Signs of Maturity: What Does It Mean to “Grow Up?”

Excellent blog on being ‘grown-up’.

Dr. Gerald Stein

“Oh, grow up!” Is there anyone who didn’t hear some version of this humiliating admonition as a kid? Often voiced by another kid, or some chronologically mature person who probably needed to “grow up” himself.

Still, it does raise an important question: what does it mean to grow up? What qualities are present in those people we respect for their maturity?

Although it may not be very humble to do so, let’s start with the quality of humility. And its important to remember that humility is not identical to a lack confidence. Rather, it involves the recognition that in the big picture of the universe, you are a very, very small part. That is to say, unless your name is one that ranks with Einstein or Beethoven, virtually no one will know your name in a hundred years.

As Goethe put it, “Names are like sound and smoke.” They disappear…

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An oil lamp, the symbol of nursing in many cou...
An oil lamp, the symbol of nursing in many countries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ann Abraham, the health service ombudsman once said that complaints against the NHS are inadequately resolved through poor communication.  Patients and staff are not hearing each other.

The focus on reaching targets in the NHS could mean that patients might become pawns in a dangerous game, dealt with and discharged as quickly as possible so that those targets are met. In such a culture, mistakes happen. To err is human, but could it be that because expectations of staff to meet targets are so high, there is no adequate system in place to minimise mistakes? In the media we often hear about the cases where patients die through the administration of the wrong drug, but errors are more likely to happen through a total failure in delivering the best care. Has best care been side tracked in favour of targets?

In the past, you only had to sit in a waiting room at any large hospital to know that staff communication skills were sometimes very poor. It often appeared that the hospital was run for the benefit of the staff and that the patients were an irritating distraction. And if something went wrong – you attended a clinic only to find that there has been a mistake and they couldn’t find any trace of your appointment, you could be made to feel that it was your fault. I had hoped that in the last few years, all this had changed and things have improved. Well, in some places, I think they have. But we are still reading horror stories.

I quote from The Guardian: Dick Vinegar, Guardian Professional:

Of all the groups at fault at Mid Staffordshire hospital, the hospital managers and governors have been portrayed as the really bad guys. It is they who created the “toxic” climate of fear and bullying. It is they who suffered, in the words of inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC, from “a lack of openness to criticism; a lack of consideration for patients; defensiveness; looking inwards not outwards; secrecy; misplaced assumptions about the judgments and actions of others; an acceptance of poor standards; and a failure to put the patient first in everything that is done.”

Not only all that, but the managers are accused of focusing on “finance and targets” as they ignored good practice elsewhere, cut down the nursing staff on the wards, so that patients were neither fed nor watered, and manipulated the mortality data to make them appear better. Compared with them, the nurses were mere victims of staff cuts, and GP’s were just bystanders – who “passed by on the other side”.

How do you respond to that? Some managers have replied that Mid Staffs was a one-off, and all other trusts were perfect. But of course anyone who reads between the lines of the Francis Report will realise that he is talking about widespread systemic management failure in theNHS. Last week, at an international forum for quality and safety in healthcare, Francis confirmed that he held this view, saying, there is “no way of knowing at the moment whether there is another Stafford out there … while there may not be another trust with such extensive failings, it is perfectly possible that small silos in individual trusts may be guilty of similarly poor care.”

So, hospital managers and governors have a more urgent need than most other players in Mid Staffs – and elsewhere – to fundamentally change their ways. Is there any evidence that they are taking the Francis Report seriously, that they are confronting their demons, and taking the painful steps towards changing their culture? Or are they just mouthing the usual bureaucratic platitudes: “We are learning the lessons of Mid Staffs; “We will draw a line and go forward”; “The patient’s wellbeing is paramount”, and all that guff.

I have read the initial responses to Francis by two of the bodies that represent managers and governors, NHS Employers and the Institute of Healthcare Management, and I have been quite impressed by the way they are biting the bullet.

The NHS Employers want to “use the moment created by the publication of the report to reflect on our individual and collective actions and ensure that we do not lose sight of the fact that the main contributing factor to the failure was culture.” This does not admit mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, but it does agree that the culture was at fault, and the culture must be changed. They warn that “focusing solely on the recommendations will take us into tick box mode, centrally developed policy and targets. We know, and the report affirms, that top down edict does not help to create ownership locally. We must ensure that we do not simply address the recommendations and miss the purpose and opportunity to affect cultural change.” Indeed, local ownership is what matters.

The IHM wants a statutory obligation to be imposed on “healthcare providers, registered medical and nursing practitioners to observe the duty of candour“.

It adds: “It should be a criminal offence for any registered doctor or nurse or allied health professional or director of a registered or authorised organisation … to dishonestly or recklessly to make an untruthful statement to a regulator.” Tough stuff.

The NHS Employers are more reticent about getting the law involved. They point out that: “Legislation and the thought of criminal sanctions can drive a fear culture and result in the type of individual and organisational behaviour we are seeking to eliminate.” I have a nasty fear this might make some managers believe they can carry on as they did before.

Both bodies are tough on governors. They should be provided with appropriate training, and “consideration should be given to establishing a minimum level of relevant experience”.

The implication is that currently governors do not have the relevant experience. The NHS Employers want to “increase the amount of time board members listen to staff and patients”.

Amen to that; I have never glimpsed a governor on a ward. Both bodies support Francis’s recommendation for a leadership staff college, to train governors and senior managers. They certainly need the training.

The IHM points out that: “The responsibility of boards is to concentrate on fiduciary, strategic and generative modes of governance is paramount, but too often the members of the board can find themselves with; mundane agendas, ritualised meetings and sterile discussions where they have passive roles, dealing with pre-determined decisions”. Such boards, says the IHM, are a waste of time.

The IHM admits that staff are still frightened to raise concerns about the treatment of patients, and wants the legislation on whistle-blowing to be updated. It does seem as if both the NHS Employers and the IHM do want to oversee culture change, and they have identified the bits of the Francis report that they have to address. Whether their wish for change will filter down to their members in individual hospitals is another matter.

In his speech reported in the Telegraph, Francis expressed fears that hospitals are not acting quickly enough to improve standards, as he criticised what he called the NHS tendency to “wait for someone else to tell it what to do”. He claimed that “there is an “awful lot” NHS bosses could be doing to improve care in hospitals without waiting for official directives.

In the wards, are things any better? For those with high profile conditions such as cancer and heart disease, they are. The standard of care in some – not all NHS Trusts – is excellent and something we should be rightly proud of. It is the NHS at its very best. But, if you are elderly with a condition that is less clear cut, you can become invisible, a ‘thing’ that is required to smile, stay quiet and do what you are told. To ask questions when it is obvious that the nurses are so busy they might explode with stress at any minute, is not advisable. You must accept that you will be patronised and ignored, talked at in a very loud voice even though you try to explain you are not deaf and subtly made to understand that you must not bother anyone. The doctors, who march from bed to bed like an exhausted army; many looking blank or being just that bit too cheery, can make you feel as if you have no right to be ill and that if you had behaved yourself a little better in your past life, you might not be there.

Then there are the internal wrangles. TV soaps like Casualty have a lot to answer for. A friend of mine had the temerity to complain about her surgeon’s attitude and was told by a nurse, in a whispered voice that: ‘It was hard for her in a man’s world.’ As a vulnerable and powerless patient, lying prone in your hospital bed, you are constantly aware that it could all suddenly fall apart; the bailiffs walk in and whip the bed out from under you, your consultant become a gibbering idiot who knows nothing except how to say: ‘Well done…’ over and over again and the gaggle of nurses begin screaming in hysterical laughter at their stations, emptying bed pans over each other.

Somehow the NHS can appear to a patient to be always on the verge of this extreme and we are made to feel that it’s our responsibility not to push them too far by asking questions or not responding to treatment fast enough so that we can be catapulted back home and another hapless recipient given our bed. Not than anyone wants to stay in hospital longer than necessary, but it would be helpful to feel that the service is there for the patient, and not the other way round.

There are dedicated nurses, doctors and ancillary staff who want the system to work for their patients. But they, like the patients are up against it. They know that the number of people who die in our hospitals is higher than it should be. Medical mistakes happen everyday and the standards of care that would lower the incidence of death are not in place.

We know that if a patient with a broken hip is not operated on within a set time, their chances of survival fall. Yet patients are still being left to wait and the result is a higher mortality rate. Appendicitis is another example.  The daughter of a friend was admitted with an water-tight case of appendicitis but was made to wait 24 hours before the doctor agreed to operate. No explanation was given. The girl’s appendix burst just as she was being wheeled into theatre and an operation that could have been done using keyhole surgery became a major emergency. She spent three weeks in hospital fighting an infection in her abdomen and has a nasty scar to show for the doctor’s indecision. Why did that happen? No one had an answer.

So how do we improve care and cut mortality rates in our hospitals? There are already well-documented steps to improving care, as with rapid response teams making sure that there is best practice when dealing with heart attacks and reducing medication errors. And these have been clearly shown to be effective. What is needed is the same attitude and best practice when dealing with a seventy year old who has broken her hip or a twenty year old with appendicitis.

As nurses, doctors and managers struggle to make the NHS as efficient as possible under the weight of budgets, targets and government changes, how can we stop our hospitals becoming places where you go to die, rather than be healed?


English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surge...
English: Photo of Mini Facelift Cosmetic Surgery Procedure being Performed by Facial Plastic Surgeon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up yesterday and took a long look at myself in the bathroom mirror.  There it was – the signs! Of course, they have they have been there for some time, but I’ve chosen to ignore them, to see something else. But yesterday, there was no denying them. I am AGEING!

Those nasty little wrinkles around my eyes, mouth, neck are all screaming two words at me: OLD AGE! So, what to do? Very expensive face cream? Exercise? Cosmetic surgery? I sat down with a large bar of chocolate – well, what else would I do? It was time for some serious thinking.

Growing older is a serious business. Every atom in your body, every little sinew, every bit of collagen starts a hectic fight with gravity from day one. Gravity, that invisible force that causes so much trouble but keeps us stuck on the earth like limpets to a rock, cannot be messed with. It will have its way, folks.

The cosmetic doctors know that. They woo you with promises of procedures that will win the fight with gravity. They won’t. Okay, for a time, after going under that knife, you will see something happening, but your body marches to its own tune, I’m afraid. Ageing happens.

Should there be a mission to educate everyone to like the process? To make ageing sexy? Can we do a PR job on wrinkles, on baggy bottoms, on droopy boobs? The world of advertising is full of contradictions. We are encouraged to eat rubbish in one TV advert. This is followed by an advert to buy a face cream that will make you look years younger. So you eat like a pig, get obese, get a health scare, lose weight and then hope a cosmetic cream will work a miracle?

I like watching adverts, because they make me laugh. This juxtaposition is laughable. But do some people believe them as if they were the Gospel truth? That’s the big danger. And when kids start to believe everything that is thrown at them through the TV screen, then what? Somewhere, in the back of their minds, do they grow up believing in consumer miracles? Do they believe that if you have the money, you can always buy something to ease all your ills?

Cosmetic surgery is one way of solving the problem. And there is nothing like seeing the signs that you are not immortal to make you start to mistrust that lump of bones, blood, and other detritus that is you, to the reach for the phone book and find a surgeon. But take heart. It happens to every single one of us, in different degrees and at different times. From the moment you take your first cry to your final swear word, you will get older. Better get used to it.

As I stared at my face in the mirror, after a while, I started to see something else. Instead of the physical signs that I am not 25 any more, I began to see a life lived; an expression of experience, of the wisdom that comes with ageing, of compassion and, most important of all – humour. I made a funny face and stuck my tongue out and I felt young!


English: Swans on new pond A couple of swans s...
English: Swans on new pond (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WordPress have told me that a lot of people like what I write in this blog.  I am really grateful for every one who clicks that ‘like’ button or writes a comment. To receive such encouragement is wonderful.

Life has a way of regulating your time, whether or not to want it to.  My goal has always been to write a new blog every day. But recently, this has not been possible, so I apologise for that. As you travel through your life journey, you begin to realise that every day is more precious than the last. As you get older, you start to see how important each day is.

Living a life that is full of love and joy is not an easy task. You can so easily be knocked off track by unexpected events that happen to you; events that you never expected or thought would happen to you. The secret is to keep making each day special. I know it’s a cliché, but it works.

I have a book to finish before I am done. And many more blogs to write, where I can express what I feel about all the injustice in the world. How lucky I am to have a platform to do this. Thank you WordPress.

Today, I woke up feeling full of joy at the sight of a blue sky and sunshine. In the past, I have ignored the weather because I was too busy, too wrapped up in my work in a way that now, looking back on it, was not necessary. We all have to work,  that’s a given, but now I understand that it is the way you approach earning your daily bread, the way you interact with people, the way you keep those lines of communication open, so that you can radiate more than just authority, deadlines, productivity.

Appreciating every moment of every day takes a lot of thought. It has to be a conscious plan. It needs insight and awareness and a willingness to see the truth.

Thanks everyone. x


English: Jacksonville, Fla. (Oct. 17, 2006) - ...

In the month where we buried our first female Prime Minister, do we believe that men are the dominant sex on whom women depend for their happiness? Unfortunately, I do not believe that Baroness Thatcher did much for women, nor did she influence men to be more like women, that is, to solve problems using negotiation and communication. She liked to play with the boy’s toys, as the Falklands war illustrated. The photo of her in a tank is a hard image to forget.

Although soap operas like EastEnders should give a balanced view of the lives of women, there seems to be a bias for illustrating abuse towards them by men and it makes me uncomfortable. This programme goes out at a time when many young children are watching it.

Small girls still grow up with stories about knights rescuing princesses; a sleeping beauty who is only awakened when a prince kisses her; a passive, silent young woman waiting to be rescued. The message is that women are helpless, passive creatures, made to serve men. They cannot think for themselves and are not empowered to control their own lives.

Little boys are still encouraged to fight in tricky situations. Being a ‘little toughie’ is rewarded by society. Although girls are showing signs of being more violent today, girl children are still the target of pink toys manufacturers. Any stroll around Toys-Are-Us confirms this. The shelves are full of baby dolls, dolls houses, toy kitchens. Boys must be given tanks and cars and tractors; it will make men of them…

Young women are exhibiting more aggressive behaviour. Some say it is fuelled by drink and drugs. At chucking out time in any large city, you will see young women losing control, throwing up, involved in fights; it’s not a pretty sight. Why is this?

Across the board, for both men and women, wages are obscenely low. But even so,  women are still paid less than men, two women a week are murdered by their partners and domestic violence is as prevalent as ever. There is, however, more publicity given to these issues by the media nowadays. Could it be that young women are aware of this and are reacting like the boys in order to protect themselves in some way; to show the world that they are not vulnerable. But they are.

Young men coming home from war in body bags are venerated. The message is that war and killing by men is something to be proud of.  After all, we line the streets to watch and applaud them, don’t we? The excuse is that they are protecting us. When we question this, our leaders tell us it is in the public interest to continue to send our boys to fight wars in faraway countries. Most of these young men are recruited by the forces from the poorest areas, from failing schools in places when unemployment is rife. These young men who, we are told, are dying on our behalf, are often not even properly equipped.

Inequality between the sexes is still an issue. But that does not mean that men are getting a fair deal, either. If we live in a society that gives the wrong moral messages to our children; in a society where even a recent Prime Minister of a European neighbour – Italy, can openly treat women as sex objects and be applauded for it – after all, it’s ‘just a bit of fun’, the message is still that abuse of women is acceptable and men are demeaned by it.

So how do we raise our children to be more respectful, more equal? How do we instill courage and assertiveness in girls and compassion and insight in boys? How do we move girls away from stereotypical roles and give boys the freedom to reject aggression? Society has to change. Economics have to change. Maybe men must not look for a woman who’s main role in life is to fulfil their needs and women must not look for Prince Charming, who will sweep them off their feet to live happily ever after? This sort of thinking sows the seeds of abuse and oppression, but it in our multi-racial, multi-cultural society, it can be accepted as normal. And the popular media still sell the myth.


Boston Marathon Finish Line
Boston Marathon Finish Line (Photo credit: Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau)

I woke this morning to the news that two bombs had exploded at the Boston Marathon. My first feeling was one of horror, then I felt sick and then, I was very angry. What do the perpetrators of this hateful crime think they will achieve? What goes on in their heads? How does killing innocent people further their warped causes?

In my life time, I have seen many such events and every time people are killed and maimed by these atrocities, I ask that same question – why? What is the nature of the people who plan and carry out such attacks? How were they raised? What happened to them in their childhoods that make them so incredibly vicious and uncaring about their fellow human beings? How can murdering children help them achieve their aims? It’s totally illogical. To just describe them as evil is too simplistic. To describe them as insane is an insult to people who are dealing with real mental illness.

Is it ignorance; lack of education? Is it lack of intelligence that makes people place bombs in trash cans? Can they not see the consequences of their actions? They must do, because their whole purpose is to cause mayhem and destruction to a perceived enemy in a desperate attempt to force their extremest and unworkable vision on the modern world.

It is a sad fact that these attacks are becoming increasingly common as time goes on. The culture of violence that pervades our world needs to be challenged. It is time the Americans woke up to a clear truth – guns kill people, they should not be available to the general public. It is time all governments changed their focus away from money, war and power to preserving our precious world, to growing food, to fighting social injustice, to caring properly for the people. This may sound simplistic, but it’s just a plea for a change in how those who hold power, change the way they use it.

The rhetoric that we hear from leaders across the world every day, often inflames these criminals, in my view. They are given the motive, the excuse to kill. They plead their causes as a reason for their destructive work, but I believe they may well be inspired by the words that they hear from powerful governments. Politicians have a responsibility to use language that defuses, not inflames. Even in countries that are not democratic, such as North Korea. Stop raising the temperature. Look after your people. Feed them. Care for them. Stop giving terrorists the reason to murder.

Security at such events will inevitably have to become stronger. At this stage, it appears that the bombs were in trash cans. If this is true, why were metal cans still on the streets? In my own home town, bins are now all plastic so there is no danger of shrapnel wounds if a bomb was put inside one. The cost of keeping us safe is escalating.

 Today, all I can think of is how this terrible event in Boston will affect those who were there, for years to come. How hate breeds hate. How murder achieves nothing but sorrow, anger and the destruction of lives.  How incredibly stupid terrorists are to believe that actions like this will achieve their aims. 


Grandparents Virji visit Laila
Grandparents Virji visit Laila (Photo credit: Salim Virji)

Are you one of the million or so grandparents being denied access to your grandchildren by their parents? There is no pain like it, is there? Every day, you wake up and feel as if your heart is being torn apart. And there is nothing you can do about it. In the UK, grandparents have few rights in law, so if your adult child and his/her partner take against you and refuse to let you see your grandchildren, you have to accept it or use the services of a solicitor and go to court to get access. Who can afford to do this and who would want to?

The damage that breaking off contact with loving grandparents can do to children is often not given enough recognition. It can add insult to injury to the feelings of an already confused child, when parents split up. Parents can be overwhelmed by the divorce and new relationships and don’t see how their children might be suffering by the loss of contact with Nana and Granddad. Children can seem resilient and not concerned, but they may very upset.

Children have rights to see their family members, and if they are older, they can contact their grandparents independently. But it is the younger children and the babies who miss out most. They are totally reliant on the decisions made for them by their parents and if mum and dad say they can’t see nana and granddad again, then there is nothing they can do.

Breakdown and divorce is very upsetting for everyone involved. But for grandparents it can be devastating if contact with beloved grandchildren is denied. If children have had constant contact with their grandparents, this has been an important and precious part of their life experience. The nurturing and love they will have received provided benefits that might not be derived from any other relationships. Grandparents provide so many levels of support to a child. Removal of grandparents from a child’s life when they are going through so many other upheavals may be devastating for that child.

Where there is anger and bitterness towards the grandparents, it is particularly sad. Children may have looked forward to spending time with their grandparents and may miss them a great deal, yet be afraid to voice this because the parents have shown that they do not like them, often for reasons that the grandparents do not understand. Fall out from a marriage breakup often lands on the grandparents, through no fault of their own. The people who tend to suffer most of all, are the grandparents and the children, and they are the most powerless in law.

They say that time heals everything, but grandparents do not get younger and precious time may be lost when parents cut their children off from the love their grandparents can give. No one can heal anything after people die.


A darning mushroom!
A darning mushroom! (Photo credit: emmamccleary)

Once, my little granddaughter asked me what darning was. Does anyone remember darning socks? I can see my Ma now, sitting in front of an open coal fire, a wooden mushroom in her hand, a basket full of balls of wool in all colours and another, full of the offending foot covers. It was a labour of true love, that darning ritual, now long since abandoned. It took patience and skill. Did anyone appreciate it? No. It was just something that was carried out in millions of homes of a Friday night, or any other evening, because there was no EastEnders, no Wii and life was quiet, except for the comforting drone of the Home Service on the radio.

The actual exercise began with the search for the bodkin. What is that, I hear my younger readers ask? Well, it is an instrument of torture or redemption, depending on your age and place in the family. If you were a child, you could use the bodkin to poke your enemy. It was a dangerous weapon. If you were my Ma, you would thread it and darn with it – it is in fact, dear reader, a needle. But, and this is important, no ordinary needle. In the eyes of a watching child, me, it was a thin silver metal man with no arms and a hole for a head. It was a flash of quicksilver flowing in and out of each sock, closing the holes and making life comfortable for the wearer. It was the ultimate utilitarian invention.

The trouble was, it often got lost. Ma would open her sewing box, ready for the evenings’ hard labour, to find the little darner missing. She would utter cusses under her breath and the search would begin. All members of the household were pulled in; it was a serious business. Cushions were thrown onto the floor, the floor itself was hand-checked by a small child on all fours, the windowsills were scrutinised, the cupboards peered into. Eventually, the precious bodkin, without which no sock could be redeemed, was usually discovered at the bottom of the sewing box, under that fly’s leg, as my Ma would say, sighing with relief.

These small rituals of family life in my childhood have all but disappeared. Darning and Mrs. Dale’s Diary – the fifties radio version of EastEnders, but with upper middle class characters who all had large plums in their throats and worried about their elderly relatives, who were ingratiatingly polite to each other and never farted – all gone forever. The wholesome radio comedy shows – Workers Playtime and Take It From Here, full of double entendre and sad jokes about the mother-in-law – gone forever. Darning? Gone forever. Socks come with a throw away label these days.

Of course, all this is remembered through rose-tinted glasses. In reality, darning was a pain and the socks still slowly disintegrated because, in them days, we didn’t wash so much. You took one bath a week, preferable on a Saturday night and if you were the youngest, five other people might have bathed in the same water before you. It was not a pleasant experience.

I lived in a family of smokers. My mother was the exception. She hated cigarettes, but no matter how much she complained, my father and much older brother and sister, would puff away in every room. Going to the toilet after these three needed a torch, the tiny room was so fogged up. Packets of Capstan Full Strength or Du Maurier were always on the shopping list thrust into my hand on a Saturday morning, when it was my job to run down the London street to Buxtons, the grocer and hand over the scrap of paper to Mr. Buxton himself, a man whose name perfectly described his stature in a Dickensian manner – protruding oval stomach, puffed out pink cheeks above a full mouth hiding a solid set of false teeth. He was a man of wealth; he owned the only grocer’s shop in the area. You were obliged to go to his emporium for all your comestibles or go without. Tesco was as yet, unborn.

He would stare at my list for a moment and then, set-to. In large brown barrels standing in neat rows against the counter, were flour, sugar, tea and tapioca. Mr. Buxton would produce a small metal scoop and proceed to fill brown paper bags with a pound of each. Metric wasn’t even a twinkle in its father’s eye. These would be closed with a twist of his fingers that never failed to amaze me. Somehow, those bags would be sealed without cellotape, or glue, or anything other than the magic that escaped from Mr. Buxton’s fat little fingers. Those bags stayed that way until I carried them home to Ma when she would also use magic, opening them in a trice and pouring the contents into the jars and tins that sat on the dresser.

When the good grocer came to the cigarette order, the packets would be handed to me, a nine-year old, with no concern; a packet of Capstan, its bright cover picture – a tea clipper, her sails unfurled, the words Navy Cut emblazoned across the front, the promise of clean sea breezes and freedom for my father and brother; Du Maurier, with its salmon pink slim box showing a sophisticated woman, cigarette in hand, smoke rising like a tom-tom message to the nearest rich man, saying a woman who smoked this brand was a catch. I carried my precious cargo in the family shopping bag, dark brown canvas with handles that chaffed my palms, back to the house, the change from the five-pound note wrapped in the shopping list by Mr. Buxton, stuffed into my dress pocket. That was my chore done for the day.

These memories of childhood come into sharp relief as the years pass. The good and the bad times mingle into one hazy film playing in your head, the voice-over rewritten every time the pictures appear in your thoughts, every time you try to connect the past with the present, or try to describe to your children how it was. Of course, they are disinterested. They are making their own memories and that is how it should be. But small grandchildren will listen. I’ll always treasure the memory of three of our grandchildren listening to their grandfather describing his trip to England from his home in Chile, in a ship that took him, aged eight, and his parents through the Panama Canal; the look of complete absorption on their faces, the questions that tumbled out when he had finished.

Memories of the past inform the future and where grandchildren are concerned, give them a compass for life, a reference point and an understanding of family history that is invaluable. Memories are the ashes out of which imagination can be fired and burn bright in their lives. Memories are full of romance and creativity, passion and compassion.


Hospital (Photo credit: José Goulão)

Has the dear old NHS taken over from Aunty Beeb – the BBC – in our hearts? The BBC, bless them, have blotted their copy book recently and they have a lot of work to do to get back that warm, fuzzy feeling we had about them before the Savile revelations. Notice that if you could put the word Savile into the quiz show Countdown, would the clever contestants reveal the word VILE in his name? Funny that no one noticed he was vile when he was working at the Beeb.

Even so, I love the BBC and I love the NHS even more, especially after today when I spent the morning in a major hospital, waiting for my hubby, who needed a bit of an MOT. Hospitals are human body shops where you go for repairs and hope to come out all shiny and working well, your spark plugs replaced, your engine chugging again. Of course, like any busy garage, mistakes happen. But unlike a car, mistakes mean that humans die when bad mistakes are made. I guess if a car is sent back to its owner with no brakes, that may end up in a death, but fortunately, it’s rare.

Watching the team of nurses, doctors and other workers rushing about like bees in a hive,  I was aware that things have changed in the last few years. Communication with patients is better. The staff talk to you. They listen to you, at least they did today. Maybe this clinic had particularly good staff, and it’s rubbish elsewhere? I hope not. But sadly, mistakes are still being made and patients are dying or not getting the care they deserve, that we all deserve.

Newsnight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing I did notice was that the people on the factory floor seemed to have humility today. They communicated with the waiting hoards and didn’t patronize. However, when a manager walked in, all tweed jacket, large briefcase and voice, a ‘look at me’ expression, as he waltzed past us and was deferred to by a senior nurse, I almost felt he was presenting a performance and wanted applause. Perhaps I am being unkind. This chap was only one of many managers haunting the corridors and offices in any hospital and they can’t all be like him, I’m sure. But he did make me and and it seemed, the staff feel a little bit insignificant compared to him and his very important role – MANAGER.

My hubby walked up and down, a bit miffed that he had waited nearly half an hour over his appointment time. Manager was seen immediately. We could hear him talking – loud, well-enunciated vowels – to the bevy of nurses in a room opposite the waiting area, with the door left open. It made interesting listening and viewing. We plebs, the patients, waited and waited to be seen by nurse or doctor, while manager man was getting all the attention. But we were apologised to and chatted to and told they were running late today by an young auxiliary and we were appreciative. No one, not even my hubby, complained that we were being kept waiting.

In the hospital cafe, after hubby had been given his MOT cert, a young chap called Howard made us coffee and served it to us in paper cups. But he didn’t smile, not once, not even when I said, thank you Howard. That really annoyed him, I could tell. Patients were obviously not supposed to fraternize so informally with the cafe staff. After all, they were the well ones, and we were SICK. We accepted our paper cups meekly and sat down. Why weren’t we making a run for it? Hubby was okay to live another day. Why didn’t we run whooping across the hall to the exit door?

Hospital entrances are like shopping malls these days. There were two cafes and a Smith’s stationery shop. This was a social gathering place, with people coming and going, chatting and drinking coffee. We almost expected to find a cinema or a Marks and Spencer‘s food hall. We were sucked into the atmosphere, forgetting for the moment that inside the building people were lying in beds, recovering, dying or seriously ill. That was behind closed doors. We finished our drinks and walked happy out into the Spring sunshine.

These great institutions, our National Health Service and our British Broadcasting Corporation are very, very precious. They must be protected at all costs, because they are irreplaceable. No government should persuade us to accept interference in how we use them or if they should survive. They must survive. To be without them is unthinkable. Support them always, please.


English: Commemorative plaque, The house where...
English: Commemorative plaque, The house where Margaret Thatcher was born, Grantham Français : Plaque commémorative, Maison natale de Margaret Thatcher, Grantham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Margaret Thatcher is dead. Some might say it was a long time coming. To others she was an avenging angel, the woman who ‘saved’ Britain, the Great Nanny who scared the pants off her minions. She was, in the end, also betrayed by them and shoved unceremoniously to one side. She was the first woman to achieve the top job and somehow, there seems little room for the other great political women who were her contemporaries – Barbara Castle and Shirley Williams, Betty Boothroyd to achieve the same notoriety – women who, in their own way, also made a  difference to politics in this country.

Thatcher was an interesting woman. It is said she could not understand jokes, was single-minded to a fault and acted like a mother hen when any of her staff were ill. She showed anger in public but rarely any other emotion. Her contempt for those who did not agree with her was visceral. To me, she appeared to be a woman of huge ambition and a determination to  be in the right, no matter what it took to achieve that. There is no doubt she will be remembered. But for every person who remembers her as a Prime Minister who was revered and respected, there will be another person who disliked her and her politics intensely. I don’t think anyone since Thatcher has engendered such different feelings.

When the Faulklands War broke out, I was living in Washington DC. I was not subject to the news bombardment on TV and radio that hit the UK. But I do remember my feelings when the the deaths were reported. I remember the anger I felt that so many had lost their lives and I remember thinking – where was diplomacy? It has now come to light that many felt the same; that many believed that Thatcher did not do enough to find a way through, using methods that did not involve going to war.

There is no doubt that because of those senseless deaths, it is important that she has a funeral with full military honours, if only to commemorate not her death, but the deaths of all those young men and women who lost their lives in that war.

The myths about her have to be continued, otherwise what was it all for?