Friday 18 April 2014

Blinded by Science!

It's that time of year when most people wear smiles on their faces in this part of the world - a bit of sunshine and warm weather really seems to cheer people up. It's lovely to be able to wheel around town and not freeze almost to death! Mind you, I say 'wheel' but I really struggle in this loan wheelchair and can't wait to get my own chair in the next few weeks. That really will put a smile on my face.

Last week I paid a visit to 'Your World Healthcare' in London. They have been wonderfully supportive to my charity and myself so I popped in to say a big thank you. Whilst I was there I learned a group of them are going to tackle 'Tough Mudder' on April 26th to raise money for community groups. Having completed the same course last year I gave them three bits of advice; 1). It is NOT a race. 2). Teamwork is vital. 3). Please get across the finish line because the feeling of having really achieved something is a wonderful experience. I could not have done it without the incredible support of my team from AbleChildAfrica and it was an experience I shall always be proud of.

This week I was invited by the Church of Scotland to participate in the Edinburgh International Science Festival. I was there to debate some very serious issues, such as,'Do sport and science really mix'? and,'Can the use of technology make sport a truly level playing field'? This is the year of the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow and the audience based debate saw me on a panel with Rugby star Scott Hastings, Dr.Grant Jarvie, and the moderator was the great sports journalist Graham Speirs. We explored the benefits, problems and ethical questions that arise from the use of technological advances in competitive sport. I was really impressed when Scott Hastings said that in his day he played sport for the love of it and not for fame or money! That is exactly why I took part in competitive wheelchair racing but it seems that for many people these days money rules everything and people will go to any lengths to win, even damaging their bodies by using drugs. Anyway, I enjoyed the debate and would really like the opportunity to air my own views more often. Thanks for inviting me!

Today is Good Friday, the day Jesus gave his life to help save humanity. I watched a programme on BBC1, 'The Great North Passion', which came live from Norman's home town, South Shields.  I remember him once saying to me that a while ago people valued and embraced Christianity and religion as whole more than they do these days, and today, as I watched this programme, I thought to myself .... 'there would have been a lot more people present because people were a lot more religious'. I think it's really sad that people in general seem to have lost their faith. I feel certain the world would be a lot happier place if they found it again! 

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Saturday 5 April 2014

The People's Poll.

 Harlow is such a beautiful place, it  has a beautiful history dating all the way back about 10,000 years and was famous for its three horses, forty three cattle, seven beehives, a designated sculpture town, and also famously known for having a first residential tower block in the country. 
Today I was invited to participate in an event called;'The Harlow Conversation' which was organised by the  department of Sociology from University of Cambridge. There were about 150 people present in Harlow Study Centre, a good mixture of ages, and from all academic back grounds, to debate issues that affect them at a local and national level.

The meeting was chaired by Dr.Jeff Miley,who is a judge at crown court  with two experts arguing for localism then two arguing against it. Localism means devolving power from central government to local government, and communities. I'm for localism myself because I believe the people who live in Harlow are better placed to make important decisions about the town rather than a bunch of folks in Parliament sitting on endless committees.
We discussed issues such as Education, Pay Day loan companies, Housing and Hospitals. I was shocked to learn that 26% of people in Harlow have no qualifications so who is to blame for this? Should school curriculum's be set by schools themselves instead of by Central Government, and if so, to what extent? To me, Education is VERY important. In Kenya, parents have to pay money out of their own pockets to send their children to school and buy books and equipment so they really appreciate education. In this country parents also pay for education through their taxes but it seems to me that education isn't as valued as it should be, and teachers don't seem to get the respect they deserve. I believe the government should spend more on giving teachers the opportunities to teach rather than weighing them down with paperwork and constant interference by OFSTED and observations in schools. I also feel more needs to be done about the lack of discipline in schools, and I speak from personal experience as the parent of a 13 year old boy who has really suffered through this.

The so - called pay day loan companies are, in my opinion, leeches that are sucking dry the most vulnerable people in our community. Harlow Council, I was very surprised to learn, doesn't even know how many of these companies there are in Harlow, and the current government doesn't seem interested in regulating such companies, which is something that makes me angry. After all, the mess this country is in was caused by greedy banks and we, the taxpayers, had to bail them out. They should be forced to give people decent loans and then there would be no business for the leeches. Credit Unions are also a good idea.

We also had a healthy debate on housing and whether green belt land should be used for 'affordable housing'. I want to know what they mean by affordable because a one bedroom flat in one of the new developments in Harlow costs £170,000, and I certainly don't think that is affordable! I think we need to build a lot more council houses so those people on low incomes can have a decent place to live. This would also create more jobs. Having lived in the town since 2000 I have noticed that hundreds of private houses have been built but no thought seems to have been given to all the extra traffic this has created. This is a problem that will only get worse unless something is done about it now. I also didn't know, until this meeting, that the M11 was actually built on the wrong side of our town.

Our local hospital, Princess Alexandra only has 489 beds for a town population of 80,000. Again, this is a potentially serious situation because of all the extra housing that has been built. This government seems to be intent on closing hospitals rather than extending them to provide the service our growing population needs.

I really enjoyed the day and felt empowered by having the opportunity to debate such serious topics. For me, this was a real example of what localism means and I would relish the opportunity to make my voice heard on a more regular basis.
Towards the end of the meeting, I couldn't help the destruction from the whistling wind outside  that reminded me of the film 'whistle down the wind'.

As we drew to a conclusion, I had so many questions that I needed answering and  I would like you to help me ponder on the following:
1.How does a government know how they are doing?
2.What happens when a community feels they are being ignored the government?
3.What is good governance? Is it a bunch of people at the top who think they know more than the people at a local level?
4.Do you think the person at a local level has enough knowledge and information to make decisions?

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Thursday 3 April 2014

Love The One You're With.... I don't love polio

It's been quite a while since I last blogged but here I am. I really dislike winter because any bug or cold that is doing the rounds inevitably gets me. Thank God Spring has finally sprung, though we are now suffering from the 'Saharan Dust that makes breathing difficult. Hopefully it will be gone by the weekend. It's not pleasant that I am unable to train outdoors due to the 'bad air'.

Polio has almost been forgotten in the West but there are many survivors who are now struggling to live with the late effects of this awful condition. Still, life continues though with a little more difficulty, especially amongst the elder survivors.

A few weeks ago I was a guest at the British Polio Fellowship Indoor Championships held in Leicester. It was a great pleasure to be there and I was so glad I arrived early so I could have a try at the different sports. I really enjoyed wheelchair curling and bowls but I fell in love with wheelchair darts. I managed to score 120 with two darts so Phil Taylor watch out! I might take it up seriously when my racing career finally ends. It was fantastic to interact with the competitors, most of them in their 50's and 60's, and it was great to see the enthusiasm and competitive attitude they showed. This is a group of people who love themselves - they've accepted and made peace with who they are and not how they are defined. As a younger polio survivor I drew a lot of inspiration from them and I learned that actually we can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves. We have to value our imperfections as much as our perfections! Anyway, it was lovely to present medals and see the pleasure on faces as they received their awards.

Statistically speaking there are around 120,000 polio survivors struggling with the late effects of polio in the UK. The British Polio Fellowship is working with the World Health Organisation to try and eradicate polio from the world. This year they are celebrating 75 years of the BPF  with different events and road shows, and you can find out more about the work they do or if you would like any kind of support related to polio - visit; and a little bit about myself... 


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