D is for Depression. The pilot who killed.

In a quiet town in the Rhineland this week the community is in shock. Their memories of Andreas Lubitz; the pilot who put his plane into fatal descent are good ones. An ordinary man, friendly, kind. Essentially a man who looked happy. Normally a town where not a lot happens suddenly the world’s media has descended. The world is demanding answers, the families who’ve lost loved ones are demanding answers in the midst of their grief.

The police have found ‘significant clues’ suggesting the pilot suffered a psychological illness – maybe depression, bi polar, schizophrenia. If this is the case there will certainly be a major overhaul of regulations, training, health checks, testing and so on within every airline company to screen a person’s mental state more thoroughly and adequately. But how can we know for sure. He looked happy! Most people suffering from mental illness look happy in photos, smiling faces to their friends, the shell of the person they really are because they have to learn to cope, to get on with life and develop coping mechanisms. But fundamentally I think that people with mental psychosis, conditions such as bi polar shouldn’t really be in positions which could potentially be of threat to the lives of others. But maybe if someone did want to take the lives of others as well as their own they will always go to great extremes to cover their tracks, conceal what is really going on inside their head in the same way that Harold Shipman did years ago. But inevitably people do leave tracks, footprints that lead us to conclusions and hopefully these will be found so that we can move forward.

D is for debate: Cameron v Miliband

With just 6 weeks to go until polling day our eyes were set on the great Channel 4 debate last night between Cameron and Miliband, hosted by Paxman.

Paxman has a reputation for his journalistic aggression. If any journalist can get answers it’s this bulldog. But did he get answers, from both leaders on the burning issues of the day? On the economy, education, immigration, health, defence? I don’t think we did. The interviews skirted around the issues as Paxman was determined to uncover flaws in the personality and strength of both leaders. I think they both fared badly overall.

Cameron, as Prime Minister was at an advantage; he could defend his record in Government, is used to defending his record. Has learned to play the game. But Miliband also had an advantage, in a different way coming in second he could sit in the wings, listening in before coming on stage.

Paxman asked some ridiculous questions. Why are you gloomy and would your brother have made a better leader? He asked Miliband. Is this really going to help undecided voters? Why drag up family feuds, bitterness that I’m sure Miliband would rather forget. And to come in hard with Cameron on poverty asking are there too many food banks? The number of food banks in Britain is irrelevant. Food banks are an additional help for the poor and a red herring in the poverty debate.

Would you vote for Miliband? No policy was covered in detail. What he said offered no substance. He seemed to flounder all over the place, reiterating the point that he is tough and tough towards Barack Obama. It felt as if he was Superman defending his record. Would you vote for a leader who will increase taxes and make more spending cuts? Increasing taxes doesn’t raise more money because the rich will either bugger off to other shores or find ways to get around paying. It’s inevitable.

We did get a sense of the humour behind Miliband’s ‘gloomy’ exterior when he was asked whether he would bargain with another party and enter into a deal. ‘You don’t get to decide the election Paxman’ was quite amusing.

We didn’t get a sense that Cameron was defending his record enough but he did have the air and experience of a leader. And so he should after 5 years in power. He gave us absolute assurance that there will be a referendum in 2017 but quite frankly what is the point? The two main parties are both for Europe, want to remain in Europe so why waste millions on a referendum? Cameron wants to remain in Europe and I think actually at all costs. He might bluff you otherwise but he has no real power in Europe; he is a man isolated in Europe and I don’t think he’ll get what he wants from Europe. But it’s safer to stay in Europe. He doesn’t want the risk of companies pulling out of the country, relocating. He doesn’t want to risk a stock market crash, tumbling house prices and neither fundamentally does the country and so the only real and logical referendum on Europe has to be through the ballot box, on May 9th not on a referendum that will be rigged from the start.

Dating in the middle years

Yesterday lunchtime I had a first date with a guy I met on Plenty of Fish. As soon as I saw him getting out of his car from a distance, I had already decided that I wouldn’t be seeing him again. Attraction is instant. It’s either there in the flash of an eye or it isn’t. And when it isn’t there’s no amount of self convincing that you can do.

Last night in the bar at Speakers Club somebody said something to me; a thought which held great resonance. By the morning I had decided… and despite our 4 hour date, holding hands across the table in a beamed country pub on a village green, our eyes connecting and holding each other’s gaze, the conversation flowing with ease, laughter, humour – all the essential ingredients in the mix for a developing friendship there was something fundamentally missing, for me.

‘I’ve got an 8 year old daughter,’ the someone had said in the bar at Speakers’ Club. ‘And she’s going through that gorgeous stage. The pre teen stage.’ I found myself agreeing totally with him. My 10 year old is gorgeous. We play Uno, we snuggle up and watch films together, she shows me the tapestries she’s doing, her bed is still lined with cuddly toys and there are rows of lip glosses on her dressing table. The pre teens are so precious and yet in the blink of an eye it will all be gone, committed to history as the difficult teen years slug into the picture and the surliness begins. Do I really want to miss the final two years of childhood for a man? Actually no, I don’t.

Dating in middle age is tough. These are the ‘sandwich years’: we have elderly parents to look after but our children haven’t left home yet. We are still working, many of us still paying our mortgages or even renting. Life is frantic. We have lifelong interests and hobbies too that are important to us. Where would a relationship fit into this frenetic life I wonder?

But there’s something else that’s important too. Men have always dated younger women. That’s just the pattern of things, the custom in our culture. But actually in middle age I would rather date a younger man. Men in their 50s look so much older generally speaking than women in their 50s. My hair would be white if I didn’t dye it. I try to keep it unchanged. I wear make up to enhance my skin. I have a sagging belly and fat arms now I’m older and my neck doesn’t look great but men at the same age have often lost all their hair or it’s grey. Many are broad or big. When I looked at my date yesterday it felt as if I was dating a man my mum might have dated. He was a bit older than me but looked so much older.

As I sat looking at him and wondering what the situation was with his neck and double chins you could count on one hand I tried to imagine myself in bed with him.I wondered how far off prostrate problems he was. I tried to imagine him meeting my kids. And that seemed surreal. He talked about retirement and pensions – a topic of conversation on dates these days. For me this all seems a long way off.

I wouldn’t want to sleep with him. In fact there are very few men in their 50s that I would want to sleep with. I want a younger man! Is that allowed? What gives men the right to date younger women? Why can’t it be the other way around because actually as we get older this is a better natural order of things!

Thanks for reading!

D is for Death: Conversations at the Crematorium

D is for Death. Conversations at the Crematorium.
I’m standing in situ outside the chapel, waiting to officiate at a funeral of a lung cancer victim. We’re waiting for the motor bike and side car to arrive carrying the coffin. They’re ten minutes late. The funeral director is probably having a lesson in riding a motor bike!

One of the speakers comes to introduce himself. He’s from the Vincent Owner’s Club. We shake hands. He’s dressed in leather. So are half the mourners.

‘When did he stop riding his motor bike?’ I ask regarding the deceased.

‘Until he had a pacemaker fitted. Apparently riding bikes and pacemakers are not compatible. He was in his early 80s.’

‘Smoking finished him off. Lung cancer. Nasty illness. I could never understand why an intelligent bloke started smoking.’ The man says.

Just then we are joined by a young lad.

‘Hello.’ He says. ‘Is it ok to stand here. I’ve come round here to have a quick fag. Me mam’s round there. She doesn’t like me smoking.’

‘Mug’s game.’ I say, looking out for the hearse.

‘How old are you? You’ve got your life ahead.’ I add.


‘My son’s age. He’s just started smoking. And he’s intelligent too.’ I direct my comment to the man in leathers.

‘Death seems a long way off.’ The young lad says.

‘You never know. When you’re times up your times up. Don’t take life for granted.’ I say.

‘ Ive seen friends take cannabis. Thats far worse. It seriously messed up one friend. He ended up being sectioned. It can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts. It’s bad news. Smoking tobacco’s ok though. People have done it for years.’

Drugs: The danger of cannabis Channel 4 reports

At 10pm last night I tried to prise my son from bed to watch the Channel 4 programme ‘Cannabis On Trial’ examining the skunk strain of cannabis; now 80% of the UK cannabis market. Several well know figures including Jennie Bond and Jon Snow were filmed taking skunk and then they entered various tests to establish the effect of skunk on their memory, appreciation of music and paranoia levels.

My son was stoned. He’s only 16. About to sit GCSEs. He was lying in bed in filthy trousers, his eyes red. The room had an intoxicating pungent aroma to it. Earlier in the day a substance misuse officer had been to visit him and told me ‘just between you and I skunk isn’t as potent as the press make out.’ ‘I won’t be able to stop your son taking cannabis but I might be able to help him manage his use.’ Not exactly what I wanted to hear. He went straight out into the woods, didn’t come home till 9. This is the nightmare I’m facing.

2 million people in the UK smoke cannabis according to Channel 4 in an ‘industry’ worth £6 billion. There are growing pressures to make its use legal. But fears centre around skunk – the high strength cannabis. The old style cannabis is hash. That’s the stuff my generation smoked. It was relatively harmless compared to skunk which has no CBD and is high in THC.Cannabis has changed out of all recognition in the past 40 years. Addiction to skunk is a growing problem Jon Snow reported. Richard Branson however felt that by criminalising the problem we are not getting on top of the health issues surrounding its use.

Many lives are destroyed by cannabis. A young lad was interviewed and said initially cannabis had made him feel good but after persistent use it made him paranoid. He thought people were after him. He had hallucinations, felt suicidal, had to be sectioned and mugged to feed his habit. Parents like me with kids who are new to cannabis will be wondering will my son or daughter end up like this? The fact is there are no professionals out there who can say one way or the other. So many professionals I have met don’t know all the facts, don’t have the answers, don’t have a clear strategy of how they can help.

Last nights trial revealed that feelings of paranoia increased by 270% after using skunk and short term memory was impaired by 30%. Twice as many people hear auditory illusions.

Jon Snow’s experience was the most harrowing all all. He felt ‘wooly’,’separated from himself,’ ‘anxious, not in control.’ In fact he said he felt so terrible that he said he could stick out Gaza but not weed.

Matthew Parris said he felt ‘mortified and stupid’ because his memory recall had completely gone. All the celebrities did badly in the memory tests. So does this serve as a warning to exam students about to take their GCSEs and A levels? Maybe. Maybe not. The effects are just temporary. Or are they? The commentators had nothing to say about long term memory.


Drug Driving Development

A significant change in the law comes in today aimed at reducing drug driving. Motorists in the UK will face prosecution if they exceed limits set for the presence of 8 illegal drugs including cannabis and cocaine.

There will be roadside tests to identify people driving under the influence of drugs.The limits set are so low to be virtually a zero tolerance approach, except very small amounts in the system due to secondary inhalation. Somebody could be still over the limit 12, 24, 36 hours after.

There are also levels set for prescription drugs including morphine and methadone. People prescribed strong drugs by their doctor might worry about this change in the law and fall foul of the system but the onus is on the individual to ensure their ability to drive is not impaired by prescription medication and of course on reading the leaflet in any packaging. However there is still a medical defence and people are being advised to carry proof of medication with them when driving.

The change in law comes in the wake of an extraordinary campaign by mother Natalie Grove following the sad death of her daughter Libby from a cannabis fuelled driver.

Cannabis is never “just weed.” Yet again this sad death is a reminder that cannabis is not a harmless drug.

I spoke with the support group Frank las week regarding cannabis and the support worker told me “cannabis is a potent, concentrated and strong drug, linked to mental illness in some users. Too many people deny its’ dangers…

Tips on planning your novel

There are plenty of books about planning and plotting a novel and I’ve found a great deal of useful tips and advice in books about writing.We pick up advice from our writing groups, from books about writing, magazines about writing and courses about writing. We chew, we digest and sometimes we spit out.

Writing a novel is a bit like baking a cake. You do need a recipe. You can’t just throw all sorts of ideas about everything into one bowl and pray that it will emerge as a bestseller.

But it’s also not like baking a cake. Baking a cake is about science. Its about precision. The kitchen is a chemistry lab and you need the correct temperature for the cake to rise. You need the basic essential ingredients that give the cake its’ texture, its’ taste and its’ constituency.

Writing a novel is about planning but also about a degree of flexibility. Begin with your skeleton idea. What do you want to write about? What do you want the reader to take away? The mouthwatering taste of chocolate or the fresh tang of lemon?
TIP 1: Plan your ending before your beginning. You have a responsibility as an author to make your reader either happy or sad. Their emotions are in your hands. When you bake a cake you have a responsibility as cook. You don’t want to poison or give your customer an allergic reaction. Where are the characters at the end? Will their mouths be burned by chilli or their tummies bloat with honey? Visualise the end and you will find that planning the rest is much easier.
TIP 2: Plan the first sentence very carefully. Plan the first paragraph careful and if you need to then keep going back to re write that first paragraph.
TIP 3: Spend time writing a paragraph about what your novel is about. Write 5 paragraphs of 5 possibilities for a story line. Your imagination will flow. I guarantee!
TIP 4: Type out a timeline of the main characters: date of birth, marriage, death, key events. Pin it to the wall. You will need to keep referring to it.
TIP 5. Don’t be afraid to be flexible. You will need to be. As you write the story you will be pulling in ideas from everywhere and so the novel will evolve. You’re a sponge – your ears will be open to thoughts from everywhere as you write. This is a journey and even with planning that journey might take you along a different route to the route you first imagined.
TIP 5: Most writing is re writing. Enjoy the re writes. First drafts never end up in print.