Monday, 26 September 2016

It's Only Words

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me". Well, I'm not so sure. This familiar saying came into my mind when pondering this post featuring my thoughts about an old and over-familiar issue: words and diabetes.

I always like to use song titles for my blog posts, so a 1968 Bee-Gees song, Words, covered more recently by Boyzone, fitted well. "It's only words" says the song, but words are powerful things, and people with an incurable condition get quite upset by ill-chosen words that lead others to misunderstand, under-estimate or even stigmatise their illness. Especially if those careless words come from professional journalists who should know better.

It happens regularly in the media, and the UK's mid-market tabloids have a particularly poor record in this respect. The Daily Mail upset a lot of people with diabetes this last Saturday (24th September 2016) with a sensationalist front-page banner advertising a diet to "beat diabetes" and "save your life"

The article was accompanied by a photo of some attractive women, all of a healthy weight and looking fit and well, having apparently beaten diabetes with diet alone. 

Firstly and most predictably, people from the #gbdoc, an online community dominated by Type Ones, rose up in anger at the failure of the headline to differentiate between Type One and Type Two. My own grumpy and fairly obvious tweet (see below) attracted a good number of likes and re-tweets, with people inevitably taking the Mail to task for failing to differentiate in its headline between the types of diabetes and pointing out the impossibility of a cure for Type One.

We Type Ones have good reason to get upset, because we cope every day with a condition which struck us randomly through no fault of our own. And it was nothing to do with what we ate, how much we exercised and how we lived our lives. It was, quite simply, the fickle finger of fate. Yet time and again, we find our condition misunderstood or confused with the more common Type Two. "Gosh, have you still got diabetes?" said a former boss of mine a few years ago as we sat down to eat and I got out my testing meter and insulin pen. I smiled politely and confirmed that yes indeed, I did still have it, because it's incurable. Other Type Ones will have no doubt shared a similar experience.

However, to get upset that people confuse Type One and Type Two is futile and a little unfair. Before I had diabetes, I didn't know the difference, so why should I expect others to do so now?

The real issue is defining people by a medical condition of whatever kind. Words, labels of any type, are blunt and potentially hurtful instruments. To kid people that they can "beat" diabetes with a diet is a dangerous and misleading claim, which can sell newspapers but has very limited scientific credibility as regards Type Two, let alone Type One. The point is that nobody sets out to be ill with any condition of any kind. Our lifestyle, diet and environment make us prone to all sorts of illnesses, some of which are preventable and curable, some of which aren't. All require medical expertise, creative thinking and the help of new technology, and I for one am very grateful to have access to all of those in varying degrees. Simplistic claims of "miracle cures" and sensationalist generalisations about cause and effect help nobody.

Words, especially printed and online words, are powerful and enduring, and all who trade in them should be aware of and sensitive to their power. This recent article in the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper which likes to think of itself as a responsible broadsheet, contained a number of generalisations and inaccuracies, starting with a monumentaly insensitive headline about "24000 diabetics dying" (just stop for a minute and think what a child newly diagnosed with Type One would have thought on seeing that headline). Quite rightly, it attracted criticism from the diabetic community and the author did not respond graciously to that criticism. And the author concerned was their "Science Correspondent", of whom one might reasonably expect a high standard of research and a good measure of attention to detail.

As the song says: "It's only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away" Very true. Take note if you are a journalist, or even just a user of social media.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Tap Turns on the Water

Another post, another song title. Tap turns on the Water, a hit from 1971 by CCS recalls for me the early autumn of that year, and carefree days in my early teens. It's one of those songs where the lyrics are clear and fully comprehensible, where people of my age are probably word perfect in their recall of them, yet we haven't a clue what it actually means. I've often wondered if it's actually an in-joke by the band, some kind of obscure euphemism for something obscene. But I doubt it. Either way, it's a wonderful, faintly sleazy piece of jazz-rock-blues. Click the link above, have a listen, enjoy, then read on. It's the best I could think of for a song about thirst. That's the topic of this diabetes-themed post, one with which I think many others will identify.

Read any guide to symptoms of undiagnosed Type One Diabetes, and you'll quickly see a reference to severe thirst. Along with the excessive peeing, it's an obvious consequence of a failing pancreas, and all of us who developed the condition at an age they can still remember will recall the raging, uncontrollable and unquenchable thirst. I've seen it described on other blogs and nodded in recognition. Thirst is one of the four T's highlighted by Diabetes UK in their campaign to raise awareness of the danger of undiagnosed Type One in children:-

Nobody who hasn't experienced it can really know what the unquenchable thirst of untreated diabetes feels like. I well remember it: a thirst that becomes all-consuming and makes you feel you would do anything just to get a drink.

Like others, I'd say that thirst was the symptom I noticed first, even before it had become too bad. And because we all get thirsty at times, it's a symptom that you can easily ignore or explain away. I remember one day a few weeks before I was diagnosed being late for a train home after a meeting in Manchester. I was still quite young and fit, and I had run, probably about half a mile and just caught the train. It was a reasonably warm autumn day, I'd been in a stuffy hotel conference room all day, talking a lot and had eaten a quite big sandwich lunch, probably quite salty. So on the hour long journey home, I thought that my thirst was due to a combination of those factors. It was just before the carrying of bottled water had become as universal as it now is, so I suffered in silence all the way home but couldn't wait to get home and downed several large glasses of water once I got in, probably before even taking my coat off and greeting my family. I recall then and on other occasions around that time being startled at how much I needed to drink before there was any sense of relief. It was as if the water was just bypassing my mouth, such was the dryness in there.

Of course, once diabetes is diagnosed and insulin treatment is under way, things do quickly get better. The all-consuming thirst subsides as overall blood glucose level falls. However, I sometimes think that I understate this aspect of diabetes as an ongoing problem. I have been "well controlled" and healthy throughout my almost nineteen years with diabetes, but as I observed in another recent post, that doesn't mean I feel 100% well all the time. People with Type One diabetes don't always feel as well as they look. The term "hidden disability", though not always welcome, is an apt term for diabetes. In particular I am almost always a bit thirsty and often very thirsty.

I am invariably awake early, like many of we people with diabetes, and I always wake up thirsty. I keep a glass of water by my bedside and sip from it if awake in the night, but by dawn I always feel parched, such that my every day starts with a mini-dilemma: shall I wake up properly, go downstairs and make a cuppa to nail the thirst or shall I try to go back to sleep in the hope of making it to somewhere near eight hours? The thirst always wins, but if I could have one simple luxury in my life, it would be a cup of tea brought to my bedside as soon as I wake up. But everyone else in my house is always still asleep, so hey-ho...

In day-to-day terms, the fear of a dangerous hypo and the need to lead a life often means that we run our blood sugar on the high side, especially when very busy, so thirst is a constant companion to many of us. As I often say, things could be worse, it's not agonising, it's not enough to stop you leading a normal life. But sometimes, like the condition itself, I just wish it would go away. Even just for a day. But it won't, so I'm just grateful for these, two of my indispensables of life with diabetes: water and tea:

Monday, 1 August 2016

Son of a Preacher Man

What do the following people have in common? Jane Austen, Theresa May, Danny Willett, the Wright Brothers, the Bronte Sisters, David Tennant, Alice Cooper, Gordon Brown, Virginia Wade, Hugh Dennis... and me?

Well, the clue is in the title of this post. They - we - are all children of clergy.

Yes indeed, I am the "Son of a Preacher Man". My late father was the Reverend Dr Arthur Long, a Unitarian church minister who was an expert in liberal Christian theology. I lived my childhood and teen years in a manse (call it a vicarage if you're not fussy about distinctions between what different churches call the place where clergy live) and so I grew up in the strange fringe-of-society place that clergy families know only too well.

Much has been said about the fact that our new Prime Minister is a vicar's daughter. It's one of very few parental occupations that would even warrant a mention when a new PM takes office, and it proves what I've always thought, that being a clergy child is a significant and noteworthy influence in a way that a large number of other parental jobs are not. In fact, it's one of three really big things I have in common with our new PM, the others being  adult-onset Type One Diabetes and an Oxford degree. All three are conversation stoppers, facts about me that always produce a reaction, and all of which, I have to say, are significant elements of the person that is me.

There is much to be said about being a Type One Diabetic and indeed about having been a student at Oxford, but that is not what I am writing about here. Moreover, both those things are not things I was born with. Being a clergy son was there from birth, and is, I think, a subtle but very real influence. And it's got very little to do with religion - it's much more complicated than that.

Now it's far too early for anyone to be judging what sort of a job Theresa May is doing as PM, not least given the extraordinary circumstances and timing of her accession to power. Whatever our own political allegiances, we at least owe it to her to delay passing judgement until after the summer recess. However, I cannot help but feel just a little more sympathy for her and identification with her on the basis of what we have in common, and I have to say that I think that being a child of the clergy carries some advantages in preparing one for a life in the public eye. In the past couple of weeks, I have read two articles which make reference to her background. Firstly, this from Matthew d'Ancona*, writing in the Observer. He noted that Mrs May had already shown that she was not going to be like her predecessors Tony Blair and David Cameron, both of whom had appeared over-keen to portray themselves as "regular guys":

"Long before she became Prime Minister, May had decided that being a party moderniser – consistently and often bravely – did not mean surrendering the authority of high office or assuming a bogus familiarity. She preferred to keep a friendly distance...Is it a coincidence that (Gordon) Brown and May are the children of clergymen, less inclined to ditch ceremony and to treat everyone, instantly, as a best friend and confidant?

Here, d'Ancona rightly identifies the way in which being clergy family puts you in that position of being everybody's friend, yet nobody's friend - being, as it were, public property, and as such forced to keep a bit of distance from everyone.

Giles Fraser*, himself a Priest with children, took up the same theme in his Loose Canon column for the Guardian:

I know a thing or two about vicars’ daughters. I have a couple of them myself. And while there is no standard model, there is nonetheless something about growing up in a vicarage that is bound to shape the way you see the world – not least a peculiar feeling of resentment........Vicarage life is conducted in a goldfish bowl.........father is always at the beck and call of others, being called away for another evening meeting, always available at the door or on the phone. “Come on in,” I would say, as a parishioner unexpectedly called round at nine at night. “Turn the telly off, kids, it’s Mrs X.” Poor girls. I once heard a vicar’s child complain that their father had sacrificed their childhood on the altar of his principles. That stung. On Desert Island Discs, Theresa May spoke of “early memories of a father who couldn’t always be there when you wanted him to be … I have one memory, for example, of being in the kitchen and looking up the path to the back door, where a whole group, a family, had come to complain about an issue in the church and that’s it, just knock on the door and expect to see the Vicar.” This was the formative world of the new prime minister – unflashy service, community, warts and all, and personal sacrifice.

I certainly recognise that description of my family life as a child. Evening meals were invariably hurried because  my father had an evening event or meeting. I remember not really understanding what it meant when we were told that "Daddy's going visiting": in those days, clergy spent a lot of their time visiting their flock in their homes (the origin, I guess, of the "more tea, Vicar?" cliché) and before I fully understood this I just thought that my father was a friendly chap who went to see people in the evenings. I also remember the intrusions on family life: the meals interrupted by rings at the doorbell or the telephone, the dashes to hospital to see a dying parishioner, and even several times my father returning home for a day from our annual holiday in North Wales to take a funeral. With my mother out at work by the time I was two, I used to trail round with my father while he went about his business as a minister, including quite often sitting outside the Crematorium Chapel while he took a funeral.

Look at this picture of six year old me on my grandmother's knee at a church event  with my father, mother, brother and grandfather (also a minister - he was at the time President of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches). It kind of sums up my childhood. We have the look of well-scrubbed boys on public display - the locals called us "The vicar's boys"...

I didn't mind this at all. With my mother a teacher, I was brought up in a household where service to others was what mattered above all else, and I can well see that this value system has remained with me: I have never been bothered by what the reward is, just is the task worthwhile and helpful.

For my father, his sense of service went well beyond just his work for his own church. He was in effect a social worker. His lengthy ministry at Unity Church, Bolton (1952 - 1975) coincided with a period of great social and economic upheaval and hardship in the Lancashire cotton town, but he kept the church there in its traditional place at the heart of the community. In those days in industrial Lancashire, the local church of whatever denomination was in effect the parish church to those who lived in its shadow and that of the Lowryesque cotton mills, and his flock looked just like those proverbial matchstick figures. In a way, I lived my childhood in a Lowry painting.

Always an enthusiast for ecumenism (an “ecumaniac”, to use a term coined at his funeral by a fellow Unitarian Minister), my father was for thirteen years Secretary of the Bolton Council of Churches, in which role he enjoyed warm and active relationships with all shades of the Christian community in Bolton. My childhood memories are therefore of incessantly answering the door or the telephone to clergy of all shades of Christianity, and it was only in later life that I came to realise how unusual and precious such inter-denominational cooperation was. I was quite used to answering the door or the phone to vicars, priests and even nuns, and to exchanging small talk with them.

Of course it's embarrassing at times when, as a teenager, your friends find out what your dad does for a living. And yes, we did at times feel inhibited and perhaps a little defined by our family's position in the community. But I don't think it did me or my brother any harm, and I'm pretty sure that in some small way it will help Mrs May to deal with the pressures of her unenviable job.

*Matthew d'Ancona, The Observer 24-07-2016 
Theresa May is her own woman. Remind you of anyone?

*Giles Fraser, The Guardian 14-07-2016: 
The agony and ecstasy of Saint Theresa, the vicar’s daughter

Friday, 15 July 2016

LibreLink: First Impressions

My enthusiasm for the FreeStyleLibre flash glucose monitoring system is well known amongst the online diabetic community. As soon as I became aware of its existence in early 2015 (thanks entirely, it must be said, to the #gbdoc, and no thanks to any input from healthcare professionals), I immediately saw that here was a potentially massive leap forward in our ability to regulate our blood sugar levels more responsively, tightly and safely than had been possible with traditional fingerprick testing.

I have already enthused about the device in this post written soon after I started using it, moaned about the fact that I have to pay for it in this post and featured in this film made for Abbott about a busy day in my life, and how the Libre helps me to manage my condition on even the busiest of days. I even found myself travelling to Stockholm in Sweden at the start of June this year, to attend a diabetic bloggers' conference with other Libre users from around Europe. I should at this point pause to say that Abbott financed this trip for me and all the others, but with no requirement to praise the device in return. My love of the FreeStyleLibre is entirely voluntary.

I have now had the opportunity to try out the next phase in its development, namely the use of LibreLink a mobile 'phone app which allows users to replace the small scanning device which has hitherto been the partner of the sensor with their own mobile phone.

My impressions are basically very positive. LibreLink means no need to carry a scanner around. The scanner (the size of a small pre-smartphone mobile) had become another device to fret about in terms of where you keep it, how often to charge it, and how to avoid losing or damaging it - it was, in effect, like having a second mobile.

More importantly, it gives far more detail and clarity thanks to the use of a full-colour smartphone screen, and far more data thanks to the smartphone's processing power. For example, it turns green for in range and amber for out - there's also a red, but fortunately  I haven't seen much of it yet! In effect, it gives the more detailed data that previously had to be downloaded from the scanner onto a laptop or PC, notably providing a constantly updated estimated Hba1c reading. It can also be used to link with Diasend enabling the sharing of data with others, notably a healthcare team (although my own team are light years away from this sort of thing - another story altogether)

The only disadvantages I can see are minor, outweighed by the benefits, and not the fault of the app: firstly, it does rely on the quality of the phone's NFC capability, and with mine this requires a slower and more careful swipe than is needed for the FreestyleLibre scanner. Not a problem once you get used to it, and I suspect that NFC capability will advance in future phones. Secondly, of course, it depends on the phone having a battery charge, and as we all know, smartphones can drain quickly, so if you've been out and about and using the phone a lot, you might find it running out just when you need it (as far as I can tell, the app itself uses very little charge, so it will happily run on a very low battery). Thirdly, it is only available for Android phones at the moment - but that's because other platforms - notably Apple - won't allow it yet!

The first two of these drawbacks lead me to another point that is a bit fiddly but important: you can still use both the LibreLink and the scanner but they both need to be activated within 60 minutes. This means sensor first, then phone. You then have to be sure to use each one at least every 8 hours or there is a gap in data on one or the other. Both devices show identical readings in my experience so far, which is good to know.

I have found that I use the scanner at night - it's faster and quicker, and you don't have to "wake up" your phone.

Otherwise, that's it! Clearly a great advance, clearly the future, in that we are all addicted to our phones so might as well use them for monitoring as well. And like the Libre with scanner, I find people are really wowed by it, and I enjoy showing it off. Libs herself (the scanner) has just become a sort of techie teddy bear whom I keep by my bedside.

I must once again applaud Abbott for their innovation in blood glucose monitoring. It is very hard to imagine "life before Libs", and I only hope that in the near future the NHS will realise how much this device can contribute to the long and short term well being of diabetics - and save themselves some long-term cash!!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Speech to Twin Towns gathering in Bad Bruckenau

Here is the text of a speech that I delivered on Sunday 10th July in Bad Bruckenau, Germany, to the gathering of people from three small towns in Europe who enjoy warm relationships through an unusual three-way twinning arrangement. I am Chairman of the Kirkham Twinning Association, which oversees our link with the French and German twin towns.

I make no apologies for the strongly partisan pro-European tone.

"Honoured guests, fellow Europeans, friends,

It is with great pleasure and some embarrassment that we British meet you here today in the heart of Europe, as a temporary escape from our bruised and deeply divided country.

Town twinning is a powerful symbolic representation of the unified Europe that had been so painstakingly built in the wake of centuries of conflict and suffering, and the triangular relationship between three small towns such as ours is a living expression of our friendship and of our shared cultural, social and political values.

Those who dismiss the European project as the unwanted and irrelevant creation of bureaucrats and politicians would do well to witness the yearly gatherings of our three communities and the friendship and cooperation that drives it. I am always very proud of the fact that those from all three communities who take part in our twinning events are not politicians or business people seeking personal gain from their involvement, but just ordinary citizens who enjoy meeting people of a different nationality but a shared cultural, linguistic and political heritage. 

The lasting friendships and connections between our three communities stand as living proof of the true values of international cooperation and understanding which are so tragically lacking in many other parts of our world, and it is to many of us in the United Kingdom nothing short of a tragedy that the selfish and divisive voices of the so-called Brexiteers prevailed in our recent referendum.

I wish to take this opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of many millions of us in Britain to the maintenance and strengthening of our European links, not least among those of us who derive so much pleasure from our twinning links with the wonderful towns of Bad Brückenau and Ancenis. I was somewhat comforted by the fact that the younger generation were 75% in favour of remaining in the EU, and therefore that the small-minded mentality which has driven the success of the Brexiteers is, perhaps, on the way out.

May I thank our friends in Bad Brückenau for the hospitality and entertainment that we have enjoyed this weekend and conclude by warmly inviting the people of the two towns to join us in Kirkham in 2017. You can be assured of a warm welcome - and you will not need a visa!

May we continue to enjoy the differences between our countries, but more importantly to celebrate what unites us. Long live twinning, long live Europe!"

Monday, 27 June 2016

DXStockholm Diary

Note: Click on any bold text in blue for a link to further details, a webpage or a Twitter account
           Click on any bold text in pink for a link to an Abba song

Friday 3rd June - Day One: I Wonder (Departure)

Normally when I get to the last day of a week's Half-Term holiday, there's that feeling that it's all gone too quickly. But this one was different, very different. I had spent the week half wanting it to go slowly so I could enjoy the time with my family, and half wanting it to whizz by, such was my sense of excitement and anticipation.

Just a few weeks previously, I had been approached by Abbott, manufacturers of the FreeStyle Libre flash glucose monitoring system, with an invitation to fly out to Stockholm for a weekend, to meet with some fellow diabetic bloggers. As you do.

So instead of a quiet weekend at the end of Half-Term getting ready for back to work, I found myself alone at a deserted Preston Station at 5am on a glorious sunny Friday morning, catching a train to Manchester Airport. I love journeys: I get excited by train journeys, let along plane journeys, which I don't often make. So whilst I was trying hard to look like a nonchalant seasoned traveller, I was beneath the surface a bundle of nervous excitement. The train was pretty empty as it passed first through rural Lancashire, then  my birthplace Bolton, then bustling Manchester Piccadilly and finally the airport. The random Abba song generator in my head alighted on the very appropriate I Wonder (Departure).

Meanwhile, my travelling companion for the flight to Sweden, fellow Type One Lydia, was making her way over the Pennines by taxi from her home near Doncaster. Lydia and I are good Twitter friends and had already met at another diabetes event, but it still felt surreal meeting up in this way. We know each other purely because of a shared medical condition and the fact that we chose to talk about it on social media, but that connection, like that which I have with so many others, is a guarantee of friendship. Going through security, it was nice for once to say "We have" rather than "I have" when explaining the strange devices stuck to our arms. A small but symbolic difference when you spend the rest of your life alone with the disease.

In-flight selfie
I'm not sure if it was Lydia's fault or mine, but we managed to chatterbox non-stop for the next five hours. The flight, with Norwegian Airlines, was entirely smooth and we were soon looking down on a land of lakes and forests as we made our descent to Arlanda Airport. Exhausted perhaps by my incessant prattling, Lydia fell asleep just as the plane was making its scary descent through the clouds, but we were soon safely on Swedish soil.

From the moment you get off the plane, Sweden seems very - well - Swedish. The Arlanda Express which whisks passengers at TGV speed from the airport to the city centre, feels like an IKEA on wheels, all bright, squeaky clean and uncluttered, with teak trim on the windows. The ticket inspectors all look like Bjorn Borg's dad or Pippi Longstocking's mum, speak embarrassingly perfect English but kindly reciprocated my attempt to be polite by using the word "Tack" as a thank you.

Once in Stockholm, we made the very short walk to the wonderful Haymarket Hotel, bumping into a legend of the online diabetic community, Chris the Grumpy Pumper. We checked in, and took the easy option of getting lunch at a McDonalds next door to the hotel. Culinary assimilation could wait.

Ryan, our Aussi-Swede entertains and informs us.
A walking tour of the city was on offer for those of us who had arrived in time, and at 3:30 we were met in the hotel lobby by a thoroughly engaging and entertaining Australian guide called Ryan, a resident of Stockholm, whose confident and coherent storytelling gave a real insight into some of the city's people and places. In particular, his account of the 1973 bank raid which gave rise to the so-called Stockholm Syndrome, by which captives befriend their captors, was both intriguing and amusing.

Stockholm Waterfront in the evening sunshine
With just time for a quick wash and brush up, we then met for the first time as a whole group and a coach picked us up to take us to the Museum of Science and Technology. The tantalising glimpse from the coach of Stockholm's miles of waterfront confirmed to me that I wished we had more time to explore, but no matter, there was stuff to get on with.

We walked through the closed museum to a room in the centre of which was a veritable smorgasbord of food and drink. We were welcomed by Abbott organisers and given a brief presentation on the museum, then left to eat, drink, be merry, and explore the museum. I never got to do the exploring,  but for the nicest of reasons, as I got into earnest, varied and genial discussion with a gentleman from Abbott Sweden whose name I didn't take in. Just the sort of exchange of perspectives and experiences which makes travel such an enlightening experience.

A DJ in a DJ
We returned by coach to the hotel, whose atmospheric public bar was already buzzing, being apparently a place for a diverse and friendly crowd to gather through the long summer evenings. A guy in full evening wear - a DJ in a DJ - was spinning 1920s jazz tunes at a wonderfully civilised volume, and we all sat long into the night exchanging stories, views and banter like the friends we had so quickly become. Only the knowledge of an early start on Day Two drove us reluctantly to our own rooms, heads already buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Entertainment was provided by various of the more cheerful of our number trying to take grumpiness lessons from the Grumpy Pumper, but they failed to frown and he failed to smile.

Saturday 4th June - Day Two: Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (a drink after midnight)

A modest plaque marks the spot where Olof Palme was murdered
I declined the invitation to take part in an early morning run, opting instead for a stroll round the local streets. In particular,  I had noticed that the site of the 1986 murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme was a couple of blocks away, and I wanted to pay my respects to a statesman who had died under those particularly shocking circumstances. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised that it is marked with the most modest and understated of brass plaques on the pavement where he fell. The Swedes are an undemonstrative lot I guess and I rather admire them for that.

Swedish Breakfast
Breakfast was a splendid spread of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and it was great to share a real breakfast with Philippa, a regular "attender" at the #GBDocBreakfastClub, a Twitter event at which those of us who find ourselves awake too early meet in the virtual world at weekends. I unadventurously made myself a variation of a full English (photo left, with my other favourite Swedish word - Smor - labelling the butter),  but the bacon was gorgeous. Full Swedish for me!

We walked the short distance to the "Conference Centre" at "No 18", a stylishly decorated set of rooms in a city centre building that may have been a private residence in the past. I imagined it perhaps as the home of a Baltic trader in 19th century Stockholm.

The theme of the day's conference was "The Future", and we were certainly given a Smorgasbord of presentations and experiences based around this theme. It felt a bit like the sort of conference we all have to attend in our working lives, except that (a) the subject matter was fun, varied and interesting and (b) the delegates were a group of a diverse range of ages, nationalities and personality types rather than a bunch of people distressingly similar to oneself.

Rabbits ears showing our every thought!
Particular favourites for me were a session on storytelling from Kate Steele and a talk on the Future by, well, a futurologist called Rudy de Waele from Belgium. Now there's an interesting job. We also learned about Snapchat from Geir Ove Pederson, a Norwegian social media superstar, extracted our own DNA and tried out rabbit ears that respond to brain activity (see left). I was left, like everyone, with my head spinning at times, yet somehow reassured that the future is not something to be feared: Sitting surrounded by people who only 100 years previously would have died from their condition, watching many of them fine tuning dosage on their insulin pumps and seeing everyone confidently and discreetly interacting with their phones and tablets made me think how lucky we are to live in an age of such fast technical progress, and how much we have to look forward to. As by some distance the oldest person at the conference,  I felt so glad to be of a mindset that embraces change and technology rather than bemoaning its influence. The same sort of technical advance that gives us mobiles, the internet, Snapchat and the like also gives us insulin pumps, flash glucose monitoring, and goodness knows what in the future.

Three Libs in a row (four with me)
Late in the day, I took this snap (see right) of a line of arms each, like mine, fitted with a FreeStyle Libre sensor. The future's white, round, the size of a £2 coin and stuck to your arm. I love this photo, as it makes us all look like members of some secret society, and I am proud to be part of this society. Two years ago, it would not have been possible - such is the nature of technological progress in the control of our condition.

We strolled back to the hotel in the late afternoon sunshine under skies as blue as the Swedish flag, sharing the busy-but-not-too-busy streets with medal-wearing athletes who had just completed the Stockholm Marathon. A few minutes free before meeting up again to walk the short distance to another unique venue, the Kung Carls Bakficka Restaurant, for a marvellously convivial meal on a first floor balcony lined with leather-bound books. Highlight of a delicious meal was being served toasted cauliflower croutons in an empty bowl, to general mystification until the cauliflower soup was served from a jug.

Dinner at Kung Carls Bakficka Restaurant

The Frenchies
I didn't want the evening to end - and it didn't. Led by our new friends from Abbott, we found our way to an open air bar and sat in the mellow warmth of a Stockholm night enjoying the company of our fellow delegates. I'm quite sure that a lot of the time, Stockholm must have grim, damp weather, but we really struck lucky, and there's something really magical about such a late sunset.

Three English, an Italian and a Canadian
We then returned to the hotel bar (pausing for Grumpy and one or two others to get a McDonalds) then sat in the corner drinking in the atmosphere,  the beer and the camaraderie. I felt as if I was among old friends, not people I'd only known 24 hours.

My inner Abba juke box played Summer Night City and Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (a drink after midnight) as I finally admitted to myself that at my age I should be tucked up in bed, and eventually we all drifted off to our rooms. The hotel, incidentally, was superb, and the beds very comfy.

Sunday 5th June - Day ThreeMamma Mia!

The Swedish Parliament (headless polar bear bottom right)
I woke early and took a stroll through the deserted streets down to the waterfront, determined not to miss out completely on the chance to get to know this cool city. It felt so relaxed in the fresh morning sunshine, with early tourists mingling with revellers returning home from a night out - at least I assume that's why I saw a man in a polar bear costume carrying his head. He's in the bottom right of this picture, outside the Swedish Parliament building.

The Wizard of Libs - Chris Thomas
Back at the hotel, a minor drama at breakfast in which one of our number, Lisa from Germany suffered a hypo and collapsed at breakfast. The crisis was quickly and calmly resolved by her friends old and new (a wonderful example of diabetic solidarity in action) and we convened for a meeting with the Wizard of Libs himself, namely Chris Thomas, Abbott's Senior Principal Research Scientist, to reveal the latest news about the new Libre Link App.

Then it was time for thanks and farewells.

And that was it - or was it? No, because I had sneakily plotted a visit to the Abba Museum with Philippa, her husband James and Baby G (the self-styled #DXFringe) when I found out that Philippa was a fellow Abba geek. Poor Lydia was obliged to tag along, which produced this "tweet of the day" :-

A fine Abba tribute Band
But just as we were about to leave for the museum I found out that some of our new friends from Abbott shared my love of Abba and asked if they could join us. And so it came to pass that on a Sunday lunchtime, I found myself in a karaoke booth singing Mamma Mia with Ollie Mitchell and Fiona Lloyd from Abbott Leadership and fellow diabetic Lydia. The museum is a great celebration of Sweden's most famous export, and brings a smile to the faces of everyone there.

And did I really perform on stage with a virtual Abba?

Yep, and the evidence is here:-

A surreal climax to a surreal weekend. The rest was smooth but increasingly wistful: Taxi back to the hotel, then the Arlanda Express back to the airport with Jen Grieves, who was also on the flight back to Manchester. An SAS Airlines flight which oozed Scandinavian class and efficiency (not able to get seats together, Lydia and I sat on nearby seats tapping away at our respective laptops in a race to post the first blog), then fond farewells to Jen and Lydia and a train journey home under gloomy skies and pouring rain on a clunky Northern Rail Pacer, somehow symbolic of  my wistful mood. I had woken up in Stockholm, danced to Abba at lunchtime and now ended the day back home in the rain. But as one of those annoying but sometimes spot-on internet quotations says:

"don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened"

Disclaimer: I was invited to DX Stockholm by Abbott Healthcare, who paid for all travel, accommodation and subsistence expenses for me and other delegates. Opinions on the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System expressed by me are my own and not those of Abbott Healthcare.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Just let me say for the record

OK, not a song title, but a lot of peoples' favourite line from We are Family, famously the subject of a deliberate mishearing by Peter Kay, whose line Just let me staple the Vicar  is one of those once heard, never forgotten mis-hearings. Click the link above, listen, and laugh...

Anyway, #DiabetesWeek 2016 is themed "setting the record straight", which is what brought that line into my song-obsessed head, so I thought I'd like to take the chance to just let me say for the record by making ten (not very original) points about Type One Diabetes:-

  • You can get Type 1 at any age. I got it at 40
  • Not all diabetics are overweight, let alone fat.
  • Type 1 diabetics can eat whatever they want.
  • Diabetics can do whatever they want: sport, travel, driving and any job, however stressful and demanding.
  • We not only CAN eat sugar, we sometimes actually NEED sugar.
  • Just because we look fine doesn't mean we feel fine.
  • At any given time, we are only one small miscalculation away from becoming seriously unwell.
  • The fact that this seldom happens is because we are by necessity very good at understanding how our bodies work, anticipating problems and dealing with them.
  • In fact we are almost NEVER without some physical symptom and awareness of diabetes.
  • People with diabetes are unusually strong, determined and positive, despite having a condition which often makes them feel weak submissive and negative.

I don't want people to patronise me, sympathise with me or make a fuss. I just hope that those around us will realise and understand how very hard we have to work just to lead a normal life.

One final point: the many fellow sufferers that I have got to know through social media are without exception living proof of the idea that misfortune makes you a stronger and better person. I salute each and every one of them. In fact, We are Family.