Friday, 19 January 2018

Britain is a little bit more of a country for an old lecturer called Noel Conway who edges towards achieving his 'Right to Die'

Noel Conway, who, at 68 years old, is scarce 'old', but wants to die, or rather, he wants the right to die at a time of his own choosing, but as the law stands in Britain at the moment, he cannot do this. If a doctor was to help him end his life, he would face 14 years in prison.

Noel has said : “The option of an assisted death should be available to me, here in this country, in my final six months of life – this is what I am fighting for. It would bring immense peace of mind and allow me to live my life to the fullest, enjoying my final months with my loved ones until I decide the time is right for me to go."

He wants this right because he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2014. His condition is incurable and he is not expected to live beyond the next 6 months. He has said : “I am going to die, and I have come to terms with this fact. But what I do not accept is being denied the ability to decide the timing and manner of my death. I am not prepared to suffer right to the end, nor do I want to endure a long, drawn-out death in a haze of morphine."

Noel is supported by 'Dignity in Dying' and other organisations, campaigning to change the 1961 Suicide Act. Last summer several hundred supporters staged a protest on a Thames river boat outside the Houses of Parliament after which he said at the time : “In the past months I have been struck by the number of people who, like me, want the right to choose how we die. Today has shown the huge strength of feeling of people who want the right to a dignified death.”

People like Noel, who seek help to end their lives, are currently forced to travel to a clinic in Switzerland and at the moment one person a fortnight travels to Dignitas from Britain to do just that.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, said : “It is completely wrong that people who are of sound mind but terminally ill or incurably suffering are denied the choice to die with dignity. The deliberate extension of suffering as a matter of public policy is a stain on our humanity. The majority of the public want change but as long as Parliament is unwilling to act, it is up to brave individuals such as Noel to fight for all our rights. We will always stand with such courageous and public-spirited champions.”

Last year Noel's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to declare that : The blanket ban on assisted dying under the Suicide Act is contrary to the Human Rights Act. They argued that as a terminally ill, mentally competent adult, his right to a private life, which includes the right to make decisions on the end of his life, was unnecessarily restricted by current laws.

Noel's aim was and still is :

To bring about a change in the law that would legalise assisted dying for those who are terminally ill and are assessed as having six months or less to live.

The last time 'a right to die' case was considered in detail by the courts was in 2014 when the Supreme Court asked Parliament to reconsider the issue and after debating the subject, Parliament rejected making any changes to the law. Last October, three judges sitting at the High Court rejected his case.

Now, however, at the Court of Appeal, Sir Ernest Ryder (left) and Lord Justice Underhill, granted Noel a full appeal against the earlier ruling. No date has been set for the full hearing, but his lawyers asked for it to be listed quickly as the latest advice of his doctors is that he has “not much more” than six months to live.

Noel said : “I am pleased that my case will now proceed to the Court of Appeal. I brought this case not only for myself, but on behalf of all terminally ill people who believe they should have the right to die on their own terms. Our voices deserve to be heard. I have accepted that my illness will rob me of my life, but how it ends should be up to me. Why should I have to endure unbearable suffering and the possibility of a traumatic, drawn out death when there is an alternative that has been proven to work elsewhere?”

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to a rare and remarkable old soldier called 'Doc' Rick Jolly

In 1999, in Argentina, at the age of 53, as Ex-Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly, leader of a team which saved the lives of hundreds of British and Argentinian land casualties in the Falklands War and on a visit to encourage reconciliation, said to the assembled Argentine veterans : "We are the people who understand how nasty and miserable war is."

In 2012 he recalled :

Rick, who has sadly died at the age of 71, was born following the end of the Second World War in 1946 in Hong Kong where his father served as a gunner in the Colony's Voluntary Defence Corps and had been a prisoner of the Japanese during the War and his mother was an Auxiliary Yeomanry ambulance driver. He was schooled in the Far East and on coming to Britain, was educated at Stonyhurst College and subsequently studied Medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College in London where he qualified as a doctor, at the age of 23, in 1969.

Rick's life would have probably followed a conventional course as a GP, if it had it not been for the fact that, when he was working as a houseman in his final year,  a senior colleague suggested he join the Royal Naval Reserve as a Royal Navy doctor. He followed the advice and joined the Reserve which he enjoyed "but found it a bit stiff and formal." As he recalled : "Then I tried the Royal Marines and right from the start I loved it. What I liked about them and the Paras, with whom I worked closely for many years, was that officers and men were required to do the same training. In fact, the officers were expected to do it a little bit faster and further." 

He became Medical Oficer to 42 Commando RM, then deployed in North Belfast at the height of 'The Troubles.' Their neighbours there were the men of the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, with whom he built a strong friendship. It was his first taste of action : "No textbook can prepare you for the aftermath of a bomb, nor how the sounds and smell can impact on you when you arrive to help. I was interested in the forensic effect of munitions so two or three times a week I'd go to the morgue and take pictures and use them to train my own battlefield first-aid teams in 42 Commando. It became known as 'Doc Jolly's Horror Show.' It sounds gruesome, but a battlefield first-aider can't be trained to deal with bullet wounds unless he knows what a bullet wound looks like."

Like many servicemen and women, his life changed irrevocably with the outbreak of the Falklands War in 1982, which began in such a matter of fact way with : "We were plucked out of our pre-Easter leave and told to prepare to go to the Falklands. With the rank of acting surgeon commander, I went on an advance party on the SS Canberra."

The Ajax Bay Field Hospital was set up a few days into the War. Initially, it was on a ship out to sea, but Doc Jolly wanted to be nearer to the wounded. Within 24 hours his team turned a disused slaughter house into a fully functioning, if incredibly, basic, hospital. ­Rick credited his success to his team which had to act fast, cleaning wounds, amputating limbs, treating dreadful burns, removing bullets and patching up the walking wounded before they were transferred to a hospital ship, the SS Uganda.

During the three-and-a-half week ­conflict, despite working in terrible conditions, with poor lighting and close to two unexploded bombs, only three of the 580 British soldiers and Royal Marines wounded in action during the land battles subsequently died of their wounds. For this reason it was affectionately known as the 'Red and Green Life Machine' because of the parachute medics wore a red beret and the Royal Marines medics wore green.

He recalled : “I said to the boys at the start that we are here for one thing only, to make sure anyone who comes to us with an injury leaves us alive. The rest is irrelevant. We certainly achieved that.” "We lifted morale among the fighting soldiers because we were their friends and they knew it. Word got around that if they arrived alive at the field hospital they would leave alive."

What made the achievement even more remarkable was the fact that the hospital was under constant threat from Argentinian ­bombers and fighter jets and his insistence that 200 Argentinian casualties were also treated.

Offered a weapon to carry day and night, he chose not to because he was there to save lives, not take lives. In addition, hospitals usually had red crosses painted on their roofs to identify them to enemy planes, but because his hospital was next to ammunition dumps, which were ­legitimate targets, he insisted it was “not cricket” for them to be ­protected, so the cross was left off. In fact : “My men showed incredible bravery when the aircraft came into attack. They’d lean over and cover the patient they were working on with their own body until the raid passed and then get back to work."

At the height of the Battle of Goose Green four bombs were dropped in the area, killing five people as the hospital was swamped with severely injured soldiers. Two of the bombs got stuck in the ­hospital roof, but failed to ­detonate but Rick and his team continued to operate despite fears that they could have gone off at any moment. “We realised the bombs in the roof were on timers and could go off at any moment. We worked out the maximum timer was 37 hours, so I said let’s withdraw, sandbag the bombs and get on with our jobs. Then the casualties from Goose Green started streaming in. We treated 47 casualties, some with terrible injuries, but they all survived. After most had been treated I said, "By the way, we’ve got two unexploded bombs in the back. They could be on 37-hour timers, but we’re on 46 hours now so we’re all right". Everybody roared with laughter.”

Interviewed at the time, Rick at 36, said :

Rick later said : "Our attitude was simple : to treat the injured Argentinians in a way we would like to be treated. Before the battle of Trafalgar Nelson wrote a prayer in his cabin, saying : ‘May humanity after victory be the ­predominant feature in the British Fleet.’ As a naval officer those words meant a lot to me so looking after the enemy’s wounded as though they were your own was instinctive. People assume you’ve got to hate your enemy but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The only people who know what you’re going through are the people on the other side." He recalled : "We treated many Argentine Special Forces as well and we even persuaded Argentinian soldiers to give blood to help us save their injured."

In 2012 Rick recalled his favourite patient had been a terrified fighter pilot, rescued from the freezing waters of the South Atlantic who turned out to be the same pilot who let his unexploded bombs on the hospital roof : “His name was Ricardo Lucero. He was coming in to attack one of our ships when he got a missile right up his tail pipe. He ejected at the last minute, badly broke his knee and was fished out of the water. When he came to us I said to him,"Welcome, you’re a pilot, I’m an aviation doctor and we admire you. You’ve got this broken knee and we are going to try to mend it." I told him I would send a message to his wife in Cordoba to let her know he was OK and he thanked me. During his treatment I made a bet with him that he would never fly again but he proved me wrong. Yet it was very sad when I heard he’d died three years ago after a midair collision.”

Rick insisted that all his men follow his example and such was the esprit de corps withing his team that they were happy to do so, treating the wounded enemy with complete respect as the conflict raged across the Falklands in South Georgia, Goose Green and Port Stanley. After the Sir Galahad was hit, killing 48 soldiers and crewmen, the tiny field hospital was deluged with more than 120 injured men.

In 2012, with complete self-effacement he described his being winched from a helicopter and saving two men from the sea :

Rick also played a role with those who would not be going home. At Ajax Bay, the dozen dead Paras from Goose Green were lined up on stretchers side by side on a concrete strip. It was a grim, sad business as their clothes were cut away and their personal possessions bagged to be returned to their relatives and as Surgeon Commander he had to examine each body, pronounce on cause of death and complete a field death certificate. He crouched as he went from man to man and called out his conclusions to a clerk, who scribbled them down : gunshot wounds to the heart, multiple wounds to chest and abdomen, blast injury. On the face of the dead Colonel ‘H’ Jones, the 2 Para Commander whose heroic, but fatal dash, had played a large part in breaking the Argentinian resistance, he saw a quizzical smile. His eyes were open, but he looked peaceful and single bullet had killed him. ‘I closed his eyes gently. Then we lifted him, placed his body into a plastic shroud and then into a body bag.’

Rick, who spent a total of 25 years in the Royal Marines and the Fleet Air Arm was awarded the OBE in the months following the War, but what was more surprising was the honour that came in 1999 on a trip to Argentina with someone he considered, a friend, Prince Charles. He recalled : “Before the trip I wrote ahead to the Argentinian authorities saying we’d operated on just under 80 of their men and asking what became of them ? Then when I got there I walked into this room full of all these familiar faces. It was all the people we’d treated. I was presented with the 'Order of May', their equivalent to the OBE. I ­accepted it on behalf of the work of all my medics.” In fact, because it was a foreign decoration, Rick had to write to the Queen for permission to wear it and was personally authorized by her to wear it 'on all occasions.'

He once said : 
“Over the years I’ve been asked what I’d do if I had to choose who to treat first, an Argentinian or a Brit. My answer was always whoever needed attention more urgently. As far as I am concerned you have to be able to look into your soul and like what you find there.”

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old architect of distinction called Neave Brown

It is with supreme irony that, last year, the Royal Institute of British Architects awarded a Gold Medal to Neave, an architect known for some of the most innovative and successful low-cost social housing of the late 20th century. This, to an architect rejected by Britain 50 years ago, was perhaps an elegy, since Neave, at 88, was suffering from the terminal lung cancer from which he has now died. At the time he had the distinction of of being the only living architect to have had all his works 'listed', that is, considered to be of 'National Importance' and preserved as such.

Neave himself, completely free from rancour, had been delighted by the news and said : “All my work! I got it just by flying blind, I seem to have been flying all my life. The Royal Gold Medal is entirely unexpected and overwhelming. It’s a recognition of the significance of my architecture, its quality and its current urgent social relevance. Marvellous!”

Speaking last summer and reflecting on his work in the 1960s and his own mortality Neave said :

“We thought these buildings would be the beginning of a new continuity, but instead they were closed away in the architectural cupboard. What has astonished me is that people are looking at these buildings again. Perhaps after the Grenfell Tower fire it seems relevant again. Perhaps it could be the beginning of a new rethinking of architecture . . . What a way to end.”

And, as a parting shot he has said :

 “I’m an old, old man, so my answer is probably not the right one, but I think we need a new national agency to govern standards and fund the construction of housing for properly mixed communities – crucially with maintenance costs financed for the whole life of the building.”

His aim as a architect, which he achieved in his work, was to create something :

"as beautiful as you could make it" 

This was exemplified by the work he did in North West London and for which he will best be remembered. Following the Local Government Act of 1963, the London Borough of Camden had been created in 1965 and its new Architects' Department was placed in charge of Sydney Cook who recruited a talented team of young architects, including Neave, who joined in 1966. In Sydney's eight year tenure, he oversaw 47 social housing projects of a quality, scale and ambition that has, arguably, not been surpassed in Britain.

Neave's first project for Camden involved 71 units at Fleet Road, near the Free Hospital in Gospel Oak, which was to be Britain's first high density low-rise scheme. It was here that he reinvented the traditional Victorian London terrace as two and three-storey blocks that ran in parallel rows with a central pedestrian walkway. He created light-filled homes, each with their own private terrace and a shared garden. In addition, it contained the features Neave would incorporate into his Alexander Road project : car parking located beneath, a variety of types of accommodation, a mixture of rendered facades, clunky, black-stained timber windows, balcony fronts, external staircases and a public realm above the car parks.

After this, Neave recalled, that he "went to see Sidney Cook one day and he said he would like me to do Alexander Road. It was a typical planning brief. Camden had got a 16 acre site. The minute they started it, people popped up from Camden, they said : "We need a site for a school. It's going to need a community centre, school, extra parking, the integration of the existing estate." It became an incredibly elaborate brief. In order that they lose housing density, the planners then realised that two acres of that four acre site would be taken for housing. Can you imagine, in your thirties getting a brief like that ? Just dumbfounding. So I started it, in complete confusion."

The result of this confusion was his masterpiece with, most strikingly, Neave breaking away from the Modernist tower template to create low-rise ziggurat-like terraces where, inside, light streamed into the duplexes, with open-plan kitchen-living rooms and bedrooms above. “It was a piece of city,” he said, "all integrated : 520 new homes, shops, community centres, a school, youth club, play centre and it wasn’t hierarchical but continuous."

Alexandra Road :

Ironically, Neave's greatest achievement would also prove to be his undoing as an architect in Britain and bring his career here to an abrupt end. As Neave said in 2013 : "Though we began Alexander Road with the full support of the Housing Committee, the Director of Housing changed and took against it. The political system took against it. We ended with a history of constant conflict which still makes me shudder. As we got through to the end of the building it became, also, highly political and the politicians instigated a Public Inquiry as to what went wrong with Alexander Road before it was even finished. To their surprise, people longed to live there, but the consequence of that was it would be very difficult for me to find work in England, after all, you don't do to an architect whose work has been put up for a Public Inquiry to see what's gone wrong."

* * * * *

Neave's road to architecture had been far from simple. He was born in 1929 in Utica, upstate New York, to a Minneapolis-born American mother and and Leicester-born English father, Percy, whose grandfather had made a fortune with a string of shops selling boots and shoes in the Midlands. Neave's younger years were dominated by his wild, unpredictable, alcoholic father who set up and dissolved businesses in succession and when Neave was three, moved the family to England and over the next seven years moved the family no less than 12 times.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he was evacuated to the States to live with his Aunt and Uncle to live in the rich New York suburb of Brownsville, where he was educated in, as he said "a very good American High School." Of his Aunt, he said she was a "quasi mother" and he "loved her dearly." She sharpened his critical faculty by asking questions like : "What does that mean ?" and : "What did you mean by that ?"

On his return to Britain and between the age of 16 and 18 he was educated from 16-18 at the prestigious boys public school, Marlborough College and it was here that, despite the fact that he was dyslexic with poor spelling and illegible handwriting, he won a scholarship to study English Literature at St.Edmund Hall, Oxford and would take up his place as an undergraduate after his two years National Service. In the Army he was commissioned as a young officer in, as he said, a "cavalry regiment which was an old one and a snob one and all that." 

When he left the Army he went to Paris to see his Aunt, who had set up as a psychoanalyst and with her financial support he began a course of therapy which lasted throughout his next five years as a student and helped him cope with his "internal conflict" which was the result of his having "a very divided, very upset, very confused and very conflict-laden childhood." 

At the age of twenty, while he was in the Army, having toyed with the idea of pursuing a career as an artist when he was at school, he opted for 'architecture' and having secured a scholarship form Middlesex County Council he enrolled at the AA, London’s private architecture school, run by the Architectural Association and the only school in Europe totally dedicated to teaching modern architecture.

Neave speculated that : "It may even be me, on a subtle level, why I wanted to become an architect, because you make bases. You make places. You make events come together in something called a building and I think there's an aspect of that in accordance with the way I wanted to operate with the world." He described the experience at the AA as "a staggering relief, because it was free, relatively, of the class, social and certain kinds of limited cultural associations, that had been waded at me from different sides as a child and it allowed me to feel that they began a degree of independent thought." The School and its contacts was also important to him because he was now completely without a family, his mother having separated from his father and returned to the USA,

Neave said : “Very little had been rebuilt after the war, there was still smog and food rationing, and we were confused schoolboys coming out of the Army with a naive view that we wanted to change everything.” It was only with hindsight that he told Mark Swenarton in 2013, that he recognised the unique set of historical and cultural circumstances within which he had found himself  when he joined the AA in 1950 : "The thing about that independent thought, remembering this was just a few years after the War, it was in the context of the radical thinking of the Modern Movement between the two Wars" and "There was the whole problem of the reorganisation of England, the remaking of it and the idea that you could remake it and improve it."

Having graduated in 1955 at the age of 26 and at a loose end, he flew to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and designed a house for his sister which didn't get built and an up-country hospital for an American Methodist Mission, which did. He later reflected that he was : "Straight out of the AA. Never built anything and in Dar es Salaam writing a brief for a hospital. I don't know how I did it, but we wrote a brief accepted and they agreed the brief, together with their bloke who knew about hospitals."

Back in Britain he now joined 'Lyons, Israel and Ellis', a practice which provided a finishing school for both him, James Stirling and James Gowan. It would be a three year stint and he described it as a "training hotbed" and "You went their in the morning and you worked : drawing, drawing, drawing and you argued and you talked and every now and then you argued with the partners. I can't imagine a better place for learning  what you needed to do. It was like continuing an education."

In addition the working "like a bloody demon" he found that "You learnt what you were doing from the overall building, you adapted the overall building to the technical aesthetic and then you worked the whole kit and caboodle out in accordance with that aesthetic to be as beautiful a you could make it." In accordance with these principles he designed a new workshop building for Hammersmith Hospital before he left the practice and joined Middlesex County Council.

While he was at Middlesex he designed 5 schools, two of which were built and also taught evening classes at Regent Street Polytechnic and after a relatively brief stay at the Council he left and gained his first experience of urban housing designing a couple of houses and extensions and a small terrace of houses. This served as a prelude to his design, in 1963, for a small terrace of 5 modernist houses for himself and friends in Winscombe Street, in London’s Highgate. They applied for, and received a 100% loan form Middlesex Borough Council and he later reflected : "Not only did they pay for my scholarship at the AA, they loaned the money for the construction of those houses. It seems incredible.”

At the age of 34 with his design of 22-32 Winscombe Street in Dartmouth Park, North London and their completion two years later, Neave showed the world what he could do. Children’s bedrooms were placed on the ground floor, with big barn doors opening on to a communal garden; the parents’ bedroom and living room were at the top, while the family zone was in the middle, the whole connected by spiral stairs. “It was built as a community, an extended family,” he said, When you heard children’s laughter downstairs, you were never quite sure if they were your kids or someone else’s.”

It was towards the end of the building period that he crossed the Atlantic and did a semester teaching at the University Cornell University in Ithaca, New York at the invitation of Colin Rowe who became the Professor of Architecture in 1962 and went on to be acknowledged as a major intellectual influence on world architecture and urbanism in the second half of the twentieth century. Neave, however, rejected the idea of becoming an academic saying that : "I think I would have been a bad academic because, if you're teaching and you have attitude, you teach with that attitude,"

Ironically, Neave's greatest achievement in Camden would also prove to be his undoing as an architect in Britain and bring his career here to an abrupt end. 

As Neave said in 2013 : "Though we began Alexander Road with the full support of the Housing Committee, the Director of Housing changed and took against it. The political system took against it. We ended with a history of constant conflict which still makes me shudder. As we got through to the end of the building it became, also, highly political and the politicians instigated a Public Inquiry as to what went wrong with Alexander Road before it was even finished. To their surprise, people longed to live there, but the consequence of that was it would be very difficult for me to find work in England, after all, you don't do to an architect whose work has been put up for a Public Inquiry to see what's gone wrong."

Neave resigned from Camden in "confusion and despair" and he didn't work in Britain again. It is however, important to remember that his type of housing was expensive and sometimes complicated to build. It had its growing pains and the heated walls at Alexandra Road initially made the residents boil and it was often poorly maintained by the Borough, leading to a degraded public face. Mainly, however, Neave was a casualty of a powerful swing against 'Modernism' that ended his run of great London housing and a swing that came as much from the 'left' as from the 'right'.

Britain's loss was to the gain of the Netherlands and his design of the Zwolestraat Development, Schreviningen, The Hague, which consisted of 500 apartments, hotel, school hostel, landscape and the largest underground car park in the Netherlandsand and Smalle Haven in Eindhoven in 2002 with terraced apartments shopping and office space.

* * * * *
Neave was poetic in his description of his craft as an architect in relation to Alexander Road :
"It comes to a moment or so, when the thing becomes secure in your mind as to the overall strategy and it needs endless development and that development is what you see as the architecture in the end. But then in the process of doing this. there is the enormous struggle in the detail to arrive at something that in the end looks inevitable, almost as if it hasn't been the product of struggle."

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Britain is no country for old men who suffer poor health because they are 'non-proficient' in English

An article from the International Longevity Centre. entitled : 'Lost in translation : Addressing language barriers in health care', makes the point that old people in Britain are often seen as a homogeneous group and this is far from the truth and no group of old men and women are more hidden from hidden from policy and services, than those who experience language barriers.

The fact of the matter is that the 2011 census of England and Wales showed that 863,000 people 'do not speak English well or do not speak English at all' and many of these were old people. They are officially classified as 'non-proficient in English' and this can result in unequal access to quality health care. This, almost certainly, means they can't read this poster. As the article said : 'They may have reduced frequency of referrals and follow ups from health professionals and they may have to wait longer for services. Consequently, the access and use of primary care is in fact comprised.'

In other words, a significant number of old men and women are discriminated against because they are, for whatever reason, non-proficient in English and among these are a growing older population of widowed Asian women with language needs in Bradford and a growing number of Somali women with language needs in London. In fact, analysis of the 2011 Census shows that overall 60% of those living in England and Wales, but unable to speak the national tongue, are female.

In addition, the data shows that those aged 75 and over, who are non-proficient are twice as likely as those whose main language is English to report to have ‘not good’ health.

The situation could be improved, but at financial cost. There could be investment in language services with policy makers investing in English courses targeted to older people. There is also the need to improve translation services by using technology such as 'video/voice over'. In California, nine hospitals use a shared 'video interpretation service' which routes translation requests to a call centre staffed by trained bilingual staff. However, given the fact that this group of old men and more particularly, old women, in Britain are inarticulate and have few supporters, this is unlikely to happen, after all :

Britain, eight years ago in 2010 : NHS 'failing those who don't speak English'

Monday, 8 January 2018

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old newspaper editor of distinction called Peter Preston who joined the pantheon of old Brits who triumphed over adversity

Peter, who served as Editor of the Guardian between 1975 and 1995 and later became an Observer columnist, died on Saturday, at the age of 79 after being diagnosed with a melanoma 10 years ago. He was born in Leicestershire in the Spring of 1938, the year before the outbreak of the Second World War the son of Kathlyn and John, the manager of a fruit and veg warehouse.

He recalled : "I was born at home in a house called Woolstone, just outside Barrow-upon-Soar. When I was 10, in 1948, we moved into Barrow upon Soar and various things happened." One of the things that 'happened', was that he passed the 11+ exam and gained a place at  Loughborough Grammar School for Boys. "I was there for two-and-a-half years before I got ill. I was out of it for a year and then came back and was very much behind. I hadn’t had any proper schooling and that was a bit of a struggle."

When he said he "got ill," when he was 12, he meant that he went through a traumatic and formative experience which shaped him both physically and mentally when in swift succession his Father died from polio and he himself, having also contracted the disease, faced death.

He recalled that his Father 'got home from his work at the fruit-and-veg warehouse, complaining about how seedy he felt. Rough throat, general aches. Mum thought it was flu. He went to bed early. I didn’t hear the ambulance arrive in the middle of the night.' The next morning  his mother came back from the Royal Infirmary in Leicester and told him and his younger brother and sister that their father was dead. 'We never had a chance to say goodbye. She was gaunt and stoic. And then, a couple of days on, it happened all over again. I went down with polio, too.'

He recalled : "I was whizzed into Markfield Sanatorium and then hung around between living and not living. For a week or two I was in an iron lung. And then I was sent away to Harlow Wood Hospital, north of Nottingham, in Mansfield. And I was there for two spells, nine months then five months."

More specifically : 'For a week, encased in a great, heaving, yellow box of an iron lung, I drifted between life and oblivion, somehow light-headed, constantly dreaming, unable to register the faces that looked down at me, barely understanding the voices that talked above and around. But one morning, the drifting stopped. Now I was awake, fully awake, alone in a small, white room, propped on pillows, hands tightly tucked under the sheets. A fly buzzed around my face. I needed to brush it away. Yet, strangely, the hands wouldn’t move. They were trapped, inert, limply useless beneath the sheets. In fact, I could only roll my head from side to side.'

When he came out of the iron lung he began his year long recovery in Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital, near Mansfield,  at first 'locked in a cast of plaster of Paris, arms stuck upwards in the deluded medical fashion of the era. I had to be fed. Sometimes, when the nurses were rushed, they’d pour tea into my mouth and miss it, dregs running down my neck, mingling with the crumbs of breakfast.'

David McKie testified to the long-term effect of this on Peter in his excellent obituary in the Guardian : 'What you first noticed on meeting Peter was his polio-affected arms, the legacy of a disease contracted in childhood. After that, you forgot them. He would have hated to see his disability mentioned here, just as he hated people trying to help as he struggled to haul his coat on. No fuss was his rule, and no concessions. Yet the complexity of his nature; the reticence, the habits of secrecy; the unsparing way he drove himself; his hatred of whingeing complaint – none of these was wholly explicable except in terms of the illness that restricted his movement, and almost did for him, in childhood.'

In bed, on the edge of his teens and without a Dad, and a Mum who had two young kids at home and who saw him once a week at the weekend and had to catch three different buses to make the 25-mile journey to his bedside, but only between 2 and 4 on a sunday afternoon. Peter, however, recalled that it 'wasn’t all grim or crushing.' There was the weekly film to look forward to when the beds were pushed into the ward next door and the BBC Home Service where he could listen on headphones to 'Workers’ Playtime' and 'The Adventures of PC 49.'
Light Programme (Thursdays)
(Repeated on Home Service - proceeding Wednesdays at 19:00)
27/07/1950  The Case of the Black Diamonds

Without formal teaching, his informal education continued and without a doubt he acquired many of the skills that would serve him so well as a journalist :

* 'You learned to get on with the boys in the beds next door: Ernie the miner’s son, Kevin the ballroom dancer; both TB hips, both strapped into place.'

* 'There was no point in arguing because there was no chance of moving or winning. Co-exist, make friends, find a wavelength.'

* 'You also learned how kind people could be.'

and 'Here was Tommy Lawton, England’s iconic centre forward, touring the ward, pausing and chatting. Here was the old Duchess of Portland, her face a haunting melange of white powder and scarlet lipstick. There were the young Elizabeth and Philip, driving by at the bottom of the road and pausing to connect with the gaggle of wheelchairs and stretchers brought out to greet them. You were not alone. The outside world did not forget you. But you were also, in the most urgent sense, on your own.'

'I wanted to read, I needed to read. I learned to turn pages with a bit of wire and plastic clamped between my teeth. And this state, slowly amelio- rating, slowly seeing some strength return, lasted for well over a year, punctuated by an operation to pin a useless shoulder so that it had a little traction to offer.'

David McKie bore testimony to the long term physical and mental impact on young Peter in his obituary in the Guardian when he said : 'What you first noticed on meeting Peter was his polio-affected arms, the legacy of a disease contracted in childhood. After that, you forgot them. He would have hated to see his disability mentioned here, just as he hated people trying to help as he struggled to haul his coat on. No fuss was his rule, and no concessions. Yet the complexity of his nature; the reticence, the habits of secrecy; the unsparing way he drove himself; his hatred of whingeing complaint – none of these was wholly explicable except in terms of the illness that restricted his movement, and almost did for him, in childhood.'

Three years ago Peter, at the age of 76, Peter himself recorded : 'For many of us grappling with the cruelties of post-polio symptoms (crippling weaknesses that return decades after supposed recovery), the legacy of those years remains. We remember what it was like. We live with its consequences every day. Meanwhile the world keeps spinning and we are gradually becoming mere relics, leftover reminders of horrors past. “When did you have the stroke?” a young GP once asked me. “I didn’t. I had polio.” Probably 40 years before he was born.'

Back home and having missed 18 months education, he rejoined Loughborough Grammar School for Boys in the 4th year, having completely missed the 3rd. He recalled : "At school, I had to decide what I could do. You were looking all the time for something you could do because being ill had totally changed me. I had to re-find out who I was. Those first years after polio were very difficult because I was a long way behind. Coming up to 16, I was not doing at all well. My step-grandfather went to see the headmaster. “Perhaps he should leave school and become something like a jewel cutter?”

Having dismissed the advice of the Headmaster, Sidney Russell Pullinger, that he take up an apprenticeship he stayed on and in the sixth form "managed to get involved and began learning by rote" and "started to write stuff for the school magazine and then I got a holiday job on the Loughborough Monitor. Ralph Lowings, who went on to become 'Mr Leicester', I learned a lot from."

In fact, he began to write articles for the Monitor and gained a place to read English at St John's College Oxford, where he edited the student newspaper, Cherwell. After graduation in 1959, he got his first job at 'The Liverpool Daily Post' as an editorial trainee and three years later he moved down the road to Manchester, and 'The Guardian', where, at the age of 37, he became the Editor.

After Peter's death two days ago, his son Ben wrote :

'Polio left dad with rickety limbs that somehow he made work like a Heath Robinson machine. It robbed him of youthful sporting dreams, so he lived them instead through his four children and eight grandchildren. Yet polio gave him astonishing self-reliance and helped him find his greatest talent: writing.'

Peter has now joined that select pantheon of old men who have also passed away and whose triumph over adversity is part testimony to the strength of the human spirit and part the grit which constitutes
their character as Brits.

Bert Massie, the Disability Rights Campaigner, who contracted polio at 3 months and spent his first five years in Alder Hey Hospital, then the 'Children’s School of Rest and Recovery' at Sandfield Park and at 11 was packed off to Sandfield Park Special School, which was residential and when asked what was the worst time in his life ? He answered : "Endless operations as a child and boarding school."

Jeffery Tate, the eminent conductor who, at the age of three, was examined for the benign condition of 'flat feet', but was found to suffer from, in addition to congenital spina bifida, the complication of kyphosis, a forward rounding of the back and breathing problems and compressed internal organs and recalled that : "I was odd from the word go. Slowly, as I grew up, my back began to stoop over and my left leg became shorter than the right one."

Sargy Mann, a painter who progressively lost his sight and said : "Once I had started painting blind, there was no stopping me. It just became the new way of doing it. It was difficult, but art had always been difficult, and having a new set of difficulties was no bad thing."

Peter once said : 
"I’d been a very sporty kid before I was ill with polio, but afterwards I couldn’t do anything. So I took up magic and conjuring and became a member of Leicester Magic Circle." "There’s a fantastic picture of me on the front page of the Leicester Mercury waving a magic wand."