Friday, 18 January 2019

Britain in 2019 is no country for poor old men, living on a pension and married to a younger wife

At the moment, old men over the age of 65 and drawing nothing much more than the state pension and married to a wife, in work, but in a low income job, can claim up to £13,273 a year in pension credit. The same rule applies to older women married to younger men. Now, from May 15th, new applicants will have to claim 'Universal Credit' which will pay them a maximum of £5,986 a year or £7,286 less.

Parliament approved this change in 2012, but the implementation wasn't confirmed until it was smuggled in on Monday, on the eve of the House of Commons vote on Mrs May's Brexit deal.

'Age UK' described the change as a 'substantial stealth cut' and said it could have a devastating effect on the health and well being of some older people and increase the numbers of pensioners in poverty. Caroline Abrahams, the charities Director, said : “It is by no means unusual for one partner to be slightly older than the other within relationships and the bigger the age gap between them, the more long-lasting the adverse impact on them will be because of this proposed change. For some, the impact will be truly devastating. The government should think again.”

Old men on a pension, with a partner under state pension age, who are already in receipt of pension credit cannot rest easy because they will be moved to the new system if their circumstances change, such as a change of address, or even if they go abroad for longer than a month.

Age UK also said pensioners may find themselves in the “absurd position” of being financially better off if they split up and live apart from their partner. A single person who claims the top-up is eligible for £167.25 a week in pension credit, meaning that in theory a pensioner will be better off staying “solo” for benefit purposes rather than claiming with a partner.

In addition, at the moment, old men who reach retirement age can claim pension credit regardless of the age of their partner. In future, they will have to wait until their partner also reaches 65 and the state retirement age will be increased to 66 in October 2020.

Locked in the past :

Britain in 1919 : a country for rich, privileged old men but not the poor.
Britain in 2019 : a country for rich, privileged old men but not the poor

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Britain is a country which once made and has now lost an old TV Film Producer called David Pritchard who gave it Floyd on Food

David, who has died at the age of 73, was born 1945 in Southampton, Hampshire in the last year of the Second World War, where he and his mother, Charlotte, were supported by his father, Arthur, who he rarely saw and worked away from home for the Customs and Excise in Weymouth, which probably explained why he left David's mother for another woman when David was 10 years old.

With his friends Bob and Michael, from an early age, he enjoyed poaching fish, mainly trout, from the River Itchen which ran from beyond Winchester to Southampton and cooking them in the open air.

He recalled : 'We’d thread sharpened twigs through each trout from head to tail and grill them over a camp fire, turning them so the skin cooked evenly. To eat with them we’d make a thing called ' twist'. We would mix up some flour and water and knead it to make a dough. Then we’d twist it round a stick, hence the name and put it over the fire where it would bubble and blister and eventually go smoky black. We’d cut it up with our sheath knives, sprinkle the pieces with salt, add a knob of butter and wow! If my mother had served up hot black dough and undercooked fish at home I’d have seriously considered running away, but out there in our beloved camp with our eyes stinging and streaming from the smoke, they tasted wonderful. Such are the pleasures of eating outdoors'.

Another pleasure was a visit to the Savoy Cinema in Swaythling on Saturday afternoons. He recalled : 'Robin Hood. I loved the way the Merry Men would eat using a dagger, ripping the meat with their hands with lots of enthusiastic grunting. Then they’d quaff goblets of wine and, because their mouths were so full, it ran down their chins, the director’s way of painting a picture of a Saxon peasant living in a land of plenty. 
By contrast the ever grumpy Sheriff of Nottingham would just pick at his food and have the occasional grape. I used to come out of that cinema in the late afternoon feeling ravenous and wishing I could have exactly what Robin, Little John, and Friar Tuck had, including vast goblets of wine, but in all probability I’d be sitting down to a pilchard salad and a Cremola Foam'.

In 1955 when he was 10 years old and on account of his asthma,  Hampshire County Council sent him for a year to Wedges Farm Camp in Itchingfield, West Sussex, a residential special school with its own hospital, set up in open air conditions for the provision of education of children for children whose physical condition required it. Under the direction of the Headmaster, Mr Booth, the boys and girls did a compulsory cross country run every week, no matter what the weather and country dancing on the playground. In addition, there was also an open air swimming pool.

David would certainly have been conversant in the pupils' school song :

"Here we are at Wedges Camp, 
Far far away. 
All we get Is bread and scrape,
Three times a day.
Ham and eggs we never see,
Get no sugar in our tea. 
We are the Jubilee, 
Fading away, 
Goodbye all the pupils and the teachers too.
Goodbye Mr Booth and blooming good luck to you."

David recalled : 'Nothing in that strange, makeshift school in 1955 gave so much pleasure as puddings, which were eaten at breakneck speed in case the master in charge of the dining room gave the call for second helpings. One of our favourites was chocolate sponge with lashings of hot chocolate custard, a new invention, but by far the tastiest, sweetest and the fairest of them all was jam roly-poly. I would eat mine slowly, savouring every sticky jammy mouthful, whilst others rushed theirs in the hope of getting seconds. Of course, I knew there wouldn’t be an invitation for second helpings, because like chocolate sponge, treacle pudding, and apple pie, jam roly-poly was just too good. Tapioca, the stuff that looks like frogspawn,now that’s a different story altogether'.

'I ran away from school once with Clive, my best friend. I wasn’t really unhappy at Wedges but I did miss my mother and Clive missed his monkey' which had been brought home by his father, a sailor'. They didn't get far : 'miraculously we were picked up by Mr Woods, the deputy headmaster, in his Austin Big Seven saloon. All thoughts of getting home had long gone. The only adventure we wanted now was with a large plate of stew or Spam fritters, chips, and beans. Now that would be something". 

'Surprisingly, when we were handed over to the headmaster for punishment we were treated with great sympathy and understanding. Apparently Mr Booth had learnt that my parents had recently divorced, which he thought extremely tragic. Divorce was a much rarer phenomenon in 1955 than today and considered far more catastrophic and devastating for the children involved. Both of us gazed downwards, studying the knot holes in the floor, looking suitably sorry for ourselves, hoping that the ordeal would soon be over and there would be some food left in the refectory—maybe even jam roly-poly. Through some form of telepathy we both thought it best, under the circumstances, not to mention the monkey'.

When his mother paid him a rare visit : 'For a special treat she took me to lunch at a place called 'The Carfax' in Horsham. This was my very first visit to a restaurant. I’d seen lots of them in films and it made me feel very grown-up indeed. There were waitresses in frilly hats and black dresses with white aprons, and there was tea in silver pots. Intrigued by its strange name I had mock turtle soup, a beef consomm√© with bits of meat floating about in it, to start; followed by plaice, fried in breadcrumbs, with chips, peas, and a wedge of lemon in a silver squeezer, I’d never set eyes on one of those before and bread and butter.'

When he returned home to the suburb of Swaythling in Southampton, times were lean : 'My mother was working as a receptionist in one of the halls of residence at Southampton University and I was constantly reminded by her that times were very hard indeed. If we were lucky enough to have a roast while listening to the Billy Cotton Band Show on a Sunday, it was usually a small shoulder of lamb or belly pork with apple sauce'.

He took and failed his 11+ exam which : 'wasn’t surprising really, because the emphasis for the past year had been on health and nature studies. I knew all about moths and butterflies, wild flowers and trees. I knew how to make rosehip syrup, put up a tent and make a campfire, but my knowledge of decimals and algebra and conjugated verbs was somewhat limited'.

Now living in Portsmouth with his mother, at the age of 11 in 1956 he joined Mayfield Road Secondary Modern School which was : 'a world apart from the woods and fields that engulfed Wedges and there was a great difference in attitude among the children. Bullying was rife and the building was so old there were no facilities for school dinners. 
So lunchtimes meant a quick bicycle ride to the grocer’s for a cold Miller’s steak and kidney pie, a delicious bargain at just ten pence each. Sometimes lunch would consist of five Player’s Weights cigarettes and a shared bottle of New Forest Brown Ale. But best of all was fish and chips. Is there anything better than piping hot fish and chips and the smell of vinegar on hot beef dripping as you walk along the road with your mates?'

In 1961 he left school at the age of 16 with one GCE 'O' level in Art and 'went to Southampton Technical College to resit all six of my other exams. This time I failed them all again, except History.' Simultaneously he studied part-time at Southampton College of Art where he saw as a famous designer of book covers, but having realised he was 'utterly useless at the subject', he left and got a temporary job on a building site while he 'figured out what to do next. I was climbing a ladder one day when my mother came by on her moped, waving at me. Apparently she’d seen a wonderful job advertised in the Evening Echo: Assistant In Film at Southern Television. "You must apply for it David. You’ve always said you want to work in television"'.

David got his interview with Southern Television, his local ITV company where out of 80 interviewees he was offered the job : 'Only the job turned out not to be an Assistant In Film but a vault porter. When I asked why they hadn’t advertised the job as vault porter, they said, "Well, nobody would apply would they?"'

At the age of 18 he found himself working in a vault contained all the commercials that were shown on Southern Television in 1963 : 'I was paid five pounds a week to look after them. There were thousands of the bloody things forming the lining to my silver tunnel, or tomb, as I used to call it, and each had a number and had to be returned to its rightful place once it had been shown. I’d spend most of my day dusting them and making sure they were in the right order'.

His first big break came when : 'As soon as I finished my work in the dreaded vault, I’d ask the film editors for their permission to watch them at work.' 'I’d sit behind them and see how they operated their machines, unlocking the sound and moving the picture and I thought, this is it. It was a Faustian moment really.' They were earning 'stacks of money, while I earnt five pounds a week as a vault porter and so they were completely different animals to me. I thought : 'If I could press the old button there and become one of them, and sell my soul, I jolly well would'.

From thence he proceeded to gain an entrance to editing  and  as a young film editor, travelled to Newcastle where he 'spent many a joyous lunchtime and the occasional evening in smoky Tyneside pubs with Marxist journalists, lefty songwriters and film-makers. I had come to Newcastle because I knew by now that I wanted to be a film editor at the BBC, and there were no vacancies in the south of England. So I packed a suitcase and waved goodbye to my mother and my job at Southern Television, where, by now, I had graduated to the dizzy heights of Assistant Film Editor, somewhat nearer to the job description I had applied for in the first place'.

It was in Newcastle that his 'great love affair with food really started. For several months I lived in a bedsit in Heaton, then an unfashionable suburb of Newcastle. It was very clean and tidy and it had a Baby Belling cooker. Inside it I found one of the most useful cookery books ever written, 'Cooking in a Bedsitter', by Katharine Whitehorn. It was simplicity itself and funny too'.

At the age of 24 in 1969, he became friends and moved into a bungalow with John Craven, a regional journalist in Newcastle at the time and they were joined by Bernard Hall and Tony Bannister, a graphic artist who also worked at the BBC. 'This meant I could start to cook in a full-sized oven for a captive audience. I started to make stews with all those fresh and attractive paella.' This was inspired by the lads’ package holiday to Spain, where 'apart from sangria and sunstroke' his 'abiding memory of a fortnight on the Costa Brava was paella. Back home again in Newcastle I bought fresh prawns, mussels and squid, along with saffron and garlic, and prepared it to cookery book perfection'.

By 1984, David was 39 years old and working as a director and producer for BBC Bristol when he first met Keith Floyd in his Bristol restaurant who recalled : 'He was large and balding, with a red moon face and wearing a leather jacket and Communist Party scarf. 'That was a very good meal,' he said. 'How would you like to be on television?' A year later he phoned again, by this time working for BBC Plymouth.  He told me he was now features editor of the BBC in Plymouth. 'Would you like to come and make a pilot programme about fish and cooking fish?'

Working with Keith, David went on to produce 'Floyd on Fish' in 1986, working with a tiny budget and only one camera. With minimal planning or preparation, David and Keith would simply turn up somewhere – a trawler boat, a country hotel – and film him cooking, unscripted and with a glass of red wine at the ready, using whatever facilities were available. Although David's bosses doubted the formula could work, 'Floyd on Fish' proved an instant success.

They went on to make 'Floyd on Food' in 1986, 'Floyd on Britain & Ireland' in 1988 and 'Floyd's American Pie' the following year. David went on to make programmes for ITV and Channel 4 and work with Antonio Carluccio but it was his ongoing friendship and work with Padstow chef, Rick Stein, that he’ll be most remembered for, a relationship that spanned 30 years, 15 series and numerous one-off specials for BBC2, BBC 4.

There was always something of the English 1950s boy about David : either eating a trout wrapped in a pastry twist and cooked over a fire on the banks of the River Itchen or savouring his jam roly-poly in the school canteen of Wedges Farm Camp. He who once said :

"To make good food programmes you need to always be hungry.”

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Brexit Britain is the last country in the world to be concerned about the ageism which besets its old men

While the Brexit crisis continues to both convulse and absorb the energies of the body politic in Britain and all other social problems go unattended : increased child poverty, an underfunded Education System, Police,  Prison and National Health Service. It is little wonder that the problems associated with ageism don't even get a look in.

According to Professor Martin Green, the Chief Executive of 'Care England', the largest representative body for independent social care services in the country, Britain in 2019 is  “completely and institutionally ageist”. Martin, who is also Chair of the International Longevity Centre, has also said that ageism in Britain is a “national scandal” that should be challenged in the courts.

He said that The Equality and Human Rights Commission should : “hang their heads in shame” over their failure to pursue as many ageism cases through the courts as they do cases of racism or homophobia. “The EHRC is ignoring the elephant in the room in such a determined way, despite me personally drawing it to their attention numerous times, that I can only assume they’re part of the problem: that they’re imbued with the same institutionalised ageism as the rest of society.”

Although the EHRC has disputed his claim, its own figures show that just 8 of the 27 cases which were ongoing in August 2018 involved age, 2 out of 21 litigation cases which concluded between April and August 2018 involved age, and 9 out of 40 cases which concluded in 2017 to 2018 involved age.

He said that the health and social care system constantly discriminates against older people, which means that they do not get the services to which they are legally entitled and “If you just flip the categories, you see how unacceptable ageism is. You hear those in the National Health Service say : "That person is too old for an operation", but they’d never say they’re "too black" or "too gay" for treatment.”

“An older person with the same level of functionality but suffering dementia, however, will have a social care plan costing many thousands of pounds less a week, which is based entirely around getting the older person out of bed, washed and breakfasted, all in half an hour. God alone knows why it hasn’t been challenged in the courts in the same way that instances of racism or homophobia are.” 

Last summer a report by the Caloust Gulbenkian Foundation commisioned by the Royal Society for Public Health, entitled : 'That Age Old Question' concluded that ageism is rife in Britain, with millennials holding the most negative attitudes towards ageing. Apparently, a quarter of them believe it is normal for older people to be unhappy and depressed, while 40% believe there is no way to escape dementia as you get older. 

Across all age groups, almost a third of people surveyed agreed with the statement :  “Being lonely is just something that happens when people get old”, while two-thirds said they had no friends with an age gap of 30 years or more.

Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive of the RSPH said : “Ageist attitudes abound in society and have a major impact on the public’s health and yet they are rarely treated with the seriousness they deserve. Too often ageist behaviour and language is trivialised, overlooked or even served up as the punchline to a joke, something we would rightly not tolerate with other forms of prejudice".

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Britain is still a country for an old, tea-drinking, Scots stand-up comedian called Billy Connolly

Billy Connolly is 75 years old and last week BBC TV broadcast two programmes entitled 'Billy Connolly : Made in Scotland'. The first programme concentrated on his teenage years in Glasgow in the 1950s and his work as a welder in the shipyards on the River Clyde and how the city inspired the banjo-playing, stand-up comedian, who left the city to seek his future in the 1960s. He finished this episode with : "Life was a five-string, windswept minstrel that was the thing for me."

The second episode was far more downbeat and emphasised his present travails centred around his affliction with the effects of Parkinson's Disease, with which he was diagnosed in 2013. "Parkinson's is strange" he said "because its not going to go away. All my life I've got sick, I got the flu and I got pneumonia and various things and they all went away This isn't going anywhere. It's going to get worse. It takes a certain calm to deal with and I sometimes don't have it. Sometimes get angry with it, but that doesn't last long."

Towards the end of the programme Billy became very philosophical about the time he had left : "My life is slipping away and I can feel and I should. I'm 75. I'm near the end. I'm a damn sight near the end than I am the beginning, but it doesn't frighten me. It's an adventure and it's quite interesting to see myself slipping away as bits slip off and leave me. Talents leave and attributes leave. I don't have the balance I used to have. I don't have the energy I used to have. I can't hear as I used to hear. I can't see as good as I used to. I can't remember the way I used to remember and they all came one at a time. They just slipped away, thank you. It's like somebody's in charge of you and they're saying "Right, I added all these bits when you were a  youth, now its time to subtract." I can't work my left hand on the banjo. It's as if I'm being prepared for something - some other adventure which is over over the hill. I've got all this stuff to lose first.and then I'll be at the shadowy side of the hill, doing the next episode in the spirit world."

This broadcast led to a flurry of concern on social media, that the old chap was on his last legs, to the extent that his wife Pamela Stephenson posted a video on her Twitter account showing him relaxing, playing his banjo and laughing saying : "Not dying. Not dead. Not slipping away. Sorry if I depressed you. Maybe I should have phrased it better."

Both programmes were shot through with insights into the Glasgow and Scotland that made Billy, Britain's first stand-up comedian, bring his reflections on everyday life to the stage and have his audiences rolling with laughter in their seats. To show "how being around the people of Glasgow and the pubs shipyards and clubs turned me from being 'Billy Connolly the welder' into Billy Connolly 'The Big Yin.'"

He said with obvious sincerity : "I'm a hard-working, lazy man. My ambition has never been that great, but I've been lucky enough to have a talent that's taken me further than I could have dreamt of. And while the fame and the crowds have got bigger, what's important to me has shrunk in scope but become infinitely more rewarding. It's a sin really. I'm so blissfully unaware how this has come about."

He reflected : "When I was nominated for a knighthood, the woman interviewing me said very nicely : "It will be strange for you, having a knighthood - coming from nothing" and I said : " I don't come from nothing. I come from something."

That something was Dover Street, in Anderston, a working class district in Glasgow in the 1940s and 50s. "Comedy, like drama, is about conflict and Glasgow is my city of conflict. The views, the smells the sounds of these streets are jammed with memories of being cold and warm, in love and heartbroken, crying with laughter and regret. I love Glasgow, but that love has always been matched with an urge to leave to see over the horizon and that pull has made me a proud citizen of the world. There's always been a string in my heart that I'm glad pulls me back to where I'm from. To all the things that made me good and bad - Scotland."

When Billy was 15 he left school and got a job in a bookshop before moving to an apprenticeship in a dockyard on the River Clyde which "provided us with more than just work. It gave us, an entire city, our identity. It was what made our men stand out from other men." Work in the dockyard "was all rough and the language was all, really rough. There was a lot of swearing. Swearing and "Fuck this and fuck that and the other thing and the gate was closed and it was all guys and the jokes were furious and the language was strong. and if you didn't like it, get the fuck out of there."

Billy in his teens wanted to learn to play the banjo : "Eventually, I got one and like a teenager discovering his todger, I became obsessed with playing it. I was relentless and then one day someone in the yards changed my like forever - Willie Mcinnis a welder."

He said : "what you doing ?" I said "I'm going to be a folk singer. I'm gonna quit at the holidays. He said : "If you were really keen on it, you would do it now." The most important thing to me he said : "You don't want to be sitting here as an old men knowing you could have got out." He said : "I've known guys like that and it destroys their whole life. Just telling themselves they could have done better and didn't take the chance." He said : "You've got the chance go and do it. " So I did it. I was off being a hairy banjo player. touring the world, singing a song thanks to Willie Mcinnis."

"Since I've got Parkinson's Disease I've cut back on my work, but the fame remains and I've never known anything like it and it's a very pleasant feeling. People saying : "How nice it is to see you" and "How good you're looking". What's wrong with that ? Now I've got a funny idea of what the world's like. I think everbody's laughing and smiling, cos they are to me."

"The good things are there. The love we have for people is still there and with a bit of luck, the love they have for you is still there and I'm very lucky inasmuch as I made a bit of a mark and you think "Well I must have done something right and that keeps you company when you're older. There's the fact that when you were creative - you created well. It accompanies you. It's a great companion. You can volunteer to take life seriously but its gonna get you . You know they're going to win over you. It's harsh. You can either breakdown and complain how miserable your life is or have a go at it and survive. I think that's the basis of it all."
* * * * * * * * 
Other other insights Billy offered along the way :
* "My beginnings were no better or worse than the other 20,000 boys and girls that were the same year as me in Glasgow. No-one thought we were poor till somebody come along and told us. There was a lot of debris around an endless supply of bricks to throw at things."
* "My primary school was like a Dickensian hangover - violent and abusive. Before I was even aware of it, I inherently knew that the arts, be it music painting or literature, were vital somehow. All the colour I needed and the answers I was looking for were just waiting to be discovered. People often say : "Well football and boxing are the way out of the working class", if indeed, you want to leave it, but the library is where the tunnel is if you want to escape. The library is the key. All the knowledge in the world is there. You just want to lift it up. The great brains are there to be picked. Books are your ticket to the whole world. Its a free ticket to the entire earth. It's some nice person saying : "Come in and listen to this. You've never heard this before. It'll change you for the better."
* "For most boys of my generation, leaving school and ending up in the shipyards was pretty much inevitable. The pull was as strong as gravity and almost as pointless to resist. It was good because you knew it was going to make you a man. You're a schoolboy with a yodelly voice and it was time to become a man. Working on the Clyde was hugely intimidating to a boy and when you're 16, you might have hairs on you chin, you might get drunk, you might even get somebody pregnant but you're still a boy. That's the first thing that strikes you when you join the shipyards, it's the deafening sound of caulkers almost make you want to quit. They had a pneumatic gun with a chisel at the front. "Da-da-da-da-da". It was deafeningly loud. Especially if you're an apprentice and you're just started you think you're never going to survive this deafening noise and of course you do by becoming deaf."
* "As a boy you clamour to be heard above the crowd, but when you're walking into a man's world you quickly learn to shut up, listen and watch. Guys would talk round the fire and try to be funny to each other and they were always very observant about each other. There was a guy called Willie and they called him 'Wull the Gull', 'cos if you threw your crust away he was like a sea gull - he's dive and catch it."
* "I loved calling myself a welder. Being something bigger than me. It was comforting. Especially when you're young and still trying yourself out for size and finding your voice. All the same, like every other man there, come Friday, I couldn't wait for the weekend to begin."

* "I used to go to the Barrowland Ballroom. Looking for love, or at least pretending to, has proved to be the greatest source of embarrassment and embarrassment the greatest source of comedy imaginable. The Barrowland, Glasgow's premier dance hall was my arena of public humiliation. It was big ball room and the girls stood along the wall and the men stood along the edge of the dance floor, so you tried to get the nerve up to walk across the no mans land : "Are you dancing ?" was the question "You dancing ?" and if she said "Naw" Oh my God all you could do was turn and walk away and then mingle and go to another bit of the room and see and see if you could get someone else. What you mustn't do is say : "OK" and ask the next one to her. "Are you dancing ?" "Naw". "Naw". "Naw"...right out the door and away."
* "My whole romantic life was one disaster following another. I used to look out the bus window at the streets teeming with people, and I would look at women and say : "Shes done it." "She's done it."  "He's done it with her." "When will I ever get to do it ?"
* "Scottish Cup Finals, we always had a 110,00, 111,00. I remember leaving Hampden Park with my feet off the ground, as I was gong down those passageways just squashed by the adults, being lifted off the ground. and levitating my way out. You never see crowds like that any more, thank God. It was much noisier and a lot more Celtic supporters used to sing hymns : 'Hail Glorious Saint Patrick. Dear Saint of our isle On us, thy poor children bestow a sweet smile.'"

* "I enjoyed drinking but it's a thing of the past. I was too drunk for my own good but it was lovely when I was doing it and then the fun went away and I stopped it. That's the sign to watch for. when the fun disappears. But tea is the best substance in the world. Tea. I love tea. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel jolly. Tea is the substance."

* "I may not drink any more but I still love the culture that goes into a pub, The noise, the unspoken rules, the language of the crown. It was all music to me. It sounds outrageous, but women  weren't even allowed in here until 1989. Everybody speaks about the male-only thing as if there was something wrong with it, but it was a lovely thing. You know mixing with the guys and there's a thing about male company that I like very much and it isn't just dirty jokes or talking about football. There's a mixture of things that men like to talk about to each other. It was a lovely bit of my life and I kind of miss it. Politics, books, film, family, football, religion - everything was on the table to talk, argue and take the piss out of each other with. But the thing that united tens of thousands of men across countless pubs across the city was the job."

* "Ships were lined up right along the Clyde - putting stuff off and taking whisky on and all those other things that we exported, railway engines and stuff like that. It was a fantastic place. And where I lived there was big steep hill called Gardner Street. If you stood on top of it you could see the ships. It looked as if the ships were sailing through the houses. It was a lovely thing."
* "The Clyde is very different almost unrecognisable now. The quiet is almost overwhelming to my memories of a once relentless noise. Its a constant sort of puzzle to me where did all these thousands of men go ? All those men who worked in the dock, all those stevedores and dockers all the riveters and hole-borers fro the shipyards. platers and welders. Thousands and thousands of men. Where have they all gone ?"
* "There's no denying it - I'm 75, I've got Parkinson's and I'm at the wrong end of the telescope of life. I'm at the point where the yeasteryears mean more than the yesterdays because it's back there in my childhood and youth that all those things that made me, live keenest in my memory now. So, I'm going on a Proustian wander through Scotland to the places the objects the sounds that brought me to where I am now."
* "I get away with murder. If I'm walking along the street and there's men down a hole fixing some pipes or the sewage or something, I like to say : "Come on get your back into it. No wonder the countries in the state its in". And they'll burst out laughing. Well anybody else would get a kick in the arse you know."
* "Being famous and Scottish I'm often asked : what Scotland means to me ? For me Scotland isn't so much a place, but a state of mind. It's an outlook on life that comes from trying to balance what I would call the Yin and Yang of the place. Our landscapes are beautiful, but full of midges, our love of language is only matched by our love of profanity. We're pragmatic and deeply sentimental. Really, it's no surprise that Jekyll and Hyde was written by a Scotsman. The Scottish experience is a Celtic-flavoured sweet and sour affair, something I was aware of from my earliest memories."

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Britain is a country where poor old men, about to lose their right to watch TV for free, have a champion in an old Prime Minister called Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown, who was Labour Prime Minister from 2007-10 and is now 'UN Special Envoy for Global Education' and who will be 68 years old next month, has 'gravitas.' It is said that, in the Financial Crisis of 2008, he was the calm, level-headed politician who saved the world.

Now he has taken up the cudgels on behalf of those old men and women in Britain over the age of 75 who may well lose their right to a free BBC TV licence, which currently costs £150.50 for a year. This week he used the Guardian to do a bit of educating in Britain when he said :

'The free TV licence Labour introduced in 1999 is one of the few universal benefits available to all very elderly pensioners and is particularly important, given that for millions who live on their own, the television is the best antidote to loneliness and isolation.'

He went on : 'In a paper a few weeks ago, the BBC had to admit it might charge all of those not on pension credit a licence fee and thus restrict the free licence to 900,000 households, which would need to prove their eligibility. They might cut out nearly 2 million households where someone from the age of 75 to 79 lives; or start charging every one of the 4.5 million households with someone over the age of 75.'

In Gordon's view : 'In a sheepish private message to the BBC a few days after their botched general election campaign of 2017, the Conservatives asked the Corporation to simply ignore the fact that Theresa May had made a specific election promise to those millions of pensioners that they would continue to have a free TV licence. The Tories’ manifesto had stated :

We will maintain all other pensioner benefits including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this parliament.

The Conservatives told the BBC they had made a mistake by promising free licences until 2022 and insisted the BBC had the power to abandon them in 2020, thus overriding their election pledge. Even now, a year and a half on, the party has not levelled with the British public.'

Old men and women of Britain take note, Gordon makes the point that there is a far more fundamental reason why you should not pay and it's because The 'Frontier Economics Report',  commissioned by the BBC to make its case, doesn't even acknowledge that your pensioner poverty, which was halved between 1997 and 2010, is now on the rise again. There were 1.6 million of you living in 'poverty' three years ago and there are 1.9 million of you now and the forecast is that there will be 2 million of you by by 2022.

'There is a complacency about today’s pensioner poverty that I find distressing and alarming, especially when over‑75s are almost 50% more likely to be in poverty than the 65-75 age group. In fact, one in every four of the over-75s is eligible for pension credit because their income is so low. As the fee rises towards £160, and then £170, that poverty will become worse.'

Gordon makes the case : 'Imagine for a second the BBC taking a frail, housebound, elderly pensioner to court for not possessing a TV licence that for years he has had for free. Then imagine fining him £1,000, the standard penalty, with legal costs on top and if he doesn’t pay or can’t pay, sending him to prison. Unthinkable? In fact, one in every 10 court cases is over non-payment of TV licences. And from next year, millions of people aged over 75 could lose their right to a free TV licence and, if they don’t pay up, end up being taken to court despite a Conservative election promise they would not have to pay.'

Monday, 31 December 2018

Britain is no country for old professors at Oxford and Cambridge Universities

A change in the law in 2011 ended 'default retirement ages' in Britain, but companies and institutions were allowed to keep them if they could make the case that it was necessary and Oxford and Cambridge claim that they must be able to remove scarce old professors over the age of 67 'to help younger academics', despite its abolition by all other leading universities.

One sixty-nine year old ex-Cambridge Professor, speaking anonymously because he was still affiliated to a college, said after being forced to retire : “As one high official of the University told me when the policy was adopted, "We know the policy is probably not in compliance with the law, but we have to hold on to it as long as we can go unchallenged". It’s bankrupt moral leadership. It’s about convenience, for as long as they can get away with it. They don’t have a convenient way to terminate the employment of people who aren’t productive." In other words, the University, like Oxford, is relying on compulsory retirement because their antiquated employment policies mean that it is almost impossible otherwise to remove failing staff.

He went on : “There just hasn’t been the intestinal fortitude to do what many universities in Britain have done - institute a performance review based on standard criteria not to do with age. Cambridge finds that awkward so they’re taking the path of least resistance. Their view is that the only energy is with young people. That’s very out of date. I can identify lots of people right now in their thirties who should leave. A lot of us are running five miles a day, and could go on working until 100."

Seventy year old Sir John Ball, said that he had left Oxford for a position at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, because he did not want to apply for a rare contract extension and in relation to the default retirement age : “I decided that life was too short to fight it.”

Sir John was :

* Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University
*  President of the International Mathematical Union, an international non-governmental organization devoted to international cooperation in the field of mathematics across the world, from 2003–06
* a Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford.
* knighted in the New Year Honours list for 2006 for 'Services to Science'

He said that he was not bitter but felt that the University was going to suffer if it maintained the policy : “I think in the higher reaches of the administration they realise the legal situation is dodgy. Whatever you think of the morality of the situation it doesn’t make any sense to have less good employment conditions than your competitors. If you’re in your late fifties or early sixties and at Oxford with the capacity to move, why wouldn’t you? And how can Oxford attract such people if they realise they can work longer somewhere else? We already know of cases where this is happening.”

On its part, Oxford said that the policy helped to “refresh” the workforce and promote equality and diversity. Cambridge said that the age limit was “important to ensure intergenerational fairness”. A colleague of Professor Ball’s, still working at Oxford and speaking anonymously, said that it was an unambiguously ageist policy and impossible to justify given that only Cambridge kept the same rules. Referring to the collection of leading research universities he said : “The question needs to be strongly put — ‘Why is Oxford different from the rest of the Russell Group?’ ”

Eighty-six year old Sir John Meurig Thomas, said that, while based in Cambridge he gave about 40 lectures a year around the world but was "saddened not to be asked to teach at the University", where he had been Master of a College and Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry from 1978 to '86.

This Sir John was

* from 1986 to 1991, Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain
* in 1987 televised by the BBC televised giving his 'Royal Institution Christmas Lectures' on crystals, continuing the tradition of lectures for children started by Faraday in 1826
* knighted in 1991 for 'Services to Chemistry and the Popularisation of Science'
* from 1993 to 2002, Master of Peterhouse, the oldest college at Cambridge and Honorary Distinguished Research Associate in the Department of Material Science
* given twenty honorary degrees from Australian, British, Canadian, Chinese, Dutch, Egyptian, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and U.S. universities
* was joined in celebration of  his 75th birthday, by Angela Merkel at Cambridge

A colleague of Sir John said: “Many very good, over-67 people in Cambridge are no longer ‘allowed’ to give lectures and influence enthusiastic undergraduates, while at the same time being asked, and paid, to give well- received lectures all over the world.”

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old Judge called Nicholas Crichton, Protector of its most vulnerable children

Nicholas, who has died at the age of 75, spent his adult life as a passionate advocate for children’s rights, and was the driving force behind the setting up of the award winning 'Family Drug and Alcohol Court', the FDAC, in 2008. It was based on the fact that parents who are seriously addicted to drugs or alcohol are in danger of having their children taken into care. He also worked abroad on projects in the field of child protection, most notably in Bulgaria where he visited all 28 family courts and many specialist institutions. His work in other countries invariably left him horrified at the suffering he saw where children were left forgotten in institutions, without the care they needed and deserved.

Born during the Second World War in 1943 in Eton, Buckinghamshire, the younger son of Vera and the film director, Charles Crichton, brought up in the village of Denham and at the age of 11 was packed off to the boys' public school, Haileybury and Imperial Service College, Hertfordshire, where he was an accomplished rugby player and cricketer. He studied for his Bachelor of Laws at Queen's University Belfast in the 1960's and at the age of 28, in 1971, began his 16 year tenure as a solicitor in private practice working on criminal legal aid work, already specialising in care proceedings/child protection.

He later recalled : "When I was a solicitor, I sat in a court corridor with a woman who was having her seventh and eighth babies (twins) taken away. Her first child was in borstal – five times the cost of Eton; her second in a detention centre – four times Eton; her third and fourth were being adopted and her fifth and sixth in care – with all the attendant costs. Then there were the NHS costs of her poor health due to addiction, police costs for constantly attending domestic violence incidents, social services, court time, legal aid and local authority legal bills and an awful lot of human misery. We worked out she alone was costing the taxpayer half a million quid." In the first instance, it was clearly his effort to curb the amount of misery being generated, rather than the amount of money being spent, which was to motivate his ground-breaking family court reforms thirty years later.

In 1986, his life changed radically, when, at the age of 43, he started his nine year's service as a District Judge or 'Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate'. It wasn't until 16 years later that the seed of the idea for the FDAC was planted in his mind, when, at a conference in Melbourne, he met Len Edwards, a Californian Judge, who was talking about the strategies he used for drug-and-alcohol-using parents at his court in San Jose. He recalled : ”I was completely captivated by everything Len had to say because we had been struggling with these cases for years. These children are being born into terrible circumstances, and it just seems so wasteful, so stupid. He was offering a way of dealing with these families that was so different.”

When Nicholas returned home, he started to stimulate interest in a reassessment of how a family court could respond to the problem of parental addiction, he knew that usually, parents were told to 'get themselves clean or lose their children', but he knew that : "most of these people are in far too much of a mess to do this by themselves".

After his visit to the USA Nicholas thought : “We British are far too cautious. Everybody wants evidence based research before they can tentatively dip their little toe into the water. In America this is spreading across the country like a rash and there are over 300 of these courts. They say : "We are not good at dealing with these sorts of cases, here is something that looks better, let’s run with it, learn from the experience and start from the understanding that we are not good at this." I have had mothers scream at me in court : "Take this one away and I will keep having one a year until you let me keep it." I have read a psychiatric report that said every time you take a child away the only way that some mothers can deal with the pain is to have another one. I can’t even imagine how it must feel and I’m not even a mum”. 

He posed the question : “Just what is it that family courts are there to do? Just take away children? Or are we there to provide part of the whole construct of support around families to try to enable children to remain within their families? “If we are looking to remove the 8th, 9th or 10th child, the family courts can’t be doing very well by this family”.  He spoke from experience, having had to remove the 14th child from one family and admitted this was a clear indictment of how the family courts handled these cases. He felt that the family courts had to find ways of working with these families rather than concluding that children were not safe and then removing them. The creation of the FDAC was his solution.

Now, in his early 60s, he began a three year campaign and with backing from the three local authorities and the 'Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service', formed a fighting fund. In 2007 he featured in an article in 'The Telegraph' entitled 'Law : The judge with children at heart'  and the campaign group, led by Nicholas, presented the project to four government departments in one afternoon. Funding was approved, the FDAC opened in 2008. In 2015 he explained :

Nicholas was clear from the start that the “FDAC takes a different approach from normal care proceedings. We don’t tell the parent to go away and to get help; we bring a tough structured programme to them. We tell the parent that it is the best chance to turn their lives around and that it is about getting the child sent home or moved on. The local authority found families for the court to work with and they gave us some really challenging families that they had already worked with for years and got nowhere. These parents needed to show that they could change enough to meet the child’s needs within the child’s timeframe”. The time frame was 12 months.

He believed that : "To be successful, you have to address simultaneously the addiction and the problems that trigger it, like housing, debt and domestic violence." As a result, the parents :

*were brought into court every two weeks and saw the same judge throughout the legal process because : "Continuity is absolutely crucial " and it was a process like WeightWathcers "with the judge as the scales".
* had their progress monitored in the Court Reviews, which were the problem-solving aspect of the court process and allowed judges to speak directly to them and motivate them and to find ways of resolving problems that may have arisen. 
* were given the benefit of extra support from volunteer parent mentors, themselves, former addicts.

He was also clear that nurturing the parents, placed considerable demands on them : “The first three months get them stabilised, hopefully off drugs altogether or on methadone. If they come through the first three months, the second three months is about relapse prevention. We identify the triggers and what it is that has created the parents’ relationship with drugs and alcohol.  By six months we should know if there is likely to be a reunion. If they are still with us and w still doing well, then we start addressing their parenting issues, enabling them to meet the child’s needs and to build relationships. This is all done with a view to returning the child at the end of nine months. Some take a little longer.”

In addition the FDAC team carried out Pre-Birth Assessments with four local authorities because : “We should be catching these young mums at an early stage and then we have a real opportunity to break the habit. We initially got the toughest end when we started in 2008, but we still did twice as well as normal care proceedings, and with the most difficult families.” Having access to mothers while pregnant bought the team valuable time to help the mother before her baby was born. By then they had a very good idea of whether the mother was committed to the programme.

The results spoke for themselves and :

* research from Brunel University and the Nuffield Foundation revealed that nearly twice as many mothers going through FDAC were reunited with their children, compared with those in the comparison group used who were in normal care proceedings.

* in addition, the number of guardians and social workers commented that fathers were more involved and supported in FDAC cases than in ordinary proceedings and were more likely to get support and receive much more encouragement. They found that 36% of FDAC fathers were no longer misusing substances, but not one father from the comparison group stopped misusing.

In 2011 he received the 'Outstanding Achievement Award' at the 2011 'Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year' and received fulsome praise from his fellow professionals :
In addition to that the two awards his FDAC Intervention Team received in 2011 must have been particularly gratifying to him : the 'Guardian Public Services Award for Service Delivery for Children and Young People' and the 'London Safeguarding Children Award.'

In 2013 he explained the FDAC process of working with parents suffering from addiction in the the documentary, 'UNSPOKEN', made for DiversityInCare's awareness campaign to raise awareness of the issue of drug addiction amongst women in Britain :

He retired at the age of 71 in 2014, but continued to lend support to the spread of his family courts and in 2016, he extolled the benefits of establishing a FDAC in Wales on BBC News for Wales : and a year later BBC News highlighted the work of the FDAC with the case of a drug addict called 'John' under the title : 'How I got my children back'.

Although he had the satisfaction of knowing that by 2018, ten specialist FDAC teams had been set up, working in 15 courts covering 23 local authorities, it must have been a big disappointment for him to see the National Unit based in London closed in September, due to lack of support from local authorities and funding from central government. The Guardian highlighted its dissolution in an article in July under the title : 'Courts for addicted parents work, So why are they being stripped of support ?'

No one could doubt that the welfare of children were the key motivation for this judge who sometimes brought the family dogs he shared with his ex-wife into his court and having checked : "If we have an adoption, I ask the lawyer if the child likes dogs" and if the answer was "Yes", he hid them under his desk and when the child came up to him at the end of the proceedings, with a 'hey presto gesture', he said : "There are the dogs!" and confessed, of the children : "They love it."

When interviewed, in 2010, on the 'New Guidelines for Talking to Children in Family Proceeding' he said : "We see it as important that children should be treated with respect. They are citizens after all, no less because of their age. We would not deny an adult the opportunity to speak to the judge, so why would we deny the same opportunity to a child, unless there are good reasons for doing so."

He said that the FDAC was :
“better for parents, better for children, better for families and ultimately better for our society.”

Of his work, he once said : 
"We are involved in a process that seeks to make life better for these children. Why wouldn't you find that inspirational ?"

A good and great man, he died at the Isabel Hospice on 17th December surrounded by family and friends :