Friday, 21 January 2011

The true nature of altruism

Altruism is defined as a selfless concern for others welfare.
 Pure altruism is giving without regard to reward or the benefits of recognition and need.

How many times do we do things in our daily lives, which directly benefit others, at no cost to ourselves? Is altruism different to common courtesy, politeness and a general sense of compassion towards others? If we give money to help victims of natural disasters, or the starving in the developing world, is that an altruistic gesture, or do we do it to assuage our guilt, at the sneaky little voice at the back of our mid that says thank god it wasn't me? Every day we do little things that we don't need to do, to help out other people, such as letting someone into the traffic ahead of you...but then we get irritated if someone doesnt acknowledge it, or do the same for you.

There are, i think genuinely few instances of pure altruism. moments or opportunities in our lives that can have a direct benefit to someone else, with no reward other than knowing we have done a good thing. Being a blood donor is a really simple was of giving, to directly benefit others. How many of us will end up having a transfusion in our lives, as a result of an accident,or surgery, or even treatment for other illnesses. My dads wife is having treatment for breast cancer at the moment. The drugs she is taking have knocked her iron levels down, to such an extent, that she had to have a blood transfusion before Christmas, in order to help her function at a somewhat normal level. So, if you are a blood donor, please be proud of yourself, and accept my thanks. I intend to sign up as soon as i am able; no more excuses. If you can, you should. Because you just never know.

I wish, when my babies were small, i had known about milk donation. As a breastfeeding mother, i could see the benefits of breast milk, in the growth and development of my infant. Every day, there are hundreds of tiny, premature babies in special care nurseries who, for one reason or another cannot be sustained by their mothers milk. Donated breast milk can literally save their lives, and help them to recover, to grow and go home. Which is where all babies should be. A good friend of mine recently gave birth to twins, who needed to be in special care for the first few weeks of their lives. They were lucky enough to have donated breast milk. That, with their mothers milk gave them the best start. and they are now at home, and growing into beautiful strong healthy babies.

Are you on the register? When i first passed my driving test, and got my license, back in the days when it was just a piece of paper, it used to come with a slip on the bottom, to be filled in, to indicate your desire to become an organ donor. I filled it in, and put it somewhere safe. Over the years, i have filled in umpteen donor cards, and then invariably lose them. So, to simplify things, you can now register to be an organ donor online. Of course, being on the donor register, doesn't mean you will become a donor. So many things depend on it, not least of which are that your family have to give permission for your organs to be used after your death. In their time of sorrow and distress, a doctor has to approach them, and ask if they will allow your body to be used to save the lives of many others. So. if you are on the register, discuss it with your friends and family, and make sure that they know. 

Of course, there is another way you can help others after your death, which many people don't think about. Today's medical students are tomorrows doctors. The people who will help you stay healthy, who will help you to fight disease, who will treat illnesses. And those students need to learn. There is only so much that cant be learnt by reading books, by browsing the internet and by attending lectures. Nothing quite beats hands on experience. And this experience can only be gleaned in one way; by studying human anatomy and physiology in the flesh. Literally. Some people decide to donate their bodies for scientific research. I am not sure i could do it, but maybe that is because i have met a lot of medical students, but it might be right for you!

Finally, what has prompted me to write about altruistic gestures today? As i write, I am sat in a hospital room, waiting for a friend to come back from surgery. He is a middle aged, single man, with no children, who is going under the knife today, in order to save the life of a stranger. A child, at this moment is waiting to receive a bone marrow donation, which will hopefully transform their life. Donated by my friend, a stranger, because he can. Because he is a match. He doesn't get paid for it,he gets no real reward, other than the knowledge that he has done a good thing.

And, of course, he has my utmost respect. And i am very proud of him.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Randy Cats and having it off.

Calliste is in season. It is quite funny really. She has got over her shyness, and has turned into a complete tart! she is chirruping, miaowing, rubbing herself on anything and anyone, and is just desperate for a bit of boy cat love. Which she isnt getting!

We picked her up from the cats home last tuesday, and she spent much of the first few days hiding under the sofa. She would come out and allow us to stroke her, but only when it suited her. Any attempts to pick her up resulted in her bolting back to safety. But over the last few days she has come out of her shell, bounds up and down the stairs, plays in the kids rooms and is so friendly and affectionate. It is a joy to behold. And the fact that she is in season shows how happy and settled she is.

Last night i went along to the running club, to join in the engagement congratulations of the club chair and her partner. I was asked by several people, if i was looking forward to having it off. They were, of course, referring to my brace! I had an appointment with the spinal consultant today, Mr B. He is a bit of a dish... We talked about kindles Vs Ipads, the glorious defeat of the australians in the ashes, and then finally my back. I have started healing well. The bone is mending and recalcifying, so i am allowed to take the brace off, when i am at home pottering. But, the best news is that i am allowed to do some 'gentle exercise' :-) . Of course, this means no marathons, no mountain biking and no ice skating....but i can do some stationary cycling, some pilates, some walking and some swimming, depending on how it feels.

So, back to work on monday.....for a maximum of 3 hours a day....

so am not having it off yet.....:-)

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Experimental cauliflower. Thanks to Riverford. And Clare. And Duncan too!

I decided this year to try and get the kids to eat more veg. They eat quite a lot, the challenge is to get them to eat more, and in a more varied manner.As it has been so cold recently, i have taken to keeping a box of veg in the utility room. It means it is nice and cold, but isnt languishing at the back of the fridge unloved and ignored...(some might say it was labguishing in the utility room, but thats another thing altogether!)

 The kids like brocolli, cauliflower, potatoes. Beans, NOT cooked carrots and various other things. But i will confess that the prospect of producing another dish of cauliflower cheese for tonights supper, just did not appeal.

For Christmas i was fortunate to recieve a lovely book; Riverford Farm Cook Book. This book is beautiful. I am a huge fan of Riverford farm, who operate an organic veg box scheme. There are of course, pros and cons of organic produce, which i wont go into here, but what i think is more important is eating seasonally. It aggrieves me when the kids want to buy watermelons in december, especially when we have a glut of them on holiday which i cant persuade them to eat. Worse still, for me, is the appearance of rows and rows of perfect, uniform apples. None of which are british. My favourite apple is discovery, which is a lovely pink blush apple,. almost floral in frgrance and taste, and has such a short season that i go direct to the orchard and pick them, as there is no point in waiting for the 'big 4' to get them in. By the time they do (if indeed they do) they are but shadows of their former beautiful pink perfumed selves.

Anyway, i digress. Riverford. Seasonal food, [picked and delivered fresh. Yes, of course there are food miles involved. Our farm, Upper Norton is in Hampshire, so a bit closer to us than the original Riverford Farm. If i deliver by weds evening, i will have delivered fresh to my door on Friday, by the lovely Jake, a box of deliciously fresh, muddy, earthy veggies, a leaflet with a recipe on it, and excitement. Yes, sad, i know, but i get excited when i delve into the box, and remove twisted carrots, earthy parsnips, and leeks that seem to be about 3 feet long.

So this evening, with a cauliflower in hand, i turned to my nice new book. I have found if i tell the kids EXACTLY what is going into something, i normally end up with a mutiny on my hands. So tonight i didnt..i glossed over the 4 shiny salty little anchovy fillets, that i mashed into garlicky oil. There would have been a riot otherwise.

I present, for your delectation, Pasta, with cauliflower, garlic and anchovies.
Very simple.
Cook florets of cauliflower in boling salted water for 5 mins.
Meanwhile, gentle cook one or 2 garlic cloves, chopped small in olive oil, without browning them too much. Rinse and finely chop the anchovies (i had whole fish in salt, that i brought home from france last summer) and mash into the garlic and oil.

At this point, i removed the cauliflower using a slotted spoon and put it into the frying pan with the oil/garlic/anchovy mix, and put the pasta (the recipe states penne, but we had twirls) into the cauliflower water to cook.
I mixed the cauliflower round, then covered the pain and cooked on a low heat for about 6 minutes. Took the lid off, mashed the cauliflower a bit, and added a good shake of cayenne pepper (there was mild rebellion, maybe i added too much?)

Once cooked, i drained the pasta, chucked it into the frying pan, and mixed into the cauliflower mix. A handful of grated cheese and done.

FG complained about the pepper......FT went back for seconds. Mostly successful.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

An open letter...

Dear Car driver who knocked me off my bike,

Please forgive me for addressing you in such an impersonal way. I would love to be able to address this letter to you personally, but as you have failed to report our incident to the police, or admitted any involvement at all, i am forced to address you as i have.

How are you? I hope you are well, and looking forward to Christmas with your family. For your children, a joyful time, with, i expect much playing in the snow. Unfortunately, i am not able to play in the snow with my children, as i dare not take the risk of falling, and doing further injury to my back. But of course, i am sure that doesn't bother you, or cause you to lose any sleep at night. By the way, how do you sleep at night? better than me i hope. It is very hard to sleep with a broken back. You see, i cant move around much, i cant roll over or get into a comfortable sleeping position. But then, i would imagine it isn't easy to sleep with a guilty conscience either?

In case you have forgotten, we met on November 12th. I was cycling home, from the swimming pool, when you pulled along side me, in your car, and turned left, staright into my bike. Do you remember? I was wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket, a helmet and had lights on my bike, if it helps to jog your memory? Notice the somewhat ironic use of the word jog there? That is something i cant do at the moment. The doctors has assured me i should make a full recovery, but you never can be sure can you? anyway, where was i? oh yes. You turned left, straight into me? Do you remember? It must have made quite a noise as your car turned into my path and i slammed into the side of it. My head and shoulder hit your car quite hard, so hard i have pain down both sides of my neck still, and cant turn my head quickly to either side. I wonder, did my lights flash across your interior, as i fell to the ground behind your car? Do you remember the words you said to me, once i came round, lying on the cold wet ground, in agony as pain blossomed up my back? You said to me that you thought i had gone past. Do you remember? When i was able to mutter anything and pointed out to you that if i had gone past you wouldn't have hit me, your brother, or at least i assume it was him, told me off for cursing. I am sorry, does your God not permit me to swear? Is a shame then that your conscience does not allow you to tell the truth.
My back hurt. You cannot imagine how much my back hurt. But lying on the road, in pain, frightened and cold and wet, shaking in pain and shock, i just wanted to go home. i wanted to be safe. So i allowed myself to be picked up and you brought me home. Probably the last kindness you showed me. You brought me home, and you, your brother, my husband and my children helped me into the house, as i could barely walk. You said sorry, again and again, and then gave us your first name, and a phone number, and said if there was anything you could do to call. And then you left.

And that was, probably, as far as you were concerned, was the end of it. Except it wasnt, was it. why werent you prepared to admit what you had done? Why, when the police called you, and when i called you, did you deny it? Why did you tell us your name was one thing, and then answer the phone and tell us you were someone else? Are you ashamed? do you feel guilty? I am sure you felt that everything was fine. And nothing to do with you. Well, allow me to fill you in a little on what happened, after you drove off that friday night, slightly delaying your return home, because of what, i am sure you felt, was a minor inconvenience.

I should perhaps interject at this point in my letter and just tell you a little bit about me. I am Emma, i am a 39 year old mother of 2. I also happen to be a long distance triathlete. Is this relevant? i think so. I love my sport. It has given me a release, a social life, a network of friends, and more confidence and joy that you can probably imagine. In any given week, i will probably ride my bike, run or swim up to 3 or 4 times each. In fact, i had just completed a 2k swim session on the friday night we met. It had gone really well. I was feeling strong and fit, and was really looking forward to the off season, when i would get to ride my new mountain bike, and take part in some off road races, some adventure races, and some off road duathlons. I was also looking forward to getting some good solid base training in on the bike, as i was on the waiting list for ironman lanzarote, and was hopeful of a place. I am the captain of my traithlon club, and i also run with the local running club. I was signed up to do cross country with them this winter, which is always fun.
 In addition to my sport, i have 2 lovely happy active children. Right now they are spending the first part of the christmas holidays with their grandparents, as i am unable to look after them properly. In this weather they want to play in the snow, on their sledges, and i cant do that. Currently i am also not able to drive, so even if they were here, we would be stuck indoors. I have a job that i love. I cycle to work every day, and once there, i am a lab manager. This means i have quite an active job. I fix things, i carry things, and i work with some pretty awesome equipment. I work with huge magnets. Really big ones. I love my job.

But. Lets get back to Friday 12th November. When you left me, i was on the floor, unable to move or breathe properly. I just put it down to a bit of muscle spasm, but after 20 minutes of gas and air, the paramedics who had arrived thought that i ought to go to the hospital, just in case. They had trouble getting me up, and i had to take on so much entonox, i thought i was going to be sick. However, it helped, and i made it to the trolley, so the paramedics could get me to the waiting ambulance. The journey to the John Radcliffe, was fairly uneventful. Bless them, the ambulance guys were really sweet, even doing their best to avoid speed bumps, as they could see how much pain i was in. On arrival at the hospital, they put me in a cubicle, on an x-ray mattress on a trolley and bid me goodbye, as they had come to the end of their shifts. I want to say thank you to them here, if you don't mind. That was probably about 7.15, a mere 85 minutes after we met. I then spent nearly 4 hours, in my cubicle. Alone. They were very busy at the hospital, so no one came to check if i was ok, or if my pain was being managed. Unfortunately, the paramedics had forgotten to hand my the call button before they left, so i was unable to call for any assistance. I dont mind telling you, i did cry quite a lot. I was cold, wet and in pretty bad pain. Nothing life threatening, but it was pretty bad. The side of the trolley was up as well, so i couldn't even get off the bed. This wasn't such a big deal, until i realised i needed the loo. As i was alone, and the staff were so busy, i had to call my friend, who lived down the road. Bless her. She got her lovely daughter out of bed, so she could come to the hospital and help me go to the loo. What price friendship eh? At about 10pm, she managed to find a nurse to give me some pain relief, which was a blessing i can tell you. She then had to go home, taking her sleepy child with her. About 45 mins later, a doctor came to see me, who poked my back a bit and said i needed an x ray. The girls in x ray were lovely. Very gentle with me, even though they were busy, they took their time and were very understanding....and then, some time after 11, so really only 4 short hours after we first met, i was told i had broken my back. Incredible really. Apparently, when i hit the ground, behind your car, i hit it so hard that my pelvis tipped up and compressed one of my lumbar vertebrae. No wonder i was in such pain.

I spent the friday night on my trolley, in casualty. They were very busy you see, and had no beds anywhere. It was quite an eye opener, i can tell you. There were police, security men, drunks, people who had been punched, or glassed, all sorts of patients. So i spent a sleepless night in my cubicle, on a thin mattress, trying to get some rest and not move. As i am sure you can imagine, it wasnt a good night.

The next morning, i am taken to trauma, where i am fitted with a brace. It is a thing of beauty. I wish you could see it. The top of it goes across my sternum, then it goes around and down my sides, and there is a big bar across the front of my hips. And then it has a big flat plate that goes across my back. I have been told i have to wear it all the time, apart from when i am sleeping at night....It isnt very comfortable. A lot of the time, when i sit down, it rides up, into my armpits and digs in. After a spinal appointment, the week after the accident i am told i will be wearing it well into the new year.

I am then discharged, to go home. Still in pain. Since then i have taken painkillers, every day. Every single day. At first, i took codeine, but taking them meant i couldnt go to the loo. Eventually, when i did manage to go, the pain was unbearable. So i stopped taking it. It means the pain became less manageable, but at least i could go to the loo. For the first 4 days after the accident, my hip flexors were so sore, i couldnt manage to dress myself. I had to ask my husband to help my put my underwear on, as i was unable to lift my feet more than a few centimetres off the floor.

I havent been able to work since the accident. as i told you earlier, i love my job. Unfortunately i am not able to do it, so have been signed off since you knocked me off. Partly this is because i work with magnets, and my brace is made of metal, so is magnetic. But mostly it is because i cannot sit, or stand for much longer than half an hour at a time. I havent been able to concentrate much either. I have read a total of 3 books since we met, which is just not like me. I cannot walk very far, because my back starts to hurt too much, which has meant that i havent been able to take the children to and from school. I havent been able to go out and visit people, because i cant drive either, so am mostly housebound. I am reliant on my friends and family, visiting me and looking after me. And of course, i havent been able to do my beloved sport. My friends reassure me that i will be able to again, but sometimes i have bad days when i question that. The realisation of how much i have lost came with an email, telling me i had made it through the waiting list and got a place in the last Ironman Lanzarote. Nevermind. There will be others, i am sure, although this one is special. Lanzarote is probably the toughest ironman there is. I have been to Lanzarote for the past 2 years, training on the island, and am all booked up to go in March again. Another thing that i wont be able to do properly...

Those are the dark days. The days when no one visits and i am alone all day, unable to get out. The days when people are too afraid to touch or hug me, in case they hurt me more. In case their hugs or actions may cause me to end up in a wheelchair. The days when i get cross with my children because they are boisterous and energetic and i cant do anything with them, and i am frustrated. The bad days are the ones when i hurt all day. When my back aches so much i could just cry. When it is a beautiful day and i would love to be out, riding my bike, or running in the winter landscape.  When i remember that i cant. When i cant play with my kids, when i cant pick them up and dust them off if they are hurt, or crying. When i cant pull their sledges in the snow, or make snowmen with them, or have snowball fights...

And now it is nearly Christmas. We are going to Devon again. Normally i go for a run or a ride on Christmas morning, and take a swim in the sea on Boxing day. I wont be able to do that this year. I wont be able to help with the family dinner, whether it is laying the table, carrying food through or washing up, because i cant carry or stand for too long.
I wont be able to take advantage of the time off work to ride my bike, and train, as i normally do. To meet with my friends on New Years Day and welcome in the new year by riding in the fresh January air.

At the moment, and i hope you will forgive me for being a bit melodramatic now, but the night we met, November 12th, you ruined my life. It will get better, but right now, you have ruined it. And you have ruined my bike. It is a write off. My lovely bike was my first road bike, and i love it. And that too is ruined.

So, I guess i can close this letter, by wishing you a very merry Christmas. I hope you can sleep at night.

Cos i cant.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Bye bye beautiful puss cat.

As this is my attempt to fill in the gaps in my blog, i am working will start with saying goodbye.

We got Tori when she was 10 weeks old. Along with her brother Oscar, she was a little bundle of fluff and claws, who was frightened and timid and spent much of her time hiding in a cupboard. Whilst Oscar was, and still is black, Tori was the most beautiful tabby cat. She was a brown tabby, with big swirls on her sides, and a long stripy tail, and a pretty face. Her fur was thick and lustrous, and she was a very lovely cat.

Admittedly, she had her problems. she didnt cope well when we got Holly a few years later. and expressed her displeasure quite clearly...mostly by leaving puddles around. But slowly, over the years she adjusted, and settled down...

She would sit on the landing, looking out the window, chattering at the birds, and would then come down the stairs, and ask to be let out the front door, only to appear 2 minutes later having walked around to the back of the house...and come in the cat flap. I think she got most of her exercise this way! She would then walk back to the front door, and request it be opened. Again.

In later years, after Holly had died, she would come indoors and come upstairs to the bedroom, and get on the bed. She would miaow for attention, and if you ignored her, she would pat you with her paw...and demand it. For much of the time, she would sleep her days away, on our bed...

She was a lovely sweet cat, who was patient with the children, tolerating them and their childish affections. She rarely hunted....although she did once manage to bring a frog through the kitchen and into the hall by pushing at it until it jumped away. I dont remember her catching anything else, she was just too happy to sit and watch life go by.

In the last few months, she lost a lot of weight. Initially, this was no bad thing,,,,,as weighing in at over 11lbs at one point, the vet had advised a diet. But when she started to look thin, we took her to the vet, who diagnosed a thyroid problem. We gave her twice daily medication, but it didnt seem to be helping. Sadly, it seems that the thyroid problem masked another more serious condition, which, i am sure would have been picked up in due course, but when she went severely and suddenly downhill, it was clear that it was not going to be something from which she would recover. She came into the kitchen that last morning, a very different puss cat from the one i had said goodnight to the night before, and she asked me to help her. The last moments i spent with her were quiet and gentle. She knew the end was near, as did i, and she knew i was helping her. I sat with her, held her, and told her i loved her.

She was a good cat.

We still have Oscar, who at 12 1/2, like his sister, has started to slow down. He has spent the last few days indoors with me. Hiding from the cold and the snow, but also, i suspect, feeling a bit lost without his sister's companionship. We have found him a new friend, who we will be bringing home next week, a  little black and white 10 month old she cat called Calliste, who we hope he will like. And in turn, hope that she likes him. Our house seems odd with just one cat.....

Monday, 13 December 2010

For simplicity sake!

I want to buy a train ticket. nothing too glamorous. A ticket to take me from Oxford to Birmingham, on friday. Going onto a well known ticket website, tells me i can buy a single ticket for £21. However, if i go on 2 trains, getting off at banbury and then 2 minutes later, getting on another train to birmingham, i can save £6.50. But, how do i discover this? i have to go and price through each individual step. If i wanted to buy a return ticket, the website suggests, most helpfully, that 2 singles may be cheaper, but why can i not find the same information for a single outbound journey? I am not fussy, it wont take me that long to get to my end destination, i just dont want to spend more than i have to.....I want a cheapest journey option. I can have a direct/non direct option....but i cant find an option to give me the cheapest. Is it any wonder that people dont use the train any more? I like train travel. it is fun and exciting and a bit exotic to me...probably a sign that i dont do it very much....and with the difficulty i am having this morning? it is hardly suprising!!

hello dear readers

It feels like it has been a very long time since we caught up. which is a shame. As i type, i am sat up in bed, having been off work for the last 4 weeks..and not expecting to go back for another 4.....which is, suffice to say, a little tedious.....
My children are going to school, or should be. In fact i believe them to be procrastinating downstairs.....wending their merry way towards the christmas holidays.....only 4 1/2 days left...poor things are worn out, and over excited. a mix which is somewhat explosive at times....
The last few months have been interesting. If i was a better blogger, i would have updated at the time. Now i seem to end up with a million things to write about, dating right back to september.....which i should have blogged about, but havent. Maybe i will start with the most recent and work my way backwards...
saturday just gone: Saw a new cat.
Thursday last week: beautiful puss cat put to sleep :-(
12th November: Knocked off my bike and broke my back.
28th October: My birthday. my last one of my thirties...
22nd October: Tri club dinner, and a gift of tampax
September; Doula jobs :-)

There we go. bear with me, as i will endeavour to detail all of these things...and probably a few in between...