Fargo

“This is a true story.  The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 2011.  At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed.  Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” Welcome to Fargo where all is not what it seems.

The latest series of Fargo dealt with a story as old as time.  Brothers, jealousy, death and money.  You can’t get any more ancient than that.  Yet it was the ending that was so brilliant.  The big baddie of the piece V.M. Varga, who is a Brummie of course, is finally caught by a freshly promoted Gloria Burgle who now works for the Department of Homeland Security.  Gloria revels in telling Varga the fate that awaits him.  Locked up in Rikers Island with no hope of parole.  Justice will be duly served.  Varga has other ideas.  He mocks Gloria for her naivety.  He is the grease that keeps the corrupt world we live in turning.  He calmly informs her that someone far superior to her will walk through the door, have a quiet word and he will be free to go on his merry way.  Gloria isn’t convinced.  Varga insists it will happen.  The camera then focuses on the door.  Who will come through?  Will it be Gloria’s federal agents or Varga’s evil overlords?  We are left hanging.

I had a similar experience in the eye clinic.  Well sort of anyway.  Last week I received an appointment to go to the eye clinic on Saturday at 1:30pm. Welcome to the seven day a week NHS folks!  Lovely but I had another appointment at the eye clinic in two weeks’ time to discuss my operation.  Maybe they had brought it forward?  I didn’t recognise the name of the consultant, so I was hopeful.

After the obligatory eye test, it is the eye clinic after all, I sat and like Varga, awaited my fate.  When the door opened it was… Mrs T. Great.  She ushered me in.  I mentioned the operation.  She wasn’t interested in the slightest.  She asked me about the cancer.  I wasn’t interested in telling my story for the umpteenth time.  We had reached a stalemate.  She wasn’t interested in me and I wasn’t interested in her.  Yet there was a chink.  She booked a scan to check the nerves in my eye.  That could be good and quite useful for the surgeon.  I explained I was on holiday the week following the appointment.  She snorted.  Did I really think the scan would happen that quickly?  She said that she would see me in three months’ time.  Not before I see someone who can actually help me first.

The League Of Gentlemen

Life seems to be becoming ever more like the life in Royston Vasey.  For the uninitiated, Royston Vasey is the fictional town where the League of Gentlemen is set.  The League of Gentleman was a comedy series that followed the lives of several of the citizens of Royston Vasey.  Many of the characters have weirdly morphed into real life.  The most obvious example of this are Tubbs and Edward who run the local shop for local people.  Extreme Brexiteers before the term was even formulated.

My favourite character has to be Pauline.  Pauline is horrific.  Pauline, brilliantly played by Steve Pemberton, is the tutor of the finding a job programme at the Job Centre.  She enjoys the power she has over the job seekers and regularly threatens to stop their benefits if they question her in anyway.

There are certain similarities between Pauline and my line of work.  In the first episode, she asks the group to shout out names of jobs, only to tell them they don’t have a hope in hell in getting any of them.  This was quite like a class where I got my learners to do an A to Z of jobs, although I wasn’t quite as dismissive about their job prospects.

Pauline shows how ridiculous some of these courses are.  Mickey, one of Pauline’s jobseekers, gets an interview.  However, it’s in the middle of the course.  Pauline threatens to stop his benefits if he goes to the interview as he must finish the course first.  Sadly, this mirrors what happens in reality.  On our courses, if a learner is enrolled to do an exam, there is an expectation that the learner will sit that exam come hell or high water.  If the learner gets a job, becomes ill, has a baby, we are expected to drag them in to complete the course and do the exam.  It’s all about the spread sheet darling.

The spread sheet has spread into all aspects of life.  Obviously when you are dealing with inanimate objects, they serve a purpose.  Yet humans aren’t like that.  Humans change.  We are an evolving species after all.  Yet the gap between those who scrutinise the spread sheet and those who are on the frontline gets wider and wider.

It’s all been a bit quiet on the health front recently, spread sheets aside.  However, the drooling is getting worse and worse.  I went to a concert with my sister in Hyde Park.  We tried to take the obligatory selfie.  I looked awful.  “Try opening your mouth a little.” I did. I still looked awful.  So now I have become like Mariah Carey in photos.  Mariah Carey is famous for never showing the left side of her face.  If it’s good enough for Mariah, it’s good enough for me.  Bring on the face lift!

Bucket List

Thanks to Mr Facebook, I know that it has been two years since I was attached to a handsome man and jumped out of a plane.  It wasn’t quite the experience I was expecting.  I did it because I am quite lazy and couldn’t be bothered to train for anything exhausting like a marathon.  The first man who ever ran a marathon, died straight afterwards.  That’s all you need to know about my view on marathon running.

Anyway, inspired by memories of Janet Ellis on Blue Peter leaping out of planes, I thought why not?  It’ll be over quick.  Everyone I spoke to who had done a sky dive kept saying how amazing it was.  A few were envious that I had had the opportunity to do it.  The allotted hour arrived and there I was, sat between the legs of a very attractive parachute instructor in a rickety plane, that kept climbing higher and higher.  Everyone in the plane seemed very chilled.

“Right. I’m off then…” said a jolly bloke as he jumped through the open hatch, like he was popping out to Tesco’s.

Then it was our turn.  I had stupidly paid for a video of the occasion which was a huge error.  I dangled my legs out of the hatch, with a loon who had a camera fixed on his head asking me how I was feeling every five seconds.  The instructor slowly shuffled forward and soon I was dangling under the plane. Then we dropped…

When we landed, the camera loon ran up.

“So, how was it?!?”

“Interesting… I think I might be sick…”

Not exactly the answer he was hoping for.  I was quickly disentangled and made to put my head between my knees.  I felt a lot better after that.

Sky diving is often high on people’s bucket lists.  I’m a bit dubious about bucket lists.  It’s all a bit organised for me. The best fun and experiences are the ones that are unplanned and spontaneous. The planning aspect somehow, takes the joy away from that, for me anyway.

I was in two minds before doing my sky dive.  I had started going to a women’s cancer group and one of the women in the group, Lou, persuaded me to do it.  Lou and I got on well from the start.  We shared a similar taste in humour.  Lou had breast cancer and found out that she had the BRAC-2 gene, made famous by Angelina Jolie.

“Believe you me that is the one and only thing I have in common with Angelina Jolie.  Mind you if she ever fancies trading Brad in…”

When I first mentioned the sky dive, she urged me to do it, just to ogle at the instructors at least.

“They are all gorgeous!”

A week after the sky dive, Lou took a turn for the worse and was admitted to hospital.  I went to see her.  She was in a bad way and was drifting in and out of consciousness.  Her mum asked how the sky dive went.  I told my story of it and I thought I could see Lou smile in the corner of my eye.  Lou’s mum asked who the instructor was. It turned out that Lou had done a sky dive five year previous with the same instructor.

“He was absolutely gorgeous!”

Sadly, Lou died the next week.  Myself and another woman from the group decided to go to her funeral.  Lou lived in a small village on the outskirts of Nottingham.  My Sat Nav failed big time and we were ten minutes late for the service.  As soon as we ran into the church, the vicar was finishing the eulogy.

“Lou was quite often late for things.  She would rush in apologising which made her even more endearing…”

You could almost hear Lou muttering,

“Honestly you two, what muppets!”

Arise Sir Liam

While I was working in the Czech Republic, a film came out over there about two Czech pilots who fled to Britain flew and fought in the Battle of Britain.  When the younger of the two came over for training, he couldn’t believe the calm attitude of not only the British pilots but also the civilians.  It was a very close thing, the Battle of Britain. Churchill ordered inventories of all the weaponry in museums.  That’s how close it was.  So why was everyone so calm?

“They’re not fanatical.  That’s what’s going to win this war.” The older Czech pilot told his colleague.  It’s this attitude that is finally shining through the darkness of the last few weeks.  It was also seen in the brilliant One Love Manchester concert.

I missed the first half hour of the concert as we were trying to get our heads around House of Cards again.  We decided to take a breather and I flicked it on.  A chap called Scooter was giving a long introduction for someone.  It was a bit rambling.

“I’m off to the garage.” announced my husband.

The long introduction was for Adriana Grande of whom I know absolutely zilch about.  She came on and the song was OK.  What was amazing was the response of the audience.  The look on the faces of the youngsters who were so proud that this megastar had chosen to return to Manchester, make a stand and promote love and unity.

After a couple of songs, a school choir came on stage.  When Ariana came over to join them, many in the choir broke down.  It turned out that some of the choir were at the previous Ariana concert but the kindness, sympathy and hugs from Ariana shone through.

As the concert went on, some performances were good, some amazing but Ariana was the link that held it all together.  I shuddered when Will.I.Am strolled onto the stage with the Black Eye Peas and said, “Here’s to you London!”  Had he not got the memo?  However, he quickly addressed this by quickly referring to the events that had happened at London Bridge the night before. Phew!

My husband emerged from the garage just in time for Katy Perry.  She was quite good he admitted.  Then Sarah Cox announced that Justin Bieber was next.

“Right I’m off again.” And back to the garage he slunked.

Bieber was very emotional.  The only Bieber song I know is Baby, Baby and judging by the acoustic guitar, he wasn’t going to sing that.  Again, it was the response of the audience that was so incredible.  He hit just the right note and I hope someone gave him a big hug afterwards.

After Bieber was Coldplay.  They always crop up at events like this.  Although I think I would probably get on quite well with Chris Martin down the pub, I find his music and performing extremely annoying.  Out he came skipping in his glittery yoga pants, hopping up and down like normal.  Ariana came on to join him for Don’t Look Back in Anger.  Not too sure what Noel made of that.  Coldplay finished with glitter cannons.  I’m always suspect of bands that use pyrotechnics, glitter canons and other gimmicks.  It should be about the music, man.

Off skipped Chris Martin so who was next?  We didn’t have to wait long.  There was a loud guitar riff and in swaggered Liam Gallagher.  The glittery yoga pants were swiftly replaced by a bright orange anorak.  Nobody embodies a city as much as Liam Gallagher.  There’s a Liam Gallagher swaggering down every other street in Manchester, not giving a fook about anything thing.  He didn’t say much.  He didn’t need to. His arrogance was enough to show that we don’t put up with this kind of shite.  Just get on with it and have a good time people.

It was a shame there was no Noel.  Whatever happened in that airport lounge still must be worth brooding on.  Yet I’d like to imagine that Noel, sitting on his throne in Supernova Heights would have approved.  Yes our kid did good.

 

 

Three Girls

It’s not easy being a teenage girl.  In fact, it’s pretty horrible. Yet when I think of when I was a teenage girl to teenage girls now, it seems a bit easier.  But then again…

Life clearly has changed.  Gone are the days of teenagers hanging around street corners.  Social media and iPhone have put a stop to that. Yet despite the added pressure on appearance that such media demands, teenagers seem more confident about themselves.  They won’t be in the background.  They are proud of who they are and their position in society.

Role models play a big part in this.  In my day, it was all about the boy bands.  Now the boy bands have been relegated and replaced by strong women like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Ariana Grande.  Women who ooze confidence and tell their fans to be exactly who they want to be.

This confidence can be misread as essentially teenagers are still children.  What is awful is when adults abuse this confidence and manipulate it to suit their own sometimes sickening ends.  This is clearly seen in Three Girls.  Authorities failed to realise that the girls were children.  No one was willing to step up and take responsibility in making the abusers accountable for their actions.  In one chilling scene, Maxine Peake who plays sexual health worker Sara Rowbotham, confronts a social worker who states that the girls had made a choice to become prostitutes.

“You can’t be a child prostitute! There’s no such thing!”

The social worker looks bemused.  The fact they are children doesn’t seem to register.  Of course, the abusers believe they are not to blame.  In court, one of them decries the girls for the clothes they wear and their parents for giving them the freedom to live their lives.  For him, such girls should be locked away until they are ready for marriage.

Teenage girls were at the heart of the awful events in Manchester.  Any concert would have been terrible but to target such a young and vulnerable group is sickening.  Mothers and daughters are vowing not to go to such venues.  These sick individuals have manipulated our sense of freedom so now we want to lock ourselves away.  We need to throw open this oppression, resist the manipulation and be free.

I had to do my fair amount of manipulation this week.  It was scan result time and I wasn’t looking forward to it.  I dialled the extension my oncologist had given me.  It was wrong.  Good start.  Then I noticed I couldn’t make my next oncology appointment in August.  Maybe if I changed the appointment, they might give me the right extension number?  I dialled and predicted a long, long wait.  It connected straight away to a voice recording saying that this number was for changing appointments only.  All hell would break loose should you wish to do otherwise.  I took a deep breath.  I was connected to a rather jolly chap who changed my appointment no probs.  Right the big one. Could I have the extension number please?

“No problem.  I’ll just connect you.”

Five seconds later I was speaking to my oncologist’s secretary who confirmed that my scan results were good.  The tumour was still the same size so the treatment was still working.  So, in a week of such darkness there was a chink of light.

Bonkers Part 1

It started with a rude awakening.  I forgot my husband had booked the day off so I dutifully set the alarm.  The alarm buzzed.  My husband swore. I reached for the headphones of my portable digital radio.  I turned to Five Live.  I like Five Live.  It keeps me awake that sadly The Today programme on Radio Four often fails to do.  In my semi-conscious state, I heard something being mentioned about the Cancer Drugs Fund.  A report had been written saying it was a waste of money.  The presenter said that if you had had experience of using the fund to text in.  After about fifteen minutes, I slumbered out of bed and sent a text saying that I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the Cancer Drug Fund.  I knew my parents, who listen to Five Live, would be travelling up in stage one of their trip to North Wales for my aunt’s 80th on that Saturday.  I thought that if they read my text out, it might make the journey a bit more interesting.

I went downstairs and made my porridge.  Then a phone call. Private number. Interesting.  A harassed sounding researcher asked if I wouldn’t mind speaking on the radio about my experience.  Crikey.  I had to take the car for its annual service for nine.  If I did the radio, it would be cutting it fine to get there on time.  Sod the car.  I agreed.  I managed to contact my parents who were about to start on their odyssey to Wales and left a voicemail for my sis who had the audacity to be working.  My husband carried on sleeping.  The allotted moment came.  I blundered my way through.  After five minutes, it was all over and off to the garage I went.

At the garage, I was waiting for my husband to pick me up.  I had invented an elaborate story as to why I was late, but the mechanic didn’t seem bothered.  My husband has just arrived when my phone went.  Another private number.

“Hello Anna.  This is Tim from the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2.  I heard you on Five Live and I was wondering if you would like to appear on the show to talk about the Cancer Drugs Fund…”

Crikey.  We had a bit of a chat with my husband looking bewildered on what the hell was going on.   Arrangements were made.  He would phone on my landline at twelve and then I would address the nation.  I relayed all this to a mildly bemused husband and awaited the phone call.

When we got home, I tried to keep myself busy by pottering around.  But it was no good.  I was a ball of nervous energy.  Chill woman. Watch some naff telly.  I switched on and tried to settle down in front of GP’s: Behind Closed Doors.  It didn’t help.

11:57am.  Landline rings.  Deep breathe.  It’s my father in law.

“We’ve been trawling through Jeremy Kyle and you don’t seem to be on…”

Good grief.  Jeremy Vine on the radio NOT Jeremy Kyle on the telly.  At least not for now anyway.  Father in law apologies profusely and we hang up.

12:00pm. No phone call.  12:04pm.  Still no phone call.  12:07pm. This is getting ridiculous.  12:09pm. Phone finally rings.  It’s another Tim not the same one I spoke to earlier.  I’m told to listen to the programme and speak when prompted.  What follows next is a report that completely trashes the Cancer Drugs Fund.  It outlines how many nurses could have been employed with the money wasted on it and other such stats.  Blimey.  This may be tougher that I thought.  The Prof who helped to compile the report is interviewed.  He weights his answers carefully and is not too judgemental.  Then my moment comes.  I relay my story and I’m struck how quiet it is.  It feels like I’m talking to a void.  I want to pause and say hello just to make sure someone if there.  Jeremy asks a few annoying questions and states my age live to the nation.  He then lines up the Prof to respond to my story.  The Prof is a true gentleman and agrees with a lot of what I said.  I agree with the Prof too because he knows far more about this kind of stuff than me.  Also, when you are in my position, the more Profs on your side the better.  Jeremy sounds a bit disappointed that we are not tearing into each other.  But that’s the thing about cancer and illnesses in general.  There is nothing like the prospect of your untimely death that somehow forces you to find a compromise with any medical professional that happen to stumble across.

It’s a relationship that works two ways.  Medical bods also love meeting weird and complex patients.  My neighbour gave me some good advice regarding doctors.  She has lived with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for over twenty years.  She told me the key thing about doctors is that they are practising doctors.  This means that they are constantly learning as they go along. The medical profession is under a lot of pressure to keep up with the ever-changing face of medicine.  All the while the list of patients grows ever longer.  The doctor – patient relationship is a balancing act.  Communication and listening is key for the relationship to be positive.  Without it, we all end up as a set of statistics.

 

Confessions of a Junior Doctor

A&E was packed.  Doctors and nurses were running around all over the place.  This must be in London, Birmingham or Manchester.  One of the great cities of the British Isles that are groaning at their seams.  But no.  This hospital was in Northampton.  It was full to bursting and severely understaffed.

None of this is the fault of the staff.  Nor is it the fault of the patients.  The NHS is a victim of its own success by pushing the boundaries of medical care.  We are living longer than ever before.  Something that our politicians are finally recognising. The problem is that the other vital infrastructure needed to support this, hasn’t caught up.

Governments think of everything in the short term.  This way of thinking has slowly dripped down into all aspects of life.  This short term thinking is in direct conflict with the long term planning that the NHS is crying out for.  It operates by using targets to prove efficiency.  A hospital or a school isn’t a machine.  You don’t pump one thing in one end and get a product at the end.  People aren’t commodities.  Yet the management strategies being adopted fail to recognise or question this.

Healthcare, as well as education and to some degree, law enforcement, involves dealing with the whole individual rather than the illness, the exam or the crime.  The only place where this is really done in society is when someone wants you to buy something.  Go to any car dealership and they are trying to find out every aspect about you to find a car suitable to your needs.  The same goes with property and estate agents.  You are even asked for your name when you buy a coffee which puts in perspective one of the junior doctors who had been so busy, she didn’t have time to remember her patients’ names.

This is something the junior doctors in Confessions of a Junior Doctor know all about.  We saw an oncology junior doctor being brave enough to tell her consultant that she wouldn’t be hurrying her rounds.  Her superior was informed that if she didn’t take the time to reassure and listen to one particular patient, he would get extremely anxious and possibly talk of suicide.

On another ward, another junior took the time to find out why a relatively healthy twenty year old man was only weighing four stone.  What he discovered by just listening, was that the patient was using cannabis heavily.  Although cannabis is famous to inducing the munchies, if overused, like alcohol, it can suppress appetite.  I thought the consultant was going to kiss the junior doctor for discovering this.  The man had often been in and out of hospital and he was a bit of a mystery. Yet the junior doctor found out the root cause of the problem just by listening.

Such stories give you hope that all is not lost.  But these are doctors who are going against the system.  They are doing what they think is right, not what some of their superiors want them to do.  Now they can just about get away with it.  Whether they could get away with this in five years’ time, no one knows.