When you get the last bus home on a Saturday night, and you’re completely sober

Before I even start writng this post I know its going to be difficult to categorise; thank goodness for tags.

#mensilencingwomen

#monumentalsenseofentitlement

#groupthink

I just caught the last bus home from our nation’s capital on a Saturday night. It’s actually a long distance bus, its route is a full 80 miles, so you have to understand that we really depend on that bus. It’s the only bus.

So, when the bus has left the city behind, and the suburbs, and the dormitory town, and is bowling along a trunk route at 50 miles an hour at least, and the fuckwits that have had too much to drink and are feeling sick insist on having the windows open; and if anyone disagrees with this their pals will all gang up on them…..

What a monumental sense of entitlement.

Maybe get off the bus if you feel sick? No can do because it’s the ONLY bus home.

Maybe drink less? Well, too late for that, even if it is a valid argument.

Demonise anyone who disagrees with you? Of course, because it’s me me me.

Sigh.

 

 

 

 

Car insurance claim: it’s a Saga

Today for the first time in over 20 years I made a car insurance claim. A great big 4×4 rear-ended my wee town car while I was stationary at traffic lights. Things looked a bit twisted at the rear of my car and it looked a bit down on the left side, as though something was amiss in the suspension.

Coincidentally, the bump happened just down the road from the garage where I bought my car, so after getting the other driver’s details I drove slowly to that garage and phoned my insurance company, hoping to ask them if the garage I was at could check the car over to see if it was roadworthy.

Silly, naive me.

I now realise that anyone with any experience whatsoever of car insurance claims will laugh at my assumption the process could be anywhere near rational. Not only is it not rational, it’s also immensely time-consuming, and absolutely not designed – whatever they say in the adverts – for the ease of the customer.

I was on the phone – mobile phone mind you – for an hour and twenty minutes; first to Saga (Niall) who took all the details at great length and then said that since it was almost certainly a ‘no-fault’ claim they would transfer me to ClaimFast (a claims management company) (Josh) to organise the recovery of my vehicle and the provision of the hire car as per my policy.

I only had to repeat a portion of what I’d already said to Niall to Josh. Sigh.

What  I now know is that the claims management company’s role is to sign me up for another insurance policy that will pay them if the third party insurer doesn’t pay up. Let me repeat that: instead of Saga dealing with all that sort of thing as a back room function, I have to sign up to another consumer credit agreement – the paperwork will be coming in the post soon. [But Saga, I thought I paid you all that money for fully comprehensive insurance so that I’d be covered if the unfortunate event happened.]

And there’s more: the replacement car that I paid extra for in my premium turns out to involve an agreement with yet another company, Enterprise, and I was to be collected by one of their staff, taken back to their depot, sign documents there and swipe my credit card before I could have the car. Un-be-lieveable!

Poor Josh. I began to lose patience with him at that point: “I need to go home,” I wailed, “I have responsibilities.” The Enterprise depot is 10 miles in the opposite direction from my home, where I was already an hour and a half overdue as a result of being rear-ended and talking on the phone to Niall and Josh.

I suggested to Josh that the car hire guy could come and get me at my home tomorrow, and he checked with his supervisor and they decided that was OK. Finally, I was able to get off the phone, call my husband with the news and ask him to come and pick me up and take me home.

I always like to identify the lesson in things that happen to me in life, and the lesson I have learned today is that come renewal time I won’t use Saga and, whichever company I choose,  I’ll be taking out just third party, fire and theft cover plus a nice big RAC membership. That way, in the unlikely event of another accident I’ll be able to get home promptly and choose the contractors I want to do the repairs.

The first day of the rest of our lives

Mum moved into a nursing home today.

The woman who has given me merry hell for the last several years about not wanting to accept any carers because she thought it was the thin end of wedge towards me ‘getting rid’ of her and ‘putting her in a home’….

The woman who 10 years ago rejected her solicitor’s advice (to put her new house into joint ownership with me and/or my brother “in order to preserve the assets for the family should she ever need to go into residential care”) because she thought we would turf her out into a care home in order to get the money…

The woman who called me every day with some excuse why I had to attend her, but who told the doctor and the social work key contact and random passing strangers that I was ‘vicious’….

The woman who has lived with donkey’s years worth of clutter and obsessive repeat purchases ‘in case she ran out’ and would never let us move anything, including the rugs that were tripping hazards….

Yes, that woman, has today elegantly and with a very brave face on moved into one small room in a nursing home without so much as an enquiry about what’s going to happen to all her stuff at home.

No, she doesn’t want to take any of her furniture. And she seems rather happy that we’ll have to sell her house in due course to pay the fees.

“The empty busywork of visible consultation” [Don Paterson]

Sometimes you read something that resonates so powerfully that it brings previously unconscious thoughts or attitudes into the light of conscious awareness.

That’s what happened to me when I read the open letter written by Dundee poet Don Paterson and published in The (Glasgow) Herald in September 2012.

He was publicly criticising the way Creative Scotland had asked writers to take part in a consultation on some issue or other of importance to Scottish writers, but had then completely disregarded the input from those consultees. Here’s the relevant passage:

“A couple of years ago I was part of a group set up by one of our most literate MSPs to review literature funding in Scotland. I was honoured to find myself in a room with a handful of the more serious players in the Scottish literature sector. We were, however, assembled to do the empty busywork of visible consultation, and we should have known at the time. The process itself was unprofessional, mendacious, corrupt, and ruined by just the sort of nepotism, autocratic whim and lack of oversight that our final report complained of.

“Predictably, not one recommendation was directly acted upon, nor received anything but the most anodyne lip-service. The report was charged with providing a strategy. That the one we proposed was summarily rejected was bad enough; perhaps it was the wrong one. But that precisely none has been seen or enunciated since is wholly unforgivable.”

When I read this I suddenly realised that this had happened to me and my village community when our local authority ‘consulted’ with us over the location of a much-needed new primary school. The community worked together very well to raise awareness of the alternative proposals, and a very strong consensus emerged in favour of one.

Guess which one was built? Yes, of course the other one, resulting in a real material loss of a popular and much-used playing field.

Not only that, my newly raised consciousness started recognising all the other times in recent years when I had been given the illusion of influence where, in fact, it was all a sham.

For example, the same local authority (starved of cash as the all are in these times of Austerity) ‘consulted’ with parents over whether to switch to an asymmetic school week. It was a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, as the benefits of such a change to our kids’ education were promulgated, but absolutely everybody knew the change would definitely be implemented because it would allow the Council to save £350K on teacher salaries.

We are currently being consulted over proposed changes to flightpaths around Edinburgh Airport. Will it be any wonder that they get a dismal response rate? I simply feel sorry for the poor residents who will inevitably get more noise while rejoicing for those who will get less.

So what I realise – maybe later in life than I should have – is that sometimes you shouldn’t play football; instead you have to pick up the ball and run with it.

A poignant moment

How strange that I didn’t feel emotional when I ordered these name tapes – in my Mum’s name – last week; but opening the envelope just now and seeing them gave me a real kick in the gut.

I was clearing out some drawers in Mum’s house last week when I came accross a nearly fifty year old name tape bearing my name; I remember so well those name tapes inside all my school uniform clothes. I remember too being puzzled that my name was in a lovely shade of brown on a white background, whereas the uniform was blue with touches of red, light blue and yellow, so the name tape didn’t match at all. I don’t remember if I ever asked Mum why she ordered brown, and I doubt very much if she’d be able to tell me now.

I ordered a blue name on a white background for Mum – she likes blue and has many blue skirts, blouses, tops and cardigans. I think sewing the name tapes into all her clothes will be a labour of love, and I suspect she enjoyed doing it for me when I was a child.

The WRVS doesn’t serve vodka (saving carers from themselves)

The last straw in a crap day was the freak accident when I stabbed myself under my thumbnail with a fork tine while loading the dishwasher.

Actually, the day wasn’t all bad: I took Mum to visit a care home today, and we immediately knew that it was ‘the one’. When we arrived the residents all looked out of the window with interest to see who was coming, and the atmosphere inside was lively and welcoming. I’ve visited a lot of care homes in the last two weeks, and this was special. Mum is on the waiting list for this home – second on the list – so I just have to hope I can stall the NHS long enough – her discharge date was supposed to be last Friday – for her to get a place there.

When we left, though, I scratched my car on the bin shelter as I manoevered out of a tight driveway. Then when we got back to the cottage hospital Mum is staying in at the moment I got a text from my son to say that he’d not been successful in getting a business apprenticeship at Ernst & Young: meanwhile Mum was having a demented, anxiety-fuelled hissy fit about something that was impenetrable to me. As I sipped my Pepsi Max, I regretted that the vending machine in the WRVS cafe doesn’t dispense vodka.

Then after dinner, while loading the dishwasher I got an excuse for tears when I stabbed myself painfully under the thumbnail with a fork tine. At least that took my son’s mind off his rejection for a few minutes.

A mother’s place is in the wrong

Here’s something I wrote back in 2010 before I properly understood my son’s executive function difficulties.

Our Town, June 2010

Dear Stan,

It’s a few minutes before midnight as I begin this letter of love to you, at the end of a very busy day.

Earlier this evening you shed tears of disappointment as we walked back to the car after the great Our Town Scout Jamboree. All the Beavers, Cubs and Scouts were gathered for a games night: tug of war, hide and seek, the bucket filling race, and toasting marshmallows on the campfire. You were awarded the Chief Scout’s Silver Award – the highest badge available in Cubs – and formally passed from Cubs to Scouts.

cub_challenge_badgeBut still you cried, even though you have never been a cry baby. Why?

Because you did not receive the ‘Scottish Challenge Badge’.

And you blamed me.

When you were younger, you used to resist doing your reading homework, using every dodge, trick, displacement activity you could think of, and you had many, many tantrums about it. Later on, in P5, your homework refusal transferred itself to maths. Luckily for you, you hardly ever got maths homework in P6, but when you did my heart sank as it was always a horrible scene.

One evening a few months ago, you had maths homework, but wouldn’t do it. Work that should have taken 20 minutes took over an hour, and most of what you did was incorrect. By the time the maths homework was finally finished it was nearly 7.30 and you had missed an hour of Cubs. As the Cubs meeting finished at 8 pm, I said you couldn’t go at all, thinking that missing something you enjoyed would be a good lesson to encourage you to get your homework done in future.

Well, it turns out that three activities counting towards the Scottish Challenge badge were done that evening at Cubs, and it all came home to roost tonight when you saw other boys get that badge and you didn’t. You cried bitter tears, you couldn’t keep them in, as we walked back to the car after the meeting broke up. You said it was my fault you didn’t get the badge because I had made you miss that Cubs meeting. I could tell you remembered that evening even more clearly than I did.

I tried to gently reason with you that if you’d done the work quicker you wouldn’t have missed the Cubs meeting. You said I had made you do extra sums as well as the homework, and perhaps I did to try to reinforce what you’d been getting wrong. I reminded you that you’d had a dreadful tantrum and refused to do the homework. You said, “Of course I had a tantrum, because you were hitting me.”

I did hit you. Smack you. I did lose my temper. Although it was after I spent a very long time and a lot of emotional energy trying to get you to do a few little sums on a worksheet. It was after you were in a full blown oppositional-defiant tantrum, and I had used up all my resources, not before.

I’m sorry I hit you, I’m sorry I lost my temper. Those things are my fault and I am to blame. I am responsible for my behaviour.

I’m sorry you are sad about the Scottish Challenge badge. But is it my fault you missed out on it? It was a consequence of a chain of events that began with you refusing to quickly do a little bit of maths homework. When will you be responsible for your choices?

But I feel awful and am crying as I type this.

I love you more than I love my own life and I always will.

Mum x

What the future holds – moving goalposts

I read this short essay by Justine Brooks on social media today, and immediately realised that she and her mother are probably just a few months – maybe a year – ahead of us on the vascular dementia journey.

“Recently, a friend who has been there said to me, “The thing with dementia is, you have to do your grieving when they’re still alive.”

It’s true. You watch helplessly as the woman who brought you into the world – held your hand, wiped away your tears, was your friend and confidante – slips away, slowly, one week at a time. What you’re left with is a person who both is and isn’t your mother.”

The essay is beautifully (and simply) written. It also happens to say things that I either already recognise, or can imaging happening soon, like this notion of shifting goalposts:

“And yet today, when she really doesn’t know who I am, I’m calm, I’m accepting, I’m not upset. That’s what happens with this disease: it moves the goalposts. Or perhaps that’s about human nature’s ability to adjust to any kind of situation.”

Thank you, Justine.

How long does delirium last?

A short post, but rather shocking.

Today I had a talk with the charge nurse at the cottage hospital. I asked her when would a decision be made about whether my elderly Mum’s confused state is delirium (that may resolve) or her new normal. She told me that the ruling used to be that patients would be observed for a month, then it was extended to two months, and now it’s an observation period of 3 months. She also said that if the patient has some other episode, like a UTI or another illness or infection, the clock restarts. She said that she thinks this is just an excuse for not providing any mental health services for inpatients.

Get real: so sick of those boasting xmas letters

My poor old demented mother received one of those ghastly boasting letters from a friend (also an elderly lady), and I actually enjoyed the fact that Mum couldn’t remember the person. I’ve changed their names, but the rest is the real content of the letter…

Dear Margaret,

Already November is coming to a close and I am ill-prepared to celebrate Christmas. As the years go by I seem to get less able to do as much in a day as I used to do, and I enjoy more wee breaks too. However, I keep well and among other things I enjoy to potter in Lesley’s garden, that is when the weather allows me to. We did have a lovely early spring but after that conditions were less acceptable and spring planting was very late. However, Lesley had a very good apple crop and now has lots in the freezer.

The family are all doing well. The twins are now in second year at their universities and each finds their course very interesting but requires a lot of study. Their results last year were excellent and they hope to maintain that this year. They are finding life in a flat quite a change from Halls and have had to adjust to less heating. Ethan still enjoys cross country running and has run for Britain on several occasions with reasonable success too. Ginnie has had a few issues with stress fractures which has limited her achievements this year.

Susan and Gordon are both doing well. Gordon travels the world with the ___  ___ team attending to track conditions and safety. He and Ellie are well-settled near ___. Susan and Gerry are house hunting in the ___ area but have not found that house that ticks all the boxes for them yet.

Patrick has now retired and is planning what the next move will be. Lesley is still head of her Practice but feels that she too will retire whenever the time is right.

I keep well with any check ups being very positive. I trust you and yours are all well too. I wonder how you are and am sorry I have not been able to visit you this year: I do not drive longer distances now.

Best wishes,

Lilian

Here is my reply on behalf of Mum (not sent of course):

Dear Lilian,

I was admitted to hospital towards the end of November with severe constipation that probably arose because I had not been eating properly and attending to my usual rituals that ‘keep me regular’. The underlying reason for this is almost definitely a turn for the much worse in my cognitive function. I was in an acute medical ward for four weeks and was transferred on 23rd December to a cottage-hospital-type place in our county town.

My family are all probably a bit depressed, although none except myself with a clinical diagnosis. My grandson failed his Higher English exam in May but passed two or three others, depending on whether you call a D a pass. My daughter and son-in-law (who as you know both have doctorates) can’t help but be a wee bit puzzled and disappointed at this turn of events in their one and only much-loved offspring, and inevitably they are worried about what his destination after school will be. He is back doing a sixth year, resitting Higher English and also doing two other Highers. He says he wants to become an accountant via an apprenticeship with one of the Big Four accounting firms, but has not yet applied or even looked at the selection process information. He went to an open evening at one of the firms but only because my daughter found out about it, registered him for it and drove him to the door at the appointed hour. My daughter is very sad and fed up that he does nothing, takes no advice and replies in monosyllables to any attempts at communication.

My son-in-law passionately dislikes his job, which is supposed to be facilitating knowledge transfer between industry and universities, but is actually an underfunded, resourceless vehicle for bringing in EU grant funding. So, he is not very sorry that Brexit will probably be the death knell of it, especially since he has been limping on for years on nine-, six- or even three-month funding extensions. Unfortunately, 53 is too young to retire, so God knows what will happen to the family when the plug is finally pulled.

My daughter is fatter than she has ever been, but at least my infirmities mean that she has rarely drunk alcohol this year, as she has needed to be able to drive at the drop of a hat if I phone in a confused state to say I can’t remember how to turn on the TV, or if I fall and press my red button.

My son and his new wife (they married in 2015) are having fun renovating a new house they have bought. He was very fortunate to be able to retire at 60 in good health and is enjoying himself immensely. Although he is 500 miles away, my daughter is quite happy with the way he is providing her with moral support as she deals with all my issues.

The other bit of light is that my grandson continues to enjoy all his musical activities and his band has qualified for a European competition at the end of next April. This has given my daughter and son-in-law a tricky decision to make about whether to allow him to take part in this one thing he shows any enthusiasm for – the rehearsals will be from January to April and his first exam is four days after the competition.

Our Christmas day was a washout, as my heart rate slowed to 49, so the cottage hospital decided to transfer me to the general hospital for tests. This transfer took all day, as ‘code red’ calls kept diverting the ambulance away from me. No underlying cause for the low heart rate was ultimately found and I didn’t understand that it was Christmas day anyway, so I was not upset, although my daughter was. At least it kept her off the drink for the day.

I’m really pleased you were not able to come and visit me in 2016, as when I am not demented I am still very angry with the lack of professionalism your daughter Lesley showed in her care of my good friend Agnes in her last years. If I had spoken to you I probably would have said a few things that would have offended you. My own daughter is very relieved that I now cannot recall the distressing circumstances of Agnes’ end of life care.

I’ll probably never see you again and as my daughter seems not to recognise your name on your letter you will probably not hear any further news of my decline.

Best wishes,

Margaret

Self-employed carers – check your NI credits

“Parents (aged over 16) who receive Child Benefit and are caring for a child under the age of 12 receive National Insurance credits automatically. Those on Carer’s Allowance or Income Support also qualify. 

These credits are known as ‘Class 3 National Insurance credits’, and build your entitlement to state pension and bereavement benefit.”

https://www.which.co.uk/money/tax/national-insurance/guides/national-insurance-credits

 

I am registered as self-employed, but I don’t work a lot of hours and don’t earn very much. When I do my self-assessment tax return, it gives me the option to pay voluntary NI contributions, but I had not thought I needed to do that. I assumed I was getting National Insurance credits because I am still receiving Child Benefit in respect of my son in full-time education.

But it turns out that even though the Child Benefit is still being paid, the National Insurance credits stopped when he turned 12. I discovered this when I used the new state pension calculator on the Government website. The calculation showed that I had not been credited with NI contributions for the last several years, and so I looked into it further.

I could now choose to pay some Additional Voluntary Contributions to increase the number of ‘qualifying years’ I have in order to gete the maximum State Pension. I would urge everyone to check their number of qualifying years and find out whether paying additional contributions is a good solution for them.

In my own case, though, I discovered something else, and it’s to do with my role as a family carer for my elderly mother.

I have deliberately not allowed myself to become her full-time carer and so I have not applied for Carers Allowance. The last time I looked at the rules for this you had to be caring for someone for at least 35 hours a week. Until recently Mum didn’t need this much care; she needed and wanted a more flexible ‘my-daughter-will-help-me’ arrangement – great for her, not so great for me, but that’s another story.

However, what I didn’t realise is that there is a thing called Carers Credit, which gives you National Insurance contributions (and therefore the chance to build up qualifying years) if you care for someone for more than 20 hours a week.

I have quickly put in my application for this, and it has been granted starting from 6 April 2015; unfortunately, I have missed out on a couple of earlier years (since Mum’s major stroke when she started receiving Attendance Allowance at the higher level), which is why I want to publicise this issue so that other daughters and sons like me can claim the National Insurance credits we are entitled to in order to protect our own future State Pension.

Mental capacity contradictions

Can an old lady with a documented history of refusal of treatment with an anti-depressant really consent to treatment when she no longer even remembers who her daughter is?

Over the course of the last year Mum’s mobility has deteriorated so much that she essentially can only go out of the house if it is to get into a car and be driven somewhere. She also has a degree of dysphasia which frustrates her, as she loves to chat.

Unsurprisingly, she has become quite down in the dumps, but she has some old-fashioned views about mental health and doesn’t admit to depression although her GP saw fit to refer her to the Community Mental Health Older Adults Team. Mum got on well with the CPN and enjoyed her visits but did state unequivocally that she would not agree to be treated with antidepressants even if a formal diagnosis of depression was made.

So far, so in line with Mum’s categorical refusal to be agree to having carers at home. On that issue, even though lots of people think Mum would benefit from carers (including the Social Work key worker and her GP as well as family & friends), Mum has been entitled to refuse the carers – or so the social work people tell me.

Mum has been hospitalised for a nearly two weeks now, having been admitted with severe constipation. She is more confused than ever and cannot tell me when I visit what has happened to her that day (even though I know she has had physiotherapy, for example). The doctors have explained to me that this ‘delirium‘ is common when elderly people are hospitalised.

This morning the doctor told me Mum definitely can’t come home without an extensive care package. So how are they going to get her to agree to it?

After the first week, during which Mum was often tearful, she was put onto an anti-depressant without anyone consulting me, even though the doctors had had a full history from me in which I told them Mum’s attitude to anti-depressants.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if they had consulted me or my brother, we would have agreed that Mum should be treated, but they say Mum consented. She wasn’t asked in my presence, so I don’t know how the question was put to her. I don’t think she was fit to consent; she doesn’t even know who I am some days.

I think this is an abuse – albeit for the ‘right’ outome- of the capacity to consent rules, and as a carer it leaves me more frustrated than ever about what my role is. It seems that the medics can do whatever they like with impunity when they think it is the right thing to do, while the family carer cannot insist on anything at all – in this case a care at home package – even if it is obvious to all concerned that the person is making a really bad decision.