May 08 2015

Is it safe to come out from behind the sofa yet?

Bloody hell. Reading those dreadful and depressing results this morning have given me all the motivation I need to make sure that I am still around in 2020 to vote again. My congratulations to the small band of Lib Dem MPs who have made it through this time, and my heartfelt commiserations to the much larger group who sadly didn’t.

 

May 07 2015

My hope for election day 2015? To still be around in 2020 to vote again!

Unsurprisingly, I’ll be making my way to the polling station in a few hours time to vote for the Liberal Democrats. It will be a bitter-sweet moment, for many reasons. My ongoing fight against the lymphoma beast is one of them. Statistically, I would appear to have around an evens chance of making it through my treatment to still be around to vote in 2020. However, I’m determined to beat the odds as I really don’t want this to be my eighth and last general election.

Even though the candidates I’ll be voting for are unlikely to be successful, it’s always been important to me to vote. I’m proud that everyone in my immediate family will be voting, even if some of them won’t be voting the right same right way (but then they’re all younger than me, so there’s still time for them to learn :) ).

Today will be the eighth general election that I’ve participated in since the heady days of the SDP-Liberal Alliance in 1983. If the polls are anything like correct, I expect that by this time tomorrow I’ll be feeling pretty much the same as I did then (totally fed up!), but for different reasons. In 1983 the Alliance got lots of votes but precious few seats (23). My main hope for today is that even if we only manage to poll around a third of the votes that we did back then, the party might at least do a little better in terms of seats won.

If the Lib Dems do have any say in the next government, electoral reform and the introduction of proportional representation is a must. I’ve been disappointed not to see it as one of the “red lines”, as the unwavering commitment to it has been a uniquely Liberal cause during my lifetime. I don’t trust any of the other parties, least of all, Labour, to do the right thing. Their opposition to any type of reform during the last parliament speaks volumes and no-one seriously expects the Conservatives to have a Damascus road experience. So if this isn’t the role of the Lib Dems, then whose is it?

Good luck to all Liberal Democrats standing today. You have my vote. And assuming I’m still around at the next election, you’ll have it then too.

Vote Lib Dem 2015

May 02 2015

Spondon Garage in 1952

If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I’ve been working my way through my father’s photographs and digitising them. I’m currently working through some large format negatives dated 1951 & 1952 – some of the oldest in the collection.

These pictures show Spondon Garage on Nottingham Road in 1952. Established in 1925, the garage was demolished a decade or so ago, along with the corner shop you can see on the right-hand side of the picture and Lloyds Bank (out of shot, to the left). It’s now housing. I remember Spondon Garage as being one of the last in the area that offered attended service. As recently as the 1980s I can remember filling my car up there after I’d first learned to drive, but was still unsure about how to put petrol in it.

Spondon Garage 1952And the attendants:

C-1952-001-1021x677

Apr 30 2015

The phoney war

It was good news again at last week’s hospital appointment in the haematology clinic. There’s no significant difference in my blood tests from two months ago and the consultant wasn’t able to find any noticeable change in the size or the extent of my enlarged lymph nodes.

In simple terms, that means I have at least another couple of months on watch and wait – excellent news. However, I’m all too well aware that this seemingly indolent phase won’t last forever. But the positive-thinking part of me particularly likes the idea that it could be years, rather than months, before anything other than watch and wait is needed.

The type of treatment for younger, fit patients like me hasn’t changed since I was first diagnosed last summer, although there does seem to be lots of new research being published all of the time, as well as excitement around the potential impact of new (but very costly) drugs like Ibrutinib. This is currently being used when chemotherapy fails or when the disease relapses, but there’s some interesting speculation that this type of drug could eventually prove to be the best treatment option. That promise is some way off being realised, so at the moment I’m still expecting to undergo the Nordic MCL2 regime – eventually.

This involves six doses of chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant. How can I put this? I’m not looking forward to it. If my lymphoma beast is listening, I’m in no hurry to start the treatment that will send you into oblivion. If you’d like to stay as quiet and unobtrusive as you are at the moment for – let’s say – the next 50 or so years, I’d be happy to share my body with you. But I know that you’re not going to accept that offer – in much the same way that I don’t expect Labour and the Conservatives to be snuggling up in some kind of grand coalition after May 7th. I’m under no illusions that me and the lymphoma beast are simply skirmishing at the moment, sizing each other up, before the real hostilities start.

A Spitfire over Duxford, April 2015

Beating the enemy – a Spitfire flies past the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, April 2015.

At least the tone of the medical literature published in the last year or so seems much more encouraging than papers from as little as 5-10 years ago. While the literature still points out that treatment is difficult and suffers from a “lack of standardisation” (which I translate as “more research is needed”), overall survival time is undoubtedly improving.

The most interesting paper on MCL that I’ve read recently is this one: “Real world data on primary treatment for mantle cell lymphoma: a Nordic Lymphoma Group observational study“, published last year. Rather than being a clinical trial, it examines data from all of the patients in Sweden and Denmark diagnosed with MCL in the first decade or so of the current century – just under 1,400 people in total. Without wanting to cherry-pick too much, the most encouraging paragraph was:

 

Treatment options of MCL have undergone a dramatic development during the last 2 decades. High-dose chemotherapy with autologous stem cell support, high-dose cytarabine, and the introduction of rituximab are important contributors to improved clinical outcome in MCL evolving it into a potentially curable disease, at least for the younger subset of patients.

 

Encouraging for me, as the ‘younger’ subset of patients in the context of MCL are those under 65-70!

So for the time being, the “phoney war” goes on. And when the real fighting starts, it looks as if the ammunition will be rather more effective than it used to be even in the very recent past.

 

Apr 24 2015

Stasis – as seen from twitter

With just three performances left, this is how twitter has reacted to Stasis at the White Bear Theatre. Well done all involved – and I admit to crying just a little bit during the performance!

Apr 19 2015

In between days

The toughest part of being on “watch and wait” are the days between going for blood tests and seeing the consultant to collect the results. Even though I now know the routine and I’m still feeling generally well, these “in between days” are the ones I find most difficult to cope with. I’m sure this is because that at one of these appointments, the results will mean chemotherapy will be starting, rather than being given a few more weeks of breathing space. I know that it’s nonsense to compare the experience with that of coming up for air while drowning, but I confess that the thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion.

For me,  the best way to cope with the days between the tests and the verdict is to keep myself busy. There’s certainly no shortage of things for me to do at work at the moment, and this weekend is particularly great for remaining distracted from the beast as I’m currently on my way down to London to see Emily’s play, “Stasis”, at the White Bear Theatre. (Plug: you have until 25th April to catch it, and it’s been receiving great reviews). All of the people on the train who are on their way to watch Liverpool United play Aston Wanderers at Wemberleeeeee are definitely going to the wrong 90 minutes of entertainment.

Once my haematology appointment is out of the way on Wednesday, and assuming that I’m still on watch and wait, things will return to normal rapidly. It’s not that I ever forget about the challenge that I’m facing but I’m lucky to have people around me – family,  friends and work colleagues – that understand.

It’s why the “drowning man” analogy is rubbish. During these in between days, I need to keep reminding myself of that truth.

 

Apr 15 2015

Manifesto promises about adult education and lifelong learning

With the main political party manifestos having been published and now available on their websites(*), I’ve read them all, cover to cover, in an attempt to discover their adult education and lifelong learning commitments, so that you don’t have to.

In summary:

  • The Liberal Democrats have the best pledge – to establish a cross-party commission to address the undoubted problems of this part of the education sector.
  • The Green and Conservative Parties acknowledge that adult learners exist (explicitly in the case of the Greens and implicitly in the case of the Conservatives). However, both offer at least one policy that will damage their interests.
  • The Labour and UKIP manifestos are almost, or entirely free of content on this topic.

In detail:

Liberal Democrats

Pages 50 – 63 of their 158 page manifesto (a little under 10% of its contents) is devoted to education in general.

Page 62: “We will … Work with university ‘mission groups’ to … enable more part-time learning, and help more people to complete qualifications.” Many adult learners require part-time provision and it’s the only manifesto to acknowledge its existence and value.

Page 63: “We will … Establish a cross-party commission to secure a long-term settlement for the public funding of reskilling and lifelong learning.” There’s no doubt that a long-term settlement is required here and it’s the only manifesto to acknowledge that something needs to be done to address the problems in this sector that goes beyond party advantage.

Greens

The Green Party manifesto is an enormous 11Mb pdf file! It becomes clear why that is once you open it – it’s an image document, rather than a text document, making it impossible to read for anyone using assistive technology. They need to do better. However, the table of contents signposts the education section as being on pages 36-40 of the 84 page manifesto.

Page 36: “… the Green Party will make education free for everyone up to and including university or equivalent.” This is a bold promise, but lacking in detail. Does “university or equivalent” include masters and PhD level qualifications, and how many times would you be able to benefit from a free university education? (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t intend to put an age-cap on their promise).

Page 38: “Reverse the trend whereby 45% of apprenticeships, that is, jobs with structured training, are now taken by people over 25.” Wow. This is the only openly hostile policy towards adult education and learning I can find in any of the manifestos. In the Green’s world, it would appear that if you’re over 25 and want to better yourself through a job with structured training, you’d be too late.

Page 38: “Encourage local authorities to use some of the additional money we propose to give them to restore a full range of local adult education programmes.” Also wow. Just four bullet points after the apprenticeships bombshell, they say this – one of the few openly positive policies towards adult education and learning in any of the manifestos!

Page 39: “‘Lifelong learning’ is a phrase that is much used by politicians and educational professionals. Giving people the opportunity to be ‘second chance’ learners should be a crucial part of what universities offer to wider society.” So we have a party that claims to understand lifelong learners. But I’m not sure that ‘lifelong learning’ is a phrase that is used by all that many politicians if I reflect on my own experiences.

Page 40: “The Green Party would address this through … Restoring access to lifelong learning by supporting mature students and their families. We will reverse the 20-year programme of dismantling the lifelong learning sector.” There’s no details as to what kind of support they’re going to offer – free (taxpayer-funded) education? loans? childcare? something else? So beware – fine words butter no parsnips.

There’s a lot to mull over here and some great sentiments in the manifesto – but the openly hostile and ageist approach to apprenticeships they appear to be advocating is hugely concerning.

Conservatives

Page 35: “We will continue to replace lower-level, classroom-based Further Education courses with high quality apprenticeships …” This is bad news for returning adult learners. The policy of diverting funding from the adult skills budget to protect the apprenticeship budget is opposed for good reason by the relevant trades union and adult FE providers.

Page 35: “And we will encourage the development of online education as a tool for students, whether studying independently or in our universities”. Potentially interesting, as many adult learners benefit from the flexibility that the Open University and MOOCs provide, but there’s no detail as to what form this “encouragement” might take.

Disappointingly, there’s no explicit statement in their manifesto that any form of education or learning is needed by individuals and/or the businesses they work for past early adulthood, but I guess that ‘studying independently’ might just be an implicit acknowledgement.

Labour

Page 37: “We  will protect the entire education budget, including the early years, schools and post-16 education, so that it rises in line with inflation.” So it sounds as if the cuts made by both the coalition and the previous Labour government to adult education funding will remain in place. The context of this sentence is also from an entire section that talks about education being important for “our children”, so I do wonder if post-16 education lasts much past 21.

Page 52: “Labour will do more to increase the amount of time prisoners spend working and learning.” A laudable aim. But I’m not going to suggest that anyone should consider getting locked up to secure access to educational opportunities as an adult!

From the perspective of adult learners, the Labour manifesto is disappointingly content-free.

UKIP

There’s nothing at all in the 76 page UKIP manifesto for those wanting to understand their policies on adult education and lifelong learning. But that’s ok – their leader will simply make it up as he goes along, as usual!

 

(*) I’m speaking from an English perspective of course, so I’ve not bothered to read the manifestos of those parties only standing in specific countries or regions of the UK, as much as I’d like to find the time to read Mebyon Kernow’s manifesto.

 

Apr 12 2015

Guilty?

Pigeon at Raglan Castle

 

Apr 03 2015

Six reasons why I loathe LinkedIn

Let me count the ways I hate you, LinkedIn and the manner in which you encourage people to behave.

1. There’s far, far too much willy-waving going on. For some reason that completely escapes me, people write in a strange kind of LinkedIn-ese that you see nowhere else (except on CVs destined for the ‘reject’ pile).

Some examples:

“I am a multi talented individual …” – Good for you!

“I am a results oriented business leader.” – What kind of results do you get?

“I operate at the most senior levels to make things happen.”  – What things? Are they good, bad or indifferent?

“I continuously remove obstacles preventing sales in order to reach my objectives” – Sounds ominous to me.

“… strategically managing multiple hard-to-fill and urgent job requisitions.” – Pardon?

“As a sales hunter, I drive myself to reach my goals …” – So no points on your driving licence then?

2. Oh dear.

Homeopathy on LinkedIn

3. I see endless examples of ageism and sexism, in the guise of humour or “research says that …”. Here’s part of a milder example. As anyone who’s ever studied occupational psychology knows, someone’s age or gender isn’t correlated with how well people do at work.

Ageist tosh

4. I detest the corporate shill – someone who only ever posts company propaganda. LinkedIn at its best is personal – and nothing is more impersonal and lazy than simply regurgitating everything that your marketing department produces. That’s not to say that it’s never appropriate – it may well be. But if your status updates only consist of that material, then you’re not providing much of value to your network.

5. The constant entreaties by email and on LInkedIn itself to take out a free trial of their premium service. No thanks. If there was a way of permanently stopping you from asking me about this several times a month I’d probably like LinkedIn a little more.

No, I don't want to upgrade

6. The many and varied ‘intelligence tests’ that appear to be the only thing that some people post. I particularly hate these if the person concerned can’t tell the difference between “your” and “you’re”.
A LinkedIn intelligence test

 

However, I won’t be deleting my account any time soon. At its best, LinkedIn is a useful source of information and contacts. In particular, it’s been a good way on staying in touch with people who I’ve enjoyed working with in the past, as well as with my current colleagues. Within the last month, a person I worked with more than 15 years ago contacted me as he’d heard about my lymphoma. Without LinkedIn, I doubt whether that would have been possible. It’s these moments of humanity, in amongst all the willy-waving that makes me grateful that LinkedIn exists after all.

 

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