Posts Tagged ‘Pals’
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!
This is one of those mornings when one looks back with regret at having refused the chance to emigrate. Someone near to the allotments had erected a mass of flashing Christmas decorations in their front garden, now they are draped along our boundary hedge. Inside our domain, roof panels compete with fallen leaves and two coops have sunk into a sea of mud. And as we struggled to restore order a bitingly cold wind carried away our curses. Chicks at Easter are the stuff of dreams and painted eggs, chickens in December are a recipe for POIS which to the unitiated stands for pissed off in spades.
But for most of the gang things could be a great deal worse. All around us we see people suffering great hardship, not least the young people, many of whom in these parts are searching for work. Today we learn that the government is proposing to apply pressure to cancer sufferers with the threat of taking away their disability allowances should they fail to satisfy ”back to work” panels that they are truly incapable of working. Clearly whichever halfwit came up with this wheeze has never endured the experience of cancer. The truth is that in their desperate search for more ways of reducing costs the government are looking in the wrong place.
As with their reluctance to tackle the nation’s big earners and tax evaders, Cameron and Osborne are also avoiding any move likely to offend their other supposedly big supporter’s group, the over-65s. But having the dubious privilege of being in that category does not necessarily mean that one is, as the Cockneys have it, brassic-lint. Some of my pals are reliant on the state pension and there is no possibility that they could exist solely on that. But the majority of us enjoy a company pension awarded before the government began to destroy such things. To be blunt, we can manage perfectly well without winter fuel payments, bus passes, free TV licences and special tax allowances. Of course we like to have them but with so many younger people suffering real hardship, as against a reduction in pleasures, we can see no reason for special treatment simply because we are ancient.
Of all the bountiful gifts bestowed on us by politicians in the grip of obsessions about ‘grey voting power’, the most ludicrous of all is the bus pass. Most of us have never bothered to obtain one but we know many who have, and few of them really depend on them to get them from A to B, a feat that would be unaffordable without a free pass. Most of those we know who carry a pass in their purses or wallets regard them as a ticket to ride purely for the sake of riding somewhere. One couple have developed a hobby of travelling the length of the land, a journey of, presumably, a zillion bus stations and irritable drivers.
Nick Clegg recently said that millionaires who happen to be old should forego benefits such as bus passes, TV licences, fuel payments etc. He went on adovocate means testing, an emotion-firing term if ever there was one. Some high-profile figures have already taken action, the ‘Surviving Winter Appeal’, supported by the likes of Michael Parkinson, Jonathan Dimbleby, Ann Widdecombe and Joan Bakewell, calls on the better off to hand over their winter-fuel allowance of up to £300 to those in greater need. The scheme is to be applauded but essential welfare decisions should not be determined by charity.
Neither should they be determined by means testing or ludicrous talk of millionaires (Clegg has become so close to rich ministers that he imagines they are typical citizens). The simple way to tackle this issue is to use the tax system. Anyone sufficently flush to be paying tax at 40% could be excluded from elderly benefits. It would save a good deal of treasury expenditure which could then be used to further assist youth employment and care of the elderly infirm.
There is inevitably a caveat to this generous proposal from a bunch of codgers. Real action must be taken to tackle bankers and the rest of the top 1% of earners. We realise that they are the privileged friends of very rich government leaders but so long as they are allowed to pocket their millions without paying any tax to speak of, no one will volunteer to help, no one will truly feel that we are all in this mess together.
TRY YOUR HAND AT THE MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Which Gareth Gates hit contains the words “We’re caught in a trap”? 2. In which series did Mark Benton play a tramp called Sheldon? 3. Who produced the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels? 4. What is a firebat? 5. Where are your fontanelles? 6. Which American protest singer is linked to the “dustbowl ballads”? 7. Who wrote the stories subsequently televised as “Poldark”? 8. In which time device would you find an escapement? 9. The port of Archangel is in which country? 10. The Titanic was launched in which city?
This may be the new age of Kindle and Amazon but such developments have largely passed unnoticed by my allotment pals. Many of them are regular users of the local library and there are several reasons for this. They like the feel of a book in their hands, and many like the sensation of reading where others have read. Some can’t afford to buy books, and those who can prefer to experience the opening chapters before committing themselves. And , most importantly of all, most regularly search for non-fiction offering advice on anything from keeping livestock to joinery, books that one consults and returns rather than retains.
For them, and millions of others across the country, the news that a landmark legal challenge to a council’s decision to close half its libraries has failed is very bad news indeed. The case in question was focussed on Brent after the council there announced its intentions to close the libraries, including one, Kensal Rise, opened by Mark Twain in 1900. With the help of people like Alan Bennett, Philip Pullman and the Pet Shop Boys, a pressure group there raised funds to apply for a judicial review of the decision, saying the council had not properly assessed certain needs, thus breaching the Equalities Act and failing to comply with its duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museum Acts.
The arguments were rejecetd by Mr Justice Ouseley, hearing the case, who refused a judicial review. Within two hours of the pronouncement Brent Council boarded up half of its libraries and dismissed the staff. The result will be that for many residents a visit to a library will now involve a journey by car or public transport. For the elderly that probably spells the end of their regular treat, a local call to spend a leisurely hour or so selecting next week’s entertainment.
But it is not only the elderly who value local libraries. Young mums do too, especially those who can’t afford to buy an unending series of toddlers books, each of which becomes redundant as the months of early development pass. Many young people access libraries too, and there have been a number of initiatives over the past year or so aimed at encouraging reading. And many retired, but not elderly, folk also find browsing a pleasant pastime.
Most libraries now offer regular lectures on a wide range of subjects including local history, and most provide controlled internet access. They are in many ways the centre of local communities and many a student has reason to be grateful for the help and advice provided by staff, most of whom always strike me as being uniquely helpful in an age where service standards continue to plummet.
But one statistic stands out above all overs. Every survey of users shows that women are the major users of libraries. And it is women who, as reported in a recent blog, are deserting the coalition parties in droves. Opinion polls show that they believe that whilst cuts are necessary, it is men who are dominating the decision making and determining priorities. And most of the men are from the ranks of those with deep pockets, no name no Osbornes.
The result is that we see mega-costly projects like high-speed rail being nodded through whilst low cost facilities like libraries and local clinics are closed down. So far as town halls are concerned the public watches open-mouthed as executives are paid more than the prime minister and endless beanos are organised with so-called twin-towns. At national level the stories of the extravagent lifestyle of people like Fox and his friend Werrity continue to remind everyone that ours is becoming a society of the haves and have-nots. Admittedly Fox has now gone but he is still said to have done a great job as Cameron does his latest u-turn
Following this depressing ruling we can expect to see the shutters go up on libraries right across the land. An inexpensive but central part of every community will be lost for ever. Politicians are not noted for their common sense – you need look no further than Andrew Lansley for proof of that – and they are rushing toward a total alienation of large swathes of the female vote in the manner of lemmings heading for the cliff.
But who cares about politicians? No one. But many care for the presence of their local library and many will look back on Brent as the place where the strange death of English literacy and community spirit was triggered.
Some once said that a good book is a constant companion. It seems that in the eyes of those who rule over us a Werrity is even better!
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR THE MIDWEEK QUIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A miracle has happened! It wasn’t pouring down when we cleaned out the hens and the mud this morning, in fact we could even see patches of blue sky. But we were still downcast for the hoped for miracle of the privatisation of the NHS being stopped by the House of Lords didn’t happen. The attempt by David Owen to subject the legislation to deeper scrutiny drew the support of 262 peers, but the motion was defeated by 68. The reason was the decison of 80 Lib Dems to vote against!
They did so having been pressed by Nick Clegg to support his stance, this despite the Lib Dem conference having voted otherwise and national polls showing great opposition on the part of the vast majority of those who voted Lib Dem at the general election. Clearly he is still besotted by his right to sit at Cameron’s right hand in the Commons!
The effect of this latest betrayal of all that he promised during the elction campaign is that Clegg has aligned his party to the Conservatives. If the reaction of those amongst my allotment pals who voted Lib Dem is any indication, the other effect will be the total annihilation of the party come the next election. The message is now clear – if you favour Conservative policies vote Conservative, if you oppose them vote Labour. The Lib Dems have ceased to exist in ideological form.
The right wing press has this morning seized on reports of neglect of the elderly at some NHS hospitals as justification for Lansley’s bill. It is nothing of the sort. As it has shown only this week in Cumbria the NHS regulator, Monitor, has powers to deal with such unacceptable performances. It can, and has, put in a new management team with absolute authority to make whatever changes are necessary. Incidentally the Daily Mail claim that one in five hospitals were found wanting is somewhat dubious since only the 100 lowest rated were inspected!
The idea that bringing in the private sector will in some mysterious way ensure good treatment of the elderly reminds us of the recent revelations of the treatment afforded to residents in the care of Southern Cross homes. Once our elderly and vulnerable are bundled off into the avaricious grasp of for-profit companies the monitoring of their care becomes far more difficult, more obscure.
No one denies that those hospitals which fall short must be brought up to the stnadard of the majority of excellent NHS centres. No one denies that bureaucracy must be minimised. What millions reject is the introduction of private providers who will ‘cherry-pick’ the easier and more lucrative services, leaving NHS hospitals with the impossible task of balancing the books or of funding critical care in such fields as cancer, coronary or emergency medicine.
Several years ago the Labour government under Blair attempted to transfer outpatients services in the North West to a South African company called Netcare. When it became apparent that the effect of this would be to render insolvent the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals there was a massive public outcry. Led by Lindsay Hoyle, now Deputy Speaker, thousands took to the streets. A police presence was needed to control what followed and in due course the government backed down. Had they not done so, Lancashire would by now be quite the wrong place to be if you or yours were unfortunate enough to need emergency care.
So I am not making a political point when I say that the coalition are heading the NHS toward its destruction. Already there have been mass redundancies, already waiting times are doubling, already there are many advertisments for private medical insurance. Hopefully the chaos caused by Lansley’s incompetent handling of the bill will subside, but what will be left is a service of postcode medicine and preferential treatment for those who can afford it.
It would be wrong to blame right-wing conservatives such as Lansley and Liam Fox for all that is happening for their preference for private initiatives was clear for all to see. But Clegg and his henchmen supposedly stood for something quite different. As their president has made clear, they recognise that the profit motive and acute medicine make poor bedfellows. Like many of the politically uncommitted they see social injustice writ large in the American model and its giant private healthcare providers, some of whom are already being brought in to provide the commissioning services that GPs clearly are not equipped to handle.
Yesterday Clegg delivered his final death sentence on the national service that has meant a great deal to so many for so long. Serious illness is stressful enough without the added burden of worrying about finding the cash for good treatment. Our society will never feel the same again and for that we can thank the Lib Dems for selling their own principles for the illusion of power.
The ’38 Degrees’ protest organisation has mustered millions of signatures for its petition opposing Lansley. This week it raised £75,000 in four days to fund a special campaign aimed at members of the Lords. Sadly it underestimated just how far a Judas will go!
Interestingly immediately after the result of the vote was known the President of the Royal College of GPs sent an email urging 38 Degrees to carry on the fight. So much for Lansley’s claim to have clinical support! OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S MIDWEEK QUIZ; 1. Broadcasting House 2. Cable News Network 3. Radio Times 4. Reuters 5. Private Eye 6. Aberdeen 7. Advertising 8. Which? 9. Fred Basset 10. China
There was an air of disappointment on the allotments this morning. It emanated from the significant number amongst us who have been staunch fans of President Obama. Here, my pals liked to say, was an honourable man who would always put what was right before any political considerations. Perhaps distance does lend enchantment for the comparisons made between him and our lot have always been favourable. Suddenly, at a stroke, the American hero of the chicken-keepers has fallen from grace.
The feeling that maybe this, after all, is just a politician on the make like every other, has been triggered by the President’s announcement of the withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, plus the remainder of the 33,000 “surge” troops by September 2012, smacks of political calculation rather than military judgement, indeed the US Generals have been quick to distance themselves from the decision.
Of course it reflects Mr Obama’s ambivalence about the Afghan strategy that he unveiled at West Point in December, 2009, after months of agonising about what to do following General Stanley McChrystal’s stark assessment that the United States was on course for defeat. On that point there was probably widespread sympathy for the man who had inherited a war that few believe can be won. But to now announce withdrawal dates is astonishing. To have them as secret targets for the military is one thing, to tell the enemy with whom negotiations are the only realistic hope is another.
The effect may well be to leave the 70,000 troops in Afghanistan to fight and to be killed without any prospect of achieveing anything because they lack the “force density” required for a counter-insurgency offensive. The withdrawal of all the “surge” troops announced at West Point risks a reversal of the fragile gains they have made, leaving the Taliban to slip back into areas being relinquished.
And above all else it will surely shatter any hopes for the talks now under way with Mullah Omar’s Quetta shura faction of the Taliban. Omar was clearly under great pressure from the “surge” but will surely now ask himself why he should negotiate. All he needs to do is wait for the American troops to leave. And for ordinary Afghans, why side with Nato forces or their indigenous allies if the Taliban will soon return?
Ultimately, Mr Obama will be judged not on how quickly he pulled the troops out but what kind of Afghanistan they left behind. For all its political adroitness, the President’s decision could lead to escalating chaos and civil war and the country could once again become a base for Islamist enemies of the West. We can all undertsand his reluctance to be in Afghanistan, not least because it is an unpopular war with the American public and an election is due next year. But what we cannot understand is what amounts to the torpedoing of the only real hope of securing a better Afghanistan; negotiations, for no one really believes that the corrupt and incompetent government forces will be ready to beat off the Taliban in the short term.
So it would appear that yet another major politician has feet of clay. Needless to say the Italians, French and Germans have been quick to follow suit. Britain? But of course. In fact William Hague went to great lengths yesterday to strees that we will not be involved in conflict at all from 2015. Again he is right with the decision but wrong to tell the enemy. It is almost like Churchill having told Hitler we will not battle on beyond 1945!
Without changing one iota of their intent Mr Obama and the other leaders could have said that they will not ease back until the Taliban sit down to agree terms. At least that way they would have retained a strong bargaining position for the next six months, and that just might have been enough. We surely owed at least an attempt at a face-saving formula to all those who have died in this futile, misguided conflict born of Bush and Blair.
Now they have ensured failure and further jeopardised the morale and safety of all the Nato troops. But then given a choice between their own political skins and those of the troops we are not surprised at their choice are we?
ANSWERS TO YESTERDAY’S EGGHEAD QUIZ; 1. Lancashire 2. L.B 3. Kent 4. Rum 5. Locum 6. Argentina 7. Dog 8. Northamptonshire 9. D H Lawrence 10. Apple