Mothers’ Day

In the UK, it is Mothers’ Day. My wife has spent the day going all the way over to Devon to see her mum. I don’t really talk about my mum much, so I thought I’d talk about her death, at least.

In 2012, my mum went into hospital (Liverpool) for a biopsy. She’d told me that she was going into hospital, she hadn’t told me the detail but she had told me she’d be back out in a week, so I assumed nothing special. The first I knew that all wasn’t well was when I couldn’t contact her afterwards. She’d caught some kind of infection during the biopsy, and had been quite poorly.

Either I found her, or she found me, I can’t remember which, but I remember driving up to Liverpool and back the weekend before she died. She was obviously weak, but the same person. I took my daughter up with me and they were made up to see each other.

I got a phone call on the Monday, the day after my visit. Mum had had a bleed on her heart, and had had a heart attack in hospital. If you’re going to have a heart attack then a hospital is probably the best place to have one, except that before resuscitation could begin, they had to drain the area. There was some delay, therefore, in resuscitating her. When I went back up to Liverpool on the Tuesday, mum was hooked up to a life support machine.

We stayed up there for the week. Me, my wife and my daughter. During the week nothing changed with my mum, I spoke to various doctors who left me in no doubt how grave the situation was. In that week, everybody who meant something had come to visit. I can’t remember who proposed turning life support off, but once everybody had seen her, I agreed. On the Friday evening, we switched the support off and mum was on her own. She lasted forty minutes before she died – my wife and I were with her, as was her brother. My daughter was only 12 at the time, seeing grandma in Intensive Care…. well, even that is something a 12-year-old shouldn’t see. Funnily enough, my mum was far closer in life to her sister than to her brother, but her sister – my auntie – was going through her own turmoil at that time, as her mum (my grandma) was also in hospital. It was 15 March, 2012.

My mum’s death hit my daughter hard. My wife and I saw this event as the start of my daughter going off the rails. Looking back, daughter had problems before then, but she was very close to Grandma and it had a big effect. It didn’t hit me quite so hard, my mum was stupid over my daughter, and I did what I could to foster that, but I’d long since grown apart from my mum. It’s ironic really because I enjoyed a different, more affluent life than she did, and yet it is largely thanks to her pushing me, especially in the early days. I know she was very proud of me – just as we all want our kids to have it easier than we did, to take for granted those things that we had to work for, she was no different.

Anyway, mum was only 68 when she died, quite young these days. I did think of pushing for more details about her death – in particular, was this bleed caused by not performing the biopsy properly? I didn’t take it forward because there was a fair amount of grey area, plus the NHS tends to close ranks around its own – something I now believe even more firmly.

The results of the autopsy were the clincher. They found quite advanced cancers, even spread to near her heart, so even if my mum had have survived, she’d have faced hard labour. She had told me about her wish not to be resuscitated long ago, and that goes along with my thoughts that there comes a time when we don’t mind death. Not least, we see people around us living with all sorts of ailments, and we don’t want that for ourselves. In any case I’ve since seen on the stroke ward people who have survived their initial stroke, but who just lie in their beds as shells and no longer have any interest in living. So in some ways it was better for mum that she went relatively quickly, having enjoyed a relatively healthy life, certainly going before she was elderly and infirm.

Green no more

I have previously mentioned here that I was a member of the Green Party. I did and do believe that we need to start putting environmental concerns higher even than economic concerns. It’s funny, because Tony Benn of the Labour Party, in his later years, classes himself as a “free radical”, and I’d use that same tag, although I don’t agree with everything that Benn put forward.

I’ve stopped supporting the Greens. The reason? Well, in 2016, the UK had a vote which decided upon X. The “correct” response, for me, would have been to say, “OK, within the boundaries of X, how can we best develop policies that protect the future?” Instead, the Green Party responded with “X is wrong, so let’s overturn it”. And, that’s been the case for three years now.

In other words, it doesn’t matter that the public want something different for the future. And have voted for it, too. Their response, instead of working with the public, is just to tell them that they were wrong.

It kind-of worries me when a party, any party, says that they will ignore public opinion, especially when that opinion is expressed so clearly as in a referendum. I’ve heard this from the Greens, but not only from the Greens. Vote for us, because after you do, it won’t matter what you think. I mean, it might well be that you consider X to be a really bad idea, but it is a decision that, however bad, has already been made.

I mean, one thing that has become readily apparent over the last few years is that different people have very different ideas about the meaning of the word “democracy”, but I’m afraid somebody who says “I don’t believe that X is good, so therefore I will keep fighting to overturn it, despite what other people say”, doesn’t do it for me. At the very least I want constructive politicians.

The 2016 referendum has probably damaged me less than most. Whilst I have a view on the issue, I can easily see why somebody else might take a different view. So, I’m not going to fall out with anybody over this. But one area where I have been damaged is that by seeing parties (any party) just trying to wreck the process, rather than using it to be constructive, has heightened my cynicism toward them. I remember hearing Vince Cable (LibDem leader) saying that the main goal was to overturn Brexit, by any means necessary, and that was enough for me to mark him as a “fail”.

One further point, I’ll make it quick, is that if this vote isn’t acted upon, the public then has the proof that their vote is irrelevant. That they decide something, and that the powers-that-be ignore them. Therefore, why should they ever bother to vote again? You know, if you want people to respect elections in the future, then you need to respect those in the past. What is at stake here is not just a single issue, but the whole electoral system.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my general politics haven’t changed, just my allegiance to political parties. I still believe in protecting the environment, and believe we’re so far up the river, it probably needs to be our highest priority. To that end, I don’t fly and have drastically cut my meat consumption, you’d probably describe me as a “flexitarian” now.

Thoughts and Feelings

I’ve talked before about one of the funny things about stroke. In the months immediately afterwards, I clearly remember having a feeling that every day would be my last. Nothing much bothered me, other really than getting everything in order to make things easier for my wife when I was gone. In the months after the stroke, I closed my business down and closed most of my bank accounts. I thought about death a lot, to the point where it doesn’t really bother me. The pain associated with death bothers me, but not death itself. One of the good things about the stroke was that there was no pain whatever, so when I have to go, I’d take another stroke, please. A knock-on effect is that I’m less likely to pay attention – even now – to unimportant things. I don’t pay much attention to tv, for example. A lot of “news” programmes put me off because of their shallowness.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy life and to die anytime shortly would be way too soon (true for all of us!), but I’ve achieved most of the things I’ve wanted to do. Work was always important to me, and I was working on Wall Street whilst still in my 20s – not just working but leading stuff. Home-wise I have a mostly-happy marriage, and have done the “kids” thing. That didn’t go well, but it’s too late to do anything now. In any case, the reason that things fell apart with my daughter were because I had one set of values, and she had another, different set. Very different. So different, you’d never guess we were related. And all these differences are still the case, so I think it is better to keep a distance between us. So I don’t really have any pangs of regret about things – it’s a shame things didn’t turn out better,but you can’t just set your values to one side, can’t just stop being “you” for someone.

This preparedness to die, I don’t really have that feeling any more, or rather it doesn’t dominate. Three years on, I’m very much looking toward a future. I get value from life. I’d be easily able to do a job, when one comes up. Of course, it doesn’t have to be as challenging as Wall Street! But it’s not as if I’m medically unable to work, it’s more a case of waiting for the right opportunity to come along. Even now, pre-job, I’m helping people, and keeping myself busy, with my charity work.

It’s funny, because when I do my hospital visits, I try to find common ground with the patients by remembering my own experience in there. This far downstream, the memories have faded somewhat. The overall feelings I had don’t fade, but the details fade. So while it is inevitable that I’ve become more skilled at talking to people over the years, some aspects of the role have become more difficult.

But, actually, it is important to remember that I once had these feelings. Despite my disability imposing physical limits on my, I joke to people that I think twice as hard. Except it’s not a joke, because I’ve experienced things that most people don’t experience until years later. And every one of these experiences makes us wiser in the future.

A New Breed

One of the things that I’ve been encouraged by in the whole Brexit process is the level of engagement. We’re even at the point now where people are raising questions about the UK’s system – the role of parliament, the role of referendums etc.

Ex-cabinet ministers such as Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo are both on record as saying that referendums are always a dumb idea. Presumably, they very much see a world where the public should only be interested in politics every five years, to elect their MP. Thereafter, they delegate all political issues to that MP, for the lifetime of the next Parliament. Doesn’t really satisfy me, because I want to be more hands-on than that.

So I think it’s a bit short-sighted. It’s not how I see things, anyway. Even for somebody who’d voted for their MP, you wouldn’t expect eye-to-eye agreement on every issue. In casting their vote, people select the person who, on balance, they judge to be the best candidate. And for someone who didn’t vote for their MP, even less of the above!

To get into specific issues, I’d be more than happy to give my opinion on a whole range of things. For example, as in the 2016 referendum. I don’t mean to dot the i’s and cross the t’s here, but to set a broad direction of travel. Do I want to be in or out of the EU, say. Should the UK maintain its nuclear deterrent? How much more tax would I be prepared to spend on education? For the most part, yes or no, but some issues where you present multiple choices. I suppose that, by implication, the best way for Parliament to elicit such responses is by referendum. So, rather than having a referendum once a generation, I’d have one every week until there was nothing left to discuss.

This does at least get rid on one criticism – the broad one that MPs are stupid and useless. Their defence would be that they were only doing what the UK public had told them to do.

So I’d be happy, then, to set a direction of travel. I then see a role for MPs, to take that direction of travel and to turn it into law. To worry about the nuts and bolts of how we implement something. Of course, at this point, I recognise that the public might specify two different directions of travel, which might make implementation of something impossible. I have ideas on this, but won’t go into them here.

The problem comes, of course, because that’s what our current breed of MPs are used to. They’re used to being elected, sure, but then on doing their own thing on an individual issue. They’re used to determining direction of travel, as well as implementing the detail. So, fundamentally, I’m talking about a different role for an MP – somebody who can take my broad instructions, and fill in the gaps.

I think there are implications to this approach. I think it was exemplified in the 2016 vote, but asking a very straightforward question does not necessarily get the clearest answer. Do you want to be in or out of the EU makes no mention of customs unions etc. – if we had have been asked about them, it would maybe have made subsequent policies easier to determine. You might argue that “out” means “out of everything”, but I don’t think it was particularly clear at the time, what everything was. In short, I think you need a good deal of skill when deciding exactly what question you want to ask.

Another implication, as I said, is that the public might contradict itself. I think there are ways of dealing with this, but we need at least to be aware of it.

Anyway, I don’t want to drone on about this subject. Suffice it to say that I think there is another way of doing things.

Terminology

In a lot of computing, somebody will often say “have you heard of such-and-such?” Truthfully, you’ll say “no”, but make a mental note to look it up later. Then, later, you look it up, and actually, it sounds very similar to something you do know about. It particularly affects me these days – I’m quite paranoid because I’ve been out of the industry for a few years, so am worried in case the world has moved on. I probably shouldn’t be – I’ve been developing again now for a year and have probably come across most of what I’m going to find.

I’ve been reading today about Microsoft Azure. Not an environment I’ve used or know much about. But, really, having spent the day reading, Azure is based on nothing more than data centres. I was using data centres back in 2000! And virtualisation, which I’ve been using since 2006 or 7.

Of course, Microsoft Azure has added value in these last years, plus (obviously) this is Microsoft’s take on something industry-wide. It is more than just virtualisation these days. There are virtual servers, of course, but also things like virtual databases and virtual messaging hubs for asynchronous communication.

I mean, I don’t badge myself as an expert after a day, but it is nice to know that it is not so much a new technology, more just a new name.