I read Ian McEwan's Children Act back in 2014 and wasn't disappointed. At the time I posted a review on goodreads.com, as I am want do. If you are not a member of goodreads I can't recommend it enough for keeping up with what's current, getting book reading suggestions and for using as easy way to keep check of your own reading (required if, like me, you forget everything!)
The central question in The Children Act is whether a 17 year old boy should be forced to have a blood transfusion, which is likely to save his life, but goes against his Jehova's Witnesses' parents' (how do you correctly punctuate that?) beliefs. I revisited the story and the question a couple of weeks ago when I watched the movie (on a flight back to Bangkok). Fiona, the powerful judge in the story, was played brilliantly by Emma Thompson alongside a fantastic cast. The topic is weighty - it doesn't get much bigger than choosing life or death and had me asking all sorts of questions to which I don't have any answers!
It got me thinking about whether we actually 'own' our children. If the answer is yes then do we stop owning them when they turn 18? Or does it end when we stop subsidising our kids financially? Perhaps it never ends and ultimately the tables just turn and we own our parents - there's a thought to make the oldies break out in a cold sweat. No wonder there are often fireworks in families
My first response to the question is that of course we don't own our children, but when you think about it, so much of parenting does suggest a level of belonging (positive) and being controlled (negative). Perhaps we can view ourselves as benevolent dictators! Right now, for example, Betsy is sitting with her Maths tutor, the marvellous John of www.transum.org. She didn't choose to spend her Sunday mornings doing Maths, but is a willing participant in this transaction. Does this make her my 'owned product' being forced to achieve my aim of attaining a certain level of Maths competence, or is she an independent being making free choices about preparing for her future? (IB Maths exam tomorrow - yikes!) My other daughter, Annie, will hopefully be in the Science Library soon, at UCL revising for her Ecology exam. She did choose to study Ecology as part of her degree, and she did choose her University, but she was directed, encouraged and equipped to get there, so how much of that is actually free choice and how much is our 'owning' her life direction and choices? How much of parenting is a transaction and negotiation, and how much is non-negotiatable and led? Have our girls complied to our overview of where they are heading or have they chosen it, trusing our guidance and leadership? You can take it further; have we, as parents, complied passively or unthinkingly to social expectations or have we actively chosen them?
I guess you could say in my own life it doesn't actually matter, as the kids seem to be heading in a positive direction. To go really 'meta' for minute though, what if we were discussing the acceptance of an indefensible social or political system, that we believed in and were directing our children towards - then what? It makes you think how strong you have to be to really make independent choice and reject the factors influencing who we are.
Anyway enough meandering thoughts on a Sunday morning. The Children Act is a fab book. An aside, it is also a marvellous exploration of the deteroration of a long-standing middle class marriage, arguably due to wifely neglect (rolled-eyes, as of course the wife gets the blame!) If you haven't read it, definitely do. It's a short read but a powerful one. Then afterwards why not treat yourself to the film - always worth seeing Emma Thompson in action! (Hope she didn't have to make too many carbon-rich flights of course - tongue firmyl in cheek here!)
Holidays for carers? 5 star resorts? Expenses paid? Whatever next? I can feel eyes rolling. Surely not. I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous! I’ve heard it all now. But pause for thought. Could it be a viable solution to the billions of pounds currently being spent on residential health care that is neither desired nor wanted by patient and family alike?
The ideal situation, for families and the state too, is for elderly or ill people to be cared for within the familiarity of their home environment. I don’t think though that the emotional toll this has on a ‘carer’ has even begun to be addressed. Our Western society framework means that the care often comes down to one main person – quite probably a spouse, with others only opting in and out. The strain of this is why so often people end up in residential care, when it is the least desired option for all concerned, at huge emotional and often financial cost to the family, and definitely huge financial cost to the state.
Being a full time carer is tough going. It is not good enough for health professionals or government leaflets to constantly say ‘look after the carer’ too. They need to enable this care.
Let’s face it, none of us show our spouse our best sides. It’s hard enough caring for a partner with the flu, or a broken leg for a couple of weeks, so imagine yourselves in the shoes of someone (often elderly themselves) trying to look after their spouse 24-7 with no reprieve in sight. They may well be attending to specific physical issues affecting their loved one’s mobility, whilst also quite frequently addressing quite severe mental health concerns or behavioural changes. On top of all that and both debilitating and frustrating, is the impact of worsening sight and hearing.
Have you noticed the first question health care professionals ask is ‘are you their carer?' It’s not are you their wife/husband? It’s almost as if, the past years of marriage and being a spouse with all that entails is stripped away as a new role is adopted. The carer (previously known as spouse) is left to grieve for the person they once were, and come to terms largely alone with their changed circumstances.
The carer, a.k.a. spouse, may have family support (with all the complexities of sibling and children dynamics that brings) and theoretically there is usually local help available. Accessing it, however, may require the patience of a saint, the intellect of a PHD and pay packet of a banker! Definitely some friends may rally round, and these are worth their weight in gold, but the carers still take the bulk of the strain. Hardest, and the cruellest cut of all, is that the spouse the 'carer' has leaned on for the last thirty, forty, fifty years, can no longer provide the reciprocal support that s/he needs too. The emotional weight of all this is huge.
Despite this, home care is usually what both husband and wife will fight tooth and nail to uphold. It is only when some kind of crisis point is reached that caring from home is deemed unmanageable and the move to a care home is made.
This ‘tipping point’is completely unsatisfactory and inappropriate as a reason to make that move to a care home. Everyone is exhausted; the primary carer is left bereft feeling that they’ve failed, when the reality is that nothing is further from the truth. What about the ‘caree’ (is that even a word?). Significantly the person being cared for really doesn’t want to go or ‘be put’ into a care home’. They may feel abandoned, unloved, or if of a more understanding disposition, an emotional or financial drain on resources and ‘nothing but a bloody nuisance’. The move for them is unsettling and disorientating. Leaving the home environment is what everyone has been trying to avoid and yet it occurs at the worst moments. For everyone else this sometimes unsaid, but very large elephant in the room, adds still further to the emotional strain on the carer and other family members.
So we need a new approach. Mr Hammond and other government ministers, what about this for an out of the box solution? We continue with our 'at home' care, and carers continue to be given an attendance allowance. In addition though, respite care is provided for the carer two or three times a year in the form of a proper holiday. During that time, a health care professional stays in the family home (at far less cost than full time residential care) and the ‘carer’ is given a proper holiday, at minimal cost (or ideally free). The cost still is far less than full time state residential care for the personal being cared for. A reprieve is properly given, the person being cared for gets to stay in their home and costs are lower than other alternatives.
Could it work as a viable option that people can opt into? I think it’s worth investigating. What do you think?
Recently I have messed up on paperwork reasonably required of me by the Thai authorities; demonstrated that I've been too lazy to learn Thai; used Thailand's public transport effectively (thank you); baulked at being singled out so that I could be helped as a foreigner, and mocked the very process that enables me to easily get around in my host country. I’ve done all this whilst trying to renew my Thai driving licence. Not my proudest moment.
In brief, once armed with the correct paperwork I participated in a fairly seamless process of guided activity and thus gained my renewal licence. I respond to this by poking fun at the idiosyncrasies and bureaucratic procedures.
This is how I recounted what had happened:
Today armed with original passport, work permit, medical certificate, Embassy letter validating my address, old passport, photocopies of all and 600 baht tucked in my pocket, I ventured out braving taxi, sky-train and motorbike taxi to renew my Thai driving licence. It was my third try and on this visit to the Department of Land Transportation in Bangkok I was feeling confident. Previous hours of wasted, bustling elbow-shoving queues, exacerbated sighs from 'I'm going to slam the paperwork down and turn you into a quivering wreck' staff, and hair-raising motorbike taxi rides, sky-train squashed like sardine journeys, ready to be faced again.
The mission has not been without hiccough. On the first trip I took an interpreter with me. She was bossy to the point of offensiveness, snapping my paperwork from me, ramming me into hard backed seats to wait and shouting her distress when my application failed. The second time I decided to go it alone. I had by now acquired the documents the bossy translator had said I needed. Sadly, the lack of address on my work permit was a sticking point and a formal stamped letter from a very large respected International school was not going to cut the mustard as an official validation of my address, Back home I went, tail between my legs; feeling in turn terrified and exhilarated on the back of the motorbike taxi dodging Bangkok traffic jams.
There was a lag between the second and third visit, whilst I mustered the necessary reserves of energy to try again. I had failed in my search, both in my Bangkok and UK homes, (had nipped home to England for Christmas) for the required embassy letter of validation of address. I knew I had actually recently purchased one for 2500 baht, but eventually accepting defeat, I started the process again, buying a new letter after a lengthy process of appointment making, appointment meeting, form filling, oath swearing that I was indeed who I said I was and so on. I'll by-pass the small eleventh hour hitch when I learned I needed a medical certificate, through reading an online post of a previous driving licence applicant survivor. Hardly worth recounting as it only caused a one day delay whilst I bought the aforementioned certificate from a local hospital. (Apparently you can buy one much cheaper from a shop down the road from the test centre, but I had had my blood pressure checked for my 650 baht worth, so all good.)
I was ready to go and on the third visit, after a fairly humiliating queuing process outside, I was bustled into a queue and stared at by bored and possibly sympathetic Thais whilst we waited for the transportation offices to open. (The early bird catches the worm.) We got started.
My physical test included putting my nose on an eye test stand (after taking my glasses off and thus making vision difficult) and stating red, green and yellow to colours lighting up in my peripheral vision. I wasn’t very good at this, but passed anyway. The tester, perhaps embarrassed by having a middle aged foreign lady seemingly not knowing her colours. This was followed by lining up of two small poles, within a homemade looking box, with a joy stick. The final test was braking on a small wooden platform when a green light turned to red. This was in a small crowded room full of other hopefuls waiting for their turn, laughing and loudly talking about the 'farang'. Culturally, after all these years it still doesn't feel fun to be pointed at as the foreigner in the room.
The next step was watching an hour long video about procuring good driving manners. Mr Smart, Miss Sweet, and Mr Bad Big Brother were the video stars and had been tasked with entertaining the viewers with a slapstick approach of do's and don'ts on the road. I am guessing that the aim of the video was to make the development of good road etiquette a fun learning experience. It worked and I heard myself chuckle at the over-the-top acting. The examples of poor driving were taken from Indian footage, not Thai. I don't know why, but interspersed with various 'Oh my God' exclamations from Miss Sweet they reminded us to follow, or more significantly, have rules on the road to follow. The stereotypes, I thought, would have my youngest daughter ranting to the roof and back, but I could put that aside as there were subtitles meaning I could join in the enjoyment of the movie. I was taught that I should brake when "Emergency situation incurred such as our car fails to brake and wheels blow up." I suspect that something like google-translate had been used to write the subtitles. An opportunity for some freelance work passing my by!
The video was abruptly stopped when it was time for the next group of hopeful licence applicants to enter the cramped space and be educated on ‘driving spirit’. I only hoped I hadn't missed anything too important in the final few minutes. Dauntless and hopeful at being so close to gaining my license, I queued again next to a set of crowded uncomfortable looking metal seats, had my photo taken (tried not to mind that I hadn't blow-dried my hair in anticipation of this) and gloried in the glow of being the owner of a proud new licence. Eureka! Success.
Revealing eh! I am an educator. I am supposed to be open-minded, internationally orientated and culturally sensitive; yet it seems I am quick to make fun of a situation rather than accept my own failure in managing it. Reading back my text reveals personal prejudice, ego, vanity and heaven knows what else! Put a lot of people together like me, those who, when they are frustrated take the easy option of blaming and mocking others, and tolerance goes out the window. I'm avoiding big leaps to Brexit, Mexican borders and the like, (there goes my ego again - it's not such a big deal!) but all food for thought... don't you think? And as for more practical take-aways from this, just make sure that you have your paperwork organized and filed safely in the first instance. It saves a lot of time, hassle and stress.