Damn you, Layla!

I had determined to stay out of the leadership election.

Part of that was undoubtedly because, to be honest, I’m still really sad that we don’t have Jo any more.

I really didn’t want to have this contest and there was nothing about it that inspired me.

I was going to sit back with the popcorn and decide when I got my ballot paper.

It was quite an uncomfortable feeling. I have gone into most elections in my life knowing instinctively how I was going to vote. There was that awful time back in the 90s when I was faced with a choice of only Labour or Conservative when I had to cross my fingers behind my back and vote Labour, but not without any spark of hope that life was going to get any better.

This is how it is for a fair proportion of the electorate most of the time. For many of those, struggling even before the pandemic hit, there is a massive disconnect between their battle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head and their elected representatives. They really feel that nobody understands, nobody is listening and nobody will do anything to help them.

When the outlook is cloudy and misty, you need sunshine to burn off the gloom and bring renewal and regeneration.

That is as true for the party as it is for the country.

With her positive, collaborative, hopeful message, Layla has won not just my vote, but my active support. She has a bold and confident vision to rebuild and reshape this country to make it fairer, to value the wellbeing and mental health of its citizens and to make sure we do our bit to save the planet from the immediate threat of the climate emergency.

She says:

Good leaders spell out what they and their parties stand for, allowing people to grasp the ideas, embrace change and move forward together.

So, as I enter the Liberal Democrat leadership race, I want to make my vision for our country clear. In the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, I want to champion a more compassionate and cooperative United Kingdom that gives every person and our planet a chance to thrive.

It’s a vision that will appeal not only to party members, but to those who are not our supporters yet.

This party has always done best when it has stood up unequivocally for the values set out in the preamble to our constitution. Our best results have come when we have been at our most liberal and progressive, when we stood up for the gurkhas, for Hong Kong citizens, against the Iraq War. When we have done the right thing and been brave enough to make the right calls. We do worst when we equivocate and get nervous about expressing our values too loudly in case they upset the Daily Mail.

We have nothing to fear by articulating a strong, progressive, liberal message when we are facing the Conservatives. Layla has shown that she can do that in her own seat:

I have no doubt that Layla will make the right calls on these key issues and will stand with those whose rights and liberties are threatened by a government that sees human rights as an inconvenience.

Taking on the forces of populism and nationalism on one hand and a Labour Party with authoritarian instincts on the other requires charisma, empathy, creativity and courage. Layla has all of those qualities in abundance.

She has experience of working cross party on things like the People’s Vote campaign which she was involved with from the start.

Layla Listens

Part of the reason that her vision is resonating so strongly with so many people across the party is that she listened to so many of them. Layla Listens isn’t just about cute alliteration. Her programme of events and subsequently Zoom calls with over 200 local parties helped inform her thinking about what needed to change in the way we do things. For me, one of the most important things is her emphasis on the importance of local government:

We need to ensure that our local government base is fully tied in with the party’s decisions. There is a lot the parliamentary team can learn from many of our council groups!

The number of times, even in the last few months, when our councillors have just not been thought about when key decisions are made is really embarrassing. At the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, a lot of what we were saying nationally about building a community task force hadn’t been run by them and caused them problems. That sort of inclusion has to be instinctive.

The realpolitik of coalition

I have no doubt that we achieved some good things in our five years in coalition with the Conservatives. Same sex marriage, cutting taxes for the lowest paid, directing more funds to disadvantaged kids in school, getting the Conservatives to agree to invest in renewables against their usual (not better) judgement.

On our watch, we got through the 0.7% of GDP international aid target, hosted international summits on promoting the rights of women and girls internationally and legislated against Female Genital Mutilation.

We should be very proud of not just those things, but the things we stopped – things like the “rape clause” and 2 child limit and limiting Housing Benefit for young people. We can see from the terrible things the Tories with indecent haste when they won a majority how we had held them back.

Do we get the credit for that? Nope. Is that fair? Nope. But it is reality.

I think that at some point in the future, our role in that Government will be more valued than it is now. But that time has not yet come.

No explanations of collective responsibility will work when someone who voted to seriously curb benefits for sick and disabled people or to cut ÂŁ31 million from carers’ benefits or to cut housing benefit for people with more bedrooms than they were deemed to need is confronted with that fact. We need to acknowledge that voting in favour of these things was a break with our values and that makes it difficult to defend.

Anyone who was part of that coalition government is going to be quizzed on their specific voting record and their explanations are not going to cut through. This will harm us because the progressive voters we need to support us will be harder to persuade to do g so. It’s not fair, but it is how things are.

This is not the only qualifying factor for a new leader, but we have in Layla an excellent candidate who comes without that voting record.

Media cut-through

When you are challenging for the leadership of the fourth biggest party in Parliament, getting media cut-through is difficult, but Layla has done it well and often.

As a highlander, I was pretty impressed with her understanding of Scottish politics in this interview with the P and J:

Within Scotland, in the Highlands in particular, there’s a feeling that the SNP are far too focused on the central belt, that they are far too Edinburgh focused.

“The Liberal Democrat value of localism is the answer to that because it would allow the power to be given to the communities to do the things the way they want to do them.

“We  are bottom up and trust people with their own power

For me, being governed from Edinburgh is every bit as bad as being governed from London. The more local power and less centralisation the better.

Here, she highlights the issue of low pay for key workers:

We know that the priority of key workers across the country during this crisis is keeping others well, safe and supplied. My research shows that 1.8 million key workers are not earning the real living wage and I believe they deserve so much better than this.

“So many of these workers came into this crisis undervalued and underpaid. They are many of the same people who bore the brunt of the last crisis. Many of those are women and Bame. We want to ensure that as we emerge from this current crisis history does not repeat itself again. As we move forward from this crisis, the Government must stop undervaluing these heroes

More than ever, we need a leader who always sounds fresh and interesting, who can articulate a compelling vision of the compassionate, liberal society we all believe in.

Everything I have seen from Layla so far convinces me that she is the best person to be leader.

I love her hopeful campaign video:

So, damn you, Layla. I had planned to spend my Summer in the garden reading novels.

Now I’ll be getting my nose to the campaign grindstone.

I hope that all of you reading this will join me.

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Marion Lindsay – remembering my wonderful Grandma on what would have been her 100th birthday

In a parallel universe somewhere, there’s a lady celebrating her 100th birthday, probably in a cloud of cigarette smoke, playing her guitar and not taking any crap from anybody. Amongst her gifts on this day would be pigs in every possible way shape and form.

In our universe, she was my Grandma and I have never quite got over losing her when I was 17. That was my first experience of that searing grief you feel when you lose someone you love with all your heart.

When grandmothers were being handed out, I got two of the best. They had such an influence on my life and I miss them both terribly. There are times when I can see those two very inspiring and different women in me.

Every time I make another cup of tea, there’s an echo of, Annie Souter, my kind Highland Granny and the stories she would tell. Don’t take kindness for weakness, though. She weathered some huge storms in her life and took them all in her stride.

From my Grandma, Marion Lindsay, I got the stubbornness that has so far kept me going when times were tough and forced me to stand up for myself and against injustice wherever I see it. She wouldn’t be very chuffed that she helped me become a liberal, but it’s a big part of her legacy.

Whereas my Granny was a traditional granny, grey haired, full of stories and gentleness, Grandma was a much more glamorous, tempestuous character. Others in the family had a very different experience of her but I can only really speak for my own which was a fun filled, happy, close relationship. There was hardly ever a cross word between us.

She was heavily involved in amateur dramatics, in the Florians drama group in Inverness. The first practical experience I can remember of this was when I had to run up and down the stairs so my breathless voice could be recorded to be the voice of a ghost in the Noel Coward play Blithe Spirit where Grandma was playing Madame Arcati. 

She was instrumental in getting me to attend Margaret Firth’s dancing school in Inverness. At the age of four, dressed as a duck, I took part in a concert in the Little Theatre in Inverness. I liked being on stage so much that I simply refused to leave and had to be encouraged off.

Grandma was also an incredibly talented artist. I remember having to sit for hours when I was four or so while she painted me. I remember the blue dress with red and white flowers I was wearing but the painting, unfortunately, no longer exists. My parents have in their house a portrait of my father as a choir boy when he must have been around ten or eleven and a still life that she painted.

When I was very small, I spent mostly all my weekdays very happily with my Granny and many weekends with Grandma. After I went to school, I went to Grandma’s most Saturday afternoons. I don’t remember anything other than fun. I had a puppet theatre there – I particularly remember having the scenery and characters for Aladdin and we used to enact all sort of scenes. She was always very keen on getting me to write things down and use my imagination. I’ve never really been that great at that sort of creativity but she squeezed every tiny morsel of potential in that direction out of me.

Grandma was not exactly an advert for healthy living. She smoked like a chimney and to this day, I still find the smell of cigarette smoke mildly comforting, which was no doubt a factor in me taking up the habit myself when I was a teenager, an addiction which only pregnancy and motherhood would rid me of. She was a complete sun worshipper, too. I remember many happy afternoons, in her garden, watching her baste herself with factor 2 Hawaiian Tropic which is another smell that I absolutely love. There’s a photo of her, on her 60th birthday, taken at my uncle’s house in Canada where she’s looking amazing in a bikini.

She was also a complete and total devoted Thatcherite. Remember when Maggie did her “The lady’s not for turning” speech – at the same time, Grandma was involved in a production of Christopher Fry’s play “The Lady’s not for Burning.” Grandma actually rang up Downing St to ask if she could display a big cardboard cut-out of Mrs Thatcher saying “What I really meant to say was go and see “The Lady’s not for Burning.” Of course they said no, but she said they were quite tickled by the idea. She was mildly exasperated by my growing liberalism and peace-loving hippyness but she coped with good humour.

I never, ever doubted her love and pride in me. I remember the day after my Higher results came through in the Summer of 1984 a parcel arrived for me containing a beautiful ring, which I still treasure along with the heartfelt letter that accompanied it – on pig paper, of course.

She was obsessed with pigs – she had them everywhere. Cuddly pigs, pig plates, pig tea towels, pigs made of glass, metal and pottery. There were hundreds of them and that probably explains why I have a bit of a soft spot for them.

When we moved from Inverness to Wick when I was almost 12, it was devastating to no longer see her regularly. I’d speak to her on the phone and used to still go to stay with her but it was never enough. When I was 15, she developed bronchial cancer which must have been absolutely terrifying for her. She laughed it off, though, buying herself a beautiful 3 colour gold bracelet which she called her “I stopped smoking cos it gave me Cancer” bracelet. The last time I saw her was in October 1984, when we went for lunch at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness and you could tell how the disease had grimly taken control of her.

I suppose every blog posting worth its salt has to turn to food at some point, and it’s worth saying that two of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted in my life were my Grandma’s gravy and my Granny’s potato soup. Neither I nor anybody else has ever been able to replicate them exactly. I’ve had more success trying to replicate my mother’s deliciously comforting gravy, but I can’t get near the rich, savoury flavour and deep brown colour of Grandma’s.

I feel quite emotional as I write this. I was so lucky to have both my grandmothers. I just wish it had been for longer. I wish I had had them to turn to for help when I became a parent myself. To be fair, I think they’d have given me entirely contradictory advice at times, but I’d have loved to hear it.

Today is Grandma’s day, though. A century after her birth, I remember a life that took her from Wiltshire, through losing her Dad in the early days of the second world war to Germany in the immediate aftermath of the War – how I wish I had asked her more about those days – and, finally, to Inverness and a career in local government.

She was my hero.

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Guest Post: Four reasons to #voteLayla by Ryan Hollinsworth

Editor’s Note: Ryan Hollinsworth joined the Scottish Liberal Democrats recently, You can find him on twitter @ryanhollinswor5. Here he explains why he has decided to vote for Layla Moran in the Liberal Democrats Leadership contest

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As the ballot papers go out for the leadership contest this week, I’ve decided to go over why I’m voting for Layla Moran:

  1. She knows how to win over the voters we lost:

Winning the support of soft Tories is key to a positive outcome for our party. Both leadership candidates have acknowledged that, but Layla has the history of winning over Tory majorities which she done in 2017 by 816 votes. In the Social Liberal Forum meeting she also said that many people don’t actually know what we stand for except from our stance on Brexit and we need to change that if we want to win back the voters we lost.

  1. She was not involved in the coalition:

Nobody can deny that the Lib Dems achieved some great things in the coalition: Same sex marriage; funding for disadvantaged school kids; convincing the Tories to invest into renewables. But of course, there were things that happened in the coalition that do not show our party’s liberal values. Any leader of the Lib Dem who was part of the coalition is going to be quizzed on things that they played a part in and that will put some voters off supporting us. Now by no means am I saying that voting someone who wasn’t involved in the Coalition will solve the problem. It won’t, but it’s a start to winning back the trust of the voters we lost.

  1. Her plan for the education system:

As a former teacher Layla understands the problems that the current education system has, as she said in the Social Liberal Forum Q&A, schools are making kids “Exam ready, not world ready”. She understands that schools are more interested in children’s academic talents rather than practical ones.

  1. Her focus on local councils:

Layla also mentions in her plan that she wants to listen more to local councils rather than “imposing messages that work against local aims”. This is again showing her determination to win back trust for the party and to try and earn broad support across the country.

These reasons and much more are why I am voting for Layla Moran as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats and I think you should too.

You can find out more about Layla’s campaign here.

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For International Nurses’ Day – thanks and a vow

International Nurses’ Day has an added poignancy this year.

In hospitals across the globe, nurses and other medical staff don’t just get exhausted after long shifts, but they risk their lives looking after people with Covid-19, getting them back to health, or comforting them as they die. It’s harsh and brutal.

I have so much to be grateful to nurses for. Nearly four years ago, my husband spent 51 nights in hospital. He had an infection in his heart which basically ate one of his heart valves. It was an incredibly frightening experience. I will always be grateful to the nurses who cared for him. I remember their names, each and every one.

I won’t repeat them here, but there was the one who phoned me late one night when the fear got too much for Bob and let me speak to him. The one who comforted him when the news that he’d have to spend another 6 weeks in hospital was overwhelming. The intensive care nurse who did not stop moving in all the time I was there, making sure he was as comfortable as he could be and checking everything so that if things were going wrong, they could act quickly. The nurses on the rehab ward, who gave him the very necessary boot camp treatment to get him back to full health.

In all of the 51 nights he was in hospital, only once did I see nurses go home at the time that they were supposed to.  They work to incredibly high professional standards and they will still find the time to care and comfort. It was a huge relief to me that I could go home every night knowing that he was being properly looked after.

They do this every day and every night.

I think of the nurses who came to care for Bob’s mother when she was dying of Cancer, coming out on Christmas Day to help her when she was struggling. The care and compassion they showed to her and to us was incredible. They are in incredibly short supply at the moment.

My sister and my cousin and numerous friends are out there on the front line right now. They all deserve our love and support. This must go beyond the now traditional clap on a Thursday night. We need to commit ourselves to ensuring that they and everyone else who works in the NHS is properly treated. And that means voting for parties who are prepared to make sure that they have the resources they need to provide that care safely and that they get paid well and treated well at work. Always.

And we need to remember that so many of our nurses come from other countries. Putting them through the hell of our immigration control system is, frankly, unacceptable. Making them pay a surcharge of hundreds (thousands if they have a family) to use the NHS they serve is an absolute disgrace.

Nursing is a hugely diverse profession. From mental health to children to palliative care to oncology to cardio-thoracic to medical, they help us through the toughest times of our lives.

Today, and eery day, we should be very grateful to them.

Here is Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine talking about how nurses got her through a life-threatening and terrifying time in her life.

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Why I’m backing Jo #JoinJo

It’s Saturday 30th April 2005.  A group of  Lib Dems gather in a house in Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow. A young woman implores us to take 300 leaflets each,  both morning and afternoon. It was so important, she said, that these went out that day so we could get on to the final part of the campaign. We’d come such a long way, we couldn’t risk the progress we’d made. It was going to be so close. She acknowledged that it was going to be hard on us, but we needed to get it all done.

After a long campaign, we were already pretty knackered. But we did it. Because we could see in that young woman an exceptional talent. Even then, we thought she could one day lead the party. And because we knew that whatever she asked of us, she expected even more of herself. The vision she had for the area, the fire and passion with which she communicated it and the relentless hard work she put in inspired us all.

Five days later, Jo Swinson became the MP for East Dunbartonshire. It was a new seat. Never before had the towns of Bearsden and Milngavie been in the same seat so, although we had a strong local government base there, gaining a parliamentary seat had never been in our grasp.  Boundary changes gave us a shot at it but success was far from assured. Enter Jo, a 24 year old brought up in the area.

She put her life on hold for 18 months as she moved back home with her parents, worked part time in the mornings, delivered leaflets in the afternoon and went canvassing in the evening. She inspired hordes of her old LDYS colleagues to come north to help her.

At that time I was the Scottish Party’s Campaigns and Candidates Convener. I knew what was going on across all the seats. Jo would phone me up and tell me that she hadn’t done enough. I knew that she had done more than most others, including some sitting MPs, by some margin and it was having an impact.

About ten days before the election, I had been canvassing an estate in Milngavie with Jo’s Dad, Peter. You could just see the pride in his face as he saw the extent to which his daughter had achieved not only name recognition, but admiration and agreement from voters.

Peter sadly died last year. He and Jo were very close. She credits him with teaching her to ask questions. She’s been challenging the establishment way back since she tried to get her school to let girls wear trousers and she is just as hungry to do that now as she was then.


Jo’s hard work  paid off and then she paid back. Despite the exhausting regime of an 800 mile round trip to Westminster each week, she did all she could to encourage others, particularly from under-represented groups, to stand for Parliament. She was a pivotal force in the Campaign for Gender Balance, running inspiration days for women all over the country. One of those she encouraged was her now colleague on the green benches, Christine Jardine.

And when, despite trying everything, progress stalled – and, in fact, we went backwards with all white male groups in both Holyrood and Westminster – she changed her mind and accepted that measures such as all-women shortlists were necessary.

Ahead of the game

Jo has always been been way ahead of the game. She’s understood what is going to be important in the years to come. Her passionate advocacy of gender equality was not as mainstream then as it was now. She talked about body confidence, outlining the pervasive effect on young people of unrealistic media expectations of what constituted beauty. She took cosmetics giant L’Oreal to the Advertising Standards Authority and won.

A decade ago and more, she tackled Easter egg manufacturers over excess packaging before people were really taking plastics seriously.

Her leadership campaign vision of transforming the economy to put people and planet first is not new.  This, from her first Conference speech as a Minister in 2012 on the importance of making work more fulfilling:

I know what it’s like to have a job where you’re clock-watching, or feeling unfulfilled.

– I have worked in a fast-food restaurant where the cries of “how many bodies do we have on the tills?” made me realise I was less a valued member of staff and more a production machine.

– I have worked in the Disney store, where even for someone with my cheery disposition, the enforced perma-smile was too much to bear.

– And I have worked for a local radio station, where the great charity work we did at the grassroots was measured by the parent company solely in terms of positive column inches, which was so demoralising for the team.

Without a doubt, I know that I have been at my most productive, creative and effective when I have relished going to work. It’s only natural.

When employment has risen significantly but GDP has not, we do need to ask the question, are we doing all we can to unleash the potential of our most precious resource – our people?

A great communicator

We’re doing pretty well at the moment. Better than we have done for years. But to build on that, we need a leader who can cut through the noise and grab people in the heart. Jo is that leader.

She combines humour, candour and plain speaking to bring people in. She will reach well beyond the comfort zone of our party by connecting with people. The way she wrote about the birth of her son Gabriel yesterday was absolutely beautiful:

And, earlier in the week, after Boris’s bizarre bus revelation, there was this:

When you connect with people on that very human level, they are much more likely to listen to what you have to say about the future of the planet, about what needs to happen to make our lives better.

Jo has an exceptional ability to communicate complicated messages in a way that means something to people. “Putting people and planet first” is much more practical and engaging than “Decarbonise capitalism.” The messages are similar but Jo’s delivery is much more effective.

The C word

Both Jo and Ed were ministers, and very good ones, in the coalition years. While Ed is more bullish about the good we did, Jo, I think, has the right amount of humility about where we got it wrong. She is bold enough to say that we made mistakes and to talk about how we have learned from them. That is a vital part of bringing in the people we lost during those years and those we never had in the first place.

It’s the right balance. We did achieve good things but people will only see that if we acknowledge where we didn’t get it right.

The other C word

Jo’s openness to working with others is not new.

I visited her in her Commons office just after she had become Nick Clegg’s PPS in 2011. As we spoke, she signed a huge pile of letters to every single MP from every single party inviting them to talk to her about things that concerned them.

It’s that collaborative attitude that has helped her build relationships across Parliament to make progress on all sorts of things from abortion to shared parental leave to proxy voting for MPs.

And it’s that collaborative attitude that will make it easier for others to join with us to achieve our goal to stop Brexit. It’s getting the balance right – being open and making sure that we protect and preserve our distinctive liberal voice. She’s got that.

Policy differences

We are a party that is broadly united on the sort of society we want to see. Ed and Jo have similar ideas on many issues but I’ve noticed a couple of things that are quite significant for me.

Ed is more cautious on things like electoral reform – he wants to introduce it for local government first. This is something that was famously achieved by the Lib Dems in Scotland – but we already had a proportional Parliament.  Electoral reform at all levels is a key priority for Jo.

Jo also appears to be more open to the idea of Universal Basic Income. That doesn’t mean to say that she is yet in favour of it but she understands its usefulness as technology and AI takes more jobs. Again, Ed is more cautious, wanting to reform Universal Credit first.

The final difference is on the mechanics of stopping Brexit. Tom Brake called into question Ed’s idea for a Government of National Unity with Yvette Cooper or Hilary Benn at its head. Could that be feasible, he said on BBC News, given that Cooper in particular has not shown enthusiasm towards a confirmatory referendum.

Why Jo?

I’m really looking forward to casting my vote for Jo tomorrow.

I don’t think I have ever been so proud to vote in my life and have never cast one that is so totally positive. Jo’s vitality, wit, wisdom and instinctive ability to be ahead of the game make her the best person to ensure that we build on our recent successes. She knows that our success comes from a simple, emotional message, communicated well.

I have been saying for years that we need a leader who can tell our story well and really tug on people’s heartstrings. We need to evoke those positive emotions of hope and optimism and generosity of spirit to combat the fear and rage being generated by both left and right.

Future success will come from an instinctive ability to understand what is going to be important not just tomorrow or in six months, but in five, ten, thirty years.

Don’t expect it to be easy. Jo has never knowingly under-estimated anyone’s capacity for work and everything she says will come with a to-do list for us. Just look at her book, Equal Power.  Every chapter comes with an action plan for readers to change the world.

Jo is the right  leader for now. She has the vision and the vitality to take us forward and that’s why I would like you to #joinJo too.


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Vegetation on a leaflet Days 4-6: The scariest bit yet

Oh my. What a difference a year makes. I’m very conscious, and very grateful, that I’ve just watched Great British Bake Off without a care in the world. Well, when I say not a care, my bathroom is a shell and I have the entire contents of my kitchen to find a space for before it is ripped to bits on Thursday, but life is good. 

A year ago tonight, I discovered what fear was all about. 

It was Bob’s 6th day in hospital and we had had a fair bit to take in. I’d assumed that once they’d pumped him full o antibiotics, he’d be out the door. He was still very sick and weak, but he was showing signs of stabilising. 

A lovely Irish doctor explained very gently to us that he’d be in having the 12 grammes of antibiotics by intravenous drip for at least the next two weeks. 

We were just processing that when a nurse and an ECG machine came flying into the room. Remember the poor people locked in broom cupboards watching the heart telemetry that Bob had been wearing since Day 1? They had seen that Bob’s heart rate was going through the roof and they had to find out what the hell was going on. 

This was a scene that was repeated several times with great drama over the course of the evening. 

He was shell-shocked. I can honestly say that I had never been so terrified about anything in all of my life. Now, I’m a worrier who is scared of everything, but it turned out that all the fear I’d felt before in my life added together didn’t touch this. It was obvious that the medics were worried as they did that purposeful scurrying that you see in hospital drams with ever more pills and potions and needles. And if the medics are worried, you know that this could be serious shit.

For hours, his heart rate went nuts and they were trying all sorts to get it down. 

I will never, ever forget the kindness and calmness of the nurse in charge that Monday night. I couldn’t believe that when she had a million things to do, she went and brought me tea and biscuits and sat with me radiating all the good and peaceful vibes you could imagine. 

Long past official visiting hours, I was so scared. Bless my Mum, she offered to come up. I thought that that might scare Bob even more. Not because she is particularly frightening but just that if random family members started turning up after hours, he might think that there was a reason for it.

The last thing I wanted to do that evening was leave. I eventually did at somewhere near 11. The lovely nurse would have let me stay, but that would have been really cruel to a teenager who had no idea what was going on. 

I had to force myself to walk away. I was convinced that the next I’d hear was that he was in intensive care. 

I wish I’d known that a year on, I’d be missing his Radio Grapevine radio show (he’s covering for Debra tonight) to watch some bloke put sprouts in a pie. 

Here are the Facebook posts.

1 October 2016

Today wasn’t particularly easy for Bob until about 3 hours ago. Since then, he’s been up and chatting and has even given me cheek. Only a little, but it’s a start. I had missed it.

Let’s hope tomorrow continues like this.

This was his first day of what would end up as four weeks on Ward 9. Here was a new set of people to get to know. The nurse looking after him was absolutely wonderful. Every so often he’d spike a temperature and they ‘d do what they could to get it down. 

There were signs that he was getting a little better, though. 

2 October 2016

Bob continues to make progress although it will take some time for him to recover fully. He has only had two fevers in the last 30 hours which is a massive improvement. He is not in as much pain and is significantly brighter

We were able to watch the Malaysian GP today and to do our best not to take too much pleasure in what happened on lap 43.

The nurses who have been looking after him are so kind. They have a huge amount to do yet they still so obviously care about the people they are looking after even when they present challenges, like singing Danny Boy at 5am. That wasn’t Bob, I hasten to add.

The food in St John’s is unexpectedly appetising and delicious. Bob loved the roast dinner and trifle he had for his Sunday lunch.

I now have the delights of Ed Balls’ Charleston to amuse me before I go to sleep.

3 October 2015

So, this is how we thought it would all pan out. When Bob hadn’t had a fever for 24 hours, they would chuck him out with a tonne of pills.

We were brought down to earth a bit by a lovely doctor who explained that he would be in here for at least two weeks having four hourly industrial strength IV antibiotics.

In addition to that, he has some monitors on which somebody keeps an eye on 24/7. They have all been going a bit wild over the last few hours. Bob actually feels no worse but he is being very closely watched. We both feel very confident in the quality of the care he is getting.

He is eating well – loved the vegetarian lasagne earlier. The food is really good in here.

3 October 2016

What is it about the tea they give you in hospital that is so soothing?


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Vegetation on a leaflet, Day 3: A wonder drug, 2 moves and multiple interrogations with a bit of drama on the side

And so we continue our journey through Bob’s stay in hospital this time last year. 30th September was, as days go, pretty unpleasant.

Here is what I wrote on Facebook with a bit of elaboration underneath in italics:

30 September 2016

Today has been pretty horrible. Bob is feeling really unwell. The light at the end of the tunnel is that they have now identified the drug that is going to zap these bugs out of his system so let’s hope he feels better soon.

In the midst of feeling awful, he has been moved and will be moved again by the end of the evening.

It also means the end of unlimited visiting for me which I am finding really hard.

30 September 2016

Finally home after finding that a kind nurse and a set of circumstances made the visiting restrictions slightly more elastic than they first appeared. Bob was sleeping peacefully when I left. Let’s hope that he stays that way when he gets moved, which is still to happen.

Think I will watch Bake Off while I have something to eat.

Now, about this wonder drug. The way it had been sold to us is that the microbiologists were beavering away working out what drug was going to blast the nasty bugs to kingdom come. They had made it sound like it was some designer concoction. So glamorous. They eventually told us about tea time that they had got the new drug sorted but he would have to have it 6 times a day rather than 4. By this point we didn’t care. We just wanted Bob to feel better. 

So when the miracle wonder drug arrived, I couldn’t wait to see its name. I was slightly perturbed to see that it was good old Flucloxacillin. More a workhorse than a sexy young new kid on the block. Also, he’d had shedloads of that on the past for other conditions, so I was a bit anxious about whether it would actually work. 

Before we got to that point, Bob had been moved out of the nice side room into a bay. This put an end to my unlimited visiting which worried me a bit. He was still pretty weak and I was, I think, able to do various soothing things and help him when he needed stuff. 

There was a bit of drama just before lunchtime when he started to have some chest pain. I fetched the nurse who had an ECG machine there practically before I got back to the bed. 

The readings were fine but it was a scary experience. 

Since Bob had been admitted, we had been amazed by the diligence and the knowledge of the medical students who were examining him. I hadn’t realised that your hands give off huge clues as to what is going on in the deepest recesses of your heart. Students spent hours poring over every millimetre of his hands and nails. How long had he had that lesion? How long had the skin been that colour?

There were also interrogations about every tiny abrasion on his body. They were trying to ascertain how he had got himself into this sorry mess. A blood blister on his foot emerged as the prime suspect, although the verdict was the Scottish “not proven” rather than anything else. 

Around dinner time after an exhausting day, we were told that he would be moved again that night, some time before midnight. I was obviously keen to see him settled in his new ward and as visiting time ended, I thought I’d take my chances and see how long I could stay before they threw me out. In fact, there were two other lots of visitors in the bay and I guess if they threw one out, they’d have to throw us all out, so we all benefited from each others’ presence. 

My luck eventually ran out at around 10:30 when Bob still had not been moved. I know it’s not ever so stressful being pushed in a bed to new surroundings, but when there are bugs staking claim to your heart, you feel like hell and you just want to be left alone, it’s maybe more of an ordeal than people think. 

He was finally moved much later, in the middle of the night. We’ll pick up the story tomorrow. 

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Vegetation on a Leaflet. Day 2. Don’t be silly, of course he doesn’t have a heart murmur

Day 2 of my meander down Nightmare Alley as I remember Bob’s stay in hospital last year.

This is what I put on Facebook for Thursday 29 September last year.

29 September 2016

Bob had a very tough night and morning but a better afternoon and evening. He has even just been for a slightly unsteady walk up the corridor but it was good to have even a brief taste of freedom.

The medics now think they know what’s going on so let’s hope for progress in sorting it out over the next couple of days.

Thanks so much for all the good wishes. He has read every single one and really appreciates it.

What follow, in italics, is my exposition of what was actually going on.

When I say tough, I mean that he was spiking horrific temperatures every time the Paracetamol showed any sign of wearing off. 

And then there was that moment when the Doctor asked “How long have you had the heart murmur?”

They must have meant someone else, surely. Of course he didn’t have a heart murmur. He was fine. He only had the Flu, after all. 

Yeah, well. They were the professionals with the medical degrees and the stethoscopes actually listening to his chest. I might have a string of Highers in Languages and an HNC in Business Studies to my name but that didn’t really cut it in this environment. Of course they were right. They heard a murmur. But, of course, I tried to rationalise to myself, he was fighting an infection. It would all settle down, now, wouldn’t it?

It was somewhere around noon that a doctor said that they were looking at the possibility of the infection being in his heart. As we spoke, some microbiologists were finding out what they could grow in his blood and what would kill it. In a couple of days, we’d have the drug that would sort this mess out. That gave us a bit of hope.

I was thinking that I would much rather that there weren’t bugs in something so flipping essential. Except I didn’t quite think flipping. But my mother might read this. 

There is nothing more horrendous than watching someone you love in pain. Except watching someone you love in pain and battling a life-threatening infection. I think that’s why I couldn’t write this all down last year. I didn’t know how the story was going to end. I mean, J K Rowling knew how Harry Potter was going to end, right from the start. She knew how it started and how it ended and took a few thousand riveting pages to find her way between these points. She might have taken her time, but at least she knew where she was going.

Not knowing where you are going is pretty terrifying. Not as terrifying as knowing you are heading to a bad place, but still, bloody scary.

Now Bob knew his way round the hospital. He volunteered with its radio station, Radio Grapevine. He found himself on the other end of the airwaves when his colleagues came round looking for requests. 

He managed a very shaky walk up the ward corridor that night. Only just beyond the nurses’ station, but still further than he’d managed for a few days. 

It shattered him, though, so I left him plugged into Radio Grapevine, slumbering gently. 



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Vegetation on a leaflet: The first day

Earlier this year, I copied and pasted all the Facebook posts from when Bob was ill last year into a single document. I meant to post them up here with a bit of elaboration. Then some daft woman called an election so that idea went out the window.

What I shared on social media at that time was a very sanitised version of the absolutely terrifying truth. Bob and I would agree the day’s post every night before I left the hospital.

There was, of course, much more to it than that. A year on from his admission to hospital, I am going to tell the story as it happened in a series of posts that will take us to the anniversary of his homecoming in November.

As I said the other day, the anniversary has hit me like a train. I mostly managed to hold it together and portray calmness and serenity while it was all happening. A year on, I am a mess. I’m hoping that writing it all down will help finally process it all.

So, here are the first day’s posts – with some elaboration in italics.

28 September 2016

They don’t think there is anything major wrong but the ambulance people have taken Bob to hospital for some tests. I am heading down now after him. They were very good and checked him over thoroughly in the house.

So I got back from Witney, where I’d been out campaigning for the wonderful Liz Leffman, at about 11pm. I knew that Bob had taken ill again and I was trying to get him to phone the doctor. He wouldn’t – and kept insisting that he just had Flu. 

I spoke to him several times during the day and became progressively more worried. When I arrived home, he didn’t seem as bad as I expected, but there were three things that worried me about him and I started googling “Sepsis.” What I read alarmed me enough to ring NHS 24. Their call handler was significantly unworried by what I was describing and put him on a 3 hour call back. 

When a nurse eventually rang, it took her about 10 minutes to decide to call a blue light ambulance. It drew up at about 4:30 am. The paramedics examined Bob who was insisting that he didn’t need to go to hospital. They didn’t think there was anything major to worry about as his ECG was normal, but they felt that he was a bit dehydrated and could do with some fluids. I told Bob that I thought he should go with them and followed him down in the ambulance – once I’d settled Hazel down. She had not been delighted to find strangers in her house sticking things on her Daddy. 

By the time I got to the hospital 20 minutes later, he was hooked up to a drip and wondering what all the fuss was about because he only had the Flu. 

Then all hell broke loose. 

A doctor came in and told us that a blood test had revealed a high level of Troponin, which would indicate that he’d had a severe heart attack. They were completely bamboozled, however, because his ECG was fine. They were also worried about the obvious signs of infection. So they started to treat him for a heart attack and an infection. 

I remember sitting there open-mouthed. Neither of us could work out when he could have possibly had a heart attack. He had certainly had a significant amount of pain in his shoulder over the day but he’d attributed that to the shivering. 

I kept saying that it was a lot to process and Bob kept pointing out that I had already said that. It was a very strange feeling, like we were frozen in time while all these people kept bustling  in with pills and potions and needles and drips and monitors. He was taken up to a ward and put in the room right next to the nurses’ station while a succession of doctors came in and examined him. He was put on telemetry which monitored his heart 24/7. Some poor person in a broom cupboard had to watch them all and, as we were to discover, act if something went awry.

28 September 2016 – morning

Bob is dozing and they are pumping various drugs into him at a spectacular rate of knots. He is in a lot of pain & we are a long way from knowing what the hell is going on. Thanks for all good wishes.

Pretty much everyone we came across at the hospital was brilliant to us. There was one person who wasn’t, though. I nipped home to get some stuff for Bob and when I came back, the car park was full. I went into the other car park. You had to buzz at an intercom to get the porters to lift the barrier. I said that I was there  to  see my husband. “Dear, ” came the disembodied, pained voice of a porter, “This car park is for patients. You are not the patient. You can’t park here.”  These people maybe need to realise that some people visiting the hospital are really stressed and in the biggest crisis of their lives. It’s a time for kindness, not cold, wearied condescension.

28 September 2016 – early evening

Still not much in the way of answers but Bob has improved a lot with IV fluids and antibiotics. He isn’t in anything like as much pain. He hasn’t yet got to the stage of giving me cheek but this all feels a lot better than it did 12 hours ago. Let’s hope this keeps up.

He really appreciates all the good wishes, as do I. It all just underlines how lucky we are to have such brilliant friends.

Seriously, if you ever wonder if messages left on Facebook actually help in a crisis – believe me, they do. Bob was aware of every single one of them and I would not have survived the next few months without the support of my friends from all over the world.

28 September 2016 – mid evening

Home now, having left Bob sleeping peacefully listening to Radio Grapevine as a patient. Now trying to summon up the energy to take Miss Hazel for a walk. I don’t think I’ve actually had a good night’s sleep since Saturday so feeling pretty knackered.

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It’s been a year, everything is fine, so why am I such a mess?

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last wrote anything on my own personal blog.

A year ago, I was blithely taking a photo a day of the last year of my 40s and having loads of fun.

Then there was all the frenetic build-up to Conference in Brighton. The day after I got back, all of a sudden, my husband said that he was feeling terrible and took himself off to bed. You know how when you go down with ‘Flu or something, it just hits you out of nowhere? That was what we thought was happening.

By the Friday morning, he was still feeling lousy, but able to be up. At the weekend, I ended up having to take my son to Comic Con in Glasgow. On the Monday morning, I was due to head to Witney to help in the by-election and do some stuff for Lib Dem Voice encouraging  people to go. I wouldn’t have gone if I had thought for a moment that Bob was still ill. He really seemed to be recovering. He was still a bit weak, but he thought he would cope. You can imagine how I felt in retrospect about that decision.

Unfortunately he was very sick indeed. When I got back on the Tuesday night, the resulting call to NHS 24 resulted in an ambulance being called. He spent the next 51 nights in hospital receiving treatment for an infection in his heart and then open heart surgery to repair the valve that the infection had damaged in its wake.

Vegetation on a leaflet, the cardiologist called the problem. How we laughed at the irony that a Lib Dem should have something wrong with a leaflet. We laughed because the alternative, of actually processing what was going on, was beyond us at that point.

Thankfully, he recovered very well from the surgery. His heart throws the occasional strop which means he ends up in hospital again but we really have been incredibly lucky.

For most of the time, I was pretty calm. I am by nature a worrier, but I found more strength than I ever thought I had and  got through, if not quite unscathed, certainly unbroken. I had a couple of major wobbles, but I decided that if I should have another, I would just get up and clean my house. It wasn’t sparkling by the end. Adrenaline is a very powerful substance and I probably survived on it for about four months.

Another huge factor was the brilliant support I had from so many friends. If someone posts on Facebook that they are going through some trauma and you are wondering whether to say something, do. It really does help.

Then there were the people who made it their business to look after me in real life – Linda dragging me for curries and phoning me up to make sure I was ok, all those who came to visit Bob in hospital and who offered to do all sorts for me, my Mum and Dad for endless tea and sympathy and dinners.

Here’s the weird thing. I never lost my appetite. Even the day Bob had his operation, my mother was filling me up with her delicious  home made lentil soup which I guzzled with enthusiasm even though everything about me felt liquid. I remember asking her how on earth I could still eat. She smiled and said, simply, “You’re your father’s daughter.” That’s fair enough. I don’t think I’ve often seen him lose his appetite either.

There is much to be written about our experiences of a year ago, and, who knows, I might even get round to it as the story starts to unfold itself on Facebook again.

However, it’s my experience over the last 24 hours which I want to share with you. I feel like I have been hit by a train. It’s like all the fear and terror has caught up with me and is standing in front of me, bouncing around so I can’t get past it. It seems determined to make me feel it.

Now, I suspected that this would happen at some point. The laws of the universe surely don’t let you away with your nearest and dearest having a life-threatening medical emergency without inflicting some emotional damage at some point.

So, I shared what I was feeling on Facebook, and, sure enough, my brilliant friends were there to reassure me that this is perfectly normal. Anniversaries of these things tend to do this to you and you just have to let yourself feel it and look after yourself.

In turn, I’m sharing their good and kind words with you in case you are going through similar or know someone who is.

I don’t know how long I’m going to feel this way. Maybe the little pinpricks at the back of my eyes that threaten tears, or the shudders of fear will disappear as suddenly as they have arrived, Knowing that this is something that just happens sometimes really helps, though.

We’ll get there.

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