My cockles were warmed on multiple levels this week by this story. A man riding the New York subway, re-teaching himself fractions so he could help his son, and in turn being offered help by a stranger.
Why the multiple cockle warming, you may ask? (or you may not!)
Firstly the Dad, obvs. I have to be honest, I’ve forgotten most of what I learnt in school maths lessons (trigonometry, anyone?) but the fact that he was taking the time to get to grips with it to help his son is lovely (I know it’s basic good parenting, but I guess a lot of folks would pass the buck to someone else instead of taking the time to re-learn something from many years ago).
Secondly, public transport is a pretty inhospitable place generally, where most people go out of their way to avoid eye contact, much less be nice to someone. So the fact that the older guy acknowledged the situation is in itself a wonderful thing. But to take that a step further, and offer help, is a lovely lovely thing.
Finally, that the Dad accepted the offer of a help as a genuine kindness rather than getting all defensive or dismissive, is probably all too rare in itself these days.
The kid learning fractions isn’t the only winner here. My guess is that both the Dad and the older guy went away feeling pretty good about themselves too.
What do you think? Would you accept help from a stranger?
When I went to a Dignity in Dying meeting in Parliament back in January, it was quite clear from the MPs who attended that there’s still a hell of a lot of misconception about what the charity and it’s supporters (myself included) are fighting for. On that basis it’s clear that, when there is another vote on the issue in Parliament (as there was in 2015), those MPs won’t understand what they’re voting for, which will obviously affect the outcome.
To be clear, Dignity in Dying are fighting for a change in the law that allows mentally competent, terminally ill people with less than 6 months to live, the legal right to end their life in the UK with medical assistance. Mental competence would be assessed by an independent psychiatric professional. This would end the need for people to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland or other countries and organisations where assisted dying is currently legal. It would mean that people could die at home, in comfort, surrounded by family. It would mean they didn’t have to skulk away like criminals and worry that anyone who had helped them to make the journey overseas may face prosecution.
My Dad’s wife’s MP is Tom Watson, Member for West Bromwich East and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. He didn’t vote in favour of changing the assisted dying law in the last vote three years ago. As a constituent, she and another local resident Jim, who took his partner to Dignitas because the UK law didn’t allow her to end her life in her home country, requested a meeting with him to discuss the issue. They both shared their stories and experiences with him, and presented him with the latest research from Dignity in Dying.
Mr Watson was very moved by both of their stories, and surprised at the difference in treatment at the hands of their doctors (Dad’s doctor refused to give hi the paperwork he needed to be accepted by Dignitas on legal grounds, whereas Jim’s partner’s doctor helped them to collate everything they needed. Ironically they were both under the same GP surgery). He was visibly emotional and his opinion of assisted dying changed during that meeting. He pledged to publicly declare his support.
True to his word, Mr Watson was interviewed by the Daily Mirror newspaper, and an article was published this weekend. He acknowledges that meeting with my Dad’s wife and Jim changed his opinion, and has gone on record as saying the law needs to change
I’m sharing this message to prove that you, me, all of us, can make a difference. Not just specifically to Dignity in Dying, but with anything you feel passionately about. Maybe your MP is like Tom Watson – doesn’t understand your issue or has never really given it any thought. Maybe the thing that you want changing has never been on their agenda. Maybe you’re the person to make them understand and make them think about it.
Farmers markets are quite de riguer these days aren’t they? Any postcode worth it’s salt seems to have one. Well, I can go one better, the Farmers Market where I live won the FARMA “Best Farmers’ Market in the UK” award in 2009, 2012 and 2016 – the only market to have won 3 times!
Now I’m finished gloating, I have to admit that I don’t get there very often. I always seem to have something on, or the weather’s rubbish (I’m a fair weather person). But, on a (rare) sunny but cold February morning I toddled off up the road to buy some schizzle. And by schizzle I mean edible stuff.
The market boasts around 60 stalls with all sort of fresh produce – cakes, cheese, fresh olives and organic meat.
The pottery stall has beautiful handmade, handfired goods.
Multitudes of flavours of cordials and chutneys on this stall.
Baladee has Egyptian flavours.
The Scotch Egg man is a personal fave, because scotch eggs are a food of wonder.
There’s also a plant stall; we bought some bits which sadly died because the weather was too crap to plant them up outside for weeks afterwards.
The pastries from Cossak Cuisine were flying out!
There’s also a hog roast stall selling hot pork sandwiches, and a samosa stall where the samosas are freshly deep fried in front of you and are OMG delish. Unfortunately by the time we got there they’d sold out, oops. So the husband bought a smoked sausage pastry from the stall above, which was delicious heated up in the oven when we got home.
What else did we buy?
Some garlic rolled goats cheese, sweet potato dip from Baladee and 4 scotch eggs – honey and mustard, spring onion and garlic, sundried tomato and Eastern spice. Yum!
The market is held on the last Saturday of each month in the village square. Which means it’s on today! Unfortunately I won’t be going along because I’m going caret shopping <<hugely sarcastic yay>>, and suitcase shopping <<actual legitimate yay, because it’s for our trip to Palma which happens next weekend!>>
What’s the best way to celebrate turning 106? If you’re Jack Reynolds, you go on a 60 metre high, 400 metre long zipwire; casually gaining another Guinness World Record on the way.
I say another, because Jack is no stranger to marking his birthday with a new World Record. Last year, at 105, he became the oldest person to ride a rollercoaster; and the year before that, at 104, he was the oldest person to get a tattoo.
He even participated in the ice bucket challenge when he was 102, wearing just a pair of Union Jack pants!
Daredevil Jack is doing more in his 100s than a lot of people do in a lifetime; how amazing is that! Plus, he’s raising money for charity along the way.
As I sat watching coverage of the London Marathon on Sunday, I was struck by how many people were running to raise money for charity, which is obviously an amazing thing to do. Charity is an important part of our society, supporting needy causes that don’t get public funding.
It started me thinking, again (I’ve been thinking this for a while), about how wrong it is that some needy causes have to be supported by charity. That there is no government money for them.
Look at Cancer Research UK, for example. 1 in 2 people are now expected to get cancer during their lifetime. Shouldn’t there be more government funding available for something that affects half the population? What about sight loss charities? People who are born blind often have to rely on donations in order to get adapted equipment for the home or work – how is that right?
The thing that really got my goat during the marathon though, was the firefighters running to raise money for the community affected by the Grenfell Tower fire last year. I’d heard them interviewed on the radio on Friday, and then saw more interviews on the TV coverage. 18 firefighters who attended the fire, from North Kensington and Paddington boroughs, who’ve already done so much to rescue survivors during the disaster, were running in full gear including breathing apparatus (an additional weight of approximately 30kgs per person) in order to raise funds. But millions of charity donations already exist, and sit in the hands of the UK government who haven’t fully or correctly distributed them to survivors and those affected. Huge pots of money, donated in good faith by the British public who were saddened by the tragedy, not making the difference it should to the people who need it.
It’s morally and financially wrong.
Of course, some charities themselves are not above reprehension either. CEOs on 6 figure salaries, mismanagement of resources – it starts to add up to a really badly organised use of public cash which was donated in good faith.
Not to end on a bad note though, I salute every single person who put themself through 26.2 gruelling miles of running, in the hottest London Marathon temperatures ever recorded, to raise cash for a cause they believe in. They’re all amazing. I just hope their donations get used in the proper manner.
When I say hidden treasures, I obviously don’t mean in the true sense of the word; the Pantheon, Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain are all very well known Roman attractions. But I was super surprised by their location within the city, and how unobvious they were!
Let me explain. On our first day in Rome we went on a city bus tour. We like to do this on most city breaks because it gives a good feel for the city, the highlights, etc and then we generally go back in our own time to visit the places we want to see. During our bus tour around Rome, the commentary pointed out that both the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps weren’t visible from the bus, and we’d need to get off at the nearest stop and walk to them, which we resolved to do at a later point.
That same afternoon, after lunch, we were wandering around the area near to our hotel and I said we should go the the Pantheon. Do you think we could find it? Even the power of Google maps on my phone wasn’t enough to locate this world famous landmark (admittedly my map reading isn’t the best, I have to get in the map like Joey in Friends). We were tantalisingly close and we knew it but just couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Later on we would find the reason why – it’s tucked away in a piazza with no fanfare or big signs or feel of a huge tourist attraction – it’s just there. We rounded the corner and there it stood in front of us.
The first time we went in was dark, so when we looked up the dome we couldn’t tell whether the black dot in the middle was a window, or something else.
Insisting on returning the next morning, we found that it’s an oculus – an opening into the sky with no glass or covering. Rain falls through the hole and is then carried away by the drains inside the building. I found that pretty amazing; that it’s existed for all those years with such a design. The Pantheon has existed, in it’s current incarnation, since 126 AD.
Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Wow!
I loved the Pantheon. It was possibly one of my favourite buildings in Rome, which is quite a bold boast. Maybe it’s because we tried so hard to find it! Or because we saw it most of all (once we’d come across it the first time it felt like we passed it 3 times a day!) but I never tired of taking photos of it!
It was certainly special enough to be the host to our final lunch, where I ate unctuous lasagne and drank chianti and bathed in winter sunshine and the glory of an amazing trip.
The Trevi fountain is similarly tucked away, more so than the Pantheon (although better signposted). Walking down narrow streets we could hear a hum of people, and then turned a corner and there it was, in all it’s carved, watery glory.
It’s very beautiful, and very crowded – both due to it’s popularity and the limited space (as I said, it’s in a small piazza surrounded on 3 sides by buildings). As such it’s difficult to get many good photos, but just looking at these brings back the amazing memories.
We also went back during the daytime, because I like to squeeze every last drop out of every trip, but I preferred it in the evening because of how beautifully it was lit, and also because the bright sunshine cast shadows over the incredible detail (not that I’m complaining about the sunshine you understand; we were incredibly lucky with the weather and it made everything even better).
And finally, the Spanish Steps, tucked away at the end of a long shopping street (where I spent some of my birthday money on Pandora charms). Again we’d struggled to pinpoint the area, and it was our last stop before our final lunch at the Pantheon, and the poor old husband’s legs and back had given way after days and days of me walking him all over the city.
I didn’t know what to expect and that’s probably to my detriment because I guess I thought it was a tourist attraction in it’s own right, but really it wasn’t. I climbed the steps to the top, because I was there, and the architecture surrounding them is beautiful, but there’s no wow factor as there is in all of the other tourist attractions in the City (and there are a lot). The steps are just steps, and very crowded too.
Trinità dei Monti Cathedral is the imposing building at the top; I didn’t go in but it’s twin spires were very imposing against the beautiful blue sky (there’s me banging on about the weather again).
Well it’s fair to say that the garden had it’s own quirks too, with a higgledy piggledy zoned layout that didn’t make the best of the space at all. These were the online listing pictures – we struggled to even understand how they related to the house until we went for a viewing!
We had some use out of the garden last year; getting outside to read/drink/barbecue whenever it was warm enough, and we bought some new garden furniture and prettied the space up with some pots, but it was just a temporary measure until we decided what to do long term.
Obviously, when we moved in, our priority was to complete the building work which would change the house from a 2 bed apartment with 3 garages into a 3 bedroom “normal” 2 storey house. With builders having a habit of trampling everything in their wake and covering it with rubble and dust, we knew that the garden would be a casualty once the work started in October.
It’s now 3 months since the building work was finished, and with Spring just around the corner (surely?!) it was time to start focussing on our outdoor space, which is going to be a HUGE part of of our life during the better weather. We’d had the shed built just before Christmas (it needs painting, we’re debating colours at the moment) and I’d spent many an hour with an axe and a shovel digging up long established but neglected fuschia trees and bushes last summer, so we made the decision to open up the space by moving a fence that split the garden area in two, giving us a big open plan area with a seating level, an upper level and the lawn.
Here it is in progress, after the fence came down.
We’d had bifold doors put in the extension that was built over the winter, which opens up the side of the house onto the garden. As much as I say I like gardening, what I really like is the pretty bits – choosing and planting flowers – so we wanted the area outside the patio to be low maintenance. The existing slabs were covered in a thick membrane, and we had 7 tonnes of dove limestone gravel laid down.
Which is the perfect area for our bistro table and outdoor dining table!
Obviously I had to test out the positioning with a glass of wine! How else would I know if everything was as it should be?
There’s still lots to do – the grass is in a bad way and we need to plan planting of border with shrubs and bulbs. In terms of prettiness I shall be on the hunt for beautiful plant pots and curios and mirrors as I want it to be a really eclectic space full of quirkiness, but it’s such a massive difference already that I can’t wait to do the next phase.
Are you a garden person? Or do you prefer to be indoors?
I’ve noticed that I tend to neglect myself in January and February. And this year it spilled right over into March too! Not in a “woe is me” kind of way. Just in a “can’t be arsed” kind of way. Know what I mean? Pyjamas become uniform (if I’m not wearing them by 6.30pm on a week night something’s horribly wrong), lack of socialising leads to longer than is acceptable eyebrows and greasier than acceptable roots, and I generally just want to hide away and wait for Spring when I start to choose to feel human and bothered again.
It doesn’t help that last year was so crazy busy with moving house, and our builders were on site right up until 3 days before Christmas, so now we’re finally settled in to our new lovely extended open plan downstairs we just don’t want to leave. In fact I’ve joked in recent months that I’ve developed weekend agoraphobia (not that agoraphobia is a joke, before anyone gets the wrong idea, but my reticence to leave the house from Friday night to Monday morning has become quite the source of amusement for my work colleagues).
And if I’m not leaving the house, I’m often not leaving my PJs!
With lighter nights, milder temperatures and spring flowers all making an appearance I start to feel like I should be making an effort too. Bits of colour appear in my wardrobe and layers become singular. Toenails will be painted in anticipation of sandals. I’ll start to think about fake tan (I’m so unattractively pasty right now). It somehow all feels more worth it when winter is over.
People joke about hibernating in winter, but I would genuinely like to! It just doesn’t suit me – physically or mentally. Spring and Summer is when I thrive and am at my best.
It’s just a shame that Spring feels so reticent to make itself known this year. We keep getting the occasional glimpse, but it just doesn’t last (although I did spend a lovely couple of hours in my garden potting flowers yesterday)
Anyone else feel this way? Or am I the only seasonally slovenly sloth around here!
Last night when I got home, I found out that a friend’s brother had taken his own life on Tuesday.
This morning, a different friend saw the horrifying sight of a man hanging from a motorway bridge as he drove to work.
Only last week, 84 sculptures were revealed on top of the ITV building in London, to highlight the number of men who take their own life every week in the UK. This is part of Project84 – a campaign run by CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).
Male suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, and reports indicate this is due to social rather than biological reasons. Please make sure all the men in your life – family, friends, work colleagues – know there are people available to talk to, and that sharing their problems does not make them less masculine or reflect on their manliness in anyway.
If you are experiencing problems and suicidal thoughts; whether you’re male or female, you can contact professionals including The Samaritans.