With all the bullshit political stuff going on in the US right now (and by that, I obviously mean Trump) it’s good to know that the American voting public don’t always get it wrong.
Towards the end of last year, openly homophobic US State Official Robert Marshall was ousted from his position after 13 terms. Marshall had proudly called himself Virginia’s chief homophobe, and tried to introduce a bathroom bill which discriminated against transgender people by making them use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth, not that which they associate with now (you can read my thoughts on the logistics of that here).
Thanks then to that bitch karma; not only for ending his reign, but for replacing him with an openly transgender candidate. Yup, Marshall was beaten by Danica Roem, who was born male but transitioned to female. She has made history by becoming the first openly transgender elected and seated in a US state legislature.
If you’re in the market for a genuinely funny, laugh out loud comedy film that isn’t too long or too challenging – just easy watching and full of giggles, may I recommend Vacation?
Released in 2015 (what? I never said it was a new release!), I’m only aware of it because the husband flagged it to me as something he wanted to watch. As a long time fan of the National Lampoon’s Family Vacation films with Chevy Chase (his favourite Christmas film is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), he was intrigued to see whether a 21st Century version would have the same comedy genius as the 80s films of his teenage years. Not quite a remake, this version follows Clarke Griswold’s son Rusty, who’s now all grown up and married, with teenage kids of his own. Wanting to recreate the happy family memories of his youth, Rusty and his wife (played by Christina Applegate) and 2 sons set off on a cross country roadtrip to Wally World.
Of course the trip is not without incident; starting before they’ve even driven away in their Albanian hire car, and continuing with Korean sat nav, a cringeworthy paedophile incident, poo and a cameo appearance by the original Griswold parents Clarke and Ellen.
Oh, and Chris Hemsworth is in too, looking mighty fine!
As I said, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments, lots of comedy gold and some scenes borrowed from earlier films; all wrapped up with a modern spin. Great for if you need a break from Christmas films (sacrilege, I know!) or you fancy a backdrop of sunshine rather than snow with your laughs.
Today’s big news in the UK, and probably in other parts of the world too, is that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have announced their engagement. It’s been rumoured to be coming for a while, so isn’t really a surprise, but it’s still headline worthy on press websites and, no doubt, tomorrow’s newspapers.
Personally I think marrying into the Royal Family would be bloody awful; so much attention from the paparazzi and press, lack of anonymity, the need for security guards wherever you go. But you can’t help who you fall in love with, and Meghan obviously thinks Harry is worth it. As an actress she’s already used to attention and she has media dealings in her charity and humanitarian work, so maybe it won’t be as big a step as it would be for a mere mortal!
I think it’s great that Harry is marrying his own choice of bride, rather than going down the traditional royal route of regal connections or a title. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the younger Royals are really doing a great job in being real people as well as born into / married into Royalty. It bodes well for the future.
What is interesting is that Meghan is a divorcee, having previously been married between 2011 and 2013, and also that she’s mixed race, with her Mother being African American. Again I think this shows progress in the Royal household, a level of acceptance of “someone different” that I can’t imagine happening in previous generations. Whether Lizzy and Phil are truly happy behind closed doors is another matter, but this public engagement and impending wedding is certainly a show of progression.
Hopefully, in seeing a different culture and colour represented in our country’s leading family, acceptance can be achieved in other areas of British life. Prince Harry already damned the racist undertones from the British Press early on in their relationship. Perhaps their union will help in wider society too; in contributing to ceasing white snobbery and breaking down racial barriers.
Most exciting though, for many Brits, is the prospect of an additional bank holiday! It was good enough for Wills, and Queenie won’t want to be accused of favouritism between her grandsons. Happy days!
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.
Today’s Friday feeling is slightly different, in that it’s not warm and fuzzy, but a celebration of girl power.
Popstar Sia (who I’m aware of in terms of existence but not in terms of music – I say that not in a condescending or rude way, purely that I’m old and probably not her target market!) has hit back at a sleazy paparazzo who was threatening to sell nude photographs of her, by releasing them herself.
In a big old “fuck you” move, she’s taken the supposed shame out of the pics, which the seller was counting on, and turned it into a positive for herself. Shame can only exist where there’s secrecy, and secrecy drives underground and underhanded behaviour like blackmail and bidding wars, so this is a genius move on her part.
Also, as an addendum, why should she feel shame? It’s her body and her life; she wasn’t doing anything seedy or bad (and, even if she was, it’s her business), and she was in a private place where she shouldn’t be spied on or photographed.
I love that the seedy photographer, who thought he was in for a big fat paycheck, has not only lost his cash cow but been make to look like a total mug in the process.
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.”
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.
**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.
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”
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.
What can you say, apart from CHANGE YOUR FUCKING GUN LAWS!!
It’s not difficult to see the correlation between the ease of access to firearms and the number of people killed or injured through shootings.
The hypocrisy when compared to the treatment of Muslims entering America is staggering.
“We think that there are a small handful of Muslims who might be terrorists, so we should ban people from Muslim countries coming to America”
“Yes a few people have gone on shooting sprees with guns, but we can’t tar every gun owner with the same brush”
People in the Trump administration saying a tragedy isn’t the right time to be talking about policies must be on drugs. It’s exactly the right time. Cause and effect – the spotlight is on the cause right now; how much of a bigger spotlight do you need?