House-Moving and All That

Having decided that at eighty, a house move must be tackled sooner rather than later, and with my house on the market, I have embarked upon the essential de-cluttering that downsizing means. The first stage of clearing shelves of files containing news, views and events that took me on the campaigning trail sixteen years ago has been under way for a few weeks and large spaces are now appearing.

The amount of paperwork has been staggering. A great advocate of filing and keeping records, I now realise this is a two-edged sword that is proving hugely time consuming. I was prudent to tackle it now, rather than wait for a buyer to happen along. Who could have foreseen that getting angry over other people’s problems would result in shelves crammed with so many black lever-arch files that once emptied, would pose the question, ‘…what do I do with the remains?

The immediate problem was solved after making some local inquiries; the files and their hundreds of multi-punched plastic pockets found good homes, but then the contents of those plastic pockets needed attention; many contained sensitive material so caution was needed before disposal. This meant looking through and reading everything so nothing confidential could fall into the wrong hands.

Now that doesn’t sound too onerous, and though the reading has been superficial, the content has raised many ghosts. I have been hag-ridden by the spectres of those who have had to live with the consequences of the injustices dealt them by circumstances and life in general.

Some of the cases were won by our little group, others we lost. One case took two years before the local health board issued a written apology for the neglect that caused the death of a family’s elderly father. Letters to the minister at the Welsh Assembly, the health Ombudsman, the chair of the local health board had all come back disclaiming responsibility and making excuses as to why they could not be involved in an individual case – but after a public enquiry had found in favour of the plaintiff – all capitulated and an apology was issued.

The prolonged pain and stress of that family would have been so much less had the apology been issued by the hospital in the first place. Just saying “Sorry – we’ll make sure this never happens again” would have sufficed.

Looking through my notes has made me realise that a simple apology on the part of the official body concerned could have saved so much pain for the victims in most of the cases. Why are the words, ‘I’m sorry’ so difficult to say?

The Spectre of Sexual Abuse

The spectre of sexual abuse being prevalent in yet more aspects of the daily life of our young people, is one that hits at the foundation and heart of modern culture, but it is time to look hard at what we call ‘human-nature’.

Sexual abuse and exploitation is as old as time itself and no one is able to explain why humans should perpetrate such vile acts upon the young of the species.

Psychiatrists and psychologists have tried and therapists attempt to deal with victims and perpetrators. All admit their success rate falls short of expectations – but it is necessary for them to try.

Nevertheless, while politicians wring their hands and the legal fraternity rake in the money bags, little is being done. The will to succeed and the necessary funding to train psychiatrists from already qualified doctors, as well as psychologists and therapists from suitably qualified candidates, must be regarded as every bit as critical as those of Brexit and immigration. Experts are in short supply as are designated premises; purpose-built premises are almost non-existent.

From past experience, I am afraid the current revelations will prove to be another storm in the proverbial teacup – debated hotly by our politicians for an all too short period; tossed around by the popular media, and then dumped on a back burner.

Meanwhile, the victims will continue to cry in vain for justice. They may end up in exactly the same way as the families of the Aberfan disaster in 1966 who were ignored by Lord Robens, chairman of the National Coal Board, and backed by Lord Tonypandy – then George Thomas MP – at the Welsh Office, told to pay for the clean up themselves from the disaster fund. Robens accepted no responsibility for the disaster – having ignored all warnings, and arrogantly proceeded to travel to America aboard the ‘Queen Mary’ where he later delivered lectures on ‘Health & Safety’. This injustice was not rectified until 2007.

Fifty years is a long time to wait for justice. Too many victims of sexual exploitation have gone to their graves still waiting. I believe many more may do the same unless those with the power to do so determine that events must move more surely – and more swiftly so justice can be delivered.

Thoughts on Our National Health Service

Too many people and not enough money to go round. It has been like this for a very long time. Money will always be found for war, but there’s never enough for peace. Growing old is a curse that all must come to – if they survive long enough. Being valued for what you have contributed throughout your lifetime is no longer relevant. If you’re old – you’re a nuisance as soon as you need those regular visits to the GP or hospital. Continue reading

The Lure of Those Old Papers

Have you ever been tempted to tackle a little DIY and begun by spreading those long-out-of-date newspapers to protect the carpet and anything in the surrounding area that might get splashed or messed up before you make a start? Well you might guess where I’m coming from, or going to, when I tell you that I’m still in the process of trying to de-clutter by emptying shelves of lever-arch files that are crammed with outdated material relating to defunct organisations that ceased operations years ago.

It was decided that all paperwork relating to the matters of which I speak should be kept for five years and then destroyed. Just as well, because I was deeply committed to my final year of study with the Open University, I delayed any action; I wouldn’t have had time for my studies if the current rate is anything to go by. This brings me back to the beginning of this blog and the irresistible urge to read the old papers that I’m having to look through in order to shred what is sensitive and dispose of the remainder without problem.

At the start of the millennium following the 1997 election, there was a renewed vibrancy to the campaigning movement among older retired people living on their state and professional pensions. Here in Wales, Wales Pensioners represented many individual groups throughout the country. Like their counterparts in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Wales Pensioners were affiliated to the NPC National Pensioners’ Convention. Groups held monthly meetings and hopes were high when, in 2002, the newly devolved Welsh Assembly set about appointing a Commissioner for Older People.

Indeed, hopes were so high, representatives of different groups dared to believe they might be in danger of duplicating responsibilities so Wales Pensioners disbanded as a campaigning body believing they now had a champion for the cause of all pensioners in Wales.

What a damp squib that turned out to be. Ruth Marks’ was eventually appointed as the first older people’s champion but her contract was not renewed at the end of her first year. Although, as a graduate of Common Purpose she went on to bigger and better things and another commissioner was appointed,  the Welsh pensioner movement was hoodwinked and demoralized because, although much was promised, little or nothing was delivered.

The papers I was entrusted to keep and eventually dispose of are now being sorted. They are reawakening old memories, but I think they are better left dormant and the paperwork shredded. Times change, and we move on.

The Complications of 21st Century Communications

Yesterday, Monday 5th May 2014, I reported a problem with the cable delivering the telephone line to the outside of my house. The cable has become dangerously loose.

I was out of the country for some weeks and have been busy catching up on various matters. My neighbour drew my attention to the matter this week-end. It being a bank holiday, I thought to leave the matter, but on seeing for myself the urgency of the possibilities, I decided to try to communicate with British Telecom, who, through their most unhelpful robotic system of communication, told me it was a matter for the individual company with whom I had my telephone account so I phoned the TalkTalk helpline – and succeeded in talking to an operator in India.

After a somewhat protracted process of questions, answers, and laboured explanations, I thought he had understood that the matter was of some urgency. I tried to make him understand that the cable is attached to a heavy metal bracket on the outside of my house. The bracket is hanging from the wall by one screw. The cable is heavy. I am afraid that if the cable breaks free from the wall, the weight of the cable will cause the bracket to swing free. It could the kill or maim anyone passing underneath, or severely damage a passing vehicle which might also result in a driver fatality.

Afraid that the young man might not have understood the urgency of my request for help, I determined to try to contact my telecommunication firm by email – but failed miserably. Although there are several options – somewhat euphemistically called Help or Customer Service  none allowed me to send an email direct to Customer Services at TalkTalk. It has forced me to conclude that trying to communicate with telecommunication firms such as this, as well as BT, is somewhat like trying to find a hen’s teeth. They don’t make it easy, so I decided to try the questionable mailing system we now have in UK, as that too has proved a dubious method of communication in recent weeks – apart from that of the ‘junk’ variety.

A friend recently sent a card – a single flower with a button at its centre – by first class mail. It arrived six days later, having been posted and delivered locally, in Carmarthenshire. Now I know this is the biggest single county in Wales, but letters from Sri Lanka and New Zealand take only four days to arrive. Not only was the card delivered late, but I had to drive five miles to the nearest post-office to collect it, (I was so informed by the printed missive left in my mail box) where I was made to pay £1.11 – (£1 handling charge and 11 pence extra postage) because the button in the centre of the flower made the letter too thick to pass through the mandatory test slot, (but not the post box into which it was popped by my friend) determining the next price category requiring that extra 11 pence postage. My question for the post office was, ‘How much time was wasted by the postman fiddling with a footling plastic test slot instead of doing what he should have been doing – delivering the letter?’ Surely the postal service has not had to stoop to such measures in order to boost profits?

Age, Life’s Quiet Companion.

I wonder how many other older people like me watched the recent programmes screened last week and this by the BBC, as well as the Panorama programme on Wednesday evening. It made salutary viewing and brought the predicted outcry, bluster  and hot-air from politicians and the media. Such revelations always do, for a short time, like the revelations about paedophilia and prominent names, but then the blustering gives way as the hot-air bubbles are pricked and the rhetoric drifts away to be forgotten – except by the victims and their families.

In 2004 I visited a geriatric ward in Cardiff’s Heath Hospital and was so incensed by what I saw, I wrote to the then Minister of Health, Jane Hutt AM, and her Deputy Minister, John Griffiths AM, at the Welsh Assembly in Wales. I invited them to do as I had done, but to do so without warning and without their retinue of civil servants in attendance.  They never did, although they wrote (the letters remain on my files) suggesting that the patients involved could write a letter of complaint to the hospital authorities.  Looking at the patients involved in the Panorama programme, I doubt many of them would have been capable of doing so, and their families were too scared of the possible repercussions on the patients.

Why was I there? I was visiting my aunt; then in her early nineties, who was a patient there for about one week for observation and treatment. She was visited twice a day by her daughter who ensured her mother both ate and drank the nourishment she had prepared at home while she was there. My aunt was summarily brought home by my cousin when she found her mother in some distress having soiled her bed following several calls for a nurse to help her use a bedpan. The patients either side of my aunt were not so lucky, having family who rarely visited and only did so late in the evening.

While visiting, I witnessed a male ward orderly, serving tea from a trolley, pick up full cups of undrunk tea; replace it with a fresh one but make no attempt to help the supine bird-fragile figure, lying helpless and moaning on the bed to even sip her drink. When I remarked that the patient needed help, the response was, ‘That’s not my job.’

We have heard that same reply all too often since it became fashionable to delegate responsibility in what has become the blame-and-claim, compensation-seeking  culture of our modern world. Old people are as much a part of our culture as the young. They belong with their families. My father lived with my family for seventeen years following my mother’s death.  I won’t pretend there were no tensions. He drove us mad – at times, but he meant well and I remembered the doting father of an only child, who’d carried me everywhere when I seemed to be at death’s door for almost two years. So, when it was my turn to care, I was fortunate to have a husband who believed in the same values, and who originally suggested that my dad came to live with us.

Hearing that the company operating the care-home in question made a profit of some one million pounds last year, makes one realise how much money is involved in families and local authorities financing such places.  It would make more sense if the state helped families to provide necessary care for people in their own homes. Carers who drop in for a few minutes are not the answer. Better provision of better trained, better paid carers would make more sense and would be a more efficient way of utilising tax-payers’ money. Older people need to have their personal dignity respected, but don’t need to be locked away in seclusion where unseen, they can be subjected to the kind of abuse we witnessed on the Panorama programme.

A Symphony of Curries

Since returning to Sri Lanka, my first visit was seventeen years ago, I have been captivated by the daily assortment of curries placed before me. I have had to beg to be excused from indulging more than once a day , I couldn’t face curry for breakfast, though homemade hot roti, eaten with one of the myriads of varieties of bananas, is hard to refuse; as are pineapple slices washed in salt water and then sprinkled with ground chillies. The sun-ripened fruit, freshly caught fish and garden-fresh vegetables that appear at mealtimes in small and large dishes with an equal number of spiced sauces, or alone, are as numerous as the notes on the page of a Mozart symphony, while the flavours that burst on the palate could well have inspired Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. For those who claim they cannot eat anything highly spiced, I offer my commiserations. Since childhood I have enjoyed spices. Thankfully my digestion remains robust, as long as I’m not confronted with meat, although the amount I can eat has decreased with advancing years.  

Yesterday, I was the guest of family friends at one of Colombo’s finest beach-side hotels. The decor in the foyer was sumptuous, and air-conditioned, with a cool fruit drinks being offered within seconds of our arrival. Making our way to the lower ground floor, at garden level, we were confronted with a buffet offering a vast choice of curries and sambals. It was delectable, and although for the many tourists sitting down in their tour groups, or individually, it was authentic and appetizing, the difference for me, having eaten authentic village cooking, was that it was too bland – a musical interlude rather than a symphony.