Monday, December 22, 2008

Has Christmas come down to this?

24 years ago, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure wrote a song called 'Do they Know it's Christmas'. They got together a whole crowd of friends (calling themselves collectively Band Aid) from the British pop scene to make a record and a video to raise money for famine in Ethiopia.

It succeeded, it was a massive hit, lots of money was raised and the project went on to inspire many more charity events and music releases.

This year, some thoughtless idiot at the BBC has taken the song and used it for the trailer for a comedy show. It has made me furious every time the trailer has been shown for the last two weeks.

I have no idea if the royalties are still going to charity, I hope so, because the use of the music in this way is just totally tasteless and inappropriate.

There is only one bright tiny spark and that is that anyone else who remembers what that music originally signified just might stop and think that all these years afterwards, we still have people starving in Africa. We still have wars and we still have poverty on our own doorsteps. We should be ashamed.

Charities always suffer in a recession, but if someone shakes a charity tin at you while you are out doing your last minute shopping, please, please don't turn the other way. Your few pennies might make all the difference to some good cause this Christmas.

And, please, if you hear 'Do They know it's Christmas' on your radio or in a store, don't just sing or hum along mindlessly, spare a thought for what it meant then and still means now. Maybe in another 24 years we really will have made a difference.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Anger over possible mistakes in my medication

I learned today that the medication that I have been receiving for many years for hypothyroidism may not necessarily be appropriate or ideal.

A very good friend sent me a link to this site which reveals a deep controversy about the correct treatment which has resulted in the UK medical profession and our National Health Service virtually to use one treatment (thyroxine) to the exclusion of all others. Further research led me to TPA-UK which is also very helpful for UK hypothyroid sufferers.

From these sites, I discovered that the information being given to patients about their condition, the symptoms, possible helpful supplements and dietary advice is very variable. In my case this resulted in not being told anything about an inadequate dose causing severe depression, mood swings and anxiety on top of all the unpleasant physical symptoms like weight gain, chronic tiredness, loss of libido, poor concentration and memory loss.

When I was a child, I was treated with a natural thyroid extract. At some time the synthetic alternative (thyroxine) was developed, but it only provides one part of the two-part (T4 and T3) natural hormone. This is what I have been treated with for many years, I really can't recall when I switched, but it could have been as long ago as my 20's and I am 57 now.

The information I now have, answers many questions about what has been happening to my body and my mind over the last 9 years. It doesn't give much hope for the future though, as currently, the NHS doesn't seem to want to listen to the evidence produced by endocrinologists in other parts of the world. They are even trying to prosecute one doctor who has been treating patients with alternative medications, which more closely replicate the hormone the human body is supposed to produce.

The controversy is around whether the natural product and/or a combination of T3 and T4 synthetics is a better treatment than thyroxine alone and on the arguable risks of prescribing synthetic T3 at all. There are different blood tests for hypothyroidism and it also appears that the one most commonly used by the NHS in the UK may not accurately reveal the T3 level at all. Having looked at blood test sheets I have been given to take to the clinic, I know this is the test my current GP has been using.

I have unsuccessfully challenged my treatment before, but I am going to do so again and will be interacting with other sufferers on an online forum to find out if there is any hope of even trying something else to see if it improves my life.

For the time being, I will be going to buy some of the natural supplements I have found out about - milk thistle, valerian and St John's Wort.

The physical symptoms and depression played a big part in the breakdown of my marriage and have kept me out of the workplace for many years - could anyone blame me for feeling angry now?

Sadness for ocean racing friends

It's been a sad as well as an angry day for me.

I've been following Dee Caffari's blog about her experiences on Aviva in the Vendee Globe Race. Dee is currently in the Southern Ocean, and I hope, safe tonight.

However some of her fellow competitors have fallen victim to the heavy loads Southern Ocean sailing can put on even the best built modern racing yacht.

Mike Golding's yacht 'Ecover' has been dismasted, and Bernard Stamm's 'Cheminees Poujoulat' went onto rocks while trying to moor up in the Kerguelen Islands where he had gone to make other repairs. Another competitor, Dominique Wavre was helping him, having also gone into the Kerguelens for repair to 'Temenos'.

Mike Golding and Bernard Stamm became known to me in 2006/2007 when I was working for Clipper Ventures as a watchkeeper for the Velux 5 Oceans race. I spoke to them on satellite phone and exchanged emails with them on a daily basis.

Mike Golding also went out of that race with a dismasting, hours after going to the aid of another unfortunate competitor, Alex Thomson when his boat Hugo Boss lost its keel. Bernard was the eventual winner of that race, and was leading the Vendee Globe.

Mike is still out there in the Southern Ocean, working on a jury rig and making plans to head northeast for somewhere in Western Australia.

I'm asking the Goddess, to look after them all tonight.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A message to fence-sitters

Imagine the situation. The marriage or relationship of two of your close friends breaks down and one of them leaves. You know in your heart that one of them is desperately wrong and bad because they have been unfaithful, violent or behaved totally unreasonably and the other is innocent and the wronged party.

Yet, you decide to sit on the fence and try to remain friends with both of them. Is that really the right thing to do ? Are you ultimately damaging the whole of society by deciding to stay neutral, as well as potentially losing not one, but two friends. Why don’t you have the guts to come out and say what you really believe and what you know is just and moral?

Consider this, By staying neutral you quite possibly are NOT gaining any respect from either partner, each of whom may well think you are supporting the other if you appear not to condemn an obvious wrong. Breakdown of marriage costs society a lot, both in terms of money and social cohesion. Children are damaged, lives and careers wrecked and homes lost. If you don't speak out and identify the wrong, that partner may well go on to create and later destroy another relationship, the worst case being where two whole families are involved, setting off a chain reaction.

The only ones to benefit from relationship breakups are the lawyers who drive big shiny cars and wear smug smiles. When you walk into their office to chronicle the breakdown of your marriage you may as well be wearing a paper bag over your head with a money symbol on it. I find it hard to believe that they have any interest in you or your problems past their next payday.

By all means tell your friends if you think even the wronged partner bears some blame for the breakdown, they will, more than likely ultimately respect your honesty even if it hurts at the time and may even cause a temporary estrangement between you. Think of it as a test of the strength and quality of your friendship.

For Pete’s sake don’t sit there polishing your halo and thinking you are being ‘fair’ to everyone. Pick up the phone or write an email telling the bad-ass partner what a shit you think they are to treat someone who loves them so badly.

If you think that you can help them get back together and there IS a relationship worth saving there, say so, to both of them. Tell them that they should try to mend that relationship. IMO you will be doing the world far more favours by sitting on the sidelines and watching the circus of financial mediations and fights over kids, pets, homes and the CD collection.

A famous quotation (often attributed to Irish political philospher Edmund Burke) goes “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing”. Whoever did say it originally I think he or she was probably thinking about war, revolutions and dictators, but it seems to me to apply equally to matters of the heart and personal relationships.

Monday, December 08, 2008

British Internet users face Chinese-style censorship

A large proportion of UK Internet users are today having their internet access censored and are unable to post edits on Wikipedia unless they register an account.

The Internet Watch Foundation received complaints about a Wiki for German heavy metal band The Scorpions who featured a very young naked girl on an album cover. Wikipedia do not censor content themselves.

The Internet Watch Foundation are not part of the British legal system or a Government agency. They are actually a registered charity, and it would be rather interesting to see who is on the list of their major contributors.

British ISP's have responded to the complaint by not only blocking access to the image, but also to the text on the page. In the news item that I heard on radio this morning, and in the items I have found online, the technical explanation for this is to do with the way that the heavy bandwidth for traffic with Wikipedia sites is handled - full explanation here.

Now bear in mind that the IWF do NOT represent the British Government or the law as it stands. They are (supposedly) an independent body who work with the ISP's to eliminate potentially illegal content. So, why are UK users able freely to access other porn sites featuring children and young people? Why this particular site? Who complained?

This is their official statement on the matter as of the time of writing.

Currently my ISP Virgin Media is blocking access to the page itself via a 404 page. If I try to edit a Wiki, I get a warning page from Wikipedia itself advising me that the block is indefinite and asking me to register an account if I want to edit or create Wikis. Other ISP's including BSkyb are taking similar action.

Apparently there was another complaint about the same material from some fundamental Christian organisation in the USA earlier in the year. The FBI were notified at the time, but reportedly laughed at the complainers and said go away.

This is an extremely serious situation. Regardless of the actual content, this appears to be the first time that an organisation that is NOT DIRECTLY a law enforcement agency has succeeded in censoring what we can look at online. Moreover, it is ridiculous stupidity, the image exists elsewhere online. Are they going to force ISP's to block the whole of Amazon next?

My perception is that my civil rights have been breached and are very likely to be further breached in the future if this kind of busybodying and petty interfering moralising is put in the hands of people who don't have any legal right to tell me what I can and cannot look at on the Internet.

This is the UK, not Communist China, we have freedom of speech and communication here and it is being eroded via the back door.

This is what a BBC blog and its readers have to say

Halifax carry on regardless

Do HBOS (or indeed all the banks) know something the consumers don't?

Their response to the recent dispute and me saying that if the court decision went against them they'd have to pay back all the excess charges was a snotty letter from the BRANCH manager saying we don't want your accounts any more. That includes my ISA and web-based savings accounts.

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you like, but it seems to me that they may already know the outcome of the court decision and are taking the opportunity deliberately to rid themselves of any accounts that may cost them money in the future. I am not sure whether this would necessarily save them from having to repay though.

They didn't notice that I have my house insurance with them. So I presume they don't want that business either, or the application for life cover which I received a few days ago and was going to take in this week.

I have replied to the letter, asking them to re-consider their move to close my accounts. I was after all extremely depressed on that day, and the lousy customer service I received from the CUSTOMER manager didn't help. From the moment I walked in the branch, she had no intention whatever of even listening to me. Not only that, but she had the sauce to criticise what I spent my money on, in the course of looking at my account details over the weekend that £175 of charges were applied for 5 separate transactions, one of them for only £5.

Apart from my reply to the Branch manager, a letter may also be sent to Head Office, naming the Customer Manager whose rudeness and intransigent attitude so annoyed and upset me. I will hold off sending this letter for a few days until I receive a reply from the Branch Manager, but I still think his junior needs some serious retraining in how to listen politely to customers and not pre-judge any situation until she has properly considered all the circumstances.

I noticed she was not on the front desk when I handed in my letter this morning. Hopefully she is somewhere in the back of the branch reading training manuals and suitably gagged with duct tape.

Whatever the outcome of the appeal, the banks and the Government are damned. Either the taxpayer (HBOS is already in receipt of 'rescue' funds) is going to have to partly foot the bill for paying back millions in excess overdraft charges or the banks will be seen to be allowed to flout the law on unfair contracts with the blessing of a Government-influenced judiciary.

Will keep you all posted.

Monday, December 01, 2008


UK banks are hanging on to the bitter end over the issue of unfair overdraft charges.

The basis of the consumer driven court action against them is that you cannot enforce a contractual agreement if the terms are unfair. The banks have an appeal in train and the judicial system has allegedly postponed a decision because the judge is engaged on another case – or perhaps the current economic situation was forseen long before it became public.

This afternoon I have had an extremely acrimonious argument with the manager of Halifax, West Street, Havant regarding such charges.

Bear in mind that HBOS may shortly be taken over by Lloyds TSB. I haven’t been and asked Lloyds whether their charging policy is any different, maybe I should.

The first excessive charge was made on a day when I wasn’t actually overdrawn at all, according to the statement I received. I should say, straight away that I manage my account online and the statement and the notifications that charges would be applied were automatically notified by email. No human intervention or action whatever - £35 per ITEM, not £35 for each day over the limit.

The not-particularly-pleasant manager, with whom I have had charges disputes before was adamant that I should have moved the money the day BEFORE the direct debit was due to come out. Surely what should matter is the balance at the END of the day!

I recall the day that happened too., My credit card statement said that my monthly payment would be taken on 1st November, so I went in on 31st to ensure that funds were available. At that time, the monthly direct debit was not showing on my customer screen. Yet, when the manager showed me the bank view, not only was the DD showing before the credit, there was another charge from later in the day that also showed up before the credit – eh???

Even if you take the bank view of the sequence of events, I would have been less than £3 over the limit for less than 12 hours. The manager was unable to explain why the statement I was waving angrily at her showed a completely different story and could only repeat, tight-lipped that the DD was processed first and so the bank were entitled to make the charge.

The second incident was not just one but FIVE separate charges for transactions made when my account was over the limit. Now I hold up my hands and say I forgot to cover a payment made over the phone to my energy company on a Friday evening. The banks can manage to generate charges and log transactions over a weekend, but still claim that these are not working days for the purposes of crediting one’s account.

Yes I DID go over my limit and ONE charge might have been justified, but not £175 worth of charges for going over my limit by a far lower amount. One of those £35 charges was for a transaction for just £5 - all this notified by email.

I should also mention that I have thousands of pounds in savings accounts with the Halifax – surely some kind of security. Other banks have a flexible account that would take such credit into consideration.

If the banks’ appeal succeeds it will make a mockery of the law that says you can’t enforce an unfair contract.

Meanwhile, from conversations with friends, it would appear that HBOS are one of the worst offenders when it comes to unfair overdraft charges. If you were considering moving your account there, or doing any other kind of business with them, I would suggest you think again.

Possibly it is their bad reputation in this respect that is responsible for their current precarious position. A bank that was not so greedy and unreasonable might be more successful at keeping their customers.


If you are depressed, and if you are also able to express your thoughts in words, then I would thoroughly recommend blogging. Writers since the dawn of time have used their emotions, moods and anguish to create great prose and poetry. I’m not suggesting for a moment that I’m in their league, but it seems to me that it as much about being READ as the quality of the writing and that is what blogging gives us.

This week has been the worst for me for some time in terms of the depth of depression and the week in which professional help seems finally to have arrived. The story is not how I got here, but of the dealing with it. I have been prescribed anti-depressants in the past – just the one in fact, Citalopram. My doctor ‘forgot’ to mention that a) they might make me suicidal before I got any better, and b) I really shouldn’t be drinking alcohol or taking more than the stated dose. I did both, but fortunately not in sufficient amounts to be dangerous.

Some time after that, I did make an effort to take them ‘properly’ according to the instructions but noticed absolutely no effect at all. Chocolate is better, and having seen the health benefits that the very best chocolate might bring along with a new business interest, I am seriously wondering why the National Health don’t prescribe it as medicine.

At the same time, I checked the internet for known side-effects of Citalopram and was absolutely horrified by what I found. I checked the notes in the box with the tablets and found that it said exactly the same as the internet in that suicidal feelings was a known side-effect.

When I went back to my GP recently he said that he could ‘recommend me for counselling’ as an alternative to taking anti-depressants, but it was absolutely clear he would much rather hand out the pills and hope I didn’t come back any time soon. So I accepted that I might have to wait 4-5 weeks for an appointment, but expected at the end of it, there would be a really helpful outcome. I genuinely expected that the counselling would be psychiatric not just a talking shop. Now, I’m not totally dissing counsellors. They have their place. But having waited nearly 6 weeks for my assessment appointment, it became clear in less than 5 minutes talking to the counsellor that it was not what I expected and certainly not what I needed.

I left the counsellor upset, angry and desperate and really wondering yet again if my life was even worth living. I went back to see my GP later in the day and once again he tried to push the anti-depressants. I asked about side effects and he said ‘drowsiness’. I asked should I or shouldn’t I be driving and he would not commit himself – clearly I couldn’t take the risk. I pointed out what meagre income I now get was heavily dependent on being able to drive and taking that away would cause me even more severe stress. This particular bad episode has been brought on by financial difficulties - see previous post and this.

I also asked him what would happen if I took too many or took them with alcohol. What I was told does not seem the best solution for someone who had admitted 5 minutes earlier having suicidal feelings. I’m not saying what the alternative drug I was offered. I’m not going to risk someone else reading this and hurting themselves.

Later in the evening he must have had at least some crisis of conscience because he called to say that someone from the ‘crisis team’ would be calling me. They did, and what has happened since has been hugely helpful and encouraging and I am now going to get the professional psychiatric help that I know that I need. Thank you Sam, Jane and Clare and your colleague who called me yesterday evening.

People with depression and related illnesses in the UK do not get nearly the help and support that more obvious physical illnesses and disabilities enjoy. We are widely regarded as being self-pitying, weak malingerers, even if our depression, as mine was, arose partly from a physical hormonal condition that is already being treated, and/or factors altogether outside our control.

In the meantime, till I go to my next formal appointment, I have regular phone calls from the crisis team and an emergency number if I need it. I feel like at least some of the weight has been lifted, as if I am not carrying an elephant around all the time.

Depression in itself makes you tired. If you then can’t get to sleep because of the stress, life winds itself into a tight coiled knot. I have invented a new visualisation exercise.

As dawn comes I watch a tightly knotted towel or scarf gradually unwinding itself. As the sun rises over a gently waving field of grain, gifts are placed at my feet, that I know I can use and help myself to prosper, but the greatest gift of all, given of my Mother Goddess is life itself.