Sunday, 26 March 2017

Rumsfeld, Ryan and Corbyn....

Sometimes people say something which seems crass or stupid, blindingly obvious, naïve or even impenetrable and later on you realize that it was none of those things.

Donald Rumsfeld, then US Secretary of State of Defence said (to much mockery), “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.” The serious element of this (which has been completely forgotten) is that he was avoiding giving an answer to a question for evidence but so much has been made of the quote that it, not the issue, has become folklore – to the point that he titled his memoir “Known and Unknown”.

Even if it wasn’t intended as such in the context it was given it is remarkably perceptive. Every time I have been involved in strategy planning, preparations for crisis management it is only ever the “unknown unknowns” that keep me awake.  Maybe “fake news” will also enter the lexicons – we used to call it at best malicious gossip (based on very little if anything) or just lies!

Now I have another pearl of wisdom – from the mouth of Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Paul Ryan after they pulled the vote on the Health Bill this week and it is,  “We were a 10-year opposition party,” Mr. Ryan said in assessing the defeat late Friday. "Being against things was easy to do.”

Being against things is easy to do.  It is easier to argue against, to criticize unhelpfully than to find solutions to problems.  It is also an expression of frustration when things don’t go your way. I wonder how many of those who voted to leave the EU were just frustrated with politics, business, bureaucracy, or just life in general and they voted to leave because they were against the status quo. 

Just before the election I was told by a Trump supporter that he was voting for Trump because he was “tired of the establishment”. He didn’t know what he was voting for, only what he was voting against.

Moving closer to home – look at Jeremy Corbyn. He knows what he is against:  the total number of votes cast by Jeremy against the whip (i.e. his own party if not his own government!), from 1983 onwards is 617 or 423 depending on how you count it – see vote statistics

So he is very good at being against and although he articulates sometimes what he is for – he has no idea what is needed to make it happen.

Monday, 27 February 2017

You don’t know what it feels like! (2)

Having established that I did have a hearing loss, even though it wasn’t significant I decided to bite the bullet and get hearing aids (privately at that stage  – not through the NHS). Modern digital hearing aids can be quite small and as my hair covers my ears, I wasn’t worried about the cosmetic effect.

They took very little getting used to but I only wore them when I needed to (mistake) I also found that if I went to concerts I had to take them out as there was huge feedback (whistling).  It did have a facility for the induction loop – just a light pressure on the aid did the trick.  You would be surprised how few theatres have a loop system installed – some you have to get a gadget from the box office and hang it around your neck and point it at the stage.  I think not!!  I had stopped going to the Globe Theatre in London as they do not use microphones and if characters talked facing upstage I couldn’t hear.  I was amazed some time after I got my hearing aids and went along as it was a group visit (and I knew the play very well) to find that they have a Loop induction installed.  Brilliant.

When I gave up full-time work and the audiologist told me that my aids were reaching the end of their life-span and how much they were going to cost to replace I moved to the NHS which has been amazing.  My new aids even had a programme for music so I could listen without feedback.

How do you know what it feels like? You don’t. If perhaps you wear glasses, perhaps even only for reading as you got older, you put the glasses on and you have normal vision.  Hearing aids are not the same.  You will never have normal hearing again. You have to come to terms with this.

There are unintended consequences too and you don’t know what it feels like.  This is when I would like to have a virtual reality app that a person with normal hearing can use to know what we are hearing.  The hearing aid magnifies the noise of someone turning the pages of the newspaper, eating crisps or crunching a carrot.  As someone who reacts negatively to this at the best of times it is hell.  I once decreed that there shouldn’t be anything crunchy on the table for meetings as the sound of people munching through crisps might drive me to violence.

Of course hearing continues to decline gradually and I am ever grateful to the audiologists and the NHS for their attention, my free hearing aids and batteries.  I also learned that I needed to wear them all the time to retrain the brain.  I can’t listen through earphones to an ipod (there is a Bluetooth gadget you can wear around your neck but it didn’t work for me) so I bought my Amazon Dot with a speaker that I can carry around the house. I read on the train instead of listening to music and I am aware of my surroundings when I walk, as I don’t have earphones clamped to my ears.  The best thing is that, as someone who is noise sensitive, I can take them out at night and it is very peaceful.  Not all bad.

I have no idea what it is like and cannot possibly speak for people with severe hearing loss – mine is not that bad, although a bit beyond “normal for my age”.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

How do you know what it feels like? (1)

From the trivial to the serious: this occurred to me when I first tried to learn to ski – and second and third, gave up after that.  I am not naturally athletic (not even vaguely) although I swam and played tennis to an acceptable social standard when young.  So skiing was always going to be a challenge.  There weren’t any slopes in South Africa so my first ski trip was in my twenties after I had moved to London.

Somehow I couldn’t get my body to do what seemed to be required. Admittedly a loathing of being cold and fear of falling didn’t help – the snow might have looked soft but the nursery run was hard packed.  It occurred to me if only there were some sort of suit – sort of physical virtual reality – that I could put on and then it could move my body in the way it was supposed to go. Once experienced then perhaps I would have a better chance of succeeding.

After a few more attempts it struck me that, while the family were all loving it, I was hating it and I didn’t want to spend my very hard-earned holiday being cold, miserable and scared, so I gave up. It was also cheaper to be the non-skier!  The best holiday was in Vail, Colorado where they have the most fabulous public library with huge picture windows, comfy armchairs and a fire where you could sit and read and look at the beautiful scenery. I met the family for lunch and in the evening and had a wonderful holiday.

Now for the more serious: about seven or so years ago I realised two things, firstly that if someone spoke at a meeting of ten or twelve people, I was having difficulty hearing the person at the end of the table.  Secondly at my Livery Company’s annual banquet at Mansion House where the tables are wide and against the background of 250 people talking enthusiastically, I was struggling to hear the person across the table from me.

There are various ways of doing this yourself, but I took a hearing check over the phone. The result was that my hearing was “normal for my age” - most unsatisfactory.  I was furious as it seemed that the assumption was that as I got older I would get deafer and that would be OK.  About two years before that I had experienced deafness in one ear after a bad sinus infection and it still felt “blocked”.  I went to see a specialist and he confirmed that I did have hearing loss – the upper register, and that the infection had caused a narrowing in the ear but this was not relevant.

Whether I wanted to do anything about it was entirely up to me.  The loss wasn’t severe but I was finding it inconvenient.  I have never forgotten his explanation. If you have lost some hearing, the brain makes up for the bit you don’t hear.  If someone is talking very quickly or with an accent or in a noisy environment, it takes the brain a bit longer and the concentration required is greater and that’s when you run into trouble. In a noisy environment you sometimes just give up.  That is why deafness can be socially isolating. 

The next blog will be about how this related to “how do you know what it feels like”.  If you have hearing loss you will understand and if you don’t, please read.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Our confused relationship with celebrities and T P-T

The year I first moved to London, 1965, saw the premiere of what was then a controversial play “The Killing of Sister George”.  The controversy was about the assumed lesbian relationship between the characters but my abiding memory is something quite different.

To set the scene – in South Africa there was no television and there were very few radio serials – I have a vague recollection of my mother listening to one in the morning called “Dr Paul” but it did not have the universal following of, say, The Archers or Mrs Dale’s Diary. (The play is supposed to be a parody of the killing of Grace Archer in The Archers.)

Sister George, a “much loved” character in the radio serial is written out and the various motives and relationships play out.  The part I remember most strikingly was the curtain going up on one scene and the stage is full of flowers sent by devoted radio listeners. Yes, this is a parody but surely people wouldn’t actually do this?  It’s a character in a soap opera for goodness sake.  No one died!

Moving on – how can we think we have a relationship with a famous person who doesn’t even know we exist?  It may be the subject of a teenage girl’s fantasies but surely no more?

There is much discussion about whether celebrities should take advantage of a public platform to make political statements – the BAFTAs, Oscars or even from the stage at the end of a play. I am not sure.

However, famous faces can bring much to the discussion and particularly to charities. The producers of soap operas are very careful to work with charities when they address issues such as cancer, domestic abuse, etc so that not only the storyline is accurate but that viewers know where to get help if needed.

Celebrities speaking out on issues, particularly on those that involve them or their characters can make a difference.  Look at the discussion around domestic abuse accompanying the Helen and Rob storyline in The Archers.  If Louiza Patikas spoke out about abuse would we listen?  – but if we knew that she is the actress that played Helen Archer – we would listen to every word even though that doesn’t make sense.

This brings me on to my own ‘relationship’ with a celebrity. In the early 2000s the IT girls were the thing.  Leader of the pack was Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.  She was everywhere, the paparazzi loved her, she had a column in the Sunday Times and her life seemed there for everyone to see.

A PR company that was advising Breast Cancer Campaign persuaded the Sunday Times and Tara to use her column to promote a lunch with her in the private dining room at Mosimann’s to raise money for breast cancer research.  The lunch sold out, we made money (and recruited a fabulous new committee for our major fundraiser the Pink Ribbon Ball) from the guests.

My memory is of someone who was bright, engaging and full of life.  She charmed everyone. She said all the right things and made everyone feel that they were her friends and she was delighted to be there. Believe me not all celebrities are that gracious! We were all caught up in the fun of it and left the lunch feeling cheerful. That is a great talent.

She repeated this at a Pink Ribbon Ball subsequently, although then the strain was starting to show.  So much has been written about her complicated and tragic life, the flame that burned too brightly:  I just hold the memory of that lunch to remember her by.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

I hate New Year's Eve

Always have done, always will do. I am not sure how or why it started.  As a child it passed me by apart from the fireworks. I don't like loud sudden noises and avoided firework displays.  Why can't they have fireworks that don't crack but whoosh or swish. They still look lovely and all dogs and cats would be grateful.

We have had some enjoyable celebrations: friends of our Swiss family had a party where the children melted pieces of lead and dropped them into cold water and the shape would predict the year ahead.  We were the only two people who could speak only one language, and that included the multilingual children. We watched the fireworks on the river from a half a mile away - distant bangs!

Another in Los Angeles with friends of my sister's, formerly from Hungary. Rather curiously a strong smell of cooking cabbage wafted across the house just before midnight. That was the traditional Hungarian cabbage soup that partygoers had to fortify them for the journey home in sub zero temperatures (not the balmy LA evening).  But I'm all for traditions.

Some of the pleasantest and least stressful were at my neighbour's, the lovely Stella, everyone knew someone and no one knew everyone and we all lived within walking distance. No false jollity, simple food, a glass of champagne and home to bed.

Yes there have been some dire parties, false jollity with drunks lurching towards you at midnight, never mind driving on the road or throwing up on the Underground.  It isn't the actual evening but for me there is always a sense, of not quite doom, but something nasty lurking in the woodshed in the following year. I am more than happy to see the back of 2016.  We have lost some dear friends, some ridiculously young.  The awfulness of Syria, never mind other places in the Middle East and Africa.  Bloody Brexit, who knows what will happen with Trump, too much to worry about, and probably other things I haven't thought of. The dance macabre has been whirling around.

Our family has been blessed with a good year  I have a new role as chair of the trustees of the Institute of Health Visiting which is exciting and am very involved with the Needlemakers charity which will give away more money this year.  All good.  But still the cloud of expectation.

In my religious days (lost faith in my twenties, but that's another story), from a child I was very moved by the symbolism  of Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.  I probably believed it literally for a while but even when I didn't it gave hope.  The 10 days between the two are known as the Days of Awe. Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgement, but if you atone for your sins and ask forgiveness you have until Yom Kippur to weight the chances for a good year in your favour. God can't forgive you for hurting others, you have to ask directly.  In the same way as you might write a Christmas card to someone you haven't seen for a while, this is also a time to get back in touch. Then the Book is sealed and what will be will be.  Somehow I'm OK with that (no I don't take it literally) it is, it will be and somehow you have to get through it the best you can.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Did my grandmother or mother write this?

Our maternal grandmother used to write a lot – mostly thoughts on odd pieces of paper and notebooks and also letters to the newspapers – often published.  She travelled a great deal and wrote wonderful letters.  Our mother used to write too.

When our mother died my sister found this poem - handwritten on paper - at the back of a photograph of our father and I wonder if it was written by our grandmother (or mother) or is a published poem.  Can’t find it anywhere. It is  not really my sort of thing - I am probably too literal to be whole-hearted about it.  Yes, it is dated but very much of  its time – probably 1950s.  

Facing the Worst

It’s courage you’ll be needing when you have to face the worst
It’s courage you’ll be wanting then, so pray for courage first
Strength of will to meet and tackle what you have to do
Nothing less than that will get you by or pull you through

When crosses must be shouldered that you have to face alone
Out into the darkness on a road to you unknown
When something happens calling for the best that on you lies
Hold your head up to the light and to the challenge rise

When you think that God has failed you and the last hope gone
Think again, keep going, never doubting, struggle on
Lean on Him when in the dark, you’re lost with none to lead
Wordly goods won’t help you then – it’s courage you will need.

It is handwritten and signed “love Mum” - whether it was published, written by our grandmother or mother - I have no idea! If you can identify the source, please leave a comment - I don't publish them but I do read them and will acknowledge.