be called a Pan Fried Brexit. A kinder country would be a good thing, kindly respecting both sides of the argument. A kinder world would be even better.

This year I will try harder to be kinder. I urge you to do the same too. I thank my brother, my erasable, clever, creative brother for reminding me just how important being kind truly is.

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.

%d bloggers like this: