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Count me in

I’ve been reading some great posts and blogs on reasons for voting one way or the other in the referendum tomorrow. I’ve watched the debates, analysed the statistics quoted (as far as I can) and discussed it with family and friends. I’ve been inclined to vote In for many vague reasons, not least an innate distrust of the bigoted remarks from many Leave campaigners. Its similarity to some of the most repellent political rhetoric in history makes me seriously doubt their motives. Then today I realised I have one major clear reason I want to remain a part of a wider Europe.

I’ve spent a lot of my time as a librarian trying to get included in the meetings where decisions are made. If you aren’t in the meetings you haven’t a voice and, while you may not always carry your point, at least you have a chance to put it directly, you have an opportunity to influence. If you are on the outside you are less likely to be consulted about anything, let alone listened to. No matter how annoying and boring the meetings are, you are part of it putting the case for the library and the people who work in it and use it. It is essential for the wellbeing of your “service”.

If the UK leaves the EU we will no longer be part of that decision making process, we won’t have the opportunity to be represented in those meetings and our needs will never be considered. We will have no voice or influence and we won’t be part of shaping the future. Instead of saying it’s not fair, blaming anybody but those actually responsible and stomping off out we need to look at who represents us in those meetings and hold them accountable. If they don’t even bother to show up, are churlish, childish and rude then at the next elections we should get rid of them, and find somebody up to the job. After all, that’s our responsibilty, in Europe and “at home”.


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House blocks

Recently it has begun to feel as if older people are to blame for anything successive governments have failed to solve, or have actively caused.

This includes underfunding of the NHS which, apparently, the elderly have caused by staying in hospital when they could be discharged, except that there is nowhere for them to go to receive care during convalescence. This has in turn been caused by the elderly failing to die and free up beds in said care homes. Nothing to do with chronic over management and underfunding of the NHS and the closure of many Council run care homes in the same cost cutting exercises which are decimating publuc library services.

The latest seems to be House Blocking by the elderly selfishly wanting to stay in their family homes where their friends and family can visit them, and any grandchildren, great nieces and nephews etc. can come and stay, because people have to work and can’t afford to be stay at home carers. As we know out of school care can be prohibitively expensive so many older relatives are helping out. Of course, many of these elderly people also expect to pass the family home on to their children or other family in time. There’s nothing new or suddenly selfish about that.

The “experts” say it is to free up homes for deserving families who can’t buy a home. Really? We are told home ownership has dropped because first time buyers can’t afford a mortgage or find a property. Property ownership hasn’t dropped though, it is more that there are now some individuals who own an awful lot of properties which they rent out to the first time buyers who couldn’t compete with these same professional property purchasers. Are these perhaps the real house blockers hoarding entry level housing for personal gain (I know, there are also a lot of good landlords, everybody has a right to make a living, they are providing a service etc. etc.). Forcing “the elderly” to leave their homes and memories won’t solve the problem, but diverting people’s frustration and anger at being unable to buy a home onto them is a good tactic to avoid facing the real issues around the housing “crisis”. Similar to the community libraries rhetoric stating that if you don’t volunteer to run your public library then you, not government, have responsibility for its closure,

The politicians always seem to want us to focus our discontent and anger inward on those who are easy targets instead of coming up with a viable, fair and fiscally sound solution. Literally divide and rule I guess.

(As an aside, I have prior as a House Blocker. When I was 29 and recently widowed a young man who worked with me told me that I had “no right” to a “nice home in the country” because I was single and childless whilst he was married with a child and lived in town. He was furious with me for having my home, and I can remember how hurtful that was and how guilty I felt. He must be elderly now, too. I wonder how he feels about the House Blocking commentary.)


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Today, like millions of others, I was saddened to read on Twitter that Sir Terry Pratchett had died, far too soon. I cried as I read the tweets. I am sure a lot of us did. Then I reflected on what Sir Terry had given me.

1983 was a truly horrible year for me. It was also the year Colour of Magic was published and I discovered a world that was how it should be, and not like my then world was. It was an escape, but in a way also a validation. I felt I had found somewhere I belonged, and understood.

Later, and as I recounted in an earlier post, I was going through one of those crises we all do during our Library School training, and finding myself completely blocked trying to write about childrens’ libraries, I did a search of the web and found Terry Pratchett’s page and contact details. That site doesn’t exist any more, it was, as I said, a long time ago and contacting people was more easy. Anyway, I contacted the email address and asked “Was the Unseen University librarian ever a childrens’ librarian?”. That question seemed to break the block and I forgot all about the email. Some days later, I got a reply. Apparently the UU librarian did not like children as they got chewing gum in his coat. It was signed Terry Pratchett. I printed out the email and kept it for many years. It was a great response to a student who said they were struggling and asked a pretty stupid question. It indicated the same humanity and engagement in the world that I had found in his books. As I said earlier today, some people just touch us so personally through their writing it feels like we know them. Which makes losing their voice all the harder.

I have tried to live my life as a Granny Weatherwax, but I fear the Nanny Ogg always creeps in, so for giving me those shining examples to follow, and for all the thought provoking, laughter inducing, life affirming joy his writing has brought me, I shall be raising my glass, and a rousing chorus of A Hedgehog Can Never Be …. to Sir Terry.

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Yesterday, on Twitter, @greebstreebling asked people to tell her the loveliest thing anybody ever did for them. It pulled me up short and really made me think about all the wonderful things people have done for me, and I realised that all of them were for the same reason. They “Loved me”.

Then I thought what each of these people did that let me know they truly loved me. I came up with this list.

I know Grandad loved me  because when I was a child he let me polish his bald head with beeswax and a duster.

I know my Dad loved me because he sang to me every day (including Baby Mine Don’t You Cry  when the children next door bullied me and made me cry).

I know my Mum loved me because she told me I made her feel safe just before she died.

Auntie Lil’s face would light up with happiness whenever I went to see her and she would hug me as if I was precious.

Dave stayed as long as he could, no matter how tired he was.

Tim knows who my favourite poet is, and read a chapter of My Neighbour Totoro out loud to me every night when I was in hospital.

That’s before I even start to think of the animals who have loved me and shared my happiness and sorrow, expressing an unselfish compassionate love without words. My life would have been less rich if I had not known them.

I feel so lucky when I remember these loveliest things. Thank you, Mobeena, for making me think.


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Always dance

When I was a teenager and started going out clubbing with friends my Dad would worry that I was out too much. My Mum (who was always the strict parent) said to me “Catherine, if you get a chance to dance, always take it, you never know when you won’t get the chance any more. Never turn down the chance to dance and be happy”.  This was so out of character it really stuck in my head. It was usually my Dad who encouraged me to be myself and do what felt right .

Over the years I have tried to do what she said, literally and figuratively. (My arthritis did eventually get so bad that I couldn’t dance any more. Since my knees were replaced I have read that I shouldn’t dance but I will be asking my consultant if that applies to all dancing and hoping not.) It isn’t always easy and sometimes the dance just feels too hard to carry on with.

As you probably know I left a job I loved very much recently. (I won’t go into detail). Suffice to say that this and my convalescence have at times made me feel really down. I know in my heart I had to leave, but sometimes I wish I had just let it drift over me like others did. Anyway, all in all it has made things a bit tough.

I had to go to the GP today and as I was driving myself I put the music on. I like to sing along but my voice is not one to inflict on anybody else. It was a usb loaded with all sorts of tracks. As I pulled into a parking space this started to play I didn’t even realise it was on there.

As I listened to the lyrics (which some might say are a bit cheesy, but cheese can be good for us in small doses) I remembered my Mum telling me to grasp at the good things, and the lyrics also reminded me of  my Dad telling me to stick to my principles and always be able to look myself in the eye in the mirror. Good job I was in the car alone because  I did get a bit tearful. Then I took a step back and realised I have so much I can be glad about, and at least I know I tried to change things.

So, yes, I am sad that I may not be able to dance as I used to and I am more than sad that I no longer have the job I love. Still I am more than glad I can walk so much better, (and probably dance a circumspect slow dance with my long suffering husband), and that I didn’t “settle for the path of least resistance” or sell out. So next time, when I get the chance, I will still most definitely dance!



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Last night my husband came to talk to your father and you about some plans you have for your farm. Not to say that we are against them, just that we wanted to check a couple of things. He thought it was best to do that face to face as we are all grownups after all, despite the title of this post. Without ever having discussed it, or talked to us before in the 14 months we have lived here, you called us “rich, privileged bleeps who moved into the country and know nothing”. I just wanted to let you know a bit about me.

At about the same time your Grandfather was demobbed from the 1939-1945 war my Dad was sent home to a military hospital with a debilitating illness he got whilst serving in the Army. He ran away from his stepfather’s farm at 14, lied about his age and joined up to fight for what he thought was right. Actually, he ran away twice, the first time his sister went and put them right about his age, but he got away clean the second time. I have photos of him looking impossibly young in his uniform. I am sure your Grandfather did too. I have met him and he told me how he was posted to this area as an officer and stayed on with his new wife taking over the farm you now live on. He is very proud of what he has achieved, and the family he has raised.

In the meantime, my Dad was also demobbed and returned to his stepfather and mother’s farm ,with his new wife too. He was too frail to be able to return to farming and eventually was given one of the new War Memorial Homes reserved for those whose health had been severely damaged by their war service. He became a Civil Servant, and worked hard. He was one of the first to work with computers but he always missed growing things, and the animals. He had allotments to grow all our vegetables, and both he and my Mum worked really hard to provide for us, eventually saving enough to buy a small house with a minute garden. By then he wasn’t fit enough for the allotments even. My brother and I both passed our 11 plus and went to Grammar Schools, my Dad was determined we would have the education he didn’t.  He also did his best to instil his work ethic in us, we both had weekend and holiday jobs as soon as we could. I should think your Dad worked on the farm those times, and probably you after him.

I got married when I was 26. When we were 29 my husband died from Hodkgins Disease. When I was 30 my parents died within a week of each other. My mother from cancer, my father from a broken heart, according to one specialist, although the official wording was respiratory failure. I put everything I had into working, buying myself a home and not thinking much.

Some years later I met my husband who you were so rude to. His story is his and I shan’t be telling it. Suffice to say he comes from working class and farming stock too. We have lived in the country for most of our lives. Sometimes in rented accommodation until we found somewhere we could afford to buy. We bought a wreck of a house with some land and spent over 12 years doing it up. We grew our own fruit and vegetables and worked hard. We contributed to the community by doing voluntary work helping people learn how to become IT literate amongst other things. My arthritis was getting progressively worse but I never let it stop me.

We came back North because I found a job I loved. I had both my knees replaced earlier this year, so I have been at home more, but you wouldn’t know that because you have never spoken to us. I have recently had to leave my much loved job, which is devastating to me. We have worked hard, long hours all our lives and put everything we have into this home, glad to still be able to live in the country as we have for so long. Yes, we have a car each, but that may soon have to change now I have no salary. We have never complained about the noise from your family farm, the smell from the stables, or the milk lorry hurtling up and down the lane at breakneck speed. We love the country, and a working farm needs noise, smells and milk tankers.

We were pleased for you, your wife and children when you were given planning permission to build a beautiful, large detached house near the main farm, a place nobody else would ever have a hope of building. I think it is wonderful that four generations of you are living, working and enjoying the farm your Grandfather took on. I understand you need a top of the range four wheel drive, and pickup trucks, and a family car as well as the tractors and other farm machinery to live your chosen life. I wish you every success. Just next time you are going to call somebody a rich, privileged bleep living in the country and knowing nothing you might want to have a look in the mirror.


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Some of the things I hadn’t thought about before the op and nobody told me were:

you have to get out of bed the day after surgery, and move around, you may faint but that is nothing to worry about apparently (I fainted 3 times in a row and I confess I did not enjoy the experience, turned out one of the painkillers was to blame);
my feet were in compression bootees which work on a pump to stimulate circulation, that meant I was tethered in my bed and couldn’t change position, a great incentive to get mobile so you can get rid of the darn things;
I had to wear compression socks all the time, except in the shower, for 4 weeks ;
you can’t just hop out of bed to go to the loo;
I was on a drip for antibiotics for the first day;
I can’t wee on command or if people are watching and waiting, but you have to wee to avoid infection etc.,
it gets lonely in hospital.

Before the operation I had very much taken the view that I didn’t want to know too much about the actual operation. What I believed I needed to concentrate on was recovery. Especially as every member of the medical profession I had spoken to before the operation had said “Bi-lateral, ooh, you’re brave”. Which I am not, but I had taken the hint that recovery would take some work on my part, and more than if I only had one done at a time.

The physio had also prepared me for this. Not only would both legs be hugely bruised, but I wouldn’t gave a good leg to stand on so to speak. This meant I would not be able to bend either leg initially so everything between prone and upright required arm power. To see what that’s like, try lying down on a bed, then get up without bending your legs at all. Even worse, try sitting down on the loo without bending your legs, then try standing up. Fun times. I perfected a technique of gently sliding my legs out in front of me as I lowered myself down, then levering myself up with my forearms. As the physio said “push your backside out and your nose up and forward, like a baby bird taking flight”. I don’t think I looked as cute as a baby bird but I did squawk occasionally! I also got stuck a couple of times and had to ask for help.

The second day after the operation (or Day 3 as they called it) I was using a walking frame. I had a sit down shower, (my bandages had come off and the new dressings were waterproof), washed my hair and cleaned my teeth. I even managed to dress myself. I was able to sit in a chair and felt much better for it. The physio came and gave me my first set of exercises, including bending my knees and raising my legs a few times each. I knew that I had to get as much bend as possible as soon as I could, because the movement you get in the first few weeks or so is what you keep,it is really hard to improve after that. As everybody told me “do what the physio tells you, exercise is more important than walking because walking will come back naturally”. Good advice. The most frightening part of the day was having to go and have x-rays of both knees, standing with my knees pressed flat to the plate as well as sitting with them bent. We managed it without any more fainting though. The funniest was hearing the nurses telling male patients who wouldn’t even try to walk to stop whinging because “the lady in the side ward has had both knees done and she’s walking” then seeing some bloke hobbling past my door in a determined way.

Day 4 I lost the bootees at last, my exercises were increased, I moved on to crutches, and was able to get myself up to go to the loo in the night. I had to drink so much water I felt I was going to burst. The pain was pretty bad, but actually less than I feared and no worse than a really bad day had been before the operation. A couple of nurses seemed to think I should be able to go home, but to do that I had to prove I could do stairs ok. That was a very daunting thought as yet again I had no “good leg to heaven bad leg to hell” option for up and down the stairs. The physio said we would try that the next day. As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep well.

The next day arrived, as did the physio. I had expected a short flight of test stairs in the exercise room. No chance! The test is on the stairs from the ground floor to the first floor. They looked like the ones in Labyrinth to me! I considered just throwing myself down them but I managed them, by dint of putting my weight on the banister and my crutch. The physio said she was happy for me to go home the next day (Day 6 ). I was over the moon.

On Day 6 I asked when I could go home. The nurse checked my wounds and one of them was leaking. She said she wasn’t happy for me to go. I could discharge myself, but that meant I was going against advice. So I stayed. That was my lowest day. I had tried so hard and I still might have got an infection. I cried a lot that day. I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t help it.

The next morning the same nurse collared the registrar to check my wounds. He was happy and let me go home. Now came the next surprise. How to get into the car without bending my legs? We considered sliding me in through the hatchback like a plank of wood, but eventually I worked it out. I had to back up to the passenger door, lower myself onto the seat sideways on, then use the grab handle to manoeuvre myself back until I could swing my legs in with minimal bend. At the other end I “just” had to reverse the process. I was home.

I had been given some aids to help me, including raised toilet seats which were great for me, but not so good for my husband as they are very high and can’t be lifted up. Fortunately we have 2 loos so we went for His and Hers. Stairs, showering, a normal bed and coping with the dog frightened me a bit, changing the dressings scared us both. All unnecessary worries when it came down to it.

Ten days after the operation I had to go to our GP surgery so the nurse could remove my staples. This stung a bit but was ok, she was brilliant and very calming. One dressing was removed at this point as the wound was doing really well. The problem wound was still leaking a bit, so she checked with one of the GPs who prescribed massive doses of antibiotics to be on the safe side. Within 2 days I had a horrible heat rash, or it could have been a reaction to the penicillin. I was prescribed a cream and antihistamine tablets which helped a lot.

Two weeks after the operation I had my first physio appointment. He couldn’t do anything because that dratted leaking hadn’t stopped. Swabs were taken just in case of infection, but they were clear. So I just had to wait. I did carry on with the exercises I was given in hospital though. After another four days the nurse and I held our breath as she removed my dressing. Then we both cheered because everything was healing at last.

This meant I could go back to physio. I had my crutches replaced by sticks and a new set of tougher exercises. After a week the physio assessed how I was doing. He said to reduce my reliance on the sticks gradually, to carry on with the exercises and go back in another week. That week saw the improvements really start. I could walk unaided in the house, including up and down stairs, I was sleeping better, and I was reducing my painkillers, and the rash had gone. At my next appointment the physio asked me to kick his hand. I did. It hurt him. He said “well! I asked for that” then sent me away to carry on as I had been until after my 6 week check up with the consultant.

I was very nervous before my 6 week appointment, and I didn’t know what to expect. As it turned out, I saw the registrar. He was really pleased, especially when he realised the bend in my knees through 125degrees. He told me I could start driving again, should wean myself off my stick, keep up the exercises, go for walks and consider a phased return to work after another week. Then he said he will see me in a year. By which time he said I will be feeling the benefit.

I know there is still a long way to go. I get aches, pains and twinges in muscles and tendons, I don’t sleep brilliantly, the outside of my knees will always be numb, and I don’t yet walk “fluidly”. But I can use the stairs now, stand up and sit down unaided, have got rid of that high loo seat and rarely take painkillers. So in some ways I am already feeling the benefit. I just have to get back on the motorbike ….

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