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Philistinism is here, watch out ‘public’ libraries

I began borrowing 8 books a week – 4 from from Boots Lending Library and 4 from our local public library at the age of four. As a profoundly deaf person, books have been – and are – my window on the world, my escape, my salvation, my comfort and my teachers.

My mother had a friend who had what I thought was a dream job managing county library services to people needing audiobooks, needing home visiting and other ‘special’ services. Aged 11, having ‘classified’ my own books, this friend asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. With no hesitation, I answered. “I want your job.” Reader, some 30 years later, I got that job, via several other public library positions, all of which I revelled in. Earning (albeit not riches) doing what I loved – what a privilege.

Before the first stirrings of monitoring public services as if they were businesses and regarding them as soft options for downgrades and cuts, the libraries I worked in were safe havens where nobody queried what you were reading, where you could find all human knowledge and imagination free of charge to take home. What a privilege and delight; what development opportunities; what a world.

That people would seek to damage it in the way that is now a terrifying norm was far beyond my comprehension in those days of my pleasure in demonstrating Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science:
1. Books are for use.
2. Every reader his / her book.
3. Every book its reader.
4. Save the time of the reader.
5. The library is a growing organism.

I’m sad, I’m cross, I’m upset at the sheer philistinism of today’s library authorities. “A comprehensive service”? Hah.

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Resignation

Resignation

This ringing in my ears;
This ‘tinnitus’ so called – I googled it of course – from
“mid 19th century: from Latin, from tinnire ‘to ring, tinkle’, of imitative origin”
Its sound on left is of a roaring ocean’s unceasing waves;
On right a high pitched tintinabulation of bells.
You might think that’s quite pleasant.
Perhaps it is if you can turn it off, tune it out at your behest.
Not so for me.
No other sounds pierce its insistent tones.
Wine, coffee, weariness and stress;
Even the things supposed to help me hear.
All encourage it to persist.
Unheard by others, it belongs to me; I’ll live with it.

 

Charlie Gard and my cognitive dissonance

My cognitive dissonance about Charlie Gard

Charlie Gard has died, after unimaginable trauma and suffering. Yes, I mean his trauma and suffering, not that of his parents. And certainly not that of the bandwagon jumpers; the shockingly exploitative media, religious, political and medical figures who intruded unnecessarily on what should always have been a private situation between Charlie’s parents and Great Ormond Street.

I can’t get the situation out of my mind. It is too close to home. 37 years ago I was pregnant for the second time. I had a wonderfully engaging and loveable two year old daughter. She and I had been through some hard times since her birth with her treatment for the cleft lip she was born with, and would still go through more during her growing up. I was looking forward to seeing how she would be with her expected sibling.

In late September, my son, Benjamin David (after my father, who had died far too young earlier that same year) was born at home after a long but not painful labour. The midwife gathered him up and handed him to me. He did not feed well from me. I cuddled him and talked to him. Two days later, on our doctor’s advice, my husband took him to hospital (the same one which treated my daughter) and returned alone to tell me that Ben had Down’s Syndrome and serious stomach complications. I thought, that’s ok, I will love and raise him as he needs to be loved and raised; we’ll get through this too.

The next day we met the consultant caring for Ben. He explained gently that Ben’s digestion would never work, never allow him to receive nourishment other than by tube, that he would die within days if we agreed to palliative care, in weeks if he was given nutrition medically. The Down’s Syndrome wasn’t the issue, his ability to live and grow was. Such a momentous decision. In the years since I’ve rethought it many times, especially when similar cases become public. I don’t think my decision was wrong, but when I read about parents like the Gards and see their evident passion, I do wonder if I was horribly cold hearted. I had my daughter to consider, myself to consider, most of all my son to consider. We agreed to palliative care and eight days later, Ben died peacefully in my arms.

Here is my cognitive dissonance. I have many disabled friends. I don’t agree with those who want to change the law to allow assisted dying. I believe the law is sufficient as it stands. I don’t equate disability with illness. I want much much better support and care for all disabled people (not cure, unless that’s what they want) and excellent palliative end of life care available to all who need it. I support the Not Dead Yet campaign. And yet…..

My view now is that nobody can judge another’s situation, even if you have been in it; that believing you are truly thinking of your child, rather than yourself as parent can result in different outcomes for different families; that I need not feel guilty about my decision; that involving the media circus creates a public monster from a private dilemma; that both death and disability are part of life and perhaps we are too reluctant to accept that in our society. Live ‘perfectly’ or die? Live suffering pain or die? Who can really judge? If I believed in a god or fate, maybe I would have different views, but I don’t. Life really isn’t what happens to you while you are busy getting on with stuff, it’s what you decide to do with what happens to you.

I was given a little book on my marriage, these words were in it:

http://www.thepoetryexchange.co.uk/poem/on-children-by-khalil-gibran/

 

 

 

Desk Work

I thought I was managing pretty well clearing my mother’s house for sale now she has moved into a care home – no tears, no sentimental attachments to ‘stuff’. But when I emptied the Desk, repository of millions of memories, and realised I had no room for it in my home, although my mother wanted me to have it, that felt rather different. It’s a massive old roll top job. I loved the vibration rattle the lid made opening & closing – it never failed in the 60 odd years we used it. There was a secret drawer,  although we often forgot how to open it. Cries of delight greeted each time we remembered, even though there was rarely anything in it once opened.

Golf trophies; dominoes, solitaire, lexicon, snakes & ladders, chess board & pieces; old school reports with phrases like “must try harder”, “tennis could be county standard if her footwork improves”, “he is doing his best and must keep up his effort in all subjects”, “mysterious bits of paper with equally mysterious writing; love letters from my father to my mother during WW2; ancient chocolate bars; ten pairs of sunglasses; knitting needles; family photographs dating back to the 19th century. A treasure trove.

Well, it’s going to auction but I’m saving the photograph I took -odd to think we will no longer  be saying, on mislaying things, “Have you looked in the Desk?”

image

 

Where does sentimentality lead us?

I love my family, my friends, my dogs, my books and where I live. This latter, however, doesn’t mean the bricks and mortar of my current living location. It means the swell of the south downs; the grey, blue, green, smooth, wrinkled or furious sea; the memories of my childhood in the streets, on the esplanade, in the shops and pubs; the love of my parents and grandparents expressed in cuddles, stories and time.

Sentimentality is different – I have a sentimental attachment to very little – some of my books; my grandmother’s wedding ring; the silver bracelets once belonging to my brother; a painting my daughter did for me of the Seven Sisters; some of my photographs. That’s it really, there’s a freedom for me in knowing that I’m not sentimental about my flat – I do enjoy the sea view but the place itself is just where I lay my head in reasonable but not luxurious comfort.

I know it’s not the same for my mother and for many more older people now living solo in increasingly cluttered and dilapidated houses with once beautiful, now jungly, gardens. But how I wish it was – if we could only learn not to invest so much of ourselves in bricks and mortar and ‘stuff’, how much easier to recognise when the time comes to be practical and move somewhere smaller, easier and safer. When a house becomes a millstone for the occupant and their family, it creates tensions in the family, makes things hard for everyone. I know there are as many options for living as there are sizes and shapes of families and no one solution works for all, but right now in my own life, I wish the solutions could be practical and not for sentimental reasons.

We are lucky to have choices. As write, I feel self indulgent and think of those living on the streets, and dying on those streets; of those in refugee camps; those in makeshift shelters; in cramped one room accommodation; in damp flats with peeling wallpaper; those affected by floods. Then I think of those with second homes; with mansions; with castles; with empty properties earning money for their owners through no effort of theirs and wonder again at how skewed our society is.

It’s been a while

I haven’t felt like writing for a while; my writing brain seems to have atrophied. Why? I think my mourning for Peter, although not worn externally, has had a truly deep effect on me. This effect first showed in spending money more than usual – and I am a fairly thrifty person that dislikes all advertisements and avoids buying unnecessary stuff. But Peter was the opposite; was I being him?

Then there is the actual physical pain that strikes somewhere around my solar plexus every so often when something said or done or seen reminds me of Peter and the loss of Peter.  I almost welcomed me these occasions because somehow it seems wrong to just carry on as usual.

I think it will be a long while before we can tell each other Peter stories, say “what would Peter think” or “Peter would like this” as we do about my father (who died in 1980) quite comfortably.

Its been a tough six months for other, more prosaic, but demanding reasons. So that’s probably why I feel so drained, yet along with that is the excited anticipation of the birth of my second granddaughter next month.

Life – it’s such a cliche…

 

My brother

It’s a week since my brother died. I feel as if a piece of my heart has been torn out. This last week has been full of arrangements and sorrow. Next week is the funeral – it’s billed as a celebration of his life but he was just 61, too young, too much living to do. My mother at 89 says she should have gone first – it’s hard to disagree with her. Poignantly, my younger daughter is expecting her first baby next January, a year after the diagnosis was made of the virulent and untreatable cancer that took my brother’s life away from us. On the day he died she felt the baby kick for the first time. I’m a cynical old thing but that was a precious coincidence for me. I have been so touched by the kindness of friends, I wasn’t sure about facebooking this but it turned out to be the right thing to put the picture and the words up that reflected my mood. So many comments from lovely friends.

I’ve planned my talk and poems for next Tuesday; I’m going to be a pall bearer. What else can I do to salve this ache? Time will soften it, memories will heal – but not yet, and so my tears fall…