Martyn Hooper MBE – Chair of the PAS

~ The Chair’s Blog ~

Four Cards; Four Letters

by | Sep 19, 2019 | 0 comments

September 3rd, 1959. I was one of 289,242 babies born on that Thursday. Apart from me being born, nothing much happened on that day.
I was the second child, my sister having been born eighteen months before, though my mother had given birth to a still born a few years before, and she had miscarried several times before that.
So, I was born sixty years ago and suddenly the world was a more beautiful place.

In the early eighties I shared a house with two girls – well, not exactly girls but young women of my age. I kept up my friendship with one of them who, on my fortieth birthday observed that, when you reach those milestone anniversaries, you tend to wish that you were ten years younger.
“When you are forty you will wish that you were thirty”, she prophesised, “and when you are fifty you will wish you were forty and …..” well, you get the gist.

Four cards, two up

And so, a week or so ago I reached the magical milestone of being 60 (and I wished I was fifty again).
I got up, went downstairs and there on the mantlepiece were four cards. Now, we don’t (yet) have a real fire – the fireplace houses one of the replica electric fires that tries its best to be a real fire but, despite wanting to believe its pretentions, doesn’t really cut the mustard, though we do have a mantlepiece on which the four cards were stood.
One was from my mother and father-in-law. It was from the both of them though it was really from my mother in law. It contained a syrupy card and £20. Last year, she had given me two cards (I don’t know either) but this year there was only one. The second card was from one of the members of the PA Society who I had been gracious enough to produce the design for the cover of my next book (more of that later), and the third was from another member and volunteer of the society. I would add at this point that neither contained any money. The fourth was from Charley’s owner. Charley is a Cavapoo dog who looks exactly like Waffle the Wonder Dog. Charley’s owner lives opposite us and is unable to take him for walks due to her undergoing a hip replacement operation that didn’t go terribly well. We, that’s wiffy and me, take Charley for an hour walk every day.
There was no card from Wiffy – we don’t do that sort of thing.
Four cards, two up on last year.

Mixed bag

Next – the postman. He delivered later in the morning. Now, I could go on to lament the decline of the UK’s postal service and reminisce how, when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I used to get my birthday cards before I went to school, and how we used to get two deliveries of mail every morning; but I won’t.
So, four letters were addressed to me – on my birthday. And what a mixed bag they turned out to be.

Letter One: from the Department of Work and Pensions. My appeal against the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment that had stated I had no ‘Mobility needs’ (based on the fact that I can write books – I know) had been successful and that I had been awarded the ‘mobility allowance’ albeit at the ‘standard rate’ – which meant I didn’t qualify for a Motability car. The car will have to go. Victory then – but a slightly hollow one.

Letter Two. On November the 3rd I will have been driving for 42 years – it was on that date that I passed my driving test, on the third attempt if you must know. And here, in my hands, was my first, the first note you, notice of a driving infringement. They caught me doing 60 in that variable speed part of the M4 just outside Newport. I had changed the cruise control from 70 to 50 but my car was still decelerating by the time I had passed the camera – I know, I should have used the brakes. I wonder how many others were caught? Now I have to go on a Motorway Driving Course to prevent me from having points put on my licence.

Letter Three. My Bus Pass. I applied for this a few weeks ago and the Welsh Government have provided me with a free Bus Pass which means I can travel anywhere within the wonderful Principality of Wales for free. And, I can even travel on certain trains for free, including the journey from Swansea to Shrewsbury. Why would I want to travel from Swansea to Shrewsbury? Because the journey is the ‘Heart of Wales Line’ – one of the most idyllic and beautiful train journeys in the world, (it’s pencilled in for October).

On account of my age

And, so, we come to Letter Number Four. Notification that I am being invited to participate in a Bowel Cancer Programme on account of my age. The letter stated that, because I had reached this wonderful milestone of 60 years, I was at risk of developing Bowel Cancer and that if I participated in the programme any problems could be detected early and I would stand a good chance of surviving this awful disease (they didn’t say awful disease but I got their point). Now, of all of the four letters this one deserved a comment to wiffy.
“I’ve been invited to take part in a bowel cancer detection programme on account of my age” I told her. No comment.
I was left to re-read the letter. How brilliant was that. Somebody, I know not who but suspect one of those doctor people, had identified that I stood an increased risk of developing bowel cancer and that, by screening, they could identify early on any potential problems. This was brilliant! Someone was willing to take a look at my poo to find out if I was at risk, they would intervene, and I would go on to reach my 70th birthday and wish I was still 60. Absolutely wonderful – doesn’t cost me a penny and out of the four letters, even better than the Heart of Wales Line invite, it was my bestest birthday present; not that I had much to compare it with.


And this led me to ponder why people are not ‘screened’ for other things – you know where this is going – such as B12 Deficiency? The answer is quite simple. To get the population screened for diseases is tricky because nobody would know where to draw the line. Should the general population be screened for every disease or deficiency? We would spend our lives giving samples of whatever and it would require an army of people to carry out the screening. The fact that I am being screened for Bowel Cancer on account of my age is only because someone, or rather a group of people has pushed for years, probably decades, to convince those that make these kinds of decisions that it would be worthwhile, not only in terms of population health to screen for early bowel cancer but also it would save money in the long term. I dread to think how many obstacles they had overcome to eventually convince those who make these decisions that screening for bowel cancer would be a good thing, but thank you for persevering.
Today, just over a week since that notification that I would be receiving an invite, my sample pack has arrived. And tomorrow, well, tomorrow I will be happy to take part in the screening process – I’m sixty you see.

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