The NHS deserved better, we all deserved better…

Saturday 26 June 2021

A day after the story of his affair with a government aides hits the media, Matt Hancock, The Health Secretary, finally resigns. For me, although allegedly not for his boss, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, this is beyond doubt the only correct decision to have made. Why? Because so many deserved so much better than Hancock.

Firstly there is the NHS, our NHS, the epitome of a national treasure, even before covid-19 overtook our lives. They surely deserve a more fitting figure-head.

In 2017, The King’s Fund in a publication, ‘What do the public think about the NHS?’ marking the 70th birthday of Bevan’s formation of a national health service, found unwavering support the system. At this time, 4 in 5 of us had, consistently held the view that ‘the NHS is crucial to British society and we must do everything we can to maintain it’. And throughout the pandemic, respect, gratitude and sheer love for the heroic efforts of our exhausted doctors, nurses and carers has known few limits.

So when the call came to ‘save lives and protect the NHS‘ is could not have been a more important one. People did make heartbreaking decisions and NHS staff did live and work through horrific times to support them. So Hancock’s breach of the very covid regulations he exhorted us to follow, is an immense and shocking betrayal. Of equal gravitas, moving forward, is the reality that he would have had absolutely zero credibility in promoting further health care messages and any necessary restrictions and this, at it worst, could endanger lives and threaten our beloved health service. It was just not good enough for our NHS; it was completely untenable for him to continue.

Secondly there are the volunteers who have supported the vaccine roll out. On Saturday morning, I munch my bran flakes watching the BBC news report from a Vaccine Drop-(£in Centre in York, made possible by an enthusiastic set of volunteers. Ten of thousands have responded to the call to ‘Get the Jabs Done’, given their time freely and braved the elements to push forward a Vaccination Programme, in whose glory Hancock was only too eager to bask and boast. And an amazing programme is has been.

So, how galling for them to hear that, as they shivered in the rain at a local sports centre, Hancock’s favourite university pal, was snugly housed in the Department of Health on a £1000 a day job as an ‘aide’. No-one seems able to articulate why she was there, nor what the salary covered. Was our former Health Secretary just looking to improve his kissing technique? If so, Louise Rennison’s hilarious ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’ is now on Amazon from £0.99, and would have left a few more pounds in the coffers! But seriously, if this aide has had some impact on the pandemic or national health-care, can we know what it is? Surely our wonderful army of unpaid volunteers deserve this at the very least.

Thirdly there is the public at large. Don’t we just deserve better people to lead us? Is it too much to ask that we can respect and look up to those that we vote into the positions of highest power and privilege, as opposed to watching toe-curling videos of them smooching around their offices, like teenagers behind the bike-sheds? We hear that the government agenda is about ‘re-building better’. Please can this start with some professional development on leadership and standards for the Cabinet? Those who make decisions always need ethical frameworks to work within. For our MPs, I understand that this is the ‘Ministerial Code’ and that technically Matt Hancock did not break this. But, for goodness sake Matt, to quote your own guidance, it is not just about technicalities at times like this,

“People need to not just follow the letter of the rules but follow the spirit as well and play their part…”

Matt Hancock January 2021

Finally, there is his family. Now I am not here to pass any judgement on the state of anyone’s marriage but, the fact remains that his wife and children have had to see all the images, comments and memes as well. Whatever they decide to do,they will need time to communicate, listen, repair and heal. And surely from Day One, of this mess Hancock should have gone to spend time with his children rather than spending another minute trying to hang onto his, and I quote his boss here, ‘totally f***ing useless‘ attempts to run our Health Service. They just deserve so much better…

No time … for a change?

Saturday 7 March 2020

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and, in celebration, Parkrun are on the radio this morning, encouraging women to join them this weekend. It is true that this national running organisation does attract female members, indeed they make up 52% of the registration. The sadder statistic however is that, whilst they constitute over half of those who have signed up, women make up only 44% of actual participants in the weekly 5K. Of the 1.8 million registered on Parkrun, 650 000 women have yet to take part. I wonder how many men too have signed up but not taken that significant step of actually standing on the starting line. It seems such a shame, because running can be wonderful for the heart and soul. There will doubtless be many reasons behind this but one issue I have pondered recently is the value of the timing chip. Do we really need to record times and ranks and aim to ‘beat personal bests’ every time we pull on our running shoes? Does competition actually motivate people to take part in sport and exercise or does it just put up more barriers? Does a list just reinforce the fear that you are ‘not as good’ as everyone else? Is it time to ditch the Garmin and try ‘no times’ for a change?

I am no anti-competition zealot, in fact I am quite the opposite at a personal level. I recall coming ‘second in category‘ once in a Parkrun and immediately spending the next few weeks running to the point of vomiting, in an attempt to come ‘first’. On one 10K, I broke the 55 minute barrier and was so thrilled that I worked my finishing time into the next computer password-change at work! My worry however is that I am not the target audience for the latest national fitness campaign. I have always been pretty active: a child gymnast, a school long jump champion, a uni netball player, a regular (before I became a single parent) at aerobics, yoga and even adult ballet! I don’t need running to get active. I choose my trainers to keep up a decent level of fitness because running is friendly, free, flexible… and has never involved childcare .

The people the government needs to reach are the half of women and the third of men who are not active enough for good health. In their 2020 report, Health Matters, Public Health England outline the significant benefits of exercise for our physical and mental well-being. They also explore the difficulties for adults not engaged in sport and activity. These are varied and, in some cases, complex but most barriers are internal ones and I find their fear that exercise is ‘not for people like me‘ a little heart breaking. Would those battling to find the confidence to move to a more active life really be helped by a timing chip? Competition, yes it is great if you are a competitor. But if you’re not? If you are the name at the foot of the list how does that feel?

I once took the kids to Parkrun. Two were fine, but Prom-dress daughter got in a panic about the number of people in front of us compared to the dwindling amount behind.

What if I am last?” she whispered tearfully.

I really don’t care if we are last ” I encouraged her in reply “In fact I will be proud. We are out here running and keeping fit and that’s what really matters.”

But it wasn’t what really mattered to my daughter that day and she refused to finish. The same child ran happily around the laid back and festival feel of the Race for Life 5K and has recently completed a 6 hour Duke of Edinburgh hike. Her fear was the list and the label. Because for every top 10, others must be condemned to be in the bottom 10.

I may have stumbled across running because of single parent circumstances but now I love it. Love the oxygen in my lungs. Love the freshness in my face. Love the strength in my legs Love the calmness in my mind and lightness in my soul. Love the feeling of life and vitality. I claim there’s a ‘runner’s glow’, a joy that comes from just being out there and feeling your body move. And, whereas I have long since lost any of the toy medals you get given at the end of a ‘race’, this feeling stays for ever! And I would love to empower more people to experience it.

I did once post on a Parkrun forum the notion that this event could become the one timing-free race in the running calendar. It went down like a lead balloon (I still quake at the memory!) And probably rightly so. One very valid point, in a tide of perplexed pb-obsessed outrage, was with over 2 million runners Parkrun have clearly found a winning formula so why meddle with it. And they are right, I have absolutely no right to hi-jack their event. So perhaps instead, when I have retired and have some time, I’ll set up my own event. A strava-free zone, where ranks, times and judgement are vetoed. It’s our pace, our distance, our minds and bodies growing stronger with every step and we just ‘run because we love it’.

Look after yourself…

Friday 24 January 2019

After a busy week, Friday comes to an early end. I am too ill to make it through a full day and am sent home. I wonder if ‘looking after yourself’ is a mantra I should take more seriously?

It is probably about 6 days ago that I first start to have pains in my finger. I stick a plaster over it, but by Tuesday, the whole thing is such a swollen and angry mess that I call at the Pharmacy on the way home. ‘Infected‘, is the swift diagnosis, ‘You need to see a GP!’

Wednesday morning, at 8 am sharp, I am on that phone. I call the Doctor to be told that I can have an appointment … on 4th February! So I give up and get on with the day. It’s a super-frantic day as it happens. No break, no lunchtime, post-work training, followed by an even later meeting and then home… to fill up with petrol and set out in the gloom and fog for a 3 hour drive to Newcastle.

A final university interview for my eldest takes us to the North East and what a great part of the country it is. We check in just before 10 pm, feeling weary and jaded but the warmth of the welcome from the staff is amazing. They make us nachos. They help us with maps. They wish us lots of luck for the interview tomorrow. But even they look rather alarmed as I struggle to sign us in…my finger is now the four times its usual size!

Not much I can do about it the next day however, as my eldest runs the gauntlet of another MMI circuit. Newcastle university looks stunning in the freshness of a January morning and, as my daughter disappears into the building, I settle on a bench outside thinking how wonderful it would be to study here and how I just don’t know how to cope with another disappointed drive home if it goes badly. I want to do something to help… so I say a decade of the rosary (Catholic readers will understand!) … and then, as a wave of panic begins to take hold, I say another to calm myself down. I am just about to soothe myself with a third when another mum sits down clearly wanting to chat. Hurriedly hiding my malformed hand underneath my scarf, I put aside my prayers and launch into conversation. She is a delightful woman, (you could say heaven sent) and time passes quickly. When my eldest emerges, she is in an upbeat mood, ‘Not great, but the best I could’ve done!’ she smiles. Well that’s good enough for me! We grab some lunch and then actually sing our way back down the motorway. I am so high on relief that, for a few hours at least, I forget about the stabbing sensation in my finger.

Back home, I throw some food together, before my eldest and I set out again. She has an evening concert. It’s an all-ticket event for local dignitaries, as opposed to proud parents. So I just drop her off and although I am now feeling shattered, the pain in my finger is so miserable that I decide to be sensible and head to the Walk-in Centre. Sadly we are no longer in the North East.

“The waiting list is full”, snaps the receptionist and steers me out of the door.

Which brings me to today. I plan to fit in an early visit to the Walk-in Centre. I arrive at 7 am. There’s a huge queue. There’s a 1 hour wait and my first meeting of the day is at 8:15 am. I give up. I drive to work, whereupon one of the first-aiders, recoiling in horror at the sight of my poor, grotesque digit, firmly applies a huge blue plaster. I am starting to feel rather peculiar and queasy. At break-time I am finally sick and my boss send me home, insisting that I get myself checked out.

This time I resolve to camp out at the Walk-in Centre. When I am seen, a lovely nurse takes one look at my finger and prescribes a 7 day course of anti-biotics. With kindly concern, she also suggests that I give myself a boost with ‘multi-vitamins’, explaining that I look ‘very run-down’. It stops me in my tracks. It’s a blink-back-the-tears moment. For a second I feel that, busy as she is, this woman notices that I don’t just need ‘fixing’ I need a little bit of care too, and that’s pretty rare in the life of a parent. Thinking hard, I do recall my Ex, back in the mid-90s, once driving from Liverpool to Manchester with cough medicine, because I sounded a bit croaky on the phone. But that’s over 20 years ago! Quite a long time to spend looking after everyone else, rather than ever feeling looked after myself!

So I do treat myself to a tub of ‘multi-vits with iron’ and turn optimistically homewards, contemplating ways to take better care of my own health and well-being. I don’t make it into the house however before getting a call from Small Boy’s school, announcing that he has been sick and needs collecting. A text from my eldest flashes across the screen, reminding me that we have a friend staying tonight. And, as I eventually do turn the key in the lock, Prom-dress Daughter appears claiming to have ‘tonsilitis!’

I rather fear that, like most parents, ‘looking after myself‘ is just going to have to wait … hopefully not for another 20 years!!

Spa Day!

Thursday 25 July 2019

I do follow other single-mum bloggers; and they are often passionate about the need for we lone-parents to treat and take care of ourselves. I have always been sceptical, genuinely so challenged by keeping kids, wider family, work and my bank manager happy that I cannot face the thought of making time to think about my own well-being as well. But after a glorious day at the spa…I think they may have a point!

It’s the hottest day of the year, when records are set to break in distant corners of the South of England, as Spa Day dawns. Two of my teens are on a Youth Orchestra tour of Belgium and the third has gone to spend a day with his nana, so I am already childfree. There is however an added bonus. I have a lift and so, in what feels like the ultimate luxury, I am car-free too. As a result, my mood is already joyful as, unable to believe our weather-luck, four of us rendez-vous in the foyer, change into our swimwear and make a beeline for the outdoor pool(s) area.

It is utter bliss. We are a trusty quartet who have survived several years of work together, have run together, drunk together and failed hilariously in the work quiz together. So I know that the company will be great and it is. We share laughter, lunch and lots of lovely chilled white wine. But another stand out feature of today is the luxury. As I lower myself into the warm embrace of a bubbling jacuzzi, I feel the pain lift from my poor aching limbs, which carry the scars of overworking and overdriving in recent months. I feel pampered. I feel cared for. I feel at peace. Those bubbles seem to tell me that I do matter and I am worth it! And I realise that this is often the missing ingredient in my busy life. And it feels fantastic!

Now, wondrous as my day is, I cannot see myself finding the time or money to make a spa day a regular feature on the calendar. However, I do think making a bit of time for myself and my wellbeing probably is essential. So I re-read a great post on this topics from The Perfect Juggler, 7 types of Self Care that don’t cost a penny…. Actually, I find that I already do several of the suggestions, but here is my challenge. When life gets frantic, make sure that the first thing to fall by the wayside is not me and my time and my happiness. Now that sounds like a plan!