Death Musings

His name was on the crematorium board today
His slot was at the end
Below Hilda, Mavis and Constance
Half an hour is all these poor dears get
To celebrate a lifetime’s worth
of troubles and strife
for being a wife and somebody’s daughter
And maybe a sister too
Not knowing what life was ever about
We had to do a double take
The pallbearers, the verger, the crem’ gardener
and I
For his name was Booking Deferred.
May God keep him safe, Mr Booking Deferred.

***

My name’s not on the list today
Next to Reg and Alice
Or Maud or Sally
As long as my name’s not on that list
And as long as I’m behind the lectern
and not in that coffin
I’m alive and well
With a heart beat and blood
And a few more years
To wonder where my life is heading
But I know where it’s heading
To the grave of course
Same place you’re heading.

***
I saw him in the town today
Beard and baseball cap
and that familiar stoop
He died last year
The week after the boating party
A jolly celebration of his end it was
He sat upon the bank
Couldn’t eat the egg sandwiches and death cake
Frail, yellow knowing his end was near
He did not want to boat
He wanted to curl up and sleep in his coat
But I still see him up the town
Baseball cap and beard

***

Tributes to the life of Tony Dakin former journalism and public relations consultant

Tribute to Tony Dakin by long-standing friend Robin Foster

We are gathered here today partly to mourn a passing but I feel more importantly to celebrate a life. The life of Tony Dakin. And what a life he crammed into those 81 years.

Tony was born pre-war historically, into another world than that which we now know. He grew up not far from here in fairly modest circumstances but a happy environment, memory of which stayed with him all his life.

From the outset he was an intelligent young fellow evidenced by 11 plus success gaining entry to Loughborough Grammar. This was another lifelong attachment he enjoyed, attending Class of ’48 reunions until failing health did not allow.

I first met Tony when he was in his early 30s and his London career had really started to get going. In the 1960s Britain was ready to shake off the cobwebs and dust of post war austerity. Opportunities for bright young thrusters abounded and Tony too full advantage. Never lacking self confidence he launched himself into journalism and public relations.

He had a regular column on financial matters in the Evening News, one of the best selling London newspapers. I was working in Lombard Street at the time and heard the newsboy shout of “Star, News, Standard.” News please, I would say and happy in the knowledge that Tony’s article within would be accompanied by a picture of him, my old cricketing buddy.

His pay was soaring to great heights at this time and our cricket teams scorer worked out that Tony’s payslip totaled more than all those of the rest of the team put together.

It was on the cricket field that our relationship developed. He had played better cricket in his 20s but now working long and unsocial hours he was content to help out Bidborough 2nd XJ in the village to which he, Cynthis, Joanna and Katie had moved.

Despite his city successes Tony was a good mixer socially and on the sports field. However, getting accustomed to the best wines money can buy Tony found the cricketers beer culture hard to take. I remember clearly a fantastically good catch he took on the boundary edge having stretched as high as possible and succeeded one handed whilst overstepping the boundary line. Mobbed by all us fielders his feat became legendary. Arriving late in the bar, as usual he offered to buy the opposition skipper a half pint. Immediately the cry went up jug, jug, jug! The Dakin wallet eventually emerged to riotous applause and a couple of jugs circulated.

About this time Tony began to get the property bug. Prices were just beginning to take off. Character houses were coming on the market and he liked the prospect of an old house with lots of space and land to go with it. He already had a pleasant family home but opportunity knocked. Being a busy younger banker myself I was able to persuade my boss to provide the necessary mortgage funds for Tony, Cynthia, Joanna and Katie to make the big upward move. Guess what clinched the deal – my boss remembered Tony from his earlier cricketing prowess when playing for Sevenoaks Vine Cricket Club.

Within a short while of the move Tony organized a Sunday house warming party to show off the posh new residence. As the guests arrived they were given a paintbrush or a scraper to get the redecoration underway. Only Tony could have had the refurb done for free. Only his charm could have carried that one off. In fact we all had a mot enjoyable day.
The three ladies who supported Tony over his time were Cynthia, Mary and Wendy who were wonderful in his care and attention of him.

He was immensely proud of all of his family, delighting in the company of Joanna and Katie when they were young. As the teenage scenarios gathered pace Katie and he hit some cataclysmic rows which took both Cynthia and Joanna to pour oil on the troubled waters.

Much later the arrival of Tom and Matthew caused Tony to take on a new lease of life challenged as he was by Tom intellectually and Mathew athletically.

Tony’s joy at the arrival of Joanna’s children was tempered by the grandfather status that was now his. Tony a granddad! That took some getting used to.

Of all the properties he acquired I liked ‘Old Swaylands’ at Penshurst the best although ‘The Old Parsonage’ at Frant was imposing. Its Bed and Breakfast income enabled Tony to play a lot more golf while Mary and her Polish helper got on with all the work. I am sure that this is a bit unfair but he and I regularly traded such insults in order to keep one another on our toes.

Tony had a wide circle of friends and connections. Seemingly ever cheerful, his company was always enjoyable. He travelled widely and was a wonderfully talented photographer. He was extremely well read and had a massive library of good books. He liked pictures of all kinds and generally had a good eye for all things artistic as coached by Cynthia.

Having enjoyed a great 80th birthday with family and friends all around sadly he had a terrible 2017 as his system gradually packed up bit by bit. So lucky he was to have great support and loyalty from Wendy through all the medical set backs. Maybe all of us here should in gratitude thank Wendy for all the care and attention that she has provided for him.

Tony you will be missed by all of us here and many others as well. Irreplaceable is the word that springs to mind. God bless old mate – you wont be forgotten.

Tony speaking about his life at his 80th birthday


Tribute to Tony Dakin by daughter Joanna

My dad was born in 1936 in East Leake. The world braced itself for war but on a lighter note Quality Street was first made. The family moved to a two-up two-down terraced house in Ashby Road Kegworth. His father Dennis worked in the local factory and his mother Phyllis was a cleaner. Peter came along in 1945 and during the bitter winter of 1947 his parents trudged Tony’s old pram through thick snow to steal coal from the yard six miles away. Times were hard and they struggled to make ends meet.

Dad passed his eleven plus and went on to Loughborough Grammar. From a young age he had ambitions and sat in his attic room late into the night writing stories. He could have gone to university and this was one of his biggest life regrets but in those days working class lads went out to work. He joined Brush Electrical as a draughtsman but hated it and was frustrated and he really didn’t know where his career was heading. National Service provided respite and he was posted to Cyprus with the Royal Signals. Back from National Service he wrote an article for the local paper about his time in Cyprus and Jerusalem and this catapulted him into an illustrious career in journalism and eventually public relations.

Around this time our mum, Cynthia came on the scene. They married in 1963 and moved to Tonbridge where Katie and I born.

My first memory of dad goes back to when I was tiny. He would get me out of bed when he got home from work and delight in holding me to the window to show me the street lights. He loved taking Katie and I for walks in the woods and he enjoyed buying us matching clothes in British Home Stores.

Our parents always had a project on the go. They were creative and artistic people. Sunday lunch was too much trouble because there was a garden to redesign or a room to decorate and also dad was always on a diet and so we ate onion soup and Ryvita with goats cheese made from our goats Fanny and Emily, that Katie milked each morning. One day Fanny and Emily were carted off to the slaughter house in the Mini Clubman, returning in boxes to fill the freezer.

Dad loved to go to cafes and even in the care home he asked to go to the cafe in Matlock. He loved chatting up the waitresses and charming the customers and in our teens he’d take us to Baldwins in Tunbridge Wells, buy us a Danish pastry but sit there with a knife saying ‘come on just give me a corner.’

Several holidays stick out in my memory. We hired a boat on the Shannon in Ireland and it rained relentlessly and mum and dad didn’t stop arguing. Dad fell out of the boat and Katie was bitten by a dog. We got marooned on a rock and a fisherman rescued us in his small boat. We motored down to the south of France in Dad’s XJS but it kept breaking down on route. In Los Angeles on one trip a burly black guy tried to pass Dad a gun to shoot somebody with.

Dad loved cars and buying at auction. One memorable car was a Mini Moke. He drove one while on business in Trinidad and Tobago, came back and bought one. For years we drove this car, despite the broken canvas sides, which flapped in the wind. In the summer he collected us and a horde of other kids from primary school with everyone piled in and around the open sides.

When we had the house at Robertsbridge, E Sussex, we went to nearby Hastings at the weekends where mum painted the boats and dad photographed.

Late one evening in the early 80s Dad filled the car with petrol. A couple in the queue were asking for directions to the nearest hotel. Dad said they could stay with us, that was type of person he was and so began the beginnings of a successful bed and breakfast business and meeting many people from around the world. Dad also later ran a bed and breakfast with second wife Mary. He was John Cleese in the kitchen. Sweeping back into the kitchen balancing plates he said on one occasion, ‘those greedy Germans are asking for more sausages.’

Dad was over the moon when I got a place at university. I was the first in the family to go. He was also amazed at Katie for the way she helped with physical work around the house and her fantastic practical skills. And he was so pleased to go on to have two sons, Tom and Mathew and was amazed at how well both of them have done. Dad was also a grandad to Anna, Peter and Tinika. They called him Grumps. He always asked about them when I phoned. He had also recently become a great grandfather to Elsie although by then he was too ill to appreciate this grand accolade.

Dad remained until his dying day deeply proud and amazed at how far in life he’d come. He never forgot his roots and loved to reminisce about the past and so his decision to return to this area was about reconnecting with his roots.

Dad was very happy with Wendy during these later years. She was an absolute rock. They built a circle of friends and went on some great holidays around the world and weekends away in this country.

Sadly his cancer progressed and he needed care. I would like to thank the Willows Care Home for their fantastic care of dad. At first it was hard but he settled there and became quite mellow.

Gambling and advertising at sport events

Is the sport of football too close to gambling? Betting companies advertise on billboards and players’ t-shirts. It isn’t just the spectators who are at risk of developing a gambling addiction it’s the players too. According to midfielder Joey Barton half the premier league footballers are floating the rules by betting on football matches. The rules state that professional footballers are not allowed to place bets on matches, even matches that they aren’t involved in. ‘You’d have half the League out’ if the rules were were widely enforced, Joey says. Joey Barton was banned because he fell foul of the rules.

Adrian Bevington, former FA executive says that these figures are high anecdotally and that it’s important the Football Association is aware of the vulnerability of players to gambling which is why the rules are in place. ‘There’s been a huge increase in gambling across the globe in recent years,’ Adrian says. ‘You have to protect the vulnerability of players, particularly the younger ones but also protect the integrity of the game from match fixing and keep it a clean sport.’ He supports the rule.

Davis Conn sport journalist says that while he supports the rules they are a side issue from the explosion of gambling and betting companies wrapping themselves into football and making football and football support a gambling experience. Since the relaxation of the law in 2005 there has been an explosion in gambling and the companies are taking between £13 and £14 billion from British people. The fact that players are also gambling is worrying. They are gambling to this extent despite the tough rules and that he says is a very worrying indication. Even with the rules and the risk of being banned the players still risk getting kicked out. And they aren’t actually the most vulnerable people and so what does this say about the addiction as a whole? The most vulnerable people, according to research are those with mental health issues, depression, drug issues and alcohol issues. The adverts are all over football and so many sports. These groups of people are very vulnerable. The adverts are dangerous.

Will things ever change? There is a moral debate here, a debate that this country had back in the 1970s and 1980s when cigarette advertising was banned. The government invested millions in ant-smoking campaigns and various campaigns concerning the dangers of alcohol addiction and drink driving campaigns. But I don’t see the same approach to the tackling of gambling addiction. Gambling addiction can lead to relationship break down, family breakdown, fraud, theft and contribute to the debt crisis this country is facing. Gambling brings in vast sums of money and that finds its way to the government in taxation. So there’s no incentive for the government to do anything about it. Unlike smoking and excessive drinking it doesn’t lead to cancer and heart attacks which is why, I believe the government don’t take it as seriously. But the fact is it ruins lives and leads to economic problems for the rest of us through bankruptcy and business failure. It’s time that the government started to take a tough line and a start would be to ban gambling companies from advertising at sporting events.

Do you have a gambling addiction? Visit Barry’s website at http://www.thegword.co.uk

Funeral Celebrancy in a crowded market place.

Funeral celebrant – in case you didn’t already know – a funeral celebrant is a person that officiates at funeral services by planning and overseeing funeral proceedings. Funeral celebrants conduct non-religious, semi-religious and spiritual funeral services. Many celebrants aim for the funeral service to be a ‘celebration of life’ that honours the person’s life and achievements. I trained with the Fellowship Of Professional Celebrants five years ago and I love what I do. I can’t imagine giving the career of my dreams up now that I have taken a lifetime to find it. And so when I heard about a friend who had recently given up the profession, after seven years of delivering high quality, professional services and well liked by quite a few funeral directors in the area I was more than a little curious to find out why.

My friend, who I’ll call Danny, was working like me in a crowded area of the country, the south-east where funeral celebrants are now ten-a-penny with more flooding the market each month. He said “Jo, there are too many of us.” Funeral directors across Sussex and Kent tell me they see on average three new celebrants every couple of weeks coming through their doors to introduce themselves. It’s a lucrative business for the training schools. They charge upwards of £400 for a three day course and some will charge over a £1000. They’re on to a good thing and who can blame them. They will say “the best will always get work” and I guess that’s true. Because it’s unregulated there’s nothing in theory to stop them training more people. It’s not like working in the NHS or the Justice system.

Danny was an excellent celebrant. He injects warm humour into his speeches, has a lovely rapport with people and is highly efficient. But like most of us he didn’t earn enough. He didn’t conduct enough funerals to make this his main job and couldn’t support his family on the income, sadly. When I first started I took on extra work – evening care work – while my funeral celebrant business was growing and I hoped that I would eventually drop the care work and concentrate on funerals. This hasn’t happened because it’s a crowded market. I continue to do care work but I do enjoy it. I wouldn’t like to do too many funerals because it might desensitise me and might lead to mistakes. My funeral work cannot support me as a sole income. My main income comes from renting property and taking in lodgers, but my funerals are in a way my hobby. I love meeting new people, I love writing and I love public speaking. They help me save for holidays and treats. They are an added bonus.

Danny also cited other reasons for giving up. He said it was emotionally draining and there is absolutely no room for error in this role. I don’t find it emotionally draining. I find it emotionally rewarding. I love helping other people, listening to their wonderful life stories. Loss is all around us. It’s never far from our lives and so it feels as if we are all going through a range of emotions, day to day together. We are never alone even if it feels like it. I can remember how I felt when my mum died and this helps me emphasise with other people.

Danny is spot on when he says there is no room for error in this job. You cannot forget to attend the funeral you are conducting. It just cannot happen! You cannot be late either. You cannot forget your script or your jacket or slip up and say the wrong name or make a mistake on any detail about the person’s life. I have put in place all sorts of checks and balances to make sure mistakes don’t happen. I have heard of mistakes happening and this could, potentially mean the end of your career. I heard about a minister whose mobile phone started ringing in the service. Word got around. He’s not used anymore. I heard about a lady who dropped her glasses on the carpet during the service. The funeral director who told me this said it was sloppy and he wouldn’t be using her again. It’s sad I know and we are all human but we have to be as professional and perfect as we can be!

It’s a shame that Danny has given up. He was very good, but there is only room for a limited number of full time celebrants. Most of us have second jobs to support ourselves. I guess this is the way the economy is going in general. It’s the same in the retail sector but for very different reasons. In retailing employers now prefer temporary, part time staff so that they don’t have to pay for sick leave or holidays and other staff benefits. These are the times we live in.

Thank you for reading. Here is a link to my funeral celebrant website and the Fellowship Of Professional Celebrants who I trained with:

http://www.professionalcelebrants.org.uk

https://beautifulfuneralsussexkent.co.uk

Mental health problems in pregnancy are less understood

Every Mother's Fear, by Joanna Warrington According to a new study by the British Journal of Psychiatry one in four women have mental health problems in pregnancy. The author of this study, Professor Louise Howard says that women are not protected from mental health problems in pregnancy and that problems developed during this vulnerable time can have a lasting impact both for themselves and for their babies. There may be triggers to depression. For instance an unwanted pregnancy, housing problems and lack of social support can all trigger depression. Pregnancy is a massive change in a woman’s life and this cannot be underestimated. Professor Howard wants midwives and support services to better identify cases, through more structured questions.

If mental health problems in pregnancy are little understood today think what it would have been like years ago, in the 1950s, when the NHS was in its infancy. My new novel, “Every Mother’s Fear” highlights some of the mental health issues women faced – a time when shame cowered from all mental conditions like a fearful plague and people shut the mental health box with a locked key. Sandy, in Every Mother’s Fear is unmarried and carries an unwanted baby. There’s no doubt that she’s suffering from mental illness and yet there is nobody to turn to, nobody who will understand, least of all her mother, who is more bothered about what the neighbours will think. And there’s no way out of the situation, no morning after pill or abortion pill. She has to go through with her pregnancy, shunned by family, hidden away to wait it out before having her baby is adopted. In the late 1950s there was a drug women were offered as a cure for all sorts of ailments, but mainly for depression, anxiety, worry and other mental health related problems.That drug was thalidomide. There’s a common misconception the drug was used for morning sickness alone. It was in fact used as a cure for so many things at a time when mental health was even less understood. And think how it would have been for mothers giving birth to babies damaged by the drug thalidomide. They had very little support. In those days there was no counselling or support.

I hope you will enjoy my book, which is perfect for fans of ‘Call The Midwife.’ The 1950s were a tough time for women. Our housing situation was in crisis. ‘Cathy Home Home’ perfectly highlights this. Inadequate accommodation adds to the stress of pregnancy. And on the other end of the social scale middle class women had never had it so good, according to the politicians. They didn’t have to work and life was more leisurely, but they were bored and unfulfilled. This situation is explained very well in Betty Friedan’s book ‘The Feminine Mystique.’ An explosion in women’s mental health problems was happening and women were turning to pills to help them through the day. Have we come any further on, in 2018 I wonder. Not if we are to believe the findings of Professor Howard.

Here is a link to ‘Every Mother’s Fear.’

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Every-Mothers-Fear-Shocking-motherhood-ebook/dp/B078JX8559/

Does literary fiction need public funding?

A recent report by Arts Council England has suggested that literary fiction should get public funding. But surely writers have survived for centuries without public funding and if a book is well written and sells then why would it need public funding?

Henry Sutton, senior lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia believes it should. In fact he argues that all fiction should be heavily funded, because studies show that reading fiction helps people to understand others, it develops empathy and understanding about how other people think and behave.Literary fiction gets to the roots of the human condition and across class, race and time. It’s about diversity and inclusion. He doesn’t think that every writer deserves to be a writer but feels strongly that more people should read. A literary culture needs to be developed from the grassroots with more engagement and support. Reading is a fun activity, and a form of escape from the tough lives we lead and a means to relax. It should be encouraged and we need to look at ways to encourage it.

Author Jilly Cooper disagrees with Henry Sutton. She wrote her first romance novel in 1975, long before Tesco and Asda began flogging off cheap books and the big Amazon came into being. She needed to make ends meet and writing gave her an income. An income, what is that? Jilly was successful because there were far fewer romance novels on the market. She simply didn’t have the level of competition we authors face today and books were priced accordingly. Today however, readers expect books to be cheaply priced or preferably free. We’ve seen a race to the bottom. Our skills are undervalued. It’s a giveaway culture in the literary world. Anyone can publish and nobody is checking grammar or writing style. It’s a free for all situation on Amazon. Our public libraries are disappearing, once great cathedrals of reading and this both Jilly Cooper and Henry Sutton do agree on.

My latest book engages the reader in the 1950s when choices for women were limited. When Henry Sutton talks about empathy and the human condition my book “Every Mother’s Fear” perfectly brings to focus exactly what he means. I believe that we should read about the past to understand the present, where we are and where we’re going and I hope my book does just that.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Every-Mothers-Fear-Shocking-motherhood-ebook/dp/B078JX8559/

New Year bucket lists and resolutions

New Year is upon us once again and it’s time to reassess our lives, tweak the bucket list, write some New Year’s resolutions and revamp the diet. I’ve always found it a depressing time of year with the thought of dreary January and February to come. It’s also a favoured time of year to dump men – out with the old and in with the new, is my motto. So at the stroke of midnight when that irritating little folk tune Auld Lang Syne begins to play I’m looking for a way to begin that tricky conversation and extricate myself from the relationship. Not this year though. I was happy to smooch and snog my new fella under the glitter ball of an upstairs club in Hastings Old Town, the Black Market VIP. A quirky band called Kitten and The Hip were playing. There were strands of hip hop,jazz, swing and R&B. They were on the X Factor in 2014. Simon Cowell thought they were father and daughter but Ashley Slater and Scarlett Quinn are in fact husband and wife. He’s 53 and she’s 28. Known as Kitten Scarlett was dressed in a yellow shell suit. It was a great evening and various age groups came along. By midnight the room was full of dancers including an old raver strutting across the dance floor, who pulled various young ladies into an eclectic duet.

Lack of sleep and nursing a hangover I’m reviewing my bucket list. It includes going to a football match and the Grand Prix. They aren’t events I particularly want to do but things that must be done before I die. The last time I reassessed my bucket list was when I turned 50. With the menopause approaching time was running out. I booked a holiday to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Yellowstone. I ended up writing a romantic comedy based on this trip, called “Holiday.” It’s a twist of Bill Bryson and Bridget Jones Diary. This year I’m going to Cuba and the East Coast of America (Boston and Plymouth.) I’ll be blogging about these trips and giving you plenty of travel tips.

“Holiday” is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/HOLIDAY-Laugh-out-loud-romantic-Joanna-Warrington-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/https://www.amazon.com/HOLIDAY-Laugh-out-loud-romantic-Joanna-Warrington-ebook/dp/B01MXYJJ3V/

And if you live in the Hastings and Bexhill area and enjoy gigs check out Barry Hilton’s new website:

http://hastingsmusicscene.com

Hastings Music scene

The shocking rise in stillbirths in England

Around 700,000 babies are born in England each year and of these 1000 unexpectedly die, as stillbirths or are left with brain injury following a traumatic birth. An NHS backed review has revealed that in as many as 80% of cases improvements in care could have prevented the deaths. Jeremy Hunt has announced that the government will be looking into changing the law to allow coroners to investigate full-term stillbirths – currently they cannot do this, with some parents saying deaths have been classified as stillbirths to avoid the need for an inquest.

Stillbirth is a tragic experience for parents to go through and the mental impact on the mother can be devastating. The joy of birth is met with the crushing sadness of death. Years ago I thought I told that my first baby wouldn’t survive the birth. It’s like looking down a kaleidoscope and seeing a happy future, making plans and looking forward to all the normal things that parents do and then suddenly you are planning the reverse – a funeral. I remember this feeling of limbo carrying on my daily life, working and socializing for a couple of weeks until the planned caesarian when I would deliver a dead baby. It was like carrying a tiny coffin in your body. The bump was there, people were still making comments and wishing me well but inside my body was a fading light. I was the life support machine, sustaining a life but as soon as that baby entered the world it couldn’t be a part of that world, it wasn’t meant to be, it’s life only existed in that womb and that was how it was meant to be. I couldn’t grapple with the idea of a date of birth and a date of death being on the same day. It was hard to get my head around that concept and there being no dash between two dates.

Thankfully my baby did live, although only for several months but I hope the government will take urgent action now that they know the shocking statistics to end the agony of stillbirth.

In my recent book ‘Every Family Has One’ there is a traumatic birth scene, inspired by my own experience. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/EVERY-FAMILY-HAS-ONE-Catholic-ebook/dp/B015RUZL7Y/

I’d like to end this blog with a great poem, ‘The Dash’ by Linda Ellis because it’s the one thing that’s absent from the life of a stillborn baby. And one of the most difficult lessons in life is that less is often more. For me it’s the fleeting experiences; experiences that transform us, changing us forever, leaving an emotional imprint; experiences we have that mean so much and live on in our hearts and minds.

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?

Euthanasia should be legal

Euthanasia should be legalised. In my role as a funeral celebrant I hear some shocking stories about how people suffer at the end of their life. Death can come suddenly or a person lingers, gradually fading. For some older people, the body weakens while the mind stays alert. Others remain physically strong, but cognitive losses take a huge toll. End of life is a period in which someone deteriorates. This can take days, weeks, months or longer but it’s usually an unpleasant period in someone’s life and actually unnecessary given medical advances. At the end of someone’s life we aim to make this time comfortable, managing pain and distressing symptoms. But there’s only so much we, the families, doctors and nurses can do. Many people still suffer and it’s totally inhumane and barbaric to allow this suffering to happen.
My dad is end of life. He’s barely eaten in months and has lost lots of weight. He says it’s painful on his stomach to eat. He’s confined to a wheelchair and cries because he can’t go out to his favourite cafe. He’s in pain because he has bone cancer and the cancer is spreading. Several months ago he told his social worker that he wanted to go to Switzerland to end his life. Is this an unreasonable request? I don’t think so. It’s his life and why should he suffer? It’s not as if he’ll get better. But the mention of suicide is a red flag to an social worker and doctor and he was immediately prescribed anti depressants which only mask the real situation going on. It is wrong that the state should have the last word on life and death matters and it’s time we took control over our lives.
Those against euthanasia argue that families might put pressure on their loved ones to end their life. Actually the problem is more likely to be the other way around. Families are more likely to try to stop their loved ones ending their life. This has to be an agreement between the patient and the doctor and it has to be decided at the outset when the diagnosis is made and when the patient still has mental capacity. Opponents also put forward many legal obstacles.
This is how I would administer the system: Doctors could conduct a short interview at regular points in a patients life. This could be done when the patient sees the doctor at an appointment and as part of the patient’s health check. The interview would ask some basic questions about whether they want the lethal injection when they reach end of life. Their views can be assessed over their lifetime from 18 years onwards, so that by the time somebody is at end of life, for instance suffering from terminal cancer and in pain they know for sure it’s what the person wants because there has been consistency in their belief over a long period of time.

#metoo hashtag and my experiences of sexual harassment

The #metoo hashtags which blew up all over Facebook and Twitter last week got me thinking. Female solidarity the world over was galvanised by the numerous discussions and heated debate. At last thanks to social media women from all walks of life have been given a platform to come out and share their experiences of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour by men in the work place or simply to put their hand up and be counted. Whether this will lead to change in society, discussion and action in the real world where we take control, meeting and challenging our perpetrators face to face, holding them to account for their behaviour remains to be seen.

When I first saw the hashtag I must admit I dismissed it as left wing claptrap, a bunch of feminists having a rant but the more I thought about it the more I came to realise that I too have been sexually harassed in the workplace and I should have been bold enough to stand up and be counted too, because without collective solidarity society’s attitudes will never change.

I graduated in 1987. Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister was in power and things should have changed for women, but they didn’t. The late 80s was a great time to enter the workforce. The economy was expanding and developing and traditional industries were in decline. There were huge opportunities for graduates to make serious money. This was the rise of the financial, service and retail sector. Large retailers cluttered the halls of the university milk round events and I was interviewed by Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Woolworths for their graduation schemes. Eventually though I ended up in credit management and worked for a few years for Amec Engineering.

I worked in the fire engineering department and we maintained the sprinkler systems of companies across the UK. I was based in an office near London Bridge. There were around seventy people working there consisting of draftsmen, project managers, accountants and engineers. There were only three women working there; myself and two secretaries. I found it fun working in a male environment.I didn’t feel intimidated and there was always lots of sexual innuendo and banter going on. When I walked past the draftsmen to go to the loo one of them always whistled or stopped to have a tease about something or one of them would tell me that I had a nice bum.
My boss sat opposite me and there were three other men close by. There was always a lot of sexual banter going on. ‘When’s she going to climb on the step ladder and get a file down so we can see that bum of hers?’ was something they often said. One day my boss and I took the train to Chestnut to visit Tesco head offices. On the train he said through spluttered laughter, ‘now this is the plan. You’ve got to flash your tits at them, then they’ll sign the deal.’ He put his hand on my knee as he said it, giving my knee a little rub. It was all a bit Sid James and at the time I found it amusing but now as I look back I see that it was all inappropriate behaviour.
But worse was to come when I moved into teaching. I didn’t imagine there would be sexual harassment in the teaching profession. It was 1993. I had recently qualified as a history teacher and got offered a full time post at a secondary school along the south coast. Within a few weeks of starting the job I found I was pregnant. I had only recently got married. I waited until I was 14 weeks and then went to see the head. I expected to take maternity leave from around 38 weeks and return to the job after a short maternity leave. The head got up from his desk and went to close the door so that we weren’t overheard. He peered at me and then mockingly said ‘and how do you think you’ll be able to work full time with a baby?’ I explained that I would employ a childminder. He said ‘that’s not a good idea. You’ve no idea what they will be like. Are you prepared to risk your baby’s life?’ I was stunned. He then said ‘how will you be able to stay late for meetings?’ And much worse ‘my wife couldn’t juggle a career and a baby, few women can.’
Incensed I went home that day and wrote to the National Union of Teachers.I told them everything the headteacher had said to me. They called a few days later and seemed very concerned. A representative held a meeting with the headteacher and my department head and then we had a meeting together. The head said that it wouldn’t be possible for me to return to my full time job as a history teacher but he could offer two days a week teaching religious studies or three days a week teaching geography but I would have to apply for these posts. The union rep seemed quite happy with these suggestions and thought the head was being fair.It didn’t seem to register with him that I wanted to teach history. That was what I was employed to teach and that was what I’d been trained to teach, not geography or RE. As I listened to the discussion I wanted to melt away and I was stifling the tears, feeling a sinking sense of helplessness around a table of all men.
Over the course of my career I went for numerous interviews and some of the interviewers blatantly disregarded the sex discrimination legislation. In one of the interviews I was asked if I could drive. I was in the process of learning and didn’t need to drive to be able to do the job. The bus service was very good. I told him that I was learning and he said ‘you need to learn to drive because how do you imagine you will ferry your children to school?’ I was only 22 at the time. Having children was the last thing on my mind! The question was bizarre and unrelated to the job.
Things have moved on a lot since the 1990s but we need to be aware of harassment and inappropriate behaviour and have the courage, as women to report things that aren’t right or make us feel uncomfortable.

Thank you for reading!