Thursday, 31 July 2008

Friends in Unlikely Places

There’s something about being in hospital that causes almost instant friendships to happen, often with people that you might not normally give a second glance to.
It’s also quite irrelevant to your state of health (provided you are not completely comatose). As long as you can make a few noises in response, even whilst laid flat on your back with a view of nothing but glaring strip lights on the ceiling, you can make friends. In fact you WILL make friends.

Of course, this must have something to do with personality. It must appear to me that this happens, because I can’t even buy a bottle of milk from the corner shop, without getting involved in a lengthy conversation with at least 2 other people. This usually starts with the state of the weather, trails around a few common family traits, before reverting back to the weather as we take our leave of each other. If I sit on a bench in town for a few minutes, the person next to me finds themselves regaled with a story of why I have sat down and where I am going next – whether they want to know or not. I have to say, though, that whilst many may hurry in the opposite direction as I approach (I haven’t seen anyone do that…) no one has ever ignored me and most people are quite chatty back. In fact, there are some people who prevent me from talking with their chattiness.With this sort of talk, we are “passing the time of day”, commenting on something around us, and that’s about the limit of the conversation.

But in hospital, it’s a different matter altogether – especially if you are admitted. I can guarantee that within minutes of you getting a plastic band with your details fastened around your wrist and before the nurse has collected the equipment needed to stick a needle into your vein, you will already at least know the names of the people in the beds next to you. By the time you have had a blood sample taken and are in your fetching open backed gown, you will know the reasons why your fellow bed mates are there and have had a potted history of their medical conditions to date. While you lie and wait for your “procedure” (we don’t have operations anymore) or lie recovering from it, you will continue to get to know your new friends and will find it difficult to believe that you only came across them a few hours ago. You will know more about these people, and them about you, than your neighbour who you have lived next door to for 30 years. When visiting time comes, the person in the bed with the best view of the corridor will be able to tell the whole ward who is arriving …and name them even though they have never seen them before.
“Oh, here’s your Bill coming now and I think he’s brought your Ethel’s granddaughter with him !” “Doesn’t look as though Dave’s brought the pink nightie…I think he’s brought that blue one you were going to put in the charity bag last week.”
The visitors don’t get a look in at telling you about what they’ve been doing or asking you how you feel – you are too busy telling them about how June in that bed there collapsed on the kitchen floor and Mary in this bed here was supposed to be at the caravan yesterday, and now look what’s happened !

It’s a great phenomenon. It’s a wonderful “human” thing. When vulnerable people are in a similar situation together, they become as close as family and long term friends, in a very short time. They become involved with and support each other automatically. No matter how ill someone feels, they still seem to support someone who is less ill than themselves.
We don’t choose to go into hospital for a pleasurable experience – we go because we are hoping to be made better in some way. Sometimes, I think, we support the work of a hospital by our own instinctive reactions to others. If only we did this all the time in our every day lives.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Role of the police- moralising or enforcement of the law?

“When did the police start thinking it was their job to moralise about the people they arrest? “ Peter Hitchens asks in his column today.
He refers to the case of Anne Darwin and her disappearing and reappearing husband, which whilst fraudulent, clearly, is surely not the most despicable crime ever committed. Yet the Det. Inspector in charge of the case felt the need to damn Mrs Darwin as ‘out and out despicable’ and told us that he ‘didn’t have the time of day for her’. Maybe these are his feelings, but is it his role to voice them to the public in such a way?

As many have noted in the past, the organisation that was once a police "force" is now a "service" and it is little wonder that we have the situation we have, in this country that is so often referred to as "feral". Not only do we now have the police moralising and giving us their views on whether they think the sentence or non-sentence was appropriate but we also have them advetising themselves, as though they need to win favour with the people they are here to "serve".
My local paper has a full page advert for the police and their offshoots -PCSOs, street parking wardens, neighbourhood teams, town centre safety management teams et al - telling me that it is much safer to go into town of an evening this year than it was last year. There are, it seems a number of reasons for this.
Polycarbonate receptacles are used in pubs and clubs for drinking out of so I won't get "glassed" if I look at someone across the bar. An ID scan is in operation to prevent anyone who appears to be under twenty one from entering a night club. The bus station now has 64 cctv cameras (more cameras than buses it appears) for the police to "view". Officers from the "Town Team" will soon be equipped with head cameras to deter anti social behaviour by capturing the culprits on film (do they not know that many anti social behaviour incidents are captured by the culprits themselves on their own mobiles and posted on You Tube? )

There were just 13 robberies in Rotherham town centre last year compared to 21 the previous year - no doubt the other 8 or more were a metre outside the town "zone". I wish I could feel safer and more confident in the police with this advertising of themselves.
Unfortunately, I don't.
I just wish the council would stop spending money on introducing more and more groups and agencies to support the police who should be perfectly capable of doing the role of keeping law and order in control, themselves.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Brown, Blair and Barriers

Following his visit to Iraq, PM Gordon Brown has now had talks in Tel Aviv with President Shimon Peres, and then met the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in Bethlehem.
On his visit to the West Bank Brown promised £30m of extra financial support for the Palestinian Authority, and further support in training the Palestinian police.

The finance is part of the ongoing backing for economic and social development, and Mr Brown believes that with the prospect of economic prosperity, the "great entrepreneurial flair" of the Palestinian people will come alive. He says that the barrier erected by Israel in the West Bank is evidence of the urgent need for justice for the Palestinian people and an end to the occupation of Palestinian land.
I think he is right. But how this is going to be rectified and peace come about when more and more Israeli settlements are being made is not so easy to understand.
Our Middle East peace envoy, Tony Blair, doesn’t seem to be around today with his former chancellor (the threat of a bomb attack the other day soon sent him on his way. Does he realise this is everyday living for people in Gaza, be they Israeli or Palestinian ?)

I suggest that some of the £30m is used to blow up the wall that prevents ordinary Palestinians from the opportunity to live ordinary lives. By allowing them to do things like have fresh water, electricity and the means to get to the hospital when necessary without a 4 hour wait at an Israeli checkpoint. In some cases to get to their family business, which is now suddenly on the other side of a monstrous barrier. Get rid of the physical barriers and the peace process might become easier.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

A Fair Exchange ?

The bodies of two Israeli soldiers have been handed to the Red Cross by Hezbollah. This is to be in exchange for Lebanese prisoners who have been held by Israel and the “deal” is being seen as a triumph by the Lebanese Shi'ite group.
Before the exchange, it was not clear whether the two soldiers were alive or not but the two plain black coffins delivered to the border told the soldiers' family what they had long feared. Earlier, five Lebanese prisoners were handed over at the Lebanese/Israeli border. These included Samir Qantar a Druze, who has been in prison in Israel for almost thirty years following a guerrilla raid which killed three Israelis, including a child. They are said by Hezbollah to be the last Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails.

Some Israelis see today’s events as an unfortunate but necessary act, others see it as a sorry state of affairs when an “agreement” such as this is made. The Israeli soldiers' capture caused war with Hezbollah, 2 years ago, that lasted for 34 days and killed around 1,200 people in Lebanon and 159 Israelis.
The bodies of nearly 200 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters killed, are also to be transferred to Lebanon as part of the exchange and Hezbollah will return the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in the south of Lebanon.
It has been said that this agreement will put and end to a situation that has motivated many Hezbollah attempts to capture Israelis to use as bargaining tools.
Will this be the case?

With Hezbollah flags flying across south Lebanon and on the road to Beirut, banners stating "Liberation of the captives: a new dawn for Lebanon and Palestine," make for uneasy reading with some Lebanese feeling that the exchange only shows the pointlessness of the conflict which caused so many lives to be lost only two years ago.
With Israelis confused at the declaration of a national holiday in Lebanon to mark the “deal” and the Lebanese claiming justice to be done, the celebrations seem to me to be hollow. Dead bodies swapped for live prisoners. Body parts exchanged for convicted murders. At least two generations fighting a battle that has long ago lost it’s sense of purpose and direction, with thousands of Palestinian refugees, and countless lives destroyed.

It hardly feels like peace has come.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Shock the criminals - improve society ?

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, (remember, she’s the one who claims that crime is not increasing and who wore the bullet proof vest to take a stroll around the streets – see my blog 3rd July “Walk on By” ) is making some plans again.
She is planning to “shock young people who carry knives into a greater awareness of the impact of stabbing on victims” BBC News today.

These plans include visits to hospitals where people are being treated for knife wounds.
Now, call me too sensitive, but the last person that I would want to see when I am laid in my hospital bed trying to recover physically and mentally from a criminal, violent act committed on an innocent person, is a person who has committed a crime of this nature. I am 100% certain that the only shock factor would be on MY part.

As most people who know me (and many who don't) are aware, I and my family have been victims of knife crime (I was lucky to not have the knife actually used on me, just a fist) I don’t want to dwell on this or keep reverting to it actually – it has a profound effect on my mental state (and that of my husband who still feels responsible, but was not as he was powerless in the eyes of the law) to think or write about this. But to hear of plans by the government such as this, adds insult to injury (which is the most apt phrase ever invented for this!)

I am not sure what the solution to the situation that we have in Britain now is - it is a case of deep seated dissatisfaction with something, and a more deeply rooted change in morals and culture that can not be easily rectified.
Having a curfew on all youths, and taking criminals on a stroll around hospitals and prisons, is surely not the answer.

What do we do? Please comment on this, give your views and your possible ideas for solutions. Something that improves this society has to be done - now.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

A bean's a bean and all that...

Heinz have announced that their baked beans are not going to be called "baked" beans anymore - just beans. (In fact in Heinz case, beanz, as it has been for a while now)

Well, I suppose we can cope with that, those of us who have grown up with using the term "baked beans" and associating tins of Heinz legumes with the baked and in tomato sauce variety. In fact the beans are boiled in the sauce rather than baked anyway.
But what of the next generation? Or newcomers to the country ? How will we then distinguish between the formerly called baked bean (haricot) and the broad bean or green bean, or the fava bean or red kidney bean, not to mention the more exotic berlotti or the plain old butter bean ?Now I don't suppose it would be a major problem in you put runner beans into your stew instead of broad beans - but what of coffee beans and cocoa beans?

Am I worrying unnecessarily ?

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Sex and the Seventy Year Olds

There are more couples over 70 years old having sex – and enjoying it – than ever before, says a survey for the British Medical Journal.
1500 people have been asked by Swedish researchers about their sex lives, over a 30 year period (that’s the research that was over a thirty year period, not the questioning of the same people !)

The number of people who said they had sex increased as well as the number of women claiming to be “fulfilled”, shall we say. An “expert” in the UK says older people today grew up in more sexually liberated times and though there are many studies about sexual "problems" to do with the older age groups there is little research about "normal" sexual behaviour later in life.

So the scientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden got to work interviewing 70-year olds about periods of their life from the 1970’s onwards.

Their results showed that the number of 70 year olds reporting to have sexual relations had risen quite dramatically, by 52% and whilst the numbers of men reporting “problems” increased, so did the satisfaction factor in women.
"We still have this stereotype of elderly people with their bath chairs and canes, staggering around, who couldn't possibly be having sex - but that isn't the case " says Dr Petra Boynton of University College London. (Not sure where she has been looking, however...)

Now, I am not disputing these statistics or the research at all, but isn’t it a generally accepted fact that when anyone is questioned about their sex life, they tend to bend the truth slightly?

Or perhaps this is not true at all.
I hope that it's not and I hope that people over 70 are enjoying their lives more in whatever way they choose to.
I just wonder how many people really are interested in these statistics, and more to the point , that the survey was not paid for by NHS money !

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Pup In Boots

“You couldn’t make it up”, is a phrase that we can now use on a daily basis it seems. New guidelines by Apco – The Association of Chief Police Officers – would be more aptly put in a joke book, a comedy show or be an item for April Fool’s Day.

The guidelines state that police sniffer dogs will wear boots – yes, you did read that correctly – when searching certain houses for illegal substances or contraband goods. The households for which the new attire for these canines will be worn are not ones with new cream carpets. Nor is it a health and safety aspect (as we know, dogs do have a habit of walking in unmentionable stuff and bringing it inside if we are not careful) It is not even some kind of fashion statement No, the purpose of the boot wearing is to avoid causing offence and hurting the sensibilities of Muslims.
Apparently, boot-wearing dogs have already been designated to search mosques (yes I know, mosque = religious centre, therefore by nature surely not a place of criminal activity, but let’s not go down that route, right now) and now the recommendations have been extended to Muslim homes, too.
The dogs must have their paws covered before they begin their search, but this will only be in exceptional circumstances.
Now, I know from my own Muslim family and from my, granted, limited understanding of some Islamic teaching, that dogs' saliva is thought to be unclean or impure. But correct me if I am missing the point, but I would have thought covering one’s paws is not going to prevent saliva dripping or an occasional lick of a suspicious object.
But more to the point – what on earth are Apco thinking of and for God’s sake (if there is a god) when are these ridiculous actions to supposedly prevent “hurt feelings”, religious or otherwise going to come to an end ?

An Apco spokesperson said, 'We are trying to ensure that police forces are aware of sensitivities that people can have with the dogs to make sure they are not going against any religious or cultural element within people's homes.” Hmm…well if anyone is interested, my sensitivities are affronted when my religious or cultural elements are disturbed due to criminal activity.
A leading imam Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra has said, 'In Islamic law the dog is not regarded as impure, only its saliva is. Most Islamic schools of law agree on that. If security measures require to send a dog into a house, then it has to be done. I think Apco needs to consult better and more widely.We know the British like dogs; we Muslims should do our bit to change our attitudes.'

Well said, Sheikh Mogra !
It’s about time those who make these sort of outrageous guidelines and recommendations, sought out the real feelings and attitudes amongst the real people they are paid to protect, instead of panicking over the word of the moment in the media.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Hair splitting or untruths

It hasn’t been a very good week for the Lord Mayor of London.
Boris Johnson now says he was "misled" by his deputy, who resigned yesterday.
Ray Lewis, Deputy Mayor for Young People, resigned after claims of dodgy financial dealings and inappropriate behaviour during his time as a vicar in east London in the late 1990s and head of a youth academy scheme in 2003.

Boris Johnson’s confidence is now “shaken" as he says he was led to believe that Mr Lewis was a magistrate when in fact he has only “ passed all the interviews for it… had a letter confirming that I have been recommended for appointment to the board.” (Mr Lewis words) He suggests that this is only relevant if you are a fully paid up member of the “hair-splitters convention”.

Maybe, but one person’s hair splitting is another person’s blatant untruth.

And Johnson’s words today - “He (Lewis) has a God given power to divert youth from the consequences of guns and knives” – are slightly worrying to say the least. “God given power” ? Are we soon to be expected to worship at the knees of these politicians who so easily fall from grace and show themselves to be less righteous than the majority of us?

Of course members of the Labour Party have immediately attacked the mayor's administration and the Conservative leader David Cameron. Hazel Blears says that after just two months, the “new administration in London is in complete disarray.”
Clearly this is so. 2 resignations in 2 months is not a good track record for any group or party.
But the most worrying aspect, I feel, is that Lewis hopes to support Boris Johnson in an “unofficial capacity”. In what capacity and how “unofficial”?

This is something that the public need to know, surely. Openness and transparency can only be effective when all the facts are known and these facts are shown to be true by independent means.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

I'm Alright, Boris - Walk on By

First we have Cherie Blair, wife of the former Prime Minister, saying that she fears for the safety of her children when they go out onto the streets. Government statistics, she tells us, dramatically underestimate the scale of knife crime amongst children in Britain and that she has found alarming evidence of rising violence involving knives. She has called for a new approach to get rid of what she calls “lethal fashion accessories” and says that official statistics fail to reflect the reality of how many young people carry knives believing that they offer protection. Mrs Blair told the Home Affairs Select Committee, “If young people think when they carry a knife that it’s going to be detected, that may well make a big difference in deterring them. As a parent I am concerned about what is happening when my children are on the street and I know that I am not unique in that by any means.”

You are not unique in that thought at all Mrs Blair. What you may be unique in is that as a parent you have only just come to this acknowledgment of reality. Were you not yourself in Downing Street during the 10 years that your husband failed to meet his 1997 promise to get “ tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime” and total inability to stop the rise in violence on the streets ?

There has been a spate of teenagers killed by their peers - this year so far 31 young people stabbed to death in Britain; in London, 17 teenagers dead as a result of gun or knife crime. On Tuesday, hundreds of teenagers marched through London protesting against the knife culture that caused the murder of a 16 year old boy in a street attack. On their journey to the spot where the teenager was killed they passed the home of the Lord Mayor, Boris Johnson who has vowed to tackle youth crime.
The day after, this same man has warned that the risk from violent crime is now so great that people should walk away if they see trouble - in case they end up losing their own life. He would tell his own children he says, to 'look after themselves first' rather than help someone in distress. A bit of a turn around from Mr Johnson's stance last year when he told citizens to 'take a risk' as the chances of being stabbed were 'microscopic'. Is this change of view due to the numerous cases of people being attacked themselves when going to the aid of someone or trying to protect themselves from violence?
'Everybody is shocked by the level of violence we are seeing, particularly towards young people, and we must all work as hard as we can to reverse this dreadful trend,” says the mayor. Not shocked enough it seems as he then adds, 'I'm afraid that may sound like a lack of public spirit if someone is being badly attacked” – certainly does, Boris - “But if I was giving advice to my kids and there was a bar brawl, it would be to look after themselves.”

Great ! Where does that leave us then Mr Mayor ? Do we do as you say, or do as you do ? Blowed if I know – I am just an ordinary parent trying to keep my family and myself safe and on the right side of the law, with little or no help it seems, from those in authority.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, still claims that crime is not increasing and that figures in fact, do show a decrease. Perhaps she is living in the same fantasy world as Cherie Blair has been, and it will take a while longer for her to realise the truth (remember she is the one who wore the bullet proof vest to take a stroll around the streets) The Home Office has widened the scope of the British Crime Survey, the most authoritative source of statistics based on police data, to include specific data on knife crime. If the statistics are correct now, why bother ?
Let’s hope that when this new batch of data is put onto cd, something is done about it to prevent even more pointless acts of violence and that we as a society are able to do something more than just walk on by.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

AQA's response

In the light of newspaper and online reports yesterday and my previous blog "Gaining marks for obscenities" I am posting AQA's response, in it's entirety as verified by them is appropriate and welcome.

"If a candidate’s script contains obscenities, examiners are instructed to contact AQA’s offices who will advise them in accordance with JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) guidelines. As a result, an obscenity should either be disregarded, or action will be taken against the candidate, depending on the seriousness of the case.
"The example cited was unique in the experience of the senior examiner concerned and was used in a pre-training session to emphasise the importance of adhering to the mark scheme: i.e. if a candidate makes any sort of response to a question then it must be at least given consideration to be awarded a mark.
"We do not condone the use of obscenities in scripts: in the light of this incident we will be reviewing our instructions to examiners which will include re-iterating the procedure to be followed when encountering obscenities in scripts."

Whilst this response clearly clarifies the situation, it is still fortunate that this situation has come to the notice of the public and AQA themselves. AQA can not tell me as yet, if any action is to be taken against the examiner concerned or whether his suggestions have been implemented in the marking of any other papers. We will wait and see.