Sunday, 12 October 2014

Baby George and Pulmonary Atresia

George Peter Sams
George Peter Sams was born at 10:22 am on the 10th October 2014 at St Thomas’ hospital, London. He has had the most amazing support from the medical staff there and is currently under care in the Intensive care ward. For those of you who don’t know my son (my third child) has Pulmonary Atresia, a rare heart defect that ultimately leaves half of his heart, the half that pumps de-oxygenated blood to the lungs to bring back vital Oxygen for the rest of the body, non functioning. We had the option to terminate early on but…

On Monday he goes in to have his first of three operations . This one is to put a plastic pipe or shunt into the closing hole in-between the ventricles that keeps the heart as a two (rather than 4) chambered pump giving him the shot at life. More will follow and his is not an easy road. He will have limited tolerance to exercise, complications to diet, digestion, renal function etc caused by the future ops and above him the spectre of early death on the operating table, or if his weak half a heart should give out. All the while we have agreed to give him this shot.

It just seems so bitterly unfair that this little bundle of innocence has already been given this massive handicap that could and probably will kill him eventually and we his parents have to make choices as to how long he gets to live or try and guess at what may or may not happen. I keep wishing our roles were reversed but to no avail.

Every hour I panic and worry that we’ve done the right thing, that he is going to be alright and that he has the best shot at life as he possibly can. I’m terrified of leaving the hospital on Monday unless I’m not there and…

I’m not a religious man, far from it, but for the first time in a log while I have offered up a silent prayer to my ancestors (especially my Grandparents) to watch over him and to take care of him. His fate is in the hands of the Doctors and in nature and all manner of things. If there is a higher reason or force controlling everything then I hope that George is dealt a better hand.

A good friend of mine said to me this weekend that I was tough, and I could get through the heart ache, pain and stress to come. The truth is – I’m not tough, I’ll get through this because I have to but in reality I’m terrified. I'm maintaining a steely façade and the "I'm good with this" stance to cover up the little boy inside who just wants to curl up into a ball and beg this to stop. This past year hasn't been the best for me or my family and more bad things are being pushed below the surface with the other repressed feelings. It is so repressed that the other day I started sobbing uncontrollably when I read that a German Cruiser sank with all hands a century ago! I mean really?

The raft I cling to is that he was a good weight, a healthy colour and alert and focused so should be strong enough to fight through the surgery and make a full recovery. He is one of us and my forebears were hardy and resilient. So should he be. He WILL be ok!

This whole blog post probably doesn't make sense. It is more an attempt to get my thoughts and feelings onto paper and definitely not a cry for help.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Mark Reckless' defection

Defector: Mark Reckless.
The news broke yesterday, whilst I was at a wedding, that Mark Reckless had defected to UKIP from the Conservative party. This was somewhat of a surprise to me but I really guess it shouldn't have

For sometime I had believed that although stridently anti-EU and having rebelled against Coalition line time and again, Mark Reckless was Conservative through and through but his position would have meant that UKIP would be unlikely to win in Rochester and Strood in 2015 and would do very little to dent his voter base.

I totally hadn't considered that he would defect.

Apparently I wasn't the only one.

I've exceptionally mixed views about defection. Although it is noble to follow one's belief to whatever end it can have some pretty nasty ramifications. A long while ago I wrote:

It is a decision that no one should take lightly, a decision that should be thought through thoroughly and not rushed. After all... like [Benedict] Arnold, once you've left you can never go back and some bridges can never be unburnt, for you will always be a turncoat.

According to Mark's website he has thought this through extensively, something I can well believe (I had a similar experience once) and ultimately came to this decision. He lists these reasons in depth in his article but ultimately it boils down to electoral promises and frustrations that he could not represent the people of Rochester and Strood as a Conservative anymore.

My previous prediction for the General Election in Medway was for UKIP not to bother standing a candidate as Mark was pretty much in that ground anyway... However this defection is going to shift the dynamic a whole lot more.

Earlier today I saw statistics that suggested that Mark will get re-elected easily based on the percentage of people in the Medway Council area who voted UKIP. If I remember correctly that despite being true across the region it was not the case in the Rochester & Strood wards. These wards mostly voted Conservative.

So we could see the return of a Conservative MP rather than Mark's re-election?

Not necessarily.

The Conservatives in Medway have been divided between the Rainhams and the Rochesters for quite some time and this defection could be the tumbling of small stones that sets of an avalanche. Already Councillor Chris Irvine, who is exceptionally close to Mark and works for him at Westminster, has quit the Conservative party and according to his twitter stream, will be consulting the residents of his ward as to what they would like him to do. If more were to follow...

We could see a larger UKIP powerbase with vast local experience than expected in the old Cathedral city.

This could also be Labour's big chance. The Medway towns have been swing seats for some time and although I had postulated that Mark would come through unscathed that was before the right vote was completely bisected. Naushabah Kahn, the Labour candidate for Rochester and Strood, has been making ground recently. Feelings against the Coalition do run high across Medway and they may be enough for her to capitalise on it, especially for a local girl who is talking about the things that matter to the working person who doesn't care as much about the EU as they do the NHS or Immigration as much as they do cut services. According to Medway Labour's Press release Ms Kahn stated;

With such division in the Medway Tory party, it’s clear that there is only one choice in Medway for the progressive, fair vote and that is Labour. We have a 10 year plan to save the NHS, including the extra resource of 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs and 5,000 more careworkers. In Rochester and Strood, we have a choice between a Labour party that will save the NHS or a Tory party that is in a race with UKIP to the far-right

Usual Party stuff but it is a sentiment that will draw people in.

Who knows, all I can say is that Medway is about to become really interesting politically over the next few months and part of me really laments my retirement which starts as of tomorrow.

I hope someone is going to cover this properly.

Just as a postscript and returning to the Benedict Arnold post and burned bridges, there is a sense of betrayal among some locals, be it electorate that voted Conservative and suddenly find a UKIP foothold in their constituency, local Conservatives who have seen all their hard work in supporting Mark thrown away, and also colleagues.

Indeed Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham & Aylesford was quoted as saying (and sums up the feeling for local Conservatives);

He looked me in the eye and promised me he wasn't going to defect. I feel very angry and let down.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Labour bluster over Medway LibDems

Some years ago I saw the last Deutsche wöchenschau, the Third Reich's newsreel dated March 1945. Whilst Messerschmitt fighters took off from waterlogged agricultural fields and streams of exhausted boys and old men in a mixture of uniforms marched past the camera the narrator pronounced ultimate victory would be theres. The Luftwaffe were blasting American planes from the air and the Russians were being turned back at the Oder. Whether the German people took anything from it is debatable but we know it was just noise.

Medway Labour have a lot riding on this election. The Coalition has not always been popular in low income areas where Tory led cuts have injured local services. The normally unassailable Medway Conservatives suddenly look vulnerable, especially as the locals are on the same day as the General election. These marginal seats could swing red again and I believe Gillingham & Rainham will.

Ever since tuition fees Medway Labour have been predicting the death of the Medway Libdems with an alarming frequency but I can assure you that there is still life in them. There are regular Focus deliveries, canvassing, street letters and campaigning just in a smaller area than Labour. Our membership is up and hardly flocking to Labour as they have suggested - I'm aware of only one in the last two years.

That is their weakness. They are pressing on all fronts to get the Tories out locally and in Westminster. Across Gillingham & Rainham, Rochester & Strood and Chatham & Aylesford. Even with Union funding their resources are not endless and they are stretching themselves thin. Although an all out offensive in Gillingham South may turn it red (I'll be moving) they will not get Watling ward. An all out offensive in Gillingham south would come at a cost of taking other fronts like Chatham & Aylesford where a strong MP might do enoug on personal performance over the popularity of Coalition policy.

The other problem Labour are facing is UKIP.

The common opinion is that UKIP are the bane electoral bane of the Tories but we've found that Labour are losing just as much support where as LibDem supporters are less likely to go Purple. Farrage is seen to be more in touch with the common person and their concerns rather than the Tory lite esq Milibamd led Labour. Seats in urban areas like Chatham central, Luton and Wayfield and even Gillingham North are fairly undecided and require shoring up before the election - further blunting their offensive capability. They also have to worry about their own seats from the weirdly popular Medway Tories. Rumour has it that Chris Irvine is on the offensive to take Labour's bulwark Cllr Murray's seat!

Labour, although set to gain ground along with UKIP who are becoming rapid favourites following unparalleled support across the estuary but it may be tempered and not the sure victory they are hoping and predicting. They'll also find the last bastions of LibDem seats a hard nut to crack and the red tide may be halted.

Let's just hope that come May I don't look like King Canute!!!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Southeastern Renew rail franchise

Well this is a sticky wicket.

Firstly I should say that for those of you who don't regularly read my blog will know that when it comes to rail travel and the EXTORTIONATE amount of time and money I throw at the railway system, I am apolitical on this subject.

No party, no government is innocent in the journey that has led to this day.

However I'm.... happy with the final decision that has led to Southeastern having their contract renewed.

Perhaps happy is too strong a word. However I can see the logic behind it.

I first read about it on Tracey Crouch's website and had mixed feelings.

On the one side I will continue to put up with dirty trains (seriously I got on a train last Saturday morning and it had Metros from Friday on most of the seats!), overcrowding, cramp caused by lack of leg room, lateness, congestion and absent staff,

Then as I read the release from Tracey's office the more I thought about some of the issues.

Congestion can't be helped at London bridge, especially if there is a broken down train or signal cockup.

With absent staff, can you blame them? The way that commuters speak to staff when something goes wrong would make me want to backslide into an office when things start going badly.

I commute on a busy railway line to London and travel at peak time so I can't really complain about the business. Even if they were to throw on a couple more carriages or compromised more leg room for more seats then they wouldn't get many more of us sitting down though if they got rid of First class....

The other things are bearable. Sort of.

I can understand that Southeastern are aware of the London Bridge transformation and it makes sense that they continue. It is going to be chaotic enough let alone bringing in a completely new company which will still be wet behind the ears when the brown stuff hits the fan.

I also like that the Government are forcing Southeastern to invest money into the network in various different ways - its all on Tracey's website, it is late and there's no need in me repeating it all - and the fares will be frozen in "real terms"


But they are going up by the rate of inflation and as my wages are being frozen yet again (some 4 years in a row) I'm going to be paying 25% of my take home... Great...

I did read an opposition point of view on it on Tristan Osborne's blog and there are areas which I disagree with. To be honest Connex were crap and things are getting safer and the rolling stock has improved but the escalator that Labour put in has really made rail travel the reserve of the richer.

I do not see HS1 as a victory for the average commuter.

I mean it is great for when I go to visit my sister in Newark as I can cut around London and walk to Kings Cross but it is of bugger all use to me when I work in South London, it also means my old fast train to Victoria (which used to be 45 minutes) now takes longer as it has to stop at additional stations (Meopham and Longfield) because it was faster than the HS1 into London....

It is also too expensive for a regular journey (especially if you factor on the 30 minute tube journey)...

Any way I'm getting side tracked.

Either way I'm screwed. All I can do is try and smile and hope that the optimism that Tracey's PR exudes actually holds water. Things need to be improved, the prices need to be reined in and well...

The network needs a lot of things and I could sit here bitching and griping about it but I'm sure no one would care that much - well definitely no one in any of the major political parties who have long forgotten the commuters and the system we have to put up with.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Scottish Referendum and Social Media

As the smoke clears from yesterday's referendum there are a couple of lessons that can be learnt.

Firstly, I want to say that the whole referendum was a good thing for democracy and the democratic process. It has been so disheartening looking at voter turnout to elections over the last few years in the UK - as a democrat I found it hard to accept that the people of this country have so little interest in the future or selecting the best party to lead and form a government. Even if the people of the UK voted BNP or Raving loony party it would be better than just sitting at home complaining.

However last night saw over 80% of Scots voting.


This shows how important the people took this whole debate. Whether they watched the televised debates or read the pamphlets, entered with predetermined ideals or chose at random, they got involved and that is the main thing so well done Scotland!

However this is not the important thing that I am alluding to.

It is not a new thing, it is something I think I spoke about after AV...

The other day SKY news was waxing lyrically about how the #Yes was three times more popular on Twitter than the #no and that pro independence tweeters were dominating the twittersphere. The same was true with the #Yes2AV, which I was part of. Online we thought we had won.

You cannot take online chatter as a clear view of the polls.

Twitter is a bit of a soundbox. Although a good forum for debate it is also a place where the entrenched dig themselves in with likeminded fellows. Libdems stick with Libdems, Tories with Tories, Labour with Labour. Let's face it - it is logical. Although many of us get on with those from other parties we don't agree on a lot and if we did we wouldn't be in the parties we are! There's no point arguing about politics with each other because we don't agree and won't agree - I tried it recently by arguing with Gillingham & Rainham's ex Labour MP (and candidate for 2015) Paul Clark and instantly regretted it as it took several days and neither of us gained ground or agreed on anything. To be honest, it started to stress me out and was an irritating distraction as I tried to concentrate on my work on von Spee's fleet.

Most people won't voice political opinions on Twitter, or even in real life when asked by a politico as they don't want to be drawn out into a debate. I've done enough door knocking to know that most people will either avoid answering, say their busy or just say they will take the leaflet and read (recycle) it. Not many will argue, even less will argue with an activist about policies unless they are die hard politicos or like my grandfather, had pre-set ideas that, despite logical debate, could not be undone.

Twitter users are the same, those that tweet general stuff or people who have causes other than politics won't take any interest in a politico tweeting at them trying to convince them of a subject. Often his is a quick way to get blocked or an unfollow in the same way that on the doorstep you'll get a door slammed in your face.

As we AV supporters learned back in 2011 and the Yes campaign found out again last night, the volume and quantity that Yes supporters say Yes is not an accurate portrayal of how wide your message has spread and been accepted. I feel stupid saying this but think I need to, not just to online campaigners but also to the researchers at SKY news - not everyone is on Twitter and it isn't an authority on political popularity.

I think the final word has to go to Danny Alexander MP who tweeted this earlier....

Monday, 4 August 2014

Another Bookshop gone

One of my favourite things in this world are books.  Old books, new books, fiction, non-fiction, comic, serious, classic books, Sci-fi books, fantasy books, intellectual books.... Sadly my wife prefers that I buy - Kindle books.

Reading has always been a big part of my life, it was my crutch as a child. I was fairly shy and I was always a fan of sitting down day dreaming with a good book. By the age of 11 I had read all the local libraries Doctor Who books and was working my way into the teenage section. In my late teens I put down the books and picked up the controller but with a regular commute I'm back to reading voraciously again.

One of my favourite, yet costly places to go are books shops and I have a couple of favourites and sadly one of them is now closing. Bargain books at Waterloo is in a perfect location for me. Whenever I have time to kill before a train I nip in and have a browse and have picked up some real bargains. Even when it is closed at 6am when I walk by there is always time to window shop.

Sadly today I read the signs that it was closing down - this makes me sad.

I will now have to rely on WHSmiths which sadly sells at a higher price and tends to be more populist. I don't want to buy from the top 25 of Non-fiction or Fiction, I don't want celebrity biography or some generalist history on World War One - I'd rather browse a topic section, smell the leaves, have that thrill of discovering just what I was looking for like the time I discovered a book on the Boer War that analysed the contribution of Kitchener and especially at the battle of Paardeberg (which is where my great, great Grandfather fought).

Sadly this is becoming far too common with smaller and broader book shops disappearing and being replaced with populist big companies. Waterstones isn't too bad for that but even then they will shrink their sections depending on supply and demand so I find a plethora of vacuous celebrity biography and books on TOWIE and nothing on philosophy and one set of shelves covering history from the Romans to the Victorians, three areas devoted to World War Two and a seven books on local history but a bloody great Costa in the middle of the store.

I will miss the Bargain book shop, more than a person should really but living in a town devoid of bookshops (seriously other than WHSmiths and a Works) there are no dedicated bookshops - I have to go to Chatham or even Rochester - bugger it I'll just look on Amazon (which as good as it is lacks that book buying experience, it is too easy!).

Thursday, 17 July 2014

How I met Your Mother finale review

I’ve just watched the final episode of season 9 of the Hit US sitcom How I met your mother which, if you haven’t seen it is the story of how Ted meets the mother of his children and the love of his life.

Need I say *Spoiler alert* ahoy?

The series has taken up the mantle left by Friends and matched the same dynamic of a group of friends from mixed backgrounds in their late 20s living in a flat in New York and frequenting a bar – with a sly nod to Friends by having them hang out in a coffee shop once and hating it.

The characters are all linked to Ted, who is also the narrator and the central axis of the story with his search for love. It also swept me up in the story as it showed a guy, about my age with the same problems as I have. The whole growing up and making adult decisions, moving out of the 20s into the 30s and leaving his old life behind him in kind of a right of passage from youth to adult to father and husband.

Like Friends it has had a really decent run, it had nine seasons and around two hundred episodes covering a vast array of subjects, encounters and growth of all the characters. There are mountains of cultural references, in gags, great human quality and drama despite the comedy. It was after all, a story about love, life and friendships across the years.

So season 9, the final season, has just finished and I am left with serious mixed emotions. Firstly, as a season I’ve been quite disappointed. The overall story arc was about Barney and Robin’s wedding but with the other leading edge that Ted was going to meet the unnamed mother and fall in love. Sadly it dragged. There were so many complications with the wedding and the other characters (like Lily and Marshall’s planned move to Italy vs. his being given a Judgeship in New York state, Ted still having feelings for Robin and finally letting her go, Barney finally putting his commitment issues down etc…).

Although the episodes were mostly good, it felt like they were stalling the main plot and to quote my wife at the end of most of them;
Hurry up and get married for Pete’s sake!
There were lots of references to the Mother, and she meets all of the others and helps them in one way or another, even convincing Robin to go back and marry Barney. With only two episodes to go we were still on the edge of our seats. Marshall and Lily were expecting baby number 3 and decided to go to Italy, Barney and Robin were married and Ted was due to meet the mother by the next episode. Other lose ends were also tied up, even little ones like what was Blah-Blah’s real name? How did Scooter get over Lily? What the hell was Barney’s job? (Please…)

The last two episodes seemed to rush things as they passed the meeting and passed into the future with Ted and (the still unnamed) mother having their two children, Lily and Marshall having their third and his return to corperate law and the devastating news the Robin and Barney have divorced as they couldn’t make things work. We were left with Robin leaving the group of friends as she no longer had any thing in common and that being around Barney was too painful.

So, the finale.

We begin to tie up even more threads. Barney becomes a father after one of his One night stands finally backfires – a truly moving moment when he holds the baby girl for the first time and tells her how much he will love her forever and you finally see him grow up. It was something that struck accord with me as I remembered holding Sophie in my arms for the first time and the feeling that evoked and that deep down I changed as I’m sure we all do the moment we become parents.

 Marshall becomes a judge and out of the job he despises and Ted and (the still unnamed mother) get married on a day that Robin comes back to be with her best friend’s big day, a day that many didn’t think was coming. We see Ted talking of his love for the girl, who we finally find out is called Tracy(!!!!)  and all the times he looked back fondly on their life together, through the highs, lows, the petty arguments and when she got sick and died.

Yes, she died.

The scene dissolves back to his study where he has been narrating the story to his children over the last nine years and telling them about his life and they tell him if they want their permission to ask out Aunt Robin that’s ok. It ends with him standing outside her house holding the iconic blue French horn, a symbol of their love (he stole it for her on their first date back in the pilot!).

Part of me was overly gratified that the subtext for the first four/five seasons of on/off romance and affection (in true Ross/Rachel style) was gratified. Even the other great love of his life (and the girl I’d been rooting for), Victoria had said at the end beginning of season 8 that Ted had to chose between her and Robin’s friendship (reminds me of Emily’s ultimatum in Season 4(?) of Friends…). The show had prided itself that all those who had predicted Ted and Robin would get together were wrong and just when we had accepted it all they fired off that last twist in the last five minutes.

As a romantic and someone who has read a lot of love, the human experience and even walked in the footsteps of Ted at more than one point in my life, I will admit that I cried a little when I re-watched it on E4+1 whilst writing this review.

Then again, the teenage daughter makes the valid point that the whole story barely doesn’t have the mother in it – I mean I can understand the first 8 seasons as it is all about growth and life and hints being dropped about the mother (sorry Tracy) as well as his romantic encounters including being ditched at the altar (by Stella played by Sarah Chalke), the great love that was Victoria (Ashley Williams), the turbulence of Zoe and Jenette… But Season 9 barely has her in it as well and this was meant to be the season they met and fell in love, so in a way – I’m not surprised and a little let down. They have gone to the standard sitcom cliché of he’ll get with her, she’ll be with him and he’ll marry out of the group etc…

Don’t get me wrong it is something that if I ever get a free 100 hours to rewatch the series I’ll be watching it from another viewpoint and nodding along with that smug I know what happens look like the second time I watched Sixth sense, but part of me will always be disappointed a little by the ending and feel eminently sorry for Tracy who has been killed off without chance to be developed fully and is a virtual unknown.

It has been a fantastic series, one that never lost its way like Friends, never changed its basic make up and chemistry like Big Bang Theory and did not over run by too much like Frasier. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and if you have never seen it – dude, you need to watch this sitcom! – I am just in a state of shell shock at the ending and a little disappointed but then again, when there is ever an ending to a series that isn’t your ideal, won't you always be?