"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Saturday 20 April 2013

Measles and Me

Part of the reason for having a blog is to enable me to write 'pieces' to which I can then direct others. I suppose one could say it is my soap box, or sounding board. This is the first time I have ever written something without having a definite target audience in mind. Perhaps no-one will read it and my questions and comments will go unanswered. But this blog springs from a genuine desire to sort out the whole measles vaccination controversy, and perhaps to explain why some parents have always been very wary of needles.

First of all my family history. My elder sister died of polio in the 1949 outbreak. A cousin was hospitalised with it and suffers the effects to this day. I tell you this to put into context any ideas the reader may have that I am from a family 'medicine refusers', on the contrary we have many good reasons to thank the NHS for saving our lives! 

In 1956 I suffered a bad attack of measles, and in around those childhood years I also caught mumps and had four attacks of scarlet fever. Measles wasn't considered a particularly untoward childhood illness, we all knew that in much earlier times children had died of it, but when I contracted Scarlet Fever on the first occasion there was much more commotion. The Sanitary Inspector visited the house and it was only because the household conditions were judged to be adequate that I wasn't transferred to the nearby fever hospital or my belongings burnt [this was c1955] Mr Sanitary Inspector visited on my second attack of the illness but on the subsequent occasions I think he just spoke to my mother on the 'phone. Thanks to anti biotics and an operation to remove my tonsils Scarlet Fever vacated our house. However not before the anti biotics first prescribed tried their best to kill me with an extreme reaction.  Again we all knew that in earlier times Scarlet Fever was a killer.

The thing was in the 1950s and 1960s most children had measles. Sometimes more than once. Terribly some did die, although often there was an accompanying 'other cause'. I honestly can't remember any adults getting it because they, in their turn, had had these diseases in their childhood. More children had died in their day, before the introduction of anti-biotics.

My first child was born in 1971 and by now the Measles [single] vaccination had been introduced. There was no suggestion that there would be any contra indications to its use. My child had very severe eczema, which had necessitated hospital admission. The measles vaccination 'took' and caused a severe reaction. Child was OK eventually, but I vowed not to have any future children vaccinated against Measles.

Second child was born in 1975, by which time questions were being asked about the safety of the whooping cough vaccine. Yes that's right 1975. Even more so the medical profession were advising anyone with a family history of bad reaction to any vaccine, asthma and eczema not to have the vaccine. No 2 child had asthma. So Second Child didn't have the whooping cough vaccine, nor the measles. A lot of other parents were making the same decision. This child caught measles at the age of four and was not as ill as No 1 had been after the vaccine.

Last child arrived in 1987. By now the triple vaccine was in place: MMR = Measles, Mumps and Rubella. Many parents were concerned, some were asking if the vaccine could be given as three separate doses. Not on the NHS but the facility was there sometimes in the private sector. Children with a history [or family history ] of convulsions or epilepsy could be vaccinated in hospitals in single doses, depending on the policy of the area health authority. As usual I declined to have Last Child vaccinated. When this child was about two and a half I got a 'phone call from my GP suggesting I re-think and take up the vaccine. Last Child had been going through a series of bad ear infections and mumps was in the area. I decided to go ahead with the MMR 'jab' solely to get the mumps protection. When I arrived at the surgery the GP was surprised, he said he didn't need us anymore as his quota had been fulfilled...... Never the less Last child had the jab and had a bad reaction, with rash.....

In either 1992 or 1993 there was a campaign for booster jabs for measles for all school children. These jabs could only be administered through schools, and when I asked my GP if he could do it  he explained that was not possible. In the end we had a homeopathic 'vaccination' and made ourselves very unpopular at the school [where Other Half was a governor] because they couldn't return a 100% score.

Now I know from reading up on the web that the type of vaccines has changed over the years, that booster shots are now recommended and that the pre-school 'booster' contains measles vaccine. Things have changed. But what hasn't changed is the way that information is disseminated to parents on these changes or on the vaccines and possible side effects. Are they getting enough of the 'right' information at the 'right' time? and what support is offered to children  with ongoing health problems which may have been caused by a vaccine? If it is not believed a vaccine can caused a problem, how will it be investigated?

The outbreak of measles in Wales is being mostly blamed on the research published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield which suggested a link between the MMR vaccination and autism [a claim by which Mr Wakefield still stands] although he believes that the single measles vaccine is safe. The Daily Mail, who publicised this claim in 1998, is also taking a share of the blame. But I would suggest that parents who were worried by the claims in the late 1990s should not now also be pillioried for not having their children vaccinated.

It is dreadful news that a young man of 25 has apparently died of the disease in Swansea. Yet this young man would have been a baby long before Andrew Wakefield's research came to light and when questions were already being asked about the safety of the MMR vaccine [see above] Like any so called 'childhood disease', measles is far more dangerous when contracted by an adult.

The S.Wales outbreak follows outbreaks in other parts of the UK last year and could be followed by more later this year. I wish everyone well. I would not know what to do if I had a young child now.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Wired for Sound* or Thank you so much Youngest Daughter and the NHS.

I've lived with hearing difficulties all my life - mine and others'. My father had reduced hearing and received a pension due to the fact that a land mine explosion had caused damage to his hearing in one ear, a serious occupational disability in a journalist in the 1950s and 1960s [he died in 1967] My maternal grandmother who lived with my parents was very deaf and although supplied with an NHS hearing aid in the 1970s found it impossible to use as it magnified all sound and she could not 'weed out' what she needed to hear. My mother lost her hearing gradually until she was almost profoundly deaf but refused to acknowledge it. This was frustrating to others to say the least so when my hearing started to deteriorate about 30 years ago I was completely up front about it rather than let others think I was merely ignoring them!

We all deal with problems in different ways. I used to laugh mistakes off but my hearing problems escalated and I found that too often when I had to ask others to repeat things I was getting the dreaded 'Oh it doesn't matter' brush off. Hilarious [to me] misunderstandings in conversations increased like the time I thought Other Half was talking about 'burglars' when he was actually discussing 'burgers' which never the less caused annoyance with others during conversations. I would often laugh along with others rather than ask for a joke to be repeated and if somewhere in a crowd with lots of background noise [in a pub say, or more likely for me on a demo] I knew I would miss more of most conversations than I would hear. I tried to train the grandchildren to only speak to me from in front, a certain amount of lip reading being used I suppose. However there were times that I did get upset [although trying to never show it] when it was assumed that I was being rude or stupid, f'r instance because I didn't move quickly enough/at all when people behind said 'excuse me'. If you can't hear someone you shouldn't be accused of ignoring them. We hearing impaired don't look any different although there were times I felt like sporting an ear trumpet to prove a point!

The lovely author David Lodge has written a novel - based on his own experiences with hearing loss - Deaf Sentence . When I first read it I could identify with so many of the problems Lodge's hero undergoes and which Lodge illustrates - often amusingly - in his narrative. But I also found it heart breaking because it shows how other characters get impatient with the fictional, deaf character, something with which so many of us having the same problems have to contend.

I haven't ignored asking the medical profession for help all these years. And I don't feel badly treated. My problems gradually worsened over more than thirty years. Twenty years ago I was told there was nothing that could be done.  Ten years ago it was suggested to me that really the problems were not that bad and I could possibly be making a fuss about very little, although it wasn't me who was getting impatient with my hearing but those around me!!

And if I really think about it I realise over the last five or six years things worsened. I have had to have the sub titles on the TV all the time. And of course the thing with hearing loss is that one just does not know what one doesn't hear! Its only when talking about conversations held previously that one realises one hasn't heard whole chunks - or has misheard as in the burger/burglar incident above.

Youngest Daughter has been trying to get me to the Hearing Clinic for some time. I honestly thought she would be disappointed because nothing could be done and as I could manage reasonably well I was lucky anyway. But last week saw me sitting in a little booth in the local hospital pressing a button when I heard the 'beep'. and to my complete amazement less than one and a half hours later I was walking back to the car with digital hearing aids in both ears. Hearing sounds unheard for years like traffic noises, birds singing and begging my husband not to shout at me.

I couldn't stop grinning. Cooking dinner at home I kept breaking off to tell my friends on facebook that 'knives and forks are noisy' and 'now that I can hear the vegetables cooking perhaps my cooking will improve' [it didn't] The next day we visited Youngest Daughter and family and I could hear the little noises that her one week old baby was making - hadn't heard them two days before. Suddenly her 23 month old daughter was talking more clearly. My son-in-law said he couldn't get over talking to me in a normal tone of voice, never having known me without having to talk carefully to me!

So many things make noises I didn't know about. I can hear if someone standing behind me says something. My husband keeps telling me in shops when it is my turn to go to the till - he's not used to my being able to hear my name/number being called! Hearing myself sing was a terrible shock, I knew I was dreadful, but that bad?

Of course, I understand I am not completely 'normal' and there will be areas that cannot ever be completely compensated. But thank you so much to my Youngest Daughter for persevering in telling me [and making sure I could hear!] that I should go again to see what had been discovered in the world of audiology therapy and thank you too to the National Health Service who have given me this wonderful gift of two tiny digital hearing aids, which even match the colour of my hair!

A few helpful links:

NHS Choices: Hearing impairment 

Action on Hearing Loss [formerly RNID: Royal National Institute for the Deaf]

Cliff Richard sang  Wired For Sound written by ROBERTSON/TARNEY

The photograph above is of an antique ear trumpet c1850 property of the Science Museum

Saturday 13 April 2013

I Was There*

I was not going to blog about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, the effects of Thatcherism, whether or not she should have so much money spent on her funeral by us [the taxpayers] etc etc. There are so many doing a better job than me on that. I don't want to go to parties that are celebrating her death, I actually find them bad taste but I also find the amount being spent of her funeral and eulogising her wonderful 'reign' bad taste too. But these past few days of dodging obituary type programmes and discussions [I didn't even survive the first question of Question Time on BBC1, Thursday Evening because responses from the panel and the audience, all shades of political viewpoints were beginning to grate on me]

But suddenly I can't keep quiet. You see, I was there. A lady never tells her age but I am not a lady and I am 63 this year. I remember the UK pre-Thatcher, during the Thatcher years and post-Thatcher years. And I listen to all these commentators telling us what it was like - and it really wasn't.

Sure there was industrial unrest in the UK in the late 1970s. And in Germany and in France. Just as a f'r instance, in Germany there were two steel strikes in 1978 alone over working hours, holiday entitlements and pay; again in France in the late 1970s steel workers held strikes which often became violent. The difference between France and Germany and the UK at the time I thought was a  matter of self denigration - our news bulletins were full of how bad things were in the UK [I was living temporarily in W.Germany, as it was in 1978/79, but travelling frequently back to the UK. I watched German TV and listened to BBC radio 4] but never seemed to mention the industrial unrest in other European Countries. German news used to show a lot about the industrial unrest in the UK [usually courtesy of the BBC or ITV ] and very little about their own industrial unrest.

I remember Margaret Thatcher's government being elected in 1979. I remember the fear as mortgage rates started to rise almost immediately. We returned to the UK in the knowledge that we couldn't afford to pay the mortgage on our house and thinking we would have to sell. Many other people were in the same position as us but were unable to sell their properties, upon which they could not now afford the mortgage repayments. Equally they could not sell as new buyers could not afford to buy with the new mortgage rates and the housing market became stagnant. Building society repossessions became common place.

Over on the social housing scene, Thatcher's determination to sell off the council housing stock as quickly as possible seemed odd. Whether or not that was a good thing is a debatable question. But the effects of it live on. New owners of their properites, ex-tenants found that when - often due to 'the Thatcher effect' - their jobs disappeared, they could not move easily to another area for work as they now owned property which they could not sell in the stagnant housing market. So Norman Tebbit's 'Get On Yer Bike' speech as it became known was even more of an insult to those unemployed. I heard a Tory grandee on the radio in the past few days saying that tenants who became home owners took more pride in their homes. What an insult to all those who had lovingly looked after their homes for all the years that they had rented them, one of the reasons they wished to buy them after all!

The legacy of selling off all those houses lives on. Councils were not allowed to use monies collected for rebuilding replacement stock. So nearly forty years on there are long housing lists, especially of the larger 'family' houses, the least desirable dwellings being those remaining which were not bought and are often now in poor repair. Additionally nearly a third of the housing stock bought are now in the hands of private landlords who are renting them out at exhorbitant rents often to tenants who are assisted by social services to pay the rent. The so-called 'bedroom tax' which 'demands' those in social housing [or having assistance with rent in private rental properties] considered to have excess bedrooms move to smaller properties is unworkable because there is insufficient social housing stock, anyway.

And there was the great nationalised industries sell off. I heard someone say how awful the gas board was pre privatisation. I honestly don't remember this. If something went wrong, one called the local gas board, got an appointment and a fitter turned up and fixed it. Now it is just as long winded to get an appointment, a contractor turns up, nothing to do with the company who supplies one's gas, doesn't finish the job or has to get someone else in or doesn't know what has to be done and if one is dissatisfied with the work done there is no way of identifying who did it [no fitter's number as in days of yore!] and the someone on the end of the 'phone can't help and it all starts again. Fuel costs keep rising, yet we are told that the foreign company which is now our 'service provider' has made a profit again. But it might be cheaper to find another service provider........ That is of course if one doesn't mind risking being charged by two companies because the first can't understand that in fact one has moved to the second, or not having fuel at all because the second forgot to do the handover thing..... Not that I am bitter of course...

Mrs Thatcher's determination to beat the Unions into the ground resulted in the decimation of the Coal and Manufacturing Industries. Others have written far more coherently on this. But my take on especially the Coal Industry is this. During the Coal Strike in 1984 some said Maggie was getting her own back on the Coal Industry for their part in the downfall of the Heath Government of 1974. I always felt she was getting her own back for the General Strike of 1926.

'Care in the Community' was introduced in the Thatcher Years. We were told that it was better for those, many who had lived for most of their lives in hospitals for those with learning difficulties, who had become institutionalised and were used to being given medicine and not take responsibility for that medication to now live on their own. Often in bedsits with no-one to ensure that they took their medication at the right times if at all. Unsurprisingly, although supposedly they were nominally supervised by the already hard pressed social services many began to slip the net. Many began to wander the streets and were plainly distressed but if taken into hospitals or police stations there were no psychiatric beds for them. The buildings which had previously housed them had been sold off and demolished or redeveloped. Some one somewhere was making a lot of money whilst it seemed that a lot of people who should be caared for were living in doorways or in 'cardboard cities'.

The Falklands war. What can I say. In 1982 a very small percentage of the population knew where the Falkland Islands were. When the Royal Navy repeatedly warned the Government that John Nott's [Defence Secretary] plan in 1981 that the HMS Endurance was to be withdrawn from its naval presence in the South Atlantic [Britain's only naval presence moreover] was a strong suggestion to the Argentinians that Britain was preparing to withdraw its defence of the Falklands land and territories.

When Argentinian forces invaded the Falklands in April 1982 the fervour of the patriotism that hit the UK was frightening to a pacifist like me. The flag waving and war mongering was immense and the waving off of 'our boys' to a place which so few could have pointed out on a map was worrying. Some of us felt that Maggie T was revelling in it. Her daily speeches, toning her voice, hair and outfit to suit the gravity of the news, her rabble rousing - ugggghhh. Her jubilation when the Belgrano was sunk - incidentally it was steaming away from the Falklands and after a peace plan had been suggested - was repugnant especially as 323 lives were lost.

You see, I remember what it was like in the 1960s and 1970s to leave school and know that there would be a job waiting. Maybe not the job one wanted, but a job that gave one self worth and the hope to be able to change in the future. I don't remember seeing people sleeping in doorways until the 1980s after 'Care in the Community' came into being. I remember the jingoistic fervour of the call to arms of the Falklands War and the return of the badly injured and burnt from the HMS Sheffield. I saw the faces of those in the manufacturing and coal industries who felt they had lost their pride and dignity by being thrown on the scrap heap to appease the right wing ideology of the Thatcher years. I remember how the nationalised industries worked before they were privatised and to be honest having a choice of providers has not improved the services.

I could say so much more. I will not be celebrating the death of an old lady. At the same time please do not expect me to agree with glorification of her life. I feel she led her government in many bad actions and we still have to put those right.

Video of Glenda Jackson's speech about the Thatcher years in the House of Commons debate about the life and death of Lady Thatcher on Wednesday 1oth April.

*With apologies to Max Boyce who was singing about something far more important than politics - Welsh rugby.

Monday 8 April 2013

Each [Wo]man's Death Diminishes Me*

The Photograph above is of Margaret Thatcher leaving Downing Street for the last 
time after resigning as Prime Minister, 28th November 1990

Its been a funny old day. Had to be up early and looking tidy because a friend who is also an electrician came to rewire the house. So appearing intelligent first thing on a Monday morning after a week of driving all around the South of England to be with Youngest Daughter who was giving birth to Youngest Granddaughter was a bit of a strain. And then when said electrician cut his head open on our garage door, I couldn't find the first aid kit which was still packed away in one of the many bags which had travelled with us to Somerset the week before last - when we were with Middle Son and Eldest Grandson - and this was a bit of a panic.... The blood drips along the hall on the new wooden flooring was an interesting contrast to the unfinished decor.

However the tenor of the day changed just before lunch when the news broke that Lady Thatcher had died. Two thoughts raced through my mind in quick succession - 'Can I get it onto Twitter before anyone else?' [No - on my timeline @PoliticalScrapbook beat me, just] and 'this is going to mean days of media frenzy basically sanctifying Maggie'. And that has started already.

I am always sad to hear of a passing into the next world, sad for the family and friends left behind. I don't think I could ever imagine saying that I felt glad someone had died*. But  a passing does not mean that the deceased automatically becomes a Saint. Nor does it mean that if one did not like the person in this life, one has to like them now. Yet it seems as if since the news of Lady Thatcher's passing was announced it has become de rigeur to say only nice things about her life and career. She did some remarkable things including first British woman Prime Minister and longest serving Prime Minister in the 20th century. Politically she had many friends and admirers and many political opposers and even enemies. Many would applaud her premiership, others like me would view it as the beginning of a decline in the living standards of the working classes and the strength of the Welfare State from which the country still desperately needs to recover.

I don't need to rehearse all the actions of Prime Minister Thatcher which I deplored. That will be done by many over the next few days, just as many will say why they think she was a good PM. But the electorate and the media have a short memory. I remember how the Conservative party hounded her out of Downing Street when they thought she was no longer a good bet to win them the next election. More than a few are probably singing a different song tonight, now that she is gone for good. I hope she sleeps gently in the next life but sadly am afraid that when she realises how badly her actions spoilt the lives of so many, she may not.

And finally, when Margaret Thatcher stood on the steps of Downing Street and mis- quoted the prayer of Saint Francis of Assissi at the beginning of her first term in Downing Street, I wish she had said and meant the words in the English Version of the Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

The Heading of this blog is taken from:

*No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.