Thursday, 16 August 2018

Life With The Lump

Today I attended day surgery at Southend-on-Sea, Hospital. The point behind the procedure was not to remove Tom (I have two lumps so Thumbscrew called one Tom and the other, the smaller one, Jerry) but to run a biopsy on the third lump, the one down my throat. (We haven't named that one yet.) Tom and Jerry sit on my neck the other resides down my throat. I remain a little confused by Oropharyngeal cancer and Larynx cancer. I wasn't sure which one was throat cancer or if both were variants of the same thing. It seems they are not. Oropharyngeal cancer is commonly known as throat cancer. This, in my case, still has to wait for confirmation. The irony, if I have the disease, isn't lost on me. I don't smoke and I don't drink. This, of course, doesn't defeat the statistics. The greatest cause of throat cancer is smoking. This is an unassailable truth. There is no point in saying a person who contracts Oropharyngeal cancer who hasn't smoked disproves the fact - they don't. There are far too many proofs for that shallow defence to even make target. It is crap. Now I have to wait until the biopsy results come back.
Anatomy of the pharynx; drawing shows the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and hypopharynx. Also shown are the nasal cavity, oral cavity, hyoid bone, larynx, esophagus, and trachea.
The upside to all this is the amount of time Thumbscrew is giving me with the twins. Seeing them at play, holding my hands, hugging me and telling me in their pidgin English 'lub yew dackers' fills my heart with a joy beyond telling. Even if I didn't live in the now, in the present then their hi-jinks would tug me back to reality in short time. I am Crackers to the boys by the way. They cannot yet form the oral gymnastics of pronouncing a C with an R.Goodness how I love them. Lily too although I see less of her yet love her no less.

I arrived at hospital around 7.20. I had be there by 7.30 so was early. Thumbscrew drove me. We were accompanied by the Junior Jays, Jacob and Joshua. Once there I was admitted almost instantly and taken to the small ward used for Day Surgery. I met my nurse for the duration of my stay, Helen, a lovely woman who has grandchildren and presumably a man of her own. Shame. I then had what could seem a long wait before I saw the doctor performing the procedure and then the anaesthetist. I find that such waits usually means people gazing around the place out of sheer boredom or taking out a book to read to pass the time. We all know I am weird. My good friend John Franklin despairs of my weirdness. He's probably right but he wasn't there then otherwise we'd almost certainly been chatting about anything apart from hospital waiting rooms or wards. I took the time to meditate, unsuccessfully as it happens. Still, time soon past as time always does. Too quickly nowadays as I enter the autumn of my years. I put on these green, surgical stockings which I am wearing now. (I thought I might make some money if I went to the red light district to sell my arse - sorry American friends - my ASS.) They are very fetching. My stockings not arses or asses in general. I am sitting here typing this wearing a black floral shirt, black underpants and these dreadful green stockings. I hope my neighbours can't see for if they did they'd think I am a pervert!

I waited for about an hour, maybe a little more, then was wheeled on the trolly, the guerney to surgery where I was given oxygen and an anasthetic. I went out like the proverbial. I awoke about half and hour, maybe three quarters of an hour in the recovery ward before being taken back to the ward I was first in. I felt slugish and sleepy but was damned if i'd bugger about sleeping anymore so asked for water which I threw over the nusre. No, I didn't. That bits a lie. Sorry. My daft humour. Lots of fuss was made over my diabetes and sugar levels. Trouble is, not to sound arrogant, I know about my health probably more than anyone else including nurses and doctors. My sugar levels were high due to not being able to inject this AM because you can't when having an op.

Anyway, to cut a long and rather dull story short, Thumbscrew and the sleeping twins picked me, drove me home then sat with me as I had a lunch of two Weetabix. My throat is very sore so liquid meals are the order of the day. Tomorrow?  I think mayve a very bad woman of perhaps not as I'd only fall asleep.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

"Foundation" by Issac Asimov - "The Lathe of Heaven" by Ursula Le Guinn

I’ve been reading and re-reading novels I read some years ago along with some new ones too. Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ was my first selection. It remains an influence on me as much as it still impresses. The whole book, short at only 149 pages which equates to 74, 500 words, is a masterclass in writing that plays an enormous deceit. I suppose it would be classed as a novella yet the ludicrous label to one side this is a tale oozing a style that belongs only to Asimov who writes in a strictly artless, matter-of-fact manner lacking any literary stylistic convention whatsoever.  The deceit? It fools the reader into thinking it is literary fiction when it is nothing of the sort. But then again, who on earth cares about such nonsense as literary or commercial fiction? The publishers perhaps, literary agents maybe but not the general reading public who are intelligent enough to spot a great book when they open its covers. I dislike the way in which so many readers turn into critics. They do this in my view not to truly give a critique of the book but to impress others with their insight and wit. It is a wit without spark and their insight is little more than self-promotion.

There is very little in the way of action, that is fisticuffs, violence, gun shooting or warfare. What Asimov does so imaginatively is to write the whole story as a dialogue either between two people or a group. Tension is maintained throughout by use of political intrigue and by some notable characters engaged in verbal combat.  We pass through future ages hand held by the central characters who act as our guides. Hari Seldon, now a name of legend to readers of fiction, is the first and by being the first becomes a revered figure throughout the ‘Foundation’ series of books. He is like The Buddha or Jesus, a man who sets the future with his intelligence and by his contribution to Psychohistory. Psychohistory is a real science and is the study of the psychological motivations of historical events. With Asimov though, having lifted the science from Sigmund Freud, it becomes a pseudo-religion carrying with all the pomp and power as bestowed on organised faith by the faithful, by its adherents.

After Seldon comes Salvor Hardin, a tactician and manipulator similar in scope and range to Confucius. Again, dialogue rules the prose for Hardin is no more a man of physical action than his predecessor but like Seldon his wits and intelligence overcome. Where Seldon has the whole of Book One to ride his character over, Hardin gets two books. ‘The Encyclopedists’ and ‘The Mayors.’ This slice of inequality in terms of one character having more story than another does two things. It pushes Hari Seldon to the dizzying heights of a messiah but as it does it manages to show Salvor Hardin as being a driving force within the history, one whose own legend rests upon his daring achievements. This then leaves the last of the notables who furnish this book with such panache – Hober Mallow.

The thing here worth mentioning is the names Asimov gives his heroes. Hari Seldon, Salvor Hardin and Hober Mallow. They are so very ordinary, mundane even. They seem to come from a set of people who possibly have climbed the greasy class pole from proletariat to middle-class but remain unaffected by such nonsense keeping their true roots close to their chests.

Hober Mallow is different to Hardin and Seldon. Far more rough-and-ready. Far more able to whip a pistol from his pocket, aim, shoot and fire and damn the consequences. This doesn’t preclude his having a sharp brain, a crafty and equally as tactical a mind as those men who went before him. But being a ‘trader’ he understands the hi-jinks of life, the cut and thrust of commerce which like religion, like politics, is as nasty a place to be and as unpleasant as the other two. Hober Mallow is more than a man for taking on anybody.

‘The Merchant Princes’ is the fifth and final book in ‘Foundation.’ It is the only one that drifts ever so slightly toward action. But the action is ever present but behind the scenes. It never enters the day to day dealings of the political situation Mallow has to deal with. Like the previous four books dialogue and intrigue rule the day.

So here we are. Sixty-seven years on from the first publication of ‘Foundation’ and this book remains as current, as relevant as the day it hit the bookshops and stalls. It is a cornerstone of what is called Sci-Fi, but it is far more than that. It is a book that must be termed as a classic and is the equal of any other books so acclaimed.

We dream. They say those aware, enlightened, really ‘awake,’ not the awake after sleep but the awake as to the reality of life, to the shared being that exists between the mind, the body and beyond, don’t dream. Jiddu Krishnamurti didn’t dream. However, we, the vast many, dream. What if a dreamer could change the past, the now, therefore, the future? Would that not be a power worth having? Imagine dreaming Margaret Thatcher didn’t win the 1979 election, didn’t reintroduce laissez-faire capitalism, didn’t re-birth neoliberalism. Imagine how better the world would be. Free of the tyrannical power of corporations, of Rupert Murdoch and the banks. It would all be so much better wouldn’t it? Well, wouldn’t it?

George Orr is such a man. When George Orr dreams his dreams change reality. The little peccadillos of life, the unpleasant fabrics woven by those fearful and spiteful twist then atrophy as they fall from the cloth of time. What was is no more. What is settles down over the blank space left by what was removed. Black becomes grey and white fades away and radiates.

George Orr is a man who dislikes his arcane talent. It troubles him, so he seeks help from a man known for his skills in dealing with troubled minds. William Haber is that man. William Haber is a good man filled with good intentions but good intentions, like shortcuts, can mislead you down unexpected paths.

“The Lathe of Heaven” by Ursula Le Guin is a book unto itself. I cannot think of another book from where it draws inspiration unless it is Zhuang Zhou, one of the great thinkers of his or any other age, a Taoist philosopher credited as being among those other venerable gentlemen such as Laozi, Kong Zi, Mo Di, Huizi and Mengzi. Even then, the beautiful works of Zhuang Zhou to one side, his writing is nothing like Ursula Le Guin, neither is the subject matter yet still there is a hint of Tao about “The Lathe of Heaven.”

Having found William Haber, George Orr finds himself captivated then captive to the man’s desire to forge a new and better world by utilising, perverting if truth be told, the natural talents of George Orr by using a machine called the ‘Augmentor’ which enhances Orr’s gift so that by Haber suggesting certain dream realities Orr dreams to the designs of Haber creating alternative worlds within the world we live. Racism disappears as skin colour goes from the beauty of the multi-hued to everyone having a pale grey colour. Overpopulation is dealt with when Haber has George dream of a deadly plague which wipes out billions of lives reducing the world’s population to manageable numbers. To end all the conflicts and wars Earth has paid witness to, Haber has Orr dream an alien invasion so that all the world’s powers form into one cohesive whole to defend the planet from their threat of conquest.

As each dream dreamt by Orr alters the original state of reality so Haber grows ever richer but also more powerful. Although Orr is the one making the changes the world's population see Haber as being the one who should lead them. Haber becomes the most powerful man in the world. During his sessions with William Haber, Orr becomes increasingly concerned then alarmed by the might Haber wields. Or turns to a lawyer, Heather Lelache with whom he falls in love with and even marries in one reality. Yet realities change with each subsequent dream and Heather is one of those whose persona is lost in the changes.

I felt utterly caught up in the tale as time after time George is manipulated into creating yet another better version of the world. I also found myself grow sad when George and Heather’s relationship is wiped clean of existence by one of Haber’s ‘improvements.’

The moral behind the tale, which I say is very Tao, although it could be any one of the Eastern philosophies intriguing paradoxes. We wish to make better that which is perfect as it is with all its flaws. In other words, humankind is not meant to interfere in the way we do with the way nature has created things.

What a talented writer this woman was. Her imagination exceeds the limits of that word finding voice in the most wondrous ways. This, many years after it was first published in 1971, caught my attention leaving a high resonance, a love of this novel which will last. Without a doubt, I shall read this over and over again much like I have with ‘Foundation.’ 
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Glenwood School, Benfleet, Essex and The Cold Calculus of Commerce

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Glenwood School in Benfleet is a Community Special School maintained by the Local Authority. It caters for up to 190 learners between three and nineteen years of age. It is a co-educational school for learners with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties. Approximately 60% have a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder and approximately 30% have significant physical and/or sensory impairments. 

Judith Salter, C.B.E, is a headteacher on a mission. She’s been steadfastly pursuing her vision of how those with learning difficulties deserve to be treated. Each individual student’s requirements are catered for whilst a hand of unity is extended to the parents of the student as the whole family’s needs are considered alongside those of the learner. This is not to say problems arise, issues that arrive unexperienced because they do but nine times out of ten those issues are resolved.
I wonder if Essex County Council is even aware of the problems 24/7 face? I don't think for a moment the County Council is for even in the light of the method they are enjoined to take and mistakes made, I believe compassion is at the heart of their actions. I think if they knew they would be livid.

Recently the contract for transporting students from their homes to Glenwood was put out to tender by Essex County Council. The incumbent supplier, Access Anyone, who had been transporting the school’s students for several years, lost the tender to rivals 24/7. This comes as no shock as the whole point of a tender is to find the financially optimum, viable option. However, when the financially optimum option is little more than overt commercially over compassion then questions need asking, answers must be forthcoming.

The current drivers and passenger assistance who daily drive and care for the students attending Glenwood were T.U.P.E transferred as is the legal requirement from Access Anyone to 24/7. This is standard practice. Those drivers and passenger assistants are now employed by 24/7. All the new members of 24/7 staff were then asked to undertake a medical. This came as some surprise to those who have worked for Access Anyone for several years as they had never had to have a medical before. There are loopholes in the PSV (Public Services Vehicle) law that doesn’t require such stringent confirmation of health so long as the drivers GP endorses the driver’s health. 24/7 do not use this method. Access Anyone does. This is perfectly legal. The fact no one knew of this before begs questions of both Essex council and 24/7.

On Tuesday 31st July 2018, a selection of the drivers T.U.P.E transferred from Access Anyone to 24/7, attended a medical held in The Barn at Great Easton. A doctor was present as what is the equivalent of Dad’s Army were presented to him. This is not to be unkind or to disparage the drivers formerly employed by Access Anyone but recognition of these compassionate individuals ages. Virtually all the staff employed by Access Anyone are of a retirement age with some far older. With age, of course, comes health issues, health issues the DVLA, when assessing the medical condition of any driver considers, before granting a license to drive. Many of the men sent to the doctor failed. So far only two have been confirmed as not passing but there are many drivers who have had either heart attacks previously or strokes.

What this means in the short term is that the very drivers who have so dutifully ensured their student charges be collected from their homes before onward transit to Glenwood, those very same men legally T.U.P.E transferred and therefore entitled to receive the same salary as prior the transfer, are unable to perform their duties and yet are now members of a company who have to pay their salaries as the law states they must. How many this amounts to is conjecture. However, 24/7 are most certainly short staffed and this fact has an impact on their ability to deliver their contractual obligations.

This puts enormous pressure onto the staff at 24/7 who find themselves desperately trying to hire drivers to fulfil their contractual obligation on the first day of the new term to fill the boots of those former drivers now unable legally to drive. In short 24/7 has only four weeks to do this. Without knowledge, the layman may think this easy. It isn’t. It is very, very hard. And, of course, it is the severely disabled students who will suffer unless a minor miracle is performed.

Was Essex County Council aware of the disparity in the operational processes that exist between Access Anyone and 24/7? Surely that is an issue that they should at least be aware of? Did 24/7 know how the competitors operate? If so, then why the pantomime of having a medical? Undoubtedly Essex Council will have caveat’s in place to ensure the financial costs are met by 24/7 but is this fair? Was no Due Diligence carried out by either party and if not why not? Rumour has it that Essex County Council wanted to award the contract to Access Anyone but under a much-reduced revenue. The problem with this neoliberal way of driving down costs is that it is short-sighted. Getting value for your buck is fine but when year in year out costs must be reduced then, using pure logic, that path is finite. Eventually, you will have one business standing, this will be the bigger business as only a bigger business can afford to meet the costs and thereby drive the competitors out of the market. This means having a monopoly and monopolising care comes at a huge cost, a cost to those whose needs are overlooked by driving costs consistently down.

The whole thing smacks of an utter shambles, a fiasco as performed on the stage by the long-departed Brian Rix. Both council and 24/7 appear to have concerned themselves with one factor – money. Commercial concerns are not incompatible with compassion, but incompetence is. Someone somewhere has fouled up and the consequence of their ineptitude falls on those students who deserve their best efforts.

So then, in a culture supposedly free of blame who is culpable for this shambolic mess? Does the finger point at Essex County Council or the preferred supplier, 24/7? I think the truth lies deeper even if in knowing that truth does not excuse mistakes made here.

For the past thirty-nine years we have lived in what is called in popular terms, a neoliberal society, that is a political system that promotes laissez-faire economics or, in plain English, free trade. This system was re-introduced in 1979 first by Margaret Thatcher and then Ronald Regan and follows what is known as ‘The Golden Age’ of Capitalism an epoch that lasted from 1945 until 1979. Although those of the left decry all forms of capitalism this era is universally accepted as being beneficial to all. The rich got richer as did the poor. Productivity reached new heights and the sun shone on the righteous and those not so blessed. It was a period of far greater fairness and shared wealth. Prior to this period, we in the West saw the great depression, the rise of the right and with it the Nazi Party in Germany, Adolf Hitler and, of course, the Second World War. It was a disastrous age who owed its existence to neoliberalism.

Laissez-faire economics, as espoused by Friedrich Hayek Margret Thatcher’s mentor, posits allowing the machine to run the system, not the system run the machine. Should a business fail, let it.  Should a bank get into trouble, let it. The system is the government. “The underlying beliefs that make up the fundamentals of laissez-faire economics include, first and foremost, that a "natural order" rules the world. Because this natural self-regulation is the best type of regulation, laissez-faire economists that there is no need for business and industrial affairs to be complicated by government intervention. As a result, they oppose any sort of federal involvement in the economy, which includes any type of legislation or oversight; they are against minimum wages, duties, trade restrictions, and corporate taxes. In fact, laissez-faire economists see such taxes as a penalty for production.”

When you place virtue on production not the producers of the products you have removed the very thing that production was created for – people. Suddenly the machine runs us and not us running the machine.

Seeking those to blame is understandable especially when those who will suffer most are those who most need assistance but firing our loaded weapons at either Essex County Council or 24/7 misses the point. Yes, they are part of the principle we all now live by, yes, they are responsible for their negligence, but they did not place the principle at the heart of our society, we did. When we vote we select who we want to administer our needs. The only way we can change the way we live is by changing ourselves, by changing the way we think.

Compassion is core to our being, it is what we are. Having a little love and compassion in a world whose sole purpose, whose sole belief is a deity called avarice brings conflict. The cold calculus of commerce compromises compassion and that is what has happened here.

So, in summary, where does the buck stop regarding selecting a supplier for transporting severely disabled students to and from Glenwood School? Well, the answer is in the question. Some years ago, as a moderately successful salesperson, I had the good fortune to ‘win’ two major contracts. Both clients elected to perform a comprehensive appraisal of the business I worked for. This was undertaken by the client to establish its assets and liabilities and evaluate its commercial potential but also to ensure the supplier had the wherewithal to carry out all the duties of the task set them. This would have included a thorough systematic investigation the better to have an informed profile of all potential costs, risks and benefits. This patently wasn’t done with regard to Glenwood School. As I said, the answer is in the question. It is the client who conducts due diligence to ensure their supplier fulfils all their requirements not the other way around.

I wonder if the county council are aware of the problems 24/7 are currently facing? I suspect if they knew they would be livid.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

The Wilful Walks of Russell CJ Duffy - "Walkin' The Dog" 4 - The Lump and Me

I guess I seem odd to many including my own family. Death is inevitable, isn't it? It is part of life. Why fear it? Of course, it isn't that my children fear death, what they fear is loss, the loss of me. But I am very much alive and have every intention of remaining so. What is death anyway? Sure the shell that contains the self-dies, the consciousness along with it but the matter, the atoms and molecules that make an individual never die. This isn't some form of mysticism but scientific fact. When we die all that makes up our bodies returns to where it came from. Anyway, we haven't even had the biopsy results yet, which can take 10 to 14 days, so fears of my death before knowing what it is for certain what ails me is a little foolish.

Squid has her own way of dealing with the hurt that comes with death. Like me, she laughs at the oddest of things. The other night she came into my bedroom where I was laid flat out on my back. Momentarily she thought I had kicked the proverbial, shuffled off my mortal coil, departed this realm with a one-way ticket to another, somewhere hot no doubt. She called out to me as she shook me awake. 'You worried me,' she said, 'I thought you'd died.' I assured her I hadn't just as Wiley leapt onto my bed and started licking my arm. 'Get off,' I cried, 'I'm not dead yet so you can't eat my arm.' We both laughed me and squid that is as Wiley continued licking away.

The sun shines brightly today, bright and hot. So it has been for the past eight, nearly nine weeks. We have been enjoying, depending on your viewpoint, a heatwave the like of which we haven't had since the one way back in '76. Wiley and me stop by the stream. He shuffles down the bank, the waters shrunk back due to the lack of rain. We have had rain but insufficient amounts. It rained twice but only for a matter of hours. We need the rain now. Wiley drinks his fill lapping the cool water. It has been so hot of late I have been unable to walk Wiley for fear of burning his paws on the scorching pavement. 

When we have been able to walk it has been joyful. Watching the hound chase balls, sticks and shadows make me laugh. When he, and it is rare he does, chases horses now that's a different matter. There are around eighteen horses in the big field. They are powerful animals and one kick from their back legs would kill a man let alone a  medium sized dog. His devotion to me is challenging; challenging and heartwarming too. I don't seek to be his master but canines need to have a pack order, they need to know their place within that pack and Wiley because I feed and walk him has elected me to that role.

Today we met a young German woman walking a Tibetan Terrier. An odd-looking breed. The Tibetan Terrier, not the German woman. They have large paws for a dog their size. The woman's feet were petite with nails varnished. I couldn't see if the dog had any on its claws as its feet are rather hairy. She, the lady not the dog who was female, told me a story about them,  Tibetan Terriers, not Germans, being dogs who lived with Buddhist Monks. I found this easy to believe but then again I am gullible. As I say, odd-looking dogs who reminded me of those Bearded Collies fake Hippies used to keep. I rather liked the look of her, the German Woman but as she was wearing a wedding ring I guess I'd have to settle for the Buddhist Bow Wow. They may not be your typical choice of dog to give a bloke as a present but then again I am not your typical bloke even if I do love Malamutes. Another shaggy dog's tale.

Today was also the day of my pre-op assessment. Prior to that, I had to have an ECG. I wrote the detail down so Thumbscrew could fill me in on what it all means. The pre-assessment was pure routine. They took my height, my weight and asked a bunch of questions relating to my health and the meds I take. Next week's surgery is another biopsy. The procedure is to ascertain, hence the biopsy, if I have Oropharyngeal cancer. Now that is a sobering thought. Throat cancer. 

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog

A Utility Fish Shed Blog