Sunday, 14 April 2013

On Calm Reflection

As the fates would have it, I was not at home in Scotland on April 8th, but far away in icy Norfolk.  Sheltering with our three older grandchildren as they wasted coppers in an amusement arcade, I updated my Facebook status on my phone only to find a brief post saying that Margaret Thatcher had died.  I told my husband and we wondered if it were true or one of these vile hoaxes.  Taking a lot of care (in Scotland it's unlikely that random strangers will be pro-tory) I asked the two arcade supervisors to confirm the news.  They did.  There flooded over me a feeling I recognised as relief, as though, unknown to myself, I had been holding my breath just ever so slightly all these years. Possibly the relief was written on my face.  The two supervisors looked bemused.

For various reasons, I had no access to wifi when in Norfolk and missed all the immediate media and social networking responses.  I posted very little although keeping an eye on friends' activity when I could.  This enforced 'radio silence'  gave me the opportunity to observe and to reflect a little more calmly on my own reaction and on the responses of others, not battered by an atmosphere of eulogy or vilification, but in order to tell my own truth.  I have valued that hiatus.

In 1979, I was a comparatively new mum, a teacher by profession.  I was happily at the start of seven years' parenting absence, we were 'skint' but mortgaged and I had the best job in the world.  I was left of centre politically, influenced by my dad, whom I adored, with his tales of Hugh Gaitskell, his insistence on social justice and integrity and his belonging to the Cooperative movement;  I was not that long past voting for Danny The Red in a Glasgow University rectorial.

In the 1979 General Election, I voted for Margaret Thatcher.

I voted for a woman, not for the party she represented and not, in my extreme naivety, for her policies.  I voted as a feminist because I believed fervently that a woman could sort out the appalling mess we were in while also doing what women do best - caring.  She would, I was sure, gain ground for feminism, put families first, fight for the underdog, ensure we were not bullied ............ all this because she was a woman and surely had to be better than a crumpled pasty-faced man who was scared of Scargill and McGahey!    It has taken me years and years even to begin to forgive myself for that woeful level of ignorance and naivety.  Much of the obsessiveness with which I pursued social justice  for young people from areas of deprivation in the working professional life to which I returned in 1984, was the product of the 1979 shame I felt and the need to balance my own moral books; to be able to look myself in the political eye.

I don't like the street party, celebration nonsense although I understand it.  The airing of opposing views on a former leader whose pernicious influence affects all of us in the U.K. today is too healthy  a debate to be trivialised.  Let those who think the woman was a force for good have their say but let us have reasoned, evidenced argument and explication of the evils she purveyed. It is easy to come by.  Let us not demean ourselves but rather educate our sillier young people about the real reasons for our anger and show them that the greed-is-good, rampant individualism, no-such-thing-as-society attitudes are anathema to us.  Such openness is healthy and if the past week has shown the 40+ generations anything, it is that the younger generations have no idea at all that they are still living in Mrs Thatcher's creation but that there was a time when people cared more and attitudes were different.

Listening to and reading about reaction while I was furth of Scotland also made me realise that I take it for granted when at home and certainly did while I was working,  that the political views of those around me will be left of centre! As we move towards 2014, we will need to question our assumptions in any political debate that we are all on the same side!

When the American people  repeatedly voted for the likes of Bush senior and junior, I would shake my head and wonder loudly what on earth they were thinking about!  I had the cheek to query their sanity on Dubya's second victory!  I will not do that again:  I have been surprised that comment from across the globe seems to ignore the fact that a view from the outside, interesting as it might be, will lack the first-hand experience.  From now on I am hands-off with U.S. voting preferences!

But more than anything, I was immensely disturbed by the pronouncements of young audience members on last week's Question Time.  Polly Toynbee, Ming Campbell and Ken Clark were exceptional and David Blunkett was also reasonable .   But the young audience were horrifyingly ignorant!  Here were politics students, modern feminists et al who believed that Thatcherism had "stopped" when John Major melted greyly into Number 10; that Margaret Thatcher was a 'role-model' for young women today, that she had helped women improve their lot!   It was blood-freezing stuff.  Thank goodness for the brilliance of the panel members, all of whom hit the latter nail firmly on the head!  Women who have worked in a man's world know what it's like to work with a Thatcher style woman; Women Beware Women as the playwright said!

Then it hit me.  These 20-something, intelligent, earnest, young people had fallen for the Thatcher myth; they couldn't see the evils which her critics talked of; they thought her influence had died long before her death:  what was the clamour about?

 How different were these 'kids' from the 29-year-old mum who despite all she had been brought up to believe, despite all her own values, still went out and voted ... only once in her life ... for Margaret Thatcher?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Learning from Experience.

Two linked staples of the current media agenda are the need to 'cure' the NHS and the challenge of the  'baby boomer' generation's entry into '60s' which relate to their age rather than their era.  How will an overstretched, under-skilled, morale-deprived NHS cope with the needs of a generation which has lived its life as a centre of attention and which will not conform to expectations of age?

Despite the awful experiences of both parents at the hands of the NHS, I have tried to remain open-minded, but recent experience has made me pause.

I am not ill. I have always enjoyed robust good health, last visited a doctor two years ago and have stayed overnight in hospital only for childbirth. In my final 12 years of work I was absent through illness once ... for three days. I consider a visit to the doctor an admission of defeat; if I do have to resort to it, I use the appointment to seek advice on how to help myself.  Like the ex-teacher I am, I read and research carefully to aid this process.  I believe in self help.

In the past three months I have been suffering excruciating pain in my lower back, groins, buttocks, hips and legs:  I have never had an unbroken night's sleep and, at its worst, the pain has reduced me to yelps and tears in public places.  I have refused to see a doctor, hoping instead that yoga, stretches, heat and as little ibuprofen as possible would see me through.

Finally, after one crying jag brought on by gardening,  I acceded to my family's pleas.   GP 1 told me we would have to find out where this pain was coming from.  GP 2 agreed.  There followed blood tests which were pronounced absolutely clear. Yesterday came the X-ray results; I had to discuss these by phone with G.P. 3 .  Thus began a demoralising conversation:

 First the good news.  My X-rays showed wear and tear in both hips and lower back that is normal "for someone born in 1950".   No need for ortho consultation  as we are "a long way away from that"   Just pain killers and anti-inflammatories (GP2 had advised avoiding them if possible).

So, I ask, it's just self-help to deal with this pain then?  


Should I just keep at the yoga , swimming etc ?  Should I assume any exercise is good?


The pain sort of reminds me of sciatica I had years ago.  Could that be a possibility?

"Oh well that doesn't show on an X-ray because it's nerves"  He can certainly tell from my level of articulacy that I will already know this, so

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   I see.

What we're interested in, he says, is whether you need an ortho consult.  And you don't.

So really, I need to do self help to deal with this .........?

Uhuh! (sic)

At that point I thought there wasn't much more to say!  Whatever he wanted to communicate, what I  actually heard was,  "You're 62, woman!  This pain is normal for that age.  Sort it. Buy some pills. Now get off the line because there are tens of others behind you."

Personal anecdote this may be, but it raises some serious issues.   I am a highly educated, retired professional, articulate, comfortably off, time-rich and well acquainted with Google and You Tube.  However, the area I live in and which this large practice serves has major deprivation as its norm.  In fairness, my need to be sufficiently pain-free to enjoy gardening, tennis, walking, yoga, foreign trips, must pale into insignificance compared with the GP's caseload of diseases and ailments which are exacerbated by poverty and lifestyle and lead to lower than average life expectancy.  Many 62 year olds in this area are in the last decade of their lives.  If good fortune, self-help and heredity play an appropriate part, I have good reason to expect another twenty years and more.  Which of us demands the GP's attention?  I understand.

But surely, when that GP recognises from a voice, from questions and reactions that a client is capable of self-help, given a bit of extra advice, why not offer it, in the hope of increasing the years before she joins those who need referral to a specialist?  Thousands of us are willing to self help if we are simply pointed in the right direction. The assumption must be made that we are looking for another twenty or thirty years! We're looking after ourselves, watching our diet, our alcohol intake; we don't smoke, we exercise, we hone our intellectual skills; we are the Boomers.

I have now spent hours researching the cause of the pain I am experiencing, because I simply will not give in to it.   Normal wear and tear does not produce this level of pain; sciatica and piriformis syndrome do!  And strangely, in researching the latter following a remark from my yoga teacher, I found a list of symptoms I could have written myself!  I now know from my research  that the GP could have given me a phone number (as one of his staff has now done!)  for self referral to a physiotherapist; that there is a huge online advice resource for my NHS area; that osteopaths and chiropractic are governed by safety regulations; that the practice can arrange acupuncture; that Youtube is laden with suitable exercise videos; that diclofenac is causing concern and that you have to  be careful with ibuprofen ................... I have the intellectual capacity, the wide circle of supportive peers, and the technology to research;  what about the 62 year old who does not have these resources? 

We all have to learn how to see the ageing of the Boomers as a plus to society, rather than a drag.  Many of us are more than willing to look after ourselves, given targeted  support when we really need it. A few minutes pointing us to appropriate support will leave space in the GPs' waiting rooms for our less fortunate peers.