This tag is associated with 7 posts

Anti-Abortion Groups – Just Cut It Out

At worst, unsolicited junk mail just annoys me. Three menus for Mick’s Curry Pot coming though my letterbox in one week may be taking just that – the mick – but the owner of this takeaway isn’t actually hurting anyone (unless they risk ordering anything.) But laying on my welcome mat this week was an innocuous enough looking colour printed, folded sheet that made my girlfriend feel physically sick and chilled me to the bone.

Little could be less welcome than the leaflet headed Abortion: What everyone has a right to know, kindly (?) provided for me by the people at SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.) Although never mentioned in the text, the whole thing stinks of religion, as I can’t credit this comically acronymed organization having taken this crusade upon themselves out of a genuine regard for women’s well-being.

I’m aware, as I write, that in this instance it would be more appropriate if I were a woman. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. As father to any theoretical offspring, my input, although valid, would be overruled by the owner of the body in which it is brewing – the mother. So the final decision on whether or not to abort is a woman’s. Had a woman written this article its points may have been more valid. Just rest assured when it comes to this disgusting pamphlet that I am trying to be of the same mind.

In the guise of being helpful, and very much in the style of the health advice leaflets you can pick up at your GP surgery, the pamphlet features a photograph of a young, anxious looking couple and promises to contain ‘information about abortion’ with the aim of preventing someone ‘making a decision which could end in regret.’ In fact, the whole piece is filled with prophecies of regret and remorse. True, you may end up regretting having an abortion, but you may also regret going through with the pregnancy and end up raising a child you resent. A terminated pregnancy is not necessarily the last chance a woman will have to have children – there’s no medical evidence that having an abortion affects future fertility – a baby is more final.

Within is a time line of significant development dates – the heart starts beating at three weeks, liver forms from six. But at what point does a cluster of cells deserve the label ‘baby?’ I think of it like this: at what point does a bowl full of ingredients become a cake? Not to make light of what is a serious and often traumatic decision, but sometimes ridicule is the best way to combat facile and ill informed arguments.The argument that possession of hair and fingernails makes a tiny, partially formed homunculus into a person, and its termination into murder, for example.

Nowhere does this set list mention the development of the nervous system, which I would use in the argument of equating suffering. Surely, a foetus without a nervous system, that therefore cannot feel pain, suffers considerably less (if at all) than a mother who is forced to go through with the pregnancy. All sorts of what if scenarios can be thrown into the mix here; what if the woman was raped? What if she or the father has a disease or debilitating condition that will be passed onto the child? What if she or they are simply not able to raise the child? The mother, father and child could spend years or their whole lives suffering from the consequences of the decision not to have an abortion. Anyone able to take a balanced look at both sides of the suffering argument would see the burden of suffering is against the minuscule organism that cannot feel anyway.

The analogy of the cake was for comic effect, as I stated. The moment of birth is not the first point at which a developing offspring can be considered a baby. Appropriately, a deadline for termination is set well before this. In the UK this is 24 weeks, although 90% of abortions occur before the 12th week and usually are given after that only for strong medical reasons.

‘Women deserve better,’ we are told by these SPUCers. ‘Evidence points to increased risk in some women of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress and eating disorders.’ Nowhere is this evidence made explicitly clear. These predictions are such that they almost seem like a threat. You will go mental if you have an abortion, they seem to say. Women certainly deserve better than information like this. It’s an insult to their intelligence and a perversion of the facts.

On the rear, some further facts and figures are given. I’ll not question the numbers, as they’re pretty irrelevant in regards to the conclusion they are used to support. There is apparently one abortion in Britain every three minutes, 570 a day (mathematics is clearly not their strong point either, as 24 hours divided by 3 minutes equals 480) and 4,000 every week (again, a distortion of their own figures.) The denouement to this little tally is that ‘if current trends continue, 9 million children will have been killed under the Abortion Act by April 2018 – the 50th anniversary of the law coming into force.’ It is here I have the biggest issue, and it is with their choice of language. Certainly the killing of millions of children would be a tragic and appalling practice. But it is not killing, and they are not children. They are children in potentia. The accompanying illustration of an embryo, with the label ‘unborn baby at 8 weeks’ says it all. Even though the illustration is half the size of a mug coaster, it is still stated that the picture is enlarged. If these people knew the first thing about embryology, they’d know that in no sense can this tiny, barely noticeable life form be described as a baby.

The whole leaflet is a piece of distorted scaremongering. If it’s facts and figures you want, here are some scary ones this misleading organization omit: worldwide, 70,000 women a year die from illegal, back street abortions, mostly in countries where they are not legally available; around a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion – as the world is over-populated as it is, with resources stretched, can you imagine what would happen if you added 25% to it? Think of the starvation, the disease, the pollution that would ensue. I’m not prophesying doom, but I’m not sure, were these children to be born, they would thank you for bringing them into that kind of world.

The overriding raison d’etre of these kinds of organization is to protect the foetus until the moment of birth, but after that it’s the parent’s responsibility. They care not a jot that the child may be raised in poverty, in an environment of abuse or neglect, subject to disease or disability, hunger and pain. As the pamphlet is keen to point out, ‘every life is worth living.’

Abortion is neither the beginning or the end of the world’s problems. Certainly, I would rather the traumatic and painful decision to have an abortion did not have to be taken by any woman. If SPUC have funding available for such a campaign, it would surely be better spent at the other end of the process – in preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Contraception, freely available to those that cannot afford it, is your friend there. But education about its availability and uses is often blocked and the subject of other negative and misleading campaigns, often by religious bodies, such as the Catholic church, and unfortunately very often from the same groups who are against abortion.

What it boils down to is this: These groups hate the idea of a woman’s sexual freedom. Sex is for making babies, not for fun. If you get pregnant, it’s your own fault, and if you have an abortion you’re a murderer. What I think is this: enjoy your sex life, as long as you in doing so hurt no one else; take precautions and take care of your body; know your own body and know when something is wrong; accidents do happen, and if they do there are options available. Abortion isn’t an ideal solution, but we live in a far from ideal world.

Once this piece is published, I’m going to take great pleasure in ripping this leaflet up, and burning the shreds. Unless an actual dead baby had been shoved through my letterbox, I don’t think I could have been more revolted at an unwanted delivery.

(Source of some information: )

Emergency Cuts

There are certain things that should be labelled as untouchable when governments want to make cuts. In any case, when cuts are made from public services they should be made where the effect will be felt least by the people the public is serving, if you see what I mean.

So if local councils do have to cut back on things, then shelters for victims of domestic abuse, public libraries and public loos shouldn’t be affected. They should cut their marketing budget, the publication of useless leaflets about recycling budget and maybe their bonus pool. (Recycling isn’t useless, but junk mail about it is.)

If the NHS, already under attack, has to make cuts, they should be slashing IT and management budgets, not medication and front line medical staff budgets.

I think you get my drift.Vintage NHS Ambulance.  Photo: David/Schofield

Now, have you ever needed the emergency services? I have. Last year they saved my life. Good job I am in France, and didn’t have to depend on good old 999. Because it is being reported that first response police officers have been axed in their thousands since the non-elected government came to power in the UK.

What else has been reported about cuts this week? Ah, factories giving employment to disabled people are going to be closed down. A few weeks ago we learned that women’s refuges are losing funding.

Soldiers are being killed in Afghanistan and the British people want their troops brought home. It would be a logical step as cuts to defence are being made. But if it is to bring them home and then send them off to Iran, which David Cameron won’t rule out, then heaven help us all. And not to say I told you so, but I have been worried about the idea of us attacking Iran for quite a while. For the record I am absolutely categorically against war unless we are really, truly, under threat of attack. I’m not going to say I would support a policy of non-intervention like the Chinese do, but I do get a bit fed up of Western politicians trying to tell the world how to behave. It’s bloody hypocritical.

But if we were to intervene in Iran, or the Falklands, or Syria, or anywhere else (and political leaders like military intervention, as cheering on the troops stops us thinking about the things that are going on right under our noses) surely, surely, the troops will need uniforms. And weapons. And money.

Cuts. Fed up of them. As the only people who are really paying for them are you and me. Well, you. As I live in France.

Finding Perspective

Lost: Sense of Perspective. Last seen somewhere between problems and issues. If found, please return to MmeLindor, c/o CamelsHump

Have you ever lost perspective and suddenly found it again?

I did this week. I was having one of those days, when everything seemed to go wrong. I was cross and irritated, and settled down to see what my friends were up to on Facebook. Distracted, I scrolled through the posts, stopping suddenly when I saw this drawing by an eight year old girl. It’s the kind of drawing that any eight year old would draw. Except this girl was not asking for a Nintendo DS or a fun day out.

Picture drawn by Aillidh, a young sufferer of leukemia

All she wants is to be better. To be well. To be healthy.

Aillidh is eight years old and seriously ill. As ill as a little girl can get. She has Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and is going through her third chemotherapy session.  She desperately needs a bone marrow transplant.  Her parents are appealing, through their Facebook page and elsewhere, to find a donor.

Aillidh is a blend of white Scottish and Mestizo – the mix of European and indigenous N. American peoples (Native American/Indian). Her type is very hard to match so for this reason it is important that her story is shared throughout Europe and America. It is particularly difficult to find matches for mixed race patients. So, the more people who sign up to the Anthony Nolan stem cell register (or in the US Be The Match website), the better chance Aillidh has of finding a match.

Some worry, like I did, about signing up to the register, as the procedure is rumoured to be very painful. I was reassured by this quote from the Anthony Nolan Trust website:

Myth: Donating blood stem cells is painful.

Reality: People who have donated via the bone marrow method compared the after-effects to a hard game of football. Many donors find the experience fulfilling and for some, it’s life-changing.

Donation can be done via surgery or a simple blood transfusion – the doctor of the recipient advises on this, but the final decision is made by the donor.

So this week, I found my sense of perspective. Nothing in my life is close to the horror that Aillidh’s parents are going through. This sense of perspective does not lessen my problems, they still exist after all, but they are manageable.

I ask you to do the same. Sit down and count your blessings.

If you are on Facebook, please *like* Aillidh’s page and pass it on to your friends. If you are on Twitter, pass it on. Email your friends and family, particularly those in the US and ask them to pass the FB page on. The more people sign up as a potential donor, the higher the chance is of finding a match for Aillidh or for one of the other Leukaemia sufferers around the world.

In addition to this appeal, Charlie Brooker, of all people, has urged YouTubers to sign up to the Anthony Nolan Register. Click here to watch it.

Pirates! In…An Adventure in Public Relations

Aardman animation version of Pirates!  Promotional imageHar! Har! Me hearties.

So, here we have the tale of a perfectly satisfactory humour novella turned into global Hollywood hype non-conformist style, thanks to the genius (or is that genii?) of Aardman Animation – the animated whizzkids behind the Mel Gibson vehicle ‘Chicken Run’ and the much admired Lancashire one man and his dog. (Which shall not be referred to again, as it is pretty much given that everyone understands it is ‘Wallace and Gromit’ not ‘Turner and Hooch’ – which is about the only other option available.)

How could this film, which is clearly not aimed at youngsters, have caused controversy prior to public release? Or, cynically, how could this clearly not aimed at youngsters film (but still an animation) have highlighted itself during the dour dull days of January? Let me explain the premise of the film in a nutshell. Partly by digressing and explaining the point of the book.

Gideon Defoe, talented scamp that he is, wrote The Pirates! in an adventure with Scientists to impress a girl. Simple.. If I was that girl, I would be impressed.  (Maybe I am easily impressed, but a book has to make a dedication, and the dedication in that book made me go ‘aww’).

The Pirate Captain, played in the film by the devilishly foppish quintessential Englishman Hugh Grant. (I saw him filming the fight scene with Colin Firth in Hyde Park. Which was nice.) needs adventure and recognition for his services to Maritime sailing. There’s the Elephant Man, Charles Darwin, an exciting duel or two, some religious Bishop-ry. It’s all in there. And all good. Even a very short meeting with lepers.

What?! Lepers! Are they, the Gods of film, mocking the afflicted for the sake of cheap entertaining thrills (although clearly not taking science, sailing and deformed dead people seriously, leaving aside the casual religious mockery that has been thrown in)? Lepra Health in Action suggest so.

The fuss lies in the connotation of leprosy as, well, all about arms and legs dropping off, and of being contagious. Shun worthy in fact. Let’s face it, leper boats existed. So in terms of historical accuracy, Defoe is dead on. In terms of contagion, it is. Though treatable, so don’t panic.

Surely Lepra Health in Action should welcome the fact that leprosy, long thought of as a disease of the past, has been brought to the forefront of our armchair viewing opinion?

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter. The book is funny, the film should be funny. Leprosy, horrible disease that it is, has massive comic potential which has been exploited time and again, with only a modicum of complaint.

Not to sound like a Daily Mail reader (which I do read but only to cut my teeth on and sharpen my claws) it really does seem like political correctness gone mad. Arms do not just fall off. They are not made of plasticine and Hugh Grant does not look like a thin Brian Blessed, as portrayed in the film.

Use your common sense, if you have been affected by the issue of leprosy there is probably a helpline  to ring in confidence. And as the prevalence of leprosy has globally decreased, isolated to underdeveloped countries with poor standards of sanitation who will probably not be watching at the Imax in 3D a low budget brightly written and scripted comic caper, then I think cutting a whole chapter of the book was a little bit of overkill, but brilliantly stage managed to correspond with box office opening, especially as it’s a small cult classic.

Cynical, moi? Not really, just realistic, and looking forward to watching the film.

The Bare Necessities

If there’s one institution (and in fact there are many) that I’ve learned to truly appreciate during this time in Kenya, its the UK National Health Service. Free health care at the point of delivery. Treatment for those who need it, without assessment of their ability to pay. Rationed, yes. After a wait, ok. Sometimes a postcode lottery. Not a magic wand. But ambitious in its vision, a testimony to what you can choose to do with taxation, and a miracle of our times, of which to be truly proud and for which to give daily thanks. The freedom which comes from believing that should I, or mine, be struck down by illness, professional help that we can afford will, most often, be offered.

I’ve been thinking of blood recently. When we arrived, we filled out forms at Tom’s work to join the Walking Blood Bank. Gave it no further thought. Assumed, vaguely, it might be about access to pre-screened or better nourished blood. Gradually I’ve got wiser.

Now I’m in the networks I get regular texts and emails asking whether I’m a specific blood type to give blood. I’ve been a blood donor in UK, it’s surely a good thing. But here, in extemis, the appeals are to give earmarked blood, to donate my O+ for my mate, patient B, or a classmate’s dad, or the radio appeal beneficiary, patient C, and her alone. No man is an island and there aren’t the storage facilities, or, I think, enough donors. Here you need your network. You need your employment-based Walking Blood Bank. In case of emergency, you may need your O+ mates, the school mums, and their spouses, and their friends and relations, and the Quaker meeting and the book group, and additional Samaritans, and need them not just to bring grapes, or to bring the children home from school, but to turn out and to donate their blood.

Sanitary towels are another big issue. A hidden issue. An embarrassing issue I’d guess for many Kenyan young women. They aren’t cheap – probably 200 KSh – £1.50 for enough for a monthly period. But lots of poorer families in the slums try to live on 75 KSh for the whole family a day. So girls, young women, older women have to manage without sanitary towels. Try to make do with leaves, mud or rags. Many have to miss a week of school a month. Not good for self esteem, health or education.

An Irish women’s group goes to some schools in Nairobi’s slums and hands out termly sanitary towels to the pupils. Local women’s groups make cheaper ones to generate jobs. But they are a drop in the ocean. A friend passed me another appeal recently. For sanitary towels to work, you need knickers. And those who have no sanitary towels, in general have no knickers either. So this other appeal is to donate pants. Not pants for all the month. Just pants to be worn during a period. Parties for panties they suggest. Instead of bring a bottle, bring a pack of pants to donate. I have to say, it’s a form of solidarity which appeals. But like the peace movement saying that you don’t see generals holding cake sales to pay for the latest military hardware, pants, sanitary towels, blood they’re such basic needs in this country where you see many with plenty as well as extreme poverty.

Testing Treatments

Medical research is one of those areas where everyone thinks they know a little.  Images of lab rats, miraculous cures and money grabbing pharmaceutical companies compete with the day to day reality of patients and doctors trying to tackle illness.  A new edition has been published of a book that tries to shed a bit of light on to the subject.

Testing Treatments, by Imogen Evans, Hazel Thornton, Iain Chalmers and Paul Glasziou, is aimed at the informed patient and explains how new medical treatments are researched, and how that relates to the experience of the patient being treated.  The book strikes a tone that is halfway between academic text and pop science, and might seem intimidating to some, but the regular summaries of key points and personal stories mean that the reader will soon find themselves gripped.


The book takes a long view over history, covering scurvy treatments in 1747 right up to cancer trials of the present day, advocating a partnership approach between patient and doctor, and includes calls to action for professionals, patients and policy makers to ensure that questions are asked and information is shared.  The reader is encouraged to look sceptically at the need for treatments and screening, and to try to see through marketing and media hype.

Ben Goldacre provided the forward to this edition, and the book continues in the spirit of his work – accessible without being over simplistic.  I would have liked to have more detail, but I’m not sure how that could have been achieved without losing the ease of understanding.  There is an extensive list of further reading and references at the back of the book for the reader who would like to know more, and I didn’t personally feel that the scientific knowledge was shied away from in the text.  Perhaps a scientist would disagree, but I went away feeling that I knew much more about the subject and that I would be a more informed patient.

The publisher, Pinter and Martin, provided me with a copy of this book for review in my personal capacity

Testing Treatments is available for £6.99 from Amazon

Caveman Cooking

A mate back in Blighty was after recommendations on alternatives to milk and this led into a discussion on my Paleo diet which I’ve been on for 2 months or so. Feeling suitably inspired, I’ve decided to write about the how, why and wherefore of going Caveman.

You might not want to read the next 2 paragraphs whilst eating.

I’m currently on a working holiday in Australia and eating within a budget. As part of this I was having Couscous with veg (Bell peppers/Capsicum, Celery and Courgette/Zucchini) every day on my lunch break at 1pm. An hour later, like clockwork, I started having bad stomach aches and breaking wind. It was foul smelling and very embarrassing. Going to the toilet was not comfortable. The only cause could be the Couscous. I did some reading and found that Couscous contains gluten, a protein that some people can’t stomach.

I started to think about other times I was having digestive trouble. When I was back home, my family would have to leave the room shortly after I’d start drinking Ale. When I was working night shifts back in the UK, I’d only eat soup and a few slices of wholemeal bread throughout the night but again my colleagues were suffering in my presence.Brown Rice

I tried going gluten free for a week. I swapped wheat based muesli for oat based muesli, couscous for brown rice, wheat pasta for rice pasta. And I felt incredible. Imagine, if you will, that you’d felt lethargic for years and not even known it. Suddenly, I had loads of energy and could sleep for a full uninterrupted 8 hours (even despite the snores of fellow backpackers sharing the hostel dorm).

I started paying attention to food labelling for the first time. It’s surprising the amount of stuff that has wheat flour added to it. OK, so I have to pass on biscuits and cakes when they’re being offered out but I’d rather spare myself the discomfort and embarrassment.

The Ultimate Old Fashioned Diet

It was whilst searching for  gluten free recipes that I learnt about the Paleo diet. Paleo= Palaeolithic. The principle is basically- if we didn’t eat it whilst evolving then don’t eat it.

This means no grains, no dairy (milk), no legumes (they contain a lot of chemicals that play havoc with the bowels unless soaked and cooked to death), no processed sugars and no oils containing a lot of trans-fats (canola oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil).

Back to food labelling again and sugar and salt seem to be added to nearly everything out there.

Some people are a lot stricter than others. Paleo 2.0 is by and large built on the same principles but allows more cooking, for instance white potatoes are not Paleo but are ok under 2.0 (so long as you peel the skins).

I eat Paleo 2.0 food in combination with the Bodytrim eating plan, this means eating at least every 3 hours to stop the body going into energy storing mode.

I do most of my cooking on a Sunday evening to free up time in the week, and freeze/ defrost as needed. I’ll cook a batch of 75 gram meatballs for my snacks in the week.

A typical day looks like this-

Breakfast: 3 eggs scrambled with a mushroom and 50g of pre-soaked and cooked Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wa’). A handful of Blueberries. Green Tea.

Mid morning protein snack

Dinner: 150g Tuna or Chicken with peppers, celery and courgette. Possibly with 50g carrot or sweet potato every other day. Piece of fruit.

Afternoon protein snack

Tea: 150g Beef, Lamb or Kangaroo with non-starchy veg.

Pre-bed protein snack.

Quinoa and Blueberries

I cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil but there are other Paleo friendly oils such as Cocon

ut, Almond and Clarified butter (Ghee). I’m liberal with black pepper and Balsamic vinegar.

I give myself a free day every week but even then I try and stay Paleo. On my free day I’ll drink Cider, Perry, Mead or Wine (There is a woeful lack of gluten free beers), I’ll snack on Brazil or (soaked) Walnuts instead of meat. I’ll put honey in my tea and have dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa, normally 85%).

This is followed with a protein only day.

Just as prior to the diet, I take a multivitamin and cod liver oil pill and even though there’s a fair amount of fibre in the diet, I also take a tablespoon of psyllium husk in a pint a hot water before bed.

More than just food

Reading around other aspects of the Paleo lifestyle, there are those who shun modern cosmetics and use only water to clean themselves. I’ve stopped using anti-perspirant but I am far too vain and conscious of body odour to go wholesale Swampy.

I found out about Castile soap (saponified olive oil) and as luck would have it, found some for sale in a shop the next day. I use it only on my pits and bits and use a Castile based shampoo once a week (normally after my free day), but rinse my hair in the shower every day. I’ve found that I no longer need to use hair product as my hair is a lot less frizzy now, though I’ve read that 100% Aloe gel makes a good natural hair gel (and after sun balm).

Being in Oz, sun care is important so I wear a rash vest and use a zinc cream as a sun block. I’ve started electric shaving until I can get round to finding (or making) a natural shaving cream. I’ll still put on a bit of aftershave when I go out, but aim it for my shirt collar rather than skin. My only other concession to modern cosmetics is toothpaste but I am on the lookout for a decent replacement for my Colgate.Aloe Vera Cut Leaf

Being on the road, I have a few concerns over being able to get Quinoa in remote places. I might have to make a concession and eat Brown rice for a while, and with soaking for a day, this still seems a better plan than other choices (Corn, Oats) as a short term thing.

This is a personalised account based on my own reading and what feels right for my own body, I don’t go about telling people how to live their lives (and expect the same courtesy in return), but if you’re interested, try going gluten free (no wheat, rye or barley) for 2 weeks or so. See if you feel more energetic. After that, try gradually cutting back other non-Paleo parts of your diet. Do what feels right for you.


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