25 October, 2014


During the summer my husband and I went to the cinema to see the film ‘Boyhood’, directed by Richard Linklater. If you read my blog regularly you may remember that I am a fan of Linklater’s films, especially the ‘Before...’ trilogy.

‘Boyhood’ explores the notion of growing up, and filming took place over a period of twelve years with the same actors. The themes covered include how people change over time, how relationships develop, how people move on during the course of their lives, and interaction between the generations. So, as with the ‘Before...’ trilogy, Linklater’s interest remains with the passage of time, although this time he deals out a sustained study, rather than snapshots at nine-year intervals.

I really enjoyed this film. It is a considerable achievement to maintain momentum and focus over such a long, yet fragmented, period of filming, and this certainly strikes you when watching. It is also interesting to see how the actors themselves change over time—how they age or grow up, depending on their starting points. And there were a couple of points made in the film which certainly resonated with me. One, when the mother of Mason (the boy of the film's title) breaks down in tears as her son is getting ready to leave home for university, saying that she’s now passed all of life’s major milestones, bar one—her own funeral. And the second, where Mason comments that, although his mother has had so much experience and has worked really hard to get the job she yearns for, she still doesn't know what she really wants out of life and deep down is just as confused as he is.

So, eighteen or forty—it makes no difference to how you feel. Linklater is spot on, as usual!

18 October, 2014

The complexity of mental illness

There has been a strong political focus recently on mental health, with pledges to reduce waiting times for those in need of interventions and to put mental illness on a par with physical illness. There is also a movement to change people’s perception of mental illness, thus reducing stigma and enabling people to talk about and understand mental illness in the same way that they do physical illness. These moves have sprung from people having to wait many weeks before receiving treatment for mental disorders, with this, on occasion, resulting in suicide as patients despair of ever receiving help.

All of this is very laudable. It will be wonderful if we can reduce the stigma and get people talking about, rather that shying away from, mental health issues. However, I have experience of mental illness from a rather different angle, an angle that people may be less familiar with. One of my close relatives has suffered from schizophrenia—one of the most serious mental illnesses— for the whole of their adult life. The symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions (of persecution, for example), auditory hallucinations (hearing voices), and disordered thought patterns. The delusions, in severe cases, become overwhelming and replace the sufferer’s ‘normal’, rational view of the world. It is not uncommon that people who suffer from schizophrenia also suffer from a complete lack of insight into their condition—their delusions appear so real to them that they are incapable of recognising that they are ill, a condition known as anosognosia. My relative falls into this camp.

For someone who recognises that they are ill and actively seeks help, there is a good chance of curing that person (or at least of controlling the symptoms of their illness). But for someone who cannot recognise that they are ill, the outlook is much less bright. From my experience, try as you might, it is impossible to persuade someone with anosognosia that they need help. And suggesting to them that they are ill (or even failing to express agreement with their delusional beliefs) makes them extremely angry and, sometimes, violent. The situation becomes intractable.

What, then, happens in situations like these? Well, the simple answer is that nothing can be done, until the person exhibits behaviour that makes them a danger to themselves or others, at which point they can be detained under the Mental Health Act and forcibly treated. In these cases, pressure on the nearest relative becomes intense. (The ‘nearest relative’ is a legal term, defined in the Act, and it is not possible to stand down from the position of nearest relative.) The nearest relative is ‘consulted’ at every stage of the detention because, legally, someone cannot be detained under the Act without the consent of their nearest relative. But this process makes a mockery of the concept of ‘consent’ since, although the nearest relative has the right to object to the detention and, for example, discharge their relative from hospital, the responsible clinician can simply intervene if s/he believes this to be necessary (typically, if they consider the detainee to be a danger to themselves or others, which they have to be anyway in order to have been detained in the first place!).

As the nearest relative I found myself in an impossible situation. My relative was clearly desperately ill and in need of help, but refused to accept this. My relationship with my relative was pretty much non-existent, as a result of the years that I had spent struggling to cope with their schizophrenia. My relative demanded that I object to their detention under the Mental Health Act, which clearly I wasn’t prepared to do. The authorities persisted in demanding information from me about my relative’s condition and symptoms, information which I couldn’t provide because of my lack of a relationship with my relative. And, in all of this, no support whatsoever was provided to me, as the nearest relative.

So, my point is this: while it is entirely proper that we should provide help to people with mental health issues when they seek it, mental illness is so much more complex than this. There are a whole host of people who are ill but who do/will not seek help. What should we be doing for these people? And, perhaps even more importantly, what should we be doing for those individuals who are caught in the crossfire—usually relatives—for whom there is currently zero support or provision?

11 October, 2014

Fifty years celebrated at Martinstown House

My husband's parents had their fiftieth wedding anniversary in May, which is of course a huge landmark. My husband and I have been married for seventeen years now, which is quite a long time in the grand scheme of things, but seems to fade into insignificance when compared with fifty years!

My husband is one of three brothers, all of whom are married with children. It is rare that we all meet en masse, since one brother lives in England, one in Scotland and one in Ireland. However, we organised an entire family celebration to mark the fifty years. This took place in August (the first date that everyone was free) in Ireland (where the brother with the youngest child resides).

We stayed in a fabulous place called Martinstown House. This is a large country house located near the Curragh, an hour or so outside Dublin, and it really is stunning. It has a handful of rooms and is run, not like a hotel, but as a country residence at which you are an invited guest. The owner is your host, welcoming and treating you as a guest in his home.

The owner's wife and son are absolutely first class chefs and we were treated to fantastic breakfasts and dinners which were beautifully prepared using fresh, local ingredients.

The surroundings are lovely -- evening drinks by an open fire in the drawing room, period bedrooms boasting up-to-the-minute bathrooms, and lovely grounds in which to wander and explore.

We had a lovely weekend at Martinstown House -- a really fitting celebration of fifty years of marriage!

04 October, 2014

An unusual birthday treat

My eldest child chose an unusual outing for her birthday treat. She opted to visit Crocodiles of the World at Brize Norton, which is the UK's only crocodile zoo. She got the idea from my aunt, who had visited recently and been really impressed, both by the place and by the extremely knowledgeable staff.

We turned up without much of an idea what to expect, but we too ended up being impressed. The collection comprises not only crocodiles, alligators and caimans, but also monitor lizards, tortoises and turtles. My kids particularly enjoyed the 'meet a python' session, during which you could touch or even hold a python, if you so wished. And the staff were indeed able to answer all our questions and were clearly very enthusiastic about their line of work.

I would definitely recommend Crocodiles of the World as an interesting, educational and unusual day out.

We finished off the day with a meal out at Abingdon's newest Indian restaurant, Majliss, which already has a branch established in Oxford, The food and service were both very good. Again, recommended!