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.

All Human Life Is There

Life’s lessons 5  On patience being a much required virtue

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I had planned a nice relaxing week, but best laid plans and all that.

On Monday lunchtime,  when I came back from a nice TKMaxx dressing up session, I was greeted by Grandpa who had had minor day surgery a week ago. He thought it needed checking out. His neck looked a bit odd.

Off we set. We couldn’t go to our nearest local hospital, because their ENT had been moved to another hospital in the group. It was the furthest from us on the other side of a long traffic jam. (In London the moment the schools close for summer, a rash of major traffic works start.)

We went directly to the department where he was treated, but they said we had to go through A&E. This was at the other end of the large, confusing complex with no maps displayed to find your way. Various people helped.

When we got there it didn’t look too bad. Only one person was groaning in pain, while her friend patted her back with one hand and texted with the other. It was one of the hottest days of the year. There was a notice on the board apologising for the fact that the heating wasn’t working.

I couldn’t concentrate on reading to pass the time, but I didn’t need to. The girl next to me was on her phone. Her boyfriend was cheating on her. She had found out by going through his phone and had rung the number he had just been speaking to secretly in the kitchen. She said she had been very polite to the girl who answered, though I didn’t entirely believe her on this.

Her friend thought going through his phone was ethically questionable. I was with the friend on this. It was a bit sneaky. But she said the fact he was cheating exonerated her. I felt her reasoning was rather weak on this point. Anyway, he hadn’t been best pleased.  Perhaps that was why she’d ended up in A&E.

This saga got us through to the Triage nurse.

The next stage was waiting to see the doctor in another small seating area. The Chinese lady next to me was holding a sick bowl and a towel, but when her teenage son came in with some snacks and sandwiches, she cheered up and tucked in. There was a picnic atmosphere. He had to sit on the floor, next to the ten year old girl who was in with her mum and her mum’s friend. She had a tale to tell.

Her mum had a head wound. Every so often a passing member of staff would poke her and say “Don’t go to sleep darling!” It all had something to do with a fight. Ten year old was cheerfully recounting a blow by blow account of the altercation to Mum’s friend, covering what had led up to it and what the police had done. She also offered a detailed critique of the various social workers involved.

She appeared to have a confident familiarity with A&E. She helpfully showed me how to operate the water cooler. She could also negotiate the staff only route to the vending machine to which she made regular visits. 

Just when we had covered most aspects of the incident, further entertainment appeared in the form of two policemen and their handcuffed prisoner.  There was some discussion with hospital staff regarding his name, as the one given didn’t match their recent acquaintance with him. It was all very cordial. Everybody appeared to know each other.

Then a surprisingly cheery man with kidney stones turned up. The staff greeted him by name “Hello, Frank! You back again!” He told us all how he just popped in whenever he felt a new stone required attention. His local hospital couldn’t deal with that speciality any more, so he usually made a day of it.

Eventually at five minutes to eight we saw the ENT duty doctor. Grandpa was her last patient. Her shift finished at eight. It was five past nine before she managed to get away. She had to hunt down items of equipment she needed from distant departments and track down his notes. Everything was locked up and closed by this time.

I couldn’t help thinking how good natured everybody was considering the inconvenience of their workplace. The guy doing Grandpa’s blood test had to find him something to sit on and lay out his equipment on a plastic sheet on the floor.

And Grandpa? He’s still hanging around waiting for that scan 24 hours later. At least he’s healthy, apart from his odd looking op scar.

You need to tough to survive in hospital these days, as patient or staff!

Life’s Lesson 3. The Cat from Hell

Lesson 2/3  Never buy a kitten in a hurry

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In a moment of weakness I was persuaded to have our first cat.There had been a notice in the local vets saying  “Good home wanted for mature cat”. My daughter saw it and started campaigning.  I was in bed suffering from some malady and I gave in.

He was the most beautifully marked tabby and he chatted. If you spoke to him, he would miaow back. He was a bold cat, who devoted much of his time to defending his territory.  Whenever he sniffed invasion by another neighbourhood cat, he would pursue the offender to exact revenge. I once had to cough up for the victim’s resulting vet bill.

When he died suddenly, our distress was such that we decided we needed a kitten immediately to fill the cat-shaped gap in our life. That’s how I learnt that it’s a very bad idea to look for instant replacements

The rescue organisations said it was not “kitten season”!  I never knew kittens arrived in seasons, but I was not going to be defeated.  I phoned round all the pet shops in the area until I tracked down a solitary kitten, then I did exactly what they always warn you against. I bought a kitten from a scruffy back-street source, and never saw its mother.

He started off as a cute, cuddly little thing.  But as he grew he began to show worrying traits.  For a start, he growled.  Trying to remove any scrap of food from him was a perilous exercise.  He would growl fiercely and, if you persisted, he would go for you, claws and teeth bared.

It was a bit like living with a smallish jaguar.

To attract attention he would yowl at amazing volume.  There was no  cat flap, so to get in or out he made a huge row.  He didn’t believe in waiting patiently. To make sure we heard him if we were in bed, he discovered how to climb up onto the garage roof and perch himself on the corner below our window. In order to stop him disturbing the entire neighbourhood we would have to sprint downstairs to let him in.

We took to feeding him last thing at night, to keep him quiet and content till morning.  Once, when we were at the pub down the road, a bit later than usual and past his dinnertime, he turned up scratching at the door till somebody opened it for him.

“There’s a cat outside!  Does it belong to anyone?”

There he sat on the pavement, waving his tail with displeasure, to the general amusement of all, till we hurriedly finished our drinks.

He loved cars.  He would sneak in behind you, given half a chance.  The times I drove away to look in the rearview mirror and see him sitting on the shelf in the back window. Whenever our neighbour used to work on his car, our cat would be out there like a shot, sitting on the wing watching his every move.  Nobody dared to touch him.

His other favourite entertainment was to sit on our gatepost, pretending he was a nice cat, and when a kindly cat lover stopped to admire him, he would allow them a couple of strokes before slashing out at them with his claws.

“I’m going to have you put down!” I would threaten him, whenever he committed some new atrocity, but he would just retreat upstairs to the bedroom of his protectress. There he would stretch out languorously on her bed, while she leapt to defence.

“He’s my cat!  You can’t touch him!  He’s my pet!”  He would lie there, sucking up to her and purring.

His eventual downfall was his love of dodging cars, to the great alarm of their drivers.  As he got older he got slower and he mistimed his final, fatal dash.

And would you believe it?  I missed him!

But this time, when I went to the Cats’ Protection League, I requested a mature, affectionate companion animal – one who preferred a comfortable indoor lifestyle.

On Being A Bad Person

Lesson 2/2. Making the best of a bad job

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From when I was very young I knew I was a bad person.  Not seriously wicked, but definitely willing to resort to low cunning.

When I started school, I used to travel on a tram, by myself. (These were more trusting times, when little children frequently went to school on their own).  For this I was given my tram fare.  I worked out that it was possible to walk home, cutting through various back street short cuts, thus saving enough money to buy a weekly copy of The Beano, a corrupting publication my parents had vetoed.

I even selected a back street newsagent on the route, one that my mother would never visit, so that my deception would go undiscovered.

Later on I made good use of an undated doctor’s note to be excused games.  This enabled me to escape the sports field for two winters and avoid being frozen to the bone by the merciless wind straight off the North Sea.

Thus I recognised early in life that I would never make it as a good person.  I could never emulate my contemporaries who worked diligently and consistently to achieve their success. I needed guile and good luck to get there.

I couldn’t understand people who wept because they didn’t make an A grade.  I was just grateful to scrape by!

But over time I discovered that being a bad person has its rewards.  It makes you less ready to judge others. I might have plenty of opinions and be only too willing to air them, but I could never be secure enough to feel superior about the weaknesses of others.

Being a less than perfect person also gives you a healthy appreciation of luck, good and bad. Over the years this can help avoid fruitless heart-searching. You did what you could at the time, but you were dealt a bad hand.  Sometimes luck goes against you.

This doesn’t stop you feeling sorry or guilty when you mess up, but it does make it easier to accept that sometimes things just go wrong.

And when they do, you make the best of a bad job.