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Saturday, 27 January 2018

Segregation and Bullying

My novel, The Keys to Heaven, which covers the lives of Eliza and her family, from 1918-1939, is part one of two. I have laid down five chapters in book two, The Keys to Peace, and, as it opens in 1939, my characters live through the second world war. One character, Daniel, escapes Nazi Germany and manages to travel to a safer life in England, and is cared for by Eliza's sister.  

But his own sister, Janina, avoids the Berlin Gestapo by hiding with Aryan friends in the city. As Daniel's been moving through Switzerland and France to get the last boat to England, with Eliza's sister, she can't get word to him. Eventually, at the end of the war, he discovers, from the Red Cross, that in 1942, she had been sent by train from GΓΌterbahnhof Moabit (freight station in Moabit) fairly close to Berlin city centre. Here, a platform was used that was separated and parallel to the S-Bahn tracks. The S-Bahn was the city's rapid transit system. But her journey from that platform ended in Thereseinstadt. 

The vile crimes against the Jews during the war are well documented. However I am still shocked by the racism against black men and women in Virginia, USA, which took place as late as the 1960s. I didn't get to see the excellently titled Hidden Figures when it was Oscar-nominated last year. I have recently seen it, however, courtesy of Sky Movies. 

Before 1933, in Germany, wealthy, professional Jews, who were teaching, running businesses and living full, mostly unhindered lives, were, in many cases, masters of all they surveyed.
By 1939 they weren't allowed to walk on a pavement nor sit on a park bench. Jews were segregated.

In Virginia the opposite process took place. People of colour had to sit at the back of public buses, the section was labelled coloreds only.  At NASA, both black and white women were employed but they were segregated. They worked in separate buildings. 

In Hidden Figures an extremely gifted black mathematician was allowed to do the number crunching in order to plan the trajectory of a manned space capsule. But she had to walk miles from her desk to get to a coloreds only lavatory for women. That was only one of the humiliations she endured.

Her friend, equally talented, had to go before a county judge to request that she be allowed to study engineering at a whites-only college. Although such segregation had been outlawed by Washington Virginia kept its racist laws. In fact the gifted, black, female engineer persuaded the court to let her study. She was the first black woman to attend a whites-only college.  But that was on the strict ruling that she went there for night school only. So she worked doubly hard: she worked at NASA all day, but had to work and study hard all night. She wasn't given leave to mix with the whites at college in the daytime. 

In other words the women I mention were as clever as their white, male counterparts but the struggle to get their abilities recognised and become promoted was almost as segregationist as the Judenfrei laws of 1930s and 1940s Berlin.

In Virginia segregation prevented progress for the race that was looked down upon. 
In Germany segregation actively removed opportunities for Jews who were used to being fully integrated and unhampered in the sciences, arts, education and commerce.

Is it worse to be denied what others have by right and stay at the bottom of the heap, or is it more awful to have everything you've achieved and enjoyed ripped away from you?  In the first case if you've never known freedom there is always hope that one day the glass ceiling will crack. In the second case annihilation was too often the outcome. 

The loss of hope, I venture, must be worse. Suicides in Berlin after Kristallnacht meant there were fewer Jews for the Nazis to murder.

The blacks in 1960s Virginia were still escaping slavery. The Jews in 1930s Germany and invaded territories were being forced into it.  Enlightenment and respect for others is a precious commodity and is as valuable as gold dust. 

In an increasingly divided West race may not always be the great divider, although the figures show poverty, generally, is worse for blacks. We are becoming more intolerant of those who have very little. So prejudice is against the poor. Gender issues are not going away either. 

At the BBC bias against women presenters and broadcasters is becoming unfortunately a business-as-usual state of affairs. I wonder who suggested John Humphrys et al took a pay cut? And, who needs to earn £600,000 to interrupt politicians daily, at 6:00 am, thereby sending listeners into a depression before their working day as a bus driver, plumber, banker, teacher or any other job not 'worth' £600,000, has even begun?

I would love to see Today run by people who enjoy life, respect others and don't have to harangue the people they are interviewing. It's just another form of bullying. And such bullying behaviour, as endured in 1930s Berlin and 1960s Virginia, should be well behind us. 

When will the human race become civilised? 


For Holocaust Memorial Day 

Pain and a slipped disc

I cannot believe, after only a month into 2018, I am already having to give up my new year resolutions. I was exercising and dieting regularly, enjoying it, even, when suddenly on Sunday evening I felt my back 'go' as I was leaving the house to go swimming. All I'd done was bend down to switch off a radiator.
The pool was quiet and I did my 'regulation' 25-30 minutes swim without a stop - avoiding breast stroke - the enemy of those with back trouble. Back home I knew I'd have to reach for the painkillers and by Monday it was certain that I'd caused no ordinary 'trapped nerve'-type pain, to which I am prone. It was much worse. By Tuesday I was eating painkillers for breakfast and decided to remain house-bound, rather than aggravate my tender back by causing a painful contracting of muscles, due to the cold weather. By Wednesday Richard bought me a pack of OTC co-codamol, with so many health warnings the back pain seemed preferable to the dizziness, constipation and drug dependency which would rain down on me.

It all felt like the beginnings of a slipped disc - which I suffered 10 years ago - and I quickly abandoned all social and self-sprucing activities. I would not be able to move outside my own front door. Inside I could not get comfortable. If I sat for too long I couldn't leave my chair without pain, if I lay down I simply couldn't move out of the prone position and if I walked about, like a zoo-trapped tiger, I became weary. At most I was getting 4 hours' sleep at a stretch and had to take my pain killers an hour before I got up. If I didn't do this I could not leave the bed, the pain was too severe.

The cat is wary of me as I have grown two extra limbs. One, an extra leg, in the form of a walking stick, the other, an extra arm in the form of a litter picker. I simply cannot walk without support and I cannot bend to pick anything up.I am a sexter-dexter. 

 Thursday was my last day on OTC co-codamol. Hellfire and damnation to those who took those meds beyond three days. In preparation for the avoidance of a new hell I practised waking up at 6:00 am to take my painkillers,  getting washed at 7:00 and dressing by 7.15am But why?

At our GP surgery the walk-in-and-wait arrangements start at 8:00am. In my state I wanted not to have to do my pacing up and down in the waiting room, see above for my inability to sit, so had to be early ie first in the queue to see a GP. That meant getting there dead (?) on 8:00 am. I knew that would take me two hours' prep. 

On Friday, with the surgery in mind, I woke at 5.50 am, ate some ready prepared bread and jam to have with my tablets, took them and dozed while I waited for the analgesic effect to work.At 7:00am, a bit like going over the top, I girded my loins. I had to endure certain pain but had to move my damaged carcass. I managed to roll out of bed on my tummy, grab my extra leg, my walking stick,  and got in to the shower. I even coped with pulling on footless tights and a loose top. I pushed my feet into my boots, avoiding the need to bend, and froze because the heating hadn't come on. 

That's when my back reacted to the cold. It started hurting like no other day this week. I made myself a hot water bottle while the central heating came on and tried to get comfortable. When Richard was ready to take me to the surgery - about 7:40 am, I could barely walk and had to give in. I had simply expected too much of myself and I knew I wouldn't be able to cope with the cold outside and having to twist myself to get in the car. My back went into a mild spasm and I had to stay put. I was not going to be able to get to the surgery. Walk-in-and-wait is for those who can walk and can wait. I can do neither. I needed a home visit. 

A jolly GP rang me while I snoozing; I've had so little proper sleep this week I was glad of it. She knew exactly what to prescribe me and within moments Richard had been to collect the meds from the chemist. She said there was no way I could get to the surgery and made an appointment for me for next week instead. By then some of the 225 tablets I have on my table should have started to relax muscles and work on my back pain.

In trying to get to the surgery I had felt more pain than at any time this week. A simple act like walking into colder temperatures and wearing heavy boots has forced the muscles in my back to tense up. That night, feeling good in warm bath water, I undid all my hard work while trying to look after my back, and foolishly moved and bent badly. This sent sciatic
pain shooting up and down both legs. πŸ’₯ My whole back felt as if it were being pulled and  strained through a spaghetti ladle. Or I was on the rack.  And I had been on much stronger meds since 10 am that day. They should have made me feel better. 

At midnight I realised I was allowed a third dose of valium, for me its a muscle relaxant, not a cure for mental anguish. Mind you...  
That and another dose of stronger co codamol left me feeling more relaxed, but not sleepy. I hoped to doze off and wake at 6:00 am to take a double dose of naproxen, it's a strong ibuprofen, with codeine and paracetamol, and my ready-to-hand breakfast of bread and jam. 
By 7:00 am Saturday morning I anticipated getting out of bed, pain free. πŸ™

My new year's resolution to swim and walk at least four times a week has been obliterated. I can barely walk upstairs. 

The only way I'll lose weight now is by dieting. There's no way I can do any exercise until I'm pain free. Last time I had a slipped disc I was told it would take 6 months to get right. In fact I believe it took a year. Maybe January 2019 is the time for a new year resolution: lose weight and exercise more. I just can't see it happening in 2018. 

And I thought I was trying so hard.


Boo hoo. 😑

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Resolutions? Why it's hard...

I wonder whether, like me, you resolve, this year, to lose weight and exercise more. I have been saying I must lose weight and exercise more for the last ten Januarys at least. I did, in fact, become a thin, healthier person in the mid 90s and kept the weight off for some years. How did I do that? The answer is quite straightforward: I found the time to go swimming at least three times a week. I became the weight I should be for my height and age - around 10 stone 6.

With the glow of success I got lazy. I knew I could lose weight if I wanted to... it was no big deal. But I'd forgotten that it gets harder to stay fit as we age. I didn't factor in that if you lose overall mobility, in my case, in the form of a slipped disc, the body loses less fat. About ten years ago I was flat on my back. When walking I moved awkwardly, was full of painkillers, and found sitting in a car - or even on a plane - most painful. A slipped disc takes between six months to a year to get right. Gradually I could swim again, but, even now, I have to be careful. The disc has repaired itself but I have a permanently trapped nerve. If I go mad at it, usually doing breast stroke, the pain starts.

Long story short: I have put on weight and I need to exercise more. If it means taking paracetamol so be it. The weight has to go.

Since Christmas 2017 I have managed two walks and two swims a week. On top of that I do a brisk walk to local shops once or twice a week and I diet 2 days out of 7 ( ie the 5:2 diet.) This sounds as though I ought to be losing the pounds but it isn't that easy. Last week I was focusing so hard on going out for a swim, preparing myself by putting my chilly-feeling swimsuit on the radiator before I left the house for the pool, that in my rush to get on with my new exercise regime I left my swimming costume at home. Of course I didn't know I had erred until Richard dropped me off outside the pool and was on his merry way to the pub. What was I to do?

a) ring him, knowing full well he was driving and wouldn't answer
b) ring him, leave a message to collect me and head to the hotel bar next to the pool
c) don't ring, just go to the bar
d) ask if they have a spare swimsuit at the desk, thereby sticking to my regime without taking in extra alcoholic calories
e) walk home, thus giving me a burst of exercise, but risk catching my death as I didn't have my winter coat with me
f) wait in the hotel, next to the pool, read the Sunday papers, and have a cup of tea
g) ring the pub where Richard was drinking and leave a message for him?

It didn't take too much effort to decide swimming was still the best option, given my lack of warm winter clothing and the fact Richard would be unlikely to answer my call and his pub might not answer their phone either. At the desk I had to confess my stupidity at leaving my gear at home. Two ladies, who, it has to be said, were more portly than I, were booking facials and exotic treatments and found my predicament hilarious. I was trying hard to stick to my guns...so hard to get in my 25-30 minutes daily exercise, but I was in luck... my spa did have a swimsuit they could sell me for £15. It wasn't my size but hey swimsuits stretch don't they?

After ten minutes in the warm waters I felt immensely holy. I was being very good and exercising like a minor athlete. Then the pain started... Because I was wearing a size 14 swimsuit, the size I should be, the tight straps had irritated my trapped nerve. I kept swimming but stuck to front crawl, minimising the pull on my lower back. I staggered out of the pool like someone drunk and managed to down a painkiller or two.

Tomorrow I had planned to go for a long walk... but the rain is due to pelt it down morning, noon and night. I will swap my Monday regime with Tuesday and do my walk then. Tomorrow I will swim instead. But I will remember my swimming gear. All I have to do now is decide which days I'll diet.Last week I read 'how to keep new year resolutions' in the paper.

thermae spa is for lounging not exercising!


 Easy, the article said, exercising and diet should be as regular a habit as brushing your teeth. Oh really???