1 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 2 March 2011 in Diary |

I am still a prisoner of the weather. After the relatively warm day we had last Friday when I was able to go to the Cricketers next door and lunch with my friends and sit outside afterwards smoking a cigar, the weather has turned decidedly cold again – 3°C yesterday, with a chilly wind which made it more like -3°C. So any plans I had made to go to the club today for lunch,  haven drive around the golf course, with Griggsy, have had to be abandoned. Maybe next Tuesday?

It is always a little personal triumph to get to another month, particularly as each month that goes by brings me closer to the spring, and hopefully the warm summer weather. This in turn means trips to Lord’s, the first of which this year is the test match against Sri Lanka, starting on Friday 3 June. I have optimistically purchased tickets for my friends and family up to 11 September, which seems an eon away. Having once decided on who is coming, and when,  I shall send  their tickets to them, as I could no longer meet them at Grace Gates, as I have done in the past, in that case, they might as well make their way to the wheelchair in closure in the front right of the Warner Stand, in their own good time.

With the onset of March one knows that spring is not far away but being warned by the old adage, The March winds doth blow, and we shall have snow, or, as my oldest friend Geoffrey Hanscomb, reminded me this morning, If March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb. Well there’s nothing lion-like about the weather today, it is very calm and overcast, perhaps it will improve then go out like a lamb, we  will see. One must take nothing for granted, however, with the English weather, I recall it snowing in May, not so many years ago.

Switching from the Englishman’s favourite topic, the weather, and looking at the broader picture of the two current big news items, the earthquake in New Zealand and the troubles in the Middle East, neither situation has improved. It is now just one week since the earthquake and although, in similar situations in other parts of the world, people have been found alive in anything up to 3 weeks after the disaster, it has been decided that due to the collapsed nature of the buildings, the likelihood of finding any further people alive is now passed. The final toll of dead or missing now looks as though it is approaching 400. A great tragedy indeed.

The situation in Libya becomes more bizarre by the day. Gaddafi was interviewed yesterday by someone from the BBC and appeared to be in a relaxed and jocular state of mind. More than once he declared that everyone in Libya loved him and no one wished him dead. He maintained that the bulk of the population were behind him and that the trouble was confined to a few isolated young men who had been supplied with drugs from Al Qaeda. He made it clear that he had no intention of leaving his homeland and, it was obvious, from the way he spoke, that he intends to crush any opposition whilst, at the same time, denying that there were no disturbances. This, at a time when almost the entire free world has declared that he must go. Even some of his erstwhile nearest friends and colleagues have declared that he is insane .Interestingly, it is maintained that he has something like $3 billion stashed away in the USA, which of course he denies. The Western powers are in a moral dilemma. Whilst clearly not wishing to intervene and become embroiled in another Iraq or Afghanistan, which they can ill afford,. how long can they sit back and watch innocent citizens being slaughtered. 1000 today, 2000 tomorrow and 4000 the next day?

God, or Allah willing the generals will join the other senior members who represent this country overseas who have already defected and turn against Gaddafi, hopefully within the next week or so, before too many more innocent lives are lost.

Speaking of the Gaddafi billions I heard the most staggering statistic, whilst listening to the radio during the night,  China owns a substantial chunk of the USA through its investments in Dollar Treasury Bonds. Can you believe $1000,000,000,000 worth? Nobody seems to troubled by the amount of this debt and presumably it is well covered by the American gold reserves (housed in Fort Knox), which is probably more than we can say for our national debt. Heaven knows how much gold we have left in the Bank Of England, but, I do seem to recall, Gordon Brown, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, selling a large quantity of our gold at something like $265 per ounce – probably the lowest it has been for decades. Today the price of gold today is $1415  and some aficionados predict it might well get to $2000 an ounce. Was this yet another error of judgement by what was probably the worst Chancellor of the Exchequer we have seen in this country for many a long year.



2 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 2 March 2011 in Diary |

An exasperating day. I was really quite excited about getting my new computer which arrived yesterday and we opened it this morning. It is a Toshiba Satellite (not a Satellite Pro, like my own laptop, as I’m told they do not make this model any more). It’s a nice looking laptop, widescreen but ironically less convenient for me than the previous one. This one has a set of numbers on the right-hand side as well as along the top, which means I cannot easily access the Backspace Button or the Arrow Keys from the right-hand side without leaning on these other keys. The other thing I noticed about this laptop is it only has two USB ports, one network port and one other plug-in, for something or other, but I can see nowhere where it would be possible to plug in my camera to download photographs, for example, and two USB port is very thin. (On the camera front I’m told that there is a memory card slot somewhere which is the more up-to-date way of transferring photographs -what happens if you don’t use a memory card?) I overcome the problem by using a Belkin, which enables me to run seven USB ports from  it and then one from that to the laptop. Consider what I need to plug-in and have networked. My printer; my scanner; my  Live box; my photo printer;  two separate stand-alone hard disks; (which I agree is unusual) my WebCam; and my buddy Gooseneck microphone. Having mentioned these minor deficiencies to AbilityNet they suggest that, Toshiba’s answer would be that the laptop has a built-in microphone and WebCam and therefore does not need any plug-in slots for these additional pieces of equipment. My response to that is that whilst these may be  inbuilt they are not of a sufficiently high quality when one is totally dependent upon voice activation.

The exasperation started with trying to get the Live box wirelessly connected to the laptop. It has a monstrously long security key on the bottom of the Live box-24 digits comprising numerals and capital letters – obviously  I needed help, not only to read the thing from the bottom of the Live box but also to enter this  security key into the box on my laptop. ‘My lovely’ and subsequently, Jane ‘the sheep’ mucked to help, but we did not manage to achieve it until we had located a cable, from amongst dozens of others I have kept in my office, to link the Live box direct to the laptop to get onto the Internet and then with the help of one of the Orange Broadband, technical staff, over the telephone, we were ultimately able to achieve our objective. The WebCam, at first time of trying, was badly out of focus but maybe that can be fixed.

The new version of Dragon 11 (voice activation system) seemed to work extremely well even though we were not able to transfer my old user files and it has had  only have a little training. The overall layout of the machine is different from the last and I think less user-friendly particularly the e-mail.

I got used to Outlook and particularly the Contacts which not only have the e-mail addresses will also various telephone numbers which I believe I was able to call up hands-free. Windows Live Mail is nowhere near so good and I’m seeking an upgrade to Outlook even if I have to pay the £90 or so myself. All of this might sound terribly ungrateful considering that the  MND Association provided this third machine, again free of charge on loan but, as  ‘my lovely’ so wisely says, whatever they provide really has to work for you. Fortunately, my good friend Duncan is coming this evening to do the final tweaking and set me up on the desktop, as near as possible as I was before.

I had previously offered to discuss the whole business of purchasing loan equipment and training with someone senior within the MND Association, which the CEO seemed pleased about and said that somebody would give me  a telephone call.

In dealing with the Orange technical team over the wireless connection I was very impressed by the respectful and well mannered way in which the gentleman at the other end of the telephone dealt with me.. He was obviously of Indian extraction-either sitting in Bradford or Bangalore!-and this brought to mind a programme I listened to recently, in the middle of the night, a couple of days ago, concerning the youth of this country lacking in respect and good manners. I do not want to sound like a grumpy old man but I have to confess that on the whole I agree, and for this reason was very impressed with this young Indian lad who dealt with me.

There is a program currently running on  BBC 2, called When Teenage Meet  Old-Age. Half a dozen youngsters, of mixed ethnic origin and mixed social class, volunteered to spend a week or two with some elderly people to try to understand them a little better. Most of the youngsters were sceptical about this experiment before they started but were seriously affected by the experience and obviously matured enormously during the period of their contact with these old people, in understanding them as human beings, like themselves, only considerably older. The elderly people also gained a great deal from this experiment.  Many of them had lost touch with the younger generation and totally misunderstood the way they functioned. What impressed me most about this programme was how well mannered and respectful the young were, or at least, became, during this process. In at least half of the cases the elderly people clearly became mentors to the young, who clearly lacked an older role model. I got the impression that these young people  will keep in touch with the older ones, hopefully for as long as the old person lives.

This programme highlighted the point I made in my letter to the Prime Minister (see  11 Feb. entry) about mentoring but it also highlighted the fact that I have not yet received even the usual postcard acknowledging receipt of the communication with some standard form of words about a reply will follow. (Even H. M. The Queen, some years ago, was courteous enough to respond to a communication I made to concerning her sister, Princess Margaret, and a trip that she had made to some distant outpost in China) I realise the Prime Minister has a few other more important issues to deal with but normally one would receive some sort of reply, however anodyne that would take a minute or two to knock off.

 I have always considered it to be a discourtesy not to reply however briefly to any communication that I receive that is personally addressed to me by name-except, of course, junk mail.

When I contacted the key man at Proctor and Gamble, Boots and Lloyds pharmacy concerning my Mitt Wipe, they all extended me the courtesy of a reply and ultimately an explanation as to why my healthcare invention did not fit in with the present product range; all except one, who is still considering it.

I have not had the same success with my feeding frame. I was utterly convinced, having produced a fourth prototype, that it needed the Dyson touch, particularly as it incorporated a ball in the armrest. So, in the autumn of 2009, I made direct contact with the great man’s secretary/PA, briefly explaining my invention and asking if he could spare me couple minutes or so of his time on the telephone. I have a note, at the end of 2009, that I tried again for the fourth time and each time was told that I’m still on the list and not to give up. Throughout 2010 I tried again from, time to time, until ultimately I sent a complete video and short explanation to Dyson in the hope that he would spare a moment or two to consider my invention and if he was not interested, at least, to drop me a short note to that effect (even an e-mail would have done). I had in mind that as the feeding frame would enable tens of thousands of elderly people throughout the world, many of whom die from malnutrition being unable to feed themselves, in hospital, care homes and in their own homes, it would not only be a commercial success but one  that could be seen as a charitable gesture in something like a Dyson Charitable Foundation. What a legacy to leave to the world -better than a vacuum cleaner!. I therefore have to say I’m very disappointed I am not to have received any written communication at all from the Dyson organisation, which would take minutes to write, even if it had been a complete rejection. Again, I believe this to be a reflection of the discourtesy of modern society. But then it seems Dyson might be in good company with the Prime Minister’s office.


3 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 3 March 2011 in Diary |

As a result of me mentioning my coughing fit, couple of days ago, I received an e-mail from the good Dr Michael in Australia, cautioning against eating toast and even bread, he mentioned semi-fluid food. What a horrible thought. God forbid I will have to keep myself alive that way, at least not in the near future. He hinted rather ominously to his medical experience over the years over this issue which, I suspect, means that he knows of a number of people who have choked to death.  Anyone can choke at any time, if the food goes down the wrong way, as they say. I do remember once getting a fish bone stuck in my throat in a restaurant and, finding it difficult to breathe, started to choke very badly. in fact, I think I fell to the floor and probably turned blue in the face, at which stage my dear wife looking down at me, said something to the effect, for goodness sake, do get up and stop making such an exhibition of yourself. Then, I believe, someone who knew about such things, stuck their fingers down my throat and dislodged the bone. I’ve always wondered how anyone so caring and sympathetic as ‘my lovely’ could be so seemingly hard under such circumstances. I suppose it is the old British stiff upper lip and all that. I know that choking is one of the common symptoms of MND but  thought it did not come into play until the throat muscles were affected. I hope, in my case, it was just a one-off, at this stage, although I shall certainly raise it during my consultation at Papworth next Monday. I must also asked the good Dr how he would deal with the choking patient in a wheelchair or armchair.

In writing about choking before I forgot to mention the little ditty which has always amused me:

It’s not the coughing that carried him off

but the coffin

they carried him off in.

I also forgot to mention St Davids Day, two days ago. The Welsh patron saints day. With a half Welsh wife with very strong Welsh connections I should have mentioned it. Had we been in Wales I would no doubt have sported a daffodil in my buttonhole as, indeed, I never failed to wear a rose on 23 April, St George’s Day (the English patron saint). I traditionally wore a red rose from then, on all the way to Christmas Eve, plucked each morning from my own garden. I would go from rose bed to rose bed seeking out a flower that was just coming out of bud, squeezing it gently and lovingly with my fingers to ensure that it was at the right stage and would last all day and not ‘blow’. I used to tease my friends by saying that the bud had to have the same resistance as the pressure on the virgin’s thigh. (Not that I would have any idea what that was!) Indeed, the same resistance you would feel when selecting a perfect cigar. The point being that I was always lead to believe that the best cigars, from Havana, were hand rolled on a virgin’s thigh. No doubt a lot of nonsense but an amusing thought when you are selecting one.

Talking of forgetting, how could I possibly have forgotten to mention the astonishing Irish victory over the English cricket team in the World Series. The Irish being little more than amateurs against one of the supposedly giants of the game. Ireland does not even rank for test match status, so it was an amazing victory which certainly casts a shadow over the English hopes of winning the Series or even reaching the quarter-finals.

Beginning to forget things always makes me anxious that I might be in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Suffering from what the medical people call’ short term cognitive impairment’. My personal view is, if you can remember this term you are not suffering from it. I was interested to hear on the radio this morning that they have made another breakthrough in stem cell research where they believe they will be able to produce brain cells which will replace the damaged neurons which affect the memory. Not a cure, as yet, but an advance that will slow or stop the process. I suspect that there may well be a spin-off ultimately for MND and the neurons which cause the muscles to atrophy. In my 3 March 2009 entry, I included a video, entitled I Forgot which readers might find rather amusing to watch and listen to.

I was watching a programme on BBC, last evening, called The Human Planet and, for a brief moment we saw hundreds of starving Kenyans picking over filthy rat and fly infested waste hunting for scraps of food.’ My lovely’ and I discussed the horror and degradation suffered by these poor souls, in the light of the record in this country where  something in the region of 30% of the food that is produced  ends up as waste and which is not even allowed to be served any longer to pigs, where, at least, it would have been recycled in the food chain. There is something seriously wrong in the world when this sort of situation can occur.

In the end Duncan did not come last evening to tidy up my computer as it was getting rather late and I am much fresher in the morning or early afternoon, so we are going to try to meet up at the weekend.


4 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 4 March 2011 in Diary |

As a result of my mentioning the feeding frame a couple of days ago, I received a comment, on my blog, from another MND sufferer asking if I had included a picture of this frame on my blog as he might well benefit from using it. I had to admit that I have not so far included a picture or video, although I do have both, of the fourth prototype. The reason being that I’m still hoping to find someone to mass-produce it commercially but at a price which can be afforded by anyone with weakened and arms who finds difficulty in feeding themselves, and, as I said before, if I do, hope to have it available in hospitals, care homes and private homes, for the thousands of elderly people suffering through malnutrition as a result of not being able to feed themselves properly and having no one to help them. If I get nowhere with my enquiries I will eventually include a copy of my prototype on the blog but this one is made from stainless steel and would be expensive to reproduce. What I have in mind is a mass produced, preferably biodegradable, plastic version which can be disposed of after a few uses. In the meantime I suggested to the reader that he contacted his local branch of the MND Association and see if they would be prepared to provide him with an armrest, such as  I have, from Able2.

Today, is the day that the Dental Association informed me that they would be holding the Hearing concerning my complaint against the NHS dentist who claimed to have carried out work on my teeth which he had clearly not done. (See 26 July 2010 entry). No doubt I will hear the outcome in due course.

Yesterday I recounted ‘my lovely’s’ admonition about making a fool of myself in a restaurant when I got the fish bone stuck in my throat. It reminded me other another occasion where she made an absolutely classic comment when I injured myself. I quote from my autobiographical notes and the chapter entitled  Let me show you my scars, which covers all the various illnesses and operations I’ve had throughout my life – hopefully recounted in a reasonably light weighed fashion
…..in the late ‘60’s.  I was working in the garden on the espalier from a ladder, some 8 or 10 feet above the ground, when I toppled backwards.  At the time Alice was in the breakfast room and just happened to be looking out of the French windows. She  witnessed the accident. Apparently I arced over in a reverse swallow dive and landed on my left hand. In doing so  I snapped off the end  of both the radius and the ulna bones. I yelled as I was in  considerable pain. Alice came rushing out and then, sensibly leaving me when I lay, called the doctor. Before he arrived,  some 30 minutes or so later,  Alice me told “to stop making that noise, you will  frighten the children” — not very sympathetic. The ambulance arrived and I was bundled unceremoniously into it.  No orthopaedic stretcher or neck brace, as would be the practice today.  Clearly I was lucky because  it was later discovered that I had a hairline fraction in one of my vertebrae which, had it be more serious, could have had dire  consequences. 

I arrived at Addenbrookes hospital and after a lengthy wait was wheeled into the corridor outside the x-ray room.  There was one other casualty in front of me – a man with a broken leg.  After we had been there for sometime a head came round the door and yelled  “Next” and disappeared. The ‘broken leg’ looked perplexed. A minute or so later a  more impatient  “Next”, was heard., so ‘broken leg’ eased himself gently from the stretcher and, apparently in severe pain,  hopped his way into the x-ray room. Shortly after it was my turn. Now, I should explain that having been working in the garden in my oldest clothes I probably resembled a tramp. Not surprisingly then the first thing they did was to hack off my favourite Norwegian sweater. A quick diagonal cut right across the chest accomplished this before I could protest.. All the while I was clutching my poor, very painful, wrist.  Asked to place it palm up under the x-ray camera I took so long that the nurse grabbed it, and in the one swift movement planted it onto the table. I nearly fainted with pain. From that day on I was determined to wear something a little more up market when working in the garden, in case I ever got into the hands of this butcher again.

I’m glad to say that Addenbrooke’s Hospital has obviously improved since those days 50 years ago and, although my wife’s comments made her sound rather heartless, the reader will have gathered, from all the nice things and I have been able to say about her in this blog, that she is extremely kind and caring and what she said was  more to do with the British stiff upper lip then being unkind.


5 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 5 March 2011 in Diary |

Harking back to my recent entries concerning mentoring and role models, we have seen over the past couple of weeks two of our MPs being jailed for fraudulent expense claims. Over the last couple of days there has been a case reported of a senior minister in the German government, a Baron no less, allegedly plagiarising material in order to achieve a Ph.D. in order to append the letters Dr in front of his already impressive titles. How can we expect the young to play fair by the rules, if these public role models are exposed as cheats? In fact,  young people do not even have to go so far as looking to these national figures as role models. They have to look no further than their daily dose of soaps and reality shows on  television. Any night of the week they can see the next generation getting drunk, violent being sexually promiscuous, using bad language and generally displaying appallingly bad manners. Again, I say how can we expect the young to grow up any differently when they are inured, almost from birth, by the example displayed by this generation of so-called celebrities. I know that this might seem to be yet another gripe from a grumpy old man but somebody must say it, as one rarely hears people in authority having enough guts to come out with the truth. The young could do far worse than look at a few of the old movies made 50 or 60 years ago, such as the one we saw last evening called Escape from Victory, starring Michael Caine. It had all the ingredients of  honour, honestly, unselfishness and consideration for one’s fellow man, most of the ingredients missing in today’s society.

In the German minister’s case, no doubt, it was some form of ego trip, as the title of Dr before one’s name is held in very high esteem in Germany. It was recounted, when this matter was being discussed on the radio, that on a recent flight, when someone was taken ill, and an appeal made over the loud speaker system asking if there was a doctor aboard, it transpired that there were seven. Three doctors of philosophy, one doctor of law and three others, but none of them were medical. When I lectured abroad in Europe I was frequently mis-introduced as Dr Cato rather than Professor, despite my protestations. I even met one speaker on the circuit who had the title of Dr. Dr., presumably he had to Ph.D’s! I did seriously consider taking a Ph.D. a few years back after some discussion with Magdalene College, Cambridge (my son, Smiler’s, Alma Mater) but the cost was prohibitive (something like £15,000 a year at that stage, for each of the two or three years) and, in addition, I would have had to have  been in residence for three eight-week terms for one of the years and frankly I could not afford to stop working, so I gave up the idea. After all it would not have furthered my career and, indeed, would have just been an ego trip. It’s just that I rather fancied being introduced as Dr. Prof but I’m glad in the end the common sense prevailed.


6 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 6 March 2011 in Diary |

I heard the most extraordinary comment made in a radio programme, when I was half asleep in the middle of the night, a couple of days ago, concerning money spent by the Ministry Of Defence, presumably on general maintenance and repair contracts on public buildings owned or leased by them. So far as I recall what happens is that the relevant Ministry goes out to tender, probably annually, to an approved list of contractors who submit a detailed schedule of costs for various tasks. Then, throughout the following year, this contractor would be instructed to carry out maintenance or repairs, based on this schedule, or using the schedule as a basis, for calculating the cost to be invoiced to the Ministry. How on earth then did it come to pass that the MOD, allegedly, as it was reported on the radio, pay £22 to replace a light bulb costing no more than 65 p and pay over £102 for a few screws costing no more than around £1. Of course, there may be much more to this than we have been told,.  The bulb may well be at the top of  a 150 foot high tower and the screws needed to be replaced in an abnormally inaccessible position. However,  had this been the case one would have thought it not necessary to report these two seemingly ridiculous costs on the national news. If indeed these were the amounts paid for just ordinarily maintenance or repair items then when do we hear about the sacking of the totally incompetent civil servant who negotiated the schedule in the first instance and was responsible for authorising the work in this particular case. If this happened in private life with a commercial firm the person responsible would be sacked so fast they wouldn’t know what happened to them but when it is a union protected public servant it seems almost impossible to get rid of them however incompetent they may be.

I’m only too aware that the last few entries on this blog have been of a rather negative for downbeat nature, for that I apologise, but it just happens that these were current news issues. I now compound my conduct by reporting on England’s latest disaster in the World Series Cricket in India. Two wickets lost in the first over for three runs. It was only due to stirling 97 partnership between Trott and  Priorthat England  managed to get 171 all out in the 45th over. South Africa looks like making little of this pathetic  score, reaching 124  for 43 , giving the appearance of coasting to an easy victory, but, in the event, in a nail-biting finish, were polished off by England, in a terrific performance, who won by six runs, in the 48th over.

Unless you are a sports fanatic you cannot understand how seriously some people take such matters. A friend of mine, who is mad on cricket said, rather irreverently and, I considered, in bad taste, there are three things he will remember as long as he lives.

The date and where he was when Kennedy was assassinated; the day Diana died and the day that Ireland beat England in the World Series Cricket!


7 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 7 March 2011 in Diary |

The beginning of a busy week. Early this morning I went off by ambulance to Papworth Hospital for my quarterly respiratory tests. Although I shall have to wait for the consultant’s written report the general feeling was that although I had deteriorated very slightly since my last visit in December, on the whole the signs were encouraging. My consultant, this time was Michael Davies, who like his colleague Ian Smith was charming and extremely helpful. He has taken the problem of my runny nose on board and has prescribed some antihistamine combined with a different nasal spray. Interestingly, he said that it was not unusual for patients wearing the respiratory mask to have a runny nose in the morning when they removed it but it was rather less usual, but not unknown, to have a repeat 12 hours or so later. In any event, the encouraging news was that even if we did not manage to clear the runny nose completely it should not normally interfere with breathing through the mask which would tend to dry it up. I had two kindly lady ambulance drivers to take me home, in fact, the same two that I had the pleasure of meeting on a previous occasion.

I watched a fascinating programme on BBC television, last evening, Attenborough and The Giant Egg. It was all about Madagascar, the island in the Indian Ocean, just off the South East end of the African continent. One of the most interesting things I learned from this programme was that the island was not colonised from Africa, as one would have expected, but from Malaya, from hundreds of miles, SSE away, across the Indian Ocean So the indigenous population is not African but  Malay although, of course, over the centuries, there has undoubtedly been some intermarrying but even today the population looks more Arab and African. Attenborough made his first visit to this island, and consequently his first documentary about the flora and fauna, in 1960 and this present one was a sort of nostalgic reminiscence of the first one.

Almost the same time that Attenborough’,s exploration of Madagascar I visited  the island of Zanzibar further north, up the African coast. Like Madagascar, Zanzibar was not peopled by Africans but by by Arabs. I can only assume that at the time the Africans were not a seagoing nation and despite these islands being fairly close to the African coast it took seafaring people like the Malays and Arabs to colonise them. I should hasten to add I have no authority for making this presumption. (Maybe one of my readers will put me right). One abiding memory I have of this visit  was  seeing the large iron rings close to the Zanzibar beaches, where the African slaves were chained before being shipped to America. Clearly it wasn’t very healthy to be African in Zanzibar in those days. It still makes me shudder to think of it today. Having said that, ironically there was a programme on this morning’s news about people trafficking from Eastern Europe to the UK who were sold to people either in the sex industry or in ourselves as nothing less than modern slaves. Of course the authorities are trying to do what they can to break down this traffic in human misery but the perpetrators are extremely tenacious and clever in their methods. It is a very profitable business and horrifying to think that such slavery still exists today.

 The only souvenir I have of that visit is a rather fine, supposedly, antique Zanzibar wooden chest with beaten copper embellishments. Whether it is genuinely antique or a modern fake we have never really bothered to find out. In any event, is now 50 years older than it was when I bought it so in another 50 years it will be an antique in its own right!


8 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 8 March 2011 in Diary |

Today was the first experiment for me going to London, by train in my wheelchair. The last visit by train I think was in May last year when I fell off and broke my leg. I have been to London once or twice since, but was travelling all the way by car with Barry.’ My lovely” went to great deal of trouble yesterday in telephoning the rail company to organise the ramps for specific trains. Apparently you can no longer do it by informing the local station. Obviously they have to have someone available to put the ramp in place to get the wheelchair on and off the train and, no doubt, inform the driver what is going on so that he/she does not attempt to close the doors or pull away before we have safely disembarked. Of course, it would be possible to seek out a sturdy looking passenger to assist the person travelling with me, in this case Keith Kirkwood, just to lift the chair up from platform onto the train but as so many people seem to suffer from bad backs  it may not be entirely fair to ask just any stranger. For that reason we through the official process of organising the ramps. The slightly irritating factor is that they insist that you get to the station 50 min before the train is due. I really cannot see the logic in this as the only thing police station staff have to do is to put down the ramp once with the train is actually in the station. However, like all things, when you are disabled, yours not to question why but just to show infinite patience.

In the event, the journey to and from, Herbert Smith’s offices in Exchange House, Primrose Street, just behind Liverpool Street station, went very smoothly. The station staff who were standing by as the trains came in with the ramps which then only took a moment or two to put down. We quickly found the lifts for the disabled, both at the station and Herbert Smith’s offices. The only slight fly in the ointment was that my reason for going was to attend the AGM, which I have been told would follow the lunch. In the event, on arrival we were told it had been  cancelled, or rather postponed, until the May meeting, which was a little irritating.

Barry and Keith were magnificent throughout. Barry, having a disabled daughter, understands completely how to lift me out of the car onto the wheelchair, locking my legs with his own knee where necessary. Keith, managed everything else without any fuss, including taking me into the disabled  loo a couple of times. I was very encouraged by the whole performance and would certainly do it again before I weaken too much further.


9 March 2011

Posted by DMC on 9 March 2011 in Diary |

 I listen to a fascinating programme in the early hours of the morning,, a couple of nights ago, entitled Death and Dying. It was a repeat of a radio discussion in 2008, on the BBC World Service Interview series, with the 90-year-old authoress Diana Athill, who has written on the subject of death. Miss Athill is an atheist and was very articulate about her approach to death and ‘the beyond’.

In a nutshell she made the following points;

Even at 90 she gives no thought to how much longer she’s got to live,  that would be a waste of time. She does however, from, time to time, tell herself that she will not be here for this or that, for example, global warming.

It irks her that she is not as mobile as she was as there are lots and lots of things that she still wants to do.

For example. friends and neighbours  often show her wonderful holidays, places she would like to go but  what’s the point of going when she can’t walk about. She is not prepared to attempt to go by wheelchair because of the complications involved.

She hates to be a burden and, in fact, was always frightened of becoming one in her old age. She has had one or two friends who have become disabled and, indeed, became a burden to her but she accepted it  cheerfully as they had to be helped and therefore they were not a burden in the true sense of the word, as anyone you love should never be a burden. Being a burden in old age is something to be dreaded.

She is not frightened of death itself. it never has frightened her as an idea but she is frightened of the idea of approaching it more and more slowly  and getting more and more helpless and she hopes that she will just fall down one day and that will be that.

She had a very good friend, who died recently, and the last two years were absolutely horrid and miserable. She was extremely brave but could do nothing for herself, she became incontinent, she could not move without falling down. She had to have help with everything but she still had wits about her and therefore knew fully how humiliating and miserable the whole thing was. Although, every time there was a  crisis and she had to be taken to hospital, if it had been Miss Athill she would have hoped to depart this life, but she was surprised that her friend was always very pleased when she survived.

When asked by the interviewer did she talk much about death or just write about it, Miss Athill said that she just wrote about it is as really there wasn’t very much to say on the subject

She was very much encouraged by her 96-year-old Mother’s death. She lived on her own right up to the end, not dependent upon anybody. She could do a little gardening, on her two sticks. One day her gardener said that she was not looking too well and she admitted to feeling a little funny and asked to be taken back to the house. Her home help recognised heart failure, rushed her to hospital where she had one day of misery which was very horrid and frightening. She was heavily sedated with morphine and Miss Athill spent the day talking to her mother who was very calm and spoke of many ordinary things. Then she mentioned buying the eucalyptus tree at the time the gardener  had noticed that she was not looking at all well. Miss Atwell asked her mother was it fun and she answered it was absolutely divine and they were the last words she spoke. So she died with this lovely image of the beautiful countryside, which she absolutely adored. It was a gift that she died like that because she was not a bit frightened of dying.

Miss Athill said that she thought that some people were inhibited about speaking about death and others were just plain scared. Her father was a believing Christian who was terrified at the thought of dying and would not talk about it. Whereas Miss Athill had been an atheist, since she was confirmed as a young girl, and did not mind in the least  when she died as there was nothing more after death. She was not concerned at all about being part of eternity. She then mentioned an out of body experience she had when she had had her appendix out and. was still   partially anaesthetised. She saw little scenes floating about and thought to herself, my goodness, it does go on, and I am going to have to cope with it and that frightened her because she had no idea what she would have to do. She thought then perhaps she had made a mistake in not believing in God and then said to herself, nonsense, she couldn’t change now.   The thought that she might go on after death was horrifying but the thought of a sudden end was a great relief.

When asked if she saw dying as a journey going from a state of life to nothing. She said, not really. She saw it as something very disagreeable happening to her body.  She was then asked her view on voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide. She accepted that it was extremely difficult to make laws about such issues but she believed in both. She knew of a friend of hers whose wife had helped  her husband, who was in extreme pain, to die by taking an overdose. She had prepared it and left it in on the bedside table and then left the room. She realised it was a terrible thing to do and she adored her husband but she never once regretted it. Miss .Athill said she would do it herself if any of her friends  were crying out for death. In her own case she didn’t think she could ever ask anyone to help her as it is a terrible thing to do quite, apart from the legal aspect. It could only be done by someone who loved you tremendously, otherwise it would be murder and you could not ask someone to do that.

When asked if she was waiting to die or live she answered very positively busy livingthat. but acknowledged that the ability to go on living depended tremendously upon good health. She said she was extremely lucky in enjoying reasonably good health and was able to continue to do many of the things she had enjoyed in the past, reading, embroidering, taking an interest in her garden and so on. but she did regret planting things which would take many years to mature and realising that she would never live to see that day.

She could not bear people who would not buy things because they were very old. Like a friend of hers who would not buy a new cooker as she said she would not get very much use out of it. She used to get very cross with her. She did accept that there were a lot of old people who did not enjoy life because they had nothing to interest them, like writing or painting or even making something, even if they did not do it particularly well, it would keep them happy

She was asked if she would take eternity if offered it. She thought not. However, if offered eternal youth in a happy world she might be tempted. She said she could not understand those people who had themselves frozen in the hope that one day they would be able to be brought back to life. This was absurd

Upon reflection, and reading back this inadequate  précis of what Miss Athill  had said in this interview, I realise that it might be hard for the reader to understand why I found it so compelling apart from the fact that she appeared to hold the same views on many issues as I did myself. I can only recommend that the reader gets onto BBC iplayer and listens to the interview with this ‘half-glass-full you lady’, then I believe they will understand why I thought it worthwhile dedicating an entry in this blog to it.

I have at last received an answer to my letter to the Prime Minister concerning mentoring (see 11th of February entry). It seems that my own vision of the Big Society does not include what he has in mind. It was a very polite brush off however.” Mr Cameron  much appreciates your taking the time and trouble to inform him of your views”


10 Mark 2011

Posted by DMC on 10 March 2011 in Diary |

I said this was a busy week. Today I went off to Addenbrookes Hospital for my quarterly MND assessment. Fortunately, in the meantime, I had received the consultant report is from the orthopaedic clinic, at Addenbrookes which I attended some two or three weeks ago.

The long and short of it is that there is no obvious explanation for my painful shoulder or hip, which only comes on during the night. The x-rays showed  no obvious sign of osteoarthritis  in either knees, hip or shoulder. The consultant suggested it was something I should take up with my GP or the MND team or possibly get a referral to a Pain Consultant. The consultant I actually saw on the day wrote a separate letter in which he suggested the source of the pain might be muscular spasm or muscular weakness due to my neurological condition. The bone scan, as I reported earlier, showed no signs of metastasis (cancer of the bone) which at least is encouraging.

The MND assessment today but slightly different from usual in as much as I saw a young lady, start with, who I can only assume was a registrar under Dr Chris Allen. The asked me all the usual questions. I then went into Chris’s consulting room where Jo Sassons, the MND coordinator basically took the session. In addition, there was a speech therapist and a physiotherapist as well as a couple of observers from Ipswich. The physiotherapist suggested she would ask her opposite number locally to pop in and see me to observe my walking and to generally advise on exercises. We discussed the choking episode and how we should deal with a subsequent event of the same nature with me sitting in my NHS chair. Basically, the procedure is the same as if one is standing up. Grasp the patient round the waist locking your hands and wrists and give a sharp,  tight squeeze. However, Chris did not think that my choking was necessarily anything to do with the MND as I do not appear to be having any swallowing difficulties. In other words it’s a sort of thing that can happen to anyone at any time.

We spent quite a lot of time discussing the possibility of a living will and what circumstances might have to arise before the medical team attempted to resuscitate me. Jo kindly tried to set out the problems in making such a will which is obviously not as straightforward as one might think. So far I have made it clear that if whatever happens to me meant that I would have to spend what time I had left in hospital or in a hospice then I would not wish to be resuscitated,. Similarly, if I need invasive surgery to breathe i.e a tracheotomy,  or had to be fed through a tube in my stomach, again I would not wish to be resuscitated. I was heartened to learn that if I suffered from some cardiac arrest or similar and the medical team thought it futile to resuscitate me they would not do so. They will only carry out this procedure if there was a reasonable chance of recovering to the state that I was in before whatever caused me to be taken to hospital. In any event, Jo will give a little more thought to drafting something for ‘my lovely’and  I to consider.

When Dr Alan joined us I mentioned my relatively new symptom of very occasional trembling lips and gums. He did not seem too concerned about this and said that it did not necessarily presage the onset of  bulbar (throat) problems. Even non-MND patients can get this from time to time. Apart from that we discussed the possibility of a different form of painkiller to alleviate the joint pain at night and Jo suggested looking into the possibility of getting me NHS Continuing Care, now that I can no longer do anything for myself. There is no guarantee that I will pass the assessment but if I did, apparently this care is not means tested which would be great. As I explained to Jo my main concern was ’my lovely’ who is managing wonderfully well at present but when I am completely unable to shuffle backwards and forwards on my frame, and have to rely heavily on hoists, she really will require some assistance or, at least, occasional respite. I will, of course, receive a full written report in due course.

Late this afternoon, my kind friend Duncan,  came here, after a long day at work, to tidy up my new computer for me. and as usual did a great job in adding monitors the three programmes, which I have used over the years, and creating some useful shortcuts.

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