Monday 31 August 2015

Reflecting on the brutal rape of my childhood innocence

Instrumental inspiration
I just finished listening to the pianist James Rhodes being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s FrontRow programme and as I have learnt from the many stories shared by many people on these kinds of programmes you find something that resonates.
James Rhodes had many things to say about creativity and mental illness, but more poignantly I was arrested by the saga behind the publication of his life story which depicted in quite graphic detail the sexual rape he endured from the age of six along with the atrocious abuse that it included.
Instrumental: A Memoir of Madness, Medication and Music (Guardian Review) [Amazon] became a subject of litigation when his ex-wife took out an injunction to prevent the publication of the book because she believed that the graphic detail in the book might be injurious to their 12-year old son.
The right to tell the truth
Whilst there probably is a case for this from a mother’s perspective as concerns the welfare of a child, the case that came before the Supreme Court in the UK concluded in the following quote by overturning the injunction that:
A person who has suffered in the way that the appellant has suffered, and has struggled to cope with the consequences of his suffering in the way that he has struggled, has the right to tell the world about it. And there is a corresponding public interest in others being able to listen to his life story in all its searing detail.” [The Law Society Gazatte]
In the Supreme Court judgement, some of the words are as graphic as to be shocking in their content, yet therein lies a story that must be told as it is.
You want to know how to rip the child out of a child? Fuck him.” [Judgement on Bailli]
My lost innocence
Now, I have written several blogs on the matter of child sexual abuse, the first of which I wrote on the 17th of January, 2007, titled, My Sex Post and in it the only piece of information I gave away was that I had my first sexual experience at 7.
I have not mentioned who it was with, where it happened or what exactly happened, but that afternoon is as vivid in my memory as it could literally be played back in a film.
Child sexual abuse which happens quite frequently in Nigeria that we have found a fanciful word to spare our blushes in court to call the sexual abuse, rape and violation of a child defilement is a taboo subject in most cases.
The helplessness in abuse
I know of too many cases where an abused child has been silenced by people supposedly responsible for the child because of the embarrassment that the truth of what happened might bring upon that family, it becomes a hush-hush issue of shame that only a few get into the criminal justice system to feed the lascivious hunger of an outrageously voyeuristic media that has little concern for child involved as they print the salacious without conscience or compassion.
It might well be that this along with the tendency to either disbelieve or blame the victim that results in the child bottling up the abuse or where the abuse is revealed the belief is that besides medical intervention time will eventually make that ordeal fade from memory.
As a man, I know this is not the truth, I was violated by people my parents felt they had the obligation to care for and by those they brought into our home on trust that they will care for use as the adults in their absence.
The faults are many
Yet, whilst I cannot entirely fault my parents, the absence of curiosity on their part was damaging enough because I was not the only one abused and when they learnt of the abuse of another within our family setting they could have made enquiries and realised that at the age of 10 I was already sexually active for 3 years already.
In that is a number of stories I have mostly written in third person being slightly culturally restrained by the magnitude of what the truth of such narratives might have on people living who might be shocked to realise that not only is the memory as keen as it ever was, but also the fear for their realisation of that more could have been done that wasn’t.
Launching a catalogue of abuses
My first experience of sex which I had no idea of before came through this person and then three years later, my first experience of terrifying fear when I believed I saw an apparition of the devil came from things I heard this person say. The reality of my terror was dismissed by my father whilst I found myself pressganged into numerous unprintable religious and animist rituals to ward off evil spirits.
On reflection, what I needed was professional psychological or psychiatric help, but I was reading Psalms in a language I could not speak, visiting prophets, witch doctors and shamans who all had bizarre idea upon bizarre idea of potions, cuttings, baths, concoctions and much else that cost money but also was a secondary form of abuse in the guise of being helped and being cured.
Secrecy really has no place in this
Each of these events is a story I compelled to tell and yet afraid to write, but I can find one great consolation in the judgement that lifted the injunction on James Rhodes’s book.
Whilst the freedom of expression neither guarantees the freedom from responsibility for what is said or written nor the freedom from consequence for what is heard or read, in the words of Tamsin Allen, James Rhodes’ lawyer, “In overturning the injunction, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the fundamental importance of the freedom to speak the truth, even if the truth is brutal or shocking.
The fundamental freedom to speak the truth affirmed, even if the truth is brutal or shocking, and more so, ‘Secrecy has no place in this story’ and many other stories that need to be told of abuse, of rape, of violation, of neglect, of indifference and of the consequence of all this in the life of the child and as they child harbours all this cachet of a life of experience into adulthood.

Our ordeal at The Royal York Hotel

Swearing never again
With my friend visiting from Germany for a week, we decided on making a tourist trip into Yorkshire, stopping over in Leeds to see an old and even taller German friend of his before spending the night in York.
As we boarded the tour bus in York the following morning we were regaled with the legendary yarn that when Queen Victoria visited York in September 1854 on her way to Balmoral, she was entertained in the banqueting rooms of the railway station where after dispensing with those pleasantries of pomp and pageantry she was presented with the bill. As the story is told, she felt insulted that she swore never to visit York again.
One Queen in the 19th Century having a rotten experience in York and then to find our imperial selves on the end of another rotten York experience was turning out to be more than a coincidence, we were literally sworn to never return.
As we left
However, for the quick thinking of the Operations Manager of The Royal York Hotel which backs onto the York railway station yesterday morning, that would have been the case. We received a 50% refund on the cost of our room for the night as a sort of compensation for the ordeal we suffered in the narrative that follows.
The way I had planned the weekend was to stopover in Leeds for an hour and then arrive in York in the later afternoon to visiting some interesting places before continuing our tourism the next morning.
However, we spent over four hours in Leeds and by the time we arrived in the York, we were literally exhausted. We had booked a superior twin room and were promptly checked-in for Room 504.
A nightmare in York
The room was on the fifth floor, but the installed elevator only covered the first three floor and then we had to climb stairs in what might have been an annex of the original building to get to the fifth floor.
On entering our room, we took off our jackets and I made to open the window which I found would not yield, the rolled screen-blind itself was damaged as the string stays that were to work on both ends of the blind when the drawstring was being pulled had broken on one end. I did a quick fix of it and I drew up the blind.
The window had the older wooden sash window on the outside lifted just about 10 centimetres, but the inner double-glazing window was sealed shut, meaning there was no ventilation in the room. I then looked around to see if the room had air-conditioning and there was none.
No ventilation or draught
For a room of this standard and quite an exorbitant price, it was quite strange to realise that it had not air-conditioning installed. At which point I was beginning to feel stuffy and out-of-breath that we returned to the reception to have something done about it.
Apparently, the hotel was fully booked, so they could not move us, but they offered to install two fans in the room and we sat in the lobby until they had taken care of the matter along with the unconvincing spiel the Operations Manager delivered us about safety, noise and whatever else.
We caught a nap for a few hours, freshened up and went out for dinner. My friend wanted something quintessentially English and with the help of a couple that took a liking to my mode of dressing we found a garden restaurant where we tucked into servings of steak and ale pie with peas and chips.
Of sleep that didn’t last
Back at the hotel we planned out what we were going to do in the morning and settled down to sleep, only that we really could not sleep, there was something not right with the room and it was the window not open to help dissipate the summer heat in our room.
After hours of tossing and turning, I had another look at the window completely screwed shut and had no way of remedying the situation. My friend also woke up complete unrelaxed and displeased that we were going through such an ordeal. At which point I was ready to write my review of this stay long before we had even checked out, that option did not seem to be available as I tweeted about what was looking like the worse hotel stay in my life.
At the lobby in the dead of the night
I told my friend I was going to the lobby with the hope of getting a better wireless internet signal, donning the hotel-supplied bathrobe and slippers I made for the lobby and sat in one of the seats. The feeling of air blowing through my legs was more than refreshing, I could have spent the rest of the night there.
I then called my friend to come downstairs and sit with me before we decided whether to return to our room for the night. After about 20 minutes, I walked over to the reception desk to remonstrate with of the witching-hour ferocity I could find about the unsuitability of our room for habitation.
It transpired that they were aware of problems with that room even when they all assumed the double-glazing window could be lifted a bit to let air in. The manager could not find us another room and so sent his colleague up with us to have a look at the problem.
A temporary fix
This time they decided to undo the screws holding the window down for which he acquired a screwdriver over a foot long.
On unfastening the screws, the window was still stuck and in that was a revelation that rather than fix the window, they screwed it shut and tried to use health and safety reasons to justify it.
Eventually, the window was forced open but it would not stay up, the long screwdriver became the means to hold it up and with that the refreshing influx of fresh air and the escaping of built up mustiness and humidity that condensed on the inward facing part of the sash window for about an hour.
Checking out
We finally got some sleep but were too displeased to stay for breakfast that we made to check-out as soon as we could. I asked to speak to the manager, but the manager having been informed of our ordeal had asked the staff to inform him of when we were checking out because he wanted to chat to us.
He took notes as I related our experience and I categorically stated the room should never have been on the market and definitely not at the rate we paid. He offered a complimentary stay which I declined, there was no way I would be visiting that hotel again. Then he offered compensation and I retorted, we could afford the room that is why we paid the asking price, we would have rather had a good room than an ordeal assuaged with compensation.
I left him the options of what he thought would be the best way to help banish the thought of ever visiting York as a result of our staying at The Royal York Hotel. He made an offer of a 25% refund and then I asked my friend for an opinion.
He said the matter of percentages was neither here nor there, our ordeal was unacceptable, the least he would consider in relation to our experience would be at least a 50% refund. We agreed on that and the cost was refunded to my credit card and we left the hotel to embark on a bus tour of York amongst other things.
And so …
On reflection, I noted that when we returned to the reception the first time, it was right for us to sit in the lobby rather than return to our room to wait for the first solution to be put in place. When we returned to the lobby the second time in the middle of the night, sitting down for a while in our bath robes before lodging a strenuous complaint meant that the staff were obliged to visit the room with us to see the problem and implement a quick fix.
It also meant they had to report the issue to the day manager for some sort of resolution to be presented to us when we were checking out.
I have always had an issue with the tendency to default to compensation immediately after a poor service has been reported. I always make it a point to stress that I could afford the service in the first place and I would rather have the service than have pennies thrown back at me to assuage to my discomfort.
I accepted the 50% refund not to appear completely implacable because I would never have been persuaded to revisit The Royal York Hotel under any circumstances, they had failed at making a good first impression and it could not be redeemed.
Finally, they have promised to close Room 504 to business and take it off the books until they could the window, the ventilation or implement a scheme that will make the room more habitable than we found it. With the ‘royal’ name, we felt like being on the top floor we had returned to the 21st Century version of the old use of the Tower of London. We might return to York, but not to that hotel.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Hospital: Doctor's orders: Have a big 50th birthday celebration

Uber to the zoom
For all the early planning I had done to get to the hospital on time, I barely had 20 minutes to hail a Uber taxi and make it out there. After exchanging pleasantries, I told the driver where I was going and he had the presence of mind to ask when my appointment was, we only had 15 minutes to make my appointment.
We made it in 17 minutes through no prompting of mine to take alternative routes or avoid traffic jams, for which I was quite grateful. Incidentally, patients can be sanctioned for missing appointments but medical establishments are rarely under obligation to meet the scheduled appointment time.
Mangled tardily
In most cases of my attending hospital appointments, I have rarely had the occasion of seeing my doctor or consultant on time and we all just accept that as the norm.
I registered and went to sit in the waiting room where there are five others in waiting, some 10 minutes later, I was called by an unforgivable mangling of my name, I swore under my breath at the lack of an attempt to do it well. Besides, my file already shows I prefer to be called by the shortened version of my first name than with that longish one that in the mouth of my mother spelt I was in deep trouble.
My weight as usual threw up numbers I could not bear to countenance whilst my blood pressure read the kind of figures that put me in my second youth. Three is work to be done about my gravitational displacement.
Called up
Returning to my seat, I chomped through my magazine waiting to be called in and at the 65th minute, I finally had my chance. Having seen many doctors in this unit, this was the first time I was meeting the main consultant. We had chatted before on my first visit, but only to hand me over to another to review my medical history and then when he provided a basic assessment of my situation.
Being in clinic today, he recalled that I was the very well-dressed man the first time that put all the other ward staff to shame and then ushered me into his office where he gave me a warm handshake and motioned to me to sit down.
Poring over my notes, we went over histories, analyses, results and prognosis within which I expressed my concerns about getting treated for a chronic condition that had not been addressed for over two years. He then suggested that I should consider the tough drug regime which would last 3 months instead of the original 12-month regime and that it is rather better tolerated now than it was in the early days.
All matters considered
I had my mind set on the alternative therapy and was really not prepared for this new piece of device that I felt I could not make a clear decision at this meeting. We then set a prospective time for 6 months hence whilst a new prescription note was filled in for the intervening period.
The bloods had their own story to tell, all reading good, a minor indication of my not fighting my condition as well as I used to and a slight inflammation without attendant discomfort. Not as good as I will have like things to be, but all within the limits of tolerance and expected responses medical opinion entertains.
Besides the essentials of this consultation, the meeting was warm-hearted with probably the most compassionate and empathetic concerns I have had from a doctor in a very long time.

Caring and nice
He asked at the beginning if I had found the love of my life, understood the angst and struggles in finding a suitable partner and was quite involved and personal when I asked about the consequences of the options I had before me in terms of treatment.
However, the deepest affection was shown to me when realising I will soon be 50 and I said I was unsure of what to do for my birthday; he said, having seen 50 and 60, the best thing to do is to go out and celebrate it well, have a party and be thankful for the joys of life. He also hoped by then I would have found the love of my life and be much fulfilled and happier when next meet in February.
On that note, we parted ways with a warm handshake and I feeling good at his wonderfully relaxing bedside manner despite the issues we needed to chat about.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Opinion: On the pejorative of being 'white on the inside'

So he said
Steven Patrick Morrissey who is commonly known as Morrissey and really from my perspective might have been noticed for the fact that the name is recognisable but whatever he might have done and I am led to believe he sings in a band known as The Smiths whose music has had no personal recollection as to be forgettable, appears to have opinions.
Reading the Wikipedia entry as pertains this man suggests for an Englishman that he is apparently controversial as if I care a hoot.
However, I am drawn to comment on a view he expressed to Larry King in a somewhat candid interview, they say, when he surmised in the following words, “So is Obama, is he white inside? It’s a very logical question, but I think he probably is.
The pejoratives are many
I have never really been sure as how to respond to this kind of view, the many variants of this “white in the inside” pejorative is probably, ‘bounty’, ‘coconut’, ‘not one of us’, or ‘thinking like a Westerner’.
All of these I have been called at various times for having an opinion, standing by a principle, enjoying an interest, stating an objective or daring a particular conspicuousness of appearance.
It is a maligning form of slanderous condemnation borne of you not acting to a type or a stereotype, where your somewhat unique worldview is excoriated as a betrayal of the identity you are supposed to project and accept.
In this case, Morrissey was suggesting Barack Obama was not doing enough for black people in America especially after the globally significant incidents that have affected young black men in encounters with the police.
Barack Obama leads a nation
Maybe it is too much to say that Barack Obama is mixed race and was primarily brought up by his Caucasian maternal grandparents, even if he more or less identifies as black, his heritage is indisputable. Should one also say that he is the president of a very diverse United States of America, representing all peoples and in which the African American population does not number 20% of the total population?
Whilst again, he might have an affinity with fellow African Americans, the level-headedness with which he has addressed these issues is more what you will expect of a leader, he is not a controversial reactionary. In my view, he is not the reincarnation of Martin Luther King Jr nor a Moses that has come in the spirit of Exodus to lead a people away from a history of slavery depicted in the racism and the deprivation that has hallmarked the existence of the African American in the United States of America.
His job is to speak to reason, speak to hearts and minds and get people to contemplate what kind of country they want to live in that represents the theoretically attainable aims of freedom, of justice, of equality, of fairness and of liberty. He does that well and that is why he is also in his second term as president.
We refuse to be stereotyped
Yet, this whole matter harks to a kind of clannish politics of identity where you are expected to think and act in a particular way, hold up placards and lead protests within a stereotypical pigeonhole that you have been allotted but have refused to occupy.
In that, I remember when a friend asked that I give him an academic reference when we both knew I had never held an academic position, talk less of guaranteeing the academic nous of a friend; a serious conflict of interest and opinion. I countered and generously offered to write a character reference which I believed will be as good and any reference he might require.
I do remember that years after that, I did write a character reference for another friend seeking admission to a university and on the strength of that, the admissions officer called me to suggest I was also the kind of person they were looking for to attend their university. That is how I started a postgraduate programme with the University of Liverpool.
Race does not define virtue
Yet, my friend contemned me and abused me for refusing to give him an academic reference and ended his diatribe with calling me a coconut.
Rather than take offence, I understood his inference and responded, “It is not the exclusive prerogative of the Caucasian to be objective.” If I were in his close proximity, I might have been decapitated, but the self-same fact could not be ignored.
Race or identity does not determine virtue or character, and whilst experience and heritage might shape certain views, they do not have to rigidly define you that you become another example of a stereotype or be found to true to type.
Your character is the greater impression
Indeed, there are people who put it on, who have a particular mannerism with its affectations and there are others who are naturally who they are. By nature or by nurture, we are products of different influences that do not necessarily mean we cannot be liberal, be fair, be just, be honest, be true, be objective, be loving, be forthright and be much else.
Your race is not what decides whether you stick to the rules or not, that is a function of your character, the principles you espouse and the impression that you want to make either consciously or unconsciously.
I will not apologise for who I am or what I have become as a result of my life’s experiences, my pigmentation is a gift of nature, my attitudes, however, are not dictated by the colour of my skin, but by the strength of my character – even Martin Luther King Jr dreamt of a day when my colour will not automatically include me in a stereotypical straitjacket when I am just trying to be an understanding and a teachable member of the human race.
To Morrissey, one might be tempted to say, he is ‘blank on the inside’, but that will be to stoop to his primaeval level. Perish the thought.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Thought Picnic: From the midst of my considered mortality

A considered mortality
Three years ago yesterday, I boarded a plane from the Netherlands after a 147-month sojourn. I left a life completely shorn of everything but with a slight possibility, one of hope and some dignity, the little left.
Days before I left, I wrote an email to six of my closest friends, I also saw them as my pallbearers; about my plans to return to England, bruised, vulnerable and also with a dying wish, instructions given as to where I will like to be buried.
That last paragraph of that email was stark and shocking for some of my friends to read, some even thought I have completely given up. There were many reasons for giving up if I wanted to, I did not, I was 3 years after a cancer diagnosis and the long bushy tail of cancer was wagging the dog of my life. It was my considered mortality in the midst my particular reality.
A start again
Yet, in the contemplation of an end laid the possibility of a new beginning, how that would become I had no inkling of, but leaving the Netherlands was one that was forced upon me by circumstances well beyond my control.
I arrived in the UK, got a new phone number, updated my resume and posted it to as many agencies as I could find. Within 6 days of my arrival, I had interviewed for and secured a job that was to start in 3 weeks travelling to 26 countries in Europe and North Africa. It was promising, interesting and exciting.
The team met up at London Heathrow and made for France with schedules already in place for Germany and Switzerland. In the end, we only did 4 weeks in France before the whole project was canned. It was a hard blow and it took another few months before another good opportunity came.
That other untold story
The business of settling back in the UK was not easy, you need a proof of address to open bank accounts, to secure long-term jobs, to find a home and to do much else. One was in a Catch-22 situation because there is no template or manual for resettling back in the UK. If not for all sorts of technicalities, good fortune, familial and friendly support along with the story that had become one of the defining elements of my life, I might well have gone to make clear plans for eternal repose.
I reflect today on the story, of return, of jobs, of joblessness, of plenty and of lack, of shelter and the threat of homelessness, of brothers and sisters with large bosoms of kindness and compassion, of friends who never let a hair of my head fall to the ground, of a mentor, one of my six friends who has since passed on.
Thank you for a wonderful life
It was hard and difficult, yet I cannot deny, it is also a wonderful life. Even if I am nowhere near where I once was, I am grateful for mercies great and small, triumphs to whisper and ones to shout about, for where there is life, there is hope. Even is my spirituality leaves me with more questions than I have had answers, a little voice in me still cries out with Christian ululation – To God be the glory.
Thank you for being here, near and where I have needed help, support, encouragement, vision, comfort, advice, love and fun.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Thought Picnic: I don't know it all

Know why you do
In my line of work, I have variously found myself at loggerheads with others when it comes to problem resolution.
In context, it is important for me to understand why scenarios and circumstances present themselves before seeking a range of paths towards solutions that might resolve or eliminate the problem entirely.
A background in logic
There are many people who come from many walks of life and careers into the Information Technology profession taking up roles from design and architecture, through project and change management to support and much else.
It goes without saying that whilst many again are good at what they do when things are working like clockwork, the gaps in their fundamental knowledge of things begin to show when problems or emergencies arise.
There is a great user and support community out there from where one can get answers to a range of issues and problems. Yet, being able to craft a question properly or explain the scenario properly lends itself to other being able to visualise that setting and hopefully present ideas, opinions or clear solutions with steps to implement them to resolution state.
What an engineering mind gives you
My engineering background requires that there must be a purpose for any activity undertaken towards obtaining a solution. For me, it has to be logical, sensible, goal-oriented and capable of advancing knowledge and experience that any other similar scenario can literally use those steps as a template.
I do not work too well with trial-and-error, where purpose and goal are lacking that brawn rather than brain is used to hopefully get an unexpected outcome that then turns out to be the solution.
Because there is no particular method to trial-and-error problem resolution, stumbling upon a solution might well be fine, but you are left with whether you can backtrack and formularise those trial-and-error steps into a clear guide with full understanding of the problem, why the problem arose and what can be done to resolve it.
Reading the runes
I regularly peer through error logs trying to ‘divine’ from the logs what set of circumstances have presented the error observed from after. In doing that, I have to make more deductions over assumptions to begin to make headway.
In many cases, what the logs tell me gives me a sense of certainty about where things have gone wrong and possible insights as to how to right the situation. It is at this stage that I might become unpersuadable of alternative thinking if the logic and the reasoning is neither clear nor convincing.
In exasperation, I have sometimes walked away from a situation, though usually after I have shared my views and wait for the doubters to come to the conclusion that I might have been talking sense all along.
I don’t know it all
Yet, I have to be careful that this assuredness does not descend into intellection arrogance blinding me from other perspectives and perceptions. It is important to have a good idea of what knowledge you have, what knowledge you do not have and most pertinently be quick to retrace your steps where the absence of knowledge has precipitated into negligence or ineptitude.
Ignorance is fine if it means the quest for knowledge remains an ongoing pursuit with the view of mastering the rules established and then breaking new ground with new thinking and new perspectives.
Make allowances to learn anew
The constant quest for knowledge also limits the occurrences of negligence borne of not acquiring and using knowledge that is already available and the possible crime of ineptitude where wilfulness or hubris has made one almost too sure of a situation when it really is not the case.
Curiosity and a sense of precociousness are attributes one must always possess along with a questioning and challenging disposition. We can trust many things, but they should really only be trusted that much if they have also been verified as trustworthy – paraphrasing Ronald Reagan aphorism of “Trust, but verify.”
The inspiration for this blog came from Dr Atul Gawande’s first Reith Lecture in 2014 on The Future of Medicine, titled, Why Do Doctors Fail? [PDF Transcript]. In this lecture, he referenced an article Toward a Theory of Medical Fallibility [Subscription PDF], Samuel Gorovitz & Alasdair MacIntyre (1976) Published in The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 1976, Vol 1, No 1.

Saturday 15 August 2015

Hospital: Between ancient and modern phlebotomies

Ancient and modern
I cannot say I look forward to this experience as I did when I lived in the Netherlands. Things are so different around here and it does leave a kind of psychologically negative effect on the mind.
Walk into any of the hospitals in the Netherlands and it is somewhat welcoming rather than foreboding; well-light, the open expanse of atriums, nature giving life to places where people visit to find cure or respite for their ills and sicknesses.
With note and with thanks
Our much vaunted NHS, the National Health Service, one of the largest employers in the world, probably in the top five and things are not just different, but quite noticeably different.
Now, for my expensive drugs that are covered by NHS system, I am more than grateful, I probably will not see another 3 months if I did not daily dose myself with these therapeutic and prophylactic formulations, that must be said.
However, at the point where you walk into the hospital as I did a few days ago, things are just not as they probably should seem. Asking for directions at the main reception, I could not help but notice that it was staffed by volunteers. Bless their hearts, there have been cuts everywhere that we have to depend on volunteers and charity to get around the hospital.
The charity that helps
In fact, there are many areas where charity and selfless service has been exploited at the expense of getting professionals to do the job. Yet, volunteerism allows for people to feel useful and relevant to their communities. Even the main shop serving tea and coffee with snacks was manned by volunteer pensioners too and in a way the profits from that shop might be ploughed back into helping the hospital in some little way, it is help all the same.
The directions to the phlebotomy waiting room were clear enough and I got there, Blood Room, it is called to find probably 20 people ahead of me, prey for the vampires we were, every kind of person was there from those you could look at with concern to those you caught a glimpse of and yet were afraid to take a second look and we were all there for the same thing, to get blood drawn.
Forget the comparison
The Dutch have a rather slick operation for phlebotomies, you present your form which lists the blood tests to be conducted and hence the number of vials of blood to be drawn. The nurse keys in the tests and a list of labels are spewed out of the printer with the date of birth, the number of vials, the colour coding of vials and a queuing ticket.
Within 10 minutes, you are called into a cubicle, private with the curtain screen drawn, a greeting, a verification of date of birth, maybe a conversation and then the phlebotomy.
In the UK, Florence Nightingale will not look out of place. For the billions spent on computer systems, it has not caught up with this section of the hospital establishment anywhere I have been. Things are as manual as they come and forget the privacy, we all go into an open plan room where we are just as exposed for the same thing.
After the confirmation of name and date of birth, the tourniquet is applied to the upper arm to help bulge up a vein on lower arm and the needle, the needle, steely and vicious, attached to a syringe-like plunger is inserted into the temple of body to draw life.
This needle is usually attached to a flexible tube in the Netherlands ensuring there is no discomfort with any movement especially when changing the vials. You can read from that, that it is different in the UK, our experience here is almost as Victorian as the old buildings that host these ‘modern’ hospitals.
This time, I even looked as the needle went in and did not flinch a bit as 6 vials of blood were drawn, the needle taken out and a bulb of cotton wool applied to the puncture wound which was held in place with plain masking tape. The sort that grabs your hairs in a painful waxing feeling when you are ready to take it off.
I cannot say where the vials went after that, but I can only hope that when the results are shared in a few weeks’ time, they will be from me. It goes without saying that I miss the sense of organisation and professionalism that I found in Dutch hospitals. Yet, when in the UK, we just have to make do with what we have got in the UK. C’est la vie.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Thought Picnic: Just like a baby, I have not talked

Should we have talked?
I have a compendium of blogs that serve not only as reference material, but time capsules of a situation or state of mind when I wrote those pieces.
Those blogs are somewhat journals of my discomfiture and sense of discomfort, betrayal, annoyance or some other ill feeling that I have decided to write about to help me deal with the issue at hand.
Sometimes, I do wonder if some of those things will have been better dealt with if I had addressed the people concerned directly.
Just like a baby I could not talk
Then I realise that though I could quite bold and forthcoming in some situations, in others I could as shy as to become literally dumb that my only outlet becomes my blog.
Yet, in writing that blog, it becomes a very cerebral exercise, rarely one in which ones spleen is vented with vehemence but something that I attempt to with a sense of English reserve, cryptic enough not to be direct and obvious enough as to make the point.
I’ve been hurt, aggrieved, maligned, belittled, disrespected and abused by too many to mention, some so close as fraternal, maternal and in the clan, the offences rarely dwell on my mind but things can be recalled with a trigger, at a confluence of circumstances sometimes completely unrelated and yet quite palpable.
For silence is still golden
There are reasons why I ignore many things, it is because I do have enough on my plate even if others do not realise that I have my one unique circumstance though I might not have the same kind of responsibilities we should all bear our burdens stoically with dignity and self-respect.
I then went over one of those blogs written over 6 years ago and realised that a very recent interaction of sorts brought to life an unresolved conflict and there are many of those lurking in memory, ensconced in a dangerous pressure-cooker situation that once again for the fact that a lot can be said, the wiser counsel is that silence is golden except for when another blog of obfuscation can be written to assuage the unrest.
There is a certain sentiment expressed in the video, maybe we should talk for a minute.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Thought Picnic: The career skill of knowing chances, choices and risks

From before
I will like to continue on the blog I started yesterday on the response of Atul Gawande to the question about why he left the politics of being a policy wonk in the White House to return to medical school and take up surgery.
I wanted to be less dependent on the fortunes of others in making my own career; I wanted to be able to develop and voice my own ideas. And then there was this desire to have some skill besides just being at the abstract level of policy and work at that level. So I returned to medical school instead of taking up the offer to work on welfare reform.
He went on to say about surgery, “I loved the sense of skill. And it reminded me of politics in some way – that the really good surgeons had to be like really good politicians in being willing to take chances, deal with risk, know that your knowledge and your skills are uncertain.
Of skill to do
There was this desire to have some skill besides just being at the abstract level of policy and work at that level…” Here, it is apparent that Atul Gawande had to make some serious life-changing and career-defining decisions. Whilst he did not knock the idea of being involved in policy making, he realised he needed to have other skills such that when the need for policy derived from his being dependent on the fortunes of others dried up, he will still be fully able to chart his own course.
It is also quite revealing for him to suggest that policy work was quite abstract rather than practical, even though policy has a way of affecting people’s lives. Yet, it was clear that if he had stayed, he still had ample opportunity within that political setting to be involved in welfare reform.
I loved the sense of skill…” Yet, in leaving policy work for medical school and specialising in surgery, he had found a new vocation and calling, a sense of skill that went well beyond the abstract.
The excitement in the sense of skill is captured in his applying his acquired policy knowledge to his growing medical skill that he found ways to conflate politics and surgery in the following response.
Of chance and risk
It reminded me of politics in some way – that the really good surgeons had to be like really good politicians in being willing to take chances, deal with risk, know that your knowledge and your skills are uncertain…” In essence, no knowledge in all his fields of endeavour was lost, rather the whole body of knowledge had become uniquely his own experience.
This experience is what now allowed him to understand the similarities between good politicians and good surgeons, and one might even say any profession where ability, skill, expertise and experience matters.
For we all have to be willing to take chances where there choices are not as obvious or the course is uncertain. In that, there is risk, some calculable and in other cases quite unquantifiable that is becomes somewhat adventurous, because from another viewpoint, noting ventured is nothing gained.
Knowing the uncertainty of skill
Many of us may be risk-averse, but without understanding risk and exploring the possibilities beyond what we know for certain, we risk living unproductive, mundane and boring lives with sadly unpromising careers to boot.
In all this is the ultimate lesson of knowledge and wisdom, that is to know what you know and what your skills can achieve whilst being very cognisant of the limitations of your knowledge and beyond attempting to bluff your way past issues where you have no ideas, you are geared to learn, to research, to reach and to extend yourself to acquire new knowledge and chart new courses.
The awareness of the fact that our skills even when well-honed might be uncertain to dealing with particular situations that we might have to adapt or withdraw to reflect and relearn is one of the greatest gifts of self-development.
My experience
Having worked in the Information Technology industry for about 28 years, I am well aware of the limitations of my skills, however, more importantly is the fact that I do not always have the answers or solutions to problems or challenges to hand.
In many cases, the knowledge to tackle an issue has only come from being presented with a particular situation that requires a resolution and since not all situations are the same, the solutions will differ.
Yet, all this knowledge becomes part of the body of knowledge uniquely mine that is a subset of my wider experience beyond just my profession and when presented with a similar set of circumstances again, I will probably be better equipped to provide a resolution much quicker than when I first encountered that setting.
I have never feared not knowing, nor have I been held back by not knowing what to do, rather, I have seen such challenges as new opportunities to broaden my knowledge and then return to resolve that conundrum, and doing the next thing. There is excitement is not remaining stagnant, but in pressing on and moving on.
These responses laid the ground for the beginning of the lecture on the subject – Why Do Doctors Fail? [PDF Transcript]
I hope to cover that lecture in some detail in another blog.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Thought Picnic: Becoming less dependent on the fortunes of others

An introduction
This is a blog of many blogs I probably should have written many months ago when I was first inspired, but I have left it until recently as I dithered over the last week as to how to start writing.
Dr Atul Gawande gave four lectures for the Reith Lectures in 2014 on The Future of Medicine, the enlightening and interesting things he touched upon about medical practice and personal experiences with medicine and patients made for repeated times of listening in again.
The first lecture was titled, Why Do Doctors Fail? [PDF Transcript] and whilst there is much to talk about in this lecture, I will first concentrate on some answers he gave when he was being introduced to the audience.
I will eventually cover the topical issues in further blogs and it goes without saying that every doctor and in fact, ever patient or even prospective patient should take the time to read or listen to these lectures.
Some background
Atul Gawande is a typical third-culture-kid, born to Indian medical practitioners in the United States, studied at Stanford University, was a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford before taking medical degrees at Harvard.
However, before going to Harvard, he was a policy wonk on healthcare for Bill Clinton and was in the White House to help Hillary Clinton on her ill-fated Clinton Health Care Task Force. Being in the deep corridors of power, he could have chosen to stay there amongst the movers and shakers of America, but he did not.
Sue Lawley, the moderator of the first lecture that took place at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, having surmised that worked for Clinton and went to Washington asked why surgery eventually won over politics.
Career independence
The answer Atul Gawande gave and subsequent responses in the discussion that ensued before the lecture began showed a great sense of self-awareness and purpose in the esteemed doctor.
I wanted to be less dependent on the fortunes of others in making my own career; I wanted to be able to develop and voice my own ideas. And then there was this desire to have some skill besides just being at the abstract level of policy and work at that level. So I returned to medical school instead of taking up the offer to work on welfare reform.
He went on to say about surgery, “I loved the sense of skill. And it reminded me of politics in some way – that the really good surgeons had to be like really good politicians in being willing to take chances, deal with risk, know that your knowledge and your skills are uncertain.
Daring to chart an uncertain course
I wanted to be less dependent on the fortunes of others in making my own career …” This is a profound sense of independence that is incumbent on people at the beginning of their careers to comprehend. There is a need to understand and appreciate where your career is going, how it is developing and who it might be dependent on.
The fact is, many for their skills and ability find themselves in positions of privilege and opportunity that they somewhat forget that situations and circumstances might be ephemeral.
I remember a younger friend who at 29 was about to be made a partner in a global consulting firm, that probably was the ambition of the majority, the pinnacle of achievement for others at which their life’s achievements would have been fulfilled. My friend thought at that age, that kind of position with its opportunities will create a limiting perspective on his broader career, so he left the firm and embarked on an exciting middle-management career in a number of global firms.
With politics, nothing is certain either
With politics, there is even less certainty, you position is as the pleasure of the chief and you can be dismissed on a whim. When your principal finishes their tenure you will probably be out of work at the same time. The prompt recognition of this can be the saviour towards a more fulfilling career.
In my own career, I have rarely been an organisation man, in all the years I have had any kind of employment, I have only been a fulltime employee for 7 years spread over 4 different jobs in Nigeria, the UK and the Netherlands since 1988.
I began my foray into self-employment and consultancy in Nigeria after a year of being fully employed wading into the uncertainty of the market, but assured by the certainty of my skills and knowledge that I could not only dictate my terms, but also reap huge rewards for choosing to be different.
This has served me well since July 1995 when I first went contracting in the UK, but for a 2-year stint of full employment in the Netherlands and when I had cancer through treatment and recuperation.
My fortunes have mainly been borne of my knowledge and instinct, skills I have acquired through self-motivation and ambition that has taken me into blue-chip companies around Europe proffering ideas and solutions to their challenges, both little and large.
To voice my own ideas
I wanted to be able to develop and voice my own ideas.” There is ever pleasure in having a mentor, in life and in your career, I have had quite a few and I cherish them. Most especially, I had John Coll who passed away last year. I was never his employee, I did not have the skills he needed in his organisation, but he was always there to provide guidance, encouragement, advice and the steeling up I needed whenever I was lacking in confidence.
More particularly, even when he first helped me redraft my resume in mid-1994 he was quite particular that it was written in my voice and my kind of thinking since I will be the one to defend it when at interview. I was offered a new job on that new marketing literature within weeks of publishing it.
Develop yourself as you
There are uses of patronage and the peddling of influence, but it is mostly important to maintain a sense of independence of thought and voice with the ability to fearlessly convey those views. I can say that in my career, either as a contractor or a fulltime employee, I have always been a very good communicator of my views, some will say I am quite strong-willed, maybe I am.
Rather than being obsequious to your principal, I am of the view that if your views are forthright, sensible, reasonable, honest and clear, you will be of great benefit to all that you engage with, besides you will earn of the respect of those around you even if you are disliked for your autonomy.
There is no pleasure in being a clone or a parrot, a poor imitation of the real thing schooled in the required talking points and jargon, acting to a set script in robotic obeisance and necessity, all in the quest to be appreciated and to belong.
It is so false, boring and quite unedifying in the long run. You eventually lose who you are and become a non-descript personality only differentiated by the appearance and nothing else.
There is much else to mine out of those quoted responses, but let’s start with this.
Extricate yourself from following others so close that you can’t cut loose when you need to, that you go down with them, if and when they do.

Monday 3 August 2015

London: Bussed to distraction,

Before it all happened
At the end of our journey, as we thanked the bus driver for the trip, I walked up to the driver to commiserate about the somewhat sordid day he was having. In fact, a good few of us had not enjoyed the bus ride and it was no fault of the driver, but of passengers and schedulers.
This was on one of my unannounced trips to London, I boarded the bus from East Street in South London to Euston, route 68 it was and journey expected to take about 34 minutes. I had the time.
I would normally have taken a Priority Seat, seeing that I use a cane and I was laden with shopping from the Agege Bread shop on East Street having taken a leisurely 1.6 mile walk from Vauxhall rather than use public transport that would have taken just about the same time. [My Blog on Agege Bread]
Disconcerting conversation
The Priority Seats were already occupied by those who did not need them, especially one where a man had his arm comfortably draped over the head of the aisle seat with him sat by the window, making it difficult for me to take the seat behind backing onto the side of the bus. Yet, that was the better seat to take, so I snuggled in.
The man, quite volubly Nigerian and as cantankerously annoying as you can get was ensconced in a mobile phone conversation for the entire length of the journey and I can only imagine where he got on. The volume of his speech in another language I could not care to comprehend him enough to want to call him to order, though I doubt the scene that might have developed afterwards would have been nice. We all endured it.
Pissed off from a screen
The driver, however, had to contend with schedulers who because of certain events in London had the buses running outside schedule that he was advised to slow down to help even out the schedule. In the ensuing conversation, we learnt that we were already going at 10 miles an hour on a 20 miles an hour route causing congestion and inconvenience to others.
The scheduler insisted the more unconvinced of the chaos he might be causing on the roads from the comfort of watching screens and tapping keyboards, that the driver let it be known that he had been a driver for 30 years and that he will not have his intelligence insulted. I raised an eyebrow whilst seemingly agreeing with him. He was doing his best.
Tripping up on London place names
A few stops later, a lady got on with a rather large suitcase and an accent that was caught in the Shibboleth of London place names. She was going to Aldwych, but managed to pronounce it with an ‘s’ replacing the ‘d’ and ‘w’ that is sounded like Alsish. It occurred to me from her accent that she also might be Nigeria and somehow, my ear trained to such accents and having an idea of the route, I surmised she was going to Aldwych.
The driver was none the wiser, she however, got on the bus and made to sit beside the chatterbox man who shifted uneasily to give space without breaking from his conversation. However, she needed help with directions and he was about to give her the wrong information based of apparently knowing assumption.
I intervened, first by letting her know the proper pronunciation of Aldwych and that the stop she wanted was the Aldwych / Kingsway stop where she could board the bus on route 9 to Hammersmith. It transpired that she was really going to Victoria and though it was a circuitously contrived journey to go from where she boarded to Aldwych, to Hammersmith and then to Victoria, she was more comfortable to do that than take the London Underground. I was not going to dissuade her, but she had enough information about what she needed to do.
The power of example
Over the next few stops, people boarded and disembarked some needing directions and asking questions until a point where someone had found to use the bell as some musical instrument. You only have to ring the bell once and the Bus Stopping sign lights up on both decks, it also alerts the bus driver to stop at the next bus stop.
This unnecessary peeling of the bell in the midst of the cacophony of our conversationalist who had hardly paused to take a breath since I got on the bus some 30 minutes before had the driver make an announcement that whoever was ringing the bell should behave.
A mother and child descended from the upper deck and rather than get off she decided to have words with the driver about the fact that she son was under control and that he had every right to ring the bell. Her unladylike manner at the highest volume she could muster and then leaving having been quite abusive to the driver was enough for everyone to conclude her ill-discipline was fully developed in the child. Such is the power of example.
We finally cantered, as it were into Euston, the talkative conscious enough to disembark and give way for me to have a quick chat commiserating with the driver, who had one more trip to Camberwell before playing another route. I was in time to make my train too.