Nicola Barry

Monthly Archives: January 2013

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Edinburgh Waste Collection

Edinburgh waste collection is rubbish!

Recycle-get this...

I want to be re-incarnated as a bin man, or, rather, in these days of politically correct jargon, a sexually neutral waste disposal operative. I have loads of experience – what with carting our rubbish to a council tip week after week.

What a great life these people have over the festive period.  They enjoy the same time off as everybody else and then all those little extras – whenthere is too much snow, the pitter patter of heavy sleet, ice on the pavement, a strike or one of the myriad of reasons they seem to have for not showing up to work.This particular festive season will stay in my mind for a very long time, for all the wrong reasons. The gap between collections of our wheelie bin was 22 days. We took it to a dump ourselves. The recycling didn’t come on the allotted day so I took it myself. Guess what? They came 48 hours late.

Edinburgh City Council has decided to only empty our domestic bin fortnightly. It’s bad enough leaving stuff to fester in a wheelie bin for one week. The thought of leaving it for two weeks turns my stomach. It really does. We already have all the fun of sifting through our rubbish, sorting the paper, cartons, tin and glass from the smelly, rotten leftovers. All the council has to do is drive it away … occasionally. What do they pay our public servants for exactly? We spend hour after hour, day after day, sorting the wheat from the chaff, rifling through our bags to remove the glass from the paper, the cardboard from the onion peel. And they get paid for our work.

It’s not fair.

The message is: “Listen, folks, recycling is where it’s at. So, we are going to charge you exactly the same council tax but leave a stinking pile of rubbish on your doorstep for two weeks instead of one. OK? Fine.” This is a clever scheme. It means we are doing a large part of the bin men’s job for them. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in recycling. Landfill sites have had it. We are all doomed if we carry on the way we’ve been going. But as the wee dug Churchill says in the car insurance ad: “Steady”. It takes time to change the habits of a lifetime.

I am fortunate enough to have been trained by very own recycling fairy. This is how it goes in our house: I take a tin of tuna, give some of it to my dog for his dinner, go to throw the tin out into the bin when this stentorian voice bawls: “Stop right there” before grabbing the offending article from my clutches. It’s the same with beer or wine bottles. I clean them, go to chuck them in the bin when, lo and behold, they too are grabbed from my hand by a whirling dervish on legs.

The other evening I managed, with great difficulty, to pull corrugated metal tops off two used beer bottles which had been opened and drunk, the empty ones left in a neat row on the worktop with the tops stuck back on. OK, I thought, by all means recycle the empty bottles but not with the tops still in place. How wrong could I be? Whoosh, the big, hairy recycling fairy grabbed them out of my hand – only to rush out to the conservatory with said tiny items and place them in one of the many boxes, kindly left for us by the wretched council. Red ones, blue ones, brown ones, sacks for newspapers, little grey bins for food. On their last visit, Edinburgh City Council emptied the inner basket into the lorry and drove off with it.

Some would say we pay an average amount in council tax. I happen to think it is an obscene sum. Still, I have always assumed that the fact I had always paid up would stand me in good stead.


Winter is bad enough but do you really fancy a pile of rotting food and nappies sitting outside your house for two weeks at the height of summer. It is quite the most revolting arrangement I have heard in a long time. Politicians are assuming that once your average Hamish and Jean learn to separate plastic, glass and paper, they will realise there isn’t a lot left in their normal household rubbish bin. Therefore, a domestic collection once a fortnight will suffice. Wrong. Yes, I know that across Scotland, the problem of landfill sites needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. We have to recycle far more. We know that. So, give us all blue bins or boxes and let us do your dirty work for you, but don’t, repeat don’t, cut our household rubbish service from weekly to fortnightly and dress it up as recycling.

If local authorities want us to continue to do their dirty work for them, they can pay us for it and reduce our council tax.

Article Focus: Edinburgh waste collection .

Photo credit: practicalowl on Flickr

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh A&E

Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’s A&E Surgical Observation Unit is hospital’s hidden treasure

English: Emergency Department of Edinburgh Roy...

The Emergency Department of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, opened 2003.

The ambulance arrived at 3am.

All I remember is the stomach pain which had been building up all day. It had become intolerable.

I also remember my darling husband, Alastair, begging me not to go back into hospital. It was my third visit and this time, he reckoned I might not be coming back.

In my heart of hearts, I agreed with him – but that sentiment was easier for me to bear. The pain was so bad I no longer cared.

Variously described as stabbing, aching, gnawing and radiating, pain – no matter what kind – grinds down its victims, forcing them closer and closer to some invisible yet, in many ways, clearly definable, edge. It taunts. It debilitates. More importantly, when it is there all the time, other people, especially those who are closest, forget about it.

Pain becomes just another facet of you.

In fact, chronic pain eats away at you, chews you up and, eventually, tries to spit you out.

My recent hospital stay marked the culmination of two years of orthopaedic surgery, of hospital admissions; of intensive physio; of effort and more effort – much of it to no avail.

The ambulance crew responsible for taking me to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’s A&E were called Kirsty and Phil. He drove, she comforted and reassured while administering gas and air. They made the perfect team.

Alastair followed in his car.

Once at the hospital, while I waited on a stretcher, I studied Alastair’s face; his handsome features (Well, I think so!) suddenly pale and pinched; his expression utterly forlorn. That’s men for you. They want to be able to fix things; find an instant solution. And when they can’t, they find it unbearable.

Alastair is fit, healthy and never goes anywhere near a doctor or a hospital. Pain is an anathema to him; as alien as the Moon or Mars.

He has had to endure, for the first time in our 16 year relationship, 24 months of living with a woman so different from the one he first met she has been barely recognisable; someone who ranted, moaned, complained and flew into uncontrolled rages – the root of which is the fact that her mother drank throughout her pregnancy. She was a mother who managed to create havoc, yet, still, a sick woman who has been dead for years. Therefore, her daughter’s anger has been pointless, nothing but wasted energy.

After a childhood disability and several years spent in a wheelchair and on crutches, things were coming home to roost. Call it the start of old age, call it whatever you like. It has arrived but it has overstayed its welcome. It has not been a welcome guest.

I had both hips replaced in the past two years.

Thousands of people in the UK have hip replacements every year. Some are very fit and have over-indulged in sport; others are decrepit and worn out. A few have aged with disabilities from childhood. I fall into the latter category.

Most noticeable to me is that the NHS has changed dramatically over the years. It is awash with problems: budgets, superbugs, waiting lists and staff who are stressed to what seems like breaking point.

On the day of my first hip replacement, I had to report to the same Edinburgh Royal Infirmary at 7am. I was escorted to a room to wait but Alastair was sent away.

What they don’t tell you is that everyone scheduled for morning surgery is called at 7am. You have no idea where you are on the list and are given nothing to eat or drink.

It is like waiting in a hot airport for a very cheap flight and you feel so alone. To quote a French writer: “On est seul, on est toujours seul”. How right he was.

Before the countdown kicks in, a doctor draws, with a black felt pen, large black arrows over the area for surgery. You pray he or she gets it right.

Nor do the medics give you anything to calm you down before surgery. Despite having had a lot of operations in childhood, I was shaking like the proverbial leaf when they wheeled me towards the knives.

In the Sixties, I had bones repeatedly re-set, pinned into position so my legs turned out instead of in. If I wasn’t in a wheelchair, I was on crutches or walking with sticks.

However, back then, a visit to hospital for an operation was a calm, leisurely affair. You were admitted the night before surgery and tranquillised. These days that is probably considered too costly.

As a child, I became a disabled person, inhabiting that strange world in which you imagine, and society persists in reinforcing that belief, you are not as good as other people. You become a second-class citizen. This was the Sixties, remember, well before Political Correctness and disabled people knew their place – at the back of every queue going.

Nor was it easy adjusting to the world of the able-bodied. I didn’t like it particularly and took to drinking large amounts of alcohol, had an accident, broke my neck then developed acute pancreatitis which is such excruciating agony that I stopped drinking and survived fairly well.

Not once did I ever suspect these things would return to haunt me. A friend once said to me: “I suppose your legs are behind you now”. While I thought the comment was hilarious at the time, I agreed with the sentiment.

But I was wrong.

In the past year, between hip replacements, I had, for the first time, to visit Accident & Emergency at the RIE, with a related orthopaedic problem.

It wasn’t a happy experience.

It was a Friday evening with the usual weekend crowd of drunks. The waiting room produced that inevitable clash of strangers forced together by accidents and illnesses, in inhospitable surroundings, with a shortage of staff; all a recipe for disaster.

I waited for three hours to be seen.

However, patients like me, who come through the main door on foot don’t see the ambulances next door delivering people, who have, for example, been in a car accident or are ill to the point of death.

Off-putting rather than reassuring was the existence of a police station in A&E, right next to the treatment area.

It is absolutely appalling that doctors and nurses, who work under enormous stress – matters of life and death – and do their best to look after people, should be subjected to abuse so great that a police presence is necessary.

On my most recent visit, when I was taken in by ambulance, Alastair was told to sit through in this same area. It wasn’t a weekend. There were only two men there: one lying flat out on a bench, drunk or high, refusing to leave; the other, somehow managing to help himself to money from the drinks machine; robbing the place blind without anyone noticing.

The Surgical Observation Unit: How things should be

This time around, I was taken, very quickly, to the Surgical Observation Unit and told I probably had an ulcer or abscess on my pancreas.

This unit deserves publicity. It deserves awards. It is the best ward I have ever been in as a patient. It is A&E’s hidden treasure, the place to which ambulances screech and hurtle.

It is not an ordinary hospital ward. There are no meals; no visiting times – people can come in when they wish.

Sadly, the patients didn’t talk. People were curled up, moaning; too sick to see; too ill to chat. Everything happens in hospital, after all. You’re born there, you may die there, you have children there and you are ill there. You see everything in here; every disease and accident. One morning, I woke up to see a man in handcuffs opposite, accompanied by a policeman.

In this unit, you see Scotland’s serious problem with alcohol first-hand.

The nurses, such as Staff Nurse Babs Bell, are dedicated, caring and incredibly direct yet sensitively so.

They have to question every patient, about their lifestyle, about how much they drink; conversations inevitably heard by the other patients. Many are in denial, vastly under-estimating their consumption.

They will be referred from this centre of excellence to other wards for treatment.

If there was a model for the NHS to follow, this Surgical Observation Unit has to be it – a classic example of nursing as it once was and should always be – regardless of the bean counters.


Article focus: Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

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