Saturday, February 28, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 41

The weather is not too bad today, so after getting some groceries I go by bike to the market in a neighbouring town. Actually it is one conurbation, so it is hardly noticeable that I go from one community to the next. Voorburg has a lively Saturday market and a very pleasant shopping street, so it is nice to go there.

In the evening Esther comes over for a cup of coffee and she brings a treat: Bossche bollen! Yummy!

We look at some excursions and some more plays that we want to see and we decide when we will do what.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 40

During the morning and afternoon nothing special happens other than that I receive a phone call about one of the organisations I am active in. There are problems and my opinion is asked about how to solve them. This gives me some food for thought for the weekend.

This is the day when Esther and I go to see the play recently written and performed by an older actor (in his mid seventies). Before we go there we have a leisurely meal in town, around the corner from the theatre.

The senior actor and the other main character, who is only slightly younger, do a marvellous job.

The actor in the play is (like in the actor’s real life) a famous actor who has played all the important roles in the well known repertory but now he is worrying about his forgetfulness. In the play we learn that he has led a rather wild life, his daughter has had a very rough time with her bohemian parents. Her mother now has Alzheimer’s disease and she must take care of her, which drives her crazy. She has also become an actor, but not a very good one in her father’s opinion. The second main character has also been an actor (in reality and in the play), but in the play he was not good enough to remain an actor so he became a prompter. Due to modern techniques prompters are no longer needed, so he feels like a misfit. In the dialogues there is a lot about the changes in the world of the theatre. Prompters are said to be better and cheaper than the new technical devices. The end of the play is quite surprising! In the hall of the theatre there is a display of pictures and photographs made by the two senior actors, which are quite good!

Don’t tell me that older people are not creative!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 39

I do find the information about buurtservices and this is exactly what is lacking when there is only buurtzorg, but buurtservices have not yet been established in our neighbourhood.

There is little to tell about the rest of the day. I do some desk work, go out for a walk, watch TV and read the newspaper. The only interesting thing is that I receive an invitation for a seminar on older volunteers which will take place in Brussels and is organised by the European Commission.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 38

Today we meet again with the neighbourhood group. We have noticed that “buurtzorg” (neighbourhood care) has had quite a bit of publicity since our last meeting. We all hope it will grow quickly, because we believe this is the right formula: both the clients and the nurses are much more satisfied with this kind of care and it is not more expensive but rather cheaper than the extremely rationalised care given by very large bureaucratic but commercial home care organisations.

We also have heard that Mea Vita will go bankrupt, but that its work will be taken over by two other organisations, one a cleaning firm that will do the house work (so this is no longer considered as a social service) and another organisation that will do the rest of the work of Mea Vita.

Some of us come up with new stories of older people having been discharged from hospital and sent home without any help.

We don’t think that there is much more to do for us to promote the work of buurtzorg than to have it mentioned in publications of the church and the neighbourhood association and to inform the committee on the elderly of the neighbourhood association.

Some of us have more information about what is going on in our neighbourhood. It seems that the municipality is organising a meeting beginning March to hear the views of the inhabitants in our part of town about wellbeing, in its broadest sense: it seems to cover almost everything: work, income, education, health, “liveability” (I am sorry I cannot explain this term), care and recreation. Only one of us has received the invitation, which is amazing. Those of us who can attend will do so. We discuss whether there are urgent issues to bring forward in the meeting and we decide that one of the great shortcomings in care is that the whole structure of everything that has been organised in this sector is so complicated that it is nearly impossible to find your way in it. Older people who need help do not know where to find it. The different agencies, involved in supporting older people are so many that it takes almost a professional to arrange for a care package that satisfies all the needs of a dependent person. The problem is that many older people, once they need help, are too weak and not sufficiently assertive to go and seek in the maze of care organisations the services they need and to convince the agencies that they need them now. In our neighbourhood there are many older people living alone who do not have children or younger relatives or friends who can do this for them, because many live quite isolated. Aren’t there really any agencies which can do this for them? It is amazing how many agencies we know between the five of us, each doing something, but, as far as we know there is no agency that is able to help individuals get the care they need and to monitor its adequacy over time. So this is one of the issues we will bring forward in this meeting. We also regret that we do not have an easily accessible community centre that is open all the time and where you can go for a cup of coffee, where you find information about activities in the neighbourhood and the city and where groups can meet. There is one, small accommodation of the neighbourhood association, but it let a lot of the time and it is not a centre where one can just drop in. Another issue is that public transportation leaves a lot to be desired.

When I get home I hear on the radio that there has been a terrible plane crash near Amsterdam. Nine people have died and many have been wounded. It is unclear what has caused the crash, but the news on radio and TV is mostly about the crash all day long.

In the afternoon I call the civil servant who organises the meeting in our neighbourhood, telling him that I want to attend. It is a strange conversation. He wants the addresses of the people of our small group, but even if I tell him, that the invitation has been copied so we all have it, he keeps repeating this question. He also does not seem to realise that not yet everyone in the city has internet. After a while he calls me back (unexpectedly and without mentioning his name), saying he was not at his desk during the earlier phone call, but he has returned to his desk, so he can better answer me now. We repeat the same conversation once more, but finally I gather there are more papers than what I have seen and he will forward these to me. The municipality has sent the invitations only to the people whose names are known to them as people involved in some activities. Strange criterion!

In the evening I read in the national newspaper another article about buurtzorg and the news that there is a similar organisation (buurtservices) now for home help on a neighbourhood scale. There are several pilots in The Netherlands, but not yet in The Hague. I will have to go to the internet and find out what he state of affairs is.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 37

Today is the third of a series of four lectures organised by the contact group 55+ of the neighborhood I live in. The contact group is part of the neighborhood association.

The lecture is given by a very nice art historian, who shows us many paintings on power point. The subject today is portraits. She is very enthusiastic and has given courses for the contact group for many years. This is the second time I have taken a course. I never did very much with the contact group 55+ because I suspected that most members would be very much older than 55. When I turned 70 I thought the time had come to take part in some activities. Indeed, I am still one of the younger participants if not the youngest.

The teacher begins by saying a few words about Speedwell. Speedwell is a firm which organises day trips in The Netherlands and longer trips abroad and it has very recently announced its merger with a bus company. Esther has also told me about it. I have joined Esther a few times on day trips and they were not only very well organised and interesting, the bus drivers were also more than helpful for the passengers, most of whom were older and quite often some of them had to use walking aids, which they were bringing on the trip.

After the merger there will be no more day trips. Obviously a lot of older people regret this and our course leader, who has often accompanied Speedwell’s day trips to museums, also regrets it. She has her own business and organises trips abroad, but she is not sure she would like to take over the day trips and organise them herself. We will have to wait and see what happens.

The same day I receive the programme with the activities for the coming month of the contact group 55+. They are in a fix: they have vacancies on the organising committee, one of the members has made a bad fall and is in hospital and another is in the process of moving house. There is hardly anyone left to run the group.

I have also noticed that the association of inhabitants (an association which organises activities in our neighborhood and negotiates among others with local government about plans and developments for our neighborhood) have trouble finding members for their board. Such organisations are very useful, but it is difficult to find people who are willing to run them. It is voluntary work, but it can be quite demanding. People who serve on the board must be able to discuss the plans with the experts and politicians on the level of these professionals and therefore need a certain degree of expertise. We have plenty of capable people in this neighborhood but for some reason or other they don’t volunteer for the association of inhabitants nor for the contact group.

Today the Minister of Social Affairs announces that he suggests to the social partners (i.e. the employers organisations and the trade unions) not to increase the wages in the coming year. The trade unions immediately react saying this is unacceptable. I am a bit surprised. If there are no pay rises, the prices will not go up either (inflation is already decreasing) and then it won’t hurt to keep wages and pensions at the present level.

Obviously the idea of growth is now so ingrained, that it is unconceivable to live without increasing wealth. Is it because I have lived through World War II and have known times of scarcity, that I think there is nothing against stopping growth for a while? What is needed is a better sharing of wealth. Some people are too rich, whereas others still live in poverty.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 36

On the news I hear that the organisations of older people have a meeting with the Minister of Social Affairs today. They tell him they do not agree with the proposal that pensions will be frozen for five years. They also mention that the costs of care are rising fast, which also affects older people more than any other age group. The Minister does not make any promises, he only agrees to propose that the government should pay special attention to the incomes of older people.

I spend most of the day at my computer, reading e-mails and newsletters and doing some work for one of my secretariats.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 35

It is again a grey day, but it does not rain so Martje and I decide we will go out for a hike today. Martje comes and picks me up and we go to the dunes not far from where I live.

We have a nice and long walk, and we take a route that I cannot remember having walked ever before. By the time we get back to the car it begins to rain. Weren’t we lucky?

At home I decide to finish my preparations for the tax return and to do some more administration. Tigger discovers that I have put a folder on the floor. He thinks this folder, which has an elastic band to keep it together, is a nice toy. He is not yet four years old and likes to play. I do not always appreciate his efforts to use my pens, pencils, papers, erasers and whatever else he finds on my desk or table as a toy, but he seems to like these better than a toy, which I made for him. He knows how to draw my attention and once he has decided he wants to eat, he does not stop bothering me until I have given him something. I am afraid I used the wrong pedagogic, or rather cat-agogic. That is because of Janus, the stray cat who invades my house through the cat flap whenever he believes I am gone and he can find something to eat here. Therefore I never leave any food out that Tigger has not eaten, but the consequence is that I feel I have to feed Tigger whenever he shows himself hungry.

It is quite late before I have finished and put away all the papers.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 34

Yesterday’s play was not exactly a morale booster: Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into night. It was played very well, but I heard another spectator say when we left the theatre: after a play like this I just have to get a drink in the bar. We didn’t because it was already quite late. A TV programme in which a news presenter and his French wife talked about a book they produced together about their cats cheered me up again. There are many cat lovers and obviously many people write about their cats! Tigger thinks that is a good thing, but he does not want to become famous like Socks, the White House Cat who just died at the age of 19!

Saturday is a lazy day and I like to relax and read the Saturday newspaper, which often has interesting articles about social issues. This Saturday there is a report about The Hague as international city of Law and Justice. It houses the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and Europol (police). Since The Hague is also the seat of government (while Amsterdam is the capital), it has many embassies but there are also headquarters of quite a few international firms like Shell. Altogether there are some 35.000 expats in The Hague. It seems that they are not very satisfied with the living conditions in this city. According to the lead of the article expats think of the Hague that it is too small, that it is dull and that it has many snobs. In 2005 there has been an enquiry among expats with rather negative results. Since then the city has tried to become more hospitable. Nonetheless the expats still complain about the costs of living and particularly of housing, the complicated tax system, health care (too egalitarian in the opinion of many expats, but appreciated by the Dutch), the bureaucracy and the unfriendliness of the Dutch.

The sun comes out and I decide to go to the beach. Halfway I see a thick fog coming and by the time I have reached the beach the fog is so thick that I cannot even see the sea from the boulevard. I walk along the beach as far as the harbour but only about 30 metres before I have reached the pier I can see it. No sooner have I left the beach and got my bicycle to go back home or the fog lifts and there is bright sunshine. It is too late to go back.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 33

I really should do some of the tougher jobs that are still waiting for me, but I don’t feel at all like it. I think of the newspaper article about home care of last Saturday. The author has asked for reactions and you also can address messages to him. I find 41 reactions to his article. Practically all of them agree that these large scale home care organisations are no good and that small scale organisations are much better. There seem to be more small organisations than only buurtzorg. The majority of writers think that marketisation of care has not been a good idea, although some people argue that it is not only marketisation that has caused all the trouble. I need not write another reaction. I will not have much to add to what others have already said.

Actually there is a lot more wrong with the long-term care insurance than only the way in which large scale home care organisations are run.

I decide to write a message to the author, suggesting him to do articles about thee more issues. One issue is that there are at least a dozen and probably more bureaucratic agencies doing some kind of regulation, administration, advising, monitoring or whatever. Are they all necessary? There is already some discussion about the agency that does the assessments for long-term care throughout the country. They seem to employ no less than 3300 persons, so it not a small agency.

The second issue is that the co-payments for long-term care, which are income related are becoming higher and higher so that in some cases people do better not to go to the agencies financed by the long-term care insurance but to arrange for care privately. Is that what we are insured for? It is completely unclear how much users have to pay for their long-term care and I think this is a highly undesirable situation. Not only will mistakes in invoices go unnoticed, it also could open the way to fraud.

In the third place I have just read an article in a newspaper which has explained that it is totally unclear how the 22 billion Euros available for long-term care have been spent. How is this possible when we can hear workers in the care sector complain that they have to register how each minute of their time is spent? There have been large ICT projects in the care sector.

What sense does that make if data that are collected are not used?

I hope he will take these issues up.

Pensions are on the political agenda today. The Minister of Social Affairs has had a meeting with representatives of the pension funds. These funds (for the occupational pensions) must meet certain criteria about the reserves they have. At present they do not meet these criteria and it is likely that they will be unable to redress the situation in three years. The Minister is willing to allow them 5 years to recover on the condition that they will not increase the pensions during these 5 years. That means that pensioners will not be compensated for inflation. Some of the political parties immediately protest. At least one advantage for pensioners is that we cannot become unemployed. I think that those who lose their jobs are worst off in this crisis.

During this week we have not heard anything about the investigation on the Dutch involvement in the war in Iraq. The economic situation overshadows everything.

I’ll forget about it tonight. I am looking forward to go to the theatre.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 32

Periodontist and hair dresser today. The hair dresser is in a part of town called Scheveningen. It used to be a separate village, a fishing village, but it has been annexed by The Hague. The saloon is run by two ladies. They used to be employed by a man who had his saloon very close to my house. He lived over the shop. Then one day he did not come down and they found him dead in bed. They were unemployed overnight. The two for them got along quite well and they decided to start a saloon for themselves. After a while they found a shop in Scheveningen, which they have furnished very nicely indeed. It is pleasant to go there and they welcome you as if you were an old friend. They seem to do all right. They have enough customers, they tell me. You can feel they enjoy running the saloon and I appreciate the personal touch, like seasonal flowers on every console.

I do some work, this time for the other secretariat, and that is all.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 31

It is not quite so grey as the previous days, but it is dentist’s day again. I get there just in time, at 12.00 noon, but the dentist is half an hour late. I get a choice: wait or get another appointment. I prefer to wait, that is to say, I go outside for half an hour. The sun tries to come out. Obviously the dentist does not have lunch and my appointment starts at 12.45. From where I lie I can see the sky. Does the sun come out? Is the sky blue of grey? I can’t see. The upper windows of the dentist’s office are very dirty. After an hour an a half the ordeal is over. The dentist is satisfied. He encourages me: everything is going according to plan. So far no bad luck. From now on the frequency of the appointments will decrease, the worst is over, so it seems.

I do not feel ready to be very active the rest of the day.

My friend Anne calls. She has read the article about Mea Vita and buurtzorg in last Saturday’s newspaper and asks me if I have seen it. She thinks, rightly so, that I will be interested. She has more experience with care than I do. Quite some time ago she has had a hip replacement but it was not done well. She now has had her third operation on the same hip and is in rehabilitation. She is taken care of in a care home and she tells me that in this home they have just opened a spiritual centre.

She has gone there and she liked the atmosphere. She says that she is very glad there are institutions like this care home, because where else could she have gone? Her own home is an apartment in Amsterdam on the third floor. There is no elevator in the building. She is looking for another apartment, but finding an affordable place to live in Amsterdam is a problem.

She tells me that she thinks her care home is quite good, although it is large. Therefore they can also organise quite a few activities for their inhabitants. I am glad to hear. She will leave in one or two weeks but it is not yet clear whether she will go home or somewhere else. She will continue to need some help in the time to come.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 30

Crisis. The Central Planning Office is publishing the latest figures about the economy. It sounds like a disaster. Until recently our government said that our economy was in rather good shape, so they thought that the economy in The Netherlands would not be affected as badly as in some other countries, but the reality is different. Since we are an open economy with a lot of trade the effects of the global crisis hit us hard and fast.

All day long we hear different people giving their opinion on radio and television. All options to meet the crisis are open, even some unorthodox ones. Immediately the various political parties begin by saying what they do not want to be done. The coalition parties seem to disagree, but the government will first discuss internally what to do . It becomes clear that the pact between the three political parties in the government will have to be renegotiated, because the circumstances are completely different than when the pact was concluded. The present situation is compared with the depression of the thirties.

I spend a lot of time in my study and get some of the work done for one of the two secretariats. In the meantime I receive a telephone call about developments in the other organisation which will give me more work to do for that secretariat. I have made it clear that I want to stand down at the next General Assembly of this organisation. I am more or less –as a volunteer - replacing a paid staff member. After more than a year I feel this has been enough for me.

Mea Vita is now regularly in the news. The Junior Minister of Health has announced that she will make sure that the personnel of Mea Vita will keep their jobs and that the clients will keep their help - a new organisation has been established for that purpose--but if Mea Vita will go bankrupt, so be it. She has no confidence in the Mea Vita management.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 29

This is likely to become a dull week. No interesting meetings or exciting events. An appointment with the dentist (again!), with the periodontist’s assistant and with the hairdresser and a lot of desk work to be done.

The weather forecast for the entire week is bad. More grey, cold and wet weather expected. One advantage is that it is not so hard to stay put and do office work when the weather is bad. When the sun is out I want to go outside. Living not far from the North Sea, the beach and the dunes is an advantage!

I call my friend Mina, with whom I go to the theatre from time to time. I got a special offer for a play, performed in The Hague during the weekend. Yes, Mina would like to join me. That is nice. I will get tickets for Friday.

Esther has invited me to another play, which is given a week later, written and played by an older comedian we (and Esther especially) like very much. Sounds interesting. I offer to go and get the tickets. Walking to the theatre and back will be my exercise for the day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 28

Back to the original format. Writing about a whole week was not easier nor taking less time than writing the daily entries.

Sunday morning my friend Cora from Amsterdam calls. Did you notice there is a broadcast on TV tonight about Russia? Yes I have and I want to see it. Cora and I have signed up for a trip to St Petersburg in August. We discovered a small travel agency that specialises in trips to Russia and we have actually found out that the Dutch organiser lives in St Petersburg, speaks Russian and seems to have many contacts there. We are looking forward a lot to this trip and try to gather some info before going there. So a TV programme is not to be missed. We discover that both of us want to see quite a few of the Sunday evening programmes and we wish each other a nice viewing day!

It does not yet rain but the forecast is bad again. I call my friend Martje in Rotterdam. We had hoped to go for a hike, but again the weather forecast keeps us from doing so. Instead we agree to meet halfway, in Delft. Delft is a lovely old city, known for its China, but also for its Technological University. It has many nice and small restaurants, so we decide to meet at the station in Delft and go to a restaurant in the city. It turns out that there are many young people (probably students) in the restaurant of our choice, but it has a nice atmosphere and the food is fine. For desert we choose a traditional dish: it is delicious and served very elegantly. We are both rather quiet. Do we both suffer from the end of winter? Martje also wants to see the programme about Russia so we do not linger but hurry back to the station. It is pouring rain.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 27

The Mea Vita story continues, the large home care organisation in The Hague and some other cities, which is about to go bankrupt, and where the Ministry of Health is stepping in, to prevent the users of home care to be left without help. The situation is complicated, not only because the organisation has become unmanageable through size and scope, but also because personal care and nursing come under the long term care insurance but domestic care (in ordinary language house work) is the responsibility of the municipality.

I read in the local weekly that it is likely that the municipality will enable Mea Vita to continue its house work in The Hague in spite of the fact that Mea Vita is highly indebted.

The organisation is now joining forces with another organisation in a town some 20 km from The Hague, with the fancy name of Facilicom/Axxicom. This is not Dutch, not English, nothing, ghastly. And why again involve another organisation? I thought structures were going to be simplified.

On Saturday the national newspaper has a commentary about Mea Vita and neighbourhood care (buurtzorg). Mea Vita has now become the denominator of large, bureaucratic, management dominated home care organisations. There are many of them all over the country with fancy names such as: Carans, Careyn, Archiatros, Lentis, Axenza, Trivium, Vivium or Alysis and they work according to the principles of Michael Porter, explained in the book Redefining Health. A team of twelve Dutchmen has adapted this book to the Dutch situation and written a pamphlet about it under the title: Towards value creation in care. The former as well as the present Minister of Health seem to believe in this approach. The author of the commentary ridicules the way in which the large organisations are run and then also describes buurtzorg and how they work. Not only are they much cheaper than the large organisations, they serve clients much better. Buurtzorg is about values, not about value and is highly preferable, he concludes.

I am glad to see such an article in a leading newspaper. It is time to give care back to care professionals and to let professional values prevail over management values!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 26

I also have come across the municipal bureaucracy twice this week. And bravo for The Hague, it has gone smoothly. My passport expired on 2nd February. Well ahead of time I received a message, reminding me of this fact and telling me where I could get a new passport, what the opening hours are of these offices (each of them has a late opening once a week) and what to bring.

On the 2nd of February I went to one of these offices, was helped by an efficient lady, paid my dues, was allowed to keep my old passport, because it was still valid that very day and was told I could pick up the new passport a week later. When I entered this week, the office was rather crowded, but because I only had to get the passport, I could go to a window where I was served immediately. On the way out I picked up a comprehensive directory of all municipal and related services in the entire city. It is a book that is meant for new inhabitants of The Hague, but for other residents it is very useful as well. Free of charge.

My second experience has to do with garbage collection. I had found my garbage can, provided by the municipality, damaged after it had been emptied. The lid was no longer attached to the can, which is unpractical when using it. I expected I would have to call the office of my city section. The Hague, with 470,000 inhabitants has divided the city into 8 administrative sections, to bring services closer to the citizens. In the phone directory I could find only one number for the entire city. I was afraid I would have to make a long chain of calls before I would have reached the right person, but after having indicated in which part of town I live, I was connected with a lady answering me who told me she would deal with the matter. I was to receive a message within a week in which I would be told when the municipality will come to repair or exchange the can and if the date is not convenient, there is a telephone number to call to change the date. Indeed, the message arrived within a week. I’ll have to deposit the old can on my doorstep where a new one will be delivered. I do not even have to stay at home.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 25

I have another dentist’s appointment this week. In a way I am hesitant to tell too much about my experiences with the dentist. It reminds me of the time I was a teenager. Quite often, after I had come home from school, my Uncle John would visit us. Uncle John happened to have a dentist, who had his practice not far from where we lived and he used to come over for tea with us, after his dentist’s appointments. He would open his mouth and show us what the dentist had done and then would elaborate on how the dentist had done it and how expensive this was. We were not too fond of uncle John anyway, but these visits were just awful. Right there and then I decided never to be too explicit about my own experiences with the dentist. If I still want to tell about this week’s visit it is because of the technology. The dentist is rather new for me, I only go to his practice since half a year, because my former dentist retired. He is a man in his early forties, I guess. He was going to make two crowns. He had a special machine, containing a computer on which he showed a picture, obviously taken of my teeth, but I do not know at which stage of the treatment. On this computer he started to draw the contours of the crown. When he drew them (just like drawing on my own computer), he worked in a flat picture, but he could also show what he had done in three dimensions. Gradually he developed on the screen a nice model of a crown. He then sent a message to a machine in the next room and five minutes later the crown was ready. He let me hold the little thing in my hand. It was highly amazing and very efficient. I tend to be sceptical when computer lovers elaborate about all the wonders computers can work, (especially to reduce the costs of long- term care) and I think that quite a few of their prognoses are based on wishful thinking, but what the dentist did was really amazing!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 24

Another meeting in the past week that deserves to be mentioned is the meeting of the women’s organisation on the theme: “More Women – Less Crisis?!” It is held in the building of the information service of the European Commission in the Hague. The meeting is linked to the European elections - which will take place beginning June - in that three women candidates of different parties (all three unfortunately fairly unlikely to be elected) take part in the panel following a clear and interesting presentation of a young female professor at one of the Dutch Universities. The subject is too large to be dealt with in depth, but one point that she comes up with still stands out in my mind. She tells us that in a stable economic situation male characteristics, such as being prone to risk taking can be good for businesses, but in troubled times, like we have now, female characteristics, such as being more careful and less risk taking are better. In Dutch firms there are very few women at the very top. We seem to be on a par with a country like Pakistan. This is not a very good sign and not good for these businesses either.

The three women politicians introduce themselves. One of the younger ones is really bright, but what is interesting is that one of them must be about 60 (what I gather from different facts she gives). She tells how she wondered whether she could be a candidate at her age and without an important career behind her. She got married at a time when it was not acceptable to the Dutch government to have married women in the diplomatic service (where she was working), so she left and became housewife and mother. She did voluntary work and got involved in local politics. Good for her she makes this move. Her place on the list of her party is so low that it is unlikely she will get in. Her only chance would be that enough women vote for her as a preferred candidate. Normally we give our vote to the first person on the list of a party, but if we prefer a person to be elected who is not in the top of the list we can vote for that particular person and if this person has a certain number of votes s/he will get into the Parliament ahead of others higher on the list.

The discussion goes in many directions, the discussion leader is more like a discussant herself. Towards the end of the discussion a person whom I happen to know stands up. She is a lawyer, probably in her early seventies, a keen professional but very dominant, which makes it difficult to work with her. The subject is women’s rights in Europe. She is very excited about the fact that in several South European countries women do not have the right to an abortion. At first she is excited, but the longer she speaks the more hysterical her presentation becomes. Even if she may have a point, the way she presents it does not help. The discussion leader closes the meeting soon after that, reminding us to vote for a woman in the European elections.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 23

The meeting in Utrecht is a working group of Anbo, one of the Dutch seniors’ organisations. Anbo has set a daring step: it has joined the Federation of Trade Unions (in Dutch usually referred to as FNV). This happened only after long deliberations within both Anbo and FNV.

In Anbo there were many people who opposed the idea and this is comprehensible: a trade union represents people working as employees in various branches whereas Anbo’s members are no longer working but during their working life have been employees, employers or self-employed. In fact a seniors’ organisation represents people from very different walks of life. Many Anbo members were afraid Anbo would be too different from the other trade unions and would lose some of its autonomy being part of a federation with some 17 or 18 other unions. The great advantage of this move is that through FNV Anbo can be directly represented in very important national bodies, such as the SER, the Social and Economic Council, a very influential advisory board to the government in which employers and employees each have a certain number of seats. The advantages of joining the FNV have turned the scale.

In the meeting we discuss some of the consequences of this move, relative to our representation in European bodies. Anbo is represented in AGE, the European Older People’s Platform, but FNV is represented in another European older persons’ organisation called Ferpa. How to deal with representations in both organisations? How will any policy advice of our working group be routed through the organisation, now that a new organisational tier has been added?

Two of us have to go for a short while to another meeting in the same building (the agenda could have been planned better, we all agree) and with one of the persons who has also stayed behind I speculate how our future cooperation with FNV will go. There will be some tough issues to be dealt with, like raising the pension age. Raising this age from 65 to 67 is now under discussion as an answer to the economic situation. Already the FNV has voiced a loud protest, but pensioners may think differently about it. Both of us are convinced that in due time the change will have to be made. It is only logical that we work longer now that we grow so much older: the money for pensions has to be earned. But this will require changes on the work floor as well, especially for people who have physically strenuous jobs.

Another issue that we briefly deal with, after the two others have come back, is the paper of the Ministry of Health for the European peer review. One of my colleagues tells he has seen other reports from the same Ministry for different European events and they are consistently poor quality. This is to be regretted. It is bad for the reputation of the Netherlands, the Ministry does not seem interested in European activities.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 22

February/March is the time of year I like least of all. It usually is still cold, lots of rain, and it takes time before the weather warms up. I guess my energy is low at this time of year, but this year’s winter seems to last extremely long. Not yet a bit of spring in the air (in spite of the snowdrops). The past week has been unusually cold, wet and grey with lots of rain, sleet and snow alternating. On the worst day I had to go out to two meetings, one in The Hague and one in Utrecht. I can’t wait for better weather to come and to feel the first sunshine on my face.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 21

This is a slightly different format of the diary. I said, right at the beginning, that I would give it a try. In the three weeks I have done it now, I have found that writing the diary takes a lot more time than I had anticipated. I can write a first draft rather quickly, but then take also relatively much time to “trim and polish” it, to make it more logical and easier to read. The report about the discussion in Parliament, last week, was quite a job. These things happen, but if they happen too often, I won’t be able to keep it up.

A diary with daily entries has to be written more or less daily, but when I have meetings in other cities or go out for a long walk in the countryside I don’t write that day. This means that after two days away from home there are at once three instalments due. At this point in time I still have the secretariat of two organisations without paid staff. Secretariats also require almost daily attention. In other words there can be quite a bit of pressure after I have been away from home for a few days. I am still involved in some policy work as well, for which I am required to read (sometimes lengthy) papers and write comments. That is altogether enough to keep me busy.

Last year I have given up doing paid social research because I did not want to have the strain any longer of having to produce every day. Very clever then, to agree instead to do a diary requiring daily input! I keep reminding myself I have reached retirement age several years ago and being fortunate enough to be in good health, I had better do now, before it is too late, some of the things for which I never had enough time in the past. So there we are…I’ll have to find a different way of dealing with the diary, so that it becomes easier to handle. You will have to consider it as work in progress, until I have found out how best to tackle this new activity, which in itself, I enjoy. It is a bit like photography: when you want to take pictures you look differently and see some things that you would not see otherwise.

I now am going to try and take a period of one week at the time and write the diary in not more than 4 hours in, just before or after the weekend. I expect the instalments will become somewhat shorter, which saves time and I will have to be a bit more selective about what I cover.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 20

I am supposed to go to Amsterdam for a course on modern French literature at the Institut Fran├žais. I have read in the Christmas period the book we will discuss, but when I leafed through it yesterday on the train I noticed that I had forgotten a lot of concrete facts, like the names of some of the important characters, so I felt I really had to go through it again, to bring back the story. I’ll have to do it this morning. It rains. The trip from door to door is 2 hours: bus or bike in The Hague, then train, then tram or walk in Amsterdam. I feel very tired. I liked the book and it would be nice to hear what the others think about it. I have noticed that I seem to be less alert than many others on details or deeper meanings, I usually take a book more or less at “face value” and enjoy (or don’t enjoy) reading it. After some deliberations I decide not to go. A relaxing day at home and catching up with house work, some of my other tasks and a walk on the beach after it has cleared up, (which I see already happening), is more attractive.

Looking at my garden I see the first sign of spring… snowdrops.

I also happen to hear a radio broadcast; three persons discussing Wednesday’s debate in the 2nd Chamber. The former President of the 2nd Chamber ( member of the conservative party, now in opposition) and two Senators: one of CDA and the other of the LibDems (called D66, in opposition). In the part of the debate that I missed it has been decided that the questions asked by MPs and Senators, which have not yet been answered by the government, will be answered by the committee that will do the investigation. The representatives of opposition parties are very indignant about it, the CDA senator says he does not understand why and accuses them of making a fuss for party political reasons. But I, as a citizen, feel cheated. Our MPs are kept from exercising their constitutional right to ask information from the government. The government is accountable, not the committee.

In the afternoon, walking along the beach I think I have made the right decision not to go to Amsterdam. I buy myself a bunch of flowers on my way home.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 19

I have to go to a meeting of my older women’s group. The meeting is in Utrecht. Utrecht is fairly centrally located so it is easy to reach from different corners of the country. We can use the premises of one of the older people’s organisations, which has its main office in Utrecht.We are all active in various organisations on all levels, from neighbourhood to world wide and we take a special interest in European and international relations. We have a lot to tell each other. Because several activities are coming up soon we decide not to engage in new projects at the moment. We discuss the telephone call I have had from the Ministry explaining that they were too busy to answer our letter. We decide that it could possibly be a case for the Ombudsman who is supposed to deal with complaints of citizens about national government agencies. We will write him a letter.

We discuss among others the meeting organised by one of our sister organisations about the upcoming European elections. The meeting seems interesting, but some of us know that the organisation has a hard time: it loses many members and hardly gets any new members so the membership is ageing. It is a women’s organisation (for all ages) that has done a lot to make women more politically aware. It seems the organisation seriously considers to close down. We conclude (not for the first time) that younger women seem no longer interested in emancipation and this is worrying. The emancipation process in The Netherlands stagnates.We briefly discuss a project we are likely to submit for subsidization together with a very active organisation of Surinamese older women as well as some issues concerning AGE, the European Older People’s Platform and the Dutch Platform which brings together the Dutch AGE members.

What is exciting is that there is a European organisation of older women (more or less our mother organisation) in which several of us are active, which is going to have a meeting in Amsterdam in May. Other than a business meeting there will be a conference for which our members are invited. This will deal with CEDAW ( the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women).

The two members of our group who have dealt with this issue in the past will brief the other before the May meeting. It is tried to find for some of the foreign guests accommodation in the home of Amsterdam older women. Women at work, keeping expenses low!

Talking about expenses, having come home from Utrecht I go grocery shopping at the supermarket in my neighbourhood. I check on the price of cucumbers. Esther told me she is annoyed because AH, our largest supermarket chain has a sign over the cucumbers saying: “always cheap”. In that particular case cheap is € 1.39. I have noticed that in the open air food market they are € 1. 75. My local green grocer charged even more, € 1.89 a few days ago and now AH charges € 1,69 but the “always cheap”sign is still there. Is that cheap? I don’t think so.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 18

Back to yesterday: the meeting with two nurse from neighbourhood care (buurtzorg, in Dutch). TR is so eager to know how they work she even forgets to give us a chance to introduce ourselves. I miss part of the beginning of their story because I go to the kitchen to make tea.

It turns out that the three nurse who have started buurtzorg in our neighbourhood all have been employed by Mea Vita and at one point were so annoyed that they decided to leave and start for themselves. They got in touch with the national office of buurtzorg, which is in Almelo, in the eastern part of the country and have started their own buurtzorg team. They are five at the moment and a sixth nurse has been found who will soon join them. They are quite particular about new members of their team. They must be qualified but even more important is that they have the right mentality. Buurtzorg works very much in the way the district nurse worked, more than 20 years ago. This is how TR used to work so she is very excited to hear this. It is one and the same nurse who takes care of a patient and provides all the care the patient has an assessment for. They only work in a relatively small geographical area, so they do not lose much time travelling from one address to another. They can be reached 24 hours a day, but so far do not take any patients who need care during the night. If, however, they have helped a patient for a while and this patient becomes terminal, then they will not leave him/her alone. Until now there has been a fair balance between the demands for help and the numbers they can serve. They are extremely positive about the Almelo office which gives them very good support in all possible ways, taking a lot of the administrative work out of their hands. They now feel they are the professionals they want to be. Nursing is the very best profession you can possibly imagine, they both agree, but you need to have the particular personality that a is natural for a good nurse.

I wonder if our group can do something for them so that more buurtzorg becomes available. This is not really the case. They want to extend their work only to the degree to which they will find people who want to work along the principles of buurtzorg and they do not want to let their own team grow too large. They want to be able to function as a real team of which the members support each other whenever necessary. The demands for buurtzorg have increased steadily and are likely to increase even faster, as the word spreads…yesterday they were on television. A research institute has evaluated their work and the outcomes are extremely positive!

We exchange addresses and LD promises to introduce them to a network of several social organisations active in the city district, that try to connect with each other. We expect we will see and hear more of each other, but right now there are no other concrete things we can do.Should we need home care we know where to go.

Thursday: it is Bossche bollen days! Great! Bossche bollen are a special kind of pastry consisting of a puff, filled with whipped cream and covered with dark chocolate. A confectioner, not too far from where I live, specialises in them. Every year, around the first weekend in February there is a special sale of Bossche bollen when they are sold at half price.This is by now a well known tradition. Two years ago they sold 45.000 of them in three days.Esther and I make a point of it to go and get our share and we invite each other for coffee and Bossche bollen. Tonight she will join me. Tomorrow I will go over to her.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 17

In the evening I realise that I have acted against all my principles. I have not done what I should do in the morning and I have not taken a walk or a bicycle ride for exercise. While I listen to the radio in the morning I hear that this is the day of a very important debate in Parliament. The session has hardly begun or there is an alarm. It is unclear whether it is a bomb alarm or a fire alarm or what, but everyone has to leave the building immediately. Consternation. The debate is suspended. The radio reporter has no idea what is going on. The audience can only guess. After 15 minutes it becomes clear what it is. It is…a fire drill. The date for this fire drill was set secretly at a time when is was unknown that today’s debate would be so important that it would be broadcast on radio and TV.

I go and watch TV. Maybe I should first explain a few facts about the Dutch political system, so that it is easier to understand the background of this debate.We have two Houses of Parliament: a Lower House and an Upper House. The Lower House, commonly called Second Chamber (Tweede Kamer) has 150 members and the Upper House, called either Senate or First Chamber (Eerste Kamer) has 75 members but is considerably less important than the Second Chamber. There are something like 11 parties represented in the 2nd Chamber, some of them are quite small, they have only 2 MPs. Until about 10 years ago there were three parties which were considerably larger than the others and two of them together usually had more than 75 seats in the 2nd Chamber. The three parties were the Christian Democrats (CDA), the Labour Party (PvdA) and the Conservative Party (VVD). For many years we had coalition governments of CDA with PvdA or of CDA with VVD; centre left or centre right. Recently these three parties have lost seats and some of the smaller parties have become larger. This means that more than 2 parties are needed to make a coalition government that has a majority in the 2nd Chamber. Before a government is established the parties concerned negotiate what they can do together: they try to agree on enough subjects in order to make it possible to govern. Now this pact among parties which are going to form the government is a most important document for the entire period that the government will be in power. It is comprehensible that coalition governments must work this way: the parties must know before they accept the responsibility of governing the country that there is enough common ground to be able to work together. If there would be too many contentious issues about which no agreement is possible the government would not last very long. This method of working has one great disadvantage: the MPs of the parties that take part in the government must support what has been agreed in the pact, in other words, they are not free to disagree with what has been decided and has become part of the pact. This makes it nearly impossible for them to reject government proposals conform the pact.

Since about 2 years we have a government of CDA, PvdA and a much smaller party the Christian Union (CU). In the negotiations preceding the formation of this government the CDA (the largest of the three) has made the other 2 parties agree that the government will not investigate how the Netherlands has become involved in the war in Iraq. In the previous period the PvdA was in opposition and in favour of such an investigation. The CDA was in the government with the same Prime Minister as today when The Netherlands decided to support the war in Iraq. The CDA has opposed consistently any attempts to investigate how such a decision could ever have been taken. Other governments like the USA, the UK and Australia have had investigations and have come to the conclusion that it was the wrong decision based on misleading information. The CDA and in particular the CDA Prime Minister keep saying that The Netherlands have made the right decision and that there is nothing to be investigated. Both Houses of Parliament have asked many questions but the answers from the government have been lengthy but evasive and neither the opposition in the 2nd Chamber nor the Senators are satisfied. They have asked more questions. The curious fact is that the PvdA is in principle in favour of an investigation, but the PvdA MPs in the 2nd Chamber cannot say so because the pact excludes this possibility. There would be a majority in Parliament for a parliamentary enquiry if only the PvdA MPs could speak freely. Journalists have begun to take an interest in trying to find more details about what has happened 6 years ago and they have uncovered internal documents showing that civil servants have advised the then minister against supporting the war because there are no valid legal grounds for it. Other journalists have done research in the USA and have found that a former high level politician has declared that the USA have asked for support from the Netherlands, which the Dutch government denies, at least - so they modify their original statement - there has never been a formal request. Shortly after the decision of the Netherlands to support the war in Iraq the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, a member of the CDA, has been appointed Secretary General of NATO. There is also some evidence that this is not a coincidence.Now that the government has been confronted with these “new facts” the Prime Minister sees that it is unavoidable that something be done and he has decided to make a committee, which is supposed to do the investigation. He has already found a President for the Committee, the former President of the Supreme court who has just been retired. This is not what the opposition wants, they want a parliamentary enquiry. The MPs can conduct such an enquiry which is the strongest instrument they have to do “truth finding”. Persons who are called to come and testify before the parliamentary enquiry commission are obliged to appear. They are on oath and all the hearings of the commission are public and broadcast by radio and TV. Today’s debate is about the way in which the investigation will be done: will the 2nd Chamber accept the committee (which will work behind closed doors and report to the government) or will they insist on the parliamentary enquiry. The PvdA is in a difficult position, because as a partner in the government their MPs are expected to be in favour of the committee.

The leader of the CDA who speaks first departs from his well-known position. There is no need for an investigation at all, everything is perfectly clear. Now that the government has decided that an investigation will be done the option of a committee is by far the best. The committee will be independent and get access to secret documents. What more can MPs ask for? He is attacked fiercely by three of the opposition parties. They have very many questions why there should not be a proper investigation by Parliament and they argue that the government and in particular the PvdA curtail the powers of Parliament. Basically the issue at stake was entering a war and this is an extremely important decision for any country.

Therefore the Parliament has every right and the duty to very thoroughly investigate what has happened. A parliamentary enquiry is the most effective method. The debate is breathtaking. I see the CDA leader get more and more nervous. His hands tremble. He keeps repeating the same arguments that in my opinion are not convincing at all. He counter attacks the opposition: they are not consistent according to him, but the opposition leaders do not give in. I can hardly believe that this CDA man really believes what he is saying, but he sticks to his arguments. The leader of the PvdA in contrast is very calm, very dignified and very clear. Her argument runs as follows: because the Prime Minister has proposed a committee, he has changed his point of view, and now allows an investigation. The committee may be successful and be able to really answer all the questions about the issue. This we will only know after 9 months, but we will have to give the committee a fair chance. If its report answers all questions then Parliament can be satisfied. However, if the report is unsatisfactory, then a parliamentary enquiry should be held as yet. Critical questions from the opposition: why not a parliamentary enquiry at once, why a delay of 9 months? The PvdA leader is very convincing, but it is recognised that she has created an opening for a parliamentary enquiry after 9 months. The opposition smells victory… I just can’t break away from the debate and keep watching until it is the highest time to prepare for my afternoon activity, the meeting with the representatives of the neighbourhood care organisation.

I’ll tell about that in tomorrow’s instalment, because this one is already too long. Later in the afternoon, after my guests have gone, I turn on the TV and see the debate is still going on, I just see the end. In the evening I see some of the parts I missed. Especially the facial expression of the Prime Minister is priceless!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 16

In the morning I try to do some more work on the tasks I have got after the teleconference of 10 days ago. I really should have done them before, but I did not have time and this is not the only thing that has had to wait.

One of the things is that I have to send letters to the past, present and next Presidency of the European Union. The Presidency of the European Union is transferred every half year to another Member State. The country that holds the Presidency has a lot of influence on the agenda setting. In order to guarantee continuity, there is the so-called “troika” consisting of the past, present and future Presidency countries who together do a lot of the work that is involved in running the Presidency. Therefore it is important to address all three when you want to ask Europe’s attention for a special issue. France is the past President, the Czech Republic is the present and Sweden is the next President. I don’t have a clue how to address the latter two. Our French member has helped me with France, but what about the two others?? I begin by the Information Bureau of the European Commission in The Hague. They tell me to call the permanent representation of The Netherlands in Brussels (this is like a Dutch Embassy with the EU). I try but the line of the person I should talk to is busy. After 15 minutes the secretary tells me I had better call again after lunch. But after lunch I have another dentist’s appointment. This time for 90 minutes. Esther has offered to come and fetch me, if I feel bad afterwards. While I lie in the dentist’s chair, mouth wide open and completely disempowered, I realise that the Dutch Permanent Representative in Brussels will probably refer me to his Czech and his Swedish counterparts and that exchanging addresses by telephone in English with other people who are not native English speakers either is probably a fairly hopeless task. (English spelling remains difficult for me as non-native speaker and the same is most likely true for them.) This even more so because I do not expect to recognise the spelling of Czech or Swedish names. It will be better to use e-mail, even if I may have to wait for an answer longer.

My treatment does not last longer than last week nor is it more painful so I walk home. I call Esther to tell her I have managed alright and we chat for a while.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 15

I begin the day with a few phone calls. One of them to the SVB, the Social Insurance Bank, the agency which pays out our State Pension. They have not yet sent me their specification for 2009 and I am curious. I am told it can come any day, they are working on it, but the person who answers the phone gives me an advice, of which I cannot understand whether this would work for me. I’ll have to ask my consultant. All these regulations are so complicated.

Normally I don’t watch television in the afternoon but both Esther and Martje, my friend in Rotterdam, have told me about a broadcast on long-term care in which they think I will be interested. They saw it a few days ago and it will be repeated. Yes, indeed, I am glad they told me. It is about the CAK. The CAK is the Central Administration Office. One of the tasks of the CAK is to deal with the co-payments people have to make for their long-term care. The CAK figures out how much each user has to pay and they send the invoices. For years there have been complaints about this agency, and it seems that not much has improved. In the programme a number of people tell about their problems. The Junior Minister is also in the programme. Basically one can say that the problems fall into two categories: one is that it is very difficult to reach the CAK, the telephone is not answered, they do not call back when they have promised to do so, they do not give the information that is needed and they are very unfriendly towards the callers. The other is that the CAK makes many mistakes and charges some users of ltc much higher co-payments than they believe they are due. Some of these complainers are desperate, because quite often the conflict is about large amounts of money, and in some cases it takes years before the matter is settled. The Junior Minister, very charmingly, says she does what she can to enable the CAK to carry out its tasks properly. They were given more personnel there has been extra training for the personnel, and most difficult cases have received extra attention and have been resolved, except some 200 cases. Obviously some of them are in the programme. The Junior Minister keeps telling that she does her best to solve the problems, but refers only to the user unfriendliness of the CAK. She also asks people to understand that the CAK has a very difficult task: in order to figure out the amounts users of ltc have to pay the CAK has to receive data from no less than 5 different agencies: internal revenue, municipalities, health care insurers, care offices (they are part of the insurance system) and care providers. In my opinion this is the basic problem: the system has become so complicated that it is impossible to make it work properly. The interviewer tries: five different sources, isn’t that a bit too many? But very adroitly she brings the discussion back to her efforts to make the CAK more user-friendly. The real problem is not discussed.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Aukje de Vries' Diary Day 14

The weather does not look quite so bad as we had expected when we decided not to go to the countryside for a walk. Instead I walk to the city centre, from where I can take a bus or tram back home, when I have walked enough or in case the weather gets worse. I always walk longer than I intend to so I take a tram to go back but on the way there is a slight accident. It is amazing that passengers seldom get information about what has happened or what is being done to solve the problem. After about 15 minutes we are told to get off the tram and take the next one which, of course, is crowded.

In the evening I watch a TV broadcast on the year 1968. It is based on a book about recent European history, written in a popular style. The author of the book is the presenter of the programme, which focuses on Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin. I lived in Amsterdam in 1968 so I am interested in what will be shown in the programme. Obviously the perspective of the author, who was a student in Amsterdam in 1968 is different than mine: I held a job having to do with youth policy. For a sociologist like me it was a fascinating time. Especially the fact that the power of the authorities was questioned, often in a playful manner, was an interesting aspect, not in the last place because the authorities did not know how to deal with this. And it was useful for society to look in a new way at existing power structures. Not much of this was shown in the programme.

I have only little time left to do some work on my private, financial administration. I have to prepare the documents for my tax return. It is quite complicated this year, more so than previous years because I have had quite a few medical (dental) expenses. Some of these are deductible, but others have already been reimbursed by the health care insurance. I don’t get it finished before it is time to go to bed.