Saturday, 30 July 2011

Oops, that hurt!

A week ago, I began a rather jolly post with this paragraph: "Yet again I've had cause to be grateful to the NHS, but more of that later. First, a quick update of the week's events, including our wedding anniversary, which we celebrated by meeting with the local branch MNDA seeing how the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre can adapt clothes when it becomes impossible to dress yourself. The great things are velcro and full-length zips. It was actually more interesting than it sounds when the seamstresses who knew about such things started chatting about their craft. We finished our celebrations by attending the local area clergy social - which also was better than it sounds!"

Since then I've fallen silent. As Facebook friends will know, my initial optimism over a little local difficulty, i.e. a fall on Thursday lunchtime, has taken something of a battering. Such falls are the stuff of MND, but I've not had a full-on fall for a couple of years now. I'm quite cautious walking with my rollator. But I suppose a full day previously had left me a bit tired and, getting into position for lunch, I simply keeled over backwards, and once you're going, you're going, going, gone. (I learned today that you use 300 muscles just to keep balance. Whether it's true or not, I don't know, but the control nerves of enough of mine aren't working!) My head hit the china cabinet and my spine the solid floor. Jane who'd been in the next room ran in and set about patiently calming me down, before calling the paramedics. That's the prescribed procedure, since getting someone with MND from the floor to upright is not a job for one person or for amateurs. I was feeling rather sorry for myself. After 15 minutes a car arrived with Gemma, who checked me over. Vital functions ok, probably no major injuries (no untoward sensations in the legs). But she was small and getting me up was no job for her and Jane, and so she summoned an ambulance which in 20 minutes brought two burly ambulancemen, who addressed me clearly (! Jane says loudly) and eventually hoiked me to my feet. When I'd recovered from feeling faint, the assessment was I didn't need to go to hospital. So I ended up in my wheelchair and we were left to lick our respective wounds, Jane's emotional,  and mine physical.

Afterwards, and subsequently, we've reflected on the service we received, the initial response by the ambulance service and then the consultations by phone with the GP about pain and other relief. It is really astonishing. It's something else for which I'm truly grateful. I gather it's a case of deep bruising, which as it works out gets more painful. So after a couple of reasonable nights' sleep I had to resort to sleeping downstairs in a riser-recliner chair downstairs. The nuisance has been having to cancel all engagements, such as the dentist and meals out with friends, and, by now, we should be having a break in Somerset and enjoying the company of thousands at the picturesquely named New Wine Festival - not an oinological gathering but a worship and teaching fiesta, which we first attended with our church. I'm trusting that it won't be long before I stop behaving like a fragile bean-pole and become more like an articulated human being again! Maybe I'll start pontificating on events again then. There's been a lot going on around the world since I laid my laptop aside.

Monday, 18 July 2011

God loves the red tops

I've been thinking about my last blog-post, and in particular the comments about throwing (or not) stones and about praying for opinion-formers. In fact I fell asleep with it on my mind last night. And I was thinking about red tops - including Rebekah Brooks, who'd been arrested and held for twelve hours yesterday.

One of my treasured books is called Easter Enigma. My copy has an inscription to Jane and me, dated 24.2.84. It was reprinted in 2005 (2005 edition) with a new cover. It was written by my late dad, and is about the apparent contradictions between the five accounts of Jesus' resurrection. As someone put it, it's drawn from first-hand, on-the-ground investigation. Dad was not scared of thinking outside the box. In Chapter 2 he looks at the first witness, Mary Magdalene - whose saint's day is this Friday. He argues, convincingly in my opinion, that we actually learn more about her than just those times she's given the Magdalene tag (meaning "from the town of Magdala", on the west of Lake Galilee). She's also the sinner who washes Jesus' feet with her tears, and Mary, younger sister of Lazarus and Martha.

It's certainly a view shared by those who understand character such as novelists, film-makers and artists, if not by over-learned academics. Clearly the Preraphaelite artist Frederick Sandys shared the view as his picture painted at the end of the 1850s shows her holding a jar of "very precious ointment" (perfumed oil). It also, of course, depicts her with long red hair - as was traditional from medieval times. I don't know the significance of that. The Bible doesn't mention it, though it does mention her letting her hair down to wipe Jesus' feet - a culturally disreputable practice. My dad suggests that the sensitive and intuitive Mary left the dull suburban home in Bethany to find some excitement near the new royal city of Tiberias. "We should probably not think of her as a street prostitute, but as a person of poise and charm whose favours were sought by the upper ranks of society." Anyway she becomes stigmatised as a notorious "sinner", whom no self-respecting rabbi should let near him. But Jesus has already had contact with her and released her from both guilt and what's been driving her in a self-destructive pursuit of influence and pleasure. Her modus vivendi becomes quite different, but her ultimate influence far exceeds her suburban dreams, as he gives her the most historic scoop of all time, his first face-to-face interview after his death and resurrection, and commissions her to break a news story that will run and run.

I imagine most people have written Rebekah Brooks (née Wade) off by now as an icon of the worst of unethical journalism - which is pretty low on the current scale of morality, a rung or two above paedophiles perhaps. And it's true that horrendous things were carried out under her editorship, it seems. And yet... Jesus would not have written her off. There's a human story there - this Lancashire girl, state-school educated, with dreams to be a journalist, travelling to Paris for further study and experience, starting work at 20 on a very short-lived Warrington paper and then going to Wapping to work as a newsdesk secretary. By the time she's 32 she's worked her way up to become the youngest editor of a national weekly. In 2003, aged 35, she's the first female editor of The Sun. In 2009 she's the Chief Executive of the whole shooting match, News International - neighbour and friend of the Prime Minister, who, along with his two predecessors, was a guest at her second marriage. And now on 17th July 2011, resigned as CEO, attacked on all sides in Parliament, she's arrested on "suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications, contrary to Section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 and on suspicion of corruption allegations contrary to Section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906." 

And there's a human being there too. Feisty but fallible, dreaming but damaged, successful but sinful - like all of us. Is it too much to pray that Jesus will meet her? One thing that's certain is that he would tell her he's not written her off and that he still loves her. The admiration of the most influential celebs pales into insignificance beside being liked by himAs the self-confessed "greatest of sinners" once said, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." That sort of transformational encounter is the sort that no one, but no one can hack into, but its result would exceed your wildest dreams, Rebekah. 
Fra Angelico's "Noli me tangere"
Mary Magdalene had an amazing focus after abandoning her former profession. She started again from the bottom acting as the lowest house slave washing feet, sitting listening and learning as a disciple, having her endurance tested to breaking point watching the one she loved tortured and die - before she was given the scoop of all time. And then she retired into obscurity - satisfied.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

News reflections

I tend to agree with the opinion that the News Corp affair has occupied an excessive amount of our news coverage. It's not surprising of course, as the revelations about what the News of the World apparently got up to were indeed shocking. And, I'm sorry to say, there's an element of circling jackals about the other news media. One senses a certain relish at the potential downfall of a media mogul, or at least the clipping of his wings. The BBC too, of course, sees in Sky its main rival as news outlet (though its audience share is in truth comparatively small); so perhaps there's some schadenfreude on its part.

I have the feeling as well that politicians are quite enjoying the discomfiture of the organisation which has harried them and whom they have feared - and, it has to be said, courted. I suppose that is a source of embarrassment to most of the movers and shakers in the main parties.

Yet, I wonder whether this is that big a story. It's certainly taken its scalps. However, after all, we are in the middle of a Euro-crisis which has the potential to trigger another global financial collapse, and we're facing a famine in the Horn of Africa threatening to become a catastrophe. The 'revolution' in Egypt seems to be erupting again, there's a war carrying on in Libya largely unreported, and of course there's been another marching season in Northern Ireland with attacks on the police.

This story seems to me a "media story", an instance of the media's narcissistic-like fascination with itself. I came across this revealing table from the Information Commissioner about illegal activity carried out by newspapers in 2006.

In the Cranmer blog of 13th July I learned that "Trinity Mirror Group are the most corrupt of the lot" with 1663 misdemeanours and infringements, in the 2006 table. Hot on their heels came the Mail Group, with the Murdochs' a poor third. I'm sure News Corp have redressed the balance somewhat now, but there don't seem any who are purer than pure, even the Observer/Guardian stable. I think of Jesus talking about throwing stones. "Whichever of you is without sin..." - I guess he meant without any sin and he included us. And I suspect that when the judicial enquiry begins the Murdoch empire won't be alone in being worried.

By the way, we used regularly to pray for "opinion-formers' in our church services. I don't pray for them anymore. I reckon I should start again.

Let's end on a positive note, such as the Proms having started or Darren Clarke winning the Open Golf. Actually my weekend has been made by being visited by friends on Friday, family on Saturday morning and more friends on Saturday night - with rather nice meals created by Jane.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Things I'm grateful for

My mother-in-law is a remarkable lady - no jokes about dragons-in-law here. Last year, at the age of 82, she exhibited for the last time in the annual show of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers at the Mall Gallery. This week she phoned Jane and mentioned, by the by, that she'd been gardening last Saturday and, pulling out a shrub, had fallen backwards down a flight of concrete steps, gashing her head, her legs and arms, and bruising herself all over. The minor injuries clinic took an hour to patch her up and told her to do nothing for 48 hours. Her verdict was without a hint of self-pity, "I was very lucky, wasn't I?" She wouldn't countenance cancelling the overnight visit of an old friend a couple of days later. They entertained him and took him out. Well, she said, keeping busy took her mind off it all. They don't make them like that these days, as they say! Actually I think they're wrong. I think they are people like that around still, with what's sometimes called an attitude of gratitude.

In fact since Monday when we went to visit Tony I've positively been trying to look out for the things I'm grateful for. And I don't mean the sort of gratitude urged on us when faced with a lukewarm unappetising school dinner: "Eat up. Think of the starving millions; they'd be grateful for just a bit of that." To which the answer (unspoken of course) is, "Well, they're welcome to it all." That's comparative, and usually negative, gratitude. "I'm grateful I'm not starving, not that ill, not living there etc."

I've been thinking about the sheer gifts I enjoy, such as:
I'm grateful for the circling red kites which add glamour to our humdrum suburban skies.
I'm grateful for the wood warbler which came and picked the bugs off our smoke tree.
I'm grateful for the hoverflies which fly in and out of the conservatory hanging in the air like miniature humming birds.
I'm grateful for the sunshine which relaxes my muscles and for the rain which keeps the lawn reasonably green.
I'm grateful for the dentist who's going to sort out my teeth - again.
I'm grateful for the man who services my lift and for the chap who repairs my wheelchairs.
I'm grateful for our nice home adapted to my needs, and I enjoy being able to look at a constantly changing, interesting garden.
I'm grateful for the car which means we can get out and about.
I'm grateful that we can afford to go away for holidays together.
I'm grateful that I am able to see rivers and lakes and oceans.
I'm grateful that I can sit on a hillside and watch Jane and Jess (our dog) go off for a walk - and return.
I'm grateful that I can sleep next to Jane in bed.
I'm grateful that I'm married to Jane and she's a good cook - and all-round good egg.
I'm grateful that my family all have jobs that I admire and are such fun company.
I'm grateful for my friends who seem to like me and have stuck with me.
I'm grateful for every day which brings new things to learn, some pleasurable, some painful - but such is life.
I'm glad to live in a universe which is so vast, and beautiful, and complex, and intricate, and endlessly mysterious.
I'm glad to know that existence is not absurd or pointless.
I'm grateful that the secret of life's origin and destiny is found in someone who lived the most loving and selfless life, in history (c. AD 1-33).
I'm glad Jesus Christ knows me.
I'm grateful to be alive.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Meeting Tony

I first heard of Tony Nicklinson when Radio 5 Live's Victoria Derbyshire Show came from his home last year. He was campaigning for a change in the law to protect from prosecution someone assisting a person unable themselves to commit suicide. He himself had a massive stroke six or seven years ago which has left him in a "locked-in state". It's a wretched condition. He's totally paralysed, except for his head. He communicates via a computer which he operates by the blink of an eyelid. He has carers to get him up and in the evening, as well as an all-night carer. He lives in a nice bungalow home with his wife, Jane, and one of his two daughters. Even so it's not much of a life, and one can understand his wanting out.

As you'll have gathered, we were meeting as part of a projected BBC Inside Out West programme for October. The BBC obviously thought that getting two crocks with opposite views about ending life would make good TV, and so Jane and I agreed to go over yesterday to his home in Melksham in order to be filmed in discussion, or "debate" as Tony preferred to call it. It was bright and sunny, the wheat and barley fields beginning to turn to gold as we drove across the Downs - the best of English summer days. Then it was along the motorway and down the A350. Jane timed it perfectly, drawing up on the dot of 11 o'clock. There was Kirsty's Ka and, presumably, the cameraman's VW estate. The house was obvious, with its ramp and extension. Outside was a skip full of builders' rubbish. Kirsty, the producer, popped out as we arrived, radio mike in hand. So once I was installed in my wheelchair and wired up, Steve the cameraman took over, and we had all the rigmarole of meeting and then pretending to meet Tony and Jane - knocking, "Oh hello, nice to meet you etc...."

Then it was into the sitting room for the real business. By the time we had two wheelchairs, Tony's flatscreen computer with its stand, and the camera and sound boom in there wasn't room to swing a mouse, let alone a cat. In the end we were ready for the conversation. It transpired that Tony and I were going to be left to get on with it. The format was basically him putting questions to me and my answering. It was a slow process as he had to type his questions blink by blink on to the computer, which then spoke to me, and I then answered, which isn't itself a fast process. He asked me if I wanted the law on suicide changed, to which my answer was No, because I don't want the taking of life to be sanctioned in any form. Was that because of my religion? Probably. My faith affects my whole life, but it's not the only reason. There are other factors why I think it's a dangerous idea. And so we went on.

I suppose the nub of the argument was his insistence of having the choice, which he reckoned I still had and he certainly doesn't. Afterwards I reflected that, in fact, I would be physically very hard pushed to commit suicide, even if I wished to, which I don't. He feels it's a matter of equality, that those who are physically incapable are discriminated against by that fact. He'd produced a "scheme" which, he reckons, would afford immunity to those who helped people like him die. I felt that "my choice" can't trump all other considerations. Our choices have consequences for other people. "No man is an island". My main point was that once we open the door to allow the taking of human life in any circumstances it sets a precedent. At one point I asked him about the good things in his life - which, unsurprisingly, he couldn't see. I was fairly convinced that there were some. I felt we were really talking at that point, not just debating. I hope that survives the final editing.

Not Steve our cameraman, but you get the idea
of the size of the camera
Because, evidently, there is much more material on tape than can be used in a 10-minute programme. I guess we were filmed for getting for a couple of hours, as well as the filming that Kirsty has done before with us and Tony's wife Jane. We eventually called a halt to the filming, partly because the poor cameraman was wilting (with the camera on his shoulder the whole time), partly because we were beginning to go round in circles, and partly because I felt tired. And so we parted. And hoped to keep in touch.

We decided to do something entirely different on the way home - and so we did. We stopped at Morrisons' Chippenham store, made use of their facilities and had some lunch in their café. Not exactly haute cuisine, or even, to be honest, moyenne, but rather refreshing ambience and very sympathique staff. It was fine. Suitably fortified, we made for the motorway, the hills and home. Thank you, those of you who remembered us. It makes a difference.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Friends' photos

I think this might become my new Facebook status! We were given these rather special dates by Mandy when she came to our Friday supper group with Charles, and good old Pete and Jane. These evenings are nourishing to my soul. We talk, and read and enjoy God's company. Of course it was the title that appealed to me, but the dates themselves are something else!
And here's another photo that appealed to me. I was sent it by Nic who lives near Cambridge. On the left is the office of the church they go to in St Ives, called The Bridge - and on the right is the name of my late distinguished father. In fact it's the premises of a firm of precision engineers who, I think, specialise in making instrumentation - nothing to do with theology.
And lastly the pièce de résistance - we saw this book for the first time a week ago on Saturday, when we  called in on its editor, our pal John Milnes. It is a magnificent book, as Jane said, a real work of art. The Ashmolean in Oxford has a small but priceless collection of instruments, and John, himself an instrument maker and repairer, has assembled the country's foremost experts to describe them and the world's best photographer of instruments to capture them. The result is a thing of beauty. The Deluxe edition is already sold out, but you can still buy the standard edition for £280,! I think the cover photo is of the prize violin of the collection, "Le Messie" Stradivarius, which John told us is the best preserved original Strad in the world. Inside there are photos from every angle in the best possible lighting. I think Le Messie means the Messiah rather than Lionel Messi, the star of FC Barcelona. It's just the star of 18th century Cremona. I suspect the violin will still be admired long after the footballer's forgotten.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Filming again

While the News of the World was being unmasked as the lowest form of tabloid newspaper (though squeaky clean now, as News Corp would have us believe, to the background noise of shredders and disc-wipers), we saw on TV reports of a monumental tragedy beginning to unfold once again in the Horn of Africa. This is how the Disaster Emergencies Committee described it:
DEC Chief Executive Brendan Gormley said: “Slowly but surely, these people have seen their lives fall apart – crops, livestock and now their homes have been taken by the drought. They’ve been left with no alternative but to seek shelter and life-saving help elsewhere. We have a duty to help quickly before the situation spirals out of control.” 
Large areas of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia are affected and the DEC appeal will also include South Sudan – set to become the world’s newest country on July 9.

More than 1,300 people a day, the majority of them children, are arriving in the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya near the border with Somalia.
The Dadaab camp was already the world’s largest refugee camp with a population of 350,000 – larger than the city of Leicester.

“Of course these people need a long-term solution with investment and political will – but right now it’s about preventing a tragedy,” said Mr Gormley."Many of these are a forgotten people, caught in the midst of conflict in Somalia and an ever-worsening environmental crisis.”  

Against the background of the one sordid and the other shocking news stories, I'm reluctant to blog about the mundane events of my life. I feel like one of those "petty men" whom Cassius described. Come to think of it, he could have been talking about Rupert Murdoch, couldn't he? Picture Ed Miliband as Cassius and David Cameron as Brutus, in PMQs:
Artist's impression of the Colossus
of Rhodes
"Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of the fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings." The interesting question is whether any of our politicians is willing to sever their links with the Colossus, and inflict "the unkindest cut of all". Of course their problem is what happened to Brutus and Cassius!

And, by the way, there was a good and thoughtful comment in Friday Night Theology headlined "How can I plan a holiday, now I know about this tragedy?" Helpful and worth a read.

However, I'm not a political blogger (much!), so back to my week. It's been busy, but my big event was being interviewed and filmed by Kirsty Hemming from BBC West. She's a producer for Inside Out West and is working on a programme to go out in the autumn at about the time Lord Falconer's "commission" brings out its "conclusions". She came here to see us on Thursday. She was very nice - but then good interviewers are! They need to set you at your ease.

Well, she interviewed me in the conservatory for about half an hour, and then we took her to have lunch at my favourite coffee shop, Cornerstone, where she did a bit more filming. In the event very little of the tape will appear in the final programme, of course. Editing is the creative part of filming, which of course allows the editor to put a slant on the film. I suspect, however, that Kirsty will maintain a fair balance. On Monday we're off for another session of filming, with Tony Nicklinson, who has locked-in syndrome and wants the law on ending your life to be changed. He has to communicate using his computer. The idea is for us to discuss the pros and cons. I suspect that won't be easy in any way. But I hope we get on all right.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A medical day

"You're having a very medical day," Jane told me on Monday. It was true: Lesley, my physio, was round in the morning for her regular check-up. I reckon she and Jane are part of the reason that my condition has not deteriorated more, them and the fact that it's that rare beast PLS - and a lot of people praying. She tells me my main problem is tightness in my adductor muscles and shortness in my hamstrings. She came up with a canny antidote to the former, which is sitting with a tightly rolled up sleeping bag between my knees - which forces them to stay apart. There's no hope of me becoming bow-legged like my revered Clifton art teacher, "Fluffy" (because of his hair) Leadbetter. He was the scourge of any cyclists who dared ride past the teaching block which housed the art school on its second floor. You were meant to get off at the gate but it was a long way to the bike sheds.... So it was tempting to risk it and stay on your bike, or at least scoot, round the corner! However, if Fluffy was in his lair, woe betide you! You'd hear a Scottish roar from on high, rooting you to the spot, followed by a thundering descent down the metal fire escape at the end of the building. I don't recall what the sanction was, but the ensuing encounter was terrifying enough.

As I say, I won't ever have knees you could fly a spitfire through, but the adductors might stop tightening. The consultant has warned/encouraged me that Jane and I probably have a long haul ahead of us; so everything that keeps me flexible is welcome. So are gizmos that make life easier - which is why my second visitor came. It was Martin from the Oxford Centre of Enablement. He came to talk about environmental control systems, i.e. technology to assist with daily living - like controlling the TV, turning lights on and off, closing curtains, summoning the lift, answering the phone and opening the door. The major need of those for me at the moment is answering and opening the door, because on the whole Jane and I have worked out a satisfactory modus operandi, which means I get on fine when she's out for some hours. However, the MND Centre tries to keep ahead of patients' deterioration, which is usually very fast. It's therefore normally hard to keep up. The system we talked about could be controlled from an iPad or iPod Touch - which was nifty - but I think had a few snags, like needing someone from the company to come and reprogramme things when you wanted to change something. So we're thinking on it. But it's another great service from the NHS.

Sadly I'm going to have to avail myself of the Health Service yet again, because, in the middle of lunch, eating a slice of home-baked bread and cheese, another tooth decided it had had enough and lost its head, i.e. the top fell off. So in a couple of weeks it's back to my nice dentist. One of my family, who's not with the NHS, is in the middle of root-canal treatment, at the cost of £450.

And of course that was like the big story of the day, the publication of the report of the Dilnot Commission. I've not read it through as I'd like to, but I gather it's factually and economically highly literate and its conclusions seem to me, at least, fair and affordable, protecting 2/3 of oldies' capital against care costs and adding no more than 1/400th GDP to public spending. As Andrew said, 'If we're not willing to spend that on caring for our elderly and younger vulnerable people, what does that say about our society?' - only more eloquently than that. Two things struck me about the news coverage of the report: one was the extraordinary authority that Andrew showed in interviews and debates. He knew it was a good report, based on sound principles. He knew he had a good "product". The other was the almost universal welcome the report received, especially from charities representing interested parties, but also from politicians (though naturally government ministers wanted a bit of wriggle room, promising us a white paper "in the spring"). The one dissenting voice I heard was from a Dr Patrick Nolan (if I remember right), an economist from the right-wing think-tank, Reform, on Channel 4, who waffled about affordability in financially straitened times, ignoring the facts that we'd spend less on it than on the Libyan expedition and that its implementation would not happen before our hoped-for economic recovery. In my view, the Commission was a job well done.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

A plaudit and postscripts

If for nothing else, one has to give Mr Cameron and his government credit for tackling some of the hottest potatoes that have been cooking for decades, like the pensions problem, the benefit system and the social care time-bomb, and of course end of life care. You may not agree with their exact approach to dealing with the financial crisis (I don't think I do), but without doubt they haven't ducked the task of deficit reduction. Of course commissioning reports isn't the same as tackling the problems. I suppose the acid test will be the extent to which they act on the various reports they've received. Will they follow them up as rigorously as they've laid in to cutting public expenditure? There is naturally a lot of political debate ahead, but I honestly hope that, while he listens, Mr Cameron isn't persuaded to let the grass grow up around these issues yet again.

I'm sad to learn that the Witney Town Council has not allowed the charity LIFE to hold a rally to celebrate its 40th anniversary in the Leys. There's been a bit of a hoo-ha about it, as you can discover in the delightfully reactionary Archbishop Cranmer's blog.

In what I hope will be my last word on Terry Pratchett's BBC programme about "Dingitas", I was a bit shocked to be alerted on Facebook to a news item in the Daily Mail. I did describe the programme as "creative" in the Guardian, but I hadn't realised just how creative it had been. The death of the young man with MS, Andrew Colgan, wasn't shown. What we did see was Sir Terry and his assistant back at their hotel playing Elgar's Nimrod variation and toasting him at the moment of his dying. In What the BBC didn't reveal his brother tells how his dying took 90 rather than the usual 20 minutes to take place.
"My mother cuddled him for the first 40 minutes but she was advised to let him go because knowing she was there may have caused him to cling to life. She did so with tears in her eyes."  The implication would seem to be that either Sir Terry was toasting his brave demise prematurely, or that the filming was - well - creative. Whichever, the BBC were, let's say, selective with the truth, as the impression was given of a normal Dignitas "dignified" death.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Good morning!

When Jane pulled back the curtains this morning, I looked out on a clear blue sky and the houses over the road lit up by sunshine.

When I turned on the radio, there was an item about the report on end of life care provision by the CEO of Marie Curie Cancer Care, Thomas Hughes-Hallett. He was talking about it at 7.10, and then, an hour later, there was a discussion about it with Care Services Minister, Paul Burstow, and the palliative care consultant at St Thomas' and Guy's hospitals, Rob George, introduced by a clip of Tony Bonser, describing his son, Neil's death at his home, "He died peacefully, where he wanted to be" - thanks to a Macmillan nurse's intervention, asking the right question at the right time. It was a brilliant example of how dying can be managed well - so different from the many scare stories that are peddled too often. You can hear it half way down this article. The report seems to be saying that more widely available palliative care at home and in hospices would actually save on hospital budgets and therefore not cost the NHS more. Refreshingly, the minister welcomed the government-commissioned report without reservation; unsurprisingly he wouldn't be acting on it straightaway - examining implications, pilot projects etc. But it was good to hear something really positive about end of life care.

Perhaps the most encouraging point in the Today programme was the very end when John Humphrys said: "Just before we close, we've had a huge response to our item on palliative care, the care of people who are dying... very warm praise from an awful lot of listeners for Tony Bonser who spoke so passionately and with such dignity about the death of his own son, who was terrified of hospitals and did eventually, in fact, die at home. One email in particular caught our attention, Marian Nash whose father died just on Sunday. She arrived at the care home just as they were calling the ambulance, even though he would not have wanted to go to the hospital, and in the end she says, 'she fought her corner' and he died at home. She says he had a beautiful death surrounded by two of his children and with his favourite music playing in the background. 'I dread to think what his end would have been in hospital.' And that's what so many people have been saying. And every single email we've had,... from people who've had experience of hospices , says how wonderful they have been and how great care workers have been at home." Maybe the BBC is learning to give the silent majority its voice - or maybe the silent majority is finding its voice.

That wasn't all. The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, a good argument for Judaism, was giving Thought for the Day. He was reflecting on the prevailing mood of pessimism and on actually how blessed we are. We may be preoccupied with cut-backs and pensions, but in a global and historical perspective (he mentioned his parents and grandparents who, I guess, were in mid 20th century Europe) "The lot has fallen to me in a pleasant place," he quoted from the Psalms, "I have a goodly heritage." Amen, that's true.

A couple of hours later I was reminded of the Burmese pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who gave the first of this year's Reith lectures on Tuesday morning. What a brave woman! 21 years under house arrest, refusing to leave Burma for fear of not being let back in - even at the cost of seeing her two sons and not being able to see her dying husband. We take so much for granted, and we gripe about such insignificant things.