Month: October 2017

Hotel Review: Ettington Park

I can’t believe it’s been a year since our lovely friends got married at Ettington Park – part of the HandPicked Hotels group – and I got to be bridesmaid <insert generic “where has this year gone” statement here>

I also can’t believe I never got round to reviewing and sharing pics of the hotel. I only realised when I was trying to free up some storage on my phone and came across them.

So, a year to the date after the event, here it is!

We arrived earlyish on Saturday afternoon to a very warm welcome. The building itself is very grand and gothic; approached by a long driveway and surrounded by acres of grounds.

We stayed in an executive room overlooking the hotel entrance.

Ettington Park room view

The room was a really good size, with a separate lounge area, traditional wooden furniture and fireplace, and a good size modern bathroom with that all important powerful hot shower!

 

The hotel is very opulent throughout, with intricate details like the ceiling in the library, where we had dinner the night before the wedding.

Ettington Park library ceiling

The staff were, without exception, incredibly friendly and helpful, going out of their way to make everything special. On the morning of the wedding, as we dined in the opulent dining room, we asked for a bloody mary to go with our food. The bar wasn’t open by that point (don’t judge us!) so the waiter went and found a member of staff to open it up and make our drinks! (mind you at around £10 per drink it was probably in their best interests – that’s a helluva mark up!)

As I mentioned, the hotel is set in acres of grounds – it’s so big that there are bikes available to hire to go and explore!

Ettington Park bikes for hire

Within the grounds are the ruins of a gothic abbey, which is where our friends tied the knot. So atmospheric.

The food at the wedding breakfast was incredible. Mass catering always comes with a risk, but everything was perfectly cooked, tasty and flavoursome. Again, the service couldn’t be faulted.

Want to see more pictures from the wedding day? The original wedding post is here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Friday Feeling [20] – there are lots of ways to help with mental health

There’s a lot of media coverage about mental health lately, and rightly so; it’s important for such a widespread issue to be out in the open and for people to understand more about it. We’re talking more openly than ever about anxiety, depression and personality disorders, and hopefully it’s becoming less of a stigma.

But mental health isn’t just manifested mentally. It can have a physical effect too, and that can be as important to treat as the root cause.

This story about a teenager who had neglected herself so much through her depression that her hair was matted and looked beyond repair is a great representation of that physical manifestation. She felt so worthless and so low that she couldn’t be bothered to wash or brush her hair, and had just left it to it’s own devices. It was in such a state that she asked the hairdresser to shave it off in time for her upcoming school photographs.

But the hairdresser refused, instead dedicating time and patience to grooming the girl’s hair; detangling it and styling it over a period of 13 hours. And, at the end of it, the teenager said that she felt she could actually smile for her school photograph.

Depressed girl and hairdresser

The power of kindness, the power of feeling like someone cares, and even the power of looking good (as fickle as some people seem to think that is) can all help someone with depression to recover. How lovely that the hairdresser recognised that, and made the decision to nurture the suffering girl, rather than just take the easy route.

Read the full story here.

Thanks ,as always, for reading! x

A weekend in Whitby – part 2

Whitby is easily “doable” on foot, which meant we could park up at our B&B on Saturday and not have to use the car again until we set off for home 2 days later. As I mentioned in my part 1 blog post, Whitby is situated on two sides of the river Esk, with attractions on both East Cliff and West Cliff, and our B&B was on West Cliff, a 5 minute walk from the harbour.

After a chilled Saturday afternoon of fish and chips, ice cream, amusement arcades and a live pub band in the evening, we set off with intent early on Sunday morning to see the sights. It was a beautiful morning with bright blue skies, the sea was sparkling and, with a spring in our step, we crossed the bridge over to the East Cliff side of town and headed for Whitby Abbey.

The cobbled streets were deserted as we followed the signs for the 199 steps which climb to the top of East Cliff, through St Mary’s churchyard, and towards the abbey ruins. I didn’t count the steps on the way up, I was too busy gasping for breath and willing my lungs not to collapse, but I did get a few pics looking over the town.

At the top of the steps the churchyard looms large, with it’s ancient gravestones all worn away and gnarly from years of exposure to the elements of sun, wind and rain. I can imagine it would be quite eerie on a grey day, but the blue sky was perfect for taking some photographs and enjoying the best of the morning.

The Abbey had only been open for about 15 minutes when we arrived, which meant that we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We declined the audio guide, preferring instead just to wander at our own pace and marvel at the sheer size, scale and detail of the architecture. It’s very impressive. I always find things like this pretty mind blowing when you consider how old they are and that modern machinery and construction didn’t exist when they were built. The weather conditions were just perfect for photographs, so I took a lot!

Whitby Abbey

Look, it’s me!

Me at Whitby Abbey

After a slow meander back down through the gravestones and the 199 steps (still not counting!) we crossed over to West Cliff, and headed towards the beach.

At low tide the beach is accessible from sea level, across and round the rocks, but we had to climb up the hill and back down again, much to the sorrow of our already aching lower limbs! The whalebone arch is another Whitby tourist attraction, and is an actual whalebone – the 15ft jaw of a Bowhead whale shared with Whitby from Canada.

Whalebone arch Whitby

Whitby has a history of whaling, whereby all parts of the caught whales were used in industry – skin for leather, blubber for oil, etc; and also has a strong maritime connection, being the home of the infamous Captain Cook who moved to the town as a fishing apprentice in his teens. All of the boats used in his great journeys of discovery were built in Whitby, and there’s a statue of him on the same site as the whalebone arch, looking out to sea.

We were thrilled by the colourful beach huts!

Beach huts Whitby

And stood soaking in the rhythmic to and fro of the sea. It’s just so calming, don’t you think?

There were some crazy people having a paddle; I know I said the weather was unseasonably good, but I can’t imagine the sea would be very pleasant in mid October!

We stopped off to play the 2 pence machines in the amusement arcades – a must on any visit to the seaside – before walking along the pier out towards the sea. Imagine my delight when I saw that the lighthouse was open to the public!

Whitby lighthouse

I’ve never been up a lighthouse, you don’t get many of them in landlocked Birmingham! I gladly handed over my £1.50 (such a bargain, it’s cheaper up North) and began the climb. Not gonna lie, it wasn’t that much fun, it made me very dizzy (it’s a small and narrow lighthouse with nothing but steps inside, so you just go round and round and round) and very out of breath, but it was worth it at the top for 360 degree views across Whitby and out to sea.

There was a hairy moment on the way back down when we had to cross paths with people who were climbing up (think about a very narrow spiral staircase with wedged steps and two humans going in opposite directions) but it was well worth it, and something I will always look back on with a smile.

Feeling like true seamen (snigger) we then decided to follow in Captain Cook’s footsteps and head out on the open water. There are lots of pleasure boat trips moored up on West Cliff offering a 25 minute trip out of the bay for the princely sum of just £3, and we settled on a traditional wooden looking boat with a pirate flag!

The trip was both bracing and informative, with details of Captain Cook’s background, voyages, and eventual demise at the hands of Hawaiian natives in 1779. The boat was a 40% size replica of the Endeavour, used by Cook in his first voyage of discovery to Australia and New Zealand from 1769 to 1771.

We rounded off our day with the most delicious late lunch at the Abbey Wharf restaurant (read about that in my part 1 blog post), enjoying the last of the afternoon sunshine and congratulating ourselves on having the best time!

I would 100% recommend Whitby for a weekend away; there’s enough to do to keep you occupied without feeling overwhelmed or rushed, and the seafood alone is worth the journey.

Plus, it’s very pretty by night too! (photo credit to the husband)

Whitby at night

Whitby harbour at night

Thanks Whitby, we loved you.

Read part 1 of my trip review here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Tuesday Shoesday

Despite not having unpacked all of my shoes from when we moved back in…ahem…May (don’t judge me, we’re having building work done and repurposing rooms, and haven’t sorted all our storage yet), I have been buying them. Because shoes. Shoes are my “thing”. For some people it’s bags, or make up. Mine is shoes.

With no further ado, let me introduce my latest acquisitions!

Black & silver star trainers

Black and silver star trainers

A veritable bargain from Everything 5 Pounds, these cuties have silver metallic laces and are so mega comfortable, I can’t even tell you. I walked miles in them during our weekend in Whitby, climbing hills and steps and slopes galore. Much love for them, and even more for the price.

Pink suede studded buckle boots

Pink suede studded boots

These are from ebay, and again mega comfy. They’re lined in a soft, fluffy, almost fur like fabric for extra cosiness, which will be lovely in winter.

Turquoise pointed deep V heels

Turquoise suede shoes

Via ebay, they’ve had a lotta love over on instagram and in my house (the latter is just me cooing over them, though!) They’re so vibrant and look great with denim and yellow. Totally going to buy them in red, too.

Burgundy biker boots

Burgundy short biker boots

I wear this style of boots all year round, to toughen up girly dresses or with leggings and a big jumper, so they’ll get plenty of wear. I love this colour, I have a lot of stuff in this kind of hue in my wardrobe, so they’ll be most versatile.

Grey western buckle boots

Grey western buckle boots

Love the detail on the buckles on these boots. They’re a lovely warm grey colour, and will probably be easy to trash, so I’ll need to be a bit careful how and where I wear them.

Wine suede buckle boots

Wine studded suede boots

A contender for my favourites, I think. The colour! The buckles! The shininess! All the love.

Zebra ponyskin Chelsea boots

Next zebra print ankle boots

These had a lot of stroking at work, because they’re made of hairy ponyskin and therefore very tactile (also because anyone who complimented me on them got instructed to feel them, whether they liked it or not!)  The husband expressed deep and sincere jealousy that these were for me and not for him (he likes a statement shoe). Mega bargain – £75 reduced to £19 in Next!

What’s your thing? Are you a shoe lover? Bag lover? Everything lover? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

 

A weekend in Whitby – part 1

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that part of my birthday present from the husband last year was a weekend in Whitby. You don’t remember? You don’t memorise every post I ever share? I’m disappointed…

Anyway, with getting our flat ready to sell (i.e. painting everything shiny new and hiding all the bad bits with rugs and furniture) and then moving into our new house, and then holidays and general stuff, I only got around to cashing in my trip the weekend before last, having booked it a few weeks before. If you follow me on Instagram (what do you mean, you don’t? More disappointment…) you’ll already know a bit about my trip.

Headline – it was AMAZING! Seriously one of the best weekends away I’ve had in absolutely ages. I didn’t stop grinning like a loon and making happy noises all weekend. Of course, the fact that we had great (if unseasonal) weather helped a lot, because while the British seaside in the sunshine is quaint and enjoyable, in rain and cold it just involves dodging from amusement arcade to amusement arcade and stocking up at the off licence before snuggling in bed back at your B&B.

Where we stayed

The British seaside is rife with B&Bs, which can range from delightful boutique rooms to out and out scabholes (I’ve stayed in both types, over the years). Using Whitby’s association with Dracula as a basis for our stay, the husband suggested Bats & Broomsticks which is a themed B&B without being tacky or cheesy. With only 3 bedrooms it has a cosy homely feel (as homely as a room with a four poster bed and a bat hanging from it can feel!) and the décor is incredible; moody, gothic, snakeskin wallpaper, wooden fireplaces, stone gargoyles, leopard print towels, a basement breakfast room where a beautifully cooked full English breakfast is served by candlelight and eaten with cutlery with grim reaper carved metal handles. Very quirky, certainly an experience (a good one!) and it’s position at the top of a hill gave our legs a good workout too.

Where we ate

Fish and chips at the seaside is practically the law, and Whitby apparently has 2 entries in the top 20 fish and chip shops in the country in 2017. However, with the good weather on Saturday came lots of day trippers and tourists (like ourselves) which meant long queues and few spare benches or places to sit and enjoy our national dish. So, instead, we took position on an outdoor terrace at The Pier Inn, overlooking the bay, and had pub fish and chips, which was so so good (which shouldn’t have been a surprise; if you’re positioned by the sea you have to make sure your seafood game is strong).

On Sunday we ate at Abbey Wharf, on the opposite side of the bay, again sat outside on their upstairs terrace, and both ordered their seafood paella off the specials menu. It’s a dish that will live on in my memory for a long long time; huge chunks of white fish, salmon, giant prawns and so many mussels that we built a jenga style tower of shells by the end of our meal, all encompassed in creamy flavoursome rice. Just stunning.

I’ll tell you more about what we got up to in another post (I have a lot of pictures and stuff to say!) so look out for that. Until then, here are some photographs I took in the town.

Seagulls are rife, as you’d expect, which is another reason it made sense not to get fish and chips and sit on a bench! (we saw one man get swooped upon from a great height, and I don’t share food!) and you can just smell the sea. The town is on two sides of the port, connected by a bridge. West Cliff has a big beach and is probably more touristy (traditional amusement arcades and fish and chip shops), while East Cliff has quaint cobbled streets, cute shops and the Abbey. More on that next time!

Have you ever been to Whitby? Do you like the British seaside?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

What is sexual assault?

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week or two, you’ll have seen the extensive media coverage around famous film producer Harvey Weinstein, and the increasing number of allegations against him of sexual harassment, sexual assault and even rape.

You may also have seen, on social media, the trending hashtag #MeToo, which women around the world; normal women with normal lives and normal jobs as well as celebrities, and everyone in between, are using to highlight the fact that they too have received unwanted sexual attention of some sort. Started by a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano, the idea is to highlight what an alarming and extensive problem unwanted sexual attention is in all walks of life.

“Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

MeToo

In the wake of all this, it was with interest that I read this article, which begins with the statement “Around six or seven years ago, I was sexually assaulted on the way home from a night out. Except I didn’t realise I had been.”

If you don’t want / don’t have time to read the article, then the crux is that a woman was approached by a man who made suggestive remarks, put his hand under her dress, tried to grab her and restrain her. She managed to get away and didn’t consider it sexual assault, because she hadn’t been raped. However, on phoning the police to let them know “just in case” the police officer had a very different view, asking how she’d feel if this same man had gone on to rape another woman because his behaviour hadn’t been reported? The police took the account very seriously, and the guy ended up being prosecuted and jailed because he’d done it to many women.

How many women are out there who, like the author of the article, think that such behaviour isn’t serious enough to be reported? That it’s just “blokes being blokes”. That, as women, this kind of behaviour is just something we have to put up with?

Women are expected to be a lot of things in life; mother, professional, wife, girlfriend, home maker. I’m not saying the same isn’t true of men, in some cases it is. But generally it’s women who are subjected to the most expectations, while similarly being expected to look great too. And, to some men (not all, of course), a woman is there as a toy for them to manipulate, because they can. Powerful men, such as Harvey Weinstein, pray on the fact that they have the power to behave how ever they want to women; whether it be making suggestive lewd comments, touching them inappropriately, or forcing them into unwanted physical behaviour. He knew he had the power to make or break an actress, and that’s why this has been allowed to fester and spread through Hollywood; because no-one wants to lose their job, their career and their future by being the first one to stand up and be counted against someone who can deny the allegations, take on an expensive lawyer, and crush any accusations into the ground.

Except this time it’s different. This time it’s happened to so many people, so many women in the public eye, that it’s created an uprising. An awareness. Women realising that just because it “wasn’t rape” it doesn’t make it any more acceptable or any less serious. Women realising that enough is enough. Our bodies are ours – to be touched and enjoyed how and when we want, by who we want. We’re not public property for men who can’t control their urges. We don’t have to suffer physical and mental exploitation in order to be successful in our careers. When we say no, we mean no.

For too long, lascivious men have gotten away with their behaviour purely be being men. That it’s just what men do. They’re sexual beings and women should be complimented by the attention. It’s just a bit of fun. The women wanted it, they were just playing hard to get.

And women too have played their part (and this isn’t victim blaming in anyway). We’ve thought that, as women, we have to put up with such attention. It’s just the way of the world. And so we’ve kept our mouths shut in a just grin and bear it fashion.

We don’t have to put up with it. We need to stand up and be counted. Men need to realise that a bit of “harmless banter” and a cheeky grope is a serious matter.

I’m one of the lucky ones, if lucky is the right word. I can’t think of an occasion where I’ve felt threatened or uncomfortable by the presence, actions or behaviour of a man. And for that I’m so so thankful. While I’m not using the #MeToo hashtag to reflect anything that has ever happened to me, I fully support and stand behind every woman who is brave enough and strong enough to use it themselves, and also those who have cause to use it but, for whatever reason, choose not to. It’s still taboo, and for some women the memories or repercussions are still too much to deal with.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Friday Feeling [19] – sometimes it’s the small things

This is such a great idea! The City of Arlington in the US State of Texas have set up a public app dedicated to recording and sharing acts of kindness.

The kindness initiative highlights nice and generous acts, however small, reminding people that the world is, fundamentally, a good place.

Be Kind

I think every town and city in the world should have one! Read the full story here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

A taste bending hot dog

I’m going to share a little secret with you; one that I was introduced to in summer (you remember summer, it happened briefly). You might wrinkle your nose or make vom noises. But bear with me.

A hotdog with peanut butter and jam is a thing of beauty!

I KNOW!!! I was shocked/horrified/disgusted/intrigued at the thought as well, but it’s true!

Here’s how it came about.

The husband and I went to Moseley Jazz Festival in Moseley Park & Pool and had a wander around the food stalls looking for some scran. We spotted the ingeniously named Piggie Smalls, and their menu of greatly named hotdogs.

Piggie Smalls hotdogs

Now I’m not a traditional hotdog lover, frankfurters aren’t my bag usually, but we spotted the Pig Daddy Kane with it’s PB, cherry jam and bacon bits and curiosity got the better of us. “Let’s share one,” we said, “in case it’s all kinds of wrongness.” Which, in truth, it should be.

Except it wasn’t. It was a revelation.

So we went back the next day and had another, in case the first one was a fluke. It wasn’t. We oohed and aahed and licked our lips and proclaimed it to be the BEST. HOTDOG. EVER.

And then, on the walk home, the husband had the genius idea to try and recreate it at home (we weren’t even that drunk). So we hotfooted it to Sainsbury’s and bought the closest ingredients we could get:

Pork and herb sausages

Whole Earth crunchy peanut butter

Seedless raspberry jam

White finger rolls

And the next morning we sat with trepidation at our barbecue, wondering whether the difference in fruit and the lack of bacon bits and the herbs in the sausages would be the undoing of our tasty memory. But it worked! Oh my god it worked! And it was so indulgent and naughty and guilt inducing but also so right and tasty that we had another one each!

What do you think? Does it work in your head? Would you try it? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

 

Why fundraising for cancer charities is not fun

**DISCLAIMER – this post is not an attack on people who fundraise. I think they’re incredibly admirable and, without them, cancer charities would severely suffer**

I have a bee in my bonnet. It’s about the way fund raising for cancer charities is portrayed in the media.

Cancer

First of all, let’s take a step back. The fact that fundraising is necessary at all really grinds my gears. Kids baking cakes and women shaving their heads and men running marathons is all great stuff, but the fact that research and support for such a vile, in-discriminatory, debilitating, life changing killer disease like cancer has to be funded by the public is appalling. When you look at the amount of money that is spent on war, footballers wages and Hollywood films, and then see that cancer charities are asking for donations to continue life saving work; well, something doesn’t add up there. The same can be said for many charities. I work in the sight loss industry, and some blind people rely heavily on charities like RNIB and Guide Dogs to level the playing field with sighted people for a physical disability that isn’t their fault. But that’s another post.

So, cancer charities are very necessary and very worthwhile.

My problem is the way in which the media encourages people to get involved, in this whole fun, uplifting show of bravado that “together we’ll beat cancer.” My current bug bear is with Absolute Radio, who are promoting a comedy show to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. The advert goes something along the lines of “we’re going to show cancer who’s boss – it’s us.”

It fucking well isn’t us at all. Statistically, the chances of being affected by cancer (that’s having it yourself or knowing someone who does) used to be 1 in 3. Now it’s that 1 in 2 people will get cancer. Not even be affected by it. Actually get it. I know a couple who both have cancer, now, at the same time. The guy has been told his is incurable, and while dealing with that, his wife got diagnosed with breast cancer, had a mastectomy and has just started chemotherapy.

That isn’t us “bossing” cancer.

The radio adverts for Macmillan coffee mornings also pissed me off “oh I’ll have a slice of cake then, if it means beating cancer”. For fuck’s sake, stop trivialising it. These adverts, with their airy fairy-ness, don’t represent the gritty reality of people being unable to eat, sleep or walk because their body is being ravaged by tumours. They’re making cancer into a sociable excuse to get together or a reason to bake some cakes and make yummy noises.

I’m not saying the fundraising efforts, and the encouragement to make them happen, should stop. Of course it shouldn’t; it’s an integral part of treating what is a global problem. I’m just saying I wish the reasoning behind these efforts wasn’t delivered in such a fluffy, softly softly way. And I know that’s because I saw what my Dad went through after his cancer diagnosis, and because I watched him deteriorate mentally and physically up until his death. And it’s because I’m bitter that all the cancer research in the world couldn’t save him. And it’s because I’m cynical, and I actually believe that a cure for at least some cancers already exists. And it’s because I can’t believe governments won’t sanction the use of cannabis oil to help cancer patients, in spite of it’s proven palliative and sometimes curative effects.

But mainly it’s because cancer is one of the most serious and worst things many of us will ever have to face; either personally or by association. And giving it a fascia of having fun isn’t doing justice to how life changing and damaging it is.

Here’s an idea for a marketing campaign.

“Cancer is evil and deadly and we want to support people affected by it, which we can do with your donations. Please give generously, either personally or through sponsored events. Thanks”

Rant over.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Why I support Dignity in Dying

I’ll never forget the day my Dad asked me if I’d heard of Dignitas. It was about a year after his inoperable cancer diagnosis and we were sitting in his lounge one Saturday afternoon. He’d told me before I got there that he wanted to talk to me about some things, and I knew it would be related to his illness. He’d started off with discussing his will, so I was already crying by the time he mentioned the assisted dying clinic in Switzerland. I knew it wasn’t just idle conversation.

My Dad was very very scared of how he would die from cancer. I’m sure he was afraid of dying too, but his main focus was the how; what would happen to his body in the lead up to the end. Effects of prostate cancer include spinal cord compression – when the active tumours press on your spinal cord leading to limited mobility or, in some cases, paralysis. He was consumed with the idea that this might happen to him. That his final days or weeks might be spent confined to bed, relying solely on others to clean and feed him. It wasn’t how he wanted his life to end.

By the time he brought up the subject with me he’d already started looking into it. He’d been in touch with Dignitas to find out the process for being accepted at the clinic. Contrary to somewhat popular belief, their services aren’t open to just anyone. It’s not enough to feel you’re done with life and want to end it all. They ask for recent medical proof of your condition and, if possible, a prognosis. They’re not in the business of helping healthy people to die. They’re there to provide a much needed choice; a dignified end for people who want to control how and when they die, and at what stage in their deterioration. For people like my Dad who don’t want to face the end in potential pain; losing their independence and dignity as their illness ravages their body.

We discussed the logistics of it; how he would want his wife and I to fly with him to Switzerland. How he would need to be there for a couple of days prior to his chosen end date in order to be seen by medical professionals and psychiatric assessors. How he could change his mind at any time. How the clinic would help with arrangements around accommodation and restaurants and things to do in the days prior. How, on the chosen day, he would self administer a lethal amount of liquid barbiturate which would send him into what looks like a deep sleep, while his wife and I were there with him, holding his hand and able to say our goodbyes. How, after around 30 minutes, his organs would slow and eventually shut down completely. How his body would be cremated in Switzerland. How it might be difficult to repatriate his ashes into the UK because of the legalities around assisted dying, and how he understood. Whether he would tell family and friends in advance. Whether we would bring his belongings home, after we flew out to Switzerland as three people, and came back as two.

It was heartbreaking.

But, that said, I completely understood. And I completely supported him.

You see, my Dad never recovered from his inoperable cancer diagnosis. I don’t mean physically, that was an impossibility. But mentally he was never able to put it to the back of his mind. Although he went on holidays and did stuff while he still could, he never had that “fuck you cancer” mentality. It was pretty much all he spoke about. And that’s an exhausting way to live. From the time he was diagnosed he became obsessed with how long he had left to live, and what that time would be like. And, the more he found out about how bad things could become, the less he wanted to let nature take it’s course.

My Dad didn’t make it to Dignitas. He made the mistake of asking his GP for his medical records, so he could send them away as per the rules of the Swiss clinic. His GP asked him why he wanted them; almost goading him into telling him why. So my Dad told him. And his GP said he would have to consult the practice legal team, who advised that they couldn’t condone ending his life in that way, so he had to mark my Dad’s medical files as a potential suicide case with strict instructions not to release his files to him.

Dad was angry. Incredibly angry. He felt he’d been tricked and blamed the GP. He sought out charities and organisations and individuals who may have been able to help. He applied for his hospital records in the hope that they weren’t marked up with his intentions. But it proved just too difficult to get the information he needed quickly enough. Dignitas required recent medical records, and by the time the hospital processed the request they were already out of date for his needs.

During that fateful GP appointment, his doctor spoke very highly of the palliative care services available in the UK. Palliative care is end of life care. Pre-death care. The intention is to make sure that people with terminal illnesses are comfortable, not in pain and not suffering. There are Macmillan nurses and hospice workers who dedicate their life to looking after people with cancer, and they do a magnificent job. But what about the mental pain? The fear and the anguish of what’s to come? You can’t treat that with a morphine injection and a comfortable bed.

Palliative care 100% has a place in the NHS, I strongly believe that. But it shouldn’t be the only option.

When my Dad was given a timescale on his illness, towards the end, his obsession with what was to come became even worse. The team from Macmillan told him he had about 4-6 weeks left to live. He was too poorly to do anything, to weak to go out, too uncomfortable to share his marital bed, too ill to enjoy food or even eat. He lost a lot of weight, needed sticks just to get around at home and was regularly physically sick. Hew was also in immense amounts of pain, because the team supporting him were struggling to get the balance of medication right. The palliative care team the doctor had spoken so highly of; who were supposed to be a real and equal option to that of Dignitas. He had no quality of life, and still continued to fear worse to come; that he would be paralysed before his body gave up. He didn’t want to have to have a bed in his lounge and be unable to live the life he had previously there. He made the difficult decision to be transferred to a hospice for specialist care.

My Dad never made it to the hospice. He had a suspected stroke in the early hours of the morning he was due to be transported there by ambulance. He was rushed to A&E where he was convulsing and writhing in suspected pain. After the amazing hospital staff managed to get him comfortable, he was transferred to a private room in a ward where we knew he would see out his last hours. He never regained consciousness but all of his family were around him for the whole day and into the night, where he died not long before 11pm. We were, thank god, able to say our goodbyes. It was, in a way, the best thing that could have happened. Had he survived another 4 weeks, as diagnosed by the cancer specialists, he would have suffered an incredible amount, lost even more weight, been even more poorly and perhaps even have become paralysed as he feared. He’d have been in a hospice, away from home, waiting to die. And that just isn’t acceptable as the only option.

Imagine how much better he could have coped from the time of diagnosis until the inevitable end if he knew that he didn’t have to face the very worst that the illness could throw at him? That he could know in his own mind when enough was enough, and end his life on his terms? Because that’s the other issue with Dignitas. You need to be well enough to make the journey, and physically able to take the barbiturate. People who do make it to Dignitas often have to choose an end date in advance of what they would if assisted dying was an option in the UK, because they need to be sure they’re capable of getting there. They need to book flights and accommodation. They need to choose an end well in advance, without knowing if they’ll definitely feel desperately ill enough by that point. People are potentially cutting their lives shorter than they need to because of our archaic laws here in the UK.

It’s also bloody expensive, so not a valid option for everyone.

This is where Dignity in Dying comes in. They’re a charity who’s focus is to change the law in the UK around assisted dying; to make it possible for people with a terminal illness and a doctor’s diagnosis to choose when to die, in their own home or place of their choice, with their family and friends around them. For people to do it on their terms. Not to have to slink off like criminals. Not to have to worry whether their loved ones who have helped or accompanied them will face legal repercussions back in the UK. Not to fear undeterminable pain, potential paralysis, loss of bowel control, loss of appetite, sickness and god knows what else while they’re waiting to die. We aren’t talking about families pushing vulnerable people to end their life so as not to be a financial or literal burden. We’re talking about people for whom there is no hope of getting better, only the reality of getting worse. People who want to control their own destiny and make their own decision on when enough is enough. People who, understandably, don’t want their final days to be full of pain and suffering; people who don’t want to potentially die alone in hospital; people who want choice. Not inevitability. Not that sense of having to give in and accept their fate. The power to say enough is enough.

I know it’s said so many times by people who support the right to assisted dying, but we wouldn’t allow animals to suffer the way we allow humans to. I recently read a comment on a Dignity in Dying Facebook post, which said a terminally ill person would probably be better off going to a vet than a doctor. You can see the point. If an animal is poorly we do “the kindest thing”. It’s an accepted part of a humane society and an accepted part of being a pet owner. It’s allowable by law. Why then are people with cancer who can no longer eat or drink towards the end, due to the illness, allowed to essentially dehydrate and starve for days until their body finally gives up? Why are people with neurological diseases allowed to become prisoners in their own body, as their muscular responses cease to function, with death the only hope of respite?

Noel’s story

Noel Conway was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in November 2014. Prior to his illness he’d worked in education and been incredibly active; hiking the Shropshire countryside around his home and skiing in Europe. His illness put a stop not only to that, but to any independence of life. He can now no longer walk, has difficulty breathing and has to be hoisted from his bed to a chair. He knows he’s in the latter stages of the illness, and his time is limited. Noel’s illness is terminal and he has naturally started to focus on the end of his life, which he would like to be on his terms. So, in an incredibly brave and dedicated act, Noel became involved with Dignity in Dying; using his own experiences and position to lobby for a change in the law in the UK.

In a better, more advanced, more compassionate country, Noel could make the most of the last months of his life in the small ways he can still create enjoyment; safe in the knowledge that when he knows that the time is right for him, he could call on a doctor to help him die in his own home with family and friends around him. Of course that time may not come. Noel may decide that he wants nature to take it’s course. The key word here is choice. Noel wants the choice to be available to him. Instead, because of archaic British laws which the UK Parliament are too scared to review – in spite of overwhelming support from the British public – Noel has spent his dying months in a legal battle which he’s taken all the way to the High Court.

Today, the High Court has rejected Noel’s bid to have the choice to end his own life legally and on his own terms.

In true Noel spirit, he and his legal team are already looking into the appeal process, on the basis that the 1961 suicide act – which prevents assisted dying in the UK – is incompatible with human rights legislation. Dignity in Dying will, of course, support Noel in his appeal.

Assisted dying in California – Betsy Davis

In November of last year, Betsy Davis – a 41 year old artist also dying from MND (or, more specifically, ALS which is the most common form of MND and also the type that Noel Conway has) held a party at a Californian ranch, surrounded by 30 friends. There was music, laughter, shared stories and memories. At the end of the weekend, she was wheeled out in her bed to watch the sunset and ingest a legally prescribed cocktail of drugs which slowed down her organs until she passed away peacefully. The assisted dying law had only been in force in California for a month.

What a difference this law made for Betsy. Her fear at living the last months of her life entombed in her own body, being fed through a tube and being completely reliant on others for every day care was replaced by a sense of purpose to organise her own exit; to spend her last days and hours how she wanted to, to end her life on a high note created at her own will, rather than in potential excruciating physical pain, and certainly mental anguish.

Support for a change in the law

There is a lot of support for a change in the law; not just from the general public but from people in the public eye.

Dignity in Dying Ian McKewan

Dignity in Dying Jo Brand

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has come out in support of choice.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu also calls for choice, and for that choice to be respected.

Now, if men of the cloth can understand the need for a change in the law, when religion is at the very heart of some people’s objection to assisted dying, why can politicians not see the need for change?

This image of Sandy, for me, sums it up.

Dignity in Dying Sandy

It certainly would have helped my Dad, it would help Noel Conway, and it would help thousands of people both now and in the future. We’re forced to take responsibility for how we live our lives. Let’s be granted the responsibility for how we choose to die, too.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x