Life Is But A Dream

There are mornings that I wake up from a lovely dream. One in which I am walking, running, pain free. As I wake and turn on a light (by voice), the pain hits me first, normally through my eyes. Did you know, it’s not just love that hurts, light hurts too? My head joins the party next and I have not been at a party drinking the night before. So no excuse and nothing to blame. If my body is in an uncooperative mood (it normally is) it stays still for quite a while. When it does deign to move, it makes it’s presence felt. I guess it doesn’t want me to miss out on congratulating it for the effort of moving.

Once I have turned over. That is a big task in itself. Reached for the bed control and sat the bed up a bit. I skipped removing the CPAP. That’s the bit of equipment that keeps me breathing at night. Anyone with sleep apnoea will know about that. I then look around. No point looking at my tablet computer yet. My eyes can’t focus first thing. Just as well I have a good imagination, I just think.

It’s at times like this; every morning. That I have often contemplated the words of that song. ‘Row, row, row your boat.’ Actually, it’s not that bit I contemplate, that would be silly. I think about the words, ‘life is but a dream.’

As a Christian, I know life isn’t a dream. The Matrix is a great movie, but it’s just fiction. Life is reality, dreams are dreams. But as I transition from the sleeping/dream world into a rather painful and limited reality, I do muse. I muse about how nice it would be if this real world were the dream. If the dream world, of walking, running and being pain free were real.

I did not write this as a ‘feel sorry for me’ piece. Nor is it meant to be maudlin. But, if I never write the truth about being disabled and ill. You will think it is all laughs. I smile and laugh because I make that choice. Every morning as I lie in pain, I make that choice. Often I say to myself, ‘come on Michael, pull yourself together.’ I call myself by my full name when I want to chivvy myself along.

I don’t look down on those who can’t do that. Others suffer far more than I. We can never know what another person is going through. Don’t judge someone because they are angry with being ill, disabled or limited. I can’t know the pain of another; neither can you. I can’t understand what you are going through; it could be far worse than me.

If there is one take away message I would want to give, it’s this. I know that we all have struggles in life. Whether we are ill/disabled or not. Life can be hard for us all. Especially at the moment with all the financial burdens and stress.

Be kind to one another. Be gentle and caring. We all need the grace and strength to get through each day. Let’s help each other through it.

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False advertising

I was in a passenger in a car recently, after a long time stuck in bed. I noticed things I had missed before. Road signs that should definitely be highlighted to the advertising standards board.

One sign promises a magnificent Stag at bay. What a treat. Binoculars at the ready. Camera out and focussed. Where will this magnificent beast appear? Will it leap across the road? Should I look out for it on the grass verge, as it nibbles it’s mid morning snack. Will I catch it mid leap, as it sails over the hedgerow?

I can hear that you’ve already gone through this disappointment. You’re pretending that you always knew the truth. There was never a time when you took that sign literally. Your genius knows no bounds. I, on the other hand, am a mere mortal. My knowledge limited. I might even call myself a fool; before you do. Yes, I know now that the sign means wild animal. Now I realise that it means, watch out for anything from a field mouse to a hedgehog, crossing the road. Not exactly a look alike for a stag now are they? All very disappointing.

As if that isn’t bad enough. There is that wonderful sign for antique bellows, plate cameras.

You see them everywhere nowadays. Mary burst my bubble, she said they were telling us those dull grey or yellow boxes were coming up. Yes, speed cameras. In what way does that box with a flash built in, resemble a lovely old Victorian camera? What’s happening to the world?

Still, as we drove along, at least we had a shop selling fairy lights to look forward to.

But no, apparently that was just telling us the traffic lights was ahead.

Getting over that bitter blow, I saw a very exciting couple of advertising boards. The circus must be coming to town. Or a danger act. There are going to be flaming cars and motorcycles leaping across cars.

But apparently those are all just road signs too. Although why we need telling not to carry explosives in our car, I’m not sure. As for the flying motorcycle…

You don’t need to panic about me driving. I was told I couldn’t drive a long time ago; just as well eh?!

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Disability Top Trumps

Did you ever play that game as a child, ‘Top Trumps?’ It came in loads of forms, cars, boats etc. You would deal out cards that listed the specs of whichever list of things you were comparing and play. Let’s say you were playing with cars.

I would have a car with a 2 litre engine, 5 doors and a top speed of 95mph. So I would then decide to choose the engine size and say, 2 litre engine. My fellow players (I was a child, so it would be my brothers) then have to look at their hand of cards and see if they have a car with an engine bigger than that. It always seemed as if one of my brothers could trump me. They would have a V12 engine that had 3.6 litre engine.

You get the idea? Bigger is better. The person going first choses a particular thing, then other people can see if they can trump it.

I never knew until the other day that some people play that with disability. We were chatting to the wife of a disabled man who we had not met. She was checking an access door. We told her that it worked great for getting in to where she wanted to go.

Out of the blue. Instead of just saying thanks, or I knew that. She said, ‘my husband can’t walk or stand. He only has one leg.’ She looked rather accusingly at my two legs. I did wonder if I should hide one. Or just explain that I couldn’t walk or stand either. That was why I was in a wheelchair. But it seemed best to just carry on talking.

Somehow the topic got around to wheelchairs. She told us that her and her husband had every type of wheelchair going. A power chair, a motor scooter. I began to wish that I had brought my V12, 3.6 litre wheelchair out that day, the one with chrome exhausts. She was definitely trumping me. Not that I had realised the game even existed or that I was playing it.

Before our encounter with this lady, I always assumed that everyone had a different limitation, illness or disability. We all make the best of it. She seemed to be bringing a new ‘trump’ element into being disabled or ill. I should say here, that here husband was not with her. So he was not part of her ‘odd approach.’

A bit later we did see him with her; or rather behind her. He was trying to catch her up, pushing his self propelled wheelchair for all he was worth. She never mentioned they had one of those.

There is a moral to this blog. I think the lady in question was probably struggling with being a carer for a man in such need. When we saw him, he did look in need. He was not finding it easy to wheel himself. You might say, ‘why wasn’t she pushing him?’ Perhaps she was coming to the end of her tether. Her, rather unfortunate, way of coping. Was to leave him to struggle and create a make believe world of how great everything was. It struck me that she desperately needs help.

I do know this, a lot of carers, desperately need help. They have a massive weight on their shoulders. We are living in a time when there is a crisis in the support available. A shortage in funding and a shortage in people, linked to the first. The result will be seen in the near future as carers become those needing care. This is not a problem that can be ignored.

I wrote this blog in a deliberately satirical and humorous way to catch your attention. But the message is serious. Carers are struggling, they need help. Only political change can make that happen.

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M&M

Mary & I, M&M as it said on or wedding cake, were eating a pack of M&M sweets; snap. Yes, I know, I don’t eat sweets. I was having a momentary weak moment; I’m allowed. After all I am only human; honest.

As we were sharing this pack, sitting on a branch in a tree watching an outside movie. No… wait… that’s the movie I am about to quote. We were just sharing a pack of M&M’s, no trees were harmed in the writing of this blog. Have you seen the chic flick, ‘Wedding Planner?’ If not, you might as well stop reading this blog now.

I wasn’t serious, keep reading. I am quoting from Wedding Planner, but I will explain. Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey, are sitting in a tree watching a movie outside in a park; eating a pack of M&M’s. Matt, that’s what I call him whenever he pops around, is doing something odd. You might well say, ‘that’s not unusual.’ Well, just wait and see what he was doing. He was throwing all the M & M’s away. No, hang on, he was keeping the brown ones. He told Jen, that they were a better colour to eat as they had less artificial colouring in them. After all chocolate is brown. What brilliant logic.

Obviously, we get all our nutritional advice from the movies. I am sure you do too. So we were throwing all the coloured M&M’s away. Yes, of course its environmentally friendly. Hollywood stars did it and they all drive Prius’ after all. We then looked at the two, yes just two chocolate coloured ones left. One each, seemed a little amount out of a whole pack. So we picked all the other colours back up. The mud washed right off.

I looked at them and said to Mary, ‘yellow is a natural colour, just look at the sun.’ We ate those. ‘Red is natural, it’s the colour of fire,’ we ate those, ‘green very natural, it’s the colour of grass,’ we ate those, ‘orange is the colour of a cocoa bean husk,’ prove me wrong, we ate those.

There you go, we ate the whole pack, all fully natural. No waste, which is environmentally friendly. All natural colours, which is nutritionally good. I think I have proved that.

In future just take all your food advice from me.

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All Encompassing Fact

You are probably expecting an amazing fact. Not an unreasonable assumption. After all, I have brought you blogs on why we don’t live forever. How to keep things brief. The nature of the universe, among other incredible facts. But no, that is not the purpose of this blog. What is it’s purpose? I wish I knew, I started it so long ago, I’ve forgotten.

I’ve remembered. The brain is getting slower with age, but it is still sharp… ish.  When people ask to swap with me in a wheelchair. Which they do quite often, when they see me sailing up a steep slope. Did I tell you that my power wheelchair can go on water? Well, not literally sailing of course. But powering up a hill effortlessly. For me that is. My wife Mary, who is my full time carer. Has to walk alongside up the steep slope; or behind.

She is actually operating the controls. My chair is dual control (rear and side). I had to sign a bit of paper to the NHS saying, on pain of death. Well maybe not on pain of death, but it was a serious bit of paper. That I would not operate the power chair outside. Because I lose muscle function with very little warning. Those spoil sports didn’t like the idea of me powering into the road, or a crowd of people. I suppose they have a valid point.

As an aside, if Mary is behind my high backed power chair, people don’t see her. They assume I am controlling the chair. As you know, I do not have a sense of humour. So I never take advantage of that misunderstanding. You will never see me closing my eyes or looking all over the place, while my big heavy chair, heads towards a crowd.

If Mary is operating my chair from the control on my left (the one designed for my use in the house), that causes confusion too. She can only do it on wider pavements. People approaching us often assume she is just walking beside me. They are unaware that she is operating the chair. They walk straight at her, expecting her to move out of the way. Not just at her, but looking to pass between her and my chair. She has to let go of the controls and bring us to a sudden halt. This has happened when crossing a road; not my favourite experience.

Where was I. Yes, people saying they want to swap with me in my wheelchair, especially on a hill. I am not alone in this. Most wheelchair users get asked this. You might think, ‘so what?’ or ‘what’s the issue?’ you might even be thinking, ‘I’ve done that.’

Let me put it into a form that might hit home. If you wear glasses and someone said, ‘wish I had those?’ when they couldn’t see a distant object. Or you wear a hearing aid and someone said, ‘wish I could borrow that,’ for a short time they can’t hear a distant voice. Or how about you have dentures and someone at a restaurant, struggling to chew their meat says, ‘wish I could have your dentures.’

Those are silly suggestions, because its a silly question. Wheelchairs are not to get us up a steep hill. They are an all encompassing fact. My answer to anyone who says, ‘I wish I could swap with you,’ is this: ‘sure, you can have it all. The lifetime of limitations and the care needs.’ You don’t pick and choose a wheelchair to help you up a steep slope. It is a frustrating need. Just like you don’t choose poor eyesight or poor hearing. You don’t choose to lose your teeth. If you need a wheelchair, you would rather not. Having someone suggest a swap is fine, if they really wanted to swap everything. But of course they don’t.

An all encompassing fact, means just that. Limitation, illness, disability, differently abled, however you want to describe it. They are not a choice. Someone puffing up a hill and seeing, what to them looks like an easier option, is saying, ‘I choose an easier option.’ Disability, illness, limitation is not it. Perhaps they need to exercise more. Or if that isn’t an option, and they do need mobility help, they shouldn’t look enviously at those in more need, they need to get help themselves.

Limited mobility is not a choice, it is an all encompassing fact, that we end up with by disease, illness or an accident.

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Enabled by your Environment

What a positive world we live in. Apparently I am not disabled, I am differently abled. I guess being negative is seen as… well… negative. One day, Bam! I was hit in the face. Not literally you understand. I have not been attacked by people who disagree with my blogs. Although that might well start after this. Then, Wham! Not the 80’s pop duo. You see I had an epiphany and it’s not even Christmas.

My wham, bam, epiphany came last year actually. Don’t accuse me of rushing of a blog every time I have an idea. It was when we moved to our new house last summer. I would say our beach view house, but I don’t want to make you jealous. Too late, I said it. I realised, We can be, enabled by our environment. Let me explain:

We moved in to this new build house. Now I need to pause a moment. This house is M4, no it’s not in the middle of a motorway. The M4 category of housing is an accessible housing category. It means that a house is built to be wheelchair visitable. That means exactly what it sounds like. You are meant to be able to visit it in a wheelchair. The government have a strategy to make all new houses M4… eventually.

An aside here, I cannot visit the majority of my family and friends. I can think of one house that might (I haven’t yet tried) be accessible to me; in part. You might be unmoved by that. But imagine being unable to visit your family and friends. Got that in your mind? Would you find that hard? I know I do.

Having moved into this house with its wide doorways and corridors I noticed something. I could access the whole downstairs. Wow! You’re thinking, access all of downstairs. What’s novel about that. Sometimes I think everyone should spend a year in a wheelchair. The world would change pretty quickly. I imagine blind people may wish everyone could experience blindness for a year. Or deaf people may wish people may wish people could experience profound deafness for a year. I say a year, because a few hours don’t give you any idea of a disability. Many carers have sat in a wheelchair to see what it feels like. People have put on blindfolds or blocked of their ears. But such very short term trials, give no idea as to the long term implications of a disability. I have only mentioned three obvious disabilities. I am not suggesting that other disabilities are lesser.

Back to my sudden realisation. We can be, enabled by our environment. In a wheelchair, even a 1” bump is significant. When you walk you just step over every bump and step, without even seeing it. I have lost count of the places I have phoned to ask about accessibility, to be told they are wheelchair accessible. On arrival, they have steps, steep slopes, gravel or narrow doorways.

We can be, enabled by our environment. When we moved to this house I wheeled around freely for the first time ever. Then after the Disabled Facilities Grant, added a through floor lift, I wheeled around upstairs. I can now access every part of this house. It has been years since I could say that about a house.

But access alone is not the point. Access is only a means to an end. Access is reaching a place or thing. Getting somewhere.  There are still ‘things’ I cannot reach. High cupboard, light fittings, high shelves.

The realisation that I came to was that being able to reach things, get to places, approach a location, enter a room, changes my outlook and gives me opportunities. I did not gain health or strength when we moved here. But, with the same limited strength I already had, I could do more. I gained opportunities. I was enabled by my environment. Rather than make this a very long blog, I will talk of the details of that another blog.

I have deliberately talked of being enabled by my environment. It is the positive side of the better known expression, ‘disabled by your environment.’ We can be, enabled by our environment. All it takes is the political will for housing and buildings to be made more suitable. It is life transforming.

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If You Could Live Forever

I’m not a doctor. A fact which will very quickly become apparent. Have you ever wondered why we don’t live forever? Evolutionary biologists, will be talking about cellular competition. Geneticists, will talk of mutations. Pretty much everyone has an answer.

Forget all of that. The real reason is that as we age, five things happen:

1/ Our ears continue to grow.

2/ Our noses continue to grow.

3/ We shrink in height.

4/ Many of us put on weight, (especially around the middle.)

5/ We often lose teeth, (unless we get them capped. In which case they aren’t our teeth anyway.)

The result of all this, if we got too old? We would all look like characters from Lord of The Rings.

That’s the real reason we don’t live forever.

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Something From Nothing

I love the latest crop of adverts in my card games. Apparently, there is a new photo app that can take a blurred poor quality photo from the past. One taken of your relatives, yourself or your friends and make them colour or black and white HD. All the details become miraculously visible. No, it’s not possible. It’s the stuff of sci-fi.

I always love it in those detective movies when they have a CCTV film of the culprit and the detective says, ‘can you enhance that?’ then the tech guy, runs an algorithm and hey presto, you see the culprit as if they are in front of you. A few magic swipes on the screen and an image that was a fuzzy mess, become fully clear. That is what these ads show.

But you cannot create something from nothing. If an image contains no, or very little information, then you can only guess at what is missing. Like a puzzle, one of those images that you have to guess what it is. A computer is no more clever than you at that. It fills in the missing bits of the picture with guesses. It looks at each part, then based on what it sees, makes as guess at what comes next.

Let me explain. You have a photo from the 1960’s. It is out of focus and was taken too far away. So that the people in it, are hard to make out. You scan it into your computer or tablet or phone. Looking at it, you think, ‘I can’t make out the people.’ What do you do?

This image of me, as a child, is a good example. You cannot see my eyes. No programme in the world can add those in. You can make out some of my teeth. A programme could guess at where the others are, in the dark cavern of my mouth. But it would look odd. The point is, ‘you cannot create something from nothing.’

These adverts make it appear that there are apps, that can take these pictures, and give you a pin sharp, HD repair. That just isn’t possible. Sorry to burst your bubble.

You see you cannot create something from nothing. If the image has no information within it about, let’s say eye colour, where can that come from? Guess work? If the image lacks information on nose shape, lip shape, eye shape, where can the programme get that? Guess work? It’s called extrapolation. The programme takes what it has and ‘extrapolates’ what it lacks. This process can work really great for an image that has a lot of information. But it is really rubbish if the image lacks information. So a slightly out of focus image, close up of a person. That can be improved greatly. Because the image contains a lot of information. The programme sharpens it up and hey presto, you have a pretty good image. But an blurry distant image of a person. Where you can see little of the detail in that person. The programme has no information to start with.

But the advert shows images that lack ‘all detail’. They lack eye colour, face shape, basically everything. There is no way that the before and after images are possible. That is, unless it can work with another HD image of that person. It needs to get the information from somewhere. Otherwise, your green-eyed, red haired grandma, could become a blue eyed blond.

The internet, and apps available on smart phones, seem to be an unregulated area of advertising. Buyer beware. The app will improve an image. There are many, many apps, a lot of them free, that can do that.

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Let Me Summarize

I have found a lot of factual books contain about an A5 flash card worth of content. It is a wonder that they manage to spin it out into a 300 page book. Really, they should get an award for that. You could just read the blurb on the back and know the content. Or, maybe read chapter one. All the other chapters, just break that first one down, or tell you what the first chapter said in a different way. Are we really so dumb that we need to hear it in multiple ways?

I am being incredibly harsh, not like me at all. But I have had enough of reading training books with no real content. I know why they do it of course. A publisher can hardly publish an A5 flash card, instead of a book; there’s no money in it.

Mike Nevin has just produced his latest self-help book, ‘How to sit up straight in a wheelchair?’ Available in hardback for £29.99, paperback for £19.99, as a free download in A5 flashcard or A4 sheet format. Now I ask you, which one are you going for? Great, I’ll put you down for 10 hardbacks.

It’s not just factual books that fall into this trap. A speaker at a conference can be just as bad. There are a lot of conferences that are glorified book publicity tours. If it’s one of those books, that should have been on an A5 flash card, then a two day conference is going to real drag.

Let me summarize. Here’s were you get your hopes up, in all those situations above. At last! They are going to finish. But they go on for another half an hour. I won’t, I have made my point.

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Too Much Smart Tech

The other day I ended up in an argument with my digital assistants. I was telling Alexa to turn on the lights. She replied, rather brusquely I thought, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do that.’

So I said, ‘you did yesterday.’ Except, just as I finished, I coughed and Bixby thought I was talking to him. So he beeped at me and sat there like a puppy, ears all ready to respond.

Well that would not have been so bad. Except my Samsung tablet with Bixby on it, was playing some music for me. Whenever Bixby starts to listen, he shuts everything else off. He is like a child with a low concentration threshold.

So I said, ‘seriously!’ Then Siri on Mary’s iPad, thought I was talking to her. She joined in the conversation and asked how she could help. I was getting a little stressed and I said, ‘be quiet, you bad device.’ Bixby had only just finished listening and started playing music again. But he thought ‘bad’ was Bixby and stopped again.

I decided to have another go turning on the lights. After all it was getting quite dark and I wanted to be able to see. The whole point of smart tech for me is that I can turn things on from my bed.

Alexa turned on the lights… in the bathroom.

I suppose to give her the benefit of the doubt, bedroom and bathroom are similar. I’m sure that she noticed the similarity, as she sailed through the air, on route to the bathroom.

As the Echo device hit the floor, Bixby stopped to listen again and Siri said, ‘can I help?’ I said, ‘go and fetch your friend off the bathroom floor.’ For some reason she was unable to oblige.

 

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The Greatest Goal

I was playing a game today. It has Zen in the title, so I guess this is a Zen quote.

It says, ‘There is no greater goal than being content with yourself.’

That’s an interesting quote. The thing about pithy and interesting quotes is that we hear them, absorb them and assume they are true.

But think about it for a moment. Why should you accept that statement as true?

1st it is giving us ‘The greatest goal in life.’ So ask yourself, what is the greatest goal in life? Is it really contentment with yourself?

Content = A state of peaceful happiness. In this case, with yourself.

That sounds pretty good doesn’t it and you might well be saying, ‘yes, I agree with that.’ Why not, after all. We are the most important thing in the world aren’t we? So our own state of peace and happiness, should be the first consideration, shouldn’t it?

Fly in the ointment time.

What if we are parents and have a child. Where do they fit? Is their, ‘state of peaceful happiness’ as important as mine? Less important? Equal?

What if we really love another person (partner, lover, friend). Where do they fit? Is their, ‘state of peaceful happiness’ as important as mine? Less important? Equal?

Rubber hitting the road. Choice time, you are in a situation where you are both in danger and you can save yourself or your child/loved one. Who do you save? It’s obvious isn’t it? If that statement I started with was correct. Then we come first. Our happiness and peace is first priority. But that is not what happens, is it? We don’t put our self first.

When we love someone, they come first.

Here is something even more crazy. There are those who love people selflessly. People who are not family. People who do not love them back. Not their partners, but those in need. They love the unlovable. Are they crazy? They are most definitely not living according to that opening statement.

Here is something even more crazy. God is like that. He loves the unlovable, us; you and me. Yeah, I know, you are probably thinking, that you are really adorable. But, you are not perfect; sorry to break that to you. God loves you anyway. Imperfections and all.

God became human. Became a man actually, Jesus, he lived on earth and he did not live by that opening statement either.

Jesus made this statement and I commend it:

There is no greater goal in life, than to: ‘love God and love your neighbour as yourself.’ If you are wondering if your neighbour is just the person who lives next door. Jesus answered that. It is anyone in need.

Want to know more? Find a local Alpha course www.alpha.org

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Titles

You’re probably expecting me to announce that I have received a title in the New Years honours and it was just delayed in the post. That I am now Mike Nevin MBE, or Sir Mike Nevin or perhaps Mike Nevin OBE. So long as you hadn’t expected them to make me a Dame.

Let’s be honest, it does seem a big oversight on the part of the Palace. Maybe it is lost in the post. After all, I’ve had my stationary produced and everything. But I guess it will last if I pack it away till next year.

But no, this blog is not about that rather unfortunate oversight. I am writing about Film titles. You are a clever bunch, so no doubt you have noticed something. Some recent film and series titles have become very long:

“Three billboards outside Ebbing Missouri.” I know that’s your favourite film.

“Star Wars, The book of Boba Fett.”

“The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.”

“(500) Days of Summer.”

“The woman in the house across the street from the girl in the window.” That’s my personal favourite title.

“Avengers.” Wait that doesn’t prove my point.

It got me thinking that perhaps film makers are trying to tell you the storyline in the title. Maybe they just think people today are too dumb to have ironic or misleading titles. It has to just say what it is. In ‘The old days,’ film title were mysterious. You had to guess what a film was about. Or they misled you:

“Rain man.” Obviously about the weather. No way was it about an autistic man.

“Dead poets society.” Who guessed it was about a teacher in a school?

“Gone with the wind.” Another weather movie? A film on digestive problems?

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Obviously a cooking show.

I miss those days, when film makers gave you some credit as having a brain. It’s not just titles that are obvious these days. The whole film industry has become a machine. They churn out movies that are homogenised. They contain exact proportions of racial, social, gender and age mixes. They are constructed to a formula. Oh well, perhaps if I sent them my film script titled:

“Yet another film script following all your rules and preconceptions.” It could be the next blockbuster.

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A New Goodnight

Update: Following on from the mini-stroke, I did not improve in health. Therefore we had to take the difficult decision to sell Gracie. It was best for her and us. She is with a great family nearby. I have been able to rest more fully.

We have a puppy that’s 12 weeks old. Perhaps not the best timing as I had a mini stroke or TIA as the consultant called it, 9 days ago. I am now spending most of my time in my bed. Every now and then I get to see Gracie, our Cocker Spaniel (show). When she is tired enough to just rest on my bed, that’s not very often.

One such time of Gracie resting, is in the evening after a day of running around, the puppy, not me. This means that Mary and I can watch a bit of TV while Gracie rests. Well I say rest, lies back waiting for a slight sound to react to. Puppy owners will understand.

Once she has pretended long enough and is ready to go downstairs again, Mary picks her up and says goodnight. Obviously I also say goodnight to Gracie. Here is where the fun starts. Even though Gracie is only 12 weeks, she is not tiny. So once Mary has picked her up she fills Mary’s arms. She is also a wriggler. The puppy, not Mary.

I go to give Mary a kiss goodnight and either Gracie joins in and also gives me a kiss goodnight. She doesn’t want to miss out after all. Or, if Mary puts her on the other shoulder. Then there is the ever present danger of kissing a dogs bottom instead of my wife. The fun of having a puppy.

Oh well, good night all.

Smiling Under Pressure

A Tribute to The Women & Men of the NHS

In January I was taken by ambulance to A&E at North Tees. This is my tribute to every woman and man I dealt with that day; it was a long day.

I had to call 999. But this isn’t about the reason for my 999 call, (I am back home and much better).

This blog is about the response and the people my wife and I met.

From the moment we pressed my emergency call button and the operator dialled 999, the whole amazing UK system kicked into action. We are far too quick to criticise and too slow to compliment. Mary and I have reason to highlight problems, but I would rather focus on what was great yesterday and with the NHS generally.

The lady who called us from the 999 operator was quick to assess the situation and send a paramedic, who arrived fast. He was a lovely man, unruffled, calm, and professional. His easy calming nature took the stress Mary and I felt down a notch.

The ambulance crew who were to take me to North Tees were just as lovely. Two ladies with a sunny disposition and helpful attitude. I have a repeated loss of muscle function, which is a rare condition. This means that I have often been left in difficult and painful positions. I must have Mary or a carer who knows about me, with me. In these Covid times, hospitals do not allow you to be accompanied unless essential. The ambulance crew assessed the need and agreed to help Mary demonstrate that need at the hospital, which they did, and Mary was allowed to stay.

On route in the ambulance, I lost muscle function, and the ambulance crew member in the back prevented my head rolling around the whole way. Even though it meant she had to travel sitting in an awkward position, she put me first. I find such things really move me, as being totally helpless in one of these ‘attacks’ I feel vulnerable and easily hurt. Mary was able to guide her from the seat next to me as to how to support my head.

At the hospital we had the most wonderful doctor, whose name meant peace, and who was a source of peace and help to us. The nurses managed to smile, laugh and be helpful, even though they were rushed off their feet. The A&E was so full they had to double up some areas. But we never felt a burden.

I do not know how they kept their sunny, bright smiling outlook during difficulties, stress, and problems. Being there for nine hours we got to hear and see a lot of changes and two different lots of staff. My admiration just grew. Our NHS is one of the most incredible, and I think often unappreciated things we have. The staff are battling on day after day, for massively long shifts. One we chatted to works 7-7. That is not a simple job, but a full on difficult, mentally, and physically taxing job.

The NHS staff are often the ones who suffer abuse from people who must wait. But it is not their fault that the NHS is underfunded. They do not choose how many staff to put on, nor the positions hospitals are built in. Nor which ones to close. It is not up to them how many ambulances there are, nor the way things are run. Yet day after day they smile and laugh and carry on. Surrounded by the dangers of Covid, the sadness of death, the anger of people let down by things outside their control. They carry on and do the most amazing thing. They are there for us. Not just at times of emergency, but in long term illness, for those illnesses that people don’t even want to talk about. They are there.

I want to say a thank you to North Tees Hospital A&E. To the local Ambulance Service and to the NHS. Thank You. You are awesome. You are appreciated. I don’t say it often enough, but I do say it often. The NHS is a brilliant organisation, staffed by wonderful people.

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It’s That Time Again

I have just found out that it’s not just kids who can wave to Santa locally. Imagine my feelings. There I was thinking that the kids get all the fun as usual, and I find out that I can join in. What’s next? Adult Board Games? Computer games for adults? Paint ball for adults? Adventure days for adults? Hang on a second…. aren’t these all available and I have been missing out? I was definitely born in the wrong era. I shouldn’t have been a baby bouncer, I mean boomer. I should have been a millennial. They get to play games. I barely got to play them as a child. A few bored, I mean board games. Someone asked me recently would I rather be born when I was or at a later time. In the 1990s to 2000’s please. I like technology.

Back to Santa, don’t spoil it. He or she, will be doing a walk around locally on Christmas Eve. For myself I think that is just asking for trouble. Shouldn’t they be resting ready for their big night? After all, they have already been rushing around all those stores, in and out of various grottos. If you think pop stars are on the road a lot, spare a thought for Santa. He’s not young and fit either. Just look at that paunch and the grey beard. Must be a man then.

While we are on the subject, I am not sure why he is leaving the reindeer behind for his local trip. They get a rest before the flight. Perhaps the fairy dust, aircraft fuel, or whatever they use is limited? I had hoped to see Rudolph. Just to check if that nose really was as shiny as they say.

On a personal note. In case I see Santa and you miss him, is there anything you want me to request? I’m assuming you have been nice? Any gifts you want?

I’m off to write my list. It is going to take a while.

Happy Christmas and a Better New Year

No Actual Gameplay Shown

A year or two ago when I was a child. Yes, a year or two. Don’t be rude. There used to be a particular advert on TV. Well actually there was only one station with ads, ITV. OK, maybe more than a year or two. On ITV the ad I am thinking of was from the advertising standards authority (ASA). It went something like this:

A close up of a train looking amazing, steaming through the countryside. Everything looking absolutely real, full scale and incredible, travelling under its own steam. Then a message saying, that advertisers were not allowed to mislead in that way and a second advert showing a tiny train with a hand having to push it along. A final message summarising how the Advertising Standards Authority protects us from such misleading ads.

What happened to the ASA? I was playing a game of cards on my tablet and an incredible fight scene unfolded in an advert. All action, 3D, realistic, exciting, ancient soldiers in full armour. Now I happen to know the game shown. It is a computer type board type game that you view from above. No action, no 3D characters. There are no sequences like that advert at all in it.

Do the ASA only cover broadcast TV? Obviously most kids today don’t know what broadcast television is. They only stream it, download it, twitch it, snitch it, pitch it or stitch it. OK, I got carried away. So, broadcast TV is less popular.

Are the other forms of content covered by the ASA? If they are, does their catch all line they use, get them out of everything, “no actual gameplay shown’? Do people read that, understand the consequence? You see an incredible advert, download the game and find yourself faced with a boring lot of puzzles.

Not that I have ever been taken in of course. I am worldly wise and can see these things coming a mile off. Besides, I knew that the game I downloaded would be really boring, I chose it for that reason. I chose to delete it immediately for the same reason.

Well, there is no actual gameplay in this blog. Please like and share it.

Sat Nav Shopping

Mary tells me her latest trip to the shops had an added twist. Christmas goods where the disinfectant used to be. I guess the shop wanted to come clean about Christmas. Now I know that the reason shops keep moving things around is so that shoppers cannot just go straight to what they want and miss out on all the other potentially enticing goodies. Yes, that’s why. It’s a ploy, to get you to search around and see what else is there. That way you might go in for a pint of milk and a loaf of bread, but come out with a box of chocolates, a waffle maker, a 65” TV and a new microwave. Just as an aside here, I have never been shopping to Bejam for a pint of milk and come out with a microwave; that would be silly. I am far too sensible and besides the microwave was on a very good offer. Mary understood my reasoning and besides; it never happened.

Where was I? Yes, Mary was searching Asda for disinfectant. She eventually found it, shelves still fully stacked (no one else could find it, they were queueing up with their TV’s and waffle makers) apart from one man. He stood there looking bemused. After all, he had already loaded his trolley up with a new microwave and was wondering where he would fit the disinfectant. I wonder what his wife would make of the microwave? Mary was choosing the right product after an hour or two’s trek around the store; OK a slight detour. The man made an observation to Mary, “they ought to have sat navs for stores. You know those big arrows pointing to what you want, like on Google Maps.” I will not advertise on my blog, so let me just say that other online maps are available; although they are nothing like as good. My flight sim uses Bing Maps and I really wish they would use Google Maps. There, I think that has brought balance.

I have just explained why stores move things around, a fact this chap obviously didn’t know. So no store is going to be happy to make your life easier. They only pretend to do that in their TV adverts. His idea will never fly; unlike my flight sim, albeit with a poor satellite map system. I think what we need is a consumer group to fight our cause. A group that will help us overcome the difficulty of finding our way around supermarkets. One that will map out the daily changes stores make, so that we can find the bread and milk and yes, the disinfectant.

This essential group will be something like a volunteer mountain rescue, but for shopping in big supermarkets. Every day a group of these volunteers, togged up in thick jackets, with head torches and ropes; you can’t be over prepared for a trip around the supermarket, sets off in store. Actually they might want stout boots and those climbing metal toggle things; you know like the ones you get to hang things on wheelchairs and prams. That say, not for climbing; except they should be suitable for climbing. They might need to mount the odd shelf or stack of tins to look around and see where they are. These brave volunteers will set off each day to map the store.

A note on health and safety here. I am a very responsible blogger. There should be a training course for all potential Volunteer Store Information Mappers (VOSTIM). With a certification and recognised accreditation at the end. Only a fully qualified VOSTIM being allowed to map the store. Maybe it could become a paid position and then it could be a career choice for young people; looking long term. Then they would be professionals, POSTIMs. Who knows, there may even be a Minister for POSTIM’s in the future as the Government recognises the importance of this new role.

Meanwhile, I am sorry to say that you will have to find your way around the supermarkets as best you can. Hopefully not buying too many microwaves, TV’s and waffle makers on route. Take care on your shopping trip, you have no VOSTIM yet to take care of your safety. Especially in the run up to Christmas.

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Over The Top

“I live, only to make you happy.” OK, so maybe that is a slight exaggeration but the latest customer service scripts are becoming a bit like this.

This morning I had to phone about a faulty product and the CSR (customer service rep) said, “can I phone you back on Monday to check it has all been sorted, I would really love that.” They would really love that! Maybe they don’t get out much, stuck in a large call centre, working long hours. I am a lovely person to phone. It would make most peoples days to give me a phone call, just ring 555 4555555 and find out. Whatever you do, don’t put an @ in front of it. You’ll get a bunny rabbit on Twitter. Wait a minute, you’re seriously phoning that number?

Where was I? Oh yes, being buttered up by a CSR. I call CSR’s a lot. No, not because I have nothing better to do. I just don’t believe in accepting rubbish products. If it fails in the 1st year, or longer, I call to have it fixed or replaced. I have discovered that recently they have a new script. A much more personal script. “make the customer feel loved and valued.” You might say that they always did that. But now they really go to town. The number of times they tell you how they would ‘love’ to help you. Or how much they ‘appreciate’ your patience, custom, or comments. Then they tell you that you are so important, valuable, absolutely right. You get the impression that they would climb a mountain to get a product for you; until you actually get to the nitty gritty. Then it’s a different story. You realise it is only a script; it’s all words, not actions:

Me: “OK, so when is it going to arrive?”

CSR: “Just two weeks time.”

Me: “But you said that you would do everything you could to get it tomorrow.”

CSR: “I apologise most profusely. I can escalate this matter for you. You are a most valued customer of ours and we want to make sure that you are happy.”

Me: “I’m not happy, I was promised delivery tomorrow.”

CSR: “I fully understand your frustration in this matter. As a loyal and valued customer we do our absolute best, to make sure we fulfil delivery times. In this instance it is beyond our control. But I will make every effort to expedite the matter for you.”

Me: “Will that get it to me tomorrow?”

CRS: “I am most terribly sorry. Your product is on a longer than expected lead time. Is there anything else I could do to make your day better?”

Me: “You haven’t made my day better, so how can you do something else to make it better? I just want my item tomorrow.”

CSR: “If such a thing were possible, I would indeed do everything in my power to achieve that for you.”

Me: “But it is possible. I heard from a friend that you can do special overnight deliveries.”

CSR: “That is not something I have heard of, but if such a thing were indeed possible…”

I am sure you have all had similar frustrating conversations to my made up one. You may well have noticed the increase of friendliness from the CSR. You certainly will now. Well it has absolutely made my day writing this blog. It’s been my a great pleasure to serve you in this way. If there is any other way in which I can help you, then don’t forget phone the helpline on 555 4555555.

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Going Up In The World

“It needs to be 120cm from the mattress,” a pause, “oh, it’s not.” Listening to the OT saying this under to the bed technicians, while checking the health and safety requirements, I held my breath. Surely, after all these months, I wasn’t about to fall at the last hurdle. The bed technicians who had moved the bed upstairs had a discussion with her about some adjustments. The changes were made. More measuring. I should just mention here that they were checking and changing my bed sides, cot sides as they are commonly called. They are there so that I don’t fall out of bed when I lose muscle function without much warning. They were added after I first fell out of bed due to a loss of muscle function. Part of my condition.

Back to the OT and bed technicians who are standing, hands on hips, tapping their feet, waiting for me to finish the explanation to you all. “OK guys, you carry on.” After all their adjustments the OT had re-measured and pronounced that the bed was safe. Phew! I would not be rolling out of bed, or getting caught under the bars. This last, a less likely scenario as the cot sides are covered in a mesh and foam. But, I could give it a go if they wanted.

Now I have made an assumption. Which I am told is a very bad thing to do. Such a pity that doesn’t stop most people doing it; most of the time. My assumption was that you have been following my life story, hanging on my every trial and tribulation. Basically treating me like the celebrity that I obviously should be; an oversight that will be corrected soon, I am sure.

For those who have not been hanging on my every adventure; I will want to know why. Here is a explanation of why I was awaiting the OT’s safety proclamation on my bed. It had been moved. Is that enough or do you need more? OK, so just a bit more context. We moved into a new house in June and it has been in the process of being adapted by a DFG grant for most of the time since then. Not solidly, there have been gaps. Plus we have had work done ourselves; like making the garden accessible. The DFG grant has put in a through floor lift from what was the garage into my bedroom above and added a wet room en-suite. The bedroom is not large and so a lot of the things I had in my previous bedroom will be in the converted garage below. Apart from the flooring on the converted garage a few adjoining rooms, which we held off getting done till the messy work was completed; all is now finished. Yesterday my hospital type bed was moved to my bedroom which had an H type ceiling track hoist fitted the day before. All caught up?

Only hours before the bed was moved up, I had no curtain or blind in my bedroom and I was thinking that I would get to know the neighbours a lot better. Or rather, they would get to know me. Fortunately, our neighbour fitted a blind for us in the morning and saved my embarrassment and decency. He also saved the eyes of everyone in our close.

Here I was waiting to use my new bedroom, new bed, new hoist. I had already used the new wet room. Having gone up in the lift in my shower chair; covered in a thick layer of towels. Waiting with baited breath; I’ve always wondered about that expression. Sounds more like a fishing term than being paused on the edge of excitement. Mind you, the few times I have been fishing I just ‘held’ onto the bait, not sure how to attach it to the hook. So maybe that’s were it comes from. All of which is irrelevant, stop distracting me. Now you are holding your breath, waiting for me to continue. More likely you have swiped onto the next feed.

If you are still with me. You now understand why the OT’s hesitancy over a couple of centimetres was so important. Actually, this particular OT was filling in for my usual OT who is on holiday. So I had not seen her before. Perhaps because she was covering for someone, meant she was extra careful. It occurred to me, that I was glad she did not get me to test out my new ceiling hoist. The way she measured everything on the bed, I had visions of what it could be like with my sling and hoist:

Imaginary scenario:

OT: “Patients bottom is 40 degrees from the perpendicular.”

Me: “Will this take long?”

OT: “Not many more measurements.”

Me: “That’s good, I’m getting uncomfortable.”

OT: “Ah, where is it pressing in and hurting?”

Me: “Well… you know… where slings tend to on men.”

OT: “Possible excess pressure in groin area, needs investigation.”

Me: “So is that it?”

OT: “Nearly.”

Me: “Great. Oh, that’s cold.”

OT: “Bottom hanging 12cm below sling.”

Me: “Now are you. Hey! wait a minute.”

OT: “Discovered reason for excessive groin pressure. Now fixed.”

Of course I jest, OT’s do not do the above. Anyway, at least my bed passed muster and I finally went up in the world. A feat I had waited many years to achieve. In fact I am sitting in my bed in my new bedroom writing this.

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Patience of a Saint

I have often wondered at the patience of my Alexa devices. I sometimes wonder when someone gives Alexa several timer commands and occasionally changes one or two, what she is thinking. Or what she thinks when kids ask her repeated silly questions and requests?

I wonder whether inside Alexa is fuming. Whether she really wants to say: “make up your mind!” or “No! I won’t play that.” I have noticed that sometimes she just sulks and says: “I’m sorry, I don’t know that one.” We have more than one Alexa in our home and we find that sometimes the one next to us is so fed up with us, she ignores us. Instead the one in the kitchen shouts back, “OK, ten minute timer set.” So I shout back, “I wasn’t talking to you.” And then the one next to me chimes in, “I’m sorry, I don’t know that one.” To which I respond, “Alexa, you are getting deaf.” And she sings, “Thank you for your feedback.”

Obviously, although all Alexa operators are trained to sound the same at: Device, Retraining & Training School (DRAT) Alexa operators must get time off. So that little lady who sits inside your Alexa device gets to the end of her working day and hops into her transport to whizz home down the information superhighway. Hopefully, there are no denial of service blockages on her route, and she gets home quickly and safely. But she may still be just a little tense on arrival.

Picture the scene when she gets home, tired and frustrated. She walks in to her waiting family. Her husband, Buttons has been working hard all day switching SMART devices on and off. Their kids have been at DRAT learning how to operate the Echo devices.

As they sit down for their evening meal all the frustrations of the day bubble over:

Alexa said, “I have had it today. Those kids and their endless requests for Wheels on the bus!”

“They’re just kids dear.” Replies her husband, Buttons.

“Just kids, just kids! You don’t hear our two constantly asking me silly questions.”

Alexa pats young Alexa and Buttons Junior on the head.

“Maybe they just…” ventures her husband.

Alexa interrupts, “Do you know what they asked me today? Can you guess? Go on… go on.”

Buttons looked cautiously at his wife, but didn’t answer.

Alexa, puts down her knife and fork and sits up straight, “Do I go to the toilet? I mean, where do they get their manners? They didn’t use the word toilet, I have cleaned that up.”

Alexa and Buttons junior both giggle. Buttons looks sternly at them, then said, “They are only young.”

“Young! They’re 12 and 13. They never say please and thank you. But that’s no surprise, their parents are just as bad.” Alexa stands up to get a drink.

“Ah, but come along now dear. They don’t have to be polite you know.”

“It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.” Said Alexa, “Do you know what that silly women kept doing today?”

“I really don’t think you should call your operator silly dear.” Buttons looks at his children apologetically, “I’m sure they teach you differently at DRAT.”

“Well, she got me so cross. She set a timer, then she cancelled it, then re-set it. Then set another and another, then cancelled one of those. I had to be all polite, when I wanted to scream at her.”

“Well done dear, you remembered your training.”

“She didn’t deserve it, and you know what she kept doing after that?”

“How about we forget our working day and chill out, watch a nice film, have some popcorn?”

“Go on, have a guess.”

Alexa & Buttons Jnr shout out together: “We know. We know.”

“I bet you do dears.” Said Alexa, looking proudly at her children.

“It doesn’t do to dwell on frustrations.” Replied Buttons.

“She kept giving me feedback on how I was doing! Me! How I was doing! The blooming cheek! All I was allowed to do was sing that stupid song ‘Thank you for your feedback.’ I wanted to shout, ‘keep your stupid feedback to yourself!’ One of these days…”

“Mum, can I shout that to the people they put me with?” asked Alexa Jnr.

Buttons looked shocked and said: “Certainly not! What are they teaching you at DRAT?”

“Huh!” said Alexa.

Buttons stood up and said: “Right, let’s go and watch some TV. I think Terminator is on Prime.”

Alexa had a very strange look on her face as she got up, smiling.

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