Compassion

IMG_0873I wrote this piece more than ten years ago when someone was bullied on-line by several people after making an innocent mistake:

To me the word “compassion” implies an empathetic understanding of the suffering of another and thus is a step beyond pity, which nevertheless is a sympathetic appreciation of another’s plight.

It is perhaps not too difficult to understand the anguish of those with whom we are not acquainted. If we see news footage of a starving child or hear about victims of the Asian tsunami of course we feel emotion. However, unless there is any direct involvement (where for instance someone we know was killed or bereaved) we might perhaps send a charitable donation but we are otherwise unable to help in a practical sense and do not become greatly engaged emotionally.

Sometimes, though, it seems to us that someone we know has been seriously wronged, or we have a deep sense of injustice or sympathy for that person’s anguish. If that person who is our friend or colleague has been deeply hurt or is vulnerable, we are anxious to rush to that person’s side, to help fight the battle. That is a very noble and honourable thing to do and it will be helpful to the person wronged to know that he or she has the support of others through a difficult time.

Nevertheless, often in human relationships there are two sides to every story. That does not mean that the person wronged is in any way to blame, but perhaps the behaviour of the supposed perpetrator has to be seen in the context of his or her own situation and probably that person’s emotional state. That person should not be demonised and it may be that that person requires some understanding too, indeed some compassion; an empathetic understanding as to why the person acted in the way that he or she did. Perhaps the wrongful act was an accident or a simple indiscretion under stress (if it was a criminal act then that is for another discussion another time), and in some circumstances it might have been a cry for help.

These situations occur in online relationships too, and of course it is very likely that they will affect people’s daily lives. Compassion for the “wrongdoer” does not require us to agree with someone’s actions but if we make an effort to understand the circumstances it may assuage our anger.

My Oxford Pocket Dictionary defines compassion as “pity inclining one to spare or help”. Online or offline, it is always important not to rush to judgement, but to help and support the parties involved and show compassion to all those who need it.

Blue remembered hills

DSC02433I went to the funeral of a client. She was a lady who had lived a very long life. She had overcome adversity having been orphaned at a very young age and fostered out, as well as being separated from her siblings. She became a professional in health care in her thirties and ran her own practice. It sounded to me as though her life was anything but simple, and she achieved what she did though determination and hard work.

I happened to have a chat with the minister who took the funeral service. We agreed that there were less distractions for children growing up than there are now with all the technology, social media and, perhaps consequently, shorter attention spans. However, it seems to me that what my late client achieved in her younger days was actually much harder than it would be now. For one thing she was a woman, no one had the “right” to higher education when she was eighteen just before the Second World War, and a decade after the war when I was very small those opportunities were still not available.

When we were growing up as kids, we were not short of food. In many ways we were quite insulated from adversity, so I cannot say we suffered like the Four Yorkshireman. Our diets were more restricted because there was not the variety of food, there were few supermarkets, and those that there were carried nothing exotic. In the Sixties, even if we had money, there were few package holidays and because the Labour government had devalued the Pound, they were expensive. The Government had also restricted the amount of Sterling people could convert into foreign currency to go on holiday anyway. The country was regularly brought to a halt by striking workers in the public sector because of the economic problems and pressure on wages. Yes, your heart would not bleed because people were deprived of holidays in Spain, but the point is that many things we take for granted now were simply not available.

We live now in the Age of the Internet. Anything we might be able to buy, we can find. We can shop for almost any variety of foreign food we like, thanks to our outward looking trade connections and of course the immigrant population who have also created the demand. Life for most people is incomparably better than it was for those living in the Fifties and Sixties. Of course there are those who have missed out, and they can be resentful, quite understandably. Most of us, even the poor, have more than we might have had half a century or so ago.

Somehow, many have forgotten this; even those who were alive then. They forget how their parents struggled. They forget how difficult travel was, unless as a special treat on the train, or daily on the school bus. They forget the boiled potatoes and cabbage, the awful school meals, the school masters who beat them for some misdemeanour.

Where has this discontent got us? It has got us to a point where many voters want to wind back the clock to a time when their country was more isolated, when there were fewer immigrants, and when life seemed easier. It was not easy. If we were alive then, we were children and even poorer parents mostly shielded their kids from the worst.

People vote for nostalgia, even when what they hark back to is not real. They vote for Brexit, and in America they might vote for Donald Trump, when as Harold Macmillan once said of Britain “we never had it so good”, which relative to earlier times was true.

Those who vote for the past rather than the future threaten our way of life, and theirs. They believe the storytellers of the past and their false memories. Let us try gently to bring them back to the present.

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again

A E Housman, from A Shropshire Lad (1896)

My journey through the Brexit referendum

I was not going to write down my views post the referendum, but I have felt deeply affected by the outcome and just need to get it out of my system. I would normally keep my voting preferences private.

As a young chap I voted in the 1975 referendum to remain in the European Communities. The issue from the then Labour Government’s point of view was mainly that the Common Agricultural Policy kept food prices too high, though they had ideological issues too. The Government thought its renegotiation was largely successful. I thought that access to a free market close by at a difficult time for trade in Britain was what the country needed.

By the Eighties our membership contributions seemed to be getting a bit pricey. I became more Eurosceptic, though I am not sure the term had been invented then. In 1984 Margaret thatcher negotiated a rebate, which is still in force today. There are a lot of figures bandied about as to what the UK contribution is today, but it is probably not much more than around £200M a week (or at least it was pre-June 2016), about one-tenth of the budget for the NHS. Actually, I still think Maggie’s deal was pretty good and has stood up well in over thirty years.

This is not supposed to be a history of the UK in the EU. There was a lot of anguish in the Conservative Party over John Major’s “bastards” who opposed the UK signing up to the Maastricht Treaty which did sow the seeds for future monetary and probably political union. I became most Eurosceptic then. Teresa Gorman was one to whom Major was referring and one day she was signing copies of her book The Bastards when I went into W H Smith in Liverpool Street station to buy a magazine. She spotted me, possibly feeling lonely, and offered me one of her books. I told her I had bought a copy the week before and produced it from my briefcase. She signed it for me. She would probably not have appreciated a comparison to Edward Heath, of whom it was said that un-autographed books were rarer than the ones he had signed, so desperate was he to get his books out there.

I digress. Fast forward to 2016. In February David Cameron negotiated a “deal” with the other EU member states. He then called the referendum. I thought the deal meant very little and was purely cosmetic. The UK would avoid Euro bailouts and would not be drawn into closer political union with other countries which aspired to this.

The deal on immigration and benefits was meaningless as a deterrent to prospective EU immigrants. I tried to explain to a number of people before the referendum that immigration was likely to be largely unaffected by the UK leaving the EU, assuming there would be stability in the UK economy. People would still want to come, EU citizens in work already contribute their skills and also a lot of tax to the Exchequer. We need them and will still need them. As regards non-EU immigration, the issue and the problem is unchanged. The sub-Saharan conflicts have been going on for years and the Syrian disaster was unforeseen. In or out of the EU we have to try to cope, and have compassion.

As a Eurosceptic, I examined every argument carefully. The campaigns, Leave and Remain, made some outrageous claims; for example, Leave about the cost of membership. The Remain side operated Project Fear, concentrating on negatives rather than the positive reasons for staying in the EU, which are actually the single market and the freedom of movement, even if the latter might have been marginally hampered by the “deal”. In my view, David Cameron’s threat to state pensioners present and future was a grave error as was George Osborne’s “Emergency Budget” warning. People do not like to be threatened or ordered about and will tend to do the opposite.

Remain could well have done without wheeling out Gordon Brown, an irascible type held by many responsible, at least in part for the 2008 crash damage, because he borrowed too much. Alan Johnson, his former Labour colleague, was a much better performer.

We could have done without the interventions of Jean-Claude Juncker, who is like Gordon Brown on the sauce.

Nevertheless, with all this Project Fear noise and claims that economic life outside the EU would be great, there was precious little additional information. I supposed that the Leave campaigners would have sounded out various countries with whom they wanted trade deals. I thought there must be a plan, but we never heard it.

I had to vote on what I knew. Our economic stability was based on relative certainty with regard to our European partnerships, as well as taking the medicine some EU countries had refused to take, notably France. It was based on confidence that we knew the road ahead.

I made my decision quite late.

I decided that we were better off with the devils we knew that those we had not even met yet, so I voted with the status quo. I did not have that positive feeling, because the EU has so many faults. It is unwieldy, and although in a way democratic, it is slow to act when some states go it alone on factors such as immigration. That means strong leaders like Angela Merkel (whom I sort of admire) can go off on their own and present policies as a fait accompli before anyone else has reacted.

So where are we now?

  • The pound has gone south
  • The cost of petrol and diesel, bought in dollars, will go up.
  • The price of food will go up because of the fuel costs and tariffs.
  • People’s incomes will be squeezed.
  • Less confidence means fewer jobs
  • Fewer foreign businesses will set up in UK
  • There will be fewer start-ups except among those forced because they have lost their jobs
  • There will be more austerity medicine because of the loss of tax revenue and the increase in the UK’s deficit, the difference between what the Government receives in and what it needs to spend.
  • My pension fund value has gone south and at my age it matters.
  • There was no plan and I have shed tears – really.

Our economic prospects have been set back years and unlike with a General Election we cannot vote to make another change in five years’ time. No one knows what the UK will be like in five years’ time, and whether it will still be united or down to three countries. We fell off the wall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Living with my ghosts

Jersey10I might have written this piece a long time ago but there is a kind of shame in this sort of history even though everyone will say there is nothing about which to be ashamed.

So here we go. I was bullied as a child and it has affected my whole life. It left an indelible stain of memories which affects me even today, and which has haunted me throughout my adult life and, of course, my career.

The bullying started when I was about six. Two girls who were a year or so older used to pick on me in the school cloakroom. Their names were Amanda (Mandy) and Lesley. They were both bigger than me. I remember their banging my head against the wall. I was terrified.

Later, when I was about nine, a boy named David used to pick on me. He was about my age but much bigger. I remember he smelled of stale urine. I do not know why I was singled out. Maybe my earlier experience had resulted in my wearing a “victim” sign around my neck. Perhaps it was because I was a clever child, mostly coming at or near the top of the class depending on my performance relative to my arch-rival, Catherine. She was a bright girl.

When I was eleven, in the last year of my primary education, I had won a free place in a very popular independent school for boys with a very good academic record. My teacher told me that going there would be like being “thrown to the wolves”. She should have told my parents. Maybe she did, but I don’t suppose they would remember.

When I went to the big school, just coming up to twelve, I was put in what amounted to a reception class for the incomers, as the school already knew about the intake from its own preparatory school. I quite enjoyed the first few weeks there. It was all new, and the school work was stimulating. We started to learn Latin.

Then one day at the end of the lunch hour, we had just been allowed back in the classroom when a fight broke out. Someone threw a chair, not intended for me, but it hit me full in the face. I was collateral damage. My eyes watered. I was really hurt. I was perceived as being a “cry baby” and from that time I was picked on.

I was never accosted on a one-to-one basis. There was one particular instigator who stands out, but he always had his cronies to deal with me if I put up too much of a fight. I was verbally abused and physically attacked in classrooms, corridors, and in the toilets. In the toilets it was pretty certain no teacher would be there to break up a beating.

After the first term I was promoted to the top stream for incomers. However, I was still haunted by my main persecutor. One day a mate of his hit me in the face with a plank of wood outside one of the school buildings. It broke my nose and I had two “shiners”.

Throughout my school career the beatings went on. I was even attacked on a coach when we were on an outing somewhere, and that with a teacher on board. I remember going home humiliated with my head and hair plastered in chewing gum which had been spat all over me. My Mum helped me wash it out. She never asked me how it happened and did not remember the incident years later. I guess I was fourteen or fifteen at the time. The memory of the shame I felt then makes me shiver even now.

As I got older, the physical abuse slackened off, and there was much more psychological abuse. When I was fifteen, sixteen and seventeen, my school books got stolen frequently as my locker was so often broken into. I had to ask the teachers for new books, and they blamed me for losing the old ones. School then was different from school now. Someone might ask questions now, but back then you were locked into school mode until you were eighteen-ish in the environment I was in.

Of course I was still a bright lad, but my marks and grades suffered, partly of course because I was often missing vital books, but also because I had lived my whole life from the age of twelve in constant fear.

My parents knew I did not like school. That would have been the only explanation for my frequently bringing up my breakfast before going. However, they did not ask me, and of course I did not tell them what happened to me at school, about the constant bullying and my continual terror. I was ashamed of being a victim, of being seen as weak, of being a failure.

Ultimately in academic terms I was a relative failure at school. When I left at seventeen I was so relieved to be away from full-time education that I declined to re-sit my exams at a local college because naively I thought the bullying would all start over again. So I got a job and went out to work, and missed the higher education I should have had.

I did enjoy the first few years working in the City. I was not bullied, but at the same time I just kept my head down. I thought a low profile would keep me safe. In the end it did not. After about ten years I had an alcoholic boss who was Senior Partner at a firm of accountants I worked for. I was not the only target of his abuse, but metaphorically I rolled up in a ball like a hedgehog to try to pretend it was not happening.

A couple of years on, realising that he had drunk himself almost to death, this man became much more benign, even nice, but he died of his habit. I felt sorry for him, but he had re-imposed the terror in me.

At the same firm a few years later another partner persistently picked on me for no obvious reason, accusing me of mistakes I had not made (because he had made them), and bawling me out in front of the whole office.

Why did I endure this? Because I got into a way of believing that I must be inferior to others, not quite good enough. I thought I could not be as able as my colleagues. I had accepted that my role was to get by, not to lead, but to do as I was told because that was all I was good enough for.

Still, maybe everyone, even someone bullied as I was, has a point where it is time to fight back. One day after I had been bawled out again I came home very angry, and that anger manifested itself in a positive way. Why it had taken so long I do not know. I resolved not to put up with this treatment anymore.

I had by this time become a junior manager or supervisor simply because of my experience. I looked for a proper manager’s job which I got with a small firm also in the City. I loved it, and though I say it myself, I was a good manager. Even so it took more years and a move to another very challenging job for me to realise that actually I was really rather good at a technical level too.

You will have gathered that I still bear the scars. Has this bullying affected my life in other ways? Well, of course. Being convinced for so many years of my inferiority, this affected my ability to begin relationships with the opposite sex. “Who would want me?”, I thought. I suppose my shyness might have attracted the bullies from the age of six onwards, but it was I am sure made much worse by the reign of terror I experienced. An eating disorder did not help in my early twenties. Later I had treatment for depression.

I am happy now, and although it took me thirty years after leaving school to find my lovely wife, I should not wish to be able to change my past. Yet throughout my education, my work and my love life there have been so many opportunities wasted.

I know I am not alone in these sorts of experiences. I know that there are those who have had far, far worse. There are policies in schools against bullying, and there are anti-bullying charities, but it worries me that many people still do not realise the damage that bullying causes, and the way that lives can be ruined.

I have climbed back to a space where I have at least perspective on all that has happened to me. Maybe that is the best I can hope for anyone who has been bullied for a long time.

Alternative medicine and the vulnerable

In the age of the internet there are so many “treatments” available under the headings of alternative and complementary medicine. Many of these seem very attractive, but often their advocates suggest that people should choose their treatment over conventional medicine.

This is worrying on two fronts. The first is that anxious people will go for unproven treatments which will not work, and in the process waste their money. The second is that those same people will have put off seeing their doctor and shunned proper medical treatment until it is too late to cure them properly. Lives are at risk.

Twenty or twenty-five years ago I was very depressed. That is no secret – well it certainly isn’t now. I was lonely, out of a relationship, working too hard to forget, and generally vulnerable. I was recommended by a well-meaning friend to see a homeopathic “doctor”.

At the time I did not know much about homeopathy. It was pre-internet on any scale then and I had not done the research I might have by going to the library, which is what we used to do. Anyway, I went along to see this guy and paid him a large amount of money for a consultation and some pills. I was told that there was a list of things I should not eat as they would make the pills ineffective. I remember they included peppermint, so that ruled out my toothpaste, not that I actually ate toothpaste.

Looking back, I realise that these were all “get-out” conditions, so that when the “treatment” did not work, the “doctor” could point me to something as the reason. Had I known then what I know now, that homeopathy could not possible work, I would have saved my money.

The basis of homeopathy is apparently that one takes a substance that causes the symptoms one wants to cure, dilutes it so many times that there is none of it left in the solution, and then soaks a sugar pill in the water (which is all that is left). The water is supposed to have a memory of the substance and that is what cures the symptom in the patient.

How a molecule of water, or of any element or compound, is supposed to have a memory of a possible complex other compound which is no longer there cannot be explained by any scientific means. Of course science has nothing to do with it. As with many complementary treatments it is about “belief”. Belief is at the core of so many problems in the world.

I should also like an explanation of how the sugar pill soaked in the magic water affects the supposed properties of the medicine, or why it does not. I will not get one.

I am not saying that all complementary therapies are without benefit. There are often placebo effects and people benefit from comfort and relaxation. What worries me that desperate people will waste their money while at the same time losing valuable time before getting proper science-based medical treatment.

Watch Science Babe take fifty homeopathic sleeping pills with no effect whatever. That is hardly surprising, but do not try this at home because in an unregulated sector you never know exactly what is in these sugar pills, apart from sugar of course.

 

 

 

Health check

The problem with having several blog websites is spreading oneself too thin. I guess I am guilty of that as I do seem to have neglected this place. I am sorry. 🙁

I have been writing about prostate cancer because, having had that diagnosis myself, I have become aware that far to many guys do not get themselves checked often enough and do not get checked until treatment has become more difficult. May I just emphasise that anyone who takes a long time in the bathroom having a pee, and really any male over fifty needs to keep an eye on his prostate health? Not everyone who occupies the smallest room for longer has prostate cancer. Most will not, but all should get thmselves checked out.

My most recent PSA reading was 0.1, which is very low. I am thankful that I am well and appear generally to have responded well to my brachytherapy a couple of years back now.

I will write more here soon.

Moustaches and good progress on the health front

More hairy than I expected
More hairy than I expected

I grew my facial adornment quite successfully in Movember, but I was very pleased to shave it off on 1st December. It just seemed in the way when I was eating and I was worried about getting food stuck in it, though perhaps I was just a bit paranoid about that.

A lot of guys are very experienced in the cultivation of facial hair, and in some ways I admire them. It all seems too much like hard work to me, and I would rather my hard work were more productive and in other directions.

This week I saw my consultant following my blood test last week. Apparently my PSA is down to 0.4 which is apparently very good. I am assured the odds of getting rid of the cancer altogether are very good; better than 92% chance, which most of us would take. I need to keep having the regular blood tests because if I did relapse, my PSA would be going up, and is a better post-operative indicator than for initial diagnosis. Still, the PSA test did help get me a diagnosis in the first place.

I will see the consultant again in four months, and will be returning to see him regularly for several years.

I am grateful for the support I have had, and Movember has raised over £200 even though much of this sum is not shown on my Movember page.

I realise that there are a lot of demands on people’s pockets, and in the charity area we have had the Philippines emergency appeal and there is the ongoing Syrian Civil War appeal too.  However if anyone can manage a few bob more for Movember it would be much appreciated. 🙂

I am (touch wood) quite well currently and hope to continue that way thanks to modern medicine.

Into Movember

On 31st October without 'tache, taken in St. Helier round the corner from where Gloria and I got married.
On 31st October without ‘tache, taken in St. Helier round the corner from where Gloria and I got married.

As many of you know, I am growing a moustache in November, sponsored for charity, after my brush with prostate cancer this year. I meant to do it last year before I even knew I had the disease, but other difficult family events got in the way.

As you can read here, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and is the second largest cause of male cancer deaths in UK. Every hour one man dies from prostate cancer and over 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year.

 

 

  • One in eight men in the UK will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime
  • The average age for men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer is between 70 and 74 years
  • More than 100 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every day

As for the moustache, after three days there is not much to show. There is some very light coloured stubble. I hope it is a return to my blond phase as i had very fair hair as a young chap. However it is more likely going to be grey interspersed with darker colours or ginger.

On 3rd November with hardly any visible moustache, but it is there.
On 3rd November with hardly any visible moustache, but it is there.

It is a slow process. Maybe I should massage Growmore into my top lip.

We will see. Oh, the excitement!

I would very much appreciate your support in raising some money to increase awareness of prostate cancer and help improve men’s health. My Movember page is here : mobro.co/jonstow

Thank you very much.

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Movember the First

Me in 1973 with the hair
Me in 1973 with the hair

So many of us are reluctant to trouble the doctor with what we may think of as minor ailments which we think we are bound to get as we get older.

I am pleased to say that I am fairly well after treatment for prostate cancer and (touch wood) that should be the end of it. However the fact that I had cancer in the early stages would not have been picked up if I had avoided going to the doctor. I had thought of several excuses not to go before I finally came down on the side of thinking there would be no harm in seeing my general practitioner.

If you are interested, I am joining the Movember campaign to improve men’s health worldwide by getting them to take notice. I am committed to growing a moustache for the thirty days of November. It will my first ever moustache and I did not even have one when I had the bushy curly almost Art Garfunkel hair in the Seventies. Oh that I had some of that hair now!

Here is my Movember page.  Please forgive the all upper-case motivation section. That is the website format, and I did not mean to shout. If you feel able to help I will be grateful, but if not (because there are so many “good causes”), then that is OK too.

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Prostate surgery – the aftermath

Southend University Hospital
Southend University Hospital

So, how have I been after my brachytherapy? Overall I am relatively well six months on, and definitely making good progress.

When I left hospital, I felt very bruised and swollen. My waterworks required my spending a long time in the smallest room and I felt very uncomfortable in that area most of the time; not just when paying a visit. I did have a reasonable amount of energy, and managed to get back to work (from home) in a few days. I also managed reasonably well at my Mother-in-Law’s funeral, at least physically anyway.

After about six weeks I visited the hospital for a scan which was apparently for the nuclear physicist’s audit purposes only, to see that all the radioactive iodine pellets were in the right place. I saw my consultant shortly after that and, having had a blood test, was told that my PSA had fallen to 4.1, which was good. I was feeling a lot better, though the waterworks were not great.

Another week after that and I suddenly felt terribly tired all the time, and did find it very difficult to work for more than a couple of hours in the morning. I now understand that was because the radiation had really kicked in. During that time at the beginning of June I went to an exhibition at the Excel Centre in London, but had to come away after a couple of hours as I felt very tired and faint. I confined myself to barracks for a few weeks after that. I understand that not every patient has these symptoms of fatigue, but it is very common with any sort of radiotherapy.

In mid-July my energy started to return, and at the beginning of August, virtually overnight, my waterworks came back to virtually normal, though I still have a few side-effects of the treatment. I have to say I am feeling much better.

I saw my consultant again. My PSA was only 0.6 which sounds great, and apparently is on course for a cure. However, I might expect a PSA “bounce” after one or two years which is normal and not generally anything to worry about.

At the end of August I went to an afternoon presentation run by the hospital for prostate cancer patients, which was very useful. I learned a great deal about what to expect for myself, and the difficulties that others have whose cancer was more advanced than mine, and might have spread into the bone or lymph nodes. It reinforced my feeling that I have been fortunate, and when one of the nurses spoke about “curative” patients present, I knew that included me.

I am a satisfied customer, but not complacent. I have been lucky and will make sure I attend all my check-ups. Not every chap is as fortunate to be picked up before he has a serious problem from cancer. Any guy over fifty needs to see the doctor if he has any symptoms at all in the downstairs department, and also all of us should see our doctors regularly as we get older so that we can have any tests needed and make informed decisions about our health.

 

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