Thursday, 31 March 2011

Mum's The Word

Mum”, the first word so often heard in countless situations. In the playground, the home, and on the phone. Mum, an identity all of its own - a figure of fun and comfort. The one we turn to in distress, or make feed me requests. Cuts soothed, tears swept away. Clothes washed, ironed and mended. Kids and partners put first, their own lives upended. We owe a lot to our Mums or those who assume that position. It's a tough job, coming easy to some, but not others. Mothering a skill, not a role women were simply born to fulfill.

Instead of “keeping Mum”, I've chosen to speak out in honour of this coming Sunday. A daughter's perspective – their work unsung until now. The one day they're granted to be celebrated. I'm sure this isn't true for everyone. Most appreciating their mums, taking time to show it on unofficial days too. Mum, just one of the roles they play in 24 hours, wife, daughter, aunt and sister also. Passing on lessons they've learned, handed down the generations. Where would we be without our mums? The rock we all rely on.

Who you call “Mum” or think of in this way may differ. Mum may be a family friend, both parents rolled into one, or even a next door neighbour. The female qualities that matter. The mother-child bond not always the same for sons and daughters. The mother-daughter relationship a navigational course. Best friend, matriarch, or both? A figure simply to obey? My Mum and I share an Ab-Fab affair. Absolutely Fabulous, you might think taking the literal approach, but what I actually meant was the Jennifer Saunders sitcom. Who can forget Eddie and Saffie? That polar opposite pair. Both of us with similar traits of the characters in question. A period in my teens where I pondered, just who was the parent here? My “Eddie” now still fun, but toned down. Our bond matured with age.

The word “Mum” a mistaken guise. A presumption that to be one you have to have sons and daughters. Does “mothering” require children? I don't think this is true. Surely “to mother” means to protect, love and care. To offer support and guidance when sought. Blood relations not an essential requirement. Nurturing, the focal point and tailored to every avenue – from the human race, to animals, insects and plants. You don't have to physically give birth in order to mother. Even gardeners and authors learn to master this skill. Nourishing plants and birthing books their opportunity to nurture, giving life to something new. Yes, mums deserve a treat, a chance to be pampered and put up their feet, but it's not the only way. Mothering, a labour of love, which every one of us can employ.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Saved By The Bell

We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control”, the British kids protest, the Pink Floyd song literally taken to heart. Most of them not knowing who the band are. Exercising their right not to learn, but very much to be heard. The point is they're not faring much better on their own. Public or state educated it doesn't matter, the results are the same. Drop outs and poor grades. Our hedonistic lifestyles competing with the boredom of class. Lessons contained within four walls, there's no contest. Outside distractions, the winner every time.

Jamie's Dream School showing this to be true. 20 teenagers offered a second chance, star teachers lined up at the gate. Eager to share their wisdom, inspire these young minds. A register of students, with poor grades to their name. These lucky few saved by the bell, Jamie Oliver's dream. A last minute intervention before it gets too late. Kids failed by the system so Jamie says, but where should we place the blame? Teacher, student or parent? Surely the figures do not lie. Schools are performing worse, as each year goes by. Some taught spoon fed, we'll-hold-your-hand techniques. A boost to the league tables, school moved up a notch. Board of governors happy with their new slot. Pupils and teachers, the ones who suffer from this backward scheme. Dark sarcasm in the classroom now coming from the kids. Back chat and mobile phones, the bane of teaching life. The Pink Floyd lyric now revised: “Hey, kids! Leave those teachers alone!” Teenage years a difficult time, learning the last thing on their mind. Keeping up appearances, surrounded by their peers, the world evolves 'round ME, and other teen thoughts made exceedingly clear. Education doesn't stand a chance in this sorry state.

How do we pull ourselves out of this black hole? By changing how we learn. The belief: you get out what you put in, the way ahead. Inspiring dreams and hidden talents to pursue. Younger kids engaged with a fun, creative way to learn. Teenagers craving respect, their input to be earned. Lessons informally conducted, given on a level they can comprehend. An interactive process of practical and debate. The exchange used to teach communicative styles, not war and hate. Desperate to be considered adults, it's life skills that should be taught. Why can't lessons be more relevant to how life's really sought? Health, nutrition and cooking a must, how to budget instead of maths a big plus, parenting and relationship skills, cultural and societal differences ideal. Life's richness conveyed in all its norm, these the lessons to be born.

This the new curriculum to enforce. An educational reform we can build and trust. Each of us “nother brick in the wall.” Brick by brick, a better society will be formed.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Make 'Em Laugh

Tomorrow's the big day – the day countless organisers and fund raisers have been working towards. Comic Relief's Big Red Nose making a passionate appeal to the nation. Sponsored activities, comedy sketches, and trailers of poverty all doing their bit to raise money for the developing world. Families and children living in slums, survival against the odds in harsh conditions. You'd think like everyone else, (so it seems), I'd be a supporter, but in fact it's very much the opposite. I go against the tide. It's Big Red Nose, a Big Turn Off.

Why this refusal to get involved? “Charity begins at home”, others state to explain their case. I can't say the same. The whole of Earth home, a global community. Scared of clowns? The thought has crossed my mind. Freaking out at any form of costume as a child, or so I'm told. Human-disguised Father Christmases, clowns and animals had me running from the room. Fear gone, the running remains, but this time from these charity requests. Same sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, as I prepare to flee or switch off the televised images beamed at me. Are these comic fund raisers for them or for us?

It's for charity, so pick up the phone”, the overriding theme. Meddling in other people's affairs. Yes, the developing world deserves better, but not at this expense. Few pounds here, few notes there – throwing money around the answer to their prayers. This will pull them out of poverty, giving them a better life. Well I disagree. Number dialled, donation given, we sit back and relax. Giving to others to make ourselves feel good, uncaring about the result. Where does that money go? Is it what the people want?

Poverty, like everything else, is subjective. What we perceive as poverty isn't necessarily the case. The poverty trap here is not the same poverty witnessed there. Is our definition wrong? The pursuit of more to blame. Impoverished nations happier, living with far less complaint, Western nations seething with discontent. Who has the better life? Charity, often our way of looking down - our lives are better than yours approach. The Western lifestyle imposed on those leading simpler lives. This, our brand to sell – television, technology and other material goods. McDonald's and Heinz, among the portfolio of imported features to maintain.

Should we try to change the only way of life they've ever known? Change essential if nations are to improve, but aid given freely in their best interests, and not ours. Nations will develop if allowed to keep their customs strong. Health, Education, Nutrition at the core. The H.E.N strategy for a healthy life. But why is this taking us so long? Could it be that aid given as money is not the right form? The film, Patch Adams, makes a very valuable point: If you focus on the problem, you can't see the solution. Never focus on the problem.

Pain not the focus, but understanding what they need. The Big Red Nose a ruse to distract them from their suffering. This is what Comic Relief should be about – clowning around. Giving joy the focus. Laughter the best medicine in town.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Knocking On Heaven's Door

Knockin' on heaven's door, a lyric associated with Bob Dylan. Spelt with a “g”the line appears more sinister. Full of foreboding – knocking frantically on heaven's door, a refusal to be let in. Isn't this what most of us imagine? An image that wouldn't look out of place in a comic strip. If you hold other beliefs, then beware. Reincarnation does not exist, and spiritual inclinations absurd. Issue dismissed. Death feared, considered final. These are not my views, but the views of bigger society. Humans, have a right to life, but not in how they choose to die.

A society that's pro-life, yet fails to care. Saving lives, the mantra, prolonging it the goal. Life, a natural cycle in which death plays a part. Human beings not exempt from this fate. Death, as much a teacher, in this circular existence we call life. A process of letting go. It's the letting go that's frowned upon. How dare we give up, withhold treatment, sentence others to their end. The best gift we can give the dying is in letting go. Releasing our attachment, saying our goodbyes. Their wish for a dignified death fulfilled.

I speak from experience. A month on a hospital ward at my Nan's bedside. A massive stroke immobilising her down one side, affecting her capacity to swallow. Drifting in and out of consciousness, treatment not working and causing her obvious distress. Witnessing life-saving work causing pain, and not relief. Palliative care, our decision, against the wishes of qualified medical staff. Abandoned for allowing our loved one to die. Care now left to us to provide. Yes she had days where she surprisingly rallied and these memories I treasure. Three generations of women together, a room filled with laughter. Nan singing the Louie Armstrong classic, What A Wonderful World in a frail whisper. Those last days she gave to us to remember.

Consciousness fading, coma returned. Bedside duty, a case of being there – to hold her hand, stroke her forehead, moisten her lips and brush her hair. Breath becoming laboured, nearing death's door. This end of life care, highly charged with emotion and reward. Almost four years ago, this lesson keeps on giving. My Nan may have been 83, so good innings you might say, but death makes no concessions. It's applicable to any age, in sickness or in health. Coming to all of us in time or in the blink of a eye.

This was not meant to be morose, just my attempt to unlock those pearly gates. Bring about an open debate. “How people die remains in the memory of those who live on”, Dame Cicely Saunders said. So it does, unless we can learn to embrace death. Learning from its wisdom. Providing care in abidance with others wishes, their best interests at heart. Knowing that to love unconditionally is to let them go. Dying matters to everyone - why deprive yourself of this precious gift? There's life in death.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Bet You Can't Eat This!

No such word as can't”, my Nan would say whenever I doubted myself or refused to help when asked. Can't as a word did not exist. My sentence recited with cannot instead. Using its full form an insolence, not absorbing the lesson that had been set. Now I think differently, can't a phrase stopping us in our tracks – from living, being, doing... Any state ending with ing. Can't, the enemy of change. A prejudice to common sense.

This unwilling attitude clearly read in the managerial staff of the NHS. Forced to yield their position, reverse psychology their new mission. Bribing patients to eat their food, can't reverted to can do! Patients refusing to take the bait, instead question the quality of food on their plate. Heston's Marvellous Medicine having more success, with snot shakes and fried worm bread. Is this the solution to our troubles? HMM, food made fun... I'm not so sure it was the answer I'd been looking for.

Menu fatigue, a chief complaint. Cook-chilled food, a pet hate. Are patients right to kick up a fuss? Free processed grub snubbed on a ward, yet wolfed down at home as reward. Hospitals are not hotels. We get what we pay for, not contributing to our health care needs as other countries do. This is only the part-truth, a reflection of our times. Yes, poor food hinders your recovery, but the choices we make outside can also lead to illness. The NHS is not at fault, the community to blame. Our whole concept of food demanding change. Fresh produce replacing our quick, convenient pursuit. Benefits rolled out for all to learn.

The continuity of care is what we should be focused on – treatment and recovery, to end of life compassion. Food, an indispensable requirement. Every group has their needs - like learning the ABC. Adults, children, elderly, even vegetarians too! Being nourished important for the body to repair. All vulnerable if not given the right proportion from the pyramid of foods. Some hospitals need kitchens. Others to cater primarily for the patients, and not the staff canteen. Fat cats fat enough if you ask me. Providing kitchens can be done, fresh ingredients on a budget. No more heater uppers please, just skilled cooks having fun.

NHS to again take ownership of this fundamental position. Providing an ethos promoting wellness, not the illness you envision. With high standards across the board and famous oath now restored: “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. Every hospital requiring its very own kitchen-trained physician!