Monday, June 08, 2015

My mother's view of the NHS

The frequently amazing John Peel said "It's a terrible thing when we feel sorry for our parents."  While my Dad lumbers around like an 83 year-old ox, my Mother has spent the last year being grumpy about being frail at a mere 73.

In the last year, she's had so many heart operations even she's lost count, and the medications for that are interacting with the medication that is saving her sight. A woman who has  always obsessed about nice views is now in danger of having none at all.

Having given up on BUPA as the premiums made her depressed, she's now learning a lot, very rapidly, about the state the NHS is in. She used to work in nursing, so she's full of praise for the quality of care she gets. "They ask if they can use my first name. I like that.". The NHS has proved adept at flinging her from one end of the country to the next and providing her with great care along the way.

It has been a bit trickier moving her to the next county. She is in Taunton. The local eye specialist is in Plymouth. It is an hour by train. But, for various complicated funding reasons which my mother honestly doesn't understand, she can be treated there, but not by the NHS. They simply can't quite guarantee moving the funding across in time. Nobody doesn't want to, and yet it is fiddly. She wishes to see the Great Eye Consultant at the local Centre of Excellence - and this is, in theory, what the last few years of NHS Patient Choice reforms have been. In practice, you have to be very patient while waiting for your choice. If my mother had waited, she would be blind by now.

Instead of which, my parents cheerily tell me they've taken out a loan. They're even looking at the horrors of equity release ("Well, a house is one thing. But eyesight is another, dear."). My mother has discovered that the power of even a very little money works wonders. Suddenly all the forms and automated appointment systems that a 73 year old finds so confusing are whisked away, and instead my mother has a new hobby. Having afternoon tea while The Great Consultant stitches away at her eye, saving her sight.

A skilled sewer, she admires his technique ("He fitted four stitches in a millimetre the other day") while deploring the material he's working with ("My eye's had it. It's fraying as he sews it. If it was a sofa I'd reupholster from scratch.").

It's an odd situation. One made more so by it being a long drive to Plymouth than my father can do in a day. So they take the motorhome, and park up at the hospital. Dad makes himself some toast and reads the paper, and mum goes in while a very patient man sticks needles in her eye. "It's not why we bought the motorhome," she says. "But it does very well."

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Bison Are On 30th

A friend suggested going to San Francisco for the weekend. So I went. Mostly so I could say "I went to San Francisco for the weekend."

I can recommend it. Mostly because, if you're ever worried you drink too much (and I am), fly to America for the weekend. The resulting jet lag guarantees that a glass of wine is really all you need.

San Fancisco is wonderful for so many reasons. For a start, you have to love a city that looked at the available models for a public transport system and went "ooh rollercoasters". Even buses require a strong head.

I should, at this point, tell you something about the wild gay scene. I walked through it one night trying to get home before I fell asleep. Some gays with fantastic arms and amazing chesticles staggered out of a bar. One tripped over a bike.
"Get her!" seethed one.
"You go girl!" cried another.
"I am Miss Thang," said the one who had fallen over. "Oh boy."
I believe that's sass or something.

The people of San Francisco were amazingly helpful and polite. Sort of like an interesting Canada, or a sincere LA. If we looked lost, someone would always offer us directions, or a lift. It is the kind of city where you can walk up to a total stranger and ask for directions to the bison in Golden Gate Park and be told "Oh, right, yeah, the bison are on 30th." Even the tramps are terribly polite. While we were filming one of them called out "Let me know if you'd like me to get out of shot, wont you?"

In amongst it all is a weird fading hippie chic. You can walk into a shop and buy Guac-Kale-Mole. You can also be sat next to a walking Robert Crumb cartoon on the bus. "My landlord wants me out. My lawyer, I got a lawyer, he says I'll get six months rent free. So I'll buy myself a winnebago with a shower. A real nice shower. Then I'll go see my friends in Mexico. They moved out of Haight last year. Over the border and back to pick up welfare once a month. They live like kings there, they live like kings. They have servants. I want servants. I'll drive my Winnebago to Tijuana." And so on. Possibly to the man opposite him. Possibly to himself.

The only rude people were at passport control. If getting into America is hard, leaving it is even harder. The border guard excelled at a unique form of aggression, seizing on incomplete tickets with a joyous "Uh-oh, we have a problem here!". As we left, she'd found a baby's ticket was missing her full name. In vain did the family try and explain the baby hadn't yet been christened."Uh-oh, we have a problem baby here..."

Here's a photograph of some shoes we found outside our house. Someone had built a bus-stop overnight and someone else had left some shoes at it. No-one could work out if it was art or rubbish. I took a picture and a woman leaned over. "You didn't take a picture, did you? What will they think of us in England? Do you want to take the shoes - in case anyone over there needs them..."