Rainy Days and Risk Assessments Really Get Me Down

Life’s Lessons 12  on Different perspectives on safety & protection

Today it rained. This was a nasty shock. Yesterday the local beach was so busy we couldn’t get served at the beach bar.

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Oddly enough, this made me think about attitudes to safety, protection and risk assessment.

Here a properly rainy day happens only now and again. A few days’ continuous rain merits much comment and discussion. Grey skies and solid, day-long rain are the exception rather than the rule.

As a result nothing is planned with rain in mind. (For example, the new metro flooded so badly it had to be closed and reconstructed.) Streets turn into temporary rivers. Things leak. Road surfaces resemble skid pads. Minor accidents proliferate as the driving population takes to its cars. The carless retreat into rainfall hibernation.

Yet, to Northern Europeans, it’s a mild wettish day, nothing to cause the slightest drama, at the very worst a minor inconvenience. No panic!

With regard to safety, however, the attitude is the complete opposite. Here, they only seem to pay any attention to risk, if you upset someone in the local council offices and they reckon they can fine you for it. They’re very short of ready cash nowadays at the Town Hall.

The side wall of our eight storey apartment block was painted by one man abseiling down it with a big paintbrush.  He couldn’t manage the front balconies, so the Community (ie Residents’ Association) President hired a sort of fireman’s lifting platform and got two of his pals to paint them, mates rates. No scaffolding, no harnesses, no problem.

An elderly neighbour, who took a couple of tumbles on her mobility scooter as she made her daily round of the village cafe/bars, was reluctantly persuaded to take up residence in the local care home.
Now a cheerful young man pushes her wheelchair up to the bar at lunch time. There is a vertiginous slope at the entrance, everybody smokes on the crowded terrace, there is nobody to help her (except the barmaid) to get to the toilet. I can’t imagine what a risk assessment would look like, especially as she is going there specifically for the purpose of consuming alcoholic liquor and calorie ridden fried food.

Last weekend at the beach I met a party of elderly nuns pushing their equally elderly wheelchair dependent charges down the rickety boardwalk to the water’s edge and some of them were smoking! (The charges, not the nuns!) Try doing a risk assessment on that!

Somehow the “protection” industry in the UK seems to have burgeoned into an oppressive, faux-legalistic, narrow-minded killjoy. In control-freak mode, public authorities seek to impose a tedious, long-winded, timorous value system on the powerless. Yet, if anything, we seem less safe where and when it really matters, like nighttime and weekends in hospitals.  Normal reasonable care and sensible attention to basic safety considerations seem to have gone by the board, buried deep in paperwork.

Personally, I’d rather be wheeled down to the seaside on a dodgy boardwalk by a doddery nun than stuck in a smugly safe, box ticked communal lounge with a booming television and a bored carer for company.

And now, I’m delighted to say, it’s stopped raining!

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On Smiling Villains and Beacons of Hope

Life’s lessons 11 on Betrayal, Hope and Staying Sane

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I always knew that people you loved died. My mother kept one photo by her bedside, the one of a beautiful child I never knew, the sister who died of meningitis before I was born.

I suppose I came into the world in a bid to take away some of that pain.  I certainly provided a bit of noise and distraction. I was never an obedient or obliging child. At the very least I must have tormented my grieving family in such a variety of ways, that they were diverted from dwelling on their sorrow.

In those days you didn’t talk about things. You just got on with it. I don’t know whether it was better or worse. 

When my father died suddenly I remember the teacher who drove me home saying gruffly “Well, I don’t envy you the next days, but we all have to go through it, sooner or later.” I didn’t need him to say more. I knew his words were kind. He was a good man and he had been through the war.

But now, coming towards the end of life, I think that sudden death is not the worst thing to bear. The hardest thing to carry with you, the hurt that defies healing, the lasting bitterness that weighs you down and oppresses your spirit, is betrayal.

So often in the posts related to Justice for LB you hear that pain expressed – that people, who should have cared or protected, betrayed the trust placed in them. They then multiplied the hurt of that betrayal by lying and denying their actions.

Grief, allowed to take its natural course, becomes liveable with in time. It is something we all have to face, like my old teacher said, and in one way or another we muddle our way through to a bearable sadness.

But the cruelty of having to struggle against the odds to establish the truth of a neglectful, untimely, preventable death removes the opportunity to come to terms with loss, obstructs the channels of regaining joy in life.

That the NHS, the service that once shone like a beacon in a naughty world, should be the monster we have to fight, is the grossest betrayal.

Yet somehow this fighting has to be done without losing our sanity. We have to be able to find courage for the battle and believe that we will achieve peace of mind in the end.

Sara has to talk to the Chair this afternoon. We wish her strength and discernment. He may well be a decent man lost in the mire of corporate spin.  He is trapped, restricted in what he can possibly say, but he deserves the chance to act for the good. Sara is giving him that opportunity. Let us pray he is brave enough to take it.

Nowadays I always speak to the people trapped in call centres as human beings. I say to them “Look, I know you have to say these things and it’s not your fault, but this is the help I need.”

It’s surprising how people can act well, when their humanity and the reality of their situation is recognised. Fortunately psychopaths are in the minority, even if it doesn’t always seem so these days.

When my first email account was hacked, I set up another Yahoo account and emailed the hacker at my own address. I explained I was an old lady who hardly went anywhere and that nobody would ever believe I was trapped in Lagos and needed £2000 to get home, so I would be really grateful if I could have my contacts back.

From some distant corner of the developing world he emailed me back to say he was really sorry. He was ashamed of what he was doing but he did the job to fund his way through college as he had no sponsor.

He sent me back my account.

Lesson 107 The Disappeared

Lesson 107 on Being seen and heard

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One night, quite out of the blue, my daughter, by this time grown up, had a seizure when she was out. Her friends, who were much more sensible and competent than I would have been, got help and managed to contact me, but they didn’t know what hospital they were being taken to. They said they would let me know as soon as they could. It was before mobile phones.

As I lay awake, waiting and frightened, I had a sudden memory of the mothers of The Disappeared – the many, many women of South America whose adult children had been seized in the past by the political regime. The mothers whose lives had been spent never knowing where their children were or what had happened to them. Every year they gathered with photos of their sons and daughters to stand in silent testimony to show the world that these children had existed and been loved and mattered. They mattered.

In fighting for Justice for LB we are witnesses, but persistently noisy ones, to another kind of disappearance.

Because Connor and Nico were meant to disappear. An implacable authority, with plenty of resources to cover its tracks, tried to bury them too, but in mounds of spin and jargon and callous disincentives to their families to keep them alive and seen.

We fight for them, because they mattered.

We fight a system that increasingly seeks to disappear its most vulnerable members. The elderly, as well as the dudes and dudettes, are locked away, without respectful care and human consideration, denied treatments they need to keep them healthy, ultimate condemned to die.

However much this is dressed up in glowing vision statements and shiny aims and empty “consultations” and mutual back slappings for meeting “targets”, that is what is happening.

Yesterday I blogged about living in two cultures, but in only one do I feel valued. In the other I feel increasingly invisible, without worth and disregarded as an older person.

In the first one evening, I caught the last local bus home. It leaves quite early around 10.30 and its terminus is Magaluf. It was a bendy bus full of noisy teenagers, as you would expect, off for a good night out. But as we made our way apprehensively up the boisterous,crowded aisle, two lads immediately gestured to us to come and take their seats. They spoke to us cheerily, treating us simply as fellow human beings, not as old nuisances who should have been penned up in their homes out of sight and mind.

Today we think of Connor and Nico, of their lives, their families and their all too preventable deaths. But they stand for all the others with names known only to those who loved and cared for them.

All the others, young and old, our present system seeks to disappear.

Lesson 104 Going Beyond The Comfort Zone

Lesson 104 on Learning by failing

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I don’t know why I ever thought I would be able to ski. Everything was against it.

I was not fit.

I had no aptitude for any kind of sport.

I have no head for heights.

I am very, very cowardly.

But when I was about thirty and quite old enough to know better, I was persuaded it would be a good idea.

It was only the second time I had flown and I was extremely apprehensive. We were flying Danair. For those of you who are too young to remember, this was something of a joke airline – think of a sort of amateur Ryanair.

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When we got out to the plane, it was a Comet. It must have been one of the last ones still in service. You could still see the RAF markings under the paintwork on the wings. This was a small bit of comfort to me. At least it would have been well serviced.  All I could remember about the Comet was that it was the first commercial jet aircraft and the early models crashed.

We got there nevertheless and were soon kitted out in cumbersome heavy old skis and boots.  It was all I could do to even make it to the bottom of the nursery slopes. Once there I couldn’t decide what was worse, learning to clamber up the baby slope on skis, or the sheer terror of the beginners’ drag lift and the shame of falling off. 

But on day three my absolute beginners’ class trudged laboriously to a wonderful little hidden valley full of fresh snow and easy slopes. All of a sudden it was fun.  The sun shone, the sky was blue, the pine trees looked like Narnia, glittering with their new covering of spotless snow.

I thought that in future this was how it would be.

But then I encountered ice.  One day I found myself on a much steeper slope with a scary lift.  I managed to make it to the top, but when I got off, I was terrified. The mountain dropped away frighteningly (at least it did to somebody with absolutely no head for heights)! The snow was hard and glassy.  I panicked. There was no way I would ever be able to stop!

“What do I do?” I cried pitifully to the kind instructor.

“When we meet a patch of ice there is only one thing we can do,” he explained patiently. “We must ski through it!”

But I was paralysed with fear.  All I could see was the impossible steepness to the bottom.  The instructor grinned.

“You must not worry about all the mountain! You must just think about the part under your feet!” And in the end that was how I made it down. When you are stuck half way up a mountain, you don’t really have much choice. 

I never made a competent skier, but the lesson I learnt from failing to ski was one I called to mind on many different occasions.

Whenever I came up against a frighteningly difficult situation, I knew what to do. 

The only thing you can.

You ski through it.