Thursday, 21 October 2021

Using a QR code or signing in

wherever we go is compulsory at present. This is supposed to make it quick and easy for others to "contact trace" us if there is a Covid19 outbreak here. Mask wearing in shops and other locations is also compulsory except under certain circumstances.

We were also told that, after twenty-eight days, the information would be destroyed and no records would be available to anyone. Most people started doing what was required of them. In time there have been some lapses. It has had a massive effect on our ability to communicate with each other and that in turn is having a negative effect on mental health. 

Despite that there are still people refusing to get vaccinated - even when we have been told that "opening up" depends on hitting (at minimum) at least 80% of the eligible population being fully vaccinated. They still claim a "right" that is apparently not available to the rest of us.

On top of that it has now been revealed the information we have been so dutifully giving others when we sign in is not being destroyed. It is being stored. How long for? Why? Of what possible interest is it to anyone else that I went to the supermarket or the chemist or the library or the post office or, most importantly, go to visit the Senior Cat?   After twenty-eight days it is surely of no interest to anyone. If I sign in manually (write it down) then I can be anyone at all. I have seen some strange names above me at times. If I use someone else's phone to sign in via "the app" then how do they trace me?

I try to do the right thing. I didn't sign in yesterday when I stopped at the edge of the cafe in the shopping centre. It is open to the public. Unless you buy something there nobody expects you to sign in if you are merely passing by and, like me, stop to speak to someone. 

The person I stopped to speak to is someone else who is dying. She told me, "They just said I won't see Christmas but I will see Christmas. I am not going to let the grandchildren miss Christmas."

I suspect H... will see Christmas. I have never known anyone work so hard at simply staying alive. The lung cancer - and she is another who never smoked - has spread to other parts of her body. I can no longer give her a hug. We aren't supposed to hug people any more and I would have to be so gentle. The last time I did all I could feel was bones. 

I didn't sign in though when I stopped to speak to her. There was no point. It wasn't required. I wasn't buying anything. I could simply prowl on to the greengrocer. The staff there know her and asked if she was "okay today". We agreed on the signing in issue.

People are going to cease doing it if they think their visits everywhere are being stored instead of destroyed at the legislated time. That seems far more dangerous to me than me quite legally stopping to speak to a dying woman in circumstances where it might be sensible to be required to sign in.  

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Exactly what is "net zero by 2050"

 is something that puzzles me. Yes, I understand that it is supposed to mean that if we put something nasty into the atmosphere we are also supposed to be putting something nice in to negate that.

But don't we need to do more than that? Shouldn't we be aiming to put more of the good stuff in and reducing the amount of nasty stuff we already have there? Is this possible?

It is a topic under constant discussion here, even more so at the moment. Our Prime Minister is supposed to be heading off to Glasgow very shortly. Before he goes he has to have an agreement in place with the other party in the Coalition government. 

There are people in the other party who are holding out on all this. It sounds like madness - until you realise that they come from rural areas where any policies are going to have a likely much greater economic impact.  

And that is the problem, not just here but everywhere. People want to save the planet but they don't want to do it at great economic cost to themselves. People don't really want to change their life styles to suit the planet.  They don't want "ugly solar panels on the roof". They don't want to walk/pedal/use public transport. They want to eat strawberries and bananas all year round - and it doesn't matter how far those things have to travel.

Our local green grocer displays the origin of the things he sells. He sources as locally as possible at all times. He is fighting a (perhaps losing) battle with people who don't understand the concept of "seasonal" fruit and vegetables. The local family run supermarket tries to do the same. Both are up against one of the very big multi-national companies - a company which also sells petrol and liquor. There are enough educated and financially stable people in this district that both green grocer and supermarket have survived. I will regret it if they go or I need to move. At least they are trying to do their bit for "net zero". 

I went past the petrol station yesterday. It was a relief to know I was simply burning kilojoules or calories. Petrol was advertised at $1.85.6 a litre. However I doubt that this will stop people using their cars. They probably don't understand this "net zero" thing any more than I do. 

Perhaps we need to tell people they need to shop locally, eat seasonal foods, walk more, use public transport. If we are going to use solar panels then they need to be made here - as much from locally sourced materials as possible - and we need to find ways of recycling the materials from which they are made.

This "net zero" idea is all very well but I think we can do a lot better than that.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

We can't get country doctors

and it does not surprise me. Our rural health services are in urgent need of help. They have been that way for a long time now. Doctors don't want to work in rural areas or even in regional areas.  I can hardly blame them.

Doctors in rural areas are on call ALL the time. They can never take time off - even to eat and sleep - without wondering if there will be "that" phone call which requires them to drop everything. They can't stop to fill their car with petrol without someone wanting to ask a question about something which is worrying them. They can't stand in the queue at the local supermarket without being accosted. 

They have to take on far more responsibilities than a city GP. The last time most city GPs delivered a baby it was under the supervision of an entire medical team. Most city GPs have never done anything but the most minor of surgery. City GPs don't deal with arms mangled in a harvester. City GPs don't deal with all sorts of things rural doctors deal with on an almost daily basis. City GPs send you off to a "specialist" for things the rural doctor is simply expected to handle.

There are some amazing stories about rural GPs. There was the doctor (and we knew this man) who operated on a farmer (another man we knew) by the roadside in the middle of the night and "hoped to hell it worked". It did work. It should not have worked but it did work. He took a risk which paid off, a risk a city GP would not even have considered. 

Another rural GP we knew was, in the absence of any vet, called on to be the vet as well. She once delivered a calf and then came on to the school to stitch the arm of a student. I made her a cup of tea while she did it - before she went on to hold her surgery in the town's memorial hall, and do it without the benefit of any help.

Rural doctoring is very different. You might need to deal with anything from birth to death and everything in between. 

If they want people to go on doing this job then they have to pay them well. Litigation was once unknown but people think they know more now. Dr Google has taught them "all about it". Make a mistake and you will find yourself, at best, up in front of the board.  There are no colleagues to cover for you. 

Perhaps we should require all aspiring GPs to spend a year in a rural community. It is possible they may learn a great deal that only experience can teach them. Some of them might even be persuaded to stay a bit longer. 

Monday, 18 October 2021

Being a Member of Parliament

is, I suspect, a largely thankless task.

I have been thinking a good deal about this over the last few days. The assassination of a second MP in England  has left me shocked and bewildered. It was hard enough to take in the death of Jo Cox back in - was it 2015?  

I never knew her. I had never even heard her name but it still left me shocked. Killing someone meant to represent you in parliament? It seemed unthinkable in a democracy. The second death, of Sir David Amess, is perhaps even more shocking. The unspeakable has happened again. 

This time I had heard of him. It was not because he held any ministerial position but because he was the local MP of my late friend E...  E... had moved to Leigh-on-Sea when she and her husband retired. Until then they had lived in London. E... was a teacher, and then the head of a school. Her husband had a similar sort of "people" job. They wanted somewhere "quieter". It suited them until they were both diagnosed with serious illnesses. E... decided they needed just a bit of extra support to stay in their own home. She set about trying to get it, struck an obstacle she needed some help to climb - and went to visit her local MP.  Sir David listened and took action. E... died quietly in her own home, just as she had wished. I always thought that, if I were ever to meet the man, I would tell him that. 

And now he has gone too. I thought about this. My local MPs have tended to know me. They have known me since my teens. In my teens the Senior Cat was very friendly with the local MP in the rural community we were living in. It was not unusual to find him in our home. He would sit at the kitchen table and drink tea with the Senior Cat as they went through things that needed to be done. This had nothing to do with politics as such. It was more to do with the problems of the local community. As the head of the school the Senior Cat knew a lot about these. He was also expected to be the local social worker, minister of religion, marriage guidance counsellor, town planner and much more. The local MP was also expected to carry out these and other roles.

While I respected this man it did not stop me arguing with him. He actually encouraged it, "Come on Cat. Tell me what you think. I don't want to hear  what you have been told. I want to know what you think." He said this sort of thing to me more than once.

Looking back I know I was very fortunate he took such an interest in me. A decade later he tried to persuade me to enter politics. I said a polite "No thank you." It is one invitation I have never regretted turning down. I don't think for a moment I would have been successful in getting in. I would have hated it if I had.

Your time is not your own. A good MP is always available - twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. It may not be obvious to most of his or her constituents. They will have no idea about much of what he or she does. 

I once did a short stint in the office of the man who was once the local MP for this district. It was not something I ever intended to do, indeed did not want to do it. His secretary asked me to do it. I liked her and she had witnessed my paw print on documents hundreds of times. I did it for her. She went into the main parliamentary office in the city and I was left to keep things going in the electorate office. I answered the phone many times a day. I made decisions I never thought I would have to make. I made phone calls to the secretaries of some of the most powerful people in the country. I wrote letters. I talked to unhappy constituents - and a few happy constituents. I was there for twelve hours a day most days. A change of government tends to bring on such problems. 

It was interesting but exhausting. When the MP appeared things would be frantic. In all this I was merely a very temporary and untrained substitute. I couldn't take short hand - which infuriated him - and my typing was not nearly as fast as that of the woman who had asked me to help. All this was happening and I was merely the person there intended to be a help. He was the MP. He would send me home and still be there until midnight.

We hear about "lazy MPs" but, after that experience, I have often wondered how hard some of them must work. It may be much harder than many people realise.

And they are there on the whim of the people they serve. People like Sir David should be able to eventually retire gracefully and enjoy some leisure time - and we almost never give it to them. 

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Yesterday I talked to a dying man

and it was strangely good to do so.

He knows he is dying. Yesterday was not a good day. He was carrying a small bottle of oxygen on his back...and the "whipper snipper" in his hands. He was going to edge their tiny front lawn. Somebody else has to mow the lawn now but he can still do that - but it is an effort.

"Gidday matey good to see you,"he told me as I stopped. I didn't immediately ask about him. I asked about his wife and the six month old dog they now have.

There's a reason for that dog. I knew that the first time I met him. He's small but smart. He somehow knows he is there for a reason. He is a "mummy's boy" - as if he knows that, barring accidents, he will need to be there for C.... when B... goes.

B... could go at any time.He has had four stays in intensive care. He has COPD - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It has not been fun. 

B... had to give up a promising career in the army because of it. He never smoked, never had more than the occasional beer in very hot weather. He thought he was fit. He thought he was going to last forever...the way we all do at certain stages of our lives. 

"I'm over it Cat," he told me some months ago. The lock down was getting to him. He wants to spend what time he has left with his immediate family. He wants to be able to chat to their wonderful next door neighbours. He wants to be able to stop me as I am pedalling along the street. 

He asks if I have seen his former neighbours from across the street. He was the one who put up more and more Christmas lights each year so that the children could enjoy them - children from a family whose cult like religion refuses to celebrate Christmas or birthdays.  A few years back he could still, with some difficulty, climb up to his roof to do that. It was an enormous effort - but one he believed was worth the effort. He went on adding to his Christmas display because the adult cult members across the street didn't like it - but their children loved it. 

"I'm going to give them a little joy in their lives," he once told me. 

He asks after the Senior Cat. I've told him he is welcome to use the Senior Cat's mobility scooter - still sitting here - if  it gets to the point where he wants to go walking the dog with his wife and feels he can't do it. Right now he can make it to the end of the street and back... then  he watches as they walk on. He's thinking about the scooter but I doubt he will use it. He could leave us at any time.

I told him about Friday. His reaction to Ciaran's grief is "Poor bastard! What a hell of a thing to happen. I'm so damn lucky."

And perhaps it is that attitude which has got him so far. His wife has told me that the medical profession thinks he should have died several years ago. Instead, he is up and doing things. He may be doing them slowly but he is still doing things. He may need to go and rest after doing some little thing but he is still doing things. B.... actually does more than some fitter and healthier people I know. 

And somehow the little dog knows all this. He comes out with B...'s wife and sits there quietly between them. He looks from one to the other as if to say, "Yes, I'll look after her when you've gone."

And I wonder how animals know these things. 

Saturday, 16 October 2021

It was supposed to be a "quiet" occasion

and perhaps it was in a way but it was also a crowded one.

Yesterday the entire senior school, some of the juniors, many parents and some people in the local community gathered together and watched a tree being planted. They listened to words we had struggled to write and one man struggled to say. 

Every girl in Ciaranne's class, apart from one, had a parent there. Some of them had both parents. The girl who had no parents had her grandparents there. Her parents live in another country and could not be there.  There were many other parents too. 

We didn't intend it to be like that. We thought it would be small and very quiet. What happened was something very different. Word went around. The senior school wanted to be there and their parents asked to come as well. Some of the juniors joined in to watch the tree being planted. 

There were a lot of tears - not the least of them mine. Ciaran's boss broke down more than once. Ciaran wept openly as he held the hand of his daughter's closest friend and walked to the place prepared by the school's gardener.

But, it was also good. It didn't rain. The tree is in and surrounded by the necessary protection. There is a temporary label for now and at some point in the future there will be a small plaque. Ciaran was surrounded by people who cared, really cared. They took time away from work to be there. They cancelled appointments to be there. 

It has left him feeling bewildered and perhaps even more bereft than before. It has also left him feeling immensely proud of the way his daughter was such a positive force for so many. 

I went to an actual funeral yesterday afternoon. I didn't want to go but I wanted to say another goodbye. I made myself go and I am glad I did. J.... was 92 and I knew him for more than fifty years. He was another force for good in his community. He also lost a daughter, although she was perhaps ten years older than Ciaranne when she died. I listened to his nephew give the eulogy and understood a little better J...'s loss. He was a very direct person but people accepted his criticisms and corrections because they knew that he genuinely cared to always have things done for the best. He was a man who gave generously of not just money but time.

I sat in the church J... had attended for eighty years. It is a church familiar to me from more than one funeral, including my mother's. It is the place where we will farewell the Senior Cat. I was surrounded by people I know, people who cared about J... and were there to support his family. They are people who still care about the Senior Cat. 

And I was reminded again of the scene in the BBC series, "The Ascent of Man". Jacob Bronowski who presents it shows a short clip of a blind man feeling the features of another man's face, that of a Holocaust survivor. I remember the words,

"We must learn to touch people." 

Right now that matters more than ever.  

Friday, 15 October 2021

Going to a funeral

is not something any normal person looks forward to doing I suppose. It  may be something we want to do for one reason or another but it does not mean any of us are going to enjoy the occasion. There will always be someone missing from it.

Ms W's father did not want a funeral. He didn't want anything at all for a while. It is only in the last week when another idea was put to him that he felt he could face anything at all. 

It wasn't my idea. It came from the girls in her form at school. They put it to their form teacher first and, with her support, went to the school principal. She took it up with the governing council. They agreed "without hesitation" and today there will be a tree planting ceremony in the school grounds.

There is a designated "quiet corner" in the school grounds. I don't know when it was begun and I have never even seen it. Ms W used it sometimes, as do the other boarders. You can talk there if you want to talk but it is generally considered not to be a place for loud conversation. It's a place for writing letters home, calling family on your 'phone at weekends and things like that. 

It borders on one of the bigger playing areas and I think that might be a good thing. I have been told that there might be more people there than Ms W's father expects. I am certain there will be. I've had some phone calls asking "will it be all right to go?"  I know the school has had some more.

Ms W's father isn't going to say anything. He has said he just can't do that. His boss is going to do it instead. His boss is a wise man. I have always liked him and I like him even more now. Yesterday we went through what he is going to say. He isn't going to suggest she was perfect but it is a reflection of her - kind, caring, and funny. We have included a quotation from her small contribution to one of the books written by Nicola Morgan. We have included one of the many jokes sent to her by Roger Wright, a former professor of Spanish at Liverpool University.  We have included a haiku from her friend Junko Morimoto. All that is  intended to acknowledge the way she forged friendships outside her peer group, with adults in far away places. There are others who will be mentioned too.

On her desk at home, lined up with all of Nicola Morgan's books and the books I wrote for her, is her copy of Dag Hammarskjold's "Markings". I gave it to her last year during the lock down when the girls were asked to "find some little thing to think about and share with the others". I don't know how much of it she had read but some passages were underlined in pencil, including this one she had dated the day after she became the class representative (form captain).

"Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated."

She had added the words, "I need to remember this."