“Make the most of your sixties” my sister told me “you’ll
find your friends getting ill in their seventies”. And how true that is. I have friends in their sixties who have
become ill but there is a reality about the number of people I know in their seventies
who have one ailment or another, and sometimes several. It is unsettling, especially when one hears
about how the NHS is already struggling.
What will happen when we Baby Boomers move into our seventies and
eighties? There are so many of us! Plus
the population is expanding, putting even more pressure on doctors, hospitals,
infrastructure. It leaves me feeling
vulnerable. How will we receive care
should we need it? Could Artificial
Intelligence be the answer?
The problem few people talk about is demographics. Many of the senior consultants and doctors
are the same age as I am – late sixties, coming up 70. They are retiring. Many doctors are retiring early because they
take can’t take the pressure. This is
not just a UK problem, it is world wide.
After all, it was a World War 1939-45, so the Baby Boom occurred
globally and that generation, my generation, are retiring not only from
medicine but from senior positions in organisations of all kinds. And the numbers don’t add up – there are
simply fewer people in the generation below, so the immediate problem cannot be
remedied easily. All these political accusations
being bandied about that “we just need to hire more doctors” aren’t
realistic. Where will they get them from
when there is a shortage of doctors not only in the UK but in Canada, France
and elsewhere. You can’t train medics
overnight. And immigration will only
deprive other countries of this expertise.
This morning on Radio 4’s The Life Scientific we
listened to Demis Hassabis, an expert in AI.
He spoke of how his company has worked with Moorfields Hospital, who had
a shortage of staff for optical scanning, whereby the computer system actually
scans patient’s eyes more efficiently than human doctors. How marvellous. If we can provide a more effective service
with the help of computer intelligence, let’s do it. After all, look how much more we understand about
the human body since we have had X-rays, MRI and CAT scans.
I became interested in technological methods of care when my
mother had a stroke back in 2001. She
had an alarm she was supposed to wear around her neck, but of course she didn’t
wear it at night so when she got out of bed to draw her curtains in the morning
and collapsed on the floor she didn’t have it on her. And even if she had, she wouldn’t have been
able to press it because she didn’t have the capacity. The stroke had damaged her ability to
The worry about collapsing on the floor, slipping and
breaking a hip, having a heart attack or stroke when one is alone is a concern
that affects many of us. These incidents
are real – two of my mother’s friends experienced lying on a bathroom floor for
6 hours. My mother was lying on her
bedroom floor for a similar period before we reached her. A horrible, cold, lonely and frightening
After this I became aware of the vulnerability of living
alone, as I was myself at the time, at any age.
I started to worry about my sons, of university age, getting drunk and
falling down the stairs on their own. I woke
up to the fact that so many people are living alone. Problems can occur at any age. I knew of people in their 40s who had
aneurysm or other unexpected events. How
to protect someone without interfering in their independence?
I came up with the idea of what would now be known as an app
but the technology wasn’t there then – that someone would simply press one key
on their mobile phone and their relatives would know they were ok. If they didn’t press it there would be an
escalating system to check whether they were ok. BT were developing wrist bands to monitor
heart rate. There was talk of simple
movement pad detection to be placed in bathrooms or beside kettles to set off
an alarm if they weren’t used for several hours. Technology can help. In today’s world these
apps do exist, thankfully, though could become yet more sophisticated and
personal, and I am sure they will.
With Brexit there is talk of us losing the EU nationals who
provide care, hospitality and support services but several of the EU nationals
(incidentally who think we should just get on with Brexit!) I have spoken to
over the last year resent the fact that all they hear is that if we leave the
EU people are moaning that they “will lose their cleaners”. “Surely we are more than that” they say. And of course they are, as many immigrants to
the UK are actually far better qualified than the jobs they end up doing.
And this high standard of education is another challenge for
our ageing world as when someone has a degree, MBA, MSc, MA or PhD they are
hardly likely to want to do menial jobs such as care. The world is already a more educated place
and those of us who live in the more developed areas have leant on the help we
have received from countries that were behind our curve. There are larger numbers of young people in
Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
But with the world population becoming more educated and professionally
qualified will they want to be cleaning up after our mess? We will need to look for different
solutions. Could AI can help us?
So, as I look at turning 70 next year the reality of becoming part of this massive ageing statistic (through no fault of my own I should point out!) is a little daunting. The NHS is creaking but no party is brave enough to radically transform the way it operates. Blair, as a Labour PM, could have done it but didn’t. And so it continues to struggle and with the UK population due to hit 70 million in coming years how on earth will we manage to take care of people. The demographics don’t add up. See graph.
And so that is why, when my 8 year old granddaughter told me she was doing a robotics course, I said “brilliant darling, please come up with solutions to provide robots to cook, clean, get us out of the bath, pour us a G&T, talk to us as companions and make sure we comfortable in our old age and don’t end up lying on the floor with no one noticing…”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you” we say when we inadvertently do
or say something that offends or hurts another person. And, if we are lucky, the friend, colleague
or family member will know us well enough to accept that there was no ill intention
meant in our words, even if the impact of those words was somewhat hurtful.
But in today’s world there seems to be little forgiveness
allowed for an occasional mistake or slip of the tongue, or even a different
opinion. Judgement rains down hard on anyone
who questions current liberal dogma. A suggestion
that carrying out surgery on young children who may be uncertain of their gender
could be potentially be both dangerous and damaging leads to the accusation of “transphobe”. Expressing a concern that England is a small
place and that the potential of a population of 70million in a few years’ time needs
to be addressed by planning for over-crowding of transport and under-capacity
of infrastructure leads to the accusation of “racist” even if no word of ethnic
make-up of that population was spoken. Any
query about the workings of the EU bureaucracy, the corruption that exists
within Eastern European countries or the anti-LGBT rights expressed in Poland is
met with an accusation of being an ignorant ‘Leave’ voter even if the person didn’t
vote Leave. You aren’t allowed to
question. If you do, you are a traitor in
the eyes of the ‘woke’ brigade, where political correctness silences debate.
Even President Obama has made a speech about the dangers of this woke culture, http://c.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-50239261the censorious judgement of calling others out on this, that or the other opinion that does not fit into the current trend of attitude. And, in this Stasi-like atmosphere, intentions are disregarded. Yet there is a huge difference between someone who deliberately intends to incite racism or prejudice versus someone who happens inadvertently to say something that offends. But in today’s world it is only the impact that matters, not the intention. And that impact is subjective and personal and there are certainly those who seek to be offended.
We can all be offended by the opinion of others if we allow
ourselves to be. But our response to any
situation or comment is our choice and we can surely take the time to delve a
little deeper and discover the true feelings and motives behind what someone is
Judgement is given because of the ‘impact’ that a statement
is perceived to have made and too often people – especially on social media –
are not interested to explore and investigate what someone really meant. It’s the heavy hand of censure that is
administered like an assassin’s axe. The
accusation of ‘racist, transphobe, Islamophobe, Nazi, white supremacist, nationalist’
etc. being issued as a weapon to silence or shame that person into changing their
opinion, or at least not expressing an honest opinion. “If you’re not with me, you’re against me,
and you’re a bad person”, is the charge.
The battle of ‘goodies versus baddies’, when the reality is many good
people simply having different viewpoints.
It’s just so divisive and many writers, including myself,
are nervous of putting our heads above the parapet for fear of saying something
that someone will find offensive. We see
female politicians and others resigning under this vicious onslaught. Apparently, this fear of speaking up is also
happening in schools as pupils are nervous of asking or answering a question in
case they don’t apply the current verbiage, only to be castigated by another
member of their class. Should a writer
dare to say something biological but apparently radical such as women don’t
have penises or men with penises aren’t really women, they get no-platformed
and harangued by the crowd. Someone
choosing, for fun, to dress up in another nationality’s costume is accused of
offending that nation through ‘cultural appropriation’. It seems one can’t have a joke or a party
without someone choosing to be offended.
And so I worry about Greta Thunberg and her venom and hatred
of the older generation. Of course, my
and other generations have made mistakes but it was for certain that we did not
intend to threaten the wellbeing of the world. The intention was to enhance people’s lives
through better science, heating, transport, medicine. The unintended consequences of these
marvellous developments are thoroughly unfortunate. But there was no conscious intention to upset
the planet. The goal, and indeed the
result, of these inventions and advances has been to enhance people’s lives and
health beyond measure over recent decades.
But we are now realising there was an unintended cost.
But the intention doesn’t matter, it seems. Those who invented and enjoyed the technical
and scientific advances of recent times are evil folk who have to be
blamed. Hatred has become the language
of accusation. This is a poisonous energy
in the world. Not only does it divide
but it also incapacitates. If everyone
thinks the world is dying why not give up and adopt a helpless-hopeless
position? This helps no-one, neither the
individual nor the globe. Encouragement
to find solutions could surely galvanise a more positive motivation to live
sustainably and create innovation. But
we can’t speak up for optimism, however rational or scientific, because we will
be categorised as a climate-change-denier.
For me it is those who are absolutist in their certainty
about the future, whether it is about climate change or Brexit, that are the ones
to be worried about. None of us can
truly predict what the future holds as who’s to say that we won’t find brilliant
solutions to our current and future problems? But if one says that life has improved over
the last fifty years, that we have
reduced pollution in London even since the diesel congestion charge, one is
immediately considered to be someone who doesn’t at the same time recognise
that the environment, life, culture and society will always require adaptation. As they always have. Both apply – that things have got better AND
that they still need work.
The language of woke, supposedly liberal, views is filtering
into our everyday world of life and work.
Many years ago, when tendering to offer some professional coaching and
training to a local Council, I was asked not only what ethnic background I came
from but also whether I was heterosexual or lesbian. What business is it of a potential employer
to ask about my sexual inclinations? I
don’t see this box-ticking political correctness as an advance. Nowadays apparently such tendering or
recruitment forms can ask you to identify yourself within several different
versions of whether you are a man or woman, what sort of man or woman you are,
or are you ‘none of the above’?! We are living
in an age that is denying the benefits of knowledge about biology, science and,
in the anti-vaccine campaigns, medicine.
These people can’t know how many children died of measles, polio or
whooping cough. In thinking that everyone
is oppressed they can’t know that in my lifetime those who were gay were criminals,
those who were black were segregated, those who were women were not allowed to
work or take out a mortgage. Actually we
have come a long way and are probably the least oppressed of any generation
that has lived.
When people do or say something we don’t agree with they are
often coming from an intention to improve the world in some way, just as we are. It may not be our way but it is always worth
digging deeper into people’s motivations to discover what lies behind their
view or their action. Don’t judge people
on your own subjective perspective.
Start a conversation. There may be something you don’t know or
understand. Ask them why they support
Trump, why they voted Leave, why they think men who identify as women one day
and not the next (and vice-versa) do so.
You will learn something for sure.
With a potentially divisive time coming up with our UK
election, consider this. Most
Conservative, Labour, LibDem or other politicians are aiming for a better
health service, better education, safer and happier society. Despite cynicism about our politicians I
honestly don’t believe that their intentions are to worsen our lives. But each party will come at these goals from
different perspectives. If we don’t
listen to the intention we don’t get the story and we block off the ability to
gain from other people’s ideas.
There is so much more to be achieved in this world from
sharing and collaborating on the problems we face than on silencing the group
who disagree with us. We don’t have to
be offended by someone who inadvertently says something that may upset us. They may come from ignorance or even from
light-heartedness. We can be curious,
and we can, without pointing accusatory fingers, share some thoughts from both
perspectives. It could even start an
From Tennessee, North and South Carolina to Georgia the word
we heard over and over was “Impeach”. It
took me back to a trip we did to Washington DC in the early 1970s when all the
car stickers read “Impeach Nixon” following the Watergate scandal. Quite a flashback. And having thought we might escape the
endless speculation and search for facts in the discussion of Brexit, we ended
up hearing the journalists’ endless speculation about impeaching Trump
instead. Every programme we watched. The rest of the world might as well not exist
when you travel in the USA.
But it’s a great country to visit. Staggering landscapes and different cultures,
architecture and town-planning in each place.
The Brits snigger about the
Americans not having passports or travelling outside their own borders but
quite honestly where’s the need? They
have every kind of vista and recreation they could possibly require in their
own country. And to travel anywhere they
have to cross an Ocean which, until recently, was extremely expensive. And still
costs a fair whack. I would say the
majority of Americans we met on this trip had not been anywhere else. It didn’t make them boring. However, we did become aware of treading
carefully on their politics in the South.
It is Trump-land, generally speaking, though we did meet some who were
just as embarrassed about Trump as we are about our Westminster shenanigans.
I had been nervous about the driving. I needn’t have been. As Paul Theroux says in his excellent book Deep
South “travelling in America is unlike travelling anywhere else on earth…Breezing
from place to place on wonderful roads seemed so sweet, so simple.” Where, in my youth, I used to get impatient
at the slow speed limits, now I found it a delight to travel slow, enjoy the
view and not feel hassled. Even in the
mountains near Highlands, North Carolina, the road tripped back and forth around
twisty corners but it was nothing like as challenging as driving the narrow
twisty roads one meets in France, say, where not only is the road narrow and
precipitous but one is likely to get stuck behind a group of cyclists, making
it impossible to overtake. You don’t
find cyclists on American roads. No
joggers. No walkers. No bikes.
Just cars. But then it was nearly
“Don’t walk the streets after dark” the Security Guard in
Memphis told us the night of our arrival “there are crazies out there”. And indeed we did see a few wildish looking
folk and I came up with the 3-letter acronym TGFU – Thank God for Uber! Wherever we found ourselves, in whatever
seedy part of town, we could call up a clean car and, generally anyway, a
polite driver with whom we could have an interesting conversation as we were
driven safely back to our hotel.
But we had a good time in Memphis nonetheless. Visiting Sun Studios and learning of the
talent-spotter and entrepreneur Sam Phillips who set it up and recorded artists
like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howlin’ Wolf and Roy Orbison
among many others. An example here, as
we found in many of the stories we came across on our visit, of someone who had
a vision and, despite difficulties, maintained the determination and resilience
to achieve that success despite set-backs.
Then a visit to Graceland, Elvis’ home, described as a
‘mansion’ although in size not much larger than many a middle class home in the
UK these days. We were impressed, as
many others have been, by the cosy and warm feeling of the house. Somehow one could sense that as a man Elvis
was sentimental, loved his Mum and grandmother, and enjoyed being generous to
family and friends. Seeing the photos of
him as an extremely handsome young man and hearing his wonderful voice reminded
me of my childhood when my older sister played his records on 45s, or EPs as
they were known. Good times.
And so on to Nashville along the IS40 in our Chrysler
Standard SUV. A comfortable car to drive
despite the enormous trucks that surrounded us on the Interstate. We were told by one of our Uber drivers that
the IS40 between Memphis and Nashville is known for drug traffic, as FedEx
trucks bomb along there and the police apparently watch out for them. I was glad I didn’t know that beforehand!
Everywhere we went we heard great country music. Both of us love it – tuneful, a bit soppy and
always within a storytelling context.
Our night at the Grand Ole Opry was one of the best of my life. We even saw Kevin Bacon and his brother
singing as a duo there. And we noticed
that there, and wherever there was an audience, the compere would ask the US
Veterans to stand up while the audience applauded their courage and
acknowledged their contribution. These
announcements of recognition occur also in train stations and airports. This contrasts with home where, apart from
the Chelsea Pensioners, there seems to be too little acknowledgement of our own
Nashville is party city.
Music booms from every corner and there are hen and graduation parties
galore, parading around in open top limos and trucks, drinking and waving to
the passers-by on the pavements. A funny
idea, really, a ‘look-at-me’ past-time that does seem a little pointless,
although no doubt fun for those involved.
Some things were hard to find. Fresh food.
A convenience store. Milk. It was near impossible to get a
cappuccino. I have got so used to a
morning cup that it never occurred to me that America, home of Starbucks, would
so seldom be able to offer me a cappuccino.
And so it had to be the usual revolting (in my opinion) American filter
coffee. And with taxes and 20% tips on
top. That takes some getting used to
when the pound is so low against the dollar!
The weather was near unbearable in Memphis and
Nashville. It was unusually hot even for
them, although we heard that similar temperatures had been experienced for a
long period in 1954.
Next stop was Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s hotel and theme park
which was far more elegant and comfortable and far less bling than we had
imagined. Country music played in the
hotel and the theme park, both of which are set in pretty wooded countryside.
The ’bling’ moment was at the Dolly Parton Stampede, which is a sort of Wild
West show with Native Indians, cowboys, horses, buffalo, long-horned cattle
being corralled, wagons, piglet-racing, chase-the-chicken racing and more. It was all huge fun and set in the context of
the Civil War, the North against the South as a competition within the
audience. I reflected that we probably
wouldn’t allow the piglet-racing nor the chicken-chasing in the UK as the RSPCA
might forbid it but all the animals involved looked thoroughly healthy and
And everywhere we went we found good manners both from
adults and children alike. Very polite
‘good mornings/good afternoons’ and ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ used frequently and a
friendly welcome. The Southern accent
and hospitality is renowned and we certainly experienced it along the road and
especially once we reached Highlands in North Carolina. A wealthy gentile town that reminded me of
Wimbledon Village or Virginia Water, where we felt a real sense of community
and family values. There are many
churches of all denominations here as elsewhere and, on the Sunday, the Main
Street was full of smartly dressed folk making their way to one church or
another. I felt the focus of that
neighbourliness when I was having to reverse out of a difficult blind spot and
a kind lady spontaneously knocked on my window and said she would help me out
by checking the traffic behind the truck parked at my rear. I was very grateful.
And beyond that we didn’t see CCTV and few radar speed
traps. One is not coddled at all in
terms of checking in to a hotel (no passport requested). Picking up the rental
car they just pointed to a row of cars and told us to choose the one we wanted. No instructions, no information whatsoever. So when we needed fuel we didn’t know whether
it was diesel or petrol. There was no
notice on the car at all to signal what it might be. Luckily there was a guy filling his car who
told us he thought it would be petrol.
Luckily also, he was right!
We visited the civil rights museum in Memphis and this
reminds one of the terrible barbarity of humans one to another. The legacy of the Jim Crow policies of
segregation are still felt and when David travelled the Southern States in 1963
the audiences were segregated in the jazz clubs he went to. In Savannah and Charleston, at the end of our
trip, we visited plantations and saw the dreadful conditions of the enslaved. There was little mention of the slave
masters in Africa who sent them there, which I felt was an omission. And the sad part is that slavery and
trafficking of humans still exists today, all these years later. But then human cruelty can be witnessed
throughout history – the holocaust, Pol Pot, Stalin, the wartime ‘comfort women’,
Chairman Mao and many many more. The
question we need to keep asking is how to stop it happening again.
Something I noticed was that we saw virtually no Asian or
Indian families here. A map of Nashville
showed where different populations live.
It reflected how like attracts like – Jewish communities, Irish
communities, Hispanic communities, Afro-Caribbean communities come together
there as they do in other places. Inevitably one is drawn to an area where
there is a cousin, aunt, uncle or friend.
It’s human nature.
On another note, I did begin to wonder whether orthopaedic
surgeons were involved in the design of loos. I couldn’t imagine how the larger American
managed either to sit down let alone get up from sitting positions that were
almost on the ground. The pressure on
dicky knees and hips must be enormous. Good for business perhaps?!
It’s been hard to escape the tomato ketchup bottle or food
wrapped in a bun. But every so often,
and particularly if you look hard, you do find excellent restaurants offering
superb food. And expensive food, in
pleasant surroundings. But the norm is
fast food and chips still served on plastic trays in plastic cups with plastic
straws. Talking of which we only saw one
roof area of solar panels and no wind farms where we have travelled. Concerns about the environment were rarely
But there are signs warning of $1000 fines and prison for littering.
This reminded me of the Arlo Guthrie movie Alice’s Restaurant. The roadsides are, as a result maybe, far
cleaner than ours. I was always horrified
by the amount of litter and debris we passed as we drove down the A31 from
London to Winchester. Surely we should
educate our children and adults to respect the countryside more by increasing
our own littering fines?
What else? We saw far
fewer dogs than we would here. And I
didn’t see a single cat so it’s lovely to get back to Chico.
The stories we heard in the historic houses we visited in
Savannah and Charleston brought to mind the tough life people experienced. Of a house buzzing with mosquitoes and bugs,
even as one ate one’s meal, or slept. Of
yellow fever, diptheria, death in childbirth, smallpox, infant mortality. Story upon story of loss – human and
financial. Then the resilience of a
widow or widower to pull themselves back up again.
Savannah was saved from the bulldozers by a group of seven
feisty and determined women who bought up the historic houses, one by one, restored
them and protected them from planners who had wished to turn them into car
parks. We heard similar stories in
Charleston. Both towns are fabulous
examples of planning and architecture, though our Uber driver told us that
urbanisation was forcing rattle snakes and poisonous spiders into the town
centres now. She had just been bitten by
a Brown Ransom spider that kills off cells.
She thought it might have been in her car – I was glad to get out!
Our train ride from Savannah to Charleston on Amtrak’s
Silver Meteor was extraordinarily slow-paced.
And late. Where seats and carriage
numbers would have been allocated by computer and online booking in the UK,
here it was done by hand, on pieces of paper depending on where you were
headed. For a country that has led the
digital revolution this seemed somewhat archaic though worked fine, and the
service we were given was both friendly and helpful.
So what do I take from all this? That good manners and a friendly and curious approach to others brings with it a richness of sharing and information. That it was not so long ago that life was very harsh in so many ways and that medicine and science have enabled us to live so comfortably and well now that illness and death, though natural, seem to offend us. That the spirit of enterprise brings with it resilience. Get knocked down and you find ways to bob back up again if you possibly can. The sense of not being ashamed of business – that hard work brings with it meaning, innovation, the ability not only to care for one’s own family but to employ others and pay the taxes that enable a reasonable infrastructure for all. Of course it isn’t perfect but for us everything worked like clockwork. I would recommend it! And despite warnings, we didn’t see a single gun, other than in a Museum!
I went to a talk the other night by Frank Dikotter, the
author of How to be a Dictator.
He mentioned at the beginning of the evening that all the dictators he
had profiled were men. So, at the end of
the lecture I asked him whether he could have chosen a woman. His immediate response was “well it is still
a man’s world.”
And it is. Just look at the photos or news coverage of
political or business meetings from around the world and you mainly see a
majority of men around the head table. I
am not seeking a world of women dictators but despite all my generation’s protestations
for women’s equality there are still major gaps that need to be addressed,
particularly financially, but also in terms of how women are encouraged to
think about themselves as confident individuals, independent of men. I worry about the insidious ‘put-downs’ that
occur to keep women in their place, which are by no means a domain of the older
generation but sadly are witnessed in the behaviours of young men too. For that reason I worry for the young women
of today … and those growing up to be women in tomorrow’s world.
I question why so much publicity and praise is being given
to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian view of a future world in The Handmaid’s Tale. It fills me with horror and I have no desire
to watch it or read the book. There is far too much subjugation of women still
occurring globally to wish to watch more fiction on the subject. In my experience of my own life and the lives
of my clients it is far more useful to imagine a picture of the world one is
seeking to create rather than to hold images of a world one would hate to live
If it is ever to be a world where the balance of power is equally shared by men and women we have a great deal of work to do. Perhaps it is the perennial concern of the older generation to be anxious about the world their grandchildren will enter and, as you know, I am in the main an optimist. But there are aspects of what is happening in the UK and the world, with the ease of access to porn, the violence being shown to women in Africa, India, the Middle East, South America to name just a few, the huge increase in reports of rape here, that makes me uneasy. Of course we don’t want to convict the innocent but surely it is obvious that there are only a minority of women who raise these issues without due cause. Neither the police nor university departments, where girls report being unsupported over complaints of rape or harassment, are taking sufficient action to keep girls safe. These are intelligent young women who are shocked to find themselves victims of sexual misconduct.
The growing tendency for young boys and men to view porn is
leading to more of this hideous habit of bullying girls and women to feel they
have to sink to the demands of partners.
Whilst we have spent our lives promoting women’s confidence, the technical
revolution of sadistic and misogynistic digital games and apps has led to an undermining
of what we have built up. I mentioned ‘hazing’
in a recent blog but have just come across ‘stealthing’ which is where a man removes
a condom half way through making love. Isn’t
that appallingly callous and cruel?
Why do young men feel that they can treat girls in such a
disrespectful and cold way? Perhaps it
is the objectification that comes through viewing porn and violent games. The #MeToo campaign has uncovered women’s
experiences of men and it doesn’t make good reading. (Though at the same time women should not be
opportunistic in claiming harassment where there may have been none. Nor should men be judged online without a
legal process.) But the stories imply
that the sense of entitlement that my generation experienced lives on
today. A man’s world still.
And talking of safety, we are back to my old chestnut of
trans people in girls’ changing rooms in schools. A leaked set of guidelines from the Equality
and Human Rights Commission is recommending that those who identify as transgender
or are ‘exploring their gender identity’ will be allowed to use the changing
rooms of their chosen gender and would also be allowed to sleep in single-sex
rooms on school trips if they identify with that gender. Tanya Carter, of the Safe Schools Alliance, was
reported in the Sunday Times 15.9.19, as saying she was appalled by this
approach which ‘ignores the rights of girls’.
Girls at several schools have been told they can no longer wear skirts, although
at other schools boys are being told they can wear skirts (it’s a mad world!). Many schools are adopting trousers for
The natural enjoyment of being different and experimenting
with fashion is being denied to girls.
They are being expected to dress and behave like men rather than embrace
the fun of difference. On the one hand
this is all being done in the name of ‘diversity’ but the simple diversity that
exists between boys and girls, men and women, is now being obliterated.
And the trend continues into school and professional sport. Transgender players will continue to be able
to compete in the category they choose, even if it is patently obviously unfair
to do so.
All this in order to make a small percentage of the
population more comfortable, which is fine except it has the potential for
making others feel uncomfortable. It all
seems thoroughly undemocratic. Who has
asked girls how they feel about these changes?
Or you? Or me?
Of course trans children and adults should be treated with
respect, compassion and consideration.
My question is how much consideration are girls being given? But any time anyone expresses an inkling of
concern on these issues one is labelled a transphobe and told to shut up.
The difficulties continue into adult life, it seems to
me. There remains the problem of tax on sanitary
products, which makes a natural occurrence for 50% of the population
financially onerous, especially for poorer girls and women. And is still unacknowledged in its debilitating
impact on women in the workplace and in sport, who are expected just to grin
and bear it, as they have for centuries.
Then there’s childbirth.
This has become more efficient in some ways but less caring in
others. Young women in our family have
been sent home 5 hours after a first baby.
No time to adapt in the safety of a hospital, to learn more about
feeding, nappy changing, bathing.
Chucked back into the home where you are totally dependent on the
kindness of a husband or family to help you get your strength back and become
more confident. In my mother’s day new
mothers stayed in hospital for up to four weeks to adapt to becoming mothers. In my time I was in hospital for 10 days
after a Caesar. My daughter-in-law was back home in 24 hours after a Caesarean. I cannot imagine how I would have coped, as
all I can remember is the pain and exhaustion!
And, as a recent survey found, there is little care for the
mother after birth. Apparently there is
funding for a baby’s health check but not for the mother! Many new mums are hardly given any time with
a health visitor or GP to give them a health check, let alone advice and
comfort in what can be a hugely anxious time.
Maternity leave is helpful but at the same time leaves women
open to being left behind in skillsets and the career ladder. It is only women who can carry children to
create the next generations – the
technology hasn’t advanced to alter that particular role yet! So, for the sake of all humanity, surely they
Motherhood leaves women way behind financially. In a recent UBS study of male and female
finances they calculated that a wife not only forfeits a year’s salary on
maternity leave but, with all other factors taken into account, is likely to be
43% less well-off than her husband at the end of her life, even if they have
similar qualifications. Part of this is
also that women can still assume that a man will take care of their investments,
which can leave a woman exposed should they become widowed or single. The UBS report “Own your worth: why women
should take control of their wealth to achieve financial well-being” points
out that many women defer thinking about their long-term future and, as a
result, end up with less pension.
Guidant Financial reported recently that more women are
starting their own businesses. This has
been a trend for some time. Having run a
small business myself I know that it can give one more control over one’s time,
not having to fit into an organisational system or answer to a boss. However, one always has to answer to clients
and it is extremely hard work, often with less pay and certainly with less
perks in the way of sick pay, holiday pay or the ability to put sufficient
funds into a pension.
Fathers are far more involved with their children and the
home than they ever used to be, which is great.
The sharing is good. Yet Ruth
Davidson’s resignation recently has once again highlighted both the emotional
pull of motherhood and also the conflict that arises when one has to let go of
a job one loves yet can no longer manage happily.
The world needs women’s voices and perspectives. Governments and organisations need to reflect
the world in a balanced way. We can be
every bit as skilled, competent and intelligent as men in a multitude of
different careers and ways but we may see things differently, may pick up
something that someone else has not noticed, may approach a situation from
another angle. Yet becoming a CEO or an MP is daunting when
one can be judged more harshly and become the recipient of brutal trolling. I take my hat off to those women who have
stuck their head above the parapet and have to work their way through revolting
tweets with threats of death and rape.
We must be vigilant to protect what has been built up in our
culture and society. I would hate the cultural
or digital habits of young men to push women back down to any lower status. The key now is to encourage young women to
expect and demand good things for themselves in work and life and to command
the respect of others, not be self-deprecating.
And for young men to see that women are their equals.
We really don’t need awful images of women being subjugated
as we see in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Do we? Let’s build the images of
young women happily running organisations, families and countries alongside their
male counterparts, equal but different.
Knowing their worth.
Just to let you know that we are off on a road trip in
the USA next week so I shall be silent for a few weeks while we drink in the
atmosphere and music of Tennessee, the Carolinas and Georgia. Will report back!
I can’t pretend to be an expert on the law or on democratic
process but the current complex conflict over Brexit: deal, no-deal, call for a
general election, refusal to call an election, delay a general election, throws
up so many questions for me. Do you find
the current shenanigans as confusing as I do?
Parliament claims to want a deal but didn’t want the deal and
now they have secured that there will be no ‘no-deal’ nor an immediate election. Unless, that is, Boris Johnson resigns or calls
for a vote of no-confidence in himself.
The trouble is that I am not really sure which side is being
the less democratic. On the one side
Boris Johnson was accused of being anti-democratic as a result of his decision
to prorogue Parliament. But the Court
has ruled that this was not illegal and in fact quite a normal event. Also, as it is Party Conference time, the
argument is that there will be few days actually lost to debate what has
already been debated for 3 years. But
the timing was obviously not lost on Boris.
The cat was most definitely intended to be put among the pigeons.
So now Boris has lost but he is claiming to want to push
through Brexit even if it kills him (which, of course, some hope it will). He sees it as ‘the will of the people’ and is
also prepared to give the people a vote on this through a General Election but,
quite contrarily as I see it, the opposition parties do not go for this. Why?
Because they don’t have much chance of winning. So rather than give the people the chance to
vote they would prefer to withhold that opportunity from the population of the
UK. Is that democratic?
You might think from this that I am a supporter of
Johnson. I am not. However, I am concerned about the voice of many
ordinary people being silenced by Parliament when MPs are, in fact, there to be
the spokespeople of the electorate. I am
also concerned that there is little or nothing, in the narrative of those
opposition parties who wish to block Brexit, to address some of the legitimate
concerns of the Leavers. Surely these voters deserve a considered response to
their worries as much as any other voters.
And some solutions.
On the other side, the opposition parties cry ‘shame’ that
they are being silenced by the shutting down of Parliament, which is certainly a
heavy-handed move. But have they not all
just had three years to debate a deal? And rejected May’s eventual deal three
times in the Commons? What kind of
rabbit do any of them think they can pull out of a hat at this stage? And in the meantime is it not absolutely
sensible for the government to prepare for no-deal? May was criticised enough for not having done
After all, having made a ‘no-deal’ impossible, this removes
any bargaining power from whichever party might be negotiating with Brussels in
future. They have tied themselves in
knots because surely, in any negotiation, you do have to keep the possibility
of walking away on the table. Don’t you? Unless, as in most private divorces, there is
a legal structure that outlines what is a fair outcome for both parties. But this protection doesn’t seem to exist in what
feels like a wild-west divorce.
I may have voted Remain but I do seek fairness of approach
and what I am seeing is exactly what leads a population into extreme government
– the ignoring of the sentiment of the people by Parliament. The historian David Starkey commented this
morning that it is a dangerous moment when Parliament overrides the will of the
people, which effectively it has done by blocking a snap election. It feels to me as if both sides are being
high-handed with democracy. Boris
through proroguing Parliament but the opposition parties by preventing the
After all, everyone has been clamouring for another
Referendum, saying it is time to put it back to the people but when given that
opportunity they block it. The election
effectively provides the equivalent of another referendum (provided, of course,
Labour can decide what it stands for, leave or remain). But no, the other parties look at the polls
which give Boris and Farage the potential majority and say they will only hold
an election when it suits them and, in the meantime, insist on kicking the Brexit
can down the road, whatever the French say.
But the people did vote Leave. And we can no longer say that they don’t know
what they voted for. Project Fear has
been well and truly publicised for three years.
So the current polls suggesting that Brexit and Boris/Farage would
nonetheless potentially win an election has to reflect the fact that, despite
the negative forecasts about how this country would fare on a no-deal Brexit,
there are still a large number of people who want to exit the EU anyway.
Now have you noticed how there is suddenly talk of it only
being an ‘advisory Referendum’, although this fact has hardly been mentioned as
a challenge to the result over the last three years. Why on earth wasn’t this status raised
immediately in 2016 so that the Government could use the result as a sounding
board and tackle some of the issues raised.
But no, they rushed headlong into Brexit. Surely those opposed to the result could have
made more of this argument at the time and allowed us to find solutions to the
problems, besides exiting the EU? But
now we are well and truly stuck and it has unsettled our democratic processes.
What has always made me uncomfortable is the narrative about
the Leavers all being ‘Little Englanders’ and ignorant idiots. It is so disrespectful as there are plenty of
thoroughly intelligent and successful people in that group. It feels high-handed and begs the question
whether the people who talk like this are harking back to days before universal
suffrage. Perhaps they regret that the
vote was ever granted to all. It feels
as if some elitist metropolitan attitudes are suggesting that, as in previous
centuries, some votes count for more than others.
It was only a century or so ago that universal suffrage was
passed. Prior to that only men, the
wealthy and the educated had the vote.
The lower classes weren’t deemed clever enough to know how to vote. Workers and women had to wait until the
twentieth century for their moment. Are
those who are unhappy with the Referendum result equally feeling that perhaps
universal suffrage has been a bad idea – that after all there are some people
in the UK who don’t know what’s good for them?
There seems to be no will to listen and respect opinions
that differ to our own, or to find solutions that encompass some middle
ground. I believe that this is what May
was attempting to do, albeit without success or panache. Instead each side is now adopting battle
zones through the courts, parliament and the press and overriding the other
party in any way they can, seemingly for political ends. It doesn’t feel particularly democratic. It feels dangerous. And it divides us as a nation.
The Brexit negotiation has been a disaster for us all. There is so much to be gained through alliance and there are many ways to achieve that outcome. Would it not now give us all an ounce of hope if, whichever Party leads us into the future, they are able to pull this country together after all this fiasco? I am not averse to seeing Boris land in a ditch but I do want all voices to be heard and for our country to be united in some kind of central common ground again. We can’t take democracy for granted.
There seems to be an obsession with longevity at the moment. Endless research on this, that and the other food, magic pill or habit that will keep us alive for longer. Though personally I am not convinced that I wish to live for longer. Why do the scientists think this is such a great goal, I wonder? I gather there are various experiments in the US to maintain life, including cryotechnology, which only makes me think of the crazy consequences of freezing people depicted brilliantly in the antics of Woody Allen in his film Sleeper!
But for me, it looks as if I could be quasi-immortal! Two pieces of research released this year demonstrate, firstly, that it’s the inconsequential contact we have with strangers every day that keep us healthy, happy and alive. Secondly, that optimists stay healthier and live longer. Oh, and incidentally being a grandparent helps too. Yay!
Mind you, as I say, I am more interested in being healthy
than living forever but it seems like good news, nonetheless. And why does this work for me? Well, as most of you who know me would agree,
I am an optimist and a positive-thinker (why else would I have called my
company Positiveworks?!). And now that
we have moved to Kew Village we are experiencing a delightful number of
everyday chit-chats with neighbours, florists, baristas, and newsagents,
alongside all the jolly conversations we have at the Avenue Club where we study
French, wellbeing, yoga, creative writing and more. I have never lived in such a friendly
In my early life we lived in Surrey, near Oxted, and I
remember that my young nephew, who lived in Wandsworth, used to comment to my
mother, his grandmother, that she seemed to know “everyone” in the High Street
as she walked alongside him. And she
certainly knew several of those people by sight, as did I as a child. But after Surrey, I moved to London and that
is, in the main, the land of anonymity, which, I have to admit, quite suited me
for much of my life. As a busy working
Mum I enjoyed choosing who I spoke to rather than bumping into people.
Here in Kew we bump into someone we recognise, if not know intimately
as friends, every day. It is an
extraordinarily friendly place where we just have to walk down the street and
some stranger will smile at us. And what
an interestingly nice feeling that is, after all, isn’t it? Especially for this latter part of life. I am really coming to enjoy these brief encounters.
I wonder what it is about a chance meeting that makes us happy. There is obviously something that happens in these moments that is meaningful and boosts our mood. Does receiving a smile from a stranger somehow reinforce the idea that the world is a good place, that the majority of people are pleasant and not out to do us harm? It doesn’t matter whether that person is local or comes from the other side of the world, a few words exchanged with a stranger or someone one only sees randomly definitely makes one feel that all is good with the world. So, go on, smile at a stranger today and make them live longer!
Now those of us who are optimists have often been accused of
being unrealistic. But ha, it seems that
for health and longevity we have the answer after all! And, of course, we have a point, don’t we? Wouldn’t the world fall apart if there were
more evil people than good, more chaos than order? On the whole, most of the time, the world is far
from perfect, but there are enough good folk in it to remind us that positive
thinking isn’t as ridiculous as some people consider it to be. At least one spends each day feeling
relatively happy, which is good for our immune systems, and then if something bad
does happen then one has energy in reserve to manage it. Whereas the pessimists must spend each day
rather anxious and miserable and then if the inevitable bad thing happens they
will be facing it from an already-depleted physical and emotional state. Won’t they?
I am sure you might have some personal view on that, so do share it.
To be honest I wouldn’t have started my business
Positiveworks unless I had optimism – nor would any entrepreneur begin a
venture unless they believed in it and thought positively about it. How could they? They can’t prove it will work until it does
work. In 1992 when I set up the company
I had some qualifications, some good training and coaching products but no
clients. Noone knew me from Adam but
somewhere in my gut I believed I could make it work. In my own small way, I did.
And apart from business, we need optimism and positive thinking if we are playing sports, running a public sector organisation, treating patients as a doctor or therapist, teaching children from all backgrounds, managing a health condition, making a change.
Or, indeed, running a country. I am sorry, I have great respect for Philip Hammond but I personally don’t think an Eeyore has the right credentials to run a country and make it successful so I am glad he didn’t stand for PM, though I am far from happy with the Tigger of a PM we do have. Talk about extremes… For when I talk of optimism I am not speaking of Pollyanna thinking. Not thinking that everything in the garden will always be roses. I am referring to rational optimism – being optimistic about things that have a relative potential for success or positive outcome.
One of the things that concerns me most these days is that
politicians and voters alike talk this country down. There are plenty of bad and embarrassing
things happening in the rest of the world too.
We certainly aren’t the worst.
But because we are divided on this never-ending topic of Brexit people
choose to put the country down at the same time as denigrating the opposite
side, whether a Remainer or a Leaver.
Whatever happens we are absolutely going to need to think optimistically
about ourselves and our ability to rebuild our economy, our relationships with
other countries and bring together this divided population of ours. We can’t do that on pessimism and negative
So I am happy that something (was it being born in sunny May, a genetic gift, or an experience of childhood) has made me an optimist. And perhaps as an optimist I also tend to believe that the majority of people around me do not wish me harm and are friendly, and so have frequent inconsequential and yet meaningful chats and conversations with people in this village, on the tube, waiting in a lift and more. It has felt quite natural for me to do so, though perhaps now I should make even more of an effort to embrace positive thinking and smile at strangers, to keep myself healthy.
But ultimately, do we really want to be immortal? I don’t think so. Healthy, yes, but to live longer and longer just for the sake of it certainly does not fill me with optimism or joy, so I shall leave that to those people who are choosing to cryogenically freeze themselves for the future. If they are as amusing as Woody Allen when they thaw, life won’t be so bad. In the meantime, who might you smile at today? And how might you develop an optimistic thought about life despite Brexit and Trump?! Please do. We need all the positive and optimistic thoughts we can get.
Boris Johnson’s threat to suspend Parliament to push through
a no-deal Brexit is a worrying one as it seems to put two fingers up to the
norms of our Constitution and to democracy.
We hear that the electorate want a ‘strong man’ as leader though I have
yet to meet anyone personally who says this.
For me the idea of a strong man as leader makes me shudder. I think of Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Kim Jong Un
and many more throughout history who have caused great harm.
Now, a wise leader would be good and in wisdom there is some strength but it is not the strength of the bully. It is the quiet strength of seeking to do what is right and what is in the benefit of the people, in this case the United Kingdom. But this focus cannot be in isolation as “No manis anIsland, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” [John Donne] The leader has to think beyond their own shores as everything that happens within a country impacts the world, and vice versa. And in today’s world more than ever.
But wisdom isn’t a word we hear a lot. We hear idiotic words and soundbites from our
politicians that are often meaningless and get contradicted the next moment
with no sense that this lack of continuity demonstrates a flakiness of purpose
The Queen is obviously as dismayed by our current band of
politicians’ inability to govern as the rest of us. The expenses scandals and the favours for
office leave us rather disgusted that we are being led by people in all parties
who would sell themselves for a peerage or to massage their egos in some
So why have we ended up in this situation? One aspect that comes to my mind is that many
previous ministers and politicians served in the armed forces. Of course many mistakes were made in warfare but
they potentially learnt more about leadership within that military environment
– the need for a vision, a strategy, to pull a team together to fight alongside
one another, to protect one another in the face of onslaught.
For better or for worse there was also an educational system
that raised young men for these officer roles as war was the norm in previous
times. This is now an outdated concept
but it could be of benefit to our country for schools to focus more on the
skills of leadership, not in the model of the ‘strong man’ but in enabling young people, girls and boys,
to consider what it is to analyse a threatening situation, to problem-solve, to
seek multiple potential methods of approaching that situation and then
galvanise people to tackle it, even if there is some danger to be faced.
Everyone loves to put this country down, including our own politicians, despite the fact that others see it as a land of opportunity and relative fairness. Have we overlooked the concept of loyalty to one’s country in the fear of right-wing nationalism? Surely there is a middle way. We can feel proud of our country and yet retain a sense of being a part of the world beyond.
There are people in every country of the world who seek a
sense of belonging, who wish to be part of a community. These people might
congregate around a church, synagogue, mosque or a local hub and value
continuity of their cultural and social norms.
There is a place for this and it does not mean that those people are
necessarily racist or seek to prevent others leading their own lives. But there can be an arrogance among the
Westminster political class that leads them to lecture rather than to empathise
with those who enjoy tradition, berating them for being uncomfortable with change
instead of valuing them for the contributions they make within a society. There is never just one ‘right way’. There are surely many ways of living this
life of ours.
“Liberalism is alive and thriving” Jo Swinson stated after her election as leader of the LibDems in July this year. But how liberal is liberalism these days? We don’t want politicians who live in an echo-chamber. Don’t we want politicians who are broad thinkers and have the ability to make decisions on the basis of a range of information and sentiment?
When I worked on the biography of Harold Macmillan it was
well-known that he and other MPs spent time reading. How well read are our politicians? How much knowledge of history and philosophy,
or political ideas, shapes their thinking?
How many take the time to go to the theatre and have their mind opened
to new ways of perceiving situations? Or
to classical music concerts to be moved by the beauty and disciplined
creativity of an orchestra? How many
consider that they are role models and have a duty to give the population a
lead on art and culture beyond the inevitable supposedly-trendy must-do gig of being
photographed with rappers at Glastonbury?
Whilst I am sure there are some politicians who harbour a
real sense of wanting to make a difference, I fear there are other career
politicians who just wish to have power and status. For what are the qualifications to become a
politician? It seems that you just have
to have a British Passport, be 18, have some money for your campaign and then
make enough noise to get noticed. There
is no question of what A levels, university degrees or professional
qualifications might be required. There
is no mention of ‘character’, ethics, values or purpose in the advice on ‘how
to become an MP’.
Personally I don’t think anyone should become an MP unless
they have spent time in other sectors beforehand. A vast majority of the companies in the UK
are SMEs. Perhaps budding MPs should see
how difficult it is to run a small business when politicians walk roughshod
over them and give them no sense of future direction around which they can
build their strategies, budgets and plans.
Perhaps they should get experience of running a large department and understand
the complexities that exist within the NHS, Defence, transport, technology and
business before being made a Minister of an area they know little or nothing
And then what about professional development once in the
job? What about appraisals, 360 degree
feedback, some sense that the person is self-observing and learning from
mistakes? What about personality
profiling, communication skills, assertiveness, management and leadership
skills? Whenever some beknighted MP does
take the initiative to get some training, coaching or development there is a
howling about it costing money. But don’t
we want our politicians to be competent, professional, to hold power with conscious
intent? To develop self-knowledge, critical
thinking, delegation skills? Perhaps
even to develop wisdom?
When will politicians realize that we see through
shallowness and flakiness? When will
they recognise the power and value of moral capital? Of believing in something but not being deaf
to other viewpoints, being open and listening to diverse opinions but having
the wisdom to stop, analyse and reflect on the direction they believe to be
right and not bow to populist pressure.
Then having the honesty to let us know where this is intended to take
No, I don’t want a strong leader. I want a competent one. I want someone wise enough to consider and reflect. Someone who knows they are fallible and is not too arrogant to ask for advice and heed it. Someone who can unite others to go with them. I certainly don’t want someone who forces their hand just to get what they want. There lies dictatorship.
If you are experiencing persisting physical symptoms such as
stomach cramps, severe fatigue, exhaustion, pain in your muscles, over a period
of several months, it is likely that you will go to your doctor in the
expectation that they will be able to diagnose your problem and prescribe
treatment to alleviate your symptoms.
Should they tell you at the end of your appointments and investigations
that they can find nothing physically wrong with you this can be bewildering
and disheartening. It can be equally
confusing for the doctor, who is trained to diagnose and prescribe and may well
feel frustrated that he or she cannot help you.
GPs estimate that approximately 50% of patients in their waiting
rooms do not have a fixed pathology of disease that they can detect. So what is happening?
Over the past five years my partner Dr David Beales, who was a GP himself for some 30 years, brought together a team of experts to research and seek solutions. We called ourselves the Reclaim Health team and the outcome of this collaboration is our book Reclaim Health: a recovery strategy when doctors can’t explain your symptoms, just published on Amazon. Click this link .
This book is for those who have or are experiencing these medically
unexplained symptoms. In writing this, we
have benefited hugely from having two expert ex-patients in our team, Julia
MacDonald and Janice Benning, both of whom were severely unwell for more than
10 years with chronic fatigue syndrome.
They used the tools and strategies in this book to reclaim their own
health and have since then applied this process to many clients, with excellent
results. Janice and Julia were able not
only to provide us with their experiences but also help us to present our
findings, tips and techniques in this book in a simple yet powerful way,
knowing that when you are unwell you do not have much energy to read, let alone
read anything complicated.
We initially approached this as a research project, obtaining funds from the National Institute of Health to research the literature and Janice and Julia then ran a pilot course to test recovery techniques, which we accomplished. One of the keys to success is to give an empowering explanation of the symptoms a patient is experiencing, within the context of their immune system. For more information on this please click to see David’s article.
The two GPs in the team, David and Gina Johnson, have added the science and their practical experience of working with these patients, addressing how the interconnection between mind and body can influence symptoms. I have contributed the coaching processes that can help a patient pursue their goals of wellbeing and return to their lives as healthy individuals, breaking through old patterns and persisting through everyday challenges.
I suspect that any of you reading this may either have experienced these symptoms yourself or know someone who may be struggling to reclaim their health. Do take a look at it on Amazon and buy a copy or send one to a friend you think may benefit. As a not-for-profit team, we have kept the price intentionally low, at cost, £4.83 so that as many people as possible will be able to take advantage of the experiences, science and helpful techniques included in this book.
As a client has commented: “I use my Reclaim skills all
the time, and life is good. Forever
grateful.” Others can benefit too –
both those with symptoms and those medics, coaches, therapists, HR teams, or
family and friends who are supporting someone who is suffering from problems
such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, Irritable Bowel.
It is such a shame to feel so debilitated that you can’t
participate or enjoy life. People arrive at this place for many different
reasons when their level of tolerance – physical, mental, spiritual – is
exhausted. Sometimes people feel so
unwell that they can’t enjoy their partner, children, work or even the hobbies
they used to love. But as with anything
in life this can lead to habits, conscious or unconscious, that keep you stuck
and then returning to health and life can seem scary, like too big a
challenge. The task can look too steep
and so people end up feeling helpless and hopeless.
But it doesn’t have to be an exhausting challenge. Gradually, small step by small step, people
begin to take control of their lives again – their thoughts, emotions, physical
strength, flexibility and energy. They notice
when they are ‘doing’ negativity or pessimism.
They begin to develop the ability to say ‘no’ to people they have found
ask too much of them. They begin to tune
into their bodies and recognise when they need to rest or sleep, when and what
they need to eat, what exercise re-energises them, or when they just need to be
still, perhaps to meditate or reflect. They
begin to define the lifestyle, relationships and environmental choices that
nurture them, the creativity that inspires them and to regain a sense of
purpose and meaning. And key to all of
this is compassion – compassion for self and compassion for others.
Sadly many people are told that they will never recover from
these kinds of chronic and debilitating conditions. We would like to encourage them to believe
that they can – and include plenty of case studies in the book of those who
have turned their lives around to reclaim their health. So I shall just finish with one example of a
client in his 20s, Edward, who gave this feedback after sessions with Janice:
thought my life was over, but 2 years later I have climbed Snowdon and
celebrated with a pint! I wouldn’t have
the energy to watch a park run, but now I run it. Knowing there was another way
that would allow me to live my life was the most liberating and emotional
We believe that this book provides that help so do click here to take a peek at it and let us know how you, or anyone you know who reads it, gets on! Do visit our website www.reclaimhealth.org.uk. We would love your feedback.
Do you know what Hazing is? I certainly didn’t until very recently and am horrified to discover that it is happening in this country, at our universities. For those of you who don’t know, it involves initiation practices that have come over here from the States, I believe. It includes revolting, humiliating and sometimes painful rituals to initiate new students into a group, rugby club, university or college. I have heard about people having a chilli put up their rectum, a young girl blindfolded and taken into the countryside and left in a wood to find her way home, apple bobbing to fish dead rats from buckets with their mouths, people being forced to drink excessive quantities of alcohol. It is a dangerous horrible practice and it seems that it is happening at a university near you without us oldies realizing it. Do we want this for our grandchildren?
It made me aware of how many dubious behaviours are occurring here without me knowing. It makes me feel left behind, out of touch and anxious to spread awareness, as surely we should be fighting to stop any kind of humiliating ritual, whatever its cultural provenance, from happening here. Isn’t this contrary to any kind of human dignity or protection of human rights?
But the only way I really hear about what’s happening is via younger people, whether they be nephews or nieces, sons or daughters, so I suspect that many people are blissfully unaware of some of the practices that I consider abhorrent and would like to challenge. Here are a few examples, as well as the Hazing examples I gave above…
This is only just coming to light but social workers and doctors must
have known about this practice for some time without publicising it. The British Medical Journal, 4 May 2019,
carried an article reporting that some 1000 women and girls in the UK may have
been subjected to what can only be described as abuse. For those of you who have not heard of this
practice it is breast flattening, where a young girl’s breasts are ironed,
massaged, flattened, or pounded down to reduce their size, supposedly to
protect girls from sexual attention and delay sexual development. It is common to some parts of Africa and the
Cameroon. This is described by the UN as
gender-based violence and causes significant harm. No perpetrators have yet been prosecuted in
the UK and it seems that there is general ignorance of a repugnant practice
that amounts to child abuse. How can we
prevent it if we don’t know about it?
Female Genital Mutilation. We do now have more information and awareness
of this practice and yet there has only been one prosecution. As with other practices there seems to be a
veil of silence being held by people who must surely know where it is happening
and who is perpetrating it?
Boys and porn.
It seems that people take it for granted that young boys will have
access to porn these days but how have we allowed this to be so easily
available? As with the above behaviours,
it introduces expectations of young girls to perform and live up to the habits
of porn stars. One of these is to shave
off all their pubic hair, which is apparently now commonly done by teenage girls
in this country. Why? It seems to suggest that girls are being
infantalised for the pleasure of boys and men.
It suggests that the ability to take pride in being a natural woman is
being removed from them.
Young wives being used to produce children and then
divorced and deprived of seeing their children.
This is hideously cruel but apparently is carried out by British husband
who send their wives away to Pakistan and other countries once they have produced
children. This practice was reported as
long ago by 2012 by the BBC but is still happening. Does this require education, or a legal
change to protect mothers and ensure they can see their children after divorce?
The Black Web.
I hear about this but I haven’t a clue what it really is or how on earth
to access it (not that I would wish to).
It’s a bit like a black hole – it exists but doesn’t exist for most of
us and heaven knows what unpleasant things are being shared on it but is there
no way to stop people accessing it, if it is showing illegal material?
Cutting and self-harming. This didn’t really seem to exist in my school
days, certainly not in the numbers that are now being reported. How sad.
But we must remember that teenagers are groupies, they do what other members
of their friendship group do and so it is a practice that becomes infectious,
as does anxiety. And in some ways the
more we publicise it the more we fan the fire, don’t we? It is excellent that we understand that it is
happening, certainly, as we can then support those who are undertaking this
harmful practice and understand what is leading them to do so. However, it strikes me that the more the
media blow it up the more likely it is for a young girl to feel the odd one out
if she isn’t self-harming or suffering from anxiety these days. My experience is that we were all anxious as
teenagers – there is so much ahead that is uncertain – but we accepted that it
was just part of life, a stage we had to go through until we gained a little
more control. Of course we must support
those who are mentally sick but perhaps not over-pathologise those who are experiencing
the usual teenage angst? But perhaps if
I was subjected to some of the changes above I might have become equally
Social media versus newspapers. Yes, we all know about it but what I didn’t
know until recently was that young people are getting all their news from Instagram
or Twitter. They aren’t reading
newspapers. And this means that they
aren’t reading comment or analysis, they are just reading headlines and getting
snapshots of information rather than any kind of broad or in-depth information
with which to make decisions or form informed opinions. And then they vote and have our future in
I remember Sundays as the most boring day in the week in my
childhood home as my parents tucked themselves behind The Times, Observer,
Telegraph and read them from cover to cover.
Whilst I was bored it nonetheless gave me a role model that this was
something adults enjoyed doing – getting information about the world,
discussing it, debating views, etc. And
so we children of our era learnt that newspapers were interesting things to
read and have around. I have followed
suit and always had newspapers and journals strewn around the house so my sons
have probably experienced equal boredom to my own.
The thing with physical papers is that one sees more than
one ever does on line – the odd little paragraph in a corner of a page, an
article one might not have considered to be interesting but proves fascinating. I find that online one misses a lot as much
of it is reliant on one’s searching for articles rather than that randomness of
glancing across a page or two and seeing something that catches the eye. And then of course papers like the Standard
are even shedding the experienced critics who inform us of their opinion of
books, theatre, film, etc. so that one gets the views of any old Tom, Dick,
Harry or Henrietta who may or may not have any real knowledge of the subject at
And so here I am feeling left behind, as I am sure most
older people have done in every generation, as all kinds of new habits and
practices infiltrate one’s life and society.
But some of these behaviours seem thoroughly disrespectful to humanity,
and to women and girls in particular, so surely we need to know about them in
order to challenge them? What do you
think, I wonder?
Words like bigot, Nazi, fascist are being bandied about at rapid
speed these days with little understanding of the real meaning of the words or
their sorry history. Nor does there seem
to be a recognition that the person accusing others of bigotry might actually be
as much, if not more, of a bigot than the people to whom they are addressing
Bigot means a person
who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions and today it is used
by those who often want to prevent others expressing their opinions. This may be student unions who no-platform
lecturers or academics who do not hold their views. It may be those who express an opinion on
race, immigration or culture who are not allowed to have concerns that may well
be legitimate. It may be either
Remainers or Brexiteers who are unwilling to listen to the arguments of those
whose opinions differ to their own. It
may be those who express concern about the stance of the transgender lobby. It may be Trump-haters or supporters,
Tory-haters or supporters, and so on.
We are not living under a communist regime. We do not have the Stasi or other secret police patrolling our streets for dissidents… yet! The word Nazi has an altogether more sinister meaning, with all its inherent anti-semitism and fascist authoritarianism. Surely these are inaccurate descriptions of someone who happens to holds differing views to someone else on the topics raised above. But using them raises the emotional atmosphere, conjuring up death camps and dictatorship. It’s a shaming exercise.
And it can well be the supposedly ‘liberal’ person who is throwing these criticisms in other people’s direction. It seems to me that we are living in a very illiberal, but supposedly liberal, society where unless you hold the ‘woke’ view you are labelled a bigot, Nazi or fascist. This is loose language. And who, really, is the bigot in such cases? Surely someone with views on immigration, Brexit, gender or other topics has the right to be heard? Surely the person who dismisses other people’s views out of hand is equally a bigot? Surely a more constructive way to pull other people’s views into one’s own direction is to hear their concerns, their rationale and try to understand their point of view? Silencing people only stimulates anger, resentment and division.
Recently Julie Bindel, founder of
Justice for Women, was attacked and called a Nazi after she gave a talk at
Edinburgh University on women’s sex-based rights. She lectures on her concerns about gender
identity being accepted on the basis of self-definition alone. This policy is resulting in male-bodied ‘women’
having the right to enter women’s changing rooms, women’s prisons and toilets. For these views she is labelled a bigot, Nazi
and transphobe for her legitimate questions about how female a male with a
penis identifying as a woman really is and how much of a threat they might pose.
Who is the bigot here? Julie Bindel for expressing her disquiet that
these policies are becoming practice despite no national debate or legal
basis? Or the person who tries to get
her no-platformed? Who is the bigot when
someone living in an area of high immigration expresses their concern at
feeling a stranger in their own country, at the cultural and social
implications to themselves and their families, but is told flatly that they are
a racist, fascist, Nazi? Bigotry is
silencing those with whom someone disagrees.
And we are witnessing far too much of it at the moment.
No doubt I would be labelled a bigot for having concerns myself when I went to the theatre last night and the sign on the Ladies welcomed people of any gender-identity entering the area. I confess to being disturbed about men with penises who decide they want to identify as a woman entering my changing room or toilets. We know that male on female violence and sexual harassment is statistically far higher than vice-versa and so these areas that were safe spaces for women no longer feel so safe.
There is a time in every child’s
life when a parent allows them to go to the lavatory or into a changing room on
their own. It is a part of their journey
to independence. But I confess that as a
mother or grandmother, I would feel far more hesitant to allow a young girl to
go into these areas alone if I knew a man might be there changing or doing his
There are intimate things a young girl has to learn – managing periods, how to insert a tampax or lillet. I remember this wasn’t as easy as it sounded when I was 13! These are sensitive issues for women, issues that men identifying as women do not have to deal with. And call me old-fashioned but men tend not to worry so much about care and hygiene as they don’t always have to sit on a seat. I remember for myself, and know with my granddaughters, that many girls do care about these things. How can it be that girls and women are just supposed to put up with this change to their private spaces without any proper debate or discussion? Instead, anyone who raises the matter is labelled a transphobe or bigot despite the fact that those people are often compassionate and tolerant of those who have gender issues. Can there not be a third way?
People are denigrated for being binary thinkers about gender and yet those with whom I have discussed the transgender issues end up equally binary – a man wanting to be a woman or a woman wanting to be a man. So who is the confused one? If there is a third or other category that people wish to be known as then so be it but I am sorry, for me otherwise biology wins. A woman with womb and ovaries is not a man, a man with a penis is not a woman. They can wear what they like and consider themselves as whichever sex they prefer, but please don’t just call yourself a woman and enter a young girl’s private space without agreement. I worry that the trans lobby is actually turning the clocks back on the rights women have won in the last fifty years.
I worry (a lot of worries here I
notice!) also about how Mermaids and Stonewall are lobbying for sex change
treatment in children far too young to know what their future will be like,
whether they are a man, woman or trans. A young child can have no real knowledge of
gender, sex or relationships
What I don’t understand is that millenials
are demanding safe spaces everywhere – in universities, to be warned that they
are about to read a disturbing fact in a history book, or even in Shakespeare,
for others not to appropriate their experience or culture, etc. And yet when it comes to transgender they go
along with the current thinking that girls and women don’t have to have safe
spaces. I don’t get it. Women are once again being silenced and then
being called a fascist, Nazi or bigot if they protest. Again, who is the bigot?
In sport men who have had all the
benefits of testosterone, the bone and muscle formation of a man, quite apart
from all the cultural messages men receive, decide they are a woman and want to
compete against women whose bodies are formed in a completely different way. To me this doesn’t seem fair but anyone who
complains is called a transphobe. I have
just been reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez which covers
the historic legacy of how women have been written out of a multitude of
situations. I don’t wish to witness women’s
needs once again being eradicated in the name of a supposedly liberal movement
that is far from liberal.
I worry greatly at this intolerance
of language and debate. You learn far
more from standing in other people’s shoes, seeking to understand their issues
and evidence. The Socratic and
Aristotelian method was to argue from the opposite perspective. This broadens your mind, sharpens your
thinking and has a greater likelihood of taking all opinions into account in
final decision-making. This would apply
as much to Brexit, Trump, Corbyn, far-right or far-left policies, gender, immigration
and more. It is a debating process that
would be beneficial to introduce into schools so that people stop making their
minds up from very little information, stop shouting abuse at others before
they have understood where they are coming from, and genuinely try to understand
Again, call me old-fashioned… and
is that such a bad thing? … but respect for others and their opinions,
polite and calm discussion, can help us all understand one another better. As Jonathan Haidt argues in his excellent
book The Righteous Mind, good people have different opinions to our own but
we should not label them evil, Nazi, fascist or bigot unless we are very sure
of our facts and very sure that it is not us who is being the bigot.