Archive for December, 2011
As usual I am typing this in the new allotment ‘clubhouse’ . The wood-burning stove is spreading a cheerful glow, which is more than can be said of the codgers standing around it, occasionally shaking rain from their mud-encrusted waterproofs. But there were plenty of eggs this morning, and Albert came up with the idea of transferring dry soil from the large greenhouse floor to the worst areas in the runs. So for a brief moment in time all is well as we exchange plans to see in the New Year.
The spirit of Mr Micawber lives on here and everyone expects something good to turn up in 2012. Sadly, few top historians share our optimism in their annual prophesies. Some are drawing a comparison with 1932. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929 – just as after the banking crisis of 2008 – some observers believed that the worst was over. But in the summer of 1931, a wave of banking panics swept across central Europe. As the German and Austrian financial houses tottered, Britain’s Labour government came under fierce market pressure to slash interest rates, spending, and to cut benefits. Ramsay MacDonald resigned and formed an all-party coalition dominated by Stanley Baldwin’s Conservatives. It proved an uneasy marriage.
Before Arthur Henderson, the metal worker turned Labour leader, could make any meaningful contribution other than advocate a policy of promoting growth, there was mass unemployment, a currency crisis and a dangerous loss of confidence in politicians and democracy itself. It sounds familiar and some students of history are now warning that we are heading into a rerun.
We Micawbers cry nonsense but the evidence is not encouraging. Leadership has to come from politicians and that has seldom been so conspicuous by its absence. Only today we see more proof that those in power are totally out of touch with popular feeling. Even the Daily Mail has headlines screaming ‘Tainted’ when reporting the New Year honours. Paul Ruddock has donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party and receives a knighthood. His firm, Lansdowne partners, made a staggering £100 million from the financial crash ny betting that Northern Rock shares would fall and also made millions in a matter of days by predicting the likely slide of other banking shares. Hardly the people’s choice, the stench of corruption is everywhere.
Unsurprisingly many are predicting more riots for the coming year. A large section of the population now feels cut-off and alienated, it represents a powder keg as more and more cuts occur at the bottom end of society whilst the rich grow richer by the day as tax evasion is the subject of ministerial blind-eyes. Already the sense of law and order by popular consent is crumbling. Just a few decades ago a murder was big news, a subject of horror. Today it is commonplace, over the Christmas period alone there were no fewer that 14 and heaven knows how many violent attacks.
And, as regularly reported on this site, our essential services are being destroyed by incompetent ministers. Today’s press carries the story of Margaret Park who slept on the floor beside her apparently dying grandmother at Blackpool Victorai hospital. The result was that she saved Hazel Carter’s life by providing care that the overstretched staff could not manage. Just one example of what the coalition has done to elderly care in the NHS. There are many more examples and most do not have a happy ending.
Inevitably the situation in Euriope will impact on events here but there is surely much that could be done to inspire a spirit of oneness, the sort of spirit for which this island is renowned. But, unlike in 1932, there is not a single leader who really understands the lot of the masses. The fact that almost all of the cabinet are from the Oxbridge elitist persuasion is well known. What is less well known is the fact that the shadow cabinet is the same, every senior member hails from the same category. Unlike in 1932, the working class is being excluded from politics. Dangerous indeed.
But we can only toast in the New Year in the hope that someone will emerge, someone who can ensure that the present feeling of unfairness is swept away to be replaced by a belief that we are truly all in this mess together. Divided we fall, united we stand is a well-worn cliche, but if ever it provided food for thought that time is now!
My brief excursion to God’s own country over, it was back to the mudbath this morning. More gravel, more digging, more cursing, more muddy hens. I have read that gentlemen of certain years enjoy watching mud-wrestling, perhaps we should recruit Mrs Biggins and charge for admission! All that apart, we codgers are not in a happy mood. Once again announcements of cuts to local NHS services have set our teeth on edge, or it would have done had we any left.
A cartoon in today’s Guardian by Ben Jennings shows Cameron lying in an MRI scan. The diagnosis is ‘spineless’ and the words attributed to our revered leader are;” We’re not cutting the NHS per se….we’re freeing beds, clearing wards and creating job vacancies”. It served to remind us of the pledge made by the incoming Prime Minister. We plan to cut the deficit not the NHS, was his clear promise.
The reality is just about the opposite. Doctors.net.uk, a professional networking site to which almost all British doctors belong, has just released the result of a survey. It asked whether NHS services have been cut in such a way as to affect patient services. Of the 664 doctors that responded 80% said that services have been damaged.
Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association’s hospital consultants and sepcialists committee confirmed that the NHS is now “retracting” and doing less for patients. In every service, he claimed, there are NHS cuts ongoing and it is hard to match what is happening to talk of cutting the deficit, not the NHS. Hospitals are really struggling under the pressure of a £20 billion saving programme and “patients are waiting in pain”.
Dr Tim Ringrose is the spokesman for the web site. He attacks the Lansley claims about protecting the NHS frontline. “The reality is quite different”, he says, “we have reports of cuts to essential services, staffing shortages, and pressure to reduce prescribing of newer and more effective therapies”. Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, is not surprised by the poll findings. She reports receiving “on a daily basis” reports of services being withdrawn or reduced”.
The answer to all the head-scratching is a simple one. Cameron, Lansley and all are lying. Anyone with strong connections with the NHS knows perfectly well that services are being slashed and chaos reigns as the former commissioners vanish only to be replaced by consortia charged with the task of opening the service up to private providers. The result of that will be post-code medicine and hospital closures.
In those Foundation hospitals that survive, the ceiling for private treatment will rise to 49%. The result will be a two-tier service, and the result of that will be increased mortality rates for those who cannot afford private healthcare insurance. It is no co-incidence that many of the providers will be American. The very haves-and-have-nots service that President Obama has tried to abolish is being imported here.
Only the most naive still believe other than that the privatisation of our healthcare service is underway. In associated areas there are already examples of the probable outcome. The French company Atos has taken over the task of assessing claimants for disability benefits, a role previously carried out by GPs and hospital consultants. Atos has co-incidentally been awarded another huge contract for GP computer services.
Atos understandably has profit as its number one priority. It employs assessors, who have had six weeks training and are much cheaper than doctors or nurses, who take no account of the intricacies of things like the wide range of outcomes for the same disease, or the complex nature of mental illness. “Can you pick up a pencil?” they’ll ask someone with terminal cancer, or bipolar disorder. “Yes? Well back to work with you, back to one of those non-existant jobs that you’ll never get”. There is an appeal system but that is time-consuming and complicated and a company with profit targets will sub-contract it in return for cost-covering fees.
In essence we are in the middle of a war about competition. To private companies top quality equates to top prices that cannot be met by the NHS budget. In our area a South African company, Netcare, was introduced to run outpatient services. When it became clear that this would effectively ‘bankrupt’ local hospitals, politicians withdrew the proposal. But they paid Netcare many millions of taxpayer’s money by way of compensation. No cost is too high for ministers mistaking the need for increased efficency with the profit motive.
There can be little doubt that Lansley will succeed, if that is the right word. The Lib Dems and Labour parties seem indifferent to what happens and many people simply shrug. Perhaps the latest warning from the vast majority of both our hospital doctors and GPs will wake someone up to what is happening; the death of the NHS by a thousand stealthy cuts!
Reader’s note; Those intrigued by yesterday’s piece about the book published by Wayne Howard should turn to the comments. The author has spoken!
As predicted on Tuesday I am running as late as a Northern Rail train today. We have been down to the Land of my Fathers for an ‘overnight’ in our holiday home, the purpose being mainly to prepare for the winter weather. Our location is on the sea shore in North Wales and the sea was not in a welcoming mood. Huge grey waves were crashing on the very spot where just a few months ago we lounged.
The only lounging we did last night was in the village pub which was deserted. As we sat there it all reminded me of Dads Army and Private Fraser’s ’dark and lonely place’. In the absence of any fellow Welshmen to argue with, we soon headed for the cruel sea. It was still only 8.00pm so a book it had to be as the wind howled outside. I chose to read some more of one of the most imspiring books I have ever delighted in. Because this is by necessity a short blog I will merely introduce you to it with a view to writing the full review that it merits at a later date.
The book is called ‘Wayne’s Tour’ and is a ‘Big Bloke’s' account of his Tour de France. So well written is it that by the time I crawled fully clothed into my bed (I forgot my pyjamas and much else) I felt almost as exhausted as he did when he tackled a challenge that millions of younger and smaller blokes would have flinched at.
In 2004, Wayne was about to retire from the Lnacashire Constabulary after 30 years’ service, and considered himself an ordinary bloke who wanted to mark the event by achieving an extraordinary thing – to cycle solo all 2,256 miles of the Year 2000 route of the Tour de France in aid of the Rosemere Cancer Foundation, and in memory of two colleagues who lost their battle against cancer.
Wayne takes you on an authentic journey that is fascinating, convincing, moving and amusing. His down to earth story of the highs and lows of the planning, preparing and cycling is a truly inspiring narrative that is sprinkled with lessons in life – yet he combines it with a smile on every page.
There is so much about this book that I love. Above all is the clear evidence that if you are determined enough you can do anything, even if in the doing you encounter physical strain to match no other.
I shall return to this amazing book but if in the meantime you wish to learn more I am sure that a visit to www.inspiringexcellence.co.uk will help!
Sue Carroll, the Daily Mirror’s “queen of colmnists”, died on Christmas night. Eighteen months ago she was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas. In a recent video clip explaining her absence from the popular weekly column she had written for 13 years, she said; “I’m not hanging out the bunting. This bugger is far from beaten, but at least it’s behaving itself”. She had endured an operation to remove two tumours which failed, and later had chemotherapy. She then returned to ITV as a pundit on the Alan Titchmarsh show, but her brave fight was in vain. Christmas 2011 was to be her last.
And so it proved to be for many others at the end of a year in which the scourge continued to amass its victims. And yet, as this blog reported recently, an amazing breakthrough has occurred in the United States where a vaccine seemingly capable of shrinking any tumour by at least 80 per cent has been discovered. Sadly it will take at least two years to complete trials. The reason for so much delay is lack of funding and resources. Doubtless various other potential breakthroughs are similarly stalled in laboratories across the globe.
I recently lost a close friend to cancer and, as is always the case, I seethed with anger. Anger at the complacency of so many people who could do so much to help the fight. One in three of us will encounter cancer in our lifetimes yet only one in hundreds of thousands is prepared to lift a finger. On behalf of the Rosemere Cancer Foundation, which is at the forefront of raising funds to beat cancer once and for all, I recently took part in a Saturday roadshow aimed at persuading people to donate one pound or to help with voluntary collections. No government funding is available for cancer research or high-tech equipment and without donations the latest developments cannot be introduced. The reasoning was that if everyone in the large area served by Rosemere gave just one pound miracles could be achieved.
The roadshows were staged in Blackburn, Preston and Lytham town centres on a busy ’Christmas shopping’ morning. Despite extensive advertising the number of people that turned up was nil, nil and four respectively. We spoke to passers by who replied that they were much too busy.
Saddened by the death of Sue Carroll I scanned this morning’s papers to see just how much mention is made of the greatest threat to every family in the land. Zero. The impression one gained was that vast numbers were fighting – in some cases literally – at sales. Leading politicians, such as ministers Jim Plaice and Richard Benyon, were ranting on about the need to bring back the hunting of animals for the entertainment of posh blokes in red jackets. In fact every story seems to demonstrate a preoccupation with trivia, a pretence that there is nothing better with which to occupy oneself.
Of course it is unrealistic to expect constant coverage of the need to fight cancer. But when yet another young victim falls, my red mist persuades me that we are an uncaring and selfish society. It would be nice to claim that Sue Carroll and all those like her did not die in vain, that we have at last heeded the call to treat cancer as an enemy to be fought and conquered. But it won’t happen and 2012 will bring another list of millions who died for want of a concerted attack.
If you go to the Rosemere website you will see examples of just what has been achieved by the few, and you will quickly realise how much more could be done by the many!
SPECIAL NOTE FOR READERS;
Later today I shall be off to the Land of my Fathers, Robert Croft country. One thing you can rely on in Snowdonia is unpredictable weather and should my blog be late tomorrow I am sure you will forgive me. Whether Albert and my other fellow chicken-keepers will be as understanding is another matter but, should they have to care for my chooks I shall plead guilty but insane. And I did their chicken-chores on Christmas Day!
Hope you had a belting Christmas. Now all we have to bother us are dodgy digestive systems and credit-card repayments. The build-up to the great day started back in October and it was impossible for any one day to live up to so much hype, but we allotment codgers had a go. One thing that has to change in our nest next time is the placing of Christmas cards. Each year we stand them on every conceivable ledge or shelf, each year people keep opening the front door at which point every card in the place takes off for Manchester Airport. Suggestions on a postcard please, but no prizes for suggestions involving sellotape which is guaranteed to create a unwelcome demand from she-who-must-be-obeyed for redecorating.
Today’s papers return us to the real world, although how real the polls are is hard to fathom. The ones I have read suggest that David Cameron is now regarded by 99 per cent of the population as a posh version of Mother Theresa. Perhaps the polls were taken in Surbiton, I really cannot imagine that reading in Wigan where they use the Old Etonian for darts matches. But the story that really attracted attention on the allotments concerned Sarah Teather, the Lib Dem children’s minister.
As a member of the coalition’s top team Ms Teather gave vehement support to the austerity programme. She stood shoulder to shoulder with Theresa Cameron and the dashing Osborne in refusing to contemplate action against tax dodgers, bank bonuses, high-speed rail and Olympics overspend. Like her hero Nick she made clear that the people must tighten their belts and stop whingeing about such luxuries as libraries and meals-on-wheels.
And that is her right. But being a hypocrite isn’t. Having supported cuts in local public services she is now campaigning against the ghastly plan to close public libraries in Brent. Why Brent? Because that is her constituency.
And she is not alone in her incredible hypocracy. Jeremy Browne (foreign office), Steve Webb (pensions) and James Brokenshire (crime) have all followed suit. All have lobbied their fellow ministers to save their own patches!
With behaviour like this is it any wonder that ministers and MPs at large are now to be found at the foot of the table of trustworthiness. Even estate agents and journalists now leave them standing. With one exception!
David Cameron stands next to God, David Beckham and Lady Gaga in the ratings, a politician far removed from the riffraff that seek our votes. Funny old world isn’t it!
My legs seemed to weigh a ton this morning, and some of my pals seemed somewhat stuffed as we saw to our various hen-runs. Only the chickens seemed unaffected by the Christmas indulgences. Even Bill’s constant companion, the basset hound, seemed less perky than usual. No great surprise there, for it seems that whilst the house guests were enjoying a pre-lunch drink he spent time in the kitchen devouring the roast duck. Whether his lethargy is due to the amount he ate or what happened to him afterwards is less than clear.
But we are all genuinely pleased at the news of the Duke of Edingburgh’s improvemnt following heart surgery. Yes, the insertion of a stent is fairly routine these days but Philip is 90, an age at which routine becomes dangerous. One thing is certain, when something serious does afflict him he will be sorely missed by we codgers.
None of us would describe himself as a royalist, some of us believe that the time has come for the Royal soap-opera to come to its final curtain. We are no longer a major player on the world stage, and many of the trappings of power that surround a monarchy look absurdly dated. We are the only country in the world to have Lords, Knights of the Garter, orders of an Empire long gone et al and they no longer seem appropriate in the modern age.
But the Duke once gave us a warning that is well worth bearing in mind. He remarked that the value of the monarchy now lies in what they prevent. In times of crisis the people turn towards the Palace. They know that the Queen is above politics, is totally honest and genuinely cares. Were there to be no monarch we would have someone like Blair or Cameron as President, and every time they lied or fell from grace the stability of the nation would be threatened. In her Christmas address the Queen laid great emphasis on christianity, those monkeys would have ruled that out on grounds of political correctness.
The Duke himself has done a magnificent job. He entered the royal circle unexpectedly, in fact had it not been for an abdication he would never have been burdened with the exacting role of consort. As a young man he served in the Royal Navy with distinction and had a reputation as a man of action, truly his own man. All that he cast aside to provide his princess with total support when she was suddenly thrust into the role of head of state. And there he has loyally remained. No wife ever had a more steadfast companion.
From time to time the curtain has parted slightly and we have glimpsed the rascal that is in him, but everyone that has ever met the Duke of Edinburgh, and the number must run into millions considering the exhausting schedule he has always maintained, has nothing but praise for his friendly and unpatronising manner.
Some of those on the left who complain of the monarchy are wide of the mark. Without doubt the Queen and the Duke have done more to boost overseas trade than any Foreign Scretary or salesman ever could. And the cost of the Royals to the taxpayer are miniscule compared to those of the tax-dodgers, government blunders and self-seeking politicians. Why the royal household needs to include so many hangers-on is another matter.
Given the penchant of the Brits for gawping it is hard to read too much into the crowds that gathered at Sandringham yesterday. ‘Three times the normal’ scream the headlines, and add their interpretation that the popularity of the Royals has rocketed. The real explanation is probably the presence of glamour puss Kate. Why anyone would queue on Christmas Day to glimpse a version of Miss World is beyond comprehension, but rubber-necking is our passion.
So get well Philip, the country needs you. Without you the House of Windsor just might begin to take itself too seriously, thus providing amunition to its enemies. Whilst you are there the danger of that is minimal, after all it was you who describd the procession of the garter as “silly dressing-up but good fun”.
We codgers wish you a life longer than ours. Mind you, that is hardly overly encouraging!
Sadly hens still require feeding and cleaning on Christmas Day, so all the names of the various chicken-keepers went into Albert’s cap and out came the unlucky pair. As a result Tommy and I have just spent an hour or so chasing over a hundred hens around. Once I have typed this we will be heading for home to unwrap our new ties and socks before heading back to boil spuds and bran.
And we will be back again at 5.00pm to carry out the anti-fox routines before settling down to family get-togethers. By now the wrapping paper will be sky-high and few will remember who gave what to whom. But merry we will be and will remain so until we see our credit card statements.
Meantime, on behalf of all of us codgers, can I thank you for all your support over the past year and wish you and yours a very happy Christmas. I shall be back tomorrow but on this unique day of goodwill to all men shall refrain from so much as a comment on all those who continue to mess up Britain.
On what is above all else a day for the children, may all your troubles be little ones!
ANSWERS TO THE CHRISTMAS EVE QUIZ; 1. Mary, Queen of Scots 2. Mark Owen 3. Sizes of paper 4. The Dukes of Hazzard 5. John Reid 6. Simnel cake 7. Gary Numan 8. Arsenal 9. Meryl Streep 10. French and English
When you reach my age almost every day is much the same as any other. I say almost because today has always felt special. The likelihood is that, like me, you remember lying awake wondering if Santa was near. Somehow I always seemed to be asleep when he actually arrived, but the sheer magic of seeing that pillowcase at the foot of the bed confirmed that he had been.
For many years I didn’t mention these memories, rough and tough chicken-keepers have surely put aside such childish matters. And then some years ago now I began to visit an elderly lady in a nearby nursing home. Whenever I called I noticed an attractive doll on her bedside cabinet, but it was at the first Christmas of our freindship that she told me the story of Alice, her golden-haired lifelong companion.
Mrs Grieves leant forward that day and told me of a Christmas Eve of long ago, a time when presents were few and far between. It was a cold and frosty night and, in the pre-car age, all was still. She had no expectation of more than an orange for, following the death of her beloved Dad, she understood enough to know that money was scarce. So as she lay there she prayed for a friend, for someone to play with.
As she did so she heard a tap on her window and even thtough closed eyelids the room seemed suddenly bright. As she lay there a warm glow came over her and she lay wrapped in that state midway between being awake and asleep. And then she hear the faintest sound of sleighbells echoing across the cold night air. As they faded she slept.
When she awoke she clambered out of bed, intent on running in to Mum. It was then that she first saw Alice. The doll that was to be her lifetime’s companion, through good and sad times, was sitting on the bedside table. Of course we cynical adults believe that we know how she arrived. But my friend was adament, she was visited by an angel and, in her wake, Santa himself.
On the last Christmas that I was to see my friend she implored me to make a special effort to ensure that my grandchildren had a magical Christmas Eve. Such an experience lasts a lifetime, she insisted, and there are but a few years in which it can happen. Tell them to listen, she said, there are angels and sleighbells out there but only small people passing but briefly through the land of imagination can hear them. Only they have access to magical moments that occur but once a year and for but a few years.
Alice now lives with us and every so often I glance in her direction and wonder and wonder.
A magical Christmas Eve everyone. Chickens still need service on Christmas Day so I shall wish you a happy and blessed Christmas tomorrow.
YOUR CHRISTMAS EVE QUIZ: 1. Which Queen wrote the Casket Letters? 2. Which former Take That star had “Child” at No 3 in 1996? 3. What can be metric royal, metric demy and metric crown? 4. In which TV series was the character “Boss Hogg”? 5. Who succeeded Charles Clarke as Home Secretary ? 6. Which almond cake is traditionally made for Mothering Sunday? 7. Who had hits with “We are Glass” and “Cars”? 8. David Bentley joined Blackburn Rovers from which London club? 9. Which actress had lead roles in the films “Out of Africa” and “Silkwood”? 10. Which two European languages are spoken in Madagascar?
ANSWERS ON CHRISTMAS DAY MORNING!
Yet more rain! It seems unfair that people south of Croydon are being asked to forego baths over Christmas when we don’t even need to go indoors to have one. This morning we resorted to laying planking over the worst of the hen-run bogs and a hundred or so Columbian Blacktails gathered round to gawp. Albert addressed the multitude but it reminded me of mass meetings at Leyland Motors when mad people on the platform harangued a crowd of blokes openly reading The Sun.
An hour later, and by now as wet as Norman Lamont, I headed for Tesco armed with a two-foot long list perpared by she-who-must-be-obeyed who has the unenviable task of preparing meals to feed a hundred people we only see once per year. Arriving at the Tesco car park was somewhat unnerving, I have arrived at Wembley Stadium and encountered less angry motorists. But, with some trepidation, I found a space and followed the crowd of trolley-pushers.
During the course of the year an elderly friend often tells me that she has made her restful daily visit to the superstore. It is, she always says, a lovely place to walk around and to stop in an aisle for a chat. Today she would have been more likely to stop for a fight. There were zillions of people shooting up and down the aisles, pausing only to throw something into trollies already loaded to capacity. Drop a packet of Bisto and you could be sure that someone would crash into you, and be equally sure that no apology would be forthcoming. For everyone seemed very stressed and in a state of high anxiety.
I noticed one rather large lady, who could easily hold her own in the Wigan Rugby League scrum, who was pushing one trolley and towing another. She was clearly in a foul mood and was taking no prisoners. If Tesco award Club Card points for bruises dished out she would be on her way to a free baseball bat.
Having found the majority of what felt like a year’s catering requirement, I eventually reached the check-outs. Because I wanted to be home before nightfall I elected to do my own till work and experienced illogical bouts of gratitude when the computer recognised bar-codes. It did occur to me that stores such as this are on to a very good thing, we select our own goods and oversee our own payment.
It was really like a scene from Orwell’s 1984. Thousands were obediently obeying tannoy announcements and quarrelling only with each other. At one point I joined a jostle for brussels, and we don’t even like the things. From time to time we were told to keep moving, at one point I did so without my feet touching the ground. But, my daughter tells me, one has the advantage of price bargains. I confess that I saw no sign of my fellow clones checking labels and the few that I glimpsed were confusing. A huge stack of boxes of chocolates bore a poster proclaiming that the price was slashed to £5 and two cost only £10.
One man remarked that this was “all about one day”. He is right, for the store reopens on Boxing Day. But it did strike me as sad that what used to be the most magical time of the year has been reduced to this.
In the late 19th century the churches of the time came together and decided to abolish Hell on the grounds that it was adversely affecting recruitment. But today I realised that in the absence of a theological version the people have created one of their own.
I came away reflecting that I would much have preferred being at the Christmas party of the Witney set. But even that may be less joyful this year for the Camron’s are probably nervous about being entertained by Rebeka Brooks, James Maxwell and Jeremy Clarkson since the latter might have a mike concealed about his person.
TOMORROW; A TALE FOR CHRISTMAS EVE
The monsoons have retreated and morale on the allotments has headed in the opposite direction. Not that such an uplift has eliminated moaning, most of us would easily win a degree in the art should Oxford University introduce such a thing. Every brew-break brings forward some victim for our character-assassination, today ministers moved into the verbal shooting-range.
Ministers are inevitably inexperienced, a product of every prime minister having to select his cabinet from around 300 MPs. Of those around 100 may be loopy, and 100 too old. So he or she has the unenviable task of appointing around 70 of the remaining 100 to run UK plc. The result always is that revenue is poured down the drain as the vast lobbying crowd hoodwinks them left right and centre. I use that phrase to illustrate that none of this is unique to the present government.
The problem right now is that the people are suffering whilst seeing a lucky few rowing to safety in gold-plated lifeboats. To make things worse Her Majesty’s Opposition seems utterly inept, the result is that protest groups are taking its place. Yesterday ’38 Degrees’ launched a ferocious attack on the Inland Revenue who for some time have filled the pages of ‘Private Eye’, given its practice of doing cosy deals with the wealthy. On day one tens of thousands pressed th ebutton on protest letters. The latest estimate has it that £25 billion of taxes due have been waived, enough to fund a lot of libraries and all the other services axed by Osborne’s austerity campaign.
One allotmenteer was fined for submitting his tax return after the due date and now comments that he should have claimed to work for Goldman Sachs. He would then have been let off and taken to Claridges for a slap-up lunch. He could of course have claimed employment by Vodaphone who ‘shook hands’ on just £1.25 billion out of a total liability of £6 billion!
But the corruption of the taxmen has escaped the eye of ministers more versed in the running of golf clubs. As has the tax evasion practiced by many of our top companies and Times rich list geezers. Osborne is the scourge of public sector unions and condemns tax avoidance, yet he refuses to end the scandal of crown tax havens , from Jersey to the Caymans, that enjoy the benefits of British citizenship while enabling individulas and corporations to evade British tax.
In their naivety ministers swallow whole the thesis that the rich should be allowed to escape tax for their ” wealth creating potential”. Even the now state-owned banks continue to pay enormous bonuses, a practice tolerated because ministers have fallen for the argument that there is a danger of such wizards heading off to the Congo.
We can of course throw in such bizaare decisions as giving away planning permissions in the hope of saving £3 billion. Or deciding to build aircraft carriers on the basis that it would cost more to cancel them. Or presenting the renewables industry with £8 billion in the belief that it will the rescue the planet. Lobbyist after lobbyist presents a case for huge savings which actually is licence for the affluent to print money. Ministers find it impossible to be tough on their cultural allies, and they lack the knowledge to second guess them.
Last week the Olympics boss, Lord Coe, popped in to ask for an extra £41 million to tart-up the opening ceremony and, soon afterwards, security experts asked for another £271 million for security. They told ministers that such investments will bring in billions on advertising revenue!. One wonders what the response would have been had someone gone in to ask for an extra ten bob to fund meals-on-wheels!
Naivety and favouratism for the rich rules OK. Which is unfortunate given that nothing is more crucial today than a sense of equality of treatment. What is happening so overtly is recruiting fair-minded people to the protest movement. Our government derides Greece and Italy as countriers where taxpaying and austerity is voluntary. They are not alone!
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Deep sea diving 2. Stamps 3. Green 4. Circular 5. Yoga 6. Cribbage 7. Admiral’s Cup 8. Lacrosse 9. Gare Du Nord 10. RSPB
Reality TV is what keeps many of us going. We tune in to the X Factor, Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing et al and enjoy the phoney world of pantomime villain judges, heart-broken and often humiliated losers, and the posing stars whose only real committment is to their egos and wallets. But any boost we gain from such superficiality is quickly dispelled by the seemingly endless revelations about the economy, the corrupt behaviour of the tax authorities and what Vince Cable described yesterday as “the source of systematic instability, unfettered greed and industrial tax-dodging” of Osborne’s friends in the City. And many gain little cheer from a Christmas which will gobble up any meagre reserves they have.
In any case, most reality TV provides little long-term cheer for deep down we know that it is as phoney as televised wrestling. But suddenly we see the beast in a different light. We codgers began to watch ‘The Choir’ in our usual cynical mood but that soon changed. Gareth Malone arrived at the Royal Marine Barracks in Chivenor intent on using music as means of bringing together the partners of men serving in Afghanistan. The various women he met were living in their own private hells, with very little communication with others in like situation.
After a great deal of persuasion a large number agreed to form a choir and things escalated from there. Now they live as a sharing community bound together by a united pressure to perform and to provide their own contribution to a war that threatens every family. “We feel like sisters now, helping each other out”, was the way one of those who had never sung before put it. Under the direction of Malone they sang in the nearby town, at Sandhurst, at the Albert Hall and now have released a single for Christmas based on letters received from partners in mortal danger. Unlike its rival festive release the proceeds are for charity, the purpose purely one of shared prayers.
Yes, it was reality TV but there was none of the mockery and cruelty of other shows. The choirmaster never tells anyone they cannot sing, there are no losers and no prizes except that of a sense of camaraderie and communal connectedness, a prize everyone wins. The likelihood is that even Malone would never have dreamed that things would turn out so well. But he does have a burning commitment to the belief that music is the food of love, one that everyone can partake of.
We have all become so understandably cynical about just about everyone in this so-called celebrity age that inevitably there are those who say that Gareth Malone has performed well but has also done well. But to attribute to him a touch of the Bruce Forsyth is to misunderstand the man. When in an earlier series he went to South Oxley he persuaded young men who previously thought they could do nothing with aplomb but drink, and turned them into a tenor section. He persuaded women with a low sense of self worth that they could form a choir to be proud of and he united the desolate town behind their choir. What is not generally known is that, after the cameras had gone, he stayed on unpaid for another 18 months to ensure that the seedling became a full-blown flower.
It is truly his Christmas gift to us. Despite what we thought there is at least one star that cares for something other than money. People have lined up to say that he has changed their lives, he has proved that music is not the sole property of fuddy-duddy madrigal singers from middle-class Surbiton.
The boy ‘done good’. The military wives are modest stars. The nation suddenly realises that behind every soldier lies a personal story. We are all enriched at the proof positive that just sometimes what glitters really is gold!
TEST YOURSELF WITH THIS MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!
1. 1. After what sort of activity might you suffer ‘the bends’? 2. What would you buy from Stanley Gibbons? 3. What colour are house in Monopoly? 4. What shape is a Sumo wrestling ring? 5. Which Hindu system of philosophy is used as a means of exercise and meditation in the West? 6. In which game do you score “one for his knob”? 7. The Fastnet race is part of the contest for which cup? 8. Which game’s name comes from a piece of its equipment looking like a Bishop’s crozier? 9. At which station do you arrive in Paris if you have travelled from the UK by Eurostar? 10. The YOC is the junior branch of which organisation?
Like many rather more important services, hen-keeping does not involve a Christmas break. In fact there is little festive cheer on our allotments right now for the whole site is ankle-deep in mud. Strutting around in the black stuff is not ideal for chooks, and our run-up to the festival of twinkling lights is occupied by repeated visits to our source of gravel. Perhaps Santa will bring us a free load!
But the conditions underfoot were not the only cause for complaint this morning. Those amongst us whose lives are so bereft of alternative diversion had read the newly published report by the Commons public accounts committee on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. It is enough to make mad anyone who has ever suffered from the pedantic bullying of the tax men, not to mention all those currently suffering from financial cuts of one kind or another.
The report says it has uncovered “specific and systemic” failures in Britain’s tax-gathering agency. Amongst others, these include deals struck with Vodaphone and Goldman Sachs. Owing to a “mistake” admitted by the taxmen Goldman paid up to £20 million less tax than had been due on its bonus payments. But that was mere peanuts compared with Vodaphone which was allowed to settle a dispute by payimg £1.25 billion, thus saving no less than £6 billion on outstanding tax.
Committee members suspect that there may be other questionable deals among £25 billion of outstanding unresolved tax bills, but the taxmen are hiding behind claims of “taxpayer confidentiality”. Hmm! Be that as it may, the report will trigger a judge-led inquiry into corporate tax. Sir Andrew Park will look at deals done with some five companies, seeing whether Revenue & Customs complied with its legal advice and its internal guidelines.
The ‘small print’ of the report tells us a great deal about the strangely different approaches to the ordinary taxpayer and the tycoons. We already knew that tax avoidance and evasion was rife amongst the well-heeled, what we hadn’t realised was that even those that declare liabilities are being treated with kid gloves. The report calls for reform so that negotiating teams are no longer permitted to sign off secret deals they do with firms.
This whole exposure was triggered by Osita Mba, the revenue solicitor turned whistleblower, who first alerted the National Audit Commission and two parliamentary committees to the Goldman Sachs deal. The MPs have urged the department not to pursue him for telling truth that should have emerged long since. Why the government cannot simply instruct the tax authorities accordingly is a mystery on a par with its inability to stop state-owned banks from paying obscene bonuses with taxpayers money.
Of course today’s report merely lifts the lid a fraction. Just how much leniency has been shown to the super-rich? Even now we know that the amounts they have been allowed to trouser would have more than exceeded the costs of so many vital public services which have been axed.
Anyone who has made a small mistake with their self-assessment knows only too well just how bombastic and downright threatening the tax inspectors can be. One of our collegues once had a visit over an alleged £200 not declared. It was, he says, very like the portrayals of the Gestapo in many of those old war films that still litter our TV channels.
Now we know that a quite different approach and regime has applied to the great and powerful. Frankly, it stinks to high heaven and it is surely time for ministers to wade in with hob-nailed boots.
Mind you, they may find that slightly embarrassing given the links with ministers and party funding of many of those involved! Incompetence or corruption? Either way it is clear that Clegg’s claim that those with the broadest shoulders are bearing the greatest pain of austerity is about as valid as a Christmas cracker joke!
I was back amongst the mud and hens this morning. We did eventually reach Cambridge but by the time we did so it was time to turn around and head back. We were only away for a day, but the number of irritating national topics still multiplied like rabbits on heat.
First amongst them was the news that we are now being pressed to contribute more than £25 billion to a new eurozone payout. Despite Britain being outside the eurozone, European officials are demanding Britain hands over what would be the second largest donation. The matter will come to a head today when George Osborne attends a meeting of finance ministers.
The demand is over and above the £12 billion for which we are already liable in respect of loans made to Greece, Portugal and Ireland. Last night Peter Bone, the Tory MP for Wellingborough, urged the Chancellor to stand up for the “British interest”, even if he is as isolated as David Cameron was just days ago. Douglas Carswell, the Tory MP for Clacton, said; “George Osborne has spent 20 months going along with the bail-out and it has cost this country billions which dwarf the austerity measures. He needs to call a halt now”. RIght across the Tory ranks the same sentiments were echoing and, predictably, only the Lib Dem members of the coalition were urging that yet another fortune be handed over.
The view of the people became clear with the results of the latest opinion poll. Suddenly the Conservatives have a huge lead over Labour with the Lib Dems having all but vanished. Whatever Cameron’s motives may have been, his refusal to bow the knee to the bullying tactics of Merkel and Sarkosy won widepsread acclaim. It may well be that the insults subsequently poured out by the French helped more than a little.
Surely Osborne will not now agree to a payment toward a club we have spurned. Should he concede this he can wave goodbye to any hope of a co-operative approach from those now suffering the effects of cuts. Just for once he should glance back to the stance of the sainted Margaret. She gave a whole new meaning to the words No,No,No!
CLEGG AND THE HOUSE OF LORDS
Nick Clegg will today signal that Lords reform will be the key parliamentary battleground of next year by promising that the Queen’s speech will include plans for an elected upper house that will be forced past peers if necessary. Predictably, the Labour Party has said nothing.
Surely it is high time to put an end to undemocratic privilege. Many believe that the honours system itself is a relic of a bygone age of an empire that no longer exists, but tackling the Lords would be a good first step.
There is only one question. Clegg will reveal that 20% of the Lords will still be “by appointment”. So all those prepared to fund the Tory party will still be able to earn ermine!
WELL DONE MILITARY WIVES!
Gareth Malone worked a near miracle when he persuaded a large group of military wives, most of whom had never sung other than in their baths, to form a choir. Now they are on the brink of topping the Christmas charts with ‘Wherever you are’.
Wonderful! For too long our troops in Afghanistan have been locked into a war that only politicians see as worthwhile. They have been betrayed and their families left in permanent anguish. They have felt lonely and isolated. They have lacked a voice.
Now they have one. The proceeds of the single will go to charity, it is our chance to show support for the forgotten half of our troops who face mortal danger for a lost cause.
Today I am en route to Cambridge, there to deliver Christmas presents and to share some convivial company. At least that was the plan when we headed off at the crack of dawn!
Unfortunately we became entrapped in a motorway jam and at the moment have no idea as to its cause. After I had tired of watching the antics of a fellow traveller in a van proclaiming “We never stop” I escaped down the slip road into this rather dismal spot. The service station is packed to capacity and there is little sign of any festive cheer. Compared to some of the people trapped here my pal Albert, who is caring for my chickens, is a bundle of joy!
Why am I telling you this? The only logical reason is that I promised to publish the answers to yesterday’s quiz. But I have to confess that keying words to an anonymous audience has become something of an obsession. In days long gone I used to pen a column in a local newspaper and, from time to time, I did get to meet readers. The web is different. With the exception of a few friends who leave comments, one has no idea who is out there. Maybe the counter is wrong and there is no one at all, but that can’t be the case since I have on occasions received onslaughts from such diverse people as the Barmy Army and fans of Lady Gaga.
But it is all something of a disappointment. When I first started the blog I vaguely imagined that I would develop a network of people happy to debate the comings and goings of our mutual experience. As the count at the bottom of this blog shows I will soon have received my millionth ‘visit’, but like Santa my visitors never exchange so much as a word as the publish button sends daily messages into space.
Never mind, she-who-must-be-obeyed has demanded coffee so we are off to join the longest queue since Lloyd George sold honours. At least I have kept my promise to provide answers. But is there really anyone out there?
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S WEEKEND QUIZ; 1. Nancy Reagan 2. Kool and the Gang 3. The sun ( Bright area) 4. Geoffrey Rush 5. Sierra Leone 6. Devon 7. Sherry 8. 1982 9. Statue of Zeus 10. 15th
This morning we noticed that the water in the large pond on the allotments has suddenly become crystal-clear. Throughout the summer and autumn it has been as black and forbidding as Albert’s vest, now we can actually count even the fish which lurk near the bottom. They must feel like Mrs Biggins when her curtains come down for their annual wash. But why does it happen?
Anyway, our attention today has been focussed on our primary schools. One of my fellow hen-keepers, Bill, has a niece who has just qualified to teach, and tells me that the government is proposing to reduce the number of times that a trainee can re-sit the final exams. Judy had to take the test three times and under the new rules she would have been fired off after two. Given the lass clearly has an affinity with small children and knows her subjects well that would have been a pity. But here’s the rub, Michael Gove has specifically excluded academies and free schools – run by private companies or other organisations outside of County Council control – from the new proposal. Now just why would he do that?
Character assasination is not our thing but it has to be said that Michael Gove always reminds us of those ’upper-class twits’ which used to feature in Monty Python. That’s his funny side, but there is a darker one. His behaviour toward those schools that have decided to stay within the state system is nothing short of dictatorial.
A perfect example is provided by Downhills primary school in Tottenham. The school has been told that either Gove will make an “academy order” or the governors can vote to do so themselves “by no later than 27 January 2012 ”. The school, he has ordered, must be taken over by “a business, university or private school”. Whichever emerges they will be free to use unqualified teachers.
This year Downhills has passed the acceptable rating of 60% and is making good progress, despite being in a difficult catchment area. Labour MP David Lammy is a former pupil and he is outraged by what is happening. There is, he says, no evidence that forced acadamies work in the primary sector and the Downhill children are being used in an attempt “to experiment with 100 years of proud history”.
Downhill’s head is Leslie Church. He says that the school has worked hard to improve the quality of teaching, but there is no alternative than to obey since Gove’s department is asking for a response without allowing any alternative. He worries that the move will mean that the school no longer has ” democratic accountability”. At present there is a democratically elected governing body, and a democratically elected local authority. Both have the power to change the head if they have cause for concern, neither has done so. Right now both parents and councillors see themselves as responsible and “behave in a supportive way”.
This is beginning to happen right across the country and, in the view of many educationalists, will have an adverse effect on primary schools where parent involvement is a major factor. Of course if the governors, who are elected by parents, decide to make such a move that is an entirely different matter.
But Gove is gaining a reputation as a little dictator. Before it is too late someone should remind him that we do still live in a democracy. Just!
TEST YOUR GENERAL KNOWLEDGE WITH THE WEEKEND QUIZ;
1. Which former First Lady was nicknamed “The Smiling Mamba”? 2. Who had hits with “Joanna” and “Celebration”? 3. Where would you see a facula? 4. Who played the title role in “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers”? 5. Which country has a unit of currency called the Leone? 6. The seaside town of Westward Ho is in which county? 7. Oloroso is a type of which drink? 8. Back in the charts in 2005, in what year was Bananarama’s first hit? 9. Which Wonder of the World statue was at Olympia? 10. In which century did William Caxton establish the first English printing press?