Friday 29 June 2018

Doctor gorgeous

Every day I hear of another extraord-inary misuse of social media, of some new trend that's utterly repugnant and anti-social.

The latest fad is to post photos and videos of female doctors online and ask people to rate their attractiveness. Which one's hottest, Doctor Deborah or Doctor Alison?

Apparently it's okay for patients to video their consultations, for instance to record baby scans or their child's first GP appointment or help them remember what was discussed or what treatment was recommended.

But some patients are making videos, sometimes without express permission, and then staging online beauty contests. Doctors revealed their alarm at the British Medical Association's annual meeting.

What sort of people think this is acceptable? A doctor's life is hard enough without their being subject to a sleazy online parlour game - a game they may not even realise is happening unless someone tips them off.

Those idiots who think it's all very amusing fully deserve to be struck off their GP's list. Or perhaps to have their own attractiveness, or lack of it, rated by a bunch of uninhibited women.

It's never even occurred to me to video my consultations. They can be quite detailed, but I do my best to remember everything that comes up and make a note immediately afterwards of what the doctor said. That seems to work very well - my note always includes the most important points.

I assume a doctor can contact Twitter or Facebook or whatever and ask for the offending images to be removed, but maybe that's not the case.

My own doctor (that's Dr Joanne) is very competent and very thorough. What she looks like is of no significance.

Monday 25 June 2018

Urban delights

I'm a 100 per cent urban person. I thrive on cities and all the amenities and attractions they offer. I can't imagine myself living in some remote rural location lacking all the urban advantages I'm used to.

It would drive me mad having to travel miles to get the simple things like shampoo or a pillow case, or to see a dentist or solicitor or hairdresser. It would be a perpetual worry that if I fell seriously ill, the nearest hospital might be so far away I might die in transit.

I would be hopeless on a farm. I have no natural abilities for what's involved. I've tried milking a cow, moving goats and pigs, and shearing sheep, and I'm useless at all of them. I would soon be defeated by the sheer flat-out hard work and early starts.

I'm currently reading about someone who feels totally at home in the Orkney Islands, with the often terrible weather and physical isolation, and I wonder what's the big attraction of that kind of life. She couldn't be more different from me.

I've always lived in a city - first London and then Belfast. I'm so accustomed to the benefits of urban living that doing without them is unthinkable. I'm so used to nipping to the local shops for a coffee, a pizza, a haircut or a kettle. I'm so used to frequent buses to the city centre for anything else. I'm so used to the nearby health centre and the nearby hospital. I'm so used to the abundant art and culture. How could I say goodbye to all that?

I'm sure it very much depends on your upbringing. If you were raised in a city, you're likely to stay in a city. If you were raised on a farm, you're likely to become  a farmer. If you were raised in the Scottish Highlands, you're likely to live somewhere similar.

Me, I'm an unrepentant city dweller. I would never swap skyscrapers and ring roads for barns and haystacks.

Thursday 21 June 2018

Phone moan

Once again teachers (and parents) are calling for mobile phones to be banned on school premises, for numerous reasons including not disrupting lessons, reducing bullying, preventing exam cheating, and limiting access to harmful websites.

That seems sensible to me. Whatever you see as the function of schools - passing exams, acquiring knowledge, learning to think, learning to be creative, picking up life skills - mobile phones have no part to play, and may actually be detrimental. So why are they permitted?

At the risk of sounding like grandad, I have to say that I never had a mobile phone when I was at school, and I don't feel I was deprived. I don't think I would have gained anything by having a Facebook page or checking my emails or looking at another twenty cat pictures.

But some people seem to think that banning mobile phones would be some sort of draconian act, denying personal freedom, telling people what to do etc. Which just seems like a crazy over-reaction to a common-sense suggestion. Schools aren't about personal freedom anyway, they're about acquiring skills.

It's also argued that parents and children need to be in touch with one another in case of an emergency like an attempted sexual assault, a sudden illness or a death in the family. Well, I don't recall any such emergency when I was at school, or if there was one, a teacher would have phoned my mum or vice versa.

I guess a mobile phone might have been handy when my teachers were droning on about something hopelessly boring like quadratic equations or tidewater glaciers. I could have furtively checked out which pop star had been busted for drugs or fallen off the stage or split their pants or set fire to their guitar.

But then again, I probably wouldn't have learnt very much.

PS: Algeria is disabling its entire national internet during the high school exam period from June 20 to June 25 to prevent phone cheating, which was widespread in previous years. In addition, all devices with internet access are banned from exam halls. Iraq has a similar policy.

Saturday 16 June 2018

Dodgy authors

The regular controversy over whether famous books should be withdrawn or boycotted because of the author's question-able behaviour is once more in the news because publishers are increasingly putting morality clauses into their contracts.

Which makes me ask myself if I should be taking the same censorious attitude and weeding from my bookshelves all those authors whose personal lives are or were reprehensible.

Should I throw out anyone guilty of sexual misconduct or violence? Anyone using pornography or prostitutes? Anyone who has made racist or homophobic remarks? Anyone who supports extreme right-wing groups?

It's a difficult question. I wouldn't want famous books with a huge literary reputation to disappear forever simply because the author's personal behaviour is outrageous. I don't see what's wrong with praising the book while at the same time condemning the way they behave.

But then again, isn't that tantamount to saying the author's personal life doesn't really matter because they're a literary genius and their appalling behaviour can be swept under the carpet? That brilliant turns of phrase are more important than a battered wife?

There's a difference of course between living authors who we're judging by current norms and long-dead authors whose behaviour seems dreadful now but was probably less contentious at the time. Why should they be judged against today's more rigorous standards? It would be absurd to banish Dickens or Shakespeare or Tolstoy.

I don't intend to remove books from my bookshelves, books that I greatly enjoyed and may have re-read several times, because of the author's squalid behaviour. How many authors are beyond reproach in their personal lives? Not many, I suspect.

I'm very torn between strict censorship and a more pragmatic approach. Especially as censorship can all too easily escalate.

Pic: Lionel Shriver, who has been criticised for her views on diversity (Shriver herself says she has been "maliciously misinterpreted")

Was in Cambridge yesterday (Tuesday) for my mum's cremation. Very simple, no service or tributes, just the coffin being dispatched, as my mum wanted. My niece and I were both crying copiously, the first time I've cried for a very long time. The coffin really brings it home that this is the end.

Sunday 10 June 2018

Crows' feet and wrinkles

An American beauty magazine has decided to stop using the term "anti-ageing" as it suggests ageing is "a condition we need to battle" rather than a natural and normal process.

Well, I wish them luck with that. However much you change the language referring to it, physical ageing is still going to be something people dislike and fret about and try to reverse. Thousands of us will still peer in the mirror every morning and look askance at the wrinkles, crows' feet or double chin. Not many of us will dismiss what we see with a casual "che sera sera".

Though I tend to say "che sera sera" most of the time - well, I was never a glamorous male heart-throb in the first place - there are still times when I look at my battered, ancient appearance and think it would be quite nice to go back a few years.

It's hard not to dwell on the ageing process when the media focuses so obsessively on youth, on looking young and on "not showing your age". And when so many people are resorting to cosmetic surgeons to hold back the advancing years.

Of course I never thought about ageing when I was young. Old age seemed like something way into the future that would probably never happen. It never occurred to me that I might end up looking like those wrinkly old codgers on the bus. Then suddenly (or so it seemed - I barely noticed the gradual changes) I looked like an old codger myself and I thought, how did that happen?

Secretly I rather like the fact that my face looks lived-in, the outcome of a lifetime of hard knocks and challenges, a thousand swirling emotions, so many extraordinary and astonishing events. The face that knows a thing or two.

Anti-ageing cream? Thanks but no thanks.

Tuesday 5 June 2018

Goodbye mum

So my mum died on Sunday at the age of 96. She seemed healthy enough when I visited her a couple of weeks ago, but an unexpected chain of events led to her going into hospital and dying four days later. There are questions over her death, which followed a fall at her care home, and a post-mortem is to be held. The doctors think she suffered either cardiac arrest or a stroke.

My mum and I were very much chalk and cheese, and we had very different views on all sorts of things, but we always kept in touch. Even when my father banned me from their house for several years, we met in a local pub, where we would sip some slightly alcoholic drinks and swap news. After he died I was able to visit her at home again.

It was sad to see her gradual decline from someone energetic, sharp-witted and curious to someone losing all interest in the outside world and often confused and uncomprehending. Not so long ago she was a keen member of the Ramblers Association and went on long hikes with other members. She went on regular seaside holidays and even a couple of cruises. She kept in touch with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances.

But growing physical weakness meant she had to abandon the Ramblers Association. She hadn't been on holiday for a while, no longer bothered to keep up with old friends, and complained increasingly of loneliness.

Since she'd never had any serious illness, and had never had any surgery apart from a tonsillectomy as a child, me and the rest of the family assumed she would reach 100 at least, but it wasn't to be. Fate intervened in disastrous fashion.

Goodbye mum. We knew each other for 71 years and that's quite something.

Pic: St Ives, Cambridgeshire, where my mum was living

PS: The post mortem concluded that she died of a UTI. Extraordinary. I imagine the UTI had been developing for a few days but the care home hadn't realised, and it was only after she was taken to hospital after the fall that the advanced UTI was diagnosed and by that time complications had set in. But we'll be asking some searching questions to find out exactly what happened.

Friday 1 June 2018

An uphill struggle

It's surprisingly hard to change one's dietary habits. We're used to eating certain foods in certain quantities at certain times and altering that in any way can be an uphill struggle.

I'm fairly thin, but I can put on the pounds very easily. If I didn't keep a constant watch on my weight I could put on a stone or so quite quickly. But adjusting my diet to lose a few pounds is not that easy.

It seems simple enough to eat smaller portions or avoid fattening foods or skip a meal, but the reality is less simple. I might aim at a small portion but if there's more on offer it's too tempting. I love chocolate and ice cream and I'm not giving them up in a hurry. I'm attuned to three meals a day and giving one up is usually beyond me.

If you're used to having tiny portions, or not eating chocolate, or not having a midday meal, then you can just carry on. But if you're firmly in the grip of bad habits, breaking them can be tough.

Social events are treacherous, as there are always piles of unhealthy food - cakes, pastries, muffins, chocolates. It's only polite to nibble a few of them. Refusing everything on offer just prompts awkward questions.

I have at least broken the pack of biscuits habit. I used to eat an entire pack of biscuits at one go. Two or three weren't enough, I just had to keep eating until the pack was finished. Now I have one biscuit and that's it.

For most things, I have plenty of will power. But when it comes to serious dietary changes, will power deserts me. I need a ruthless Aunt Lydia to keep me in line.

*Aunt Lydia: the enforcer in The Handmaid's Tale

Thanks for all your kind thoughts about my mum. She died at 5.15 am this morning (Sunday)