Friday, January 06, 2017

At the year's turning ...NHS magic

A brief appreciation, on the Feast of the Epiphany, of an experience at the year's end. The year's end, when nothing is quite as normal, when people and institutions are not working at all, or on a shoestring before the next holiday, when the nights are long and dark and when often - as was the case last Thursday - the sun never really puts in an appearance and life seems suspended. It was on the evening of such a day, two days before Hogmanay, that I had occasion to make use of the Ambulance service and the A&E department in Dunoon's hospital. And before I get carried away, let me say one thing: they were wonderful.

A persistent cold virus has had every second person I know struggling over December, and it had caught me up over Christmas, so the day has been quiet, boring even, in a pleasant sort of way. This all changes when I am assailed by a searing pain that feels as if I'd been stabbed under the ribs (I haven't.) As it is actually the worst pain I've felt - even more so than childbirth - Mr B ends up dialling 999. It quickly becomes apparent, even to me, that people think I might be having a heart attack. (I'm not. I'm pretty sure of this, for some reason. Can one tell?) I think that when they hear my date of birth these days alarm bells ring. Besides, I am dripping in sweat, freezing to the touch, unable to stop trembling - you know the kind of thing. Quite dramatic.

I find myself being assisted downstairs by a large man in green. He is making soothing remarks. There is another big man in the hall. Soon our sitting-room is full of green - uniforms, bags - tubes, paper things, a white oxygen cylinder, needles. They take an ECG, despite the contacts' sliding off periodically. Morphine. Anti-emetic. "Don't go to sleep on me!" Fascinated - even in this state - to realise that though the pain is still there I don't care so much. And I don't really care about anything but the pain in the first place.

Seventeen steps between our front door and the gate. Swaying down on a small chair to which I am strapped, worrying that the man behind me will have a hernia by the time he reaches the gate, realising that the gate is not held back by the big chuckie I've used since I was pulling a pram up and down, noting dispassionately that the lead paramedic is having to hold it open with one foot in order to get me through it. The blue light on the ambulance is flashing, as it has presumably flashed for the past 45 minutes. Oh, Lord - the neighbours. It is strangely difficult to transfer from seat to bed, but I get there somehow. The ambulance has rock-hard suspension and I hear myself groaning. And all the time the lead paramedic is telling me I'll be all right and not to worry, and somehow I am comforted and simply give up.

It's the same in A&E. One nurse, one doctor. The paramedics are there doing the handover and then they're gone. More stabs. A cannula. Somewhere along the line the pain recedes and I fall asleep. The whatever-it-is you lie on in A&E seems sublimely comfortable. I don't know what I dream and what is real.

I'm allowed to go home at 4am. Mr B is roused by a phone call, having been sent home before midnight, and I march out across the car park unaided. I am incredibly grateful for these people who rescued me, looked after me, restored me to myself. My own bed beckons. There is only one thing that perturbs me in this euphoric state ...

I have been wearing my EastEnders dressing gown. Vulgar and totally risible. Warm, comforting - yes, but not what one's mother would have tolerated. Perhaps I should buy a more decent one ... just in case?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How the NHS lost my man ...

Here's a wee NHS story with a personal twist. I've been married to a non-person for the past 12 years - or is it 11? We did wonder, a month or so ago, when the man on the other end of the NHS24 line turned savage (or at least peremptory) and refused, "in the interests of security", to speak further with Mr B because, according to Mr NHS24, there was no-one with his details registered at our address. A tad Orwellian, huh? And strange, as we've lived here for over 40 years and Mr B has seen quite a few decades under the NHS. But we had other things on our mind, no-one was dying - he was only trying to make a physiotherapy appointment - and we let it go.

Until yesterday. Yesterday, in the hospital On The Other Side - in Gourock, not in Heaven - the discovery was made that Mr B had the Wrong Number. This is the CHI Number, defined thus:

Definition
The Community Health Index (CHI) is a population register, which is used in Scotland for health care purposes. The CHI number uniquely identifies a person on the index.

CHI is mandatory on all clinical communications.

- according to the NHS site. It is a 10 digit number, the first part of which is one's date of birth. And some sharp-eyed person in Inverclyde noticed that Mr B's number didn't tally with the DoB he'd just given. There was, apparently, a great flurry of concern. And this is why ...

Had Mr B been wheeled into A&E on a trolley after something horrid like a car crash, someone would presumably have retrieved his driving licence, found his name and DoB, and called up his medical records electronically. Only they might well not have been his records - or they would perhaps be unable to find them, because they'd be under another birth date. Luckily, he's not been in such a trauma, so the problem hasn't arisen, and yesterday he was perfectly compos mentis and able to speak up for himself. But don't forget the NHS24 man - he refused to speak to someone whose records didn't match what the person on the phone was telling him.

A bit of digging at the local GP surgery - where he's been a patient since the 70s - revealed that the error happened some 11 years ago, when handwritten records were digitised. Someone changed a 0 to a 1, and the real Mr B disappeared, replaced by an imposter 10 days younger. And we've only just found out.

I don't know what would have been the final outcome had this not been discovered. I hate to think. As it is, it's almost amusing - sufficiently so for me to blog with a relatively light heart. It might have been very different.  I've just checked my CHI number, and it seems to be correct.

Is yours?

Monday, November 07, 2016

Tolerant no more

I haven't been blogging much recently - short form social media has been bad for me; it makes communication easy and brief. But I've been driven back here by a meeting at the weekend, and the memories it stirred. The meeting was about Mission, and the memories involved me, blogging when it was The Thing, and the scorn heaped on any such thing by most of the church people outside the orbit of the Provost of St Mary's Glasgow.

I exaggerate, of course - always one for the soundbite. However, I'm not about to exaggerate now. We'd been discussing Mission - the hows, the who, the strategies. We'd argued the finer points of pew-removal, and whether this was A Good Thing. We'd talked about town-centre churches and churches stuck up a hill in the back of beyond; we'd pondered the desirability of holding discussions in a pub rather than in church after a service. It had been borne in on me anew that if the committed in any congregation are unable to demonstrate why they go to church by the way they refer to it, to what goes on there, and make it sound fun, frankly, then I wouldn't be tempted to visit. (I use the word "fun" loosely, you understand, for "fun" can encompass much - but it involves a spark however you find it).

There was also this business of language. (I'll get on to the blogging connection, I promise, but I'm started now ...) I suspect we're all a bit different in our reactions to the different language we use to discuss our religious experience. I'm turned off by a great deal of traditional evangelical terminology myself; I can see it's helpful to other people but it makes me run a mile. So we have to gauge our audience and communicate accordingly - and if that means I often speak about religion in rather unexpected language then that's fine. I've spent my working life sizing up my audiences (classes, if you didn't know - classes of adolescents) and making my subject matter accessible and interesting, and I've transferred that to any sharing of religious experience now. I reckon self-awareness is tied up with that - do we ever objectively consider how we come across to people?

And then there's social media. (Told you I'd get here). There are still people who "don't do social media" - and they say it as if there was a bad smell under their noses. Most of them are not exactly young, but it's surely more important to be youthful in our willingness to use whatever is available to make life easier? How on earth do you share anything with people who are (a) under 60 (b)total strangers (c)not exactly strangers but not intimate acquaintances, if you refuse to have anything to do with the vehicle through which they conduct an increasing amount of their social life?

And do you know something? I'm no longer prepared to allow that the people who react like this have a right to their own opinions. If that's how they feel about it, perhaps they ought to consider themselves out of the game, as far as Mission is concerned. If that's how our church is seen, it will die.

Happily, there are people who are not leaving the table (I'm hooked on Leonard Cohen's latest album just now, and it's supplying a soundtrack to this) - and some of them have been running the church, and some of them are prominent social media figures, and the interaction they engender by online discussion in popular forums (or should I stick to fora?) involves far more than just the members of the club. Now, at Synod, people are reminded of the power of social media and asked to tweet civilly - a change from the days when it was de rigeur to scoff at the silly names of the platforms instead. I've been scoffed at publicly in the past - but not any more.

So can we have the next generation of missionaries (shall I call them that?) who will incorporate the use of social media into their talk as naturally as they used to talk about coffee mornings? And maybe, for the people who would prefer the latter, a deliberate policy of education to enable them to continue to be effective?

But why bother writing all this? If you read it, you're using social media anyway. I'm preaching to the choir. But maybe it's just because I want to be less tolerant, and my own blog is a place to do it...

Friday, August 12, 2016

Hoolies I have known ...

This startling photo was taken by Karen Brodie last Saturday as the participants in the Festal Evensong that had just celebrated 140 years of the Cathedral of The Isles poured out in a swish of red and gold onto the steps and stopped to pose. Small people to the front, they said, and some of us obliged. Far be it from me to lurk in the shadow of a mitre ...

It's been a long time since my first posing on these steps as part of an ecclesiastical extravaganza - the picture below was taken in the summer of 1973, when I have to say I felt as if I had a bit part in a Fellini film. It wasn't long after that that I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, and another 6 months would see me uprooting myself from Glasgow and moving to Dunoon on the back of an invitation from the priest whose institution as priest-in-charge of Cumbrae as well as of Holy Trinity Dunoon was the occasion for that bit of finery. You can see that in those days we were soberly dressed in black (I think they were our MA gowns, and cassocks for the boys) whereas nowadays we are more Whoopie Goldbergish in red (donated by an American church). The red gowns used to have dreadful white polyester scarves, but we managed over time to lose these ...

And if you look closely at the two photos, you should recognise one constant - or rather, four constants: the four members of the St Maura Singers, a relatively new group back then; a somewhat older one now. Two men, two women. We (the women) were both pregnant in the first photo; decidedly not so last weekend. So it's been a while, and we've seen a great many hoolies in this lovely place.

There's nothing quite like a full house to boost the spirits; nothing quite like a good choir to sing with to make the spirits soar. I reckon I've been lucky to have my faith journey as well as a chunk of my musical life linked into the Cathedral on Cumbrae - or the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, or the Cathedral of The Isles, if you prefer - for it remains special, full of benevolent spirits and still numinous in the incense-remembering silence of an evening alone in the Butterfield building. I've shared it with musicians, with retreat groups, with a Cursillo weekend, with a preaching workshop, and simply with our friend Alastair who is the organist there. But no matter when I go or with whom, this is my place* - which may explain why I look so pleased with myself in Saturday's photo.

That said, it was a crazy weekend. Many of us who made up the choir had arrived on the Friday for dinner and had rehearsed until 10pm; the following day we began at 10am and went on till 1pm with a 15 minute break; the Evensong - an enormous sing - took up the afternoon; we rehearsed till 10pm in the evening. On Sunday, we began at 9.45am to practise for the Eucharist (a Mass setting we'd never seen before); when that was over and we'd grabbed a salad it was back to get ready for a concert at 3pm. I haven't worked so hard in years, and neither has my voice.

I attribute its surprising resilience to a summer spent singing along to Leonard Cohen, actually - it's fair ironed out the break around Middle C that used to cause me such bother, and in a summer of builders and no choir it's been good to have something to sing with. How long, O Lord ...?

A final thought: I have no idea what anyone not involved in this kind of thing makes of it. It's clearly formed a big part of my life, and I've had a lot of fun. But normal? I don't think so ...


*This is not strictly true, you understand: there are probably hundreds of people who'd say the same, but ...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Cross-Pollination

I haven't posted for a bit. It's not that I haven't been sitting at my desktop: far from it. But from being someone who rarely uses earphones (they were so uncomfortable) and hasn't listened to much of what might loosely be termed popular music since the age of 18 (a while, then) I've spent most of the time doing just these two things. I always did love a good love song, back in the day, and I've always preferred what might be termed music to slit your wrists to ... And now I've rediscovered both, and as Facebook friends will hardly have failed to realise, I've been listening to Leonard Cohen.

I specified a sort of cut-off date for my interest in pop; it coincided with the rise of the Beatles and my discovery of Palestrina and Byrd and these two geniuses shaped my musical tastes for the rest of my life, I thought. Yes, there were other passions - Tippet, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, to name the composers on some of my early LPs - but the music I loved to sing, and to sing along with, belonged to the Renaissance. I developed a voice as similar to the counter tenor as I could, and my reading abilities flourished as I sang in an octet (The New Consort of Voices, for anyone who was around Glasgow Uni circles in the late 60s/early 70s) and the quartet that still performs today with only a change in the soprano line, the St Maura Singers. We started a larger choir when we moved to Dunoon - The Hesperians, from the women of which group the current 8+1 choir was born. There was a church choir, intermittently - it tended to suffer from church politics and eventually vanished.

All this was made easier, of course, by the fact that I'd married a musician who works magic with choirs. But living with a musician also tends to influence some - not all - of the music played at home. Because of that influence, I've learned almost all I know. But because the current choir, 8+1, sings everything from Ah Robyn to Mamma Mia, there's been a shift in my earworm availability, and one of our repertoire got stuck that way: Leonard Cohen's Halleluia. And it was seeing a video on Facebook/YouTube of a live performance by him, a recent live performance, that started me on the online trawl for other songs of this performer who was in his mid-70s at the time the recordings were made - and that's what I've been singing along with for the last two months.

So what made me want to reflect on this? Here's a thing. For the whole of July until today, we've had work going on in our dining room. The painter finished only this morning. The floor is varnished, the room is clean - and empty. It has a wonderful acoustic. So yesterday the two of us, Mr B and I, sang and recorded St Magnus' Hymn - the two-part 12th Century piece that begins "nobilis, humilis...". And after the first go, when I was singing at my usual mezzo pitch and straining slightly on the high E, I went down an octave and immediately sounded - and felt - better. This is an area of my voice that I've been unhappy with recently; helping out on the second soprano part has led to the neglect of the lower end of my voice, with the break at Middle C becoming more troublesome than it has been since I was in my early 20s. But yesterday it was fine, with an equal resonance taking me down to F.

Why? Presumably because the ageing voice of Leonard Cohen means he now sings in his boots, and that's what I've been singing along with. I've not been belting it out, just crooning, but that gentle exercise has been enough to make the difference. I feel somehow vindicated - that I've not wasted the tradesmen-minding hours listening on headphones, but have done something my laziness has too often stopped me doing when I've not practised vocal exercises. And I've learned some cracking new songs ...

Friday, June 24, 2016

A song for a sad day.

Brain keeps singing songs - even today, when the news is so bad and the country has gone crazy. Scotland votes to stay in Europe? No matter. We don't have the say. But the songs keep coming, and maybe it makes me feel better to let them. I'm not up to more cerebral poems anyway.


Unity no more

I woke up this morning
with the sun on my face
for a moment lay peaceful
just a moment of grace

till the memory roused me
of the graphs and the polls
and I reached to discover
that we’d traded our souls.

The country had chosen
to be duped in their choice,
to reclaim some lost freedom
to follow the voice

of those who shout hatred
for the lost and the strange
who would make us a fortress
put up barriers to change.

But the sun is still shining
and the birds sing in tune
and it’s only the people
who will recognise soon

That it’s too late for thinking
and it’s too late for love
and the voices have drowned out
the song of the dove

And the magpies are fighting on the grass
And the magpies are fighting on the grass.

C.M.M. 24/06/16


Monday, June 20, 2016

Song

It's strange how one can be so influenced in one's writing by what's going in - visually, through reading the work of other writers, or - as in this case - audibly. I've recently been listening to a good bit of Leonard Cohen's music - realise I enjoy it far more now than when he and I were both much younger, when he had the kind of voice I didn't care for at the time. But what interests me now is that with that rhythm in my brain, I've found myself thinking in a lyric metre - and that the journey there was far more seductive than the suggestion made over the years by one critic of my work that I should discipline my writing in this way.

Not that this is disciplined - and not that I took much time over it. It's a song looking for a tune, and it's a song for now, for me now and in this time, when I know that all over Britain people of my generation are going to vote to leave Europe and I feel ashamed, when politics are vile, when my friends seem self-selecting and everyone else is lost.

 I also feel furious - but all that happens is a song without a melody.

But for what it's worth ...



SONG

When I think about today
and what I am and where
and the world keeps crashing in
with anger - do I care?

Well yes, I find I’m thinking,
though nothing seems to move
in the world that I inhabit
in the people that I love -

but the violence and sorrow
and the voices screaming hate
cut across my passive questions
take me out beyond my gate

to the people sunk in apathy
to the old and the unwise,
drive me far beyond the safety zone
to where the world cries.

And though I’m growing older
and common sense says fear
in my heart I’m still protesting
in my head it still seems clear

that we cannot stand and wonder
while the world dissolves in flame -
we must fight to save the future
not live content with shame.

C.M.M. 06/16