Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Injury Compensation

I read recently of a soldier, badly crippled in a recent conflict, who is appealing against what he considers to be an inequitable compensatory settlement of just over £150,000 for loss of legs, spleen, brain injury etc.

Considering that he was presumably willing to inflict injuries at least as serious on other people, admittedly brown-skinned foreigners, as part of his contracted duties, and knew (in theory, at least) what the risks of the work involved, can one have sympathy with his claim?

As a tax-payer I think enough of my hard-earned cash goes on ill-advised not to say immoral military adventures abroad, wars I didn't agree we should wage, and marched in protest against (NT Forum 2002 passim),so I'm definitely not at all disposed to fork out more. What do you think?

Saturday, August 18, 2007


The Face of Amida Buddha

"The ultimate protection is emptiness;
Know what arises as confusion
to be the four aspects of being."

Stella, whom I had been visiting intermittently in the Hospice, and then in a Nursing Home, died on 14th August.

She had asked that I be called to see her. She had attended a dharma group I set up locally in an Age Concern meeting hall a few years back. The dharma group met fortnightly for what was basically a cosy chat, sitting in 1980s chintz chairs in the gloom. There were seldom more than four of us at any particular time.

In 2005 I disbanded the group, and lost contact with Stella, although we had corresponded by email occasionally. Her call for me to visit her disconcerted me. She was dying of terminal cancer, with brain metastases. I found her in a hospice bed, quite incapacitated, but capable of slow, painful speech. She asked me first if she was dying. I recall answering that it looked like it, but that death was hard to judge or predict. She asked me if I would help her. I remember saying "That's why I'm here". I didn't, in truth, know what that meant, only that I had gone because she had asked me to, and I wanted to.

She then said, "I want to learn to be a Buddhist". I said, "Stella, you really don't need to be a Buddhist" and I meant it. I told her that I thought she had done all the work she ever needed to do to face death, and now was the time to draw on the fruits of that work, not to look for anything else. It was all there for her. She asked me, "How do you know?". I said, "I don't know, I just have confidence in you, and in it".

Stella was a science teacher, a biologist and chemist by training, and a natural sceptic. I loved the way she challenged everything, challenged my assertions, my glib aphorisms.

Our relationship was very uncertain. At one point I told her that I thought my visits were a hindrance to her, and I stopped visiting her. I think that uncertainty, my uncertainty, her uncertainty, had a value for both of us beyond the assurances of Buddhist teachings or the prescriptions of, for example, the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

"The ultimate protection is emptiness;
Know what arises as confusion
to be the four aspects of being."

I dedicate this post to Stella Whittaker, her life, her death, and to the merit of all sentient beings, great and small, near and far, born and yet-to-be-born, that they may be free from suffering, and the rooots of suffering, and heal into their true nature, and know peace.

Om Amidewa Hrih
Om Amidewa Hung Hrih
Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Pema Siddhi Hung
Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Pema Tetrung Tsul
Benza Samaya-Dza, Siddhi Pala Hung Ah

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Call me Al.....lah

A Catholic Bishop in the Netherlands has said that God doesn't mind what people call him, and that people of all faiths (perhaps he means Abramic or theistic faiths) should call him Allah. This would foster inter-faith understanding and promote religious tolerance.

He certainly has a point. Surprisingly, and a bit dishearteningly, he met with a heavy weight of criticism: apparantly 92% of a surveyed 4,000 people thought he was wrong.

My wife's deceased father was a Zambian, an ordained minister with Christian Missions In Many Lands. In his prayers, he always referred to the Almighty as "Lesa", which is the Bemba word for God, a title that antedated the arrival of Christianity in Africa. I always thought it sounded better than God, at least it did when he said it. I wonder if Lesa prefers it, and inclines more readily to it than God, or Allah. Of course, this is purely a flippant, idle question. I have no idea what the answer may be.

Perhaps perversely, what also came to mind for me when I finished reading the Bishop Tiny Muskens story was the 1980s Paul Simon hit "Call me Al", itself an inspirational composition built on the Great Depression lament, "Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?" ("It was Al all the time...").

It's a great lyric, and worth posting here, I reckon (in case yoú've forgotten bits):

A man walks down the street
He says why am I soft in the middle now
Why am I soft in the middle
The rest of my life is so hard
I need a photo opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don’t want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard

Bone-digger, bone-digger
Dogs in the moonlight
Far away my well-lit door
Mr. Beerbelly, beerbelly
Get these mutts away from me
You know I don’t find this stuff
Amusing anymore

If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al

A man walks down the street
He says why am I short of attention
Got a short little span of attention
And woe my nights are so long
Where’s my wife and family
What if I die here
Who’ll be my role model
Now that my role model is
Gone gone

He ducked back down the alley
With some roly-poly little bat-faced girl
All along along
There were incidents and accidents
There were hints and allegations

If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al
Call me Al

A man walks down the street
It’s a street in a strange world
Maybe it’s the third world
Maybe it’s his first time around
He doesn’t speak the language
He holds no currency
He is a foreign man
He is surrounded by the sound
The sound

Cattle in the marketplace
Scatterlings and orphanages
He looks around around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says Amen and Hallelujah

If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al
Call me

Na na na na …

If you’ll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al

Call me Al

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wrong, wrong, wrong

Not for the first time, I was wrong.

PBC isn't an arrangement to let patients buy services they want from a pot of money they're given by Government. It stands for "Practice Based Commissioning".

As the Lord Warner, ex-Minister of State for Health, helpfully explains on the DoH website:

"If there is an alternative that is better for the patient and better for the NHS, then practice based commissioning provides the basis on which they can change the way that services are delivered."

So, presumably, PCB can be seen as a 'lean, innovative tool to drill down and leverage more business, as smart, efficient operators in the mental health landscape' will certainly want to do.

Won't you? And if not, why not?

Monday, August 13, 2007

I've seen the future, and it err, umm.....

Advertising a Two-Day Conference on Mental Health Service Development, September 2007
(Health Services Journal)

"In an evolving mental health landscape now is the time to be smart and efficient. Operating in a dynamic, modernised NHS brings new challenges for mental health services. When faced with a new business world, mindsets and ways of working must be adapted, and corporate skills flexed to achieve the service transformation required to survive in this commercial environment.

Day One - Corporate Development

Thinking of the NHS as a business whilst maintaining a focus on “customer” care within mental health is no easy task. This day will drill down into the business planning and market management required to effectively compete in a commercial environment. Hear how to achieve flexibility, efficiency and financial stability as a Mental Health Foundation Trust in the absence of PbR. Learn how to respond to the diverse needs of your local population and gain meaningful membership. Acquire insight into the mechanisms available to drive efficiency and embrace these business challenges, including the establishment of robust governance and adoption of lean methodology.

Day Two - Service Transformation

At the heart of service transformation sits workforce redesign and effective commissioning; this day has been designed to provide you with the tools and information to rise to these challenges. In today’s NHS whole systems commissioning is imperative to service transformation. Learn how to make this a reality in mental health, whilst leveraging tools such as PBC to drive care closer to home. Hear also how to commission for public health outcomes, paramount to achieving health promotion in mental health, and use commissioning as an opportunity to increase the plurality of mental health providers and deliver real service user choice. For workforce and capacity planning to meet future demands on mental health services, roles must be redesigned and new ways of working applied. Hear how to embrace new ways of working to manage the primary/secondary care interface and establish effective partnerships with multiple agencies to maximise collaboration. With race equality high on the current agenda, gain experience-driven guidance on utilising your workforce to meet these needs and ensure equal access to all services and cultural sensitivity at all levels."

Peter comments: I reckon PbR means "Payment by Results", and I think PBC refers to the arrangement whereby patients get a sum of money to buy services they want, rather than getting what they're given. I can't remember exactly what the letters stand for, "Personal Budget for Care"?

The language sounds rather odd, but the thinking seems sound enough, if a bit overheated. I'd be a bit concerned that the hyperbolic way ideas are expressed may get in the way of implementing them. And some terms seem euphemisms for redundancy e.g. "lean methodologies". On the other hand, 'more efficient methods' is three words, 'lean methodologies' is two. Maybe that's what they mean. Why am I thinking of a certain tower in Pisa...?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Vote, vote, vote...

Well, I asked for it, I know.

Someone has already voted in my slightly daring poll, designed to give me feedback from readers on the direction they would like this blog to take (including the direction marked EXIT), or its content, or its style.

When I saw the first vote had been cast, I was pleased to know that someone actually reads the blog, and was sufficiently interested to vote. I wonder if that person will continue to visit, if only to see whether their vote will influence it? I also realised that the question I posed didn't quite match the responses I framed. It would have made more sense to ask "What CHANGES would you like to see on this blog?", because that's the purpose of the question, to canvass a few ideas about change. But I can't edit the poll in any way now someone has voted. That's democracy. And karma.

Of course, some response-options I offered are a bit provocative, because - at the time of writing - I've no firm intention to invite teachers of lineage to use the blog as a platform - although some readers might want that. And some of the the pictures and short captions are derived from Ken McLeod's Seven-Point Mind Training site that I find helpful and inspiring, without the pictures/captions being overtly Buddhist or suggesting a particular tradition.

A reflection on the first vote:

As I write, and since I first embarked on the blog, I realise how much of my ego contents spill out on to the page. More realistically, I'm PARTLY aware that SOME of my ego contents spill out on to the page, and partly aware that much of what I disclose is written unawarely. Often, when I read it back some days or weeks afterwards, a previously unconscious element leaps at me from the page: Buddha! Ray Wills used to counsel people in his circle to write stuff down, so that they might encounter themselves, not just in their narcissism, but also in their luminosity and grace.

Is the purpose of this blog self-gratification for its own narcissistic sake, or does it serve some other worthwhile purpose, personal or altruistic? I don't know, but I trust that it inclines more to the latter than the former purpose, while thinking that it may well do both. Does the blog in any way illuminate, through self-examination, some of the core issues at the heart of hospice, of suffering, its causes, and its remedy? That's not for me to say. But those of you who read it, if there any such beside the solitary voter, can comment if you want to. It will help me.

The image top left is titled "The Narcissist" and is by Jon Goebel (no relation)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

More from McLeod Grunge....err Ganj (from Lisa Sheehy)

Lisa Sheehy emails from India in fine uber-surreal form (and we can only thank her, with a sigh of envy, perhaps, and wish her and her companion Happy Landings!...):

Dear all, have not written for nearly a month! Sat down and wrote this last night and then the computer lost it - could have wept....

My last email, I was leaving fake addresses for S.... Well, we left S behind (sadly) and headed for Rishikesh - home of yoga, in search of inner peace and enlightenment. This soon evaporated on arrival after our usual bickering over where to stay (Will, just goes for the first place he sees.) After almost an hour of wondering aimlessly around in the 40 degree heat we were approached by a saddhu shouting 'beetle' beetle!' After realising that he meant the band and not the bug, we followed him towards the fab fours former ashram - tempted by the idea of sharing sweat (from the yoga mats) of John, Ringo, George and Paul. We followed him for 30 mins up a steep hill, sweating profusely, when he proudly turned around arms outstretched and exclaimed 'Beatles ashram! - 100 rupess, thankyou, please.' We were confused as all we could see were 2 rusty old gates and a dilapidated ruin. He then kindly informed us that it had been empty for 30 yrs.... At this point we did'nt know whether to laugh, cry or strangle him. We both looked at each other and said 'Help!', made our way down 'The long and winding road' and said 'We can work it out' (sorry.)

After finally finding sanctuary at another (open!) ashram, we decided to enroll in the full '3 days to enlightenment or your money back' package. This involved a 6 oclock start and hours of gravity defying yoga, meditation and lectures. We devoutly crept down at 6 looking for the meditation room, finally finding a darkened room in the bowels of the ashram. We found a seat eventually inadvertently bashing fellow students on the way. As we settled, we were aware of a glowing orange presence at the front of the room. A deep yoda like voice came from it pronouncing and elongating every syllable 'To lock your-self into the breath-less-state, contract your anus for a count of 12."

3 days later we were fully enlightened, if a little sore in the buttock region...so it was onwards and upwards to Musoorie, an old colonial retreat developed by the english in the 1800's for when they got too hot. Today, this once charming hillstation has been transformed into the indian version of Blackpool, serving curry and rice instead of fish and chips and selling 'Marry me quick' hats. Nevertheless, it was a pretty funny place and we were glad to get away from the pollution and crowds of the city.

We spent a pleasant few days there. despite having a power cut for most of it. Luckily this did not affect our enjoyment of the funfair as the ferris wheel was powered by two men leaping from carriage to carriage like monkeys. They shouted 'Want go faster?' in thick indian accents. 'Faster!' we cried but as their combined weight was more or less equal to 3 poppodums we still only went as fast as a milk float and almost came to a complete standstill when one man slipped, sending a smelly flipflop in our direction!

Next, a hair raising bus journey to Amritsar - Punjabi capital and home to the awe inspiring sikh golden temple. The roads were twisty and the driver suicidal so I distracted myself listening to music and laughing at the comedy road signs such as 'Darling, dont nag me as I'm driving - look the scenery is charming(?)' and 'Speed thrills and kills.' All of a sudden there was a high pitched scream from Will. I turned to see him covered in a red substance. No, it was'nt blood. It was puick. Unluckily (luckily?) not his own. Seconds earlier the boy in front had projectile vomited out of his window, which had boomerangede backwards onto Will, giving him a face full of partially digested curry.

Smelly but undaunted we hit Amritsar and were bowled over by the beauty and serenity of the golden temple. From there we headed to the nearby Indian/Pakistan border to see the elaborate and hilarious changing of the guards type ceremony which they do every evening at six pm. This basically involves two stadiums full of patriotic, flag waving indians and pakistanis seperated by a gold gate, which is eventually shut after an hour or so of the worlds tallest guards mincing back and forth, high-kicking, stamping and faffing about with flags. It was all quite good natured really which is surprising considering that they were threatening nuclear war on each other not long ago!

Final destination, McLeod Ganj - home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. This was our favourite place in India, a hippy haven filled with monks, travellors, temples and chanting. The Tibetans are also real party animals and this led us to our first proper drinking session in months.....sadly this was followed by our first hangover in months. Indian Kingfisher is just slightly better than meths and drinking it is a real lottery as the alcohol is from 3 to 10%. We must of got the 10% batch!

Seeing and hearing the Dalai Lama was a real privilige, something we had both been looking forward to (though he did insist on speaking in Tibetan - the cheek of it!)

Hoping u r all well

Next installment - Sri Lanka where the men wear skirts!

Love Lisa and Will

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Equanimity - I wish.....

I recently received a replacement passport, and the notes with it made it clear that it is indeed a "biometric" passport, although quite what its biometric characteristics involve is less clear.

Reading between the lines, I gather that my photograph has been analysed in terms of certain facial measurements and ratios into a computer-readable code. This, I think, is installed in a small chip, and this chip is connected to a rather spooky 'antenna' comprising several turns of very fine copper wire passed round a credit-card-sized oblong. I may be entirely wrong about this, but I think not. The front of the passport is embellished with a small cypher to show that it is 'biometric'. It's a bit like the X-Files. Spoooooooooky.

I needed my new passport to hand because, in my nursing work, I have to be periodically re-checked by the Criminal Records Bureau to determine my fitness to work with vulnerable people, and the passport is recognised as first-rank proof of identity for the checking process. I don't mind this in the least; although it is a bit irksome, I can see the point.

However, I was rather annoyed when I was told that, apart from presenting my passport to be checked by a designated and responsible person, it was going to be photocopied "for the record", and a photocopy kept on my personnel file. I dug my heels in. "No way!" Check it by all means, but the photocopying is not on, I won't allow it. Especially in these days of Identity Theft. Security works both ways, I said.

Well, I was told, "as your employer we have a right to copy your passport to prove you have a right to work in the UK". "Prove it authoritatively with parliamentary references" I snarled! Well, not quite, as I am a good-natured and eminently reasonable type, and a loyal employee.

Eventually, the issue was passed up to the Director of Human Resources for an opinion, and I am waiting for his judgement, but battle lines have been drawn, I reckon. Watch this space...

As for cultivating equanimity, what do you think? Am I over-reacting or what?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Conference - Hospice: the heart of end-of-life care/Harrogate/October

We've received a Programme and registration form for this conference, to be held over three days (October 2-4 2007) in Harrogate International Conference Centre. The programme is packed with high calibre presentations, stimulating workshops and the full range of conference goodies one might expect at such a prestigious event. Topics include Care for Carers, the Cancer Experience Collaborative, Dementia and Palliative Care, Volunteer issues, the Mental Capacity Act, Advance Care Planning, and research into the value of supportive and palliative care.

The sponsors advertise it as an event that will interest hospice staff, trustees and volunteers, clinicians in palliative care settings, policy-makers and researchers, and colleagues from around the world. There will be, I think, more than enough to satisfy and fascinate anyone with a mind for hospice from a Buddhist perspective.

The cost of registration for the full three-day event is £240 per delegate plus VAT, with lower charges for one- or two-day attendance, and refreshments are included.

I am committed to another event on the days concerned, but if anyone would like to attend to represent us, or as an individual without representative status, I shall be happy to pass on details, which are in any event posted on the Help the Hospices website

Please contact me via the email button for more information.