Friday 25 February 2022

The need to know

I'm surprised how many of you felt there was nothing wrong with keeping the cause of death secret. In particular people suggested there was no need for others to know and families were entitled to keep such information to themselves. Demanding to know the cause was an unwarranted intrusion into people's lives.

I beg to differ. I think in many cases there is very much a need to know, especially if the death points to some sort of institutional mistake or technical mishap or personal tragedy that needs to be investigated. For example:

  • A software failure in a plane
  • A mechanical fault in a car
  • Medical negligence in a hospital
  • Suicide after persistent bullying
  • An overdose of a fashionable drug
  • The unexpected side-effect of a medicine
Twelve year old Drayke Hardman from Utah killed himself on February 10 in response to bullying from a classmate. This led to much discussion about how to reduce bullying in schools. If the cause of death hadn't been disclosed, then that discussion wouldn't have happened.

Nerissa Regnier, 45, from California died of covid in December after being told seven times by her healthcare provider that she shouldn't be vaccinated because the vaccine contained a "live virus" (which is untrue). So because her death was publicised, anyone who's told about the "live virus" now knows it's nonsense.

There must be hundreds of cases like that, where surprising (or even unsurprising) causes of death lead to beneficial changes. Yes, you might want to be evasive out of embarrassment or shame, but if that allows institutional failures or avoidable tragedies to continue, isn't that a big missed opportunity?

I still think frankness is better than secrecy.

Monday 21 February 2022

Secrecy and coyness

I'm baffled by this constant reluctance to reveal how someone died. Why the obsessive secrecy and coyness in an age of increasing frankness?

A local MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) has died suddenly at the age of 39, but the family aren't explaining how he died. So naturally there's all sorts of speculation, probably most of it nonsense, about the possible cause. Suicide is the front runner, but no doubt there's a few takers for a drugs overdose, a sex game that went wrong, a fall down the stairs, an undiagnosed heart condition, a scandal about to break, and anything else our fevered imaginations can come up with.

Why not just tell us the cause of death? What's the big deal? Possibly the cause is something the family is embarrassed or ashamed about, so they prefer to stay silent.

But in these lay-it-all-on-the-table days, when people will reveal almost anything about themselves, no matter how lurid or shocking or intimate, why this odd exception?

I guess people are often afraid that if the cause of death is something that could have been prevented, something that might implicate other people, then they'd rather keep quiet to avoid all the judgmental tut-tutting from self-righteous busybodies.

But surely nowadays people are much more likely to be sympathetic and consoling than judgmental? Surely we're all aware for example that something like suicide has all sorts of contributory factors and that blaming their family or friends for not doing enough to prevent it is simply stupid and unhelpful.

Certainly I have no objection to my own cause of death being revealed, however bizarre or unusual it might be.

So why not just tell us how this chap died? Just take a deep breath and stop all the wild speculation.

PS: Wow, today is my 15th blogiversary!!

Thursday 17 February 2022

Null and void?

A Facebook friend has related the awful story of someone she knows who was cheated out of an inheritance because of a secret marriage.

Daphne Franks' mother, who had vascular dementia and terminal cancer, befriended a much younger man who secretly married her. When she died, he inherited everything because an English marriage* immediately cancels any previous wills. The daughter never knew about the marriage so was unable to stop it.

Which got me wondering on what grounds you can annul a marriage, as that is one possible solution.

An English marriage is automatically void if:

  • you're closely related to the other person
  • one or both of you were under 16
  • one of you was already married or in a civil partnership
Your marriage is voidable** if:

  • it wasn't sexually consummated (doesn't apply to same-sex couples)
  • you didn't properly consent - for example you were forced into it
  • you were unable to consent because of a lack of mental capacity
  • your spouse had a sexually transmitted disease when you married
  • your spouse was pregnant by someone else when you married
  • your spouse is transitioning to the opposite sex
Surely there's a case for voiding the marriage, both on the grounds that her mother was forced into it, and because she lacked the mental capacity to understand what was happening. Apparently the registrar noticed she was acting strangely (she couldn't remember her age or house number) but was satisfied with the explanation that she was a bit forgetful.

Daphne Franks is also campaigning for a change in the law to stop a marriage cancelling a previous will.

But what a terrible end to her mother's life.

*but not in Scotland

**you have to apply to a divorce court for a declaration that the marriage is void

Pic: Daphne Franks and her mother Joan Blass

PS: I've been in touch with Daphne through Facebook and she says "Fabian Hamilton MP asked Boris Johnson what he was going to do about it in Prime Minister's Questions on 9 June 2021. Change is now on the way I'm pleased to say but don't know the details yet!"

Sunday 13 February 2022

The bigger picture

I was getting rather depressed and despairing about the state of the world, pondering over all the terrible problems people are struggling with - poverty, violence, sex trafficking, drug addiction, the list is endless.

Then suddenly I realised the reason for my despair was that I was only looking at one half of the picture. I was only looking at the problems while totally ignoring all the efforts to improve things.

Yes, people are dealing with huge problems but there are thousands of organisations around the world devoted to reducing those problems and salvaging people's lives.

I remind myself that poverty for instance is being tackled by dozens of organisations. Oxfam alone has 21 branches across the world, including Oxfam GB which in 2016/17 had a total income of £408.6m, with 5,000 employees and 23,000 volunteers. Among other things, Oxfam is a global leader in providing water sanitation to impoverished and war-torn areas.

I also remind myself of the hundreds of research projects into horrible diseases like Ebola, multiple sclerosis, cancer and dementia.

I know many people are rather cynical about charities, suggesting for example that too much of their money goes into administration and executive salaries rather than the good causes the public's donations are intended for. But nevertheless they make a big difference to the millions of lives blighted by dire circumstances.

So now that I'm seeing the wider picture, seeing solutions as well as problems, seeing all the help going to those who urgently need it, I feel a lot more cheerful and optimistic.

Unfortunately that wider picture tends to be ignored by the media, which much prefers to focus on dreadful disasters rather than the organisations that come to the rescue.

No wonder despair is so common, But it doesn't have to be.

Wednesday 9 February 2022

Write and wrong

The writer Sebastian Faulks is involved in a bizarre argument over whether he should describe the physical appearance of women in his books.

After his last book was published, several people complained that as a man he had no right to describe a woman's appearance.

He had a good think about it and decided not to describe the appearance of the female protagonist in his latest book "Snow Country". He's leaving what she looks like to his readers' imagination. There are one or two hints but that's it.

Other authors have leapt to Sebastian Faulks' defence, saying it's absurd not to describe a woman's appearance. "The idea that writers can't invent characters beyond their own communities is ridiculous" says Bernardine Evaristo. And Dawn French says "The minute we start to police people's imaginations, we go down a very nasty old route."

The logical conclusion of a man not writing about a woman's appearance is that he shouldn't write about women at all, which would be ludicrous.

Surely the real issue is not whether a man writes about a woman's appearance but how he writes about it. If it's merely a matter-of-fact description of her physical features, what's wrong with that? But if he describes her in a sexualised way (big boobs, tempting lips, shapely bottom etc), that's entirely different and obviously annoying to many female readers.

If a man couldn't write about women, or white people couldn't write about black people, or heterosexuals couldn't write about gay people, and so on, where would it end? Books would be stripped to the bone. You could just about mention Jasper the dog and that would be that. Until someone objected that you couldn't write about dogs because you weren't a dog.

Sebastian Faulks should have stood firm and ignored the idiotic criticisms.

Saturday 5 February 2022

Down the hatch

Attitudes to alcohol have certainly changed over the years. Stricter in some ways, more relaxed in others. Alcohol consump-tion in Britain is actually falling steadily, especially among the young, though you wouldn't think it from the way some people casually pour it down their throats.

When I was on my first ever job as a local newspaper journalist, the rest of the staff would routinely go off for extremely boozy lunches and return so pissed they could barely string a few words together, let alone turn in a serious article.

This behaviour didn't last long though, and in my second job, also on a local paper, we would all go for massive lunches (usually heart-rotting fry ups) rather than massive drinking sprees.

Nowadays in many workplaces it's strictly taboo to drink any alcohol at all at lunchtime, to ensure people can do their job and not doze off in a state of happy inebriation. This was definitely the unwritten rule at most of my workplaces and I abided by it, which was easy enough as I've never been a heavy drinker.

As a twenty something I got absurdly drunk a few times with my fellow students on a sociology course, but the hangovers were so dreadful I vowed never to get that drunk again.

But I'm still surprised when I go to other people's homes and they're obviously expecting me to drink copious amounts of alcohol. Bottles of wine are in plentiful supply and my glass is topped up the moment it looks less than full.

Neither of my parents were more than occasional drinkers, so that's probably where my own restraint comes from. They might sheepishly dust off a bottle of sherry for the Christmas dinner but that was about it.

Go on, have another. Cheers!

Tuesday 1 February 2022

John's tooth

The price people will pay for a seemingly utterly trivial item, simply because it's associated with some global celebrity, is staggering. Often of course the motive is money and the assumption that said item will turn a handsome profit when resold.

In 2011 one of John Lennon's teeth was auctioned with a guide price of between £10,000 and £20,000. With it was a sworn affidavit from John's former housekeeper that it was genuine and given her by John.

A Canadian dentist bought it for £19,000 and he did in fact see it as a potential money-spinner.

I can only hope he didn't mislay such a tiny item, that it didn't somehow slip down the back of the sofa or get swept into the hoover.

Mind you, you can never be truly sure an item is genuine. Even if it comes with a sworn affidavit, is that totally reliable? But what the hell, if you can afford to splash out £19,000 you're probably pretty wealthy and won't miss the odd wasted £19,000.

Signatures are notoriously dodgy. Busy celebrities often leave their staff to forge signatures on their behalf, so something supposedly signed by the Fab Four may not be the real deal. The Beatles were known to be adept at forging each other's signatures.

Hand-written copies of famous Beatles lyrics sell for huge sums (the hastily-scribbled lyrics for Hey Jude went for $910,000 a few years back), but again there must be a money motive, since who cares what the original lyrics looked like?

But John Lennon's tooth got me wondering. What happened to all the other personal items belonging to the Beatles? John's toothbrush and toothpaste for example. Are they stashed in some millionaire's safe? Or were they just thrown out with the rubbish? Who knows?