Thursday, 8 September 2005
Learning to Read and Write
Topic: Special Days
I was lucky. I went to a good primary school and I was taught to read and to write - a skill which I now take for granted. It is so much a part of my life that I could not imagine what it would be like not to be able to communicate in this manner. Well, perhaps that's not quite true! There are other methods of writing down English, Pitman's Shorthand
for example. I did study it at college but I never truly mastered it and now it would be like looking at Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics
for all the sense it would make to me!
Sadly, there are many people around the world who cannot understand their written language. It is for this reason that International Literacy Day
has been celebrated globally on the 8th September for the past forty years. Never heard of it? Well, its main purpose is to recognise that the basic learning needs of all human beings, regardless of their age or gender, should be met in every country of the world.
"Although global literacy has risen by 10% in the past 20 years, 785 million adults, two thirds of them women, remain illiterate and 100 million children are out of school".
Since 2000, the event has been expanded to include International Adult Learners' Week
But this is a problem mainly affecting the developing world, I hear you say. That is true, of course, but the problem also exists right here in the United Kingdom. Sometimes it is a language barrier, sometimes it is Dyslexia
, sometimes it is childhood illness or school phobia
but it seems that many more children than we realise are being left behind and are leaving school illiterate. This results in many career doors being closed for them and there is a problem of embarrassment and feelings of inadequacy, too. (Do you remember Muhammad Ali
being interviewed on Television in the Seventies by Michael Parkinson
? Parky asked him to read a passage from a new book and nearly got punched because he had not realised that Ali couldn't read.)
If you know a child with reading difficulties, find out about specialist tuition in your area. Don't ignore it and think that they will catch up. Remember that the earlier a child gets help, the more chance he or she will have of overcoming their reading problem. Also, don't confuse poor reading skills with a lack of comprehension. Many children who can't read out loud understand what they have read which is, after all, the main point of reading.
Colleges everywhere offer Adult Learning Classes so, if you know an adult who has difficulty with reading, encourage them to go. It's not as hard as they think. Just the other day, I came across an extremely interesting Blog by Jamie McCoy:-
Jamie's Big Voice
Jamie's story is really quite extraordinary because he was homeless after he ran away from home at the age of fifteen and he has had problems with drink and drugs most of his life. He is obviously intelligent but, at school, he was labelled disruptive and suffering from 'learning difficulties' with the result that he left school unable to read or write. At the age of 48 he did an an extremely brave thing... He threw the bag of heroin he had just bought into the River Thames and has been clean ever since. He has learnt to read and write and has even written his own poetry books and a book for children. His story is truly amazing and is proof of the odds that the human spirit can overcome.
Monday, 5 September 2005
Bureaucracy Gone Mad
Topic: In the News
Now even the medical assistance that is pouring in to help the survivors of Hurricane Katrina has been delayed for several days from reaching the people desperate for help
and all because of red tape. The Americans have a marvellous state-of-the-art mobile emergency treatment facility called Carolinas MED-1
. Designed to be used in the event of disasters and to cope with mass casualties, it is the first of its kind and was funded by a grant from the US Department of Homeland Security. It has room for 113 beds and is equipped with ultrasound, digital radiology and satellite Internet. It also has a full pharmacy, enabling doctors to do most types of surgery in the field, including open-chest and abdominal operations - it must be the envy of the entire world. But the facility and its 100 health professionals has been parked on a gravel lot 70 miles north of New Orleans because Louisiana officials would not let them deploy to the flooded city. Other doctors are complaining that their help is being turned away.
In New Orleans, it seems that some of the emergency workers have been so traumatised
by what they have witnessed that at least two of them have committed suicide. And there are no hospitals available to give them help or counselling.
The British Foreign Office is also being criticised
for failing to help British survivors. However, Foreign Office staff had not been allowed into the affected areas as the agreement of the Louisiana governor was required and had not been given! Strangely enough, the world press does not seem to have encountered problems gaining access to the Superdome and reporting on the conditions there. Talking of the press, I know many people have been critical of the way they 'prey on the unfortunate'. Why didn't they help to rescue people and drop supplies instead of filming desperate survivors? Well, it's like comparing a small mini car with a giant pantechnicon - there is just no room in a tiny helicopter. And the press have done an important job in alerting the rest of the world to the dreadful conditions in New Orleans thereby eliciting many offers of international aid, even from some of the USA's erstwhile enemies. Journalists are not exempt from compassion and I am sure that many of them shared their own personal supplies and alerted the authorities to the plight of individuals.
If you want to make a donation for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, you can do so via Direct Relief International
or through the American Red Cross
Saturday, 3 September 2005
What is Really Happening in New Orleans
Topic: In the News
Just read Grayblog's entry on Utter Chaos
about the suffering in New Orleans. He gives a link to The Interdictor
, the live journal of a New Orleans resident who is keeping going with the help of a diesal generator which will pack up any minute if the fuel trucks don't arrive. Go and read for yourself.
Friday, 2 September 2005
Topic: In the News
It is incomprehensible to me that the poor people stranded in New Orleans after the hurricane devastation are still waiting for help, for clean water and for food and for medicines. Apparently, President Bush has said that he vows to step up Katrina aid
. What aid? From watching the news last night, it doesn't seem that much help has been forthcoming to these poor people. And now, those who out of desperation, are looting for supplies will probably get shot and killed. Those who are looting private homes deserve to be punished but those desperate for bottled water, baby food and medicines should not be.
Is it because this is the Deep South? Because the poor who stayed behind are just that, poor... and mostly black? I hope not. But the world is watching what seems to be a national disgrace in the making. If you can't cope, President Bush, then step down please for someone who can.
The Tooth Fairy Forgot to Come!!!
Yesterday morning I had my nose deep in a book for about an hour before I had breakfast! Then I wanted to have a shower and wash my hair but first I needed to check my emails and possibly publish that draft Blog entry I had written the night before. There was an email from my daughter, sent early that morning, subject, "Can you help?!!". We were going to see the grandchildren after lunch so, what had happened? Apparently, little Stephanie's tooth had come out the day before and, guess what — the Tooth Fairy had forgotten to come and collect it! Needless to say poor Stephanie had been very
Grandma was rather busy for an hour or so. Showered and dressed at last, I sat down with my husband for a quick lunch and we set off for the six-mile journey to my daughter's house (I made sure I was driving more sedately this time!). When we arrived, Stephanie was very excited and proudly showed us her new big gap. We were 'truly shocked' to learn that the Tooth Fairy had forgotten to come the night before but, Stephanie added jumping up and down, "At lunchtime, I discovered that the Tooth Fairy had just been and
she left me a pound
coin instead of the usual fifty pence!". She added, "I knew she had been straight away because my pillow had moved and.. I thought I saw a flash of light going out the window! AND, Grandma and Grandpa, I received a 'Sorry' email from the Tooth Fairy!" She was so excited about it and could hardly contain herself telling us what the Tooth Fairy had said.
Apparently, there had been a terrible wind on the other side of the world and two of the Tooth Fairy's helpers got blown away - all the way to the top of the world where the polar bears live! Stephanie said that the Tooth Fairy and her friends had looked for two
days before they found them. And that a very kind bear had been keeping them warm in his fur as they were so tired they couldn't fly home. The Tooth Fairy had said she was 'soooo sorry' she hadn't been able to finish her tooth collections the night before. Stephanie added breathlessly, "She explained that she was working lots and lots of.. umm.. overtime to catch up and that the Fairy Queen had given her extra money so that she could pay DOUBLE for all the lovely teeth she was late in collecting!". Stephanie looked so happy, "I really believe in the Tooth Fairy and I love her so much.", she said.
It seems that Grandma can't compete with the Tooth Fairy! But Grandma and Grandpa smiled very contentedly at each other.
Monday, 29 August 2005
Topic: Health Issues
Last Friday was my appointment to see the consultant at Worthing Hospital and to have my stitches removed. I was actually looking forward to that - another step on the way to recovery, especially as the stitches were beginning to pull a little. We arrived on time and sat down to wait. Eventually, my name was called. "Would your husband like to come in, too?" Yes, he would
. "There are quite a few people in the room". There were about five and the consultant had a serious expression on his face, "We need to discuss your options.", he said gently. My heart sank down to my boots and I felt a lump rising in my throat.
There had been an unexpected result. It seems that the slice of tissue they removed and tested post-operation had more 'invisible' problems than they thought. At least 39.6 mm (about 1½ inches) of pre-cancerous cells continuing right to the edge of the sample. This despite the fact that my operation had entailed a "wide excision", well beyond the area of microcalcification marked by the "localisation wire" they had inserted prior to the operation. Consequently, the consultant did not believe they had succeeded in removing all the pre-cancer cells. "This type of cell can't be detected on an x-ray and will not show up later. Do you understand what I am trying to say?", he said, gently. I did. I put it into words, "A mastectomy.", I said, trying hard to be brave. "Yes, that is what we advise".
I reached out for my husband's knee and he put his hand on mine reassuringly. The consultant stressed that all these cells were pre-cancerous and did not pose an immediate threat. However, eventually they would
turn into an invasive full-blown cancer, which would be much more difficult to treat. When this might happen could not be foreseen, I could take a gamble and ignore it but there would always be that nagging worry. My brain tried to keep up - all this just as I was so pleased with my free "breast reduction" - it was difficult to take it all in. I cracked a feeble joke about possibly taking up archery again. I explained that I had done archery as a teenager and that 'a large left bosom' got slightly in the way! [I remember a somewhat buxom lady at the archery club. She had had a mastectomy but didn't let that deter her and obviously thought it was all to her advantage!]
I looked at my husband - his eyes looked slightly watery but he squeezed my hand. We both agreed that the sensible thing was to go ahead with a mastectomy. My stitches having been removed, the consultant went on to say that I could have reconstructive surgery
, which could be done at the same time as the mastectomy or at a later date. "It does involve a six-hour operation and we take muscle from your back", he explained in reply to my question. More scars, more pain. Why go through all that at my age? "No", I said, "I don't think I want that". I was told that I could always change my mind later, should I have second thoughts.
So, I signed the consent form and was given an admission date of Thursday, 22nd September. I would be in hospital for three nights this time. The specialist cancer nurse led us out of the room and explained more about the operation. She showed us the type of breast prostheses
available - a soft one to start with and then a plastic gel-filled one which fits into a pocket inside special 'mastectomy bras'. She was very kind and supportive and I can ring her any time if I have any more questions. We walked out slightly dazed and subdued by all we had heard. My mind dwelling on the ancient tales of Amazons
, one of those fabled tribes of warrior women
We soon realised that we were hungry, so our thoughts turned to the hospital canteen. Apart from their cakes, they do an excellent choice of sandwiches. (Yes, I did have another
doughnut!!). Leaving the hospital, we wondered whether to go straight home, look round Worthing again or go somewhere else. We opted for the latter and decided to visit the Marks and Spencer super-store in Shoreham. I wanted a new dressing gown, which I found, together with a skirt, a blouse, and a leather jacket! Oh, dear, I managed to spend a small fortune.
Saturday, I woke up with a slight sore throat and a headache, which would not go away. Also, my breast was extra painful and quite swollen. Sunday morning, it was still swollen and painful but slightly less tight and I could see a lovely shade of yellow suffusing my skin. I suddenly realised what had caused all the swelling — driving! I probably should have kept to a steady, low speed and enjoyed observing other road users cursing behind me! I certainly recall feeling very uncomfortable every time the car jolted over all the little uneven bumps I had never noticed before! I also remembered driving away at my usual reckless speed on coming out of the 40 mph restriction near Arundel mainly because a chap in a white van seemed to be right on my tail. He flashed his lights as if to say, get out of my way. Later, it occurred to me that he probably thought I wasn't wearing my seat belt! Well, I was, only I had pushed it under my arm instead of over my shoulder. Not sure if that is legal but I felt I had a good excuse. Will be very careful how I drive for the next three weeks and will keep to short and necessary journeys for the time being!
And yes, thank you, I am feeling much better about the whole thing now. I am not alone and I will be joining a privileged group of women lucky enough to have been diagnosed early and to be spared the ravages of malignant breast cancer, possible metastasis
and the unpleasant after effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Thursday, 25 August 2005
How I Met Michael Rennie (1909-1971)
Today, 25th August, is the anniversary of the birth of that great British actor and film star, Michael Rennie
, whom I once had the privilege of meeting! I was probably 9-years-old when my late sister, Pauline, took me to one of the London cinemas in Leicester Square
to see a matinee performance. My memory is not as good as it used to be because I have had a bit of trouble remembering exactly which film it was! Initially, I thought it might have been, "King Solomon's Mines", but Michael Rennie wasn't in that film - so I think the film we saw must have been, "The Day the Earth Stood Still
", because that came out in 1951 and Michael Rennie was the star.
We had seats in the circle and, when we came out into the apparently deserted upstairs foyer, Pauline gave a sudden great big gasp. "Oh, look! That's Michael Rennie sitting there.", she whispered. I don't think I knew much about Michael Rennie, the actor, at the time but I turned and stared at the handsome man perched on the edge of a circular display in the middle of the foyer. It was definitely the man I had just been watching on the screen! I think he was reading a newspaper and he was obviously waiting for a friend. "Why don't you go and say hello?", Pauline urged me with a big grin.
I don't think she thought I would but, obedient little sister that I was, I marched right up to where Michael Rennie was sitting. "Hello.", I said. He looked up surprised, "Hello.", he replied. "How are you?", I asked. "Very well, thank you.", he said with a big grin. "I enjoyed the film, you were very good!", I commented. I could see Pauline out of the corner of my eye, hiding in a doorway, convulsed with laughter. "Well, bye-bye.", I said. "Good-bye.", said Michael Rennie. I remember how white his teeth were as he smiled down at me. He watched me go back to join my embarrassed giggling big sister, with his eyes twinkling and a huge smile still on his face.
[See also this interesting page
with lots of photographs.]
Wednesday, 24 August 2005
"The Sixth Lamentation" - An Excellent Book
Now Playing: "Romance sans parole" by Fauré"
Yesterday, I finished reading my second recuperation book, "The Sixth Lamentation", after feebly helping to sweep up numerous hedge cuttings in the garden! In between two soaking wet days, Monday and today, yesterday was warm and sunny, ideal for gardening, and my hubby had a very busy morning indeed doing some much needed work with the shears.
"The Sixth Lamentation" is a very different story to the fantasy world of "Eragon", the book I was reading last week. It took me a little longer to get completely hooked, to the point when I really didn't want to put it down - couldn't
put it down - because the author has masterfully interwoven a number of different story threads which gradually coalesce drawing all the complex characters together. The story begins in the mid 1990's but keeps returning to the past; to Paris just before and during the occupation by Nazi Germany and the deportation of the Jews. The main character, Agnes, is totally believable and the historical fact, merged with the fictional narrative, stamps the story with intense credibility. The character of the monk, Fr. Anselm, who in turn binds many of the other characters together, is also perfect. Not surprising to learn that the author, William Broderick, was once a member of a religious community and has since studied law and become a barrister.
A cracking good read which I highly recommend. (Sorry, my son-in-law is first in the queue to borrow it!)
Sunday, 21 August 2005
Topic: In the News
Do you remember the French onion sellers? I can remember seeing them as a child when we lived in Finchley, North London. They were always on bicycles, wearing the traditional French beret, and loaded up with hundreds of onions - apparently, up to hundred kilos or more than 200 lbs! Now it seems, these onion 'Johnnies' are a dying breed
My mother, who was French, would always buy a string of onions
- each onion neatly tied to the one above. They would hang up in the larder and would keep for ages. Maybe the secret was that the long stems were intact and tied, but they certainly kept much longer than supermarket produce does today. They were large and very tasty onions, too. Of course, when we moved to the south coast, that was the last we saw of the onion sellers. My Dad grew his own from then on.
I love fried onions! I can smell them now!
Saturday, 20 August 2005
Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959)
Topic: Poetry and Poets
I don't know a great deal about the poet, Edgar Albert Guest
, except that he was born in Birmingham, England, on the 20th August 1881. Some ten years' later, in 1891, his family moved to the United States of America and settled in Michigan, where he lived for the rest of his life. He started work as a reporter for a Detroit newspaper in his early teens and before long started writing daily verses - he became so popular, he was known as the "People's Poet". On 2nd March 1952, Edgar Guest was made Poet Laureate of Michigan, the first and only person ever to receive that title. He died in Detroit, Michigan on 5th August 1959.
Unfortunately, he is not so well known on this side of the Atlantic, which is a great shame. To make amends, I have chosen this poem of his which particularly reflects my mood at present!
Good books are friendly things to own.
If you are busy they will wait.
They will not call you on the phone
Or wake you if the hour is late.
They stand together row by row,
Upon the low shelf or the high.
But if you're lonesome this you know:
You have a friend or two nearby.
The fellowship of books is real.
They're never noisy when you're still.
They won't disturb you at your meal.
They'll comfort you when you are ill.
The lonesome hours they'll always share.
When slighted they will not complain.
And though for them you've ceased to care
Your constant friends they'll still remain.
Good books your faults will never see
Or tell about them round the town.
If you would have their company
You merely have to take them down.
They'll help you pass the time away,
They'll counsel give if that you need.
He has true friends for night and day
Who has a few good books to read.
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