Sunday, 23 November 2008

More recovery

This week I had to return to the London hospital for my outpatient appointment following the surgery in September. So it was the same trip that I had to make when I went for the pre-assessment, but this time m'Julie came with me.

My appointment was at 10.30, so we arrived for about then, but didn't rush as the usual thing is that there is always a wait. But not on this occasion. We arrived, m'Julie went off to the loo, and I was called in by the Senior Registrar that had withdrawn the 450mls of fluid when I'd had the first pleural effusion.

I was asked the usual questions and then examined, the upshot being that I was officially discharged from that hospital, although I was told that if there were any problems I should contact them.

After this, we went to the ward, where there was no-one working that I recognised, and then we saw the Cardiac Matron that I'd worked with and she took us to the meet with the other lass that I'd worked with.

m'Julie had a cunning plan for the day, which was one of the reasons that she came with me. She wanted to visit St Mary-at-Lambeth Church, which is now the Museum of Garden History. Her main reason for this was that Anne Boleyn's mother is buried in the churchyard. So, after the journey into London and a burger at Victoria station, we got the bus to the church.

Having paid our entry, I think m'Julie was a bit disappointed to learn that Elizabeth Boleyn's grave is no longer visible. However, there is the grave of the Tradescant's and Vice Admiral William Bligh. Apparently, Peter Dolland, the optician is also buried there, but ironically, I couldn't see where.

The museum is very small, so it didn't take long to get round, so we decided to visit the Florence Nightingale Museum, which is in the grounds of St Thomas' Hospital. Although I'd worked there for six years, I'd never visited the museum, so I found it quite interesting.

However, this wasn't the only day that we'd been out and about this week. m'Julie is a big fan of the Internet Movie Database, and likes to look up areas where programmes that she likes have been made, and to visit them. That's why she has photos of herself in the churchyard and pulpit used in The Vicar of Dibley, which was filmed in Buckinghamshire.

At least this time, it was nearer to home, as it was a village that had been used for two Agatha Christies, a Poirot and a Miss Marple, which had both used the village of Chilham near Canterbury.

Again, m'Julie was a bit disappointed as Chilham Manor, which apparently appeared a lot in the productions, couldn't be photographed very well, as the sun was low and directly behind the house.

In fact, we haven't had a lot of luck with our visits this week as we had planned to revisit Scotney Castle, ten weeks after our first attempt! However, we woke up this morning to snow, and m'Julie discovered that the actual castle had closed for the winter at the beginning of November, although the grounds were still open.

I'm starting to think that we're feted never to see the place!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Social Injustice?

There has been much in the news recently about "Baby P". Baby P was a 17-month old boy, who it appears, was systematically, physically, abused by his mother, her boyfriend and a lodger, all of whom have been convicted of causing or allowing his death, although none were actually convicted of murder.

As a result of this, the Government has ordered that there should be an inquiry and review of Social Services and their practices, particularly in Haringey, an area of London, where this all happened. But what will this achieve.

In 2000, an 8-year old girl called Victoria Climbie died after suffering systematic abuse at the hands of her Guardians. The Government carried out an inquiry and review of Social Services and their practices, particularly in Haringey, where this all happened.

So what we are seeing is a child dies, there is a very expensive (£3.8m) public inquiry and the upshot is that less than eight years later, another child dies in the same Borough.

It has also transpired that there were several warnings prior to the latter child dying, when a Social Worker who had worked for Haringey wrote to the then health secretary. Nothing was done. And the Council's reaction when this piece of information came to light was to slap an injunction on the ex-Social Worker. Actions like that immediately make me think that someone has something to hide.

What we have seen is various senior council officials being wheeled out to apologise. But what will that achieve? Nothing. Their time would be better served investigating why there was this catastrophic failure in the first place, and, if appropriate, getting rid of the person whose fault it is. Having said that, I don't mean in a 'We have found a scapegoat and are getting rid of them' fashion, but doing so internally, only going public if it is found that criminal negligence was the cause, and then the person concerned will need to face the full force of the law.

However, I think that none of this will happen. No-one will lose their jobs, and no-one will face criminal charges, because I guess the same will happen now as happened in 2000, and will happen the next time some poor child is killed under the noses of a Social Services department. The department will close ranks and protect each other.

We've already seen union officials stating that Social Workers don't want to make mistakes, but are human and mistakes happen. True. But what about nurses. Making a mistake as a nurse can lead to that nurse being struck off. Or servicemen. Making a mistake as a soldier can lead to that soldier not only being dismissed the service, but also going to jail. Why should Social Workers be any different.

There is a reason for my stance. In 2006 my ex-wife absconded with two of my children, and refused me any contact whatsoever with them. It took me very little time to track them down as she was staying with her latest boyfriend at his house. Now the problem was that I knew that he was 'flagged' by Social Services, although I was unable establish why. I therefore contacted his local Social Services and was greeted with total indifference. The only time that I was able to get any other response was when I suggested that their department was no better than the one that had allowed Victoria Climbie to die.

At this point, the Social Worker with whom I was talking became very annoyed, started shouting and threatened to report me to the Police for harassing them, because I phoned very regularly. I countered by informing them that I had taken the names of every Social Worker that I had spoken to and would go to the press, naming all of them, in revealing their incompetence unless something was done to ensure the safety of my children.

It was after this conversation that I started to receive regular updates on the children's welfare from Social Services because they began visiting them, at home and at school, on a weekly basis.

However, I should never have had to resort to this to ensure the safety of my children. Making Social Workers properly professional, by having properly trained and accountable Registered Social Workers, may reduce the incidences of child deaths as a result of abuse.

It also appears that another Social Services department have been negligent in their duties, in this case Brighton. This year a man was convicted of murdering his wife. Her body was found in a car roof box in the back garden. His young daughter became increasingly upset about the disappearance of her mother, and was able to speak to one of her teachers. The teacher, following procedure, informed the local Social Services, who treated her concern with utter indifference (pattern emerging?) Eventually, some weeks later, a Social Worker did visit the house, Police were called and the husband arrested. Fortunately, the daughter suffered no physical harm.

Sadly, the only question now is how long before we hear about the next child that has died as a result of abuse.

Thursday, 13 November 2008


As I said at the end of the entry before last, I spent last weekend in the delightful town of Dover, visiting my old school, but more importantly meeting up with friends old and new, some of whom I hadn't seen for years.

Unfortunately, things didn't go completely according to plan. As you are all aware, Hannah had been in hospital the day before we were due to go and there had been some question as to whether we would actually be going or not. However, m'Julie decided that she would be going.
At least she did until we actually set off and were about ten miles from home when she decided that she wanted to actually stay with Hannah and I had to turn around.

I was then unsure as to whether I would actually go, as I was uncomfortable at the prospect so soon following the surgery, and I had a total sense of humour failure.

However, I did go, but because of the delay, I had to make my way there in the dark and rain, which did not help my mood improve. I got there about an hour later than planned and made my way to the hotel, which had been chosen as it does a special deal for the Old Boys.

A little bit about the hotel. The hotel is located on the main road to the Port of Dover. It was obviously built in the 1960s, as this was when that much concrete would have been popular, and it is unlikely that it will be there in a year's time, as that part of Dover is apparently being re-developed and all the concrete monstrosities are being pulled down, which also means that many of the pubs that I used to frequent as a (possibly underage) teenager are also to disappear.
I'd never stayed in the hotel before, but many years ago had sat in the bar during the early hours of a Remembrance Sunday with others who were, but my memories of the place were befuddled owing to the alcohol that we'd consumed, but not to the extent that my memories of it being somewhat 'basic' were completely wiped out.

When I actually booked in, I was immediately convinced that I had been set-up, as I was handed my key and discovered that I was booked into Room 101! At this point, I was joined by Neil and Sean, fresh from the Rugby Club, who also suspected a set-up when they found out my room number.

Room 101 turned out to be a family room, and unfortunately, even though m'Julie had decided not to attend, I was still charged full price. Being a family room meant that in addition to the double bed, there was also a set of bunk beds, located directly in front of the heater. These bunk beds were very heavy, and due to the events of 7 weeks ago, I was unable to move them and so get to the heater and turn it on. This was unfortunate, as there was a sliding 'patio-type' door next to this, which rather than opening onto a balcony, opened onto what can only be described as a fenced-in ledge. I'm sure that at some point the door would have fitted the frame, but sadly, that is no longer the case. The wind whistling across the Channel blows through all of the cracks, making the room colder, and I was to later discover that the other disadvantage to this was that all traffic passing along the busy road to and from the docks could be heard very clearly in the room.

Having dumped all my stuff in the room, I made my way downstairs and bumped into Dave, whom I hadn't seen for a few years, so we sat in the lobby reminiscing and looking out for familiar faces as they arrived. We then heard rumours that two of the people that we'd been waiting for, Stan and H were already upstairs in their rooms, so we decided to visit, disturbing H's watching of Strictly Come Dancing. We also made the mistake of deciding to gate crash Neil's room. Unfortunately, minutes before we arrived, he had obviously visited the bathroom. Now whether it was something he'd eaten or not, we don't know, but we were all forced to beat a hasty retreat to Sean's room.

Now what's happened over the last few years, although I haven't been able to get there due to Squadron commitments, is that Stan and H put on a private party in a pub, and this year was no exception.

The pub in question is located in the area that is to be 're-developed', and in fact has been closed for some time, only opening for our entertainment on Saturday. It had also been burgled a few days before and the keys to the patio doors had been taken so Neil was a little concerned about fire regulations.

Stan had done a superb job and the karaoke was already going when we arrived, and it wasn't long before the few of us that had arrived were joined by many many more, and the pub was soon packed, and the chilli that was served at about 9 was gratefully received.

However, the big disadvantage was that it was impossible to speak to anyone as the music was so loud, which meant that I spent much of the evening by the door, particularly when Alex, whom I hadn't seen since 1992, arrived.

In fact, the last time that Alex and I had seen each other was when he was at my eldest son's christening in Exeter, so he was somewhat surprised to hear that that baby is now doing A-Levels with the intention of joining the Army.

Although I was enjoying myself and catching up with people, the events of this year soon caught up with me, and at 10.30 my body let me know that it was way past my bedtime, and I had to retire back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel, I discovered a couple of other minor problems with my room, as before getting into bed I had to trawl the room for every pillow, there being only one very very thin pillow per person, and when I had made my coffee and settled into bed to watch some TV before going to sleep, I discovered that the remote control didn't work.

Even when I'd settled down I couldn't sleep as the room was very cold, the bedding inadequate, and the traffic very loud. Despite going to bed before 11, I was awake until after 1am.

My call at 8 woke me up, and I discovered the big advantage over previous years. Normally, these affairs are very alcoholic, and although for most people this year was no exception, for me, who had been drinking coke for most of the night it meant that I was fresh and awake when I woke up, without the slightest trace of a headache.

At this point I discovered that the hotel had also obviously been designed with 'little people' in mind, as I had to kneel to get under the fixed shower head. However, breakfast was good, even if my companions were all feeling a little sorry for themselves.After breakfast, it was off to the school and meeting up with more people that I hadn't seen for some time, before parading up to the cenotaph for the Last Post and two-minutes silence, and then the march past, which proved that although some of those parading had left the school before I was born, we could all still march better than most of the kids that are currently at the school.

As I did for most of my time at school, I avoided chapel (too much risk of lightening strike) and retired to the assembly hall for coffee and more remembering, although I have to say that the turnout from our year was quite disappointing (less than 10% according to Stan), which is born out by the 'Class Photo'.

l-r Alex, Tones, Adi, Stan, Dave, Carlton, Me

We then made our way to a local pub for lunch before the journey home. I was also able to warn them all about the bread sauce! The last time that I had been in this pub was last year when m'Julie and I had taken the kids to Deal Castle. We had decided to have a Sunday lunch at the carvery in the pub. After getting the meat and veg, there were sauces, including what appeared to be bread sauce. Now I love bread sauce, so helped myself with a will. It was only when we had all sat down and I took the first mouthful of my dinner that I discovered that it was a strong horseradish rather than bread sauce.

After we'd had lunch it was time to say goodbye. It’s very strange, as although most of us communicate on a daily basis, by phone, text or t'internet, this is usually the only weekend that we're all together. We were also aware that there were many of our friends who were absent, for whatever reason, and they were also in our thoughts, particularly those in warm sandy places.

I'm lucky, as, apart from Dave, I am probably the nearest, which is just as well, as when I got home, my first stop was bed, and I slept for most of the afternoon and early evening (comfortable and warm!) and still slept on Sunday night.

The days since then have been recuperation days, and I've done nothing too strenuous, mainly catching up on the recorded programmes, although I did watch the service from the Cenotaph on Tuesday.

Three of the four surviving British veterans of the First World War were present, Bill Stone representing the Royal Navy, Harry Patch representing the Army and Henry Allingham representing the Royal Air Force, the youngest being 108, the oldest 112. I did find it rather sad to see Henry Allingham, struggling unsuccessfully to lay his own wreath. Apparently, he had been determined to do so, despite being the oldest, but eventually he had to relent and allow it to be laid on his behalf.

Again, it will be busy this weekend as Drew and Maggie are staying from tomorrow evening, although, as I'm picking up Wrath of the Lich King for Drew tomorrow, I probably won't see much of him.

Just before I go, I must thank Stan for allowing me to use the still photos that you see, as I'm in none of the photos that I took, and also to Neil for filming on Sunday when I was parading.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

90 Years On

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep,though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, May 1915

In Memory Of
S/4206 Private JOSEPH WATT
1st Bn., Seaforth Highlanders
who died
on 10 April 1916 aged 19

Remembered with honour


In Memory Of
S/8909 Serjeant THOMAS McIVOR
9th Bn., Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)
who died
on 29 April 1916 aged 30

Remembered with honour

Friday, 7 November 2008

Return to normality?

This week has been a bit of a return to normality, starting last Friday. I had an appointment for a chest x-ray at the hospital where I work. However, earlier in the week, I'd had a phone call from one of the Charge Nurses. He had been assigned the task of meeting with a rep to discuss the possibility of purchasing new laryngoscopes, but wanted someone there from my department. I gave him my boss's number, but he was unavailable, and as I was in the hospital anyway, I ended up attending the meeting.

I also ended up walking up and down the hill into town three times, once for m'Julie, once for myself and once to get the train home. It wasn't until I got home that I realised just how tiring all this was, as I could hardly keep my eyes open and was ready for bed by 7!
The next return to normality was on Monday. Monday was six weeks since my surgery, which meant that I was able to drive again. It felt strange at first, but it doesn't take long to get back into it. First trip was to pick m'Julie up from work, which worked out well as it was very cold and very wet.

Tuesday was again spent 'at work' as I went up to the other hospital to meet with my boss and colleagues and have lunch. I was also able to drop into my Squadron and confirm that I'd be at the opening of the new bar the following day (normality No. 4!)

Although I was collared and tied on Wednesday evening, I did feel a little under dressed as all the other Officers were in service dress. However, it was a pleasant evening and I had my first beer since pre-op! Just looking forward to parading normally again in January.

Yesterday evening was Hannah's (m'Julie's daughter) open evening at school. She was quite nervous about it, which she needn't have been, as all the teachers that we saw were full of praise for her. Even maths, which came as no surprise to me, but did to Hannah, who has always said that maths is her worst subject and that she's useless at maths despite m'Julie and me telling her otherwise. Now Hannah has to believe it, having been told by her maths teacher.

However, when Hannah got home last night she seemed shattered and had fallen asleep by 7.30. Unfortunately, she was awake again at 11.30 and vomiting.

Hannah has suffered from cyclical vomiting for some time and on the three previous occasions that she has had it since I've known her, has always ended up in hospital needing IV rehydration. And on each of those occasions, she has been in hospital for at least 24 hours, except when she spent nearly two weeks in, but that was due to a numpty Registrar who, despite being told he was wrong and all the evidence proving he was wrong, insisted that she had an infection and kept her in for IV antibiotics.

So at 6 this morning m'Julie woke me up and I telephoned the on-call GP, informed them that I wouldn't be taking Hannah to see her when she actually needed to be seen by the paediatricians and then spoke to the paediatric Registrar and took her into the hospital.

When we got there, Hannah was as ill as she normally is, but the hospital took a different approach to her management. Rather than the usual cannulation, fluids and IV drugs, this time they gave Hannah an anti-emetic suppository.

Normally, it takes Hannah 12-24 hours before she starts feeling well, but today, she slept for a couple of hours and when she woke up, not only was she drinking, but she kept it down, to the extent that this afternoon, she was discharged. Now we just have to go to the GP and get some of these suppositories so that in future, when she has attacks, we can deal with them earlier.

So after such a busy week, I should be having a relaxing weekend, but I'm not. This weekend is Remembrance Weekend, and the school that I went to has an Old Boys (and girls) reunion every year on this weekend. For the first time in about ten years, I'm going, although it will be a lot less alcoholic than normal for me, and this will be m'Julie's first experience.

So watch this space for the photos and videos from the weekend, probably published early next week.