Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A call for cool heads

Please don't dismiss the following suggestion by thinking it bizarre . . .  give me a moment to explain.
Here's the suggestion:  might a route to world peace be found through the installation of automatically-controlled windows?

Ludicrous and unlikely as this idea may seem, let me illustrate my point.

The other day I was attending a debate.  The hall booked for the occasion was of recent construction, it was very modern in design and fitted with state-of-the-art technology.  Amongst other things, this technology included automatically-controlled windows.  When the temperature inside rose, so the windows opened.  When the temperature dropped, the windows closed accordingly.  It was a system that allowed for uniformity of temperature and, in addition, spared those inside the need to think in terms of ventilation.

But there proved to be a totally unexpected benefit, as those participating in this debate were soon to discover.

When we speak of a heated argument producing a lot of hot air, are we thinking literally?
This particular occasion proved that 'hot air' means precisely what it says.

As the debate raged, and speakers on opposing sides grew more and more heated, so the temperature inside the hall rose.  The argument was reaching a climax when one particularly impassioned speaker leaped to his feet to make a decisive thrust.
"There is absolutely no doubt . . . " he declared emphatically.
But we weren't to discover where this absence of doubt lay.  Instead, there was a totally unexpected contribution to the debate.  It came in the form of a whirring and a creaking.  The whirring and creaking grew steadily louder, culminating in the slow and dramatic opening of the windows above our heads.

Even had our attention not been diverted by this unlikely intervention, we were no longer able to hear the speaker.  After struggling for a moment, he abandoned the futile effort as his words were completely drowned by the windows'  slow, grinding mechanism.

The intervention had provided us all with time to pause, time in which to reflect and literally cool down.  It was not surprising, therefore, that shortly after the speaker resumed his speech he was once again interrupted.  The hall had cooled  . . .  it was time, the windows decided, to shut!

In the course of the debate, the windows demonstrated their slow and deliberate opening and closing procedure no less than four times.  They introduced the cathartic element of humour, something which had been markedly lacking before.  They deflated pomposity and encouraged cool and rational debate.

It's only an idea, but what if international leaders were to meet under similar conditions?
What if cool heads and rational debate could be guaranteed by automatically-controled windows, windows that would provide the regular introduction of mind-clearing, restorative fresh air?

You see, it isn't quite the bizarre idea we originally thought!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Polite Notice

Why did I have to slip as I was hurrying out of a building in the West End?  Why did I have to fall backwards, hit my head on a marble step and fracture my skull?

It could be that there were two reasons.
One  . . .  to fully appreciate the kindness and support of those I love.
Two  . . . and this is every bit as important, to realise for the first time the incredible service provided by the NHS in London.

This is my 'thank you' to the NHS.
Inadequate it may be, but it's a 'thank you' from the heart.

I need to express my gratitude because every single one of the many people who came to my aid was kind, considerate, compassionate and utterly professional.
I was in their care for twelve hours . . . I was humbled by their goodness.

 First of all, my gratitude to the three wonderful paramedics from the Fulham Depot who, after comforting and treating their sick and anxious patient, transported me with the greatest possible care to the Accident and Emergency Department of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

Did you know, I didn't, that a code of behaviour for all staff greets the patient on arrival at this particular Accident and Emergency department?
The staff were there, a notice tells you reassuringly as you sit awaiting your summons, to be helpful, friendly, and to provide the best possible care".
I can testify that they live up to, and exceed, their written commitment.

First in a wheel-chair, then attached to a saline drip on a trolley, I was wheeled carefully and efficiently from cubicle to cubicle .  . . never without a reassuring comment, never without solicitude.

The fourth cubicle proved to be the one where my trolley would rest for two hours.  I had time to look around.
On the wall to the left of me was a notice.
Not just any old notice, this was very specifically a 'polite notice'.
How did I know?  Because it said as much.
"Polite Notice," it said, politely.
"Only 2 visitors per patient are allowed in this cubicle at any given time please.  Thank YOU."
How could you possibly be more courteous than that?

Lying there on the trolley, traumatised by my fall, I lost count of the number of kindly, capable doctors who came to question me . . . doctors male and female, doctors of many nationalities, some doctors unaccompanied, some with a trainee in tow.  It was very impressive.  However, as each one wanted to ask exactly the same questions, it was also a little exhausting.

The final doctor to arrive was accompanied by a trainee who was taking copious notes.  I felt personally responsible for contributing something worthwhile to his notebook.
"Your giddiness," said the doctor, "describe it for me.  Was it more like being drunk, or perhaps like being sea-sick?"
It seemed the moment for honesty.
"I'm sorry . . . "I said apologetically, "I'm afraid I've never been drunk."
There was a pause . . . then the doctor's lips twitched.
"Neither have I . . . ", he admitted.

A comprehensive series of tests culminated in a visit to the CIT Suite.  Here, after a short wait in a queue of similar, trolley-bound patients, I was greeted by kindly and efficient technicians who recorded five different views of my head.  The scans completed, I was returned to what I now looked upon propietorially as 'my cubicle'.

Many doctors had examined me, but one had taken overall charge.
'My doctor', in addition to being highly efficient, was charming and kind.  She was also graced with a sense of humour, a welcome attribute that revived my battered spirits.
Nor was this all, it was entirely thanks to her exhaustive phone calls, all undertaken in the course of a very busy day, that I finally obtained an invitation to be examined by an ENT specialist at the Charing Cross Hospital.

Had I only known this wonderful woman for six hours?
In that short time she'd become a treasured friend . . .  I felt unexpectedly saddened when it came to bidding her farewell.

After an ambulance ride to the Accident and Emergency Department of the Charing Cross Hospital,  another good, kind and knowledgeable doctor awaited me.
Here, after being given yet more exhaustive tests, I was finally told I could go home.

It was seven in the evening . . . having been fearful of spending the night in hospital, this opportunity to go home came like a gift from the gods.
But there was a proviso.  The nurse took my blood pressure . . . it meant nothing to me that it was a hundred and eighty-five, but this, I was told, was high.  There was to be no discharge until I'd brought my blood pressure down to a hundred and sixty.

Oh yes?
Despite the copious helpful notices on the wall of my cubicle, there was no advice as to how a patient could reduce her blood pressure.  Certainly not whilst lying on a trolley in a crowded and noisy Accident and Emergency Department on Bonfire Night!
I tried meditation . . . I tried shutting my ears to the noise . . . shutting my eyes to the passing trolleys and bulging curtains.
What if I couldn't get it down?
No, I told myself, I mustn't think like that.  But the thought persisted . . . what if I couldn't go home?

The nurse returned in half-an-hour . . . my blood pressure had dropped a mere five points, it was nowhere near enough.
"I need to get back to my cat . . . " I pleaded.
"Try to sleep . . . " suggested the nurse, closing the curtain behind him as he departed.

At nine-thirty my blood pressure was taken once again.
Anxiously, I studied the nurse's face.
"All right," he said, with a smile, "you can go home . . . " and he handed me my prescription.

Slowly, rather shakily, but with great thankfulness . . .  I pulled on my blood-stained coat.

But, before I close this letter, there's one more person at The Charing Cross Hospital who deserves my gratitude.  He wasn't one of the staff, but he certainly played his part in my recovery.  I'd like to send a heartfelt 'thank you' to the rotund casualty who, raising a tousled head from his pillow, gallantly gave me a jovial wink as I was manoeuvred past his cubicle in my wheel-chair.
We were all in this together, his gesture indicated, and were we down-hearted?  Most definitely not!

For a woman with blood-encrusted hair, not to mention the twelve hours of stress and anxiety etched into her face, what better tonic could have been devised to raise the spirits?

So . . . to all of you, to all of the wonderful and highly competent people whom I was so fortunate to encounter after my accident . . . may I send a heartfelt and very Polite Notice?
A Notice of Gratitude.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


My mind has seen you;  though my eyes are veiled
In doubt and search for you in vain.
My heart has found you;  though my feet have failed
To tread the secret path to your domain.
In dreams I've known you;  there, where myths arise
Revitalised to make their message new,
Your world meets mine, abandoning disguise,
And, in the stillness, surely that was you?
It's said that only those of saintly mien
Are privileged to meet you, face to face.
I can't believe the lost, the might-have-been,
May not reach out to touch your horn of grace.
For you are hope and, should hope be denied,
The promise of redemption will have died.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Rose for Remembrance

May I use this letter to say 'thank you'?  It's a heartfelt and wide-ranging 'thank you'.

Let me explain.
Earlier this week I was collecting for this year's Poppy Appeal.  I collect every year, but this year's session was memorable in a way that it's never been before.

First of all, although I know they'll never read this message,  I want to thank the throngs of people who literally queued to stuff coins and notes into my collecting tin . . . some even thanking me for being there.  When the two-hour session came to an end, the tin could barely accept any more money.

 I'm grateful to all of them . . . to those who bought poppy wrist-bands, poppies for their cars, silken and metallic poppies and, to the large majority who bought the traditional poppies . . .  emblems which I carefully pinned to their jackets, whilst wondering a little anxiously just how long my insecure pinning would hold!

As I stood there, sticking pins through the petals, I was reminded all too keenly of grief . . . and suffering . . . and of amazing resilience.

I was reminded of what the poppies symbolise and how, each year on Remembrance Sunday, a dense cloud of poppy petals descends slowly from the ceiling of the Albert Hall . . . one petal for each of the fallen.

There is a poignancy and a passion to the Poppy Appeal.

I was also conscious of the fact that the word 'remembrance' can in itself seem restrictive.  It's a word that appears to limit these events to the past.
But warfare is still with us.
During my two hours of poppy-selling, how many people lost their lives fighting for a belief, a government or a despotic leader?

Half-way through the session a surprising incident took place.
Making his way along the busy pavement came a stranger.  In his out-stretched hand he carried a long-stemmed, white rose.
Walking up to my stand, he smiled . . . solemnly handed me the rose . . . then turned away and was once again swallowed up into the crowd.

I couldn't believe it . . . it was such an unexpected gift . . . such a beautiful rose.
With care, I propped it against a box of poppies.

Now, several days later, sharing this story with you has caused me to pause and think.

Are we, perhaps, finally emerging from the long-held belief that bloodshed can solve discord and bring unity?

Are we awakening to the liberating knowledge that peace . . . a brilliant white peace, harmonising and uniting all shades of discord . . . can only come when we search for common ground?

Horticulturists use dried blood as a fertiliser.  Dare we hope that we might now see white roses of peace rising out of the bloodied battle-fields of the past?

The rose came home with me . . . as did my poppy.

Who knows what the future holds, but perhaps we should start to plan . . . to plan that, however uncertain the future, we'll grow white roses rather than blood-stained poppies.
When we pause to remember the fallen on November 11th, surely that's the vital question that humanity needs to ask . . . the question we all need to answer?