Vlogbrothers – Giving it 1200%

On JJ’s advice I have begun watching the entertaining and hugely informative Nerdfighteria vlogs produced by The Fault in Our Stars author John Green and his brother Hank. Presented for your consideration – Big Pharma in theory and practice:

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I had a psych appointment at 12.30. Having crash landed into the NHS Mental Health Trust 13 years ago, today came the novelty of having to produce my passport, a recent bank statement and a fully completed “Pre-Attendance Form.” To discuss these documents at the start of a health assessment, then having to wait as they were photocopied at the end.

Immigration and public services are hot button issues right now, perhaps in ways they haven’t been since the 1980s. As Chris Addison noted, we accidentally elected a Conservative government four years; and the rise of UKIP has ratcheted up every tension. Still, I’ve been in the goddamn system long enough to prove my entitlement status. And, crucially, personally, I don’t consider the PAF in the spirit of socialised medicine.

NHS funding principally comes from taxation. I am a tax payer. That illegal immigrants may be using the service has never pissed on my pancakes. Individual health benefits everyone. If you have to drive without a license, its better you don’t fall into a diabetic coma at an intersection. I’ll concede that our borders need policing, that immigration must be handled responsibly, but I can’t help but shudder when I read how information from the PAF can be passed to the UK Border Agency ‘…if it is deemed necessary by the trust.’ Patient information. I had to answer questions about the number of residents in my house. Number of hours I work a week. 13 years. The first time in 13 goddamn years.

Please note non presentation of the above documentation on the first appointment could delay your assessment and subsequent treatment.

I’ve contacted these people because I want to keep my options open, given my recent spikes in hypomania and bouts of whip-spin paranoia. I am relatively stable right now, so a delay wouldn’t do much harm. But I have to compare my current state of mind to Me at 17. Late teens, consistent self-injury, potent depression culminating in a dramatic suicide attempt that – while not taking my life – could have left me paralysed. My 17 year old self couldn’t wait. It was my mother stressing this that actually got me into the clinic. The trust wanted to release me back into the wild.

Everything about the NHS, particularly the mental health sector, just feels paradoxical and contrary and kind of frustrated. Even Dr Sri; the very paradigm of a dedicated, intelligent, sympathetic professional bemoaned this. That he couldn’t do more for his patients. I refuse to accept that the NHS, or socialised medicine of any stripe, is inherently doomed to fail. Any ill fate comes from incompetence and mis-management, hackneyed bureaucracy and financial derangement. Manipulation and greed.

A recent case centres on a Basildon man forced to pay £2000 per week to treat his brain tumours. ‘Avastin is not licensed by the manufacturer for treatment of brain cancers in England’, an NHS teeth-piece explained. As noted in the article, cosmetic surgery and gastric bands are readily available on the NHS. I don’t really object to these, but clearly we’re forced to come down on either side of this issue. That force is economic.

The devil is always in the unnerving machinations when it comes to Big Pharma. In the excellent Cracked.com article 5 Terrible Secrets Big Drug Companies Don’t Want You to Know, writer Andrew Munro recalls the curious history of Sarafem. Marketed by drug firm Eli Lilly as a treatment for premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), Sarafem was a breakthrough in the fight against an ‘…exaggerated form of PMT.’ The typical symptoms of PMDD (fatigue, emotional instability, anxiety, disinterest in daily activities and difficulty concentrating) may be familiar to those receiving treatment for depression, which is handy, considering Sarafem is Prozac by another name. And a pretty colour palette.

Munro: ‘…by releasing a new drug identical to Prozac, Eli Lilly managed to extend their patent by a few years, allowing the price of Prozac to remain nice and high.’ This is what we have to contend with, as “service users”. The administrative locust horde, frenzied by persistent interference from mandarins, transient politicians and “business managers”; whilst being undermined by low-quoting contractors and manipulated by opportunist corporations who’s spreadsheets can determine who lives and who dies. Now we can add crossing guards to the roll call.

I fear for the NHS. For all my criticisms, for all my ideological stances against the dominant psychiatric models, I have to accept that it has helped keep me alive. Given the sense of disquiet and violation I feel after today’s meeting, I fear for others like me, especially those younger than me, who now have another swamp of uncertainty to wade through. We have an increasing Eastern European presence in this part of the world. Whole new generations who may need access to mental health services. Young people, older people who’s misery, fear, torment, doubt, self-loathing, anger – the whole bloody rainbow of psychiatric crises – may now be compounded by a fear of incriminating themselves or those they love.

Meat Free May: Continuance.

And so to you, the first day of June. At the start of Meat Free May I would’ve anticipated things to resemble 30 Days of Night by now.

Truth is, I’ve really enjoyed this whole vegetarian thing. Correlation don’t always equal causation; but I do feel better, and I haven’t missed eating meat in any way I might have expected. So many things have changed in the last few months, and diet is always one you need to look at. I’ve been looking at mine and I think the less animal parts the better.

The month may have ended, but the donation page will be online for a little while longer. Thanks to everyone who’s supported this, one way or another.

Namaste.

Rolls like water…

We returned home around 1pm yesterday. Would have been at least an hour and a half earlier if the baggage handlers at Gatwick could distinguish arse from elbow. You know when you’re back in England: temperature drops, skies turn grey and suddenly you’re drowning in phone shops and coffee concessions.

The long journey on the district line wasn’t as bad as I feared. I hate sitting still for too long, which is strange because I have no trouble with long plane flights. Sometimes the destination justifies the weight of the way travelled. We were so tired by that point as to be effectively anaesthetised. I even got to play some ‘wise owl’ thing – discussing hair dye with some bright eyed teen proto-goth.

And so here I am now. Funny how a brief change of pace can give someone a fresh perspective. Those nights on the balcony; warm breeze, rolling seas, typing by starlight. I want that. More of that. I work in a business where every third person you talk to has aspirations to be A Writer. Hell, put enough of us in a room, throw a bucket of water and you’ll drown dozens of ’em. But I’m not talking about The Novel. I’ve tried fiction and I don’t have the size for it. No focus; a struggle to draw something from the bottom up.

I’m also quite the egomaniac. I love the sound of my own voice or the, er, sound of my own words. Maybe I can type and do something with it too. Another thing I did while sitting on that balcony was look at Journalism MA courses. I have a degree, so getting onto a course is largely a matter of money. What seals the deal is whether or not another degree would actually do any good.

I’m young, but crossing the threshold. If I want to make changes, this is the time to put it in motion. When I was studying film, the best people on my course were the mature students. The most naturally capable was in his 40s, and he put every other one of us to shame. It’s early, but I’ve already been thinking about things Liam could be asking me in the future. One of them is going to be about university. My advice? Leave it a few years. Finish school then get a job. Or travel. Or both. Figure out what you want to do, what feels right; rather than the vague notions and delusions your uncle had.

I was 19. Making life decisions barely 18 month after getting out of a psychiatric hospital. I had no clue what to do, so I went with the path of least resistance. And it feels like I’ve been doing that ever since.

 

Whether I stick with it or not, I need to get out of this place. Out of B&D, probably out of London. Too many old ghosts, and sometimes I just feel like all motivations and concerns are out of whack. I was 19 and now I’m thinking back on that and, more importantly, the kids I knew when I was 17. Tacitly, Icarus implies that we are A People. United by mad gifts. I want to write and I want to do something. Certainly for those who are written off, hurting, abused, left feeling like a voice and a life are more than they’re worth.

There’s one week left to go on Meat Free May. Do something amazing today – donate just a little to the important work of Friends of the Earth.

 

Meat Free May: Tobago – An Angry Post about Endangered Species

Nothing lasts like a little context. From a charitable perspective, my primary motivation for signing up for Meat Free May comes from a certain revelatory moment about the impact farming and fisheries smack down on the environment.

My hotel balcony offers a breathtaking view of the Atlantic coast. I could vault over the bannister, drop a floor and limp to the water’s edge all within a few minutes. where grass surrenders to sand their is a sign explaining that this private beach moonlights as a hatchery for the island’s three principal turtle species.

The Green Turtle (chelonia mydas) principally concerns itself with seagrass and algae, though the fates consider viral tumours and the inevitable poaching to be worthy considerations too.

The Hawksbill Turtle (eretmochelys imbricata) carries a distinctive bill and a taste for certain corals, sponges and invertebrates which promote levels of toxicity within its flesh which can be fatal to humans if ingested. Because humans can find any reason to slaughter something beautiful, crafts made from their shells apparently justify their reaping. Combined with the degradation of marine habitats and ‘incidental mortality’ from fishing; the hawksbill occupies pride of place in the crosshairs.

For some reason the story of the Leatherback (dermochelys coriacea) resonates with me the most. That any species is endangered is an outrage, but the Leatherback’s demise would deprive us of something truly unique.

Besides being the largest of all modern turtles; Leatherbacks are the fourth largest reptile behind three renditions of crocodile. They have occupied every single ocean on the planet, often as far down as 4000 feet, and have been doing so for the better part of 100 million years.

For scale; and to demonstrate how fucking despicable some people can be.

You’ll note the distinctive ridges and leathery shell (hence the name) this twisted abuse of oxygen is obscuring. Lacking a traditional bony shell diminishes their suitability for arts and crafts; and their size limits their predators to killer whales, sharks and us. Poaching during the nesting season contributes to their endangered status, but entanglement in fishing gear is yet again a critical threat to the Leatherback. Another entirely perverse danger to these beautiful creatures is ocean pollution – often suffocating plastic bags mistaken for the jellyfish which forms much of their diet.

This post has meandered and is far more incensed than I was anticipating. Proximity can do that – in the dead of night I’ve seen men stalking the beach from here. This could be entirely innocent – night fishing is a valued (and legal) practice – but suspicion is justified. Despite extensive education, legislation and committed enforcement; the fight for survival is undermined by a demand for exotic, seasonal delicacies. I can’t think of a more perfect demonstration of the importance of work by organisations like Friends of the Earth. From here, I could transplant something precious and rare from beach to bowl with comparative ease.

Responsibility isn’t an abstract. Its easy to forget that we can all remain informed and that we all have to make a choice.

Even the tiniest contribution can make a difference. Donations to Friends of the Earth are greatly appreciated.

Meat Free May: Tobago – Temptation Waits

I won't be churlish enough to state that I haven't received any support from my loved ones during Meat Free May. Shared meals and excursions have easily accomodated my sudden change in diet, with little disruption and healthy support. However, I do feel that the principle behind this is somewhat obscured.

We've made friends with an energetic, and powerfully helpful tour guide. There was a long conversation by the poolside; sharing life stories, touching on our perspectives and experiences. She was making recommendations on things to see and do; giving us information beyond the polish of the brochures and reps. The topic of food inevitably came up, and I explained how I'd given up meat and fish for one month, for charity.

She was astonished. My mother fell back on a rejoinder I'd heard before we left Blighty: "Eat meat and make up the days in June." Our new friend told me to keep any ravening I do secret. Just don't tell anyone.

I hope I'm not making too much of us, especially since I'm talking about a person I love dearly and a bright young woman who has been so warm and generous to us. I think what unsettles me is that I've heard things like this multiple times since this began.

Don't tell. For me, the principle is more important than any temptation this beautiful island can offer. And believe me, temptation waits. Enormous, juicy steaks; constellations of exotic, mouth watering seafood, usually with little delay twixt salt water and plate. But I signed up for this, knowing full well I was coming here. To an island paradise which chalks up much of its appeal to its culinary delights.  

The message of Meat Free May is an important one. For me, its about keeping informed and accepting that, while guilt shouldn't necessarily follow, we should accept some responsibility for what finds its way onto our plates. I wouldn't describe myself as the most moral of individuals, but I've always recognised the value of open eyes.

Namaste.

I've not gone into withdrawal yet. Help keep me on track, and contribute to an important and worthy cause here.

Meat Free May: Tobago – Outbound

Written somewhere over the Atlantic:

One thing I love is a sense of momentum. Staring out of a train window, and now, as I type this, cruising at roughly 35,000 feet. Polarity is very much a part of my nature. Black and white, high and low. Static and taking flight.

JG Ballard had a thing about airports. I have a thing for Ballard, and I think I know where he was coming from. Airside you find yourself in an approximate world – recognisable with subtle, uncanny adjustments.

I’m here in this cabin. South African wine out of a small plastic bottle, splitting my attention between typing this and Catching Fire. Here’s a meal from on high:

image

Macaroni with spinach and lemon crumble. Lemon very much to the fore. Not quite overpowering; but strange enough to make itself conspicuous.
I’m not sure what the side salad was. There was a little feta, I think, and some little round things I can’t quite place. I want to say vinegar, or vinegarette, or some other thing I have no goddamn clue about.
One thing which I’ve so far found surprising about Meat Free May, is that I can think and talk about food without a rising desire to scratch my own eyes out. A concern I have is that I’m not focusing on my initial reasons for signing up in the first place. The environmental concerns, globalisation, the realisation that subtle, uncanny adjustments in our daily lives present some kind of opportunity.
I’m over the mid-Atlantic. I love flying. That sense of disconnect, natural defiance even. The whole world compressed into …ft of steel and glass. I love turbulence and ears popping even. But I’m suddenly conscious of the enormous energy cost of what we’re doing up here. Flying somewhere frequently tagged ‘paradise’, inside of a device which poses its own threats to this rock of ours.
I’m no luddite. I was once tagged as a Transhumanist: I look forward to our cyborg future. I’ve been an uncle for just under 3 months, and I keep fascinating over the type of world my nephew is going to come of age in. At the pace with which technology and information are infusing themselves within us, everyday presents exciting new possibilities. My iPod Nano is 4 years old still has a greater hard disk capacity than my first PC. What on Earth will be within his finger’s reach?

This genuinely excites me. Tantalising prospects but, again, polarity. I get to eat a half decent vegetarian meal high above the clouds. There’s no guilt, just a greater sense of responsibility. That everything, everyday is tipping the scales.

If you would like to make a donation to Friends of the Earth’s “Meat Free May”, you can here.

Namaste.