Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Thinking seriously about euthanasia

Uncle is in a busy ward with a variety of other bone-damaged men. Some are young; most are older. One or two are either very old or slightly strange: the man in the next bed yesterday stared, wide-eyed, at me throughout my visit. I'm not sure if he thought I was odd or if I was in his line of view for the television.

As I said, each time I visit Uncle I have to play Find the Patient so his neighbours change but one has stayed in my head.

He is very elderly, not apparently aware and has to have everything done for him including  feeding. I watched as the nurse spooned a mushed-up goo into his mouth and reflected on the similarity between very young and very old age.

And I wondered what's the point? He has none of that all-important much-talked-about quality of life and I imagine there is little chance of that changing. In fact things can only get worse. His visitors turn up and sit beside him, reading their newspapers and then going home, having done their duty. It's a drag for them and I suppose, if they allow themselves to think about it, incredibly depressing to see what he has become.

Uncle who has always been very active and has spent his life helping others is finding it very hard to cope with being helped and has been depressed and talking about not wanting to live if this is how it's going to be.

So I've been thinking about euthanasia - leaving aside any of the Christian principles about Thou shalt not kill. I have never been entirely convinced that it is wrong in every circumstance and if life is empty then maybe it is a reasonable alternative.

But then I looked again at the old man being fed. The nurse didn't have to force his mouth open. He was aware enough to open it, eagerly even, suggesting he understood this at least, maybe even felt hungry or conscious of a need for something.

How easy it would be, if euthanasia were legal (and I'm aware that there would be all sorts of conditions that would have to be fulfilled) for unscrupulous relatives to take advantage to rid themselves of a burden. Even for loving and protective children to see it as being in their parent's best interest. 'He wouldn't want to live like this.' And those conditions could in time be relaxed as euthanasia became an acceptable option.

But quality of life is different for everyone. A man in a wheelchair all his life will have a different idea of what makes his life worth living than a high-achieving athlete or even me. We all find our level according to what is realistically possible.

In a very short period of time, basically as long as it took for the man to be fed, I changed from, 'Well, yeah, why not?' to 'I would not want to make that judgement. I don't have the right. I am not God and nor is anyone else.' However I notice that trending on facebook today we have Katie Something or other's comments about there being too many old people and there should be euthanasia vans; now that possibly is one judgement about someone's value to life that I would be prepared to make.






Friday, July 24, 2015

Cricket-eating, sand-sculpting and ice cream

With Uncle still in hospital life this week has had to include factoring in visits. On Monday there was a rumour that he was being moved to Singleton - much closer to us - but it came to naught. Visiting him though has become like a game of Find the Patient, as he's changed location 3 times in 3 days. Where he'll be today is anybody's guess.

Around that life has gone on as normal. Except for one thing: for the first time for as long as I can remember I didn't make a cake for Zac's because I didn't have time. Fortunately a good angel left some cakes on the doorstep. (Honestly, anyone could poison us as we eat anything that's left on our doorstep.)

It was my turn to lead bible study in Zac's on Tuesday night. A child fully committed to being a Terrible Two looked like making the study impossible until the wonderful Golly offered to take him for a walk. A new visitor asked if he was allowed to express his views. I told him, 'Yes, of course, everyone can as long as we all respect each other and don't talk over each other.' Unfortunately he didn't catch what I said as he was too busy talking over me. After a bit of this, the equally wonderful Andre suggested the two of them could go outside for a chat, and we all breathed again and enjoyed an interesting study with lots of contributions and comments. (And at the end the young man came back in and was grateful for a tent, blanket and food as he was sleeping rough.)

Afterwards one of the young women present said, 'I always enjoy it when you lead as you're so relaxed and it's calm.'
I looked behind me to see who she was talking to.

Wednesday I took two grandchildren along to Sculpture by the Sea, a free workshop on the beach. I was in my element - and did most of the work - but GrandDaughter1 enjoyed it. GrandSon2 soon got bored but the whirly ice cream with flake, rainbow sprinkles and chocolate sauce made it worthwhile.

We made a fish, turtle and starfish. The artists leading it were encouraging us to be biologically accurate, adding a tail to the turtle and checking we had the right number of legs on the starfish. I'm not sure how anatomically correct they were in their sculpture of a dragon though.
Thursday and it was women's bible study at Zac's. Did I mention that we had a barbecue on the beach last week?

Oh, nearly forgot, last weekend we went to the Gower Chilli Festival again ... and I ate some crickets.

I blame this very persuasive man. He described them as being like savoury sugar puffs. As long as I didn't look at them I could do it but they weren't particularly delicious. As 'they' say insects will be the food of the future I hope they devise more interesting ways of serving them. Maybe coated in some of the Bourbon, bacon and maple syrup chilli jam he was also selling.

I'm sure more than that happened this week but I don't remember ...



Friday, July 17, 2015

I did used to have a brain really I did

So I'm in the Civic Centre and I need to get to the second floor. I walk to the lifts and go to press the button when I stop: which button do I press? Now that's not as stupid as it sounds*, trust me. The choice looked liked this:
I was on the ground floor so where was the up button? Why was there only a down button and what did A mean? (You'll have to believe me that it looked more like an A than it might do in my drawing.)

I walked to the next set of buttons and they were exactly the same. How was it possible to go upstairs if there wasn't an up button?! (I was struggling to carry a baby in a car seat at the time so I wasn't being lazy by not using the stairs.)

And maybe the fact that I'd carried said seat from a distant car park contributed to my blankness, I don't know, but eventually I decided I might as well try the A button and see what happened. It wasn't until I was stepping into the lift, when the light must have been hitting the buttons from a different angle (that's my excuse), that I realised the error of my ways.

Join me again next week when I try to push a pull door.

*Okay, possibly it is.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe

Two quick book recommendations.

After a couple of duff ones from the library I hit lucky again.

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas. 4*
"The first word spoken by the Indian man Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod upon his arrival in France was, oddly enough, a Swedish word. Ikea."
The fakir has travelled to Paris to buy a new bed of nails. All he has with him is a fake 100 euro note. From there his journey takes him inadvertently to England, Spain, Libya, Paris, Rome. 

It's an unusual tale, told with an eccentricity of its own, and is simply delightful. A tale of redemption, true love and a bed of nails.



Another well-written but far more earthy and distressing tale is Out of the Easy. By Ruh Sepetys, it's the story of Josie Moraine. Named after a famous Madam in New Orleans, Josie grows up in the 50s  without a father but with her prostitute mother. She is smart and streetwise and dreams of escaping her situation by going to a prestigious college.

This young adult title gets 5* from an old adult. 

I'm going to have to look for more by this author.


The joy of ... Radio 4

For various reasons I've spent more than usual time on my own in the car recently and I've been tuning in to Radio 4. Each time I do I think I must listen to the radio more often as it's always interesting. Subjects that I wouldn't consider watching on television are made more fascinating.

Two items particularly intrigued me.

One was about the way ours has become more and more of a self service society. From DIY online banking to supermarket shopping we do far more for ourselves these days than we ever did in the past. Years ago if you wanted to pay a bill you went to a bank and asked the cashier; if you wanted butter and tea you went to the corner shop and an assistant would serve you. (Not so much choice but probably simpler for that.)

Someone (no doubt funded by a worthy institution) had worked out that on average the work we now do that would have been done for us in the past is worth £3,600 per person. On a national scale that translates to £5.4 billion. (Husband wishes to point out that there are all sorts of flaws in this argument but I think it's interesting nevertheless.) The moral of this story being: never undervalue yourself; you are worth £3,600 at least!

The other topic was a short report that was part of the Battle of Britain commemorations about women who flew planes during the war. Not into action but from factory to base and so on. There was an interview with a 92-year-old who reminisced about her experiences and the difference between flying a spitfire and a hurricane. 'It was so light. You only had to touch the controls and it would go where you wanted it.'

She remembered them as good days but did get in a quick dig at the way women, after the war, were expected to return meekly to the kitchen sink.

As well as these snippets there was a really good play on one afternoon when I was baking. It told the story of the radicalisation of a young Scottish Muslim girl. When I've listened to news reports about young women fleeing to Syria with their children so they can fight for ISIS I've been aghast and slightly unbelieving: how on earth could that be possible? What could have happened to make women living in the freedom that this country gives be willing to relinquish it for a cause that would probably mean death for their children? The play explained it very well, made it seem plausible, reasonable even. (Unfortunately I don't remember the name or any more details and I can't find it on iplayer.)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

I blame Mary Berry AND Paul Hollywood

I should have twigged when the woman in the cake decorating shop looked at me blankly when I asked for acetate. 'It's what they recommend on the internet for chocolate lace,' I explained.
Still blank.

But you know me, not so easily defeated. So I went to the stationers and bought acetate there. But it was also where I also encountered problem 2: they only sold it in A4-sized sheets and I needed a long piece. Again, not to be deterred I figured I could stick some together so bought several.

About to set off for home where I planned to spend the afternoon cake decorating when my mobile rang. By the time I'd realised it was my phone making that strange noise, found it, opened it, switched it on, and tried to answer the caller (Husband) had given up. 

I called him back and he told me Uncle had fallen in his living-room and was waiting for an ambulance.

So instead of spending the afternoon icing a birthday cake or two I spent it in A&E. Eventually they confirmed that Uncle had fractured his hip and would need an operation. That was Friday; today, Sunday lunchtime, as I write, he is in theatre.

So, back to the cake. I returned from hospital early evening when there was nothing more I could do - I say nothing more: I hadn't actually done anything except be there up till then - and set to cake icing. Which is a roundabout way of bringing us back to the acetate and chocolate lace.

I'd seen photos on the internet and thought it would work well on the gluten-free cake I was making.
This is the look I was aiming for.
It looks so easy on youtube. And, to be fair, after a little cursing and scraping and squiggling some more, I did achieve almost what I wanted. The first stage of it anyway.
I left the chocolate lace and acetate on overnight to allow it to harden properly.
Come the morning come the disaster.

The plan, which was to peel away the acetate leaving the lace in position didn't exactly work. 

Did I mention I was not only determined but cunning? By the time I'd scraped and picked and wedged and patched, I had a cake that looked good - from a distance without my glasses.

And by the time I'd added chocolate dipped raspberries, chocolate hearts, icing sugar and glitter to distract from the edge the cake was, yes, very acceptable. You can see in the photo the lace to the right is good, that to the left patched.

That was the gluten-free cake for the birthday girl; here is the official birthday cake, which was a doddle to do in comparison.


And because I had white chocolate butter icing and daisies left over I decided to use it up on cupcakes. 

The surprise party was a great success and even included a private fly-past by the Red Arrows! (They were based in Cardiff as they're involved in several local air shows this weekend and the party venue was on the flight path as they returned.)
With my little cousin, Corin. His dad and my mum were first cousins so I'm not sure what that makes us.
My mum was almost 6' and my uncle 6'3"; I'm obviously a throw-back with the original Welsh shortness genes.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

I thought I was going to die

For the last three weeks we've been doing circuit training outdoors. Week 1 was in the park and involved, in with the other stuff i.e. more running and dips and things, lots of running up and down steps, interspersed with jumping jacks. Week 2 was a cliff path walking circuit. 'That shouldn't be so bad,' I thought. I was wrong.


Having walked the cliff path at level 3 - let me explain: one foot immediately in front of the other as if on a tightrope, wiggle your bum, arms at right angles to your sides propelling you forwards (or that's the theory) - we then had to walk up and along a length of road as a caterpillar (not sure if that's the right term) in single file. The person at the back had to overtake everyone else to get to the front. At which point he/she was to slow down - otherwise it would have become impossible for anyone to overtake.

So there I am, bringing up the rear, and it's my turn to overtake. 'Go at your own pace,' Jules says at various times over the walk and then, when I'm overtaking, he says, 'Nick's catching up with you, Liz! Don't let him beat you!'

My head says, 'I don't care if he overtakes me; I don't care if everyone overtakes me. In fact I'd be quite happy to be left behind.' But my ... hm, what is it? ... stupidity says, 'Mustn't let him go past me. Must run to front. Now!'

This week it was described as a running circuit along the promenade. One thing in its favour: it's flat. And that's about it. I managed, I think, to do four 60 second running bursts - not consecutively you understand - plus another four 60 seconds walking/jogging. I thought I was going to die.

So convinced was I that my thought process went thus:
I can't get enough breath in  my lungs. I am going to collapse. Paul is here; he's a doctor. He is a gynaecologist but he probably knows enough to resuscitate me. Oh oh, I think I have wet myself. I had better not die tonight. It would be too embarrassing to die with wet pants. Keep working, lungs.

I should point out two things:
1) Only Husband is older than me in the group. Most of the others are young enough to be our children. Not to mention the fact that some of them do marathons, triathlons and other stupid things.
2) Husband said it's been forty years since he ran as much as he did last night; I have never run as much as I did last night.

P.S. It turns out I hadn't wet myself after all.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A positive rejection

I had a rejection today. I submitted the sample so long ago I'd assumed it had been rejected anyway so it doesn't really cause me any pain. In fact it brought some small pleasure.

"I've enjoyed reading these opening pages. The characters are interesting and credible. The heroine immediately stands out as someone whose story we would like to know more of and the family mysteries and complications are well thought through and will drive the plot forward. Unfortunately ..."