Armistice Day

“What does the word ‘armistice’ actually mean?”

That’s what OH asked me today, and it’s a good question. We all know what it means in terms of Armistice Day – it’s the day WWI ended, isn’t it? But in terms of the dictionary definition? It simply means “a cessation of hostilities in times of open warfare”, and the cessation can be either temporary, while an attempt is made to negotiate a treaty, or permanent, when it then becomes the end of the conflict. Thankfully, that was the case in November, 1918. The Armistice was signed at eleven minutes past 11am, which is why this is the time we honour the fallen with a two minutes’ silence on November 18th each year.

So I’ve been thinking of the fallen today, and in particularly those who were shot for ‘cowardice’ having refused to return to the fighting while suffering from overwhelming fear and terror – and what we today would call PTSD. Some of these men had been treated several times for ‘nerves’, and this was recorded in their service records, but ‘shell shock’ was not considered an excuse. These men and boys (some barely sixteen years old) gave as much as they were able, poor gentle souls, and when they could give no more and their minds were broken, they were executed. Any military pensions were voided, and in some cases their families were evicted from their homes. Thank heavens that all three hundred-odd of them have now been pardoned, but their senseless and inhumane deaths cannot be reversed, nor can the years of shame, anger and suffering be wiped clean from the lives of their loved ones.

I’m thinking also of the men who were forced to shoot their comrades. Some of the men making up the firing squads were the wounded, commandeered from field hospitals, just as long as they were capable of holding and firing their rifles, and some of them were barely sixteen years old, too. Imagine one of your sons being required to do this. Imagine your son being one of those executed.

We must not forget the men who died fighting in the Great War – The “war to end all wars” – nor must we forget those executed for being unable to bear the horrors of it.

No, we must not forget them.

Photo from Pixabay, the site that offers completely free downloads of royalty-free photos, some of startling quality, as you can see. I would encourage anyone who makes use of the site to do as suggested and make the occasional small donation – either to the site or to the individual photographer. 🙂

Give these guys a medal!

It occurs to me that the last few posts here on the Sparking Synapse have been, shall say, a tad on the cloudy side of the street.

Partly this due to the fact that I am a little more than three weeks into having to wear a very restrictive shoulder immobilising sling night and day for six weeks, and I am constantly uncomfortable, hot, and unable to function normally, with a side order of pain, random itchiness and boredom. This the second such period within five months, with a surgical repair thrown in for good measure, and I can’t even have a good slug of wine now and then because alcohol doesn’t mix too well with heavy-duty painkillers. So perhaps it’s forgiveable, but methinks it’s maybe time to haul on those bootlaces a little and cheer the fuck up.

So, with this in mind, and with a gentle reminder from Valerie over at A Mixed Bag, I am inspired to write this.

As we go about our daily lives we come across all sorts of people, and all-too-often, the ones that leave the biggest impression are the idiots, the rude, and the incompetent. We love to come home and say to our families and friends “You’ll never guess what a stupid woman in Boots said to me” or “the way some people park is (expletive of your choice) atrocious” or “it took me forty-five minutes to get home today, because some stupid idiot at the council thought it was a good idea to … (blah, blah, blah). And if we are angry enough, we follow it up with a complaint in writing, do we not? Or we get all hot under the collar and pick up the phone and give some poor lowly office worker hell. Yep. I know. I’ve done it myself. In fact, I am in the middle of a series of ultra polite, barely-sarcastic-at-all emails1 at the moment with a company who refuse to refund the shipping costs on some returned goods (but that’s another story).

The thing is, dear readers, that we so seldom remember to fill in those forms and write those letters – or even go home and tell our loved ones – when we are met with smiling helpfulness and efficiency, or outstanding service.

Basically, we do not thank people enough, or give credit where credit is due. I try to remember to do so but it’s so easy to forget, and if you’ve ever worked in the service industry, or in any job where you have contact with the public, you’ll know how one compliment or genuine smile of heartfelt thanks can brighten your whole day2.

So I’m going to try to concentrate on looking for the good in people again. To this end, at the end of my hospital appointment yesterday I filled in one of those feedback forms so industriously that the young lady behind the desk asked me if I was writing a book.

Despite the title of this blog post, the quietly efficient, the compassionate, the polite and the helpful don’t usually want a medal, and quite often they don’t even need to be commended3. But everyone does like to be appreciated, and we all feel better for meeting someone who knows how to smile without being patronising, or help someone in need without being pushy. A smile here, a word of thanks there, a bit of eye contact … and I’m told that the best way to show your appreciation for an employee – especially someone who works for a smallish company – is often a letter of commendation to their boss, which mentions them by name.

So go ahead. Make someone’s day! And it doesn’t have to cost you a thing.

1 I specialise in ultra-polite, barely-sarcastic-at-all letters of complaint. They are written rather passive-aggressively, I have to admit, and in the best and most polished prose I can muster, with perfect grammar and high-level language (Thank you, Mrs Learmont*). The recipient knows that I am probably being rude, although there’s nothing in what I say to hang that particular hat on, and they are left in absolutely no doubt that I know what I’m talking about. Of course this is never the first letter that I send, I only do this if I get stupid, misinformed or obstructive letters back in reply to my first letter, and the progress into veiled insult is gradual, and always well deserved.

* Mrs Learmont was my High School English teacher. She was a Scot, and she was fierce, but she gave me an enormous affection for our beautifully rich, complex, and absurd language.

2 There doesn’t even have to be money involved, though in the restaurant/cafe trade where the waiting staff are often poorly paid, it certainly helps.

3 Although some of them perhaps do, especially if they’re in the running for a “Volunteer/Employee/Etc of the Year” award. And why not, if they deserve it?

And the Physiotherapist said …

Today I woke early, after a little bit of a restless night. As soon as my eyes were unglued and my neck was unkinked, and my brain was firing on at least three cylinders, I was aware of a tiny tadlet of apprehension.

You see, today was the day for the first physiotherapist appointment following my rotator cuff repair.

For those of you who have never gone through rehab following surgery, I can tell you that it bloody hurts. To illustrate this, here’s an excerpt from a post I did three months after my last rotator cuff repair:

“So far, the exercises have been aimed at gently mobilising the shoulder joint and easing the stiffened muscles and tendons.  I had gentle circles to make, pointing towards the floor.  I had passive lifts (which did indeed hurt OH almost as much as they hurt me), and I had tentative self-powered lifts – raising my arm up to the front and the side, shoulder hitches, elbow rotations – and yes, they were painful too, but at least the instruction was to stop as soon as it hurt and not push it.

Now this sadist health professional has me sliding pieces of paper up the wall which is not only agony on the shoulder, but the elbow too, for some reason.  He showed me how to do it, then watched solemnly as I had a go.

‘Is that as far as you can reach?’ he said, with the vaguest hint of disappointment. ‘No, no, that’s fine.  Really.  You’re doing well!’

Sure.  Sure it is.

Sure I am.

‘Oh well,’ I thought. ‘If that’s the worst, I guess I can manage that.’

But then he led me into the gym.  He hooked me up to a pulley, so that I could use my left hand to pull my right hand upwards.  A sort of self-assisted passive lift, if there is such a thing.

‘Aaaaaaaaaaagghhh!’  I said, with great restraint.

‘Good!’ he said, beaming.”

And that’s what they’re like – they cheerfully ask you to do things which are extremely painful, and then they grin at you when you yell1.

So you’ll no doubt be relieved to hear that today’s physio session went really rather well! I was fetched from the waiting area by a diminutive young lady with dimples whose name was “M”. She looked about seventeen, and told us that while her origins were Italian, she herself was Portugese2. She took me to her little room, dimpled at me, and filled in her questionnaire. She had a look at my healing wounds and pronounced that they looked very nice3, and asked me to take my arm out of its sling.

Then she picked up a metal crutch and advanced upon me, whereupon the torture scenes from various movies flashed before my startled eyes.

In fact, all she wanted to do was to get me to hold it horizontally in front of me using both hands, to test my range of motion. To say I was apprehensive was an understatement, because for the entire fortnight since the op I’d been forbidden to remove the sling night or day except for washing, dressing, etc, and I’ve been firmly admonished to make sure it was supported either by the sling or by my other hand at all times. It felt very odd to allow my arm to hang loose from the shoulder for the first time.

But here’s the exciting thing: using my right hand to actually move the crutch (my left arm being a mere passenger at the other end) I was able to raise my arm up in front of me, out to the side, and even behind me to about a thirty degree angle – and it wasn’t agonising! This was quite startling, because I distinctly remember, back in 2009, turning the air blue when A was assisting me with some very gentle exercises in the early days of my recovery, and tears leaking from my eyes with the pain.

The difference – apart from the nine intervening years4 – is perhaps that the repair on my other arm was open (resulting in a two and a half inch scar across the top of my shoulder) and this one was done arthroscopically. Last time, my upper arm was black and blue (and green and yellow), and this time, it was not.

And this time, I’d already done six months of physiotherapy before I had the surgery, working on strenghtening my deltoids.

Whatever the reason, it came as a big relief to learn that I’m already in a better place after only two weeks than I could ever have imagined.

Still a long way to go, of course, but I’m going in the right direction, and this time, I seem to have picked up a faster ride!

1 They really like it when you yell. I can only assume they think it means that you’re really trying.

2 For some reason, many of the physiotherapists here are very large and gung-ho Australians, so she came as a little bit of a relief. Although it somehow didn’t feel right to be at the mercy of a dainty young thing like M from Portugal.

3 A matter of opinion.

4 The surgery was at the end of 2008 so it’s nine years, and of course, surgical techniques may well have improved during that time.

To the young, whose lives we are ruining

My husband and I (gosh, I sound like the queen!) are both over sixty. I’m not quite sure how that happened, although I suspect it’s a simple case of tempus fugit, and the thing about tempus fugitting is that is unstoppable, so I can absolutely guarantee that this will happen to you, too, barring accidents. I know there’s a tendency for the young to feel immortal and invulnerable, but trust me, this is just a cruel illusion. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt.

Looking at you (my sons’ generation) today, I see an awful lot of really great young people who are innovative, energetic, intelligent, polite & courteous, and who want to make a positive impact on the world that they have inherited. Well, I’m not talking about you. You guys can stop reading right here. I love you guys.

For the rest of you, I have a few things I’d like to get off my chest.

When we grizzled old crumblies are walking around town, using public transport, doing our shopping etc, we often have to pause to make way for you youngsters. There are those of you who don’t wait for us to exit lifts, step off escalators, pass in narrow areas, or even for me to walk through a door which OH is holding open for me, and some of you actually grin and say ‘thank you’ as you push and jostle past us1. Some of you do it thoughtlessly, but some of you seem to do it because you feel entitled, or perhaps just … more important than we are.

And this may be because some of you think we oldies are to blame for ruining your entire futures. I have heard that you also think we are horribly greedy and selfish for expecting your taxes to pay for our pensions.

Well, let me explain a few things to you.

Pensions

We, your older generation, paid a proportion of our wages to support our own elders. We watched our parents do the same; paying in a percentage of their wages each week, from the year 1946, to provide healthcare and geriatric care for everyone, the difference being that they received their pensions at the promised time3. We were PROMISED our pensions at the age of sixty years for women, sixty-five for men, and we arranged our savings and our lives accordingly4. So how is it fair to us that the government can now renege on that promise, leaving us high and dry?

The bottom line on pensions is that we paid, during our working lives, into a compulsory fund which the government promised us would provide an adequate pension for our old age, beginning at sixty years old for women, and sixty-five for men, and that promise has not been kept.

Brexit

The vote on leaving the EU was a democratic process. I’m not sure quite what your view of ‘democratic process’ is, but in terms of the referendum, it means that everyone over 18 years old who was neither a guest of HM Prison Service nor mentally unfit to make important decisions had the right to vote, yes or no. You had a whole day to make that vote, and there was provision to vote by post or by proxy if you couldn’t make it to a polling station. The votes were counted, and since more people voted to leave than voted to remain (that’s regarded as the ‘opinion of the people’) the government acted accordingly, and triggered Article 50. If you couldn’t be bothered to 1) get yourself to a polling station, or 2) make the necessary arrangements and vote by post or by proxy, you have absolutely no right to complain about the result if you don’t like it.

Did you not know which way to vote? Couldn’t decide? Well, neither could I, so I signed up for an online university course about Brexit which covered the history of the EU, the advantages and disadvantages to being a member, what works well and what doesn’t, and the implications for leaving. It was still a hard decision to make, but I thought about it, made my (informed) decision, and voted. You cannot take that right from me, nor do you have any right to know which way I voted or to complain about my choice.

The Environment

Don’t blame us! My generation can hardly be held responsible for the industrial revolution which brought the age of coal-fired industry, pea-soupers and the birth of the infernal internal combustion engine. We are not to blame for the drastic change in agriculture following WWII which resulted in inorganic fertilisers and pesticides being poured over the earth in vast quantities – I was just eight years old when Rachel Carson wrote her book ‘Silent Spring’, cataloguing the environmental damage which was being done so recklessly by the indiscriminate use of pesticides like DDT. And I loathe the proliferation of plastic packaging probably more than you do 5.

So. I have news for you. I still have a life at sixty-four years old, and if all goes well I could keep it for another three decades. If you are really lucky, one day you will be sixty-four, too (and then sixty-five, seventy, seventy-five, and so on). At the moment I am in full possession of my faculties, have been described as intelligent, and I am sane. While I struggle a bit with health, I am still fully capable of independent living, and like so many others of my age, I spend a part of my time volunteering6 and I have family and hobbies and things to do. You may find yourself in the same position, or you may not be so lucky; when you are sixty-four, you may be suffering from long-term health problems. You may be clinically depressed, injured in an accident, or unable to work (or live) independently for a whole truck-load of reasons. And you may then feel differently about all that ‘unnecessary’ help you think we are getting.

Perhaps what’s needed is a change in attitude. This occurs to me having recently watched on the news that a lot of young people are getting into serious debt. The first example they gave us was a girl who looked barely old enough to sign a credit agreement, but was in way over her head having taken out three loans within a couple of years. The first was for a holiday to Disneyland in Paris. Well, I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but maybe you should do as we did when we were young and only buy what you can afford?

So let me turn your question on its head. You ask why you should pay to support us in our old age. I ask you why we should go without essentials like food, medical attention and a roof over our heads so that you can go on foreign holidays and run a car that you can’t afford and expect someone else to pick up the pieces? Because, make no mistake, defaulting on your debt costs everyone else money, and causes taxes and the cost of living to go up.

Well, there you go. That’s all I have to say. Do forgive me if you are not one of the profligate and do not hold these hostile and offensive views. But I did tell you to stop reading after the second paragraph!

1 Twenty-five to thirty-five years old, roughly speaking

2 Which actually bloody hurts, by the way, when you are old and stiff and have trouble moving quickly

3 They were the first to do so, by the way. The first to pay in, and the first to receive State pensions. My father was twenty-seven years old at the time, and had been working since he was just a little over fifteen years old when he was apprenticed to the printing trade for a period of seven years. In those days, the Master practically owned you. He got ten shillings a week (that’s the equivalent of £26 per annum at a time when average yearly salary was £195.80) and was allowed one week’s holiday per year. I know this because I have his Articles – the legal document which binds the apprentice to his trade. I don’t think anyone would have paid National Insurance (for pensions etc) from that sum, but would have begun doing so at the end of the apprenticeship, at age twenty-two. My mother also left school early, became a nurse, and voluntarily worked past retirement age.

4 Many of us also paid money into company pensions (superannuation schemes) or private pensions to ensure a more comfortable retirement and avoid being a burden on our children. Some of those pensions companies invested our money badly, so that many people who did try to provide that little bit more for their retirement found they had little or nothing after having paid into the fund for decades. In the case of Equitable Life, I believe it was 90,000 of us.

5 If not more, because trust me, as the strength and flexibility of your fingers begins to fail you, you will curse it with all the profane vocabulary at your disposal, even if that is only multiple fucks.

6 Volunteers are filling in for more and more services which have had their government funding cut. Services like mental health, because ‘Care in the Community’ often means ‘No Care at All’. Volunteers run soup kitchens for the homeless, make baby clothing for premature baby units, fill in on hospital wards doing things like pushing the library trolleys around, and a whole truck-load of other stuff. An awful lot of retired people do an awful lot of volunteering. They have the time, you see.