18 Dec 2016

Fascism

Yes, I said it. Fascism. Not the alt-right. What the fuck does that mean? The alternative to what? It's not an alternative to standard conservative right-wing politics, it is going further than it. It is fascism. I wish we could ctrl-alt-del that term out of existence. People dislike the term fascism, you see. For some reason, can't think why, it reminds people of Hitler, and no political movement likes to be associated with Hitler even when he should be their idol. Hitler is so internationally reviled across the West that identifying with him is a bit of a faux pas. So, they call themselves the alt-right, and they act all affronted when you call them fascists, or snerk about Godwin's Law, and somehow they go on.

The greatest divisions in society are religion, ethnicity, and perhaps most importantly, class. Everyone likes to think they are a slightly higher class than they are, to give them a comfortable feeling of superiority. This can manifest in many different ways - from doing the odd shop at Marks and Spencer,  to trying to get children into the better schools, to judging single parents, to generally hating immigrant workers. Fascism loves it. Fascism wants everyone in their place, and holds a hand out to the aggrieved and lacking in social mobility, and it says "This is all their fault". They can be the poor, the sick, the foreign, those of different faith. This is what Hitler excelled at - he told Germany that it's severe economic distress was not caused by poor government and war reparations, but by Jews, disabled people and gypsies. Switch out Jews for Muslims and gypsies for Eastern Europeans, and doesn't that sound familiar to UKIP and others rhetoric?

We have struggled economically as a nation since the banking collapses of 2009 onward, although our economy is one of the strongest in the world. We bailed out the foolish banks with public money. Ever since, we have been suffering under austerity budgets that cut and cut and cut. It is not the rich who particularly feel the brunt of this, because they are protected both by status and wealth. It is the Average Joe. It is you. It is me.
The NHS, an institution founded on socialism and the need to reward a ravaged nation with security, has been cut and cut and cut since the banking collapse. The Conservative government are destroying it, on purpose, because it is absolutely contrary to their ideology. But the news stories are about requiring passports at point of treatment to prevent health tourism. The people believe that the NHS is failing because of overdemand, not underbudgeting. The people believe that it is immigrants taking the NHS away, not a concentrated effort by the incumbent government to rid themselves of an outdated, unwieldy and expensive edifice. And 'the people' buy into this, because they aren't immigrants. They might go to the doctors every time they have a sniffle. They might have four months worth of unused medication in a cupboard for a rainy day. They might go to A+E after yet another punch up on a Friday night. But it's those damn immigrants ruining the NHS.
By the same logic, that idiot woman on Question Time who voted Conservative and was shocked when her benefits were cut. Surely only OTHER PEOPLE will suffer from cuts? The undeserving poor? The foreign? Not...normal people? Not, to quote the government's favourite phrase, hardworking people? Our government has no issue with insidiously implicating that the Others are to blame for all its problems, be they the chronically sick, the chronically underemployed. Muslims, immigrants or refugees.

And so fascism extends its greasy paw across Europe and the USA, promising results where centrist governments have not been seen as a success. Fascism promises that the immigrants and the Muslims will be dealt with, and the common man will rise again, and our country will be great again. Doesn't matter which country, they all promise the same thing: Take Our Country Back. Make America Great Again. Au Nom Du Peuple. Österreich Zuerst. Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Führer.

But we only have to look at the example of 1930s Germany and Italy to know what happens when Fascists are democratically elected. Democracy goes down the pan. The poor stay poor. The rich stay rich. Civil rights are eroded or dispensed with altogether. Immigrants 'disappear', but this does not magically improve working lives. Religious dissent is not tolerated, regardless of what religion is adopted nationally. The only way out of poverty is through military service. Class is not eradicated, but entrenched even further. There is no social mobility.

It vexes me when the lower social classes adopt fascism as a cause. I can understand it among the wealthy - after all, fascism was very popular in Britain prior to the outbreak of World War II, primarily because the rich missed their servants and didn't like all these upstarts being independent. But the lower social classes, and that's the majority of my readership, are deluding themselves if they think that going further right will benefit them in the slightest. Balls to the alt-right. Balls to fascism. Recognise it. Shun it.


16 Nov 2016

Funeral Blues

We said goodbye to Mum on a bright, clear day, at a church approaching its 900th year. Religious or not, there is a great comfort in waiting in a churchyard, knowing that this little ritual goes back centuries, knowing you aren't the first. Her coffin was bedecked in purple and red, a gift from my dad. Usually in church, we sat together towards the back with Mum in the centre, frowning at any giggles escaping, occasionally giving a stern 'church pinch' to restore order among the brood. But this time, she was at the front. And everyone who spoke spoke of her. Her faith. Her love. Her generosity. Her selfless spirit. Her hospitality.
I still can't find a way to talk about my mum, to bring my mum to life. I cannot draw with words her intricacies, her humour, her smile, her goodness, her love, because I don't think there are enough words.The words haven't been invented yet.
Afterwards, at the wake, we drank and laughed and exchanged stories and my mum would have loved it. She would have bought herself a small glass of red and got my dad to top it up out of a box in the car. She would have circulated through all her many relatives. She would have sneered slightly at the buffet, then told anyone and everyone present that she could have done it much better for half the price (and she could have done).
I think we did her proud. We did what she wanted. If she could have been there herself to check it all went off OK, she would have been. I think perhaps she was anyway. I felt her so strongly before we left the house to go to the funeral, I was just waiting for her to come in from having a cigarette and brush the fluff from Dad's collar. There, but not there.

And now there is a great period of adjustment. I have not cried for my mum. I feel like if I begin, I will never stop. Instead, I grieve piecemeal, always with one eye on the calendar. It has been three weeks since I last saw my mum alive, and two weeks and six days since I last saw her. It has been one month since I last spoke to my mum on the phone. It has been 36 days since she was last able to text me. It has been two months since I last cuddled her properly. It has been three months and three days since she was discharged from hospital. It has been three and a half months since she was first admitted. I can't yet mourn my mummy because I have not yet assimilated the shock and the pain of these three and a half months. We had our son christened, and my mum was pale and thin but herself, still catering, still gossiping, still socialising. And six days later, everything that was possible to change had changed.

This is something the vicar read at Mum's funeral, one of the things that Mum did not plan. I love it because my mum loved the sea, and the idea of her being just out of sight, just out of reach resonates with me more than anything. I can feel her with me, I just can't be with her yet. But one day, I will be.

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side, spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."
Gone where?
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast, hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"
And that is dying...


(wrongly attributed to Victor Hugo)

3 Nov 2016

Grief

When someone you love perhaps most in the world dies, people don't know what to say. What can you say? It's in our nature, at least generally, to comfort the lost and the sick. Grief is a loss. Grief makes you sick. Grief is like having a terrible illness that requires long convalescence to heal and after which, you can never be the same. Grief is intangible and yet so intensely physical.
Until you experience it yourself, which you will because that is the order of things, you cannot hope to know quite what it feels like. I am aggravated by people telling me how I must be feeling. I resent every text and message on some level, because it intrudes, because it reminds, because of the fallacies and clichés. And yet, I value and crave the acknowledgement.
She is dead. She is dead. I am hurting. Can't you see my pain? Can't you feel it coming off me in waves? Can't you feel my grief?

I felt a great vast expanse open in my chest, and stay there, throbbing and empty. And it throbs on. I have to come to terms with so much, we all do, and my ability to write my feelings doesn't change the experience. But I must write. We are together in grief, but our loss is unique and grief is peculiarly personal. The only way I can make sense of it is words, because nothing feels right anymore. Like a hat on askew, like socks that wrinkle at the ankle and are too tight in the toes. Every single action feels wrong in some odd, small way. And then the sledgehammer again, through me. I've only cried once. It is unfathomable.

We had three months to get used to the idea, and when you are caring for and about someone in terminal illness, time loses meaning. A week is a year, a day is a minute. Three months seemed like a thousand years and nothing. I had a mum and then I didn't. I had a healthy-ish mum who did things like go to work and cook food and who spent hours on the phone telling me she had to go in a minute, and who cuddled and smelled of Chanel and red wine and cigarettes and Mum. Then three months of limbo, of watching her decline and knowing there would be no cure and taking a strange solace in the absence of hope. And then she was gone, pinched out like a candle. In a heartbeat, I had no mummy.

This is me and Mum in early August, when she was still in Scarborough hospital. We were messing about, doing pictures for her "MY BOWEL BURST IN BRID! HOLIDAY HORROR!" Take A Break spoof. I had a mock up made and sent it to her and it made her cry laughing. She had the best sense of humour. That was the day I realised I had hardly any photos of us together. And after a few weeks, I stopped taking photos. I hadn't before because I thought we had an eternity together and then I didn't because I couldn't bear a record of the changes to her appearance, which reflected the changes to her insides.

I viewed the changes to my mum through a medical lens, because of the cognitive dissonance in seeing what was happening without understanding why. I envy those who didn't need to. I watched her for the signs of jaundice, I took her pulse, I stared at her monitors in hospital like a hawk, I read her blood results, I read her hospital letters, I watched her having medical procedures done, I looked at her ultrasound, I asked doctors what was happening, I checked her reflexes when nobody was looking, I checked her output, I learned about her medications, I tried not to be doomy but I couldn't bear the false hope of optimism.
I held her hand. I told her I loved her. I told her what things meant. I tried to take the fear out of it. I tried to advocate. I was blunt with her when she needed it. I translated. I told her when to look away, and when it was safe to look. I held her sick bucket. I gave her drinks. I stroked her hair. I put cream on her. I tried not to hurt her.
I saw her at least every three days. Before she got ill, I would go weeks without seeing her and not really mind too much because I knew she'd still be there when we caught back up.

There is peace in the darkness. There is peace knowing that she is quiet now. There is peace knowing she can't hurt now. There is peace in hoping she has gone on. There is peace in the pain of loss.
But nothing is right anymore, and it will take time to grow used to her absence. Mum had a presence like no other. She was all scent and hair and love and chat and humour. You always knew she was there. I don't know where she is now. That is the loss they speak of. Where did she go?

My sister said we will miss her every day of our lives. She is right. It is the endlessness of grief that outfaces me. When I am 88, I will miss her. I will wonder what she would think of things. I will wish I had her to ground me. I will miss her every day.

29 Oct 2016

Our Mummy

Joanne Ruth Hudson
1961 - 2016

Mum died at home on Thursday. She hated it when we called her brave, but she was so brave. She bore her illness with a formidable will. She knew how she wanted her final weeks to play out, and she had the strength and courage to see that through. Mum was not afraid to die.
She kept her sense of humour throughout, from joking about catering her own wake, to giving us massive cheeky winks while barely conscious. She referred to her tumours as her 'woody lumps', and her innards as her evil doughnut. Nothing was beyond laughter.
It was an honour to be able to help care for her, to return some of the love and care she gave us.

I wanted to write about Mum's life, but I can't find the words. Words are not enough. Her life was not one marked out by events, but by a wellspring of love.
She is so beloved of so many. Her six older siblings, particularly her twin brother Nick. Her nineteen (I think) nieces and nephews, and their children and even grandchildren. All her friends. Mum loved to provide, whether it was love or food or a listening ear. She cared about everyone.
She married my dad in 1984, and they were best friends. A perfect fit. Dad has done absolutely everything in his power to look after Mum, for all her life and through to her death. He is a good man, a wonderful husband, a perfect dad. They have been a template for how a marriage should work, something to aspire to.

Mum and Dad, as you know, have raised a great brood of children. We are proud to be her children, proud to be made of the same strong stuff as her. Mum was mighty. I hope we can be half as mighty.

We have to find our way without her now, but together. She raised us to believe in love, and family, and togetherness, and forgiveness and we will honour that.

All your kind messages, your well wishes and your sympathy, all your love, has been gratefully accepted and passed on. Mum loved reading all the messages you sent. Thank you all so much. The sheer outpouring of love proves how special Mum was. I hope I've been able to convey a little bit of her wonder.

We love you Mummy


Mum loved Cromer, and she particularly loved the Cromer lifeboat. At Mum's request, there will be a collection for the RNLI at her funeral. If you would like to donate on her behalf, you can do so here.

18 Oct 2016

Dying

When I was working, we had patients dying all the time. They used to die in threes, or so it seemed, of all manner of causes, at all ages. We had a list of palliative care patients and they usually were on there because they had been issued with a DS1500. A DS1500 is a form that says you will die within a year or six months. It is a death sentence, created by the government to give you fast access to disability funds, and to pension payouts. I had known some of these patients for years. One had had a cancer in the 1980s as a youth, and been left with suppurating radiotherapy burns which still needed dressing three times a week after twenty years.I had seen that patient three times a week, because the appointments coincided with my shifts, for several years when the cancer came back and they were gone in weeks. The weird thing about working in a GP surgery is that you get to know these patients really well, until they are dying and then they drop off the radar. They become restricted to home visits and fasttracked phone requests for medication and dire oncology letters. The terminal rarely visit the GP surgery. In eight years, nobody died there. We had a birth. We had bloody emergencies in the waiting room. But nobody died. One person had a heart attack and died an hour later in A+E but I never saw anyone die in front of me. Death became everyday, something we all sympathised and empathised with, but the nearest I came to the reality of it was the grief stricken relatives in the weeks afterwards. It changed my perspective on what 'old' was, partly because I was but a youth myself, but partly because teenagers were cut down alongside the very elderly. The idea of death occurring in generational order vanished as I saw grieving spouses and parents, young grieving children, grieving grandparents. Grief doesn't give too much thought about how old the dead are, only about what is lost, be that potential or memories or both.
I became obsessed with death, surrounding myself with literature on pathology, interested in the myriad ways the body could fail, and from there, an interest in more generalised anatomy. But I never saw anyone die.

My first experience of dying predates this, of course. My friend Daisy Fuller. She died in 1995. She was ten years old. She was ten days younger than me. She had leukaemia and hers was the first funeral I ever went to. I was in the choir, and the church was packed and we sang. I don't remember what we sang. I don't remember seeing her coffin. I still visit her grave whenever I'm in the area.
Then my baby brother. He would be seventeen now. He was very teeny tiny. We had his coffin the house the night before the funeral, and it was the only time he ever came home. His name was Thomas. We don't forget him. He's buried just across from Daisy.
Then my grandparents. I was sixteen and they died within eight weeks of each other, both of cancer. Grandad went first, suddenly it seemed to me. Granny a little after after what felt like many months of illness, but was barely eight weeks.
There have been so many others since then, those I loved, those I barely knew, those who were kind to me, helping me gather chickens as a panicking teenager and those who gave me lifts to work. But I never saw them die.

It took two months to realise Mum would really die. Two months. I was terrified when she first got ill. One Sunday in June, I went straight to her house from a day out hoping that she wouldn't be as ill as she sounded. Alas, my mum lacks the clinical signs of infection and the only indication she wasn't right was a slightly raised pulse. I thought she would be OK with antibiotics. She got worse. I sent her back to the doctors because she was afraid to take herself. I told the doctors I thought she had a bowel obstruction. They missed the tumours. They sent her home with another pack of augmentin.
And then she went on holiday, and her bowel burst and poisoned her and I still don't know how she survived. My dad rang me and told me her bowel had burst and she was going to surgery and I had faith, faith in medicine, that she would survive and she would be OK and this was horrible but also the best thing because she would be OK. I told my siblings the same. This was unhappy but at the same time, survivable. She was in the best place, and it was unfortunate that the best place was miles away, but she was safe.
Later that night, Dad told me what the surgeon had told him, and I travelled to be with him while they told her. I still had hope. I still thought it would be OK. They can do so much for cancer these days. They can do so much. We went to see her in ICU, and she was so pleased to see us, and me and my dad sat with her while the surgeon told her what he had found. When he said they wouldn't have operated if they had known, I thought my last spark of hope died. I was wrong. Metastatic adenocarcinoma of unknown primary. Multiple metastases. Circulatory shock. She recovered at an astonishing rate, and was able to come back to Peterborough.
The surgeons in Peterborough were optimistic that they would get her fit for chemo, despite Mum saying over and over that she didn't want it. And then they couldn't give it anymore, and I think that was a small relief to Mum because she hates and fears hospitals. When she was first discharged, I felt so absolutely responsible, the way you do when you go home with your firstborn. Responsible for keeping her alive, for keeping her comfortable, for looking after her.
I don't feel like that now. I realised after a particularly bad weekend that, no matter what I did, I would not ever be able to save her. I already knew I couldn't, but knowing objectively that you can't, and accepting it are two totally different things. Mum's like the knight in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, armless and legless but still going. But the reality that I would have to watch her die was slow to come, and hit me with terrifying force. I lost my grip and I fell down a hole for three days, and then I came back up and I felt more at peace.

She's still here. She's STILL HERE. She is still alive, and she can sometimes talk though she sometimes can't, but she can give me a kiss and I can stroke her hair and moisturise her and she is still here. She is still Mummy for a little bit longer. I have stopped expecting her death with every silence, stopped panicking at every text, stopped thinking ahead, stopped trying to save her, stopped thinking it is my responsibility to save her and stopped feeling guilty for Not Doing the thousands of things that would have made no difference.

We don't know when she will die. We have never known when she will die. She has always been certain that she does not want to know. She does not want us to know. She has known too many people given six months who have had years and too many given years who have had weeks. She does not wish to labour under sentence of death. There's a strange feeling of being adrift because Mum no longer goes to hospital. Who is in charge? Does it really matter? She is in charge. She knows what she wants. She is mighty in the face of death. We love her so, so much. We just want to keep her.


She's still here.

14 Oct 2016

Two Child Rule

In the turmoil of Brexit, I had completely forgotten about the forthcoming changes to tax credits. From April 2017, only the first two children in a family will be supported by tax credits, and children born after April 2017 will not. I cannot find anything about what happens if you have more than two children and are already claiming tax credits for all of them. Perhaps the government haven't thought about that. Maybe I will have to choose a child to stop claiming for, a Sophie's Choice. Also, when my eldest ages out of payments, do I get to claim for the other two again? How is this going to work?

I mean, there are other rules that are frankly ridiculous like single parents now having to look for work when their youngest child turns three (from January 2017). It's ridiculous because you only get 15hrs free childcare per week and childcare costs literally cost all your wages - the reason I don't have a job at the moment is because I cannot get a job that would pay more than the FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY POUNDS it would cost me for 40 hours childcare in an educational setting per week. There's a reason the old rules required parents to look for work after their youngest child was in primary school - the school-age children account for a mere £60 of that.

The pension age has also gone up, which means the scope for grandparents offering free childcare to the working is much reduced. And yet the government's broad family policy takes for granted that there is a reciprocity of care in family units. The idea that Mummy and Daddy have two children, Daddy goes to work, Mummy looks after the kids until they are a set age then finds a job for 'pin money', while Granny picks up the children for her and then, later, Mummy uses the first years of her retirement to look after Granny and Grandad and Granny and Grandad in law is still very much the typical scenario visualised. If informal care was taken out of the equation, the cost to social services would be astronomical.

Take, for example, my mum. Mum has been eligible for hospice care now since approximately 1st September (probably a little longer than that). Instead, my wonderful dad has taken a sabbatical from work and is looking after her himself. If we children were older and had less tiny children, we would be doing more to help. Inpatient hospice care costs £446 per day, on average. That's almost £20000 my parents have saved the government simply by coping. The hospice care provided at home costs approximately £20 a day, a very different price indeed.
When older people go to nursing homes, they now usually have to sell their homes to fund their care (approximately £2000 a month, depending on care home). Those who have never owned homes have their care entirely funded by the government. It is much cheaper for the government to rely on familial care, and people staying in their own homes: the population of older people in nursing homes is around 295000 out of a potential population of eleven million.

The tradition of intergenerational caring is as old as humanity, but is rapidly being outpaced by modern life. Since the 1970s, the average age of childbearing has increased as women pursue careers and, indeed, are expected to pursue careers. My mother had me at 23, which was about the average at the time. I had my eldest at 23, but I am a young mother among most of my peers. I cannot care for my dying mother because I am tied to very small children, a thing that would have been less of a concern if my mum had developed this illness in ten years time. My mother, still working until her bowel exploded, has never been able to offer free childcare because of her own career.

But back to my original point. I had forgotten about tax credit changes, but was reminded last night of it by this article in the Independent. Women who have their children as a result of rape will be exempt from the two-children rule. That is the right thing to do, but it very much frames the idea that poor people have children for benefits at the feet of...women. What of men? Take, for example, my middle son. Conceived within a marriage where both parents worked and barely qualified for tax credits (NEWSFLASH: the vast majority of families claiming tax credits are working), yet born into a single parent, workless family. It's not his fault that things changed so quickly. It's not my fault things changed so quickly. It certainly wasn't something I anticipated when I got pregnant with him, although he wasn't conceived in abuse. I don't know whether I should have aborted him, as to not to cost the taxpayer money. It is women who will continue to suffer the brunt of these cuts. The woman happily married with three children until her husband leaves, or dies, and suddenly only two of her children are acknowledged by the state as actually costing money to raise. The woman whose contraception fails her, but can't bear to have a termination. The woman who loses her job.

The proposal that women who have more than two children and claim tax credits ARE EVIL unless they are RAPED is so offensive to me. I don't understand why more people aren't talking about this.

10 Oct 2016

First, Smash Your Egg

Jon Snow has just written cancer on an egg, and smashed it with a cricket bat. This is how Channel 4 thinks you should stand up to cancer.

Smashing an egg doesn't reverse the mutations that lead to cancer.
Smashing an egg doesn't make cancer easier to spot.
Smashing an egg doesn't make money for cancer research.
Smashing an egg doesn't make people sign up for blood and bone marrow donation.
Smashing an egg doesn't do anything at all for Stage IV cancer.
(Stage IV cancer is "Sorry Mrs Hudson, there's nothing we can do" cancer.)
Smashing an egg is probably not going to make anyone frustrated with cancer feel better. It's a fucking egg. Smash up the china section of John Lewis after scrawling 'cancer' all over the plates, and you might feel a bit less frustrated*.
Smashing an egg doesn't do anything except get Jon Snow's face all over Twitter.
To quote, you know nothing Jon Snow.

Instead, take your egg. Boil it. When the water comes to the boil, put your toast in. When the toast pops, take your egg out, decapitate it, butter your toast thickly, sprinkle with salt and eat. That's a good and useful thing to do with an egg.

Perhaps I'm being sensitive. Mum's still dying. Who knew dying could be so difficult? What nobody tells you on these cancer adverts, on these smashed eggs, on these tits-out-for-cancer memes is that dying of cancer is hard.
My mum has lost around five stone, maybe more. My mum can't stay awake. My mum is in pain, despite strong opiates. My mum is chronically dehydrated. My mum can barely speak. My mum hurts.
My mum is so glad to be alive.
Three months ago, my mum was still at work.

Cancer is vicious. Cancer hurts. People you know are dying of it, and they maybe don't even know they have it. Cancer is terrifying. Cancer is not a smashed egg on the floor, looking for clicks and shares.

If you would like to do something genuinely useful for cancer, please consider:

Donating blood. Blood products are so useful in almost all cancer care.
Donating bone marrow. Some types of blood cancer can only be treated by bone marrow transplants. You won't be asked to donate unless you're a tissue match, so it's only spitting in a cup.
Donating to Macmillan in my mum's name. Macmillan nurses offer a lot of practical and emotional support, and also coordinate cancer care.
Donating to SecondHope who are researching treatment for Stage IV breast cancer
If you are in Lincolnshire, donating to St Barnabas Hospice who are helping Mum stay at home.
Donating to Cancer Research UK who have coordinated the Stand Up To Cancer campaign and for whom the initial egg was smashed in the first place.

Your money makes a difference. Cancer doesn't agree to give you a freebie cure in exchange for likes and shares.

* Please don't. Cancer doesn't get you out of criminal vandalism, alas.

24 Sep 2016

Cancer

Cancer is a fight. A battle. A conflict between the brave victim and the merciless disease. Cancer is a war to be won, or lost.

Cancer is often depicted as some insidious evil, worming its way inside, unseen. Like a horror film, the monster that crawls inside in the dead of night to burst out when least expected for shock value. Cancer, however, comes from within.

So what is cancer? Cancer is a vast collection of diseases that get put under the same umbrella because they all stem from the same root cause - some cells in the body go wrong.
You have a multitude of different cells in your body, and the majority multiply by splitting into two perfect copies of the original. The scope for this simple, taken for granted act to go wrong is enormous - one wrong protein in your nucleus and you've got something your body didn't plan for. Most of the time you, immune system will spot the error and kill the imposter. These irregular splits happen thousands of times a day and you're none the wiser.
Unless. Unless. Unless.
Mutations, for that is what they are called, build up over time. A slightly irregular cell doesn't get blasted by your immune system, it splits into two more slightly irregular cells, and so on and so on. This is why cancer becomes far more common with age - mutations have been building one on top of the other for years and years, and one day, something shifts and it goes from unusual cell patterns to a tumour.
Some substances make these mutations more likely. Smoking, drinking a lot, eating too much red meat, eating insufficent fibre, asbestos, etc etc. You've heard of everything causing cancer, I'm sure, and in some cases they're justified.
Some people have a genetic susceptibility to cancer. They have a gene fault that makes either the irregular cells as standard or that makes the irregular cells multiply far faster than normal. This is why people who have never smoked get lung cancer, and why people who have always smoked don't. This is why young people suddenly get cancer for no apparent reason. Genetic mutations in your DNA can be inherited (like the BRCA gene for breast and ovarian cancer) or you can develop them in utero. Perhaps cancer is simply stamped on our genetic template long before we are people.

There are only three treatments for cancer, and they're both simple and terribly complicated. You can cut a cancer out, provided it hasn't spread. You can burn a cancerous tumour away. You can poison your body, to kill the cancerous cells. A tumour removal can be a ten minute minor operation for a skin cancer, or it can be an intricate hours-long operation on your brain. There are as many types of chemotherapy as there are cancers, and some are designed to cure and some merely to buy time, and chemotherapy in itself is dangerous and often difficult. Radiotherapy is most useful in tumours that are difficult to get to, to burn away what couldn't be cut away. There are other treatments, particularly in reproductive cancers that are heavily influenced by hormones, but these are the big three.
We speak of curing cancer. We talk of wanting a day where nobody dies of cancer, where everyone can be treated and live forever. Cancer has existed as long as life has. It is the paradox, that what gives us life, this constant replication of cells, can kill us. The longer lifespan our species has, the more likely cancer becomes. We speak of hope, of treatment, of cure.

But we don't speak of what happens when there is no cure. We speak of those who have died, but not those who are dying. It hurts too much. It is difficult to admit there is nothing to be done. Cancer is always framed as this eternal battle between the darkness and the light, and when no cure or treatment is available, it is concealed, somehow wrong. Failing. Losing. Giving up. There must be SOMETHING that can be done? Surely, in this day and age, there is SOMETHING?

The nature of medical intervention changes. There are no treatment plans made, only plans for comfort. Suddenly home is a hospital - a hospital bed in the dining room, Class A drugs through the arm, syringe drivers under the stairs, medication that would fell an ox when previously she wouldn't take paracetamol for a headache.

My mum hasn't given up, even though we have known there would be very limited scope for treatment from the very start. She is doing everything she can to stay well, to recover from setbacks and to live properly through this. Our family cluster around. Those who can't ask for updates, but there are no updates people want to hear. It becomes harder to talk about, because we can't put the discourse in terms of What's Next treatment-wise. Sometimes, I wish she could have chemo just so I had something to tell people when they ask how she is. She's planned her funeral to the last detail, but what happens after that is the Mordor in the distance. We, her children, are attacked by grief at unpredictable times. Grief and rage and unfocused pain, but love and laughter, black humour and togetherness. Dying isn't the same as death. We can't imagine her absence while she is still so alive. We live in stasis, a bizarre limbo where there is no hope, only now. Only today.




I write these blogs partly as release, but also to inform. We are collecting for Macmillan, but if you are in Lincolnshire, please also consider donating to St Barnabas Hospice whose nurses are currently looking after Mum at home.

15 Sep 2016

Life

Quality of life is difficult to define. In conversation, particularly when discussing degenerative illnesses like dementia, you often hear phrases like "I wouldn't want to live like that", sometimes to the point of being asked to be euthanised if they occur. Nobody wants to suffer. Suffering looks awful.
There are scales that are used to try and quantify what constitutes a life worth living, mainly as a way of channelling resources into palliative and end of life care. It should be noted that palliative care is any care that is intended to provide comfort rather than cure and can be offered alongside curative treatment, whereas end of life care means just what it says. Many people who are disabled or seriously ill may find that they have no quality of life according to these scales.

When discussing the theory of quality of life, what tends to be discussed is what makes people feel they are experiencing good quality lives, rather than focusing on the physical limitations they may have. These things tend to change throughout the life course, and are usually classified as hedonic (focused on immediate pleasure) and eudaimonic (focused on long term fufilment). I find my children immensely important to my quality of life in a way that my teenage sibling does not, indeed cannot. Fifteen years ago, my quality of life depended solely on my ability to be able to go out and get ratted. That is...slightly less the case now. Then you can take wider environmental concerns into accounts; things like living in a decent quality house, being able to find work, living in a low-crime area. It's difficult to have good quality of life living somewhere that makes you frightened. It's difficult to have a good quality of life if your main goal is wealth but you are poor. It's difficult to have a good quality of life is you are not able to do what you want through disability or illness.  Quality of life is a multifaceted idea that can't really be quantified. Though, sociology being what it is, they keep trying.

My mum's quality of life at the moment is objectively crap. She can't eat much. She's mainly confined to bed. She's on some hardcore pain relief. Using the various oncology ratings for quality of life, she scores very poorly. She has hospice nurses coming in to cast their knowing eye over her medication and help support my dad. She has district nurses coming too, for clinical care. It would be very easy to look at her life at the moment and sadly shake your head and sigh at how bad she must feel.

You'd be dead wrong.

She has my dad. My mum and dad have been married for almost 32 years. They weren't together long before they got married, and I daresay a few people shook their heads and muttered that it wouldn't last, but it has. They are still in love, still in tune, still in harmony.
They have seven kids. Seven! They have nearly ten grandchildren, and some of their children haven't even got started yet (we breed like Weasleys). And believe me, if our love could heal, she'd be fine.
She has her twin back, which has completed her.

She lies in the garden, come rain or shine, with a cigarette in one hand and a book in the other, plumped up on cushions and watching the birds (or sometimes, the cat EATING the birds). When it gets dark, Dad puts on the fairy lights and she lays in her grotto and she's happy. Tired, sometimes in pain, but happy.

Cancer has stripped away most of the stresses of life. Now she is living for now, with no eye on some future anxiety, with no grief for what she cannot have. She is not afraid. She has faith in God and believes that she will go on.

The day I found out Mum had cancer, my friend (unknowingly) shared this poem on twitter and as I have watched Mum come home from hospital and take root in the garden, it becomes more and more apt.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds,
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not take their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


9 Sep 2016

Another Brick In The Wall

The stories in the news at the moment about selective education has made me ruminate on my Grammar school education.

I had the fortune to grow up in a town that had two secondary schools - a standard co-ed high school and a co-ed, no-fees grammar school. At the beginning of year 6 (I think) we all went and sat the 11+. I assume it was an optional exam, but it's not an option I can remember discussing. It was my first experience of a proper exam, all formally spaced tables in a large and alien hall on a Saturday morning. It terrified me. The stress of waiting to find out if I'd got in or not was ruinous to my mental health, as an already anxious 11 year old, but when I passed, I got one of the highest marks in the school. The following September, off I went in my expensive uniform clutching my expensive and heavy set textbooks that I never used.
Now, we didn't have a lot of money when I was little. We weren't on benefits because my dad earned a little too much, but that money was spread among a lot more people than is standard. We were very working class, and most of my friends' parents were horrified at this tall, sweary, untidy and hideous urchin befriending their special snowflake. Conversely, my mum absolutely HATED all the posh  friends I made. Until I was in year 9 or 10, I didn't have friends round very often, but neither did I make the friends that I kept for life until then, so no great loss.
School, for me, was something of a hideous nightmare. There was the bullying - daily do I give thanks that I never had to catch the bus to school. There was the bullying from staff, who occasionally joined in. There was the constant feeling of not being quite good enough. I have an old school report which says that I got 75% in a geography exam, and I was 22nd out of 25. This all got ramped up considerably running up to my GCSEs when all staff decided that the best way to get good results and finally beat Louth to the top of the county league tables was a campaign of demented terror. Every teacher became fucking Saruman, standing at the front of the hall, gravely intoning the awful fate that would befall those who could not be arsed. We might end up...poor.
I got 11 GCSEs. I went on to do five AS levels, but again was hobbled by a mixture of anxiety, discovering sex, and being taught in half my subjects by my nemesis. This teacher, in hindsight, was fairly innocuous and trying to get work out a woman who was far more interested in gigs and sexting and whose grandparents were dropping like flies. Alas that her main way of getting work out of me was to humiliate me in front of the class pretty much every week, in small ways like refusing to believe I had read a Nobel prize winning book in one evening, or just giving me the evil eye. I was never going to be a good student, but being taught by her meant I just didn't go to half my lessons all year. Then I got a B in her main subject, by essentially teaching it to myself.
But it was too late by then, I had given up, quit, and left after AS study leave. What I should have done was dropped a couple of subjects or switched to the other teaching group, but being teenage and grumpy and dramatic, I thought my only option was carrying on miserable or quitting. I had an idea I would go to college and become a nursery nurse, and even had a placement secured, but then my mum said I should stay at home and look after my sister instead. I agree, and also applied to do a nursing diploma at university, against some opposition from my boyfriend and family at the time. I was rejected, which fair broke my old heart. I ended up looking after my sister for over a year, and then moved away and got my first and only real job. The only reason they offered my shy, teenage self the job was because I'd been to Grammar school,

I'm still poor. I still ended up divorced. I still ended up on benefits. My kid's still disabled. I still live in a hovel. These are things that are supposed to be assuaged by a better class of education.

I mean, aside from getting a decent job by dint of being employed by a Grammar snob, I met my future husband at school. I learnt to write persuasively there, and I learnt to be intensely critical of everything, particularly myself. But my love of learning, of academia, of pushing myself did not come from school. That came later. I didn't go to university when my peers did, making me feel inferior, not to mention lonely. I remember going to a careers advice interview in year 12 and telling them I wanted to do a nursing diploma, and they stared at me aghast. Why not...go to med school? Why be a nurse when you can be a doctor? What sort of fucked up attitude is that? It is a blessed miracle I have a high-grade maths GCSE at all; there's no way in a thousand years I could get the grades for med school, even if I wanted to.

I now live in a city that doesn't have a Grammar, but does have a private school that takes a minimal amount of students on scholarships. It has twelve other mainstream secondary schools. There is fierce competition over which secondary school children go to, as there was in the area I previously lived in, where there were only three secondary schools and a private Grammar covering an enormous rural area. Our local secondary school is over the road, and I would no more willingly send my child to it than send him to a lion pit. That's my prejudice, my snobbery, but also based on its appalling GCSE grades. This is despite the fact that I KNOW that GCSEs grades do not necessarily equate to a good school experience. I was the most miserable girl on my throne of good grades.

The problem was succinctly put in a tweet I saw this morning from Professor David Andress of Portsmouth Uni: "What we see in the 'grammars' debate is an underlying certainty that it is impossible to educate everyone well, & a waste of time to try." It is so difficult to maintain any sort of standard in secondary education, whether because of appalling staff culture, the problems of academisation and having schools run as PR campaigns, or simply having too many students without motivation to try. Whichever area you live in, whether it be an area where having a two tier system is normal, or an area which is awash with average high schools, league tables are still used. Performance is still rated. Schools are compared by parents, who strive to get their children into the objectively best schools, hoping to give them a better start. Parents like the option of a Grammar school, not always because they are snobs or victims of class culture, but because they want to give their children a better education and they perceive that to be beyond the scope of standard high schools. Maybe instead of bollocking on about Grammar schools, the predominantly privately educated government needs to raise the profile and status of standard secondary education. Children do not deserve to be written off at the tender age of 11 because they went to the 'wrong' school, or failed to pass an entrance exam because they were stressed, or anxious, or upset about something else entirely.


2 Sep 2016

Hospitals - Not For Tripadvisor

When you have to visit the same department of a hospital several times, you memorise the signs. I now know that domestic violence spikes during sports events, and what different nursing uniforms mean. I know that if you dare try and get NHS treatment fraudulently, Teresa May herself is coming round with the boys. I know that, despite brexit, we can still get EHIC cards. And I know whether or not I would recommend the department to my nearest and dearest.

Wait, what?

We have spent a lot of time in ambulatory care at Peterborough hospital of late. It's a strange, useful department, designed for people who are too poorly to be seen in outpatients but who don't require an inpatient bed. A lot of people in there are being followed up from A+E, or having transfusions. Almost everyone in there feels like shit and a lot of them look it too. It's not the sort of place you go for a picnic, or the stunning view of the car park and Macmillan unit next door. The water's cold, the outside benches were designed for people with waves for arses, and they really need more reading material, but I'm not about to go on Tripadvisor and leave an excoriating review of the amenities. It's not somewhere you go for a jolly - we are there because Mum has to be there.

And yet, would I recommend this department to my friends and relatives? What a bizarre thing to ask people in an acute care centre. A few years back, I had a brain injury and about two weeks later, someone rang me up and asked me how I would rate the A+E dept. I can barely remember being in A+E, so how I was expected to rate it, I do not know.

The NHS likes to bang on about choice, namely choice of provider. Sometimes this can be really useful - I was able to get my son re-referred to his old hospital for an operation despite being out of area - but mostly it is meaningless, particularly in terms of acute care. When dripping blood everywhere, who has time to ponder to which A+E they are going to drag their detaching limb? Who has that level of local choice outside big cities? Where I live, there is Peterborough, which is five minutes away, but the next nearest large hospital is Hinchingbrooke, which is half an hour in good traffic. In an emergency, there's no question of where I'm going to go. Offering choice in acute care is illusory. Being asked to rate it is meaningless.

Treating patients as customers within the NHS is a real bugbear of mine. A good patient experience is very difficult to quantify. For example, excellently executed palliative care still results in a dead patient. Conversely, a live mother and baby is considered the best outcome in maternity care (as well it should be) regardless of trauma suffered. Patients experience the same illness in very different ways, every clinician has a slightly different approach to treatment, illness progression and injury healing can be very difficult to predict. How high patients are likely to rate departments surely depends on their mood, their particular problems and their experience on that day.

To give an example, when my mum was in Scarborough hospital (rated as requiring improvement by the CQC), some of her care on the ward and in transit was substandard from a professional point of view, but we are all so grateful that they saved her life that we wouldn't consider complaint. If asked whether I would recommend their emergency care team, I would give them a very high rating despite seeing some negligent care later on, because of that gratitude. However, when we have been sitting in ACU at Peterborough for six hours, waiting for medication that seems to take days to dispense, while Mum cries and dozes on a bed, I am disinclined to rate them highly. It's not their fault, their care is always excellent, but my mood is never good there.

To rate patient experience requires more detail and nuance than a simple "How likely are you to recommend us to friends or relatives? 1-5" rating, like you get in bloody Argos. If my curtains take thirty minutes to come down the chute in Argos, perhaps I have cause for complaint. Perhaps my giving them a 2 rating is justified. But giving a hospital a low rating because I had bad news that day? Because a poorly toddler was screaming and it made my migraine worse? Because some drunk vomited all over the waiting room and it took a while to clean up? Because I was scared? Because I was in pain? No. That's not a fair way to rate a department.

When I worked in general practice, we had to do patient surveys. For a month a year, everyone on reception would sick of the sight of this stack of questionnaires, ignored upon the desk because nobody coming to an urgent GP appointments wants to rate the surgery - they want to get their medication and go home. So what ended up happening was that all the regular patients would fill them in, rating us generally highly because they absolutely loved the GP or rating all the reception staff poorly because everyone hates GP receptionists. It never felt like a particularly fair way to assess patient opinion, least of all with all the staff fearful of what they might write (I believe now the CCG sends questionnaires direct to patients).

The NHS is not a shop. It is not Argos. It's not even Amazon. It's a public service. Hospitals are not theme parks, or holiday homes, or somewhere you can reasonably expect to enjoy yourself (unless you're some sort of fetishist). Rating your care is so subjective as to be almost meaningless outside of detailed debriefs after the event. Complaining is one thing: I am a seasoned complainer, usually because of instances of negligence or misconduct rather than bitching about a receptionist's tone, and the NHS needs to be open to justified complaint, but giving a flash rating subject to emotion at the point of care is ridiculous. Make it stop.

30 Aug 2016

Not Normal

What is normal?
This isn't.

I got the kids' school stuff together. No stress, no panic, just sorted it out, tried it on them, put it away ready for next week. Back to school. Back to normal. Except it's not normal.

I went to see my in laws. The kids ran amok. We had a barbecue, I had a glass of wine. Everything normal. Nothing's normal.

I went to see my mum. Roast beef in the oven, nephews and nieces underfoot, sitting in the garden with Mum puffing on a cigarette, cookbook by her side. All as normal. Anything but.

The hospital runs, every week. Mum afraid, fed up, nauseous, worried, sick of waiting. The waiting. It goes on forever. We sit together, usually in a side room because Mum's too ill to sit up for long. Mum doesn't look when they do the blood tests, so I tell her when it's safe to look. I surreptitiously check her obs on the machine. Maybe I should have been a nurse. We wait for the consultant - she's lovely. We ask questions. No answers yet. They don't know where the primary site is. They are worried about the infection. No chemo til the infection's sorted. No oncology at all until the infection's sorted. They can't save Mum from the cancer. Can they even save her from the infection? We don't know. We wait for the blood tests. They do them while you wait, but it's still two hours. They return with the results. Usually bad news. Usually more worry. Usually no answers.

And yet that is when I feel most normal, most at peace. That is where I can cope. In the thick of it, surrounded by people who may not have the answers but know what they're talking about, who aren't afraid of what's happening and don't use euphemism. Where I'm with my mum, looking after my mum. Making myself feel better by making her feel better. I've always felt strangely at home in hospitals. Maybe I could have been a nurse.

I have nightmares where I fail to look after Mum, in some tiny insignificant way, but it ends up meaning everything, so I don't go to bed because I'm scared of dreaming. I see old people in the street and I resent them for being alive. I hear people bitch about their mums, and I want to scream because it's not fair. I see people being normal, being happy, being unaffected by strange crushing not-quite-grief and I wonder if I will ever feel like that again. All the peculiarities of human interaction, all the minor disagreements and trivialities of life, have lost resonance and meaning.

Mum was diagnosed a month ago today. It feels like it's been a thousand years and three hours all at once.

The only people I want to be with, household and parents aside, are my siblings because they know how this is. We all cope differently. We all feel the same. Thank god there's so many of us. Thank god we can be together.

I'm not writing for sympathy, or anything really other than to get this out. This feeling that nothing in the world feels normal anymore. Everything is wrong, like someone put a puzzle together higgeldy piggeldy and all the pieces fit but the picture doesn't make sense.

I love my mum. I wish I could keep her.

We are fundraising for Macmillan, because they are wonderful.

25 Aug 2016

When A Child Is Born

I've written up all my own birth stories, but this is the story of the first birth I watched.

My little sister Sooz was 38 weeks pregnant with her third baby when Mum first got ill, and it became very quickly obvious that Mum was not going to be able to be her birth partner this time. So I volunteered, since I'm unphased by blood and gore and Have Had Babies Before.

Naturally, being a Sooz-baby, this one took her sweet time and things eventually got going eleven days after her due date. Sooz decided to go and be in labour round Mum's house, so Mum could be included, while I waited for news. After receiving some text messages that made me do this:


I got a message saying she was ready to go to hospital. So I loitered in the road, awaiting collection, and off we went to the maternity unit.

The maternity unit clearly don't believe women who ring in saying they're in labour, and so we spent some time sitting in the waiting room. Well, we sat: Sooz marched up and down, stopping every couple of minutes for a contraction, and then carried on marching. This is what is known as an active labour, and it is excellent for getting labour established. Sooz, like me, finds contractions much easier to deal with standing or leaning into something, so we had lots of stops for her to cuddle the reception desk or the bookcase.
After about half an hour, we were called to triage and Sooz continued to march until they put her on the monitor. It's hard to know quite what to do with someone in labour. When she was marching, I rubbed her back through contractions, but when she was lying down there wasn't a lot I could do, so I just pathetically stroked her hair until she told me to bloody stop it. She started to need to poo, but since she only felt this when she had a contraction, it was fairly obvious to me that what she really needed was to have a baby. She was not convinced. We sent her beloved partner out because he looked like he was going to faint, and then she suddenly went intro transition. Transition, if you're not aware, is the part of labour when the cervix stops opening and the uterus begins to push, and for some reason it makes women go a bit mental - pleading to go home or trying to leave is very common. Sooz just demanded to have the monitor off because she wanted to march!
So, the midwife had a feel and discovered that Sooz was indeed ready to push and her waters were on the cusp of breaking. She ran off to find a room while Sooz started shrieking about how elated and euphoric she felt because she was going to have a baby. She waddled across the hall to her delivery room, got on the bed, her front waters went splat and began to push before the midwife had even got the computers loaded up. She didn't make a sound aside from a tiny bit of groaning when the baby crowned, and then behold! A baby girl on a tide of water!

We arrived at hospital at around 8:45pm, went to triage at 9:15pm, went to the delivery room at 9:40pm and Evie Jo was born at 9:54pm.

I cut the cord (in one cut, which impressed the midwife) and helped Sooz get her on the boob and then came the difficult delivery of the placenta. She had ragged membranes around the placenta, which isn't unusual in deliveries where the waters break as the baby's born, but they didn't spot it until after she haemorrhaged. Sooz does not appreciate being stitched after delivery, and although she only needed one stitch for a first degree tear, FREAKED OUT at the very IDEA of it. After having the baby without so much as a murmur and no pain relief, she was huffing entonox like a teenager at their first rave. And, betwixt freaking out and crying with pain, she rode the wave of high and SQUEALED about being BOLD. It was fucking hilarious. I cannot tell you how much I regret not having entonox for any of my deliveries.

The doctor sat at the business end, fishing out all of the clots and membranes (squeamish to watch, unbearable to experience), while Sooz alternated shrieks and giggles. Her partner sat with the baby looking bemused and I looked on with interest. They started her on a syntocinon infusion and then finally left her alone to feed the hungry gurl!
I left around 11:30pm, having done my duty and aware that the parents needed to enjoy their new baby alone.

Not before snuggles though

So, how did it compare to my own labours? After all, you would think that being sisters, we would be similar in how labour and delivery worked, and we both have three babies.

Well, first as far as pain management goes, we are similar. Neither of us have had pain relief in labour, preferring to use movement and positioning (I dance and squat, she marches) to deal with the pain. I have been stitched without pain relief each time, although now I kinda regret that, whereas Sooz always has entonox because she hates it. 
Sooz tends to go into labour shortly after having a show, whereas I have never had a normal show, and what I have had has been anything up to ten days before the baby. My labours are much shorter and sharper. Sooz tends to have early labour in the morning, active labour by teatime, baby at bedtime. With each baby, her waters have only properly gone at the end. For me, labour has started with my waters breaking and once the contractions have started, progressed extremely quickly. Now, whether I would have laboured more like Sooz if my waters hadn't broken first each time, I don't know. I'm not going to do it again to find out!
She is much, MUCH quieter than me. It's characteristic for women to be vocal in the final stages of labour: it's one of the main signs midwives look for. Sooz is almost silent, aside from tiny murmurs. I tend to scream and swear and yodel my way through.
Transition is different too. Sooz had a very definite break between transition and beginning to push. I need to push before and then during transition, so I don't get any break. I do experience the feeling of calm once transition has passed, but not for any length of time and certainly no euphoria. Boo.
The biggest difference is probably in terms of the third stage. The WORST stage for me, because my uterus goes into atony and needs rubbing up (such a vile thing) to get the placenta out even with the active management, then I haemorrhage and it's just a bloody mess. Sooz has had two simple third stages, although this one was more complicated because of the retained membrane and untreated anaemia. She did extremely well.

Watching her go through the predictable stages of labour then birth really reminded me of my own experiences. I remembered more viscerally the pain and stinging and waves of contractions and the relief of getting the head out watching her, than I ever could just thinking about it at home. I felt it with her. It's a hell of a thing to watch someone push a baby out, but I really enjoyed it. When everything in our family is tinged with sadness, this was a moment of total joy.

Sooz was an absolute hero; brave and bold and noble Sooz, and Evie is a beautiful little piglet.

23 Aug 2016

If

If we acknowledged that every time we saw someone, it could be the last.
If we put that much meaning and significance into every encounter, every quick chat, every hug.
If we recognised the ubiquity and unpredictability of death.
We would all go mad.

It's not sustainable. It's something we all unconsciously reject day in day out, because it is too painful. Imagine. There would be no such thing as a quick phone call, no such thing as 'just popping in', no such thing as a nod and a smile in Tesco. Every "see you later" would become racked with meaning and significance. We would all go mad.

My mum could have easily died three and a half weeks ago. In fact, protocol dictated that is what should have happened, but thankfully Mum's surgeon decided to turn a blind eye to the shadows on the xray and save her anyway. We consider this 'extra life' that she's been granted a huge boon, and we are so grateful to the team at Scarborough Hospital for doing us that enormous service. But it is not going to last long.

The greatest thing that has come out of it is that Mum can see how much she is loved. How deeply, how extensively she is loved. How many lives she has touched, how many people adore her and admire her. Too often we leave it too late to let people know how much we love them, tearfully gathering at the graveside with regrets, wondering years later why we never took the time when we had the time. You always think you will have more time.

Mum has the privilege of experiencing her posthumous tributes while she is still here to enjoy them, and she loves it. She has stopped batting away compliments.
Meanwhile, we have the privilege of being able to concentrate all our love and care on her as she has always given it to us.

This week, we have reunited with family we haven't seen in decades, and my mum is so overwhelmingly happy. It's a strange paradox, that this awful time makes us all so happy. Sometimes, I feel as though I'm full of wet sand and I can't breathe because I'm so afraid and so upset. Mostly, I am emotional yet joyful that Mum is still here, still baffling the doctors, still joking and giving out recipes, and making enormous lasagne, still full of love, still here. Still here.

I told my older children that Granny isn't going to get better yesterday, and that was difficult. Difficult enough, but when you have to take all the calming euphemism out of it for an autistic child, more difficult. And they told me that as long as we remember her, she will never leave us. I expect they heard it on a TV show, but they're right. We continue to make memories, (which is a phrase I FUCKING HATE under normal circumstances), to take photos, to be together while we can.

I don't really have a point today except to encourage you to tell your family you love them while you can. Maybe you already do tell them. Maybe you think they already know. Maybe you don't see them as often as you'd like. Maybe you don't have the words. Just tell them. Regret is so much more painful than embarrassment.

And please donate to Macmillan if you are able and want to do something help.


14 Aug 2016

Talking About Terminal Cancer

Behold, the shitty cancer awareness memes are going round on Facebook once more. Spread awareness with a heart in your status, say people who have probably never actually had to talk to people with cancer.
Conversations are a bit strange when someone you love has terminal cancer - gawd knows what it's like for someone who HAS terminal cancer. Here's a guide on how to talk to me, but I am not representative.

1. Please don't ask how my mum is unless you want the answer.
There isn't going to be a "Yeah, she's fantastic" response. If you can't deal with being told "Same" or "worse", please don't ask. There are other things we can talk about (see point 3).

2. Please don't ask, with any degree of intensity, how I am REALLY.
I don't know how I am 99% of the time. Somewhere vaguely between euphoric she's still alive and devastated at the sheer fucking awfulness of everything. If I tell you I'm fine, it either means I don't want to talk about it, or I actually AM FINE, as BIZARRE as that might seen.

3. Cancer gets boring
You'd never have thought the idea of losing someone you adore would get dull. In the first week after Mum was diagnosed, I think I had to explain it in detail to about ten people who weren't directly affected. Not because they were being nosy; they just couldn't fathom how This Could Happen, so they wanted detail. Painstaking, surgical detail at times. Being me, I was happy to give it, but LORD IT IS HARD and then it just gets boring. This is what our new reality is, but I am still the same person and I don't just want to talk about the scary thing that's happening.

4. Please don't tell me about anyone you know (or knew) with cancer, unless it's a parent or similarly close relative.
Thanks for the info, but I guessed cancer wasn't solely restricting itself to hurting my mum. I've lost two grandparents, my best friend from when I was five, and numerous other people to cancer. I know millions of people are afflicted. I know it's shit. I know it's vicious. I know it's unpredictable. It's also not an exercise in comparison.

5. Please don't tell me about people who Miraculously Recovered.
This is so unlikely and rare that I just find it annoying rather than comforting.

6. If you don't know how to deal with it, that's fine.
Honestly. I get it. Watching sad adverts on the telly and donating to everyone on Facebook's Race For Life pages is one thing. Actually being faced with the reality is terrifying. Maybe people think I will just sob uncontrollably into their shoulder, or be cross they asked how I am, or I dunno, have a full on nervo. I don't expect answers. I don't expect to feel magically better any time soon. If you don't know how to deal with it (or me), it's probably not your job to so please don't worry about it.

7. I know you don't know what to say
Unthinkable though it seems, the shoe has been on the other foot. I've been told people are terminally ill before, and not had a clue what to say. What can you say? There's no Please Die Nicely cards in Clintons. I know it's shit. It's fine to say it's shit.

8. Please don't offer help unless you are willing to give it
I know you want to help, but there's a vast difference between saying "If there's anything I can do" and actually looking after my children for seven hours. If you can, offer specific help. Lifts. Food. Company. Babysitting. That sort of thing. Otherwise, please donate to Macmillan for us, because they offer so much practical support, and take away some of the fear.

9. Don't hate me or take it personally if I'm grumpy or quiet or reclusive or angry or anything other than shitting sunbeams
I can't predict my mood. On the day I wrote this, I cried because people were nice, cried because Christmas might be shit, cried because everything in the future might be shit, shouted at the kids, had perfectly polite conversations with strangers, jumped out of my skin because someone knocked on the door, cried some more, text people until I was too tired to, and shouted some more. I am also still capable of pissing myself laughing, being extremely dark humoured, and full of love for everyone around me. I'm still a contrary, argumentative bitch. Mum's illness is like a knife to my heart every time I remember it, but death is a massive part of the fabric of life.

I don't hate cancer. I'm not going to start sharing those "99% of people don't hate cancer but I know you're not one of them" memes on facebook. Cancer is a terrifying prospect: the word alone scares the shit out of many people, but it is also part of the joy of living. Cancer is a cellular disease that we all carry the potential to develop. Our cells divide at a rate of around 50 billion PER DAY. It is a miracle to me that it doesn't go wrong all the time. Cancer is as old as humanity. There are thousands of different types: some kill you, some barely bother you. It is shit that Mum's developed a lethal kind, but at the same time, in the lottery of life, I think (and she thinks) that she's done OK out of it. All this love for her, all these amazing memories that we continue to make, all these Actual People She Has Made. Half of me is my mum. In every one of the billions of cells in my body, half the DNA telling that cell what to do is my mum. And my mum WOULD tell every one of my cells what to do.

9 Aug 2016

Mum

This blog has been written with the full consent of both my parents. My mum would love to read any (nice) comments or messages you would like to leave, either on here or twitter/facebook.

Food is inextricably linked to both memory and comfort. What's the best thing you've ever eaten? This isn't a question where the answer is likely to be "the tasting menu at The Fat Duck" or "lunch at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons" (though Lord knows I wish it was). This is likely to be a question where the answer is so personal it's almost secretive. An answer that requires all the senses and memory. An answer that won't necessarily tally up to anyone else's idea of a good meal.
Christmas dinner when I was about 7 and still believed in Santa, high on the magic of the thing, eating in the dining room by candlelight as it slowly got dark, with fairy lights and people everywhere. Every Christmas dinner for that matter, especially the one when my kids gave me a round of applause afterwards, even though most of it came from Messrs Marks and Spencer.
Soft beetroot sandwiches in the old van - not like a people carrier, but a Transit with seats bolted in the back, the only thing we'd all fit in - on the way to the seaside, where more beetroot sandwiches and squash awaited.
Chips in the back of that same van. Chips that I didn't like because, for some reason, I had a mortal hatred of them until I was about 14. I used to eat monstrosities like pineapple fritters to avoid the horror of chips. On holiday, we would sing all the way back to the caravan at the tops of our lungs, full of chips and warm coke from a sandy plastic cup.
Then later, much later, a massive cheese toastie, a kitkat and a pint of tea, after a night of illicit drinking down the Wellhead.

My mum's roast beef dinner, with all the trimmings and homemade cheese sauce. A meal to revive the soul. A meal I won't get to eat many more times.

My mummy is going to die.

We all know our parents will die. We have that factual knowledge, because that is what happens. Death is the trade off for life. Everyone dies, hopefully in a generational order. It is the right way of things. We reach adulthood under the care of our parents, and then the caring reverses (eventually) and we look after our parents as they die.
But really, we all think our parents are immortal. We think we will have them with us until we are old ourselves, and being old ourselves is such a distant concept that it translates to near-immortality. We've heard the statistics. We see the Macmillan cancer adverts on TV. We know so-and-so's daughter died of cancer when she was only 15, 25, or 40. But until it happens to you, you do not think your parents will die until YOU are ready for it to happen.

My mum found out she had cancer in an unusual, and quite dramatic way, after a few weeks of illness explained away by other causes. She says she's had a good idea about it for a while, but was afraid to get it confirmed. Afraid of the tests, and the internal prodding, and waiting for the results, and the grave consultations. So, instead, she waited until all hell broke loose within and found out off her merry head on morphine in an ICU, far from home. Her official diagnosis is metastatic ovarian cancer. She prefers to simply say she's dying. We don't know how long she has left yet.
But, we will have no false hope here. No platitudes. No denial. There will be no mad dashes to America for some bizarre, unproven treatment.

What we will do is look after her. My mum has had a lot of babies. Our ages range from 37 to 15. She has an army of carers, not least my wonderful dad. The joy of a big family is that when this happens, it's not one or two of you bleakly staring at each other over a deathbed; it's a platoon of you giggling over memories, being able to take over and stop each other getting too exhausted. It's a web of support that you don't need to go and look for, with different skills and styles of care. Mum doesn't want to be in hospital, surrounded by strangers. She wants to be at home with us, so she will be.

But back to food. My mum has been cooking professionally for years, mainly in care homes but also for weddings, parties, christenings and wakes. If you've been to a family 'do, you've probably eaten Mum's sandwiches. If you haven't, then you are Missing Out. Her illness has recently meant she's stopped enjoying food, because she hasn't been able to eat. She's even stopped thinking about food.
I can't think of my mum without thinking about food. This is a woman who's most common phrase is "GET OUT OF MY TRIANGLE", meaning sink/oven/surface. A woman who once, halfway through a family quiz, fell asleep until the question "How do you make a roux?" came up.  She opened her eyes, recited the ingredients, and went straight back to sleep. She taught me how to roast a chicken, how to poach eggs properly, and how to manage a kitchen. She has been bulk catering regularly since about 1990. She gave me my own obsession with cooking books - I used to read her hideous 80s cooking magazine collection as a small - and then plundered it to read herself.

I can't eat now. It's not exactly grief because she's not dead, and we shouldn't waste our time wailing about her being dead until she actually is. It's a grief for the future that would have been, if this disease hadn't happened. It's a selfish grief for the imminent  loss of such a wealth of advice (particularly with parenting) and love and care. It's fear. It's a little disbelief because how? She's 54. I thought I might get another twenty years, at least. I can't imagine myself without her.

Let me tell you something about my mummy. She is as strong as an ox. She has given birth to eight babies (my tiny brother Thomas didn't make it) and never had pain relief - one of us weighed nearly 11lb. She has had this cancer for an unknown amount of time, long enough for it to really take hold, and carried on working full time and caring for her home and children. She has coped with her parents dying, with having all these children, with all our dramas - god there's been some dramas -with faith and humour. She has had an acute life-threatening illness and dangerous operation that would have killed less hardy people and sailed through it. She laid in her hospital bed, still very physically unwell, bitching merrily about everything, expecting my dad to be psychic, totally her normal self (aside from immediately after morphine when she started asking about Uboats and hearing tingling). She has taken this awful news on the chin, with black jokes and sorrow and love. She says she's not strong. She says she's not brave. She says she's a coward or she would have gone and got it sorted out before. She is wrong. My mum is being strong and brave and an example to us all.

Mum has requested that, if you feel inclined to do something and can afford to, that you please donate to Macmillan Cancer Support through this link. They are truly being wonderful at the moment.



5 Aug 2016

Postgrad

I had a strange sense of instability and loss when I finished my degree. I'd had this idea for quite a while that IF I did well, I would do a masters. But when I actually did well, I felt completely different. A masters felt suddenly terrifying and enormous.I didn't feel clever enough to do one. I didn't feel I possessed the right skills to switch to history after four years of mainly sociology and biology. I emailed the OU to ask them what preparatory work they would advise. They actually advise a bridging course, held by Oxford University online, which costs the princely sum of £2500. I knew I couldn't afford that, and I told them so. I did, however, buy all the set texts from it in a bid to teach myself.

After some time, I received an email telling me to run through a pre-assessment to see if I had any of the right skills and broad knowledge, and to buy the main set text from the previous year to go through.

I did the pre-assessment, not expecting to do well. I got 98%.

The next step was funding the thing. As previously mentioned, my BSc cost me £5, but fortunately the government are allowing postgraduate student loans for masters courses starting this September onwards. I applied online - a very simply process, provided you know how much money you want - and then thought about how I was going to pay for the first module since I won't get any loan money until my first instalment in October but you have to pay for your modules up front.

My first idea was to put it on a credit card, but no credit card company will lend me that much cash (£3800) in one go, so I thought about a loan. The lowest APR I could get was 10%, so I looked into OUSBA loans. These are loans from the OU that you pay back over the course of your module at a fixed APR of 5%. It is, unless you can afford to pay up front, a really good way to pay for modules even with a student loan. You apply through the OU, at the same time as registering for a module. It's a swift, online process and you usually get a decision immediately.


I was accepted onto the masters course last Friday, when all hell broke loose with(in) my mummy, and I will blog about that soon. I don't even know if I want to do it now, with everything else going on, but at the same time, studying has been my lifeline, my structure and my main distraction over much other stuff over the last few years. And I know Mum wants me to get to writing my great body of historical work, so I'm doing it for her now as much as myself.


8 Jul 2016

BSc

I did it. Four years and four months. I did it. Fucking hell, I did it.


I need to thank some people.

First, my ex husband for leaving me. If he hadn't, there is no way I would have been able to do this degree. I wouldn't have been able to afford it, I wouldn't have had time as I would have still been working, and I wouldn't have had the rage-powered drive to prove him bloody wrong and achieve something.

Second, my beloved and perfect sister Perfect Jess who has proof read EVERY SINGLE ONE of my essays and told me they're brilliant, even when they aren't.

Thirdly, the OU for charging me a whole £5 to do my degree based on their old financial support system. I was in the very last year group to qualify for this, which was immensely lucky, and I am proud to have got good grades and proved that poverty doesn't equate to idiocy.

Then all my helpers. My friends (particularly Jack, Eleanor and Helen) who have given me professional advice where I've needed it on health and social care current practice, and ALL my friends who have given me wine, and support, and excused me for months at a time while I try and catch up. My twitter friends who are often on OU journeys of their own and given me so much inspiration and confidence.The FB OU support groups who have always remembered where I read something when I'm writing up an essay, and then sat nervously (if remotely) with me while we wait for results. Studying at home is more isolated than at a brick uni, but it doesn't have to be lonely.

My family - by blood, by marriage and by ex-marriage - who have been there, encouraging me, even if they're not wholly sure what I'm doing or why. They have all believed in me when I didn't believe in myself.

My kids haven't exactly been HELPFUL during all this, but they have been there. When I started, Jim was two and Jack was ten months. Now they're seven and five, and we have baby Alex as well. They have grown up watching Mummy do her 'portant work, stealing my highlighters and spilling drinks on my notes. They have reminded me why I started; to do something better, to be someone more.

Most of all though, I have to thank my Tom. Whether it's been giving me a cynical look every time I've bemoaned how awful my last essay is, or winding me up about social care so I rant out all my revision at him, or trying to scry my awful handwriting to test me on revision notes, or simply presenting me with cider or flowers on TMA-writing-day, nobody has done more than him to get me through this. I don't know how many times I have cried on him when revising because I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING and he's gently reminded me that yes, yes I do. I love him. He is my favourite.

1 Jul 2016

An Englishman's Home Is His Castle

The British are constantly harking back to a nostalgic time of yore. Do other nations do this, by the way? Do tell.
My own parents tell me how much better it was in the sixties, despite being tiny children at the time. My grandparents tell me it's not like the old days, as their grandparents told them. I'm sure, if I knew anyone who was an adult in the 1940s, I would be told how RUDDY MARVELLOUS the war was, what with it's unpredictable air raids, and death, and nothing much to eat, and before that, the first world war, merrily decimating the men of the country. As a nation, we look back. We live on a tide of nostalgia, having whole conversations based around Things We Watched On TV As Children (Poddington Peas and The Family Ness) and Sweets You Can't Get Anymore. Our TV programmes show us how life used to be, and we watch them in droves, on the internet, apparently forgetting that golden era of barely fifteen years ago when the internet came through the phone and your mum could pick the phone up, shout at you to get off the internet and you could...hear it in the modem. Ah, the olden days! 
Perhaps, since the dawn of broadband, life is changing more rapidly than ever. I can do my shopping on the internet and a person brings it to my house and it's kinda magical. If I want to know anything, I can go and google it rather than traipsing to the library (which probably doesn't exist any more) to look it up in the Encyclopedia Britannica. If I don't see a friend for six months, it's easier than ever to find out what they're doing and keep in touch. But sometimes, it's a terrible thing. 

We are a nostalgic country. There's nothing we like more than a 1940s tea party, or a medieval re-enactment. The prevailing theme of the Leave campaign was to make Britain great again, to put the great back in Great Britain, to go back to some mythic perfect age where we were self sufficient.
I'm not sure this golden age ever existed, nevermind that we can get back to it. We have always, as a nation, struggled a bit with being tiny. We've been trading with the middle and far east for thousands of years, invaded regularly by anyone who fancied a go, from the Romans onward. William the Conqueror basically annexed us, and we were part of France. Then we had a shot at turning the tables and running France as an annexe of us. This didn't work because Henry V died, sparking the War of the Roses. We played politics in Europe for a while, and then discovered that we were Quite Good at sailing (as you'd expect from an island nation) and started colonising the world, largely in an effort to take over places before Spain and France did. Competitive colonisation! Fun for all the family!
And so the Empire was born, and it got bigger and bigger until we ruled vast swathes of the world. But then the buggers started wanting independence. First the US, then slowly, everywhere else, often after huge and difficult internal struggles. We still have a few foreign territories (notably Gibraltar and the Falklands) but generally, we are back to being a little island on the Western edge of Europe.

Alas then that we haven't lost this colonial mentality, which was borne from feudalism. How dare all these immigrants come here when we used to govern them? How dare they be all free and able to travel here? Feudalism, in which you are owned or at least tied to a landowner, working in exchange for protection, allegedly died in the late medieval era, although I think there are modern parallels. We kid ourselves that we have a special relationship with the US because we MADE them, when really it's because we are a useful military link to Europe. We shun the rest of Europe in favour of the US because we never managed to colonise it and thus, it is different. They don't speak our language. They kiss each other a lot. 

England itself (with Scotland and Wales) is like a castle, with the channel tunnel being a drawbridge to Europe and Border Force being a portcullis. In the olden days, we built ties to other nations through dynastic marriage. It was politically awkward for France to invade us if our king was married to their king's daughter or sister, not that this stopped us invading them. European empires came and went and were reshaped often, but it wasn't until after World War 2 that we realised dynastic marriage, keeping ourselves to ourselves, and politeness alone weren't going to stop another war.

The EU was born through the EEC (itself the result of many post-war treaties), which aimed to unify Western Europe and provide a single market, partly in opposition to the Eastern bloc. The EU allows the member states to trade with each other without having to broker individual deals for each country, and without any need to organise complicated treaties pledging allegiance or military support.
The Conservatives, they fucking hate this sort of thing domestically. They believe in market liberalism, which encourages markets to develop 'naturally' (i.e driving prices up as high as possible, see the housing market). However, because our imports are almost twice the value of our exports, it has worked well for us within the EU, particularly as we don't trade with the euro which gave us a bit of an economic boost. Being part of the EU meant we had to allow in EU citizens, but unlike the rest of Europe who are part of the Schengen Agreement, our borders have been closed, aside from the Irish land border. The drawbridge will not open unless you have the right documentation or some means of illegally getting round it. I have been reading the right wing newspapers from around the time the Channel Tunnel opened. Not one refers to immigrants, to refugees or asylum seekers. The greatest fear was of fire risk and the ferries going out of business. Truly, we lived in less fascist times then. Can you imagine if they said they were building a bridge to France now?

We are a strange bunch. An Englishman's home is his castle, and our greatest aspiration in life is to own a home. Seriously, all anyone bloody cares about is the price of houses. Can they afford one? Will they have to live with their parents until they're 54? Will they have to sell their own children into slavery so they can have a three bed semi in a reputable area? We have one of the lowest home ownership rates in Europe, and yet obsess about it endlessly, as though it is the be all and end all. Renting is seen as a type of serfdom, despite 42% of the nation doing it, and landlords live up to their lordly names as renters' rights are eroded. Our adulthood is now marked by our financial success in home ownership. I have a theory that everyone in Britain has an enormous superiority complex, a desperate urge to climb not the housing ladder, but the social ladder, and that this is a cultural memory of feudalism and later Victorian values. To own a home, to own land, to be the lord of one's own manor, is very important to Britain, and this extends to the borders of our country.
Why else the rampant xenophobia that accompanied the leave campaign, and in fact all political discourse recently? Even Labour got in on it at the last election. There seemed to be a belief (at least before the referendum) that leaving the EU would stop all immigration, and all the immigrants would leave and we would be left with all the British people. I spoke to someone a couple of weeks ago who thought that, if we left the EU, the Pakistani population of the city would leave. Quite aside from the fact that a massive proportion of them were BORN HERE, what brand of special idiot do you have to be to think PAKISTAN is in the EU?

Immigration is an odd issue for the British. We are a nation of immigrants. Italian, French, German and Danish blood is AWASH in our veins, and that's just the white population. The very idea of indigenous Brits is ridiculous, yet according to the media, we fear this invasion of immigrants and the dilution of Great British Blood as much as anything. I suppose it comes from being repeatedly invaded A THOUSAND YEARS AGO. The last successful invasion of Britain was 950 years ago, and by a man who lived less than 50 miles from the British coast. The Second World War was effectively propelled by a terror of The Hun turning up in Dover and having his way with all the housewives, but the irony is that prior to the outbreak of the war, many richer Brits thought fascism was a fucking marvellous idea and longed for a return to Tudor values. The Daily Mail was a massive advocate of fascism, Mosley and Hitler, not because they wanted to kill all the Jews (although, partly) but because they wanted the poor to know their place and the rich to prosper. The general disruption to class society after World War One really pissed off a lot of people, and the idea of no democracy clearly appealed. It was only after World War Two that a lot of British institutions were founded, such as the NHS, in acknowledgement that you can't expect people to go off and die in droves in return for no social security. Now the same people who would have been ruthlessly oppressed if fascism had 'won' in the 1930s and 1940s want it to come back for much the same reasons as Hitler did. Too many foreigners, a hope for a better economy, a hope to make the country great again. I'm not trying to invoke Godwin's law, but the current political and social discourse is not dissimilar to Germany in 1932. The difference is that they were being crippled by war reparations and their money was so worthless, it had to be carted around in wheelbarrows. I'm fairly sure our country is massively overreacting in comparison.

Our nation, or at least parts of our nation, resist change. Diversity is a dirty word for the predominantly white British parts of our isles, where it is the least in evidence. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OLD DAYS WHEN EVERYONE SPOKE ENGLISH?? they cry. I don't think it's existed since the second world war, but this is an unpopular viewpoint. I live in a railway city that was singled out for a documentary about immigration as a terrible thing, but nobody mentions the large Italian population, settled in the 1950s to work at the brickworks. Nobody looks twice at all the Italian surnames, or the ladies speaking Italian on the bus. There's a strong British Pakistani community, founded in the 1960s, with Ugandan Muslim refugees following about a decade later. Recently, there's been a lot more movement from Eastern Europe into the city, which is widely reported as a Good Thing economically, but a bad thing by the BBC. The only time I've ever been remotely pissed off by Teh Forruns is when some drunk Polish lads decided to play an electric organ in the middle of the street when I was trying to get my kids to sleep. How bothered you are by the ethnic makeup of your home depends a lot on what you expect from it. If you expect to hear nothing but English and see nowt but a sea of white, northern European flesh, you might be disappointed. If you prefer to judge people by their character rather than their ability to speak English in conversation with their friends, you might be happier.
The ubiquity of news sources make it much easier to view immigration as a terrible societal evil knocking on your door. Nevermind the front page of the Daily Express, you can't even log in to facebook without a news strip telling you what hateful thing Katie Hopkins has said this time. Twitter in the last week has been like a 24/7 apocalyptic news channel. Every single second of the collapse of government has been detailed in real time, with nobody taking a step back to look at the wider picture and put things into context. Honestly, if your only experience of Britain was through the eyes of twitter and facebook, you would probably think we had literally fallen to bits. I was really ill during the referendum, and simply being stuck in bed with my phone for company made everything feel like AWFUL DEATH. There is a loss of perspective with constant rolling news.

And I think it is rolling news and social media that has made this referendum, the result and the emerging chaos feel so much more personal. Yes, it has endless repercussions for the whole world. Yes, everything has gone to shit, but everything has gone to shit with alarming regularity since humans started living in large groups. We tend to forget that, as a nation. We romanticise our failures (Dunkirk, The Charge of the Light Brigade) or whitewash them entirely. Social media and the internet has allowed us to hold our leaders to account better, because the internet never forgets and it gives the common folk a voice with the potential to be heard by millions. It has also allowed us unprecedented access to information, allowing us to research anything that takes our fancy. But it means that there is a note, not so much of pessimism, but awful DOOM about this result. It means that in the build up, you couldn't move for someone's viewpoint on whether to leave or remain.  It means that Racist Rob from Rugby's view was given an equal standpoint with Sensible Sue from Staines'. It made it intensely difficult to sort through the rhetoric and lies and find any grain of truth. It was information overload, and it remains so.

In the old days, there was no internet. You believed what the BBC and the papers told you about current affairs, or you just didn't know until someone wrote a tell all book years later. Now we have the ability to educate ourselves, and ignorance really isn't an excuse anymore, and yet in its way it is too much. We can no longer draw up the drawbridge on the rest of the world. The portcullis won't keep them out even if Theresa May herself starts prowling the borders, breathing fire. The rest of the world is in our computers, our phones, our tablets. On our bedside table, in our hand as we fall asleep and wake up, winking at us from the corner of the screen as we work. The world has changed since 1975 and we can never go back.