07 February, 2017

Getting older

My husband and I are struggling with elderly parents at the moment. We all have an inkling, I suppose, that our parents getting older can be a difficult time, but it's not until you're in the midst of it that you fully appreciate all that this entails.

At the moment we live in fear of the phone ringing, because one of our parents has fallen a couple of times recently. They have a bracelet around their wrist which allows them to contact a private company that can call an ambulance if they are unwell or have fallen -- otherwise how would anyone know, with them living alone? That's positive, of course, but it's not straightforward.

The foremost problem is that, once called, it takes ages for the ambulance to come -- over four hours, last time. So, you are left with an elderly person lying on the floor in the cold unable to get themselves up. Once the ambulance arrives, the staff are absolutely great, but it's the wait that's the problem.

An added problem is that the company that calls the ambulance doesn't have a call back number, so while they will ring to tell you that your relative has fallen and an ambulance has been called, there is no way of ascertaining when the ambulance has arrived or how long it might be. If you live at a distance from your parent, this leaves you with a huge dilemma -- do you embark on a journey of several hours to reach them or will the ambulance get there first? Last time, not wanting to call 999 when they were clearly so busy, we had to resort to scrabbling around on the Web for possible non-emergency numbers to ring in a bid to get hold of any information.

Social care is another problem. Social services will only visit the elderly on a regular basis if they are incapable of looking after themselves and are in need of personal care, i.e. help with getting out of bed, washing and dressing. If an elderly person is capable of doing these things, then they are judged to be able, but of course there are other things that they may need help with. For example, they become reliant on meals-on-wheels services and hired domestic help if they are not up to cooking or cleaning.

It can also be difficult to persuade elderly relatives to do things that would actually be helpful to their situation. We have suggested joining befriending networks of other elderly people and even hiring someone to help with transport to events, appointments, etc., but with no luck so far.

What we have really learnt from all of this is how important it is to plan ahead. We all need to acknowledge the fact that we will get old (however unwelcome the notion) and think in advance about how we will deal with this and the help that we may need to organise.

06 February, 2017

An Inspector Calls

We visited London at the weekend. Our main reason for doing so was that we had tickets for An Inspector Calls at the Playhouse. Our eldest is studying this play for GCSE, so we thought this would be a good excuse for a trip to the theatre -- one of our favourite things.

The play, of course, is superb -- and its message is so relevant in today's climate of nationalism and individualism. The performance was excellent too. This is a revival of the National Theatre's 1992 production using the original 1992 set, the centre of which is a house which closes up and opens out, a metaphor for the family's ignorance of, and lack of care for, the lives of those far less fortunate than themselves. As the family is forced by the inspector to pay attention to its fellow citizens, the house opens up to the elements, eventually collapsing as the family's self-satisfied world is torn apart.

Before the theatre, we had lunch at Zizzi in Bow Street, which was a good experience -- tasty food and very friendly staff.

And we made use of our favourite tube station, North Ealing, on our way into and out of London. We love this station -- it has a fast, direct line into the centre, is very well managed, and has lovely, clean loos. What more could you ask for?!

30 January, 2017

Algorithms versus the human mind

I read an interesting article in yesterday's newspaper. The strap line was: [Computer] Algorithms are capable of errors and discrimination. The article continued to give examples of such errors and discrimination:

  • a beauty contest used an algorithm to judge contestants but, because it had been trained only on white women, it was found to discriminate against women with dark skin;
  • a man had his driving licence revoked because anti-terrorism facial recognition software mistook him for someone else;
  • over 1,000 people a week are mistakenly identified as terrorists at airports by the algorithms used there;
  • an algorithm used to assess teacher performance scored a number of teachers badly -- yet these same teachers had previously been rated highly by parents and school principals. The reason? The algorithm based its scored on a very small number of student results and some teachers had tricked the system by suggesting to their pupils that they should cheat.
So: Generalising on the basis of a very small number of instances. Mistaking someone for someone else. Discrimination due to narrow exposure. Being duped by another person. It all sounds eerily familiar, doesn't it?

So much for computer programs being more reliable than human beings. Turns out there's not so much difference between the two systems after all...

29 January, 2017

La La Land

We went to see 'La La Land' at the cinema last night. I wasn't quite sure what to expect -- other than that the film was a musical and was highly acclaimed. However, I found that I really enjoyed it.

It was lively, fun and quite a spectacle. The dancing was amazing to watch -- it's impressive that something can look so effortless, when you know full well that it's not. The music was very good too -- especially the 'funked up' jazz. And I found the two main characters engaging -- I actually did care what happened to them.

So, if you're looking for something fun, light and easy on the eye, then 'La La Land' comes highly recommended.

12 December, 2016

Couriers

It's the run up to Christmas and, for us, that means couriers delivering parcels. More specifically, it means couriers delivering parcels to our house when we're out. Instead of leaving the parcel with a neighbour when we're out, we find that the drivers more often than not just dump the parcel on our mat in plain view to anyone passing by. Not good.

However, we have had a couple of good experiences recently:

  • UPS left a parcel with our local collection point, which was our local corner shop. We hadn't come across this before, but it turns out that UPS have local collection points where they will leave your parcel if you're not in. This means that they don't have to re-deliver, and the parcel is held somewhere safe until you pick it up. Perfect.
  • But DPD go one step further. On the morning of delivery, we received an email giving us a one-hour time slot. We were told who our driver was (including a photo of him) and we could track his route as he made his journey towards us, which meant that eventually we knew the 15-minute time slot during which he would deliver to us. I had some reservations about what this meant for the driver (lack of autonomy, pressure to deliver exactly when expected, etc.) but in terms of customer service, it was great!

29 November, 2016

FREE book promotion for 'Six Months in Paris'

My novel, 'Six Months in Paris', will be FREE on Amazon from Friday 2 until Tuesday 6 December.

It is a light, fun read, perfect for helping you through these cold winter days. Here's the blurb for it:

Anna Chaliss has her life all mapped out…or so she thinks.

Taking a gap year before university, Anna heads off to Paris for six months to work as an au pair. A nice French family. Two lovely girls. A beautiful house in the suburbs. What could be better?

But things don’t quite turn out as planned. Instead of having the time of her life, Anna finds herself on a voyage of self-discovery which changes her future irrevocably.

28 November, 2016

London weekend

We followed our usual annual tradition last weekend of visiting London to do a bit of Christmas shopping and to look at the lights. We wondered whether we might give this outing a miss this year, but the children were insistent...

We had a productive but very long and tiring day. It is astonishing how many people there are walking up and down Oxford Street at this time of year -- it's almost impossible to move, unless you employ the rather crafty tactic of heading down side streets and trekking along back streets, which we did.

Other things that I found surprising were:

  • The length of the queues for the ladies' loos in John Lewis. We waited the best part of fifteen minutes to reach the front.
  • The crowds of young women who seemed desperate to shop in Pink for underwear. My daughters love it, but I really can't see the attraction -- the clothing is definitely not my style.
  • The fact that North Ealing tube station could be completely closed for the whole day due to a shortage of trains on the Piccadilly Line. I mean, is that an appropriate way to manage the capital's public transport system?!
On the plus side:
  • We found a lovely cafe close to Oxford Street for lunch.The Everbean appeared to be independent, was tastefully decorated, had very friendly staff, and served unusual and delicious food (avocado on toast for us!).
  • We enjoyed looking at the lights in Covent Garden, despite the huge crowds.
  • We wound up at an ASK for supper. It was predictable, but pleasant, and we were able to pay using our Tesco vouchers (always a bonus!).