Category Archives: Health and Wellbeing (article archive)

Children at Play – or Bulldozers. What’s your preference?

Following a lively and constructive meeting last night, the next phase of our Maryhill, Glasgow, UK’s community battle to save a precious piece of wild land in our area from both developers and our own city council has begun!

Save our wild land!

Save our wild land on North Kelvin Meadow/The Children’s Wood!

In this phase, we need urgently to put pressure on the Scottish Government over the next 25 days. See http://thechildrenswood.com/ for details. We need your help, Friends: where you are in the world does not matter!

If you feel that wild land worldwide should if possible be preserved to nurture and safeguard children’s relationship with Nature – and all the health benefits which go with that – do take the time to write a slogan of your choice which includes “Save The Children’s Wood, Glasgow, Scotland” and post the photo on Twitter, Facebook etc.This supporter, Claire, lives in Yonkers, New York (hint, hint, you guys in the Big Apple!) She wrote: ” I love the children’s wood and it is my niece and nephew’s favourite place to play.”

Claire, Yonkers, NY

Claire, Yonkers, NY

 Or  – go through to http://thechildrenswood.com/ and sign our latest petition. And – Share this post on Facebook. We need all the help we can get. Thanks!!

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200 words Anne Whitaker 2016

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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To change the world – start in your own back yard!

We don’t need astrologers to tell us we are living in a period of remarkable turbulence and change. The evidence is all around us: from our teetering and corrupt banking systems, to the declining health of Planet Earth whose dominant species, humans, at current rates of consumption require the resources of three and a half planet earths to sustain us. Amongst many problems greatly on the increase against this backdrop are obesity, social inequality, the social and economic burdens of an ageing population – and fast rising anxiety and depression rates.

Our Beautiful Planet:Facebook

Our Beautiful Planet/Facebook

Apparently the overall index of increased happiness as material prosperity grew, peaked in the mid-seventies, then declined. The rot, it seems, set in in 1976….

However, humans have always been incredibly adaptable creatures and there is plenty of room for optimism in the midst of the current gloom. We are poised collectively on an interesting cusp, which many people see as the pivotal point of recognition that the materialist project which has so dominated all life since the rise of Age of Reason in the 18th Century is crumbling, and a new world order or paradigm is emerging.

Materialism has brought us incredible advances, but is bringing our planet and the systems governing our collective lives, to a dangerous edge.

The new paradigm emerging, in essence, invites us to respect and work with the ecological balance of our home planet. It also invites us to recognise that there are many levels to “Reality” – the material level is just one of these. It is not suggesting that we should attempt to put the genie of progress back in the bottle and recreate a “Golden Age” which never existed.

It invites us to go forward into the future bearing the best that scientific and material progress has to offer, but also the best of what human civilisation has distilled over its six thousand years of social evolution which offers proven nourishment of both a physical and spiritual nature to all life on Planet Earth.

We can see evidence of this new paradigm’s emergence all over the planet in large and small ways. To give just one example, the principles of the “Slow Food” movement which began in Italy over two decades ago have taken root and flourished all over the world.

All of us, at a collective, local, and personal level have a part we can play in this paradigm shift. I have been posting now for several years, reporting the remarkable developments taking place in our local area of the city of Glasgow, Scotland, UK, via The Children’s Wood campaign which promotes outdoor education and community activity  via a precious patch of wild land  – which we are fighting to save from the clutches of developers.

Children's Wood Protest

Children’s Wood Protest

What’s happening where you are?

Drop by. Comment. Do let me know!

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015/ ‘Not for Sale!’ Photo copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

On Life, Death, and Planet Janet…

In last week’s post  I raised the very difficult question of our increasing medically-expedited longevity  – and the ethical, moral and economic issues it is bringing along with it. The post produced some very interesting responses, this one from USA commenter Gaye Mack being one of them:

“When I was in grad school I had to take an ethics course and our single grade was based on a 5 minute presentation. I presented myself as Hippocrates arguing in front of the Supreme Court on this issue pointing out that my oath of ‘first do no harm’ could also be applied to the concept that to extend life beyond a reasonable means for the patient and family– emotionally, physically and FINANCIALLY, was in fact, ‘doing harm’…”

Just as I was facing up to my own and my husband’s demise, and we were about to embark upon completing the relevant medical and legal forms, I  had a conversation on the subject with my dear friend Peggy. In her mid eighties, she is still amazingly active, enjoys life, and continues to be a wonderful support to other people as well as a shining example to those of us coming behind her regarding how we should grow older. Peggy, of course refuses to be complimented – “Away with you!!” is her usual retort.

I recorded our conversation, which is quite short, and have Peggy’s permission to share it. It has the usual mix of Peggy’s and my conversations: a rich mix of grave seriousness, black humour, and sheer irreverence.Here it is. I do hope you can make time to listen, and leave your responses – to continue the dialogue on the topic of how we face and deal with death and dying in the 21st Century.

Anne and Peggy on Life, Death and Planet Janet

Grim Reaper

Grim Reaper

300 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

“…A time to die…”…but when? And how?

Baby Boomers are the first generation in human history to be able to rely on medical advances to prolong their lives considerably. They have, in effect, added on average more than a decade to the traditional, biblical ‘three score years and ten’ as a result of medical advances enabled by technology  – accelerating in particular since the start of the twenty-first century.

However, in the universe we inhabit, light and dark co-exist: one does not come without the other.

The shadow side of this striking gain in longevity is that death can now be put off for a considerable time, often resulting in – on average – eighteen years of deteriorating health with its attendant misery for the individuals involved, their families and friends. The economic realities of this are becoming more and more pressing. Western countries, on average, are dealing with a population as a whole who consume more in health care resources in their final six weeks than in the whole of their preceding lives.

Most of us can now quote several cases from personal experience or from hearsay, of individuals whose lives were painfully prolonged: by those individuals not having made their end of life wishes clear; by families’ general inability to communicate with one another regarding the painful and threatening question of the inevitability of death; and by the medical profession’s increasing focus on the technicalities of technology-expedited care, rather than the humanity, compassion and tough-minded realism required to enable people to have, as well as a good life,  a good death when the time comes that life has no quality left and there is only distress and suffering.

On the latter topic, I highly recommend surgeon  Atul Gawande’s wonderful book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”, currently topping the best-seller lists. Here, the author  tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but  needs also to address the hard problem of how to assist the process of its inevitable ending: with greater humanity, care and wisdom than is all-too-often practised at the moment.

In the UK, as the assisted dying debate rages on, with around 75% of the population supposed to be in favour of some form of assisted dying being legalised, increasing numbers of people are choosing to take matters into their own hands. For example, at the end of July 2015, a healthy 75-year-old former nurse took her life at a Swiss suicide clinic after saying she could not bear growing old. Gill Pharaoh – who had specialised in nursing the elderly – said old age was not ‘fun’ and that she preferred euthanasia to becoming ‘an old lady hobbling up the road with a trolley’. Only this evening, I found in my email inbox the following from the UK’s Dignity in Dying campaign:

“Today, Bob Cole had an assisted death at Dignitas in Switzerland and his story has been covered by almost every major media outlet in the country, including a front page in The Sun newspaper.”

I would be most interested to know where my readers are on this crucial issue. My husband and I have completed Advance Directives, stating clearly in writing what our wishes are – and are not– regarding medical care at the end of our lives. To this we have added Power of Attorney documents which give added weight to our Advance Directives. The latter at present have legal force in England but not in Scotland.

I also persuaded our GP to obtain Do Not Resuscitate forms, normally kept in hospitals, which we have included, signed by him. Copies of all these are now with us, our GP and geographically closest next of kin.

All this, of course, may not be enough if either of us is painfully and terminally ill and palliative care,  which in theory should be fully available to everyone but regarding which anecdotal evidence –sadly– is building to show where such measures have failed or are inadequate. What would one, other, or both of us do then? I have to admit that, at present, I do not know the answer to that….I’ve also lived long enough to know that, often, you really can not know what you would do in a very tough situation until you are actually there….

Anne and Peggy

Anne and Peggy

A year or so ago, before my husband and I had sorted out what we would do in terms of advance wishes, I had a discussion on the topic of what one does at the end of life with my dear friend Peggy. In her mid eighties, she is still amazingly active, enjoys life, and continues to be a wonderful support to other people as well as a shining example to those of us coming behind her regarding how we should grow older. Peggy, of course refuses to be complimented – “Away with you!!’ is her usual retort.

I recorded our conversation, which is quite short, and have Peggy’s permission to share it. It has the usual mix of Peggy’s and my conversations: a rich mix of grave seriousness, black humour, and sheer irreverence. I hope to post this conversation next week, to continue the dialogue on the topic of how we face and deal with death and dying in the 21st Century.

In the meantime, do let me know what your thoughts are on this, one of the most important issues of our era.

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900 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Preserving wild land and Nature: community versus politicians – Glasgow, UK

Our local community in North Kelvin, Glasgow,UK,  has been campaigning for years to preserve a precious piece of wild land in the middle of  the area. The most recent initiative, The Children’s Wood, has won numerous awards in its three years of activism. It operates on the cutting edge of world-wide research which shows that children – and their families – enjoying the Great Outdoors together is wonderfully effective in promoting physical, mental, and community wellbeing. Our local wild space is regularly used all year round by numerous community groups, eg  a number of local schools are now on side with an impressive range of educational programmes centred on outdoor learning. 

This year, the Charity Commission recognised The Children’s Wood by awarding it charitable status, to the delight of all local residents.

Children's Wood Protest 1

Children’s Wood Protest

photo: Anne Whitaker

You would think, wouldn’t you, that our local City Council – which likes to promote Glasgow’s “Dear Green Place” image – would be proud of having such an impressive community initiative right here. You might even think, mightn’t you, if they were savvy politicians, that they could be claiming some of the credit  for this world-class initiative, using its success to attract positive interest – maybe even money – in promoting their Glasgow’s Green Year 2015 campaign?

Not a bit of it!!!

No interest whatsoever has been shown. The council persist in describing our vibrant piece of community land as  “disused football pitches”. Here, in the words ofThe Children’s Wood website, is a summary of the current  state of play regarding the sale of the land – the City Council’s preferred option, opposed by 90% of local residents:

“Glasgow City Council is run by a Labour administration. It is the decision of the Labour party to sell the land. They could at any point throw out the application on various grounds, including the length of time it is taking New City Vision to move forward. It has now been 7 years since New City Vision became the preferred developers, and 3 years since the initial planning application was submitted. In the mean time the community of Maryhill and North Kelvin have been kept hanging around while NCV stop and start.

We are not supported by the Glasgow Labour party and believe that they have not engaged with us on this issue. It is vitally important that you get in touch with your local councillor and other politicians on this issue and ask for their support on this important matter and to put pressure on the council to throw out this application and support our plans to keep it wild. 3,000 local people were surveyed by Glasgow University over a year ago and the results revealed that over 90% do not want building on the land.”  

The Children's Wood

The Children’s Wood

The Children’s Wood have just made a short film which weaves research, activism, and images of children and adults using the land, into a vivid and clear statement of commitment to an ongoing project which can be used as a template ANYWHERE in the world where there are wild spaces within cities.

Do watch it!

Such spaces are in danger of being swallowed up by the power of commercial interests, who cannot see benefit except in terms of money. We are challenging this attitude in our community. We need help and support in fighting against our own City Council, sad though it is to have to see this statement in cold print.

If you would like to help us by sending in, from anywhere in the world, letters of objection to selling the land – find out how to do that HERE

If you would like to give us a donation to help fund our campaign, as well as our ongoing community projects, click HERE.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Do leave a comment with your thoughts.

Children's Wood Protest 1

Children’s Wood Protest

650 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Chip shops and kama sutra: poetry with a difference, Glasgow-style!

It has been some time since I last wrote about a wonderful local initiative bringing children, parents,  our wider community and the Great Outdoors together in North Kelvin, Glasgow, U.K – The Children’s Wood, which very happily has recently gained charitable status. Everyone around here is delighted with this achievement.

One of the things we can now do is extend our fundraising activities.To this end, The Children’s Wood is teaming up on Tuesday 24th March, 7.15 pm,  with our excellent Oxfam Book Shop, 330 Byres Road, Glasgow G12, which is always willing to support appropriate local initiatives. That diverse and talented group of published poets from the Greater Glasgow area, the Byres Road Poets, are presenting an evening of poetry reading in the above shop to raise funds for The Children’s Wood. 

Byres Road Poets

Byres Road Poets

Local friends, supporters and poetry fans, do come along to hear a rich and diverse mix of versification from Carole Bone – don’t miss her infamous Chip Shop poem; Sophie Agrell – repeating her rendition of that risqué Kama Sutra poem; and Alistair Christie Johnston, man of mystery by choice who simply will not say what he’s reading – till he reads it…

There will be wine, nibbles, and a chance to contribute a suggested  £5 – or more, don’t hold back! – to The Children’s Wood‘s coffers. To continue with these imaginative existing initiatives livening up and enriching the lives of young and old alike in the North Kelvin area, we need funds. Do be generous – it’s a terrific, life enhancing cause.

I know that my many loyal readers and Followers live in different areas of the UK and all over the world, but especially in the USA. Our local initiative here in one area of one Scottish city is an important microcosm of a world-wide movement to get young people, parents, and whole communities together, to get us OUTSIDE, to get us more active, less gadget-bound and therefore more healthy.

So: those of you who are too far away to come and listen to those excellent local poets, why not give a donation – anything you can afford would be welcome – to help us on our way? Click HERE to donate. Many thanks!

We are all part of the ONE: one family, one community, one nation, one world. Let us never forget this, and let us support one another in any small initiatives for positive change.

‘…Mighty oaks from little acorns grow…’

logopond gallery

logopond gallery

400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Is “ordinary” kindness becoming a casualty of our technological age?

I arrived at the bus stop, cold and in a hurry, as usual – just as the bus I wanted was leaving. “So typical!”  I muttered crossly to myself, settling down to wait for the next one with an ill grace. A tall, lean, youngish woman with long, rather straggly hair, wearing a dark coloured jacket, jeans and a pair of Wellington boots arrived at the stop. I thought she looked rather strained and tired.

To help pass the time, I outlined my theory of bus catching to her. If you couldn’t care less about catching a bus, two will pass you going in your direction, any of which would do, I said. If you’d quite like a bus because you are feeling lazy, one will pass you just as you are arriving at the stop. If you are desperate to catch a bus and very much behind schedule, a posse of three will speed by, pretending not to see you.

The woman laughed and laughed. I noticed she had large, soulful eyes. “Ain’t that so close to the truth you could bite its bum,” she spluttered. And on we chatted, until at last the bus arrived. As we were getting on, she said thanks for our chat. “No problem,” I said. “I always talk to people!” She looked at me before taking her seat. Her eyes filled with tears. ” Today,” she said, “it was more important than you will ever know.”

Our brief encounter was important to me, too. It got me thinking about “ordinary” human connection, and exchanges of “ordinary” warmth from one person to another.

Recently, I was in a big city centre store, returning a faulty amplifier. It was very straightforward, and although I was rather tired and in need of some lunch, I suddenly decided to investigate the in-store availability of a small digital overhead projector which I’d been thinking of purchasing to run off my laptop, my twenty year old OHP now being very out of date.

What a mistake that was! I was pitched into one of those protracted gothic techno-nightmares which we all have from time to time in which everything possible goes wrong. Note to self: I really MUST learn that there is a time to give up, ie before I am lying in a frazzled, tearful heap on one of the sofas of the said department store, bellowing into my mobile phone to my husband who simply can’t hear me at the other end.

Throughout the whole of this protracted saga, I was ably and calmly helped (she didn’t get anywhere, either,  in wading through the techno-snake pit into which we had stumbled) by a very professional and unflappable shop assistant who went to endless trouble to try and unravel the knotty series of problems we encountered at every stage of my attempted purchase.She was just great: calm, efficient, and most important of all – kind.

Some weeks later, I have recovered from that saga – no, since you ask, I still do not have a digital projector!– but I have not forgotten that young woman’s much appreciated kindness.

By a bizarre twist of fate, my husband and myself are both having to undergo eye surgery in March, within twelve days of each other. Last month, we both went to his pre-op assessment and met the surgeon who is to do his procedure which should be pretty routine. We immediately took to this man, who spoke to us both with warmth, humour, wisdom and great humanity. Afterwards, we both felt much better for that encounter. ” I’ll feel quite safe in his hands,” my husband remarked.

I have been fortunate to have been able to build up a relationship of trust and confidence in the consultant who will be doing my surgery –  over several years. Because of the humanity and kindness of my surgeon, as well as his skill and experience, I will feel as safe as one can, given the nerve wracking circumstances of  basically having a drainage channel cut in my left eye under a local anaesthetic. Having a black sense of humour and good supportive friends helps greatly too. Valium – here I come!

We all need to give and to receive kindness and care in both fleeting and  significant interactions with our fellow human beings. But we would need to be literally and metaphorically blind not to notice that the further we move collectively into techno- sophistication, the more compromised those day to day human interactions have become. We seem to be evolving socially into an increasingly neurotic population becoming better able to relate to our gadgets than our fellow citizens.

Whilst not in any way decrying those wonderful improvements and advantages which ever- advancing technological progress have brought our way, we need to be more aware of what is happening to our “ordinary” humanity in the process.

That great 20th century explorer of the human condition, psychologist and mystic Carl Gustav Jung, had wise words to say which are relevant here. If there is something wrong with society, there is also something wrong with me; therefore I need to start with myself in beginning to effect positive change, was the gist of his message.

So there we have it. Whilst being sensibly self-protective, let us all take opportunities wherever we can to reach out, even in small ways, to our fellow citizens. Talk to people at the bus stop. Thank people and show appreciation to those who are kind to us (I have Jaqui, the shop lady’s email address and will be sending her a copy of this post).

If people in the caring professions treat us with a lack of humanity and kindness, let’s try and make someone aware of this, preferably them, or their superiors. We may be doing some good in making it less likely that someone else will be treated this way. A couple of years ago I pointed out to an orthopaedic surgeon that his registrar had the inter- personal skills of a gnat. I hope and trust that this might have had some positive benefit for subsequent patients… 

I am indeed fortunate in living in that great grubby lively metropolis, the city of Glasgow in Scotland. Like any urban environment, there are plenty things wrong with it. But its reputation is of a warm-hearted place where its citizens are friendly and always up for a chat. I have certainly found this to be true. It has rubbed off on me. So – get out there, and get chatting, wherever you are. You never know when a few friendly words at a bus stop may make a big difference to someone else’s day. or even their life…

What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d like to hear them!

1110 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2015
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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