Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Why do chips taste so good eaten outside?

My regular readers will know that I am a very kinaesthetic person and find great pleasure in the senses! Last week I had several such experiences.

In recent years I have been honoured to speak at The Samaritans national conference, held in York. As a result I have then been invited to address other locally-based branches. I am happy to give my time because I know how hard the volunteers work and if I can inspire them in some way, then bring it on!

Clive Gott had also spoken at their events. After he suffered a period of depression a few years ago (the reason why fellow speaking colleagues suggested we worked together),  he had admitted his illness on his blog. He used to joke that when some of The Samaritans read about it they rang HIM to see if he was okay!

I also know that another speaker whom I admire, Richard McCann, is a regular guest for them too.  So when I was asked many months ago if I would address the Shrewsbury branch AGM on Tuesday 15th November, I was delighted to accept. Their Chair had heard me in York and wanted me to share my story with his colleagues.

The venue was Shire Hall in Shrewsbury and I was relieved to get there in plenty of time to check my presentation, music, etc. after my problem in Bradford. Once set up, I nipped out to find some food. There was a pub but also a chippy! The smell tempted me in and I thoroughly enjoyed fish and chips in the paper wrappings on a bench outside Shire Hall in the dark. Bliss! Honestly! Why does food taste so good outside and when it is chilly?

Whilst listening to the business aspects of the AGM, I was shocked to see how their funds have been drastically reduced in the last couple of years due to ‘the recession’. Yet the number of callers in distress due to the recession has increased! Did you know that any donations to ‘The Samaritans’ goes to central office and not your local branch unless you specify that?

What a lovely group of people! I have every admiration for them as they are willing to be trained and then give up their time at unsociable hours to listen and advise those in distress. Since losing Clive I know the pain of bereavement. The fact that this service saves lives is incredible. I urge people to consider helping – either in financial terms or as a volunteer. Just think what rewarding work you could do if you gave up a few hours of television a week!

It was sad to hear apologies, e.g. from the local MP’s; however, it was great to see the local Mayor and Mayoress there offering their support in a number of ways – a charming couple. His blog is here.

I gave my presentation and was thrilled that it was well received. Comments included that I was able to inspire them personally and to give them a greater insight into the distress of their callers. That felt so good. I was able to give them information about The Joanne (Joe) Bingley Memorial Foundation, of which I am a trustee.

Feedback included:-

Thank you so much for your very charismatic presentation last night. Speaking to Volunteers afterwards it was clear to see that all were captivated by your story and have deep admiration for your strength of character and determination to move forwards into the next phase of your life. We could not fail to be inspired and also learn from your experiences both from a personal aspect but also make us all better Samaritans in being able to understand better the difficulties that some of our callers face and how we could better respond to them.

Messages like that inspire me too. I drove away from the meeting on a total high and felt privileged to have been able to speak to them. Thank you for making me feel so welcome.

I confess that the next day I felt rough! My throat was sore; my ears aching and my whole upper torso felt sore. So I practiced what I preach, rested, relaxed and looked after myself! By late evening I had bounced back!

I had needed to bounce back because on Thursday morning I was due to speak to physiotherapy students at Nottingham University – for three hours! What an amazing experience that was as well. I love to present my tips on what makes a difference to patients but also to help health professionals realise that they have to take care of themselves so THAT they can look after others. Once again I felt humbled to be able to share my story and experiences to very caring and compassionate people.

Friday was another wonderful day! My friend, colleague and fellow JBMF trustee Ann Girling and I did a full days workshop to professionals linked to Children’s Centre staff in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. It was the first time we had both presented as published authors!  On days like that, I am always amazed  how the time simply ‘flies’. We aim to increase the awareness and reduce the stigma around postnatal depression at these workshops. It works from what we were told!

So thank you to all those fantastic people I met this week. I hope I was able to enrich your lives as you did mine. I felt some wonderful hugs and warmth from many of you!

I am now taking a ‘rest’ from speaking until the New Year. I have so much to catch up on and want to do so before I start the New Year with renewed enthusiasm. Look out for my next blogs on my BIG NEWS!!!!

So what do you like to eat outside? What do you like to look at? What do you like to feel? What smell fills your mind with happy thoughts? What sound fills you with joy?

As I have traveled this week my love of Rascal Flatts continues. I like this one ...

Elaine x

Monday, 21 November 2011

Ann Girling's book is now published!

How many of you have ever said ‘I could write a book’? Have you actually ever thought it was possible? Have you made the effort?

I know someone who has just done that – let her be a source of inspiration!

My regular readers will have read about my friend, colleague and fellow trustee of The Joanne (Joe) Bingley Memorial Foundation, Ann Girling

On Friday 10th November I was delighted to attend her book launch ‘A Journey to Chocolate’. She was assisted by the same lovely lady who used to do Clive’s books for him – Shelli Walsh at

The venue was Priors Hayes Golf Club near Chester. The marquee looked so pretty draped in white and purple. There were various stalls as well and plenty of guests had made the effort to support Ann. It was wonderful to see her family there,  especially her gorgeous baby grandson and daughter. 

Since Ann and I have known each other she has spoken of ‘her book’. As the years, months and weeks have gone by I have heard the progress of it and was thrilled when she invited me to write the foreword for it. Another first for me!

Mary, another trustee of JBMF was there and had done a magnificent job of helping Ann organise the day. Chris Bingley was also there and we both gave a short presentation. I spoke of how the event today was about postnatal depression (Ann also was a sufferer), networking (as that is how Ann and I were introduced) and about hope for the future.

We enjoyed a tasty hot meal and I was pleased to meet a very special lady called Julie Smith from We had been in contact a few times over the years but never met until this event. I also met a school friend and the press photographer who has known me since I was the runner up in the Lions May Queen competition in Runcorn almost 30 years ago! Blimey I feel old!

I was thrilled to win a portrait sitting at Yaffe Fusion Art photography too as a raffle prize. 

I highly recommend Ann’s book for any woman who is interested in personal development. She has written her story with the addition of exercises that will help us all be the best we can be at the end of each chapter.
The first and only time Clive heard us present together was at the launch night of Joe’s charity in January last year. He recognised and acknowledged that we brought out the best in each other – long may it continue!

Many congratulations Ann on the ‘birth’ of your book and I look forward to us continuing our journeys together.

 You can get Ann’s book here.

So when are you going to actually start ... and publish yours?

Elaine x

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Inspired by Clive Gott to climb Kilimanjaro

I recently was told of how Clive had inspired an ascent of Kilimanjaro by Adrian Brown. I invited him to be a guest blogger and here is his account :

'Well, where do I start? I suppose I have Clive to ‘blame’ for my adventurous streak. Though maybe blame is the wrong word, as those who knew him, knew of his ability to engender a feeling of self belief and determination that was infectious!

Clive and I first met back in 2007 when I found him through an MdS (Marathon des Sables) forum. Noticing that he was an MdS Veteran and based quite near to me, he graciously offered to meet up and wax lyrical about the event and what I could expect! His knowledge was invaluable, but the enthusiasm he had was almost hypnotic! Clive’s support didn’t stop after I travelled to Morocco in APR10 for the event, he e-mailed me every day and gave me and the team words of encouragement as well as humorous anecdotes to help keep our spirits up!

After successfully completing the MdS, I found that through Clive’s enthusiasm and the natural high from the sense of achievement, I needed more… I therefore started to plan to enter La Trans Aquitaine, a similar staged race along the beautiful Western Seaboard in France. I was going to enter that on 2011, but a positive twist in fate meant an opportunity to tick another box on the list (Climbing Kilimanjaro), coupled with the opportunity to raise money for the fantastic Candlelighters charity presented itself…..

I have been friends with a recruitment professional at iSource for many years and she mentioned that they, along with people from The Yorkshire Mafia and The Test People were putting together a charity climb of Kilimanjaro to raise money for Candlelighters. Originally, the intention had been to accompany her and be her ‘support’, but following a health review with her doctor, she unfortunately had to pull out of the event and I was on my own….

Living and working in York posed its problems to meeting up with the team and sadly the first time I had opportunity to meet them was at the foyer of Leeds Bradford Airport at 0415 on Saturday 17SEP11. We immediately started to bond and it was clear from that early point that the team would be there for each other during our following expedition! I’ll leave out the usual stuff about flights (3 of them!) and the missing baggage (mine!), suffice to say the way the team came together and cobbled kit together was again a sign of the camaraderie and support that was to last from day 1 onwards.

The Kit

Day 1 – Sunday 18SEP11

(Machame Gate 1830m to Machame Hut 3000m)
We had spent the night in the Key Annexe Hotel in Moshi. It wasn’t downtown, far from it, but it’s a great little hotel on the outskirts of Moshi (about 2 miles from the centre). Rooms were basic and functional with Mosquito nest and fans and a very soft bed. After a day of travelling sleep was not a problem and we awoke refreshed and ready for the trip to Machame Gate. Machame Gate is at 1800m elevation and is the entrance to the Kilimanjaro National Park and all treks start from here. It has a couple of buildings that serve as administration hut, toilets and ‘holding’ area. I say holding as other than a few benches and tables under a solid roof, we couldn’t see any other purpose for its existence! We took the opportunity to have our lunch box (again a basic, but filling sandwich, chicken drumstick, juice and crisps. One of the team is a vegetarian and he was well catered for throughout the trip.

The team

After the formalities, we set off trekking in earnest. The route was beautiful, winding its way through the lower slopes of deep verdant flora. Fauna was less prevalent, although we were fortunate to see a white tailed monkey and, after dropping back from the main group with a member of the team who was finding the going tough, we were rewarded by seeing a dormouse.

To say we were already at 3000m, once the camp had been set up, the catering by the porters was fantastic! Every meal was freshly prepared, three courses and of good quality and quantity!

The accommodation

Day 2 – Monday 19SEP11

(Machame Hut 3000m to Shira New Camp 3840m)
After a beautifully clear night that allow spectacular views of the stars and passing satellites, the pay-off was that the temperature had plummeted during the night. A small amount of ice on the tents identified areas of pooling water or condensation, but this quickly disappeared after the first rays of the sun peaked over the horizon. We were welcomed by the incredible sight of looking down onto the clouds below us. I shall never forget these views and they made you feel that you were in an alternate plain, surveying creation. Breakfast raised our spirits further (if at all possible after my previous comment!) and we made a ‘Mountain Mocha’ of instant coffee and Cadbury’s hot chocolate….. mmmhhh yummy!

The trek today was quite punishing as it was almost constant climbing. Obviously you tend to go up when climbing a mountain, but it was more scrambling and climbing around rocks than trekking up an inclined slope.

The fabulous support team

Day 3 – Tuesday 20SEP11

(New Shira Camp 3840m to Barranco Wall 4000m)
Today would be a good day, whatever the ‘hill’ threw at me! Why? Because at 0630 a porter crested the track from Machame Hut with the best thing I could ever wish to se…. my main bag! This saint of a man had set of at some ungodly hour of the morning to return my bag to me. In my best (!) Swahili, I thanked him profusely and was soon revelling in the pleasures of clean underwear, thermal layers, boiled sweets, trekking poles etc. It was lucky that this event had lifted my spirits as soon out the camp, the rain started, which soon turned to sleet, and then hail! Some of the team decided to visit Lava Tower (4,560m), but myself and roughly half of the team decided that due to the weather and our general level of fatigue, we would dip out and head straight to camp at Barranco Wall. A good choice personally as I was definitely starting to feel the effects of altitude sickness.

Day 4 – Wednesday 21SEP11
(Barranco Wall 4000m to Karanga Valley 4000m)

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this would be the day I quit, though those of you who know me, know that I don’t do quitting! Looking at Barranco Wall from the camp a mere 400m away, gave it the appearance of being vertical! I am terrible with heights and I really thought I’d met my match and would not be able to overcome my fear. ‘Fortunately’ another member of the team was in a similar position to me, so we provided each other with support and positive reassurance that we could do it! We started to climb carefully and bizarrely as we gained height, the wall appeared to be less vertical than first believed. That’s not to say it wasn’t steep and there were definitely a few moments where tears where shed, hearts were racing and determination needed to be summoned from the deepest parts of our being. The views from the top of the wall were, as you would imagine spectacular! I have definitely conquered my fear of heights and relished the drop offs and views from that point onwards. An undulating path for the rest of the afternoon brought us to our penultimate camp before summit night. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) had well and truly set in on me and some of the team and the effort required just to get to camp was incredible. Added to that I had lost my appetite and had a crashing headache which ibuprofen or paracetamol was not touching!

Day 5 – Thursday 22SEP11

(Karanga Valley 4000m to Barafu Hut 4572m – Barafu Hut 4572m to Urhuru Peak 5895m )
Double day effort! After breakfast, we walked to Barafu Huts. This wasn’t a particularly strenuous trek and it needed to be gentle to conserve our energy for the summit attempt later tonight / tomorrow morning! Although giving my increasing suffering of AMS, the effort was extreme. After arriving at Barranco Wall, we rested until late evening 2300, when we got ready to summit! I hadn’t eaten for a day and the chief guide, Lipman advised me to take some ibuprofen, paracetamol and Diamox and get some rest. He would decide when he woke us for the summit bid whether my attempt was on or if I would be sent down to lower altitudes for my own safety. Fortunately sleep came quickly and I managed to get about 8 hours solid rest. When he woke me around 2200, I was fighting fit and the drug cocktail had worked its magic and although not 100%, my headache had dramatically reduced, I felt like I actually had some energy and was raring to go!

The ascent was hell. A monotonous zigzagging path which was mainly dust over stone / rock with the odd stretch of scree that demoralised the unprepared by slipping you back with every foot step taken. We battled the mountain for 7 hours, loosing a couple of team members on the way. The team really pulled together to try and get everyone to summit, but we all had our own internal battles and despite our collective best efforts, some guys just couldn’t go on. The ridge at Stella Point seemed never to arrive, then suddenly it appeared. I had prepared myself for this moment and although I did take a moment to rest and reflect, I didn’t fall into the trap of thinking I had conquered the mountain, I knew that was another 45 minutes and 200m ahead and above me. Actually remembering to stop and take pictures of the beautiful Southern Glaciers, the true summit seemed to take no time at all and it was an emotional time when I joined the other 7 successful summiteers from our team and took in the achievement.

You are allowed a maximum of 45 minutes at the summit, though my AMS was returning by this point and my guide advised me to descend as soon as practicable, so we set off to Barafu Hut.

The 'terrible' views

Day 6 – Friday 23SEP11

(Uhuru Peak 5895m to Barafu Hut 4572m, then on to High Camp 3800m)
The descent was quick! Overall the summit and return to advanced camp took us 11 hours. This apparently is quick, with the average time taken around 23 hours! The weather deteriorated as we approached Barafu hut and a decision was made by the guides to strike camp and push on to High Camp. The trek was awful, with the majority of the day in a mix of light to heavy rain. It didn’t help that High Camp was the least favourite camp that we had been in all week. If we had realised that after the 4 hour trek to High Camp, the relative oasis that was Millennium Camp (3100m) was a mere 2 hours away, I’m sure the group consensus would have been to push on and take advantage of an empty camp with proper toilets!

Day 7 – Saturday 24SEP11

(High Camp 3800m to Mweka Gate 1500m)
My birthday! Sadly we didn’t summit on my birthday, but hey it was near enough! In a way I’m glad as I was greeted by a chorus of happy birthday by my trekking buddies and the long walk back to ‘civilisation’ seemed less arduous now that the goal had been achieved and we all looking forward to getting a proper clean, some food and several very well earned beers!

Mweka Gate was, as imagined similar to Machame Gate, but with the addition of entrepreneurial locals taking opportunity of weary trekkers to tout their wares. Everything from carved wooden safari jeeps, to friendship bracelets and even some hunting knives / spears were on offer. I settled to barter on a couple of T-Shirts, picking up a couple of reasonably priced ones proclaiming my success on the mountain. We were bussed to a local village where we had the opportunity to give the porters any unwanted kit and of course the very well earned bonuses. Through a mix of Sterling, Dollars and Schilling, they porters did very well from out team!

Once we had got back to the hotel and made ourselves relatively presentable, we went to a restaurant in downtown Moshi and had a deserved meal and beer(s!). I’ll not go into the full details, but let’s just say that the flight was the following day at 0635 and we had to leave Moshi at 0400. There were a few of us who decided that there was no point going to bed as we could sleep on the plane….

Day 8 – Sunday 25SEP11

Fly home! Another all day trudge with an extended stop in Schipol for 5 hours, but safe in the knowledge that we were nearly home! Great flight, easy baggage reclaim, joyous meeting with friends and family at LBA! Job done, £26,000 raised during the expedition and a further £21,000 would be raised at the Candlelighters Candy Ball a few weeks later.


There were times on the hill that I visited some very dark places and seriously doubted my ability to achieve the goal. I thought about all the people that had sponsored me, my family and friends and the people who inspire me to help get me through. I did think about Clive a lot and what he would be saying to help get me through. Along with his ‘laws’ and how excited I know he would have been at my achievement and these pushed me to succeed. Thank you to everyone who supported me in this life changing event.'

Fantastic Adrian (and others!)

Elaine x

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Remembrance ..

I actually feel rather ashamed today on Remembrance Sunday. Why? Because it has taken me 48 years to appreciate what real loss is about.
Having lost my partner Clive in February I know the pain of bereavement so now fully understand how it HURTS.

What I do not know is how all those today who have lost their loved ones due to war can come to terms with the futility of combat. I have no anger or guilt about Clive's death - his heart was the problem. How these brave men, women, children, parents, friends wave off their loved ones to war have my deepest respect and admiration. To them have to greet them back in a coffin is so heart breaking.

I am slowly coming to terms with my life without Clive in it. I now feel this anonymous quote is true,

As long as hearts remember
As long as hearts still care
We do not part with those we love
They're with us everywhere

I also feel this song is relevant today. 

So I shall be thinking of those brave men and women who have lost their loved ones.

I shall also treasure a day spent with those I love. As Clive often said 'Now is the only time we have'.

He would want us to make the most of it, as he did. 

Elaine x

Saturday, 12 November 2011

New shoes and no music!

Sometime last year I attended a networking event with Clive Gott called Bradford Now Here.

Once there I discovered that the manager, Gary Peacock, and I had been at sixth form together at Helsby High school many years ago and did geography 'A' level together. After that first event I went back with Clive a few times before his death in February.

Along with another speaker friend John Hotowka and Gary we decided that I would give my new keynote presentation at the November event on Monday 7th. I have my new logo - thanks to Paul at Leeds Graphic Designers and brand, thanks to Sammy at Ice Innovation.

With that in mind I had a shopping trip with stylist Nicky Valantine (website coming soon) who gave me ideas on what shapes and styles I would suit. Ladies, I recommend such an experience! Not only do you save time by trying on unsuitable outfits but having someone specifically focused on you is a real treat.

I finally got a bright orange dress, purple belt and high platform shoes! The dress isn't as shiny as it looks in the flash! My hairdresser and friend Paula from Genesis in Tadcaster did my hair for me - one less challenge!

The Midland hotel is a restored Victorian hotel and has beautiful decor. They know how to look after a speaker - a reserved, named space in the car park - a small touch but much appreciated. It is the only one I have even spoken at where as standard practice they make a hotel bedroom available for you to change in. A fantastic idea!

I confess I was rather more stressed than usual about this presentation! Why? I felt I was there because of Clive's death. All my other talks have been booked through my own reputation. Today I knew that many people were there who had known Clive and therefore were possibly expecting the same as he would have delivered. Whoa! I could almost hear Clive telling me off on several levels:-
  • 'What other people think is none of your business'.
  • 'How do you know that is what they will think?'
  • 'They are coming because they want to hear YOU'
  • 'Get up there girl and just do it!'
I normally have a lectern - there wasn't one.
I normally have a few points written down - nowhere to put them so just had to do it!
I normally would have worn shoes I was used to - they were straight out of the box.

We sorted the AV out about 30 minutes before the 50 people booked began to arrive. All was well. I was thrilled with my new PowerPoint template and the photos looked good.

People began to arrive and the ballroom filled up. I was delighted to see familiar faces and some new ones too with a mix of male and female.

Then minutes before I started the hotel laptop died! I always have mine just in case, so no problem - we just changed it over. John gave a fitting introduction. He has lost an amazing amount of weight in recent months and has a new keynote which was widely praised when he presented at the Professional Speaking Association convention recently.

Then I began. I told my story (as it is so far!) and was pleased with how the audience reacted.

I then say how grateful I am for what I have in my life and clicked the slide to start the song which sums up many feelings .... it didn't play properly! The sound channel wasn't was faulty and we couldn't hear the lyrics! Aaargh!

I just let my photographs roll on and then carried on.

If you were there here is the song with lyrics.

Sometimes 'stuff' happens. I continued with my learning points from my experiences to share with others.

I was pleased with the reaction of those who came to speak to me. One of the privileges of what I do is that by being so open about myself it gives others permission to share their situation with me. I was honoured by those who did so after this talk, and delighted I had helped them.

Regardless of my 'challenges' I was pleased to be asked by two attendees if I will speak at events for them - I just need to check the sound system!

So my learning points:-
  • As a speaker minimise 'stress' - shop in good time for a new outfit!
  • Sometimes a 'new challenge' becomes a BIG learning point - I reckon I neither need a lectern or notes - I CAN do it without!
  • I did check the AV before I spoke and had a back-up, but if it goes wrong ... just carry on!
Thank you John and Gary for your support; for those who came to Bradford on a winter teatime; to the staff at The Midland and to all those who have contributed to my story.

I received many messages from people who said they wanted to come but were unable to and asking when my next one will be.

Has anyone a London venue or Birmingham one who would be happy to host it in the New Year?

I will have worn my shoes in by then!

Elaine x

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Bruno Mars - amazing - and so are my friends!

My regular blog readers will know of how I have been to several concerts since Clive died and they have been a catalyst of emotion for me (and those I went with). For example, Shayne Ward with my Mum; Paolo Nutini with Angela.

Clive and I had been to many concerts and always enjoyed them , e.g. The Eagles, Lionel Richie and Seal. So I knew I was capable of seeing a show without tears - but that was before he died.

A few months ago I had an email to announce that Bruno Mars was touring. He has been a favourite ever since Matt Cardle sang 'Just the way you are' on X-factor and Clive was watching in the pub and rang me to insist I listen. He said it was the song he'd write for me. When I heard Bruno sing it Dom treated me to the CD. Every time I hear this song the tears well up...

So I booked four tickets to see Bruno in Manchester. I invited Clive's niece Sue N, Dinah (my friend and fellow trustee of Joanne Bingley Memorial Foundation) and Sue P (my friend from Southampton). None of them had met before so I trusted they would get on.

I picked up Sue N in Tadcaster and we drove to Leeds/Bradford Airport to collect Sue P from her flight. The journey to rendezvous with Dinah near Huddersfield should have taken 35 minutes - due to traffic it was almost an hour and a half!

Once we got Dinah the M62 and M60 were also snarled up - what should have been a total of 1 hour 45 minutes took just under 4 hours! Sue P had flown from the south coast in a quarter of that time.

What a hoot we had though - it shows how time literally does fly when you are having fun! Sue P has teased me before for being a northern - see her guest blog from July. Well with 3 of us with our northern expressions, banter ensued that needed a translation app on a phone! It is amazing how we speak the same language but so many different words and accents!

It was only as they were picked up did I happen to mention that 'food' might be difficult around the Apollo in Manchester. I explained it was either a Tesco Extra or a McDonalds. They didn't believe me.

I told them that many years ago Mum and I had been there to see UB40 and had stuck to the floor. They didn't believe me. It has since been renovated.

I explained that I wanted to park as soon as possible as there weren't many car parking spaces and I didn't want to leave my car in the street. They couldn't understand why.

As the time ticked away I decided to leave the traffic jam on the motorway and take a back route into Manchester. We counted the take-aways en route including one called 'Fuk Wai'! That became the phrase of the evening!!!

I drove through various parts of Manchester to Sue P's cries of where are we. 'Fuk wai' the others replied.

One conversation was around Gary Barlow and other celebs. I said I wasn't fussed on him. 'I'm not keen on men', I said. They didn't believe me!

Finally the Apollo theatre was in front of us. A man was standing on the roundabout waving a placard for parking '£6 secure'. However, if you hadn't been before you could have taken any direction as he waved it ferociously whilst shouting - why? People had windows up and couldn't hear. The Chinese takeaway was mentioned again.

I parked and the girls could not believe how the cars were shoe horned in - like on a cross channel ferry. As you parked you were given a piece of paper telling you that you had to return to the car park within 15 minutes of the end of the concert as it would not be supervised after then. Sue P asked the car park attendant where the good eating places were. All we could work out was around 6 versions of what sounded like the Chinese takeaway name ... we translated for her - 'A McDonalds and a Tesco Express 'if you are lucky'!

The penny began to drop that I had been telling the truth (mostly!).

As we walked to McDs I told them that when Mum and I had been last time we weren't allowed in as the place was surrounded by police tape and police cars - there had just been an armed robbery. As we crossed the road a firework exploded - my guests shot 6 foot in the air! Gun fire?!

By now we were all very hungry and hadn't stopped giggling. In McDs Sue P wanted to hide. You see she is a hypnotherapist who specialises in weight loss - very effectively. She once was a size 18 but now is a size 10 and has remained that way for years now because her techniques are so good - see here. To see her tucking into a McDs was so funny.

Sue N was the first to go to the ladies - she returned giggling. 'It's got police warning tape in there on the floor - in the shape of a body' she told us. She was right - except it was just around a manhole cover. The hilarity continued as Dinah began to auction off a limited edition coca cola glass,  we had been given as a freebie, to the other diners but would not be allowed to take in the theatre. That girl will do anything to raise funds for Joanne Bingley Memorial Foundation!

Finally we went back into the Apollo. My tiny bag was inspected at the door for any unsavoury items - no chance in a bag that small. Dinah willingly emptied her pockets - a Happy Meal toy and a tube of fruit pastilles! We got teased that we were obviously ladies who knew how to party.

Dinah, me, Sue N, Sue P

At last we were in and stood at the side. Some people had been there for 2 hours and the St Johns Ambulance team and security guards carried out several audience members who had fainted. Meanwhile Sue P attempted to make sense of Dinah's Yorkshire accent ...

Can you translate?
At last Bruno came on. Wow! What a talented musician. He could sing, dance, play the guitar and drums and wooed the women extremely well.  His band were also amazing. Who needed a seat and who wouldn't dance to :-

As I glanced at my 'niece' and my friends I felt a rush of gratitude for the female affection and fun. As we danced Dinah caught my eye as I smiled at her. I know she remembered me saying how Clive had watched us dance at the launch night of Joanne Bingley Memorial Foundation, and said he wished I would have more girlie nights to dance.

2 weeks before Clive died
Two weeks later he had died. Little did we know what was to come. The support and love of family and friends has been the key to my survival since he left us. 'Thank you' seems inadequate sometimes for what you want to express.

Then came the BIG test. As Bruno began to sing ' You're amazing' my instinct was to phone my Mum. I wanted her to share the moment too. We all sang with gusto. At the lyric about 'your smile' I genuinely did. And once again Dinah and I locked eyes. Dinah 'found' my website on the internet after her friend Joe had taken her own life. Out of that death our friendship was created. Through Clive's death I spoke at the hypnotherapy conference in May where I met Sue P and another friendship began. The expression 'when one door closes a window opens somewhere' is very true. Just towards the end of the song I admit my lip did tremble for a moment BUT it was of tears of happiness and gratitude. In the many, many dark days and nights since Clive died it seemed I would never feel happy again.

Yet here I was in a very crowded place with no fear of panic surrounded by gorgeous friends soaking up the music and atmosphere. It would have been easy to ignore that email for the tickets. I am so glad I didn't. It was a joy to see strangers become friends because I had introduced them. My life has taken a completely different direction without Clive but I like to think he would be pleased with how I am dealing with it.

As the concert ended we made a dash for the car and I managed to manoeuvre the queues and we were back onto the M62 within minutes! The banter continued .. this time with Sue N declaring she would like a flannel (facecloth Sue P) with Bruno on to sponge herself down with and a pillowcase to sleep on! Anyone got a supplier?! My passengers were not happy with the return route - not a 'Fuk Wai' in sight!

Before we dropped Dinah off they all asked me to introduce them on Facebook and suggestions made for the 'next' one. When I was a teacher I became unofficial social secretary for several years and organised staff trips to shows and for meals out. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this. The next idea is for Singalonga Abba on 15th February in Manchester. Let me know if you want to come!

If you make an effort after being knocked and have support around you that you are willing to accept, it is possible to create smiles again.

Thank you girls for an incredible night out - You're amazing!

Please remember my next talk is on Monday 7th November at The Midland Hotel in Bradford. It would be great to see you there!
  • So what can you organise to get some friends together?
  • How many times have you said 'we must get together'?
  • What excuses have you been making?
Go on - just do it! Who knows what it might lead to!

Elaine x

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Is it worth being involved in nurse education?

One of the most rewarding roles I have been done since I began to speak about my experiences of being a patient (I personally dislike the term 'service user') has been to talk to students, especially nurses. I would encourage others to do so - let me explain ..

Little girl me as a nurse!
During the last year I have been honoured to be a patient representative for the Open University on their Nursing Programme Committee. On 12th October I was at the impressive OU at Milton Keynes for a full day workshop. Much of the meeting is concerned with curriculum content. I was asked if for this meeting I would share my experiences and answer the question 'why service user involvement is important'.

I began by asking who of all the professionals in the room had ever been a patient or involved with a loved-one who had needed nursing - every hand went up in the room! Hence, any of us could be asked what we have thought of our care and how it could be improved. Yet why are most of us so reluctant to comment? Is it fear of retribution if we asked for things to be done differently? Is it because when we leave the care we just heave a sigh of relief and decide it's not worth the bother? Yet unless we say what was good and could be improved nothing will change. We are quick to complain about other services and be involved, so why not the health care system?

My first aspect was to explain how I had become involved as an 'in patient' over the years. At first glance it reads like a hypochondriacs list!
  • Viral meningitis and pneumonia at 10 years old
  • Expectant Mum
  • Postnatally depressed Mum
  • Digestive investigations 
  • Hysterectomy
  • Shoulder surgery
Also I was involved in the cancer care for my Grandpa and Alzheimer's for my Grandma; knee surgery with my late partner Clive Gott then dealing with his sudden death at home in February. In my previous career as a teacher for children with severe and profound learning difficulties the role between health and education was often very blurred.

My book 'Eyes without Sparkle - a journey through postnatal illness' (2005, Radcliffe), launched my speaking career and I began to learn more about the subject and was invited to speak at many events. One of the first events I spoke at one of the delegates, Ann Mitchell, was involved in the Open University and that meeting lead to my current involvement. What did I write in the previous post about people popping up again? 

I have been keen to share my experiences with health professional students for several reasons:-
  1. to express gratitude, as without them people like me would not get better
  2. to inspire them to make a positive difference 
  3. to offer constructive feedback
By sharing my stories and anecdotes I encourage them to
  • see the 'bigger picture' of a patients' life
  • see the impact of their actions
  • that small kindnesses can make a huge difference
  • that they can make a real difference
  • think, act and behave differently and more effectively
  • remember the importance of themselves too
If you have been a health professional who has heard me speak, would you say I achieved these?

I believe that patients should be involved in the development of the nursing education programme because the 'professionals' can become immersed in targets, figures, outcomes and statistics. As patients we can remind them that real lives, real feelings and real impact are affected as a result. All other services involve their customers in feedback so why not nursing and health care?

I was also asked to outline my personal impact from being involved in the past years as a speaker, writer and campaigner for health. I share this list, not to gloat, but to encourage others to share their experiences. 
  • Individuals - I am told that my story has convinced some not to take their own lives but to seek that hope and 'light at the end of the tunnel'; it has encouraged some to train in the health professions; it has improved individual practice in how professionals communicate and deal with patients.
  • Universities - through my talks to students individuals have been inspired to set up groups, e.g. No Secrets; course content has been modified; I have been a critical reader for Open University courses.
  • Conferences - e.g. Patient Safety in Colchester  - see the comments on my impact
  • My blog - now over 56,000 views! Who knows the impact from sharing - even it annoys some people it gets a reaction!
  • Children's centres and postnatal work - through the workshops my colleague Ann and I run we are aware of an increasing positive impact on the lives of many. 
  • Media, education and politics - I have many messages saying how my stories have made a positive difference
  • Charity work - I feel that all of my journey has 'come together' through my role as trustee for the Joanne (Joe) Bingley Memorial Foundation. 
Whilst I was speaking at the Open University my thoughts were with Chris and family and friends as it was Joe's inquest. 

We often don't know where events in life will take us or who we meet.

I wish I had been able to speak more and spread awareness about postnatal illness and how serious it can be. Through the charity I hope to be part of an incredibly effective team of patients and loved ones who can work together to improve services.

The Open University would love more people to be involved with their nursing programmes design and development. Please email me at if you would like details.

Who knows what a difference we can make together?

Elaine x