I don’t trust anyone that says they’re a morning person. How can you be? How is it possible? Mornings are a shock to the system. There you are all nicely cocooned in the safety of sleep, only to be rudely reminded that real life demands your attention.
Weekends are the exception, obvs. Weekend mornings are things of beauty, when you can take your time to come round and re-engage with humanity, maybe having a little snooze or some breakfast in bed. Unless you work weekends.
As a Monday to Friday employee, I have five uninterrupted days of mornings.
Throw having builders working on our home into the mix, and things get messed up a little! There’s the worry that they might turn up early while you’re still in your leopard print dressing gown (me, meeting our new decorator for the first time yesterday morning), your usual routine being cut short by said early arrival (me, putting my make up on at work instead of at home yesterday) the feeling that you need to get out of their way (even though it’s your house – also me yesterday), the upheaval of having to empty rooms meaning you can’t find things (husband, looking for a work shirt this morning).
Currently I try to fit in the previous night’s washing up so we don’t look totally skanky (I never get round to it the night before – I CAN NOT WAIT to have a dishwasher again!), boil eggs for breakfast, pack lunches and snacks for me and the husband (on a good day it’s soup – so easy! Otherwise it’s salad which is more time consuming), shower, choose an outfit (I’m not one of these organised people who plan the night before) and put on a bit of make up. Some days you can add in trying to find my keys or mobile phone, packing up an online shopping order for return, or changing my outfit at the last minute.
All while the husband is seemingly everywhere I want to be (in the shower, ironing in the bedroom, at the sink in the kitchen).
I genuinely don’t know how people with kids ever manage to get out of the door, ever!
On the plus side, all this activity means that we’re getting closer to our home being finished. We’re getting a front door tomorrow, after weeks of having a gaping hole in the front of the house, and I’m definitely more excited about this than I am about Christmas so far!
And my new kitchen gets started on Friday, which will give me a home for my new succulents (and pots and pans, plates and bowls, and cutlery).
Of course, the end of the project will also mean a new morning routine, as we’ll be living on two levels for the first time in almost 12 years. It’s going to be strange…
I recently saw this idea posted by someone on Facebook and thought it would be a really nice way to do something to help others this Christmas.
The premise is that you get a box, and every day you put in an item of non perishable food – tinned goods, pasta, teabags; that kind of thing – and then you donate it to a food bank so it can be distributed to people who need it.
There’s a couple of impracticalities – the first being that donating it on Christmas Eve doesn’t leave enough time for it to be donated to people to eat over Christmas, and the second that a lot of people don’t go to the shops everyday to buy or put an item in the box. So I’m going to bastardise the idea a little bit, with the same result. I’m going to put together a box of items over the lead up to Christmas, and then donate it the week before so it can reach needy folk ready for the big day.
I’ve also made an early New Years resolution that I’m going to put together a box every month in 2018; helping people not just at Christmas but the whole year through. It’s a travesty that food banks need to exist, and worse that even more people are relying on them, and not just people you may expect, like those who are unemployed or unable to work. There have been news stories about nurses needing to use them to supplement their families, and that’s a shocking state of affairs. The husband and I are lucky to be in a fortunate position, and a few pounds on our shopping bill isn’t going to change our lives, but it could help someone else.
If you’re interested in doing this, I suggest looking into local causes and finding out what they need (food stuffs, personal items, etc). They’ll sometimes offer a collection service, or local supermarkets may have a donation point too. Homeless charities will be grateful for warm clothes and bedding donations, and again are often able to collect.
This is also a great idea for people with children I think, to teach kids the importance of giving, as well as receiving.
Have you ever done anything like this? Let me know your thoughts!
In fact, it was such a strange building that we’d been scrolling past it on RightMove for almost 4 months, dismissing it completely out of hand. It was in the postcode we wanted, but that’s where the appeal ended. It was marketed as a 2 bedroom apartment with a private garden and 3 garages. And it looked like this.
We assumed that, as an apartment, it would be leasehold; that it was some type of commercial property; and that the 3 garages were probably rented out or, if not, what the hell were they there for?! Plus we were moving out of a 2 bedroom place, and specifically wanted a 3 bed.
It wasn’t until the husband, in a fit of back to work after Christmas boredom, had a proper look at it that it even became a possibility. He came home from work and told me it was actually freehold, all of the garages belonged to and were being sold with the property and, looking on Google maps, it was in a very secluded area. Also, it had potential for planning permission. Bubbles of excitement started to develop.
The other thing to say here is that we had a very limited search area. When Phil & Kirsty talk about Location, Location, Location – we embody that! We had perhaps a square mile area where we wanted to live, and we were struggling to consider other towns or locations. The problem with that square mile area was that there weren’t really many properties that matched our needs. There’s lots of flats (which, as I say, we were moving away from), lots of Victorian houses which don’t have a garage (essential for the husband’s Harley) and very poor street parking which is high in demand, and lots of really big multi bedroom houses which were way way out of our price range. There really weren’t a lot of properties which were going to meet our (strict) requirements.
So, when the funny apartment with 3 garages started to tick some boxes, we began to wonder whether, in the absence of something available that matched our wants and needs, we could actually part build something instead?
I won’t bore you with the tumultuous offer process, estate agent dealings or price negotiations. Or the planning permission, rules and regulations. Obviously there was a happy ending because we bought the property, and we’re now making it into a traditional house. We’re converting the double garage (leaving the 3rd garage in place for the husband’s motorbike), knocking that through into what was a really big porch, and building an extension to the side which will open out on to the garden. Downstairs will be fully open plan, with an L shaped kitchen and lounge area in the (former) garage, a dining space in the extension, and the large hall/walkway up for discussion! The layout of upstairs will remain the same, but we’ll repurpose the space – what’s currently the lounge will become our bedroom, the kitchen will be a laundry/utility room, and we’ll have 2 more bedrooms and the bathroom as is.
The builders have been on site for 5 weeks and it’s been a stressful and exciting time. Every morning at 8am we hear them starting work and every evening we get home wondering what will have changed that day. On the plus side, because the property was a 2 bedroom apartment, we’re living relatively undisturbed upstairs with no building mess or interruption (although we still have a lot of boxes and bags that we didn’t unpack after the move because we didn’t have space to put everything!)
You’re probably wondering about the Pinocchio moment I mentioned in the title of this post? Remember when Pinocchio the puppet gets his wish, turns to Geppetto and says “look, I’m a real boy!”
Well, where once was 2 garage doors is now 2 proper, double glazed, uPVC framed opening windows. And we have the rudiments of a canopy over what will be our new front door. I feel like our property is saying “look, people who saw past the weirdness, I’m a real house!”
Unfortunately, for now, that’s as far as it goes, because we have to wait for the extension glazing and the front door to be manufactured, delivered and fitted. The builders have downed tools for a few weeks because they can’t proceed with doing anything inside until everything is watertight. But we’ve picked and ordered our kitchen and worktops, interior doors and flooring, and it’s SO EXCITING! Still clinging on to the hope that we’ll be done before Christmas (god knows I’ll be cracking the whip on those builders!) and then I get to do all the exciting stuff like cushions and pictures and pretties, which is far more interesting than plasterboard and wall insulation.
When we moved into the flat 11 and a half years ago, we had a bit of work done then – redesigned kitchen and an interior wall knocked down. It was so stressful and messy that we swore we’d never move anywhere that needed big work doing again. You can see how that vow worked out!
I’m sure I’ll be boring bombarding you with lots more pictures in the weeks to come, as we start the decorating and dressing of the new rooms!
Have you ever taken on a building project? Done lots of work to a property? Let me know!
Today, Dignity in Dying have released their latest research into public support for a change in the law, to allow terminally ill people to choose when to end their life based on their own pain and experiences.
I’m a staunch supporter of the charity and have blogged previously about why I support them, the work they do, and why they do it. My Dad was denied the chance to go to Dignitas for a dignified end to his life on his terms, thanks to his doctor blocking access to his medical records on ethical and legal grounds. In truth, he shouldn’t have had to consider going to another country, like some kind of criminal. The option for assisted dying in his own home, surrounded by family and loved ones, should be a basic human right.
When Dad died, we asked for donations rather than flowers at his funeral. People were incredibly generous, and we were able to make a sizeable donation to Dignity in Dying, in Dad’s honour. Through this, Dad’s wife Julie started a dialogue with them around Dad’s circumstances, and they asked if she’d be interested in helping them to raise the profile of why a change in the law is needed, to which she readily agreed.
I’m so proud of Julie for getting involved and sharing her story, especially as it’s only just over a year since my Dad passed away. It’s still very raw for her, and reliving it is hard. But she feels very strongly about helping the charity and contributing to a very worthwhile cause, and wants to do whatever she can in Dad’s memory.
Such is the strength of Julie’s story, that DiD have made her the current face of their campaign. She’s on the homepage of their website, and 2 of her videos feature on the research page, alongside other people who have been in similar situations.
All we’re asking for is choice. The choice for people to live their life for as long as they are able, and the choice to end it when the pain and suffering is too much.
If you feel strongly about the right for choice and would like to support Dignity in Dying, you can make a one off donation or set up a monthly donation via the giving page on their website. You can also become a member for regular updates.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.