Angus is an Explorer

I knew the moment that I put my hands on the steering wheel that I had found my guide, my Sherpa, my hero. He (it had to be a he) had to have a name befitting of promised adventure. I needed a car that could climb steep roads and fit in camping gear and a chaotic best friend who leaks hairbrushes and random apples as she moves. The Angus of origin was the star of a rock climbing film I’d dubiously taken the camera work for whilst at university in the 90s. He was the boyfriend of another girl in my group, and he was gorgeous. And strong. And agile. Angus is a good sturdy, explorer-like name. But he became so much more than that.

I love driving and didn’t think I could love it anymore until I found Angus the Explorer. I was wrong, and we’ve been places together that I didn’t imagine I’d get to. We’ve been on different kind of journeys than I could have foreseen. Because there is another side to the muddy, slightly er, bashed, beast who lives on my drive. There’s not just the beauty of The Lakes, Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, North Yorkshire, Norfolk, Northumbria, Sussex, and Derbyshire we have travelled to. There are the things, the people who we have travelled from.

There have been times that my Angus has conveyed me from trouble and heartache, brimming with bagged belongings in hasty, and occasionally desperate, retreat. I’ve wrestled sofa pieces, a wardrobe, a tall bookcase, and more than once, a capsule of my life into his cavernous, always willing interior. Never has he let me down. Always obliging, never judging. A faithful friend, a constant ally. We’re a force to be reckoned with. No kerb too high, no box too big. He, my trusted Angus, has given me freedoms and choices. We feel each other me and Angus. We’re the same tough, caring, somewhat battered souls.



What’s Up [Rude] Doc?!

GPs get paid a lot right? Salaried between £55-85k a year, funded mainly by direct taxation granted to the Department of Health by Parliament which amounted to around £108.9 billion for 2012/2013.

Launched in 1948, the NHS has become the largest publicly funded health service in the world. I don’t take this service for granted and would be horrified to face the lack of access to healthcare in countries like the USA. I have said for a long time that I would be prepared to pay a small amount for access to additional healthcare services like blood tests, basic health advice and a general MOT which would take some pressure off the main GP service because I appreciate that sometimes patients are just looking for reassurance and access to knowledge based on scientific tests. 

Towns and cities are burgeoning far beyond historical boundaries rendering local infrastructure incapable of servicing the needs of expanding communities. Doctors, dentists, schools are all under pressure to accommodate more and more people. That said I would hope that a GP would embark upon their tough career with an element of wanting to help others, to share their knowledge and training for the welfare of their patients and the community.

Yesterday I received a letter of apology from a GP in response to a complaint. He apologised that I had felt he was disrespectful towards me during my first consultation with him. Having attended my appointment regarding an ongoing, common condition I was left shocked and stunned by his odd approach.

Having confirmed my name I sat on the consulting chair and explained the reason for my appointment. The GP, dragging his eyes, eventually, from the monitor before him, turned to regard me. His gaze lingered, almost fixedly, at my midriff. “You have the condition because you are overweight” I was told. Wow. A doctor who can diagnose purely by a 5 second glance. Surprised by this direct and non-consultative approach (he had not asked me anything other than to confirm my name) I retorted “I’m only a size 16, I don’t think that’s massive.” Which turned out to be the proverbial red-rag to the bull.

The now irritated GP then proceeded to demonstrate to me just how large I am by insisting I get on scales, stand under a measure, and stand up to have my waist measured as he briskly calculated the dreaded BMI formula to announce in his conclusion “So you’re obese plus two stone.” Pardon? “Even if you lost two stone you’d still be obese.” He explained and then wrote me out a prescription for 8 months.

In my complaint letter I pointed out that I felt this approach did not meet with the standards of care I should have expected in line with the NHS It’s Your Practice guide. I also noted the recent NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidance which states:

GPs will be expected to ‘routinely’ raise the issue of weight loss in a ‘respectful and non-judgemental way’ to patients

From my experience they seem to be right on the mark with that one. Because adversely I am not opposed to losing weight, in fact I’d like to. But the GPs disinterested, forceful attitude, rigorously calculating a formulaic label for me while not actually engaging in conversation, did not allow for me to express that.

I don’t doubt that GPs are up against patient’s lack of responsibility for their own healthcare, apathy and disinterest on a daily basis. What I would expect though is that highly educated, perpetually communicative GPs should be able to acknowledge, listen to and accordingly address the individual sat in front of them. Without judgement, without assumption, and with a tact.

Mirror, Mirror Show Me More

You wake up one morning to a world without mirrors. How does your life — from your everyday routines to your perception of yourself — change?  The Daily post asked

What bliss! What freedom! The mirror is not my friend, not because it makes me feel insecure but because it doesn’t show enough of me. It’s a false friend with a skewed view that I can’t sneak up on. 

When I look at myself in the mirror I cannot possibly see what other people see with their own eyes. The reflection is a half-truth, a partial view. A mirror can’t tell you who you are, it’s a moment with limited motion and emotion – unless you’re in one of those dance studio places. 

I know, without doubt, that I can be happy in my own skin, buzzing with vitality and confidently going about my day only to be deflated, defeated by the image of my own reflection screaming labels at me – ‘old!’, ‘fat!’, ‘unfashionable!’, ‘knackered!’. Leaving me uncertain, leading to feelings of shame, regret and self-loathing.

Why though? Because what I see in that mirror, or that reflective shop window, is not representative of the lovely person that I feel I am when I’m free from what is deemed as ‘the reality’. But what is the reality? Is it the mirror? Or is it me? The answer is clear, yet I like most of us believe the other. That inanimate object. 

In all truthfulness I think that less mirrors would be a positive thing. There seems to be one at every twist in turn. I guess it’s hard not to see your own reflection in a darkened bus window though. Reflections when it comes to it are hard to avoid. 

Maybe it’s a moderation thing then. A quick, cursory glance as opposed to a  lingering, critical study. Because the study serves no purpose – the more you look the less you see. 

I concede, I like to have a mirror but I know that my reflection is not a definitive representation of me. It is a view. Something I must remember next time that I see myself and start to feel low and tell myself to stop looking, and know who I am instead. 

Financially Stifled

I’m 38, I earn a decent wage, I work full time and I don’t have debts and or use credit cards. In fact I am lucky to earn slightly more than the national average for my age which the Office for National Statistics cited in 2013 as typically £13.93 per hour, equivalent to an annual salary of nearly £26,000, for a 35-hour week. Yet I can’t afford to buy a new coat.

My salary pays for my rent, my utility bills, my mobile, my internet, my car and contents insurance, my petrol, and a basic food budget. But then there is very little left. If I am earning slightly above the national average and I can’t afford to buy a new coat – then who can?

Focus on the gap between inflation and wages comes and goes in the headlines with talk of things getting easier. I haven’t noticed. In fact I’ve been broke since I was made redundant 9 years ago and been climbing back up that slippery pole ever since. Having well and truly been immersed in a culture of high living costs I don’t think the majority of people mind at all at having to ‘go without’ a few things or having to decide to spend money on one thing or another, but not both. You learn to be thrifty out of necessity. If you want to spend your small amount of spare money then you make sacrifices elsewhere right? It gets to the point when there is very little left to pare back on, but I know I have to keep trying to. Just as well that I’ve decided to go on a diet, and no I don’t mean a diet that will cost me money to follow, oh no, I mean cutting back on calories/intake, pure and simple. 

Where does it end though, this frugality? Because no matter how much responsibility I take the shame of being without funds is at times toe-curling, as it must be for many people. The kind offers for bail-outs (again) by loving family excruciatingly mark your inability to get out the ‘broke cycle’. The pursued and attained pay rises just pitch miserably alongside living costs and never quite above. I am chasing my proverbial tail in hand-me-down clothes around secondhand furniture. I’m not a diva who gets bored in an instance. I’m not of the throwaway culture – I still wear that sweatshirt from sixth form 22 years on. I’ve never owned a new car and never intend too. I do want to pay my way though. And I would like a winter coat which keeps me warm and dry without having to take out a loan to buy one. I want to be able to feel the security that my dogged determination, and difficult decision-making to enable me to get back on the career ladder should be buying me.

I’ve shared houses with loonies to save money, I stacked shelves after being made redundant from a qualified job, I’ve cleaned toilets, I’ve worked two jobs racking up 50-60 hours a week, I’ve started again, from the bottom – twice. 

So how do we do it? Those of us whose hearts crescendo with worry when your car won’t start, a bill goes up, or a zip breaks? When faced with voices suggesting that you get your car serviced, or just buy something new and you know not only that you can’t right now, but also that you won’t be able to for a long time. How can the cost of independence be so impossibly high?