GE17 – what a mess, eh?

You may not have noticed, but there’s something that’s going to happen tomorrow, Thursday June 8th 2017, that’s a bit of a pain, frankly. I hate being asked to choose my favourite, because it almost always depends on circumstances. I have no one favourite of anything, not even tea. Shocker, I know. But how do you choose an MP that will not only represent you for the next few years, but the party to set policy for the country as a whole? They’re all awful – how do you choose?
Let’s start with the basics – why bother to vote at all? While you might think that your vote won’t make any difference and that no-one in politics is listening to you, it does and they are. As more supposed information comes out about possible election fraud committed by the Conservatives in the last election, allegedly (is that enough caveats to keep the lawyers at bay, do you think?) the more it becomes apparent that even a few votes, in the right place, can have a major impact on a result.
Political parties keep an eye on what particular sections of society vote for, and don’t vote for, very carefully. If you never vote they can safely ignore any concerns you might have, because they know they’ll never be held to account for ignoring you – unless you vote. It’s not a coincidence that the biggest cuts to welfare have affected the young and the poor and that, while pensions haven’t been completely untouched, services aimed at pensioners have got off comparatively lightly. There have been U-turns. That’s because politicians, of all colours, know that the old are much more likely to vote than the young. They know that they lose votes when they change too much that affects pensioners in particular.
Maybe you think that politics isn’t for you, and that it doesn’t affect you in any way, so why should you bother? Unfortunately, that only applies if you have no plans to carry on breathing, eating and just generally being alive. Politicians influence pretty much everything that you experience, from air quality, food quality, to whether you’re allowed to work or not and how safe you are from crime.
So now what – just who do you decide to vote for?

The Ideological Vote – this is for the type of person who looks at the policies for each party standing in their constituency and decides which one is best for the country, as a whole. Look for policies that will benefit society as a whole, promote security rather than instability, that see people, the place where we live, and the economy, as things to be nurtured rather than exploited. Potential pitfalls: not every voter in your constituency will agree with you on which is the best party (I know, right?) so if you have a disastrous MP you want to vote out, you may need to vote for a party you think is second best, to avoid getting the worst option.

The Loyal Party member vote – if you’re a member of a political party then you’re probably going to vote for them come, what, May? (sorry, couldn’t resist). Potential pitfalls: if it’s some time since you read through your party’s policies then they could have moved quite a distance from what you think you’re voting for. It’s worth double checking. Policies of all parties move, over time, and there has been a general shift to the right over the past few decades. Policies that were once the preserve of far-right parties are now seen as mainstream by some. If you wouldn’t have been happy voting BNP back in 2005 then you might want to check some Conservative policies. Just saying.

The Self-interested vote – much like the Ideological vote, but you choose the party that’s best for you over some other section of society. You think you’ll get a better deal by voting for someone that puts your interests first. Potential pitfalls: these come in two main categories. Firstly, a government that promotes inequalities is not going to provide a stable society, and this will affect prosperity, no matter how much they pretend otherwise. Secondly, if a government can prioritise you over another section of society today, what’s to say they won’t prioritise someone else over you later? Remember that phrase Divide and Conquer? The really important thing to bear in mind is that their aim is always to conquer.

The Protest vote – you want to give the government a bloody nose and you’ll vote for pretty much anyone else. Yes, I get it, just make sure you’re not cutting off your own nose to spite your face. Choose wisely, and read the small print. Do not jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

The Tactical/Pragmatic vote – you have one candidate (quite possibly the current MP) that you want to prevent getting voted in if at all possible. The party that’s your ideological soulmate doesn’t stand a snowball in hell’s chance of getting elected, and the second choice is OK, you guess, apart from perhaps just one or two key issues that you fundamentally disagree on. This is where you have to decide – vote for a second choice to avoid the worst option, or stick to your principles. It’s a tough one and will probably depend on just how close the parties are in your constituency. There are some helpful websites that can show you which parties are contenders and which are no-hopers in each constituency, such as https://www.tactical2017.com/ It may also be worth remembering the principle of amelioration – will your vote help to take a step in the right direction, or will it take the country further away? You rarely get the chance to jump to your end-goal in politics, moving in the right direction can sometimes be all we can hope for.

The Lose Hope All Ye Who Enter Here vote – the sitting MP is awful, and you want rid of them, but they have such a huge majority that even if all the other parties clubbed together they still couldn’t beat them. In which case you might as well vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party (RIP, Lord Sutch). Interesting aside – did you know that quite a few of the original MRLP policies made it into law? All-day pub opening and passports for pets being a couple of examples. See, I told you they listened.

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Spinal Trap 4 – a bit of a Time Warp

When I woke up from the operation I was as cold as I can ever remember being and was immediately convulsed by body-shaking shudders and teeth that chattered so much I was scared I was going to bite through my tongue. There were people hovering around me and I remember my husband looking on anxiously as they got me settled back in my room. Someone went haring off to another room and when they came back they threw a plastic sheet over me which, when plugged in, churned out a blast of warm air over my body – it felt a bit like being under a hovercraft.
Eventually I warmed up and became aware that I was hooked up to more machinery than I could take in, and it became apparent that, while it had been a success, the operation hadn’t exactly gone as planned.
It was supposed to have taken a couple of hours at most, was supposed to have been keyhole surgery to remove the piece of protruding disc that was pressing into my spinal nerve and causing all the pain. Or so we had thought.
The operation had taken a lot longer than planned (hence the extreme reaction as I came to) because, as the surgeon explained afterwards, there had been an unexpected development. MRI scans are great, but they aren’t perfect, and it turned out that none of the MRI scans (2 or 3 at this point) had shown that there was another rogue piece of disc: one that had previously broken off from the herniated disc and glued itself to the spinal nerve column. All along my surgeon had said that the amount of disc he could see pressing into my nerve didn’t necessarily account for the amount of pain I was feeling, many people were walking around with greater disc bulges and less pain, but a protruding disc rubbing onto another piece of disc glued to my spinal nerve – well, that would do it every time.
He’d spotted it as he’d gently lifted the nerve out of the way to perform the microdiscectomy, and so the operation had turned into a much, much, lengthier one as he had carefully, painstakingly, shaved away the glued on piece of disc, one tiny sliver at a time.
I’m not sure how you would feel about someone wielding a scalpel that close to your spinal nerve column, but I can tell you that I’m very grateful that there were no untimely sneezes or twitches which could so easily have resulted in me living out the rest of my life in a wheelchair, probably doubly incontinent to boot. Every single time I think about that period of my life, which is getting less as time goes on admittedly, it’s something that I am grateful for.
The recovery from that operation was so, so slow. I got out of hospital within a few days, but I was weak from lack of sleep, lack of food and because I had a huge amount of muscle wastage from being almost completely immobile for weeks in the run up to the operation. I did recover, though, and with only the nerve damage that had been caused by the constant rubbing of disc on nerve.
The operation took place at the end of October, 2007. The incident that caused all the pain occurred mid-November 2006. There’s a lot I’ve not said, not described, but if you’ve ever experienced nerve pain you’ll know what living with those levels for nearly a year will do to you both physically and mentally, and that’s why I’ve jumped to this point before attempting to describe that. So that when you read it, you’ll understand what I’m telling you, and what the risks were of either having the operation or not having it.

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Spinal Trap 3 – These sequels are getting increasingly shitty.

You may well be asking what the good old NHS was doing all this time. For a good few weeks nothing at all. I had occasionally been referred to orthopaedic surgeons for various things but they had all dismissed me as Not Having A Problem. I had long decided that there was no help to be got from that quarter. Not for my back, at least. And still no scan. Every time I asked it was knocked back as an idea. Don’t get me wrong, I love the NHS and think it’s marvellous, but I’m not blind. It has pockets that can and need to be improved. (Side note; that improvement will not come about by starving it of funding, making insanely complicated management structures, or selling bits off to private companies. All of those are massively counter-productive.)

I’d been seeing a chiropractor for years and she had been marvellous at getting me back on my feet time and time again, so I went to her initially. Before I did that I did go to the GP, because I wanted them to see me as I was. So that if the chiropractor couldn’t do anything and I needed more help weeks later, I didn’t get sent away with ‘Let’s wait a week to see if it goes away by itself.’ I know why GPs do this, honestly I do, but occasionally they could give credit to those of us who are quite well-informed about things and have already done that week’s wait on their own. Anyhow, some weeks the treatment worked marvellously and I’d have a blissful few hours, but I’d always slip back. After 6 weeks of this the chiropractor told me to go back to the GP. She obviously wasn’t getting anywhere – she knew it, I knew it, it was time to get a scan and see what was really going on.

‘Let’s wait a week and see if it goes away by itself.’

Yes, really. I sat there just looking at my GP wondering if he’d even heard what I said, and remembered that I’d been in that surgery 6 weeks ago with the same problem. He figured I’d pulled a muscle in my buttock which was constricting the nerve. There needs to be a button on every GPs desk. When you press it they get to feel exactly what you do. Only for 5 minutes, I’m not a sadist. It would really help as a diagnostic tool. The fact that it might just stop some GPs being dicks would just be a side-benefit, honest.

So off I was sent to physio. I knew it wouldn’t work, but I recognised it was a stage I had to go through. The GP was only going to refer me to a consultant if an NHS physio said so. Hey ho. So after a good few weeks of this I was sent back to the GP, because nothings had worked. Surprise! Oh, a word about pain scales here. The physio wasn’t very impressed when I said the background pain was a 3-4, occasionally spiking to a 7 or 8. She asked me to rate it on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst. As far as I was concerned 10 was when you passed out from pain, and I hadn’t quite done that. My husband told me I was an idiot, and under-estimated the pain levels, so he asked me where childbirth was on my own personal scale. I considered and reckoned a 4, mainly, spiking to 6, perhaps 7. I cleared up the misunderstanding next physio appointment. So, always make sure your pain scale is calibrated the same as everyone else’s!

So back I went to the GP. I wanted a scan. I needed a scan. The only way I was going to get a scan was through an orthopaedic consultant, which didn’t fill me with joy given previous experiences, but that was the deal. The only thing was, the GP was still reluctant. In the end we asked if we could do it through my husband’s corporate BUPA scheme. The GPs eyes lit up, he wouldn’t have to pay! That’ll do nicely.

No. I don’t know why we didn’t think of suggesting that earlier either. Brains were probably fried from pain and painkillers on my part and extreme exhaustion trying to keep up a 12 hour working day and look after 3 kids on my husband’s part. I’m physically useless at this point, remember?

Anyway, we’re off to a consultant. This is a breakthrough, so I’m happy.

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Spinal Trap 2 – No rubber ducks in sight.

So now I’m crippled. Temporarily, I hope, but there’s no doubt about it, I’m almost completely useless physically. I can’t drive, I can’t lift heavy weights, I can’t put socks or shoes on for myself, I can barely get in and out of the bath.

Bath procedure goes something like this.

Run your bath. Make it nice and deep because you want the heat to reach as much of your back as possible. The hotter the better, because it eases the pain. Stand there looking at the bath and plan your next move. Do you put your bad left leg in first or your good right leg? How are you feeling today, right this second? Can your left leg be trusted to not slip out from under you as you lift your right leg off the floor and swing it as fast you dare over the edge of the bath? If not, can it take the weight of your body at an awkward twisted angle as you lift your right leg into the bath? If you choose the wrong one and have to start over will it increase the background level of pain to such a pitch that you have to wait another ten minutes or so for it to subside before another attempt?

When you’re finally standing in the bath you have some more choices to make. How are you going to sit down? Sitting down in a chair is bad enough, this time you need to get your bum a lot lower, with the added complication of water and a slippery bath surface. Great.

Very, very carefully bend your knees so you’re almost squatting. It’s increasing your pain levels again, but it’s a stage you have to go through. Grasp the edges of the bath for dear life, and rest and contemplate your next move for a moment. Breathe, if you’re able to. Mostly you’ll just be holding your breathe though.

Think through the next move really, really carefully. If you thought everything up to now has been tricky you haven’t thought through what the next stage entails. Losing control of your movement in the next stage could be catastrophic. The bath might be full of water but there’s still the bath edge you could fall onto. Plan the next bit with absolute precision, plan where every bit of your body is going to be, what’s going to be taking weight, which bits will have to move, and so on. Take the weight on your right foot, ease your left ever so gently out from under you, being careful not to dislodge your right (did I mention that you’ve lost a lot of muscle control of your left leg and it’s half numb so you don’t always know what it’s doing) and then as carefully as possible, sit down.

Now you can breathe. Until it’s time to get out again.

Hurray for bathtime!

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Spinal Trap 1 – And so it begins!

With hindsight I’d been slipping discs in my lower back since the first year of secondary school. Before that I’d always had trouble sitting cross-legged, like they make you do every assembly, every school play, every time more than 2 or 3 small people are gathered together in the name of boredom in a primary school. It was excruciatingly painful. I had no idea how anyone else could manage to sit in that position without constantly moving to find a more comfortable position or without crying with pain. I still don’t. To me it represents torture. Not that I complained. Or at least, not often. I remember telling my mother that it really hurt but she told me to quit whinging, I must be doing it wrong or be just whinging over nothing. So I figured I must be the world’s biggest wimp and just really, really bad at sitting on a floor and shut up about it. By way of contrast I could touch my toes really easily. Hands flat on the floor easily. I was told I was hypermobile, and it was generally seen as a really cool thing, and not a potential problem for me at all. My mother was quite competitive about it, in fact, and was at great pains to demonstrate I wasn’t nearly as hypermobile as she was.

Moving on to secondary school and I remember trying to sit down at a table in the library. I got stuck about halfway down. Literally unable to move. I couldn’t stand back up, I couldn’t sit down. The pain was like an iron bar blocking progress. Eventually I figured that if someone moved the chair out from behind me and support me as I moved we might get somewhere, so one of my friends came over to help and slowly, eventually, I managed to creak back into a vaguely upright position. The pain was like someone had buried an axe in my lower spine, but I limped through the rest of the day, got home, and collapsed on the floor. It didn’t even occur to me to go get medical help. I just thought I was being a wuss again, and besides, the school nurses weren’t exactly known for being sympathetic when you had a real problem, so why bother?

When my mother got home she found me on the floor and by now I thought perhaps I ought to get some help, but even though I asked her to take me to the GP she refused. I was too young to have back problems, you see. I was just a wimp. So this kind of thing happened probably about once a year or so for the next few years, until I got married and got pregnant. I was terrified of childbirth. How on earth will I take the pain, I thought? Will my dodgy joints be able to cope? I remember trying to discuss the latter with a midwife but again, she brushed it all off. It’ll be fine, she said. The Relaxin will kick in and all will be well. Again, I’m being a wuss and worrying over nothing, I thought. Perhaps everyone has this and just gets on with it?

Which was great until I ended up being completely unable to walk for three days during pregnancy. But I just stayed in the house until it passed, so no one really knew. Why bother anyone? So, anyway, the birth was OK, and not anywhere near as painful as I had feared. The pain did get very bad at one point, but not for very long. It turned out that I could pop babies out really fast – yay!

So move on another few years and by this time I’ve had three children and the bad back incidents have increased to an average of three times a year. I just deal with it though, nothing gets better but it’s not getting much worse either. I’ve had a few trips to GPs, mainly to get painkillers, but occasionally I ask for an x-ray or something so we can see what’s causing the problem. After over two decades of this I’m getting fairly fed up and would like to know if there’s anything else that could be done, but because of my age (I’m still in my 30s at this point) it’s decided (not by me) that it’s probably a muscular problem and an x-ray wouldn’t show anything. Back to being a wuss, I guess. Hey ho. The GP was more than happy to prescribe boxes of co-proxamol in boxes of 100 at the time though.

Then our washing machine broke, and it took a very, very long time to fix it. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried washing rugby kit by hand, or a kingsize duvet cover, but you only try it once. Our nearest laundrette back then was a quick 9 and a half mile drive away, so I’d load laundry and kids in the car, and wet laundry and kids back again so we could dry it all at home. Wet laundry is really heavy. Especially when it’s heavy duty rugby kit. My car didn’t have a remote-opening boot, so I’d have to put the basket on the ground to unlock the car and get the kids in, then go to the back, open the boot and stow the baskets. After 6 weeks of lift, twist around, put down, shuffle to fit heavy baskets, my back finally went ping.

If I thought the pain of previous slipped discs was bad, this was many, many times worse. I lost all use of my left leg. How I managed to drive home I’m not entirely sure, but I did. Using the clutch was almost unbearably painful. So that was it, back well and truly buggered. Oh, I perhaps should have mentioned my husband’s darling employer had him flying out to Barcelona first thing every Monday (leaving the house at 03;30) and only returning late on Friday. Every blimming week. And we live in a rural area with no public transport, so if you want to get somewhere it’s drive or hike at least three miles over fields and stiles. So all those co-proxamol I had? I could only take them at weekends when I didn’t have to drive. Yes, quite. Up shit creek with no paddle.

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The Wrong Trouser Leg of Understanding

I’ve changed! Not much, just the title of my blog. The old name was never quite right, it didn’t feel comfortable, but I was struggling to think of a better one.

Until now. You may well be wondering what on earth the new name means. If so you’re in the right place.

There are some people who say that growing knowledge is like a spider web. As you learn more things new connections are made and you can travel along different strands at will, which is OK so far as it goes but doesn’t explain that thing our brains sometimes do when we just don’t get something. You’re struggling to get to grips with a concept, to see what is so obvious to the person explaining it to you, but you’re just not getting it until you can back right up and start again from another point of view.

This is what I call going down the wrong trouser leg of understanding. If you’ve put your left foot into the right trouser leg you just can’t switch over at knee level once you realise your mistake, you have to back right out and start again (and yes, sometimes you can repeat your mistake and end up going down the wrong leg again).

It’s a bit like being unable to get the image of Queen Elizabeth out of your head when someone asks you to name your favourite Queen track. All you can think about might be, ‘What, there are tracks on the queen? Where do they go? Are we talking Royal trains here?’ See, it’s not helpful.

Anyway, I like the idea, and I’m always going off at a tangent, so it seemed much more me.

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Donald Trump, mental illness, and all that other stuff.

OK, so here goes. I’ve been tempted to write about various Big Issue type stuff for a while, but the news inevitably moved on while I was still distracted by what I laughingly call real life, and then it seemed as if everyone was drowning in a sea of think pieces, op-eds, and so on.

Nothing much has changed, to be honest, but it’s simply got to the point where I’m fed up with reading article after article without putting my own thoughts down. They’re not going to be in any way coherent, for which I apologise.

So firstly Donald Trump. Well, where does one start? Although the word ‘start’ seems horrendously out of place given that this a man about whom so much has been written already. I’ve read articles questioning his intelligence, his business acumen, his morals and his mental health. I’ve also heard interviews with Roger Stone and other supporters, read articles about how he is a super communicator, and so much more. Yes, I have learnt more than I ever wanted to about Donald Trump and I’m certainly not going to regurgitate it all here.

What’s got me reaching for the keyboard is the increasing frequency of articles linking Donald Trump to mental illness; not only those spouting the view that he must be mentally ill and therefore unfit for office, but also those saying hey, don’t bring mental health into this, it’s not helpful.

I’m inclined to agree with the latter – you should never diagnose mental illness from afar, and certainly never as an untrained person. Also, enough with the lumping all mental illness in together and making it something that bars you from anything. Having a mental illness does not automatically equate to being unable to raise a family, run a business, or hold public office. There are a lot of people out there living perfectly functionally while also having a mental illness.

Also, it is perfectly possible to be an absolutely despicable human being and not have a mental illness of any sort. It’s called being human, and there’s an extremely wide range of human behaviour. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

I have a lot of sympathy with the view that Donald Trump is simply a white supremacist, and his tapping into a prevailing mood of fellow disgruntled white supremacists explains his success so far in the presidential election. The fact that Milo Yiannopoulos, that renowned proponent of free speech as exemplified by the GamerGater and Alt Right movements (ahem), was a guest speaker at the Republican convention, just goes to show who they think their target audience is. Or partially is. The thing is, I’m not sure that labelling Trump as a white supremacist is helpful either. It makes it still too easy to brush off his particular brand of unpleasantness as something we don’t have to deal with. Because we can put white supremacy in a box and say, ‘not my problem’.

Donald Trump is, I’m afraid, all too human, and that’s what we all have to deal with. We have, collectively, created societies where being a Donald Trump is to be top of the tree; to be entitled to everything, to take without asking, and to spew hate and insults when anyone dares to cross us. In Western societies you tend to need to be male, white, Christian, straight, able-bodied, free of mental illness and of as high a social class as possible to access Full Privilege Mode; in other societies other religions and skin colours may prevail to a greater or lesser extent, but being male and rich generally trumps (!) everything else no matter where you are.

The fact that Trump takes this to extremes may or may not indicate a mental illness, I’m not qualified to judge, but it most definitely indicates a flawed character. The thing is, we are collectively responsible for the way his flawed character manifests itself, and that is what needs to change.

There was a whole load of rubbish spouted about how the Isla Vista shootings were down to mental illness rather than misogyny, how the Orlando shootings weren’t targeting the gay community but simply an easy target, and so on. But really, come on. Deep down we all know that some choices are being made here. Why not shoot up any random nightclub, why choose a gay club out of all the others out there?

If someone attacks a mosque or a synagogue there is usually a reason for that choice. There are many, many other places of worship to attack. The fact is that in the west we have a hierarchy of things that are acceptable to attack. We might be momentarily horrified, but it’s not Us that have been attacked really, but Them, and so we go on with our lives because, on the whole, this system works out for us in the long run. There may be some minor bumps in the road if we’re not top of the tree, but generally we’re OK and are net winners in the game of Some people are more important than Others.

If we don’t stop, reassess, and put our society on a much more equal footing, then these things are going to keep on happening. We are, after all, only human and that includes the best and worst. Any attempt to put this down as a problem belonging solely to a group we can distance ourselves from only perpetuates the toxic atmosphere.

It’s difficult to accept, but accept it we must if we want to live without hate, fear, and conflict.

As a final point, I’ve seen one Trump supporter try to claim that the hateful things he says are simply down to the man suffering from Tourette’s syndrome. It was a desperate attempt to brush aside some pretty awful things said, but let’s run with it for a moment.

If we as a society had no swear words, no words of denigration or hate, nothing in our language to hurt anyone, then all a Tourette’s sufferer would shout out would be random words that didn’t hurt anyone. All they would hear, and therefore all they could randomly shout, would be neutral or positive things.

Just imagine Donald Trump shouting out ‘Tree! Always back up your documents! Donut!’ instead of his usual patter.

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