Tuesday 30 April 2013

Britain is no country for neither old men, nor old trees

An article in the 'Observer' on sunday was entitled :

The Pontfadog oak was the oldest of the old, revered, loved … and now mourned

It told of the fate of the 1,200 year old tree which stood behind 'Cilcochwyn', the farmhouse above the village of Pontfadog in Mid Wales which had :

* lost all its main roots and must have only been standing because of its weight.

* toppled in a gale after surviving tempest, battle, fire, the threat of flooding and 40 or more generations of people taking its wood for fuel and buildings.

* been the oldest tree in Wales, the third largest in Britain and one of the oldest in Europe.

* been seeded several centuries before most cathedrals were built and well before the land to the east of Offa's dyke was named 'England'.

* alone, been spared when King Henry II's men razed the Ceiriog Woods in 1165.

* beneath its branches, the Welsh Prince Owain Gwynedd, rallied his army before defeating, the English at the Battle of Crogen, fought just two miles down the valley.

* been mentioned by George Borrow on his journey across Wales in 1862.

* been visited by a group from the 'Ancient Tree Forum', which seeing it was vulnerable to a big wind, put together a list of actions costing £5,700 which they thought might have protected it, but despite a petition of 6,000 signatures to the Welsh Assembly, no money could be found.

* been in the William's family for many years with its archive going back 5 generations reporting that it had been a place for :
- a missing bull and at times sheep to shelter.
- for two golden chisels to be hidden.
- in 1880, six men to meet, seated round a table.
- children to play.
- Victorians to pose for photos.
- generations to carve their initials.

News of its demise was on Facebook by breakfast.

By lunch the experts, the tree enthusiasts and the curious were arriving in Pontfadog.
In the evening, when the tourists had gone, about 30 locals from the valley gathered by it with
Dianne Coakley-Williams saying : "It was like a wake. We raised a glass to it."

Moray Simpson, Tree Officer for Wrexham County Borough Council said :
"It was always a working tree, pollarded or pruned for its wood. It was part of the community. People built houses from it, cooked from it. That's why it lived so long. It always had a role."

According to the Ancient TreeForum database :

* Britain has 80% of all Northern Europe's ancient trees, with 5,365 in England, 581 in Wales and 646 in Scotland and many are 500 years old or more.

* a further 100,000 old trees in Britain are classed as 'veteran', 'notable' or 'heritage' trees, considered to be of particular ecological or cultural value of which 18,535 are oaks and 1,535 are classed as 'ancient', surviving in ancient hedges, old deer parks, on hillsides and even in cities.

Tree experts have warned that many old trees would fall if they were not better protected and Jill Butler, Conservation Policy Adviser at the Woodland Trust said :
 "We protect old buildings and other historic man made structures but there's nothing for our oldest 'living monuments' and there are subsidies to plant trees and money to make footpaths through woods, but no protection for old trees beyond 'tree orders', which theoretically prevent them being cut down, but which can often be circumvented by developers if the trees are decaying." The older trees are, the more valuable they become for wildlife : "They are literally nature reserves on people's doorsteps, and once removed or fragmented the ecology associated with them is isolated and cannot survive." 

According to the Woodland Trust, many ancient trees are in immediate danger because they are in the way of housing developments or roads. At least eight are in the path of the proposed HS2 railway line.

Moray Simpson said : "They are part of our heritage, yet there is no help for owners to protect them. They are national monuments, part of our culture. They're valuable for continuity, an irreplaceable and already extremely vulnerable part of the UK's natural and historic environment".

Ted Green, Britain's foremost ancient tree expert said :
"Man's passion for ancient trees is boundless, touching all walks of life, professions and classes, and is a continuous thread throughout history. We should recognise that the UK's greatest obligation to the conservation of European biodiversity, heritage and culture rests in our ancient veteran trees." 

No decision has been made on what to do with the Pontfadog oak beyond moving it off the farmhouse roof on which it fell.  Left to decompose, it could continue to provide a habitat for wildlife for another 100 years.

There have been proposals to resurrect it as a monument or make a bardic chair from its wood.  Dianne Coakley-Williams, however, is adamant it should not leave the valley :
"It lived here and it will stay here." 

Happily, it has its descendants. Two saplings grown from its acorns are believed to be in the Botanical Garden of Wales and another may be at the local hospital.

Huw Williams said he was only disappointed that the tree's last act would not benefit the family that had cared for it for so long :
"If it had just fallen a few feet to the left, we could have had a new roof."

News report :

Sunday 28 April 2013

Britain is still a country where the old Governor of the old Bank of England gets to choose the bank notes we all use

The 319 year old Bank of England has announced that the face of the 66 year old Sir Winston Churchill, who became Britain's Second World War Prime Minister 73 years ago, will feature on the reverse of the new design of a £5 banknote which will enter circulation in 2016.

The old man who runs the Bank, 'The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street' and who has the final say about who appears on the notes, 65 year old, Sir Mervyn King, said about his choice of the long dead Churchill that :
"Our banknotes acknowledge the life and work of great Britons. Sir Winston Churchill was a truly great British leader, orator and writer. Above that, he remains a hero of the entire free world. His energy, courage, eloquence, wit and public service are an inspiration to us all."

That he was a great orator and War leader is not in dispute. The speech he made at the start of the grievous 5 year war against Germany and its Allies, at three in the afternoon, as indicated on the clock, on 13th May 1940 with the words : " I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat" reveals his genius with words and sentiment.

But does he remain "a hero of the entire free world" ? I think not. I would hazard a guess that a large proportion of the free world and in particular, its younger citizens, have never heard of him.

Is he still an "inspiration to us all to us all" ? Again, I think not. It was all, a very long time ago.

Mervyn thinks that Churchill was an appropriate choice given Britain's current economic difficulties :
"We do not face the challenges faced by Churchill's generation, but we have our own. The spirit of those words remains as relevant today as it was to my parents' generation who fought for the survival of our country and freedom under Churchill's leadership."

The BBC report :

I have a personal reason for remembering the day Churchill died on 24th January 1965. I was due to read a passage from 'Corinthians' in the Old Testament, in the morning school assembly at Eltham Green Comprehensive School in South London, to an audience of 1,500 pupils and teachers on the 25th. As a 'senior prefect' it was my 'duty' to take the reading and in preparation I was word perfect.

You can see the lectern in the photo. It is in exactly the same position it was, on that morning 48 years ago.

Then, just before the assembly, the Head Master called me into his office and handed me a copy of the first volume of Churchill's autobiography, with the part where Churchill explained where, as a boy at Harrow School, he had developed his talent for language, underscored for me to read :

'By being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell, a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great, was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing, namely, to write mere English.

He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it. Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis.

Mr. Somervell had a system of his own. He took a fairly long sentence and broke it up into its components by means of black, red, blue, and green inks. Subject, verb, object: Relative Clauses, Conditional Clauses, Conjunctive and Disjunctive Clauses!

Each had its colour and its bracket. It was a kind of drill. We did it almost daily.

As I remained in the Third Form three times as long as anyone else, I had three times as much of it. I learned it thoroughly. Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence, which is a noble thing.

Naturally, I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for is not knowing English, I would whip them hard for that'.

I left the Headmaster's office in horror. I would have no time to rehearse !

I mounted the stage filled with trepidation.
I was aware of my right leg shaking and was sure everyone of the 3,000 eyes fixed on me could see it.

I got through it.
I was 17 years old.

So the man who was "the hero of the entire free world" was the same one who believed in whipping boys hard for not knowing their English.

As I said Mervyn, Churchill came from a different age and like my reading in the school assembly : It was all a long, long time ago.

An earlier post about Churchill :

Friday, 30 July 2010

Britain is a country where you can buy the false teeth of famous old men like Winston Churchill


Thursday 25 April 2013

Britain is no country for old men living in the shadow of discrimination

Age UK's latest report was entitled  :
Later Life in the United Kingdom
April 2013

It revealed that discrimination against old men and women in Britain is alive and well with agreement from :

• 60% of them that 'age discrimination exists in their daily lives'.

• 52% of them that ' that those who plan services do not pay enough attention to their needs.' 

• 68% of them that 'politicians see older people as a low priority.' 

• 76% of them that 'the country fails to make good use of their skills and talents.'

• 39% of them  'think businesses have little interest in the consumer needs of older.'

In addition :
• 53% of adults agree that 'once you reach very old age, people tend to treat you as a child.'

• 97% of annual travel insurance policies impose an upper age limit for new customers.

• in a study of patients at a stroke until between 2004 and 2006, only 4% of patients age 75 and above were given an MRI scan, compared to 26% of those under 75.

Monday 22 April 2013

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to a very old actor called George Cole

George, a film and tv actor, whose career has spanned 70 years and who I remember when I was a boy in the pre-tv 1950s, playing an amiable, bumbling bachelor with his dog Psyche,
in his radio radio comedy, 'A Life of Bliss', is 86 years old today.

What you possibly didn't know about George, that he :

* was born in London and was given up for adoption at the age of ten days and taken by the Cole family, a fact he found out about by accident some years later.

* left school to be a butcher's boy, but landed a part in a touring musical and chose acting as a career and appeared on the stage and then in the film, 'Cottage to Let', as a Second World War cockney evacuee, at the age of 14 in 1941.

* was taken in, along with his mother, during the London Blitz, by stage and film actor, Alistair Sim and his wife at the age of 15, who helped him lose his London cockney accent and who became his mentor, going on to make 11 films with him.

* appeared opposite Laurence Olivier in 'The Demi-Paradise' in 1943 and in his film version of 'Henry V' in 1944 then  had his career interrupted by service in the Royal Air Force in the Second World War in 1944 until 1947

* appeared with Alistair Sim in 'Scrooge' as the young Scrooge in 1951 and had his best known film role was as 'Flash Harry' (left)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MYOonR_2ao in the St Trinian's films and in the comedy 'Too Many Crooks' in 1958.

* had his most memorable tv role was as crooked used-car dealer Arthur Daley in the Thames Television series, 'Minder' from 1979 to '94 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=280-jLL1u78
and also played Henry Root in the series 'Root Into Europe' in 1992.

* between 1995 and '96, starred as businessman-councillor, Freddie Patterson, in 'An Independent Man', in which his wife Penny Morrell also appeared and as Brian Hook in the BBC Comedy, 'Dad' in the late 1990s.

* starred in the mid-1990s ITV comedy series 'My Good Friend', playing a mischievous pensioner, and in 2003 at the age of 76 appearing alongside Timothy Spall and Annette Crosbie in the drama 'Bodily Harm'.

* in 2007, at the age of 80, appeared in the BBC drama 'A Class Apart', in which he played a grandfather who encourages his impoverished daughter to keep her son on the straight and narrow by means of a public school bursary.

Britain's old men say "Thanks George" for entertaining them in one way or another for all of their lives.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Britain is no country for old men like Paul Lamb who wish to say "Goodbye" to life

In Britain in England and Wales, it is an offence to 'encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt', the law is almost identical in Northern Ireland and in Scotland there is no specific law on assisted suicide, although in theory someone could be prosecuted under homicide legislation.
At the age of 57 Paul Lamb is hardly an old man, he is, however, an almost totally paralysed one, apart from a little movement in one hand and has needed round-the-clock care since a car accident 23 years ago.

What makes Paul special is that he has applied to the High Court to be allowed to die with the help of a doctor. At the moment, his case  goes beyond 'assisted suicide', because he is so badly paralysed that he could not take the final steps to kill himself. Paul would need a doctor to kill him, which would amount to murder.

Paul :

* has taken on the case brought by Tony Nicklinson (left), who suffered from 'locked in syndrome' and who died last year, a week after losing his High Court euthanasia battle.

* in a witness statement to the Court said : "I cannot carry on as all that my life consists of is being fed and watered, I am simply not in a position to take tablets, jump off a tall building, hang myself, throw myself in front of a moving train."

* said that : "In the last 23 years I have endured a significant amount of pain. I am in pain every single hour of every single day. I have received input from various pain specialists. I have considered having operations. I am constantly on morphine. I suffer from severe pains in the back of my head. I suffer from a pain in my shoulders where the bone has worn away."

* continued : "I consider that I have lived with these conditions for a lot of years and have given it my best shot. Now I feel worn out and I am genuinely fed up with my life. I feel that I cannot and do not want to keep living. I feel trapped by the situation and I have no way out".

* in addition said : "Over the past 23 years I have given it my best shot in trying to live as fully as I can, but I am now ready to go. People tell me that I must keep trying – but there is only so much that a person can take. Now I feel worn out and I am genuinely fed up with my life. I feel I cannot and do not want to keep living. I feel trapped by the situation and have no way out."

* concludes : "I am fed up of going through the motions of life rather than living it. I feel enough is enough." and "when the end comes ....I want to end my life in a peaceful, dignified way. It's something I believe in passionately. If I can be of any use to change the law, then I'll do it. Eventually the law will change. It has to. It might not be me who changes it. Maybe it will be 10 more people like me down the line. But it will change."

Paul's case is being supported by the 'British Humanist Association', which wants to establish the right to doctor-assisted death in certain circumstances.
Chief Executive, Andrew Copson said:
 "In the absence of legislation on assisted dying, we have to establish the right to a doctor-assisted death through the courts but we also hope that Paul's case will help to stimulate public debate on this issue, and convince Parliament to listen to the massive majority opinion in this country and legalise assisted dying."
However, Dominica Roberts, from the campaign group 'Care Not Killing', said :
"It would be very dangerous to give doctors the authority to kill" and there was a very small number of "very firm-minded people", such as Tony and Paul, who want the law changed, "but on the other side you have... perhaps hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people whom the law protects by the absolute blanket 'thou shalt not kill'."

The Chief Executive of 'Scope', the disability rights group, Richard Haekes, also raised concerns about the risk to disabled people if the law was changed and said :
"We must avoid any temptation to change assisted suicide laws based on a couple of undeniably heart-wrenching and tragic cases."

With little sign of a change in the law, it seems that Paul, a relatively 'young' old man, lives in a Britain which will condemn him to a life of many more years of unremitting pain and deny him his right to die.

Paul in his own words, interviewed on the BBC :

Friday 19 April 2013

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old album cover designer called Storm Thorgerson

Storm, graphic designer behind some of the most memorable record album covers of all time has died aged 69.

What you possibly didn't know about Storm, that he :

* was born in Potters Bar in Middlesex, went to Brunswick Primary School, Cambridge and Cambridgeshire High School for Boys' where he met the later founders of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett and Roger Waters with whom he played rugby.

* left school and studied English and Philosophy at the University of Leicester and then Film and Television at the Royal College of Art.

* began his career with design group 'Hipgnosis' in the late 1960s and became Pink Floyd's designer-in-chief, most famously creating the prism spreading a spectrum of colour across the cover of 'The Dark Side of the Moon', which became one of the bestselling albums of all time.

* produced the lonesome-looking cow on the cover of 'Atom Heart Mother', the burning businessman on the sleeve of 'Wish You Were Here' and the giant pig flying over Battersea power station on the cover of 'Animals'.
* never made things easy for his clients, presenting his ideas with a few clues as to the meaning of the work thrown in every now and again and  images produced which were unrelated to the original brief, hated by some, like Paul McCartney and appreciated by others like Peter Gabriel, who enjoyed the mind games and the banter.

Pink Floyd guitarist and singer Dave Gilmour said that Storm's artwork for the band had been :
'an inseparable part of our work'.

'We first met in our early teens. We would gather at Sheep's Green, a spot by the river in Cambridge and Storm would always be there holding forth, making the most noise, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. Nothing has ever really changed. He has been a constant force in my life, both at work and in private, a shoulder to cry on and a great friend. I will miss him.'

Storm talking about his work :

So Britain's old baby boomers say "thanks" to Storm for his visual puns, conundrums and strange narratives with everything built and photographed in situ to a size determined by the idea. No fakery and no Photoshop.

His :
  • man by the sea pulling a 20ft-high ball of string
  • giant eye peering ominously over a naked shoulder in some parched badland
  • thirty telegraph poles in a straight line with a person sitting cross-legged on the top of each one
  • hundreds of hospital beds spread across a beach
  • red footballs in the dunes of the Sahara desert
  • an underwater ballet, performed in a corporation swimming pool
  • two elegant ladies wearing cerise onions for ball gowns
  • two huge stone statues the size of Easter Island figures facing each other and in the distance,  Ely Cathedral. 

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Britain is no country for many sad old men in a later life crisis

Dr Oliver Robinson from the University of Greenwich recently told the British Psychological Society Conference in Harrogate about his research based on an online survey of 282 old men and women over the age of 60 which found that :

* 32% of the old men and 33% of the old women reported having had a 'later life crisis' since the age of 60 with :
- the most frequent cause being 'bereavement'
- followed by 'illness or injury to themselves or close relatives' 
- and 'caring for an ill or disabled loved one'.

* between 40% and 50% of those who experienced a crisis, emerged feeling more positive about life, setting new goals, appreciating every day and endeavouring to enjoy life more than they did before.

* for about 33% of those in crisis there may have been a decline in their physical and mental abilities, with some ‘retreating from the world', making It more serious than a 'mid-life crisis' because people in their 40s did not usually become withdrawn from the world.

Dr Robinson said it was important for people in their 60s to recognise the signs and for some to seek help and "If you handle it badly it can accelerate your decline. People should not be ashamed of having these experiences – it’s very common – or about seeking help.’ 
He concluded :
"It seems that when loss-inducing events occur together or in close proximity in time, a person's capacity to cope in their sixties is overwhelmed and a later life crisis is precipitated. By better understanding such crisis episodes, psychologists are well placed to understand mental health problems in this age group. They will also be better placed to offer help to promote positive post-crisis growth".

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Britain is a country which will soon say "Goodbye" to a brave, barely old, Scots novelist called Iain Banks

Bestselling author Iain Banks, who is 59 years old has announced that he has been given only months to live. Best known for 'The Wasp Factory', Iain has gallbladder cancer. His illness was reported on the BBC : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cutNXByHMo

Iain :

* using his deadpan humour, said : "I've withdrawn from all planned public engagements and I've asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow, sorry – but we find ghoulish humour helps." 

* in the past, delighted fans with his prolific output under two names and outraged literary puritans with his blithe assertion that he aimed to devote no more than three months a year to writing, because there were so many more interesting things to do – like driving fast cars and playing with fancy technology.

*  discovered a back problem he had ascribed "to the fact I'd started writing at the beginning of January and so was crouched over a keyboard all day" was something much more serious.

* said : "When it hadn’t gone away by mid-February, I went to my GP, who spotted that I had jaundice. Blood tests, an ultrasound scan and then a CT scan revealed the full extent of the grisly truth by the start of March." 

* stated : "I have cancer. It started in my gall bladder, has infected both lobes of my liver and probably also my pancreas and some lymph nodes, plus one tumour is massed around a group of major blood vessels in the same volume, effectively ruling out any chance of surgery to remove the tumours either in the short or long term."

* intended : "to spend however much quality time I have left seeing friends and relations and visiting places that have meant a lot to us".

* was interviewed for 5 minutes, before his diagnosis, last November : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdEK9USa_7w

Thriller writer Mark Edwards tweeted:
Just saw the sad news. Wasp Factory, Walking On Glass, Crow Road – some of the best novels I’ve ever read.’

Science fiction writer Ken MacLeod said :

"The way Iain has reacted to his situation is not really with a sense of unfairness but more that it's just the way the universe works, the way matter works, that there's nobody out to get us, nobody to blame for it all. It's a very courageous and stoical attitude in his situation. There's no doubting the style of the man. What you see is what you get, and the Iain who comes across in his books is very much how he is."

Ian Rankin, creator of the archetypal Scottish detective Inspector Rebus said :
"That combination of the macabre with the comedic is something he pulled off time and again in his fiction. He's taken it with good grace and humour and stoicism. I hope I have the chance to have that drink with him in Edinburgh."

Old men in Britain might hope that they can face their own death with as much alacrity as that shown by Iain.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to that old, upper class and English actor with a stiff upper lip, Edward Fox

The actor Edward Fox is 76 years old today.

A man who has a 'stiff upper lip' displays fortitude in the face of adversity and exercises great self-restraint in the expression of emotion. When the upper lip quivers, it is one of the first signs that the person is scared or experiencing deep emotion, The phrase became symbolic of those men who were products of the English public school system in the 1900's, during the Victorian era. Educated at Harrow School, then serving as a lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards, Edward acquired his 'stiff upper lip' in his youth and it has served him well in a long career in films in which he has played an assortment of British military characters. On the stage at the moment, he is playing Winston Churchill who was also educated at Harrow and left to start a military career which, like Edward, he did not complete, in his case leaving it for politics rather than the stage.

What you possibly didn't know about Edward, that he :

* had a father, Robin, who was a theatrical agent, a mother, Angela Muriel Darita, who was an actress and writer and an elder brother, James, an actor.

* after the Guards, attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and worked in repertory theatre before his first film appearance as an extra in 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' (left) in 1962 and as a barman (right) in 'This Sporting Life' in 1963.

* in the 1960s he worked mostly on stage, including a turn as 'Hamlet' and then established himself with roles in major British films including 'Oh! What a Lovely War' (left) and 'Battle of Britain' (right) in 1969 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9Ak1w4DwV8
and as a war veteran in 'The Go-Between' in 1970 and won a BAFTA for 'best supporting actor' (left).

* came to the attention of director Fred Zinneman who was looking for an actor who wasn't well-known and could be believable as the assassin in his 'The Day of the Jackal' and won the role, beating the other contenders, Roger Moore and Michael Caine.
The trailer :
Shooting melons :

* appeared in 'A Bridge Too Far' in 1977 as Lieutenant General Horrocks, a role he has cited as a personal favourite and for which he won the Best Supporting Actor award at the British Academy Film Awards.

* portrayed King Edward VIII in the television drama, 'Edward and Mrs. Simpson' in 1978.

* in 'Gandhi' in 1982, portrayed Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, responsible for the Amritsar Massacre in India.

* has continued to work on the London stage and in 2010 performed in a one-man show, 'An Evening with Anthony Trollope' at the age of 73.

* this year replaced Robert Hardy as Winston Churchill in the premiere of 'The Audience' after Robert had to withdraw for health reasons.

Film tribute :