Thinking Aloud On a Sunday


Not for the first time, I woke up today thinking about disability. I will be 68 next birthday, and other than the usual ‘old man’ aches and pains, occasional bad Vertigo, and some eyesight issues, I have managed to escape anything worse so far.

When I was young, Polio was still a common disease. I would see children having to wear metal calipers to brace their legs, and saw documentaries on TV about people who had to spend their entire lives in an ‘Iron Lung’, a cylindrical machine that breathed for them. By the time I was at secondary school, aged 11, I was already counting myself lucky to be fit and healthy.

Many years later, I went to work in the London Ambulance Service, as an EMT. Soon after completing my training, I was shocked to become exposed to disabilities I had never even heard about, let alone seen. I learned about the ‘unseen’ sufferers, those too badly disabled or physically deformed to be able to go outside much, or participate in things that the rest of us simply took for granted. They were sometimes collected in buses, and taken to attend ‘special schools’. Schools that were not only adapted for their needs, but where they could be educated with people who had similar conditions, and understood living with them. Those too disabled to go to those schools might be home-schooled, or have private tutors.

I met young people whose bones were so brittle, they could break them just by coughing. Brain-damaged teenagers fully aware of their situation, but completely unable to communicate at any level whatsoever. One young lady who had been born with undeveloped bones in her arms and legs, so although she was twenty-five years old, she resembled a floppy rag doll, and I could pick her up as easily as I could a pillow. A man with such disfigurement of his facial bones, that he was unable to speak clearly, or eat and drink properly. His elderly mother cared for him, giving him liquid food and drinks through a tube that passed down inside his nose, something he had to keep in permanently. He rarely went out, as he had bad experiences of being mocked in public.

Many I encountered had been born disabled as a result of their mothers taking Thalidomide, for morning sickness. That great drug scandal of the 1950s left so many children without properly formed arms or legs. Or both. Alongside those who had congenital conditions, I also came across scores of people who had become disabled as a result of accidents, or after having to have limbs amputated surgically. They had led outwardly normal lives at one time, until that life was turned upside down by the events of one day, or by contracting a medical condition. Suddenly, they needed help with everyday things, often very embarrassing things to need someone else to do. They had to consider learning to cope with prosthetic limbs, using crutches, or being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives.

This necessitated a re-think about how they lived, and everything they were used to doing. Beds moved downstairs, specially-adapted toilet and bathroom, and restricted access to public buildings, and most forms of transport. The loss of much-loved active hobbies in many cases, and even the break-up of relationships, when partners couldn’t cope, or the disabled person didn’t want to be seen to ‘tie them down’. Before I was 30 years old, I started to get some insight into just how much such things affect peoples’ lives.

Adding to the list were those disabled by Mental Illness, Epilepsy, complications of Diabetes, severe Asthma, Dementia, Arthritis, Blindness, and Deafness.

Most of you will not have worked in a job bringing you into contact with disability on a daily basis. And even those of you who have personal experience of your own disability, or that of a child, sibling, or parent, may well not have ever encountered those with ‘extreme’ disabilities. But over the last 20 years, we have all seen a greatly increased awareness and understanding around the whole issue. The Paralympics, injured soldiers returning from foreign wars, and disabled people working as presenters on TV shows and news programmes; as well as those actively campaigning for better access to buildings and transport.

Attitudes are changing, but there is still a long way to go yet.

What I learned during those 22 years was remarkable. With almost no exceptions, all those people stayed cheerful. Many were in fact much happier than I was, and they coped so admirably with things I could hardly imagine. They had no demands, few requests, and inspired me with their determination to live the best lives they could.

A New Tradition?

I am just back from attending an afternoon party. That has kept me off the blog most of the day, hence my lack of attention to the posts of those of you I follow.

I will try to catch up tomorrow.

The purpose of the outdoor celebration was a ‘Gender Reveal’. One of my step-daughters has a baby due next January. This morning, she paid for a private 3-D scan at a clinic, and was given a black balloon. Inside this balloon we would find either pink glitter, or blue, depending on the sex of the baby. When all the twenty-four guests had arrived, everyone gathered around, camera phones at the ready. The balloon was duly popped, and pink glitter showered the lawn, to the cheers and delighted exclamations of all there.

As she already has a small boy, (he popped the balloon) she had been hoping for it to be a girl, and was suitably thrilled at the result.

We were also shown the scan photos, which she had to pay for of course. Then those same photos put inside key rings, (also paid for) and a recording of the baby’s heartbeat placed inside a soft-toy rabbit, which we could hear when the bunny was squeezed. That alone was a cool £25.

Gender reveal parties are new to me. I suspect they are an import from America, like so many things here now. I’m not complaining, and nobody else was either. Happiness, friends and family, that was what it was all about today. Now lots of suitable baby girl clothing will be purchased, along with girl-friendly toys too, I have no doubt. The hot topic of discussion was the chosen name, but that had not been decided upon by the time we left.

This seems to be a long way from fathers sitting in waiting rooms, anticipating the arrival of a nurse to tell them “It’s a boy!” (Or girl) In the age of supposed ‘Gender Fluidity’, it also shows that lots of people want to keep things traditional. Even if that tradition is brand new.

Congratulations to my step-daughter, and to her boyfriend.

Normal service on this blog will resume some time on Monday.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Speaking English.

I watched a report on the news yesterday. It was about an Irish girl who has gone missing in Malaysia. The local police chief made a statement, and he made it in English. Admittedly, he had a strong accent, but I could easily understand everything he said. It occurred to me that if a Malaysian girl had gone missing in England, or Ireland, then our respective police chiefs would have been highly unlikely to have been able to present a report in her language, and would have almost certainly used an interpreter, or not bothered to refer to her native language in any way.

Not for the first time in my life, I thought how lucky I am to have been born as an English-speaker. For as long as I can remember, English has been widely-spoken, all over the world. It is very unusual for someone to be interviewed, and for them not to be replying in English, whatever their first language might be. Actors and actresses, film stars, sports stars, famous writers, and even some politicians, all managed to communicate in English, wherever they were born and brought up.

I have travelled to many countries where English is not the first language. But I never once failed to make myself understood, or find someone who could speak to me in English, however rudimentary their knowledge of the language. I learned French at school, and by the age of 18, I could speak it quite well. But when I visited countries where that was the language, I hardly needed to use it. As soon as they realised I was from England, people would happily converse with me in my language. I have even met people in Holland and Belgium who spoke English with such a good accent, they could have passed for British, Canadian, or American quite easily.

Yet so few people in this country can understand another language, let alone speak one. Yes, we are lazy, and with good reason. People speak English everywhere, so we don’t have to bother to try. Unless we really want to.

Then I discovered blogging, in 2012. So much good writing, and the majority of it in English. I have blogging friends who live in The Philippines, Vietnam, Holland, Italy, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Iceland, Scandinavia, Pakistan, Germany, Greece, France, Portugal, and even all over Africa. Yet they all blog in English. They understand everything I write in my posts and comments, and reply in perfect English too. I installed the ‘Translate’ widget, and almost never have to use it. (With some rare exceptions for Chinese and Japanese characters)

Those of us born in countries where English is the ‘first language’ are very fortunate, and we should be grateful.

I know I am.

August: The humidity arrives

Okay, more weather complaints. Feel free to yawn, and to exclaim “Not again!”

The last few days, we have had temperatures hovering around 29 C (84 F). That might be very acceptable for an English summer, I agree. However, we have also had frequent heavy rain showers, so the weather app is telling me that we have humidity at 94%.

Now that is unusual, for England.

It saps my strength, and makes everyday things seem to be a real trial. Any attempt at cleaning the house (as I did earlier today) leaves you soaked in an unfamiliar and unpleasant sweat. Taking Ollie for his usual walk at 1 pm left me weary, and sitting down on benches too often. It was alright for my dog, as he just retreated into the water of the river, to lie down and cool off.

I have changed my clothes three times already, and had two baths. Despite only wearing a dressing gown as I type, I am still far too hot and uncomfortable. So I have taken the executive decision to wash the bedding, in an effort to achieve ‘freshness’, after constantly ‘turning the pillow’ for the last three nights. It is ready to put on the bed now, but I have made a second decision.

I will fold the duvet up, and put it against the wall. Then I will sleep using only the cover, not unlike a simple sheet.

If I wake up chilly during the night, I might be pleasantly surprised! 🙂

Dragonfly Combat

I left early on my walk with Ollie today. The sky was dark and threatening, so I grabbed my umbrella as well. I wasn’t about to even think of taking my camera, in case we got another downpour like the one yesterday afternoon.

Not long after I got to the river, I was beginning to regret that decision. The sun had come out, and the temperature was rising fast.

(This is an old photo, so that new readers can imagine the scene. The photo can be enlarged.)

Ollie was straight in for a drink, and to cool his paws. He likes to stand there until he has chilled down sufficiently, before more trotting around. He was standing in the shallow water pictured above, but to the right, it is a lot deeper. I waited by the bank, and noticed something flying close to the water. It was a small brown dragonfly, moving fast, and enjoying being in the sunlit area, by the look of it. Very soon, another identical insect joined him/her, and began to dive down onto the first one. They did this for some time, changing places and attempting to move the other one away from what they obviously considered to be their ‘territory’.

Two more suddenly appeared, flying in with the sun behind them, like fighter pilots in the war. The first two were obviously startled, and moved closer to Ollie. But it wasn’t long before they returned to claim their patch of sky above the water. A bloodless combat ensued, with individual insects seeking height, before swooping down on the others below. It was every dragonfly for himself/herself, as they flashed around at great speed.

I stood watching this for some time, fascinated. Then a loud whirring noise could be heard, and around the river bend came a huge iridescent blue dragonfly. Compared to the four combatants already there, this was like the appearance of a Jumbo Jet looming over four small single-seat Cessna aircraft. The brown dragonflies realised that discretion was the better part of valour, and didn’t hang around to test the patience of the enormous new arrival. They flew off immediately, in the opposite direction.

And I didn’t have my camera…

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Funfair Rides.

I was talking to some people when I was out with Ollie yesterday. They told me that they are off to a popular theme park with their children for a few days. It is called Chessington World of Adventures, and combines the former zoo with lots of modern pleasure rides. Things like ‘Forbidden Kingdom’, one of those rides where you whizz around at great speeds, mostly upside down.

So that got me thinking this morning…

I grew up with things like the swings on chains, shown in the photo above. The Big Wheel, The Helter Skelter Slide where you came down on a mat, and Dodgem Cars. There were places that had rides that were more exciting. Travelling funfairs added The Whip, or the covered-in Caterpillar. Then there was The Waltzer, with your car being spun by an attendant, as it went around the track. All of this was done to a soundtrack of loud music, often the pop songs of the day, bright flashing lights, and the squeals of the people supposedly enjoying themselves.

Seaside towns had rides that went up very high, like The Mousetrap, or the various wooden roller-coasters that seemed to get bigger and more terrifying every year. They had a Parachute Drop, Water Splash, and the usual Ghost Train and kiddie rides too. Once holiday camps became popular, they built large amusement parks inside their camps that came with the added bonus of all the rides being included in the price. Compared to the white-knuckle attractions seen today, all of these would be considered to be tame indeed.

But I have a confession to make. I hate theme park rides.

Going round in circles at great speed makes me feel sick. Dropping five stories on a roller coaster that sounds as if it will come off its tracks at any second has no appeal to me whatsoever. Travelling upside down at a strange angle is something I have avoided all my life. So paying a substantial amount to be able to do just that seems just silly, from where I sit.

When it comes to funfairs and modern theme parks, I am the least ‘fun’ person you can imagine. I will hold the coats, go and buy the soft drinks, and sit on a bench until your ride has finished. I might even walk around and take a few photographs.

But if you think you will ever get me to go on one of those rides, you’re very much mistaken.

Historic Norfolk: Castles

Norfolk has been the name of this large county in the East of England since 1043. It derived from the Anglo-Saxon name for ‘Northern People’, and is self explanatory in that respect. (North-Folk)
Following the Norman Invasion in 1066, they soon developed the town of Norwich into the largest in the region, basing their operations there.

In 1067, William The Conqueror ordered the building of a large castle on a mound in the centre, and that still stands to this day.
Norwich Castle.

Always wary of the threat from the sea, other castles were later built very close to the coast. Dating from the 15th century, Caister castle had an impressive tower at one time, and was surrounded by a moat. It was built as the home for Sir John Folstaff, who later inspired the Shakespeare character Falstaff.
Caister Castle.

Not far from Caister, and also close to the holiday town of Great Yarmouth, lies the village of Burgh Castle, also named after a castle built there. Originally a Roman Fort, and dating from around the 4th century, it was later used by the Saxons and the Normans.
Burgh Castle.

Close to Kings Lynn in the west of Norfolk, you will find the village of Castle Rising. This is named after the impressive castle built in 1138 by William D’Aubigny, a Norman Earl.
Castle Rising.

Not much remains of the twin castles at Buckenham, originally constructed by the Normans, and later enlarged in the 15th century.
Buckenham Castle.

Baconsthorpe Castle is something of a misnomer, as it was actually a fortified manor house, with a moat for protection. Built in the 15th century during the Wars of The Roses, it was home to the influential Heydon family. Parts of it were still occupied until 1920.
Baconsthorpe Castle.

If you ever get to Norfolk, make sure to visit some or all of these outstanding historical sites. And I don’t live too far from any of them, so you can call in for a glass of wine!