Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Assing about in Devon

For a change, something a bit lighter - but not less important for all that, since such times take on a special significance when you have a chronic deteriorating condition.

Last week we returned from a week away with all our family. They're all busy people; in fact one of them is in the throes of completing his master's dissertation. So their giving up a week of the year to spend in the company of Jane and me means a lot. Not that we don't have fun together, but a wheelchair grouch imposes limits on what can be done.

We stayed in a large house in mid-Devon which Jane had found through the New Wine magazine. It was in reach of her parents and so we were able to call on them - which the great grandchildren enjoyed. The weather was of course mixed - but never bad enough to prevent us doing what we wanted. Not far away was Dunkeswell Airfield from where on the Saturday a continuous stream of sky-divers flew and gave us a grandstand display of their descents against a clear blue sky and even out of the clouds.

On the Monday we drove to the National Trust house at Knightshayes Court, once owned by the Heathcoat-Amory family. Our granddaughters dressed up as below-stairs servants. In the magnificent billiard room there was a series of corbels depicting fables. Near the door was this one:

Not a fable I'm familiar with, but it seems to refer to this one from the Latin writer, Phaedrus. "A donkey saw a lyre lying in a field. He approached the instrument and as he tried to strum it with his hoof, the strings resounded at his touch. 'What a beautiful thing,' said the donkey, 'but completely inappropriate, since I don't know anything about music. If only someone better equipped than myself had found it, my ears would have been delighted by heavenly melodies!'" 
So it is that talents often go to waste because of some misfortun(trans. Laura Gibbs). Sort of apt!

The next day we continued with the theme of donkeys, and visited the vastly over-endowed Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary. Suppressing my reservations about how much money is donated to animal charities, I enjoyed the morning. It is free to get into and has pretty good wheelchair access (and posh disabled loos). An excessive number of photos were taken of the old ass with the sleek-looking donkeys. 
Looking at my stomach explains the notice!
Silent fellowship of asses
And of more importance the girls didn't seem to tire of  viewing the unexpected variety of donkeys. Then we had the exclusive use of Blackbury Camp for our picnic.
Under the greenwood tree

I mustn't forget to mention the two discoveries of our holiday. The first is the excellent Ashill Inn. Last year we went to have our final meal at Clyst Hydon's Five Bells. Now it's a bit out of our price bracket; and so we were delighted to find somewhere which suited us just as well and served excellent food. It's not stodgy pre-cooked microwaved pub grub, but a freshly cooked, locally sourced, delicious menu. Good wine list and local beers, I'm told.
At Ashill Inn
The game of Mölkky

The other is the game of Mölkky, to which one of our family introduced us. It's from Finland and it's a sort of sophisticated and longer version of skittles, but with the mölkky thrown rather than rolled. All generations could take part. Sadly my lack of coordination and muscle power meant I scored nothing when I played, but that didn't stop me enjoying it.

Life is good.

Friday, 21 August 2015

The letter The Guardian didn't print

A week ago, when I was away on a much-needed break with my family, the media, led by The Sun, was full of the case of Mr Bob Cole, a councillor from North Wales, who was due to commit suicide on the Friday afternoon in the "Dignitas" self-styled clinic in Zurich. It was clearly a media-event  pre-orchestrated by the pro-euthanasia lobby in this country. ITV had contacted me for an interview on the Thursday, but I wasn't then well enough to oblige. So I did the next best thing I could and sent a letter to The Guardian newspaper, before we left on holiday.

This was what I wrote:


I am sad to learn that The Sun has lent its megaphone in support of what appears to be the latest salvo in Dignity in Dying’s campaign to legalise assisted suicide.  No one can fail to be moved by Mr Cole’s suffering nor that of his late wife.  However the campaign threatens to open a Pandora’s box of unintended and dangerous consequences for those of us who suffer from chronic, terminal or disabling conditions – and indeed ultimately for our whole society.

Mr Cole is quoted as having “no wish to die in pain without any dignity”.  Neither do I.  I have a very slow form of MND, and although I don’t relish the prospect of dying I have confidence that my dignity will not be sacrificed and my symptoms will be well managed, thanks to advanced palliative care pioneered by the hospice movement.  Ironically, in our sophisticated culture, the populist campaign is based on an immature fear of the process of dying.  Rarely is that process easy, and as our population ages so the difficulties increase.  However short-circuiting the process, which is what Dignitas and assisted suicide offer, merely adds to fear and militates against acceptance of the inevitable, and good dying.  Deliberately ending life, also known as killing, is no way to go.  Expanding and investing in palliative care, which is real compassion, is the better way.  

The vast majority of disabled and vulnerable people are protected by the law as it stands, and fear any change.  To pass a law which admits that some lives are less valuable or worthy of protection, as has happened wherever euthanasia or assisted suicide have been made legal, is a thoroughly dangerous precedent.  I trust MPs resist the loud siren-call of press magnates and listen to the voice of informed reason.  Keep us safe.

Yours etc

Sadly, The Guardian, whilst making quite a thing of the event, chose not to print my response the next day. I am sorry because I think that opinion formers such as journalists and law makers such as MPs need to be made aware that euthanasia is not a good universally acknowledged - anything but.