Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’
Our usual winter involves a great deal of hot water, and I am not referring to the regular fate of Albert at the hands of his beloved. January and February invariably involve ice-melting and enough kettle-boiling to fire the Flying Scotsman, but this year the ritual only kicked in for March. And then only once, today breaking the ice on the hen’s refreshment bars required nothing more than a prod from a gnarled finger. Climate change doubters should visit the allotments!
Last night several of us watched the hour-long programme on BBC2 about the migrant crisis. Two young British doctors toured Europe and visited most of the refuge camps established to cope with the enormous numbers arrival daily at Lesbos. There were one or two honourable exceptions, but almost every facility was appalling, and it was heartbreaking to see small children existing in inhumane and insanitary conditions. Sadly the programme provided many questions, but no answers.
Some of the migrants interviewed had fled the ravages of war, but many were in search of a “better standard of life”. Many in that category will be returned to whence they came, and thought of their undertaking a reverse journey of such tortuous proportions was too horrifying to contemplate. It is hard to imagine that the answer lies in bribing a repressive state such as Turkey to block and house them, but what is the answer?
Harsh though it may sound the present ever-increasing influx cannot be accommodated, and it is impossible to visualise other than a massive humanitarian effort to establish safe and habitable refugee centres in Syria until such time as peace is restored. If the United Nations cannot manage and protect even these it is hard to imagine that it serves any useful purpose at all. And maybe the same goes for Afghanistan and Iraq, the home of many who appeared on camera. That caveat says all that needs to be said about the sacrifice of so many British and American troops in wars aimed at ‘regime change’.
There can be little doubt that the spiralling numbers of incoming refugees and economic migrants has been triggered by Angels Merkel’s “let them all come for a better life” rhetoric. That has backfired badly. Only yesterday we learned of the fate of a parish priest in Zorneding, east of Munich. Because he defended the right to a better life for the oppressed he has been driven from his parish. The sheer numbers of the so-called “invaders” has led to an astonishing growth in support for the far right – a trend amply illustrated by big gains for the xenophobic ‘Alternative for Germany’ party in local elections at the weekend.
No decent, civilised human being can do other than welcome the distressed and needy into their communities. But the moment that apparent inundation threatens, even they become fearful. Throw in the stories about the arriving crowds including potential terrorists and the fear turns to hysteria.
It was a conversation that had us shifting uncomfortably on our shed benches. We all desperately want to see real action to save innocent and suffering families, but treating them in such a inhumane way and then subjecting them to local hostility, or worse, is not the answer. The floundering and incompetent EU cannot solve this, only a worldwide organisation such as the UN can do so.
It was a relief to turn our attention to a less troubling subject. Hardly a day passes but we hear of yet more patronising rubbish from Public Health England (PHE). It’s highly paid officials have now devised a quiz aimed at teaching healthy habits, and are about to launch a £3.5 million campaign across the internet, TV, social media and in public places urging us to tick boxes with a view to living longer. Dame – what else – Sally Davies, said yesterday that the drive will “help people to achieve small and simple changes”. Very simple, and what Basil Fawlty would call “bleedin’ obvious”.
Is there anyone who hasn’t by now learned that stopping smoking, reducing alcohol, exercising and cutting down on fats has beneficial effects? Do these people have to treat adults as if they were small children. For us the PHE was summed up perfectly yesterday by Chris Snowdon, of Lifestyle Economics. He said : ” It is astounding that this hectoring quango is squandering millions promoting a tedious website that nobody will visit. Whilst there is nothing wrong with health education, there is very little that is educational about this patronising money pit. Even when they are targeting middle-aged people, Public Health England cannot resist talking to us as if we were children”.
Alan Bennett famously remarked that he had no wish to give up all his pleasures just to spend two extra years in a Worthing nursing home. And that sort of philosophy does influence many. But whatever the reason for the man in the street ignoring the edicts of Dame Davies and the chattering classes the recipe for longevity is already out there. The public money that they squander would be better spent on decent refugee camps in Syria.
Perhaps when our dear leader has ended his three-month battle with Boris for the tenancy of Number Ten he should turn his attention to PHE, an organisation that makes even Brussels look mature and thrifty by comparison.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Why shouldn’t things be largely absurd, futile, and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go very well together”….George Santayana.
We were all moved by the response to yesterday’s piece about David Bowie. It is nice to learn that we are not alone in our view that this was a unique man. He clearly had a huge impact on people of all ages, he seemingly encouraged many to seek their inner self and to realise that it was okay to be different. The more we think about him the more we applaud his decision to decline honours. A label bestowed from on high would have fitted ill on a man who was truly of the people and for the people.
After we had cleaned out the squabbling hens, and enjoyed our customary Eric Pickles breakfast, we had to head for the hen-food and bedding wholesaler. The result of living in a perpetual monsoon has been not only that we now have webbed feet, but also a dramatic increase in our consumption of corn and chipped-wood bedding, and the need to restock had become urgent. Hence the late publication of these notes – unlike the daily comics we don’t have an army of hacks to meet deadlines. Given the standard of what many of them produce we should perhaps be grateful for small mercies. And of course it is not deadlines that dictate their lives, there is the small matter of dancing to the tune of their political masters.
Nowhere was that more apparent yesterday than at the Daily Torygraph, which led with a banner headline announcing that the striking Junior Doctors had been “Ordered back to work”. Read the accompanying blurb and you find nothing more than a remark from the lead NHS clinician confirming that in the event of a hospital hitting a crisis the pickets would abandon their banners – something already agreed by the BMA. Clearly the voice-piece of Jeremy Hunt believed that upon reading the dramatic headline the doctors would turn somersaults. In reality it had the opposite effect.
To us this example of press bias was up there with the worst. Would it have been too much to expect that a news story about our young doctors be treated honestly? Of course the Torygraph is not alone in its modern adulteration of facts. Once upon a time, many of our national newspapers reported honestly. Now, with the possible exception of the Independent, they all blur the distinction between facts and political cause, and the practice extends to their online versions. Local papers always reported objectively, but they are in terminal decline.
We will soon be involved in a decision that will affect the UK like no other in recent history. One would have hoped that the media would have provided a public service by providing an unbiased coverage of the EU referendum, for many people like us are genuinely unsure as to the pros and cons of membership. But that isn’t going to happen. What will happen is that every wild claim made by our dear leader will be reported as fact, always provided that Rupert Murdoch et al have decided that staying in serves their best interests. Should they decide that it doesn’t the equally wild claims by those favouring exit will be solemnly reported as if discovered on tablets of stone.
Ironically the only media organisation likely to make an honest attempt at impartial factuality – the BBC – is the one that many of them are plotting to emasculate. If they are successful we can effectively wave goodbye to democracy. People are influenced by headlines, and will become as puppets on a string. Be it the regulation of Bankers. the NHS, Trident, Benefits or Immigration the ‘facts’ will be adjusted to suit the political agenda of a handful of powerful men. And any leading opponent of their views can expect merciless character assassination.
Although it is still far from the worst offender the greatest loss has been the integrity of The Times. It was never the choice of those looking for a quick read, but for many seekers of the truth the ‘Thunderer’ could be relied upon to report objectively. No more. So long as the Chipping Norton set court Mr Murdoch, it will continue to act as a propaganda agent for the Downing Street spin-doctors.
And part of that deal is the refusal by government to activate part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry. You may recall that this was postponed until such time as all prosecutions relating to phone hacking were completed. It was then to investigate in detail alleged links between ministers and the media. Potential dynamite. But someone has removed the fuse – no prizes for guessing who and why. And we are left with the laughable concept of the press regulating itself with a body including some of the very people involved in the worst examples of misreporting and worse in the history of the published word.
It is perhaps the sins of omission that trouble us most. We understand that research by the Macmillan Cancer Support has shown that thousands of cancer patients will be made homeless by the planned cuts to employment and support allowance. Did this not merit a mention? We understand that more than twenty claims for compensation against British troops by Iraqi civilians are still being lodged each week, and the government is funding legal proceedings. Not worthy of coverage? We understand the private companies given PFI contracts account for the bulk of the constantly reported NHS debt. Why no mention? There are many examples of what appear to be stories in the public interest being censored.
Of course space determines what can be covered. Given the thousands of column inches devoted to the romance between Rupert and Jerry Hall, and the sartorial splendour of Jeremy Corbyn, perhaps there is simply not enough room to cover such trivia as the fate of cancer victims and troops sent into an unwinnable war on a lie?
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” A journalist is somebody who possesses himself of a fantasy and lures the truth towards it”….Arnold Wesker.
Bill and I are on our way to Bacup. I hasten to add that he is driving as I hammer at these keys. We are responding to a request for advice from a group of allotment-holders who are keen to establish a hen cooperative, and we are happy to exchange the little we know for a little hospitality.
Bill was quick to volunteer to accompany me. He is a long-retired police officer and is looking forward to revisiting his beat of the sixties. He recalls that his detection rate was so impressive that within four years he was promoted to sergeant. Only now does he reveal how he single-handedly became the Sherlock of Bacup. There was, it seems, a steady flow of petty crime and as each one was reported he called at just one home. There dwelt a family of Dad, Mum and eleven children. It took but a moment to establish the culprit. Bill has happy memories of the Fagan tribe.
The journey to Bacup is hardly of the Major Tim variety and we were soon there. But no morning is complete without gripes and two occupied our thoughts as we navigated the usual M65 roadworks. The first was the appalling betrayal of our troops who served in Iraq.
Five years ago the government set aside £57 million to investigate 152 allegations of ill treatment of Iraqi civilians by the British army. Now the number of claims being examined by the 145-strong Iraq Historical Allegations Team has passed the 1,500 mark and is increasing at a rate of 20 per week. The Ministry of Defence pays an Iraqi agent a basic salary of £40,000 a year to help supposed victims, and British legal firms are funded from the public purse to work on a no-claim-no-fee basis. Any cash-strapped Iraqi family is free to ‘recall’ some injustice suffered during the invasion and occupation.
Anyone who has served on the front line in a hostile environment knows that incidents happen. Troops are constantly faced with extremely threatening situations and their choice is constantly to shoot or be shot. It is called war, something not a single minister has ever faced. Now a full scale witch-hunt is under way and, many years on, troops who were lauded for their valour are being hung out to dry.
In many cases their reward for serving their country in an unwinnable conflict has been homelessness, unemployment and life-changing injury. Now they are to be subjected to interrogation by lawyers amassing fortunes. Compare that with the lot of the man that sent them to war via a lie. Former Prime Minister Blair is busy making multi-millions as a “peace envoy” and at worst faces a slap on the wrist if Chilcot ever publishes his findings.
There may or may not have been a case for investigations in the immediate aftermath of the toppling of Saddam, but that time has long gone. Now anyone looking for an opportunity to make money is being funded by British taxpayers. It is a disgrace, a total scandal. If soldiers were allowed to strike, it would not be just the Junior Doctors who were preparing to walk out. If the present government had even a shred of decency it would call a halt now.
As we neared our destination the other subject that caught our eye was the disgraceful state of our transport services. The average cost of a ticket on the underground or bus services in our capital is £2.70. Contrast that with Berlin or Munich at £1.90. Contrast arrival times for our trains with the rest of Europe – over 10 per cent lateness compares with almost total punctuality. And commuters are paying 25 per cent more for rail season tickets on average since David Cameron took office.
And the response from government? In twenty years time we will spend £59 billion on high-speed trains geared for reduce journey times for businessmen who by then will not be travelling to hold meetings!
We’ve arrived. Time to talk of Black-Tail Columbians – chickens to you ignoramuses.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: “The meal is not over when I’m full. The meal is over when I hate myself”….LOUISCK.
As we cleaned out the squabbling hens this morning we codgers had much to be thankful for. It wasn’t raining, we were spared the horrifying aftermath of Storm Desmond being suffered by our Cumbrian neighbours, and Donald Trump is an American. On the other hand we paused to regret that we were not Premiership managers – Gary Monk of Swansea is the latest to be lined up for the chop but has the “slight consolation” of a £3 million compensation. We genuinely believe that we could cope with hurt pride given a brown envelope containing more than any of us will earn in a lifetime. We also cast covetous eyes in the direction of that champion of the working classes Gordon Brown who has joined the asset managers – bankers to you and us – having clearly decided that if you can’t beat them the best course is to join them.
At least he is spared the fate of all those on the left who were universally condemned for their finger-pointing only to be vindicated long after the reins of power had slipped from their hands. One such is Arthur Scargill. No consolation for him in the shape of ermined robes now adorning such as John Prescott. He presumably must draw consolation from the occasional bout of I-told-you-so. We were reminded of the long-gone bogey man of the Thatcherites when he dared to claim that come 2015 there would not be a single mine left in the United Kingdom. Yesterday the miners at Kellingley Colliery in Scargill’s native Yorkshire completed their final shift and the last UK mine closed.
Of course we all know that burning coal is no longer to be recommended, but the fact remains that a great deal is still consumed here, not least of the processed smokeless variety. And now every piece of what we used to call black gold is shipped in from abroad. Doom mongers, particularly those of the virulent Scargill variety, are seldom heeded but unfortunately they are often right. At the very least they should prise old Arthur out of obscurity and plonk him on the Lord’s benches alongside all the other revolutionaries now littering those ever more crowded places of consolation.
But despite how it may appear we codgers, with the exception of Albert, are not of a gloomy disposition. As we gathered in the hut where last year’s Christmas tree is making its glittering return, we even neglected to discuss the news that November was the dullest on record, with just 36.6 hours of sunshine recorded. Our dear leader is at this very moment leading the global warming summit in Paris and we are confident that all will be well.
Instead we discussed the latest book being circulated amongst us as part of our codger’s library – a low-cost replacement for the state-run versions now being closed by Gorgeous George. I have just taken delivery of the well worn version of ‘Hack Attack’ by Nick Davies. Although I have only reached the fourth chapter I have read enough to heed my pal’s demand that I recommend it to you, dear reader. Read it if you dare. The cover announces that this is the story of how the truth “caught up with Rupert Murdoch”. But it is far more than that.
Nick Davies is an award-winning journalist with the Guardian. His attention initially centred on what appeared to be a minor story when a private investigator and a journalist from the News of the World received short jail sentences for accessing other people’s voicemail messages, principally those of members of the Royal family. Six years later he had discovered an astonishing story of illegal intrusion and corruption on a massive scale. Davies’ account of how Murdoch and his dysfunctional lieutenants ensnared, enslaved, and frightened generations of politicians is blistering. But they were merely the core of the affair. There was attendant police corruption and cover-ups. There was involvement by Downing Street where a former NotW star Andy Coulson had become a confidante of David Cameron, himself a close friend of Rebekah Brooks, another leading light in the Murdoch empire.
I will spare you chapter and verse, not least because I have yet to read the whole work. But it merits your attention for this is a detailed exposure of lies, intimidation and corruption on an unprecedented scale, and one is left with the uneasy feeling that the closure of the News of the World was not the end, the final cleansing salvo. Perhaps the reluctance of the government to implement the Leveson Report tells us more than we imagined. Perhaps many in high places who condoned, even aided, the systematic character assassination of people who believed that the laws of privacy protected them and their families, are still in positions of power.
Nick Davies and those brave enough to help him have given us all cause to think again when we buy tabloid newspapers. They have also prompted all those who have always chosen to believe that our establishment – politicians, police, media, lawyers – is above corruption to think again and to wonder.
Given its significance I shall undoubtedly return to this book. Meantime I leave you with one line. On 18 July, 2003, the day that Dr David Kelly, the weapons expert who supposedly committed suicide after being caught up in the furore over false claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, was found dead in a field the Sunday Telegraph received a fax recording every phone call Kelly had made in the previous eight-week period. On the same day Davies received detailed stories of envelopes of cash handed over to serving police officers.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Hack Attack is the most important book of the year”…. Tom Stoppard.
Greetings from the allotments hut. The roof is repaired and we can now sit here without having a shower with our clothes on. Albert is missing today but there will be none of the usual snide remarks about over-long confessions, for the wee man yesterday re-felted our roof in the face of winds fierce enough to save him the cab fare to Manchester airport in the unlikely event that he had wished to go there. We Eric Pickles devotees carried out such arduous tasks as holding the ladder and passing up tar and nails as our new found hero wore the demeanour of Errol Flynn fighting off a deck load of pirates.
I am now poised over the keyboard, one finger at the ready. The others are attempting to restore order, having already forked away the hen’s newly acquired paddling pools. But the initial air of resignation has given way to one of intense anger. The conversation has inevitably begun to focus on what happened in Paris less than 48-hours ago. Understandably those who were there are still in shock and a sense of terrible loss, but we suspect that they will soon move on to what we who were fortunate to be many miles away already feel – a sense of sheer outrage that madmen were able to murder innocent people in the name of an imaginary God who is so good that he opens the door to paradise for insane slaughterers prepared to create a hell here on earth.
Slowly but surely the background to behaviour that would shame the Devil himself is beginning to emerge. And the conclusion can only be that the time has finally arrived for every peace loving nation to face the harsh reality that such a threat requires an abandonment of the niceties that they hold dear.
At least one of the assassins appears to have arrived in France amongst the ever-increasing flood of refugees. Another left fingerprints already known to the authorities who were aware of his involvement with jihadi groups, and who indeed had already visited Syria. Here in the UK we learn that more than 450 ‘Jihadi Johns’ have already returned to dwell amongst us. Undoubtedly the fact that they are free to walk the streets of our major cities is due to fear on the part of the authorities about the reaction of the courts to any infringement of their ‘human rights. Today those of scores of innocents inhabit only morgues.
The reality is that the pre-Isis ideal of free movement is no longer feasible, but lethal. As is the ideal of resistance to detention without trial. As the French President rightly remarked we are at war, and during war anyone suspected of plotting against the state must be detained for the greater good. And for the same reason the boatloads of ‘refugees’ must be subjected to far more rigorous checks than is currently the case. Our various European governments face a straight choice. They either continue to observe their instinctive responses of political correctness and compassion or they close borders and incarcerate the radicalised. Yes such action will offend many consciences but the alternative is many more terror attacks, many more overflowing hospitals and morgues.
The more likely response will be “heightened security”, a difficult concept given that our police and armed forces have been reduced to a shadow of their former selves. But in any case total security in every place where large numbers gather is impossible. How do you check everyone entering a large shopping complex? How do you know which individual has a suicide bomb strapped to his or her waist beneath their outer clothing?
Yes we are in a blind, almost irrational rage. But what is beginning to happen is more threatening and evil than anything that has happened since World War 2, and it demands retaliation of like measure. Freedoms that we treasure will have to be put aside in favour of the right to walk our streets without fear. And that is far from all.
After the fiasco of Iraq no one wants to see “boots back on the ground” in Syria and Iraq. But Vladimir Putin is equally outraged by the downing of a Russian airliner and he has called for joint Russian, American and French joint military action against Isis. He has even signalled that his support for Assad is not a pre-condition. Thanks to bombing, the three powers are already helping the Kurds and others to drive back the Isis hordes with their contingents of British and French jihadists. Imagine the impact of a combined force of professional troops.
It was whilst we were wondering this morning just how many appalling outrages it will take to persuade the faint-hearts to really act that we noticed the outcome of the latest World Values Survey. This regularly conducted research asks to what extent we trust strangers. Back in the 1950s almost three-quarters believed that strangers could be trusted. Yesterday’s figures show that in the UK that has dropped to a startling 30 per cent and the figures for the rest of Europe are little better.
Why do you think that is?
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Maybe this world is another planet’s hell?”….Aldous Huxley.
It was sunny, albeit chilly, as we cleaned out the hens this morning. But some of my allotments pals were in a rebellious mood. Our local village post office closed its doors for the last time on Saturday and, for reasons I cannot entirely fathom, they were deeply resentful about what they see as the latest example of the death of local communities. I know what they mean for slowly but surely local people are being forced in the direction of the big towns and cities, and they in turn are rapidly losing their small shops in favour of a sea of estate agents, charity shops and enough coffee shops to satisfy the parched hordes of the Sahara. Plus a dozen Wetherspoons of course.
But I have to confess that Post Offices do not rank high in my list of new-age deprivations. There has never, in my book, been a less pleasurable, more Soviet-style environment in which to pass half an hour than in a British post office queue. At their peak you could conduct any of 231 types of transactions there – renew your TV licence, collect pensions and family allowances, pay car tax, withdraw or deposit money in a savings account, buy premium bonds, post parcels..the list of services on offer was varied in the extreme. All that was required of you was that you be white-haired, hard of hearing and able to spend up to an hour hunting through a tiny coin purse for a 20p piece. But I do acknowledge that old ‘uns in rural places who lack transport or online facilities are the victims here. Instead of waddling down to exchange the time of day with Mrs Biggins they now face the duel task of cadging lifts and queues growing ever longer as a result of the Post Office reducing staff in the interest of “streamlining services”.
But it was the dreaded Monday morning and by the time we settled in the warm hut thoughts had inevitably turned to the life and times of Mourinho who, it seems, stands in danger of pocketing a few more million pounds of Russian largesse. As with the Post Offices I find it hard to understand the tears shed by my pals for the Premiership managers who receive P45s every time one of their millionaire stars misses the penalty that would have secured a vital three points. Unjust it may be but if someone kept firing me from my role as chicken -keeper with the consolation of a £6 million cheque I really believe that I would accept my fate.
Whenever the chatter turns to money the name of Gorgeous George invariably surfaces before anyone can say doughnuts. And so it was this morning. A few days ago we wrote of the favourite for the Tory leadership digging his own grave, and this weekend has seen him digging deeper. Our dashing Etonian choose to announce that like his former heroine he is not for turning. He was of course referring to his plan for tax credit cuts which, according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, will cost “millions of people up to £1,300 per year”.
Whilst the right-hand man to the bearded one, shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, was quick to promise not to crow should he stop digging, his fellow Tories were less inclined to offer solace. Leading the charge was the new leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson. “It’s not acceptable”, she told the Mail on Sunday, “we can’t have people suffering in this way”. Others followed, even ex-minister David Willetts, the reports of whose death have clearly been greatly exaggerated, emerged from somewhere to talk of an economic policy “skewed too far in favour of well-off pensioners”. In fact the only leading light we didn’t hear from over a weekend of Osborne-baiting was Boris. Perhaps he was too busy rubbing his hands?
But for those amongst us who enjoy studying the antics of politicians the highlight of the weekend was the start of the latest Blair spin operation on Iraq. Clearly he knows something we don’t, and we suspect that Chilcot is about to release his report which has taken longer that Hadrian devoted to his wall. Our former Prime Minister chose a CNN Europe interview to make his move. “Sorry” screamed the headlines of his media friends. What he actually said was that he was sorry he had believed intelligence reports that Saddam held weapons of mass destruction. He was also sorry that planning for the post-Saddam era was somewhat flawed. Considering that what he did led to the death of many service men and women and countless civilians that is not impressive is it?
Even worse in many ways, what he did undoubtedly led to the horrendous situation we face today with the butchers of the so-called Islamic State. But what we all realise is that everything that he did was driven by his desire to share with George W Bush the glory of being seen as the most powerful man in the world. If Chilcot has done his job well we will see clear evidence that Blair had committed to war long before he so much as mentioned it to the Commons.
Unlike our embattled Chancellor Tony Blair does not have the option of stopping his grave digging. His version is already overflowing with real bodies of innocents who, like us, naively believed that a Prime Minister’s word was his bond. Now he makes millions as he attempts to pre-empt the final verdict.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” A total of 179 British service personnel were killed during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Human rights groups say at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died”.
Another week, another Monday. And as always a sense of gloom descended on my fellow codgers for reasons that are far from logical. One can only imagine that within us lie memories of dragging ourselves back to school after a weekend of Just William adventures, or of returning to production lines that we gleefully scuttled from on Friday evening. Either way it makes no sense for this morning we were merely doing what most of us have done over the weekend, cleaning out a horde of chickens who have no calenders. I say most of us since Albert was, as always, absent having been engaged in holy rituals or excessive boozing according to which tale one cares to believe.
On Monday mornings the Kaffir lilies and Begonias go unnoticed as they blaze their defiance at the passing of the season. It is only when we gather in the hut for our Yorkshire tea that the mood begins to lift. And today it didn’t lift far since my pals do not seem to share the enthusiasm of Gorgeous George for the state visit of China’s president Xi Jinping. They see danger in the plan to hand over control of nuclear power stations to a nation that would recoil from the thought of any foreign power gaining influence over their own. They complain bitterly about the total disregard for human rights in the totalitarian state. They fume at a British government turning a blind eye to the behaviour of democracy-trampling bully boys, and bowing humbly before them in the search for tainted gold.
They express the hope that Jeremy Corbyn will dare to raise the cause of the oppressed. It seems to me something of a long shot. The idea that a few words from a old codger with a beard and vest will have our guests heading for repentance seems as unlikely as a Rugby referee understanding the rules.
My colleagues eventually tired of China bashing, but it seemed that foreign policy had somehow taken over their minds this weekend. I say that because they then turned their scepticism on to Syria. As priorities go it seemed a fair choice given that the ever growing might of the mad beheaders of Isis is undoubtedly the biggest threat to our national security since the mad little corporal with a Charlie Chaplain moustache triggered World War 11.
To start with a positive we do believe that our dear leader is right about refugees. With the best will in the world no European country will cope with the flood of people fleeing Syria, and opening the door will simply encourage yet more to risk drowning. David Cameron’s concept of taking refugees only from the safe havens, and making them more habitable makes sense. There the plaudits end, for the endless argument about bombing is an irrelevance. Our handful of planes will make little impact given that the Americans, French and others are applying massive fire power to a mission guaranteed to kill more innocents than jihadists.
The futile debate is taking place against a seemingly futile distraction. We are told that the intervention of Vladamir Putin is dangerous, in that he is in part targeting anti-Assad groups. And they are the good guys? Wrong. A few days ago Jean-Clement Jeanbart, the Archbishop of Aleppo, told MPs at a House of Lords meeting organised by ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ that the UK is inadvertently helping to bring about the destruction of Syria by funding such anti-Assad groups. He said that they comprise jihadis and mercenaries who are “killing anyone who is saying anything about freedom, citizenship, religious liberty and democracy”. In supposedly working for the downfall of Assad, the Archbishop warned, the UK is “pushing on us fundamental jihadis who want to kill everyone who is not similar to them”.
The truth seems to be that our policy is based on a false premise. Assad is bad and, with the exception of Isis, all those who oppose him are good. The reality is quite different and more complex. And the truth is that only one thing will stop the merciless fighting and slaughter. Only troops on the ground can achieve that. A strong multi-national force would lead to the destruction of Isis and its fanatical partners. No one likes the thought given the history of Blair and Iraq, but this is very different. We are not talking here about invading a sovereign state supposedly in possession of weapons of mass destruction. We are talking about intervention before it is too late in a bloody conflict that threatens the world. Us included? Considering that large numbers of the murderous hordes come from Britain the answer is yes.
The European Space Agency has just announced that it has teamed up with Russia to land a probe on the Moon. is it too much to ask that the same spirit of co-operation be extended to Syria? And why not ask our new Chinese masters to consider flexing their considerable military muscles in the interests of world peace?
It is time for the EU and UN to demonstrate that they do serve a purpose.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Please, I ask you, I beseech you to have another look at the Syria situation to see what is is underneath what is really happening”… Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart, Aleppo.
One of the greatest joys in life for we old codgers is a good book, be it in hardback, paperback or Kindle format. This morning we have decided to recommend our latest read to you. It is a deeply moving book. A thought-provoking book. A brilliantly researched book. A book that will transport you to the killing fields of Vietnam, and the fate of one ordinary soldier who died there fighting for a cause that few understood and even fewer identified with. It is a masterpiece that illustrates graphically and painfully that behind every name on every memorial stone lies a story of eternal loss and eternal tears. And for what?
‘A Name On A Wall’ was written by Mark Byford, a former Head of BBC Journalism. This is his first book, the painstaking result of something that happened when he one morning paid a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. Suddenly a shaft of light illuminated one of the 58,282 names on The Wall. It was that of Larry Byford, remarkably similar to the name of his father, Lawry Byford, who served in the second World War. At that moment Mark decided to embark on a unique personal journey to discover the story of the name on The Wall.
Travelling more than 30,000 miles, from East Texas to Vietnam, he brought to life the lasting impact of the decision to enlist to “do his duty” of Larry Byford on his siblings, friends and the comrades who were with him on the day that he died in the summer of 1967. A casualty in the most divisive and bloody war of the twentieth century.
Larry Byford grew up in a small, poor community and his immersion into the rigours of army training are portrayed in colourful detail. In a matter of months he was on his way to a strange, hot, dangerous country of which he had never heard. Former comrades remember a cheerful, brave young man. Perhaps too brave. Part of a squad surrounding a cave in which Viet Com troops were hiding he watched as an unarmed officer entered the mouth of the cave to appeal for surrender to avoid pointless slaughter. Shots rang out. The officer fell to the ground. Larry rushed to his rescue and died alongside him.
Forty years after the final American combat troops left Vietnam, and in the light of the more recent controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the book asks what lessons, if any, have been learnt through the ultimate sacrifice of so many names on so many walls. It traces the behaviour of politicians of the day, switching regularly to the nightmare of young men battling in appalling conditions against an often unseen enemy, asking all the while just why they were there. In the telling the narrative questions fearlessly the true meaning of “duty” and “heroism”.
The author tracks down the still grieving siblings of Larry Byford, who break down when they remember the brother that went off to war and never returned alive. In the most moving chapter of all the author recalls the hours he spent sitting alone by the simple grave of his namesake. There he read again his research notes. In that quiet country graveyard a young man who died was born again in his mind’s eye. This was no mere name on a wall, it was a dashing, lovable lad who had so much to live for and died a brutal death as his fellow countrymen protested in their millions against the war that claimed him.
Few books move me to tears. Few provoke so many thoughts about the lot of lions led by donkeys or wars fought by poor men at the behest of rich ones. This one did for every name on every wall is but the tag line of a vale of tears.
If you only ever read one more book we urge you to make it this one.
QUOTE FOR TODAY ” We gaze at the names on war memorials and wonder, and now I know the reason why. This book is meticulous in its research, compelling in its structure. A marvellous book!”…Sir Michael Parkinson.
We codgers have sympathy in our ancient hearts for the Greeks. We realise that their idea of managing an economy is akin to our allotments treasurer, but they seem to us to be the victims of a delusion. The idea that a nation of just 10 million could ever operate as equal partners to economic giants was a fantasy, and the events of the past 48 hours have shown that when push comes to shove they are always going to suffer both. Yes they appear to have been bailed out again, but the price is a fearful one. They now face austerity far more severe than the regime they so joyously rejected and, worse still, they now face loss of sovereignty as the grey suits from Brussels move in to call the tune on their every move.
Of course it is easy to understand the reluctance of German taxpayers to act as perpetual sugar-daddies. But the truth surely is that the whole eurozone dream is just that – a dream. One for all and all for one is a fine concept, but it is one only feasible in a partnership of equals. National pride is an important commodity, and so long as minnows swim amongst whales they must expect to be gobbled up.
Having blessed Grumpy Gordon for stopping Blair submerging us in the mess our attention, as we cleaned out the hens, drifted on to our own affairs. Defence. It was good to learn of our dear leader’s conversion to the cause and his recognition that in these dangerous times we have to face up to the necessity of spending real money on our armed forces. But our applause was muted, for the track record of our armchair politicians is to say the least a poor one.
As Martin Bell has pointed out in his ‘A Very British Revolution’ they devoted just seven hours to debating the proposal to invade Iraq, yet allocated ten times that to debating fox hunting. They then compounded that lunacy by refusing to listen to pleas for adequate numbers of troops, and turned a similar deaf ear to request for helicopters, bomb-proof vehicles and day-to-day equipment.
In 2006 the then Prime Minister Tony Blair promised the armed forces everything they needed to take on the Taliban. Three years later, in May 2009, Lieutenant Mark Evison of the Welsh Guards died of his wounds in Helmand Province. He had a reputation as an outstanding young officer. He had served as a platoon commander in Afghanistan for less than a month, which was time enough to get to know the shortages. He wrote in his journal: “I have a lack of radios, water, food and medical equipment. This together with manpower is what these missions lack. Injuries will be sustained which we will not be able to treat or evacuate and deaths could occur which could have been stopped. We are walking on a tightrope and from what it seems here are likely to fall”.
It was at this time that General Dannatt briefed a group of MPs that the Army desperately needed 2,000 more troops in Helmand. He was allowed only 700 as a “stop-gap” measure, and the role of the troops became one of simply defending the base against constant attack. The General let his frustration be known and was accused by ministers of “meddling in politics”. For his farewell tour in Helmand he had to borrow an American Black Hawk helicopter – by now the tiny wing of British rescue planes was largely grounded and waiting for repairs.
One of the many to die was Trooper James Munday of the Household Cavalry. He fell on 15 October 2008. After his inquest his mother Caroline said: “I hope our government will stop feathering its nest and provide our guys with the best equipment they can because they deserve it”. But then, as now, the succession of Defence Secretaries had no experience of military conflict. Immersed as several of them were in the expenses scandal a luxury was a plasma TV, an emergency a falling-out with their constituency association; and a fallen comrade an MP of the same party who, having been exposed as a flipper and swindler, had finally been forced to retire.
To a soldier, a luxury was a bucket of water; an emergency an all-arms assault by the Taliban on an undermanned forward operating base; and a fallen comrade a friend who has fought alongside him and saved his life, and whose remains he is trying to extract from the wreck of an inadequately armoured patrol vehicle.
As we gathered in our hut to rest from our less-than-strenuous labours we reflected on all those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those who to this day bear the physical and mental scars of the great betrayal. We are pleased that the Prime Minister has bowed to pressure to halt the dangerous programme of cuts to forces numbers. But we pray that he will oblige his ministers to seek expert advice on equipment. Some time soon our troops will be called upon to face religious zealots prepared to stop at nothing in their race for paradise. Sending ill-equipped troops to confront them will be tantamount to murder.
After the death of his only son John in the Battle of Loos, Kipling wrote his “Epitaph of the War”, and we use it here as our Quote For Today:
“If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied”
Most of us spent the weekend in the Costa del Leeds. It was sunny and as warm as a boundary rider’s buttocks. We were there for a charity event, and the sun truly shone on the supposedly righteous. We had delegated the task of looking after our flock of hens to the younger element of our various families and all appears to be well, although hens can’t talk. We were relieved, yet in true human form felt that pang that comes from evidence that no one is indispensable.
But our spirits were high. The driving force in most of our ancient lives is sport, and this week promises enough action to satisfy our addiction. Wimbledon and the Ashes are here, and the women’s soccer team are in the World Cup semi-finals. We could well emerge triumphant from all three, although there is the gnawing worry that should the haggis-eaters decide that they have had enough of the Old Etonians we could ere long be looking for an English champion to go with the strawberries and cream. And finding such would be as likely as hens-teeth.
But by the time we reached our hut to emulate the example of the great Eric Pickles our mood had darkened. The events in Tunisia have sickened every sane soul. Now there is the inevitable talk about taking holidays elsewhere, and this is understandable. It is also misguided. If the tourist industry upon which Tunisia depends collapses the murderers will have won again. And we have to remember that they can strike anywhere – all they need do is rant about paradise, arm a handful of lunatics and yet another breeding ground for incursion is theirs.
The reach of Isis was hideously demonstrated last week by near simultaneous attacks in Tunisia, France, Kuwait and Kobani in Syria. The first three atrocities received blanket coverage but the fourth, and by far the biggest massacre, was in Kobani, where at least 220 Kurdish citizens were slaughtered last Thursday. The terrible reality is that where they can possible ignore the carnage the major Western powers prefer to say nothing. They are reluctant to highlight their own culpability in failing to weaken Isis. The insane beheaders are like a spreading cancer, and all those governments implicated in the mistaken invasion of Iraq prefer to administer alternative medicine. It simply will not halt the spread of the disease.
This is not a popular view amongst all those who abetted the Bush/Blair lies and madness, but there is only one way to stop what is rapidly becoming a worldwide threat. Bombing is useless – Isis is not a conventional army with conventional arms dumps, and bombing kills more innocents than killers and serves only to alienate the indigenous population. Unpalatable though it may be the truth is that only an overwhelming defeat on the ground in one of its new strongholds will stop the momentum of the so-called Islamic State.
There is no other way forward before it is too late. Having reduced our armed forces to totally inadequate levels we are in no position to act. The United States lacks the will to repeat the legacy of Bush, and the major European powers are more preoccupied with fighting each other as the Euro totters and the populations turn against the concept of a United States of Europe.
That leaves the United Nations. It may be hard to visualise such as Russia and China going along with the concept of a force with blue helmets, but the fact remains that they too are becoming increasingly anxious about the growth of extremism. The fact also remains that the seeming invincibility of the most barbaric mob of recent history would crumble in the face of a well equipped, modern army.
Ridiculous. Impossible. Too many young men and women have already died. We know that the reactions will be hostile. But what is the alternative? Ever more weak countries gobbled up, ever more atrocities. And even here the risk of radicalism will grow, and British citizens will appear in ever more gruesome videos.
Having been principle players in the invasion of Iraq – the undoubted trigger point for the rise of Isis and the rest – the very least we should do is table a motion for the assembly of a UN force. There is no other way.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Say what you like about Genghis Khan but when he was around, old ladies could walk the streets of Mongolia safely at night”…. Jo Brand.
” I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous’. And God granted it”…. Voltaire.
” I will refuse any deal with Nicola Sturgeon to prop up a minority Labour government”…. Ed Miliband.
“Labour will never be forgiven if the party lets Tories back into Downing Street”…. Nicola Sturgeon.
” Of all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness”…. Bertrand Russell, Nobel prize winner, 1950.
“We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love”…. Mother Teresa, Nobel prize winner, 1979.
” One makes mistakes; that is life. But it is never a mistake to have loved”…. Romain Rolland, Nobel prize winner, 1915.
” Everybody needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door”…. Saul Bellow, Nobel prize winner, 1976.
” You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’ “…. George Bernard Shaw, Nobel prize winner, 1925.
” Ninety per cent of politicians give the other ten per cent a bad name”…. Henry Kissinger, Nobel prize winner, 1973.
” It is precisely the stupidest people who are the most sincere in their mistaken beliefs”…. Norman Angell, Nobel prize winner, 1933.
” In every language, every culture, the most difficult words you have to say are: ‘I’m sorry. Forgive me’ “…. Desmond Tutu, Nobel prize winner, 1984.
” All the things I really like to do are either illegal, immoral, or fattening”…. Alexander Woolcott.
” The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good deed by stealth and have it found out by accident”…. Char les Lamb.
” Graham Sutherland’s portrait of me makes me look as if I am having a difficult stool”…. Sir Winston Churchill.
” I think Iraq and Iran should be combined into one country called Irate. All the pissed-off people live in one place and get it over with”…. Denis Leary.
” The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything”…. Oscar Wilde.
The joy of Spring is that every morning brings fresh discoveries. The dormant primroses are back with us, the tulips are taking over from the daffodils and the birds are gathering straw left lying around near the the hen-runs. In the greenhouses the sweet peas are clambering from the compost, and the geraniums are beginning their journey toward majestic beauty. Most exciting of all we spotted a shoal of tiny fish in the allotments big pond this morning. Now we face our annual challenge of preventing the less-than-proud parents from eating them. Forget the artificial connivances of an election campaign, our allotments refuge is alive again , and we old codgers have spring in our steps. All is well!
But try as we may we cannot avoid the darkening influence of man’s inhumanity to man, and as we gathered in the ‘hut’ for our daily tribute to the patron saint of doughnut eaters, the mighty Eric Pickles we couldn’t dismiss from our minds an appalling spectacle. On Monday, 144 people were rescued by the Italian coastguard when the boat on which they were fleeing Libya capsized in the Mediterranean. Arriving homeless and without prospects in a strange land, these were – relatively speaking – the lucky ones. As many as 400 are thought to have drowned. Add them to the tally. Thousands of desperate fellow human beings have suffered horrendous deaths trying to get to the West. It has become a phenomenon of our time.
We hear little about life in the supposedly liberated Libya, but the fact that entire families are willing to risk the treacherous crossing gives a fair idea. Were the survivors being scooped out of the sea by the British coastguard, rather than the Italians, it might focus our minds on just how things have developed since David Cameron stood in Martyr’s Square in Tripoli and declared that Libyans had “no greater friend than the United Kingdom…We will stand with you every step of the way”. But we did nothing of the sort, it was judged to be too expensive. The new government in Tripoli failed to control the insurgent groups that flourished during our joint campaign against Gaddafi and now they are firmly established, waging bloody turf wars. The resulting chaos created the space for the beheading madmen of Isis to grow. One of its recent videos from the region showed 21 Egyptians being decapitated on the shores of the Mediterranean.
As Libya collapses into violence, its great friends in London and Washington have effectively turned a blind eye to the bloody outcome of what they started. As in Iraq, the ultimate victors look like being Islamic fundamentalists – from whom Libyans are now trying to flee in vast numbers. Italy, the closest European country, is taking almost all of the strain.
In many ways, Cameron made the same errors in Libya that Blair made in Iraq. He sent in forces to help remove a hated dictator, and did so on the premise that Britain is a country that shapes the world for the better. He trumpeted the elctions that followed, made a visit to the country he had helped to liberate – and then looked the other way as it slipped into merciless anarchy. As with Blair, initial bravado concealed a woeful lack of planning for the aftermath. The difference with Iraq is that there were no British casualties so the episode is easier to forget. We don’t have to live with the consequences. The Libyans do.
The election campaign has plenty to say about immigration from eastern Europe. Yet none of the parties have said what, if anything, they intend to do to help solve the nightmare of drowning innocents fleeing from the nightmare which we helped to create. Writing large cheques for overseas aid is no substitute for the support offered by a proper military. The Tory-Labour consensus on shrinking the military can only mean more botched jobs. Why is the Royal Navy ( and the navies of France and Spain) not offering to join the Italians in patrolling the waters and helping to save the lives of children? All these countries joined the 2011 bombing campaigns: do they not have a moral duty to deal with what has ensued?
Sadly we no longer have a navy, and these are not easy decisions to make. That David Cameron went in twelve months from proposing air strikes on President Assad of Syria to backing strikes on Assad’s enemies shows just what a quagmire foreign policy has become. But when choosing a leader we have the right to know how they will exert leadership. Cameron was right: Libya deserves friendship. Those who aspire to be Prime Minister should take just one day out from lying about their opponents to spell out just what our friendship is supposed to mean and how without adequate armed forces we propose to honour it.
It would be nice to close our eyes to those pictures of overloaded flimsy boats and the faces of bewildered and terrified children, of tiny bodies drifting in angry seas. But have we really sunk this low? If so we should withdraw from the fantasy of being a world power and stop triggering the living nightmares of others!
QUOTE FOR TODAY:” We have heard about the renewal of Trident, yet nothing about how the parties would approach a humanitarian problem like Libya. Why not?”…. Spectator,18/4/2105.
Valentine’s Day. It has to be admitted that there was little evidence of romance in the air as we codgers cleaned out the hens this morning. Even had there been it would have quickly dissipated when Mrs Albert arrived with all guns blazing, her once beloved having forgotten to leave the keys to their love-nest when he headed for the allotments. As the exchange reached Ukraine proportions it was hard to imagine the young misty-eyed kids that once exchanged unsigned cards on that long-gone February 14th.
Omit the squabbling and the same could probably be said for the rest of us. But we all have our memories, and few easily forget the first time we held hands with she whom fate had decided should be our lifetime’s companion. She-who-must-be-obeyed and I were first manacled together some sixty years ago and, since she reads this blog, I hereby record that it doesn’t seem a day too long. Her view may well be different. Either way we both remember our first date – joining the crowds lining the streets to watch the then traditional Valentine parade by the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry.
Sadly that regiment has long gone and any parade today would have to be staged by G4S, in the event that they turned up and had any arms to slope. It was my mentioning that memorable occasion that triggered this morning’s discussion as we retired to the warm ‘shed’ to mark the day of hearts with our daily tribute to Saint Pickles.
It is no exaggeration to say that we are alarmed at the perilous state of our armed forces. This week Air Chief Marshall Michael Graydon and Vice Admiral Jeremy Blackham have gone into print to bemoan the fact that whilst there has been much talk about “weaponising” the NHS the public service which really needs weapons is being steadily divested. Since 2010, the overall fighting power of the military has been reduced by half.
Britain no longer has any maritime patrol aircraft, we have just three squadrons of Tornados to defend our shores, and the army is suffering a serious manpower shortage. And the cuts go on. Experts believe that within three years UK defence spending could fall as low as 1.7 per cent of GDP – lower than the 2 per cent minimum set by Nato as the qualification for membership.
Politicians of all parties clearly feel that they can get away with cuts to military spending because the public is weary of what it sees as unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet this assumes that the importance of national security is akin to that of fighting wars against insurgents in the Middle East. It is not.
Moreover, the military is being cut back at a time of heightened need for self-defence. On several occasions of late Russian aircraft have been sent to test Western air defences, a display of brinkmanship not seen since the Cold War. Vladimir Putin has already seized Crimea and is sponsoring separatist forces in Ukraine. Cold War-style hostilities are returning, we are slashing our armed forces. Realistically even more threatening is the growth in worldwide terrorism, and the rapidly growing number of British citizens contributing to it.
It is hard to fathom what David Cameron believes about foreign policy and defence. He has spoken of “closing down ungoverned space” in the Sahara yet instead closes down RAF bases. He has responded to each new outrage with sabre rattling whilst continuing to make troops redundant. Most worrying of all he seems content to rely on armed policemen to handle the ever-growing threat of organised terrorism on our streets. Given the ease with which would-be bombers can enter the country the day may well dawn when they cannot cope.
It is not as if he has excelled in exercising soft power. He has been excluded from the crucial Ukraine talks. He has been warned by President Obama about the effect of reducing defence spending on the so-called ‘special relationship’. America’s contribution to Nato is already nudging 70 per cent of the total cost, and US public opinion is questioning its involvement. Britain is rapidly becoming a non-player on the world stage.
If the main parties have an unspoken consensus to turn Britain into Denmark, a country which prides itself on public services, but with little in the way of armed forces or international influence, we should know about it. But even so the prime responsibility of any government is the defence of the realm.
And we increasingly feel a sense of defenceless unease. Maybe we are becoming paranoid, but that doesn’t mean that someone out there isn’t planning our destruction!
You may have noticed the absence of comment on today’s Australia v England clash in the World Cup. It seems that it is not only troops that we now lack!
QUOTE FOR TODAY; ” We are not retreating; we are advancing in another direction”….General Douglas MacArthur.
There was a nip in the air this morning and it was not one for hanging around. But we codgers drew great comfort from the sight of the banks of snowdrops with their promise of warmer times to come. They are not alone for many other bulbs are beginning to signal that it is almost time to prepare the greenhouses for the annual seed propagation. Being a mournful soul, Albert wondered aloud for how much longer we will be able to maintain such a workload but we more stoical creatures prefer to live in the now – today is the only reality.
But it is perhaps a sign of our increasing awareness of the passing years that leads us to increasingly worry about the fate of the NHS. As we cleaned out the hens we mulled over the news that the Ohio-based Cleveland Clinic has hired British consultants to help it explore potential hospital take-overs in the UK following the general election. Oversexed, overpaid and over here – all the usual guff was trotted out but the more rational amongst us reminded ourselves that Cleveland is regularly ranked among the best US hospitals, and has an enviable reputation for treating world leaders and celebrities. Such a move would be very different to the ill-fated acquisition of Hinchingbrooke Hospital by Circle which is now demanding a £10m bailout before pulling out, leaving a huge deficit.
The bulk of the Cleveland hospitals are located in a mile-long campus on the edge of Cleveland, but it also has operations in China, India, Turkey and Canada. It has clear international ambitions, and is opening a 22-storey hospital in Abu Dhabi this Spring. Encouraged by the growth in UK private hospitals earnings from the NHS (10 per cent in 2004 has risen to 26 per cent in 2013) it is said to be keen to make a “game-changing” impact on the UK state-funded healthcare scene.
Significantly the American giant believes that whoever wins the May election will be “open to offers”. We veterans, who tend to regard the NHS as a sort of religious faith, hesitate to immediately leap up and down in horror. Cleveland are not amateurish get-rich-quick merchants and would undoubtedly refuse to dance to the tune of incompetents such as Lansley or Hunt, and could well herald a new era in which healthcare is not treated as a political football. But it is surely time for a grown-up debate for things cannot be allowed to continue to deteriorate.
As we settled around the hut fire for our daily re-enactment of the Feast of St Pickles our thoughts turned to another ‘treasured’ institution – our libraries. Annual numbers of visitors have fallen by 40 million in just 4 years, with particularly sharp drops in deprived areas, as austerity measures force closures across the country. The rapid decline reinforces warnings that the viability of the entire library network could soon be in danger without urgent action to reverse the trend.
According to the House of Commons library 282 million visits were paid to libraries in 2013-14, compared with 322 million four years ago. The biggest fall was in the 16 to 24 age group. Just four years ago 40 per cent made use of the facility, now that has dropped by one-third.
Literacy is very important, but the libraries of today offer far more than books. Most provide regulated internet access and regular talks by local societies which stimulate interest in local social history. Many provide a welcome resting place for harassed Mums who welcome someone else taking on the role of story-teller for an hour or so. All provide a valuable source for those who can’t afford to boost the coffers of Amazon.
Of course there are services more essential than libraries. But at a time when companies such as Amazon pay little corporate tax it is surely time for someone up there to develop a backbone and cry enough is enough. Some parts of our culture must not be destroyed to avoid the challenge of facing up to those who each year rob the national purse of over £25 billion. Perhaps the near one million people who contacted the BBC about the state of Robert Peston’s hair should find something rather more important to complain about.
Sadly we shouldn’t hold our breath. Yesterday the Foreign Secretary castigated Vladimir Putin as a tyrant, claiming that in the 21st century it is “unthinkable to cross the borders of a sovereign state and to invade its territory”. Were he to pop in to his local library he would find that in 2003 we did exactly that and killed about half a million of its citizens in the process.
QUOTES FOR TODAY; ” A man came to my door and said, ‘I’d like to read your gas meter.’ I said, ‘Whatever happened to the classics?’….Emo Philips. ” A classic is a book that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read”…Mark Twain.
We codgers admit to being as scientific as the late president of the Flat Earth Society, so it is less than surprising that we find the latest pronouncements about the effect of global warming beyond our understanding. When the warnings about an ever warming planet first hit the headlines we those of us still possessing choppers took comfort in the thought that the days of their chattering on the allotments would soon be a distant memory. Today a report published in Nature Geoscience reveals that whilst the summers will indeed get hotter, the UK winters will head in the opposite direction.
Apparently the loss of floating Arctic sea ice in the Barents and Kara seas north of Scandinavia can affect the global circulation of air currents and lead to bitterly cold winds blowing for extended periods in winter over Central Asia and Europe, including the UK. Small consolation – the Japanese scientists have added that the cooling effect in unlikely to last “beyond this century”. It is time to buy shares in Long Johns Ltd.
It wasn’t a happy note on which to start another week on the allotments. Being ostrich like by nature we quickly turned our attention to other news, as we cleaned out the hens. Richard Carter, from Anglesey, is out selling poppies again this year and has said that his efforts are aimed at funding the expensive prosthetic limbs required for the lads who have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Richard is 100 years-old. Perhaps if Mr Blair reads of this inspiring example he will donate the odd million from his fortune.
Even the news that Russell Brand is to seek election as London Mayor once Boris has departed to seek election as Prime Minister couldn’t deflect our attention from the end of the Afghan mission. In addition to all those now dependent on the efforts of such as Richard Carter, many families, both here and in the United States, now mourn the loss of sons and daughters and the death toll in Afghanistan itself is beyond contemplation. As a result we hesitate to join the chorus of those who claim that the whole venture was doomed from its bloody outset. But the signs from both Iraq and Afghanistan are ominous and it is difficult to foresee other than both countries returning to the grips of madmen. Once again we have intervened in cultures that we do not understand, once again politicians seeking self-glory have destroyed the lives of many brave and innocent people.
By the time we reached the allotments hut for our undeserved break my pals had shifted their attention to less weighty issues. And they don’t come less weighty than the new brand of Police Commissioners introduced by the coalition. When the idea was first muted we welcomed the idea of the police being held to account by respected pillars of society, but we predicted that the scheme would be hijacked by politicians. We were right for once. Following the belated resignation of the Labour PCC Shaun Wright in South Yorkshire, the new candidates are seeking votes. It is, the press tells us, a battle royal between Ukip and the Labour Party. Congratulations are due to our dear leader – he has now managed to politicise the police. Expect another farcically low turn-out from an outraged public.
Even news of the latest stage in David Cameron’s divorce from Aunty Merkel could not keep the supposed gaffe by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon from today’s front pages. Speaking to Sky News Mr Fallon said that towns up and down the UK are being “swamped” by immigrant workers. Many communities, he said, feel themselves to be “under siege from EU migrants”. Within hours Downing Street criticised the minister. He should, said the duty spin-doctor, learn to “chose his words better”. Rubbish.
Whatever the politically-correct brigade chose to believe Fallon was reflecting the views of millions. A friend lives in a community in the south of England and tells us that at first incomers were welcomed. Then the trickle turned into a flood and they began to feel like strangers in their own patch. The sheer weight of numbers led to tensions, now the smallest incidents turn into major hostility. Local services have been “swamped” and bigots are drawing attention that they could once only have dreamed of. Migrants pour in but, at a time of widespread funding cuts, services already creaking at the seams are reaching breaking point.
This has nothing to do with racism, everything to do with finite capacity. On last night’s BBC news a Labour shadow minister gleefully pointed out that “Cameron is backing into a corner from which he can only recommend leaving the EU”. True, but does he really believe that such a stance will be a vote-loser?
And now for the day’s biggest headline. The health promotion division of the chattering classes has announced that Cocoa is the secret to a long life. How we codgers have reached our late eighties without consuming the foul stuff remains a mystery!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” He’s on the mend, sitting up in bed blowing the froth off his medicine!” …Flann O’Brien.