A Generational Pivot Point… or is it?

Every generation has defining moments when everything is brought into sharp focus and speaking your mind comes bundled with the threat of a backlash from those seeking to silence your freedom of thought. 

For my parents it was the wars fought in Vietnam & Korea. My Dad missed conscription by a year. Both he & my mum were hippies & pacifists. They personified the 60s and I love trawling through the photos they kept seeing these people that existed before I remember them as adults.

My grandparents, it was WWII – my paternal Grandfather was in the Canadian Army deployed in Italy (then France), shot three times and like the black knight still suggested he was up for more. Tough as old boots, he lived into his mid-90s out in Canada. My maternal Grandfather was in the British Navy in the South Pacific. They both fought against fascism and returned with physical & mental scars. My maternal grandfather died shortly after due to cancer caused by radiation from Naval experiments. I have a personal beef with Von Neumann.

My great grandparents differed. My maternal Nanny spent so many hours telling me about living through the WWII Blitz in London, and before that working during WWI when my great-grandfather was in the British Navy. She saw women given the vote when she was 26 (1928). in contrast, my paternal Great-Grandparents were farmers in Alberta, Canada having arrived there a generation earlier after fleeing Germany and walking (yes, walking ) across Siberia. I never met them, but seeing photos as an adult, my Great-grandmother looked just how I imagined her as a child outside her hand built log cabin. 


As for us, Mr Geek & I were born in & remained in the UK to reasonably affluent parents who had long since hung up their flares & gogo boots. We were born as Citizens of Europe and comfortably grew up embracing other cultures whilst feeling a bit sheepish about the behaviour of some of our more stereotypical ‘Brits Abroad’. We embraced ‘alternative’ as a longer than technically necessary rebellion with our massive baggy jeans with chains, coloured mohawks, nylon dreadlocks, and more eyeliner than an Ancient Egyptian. We were comfortable just being ourselves. Then a chain of events led up to the worst family conversation of my lifetime:

“I think I’d prefer not to know and if the bomb drops to think, oh light. Then gone.”

“Agreed. I wouldn’t want to live through that. Or worse, live through it and be ruled by Trump.”

… and I just sat listening with that rising feeling of panic you get when you think your children are in danger…

So what pivotal moments turned that purple haired rocker into a muted mother terrified of the actions of a man the other side of the world?

As kids the word terrorist was familiar – the IRA were regularly planting bombs (one of which blew up 15 miles up the road). In 1998 a peace agreement was signed and people carried on. Incidents like the nail bombs that went off in brick lane, London in 1999 hinted at a Far Right terrorist movement rebelling against the authorities tackling internal racism and were treated with disdain. Concurrent life sentences were handed out and life settled as politics became more centred on society. Organisations like Sure Start were created to help struggling parents fulfil their desire to be productive parents, a minimum wage was enforced, government assistance started to help those in work to combat poverty…

2001 – 9/11 happened (or 11/9 over here). Suddenly the US were involved and after gathering ourselves from seeing horrific sights just unfolding on what felt like every screen in the world, everyone held their breath waiting for retaliation. We didn’t have to wait long.

2004 – Beanpole arrived. At 24 I’m regularly using crutches for “SPD that never went away after pregnancy” (yep, that happens *insert sarcasm*). I literally didn’t know which end was which, but this tiny 5lb little thing was now the centre of my universe.

2005 – A most excellent wedding (can you tell I’m 4 months pregnant ?). Mr Geek looks so young! TBF we were – he was 23 here & a lady never reveals her age.

2006 – TinyPants arrives in spectacular style waaaay too early & refuses to acknowledge that she has to breathe for herself. It’s just too much effort, so spends the next 6 months traumatising us. We continue to just be us, but with tiny rockers with us.

2007 – Sophie Lancaster was murdered by teenagers in a park she was walking through with her boyfriend. Even now, I can’t go back over what they did, but they were attacked for looking different. For looking like we did. She was 6 years younger than me.

We were settled into our own house by now with an ever expanding broods between us & the GypsyTrees. This was my favourite time of all.

2008 – The Credit Crunch TM. Somehow the banks lost most of their money & everyone looked a bit shocked when it wasn’t down the back of the sofa. The banks weren’t keen on paying for it, so convinced the government that they’d have to pick up the tab… meanwhile, Iceland who maybe possibly lost all the country’s money wiped the date clean by firing it’s government, cancelling all debts of everyone in the whole country and starting again. (Fast forward & who’s still in austerity? It’s not the people with fish money)

My first outing in a wheelchair. More often using my funky stick when things get too much. (I’d not realised until I looked back at photos that the stick appeared so early.)

2014 – Gamergate started. (Why? Because an ex boyfriend wanted revenge on the woman who’d moved on). It wasn’t exactly new, but the ferocity of people online suddenly increased. By this point, I’d been playing regularly online for over a decade. Men posting their genitals online was nothing new – if anything, it was boring. But there was a shift in the tone. I started playing male characters outside of my known & safe guild.

2016 – There ought to be a room 101 for this year, but here goes. Leaving all the celebrity deaths aside just for now: The UK voted to leave the EU against the advice of all financial & political experts because the then Prime Minister used it as a vote winner to get elected. Once the vote went horribly wrong for him, he promptly resigned and scuttled off vacs to his wealthy family leaving a leadership contest between a woman who complained people were being mean to her, a man claiming that prayer cures gayness, an ex education minister who most teachers would eagerly be left alone with a hot poker for 10 minutes with, a floppy haired buffoon who’s lifetime achievement was getting stuck on a zip wire, and Little Red Riding Hood’s Granny post Wolf transformation. One by one they stood down after realising that they weren’t actually fit to run to the shops let alone run a country, until just Wolf Granny was left; our currency crashed (further); The political opposition ate itself and became defunct; Then the US voted in Trump.

At which point the whole of the world turned around at America and made this face:

So here we are. It could so easily be a message of doom & gloom, but as one year closes another opens and I remain infinitely hopeful that Trump will be nullified either by being such a tremendous twat that he impeaches himself or that the actual politicians will keep patting him on the head & remove his Twitter account. I’m hopeful that an effective treatment for EDS will be discovered and we can stop me (and so many others) falling apart. I’m hopeful that Brexit negotiating will take so long that it won’t be seen in my or my children’s lifetime (or, that EU opt in becomes a thing). I’m hopeful that I’ll still be working this time next year. I’m hopeful that Beanpole continues loving every second of school & TinyPants survives the SATS relatively unscathed (seriously year 6 teacher, keep telling her that her best isn’t good enough, see what happens…). I know we’ve lost so many special people this year, but in the words of one of them:

And with that, my survival rate for shitty times is 100% so far. Despite appearances , I seem to have a track record for surviving and if you’re reading this you have too. Let’s keep this up for 2017.


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The Parody of Politics

As autumn draws in, there’s a generalised darkened mood over in these parts. I am, as some on Twitter would describe me a “liberal lefty”, although I prefer to think of myself as a humanist. I have retained the idealistic notion of my youth that a person is still a person no matter what their colour, gender, birth place, sexual orientation, or ability. It was one of the “British values” I was brought up with where community was celebrated. 

And now? In the UK we have a Prime Minister who got the job by default after all other candidates dropped out (albeit, she may well have been the lesser of a number of evils) who is forging ahead with a policy that she campaigned against with such zest that it is possible to imagine that she is doing it as some bizarre punishment to those who voted to leave the EU. Claims of making everything fairer come across like Goldilocks talking to what appears to be grandma, but in this scenario the woodcutter is too busy being bludgeoned by other woodcutters to burst in and save you. Our opposition party should just be ashamed of themselves. Politics is about representing the people, not fighting for top positions. They have a leader with an idealistic vision with the potential to inspire a whole generation to become politically engaged. The Labour party has in its power the chance to have its Obama moment. 

Politics in the UK is rather like the weeping angels scene in Dr Who: it’s OK whilst you have your eyes open, but blink & they’ll bite your face off.

The US is a whole other kettle of eyebrow raising fish. There are parts of the US that make me pleased to be alive – tales from The Tree house Guy who’s entire purpose on this planet is to make people happy is my secret delight right now. On the days when the kids are with Mr Geek’s parents, when I get home from work I sit and watch this with my Dad & all is right with the world. And that conversation always goes:

Dad “I’d love to do that”

Me “Yeah. You’d be amazing at building that stuff. It’s a shame we’re not over there with the space & planning laws. You could never do that here.”

Dad “But it’s not a good place to be really”

Both sigh.

Either one “Have you seen/heard/read the latest Trump fiasco?”

For two people with such wildly differing political allegiances, we agree that Trump is beyond a nightmare and fear for the wider world if he gets elected. Thankfully, that’s looking less likely, but I’m baffled after the past month how anyone would consider him fit to hold a sharp knife, let alone the post of president of the US. I’ll address the elephant in the room- I’m not wholly keen on Clinton either, but let’s face it, she’s less likely to push the big red button because someone hurt her feelings on Twitter.

I had a whole other tangent planned after reading this report on the policies, but they rather speak for themselves.

Instead, for now, I will leave this imploring note to anyone unsure which way to vote. During the campaigning here, the leave campaign used the phrase Make Britain Great again (sound familiar? Although it makes more sense here as Great Britain is our official title). A fraction over half of the voters believed this, and despite not yet leaving, we have seen a spike in violent hate crime and our currency is at its lowest point in living memory having lost a fifth of its value. Food prices are going up & wages are already being squeezed with major companies moving elsewhere. People who were born as Europeans face having that removed from them & just being British. Anyone who complains is labelled a “bremoaner” and told to suck it up. Oh and our political parties are too busy infighting to actually function as a parliment. This is a tiny taster of what it might be like to have to live with that kind of decision.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

I took the girls shopping yesterday for clothes. “Shop until you drop” consisted of 3 shops & Beanpole pushing my chair as I didn’t have the strength to self propel. And then a nice lady approached me…

I knew who she represented as she tried to give me a bunch of leaflets, and I was just at the right level of pain and tired to fire from both barrels.

She asked me to vote to leave the EU.

The original arguments for & against (before the politicians lost their heads and went apocalyptic)

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But I have grown up as a European Citizen and see myself primarily as European before British. On more than a number of occasions, I’ve been embarrassed to identify as British and when exercising my freedom of movement, do what I can to show that we’re not all arrogant arseholes. Whilst away, I have watched my children play happily alongside other children of French, Dutch, German, & Spanish origin with the language no barrier (the language of loom bands is universal) and have been proud to raise tiny humans who see other humans as just that no matter what colour they are or who they pray to, if they do at all.

As my personal experience of being a European Citizen has been overwhelmingly positive, I had some questions.

Question: If we leave, who guarantees my right not to be discriminated against because of my disability?

Her: Oh, well it then becomes up to us and our government wouldn’t allow it.

Cue raised eyebrows and me giving a few examples of why the current government probably needs the EU tapping it on the shoulder. Eg. In 2009, the then coalition government investigated scrapping the Equality Act which includes things like workplace tribunals insisting that other workers do not face the same or similar discrimination. The EU ensured that most of the act remained, but that particular part was indeed scrapped.

Her: Ah, but did you know that the day after we vote to remain the EU will legislate to privatise the NHS??!

I asked for evidence & she had none, so later I went looking on FullFacts.org for some unbiased research. Here’s what I found. So, yes. IF we allow privatisation of the NHS, and I’m looking square at you Cameron, it may be more expensive to reverse it. However, the bits that the Torys haven’t sold off would be protected. So, actually, the only people we have to fear are our own government who are hell bent on asset stripping everything they touch.

Question: What about the cost of leaving? The figures seem to show that we would pay more per head to remain in the single market?

Her: yes we would have to pay, but we would have control of our exports. Other countries will still buy from us – they’re not so vindictive that they would just stop.

How much would be offset by increased export in this per head figure?

Well we don’t have a figure as business changes, but look at all those French workers protesting and setting fires; we’re paying for them to refuse to work a decent days work. The French revolution happened for a reason…

What? That’s a bit of a leap! But back to the facts, how can you campaign on an unknown?

As I said, our exports will be our own so we can decide how it’s run without interference and they need us more than we need them…

My own research looks worrying. I’m looking for unbiased sources to get facts rather than posturing, so looked to the London School of Economics. Because, it doesn’t get more dry and maths based than accounting.

10% of our imports come from Europe. And we have a trade agreement in place for goods. 50% of our exports go to Europe, again with a trade agreement.
So what happens if we leave?
We have to negotiate new terms.
What are the new terms?
We won’t know until they’re negotiated.

…leaving us in financial limbo.

So what about individuals?

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What the chart is saying here is that best case, the average household will be worse off by £850 each year. Now using a mean average, that’s not every household hit, but the ones who feel it most tend to be those on the lower pay scales, and for some full time workers, that could equate to a months wages. That’s one hell of a hit for a best case scenario (with worst case losing over 2 months wages).

I want to be unbiased, but being presented with these raw figures is enough to sway me very much one way.

Question: If we leave, what happens to the human rights act?

Her: well we would have our own version of it. We created it after all.

She’s absolutely right there. The UK was at the forefront of creating the human rights act.

An interesting look which appears to give an unbiased before & after in the Telegraph writes

However any decision to withdraw from the Convention – a move the UK could make now – is likely to have a significant negative impact on the UK standing in Europe, the United Nations and the county’s moral authority around the world.

So the lady was correct, a Brexit doesn’t automatically mean we drop the convention. But, it does lean toward withdrawing as there is less pressure.

There have been a string of high profile cases where human rights have made things awkward, but there must be some good it does if we signed up?

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So, being selfish here:

Article 2: a right to life – no matter how crapped out I am, you can’t force me to die because I’m a burden.

Article 3: a right to not be treated in an inhumane or degrading way… and here I asked her about PIP. Is this humane?

Her: No, not at all. Those dreadful interviews are being carried out by a French company (she’s referring to ATOS here) and ruining disabled people’s lives.

I fear she rather missed the point…

Article 4: all I’m putting here is the Work schemes.

Article 7: benefits sanctions – a punishment, but we’re they breaking the law by missing an appointment by being at work/ at an interview / too sick to get up….

Article 8: my ISP holding my browser history. My personal messages to my husband no longer using end to end encryption…

Article 9 & 10: Facebook photos being used by DWP to “proove” people are well. Me being worried about blogging my experiences with DWP in case there were repercussions (a genuine fear of being rejected because I was openly negative about the process).

Considering the points above & the cuts in disability assistance made by this government and also when they were part of a coalition, it’s not a great surprise, but should be a great source of shame that the UK is the 1st first world country to be investigated by the United Nations for violations of human rights with regards to the treatment of people with disabilities.

Interestingly, we barely touched on immigration  (I had been keen to know what would happen to all our 5 million EU ex-pats), and we parted very on civil terms, agreeing to disagree.

The Leave vote continues to scare the living daylights out of me, but I appreciated the calm & dignified debate and if nothing else, that lady sparked a political flame that reignited my interest for actual facts rather than a gut feeling. I may not be voting her way, but I will vote with my head & heart.

On Whether To Support The #JuniorDoctorsStrike

Tuesday 26th April will see one of the largest doctors strikes in living memory in the UK. And of course, the evening prior is the perfect time for my knee to slip out. (It’s been bothering me all day, then in bed I looked down and thought “bollocks. That kneecap isn’t meant to be there.”)

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Of course, faced with a trip to A&E on the eve of a doctor’s strike,  I mused over whether the vague inconvenience to me was worth having a grump about…

On the face of it, this seems a simple issue. The politicians saw data that shows people are more likely to die if they go to hospital at the weekend : solution – a 7 day NHS where there are no ‘down days’. To create this, junior doctor contracts are being changed to require them to work shifts covering 24 / 7 available care. Doctors are not pleased by this.

But what about the finer points of what’s being played out?

Firstly, what is a junior doctor? That’s not age or longevity – a junior doctor is anyone who isn’t a specialist consultant or GP.

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More people die when admitted to hospital at the weekend.
My inner mathematician loves this argument. It’s like giving a Bible to Tim Minchin; nothing good will come of this, but it’ll be funny to watch from the sidelines.
Now stats can prove anything. Using this most basic of correlation vs. causation argument,  we could argue that shark attacks cause people to eat ice cream. People eat more ice-cream in better weather. They also swim in the sea. By being in the sea, there is a higher risk of shark attack. There is a correlation in the data, but one does not cause the other. Using the same logic, it may be that people who go to hospital at the weekend are already more unwell, or that people put off going until the weekend, or that the injuries caused at the weekend are more life threatening, or indeed that hospitals are more dangerous to enter at the weekend. Without the relevant data analysis, all we can infer is that there is a correlation of data between it being the weekend & mortality rates.

There are fewer doctors working longer to cover the shortfall
Right now, doctors already work 7 days. Yeah, ok, it might not feel like it when we’re playing GP appointment roulette at 8am, but when their funding is based on a numbers game & appointments must be “made available within 24 hours”, if you’re that unlucky bastard that is on hold for 40 minutes & there’s no appointments left, you’re not part of the all hallowed waiting time statistics. Not so long ago, Mr Hunt himself took his child to A&E for neither an accident or emergency as he had no desire to wait patiently.

Hospitals are falling into debt left, right, & centre due to mounting private contracts and the staff are told there just isn’t the money to keep going. (For the record, public sector workers have seen little more than a 1% pay rise in over 4 years compared to the 11% the politicians awarded themselves last year).

The Contracts Are Not Safe?
There’s a lot of misinformation being whirled about in the press. One message that isn’t very clear from the doctors is that the contracts they aren’t happy about include some rather worrying adjustments to working conditions. So far, the BMA (British Medical Association) have been negotiating for:

no doctor to work more than 72 hours in a week; With an EU working directive of no more than 48 hours, how is the government demanding more than 72?

no more than four nights in a week on-call; This would be in line with most private industry. We’re all perfectly aware of the strain shift work puts on people. The proof of this is the special consideration given to MPS working past 7.30pm, or on Saturdays.

a rest day either side of nights before starting back on day shifts;  Again, a similar shift pattern to private industry where the physical and mental toll of shift work is considered.

facilities to sleep-in for those who otherwise make a dangerous long drive home; Not often something that is provided for others, but clearly not a bad idea to prevent extra emergency patients.

So far, this doesn’t appear to be anyone asking for a “cushy number”. And a working week of less than 72 hours for £23 – £45k seems quite reasonable. Especially when making a mistake might actually kill someone.

And possibly here’s the crux of it. Doctors are generally paid above the national average wage. And we Brits do love a stereotype to rage at. Some genuine comments I’ve heard:  “Why are they complaining? They earn enough!” – are we suggesting there should be Tesco Value X-rays? Essentials stitches? Everyday Value apendectomies? If we hate everyone that earns more than us, why are we not lynching the footballers? The politicians? Pretty much anyone who works in the investment banking sector? It’s not a race to the bottom. Just because someone else’s job is worse, we shouldn’t lower the bar!

“They don’t live in the real world. Private workers do shift work.” – and they do, however when you suggest The real World is a factory as opposed to fixing a bleeding human I’m not wholly sure you’re right. What doctors (nurses, physios, etc) do is very real indeed. In fact so real that it’s best not to think about it.

I’m very open that it took me many years to be diagnosed with my own chronic illness, and my diagnosis came too late. By the time we realised what it was, I had dislocated & subluxed so many times that my nerves were trashed. I could easily rage against the NHS, but do you know what?
It wasn’t their fault that my GPs only had 10 minutes at a time to discuss my rare condition.
It’s not their fault that the only specialist clinic has such a long waiting list right now that they have closed their doors.
It’s not their fault that they can’t provide long term physio.
The buck stops with the Minister For Health. With an appropriate funding structure & money not being wasted on private investment and gimmicks to make the government look good, treatment could have been available.

My personal view is that strikes don’t help matters. It’s too easy to use them as a stick against those trying to get their voice heard. Just like when you’re battling Voldemort, patience is required. And the ability to use the power of his own wand against him.

With that said, I’ve done my bit to lighten the load & physiotaped the hell out of my wonky kneecap. It can wait until their voices are heard. So my leg is coming out in support of the doctors. You do a good job of fixing people, but you need better PR people.

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No! No Healthcare for you!

I’m looking at this from a purely outsider’s point of view, so please forgive my simplistic viewpoint here.

But am I right that a first world country that claims to be democratic and the ‘land of the free’ is seriously doing this:

Current president wants a healthcare system that treats all humans no matter their financial background, race, age or gender.

Major politicians are putting the country’s major state services on hold because they think that basic healthcare for all humans is wrong? Am I right in thinking that only rich people should be treated medically? Stop for a second. Didn’t I just say that this was a first world country that claims democracy? As in for the people.

And these people are willing to put their country on hold so that rich people don’t have to face more tax, and poor people can die without access to medical care. Children can live in poverty and I’ll health because they had the misfortune to be born into the ‘wrong’ family. From an outsiders perspective, it seems like these politicians value their cash more than human life.

Apologies for the sweeping generalisation, but what the hell is wrong with you America? For a Christian country, you’re putting on a very poor show.

Badger Badger Badger Cull?

There’s a tenuous link between bovine TB and badgers, so our politicians have come up with another vote winner… “I know! Let’s shoot the wildlife! [insert posh noise here]”.

Up to 80 per night. Poor badgers. So, for the record, I’m with Brian May on this one.