A visit to the “Underworld” – the journey continues

Not all days are good days and not all hours of the day go smoothly. There are occasions when its possible to slip into the “underworld”, and I don’t mean by listening to the classic hit of 1960’s recorded by The Herd. However, the somewhat monotonous background vocals to the track have the same ability to hold you in “that moment”, entrapping for its duration.  

How you end up slipping into the gloom that surrounds you I have no idea, well not really. What I can say for my own part is that it virtually always happens when I am in a semi-sleep state, and normally when I am dosing as opposed to sleeping at night. I pretty much sleep for the duration of the night with little disturbance.

I do my best NOT to spend hours trying to analyse my mental state on such occasions, but its something that does occur and it would be stupid to ignore it.

I sat watch the Queens Funeral I was very conscious of my changing mental thoughts as the proceedings went on. You could argue that millions of people were impacted by the occasion, which would be correct of course. However, as the coffin appeared from The Palace, I couldn’t help but thinking of my own impending demise, and all the things that I was going to miss out on. A natural reaction to something physically happening to you that you can directly relate to yourself – so yes, I get that, and accept that it was a natural human reaction. But what are triggers when you are not fully awake?

I suppose that there are considerable number of feelings that you have that remain surprised in periods such as this. I have many people send me messages commenting on “my strength” in writing about my condition. I don’t consider myself “strong” in that way at all – it’s just that I have found writing allows me to express myself in a way that eliminates some of the stresses that exist. But surely it would be naïve to think that it’s the complete answer? So, I have come to the conclusion that its during the semi-conscious period of my life, when the normal suppression mechanisms that I have can control my emotional state are not fully “active”, that the vulnerability that probably exists in all of us comes to the forefront of our brains and starts controlling our human emotions.

Does any of this worry or concern me – well, no it doesn’t. I would probably be more concerned if I couldn’t express or talk about it openly. Which I can assure you I do – and will continue to. My occasional visits to the “underworld” are full of the same emotions that anyone would face in this situation, anger, sorrow, a sense of great loss and the fact that I am “missing out”. They are condensed into miniscule moments in time, they take you by surprise as if they are sat on the outside of your brain witing for the defensive barriers to tire – and then they slip in unnoticed.

It seemed a good idea at the time, I was feeling tired, the sun was shining through the bedroom window and the house was quiet, with Jayne downstairs relaxing. You could argue it was a perfectly executed plan by someone intent on disrupting my day. In reality it was normal human reaction to a set of circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

Dealing with an occasional trip to the underworld is something that happens and will probably continue to. The skill is to minimise its impact by not overthinking or worrying about it,

NOTE: Most of my blogs are written retrospectively, I remain stable and in a positive mood.

My Pathway Journey-continued

I had made my mind up on the previous Thursday that this weekend was going to be “the weekend” that it happened. There are normally less visitors planned on a weekend, and as a consequence there would be more time to adapt and get myself prepared for it.

The pressure had been building up in my head or a while, however my physical state and the extended periods of exhaustion had allowed me to put the whole thing to one side knowing that I wasn’t physically capable of undertaking what could be a demanding task. Well, there was no point in actually saying “could be” I reiterated to myself, considering you can barely talk after having a wash and shave on occasions – having, or attempting to have a shower would without doubt – knacker you out.

It was only around three weeks ago that having a shower didn’t present me with any particular issues, but that was then – and not now. Having a shower was going to require a significant mental and physical effort. Why mental? Because in my physical condition I had to face the fact that this task may require the support of the Care Assistants whose job it was to aid you, and that meant for me relinquishing a level of personal care that I had not had to do before.

Just a couple of days beforehand the care that was being provided by St. Peters Hospice had been replaced by an Agency – a seamless transition they said. One of advantages of the new provider was that their visits would be the same time every day – 10am, and two people for 45mins. The reality of course is always something different, but not to a degree that it was or is an issue to date.

It was Sunday morning and my two carers arrived on time. I explained all that was going on in my head, from the physical challenges that I might face to the thorny subject of exposing my body to strangers, knowing I could be 100% reliant on them getting me out of any mess that ensued.

We had all additional equipment in place, a seat in the shower, a seat outside the shower. A plastic bag to wrap my syringe driver in, shampoo and body wash. It had been weeks since I had a shower.

The carers were of course great – they had witnessed it al before. I still have to work out the part of the DNA they have to undertake this work. To be able to quickly assess an individual emotional and physical needs to be able to support the personal in their care needs an infinite amount of diplomacy and tact, just for starters.

The process for me was relatively straight forward, just a case of manoeuvring myself to one side and sitting of the shower chair when our shower decided to throw one of its short “have some cold water” tantrums. I sat on the chair when the temperature returned to normal, letting the water cascade over my head. For a minute it was utopia until I decided it was time to get out and get dry. The second seat, positioned just outside the shower door was just in the right place and reachable with the aid of wash basin. I was completely exhausted, and armed with a hand towel in one hand and a bath towel sat on top the w/c. I managed to slide the hand towel under the cheeks of my backside so I was sat on something dry, and then began drying myself as best as could. I say as “best as I could” because raising my arms up to try and dry my head and shoulders etc was pretty impossible.

Managing to raise myself slightly to get the attention of my two Care Assistants, strategically places the other side of the bathroom door, they were immediately alongside me to “take over”. Yes, with the same level of care and consideration and patience. It took them both to get me suitably attired and back into bed. Nothing was rushed, and with me being unable to form any words or express my opinions vocally we reverted to “nodding heads” and “thumbs up” signs to communicate.

 My first assisted shower had been completed, and I was happy and once again I had learned the limit of my current ability when it came to doing basic everyday tasks for yourself.

As I write this, just a week on from “S” day (S standing for shower) I have to report that the plan to make every Sunday “S” day have failed. No two days are the same and it was obvious when I woke up this morning, I knew it was obvious that I didn’t have the energy for that to happen. Exhaustion remains the single thing that continues to present a deeply problem, something I discussed at length with a member of the St. Peters Mental Health Assessment Team that came to see me during the week. We spoke at length over the mental and physical challenges facing people living with a terminal illness, those who maybe living in residential care of some type, or those living in their own homes. Finding a way through this maze of emotions can be difficult. I constantly need to remind myself that you just have to do it, if not, then what is the answer – to give up? There is nothing we can do about the diagnosis; nobody can change that. But I can hopefully influence my day today, and tomorrow. But to do so requires at time a monumental effort from yourself, and of course the assistance of those closest to you. Battling this illness can be a solitary journey if you keep those who have the love, support and skill at an arms distance.

My Pathway Journey – continued

My first experience of the words “palliative care” would have been back in 1996, when my father was dying of cancer. And so when the Consultant used the term at our meeting at the end of July I was fully aware of the implications of what he was saying. My cancer had progressed to a state where there were no medical treatments that would provide a cure – this cancer would bring about an early exit from this earth for me. Death does not escape any of us, however, my intention and I am sure that of many of you reading this would agree, would be to have a lengthy spell of living as possible. All our dreams and hopes for the future had been eroded in a space of just a few seconds.

As we sat hand in hand, it took just seconds for the emotions to take over, and we wept in each other’s arms. Preparing yourself for this type of conversation is pretty much impossible. After all, and I refer back to my previous blog, the words “but” and “hope” remain firmly entrenched at the forefront of your mind, forcing you to hang on to any slender hope that things will all turn out fine in the end. The consultant continued the conversation, allowing us both to regain our composure, and then briefly, and I mean “briefly”, went through “what happens next”, with the Specialist Nurse that was with us all. I stress “briefly” because there was absolutely no point in attempting to give us to much information at that point having been given the diagnosis we had done.

In years gone by I’m sure that palliative care would have been vastly different to what is available or provided now. My Dad’s care was about making his life as comfortable as possible for the rest of the time that he had, as treatments to aid symptom control were probably limited to what is available now. We left that consultant room in the BRI that morning and headed up to Floor 9, where there is a Restaurant overlooking the city, and that’s where we commenced our conversation around what we would like going forward. For me you can split most things into two parts – that which you can control or influence, and that what you can’t. These two things came out of a number of personal counselling sessions I had some twenty years ago, as a consequence of a partial breakdown I had. This illness was going to kill me and there was nothing I could do to influence that. However, I did have “time”, maybe just six months, could be longer or could be less – but TIME was still available to me and I could still influence how I spent it.

As we returned to the ward some 30minutes later it was very obvious that all the staff that had been dealing with my care up to that point were fully aware of the diagnosis I had been given. Every effort had been put in place to ensure that I was returning to team of people who were focussed on my well-being, and had ALL the up-to-date information. As Jayne left me to go and do the dreaded telephone calls, I sat on the side of the bed trying to get my head around it all.

Trust is such an important part of my life, without it there me isn’t any real foundation for a relationship. This applies throughout life – from personal relationships, to work and even family. I was soon joined by people from the BRI Palliative Care Team who had the role of explaining the “what next”.

Establishing “what your needs will be” and discussing the thorny issue of “how and where do you want to spend your final days” are essential if you are going to give those involved in your care the best opportunity to meet those requirements. To enable this to happen you have to be prepared to be completely open and honest in all your discussions, and often having to repeat them multiple times.

It’s impossible to judge in advance the level of personal care that you may require at the end of your life. Having experienced the challenges of proving home care, and seeing care being provided in a hospital or Nursing Home setting I remained of the opinion that I didn’t want to die at home. Having said that, it is our intention as a family for me to remain at home for as long as possible. Our home is a “family home” built over many years, with the sound of children’s laughter echoing throughout its walls, and the sound of screams of joy coming from the garden. As I write this the grandchildren are in acceptance that Grandad isn’t well, is confined to the bedroom and that Nurses come in to see him. That is a vastly different scenario than having to disrupt the whole house to accommodate a hospital bed, and having multiple visits throughout the day by care professionals.

In the early days of being discharged from hospital there were numerous calls from different agencies. This is because I had been formally “discharged” from the hospital on the grounds there was nothing they can further do for me and had been passed to the PC (Palliative Care) Team. An outpatient’s appointment was being made for me at the Oncology Department, purely to see if there were any available treatments that would “aid” symptom control. I stress “aid” and not cure. The St Peter’s Hospice had taken the lead on my care and it was their representative (a designated nurse) who visited just a couple of days later. I commenced my PC a journey with a daily visit from a District Nurse from the Community Care Team, whose job it was to change the drugs in the syringe that was permanently connected to my body.

I suppose the most important thing I have learned so far along this PC journey is to once again trust the information and guidance you are being given. On being discharged form the BRI I was reasonably mobile – but we listened to what we were being told and purchased a wheelchair. This would allow me to get out and about further afield, and we did. I attempted to eat what I was being advised to eat – and generally followed the guidelines I was being given. However, you begin to understand quite quickly that “cancer has a mind of its own”, and often takes a path a you are not expecting, throwing all your plans into complete disarray. The trouble is you don’t “understand” this at the time and start looking for alternative reasons in why your body is reacting in the way it is. Was it something you ate or drunk? Did you just overdo it today and not rest enough? Suddenly the things that you though you could in someways control and get some enjoyment form see:to be slipping away.

Knowing who to access for help is essential, and in the early days after being discharged form the BRI was difficult as my Care Plan hadn’t been completed so therefore not visible to those who may need it. In reality what happens is there a seamless interaction between the Community Nursing Team and in my case St. Peter’s Hospice. At this point I also need to mention the McMillian Trust, who contacted us very early on. They were acting as an agent for the NHS and their job was to provide administrative support for us. What admin support you might ask? Well, such things as a blue-badge for your car. Being diagnosed with a terminal illness could entitle you to certain benefits – and they brilliantly took away all the form filling that both those things require.

We have been provided with 24hr contact numbers for both St. Peters’ and the Community Nursing Team, and that’s what we have accessed in our hour of need. I’m not a lover of change in these situations. Even though there must be 20-30 staff involved in my care from St. Peter’s they all have the same DNA. All of them approach with to care for me – ensuring my needs come first. Again, it’s the same with the District Nurses- they all focus on “my care” with nothing being to much trouble. It’s the District Nurses who are chasing GP’s, calling Pharmacies (that’s a challenge), or contacting St. Peter’s on my behalf. Nothing is to much trouble for any of them.

So, what’s our approach to the PC a process. Well, those who are involved in my care can only do their job properly if they are provided with all the current information regarding your condition. For this they are reliant on accurate current information – and that has to come from the patient. With little variety going into your body getting a handle on what’s coming out from where is important. Most of the questions asked of me are around the workings of my bladder, bowel or relate to sickness. This shouldn’t be a surprise as. I have stomach cancer. I struggled with severe constipation early on – many will understand how debilitating this can be – and can take weeks to get over.  The resulting pain required me to use additional morphine (not good for constipation). Once again you quickly come to understand that getting best use of everyone involved in your palliative care is dependent on you listening to their recommendations and allow them to provide you the guidance required to ultimately make your day-to-day life considerable easier than it can become.

There have been some bad days. A bright Saturday morning interrupted by the realisation that my attempt to manage the walk from the bedroom to the bathroom was not such a good idea after all. I though I could make it, I did make it – but I wasn’t going to make it back. I was exhausted, but yes, managed to wipe my own backside. I returned to the bedroom via a loving wife and a wonderful neighbour. It was probably twenty minutes before I could speak. This is what cancer does. The excessive sickness started later. With St. Peters not having a bed available at that time their Care At Home Team were called in. That has been the “rock-bottom” point of my condition to date. Since that Saturday, with a change of medication and the daily visits from that team, that have taken over elements of my personal care, I have remained stable, and moved from the list requiring an immediate bed. At the same time I now rely on Jayne administering all my medication, as my ability to do it myself has been undermined by the fact “I cant remember what or what not I have taken”.

The Care At Home Team focus and tailor the care they provide to the care you need, and yes, that can change daily. They have been a great support to myself and the family. Always cheerful, always smiling and yes, where appropriate a sense of humour – something which is important to me.

We are now entering another phase of support, with the car now going to be provided via the NHS Fast Track Team, a team of staff from an Agency. St. Peters will partially withdrawal, but remain in contact if and when required. I’m always nervous when there is change. I have become use to te professionalism and expertise of the St. Peters staff. They have provided a service well above anyone would have reasonable expected, ensuring tat not only myself but the whole family have been engaged with during the time they have been looking after me.

My condition has been “stable” for the last three weeks. I have no desire to “rock the boat” by changing my routine and putting at risk what I currently have. I will continue to get the most out of every day, saving my energy for those closest to me.

My Journey along the “Pathway”

“You are on the pathway now, where we make progress based on days and week, and not months”. The date was Monday 9th May, and the voice uttering these words was responding to a question I had posed, which was, “what happens now?”

The “pathway” that was being described was not some obscure footpath, a tributary of the beloved SW Coast Path I sometimes walk. No this was a “Pathway” that many who may read this will be familiar with – it’s the NHS Cancer Pathway. It’s the mechanism the NHS use for patients diagnosed with cancer. And Monday 9th May was when I sat with Jayne and listened to the Consultant breaking the news that nobody wants to hear.

Today is Wednesday 7th September, some four months has passed since that day. It’s the first time I have attempted to “write anything”, but with the sun shining through the bedroom window, perhaps it’s an opportune time to reflect on part of my journey in “along that pathway”.

Whilst its easy to pick up and read many articles how our beloved NHS is struggling, positive life experiences, even those like this one which will not have a “happy ending”, are less visible. I had gone to the caravan for the weekend, leaving the wife at home struggling on how she had managed to get COVID after escaping it for so long. When I returned on Monday 25th April, I explained to her that I having trouble consuming all my food, with my stomach seeming to get “full” very quick. I hadn’t even managed to drink a bottle of Butcombe that I had taken with me! Under instruction I contacted my local Health Centre, with no real hope of getting an appointment to see anyone. Much to my surprise I was given a same-day appointment with a Doctor, a “Locum”. Within a week I was having an Upper GI Endoscopy at the local South Bristol Hospital, and a week after that I was sat in a Clinic at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. During the days between seeing the Doctor and having the endoscopy I was becoming very aware that my condition appeared to be worsening. As well as having to reduce hugely what I was able to eat, I was suffering huge indigestion/reflux issues.

As well as the Consultant there was also a Specialist Nurse in attendance at that initial meeting with Jayne

 and I, and it was the nurse spent some time with us reiterating “the facts”, what they knew and what had yet to be confirmed. Having someone accompany you at this type of meeting is absolutely essential, as I sat listening intensely to what was being said I was well aware that I was struggling to “take it all in”, and there was a danger of me not retaining key elements. Having used the words “Linitis Plastica” and being told “not to focus on them” by the Consultant I was desperately trying to remind myself of them and trying to fathom out “why I shouldn’t focus on them”. So much so that neither of us could remember those words when we left the hospital an hour or so later. What we did have was a “plan”, and that plan was very much about what I should and should not be eating in the days and weeks ahead as they progressed the investigation along the pathway.

We stopped for coffee, I turned to Jayne and asked “Well, what do you think?”. Her reply was succinct – “they are 95% confident you have stomach cancer”,

5% uncertainty isn’t a lot – unless of course you are talking about a life or possible death situation, and then that 5% is “everything”, and of course it allows you to introduce that magical three lettered word from the English Dictionary “but”. “But” allows us to introduce doubt and hope in equal proportion. “But” they haven’t finished their tests. “But” you cannot be 100% sure that is the case.

“But” is the word that prevents you facing the harsh realities that life can sometimes throw at you.

In the weeks that followed that first meeting the NHS machine moved steadily forward, the appointments came and went and we began the whole process of communicating what needs to be communicated to those closest to us. We were constantly reminded of the advice we were receiving from the NHS experts, such as “save your energy for the things that are important to you, not others”.” Prioritise what’s important to you and use the limited energy you have for those things.”

There were and are still “OK days” and “bad days” – with the bad days being “bad”. Coping with the loss of my physical and sometimes mental strength has been something really difficult to cope with. There have been two periods of hospitilisation and it was during the second one of these of nine days that we were given the answer to that missing 5%. A CT scan had shown I had a blood clot on my lungs to compound everything but that the cancer had not spread at that point. This was positive news and even with a warning that cancer of this type normally would normally require surgery and chemotherapy we had given ourselves hope. “Hope” is something you unfortunately hang on to by your finger-tips, and yes, we understood they wanted to do more tests, but we did have “hope”. A subsequent sectioning laparoscopy, a procedure involving cameras and “tools” being inserted into your body quickly wiped those few drops of hope away. It was Tuesday 21st June when Jayne and I sat with another member of the Upper GI Team to hear the words “I’m sorry, the cancer has spread, there is no treatment we can offer as a cure”.

We did what most couples would have done in this situation – and that was to weep in each-other’s arms. How do ever come to terms with such news? Looking back to my dad’s death in 1996 at the age of 70years of age I remember thinking “yes, he was fit, he didn’t smoke and didn’t drink, he had potentially twenty years ahead of him, but he was 70! How do you get a prospective on age – when I was a kid a lifetime used to be referred to as “three score years and ten” (which makes seventy). But I’m only 69, and was planning to live another twenty years at least. My sister was only 45 years of age when he succumbed to the big “C”.

Our focus since that fateful day has been to focus on living. I refuse to use any emotional energy on feeling sorry for myself, but that does remain a challenge, for all of us as a family. Keeping a degree of normality around our lives has been a requisite of coping. This home of ours is a “family house” with noise, laughter and tears of playing grandchildren reverberating around the walls on a daily basis. They now “grandad” isn’t very well, and has a tube connected to his arm which stops him “charging around the garden”, but that’s the limit. Of course, experience has told us all those children are very astute, they pick up on body language and many have ears like bats, tuning in quickly to what they probably shouldn’t be listening to, so we remain guarded with our conversations.

 The wonder that our is our NHS system ensures that I am getting the best of care, supported by our brilliant local District Nurse Team, St. Peters Hospice and organisations like the McMillian Trust.

Because of the type of cancer and its location I have been unable to do many of the things that we have learned to enjoy over recent years – like enjoying a nice meal and a bottle of wine. I am unable to walk unaided and need a wheel chair. I have no “energy”, and spend a lot of time resting/sleeping, which restricts visitors.

My love of writing has been put on the back burner for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I very rarely have the energy to engage in meaningful conversation, let alone write. Secondly, there are those that would say that by writing about my experience (to date) I am attempting to extract sympathy from others for my condition. I can assure you that “sympathy” is the last thing I, or those closest to me need, but it remains a risk.

It would be pretty unique to find someone who reads this blog who has not themselves been impacted by cancer. Mine is not a unique experience – there are I am sure thousands ging through the same thing at this very moment in time.

The biggest challenge has, and continues to be, the daily/weekly challenges that we face. The Pathway was short – and we have now moved on to the care of the Palliative Care Team.

Next Time: Palliative Care and the reality of what it means.

yes, the true spirit of christmas still does live on.

He sits and waits. Cupid, his faithful reindeer lays alongside him, hooves pointing forward, antlers standing high and proud on his head (that’s Cupid not Santa). The demand to see Santa Claus this year has been extraordinary.

She waited patiently in the queue, the sound of raucous laughter could be heard coming from behind the screen that separated “Santa’s Grotto” from the rest of the building. She can hear children singing “Jingle Bells”, joining in she supposes with the man in the red suit and beard that usually represented Santa Claus, or is it Father Christmas at this time of year? Does it make a difference what I call him she thinks!

As the previous party of children departs Santa takes time to compose himself for his next visitor. He doesn’t know if it will be boys or girls or their age. It could be one family or two. It could be a mixture of friends or just a child and a parent. In years past it seemed to be less complicated. It would be parents and children – they would all line up in neat rows and wait patiently for their turn. The expectations of children may have changed over the last hundred years, but not for Santa. For him it has always been about the joy of the occasion, and the sheer belief that in this magical world you could still dream and hope and wish. He remembered the time when he would awake early, too early, and pull back the curtain in anticiptaion of seeing the wonderous sight of Santa Claus dashing actoss the sky, urging on his reindeer – “faster, higher – children are waiting”. And now the responsibiity was his to maintain that dream, to give children hope, to make them smile and to bring a moment of joy into their lives.

She enters the Grotto, along with her young cousin and the grown-ups she is with. She sees Santa sat on a chair and takes her place on the other side of the grotto, as instructed by the Elf. Behind the beard she can see him smiling and then he speaks to welcome them all.

He thinks from behind the smile “how can you possibly hear what these children’s names are when they talk so quietly and the adults are communicating through masks! He leans forward slightly so he can hear better.

She stands and walks towards him. They talk – “no” she hasn’t made a list, “if I made a list then what I got wouldn’t be a surprise would it”, she adds.

He pauses. “Christmas he says isn’t just about presents though is it” “No”, she replies – “family and friends are more important than presents”.

And in that one moment of time everything that he believed in, everything that he held dear to him about Christmas came flooding back. And he once again realised that in spite of all his misgivings the true spirit of Christmas had survived – and the young girl who stood alongside him was the living proof that it had.

Later that evening with his sleigh packed, and his reindeer tethered, he took a minute to fly again over this area in the South West of the United Kingdom. And as he looked down on South Bristol he recalled the words spoken by that little girl earlier:

“Christmas is about Family and Friends” – and once again Santa smiled.

Merry Christmas.

Book Release

“Freddie the Fox was a strange fellow, announced on stage as if he was the returning conquering hero. He was taller than me and dressed in a multi-coloured stripped jacket. The response from the assembled crowd, (about a dozen small children) was immediate. They sat mesmerised as Freddie the Fox appeared at the front – and right at the front was our Alana. Now as Freddie didn’t actually say  a lot (nothing in fact – he just nodded occasionally) it was left to our glamorous host to engage with her now captivated audience and get them up and dancing and doing all the games that you do as four/five years old. The room wasn’t blessed with that many people, and it would seem pretty apparent that a lot of mums had been dispatched with their off-spring to kiddies-club while the Dads had five minutes peace. And then it happens – that dreaded moment when the glamorous compere thinks it would be fun to see some of the adults up on the floor with their children, or as in this case grandchild. The fact that I won a ‘not even announced’  competition the best (but only) dancing Grandad was bad enough, however the humiliation wasn’t completed until I went on stage to collect my ‘certificate’ from no other than Freddie the Fox, and was made to perform again with him – like a pair of performing seals! Jesus. The things I do for love.”

Written over a few months, before and during the Covid 19 Pandemic, “Nought to Sixteen – A Grandad’s Journey  is part memoir and diary snippets, part ‘how to,’ and part travelogue. Mainly, it’s about celebrating and welcoming a new generation.

Image is of Proof Copy.

On the day the clocks have gone back one hour it’s a timely reminder that in reality you can “never go back in time”.  Thoughts that you had wished you had done things differently will not change your past, missed opportunities will always be just that – “missed opportunities”. From an unexpected pregnancy to the challenges of being a grandparent in a vastly different society, and yes the Pandemic – it’s all here in “Nought to Sixteen – A Grandad’s Journey”. Brilliantly edited by the wonderful Di Toft I hope it makes you smile, makes you laugh and hopefully makes you think.

“Nought To Sixteen – A Grandad’s Journey” will shortly be available to purchase through Amazon, or you can pre-order a copy direct from myself at andylewis1953@gmail.com

Finally – in Glasgow today they gather for the UN Climate Change Conference. If we are to secure the future for our grandchildren then we all need to take action. We can only hope to understand the world of our grandchildren by being part of their lives now. The giving of our time costs nothing but the rewards are immeasurable.

we need to do more.

It’s a Thursday afternoon in October and I am attending a ceremony at a local South Bristol Primary School to mark the occasion of a change to the name of the Academy Trust now responsible for the running of that school. As I sit listening, firstly to a group of children reciting a poem that they had written about a tree, and then to a line of children who each told us of their “hopes for the future” I, and I am sure all the others listening, could not help but be moved by the honesty and sincerity of all them as they spoke. And of course – it made me think!

Climate Change, Racial and Sexual Discrimination, go alongside Food Poverty, Mental Health, Homelessness and Bullying as some of the challenges that we are having to face up to in a society where still, in many cases, material possessions and holidays abroad mean “more”.

As Christmas falls upon us again what choices will we make as parents, grandparents or guardians on what is “important”? Do we really expect young children to understand that “Christmas” cannot be all be about the receiving of presents? How many of us still ask the same question every year – “What would you like for Christmas”, or “What is Father Christmas bringing you this year”. On Christmas Day many parents will once again be posting photos of their children against a huge mountain of gifts on the many social media platforms that currently exist. They do so “because they can”, and not surely because anyone else is a least bit interested! Again this year we will be reminded at some point that there are far too many children who will receive nothing from Father Christmas. There will be too many families, the young, the not so young, and the elderly – who will struggle to keep warm as the temperatures drop – and others who will just turn the notch up a bit on thermostat rather than put a jumper on. For many, a traditional Christmas lunch” is something that “others have”. For them it’s not about choice – for them, living in food poverty, is something they have grown accustomed to.

We are all guilty in part for the situation we find ourselves, but not for all of it. When I was child we had little in comparative terms – and yet we had everything.

As I sat listening to those children there was a realism for me that perhaps the choices we have made in the past may not necessarily have been the right ones. They seemed like it at the time – the replica football kit, the new mobile phone, the X-Box, the Games Station, but in doing so have we not added to a problem that is becoming ever more apparent, and that is – how do we manage the expectations of the generations that are following us?

It’s easy to demand change when you live in a world that others can only dream about. It’s easy to blame successive Governments for allowing us to get into this mess. But perhaps we should all take a good hard look at ourselves, consider the choices we have made and continue to make – and then ask ourselves this question

“Am I really doing enough to safeguard my children and my grandchildren’s future?”

“Due Diligence”

Undertaking “Due Diligence” – the process of icarrying out an investigation to a business or indeed a person prior to signing any contract. I wasn’t involved in many of these during my working career, just a couple. It’s a process for instance used by a Company looking to acquire another Business, and they need to ensure they are actually getting “what it says on the tin”. So in this new modern and wonderful world of labelling, where we have to ensure that the label clearly states what the product is made up of, thereby limiting the chances of somebody have an “allergic reaction” to the contents – there shouldn’t really be any surprise should there?

It has become common practice in many industries to “outsource” elements of their businesses. The industry I was employed in for many years outsourced their IT department many, many years ago. Every five years or so the retendering process would commence, and the successful bidder would go through a “due diligence” process, just to make sure we hadn’t told any “porkies” during the whole tendering process. At the end of it all the staff involved ended up with a “different label at the top of the tin”, but the contents remained the same.

But does “due diligence” really work?

Well, in as much it would certainly ensure that everything financially was in order, and that you are able to confirm the fixed assets actually exist, then yes it probably does work.

But what about the other assets, for instance staff? Well, if you think you are taking on some four hundred directly employed staff and a number of contractors then again- yes. However, when you consider that many Companies love the concept of repeating the slogan “our staff are our biggest asset” – I have never heard of an occasion when somebody considering buying another Company has walked amongst the “unloved” asking the question –“what is it really like working for this mob?” In fact it’s often the case that the workforce doesn’t know anything about a potential “take over” until it’s actually happened.

The reality is of course in any acquisition you aren’t going to know what it’s really like until you have made the purchase and taken the lid off the tin. And when you do so and everything inside looks healthy and be cautious – because when you stick your spoon in and start uncovering bits of the contents it may not be as you hoped or imagined.

On the other hand if you are just one of the mere morsels stuck in that tin you might just be waiting for somebody to buy you, and when the lid comes off you can through yourself towards fresh air with new hope and shout “free at last”.

A New Year – But Has Anything Changed?

So the trimmings have been packed away and the final remains of the Christmas Cake are either loitering around on the kitchen worktop somewhere wrapped in cling film, or have been “de-iced”, and deposited to the freezer, where they will lay until the desire to keep to this years’ new healthy eating plan has finally disappeared! Of course there still remains the challenge of all those packets of nuts, nibbles, biscuits and crisps that were horded before Christmas “just in case somebody unexpected popped in – which of course they didn’t. So they will remain there, normally with the same “eat by” date until somebody realises they all have to be ate by “next week”, where upon they will all be consumed in one single weekend, reversing any hopeful trend of a diminishing waste line. Why do we do it? The children should have returned to school but haven’t and the daily routine, established during the first lockdown in 2020 has been dusted off resumed. I am somebody that needs a degree of structure to my life. Not, as some would believe, a regimental repetitive regime – but just a focus. What am I doing tomorrow? What are my options?”

What 2020 has shown me is that the battles between right and wrong, or good and bad, are still as ferocious as they hall always been. Those early days of the Pandemic when we all crammed around the TV to listen to the latest news and government advice eventually led to many of us avoiding the TV at all costs – sick and tired of listening to the endless stream of mind-numbing questions over and over again, as good battled bad, and wrong attacked right – or was it all the other way around? Claim and counter claim followed accusation and counter accusation. Our hopes that with the BREXIT done we would be saved from this continuous ritual of hostility, proved eventually to be only a “pipe dream”. And to make things worse – whilst we have been very much focussing on the here and now others have seemed to have found it exactly the right time to bury “potentially bad news”.

Today, the 7th January 2021, British Gas Engineers commenced a five-day strike, with the GMB stating that a staggering 89% of its 9000 members voted in favour of Industrial Action. So what is this dispute about – an increase in salaries? No, it is not – it has been brought about because their Employers want to reduce staff and transfer others on to inferior contracts, a so called “fire and rehire” plan.

Last year a number of other Utility Companies announced staff compulsory redundancies, whilst others are doing a Centrica, (the owners of British Gas), by reorganising and reducing numbers, leaving many on less favourable terms and salaries. It seems one again that Companies have dusted off their true and tested methodology of engaging External Consultants to undertake the review that supposedly will support the outcome that they desire. Of course, many who read this will argue that at least these staff will still be in employment, whilst others have lost their jobs as a consequence of the awful pandemic that continues to impact us all.  And yes, one can argue that it a perfectly valid opinion to hold.

It seems the battle between the rights and wrongs, and the just and unjust continue. Whilst we now focus on what could be another extended lockdown and wonder “when will it be our turn to get the vaccine” – others are working away under the radar on their own plans.

I’m sure “a service of some-sort” will be restored eventually – but what service it will be will be very much dependent on what workforce is actually left!

Beware of the Grim Reaper!

As I stood dressed as a pumpkin recently at my local Community Space (it was Halloween) I was approached by a boy dressed as the “Grim Reaper”. He looked at me suspiciously. So I explained that I was in fact a “Pumpkin”, and that I suspected he had never seen a “talking Pumpkin” before? He pointed the scythe (or it could have been a sickle) he was carrying at me and announced that “with his weapon he could cut me into pieces”. I suppose if you’re a pumpkin this is a pretty vulnerable time of the year, a bit like being a turkey at Christmas!

Who your personal Grim Reaper is depends on your role in life I suppose. In industry Christmas can be a pretty anxious time for many employees. One of the reasons being that within many organisations, especially Utilities, employees have a three month notice period (depending on service and T&C’s) if they are facing redundancy. With the Financial Year commencing on the 1st April, serving redundancy notices around Christmas will ensure that Business’s start the new financial year with a reduced headcount. “Sorry, but we are going to have to let you go, but would you like to join us for a mince pie and a Christmas Sing-a-Long?” “Go **** yourself”, being the most suitable response!

In late 2015 I was involved in a “re-organisation” that would mirror the above, with the consultation period being immediately before the Christmas of that year. It was my job, and I did it professionally – but it was somewhat distasteful. However, as the following year unfolded a new “head man” assured all the staff that were left that the “mistakes of the past would not be repeated”, and he would correct all the errors those previous people on extortionately high salaries had made. When I left in 2018 the total number of employees on the payroll exceeded the number that was there prior to the re-orgnisation.

As 2020 ends there has to be real concern over the general employment situation in our Country. Many industries have been ravaged by the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic, and many families throughout the world will be facing a bleak Christmas.

In my local Community Space everything continues to be done to ensure the staff continue to be employed in some way. It’s just a small organisation with a small group of staff, who are reliant on the hours they work. But they are not just employee’s they are part of the fabric that make the place “work”, and they are valued not only as employye’s but people.

Elsewhere, partly hidden amongst all the angst that otherwise exists, bigger Organisations have unleashed their own Grim Reaper once again. No repeat of the mistakes previously made but just a whole set of new one’s of their own making – with those at the bottom of the ladder having less distance to fall,  but being impacted more by the damage done.