Category Archives: Health

Alcohol-related websites

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So I haven’t been getting out much with the camera lately unless I manage to clear out of Dodge completely for a few days, as I have been very busy, especially in work.

One of the main reasons for this has been due to managing a project to redevelop Alcohol Action Ireland’s website and to develop a new website, DrinkHelp.ie, as well as establishing a social media presence for both sites.

It’s been a very interesting project and it it at all went “live” earlier today, which is great! The usual teething problems need to be sorted, but they will be. I hope people find the new sites useful and engaging.

As many of you kindly helped me out back at the planning stages by filling in a survey I put up here, I said I would let you see how it all turned out, but I am keeping this post brief as the sites should speak for themselves – if they don’t I’m in trouble!

Feedback, as ever, is welcome!  Oh and normal photographic programming will resume shortly!

Alcohol Action Ireland and its Facebook page

DrinkHelp and its Facebook page

Images from the First European Alcohol Policy Youth Conference at Bled, Slovenia

To download any of these images just click on it for the large file and then right click and save.

Pauline’s story

“In his day he had jet black curly hair and he had beautiful eyes, real chocolate-brown eyes”.

Real stories by real people make for engaging campaigns.

You can have all the statistics, experts and cartoon characters you want, but for an awareness campaign nothing comes close to the power of personal testimony.

I don’t mean the infomercial and Internet creations that we are all now programmed to tune out, along with most of the other rubbish that’s pushed relentlessly at us through various communications channels all day long.

I mean genuine and sincere testimony, one that people can connect with or – better again – can’t help connecting with, on an emotional level.

This rule applies to all organisations, from companies to NGOs, but is routinely ignored in favour of gimmicks.

People will always listen to other people first, as long as they are real people with real stories. It’s that simple. Some key communications rules are no different for social media or newspapers than they are for television or radio.

Pauline Bell, who lives in Piercestown, Wexford, tells her story, and that of her husband George, in a moving new ad for a HSE campaign to encourage people to quit smoking.

The QUIT campaign focuses on one key fact: 1 in every 2 smokers will die of a tobacco related disease. but crucially it uses real people, the words of those left behind, to bring that fact to life.

“Evidence from all over the world has shown the impact that real-life, personal stories, like Pauline and George’s, can have on smokers’ drive to quit,” said Dr Fenton Howell from the HSE, correctly diagnosing the problem with many other campaigns.

There are, of course, lots of other ways to engage people, like giving them something to enjoy, as I have discussed here, but for awareness campaigns specifically none of them pack the same punch as personal testimony.

Pauline’s honesty, love for her husband and heartbreak are palpable in the three-minute video above.

In the well shot video, the loneliness of life without George is clearly reflected, not just by her words, but by the emptiness and quietness of her home, where her husband once used to sit watching Bond films or listening to Christy Moore songs while doing the ironing.

George, a heavy smoker, was just 48 years old when he died from a heart attack while they were enjoying a holiday in Alicante just over three years ago, leaving behind not just Pauline, but their children Darragh and Rachel.

I don’t smoke, but if I did this video would give me serious pause for thought.

I spoke to Pauline earlier today and she told me she was approached the HSE to participate in the campaign after she joined their Facebook page aimed at people trying to quit smoking, currently approaching 14,000 “likes”.

Pauline said she only smoked about 20 cigarettes a week before George died. He was the much heavier smoker out of the two of them.

However, following his death she began smoking more heavily, despite the fact that this was precisely what led to him being taken from her far too early.

Grief and logic are strange bedfellows.

“I started smoking more after he died than I did before. it’s not good enough for me to say that, but for the first year I was in no man’s land, I was just about functioning,” said Pauline.

However, she said it eventually dawned on her that she had started smoking heavily and for the sake of her own health and her children she sought help to quit the habit, joining the HSE’s Facebook page for support.

“I found it was a great help, talking to other people in a similar position. I was talking to people about George too. Quitting smoking is a hard thing to do, even after a death in the family. It’s been a struggle but I’m getting there,” she said.

Click here for further info on the campaign.

10 things I like about Dublin Bikes

  1. Not driving. Driving in a big city is generally a pain. Dublin is no exception. Parking can also be hard to find and expensive. Cycling is easier, often quicker and altogether better for your mental health. Incidents of cycle rage are few and far between and statistics (that I don’t have to hand right now) have also proved conclusively that errant, frustrated motorists are to blame for 88.2% of them. Potholes account for the other 11.8 per  cent.
  2. Baskets. They may not be (okay, they are definitely not) macho, but they sure are handy! There was a time in this country when a man could have a basket on his bike for carrying essential goods (e.g. the turf he had just cut or his pet Collie) and not be judged unfavourably for it. Dublin Bikes are helping men to break down the sexist bicycle barriers that have been thrown up in front of men in recent years, as well as helping us transport essential goods (e.g. baguettes and flowers) and avoid the sweaty backs caused by manly, load-bearing backpacks… or accidents caused by getting our man bags caught in the pedals. Okay, so maybe things have changed a little since baskets were last butch in Ireland.
  3. Exercise. No need to labour this point. Cycling is good for your health, there’s no impact on your joints and if it’s a nice day in Dublin you can pedal for a very long time without even noticing – it’s a pleasure, not an effort.
  4. Low expectations not being met. I remember clearly when this scheme was first mooted, and later introduced, there were plenty of sage warnings about what a savage people we are and how these bikes would quickly be second only to traffic bollards in terms of canal dwellers. We weren’t ready for this namby pamby European carry on we were told and the bikes would be quickly wiped out in a spate of thefts and vandalism. But, it turns out we’re not all hell bent on anti social behaviour and given a good public service the citizens of Dublin (drum roll please…) simply used it. In great numbers. Shocking, really. We are now closing in on a total of 2.5 million journeys on Dublin Bikes since the scheme opened in September 2009. I’m sure there have been some incidents where bikes haven’t fared too well, as one would expect in all major European cities with such schemes, but I still haven’t seen one swimming with the bollards and I see a lot of the Grand Canal these days.
  5. Cheap. They wouldn’t be so well respected or used if they were expensive, but crucially they aren’t. The three-day ticket is €2. The year long subscription is €10. All journeys under half an hour are free. The average journey time for a Dublin Bike is 13 minutes so clearly the vast majority of subscribers are not spending anything bar the signing up fees, which are pretty good by any standards. If you go past half an hour you are charged on a rising scale (50 cents for an hour, €1.50 for two hours etc), but if you don’t want to do that you can always stop back at a station before the half hour mark, put your bike back, wait a minute and take it (or another bike) back out. If you attempt this thrifty practice just be sure there are enough bikes there to pull it off! With Dublin Bikes you also save money on fuel for your car, parking, public transport and taxis. That means more baguettes and flowers.
  6. Sturdy. I like the bikes. I have had some enjoyable journeys around the city recently on my trusty three-speed steed. These have varied from leisurely jaunts with my better half to simply getting to where I need to go in a timely and hassle-free fashion. The bikes are easy to handle and sturdy too, following the same successful model as pretty much all city bikes, with the usual features you’d expect, from the comfy saddle to the handy lock. They are suitable for all shapes and sizes and seem to be maintained quite well too.
  7. The wind in my hair. Cycling is fun! Not so much when it rains, but otherwise it is fun and there’s pretty easygoing terrain in Dublin too. As long as you’re careful in traffic, cycling is also a great way to discover a city, not just getting from A to B. In a car you are severely limited in terms of where you can go, stop and what you can see, never mind the characters you might meet! If you’re like me – structure is your enemy and whims beg to be indulged – than cars are out for exploring. Walking is great, but the one drawback there is there’s only so much ground you can cover and it’s generally more tiring. Sometimes cycling is the happy medium. Funnily enough, even though they say we never forget how to ride a bike, a lot of us forget why we ever wanted to in the first place. Rediscover the joy!
  8. Going green. We’re going to run out fossil fuels at some point, right? You may as well get with the programme now. Plus all the positive effects of cycling on your physical and mental health can be augmented by that smug feeling you get from the FACT! that you are saving the world with every rotation of your pedals. And however bad your emissions may be, they pale in comparison to the damage to the environment that the cars flying by you are doing.
  9. Cycling community. The Dublin Bikes have been a real shot in the arm for the much maligned cycling community. This once marginalised bunch of seemingly kamikaze Stephen Roche fans and hippies have seen their numbers swell in recent years thanks to both this scheme and the Bike to Work scheme, which has seen a great surge in people buying their own bikes. The cantankerous Irish weather notwithstanding, there just seems to be more and more people cycling in the capital every week and motorists (despite my sideswipe at them in no 1) are now well used to them and (the vast majority) treat cyclists with the respect they deserve. That’s certainly been my overwhelming experience at least. Plus, for the cycling community, with greater numbers comes greater legitimacy, lobbying power and, hopefully, facilities. The Dublin Bike scheme has almost 60,000 members, and about two thirds of those (including yours truly) have taken out a year long membership. The great thing about the bikes is that you can clearly see in Dublin now that men and women of all ages, classes and creeds are using them. Making it not just one of the city’s most effective public services, but one of its most inclusive too. It’s also great for our visitors and boosts our tourism offering. More cyclists also just make the city feel like a more social place for me too.
  10. Plans for expansion. There are 550 Dublin Bikes operating from 44 stations in the city. They are increasingly well used. There was a new record set for daily journeys on July 13. 6,280 journeys were undertaken on Dublin Bikes that day, compared to 6.043 on April 15, the previous benchmark. When I was staying in Dublin for a week recently I cycled to my course and back every day, but I used to walk (the indignity of it!) past two empty stations (Charlemont and Portobello) every morning, hoping there would be one left at Grantham Street. Thankfully, there was always at least one. On a sunny day available bikes can be as rare as hen’s teeth. There is also the issue of all the current stations being too close to the city centre for many. To address both these issues Dublin City Council is planning to increase the fleet almost tenfold, so there will eventually be around 300 stations and 5,000 bikes – out as far as DCU to the north of the city, UCD to the south, Inchicore to the west and Sandymount to the east. Progress has been relatively slow so far, but I’m sure they’ll continue to do their best give the people what they obviously want.

Baring all and risking all for charity

I have spoken to two Wexford people in recent days whose charitable endeavours have involved taking to the sea and both of them had interesting stories to tell.

One of these people, 74-year-old Olive Vaughan from Kilrane, shed her inhibitions and her clothes in aid of cancer research.

Olive took part in the “Dip in the Nip” in Sligo last weekend and had a wonderful time. She went there with her brother Cyril and his wife Maureen, who is currently recovering from cancer.

All three took part in the mass skinny dip and their unusual choice of headwear meant they were able to pick their derrieres out of the many that appeared in the photos in the national newspapers today!

You can read all about how Olive got on (and see some cheeky photos) in the Wexford People on Wednesday, where you’ll also find the story of Pat Whitney (see below), who should have worn a bit more when he entered the water in Curracloe recently.

Pat will turn 60 soon, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down and the end of his cycling career last year has seen him switch his considerable energy and attention to open water swimming.

If you are partial to a dip yourself then please support Pat’s swim in aid of the Tracie Lawlor Turst for Cystic Fibrosis at Curracloe next Saturday. I’ve been in there a couple of times myself recently and it’s not that cold, though if you’re staying in for a while wear a wetsuit!

And you thought “golf widows” had it bad…

BADLY disorientated with hypothermia, Pat Whitney heard a familiar voice on the other end of the line when he dialled 999 from Curracloe recently.

Most people would have thought they were hallucinating in the same scenario, but then most people are not married to Ambulance Control Centre workers.

The Enniscorthy man’s wife Marie picked up the phone and couldn’t make much sense of what her husband was saying on the of the line, but she deciphered enough to get an ambulance out to him quickly.

The 59-year-old’s body temperature had dropped to a dangerously low 32 degrees after he had discarded his wetsuit in favour of his togs and went for a long open-sea swim in choppy water.

‘I felt as if I was drunk,’ recalled Pat. He said he got ‘a bad dose’ of hypothermia and was approaching a point where heart failure or slipping into a coma becomes a danger.

He said he was so disorientated it took him half an hour to get from the water to his car and in the meantime he was exposed to a harsh north easterly wind.

He recalled tha he met another man while he was out swimming (from Ballinesker to Curracloe and back) and he had told Pat he must be ‘hardy’ for swimming without a wetsuit. Apparently that’s not quite how Marie sees it!

He was back swimming in a few days and the incident hasn’t put Pat off his newfound passion, after he was forced to give up his first sporting love, cycling, last year.

‘I had to put the bike away last year. Both knees were gone after 35 years of racing and falls,’ said Pat, joking that he and Marie have spent much of their marriage in A&E due to his sporting interests.

To keep fit he took up swimming and quickly developed a love for sea or open water swimming. ‘I’m not waving the white flag just yet,’ said Pat, when asked about his ambitious plans for the coming months as he prepares to turn 60.

First on the agenda is a charity swim he has organised in Curracloe, which will take place on Saturday, July 2 (three weeks before his 60th birthday) at 5 p.m.

Pat has organised the swim as a precursor to, and fundraiser for, a sponsored swim he is doing in aid of the Tracie Lawlor Trust for Cystic Fibrosis next September, when he will be one of a group from Co Wexford who will swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

Registration for the Curracloe swim next Saturday will take place at The Winning Post in the main car park. There is a short swim and a long swim. The long swim is approximately one mile the short swim is as long as you are able for or comfortable with.

The entry fee is €25, which includes refreshments in Hotel Curracloe, who are sponsoring the event, after the swim.

Not content with the San Francisco swim, Pat is also hoping to mark his 60th birthday by being part of a team to swim the English Channel.

To qualify as a member of this team he will have to complete a two-mile open water swim – without a wetsuit – in Kinsale, Co Cork, on Saturday July 9. Although he said he’s not faring too bad – those hoping to swim solo across the channel have to complete six hours.

In the meantime, Pat is continuing his training in earnest and when she can Marie now walks along the shore to keep an eye on him!

Contact Pat on 086-8172231 or Ian Lawlor on 087-2696983 for an entry form or further details about next Saturday’s charity swim in Curracloe.

Registration forms can also be downloaded here.