New Year’s Eve in Kerala, 2018

On this last day of 2018 I have spent some time, here in Kerala, under blue skies and in beautiful surroundings, reading an interview that Jonathan Rowson conducted with Iain McGilchrist in 2013.

Rowson, J. McGilchrist, I. (2013). Divided Brain, Divided World: Why the best part of us struggles to be head, (February), 1–100. Retrieved from https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/blogs/rsa-divided-brain-divided-world.pdf

It struck me that the article has many messages for how I might wish to progress into 2019.  Here are some quotes that seem apposite to the time of year and maybe more broadly.

McGilchrist says:

“… we are caught in vicious circles. Many things seem crucial for a good life only because of the very mess we have got into. We have less and less time, so we need to rely more and more on gadgets and machines to shore up our lives – an aspect of the pressure under which we live, the lack of leisure. We need expensive foreign holidays when we want to relax, because we have made the places we live in so alien, so limiting and so sad.”

Since I am on an expensive foreign holiday, a month in India, it’s not surprising that this passage caught my attention. Of course it’s possible to criticise McGilchrist’s use of ‘we’, question who ‘we’ refers to and feel uncomfortable with the generalisation, but nevertheless, for me, there is some truth in this. I don’t find my home in the UK alien, limiting or sad, but I do feel more relaxed here in Kerala than I have for years, so it’s interesting to reflect on why this is and what could be changed at home to replicate this feeling.

McGilchrist goes on to say:

“… for many people their family is what gives life most of its meaning. It is these sort of things – the experience of love, of the spiritual realm, of a sense of closeness to nature, of music, art and the rituals and ceremonies that form an essential part of our sense of ourselves individually and as a society, that bring meaning in their wake. And there is barely one of these that is not under attack in some form as a result of the way we live now.”

These sentences also strike me as having truth in them – words to hold on to through next year.

McGilchrist then suggests that

“We must step back to see the bigger picture. Living headlong we skim over the surface of the world rather than allowing ourselves to enter into its depth. At the same time, as it might seem paradoxically, our view is too ‘close up’: always in a hurry, we are narrowly focussed on a few salient things and miss the broader picture. We need to find a more natural, a slower, more meditative, tempo. That way too we see more.”

“It’s in any case a good discipline to keep an open mind, not to think one knows it all, and to respect and to some extent feel in awe of what is greater than ourselves. By the same token, it’s a disastrous belief that we understand everything and have it all under control.”

The final sentence I selected to share in this post is

“… we must all, from the ground up be involved with and committed to resolving these problems – not just a government on its own, and not just isolated groups of individuals without government support.”

All these quotes resonate with me on one level or another and seem worth thinking about as 2019 is almost upon us. As I write this, it’s 8.30 pm here in Kerala and sitting here on the veranda of our homestay, the homes across the water are competing for which one can play their celebration music the loudest. But this small coastal community here in Kerala, when it is not New Year’s Eve, is a great example of a place with a more natural, a slower, more meditative, tempo.

Wishing anyone who reads this a happy and fulfilling 2019.

A-Z of my year – 2018

I first wrote a post like this in 2016.  I didn’t write one last year. Here is one for this year. It has seemed more difficult this year than in 2016, but perhaps that’s just my memory, or perhaps it’s because I am in Kerala, away from home and access to some of my resources.

 

A – A better year than 2017. Announcing one family wedding for 2019 and one family engagement

BBettyBaymaas Homestay

CCotswolds. Cycling. Caring

DDurham with Lisa

EE-Learning 3.0Existentialism. Ethics. Epistemology

F – Fifty. This year’s number.

GGolden wedding. Garden. Good friends

HHexham. House improvements. Hot summer

IInclusion paper published.  India

J – John, my future son-in-law

KKerala. Kitchen renovation

L Lanzarote. Lisa’s visit 

MMcGilchristManchester

N No Things. This year’s most intriguing idea.

O – Offers made on two houses, but we are not moving yet

P – Philosophy. Physiotherapy

Q – Questioning the meaning of life and death

RRome. Retirement?

SSedberghScampston Walled Garden. Speke Hall 

TThe Trossachs. Tennis Elbow

U –  Uncertainty

VVatican City 

W –  Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Watering the garden this summer. Weight-training

X –  eXtravagant holidays for a special year

YYork

Z – zzz – time to end this year and this post.

Reasons why I am happy to be in Kerala at the end of December

This morning I found Anthony Wilson’s blog post in my inbox – Reasons why I am happy to be in the city at the end of December. I enjoyed his post, but I am so pleased not to be in the city, and in Kerala. Here are my reasons (with thanks to Anthony Wilson for prompting this effortless post).

  • Because there is no pressure; I feel lighter
  • Because it is an escape from Christmas and New Year hype
  • Because it is peaceful, calm, unspoiled and serenely beautiful
  • Because I do not have to cook and the food is delicious
  • Because the people are so wonderfully open-hearted and friendly
  • Because there is time to stand and stare, time to think
  • Because there is time to read, write and reflect
  • Because the days are so-o-o-o-o slow
  • Because I feel warm, inside and out
  • Because of new sights, sounds, smells and experiences
  • Fruit – papaya, pomegranate, pineapple, water melon
  • Because of steamed bananas for breakfast
  • Because of daily swimming under the trees to the sound of delicate, haunting music
  • Because life is in the open air
  • Because absence makes the heart grow fonder
  • Because 2019 feels more promising from here

12 Rules for Life

Earlier this week I travelled to Manchester to hear Jordan Peterson speak at the O2 Apollo Theatre about his book ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’ . This was one event in a punishing schedule of 80 cities –  https://jordanbpeterson.com/events/

One of the delights of having children who do their own thing and are willing to share this with you, is that you end up doing things that you would never do had your children not suggested them. So it was that one of our sons introduced us to Peterson’s book (even bought us a copy) and thought it would be a good idea if we all went to hear him speak in Manchester. Our first response was that anyone who thinks you can number the rules for life needs to be considered with caution (although we were informed – not sure if this is true – that Peterson may write a second book with more rules) and secondly, did we really want to fight the terrible Manchester traffic (in the rush hour) to get there? But we did and yes, the traffic was terrible!

I’m glad we went. It was an experience. 1700 people were in the audience. I could scarcely believe that, although it’s interesting that none of the UK venues have sold out, although many European venues have, but maybe that’s because of the size of the venue. Also, as Peterson acknowledged, the balance between male and female members of the audience was 60:40. I didn’t see that as a problem. I had wondered before going whether there would be any demonstrations. Peterson seems to be hated as much as he is loved, and at the beginning of the show we were told that heckling would not be tolerated. This was said with ‘tongue in cheek’ and I wondered if it was really an invitation to heckle. But in the event there was no heckling. At one point a young man tried to get on the stage, seemingly to share some information that he had found on his mobile phone about a reference that Peterson had trouble remembering. Needless to say the security guards stopped him, but Peterson was kind in his acknowledgement of the young man’s attempt to help.

The event surprised me on a number of levels.

According to Wikipedia, Peterson is 56, but he looked a lot older than that. He is extremely thin and grey and to me looked exhausted. Evidently he hadn’t arrived in Manchester until 3.00 am on the day of the presentation and then in the morning had to do a BBC interview and following this visit a Manchester Boxing Club which, by all accounts was turning round disaffected young men. No wonder then that he looked shattered.

At the start, he said he was going to talk about Rules 11, 10 and 7 (See https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za/sites/penguinbooks.co.za/files/Extract_12%20Rules%20for%20Life.PDF)

RULE 1 / Stand up straight with your shoulders back

RULE 2 / Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

RULE 3 / Make friends with people who want the best for you  

RULE 4 / Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

RULE 5 / Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

RULE 6 / Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

RULE 7 / Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

RULE 8 / Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie

RULE 9 / Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

RULE 10 / Be precise in your speech

RULE 11 / Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

RULE 12 / Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

In the event, he talked mostly about his encounter with the young men from the Boxing Club he had visited in the morning, relating that from time to time to the 12 rules. He talked for an hour without notes (I think there were auto-cues, although he didn’t seem to stand still long enough to read them) and there were times when I felt he wasn’t able to adhere to Rule 10, i.e. I asked myself where was the evidence for what he was saying. But on the whole I found myself sympathising with how exhausted he seemed (whilst at the same time recognising how much money he is making from this tour!) and I didn’t find a lot to argue with in what he said.

I don’t have strong feelings for or against Peterson. He is an interesting phenomenon. He is extremely articulate and able to argue his point well (even if he scarcely draws breath and would probably be easier to listen to if he would just pause occasionally), drawing on a wide range of literature, not least Biblical references.

What really surprised me was the audience. They gave him a standing ovation and whilst I found him interesting to listen to, his talk was unstructured, difficult to follow and clearly delivered by someone who was exhausted. On this particular night, from my perspective, it did not merit a standing ovation. I think a debate might have been more interesting, such as the one with Kathy Newman, as was reported in The Guardian here – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/21/banning-jordan-peterson-causing-offence-cathy-newman-free-speech , but that would probably have required too much energy on such a punishing tour.

Ten Reasons to Keep Writing

One of the people I enjoy following on Twitter is the author Joanne Harris. Every so often (this might be weekly, but I’m not sure) she invites her followers to ask a question about anything and everything to do with writing and publishing, which she attempts to answer in #TenTweets

The question today has come from:

Katie Hall-May @mypapercastles

How about ‘why we keep writing when it seems nobody’s reading’? I had a wobble recently and then realised that (at least one) of the answers is ‘because its about the journey more than the destination’ – but I can’t be the only one who wobbles sometimes on this one.

author-writing(Click here for source of image link)

Joanne Harris’s ten tweets response would probably be of interest to anyone who writes in any capacity, including a blogger like myself.

Joanne Harris  @Joannechocolat

This may be personal to each individual author, I suspect, but feel free to join the hashtag.

Follow#TenReasonsToKeepWriting to collect them all!

  1. Because you love it. If you don’t, then how can a reader be expected to?
  2. Because every time you put something out there, you’re reaching out to others and sharing your experiences.
  3. Because one day, without knowing it, your words might change someone’s life.
  4. Because the more you write, the more you understand about the process, and the more you get out of reading.
  5. Because the book you most want to read hasn’t yet been written.
  6. Because it helps you make sense of things that have happened to you in your life – and sometimes even helps you fight back.
  7. Because there’s nothing like the feeling of making something out of nothing, using only your imagination.
  8. Because you’re improving all the time.
  9. Because you know that stories are how people from different cultures and with different experiences communicate, empathize and grow to understand each other.
  10. Because if this world can be saved, it will be by those with imagination, compassion, courage, perseverance and the ability to ignite those qualities in other people, using only the power of words.

#TenReasonsToKeepWriting     3:35pm · 26 Oct 2018

Talking about dying

This month the Royal College of Physicians has published a report bearing the title ‘Talking about dying: How to begin honest conversations about what lies ahead’ 

There is a concern that doctors and other healthcare professionals find it hard to talk to patients about dying. This reflects something that I have heard Iain McGilchrist  author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, say, i.e. that death is no longer freely talked about. It has become a difficult topic. We would now rather talk about sex than death, whereas in Victorian times it was the other way round. If this is true, then it is not just doctors and healthcare professionals, but the population at large who finds it difficult to talk about death, and especially to talk about death to people who are dying.

Earlier this year my mother died so I now have a heightened awareness of death and how we might approach it. The problem is that if you have never experienced the death of someone you love (or indeed anyone) before,  unless you make an effort to become informed before the event, which seems to be generally regarded as morbid, then you can only learn through hindsight. Reflection on my mother’s death this year has made me think I should have thought more about death before she died. I now realise that there are many ways in which I could have done this.

I recently read Paul Kalanithi’s autobiographical book, published posthumously, When Breath Becomes Air,  in which he records his experience of dying and how he prepares for his own death. The book highlights the importance of open communication about this experience not only with healthcare professionals, but also with family and friends.

Also this year, my research colleague and friend Mariana Funes, encouraged me to watch a number of videos on YouTube in which the presenters discuss the importance of preparing for death and talking about dying. In these videos the presenters consider changing approaches to the care of the dying (https://youtu.be/mviU9OeufA0 ), the need to make clear our preferences for end of life care (https://youtu.be/lkvKGafoyIY ) and why we should all talk about dying (https://youtu.be/nQ90MFMYnZg ). These are just three of the videos I have watched. There are many more.

And last week I watched on DVD the film ‘Awakenings’, based on Oliver Sacks’s book of the same name. Its tells the story of victims of an encephalitis epidemic many years ago who have been catatonic ever since and how treatment with a new drug, L-Dopa, brings them temporarily out of this catatonic state, hence the title ‘Awakenings’. What really struck me about this film was that the doctor realised before treating his patients with L-Dopa, that behind the catatonia is a person who can be reached and communicated with. This is what I wish I had more fully appreciated when my mother was dying.

My mother had dementia for eight years before she died. In the latter years it was not possible to communicate with her through conversation. We used to communicate through singing. Right till the last year of her life she could recognise her old music hall favourites, even though I was not sure that she knew me or understood anything I said to her.

Having watched ‘Awakenings’ I think I should have had more faith that she could ‘hear me’. I remember on the day before she died the District Nurse told me to go and sit with my mother and talk to her. I felt awkward about this. I hadn’t had a conversation with my mother, or really talked to her, for years. But I did what the nurse told me to and the last thing I said to my mother was that she was not to worry, she would not be moved from her home into a hospital (her wish was always to die in her own home) and she would not be left alone. At the time I wondered whether she had heard or understood me, but now, with hindsight, I think that she did, and that she knew I was her daughter and was reassured that she would die at home. My regret is that I didn’t talk to her more during her last weeks.

I hope the Royal College of Physicians’ report is widely disseminated and discussed. We should not wait until after the death of someone we love to learn how to talk about dying. As I wrote in a previous post, death should be a friend of life.

Visiting Rome with a Wheelchair User

Rome, like Venice,  is a city known to be notoriously difficult for people in wheelchairs to visit. I am writing this post as the partner of a wheelchair user, to share some of our experiences of this beautiful and fascinating city.

Of course, before we went we did our research which confirmed, from lots of comments on Trip Advisor and the like, that we would find Rome difficult, but also that it was worth the effort, so we spent some time planning how to reduce this effort.

Questions we tried to answer before we went.

We know that Manchester Airport, where we flew from, is good with people in wheelchairs, but what about Rome airport? We spent a lot of time trying to organise an accessible taxi (i.e. one with a ramp or lift) to take us from the airport to the hotel. In the end, after hours spent on the phone and online, we gave up. Instead we decided to take the train from the airport to the city centre. We didn’t pre-book, but just turned up on the platform. It was so easy and a fraction of the cost of taking a taxi.

Right up to the day before leaving we kept changing our minds about which wheelchair to take – should it be the fold-up one that would go in a taxi and was light to push, or should it be a heavier unfolding wheelchair with a bike attachment (tracker – as in photo)? Ultimately we decided on the tracker (the best decision we made), which wasn’t damaged on the outgoing or return flight, to which a good-sized rucksack would attach on the front, and which we discovered would not only go up steep curves, but also over big cobbles.

We couldn’t get in a taxi with this wheelchair, but we could get on the train and we just squeezed onto the hop-on/hop off bus, where passengers were very tolerant in edging past us.

On choosing a hotel, we followed the rules we always follow. The hotel must be central, so that as much as possible it is within walking distance of the main sites. The bedroom must be big enough for a wheelchair and the bathroom must be wheelchair friendly. We booked the Ariston Hotel, near the train and bus station. This worked really well as we were able to walk to and from the station in less than five minutes and to all the key sites, although we did get the bus to Vatican City (we walked back though!). The Ariston was not perfect, but we have no complaints. It was not as spacious as it appears on their website photos. In particular the corridors were very narrow, the lift was tiny, the bar was up some steps, and our bathroom was right on the edge of being wheelchair friendly. But by moving a bit of furniture around and doing quite a lot of lifting in the absence of well-positioned grab-rails in the bathroom, we managed. The hotel staff were very friendly and helpful and the breakfast was extremely good and certainly enough to set you up for the day. The other good thing about the hotel was that it was very near a lot of good restaurants.

Getting about in Rome

There is no doubt that Rome is difficult for a wheelchair user. Many kerbs are very high and do not have ramps. Most surfaces are cobbled, which along with gravel is a wheelchair-user’s nightmare, and some sites and restaurants are inaccessible. But despite this there’s plenty to see and do. This was our first time in Rome, so we took the approach I will describe below, an approach which depends on being reasonably fit.

We decided to walk/ride and observe from the outside rather than try to get into sites such as museums, although we did get into St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, the Pantheon and Santa Maria Maggiore.

 

The Santa Maria Maggiore and the Pantheon were free, but for those sites which charge, such as those in Vatican City, the good news is that not only do disabled visitors and their carers go in free but also don’t have to queue, being taken by a different route to the front!

It was very hot whilst we were in Rome – 30 degrees or above on most days. Although we walked/rode about 10 miles a day, we made an effort to stay on the shady side of the street and drink plenty of water – common sense really.

We tried to avoid hugely crowded areas,  or only stay for a very short time, e.g. Trevi Fountain. In my opinion and that of my partner, The Sistine Chapel is really not worth it for a wheelchair user. As an able-bodied standing person you are shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of others. For a wheelchair user this means you are pushed up against hordes of people at below waist height – not pleasant. In this hugely over-crowded space I got no sense of the beauty of The Sistine Chapel and even more annoying was the voice over the tannoy shouting at us to be silent! (I found when I worked in schools that if you want silence, you whisper!). So, either book a special tour for just a small group to visit the Sistine Chapel, or give it a miss and buy some photos.

It is possible to avoid the crowds though. We did this by roaming through the back streets and visiting sites such as the Circus Maximus. The video makes it sound noisy, but I wasn’t aware of the noise at the time, or at least didn’t find it troubling.

 

The most important lesson for us was …

You either need three wheels or four big wheels (a sturdy scooter), ideally assisted by battery power. A regular wheelchair with small front casters must be a nightmare – extremely hard work for whoever is pushing (we did see some). Even if you tip the chair backwards, so that it is only travelling on the two back wheels (which is the only way to get across cobbles without rattling the wheelchair occupant right out of the chair), there are so many difficult surfaces in Rome that this could not be sustained for very long.

The system we use is a Batec – expensive, but so worth it.

We only scraped the surface of Rome, in the four and a half days we were there, despite being out for about seven hours each day. I would love to return and see more. Hopefully we will be able to do this. If you are a wheelchair user, don’t be put off by the bad press Rome gets in relation to access. It is definitely possible with a bit of fore-thought. The people are very helpful and I got the impression that the city is doing its best to improve access, but, unsurprisingly for such an ancient city, there remains a lot to do. You don’t need to plan out every detail or even to go very far. There is something beautiful to see on just about every corner in central Rome.  It is such a special place to visit.

For more photos of what we managed to see in Rome – see https://www.flickr.com/photos/jennymackness/albums/72157695420925550

And for a similar post on visiting Venice – see https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/09/27/visiting-venice-with-a-wheelchair-user/  We used the fold-up light-weight wheelchair when visiting Venice. Here are some photos – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jennymackness/albums/72157649650530148