What You Can Do for London’s Lungs

Take a nice deep breath. For thousands of people living in London, that’s a luxury.  

FreeImages.com/Christina Papadopoullo

With its plethora of parks, our capital may be one of the greenest cities. But it’s also one of the most polluted. For the last five years, London has been in breach of EU safety limits on NO2.

I’ve noticed it getting worse. For an instant lesson in air quality, head for the outer reaches of one of the Tube lines and see how fresh the air feels when you step outside. 

Pollution isn’t just an irritant to the throat, nose, or eyes. It’s damaging to health, increasing the risk of lung cancer and chronic lung disease, and driving up hospital admission rates for those with pre-existing lung or heart disease.

FreeImages.com/Dave Kennard

Children’s lungs are most vulnerable, yet around 330,000 London kids go to school in areas with illegal levels of pollution.

Pollution has also been linked with damage during pregnancy, including low birth weight and pre-term birth.

I’ll cut a long story short: at least 9,500 deaths a year in London are linked with air pollution.

We may not have the pea-soupers of the 1950s that smothered London in soot and sulphur dioxide for days at a time. But we have a haze of small particles, especially PM2.5s, along with the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide NO(not to be confused with laughing gas because this one isn’t funny).

FreeImages.com/Simon Gray

PM2.5s are fine particles, less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. They come from things like motor vehicles, power plants, and wood-burning, and they’re harmful because they’re small enough to reach the deepest recesses of the lungs.

Nitrous oxide comes largely from diesel cars, lorries, and buses. It follows that pollution is worse near busy roads, which is often where less advantaged families live. But even short-term exposure to air pollution can damage.

Why am I banging on about it now?

Because on May 5, London elects a new Mayor. As a parent, a doctor, and a Londoner, I whole-heartedly support The British Lung Foundation’s #Londonlungs campaign. It calls for the next Mayor and Assembly members to prioritise lung health.

FreeImages.com/Andrew Rigby

So much could be done, from tree and hedge planting schemes to improving transport strategy and extending the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) eastwards – where there’s a lot of deprivation and air pollution.

You too can help by getting on board and asking all the mayoral candidates whether they pledge to protect Londoner’s lungs. You could also share the campaign on social media with the hashtag #Londonlungs.

FreeImages.com/Adam Ciesielski

What else can you do?

There are obvious individual steps to help protect the lungs and heart, like not smoking.

Driving less, for instance by sharing cars or using public transport, helps drive down vehicle emissions. If you’re buying or leasing a car, choose a low-emission model.

Take the longer route on foot or cycle via a less polluted area if you can. You may be interested in the Clean Space app

The British Lung Foundation has some great tips for when air pollution levels are very high. You can find them here

 

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Why Does Car Insurance Cost So Much?

Go on, guess.

My high premiums aren’t because I prang my car a lot, or make other people have accidents. Though there was that crash I caused in 1975 or so, when I collided with a Morris Traveller van and managed to remove some of its wooden trim. The owner glued it back on. Total cost of the repair: £1.50.

I don’t indulge in James Bond-esque 200 mph jaunts the wrong way up dual carriageways, let alone launch my car off the tops of buildings. So it’s a mystery to me why Sheila’s Wheels wants to relieve me of huge wodges of money on an annual basis.

But now I can thank a certain coach driver for leading me to the explanation as to why car insurance costs so much.

On a blisteringly hot August afternoon, said coach opts to use the offside lane of the A41 and hits my car from the side.

The lucky thing is that only my wing mirror is damaged, though the cat, imprisoned in a basket on the passenger seat, seems a bit miffed at the delay as the coach driver and I stop to exchange details.

cat in travel basket

It seems pretty clear-cut. The other guy has wandered far enough into my lane to break something off my car.

Yet this minor damage then takes three months to sort out.

The driver tells me he works for United Busways. That’s the first problem, because he doesn’t. He used to work for them, but, after a couple of phone calls, I learn he’s now with National Express, despite what it said on his bus.

back view of coach

I can only find 0871 phone numbers for National Express, but, after one long expensive call, someone refers me to a depot in Hertfordshire. Two more calls later, nobody seems that interested, though one of the people I speak to lets slip the name of the bus company’s insurer, Gallagher Bassett.

Now I am on to something. I speak to Gallagher Bassett and learn that the driver has logged a report of the accident. There will be CCTV footage too, to be examined in the next few days.

I have spent over an hour on the phone to six different people, but it sounds like a resolution is in sight.

But I was wrong. If you want to cut to the chase, it’s in bold near the bottom of this post.

Someone from a branch of theirs called CAA promises to arrange an inspection at a time convenient to me.  “It’s only a wing mirror,” I say, and offer to email a photo of the damage, but apparently an engineer must inspect it in person.

Nothing happens. Six days later, I chase the insurance company. Apologies for the delay and all that, they say. There’s no sign of the CCTV yet, so they will chase the bus company as well as CAA and get back to me.

That’s another 15 minutes on the phone.

Rebecca from CAA does get in touch, and tells me that someone from Hoopers Engineers in Liverpool will come to inspect my car. “It’s only a wing mirror,” I point out again.

VW Golf wing mirror

Michelle from Hoopers does arrange an inspection, which isn’t ideal as I end up missing a lunch appointment, but I want my new wing mirror sometime soon.

The engineer from Hoopers spends around 20 minutes or more studying my car thoroughly, including its mileage, chassis number, and the height of the mirror above the ground.

The days later still nothing, so I ring the insurer. The next half a dozen phone calls over a period of a few weeks are much the same and by now I know the claims reference number by heart. Yes, the CCTV footage still is awaited. They will chase the bus company again. Yes it can take a while, but no, it doesn’t usually take this long. They’ll contact them today and get back to me.

On September 22, six weeks from the accident, there is a breakthrough. I’m told the CCTV is “being sent out” and would I please give them a couple more days. One detail bothers me. Aren’t all video recordings digitized?  Apparently not.

A week later, still nothing. Four further calls in the next week or so establish that the CCTV recording failed. It was never “being sent out.” However, on the basis that the damage was not substantial, the insurance company offers to settle the claim.

I can confirm that as a result of the failed CCTV we would be happy to settle your claim on a Without Prejudice Basis as per our repair team CAA’s quoted estimate of £360.”  

I still have to go through their approved repairer rather than my local VW garage which happens to be within walking distance, but no matter. No further estimate will be needed, and I will soon be driving around with a mirror that isn’t held on with parcel tape.

wing mirror held on with parcel tape

Unfortunately the approved repairer insists on drawing up their own estimate anyway, despite the previous estimate and my mantra “It’s only a wing mirror.”

It takes two goes to get the estimator here, then he doesn’t turn up when he said he would because he has a hospital appointment that morning.  When he finally arrives in the afternoon, he studies the car and the chassis number again.

The repair is booked for November 5. I consider setting off fireworks to celebrate.

About two hours after the appointed time on the day, Matt from Fix Auto arrives to collect my car. I had imagined two guys in a car, one of whom would drive my car back to the garage.

This is what Matt shows up in, complete with flashing lights.

recovery vehicle

It seems a bit over-the-top. As I point out to Matt, it is only a wing mirror.

My car did not return the same day as promised, but the next day, again with Matt and his recovery vehicle.

To sum up, getting the broken wing mirror replaced took twelve weeks and cost around £250 for the repair, plus 24 phone calls, two estimates, and two trips in a recovery truck. If you assume that each call costs a modest £25 for each of the participants in the call, the estimators’ visits come in at £100 each, and the recovery truck costs £80 per round trip, it comes to a total of over £1,800. That’s a very restrained guesstimate and the true cost could be much higher because there are so many different people who add little value but still cost money.  

It was only a frigging wing mirror!   Just imagine the figures had whiplash or another injury been part of the claim.

But the madness doesn’t stop there. Driver Matt told me that a coach had hit him on the way over to me, damaging the side of his truck…

Wonder why I pursued this claim myself? It’s because when my previous car was broken into, the insurance company insisted on recording it as ‘your accident.’ I tried explaining that I wasn’t even there at the time, that a petty thief who breaks into a locked garage and then smashes a windscreen doesn’t do this accidentally. It is pretty much on purpose, I’d say. But I used the company to make a claim, so they recorded it as my accident. Besides, I thought this claim would be easy to sort out. After all, only a bloody wing mirror.

But a very expensive one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Holiday Home for the Cat

Moving house is a real performance. Just ask my cat.

Even if your heart isn’t set on a pad with an eye-watering price tag, like London’s Princes Gate or the Bishops Avenue aka Billionaires’ Row, it’s a major expense, and that’s before stamp duty. There are also surveys to arrange, solicitors to pay, and a mortgage to sort out. Get ready too for the gazumping, gazundering and chains which make the property game an expensive version of snakes and ladders.

cats have no such worries

Cats have no such worries. All Mishmish had to do was let herself be transported to a weekend retreat.  “We’re going on a mini-break,” I tell Mishmish. She takes this announcement in her stride.

checking the cat basket

The weekend starts well because she loves her basket. This always surprises me, considering it’s only used for transporting her to the vet and back. Maybe it’s the ‘and back’ bit she remembers best.

The journey itself is no trouble, though it’s hard for the humans to squeeze into a car packed to the gunwales. It’s all very reminiscent of trips with my three children when they were young. Only in this case there are two cat trays, a favourite water bowl, the special cat food, her favourite toys, and of course The Blanket.

Not that anyone would call it a blanket now. You can always tell who has cats. Their blankets look like towels and their towels look like knitting mistakes, says the author of How to Live with a Calculating Cat. This little book has been making people laugh since 1962 because it’s so damn true.

Anyway, on arrival Mishmish bolts out of the basket and heads under the IKEA sofa. There she stays, oblivious of efforts to coax her out.

cat under the IKEA sofa

Husband and I put out food, water, toys, The Blanket, even a welcoming sign.

I love my cat

We talk to her in a silly voice. She sits there watching us make idiots of ourselves.

After a few hours our knees hurt and I wonder if she’ll be there until the sofa self-destructs. This could take a while. Many people I know have an Ektorp sofa and it lasts years, sometimes decades. As reliable as a Volvo, though without ABS brakes.

We tell each other that you can’t make a cat do something. You can only make a cat want to do something.

Actually, scratch that. If your cat doesn’t want to do something, it’s never going to happen.

Cats are highly territorial, but my first ginger cat was far more adaptable. Bananas went places. As a student, I’d take her from London to Brighton and back. When I was a junior doctor, I’d often have to spend 80 hours at the hospital, so I’d take her with me to my on call room if nobody else could look after her.

But I have to accept Mishmish is different. She’s a homebody. And now she’s turning a couch potato.

Over the course of the weekend, she doesn’t venture out, not even to use the tray placed about 5 feet away. I get that. If there are predators around, a fresh deposit will give away your presence faster than a big brass plate on the door. But still.

So after 24 hours we go home, with Mishmish having seen no more than the underside of the Ektorp sofa.

Back and seat frame: fibreboard, moisture-resistant particleboard, plywood, solid pine, polyurethane foam 20 kg/cubic metre.
Cover: 100% cotton. Machine wash, warm 40°C.

IKEA Ektorp 2-seater sofa

We try again two weeks later. It begins exactly the same way, with Mishmish heading straight for the sofa to complete her PhD in furniture construction. All I can hope for was that she might graduate to an armchair for her post-doctoral research.

The breakthrough comes on Sunday around 2 a.m. This, I can only assume, is the moment she realises she isn’t going to be mauled by a lion, and the ceiling won’t cave in if she emerges from her shelter.

Her eyes are wide. There are loads of new crannies to investigate and new places to play.

nooks and crannies

“Cupboards! Wow! This one must be mine.”

cupboard

“Ooh, windows!”

window on the world

“And what’s this? Instead of wooden flooring there are carpets! That means the whole house is a scratching pole. “

carpets on the stairs

We’re kind of sleepy but this cat, having conserved her energies, is ready for action.

Pets depend on us, but they’re not children. Still, I get a warm glow now I see Mishmish likes it here. And it thrills me that she’s now eating and drinking.

Over the next few hours she uses both trays, sending the cat litter flying. I’m grinning from ear to ear with pride. Was I this delighted when my kids first used their potties and upturned them over each other? I’m really not sure, because my eyelids are drooping and I’m done in. Must repair to the sofa for a rest.

On top of it, not underneath.

IKEA Ektorp sofa again

The Top 5 Things I Learned this Week

You’re never too old, right? This week I found myself on a steep part of the learning curve, and began to wish I had crampons to stop me falling off. Here’s what I learned.

1 It’s entirely possible to tell the difference between hairspray and other kinds of spray, but – here’s the tricky bit – I have to remember to look first.

Scholl odour control

Still, I had the reassurance of knowing that my hair wouldn’t smell like mouldy trainers.

2 ‘Loading’ does not have a strict definition set out in legislation. If you think stopping to pick an order from a shop constitutes loading, then be prepared to argue your case. The general interpretation is that loading/unloading should be in the nature of a collection/delivery.  It does not include parking in the loading bay while shopping or, if you’re feeling peckish, visiting McDonalds.

stopped in a loading bay

If you too are just getting to grips with that little lesson, you may like to check out Ticket fighter. 

3 There is only one correct way to offer a horse a lump of sugar. FYI it is not by holding the sugar cube in your fingers. 

horses in the field

If the first one doesn’t bite your fingers off, the second one probably will. 

4 Although drinking alcohol on London’s underground system has been forbidden since 1st June 2008, it doesn’t mean the guy swilling Special Brew on the Jubilee Line will thank you for pointing that out to him, especially if he has a fuck-off haircut and a nasty glint in his one good eye.  No, not even when you explain you’re only trying to spare him a hefty fine.

Special Brew

On the other hand, you may qualify for a discounted coffee at London Bridge station (wonder if there’s a sliding scale of discounts depending on the location of the injury?).   

Been to Guys Hospital

5 Letting a child with a cold kiss you is a really bad idea. I’d show you the end result, but it proved far too gruesome for a photo.  

You know what really worries me? The week isn’t over yet.

A Little Road Trip

This will be short as I’m going away for a few days with one or two old school friends. By which of course I’m saying that I’ve known them a long time. What else could it possibly mean?

It could be a navigational challenge, so I’m taking this.

map of Italy

And these, obviously.

magnifier and glasses

I don’t trust sat nav, not after it dumped me the wrong way on a dual carriage-way. I’m sure we’ll be fine. Don’t you agree?  If all else fails, I can rely on this to call someone.  

BlackBerry

Especially if I charge it this time.

And we’re taking this, because it’s not a proper trip to Italy without Eros Ramazzotti. Particularly when you’re stuck on the side of the wrong road with a flat tyre.

Eros Ramazzotti

Arrivederci a presto!