Sunday 30 July 2017

Britain in 2017 : a country for old men in an English district called East Dorset, but not one for those in a Scottish city called Glasgow

Take two old men, both of them post-Second World War baby boomers and each 70 years of age. One of them, called Thomas, lives in the prosperous countryside of East Dorset and, by the law of averages, can expect to live another 12.9 years and approach the age of 83. Assuming the state pension stays at £159.95 a week, he can expect to receive another £108.000 and will certainly get good value from the national insurance payments he made when he was working. On top of that he will receive his Winter Fuel Payments which will consist of several thousand pounds and when he is 75 he will get his TV Licence free of charge, which will save him almost £150 a year.

The second old man called Angus, also 70 years old, by contrast lives in Glasgow, Scotland, a city with the worst longevity figures. He can expect to live an average of another 2.6 years and will net another £21,000 in pension, his total Winter Fuel Payment, more needed than Thomas, in clement Dorset, will be vastly reduced and he won't ever become eligible for a free TV licence.

Undoubtedly, a thousand years ago the old Saxons who lived, worked and died in rural East Dorset, lived longer lives than their Celtic counterparts in the small village of Glasgow.

Saxon England in 1017 : country where the longevity of old men depended on who they were and where they lived. 

Britain in 2017 : a country where the longevity of old men depends on who they are and where they live. 

Friday 28 July 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to its Grandfather of Toymakers, Ron Fuller

Ron Fuller, who has died aged 80, worked up to his death and over a period of 45 years to produce toys, automata and other eccentricities which delighted children and, more often than not, adults with memories of the wooden toys of their youth. They also enjoyed Ron’s quirky sense of humour which is accentuated by the toys themselves.

He was born in Liskeard, Cornwall, two years before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1937, the son of Ada, a seamstress and Purnell, a wheelwright, who let Ron play in his workshop from an early age. Ron was conscious that he came, as he said : "from a long line of wood and metal workers, radio repairers, train drivers, milliners and miners."

His love affair with toys began during the War which he referred to as his "formative years" when he "naturally made toy guns and became chief toy armourer for the whole town." As a teenager, in austerity-wracked Post-War Britain, he said his early teenage years were "mis-spent taking old radio sets to bits to see how they worked, consequently giving myself shocks and a taste for electricity; but at the same time, a keen interest in mechanical things and a sense of ‘make-do and mend."

When he was 73 he recalled : "My dad was a carpenter, so I grew up using his tools. I had a friend who went onto be an engineer and he introduced me to mechanics at a young age and we were always taking things to bits. I remember he and I raiding old car dumps, taking magnetos out and wire and making little motors. It started very early on and I’ve never lost the enjoyment of making things move. It’s continued all my life.”

Twenty years later, when he decided to take up toymaking for a living too get his business ‘off the ground’ he thought "it would be a good idea to make the toys that were my favourites when I was a kid – they were the chicken that lays five eggs, ship and submarine, horse racing game and pop-pop boat – I was not wrong."
At the age of 17 in 1954 and for two years he attended the Falmouth School of Art and followed this with two years National Service which he served as an Army Recruiting Sergeant. He then took himself off to London having been accepted to study for a degree in 'Art and Theatre Design' at the Royal College of Art in 1958. It was here he met his future wife, Rosamund, 'Moss' Steed, who he married in 1962, having graduated and while working in his first job as a technician at the Royal College.

They moved to Bristol in 1963, where he taught at the West of England College of Art where the future land artist, Richard Long, was one of his students. In the mid 60s they moved to Kent where he taught in Sevenoaks School, a coeducational independent school and it was now that he began making toys in his spare time, setting up a workshop in the living room with a sheet pinned across the room to keep in the dust. When it came to making toys, he was largely self-taught, but received help from his mentor, Jack Gould and was influenced Sam Smith, Youtha Rose, other members of the Toymakers Guild and the old German tinplate toy manufacturers.

In 1972, a letter arrived from his RCA contemporary Gerald Nason, telling of an ancient house with outbuildings going cheap in his village of Laxfield, Suffolk. He took the plunge : "Everything pointed to becoming a toymaker so that’s what I did, doing a bit of teaching now and then to make ends meet."

He was 35 years old and began with his take on mass production and turned out toys which ranged from can-can dancers, a man who put his head in the lion’s mouth, dolls’ houses, rocking horses, sheep-shearing men, sand-powered trapeze artists, everlasting-sausage-makers, submarines and horse-racing games.

He also made folk toys like the 'flipper dinger', which was hand-held and consisted of a metal hoop and stalk attached at a right-angle to a wooden tube and the 'whammydiddle,' a mechanical toy consisting of two wooden sticks where one rubbed on the other caused a propeller to rotate. In his creations his method was, on the face of it, simple :  “The way I go about it, is first decide on what you want to do, work out what you want to happen and then find a way of moving it.”

As Ron's family expanded, he and Moss had three sons and fostered four girls, family income was boosted by regular commissions from the Crafts Council and the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre in their Covent Garden premises and some major one-offs such as animated forest animals he made for the Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock and for the Chandos Pub, Trafalgar Square, the model cooper who rolled his barrels on the roof on the hour.

Over the years his toys found their way into permanent collections at the 'Cabaret Mechanical Theatre', London, the V&A, the 'National Museum of Childhood' at Sudbury Hall and he "made a circus for my friend Marvin" and Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Michigan. In addition, he was proud to "have designed English Postage Stamps for the Royal Mail which can be bought from stamp shops." They commemorated the role of the circus in British life.

For the automaton he made for the children in their ward in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, they turned the handle and a tin moth took off from marigolds; a lion watched cross-eyed as the moth landed on his nose; he sneezed, and tried to catch the moth as it flitted back to the flowers.

Ron's toys reflected changes in technology, so that he was able to produce a hopping frog powered by a solar cell and collected machine parts rescued from computer printers and laser copiers destined for the waste tip. He said : "Copying machines are the best. You get lots of cogs and wheels out of those. Computers are always disappointing – there’s nothing in those.”

In 2010 he said : “At the moment I am making one of a girl sunbathing on a beach. When the sun comes out she takes her top off and when it goes in again, she puts it back on. A simple toy, powered by a solar cell but it raises a smile.”

Ron demonstrated his virtuosity as a toymaker when he said, with perfect self-deprecation, : “It’s something out of the ordinary, something they are not necessarily expecting. I did a piece for Norwich Castle Museum. They had an old chest there with a big lock on it. It was an early portable bank. So I made an effigy of a Norman knight – very similar to the kind you get on tombs, lying down, but when you put the money in, the dog lying at his feet wakes up, seemingly because he hears the money go in and starts barking and that wakes the knight up, so he sits up and salutes the person who has made the donation. I had great fun playing with that. When you are doing something that complicated there’s no point in showing the mechanism because you don’t want to distract from what’s going on in front of you.”

He said that his original 'Sheep Shearing Man' toy was created for a friend who kept sheep. “I just liked the idea of a sheep shearing a man. I then started to fiddle with it and the bit with the sheep cutting the head off was an after thought – that came later. It started off just shearing all the time; then I added a slow motion cog – so the main mechanism drives all of the main parts, then the slow motion cog is clicked on a notch each time it turns, until the man is forced up and has his head chopped off.” He said that he has a habit of sometimes going too far and making things too complicated : “You’ve got to know when to stop.”

Ron referred to himself as a "village toymaker" and the 25th December would find him, Father Christmas-like, delivering toys around the village of Laxfield, where he had painted the stage set he had designed for the village pantomime.

Ron's secret to success is that he never stopped being a child himself. He once said : "When I'm not in the workshop, I'm playing with my toys. There's a model boating pond in Southwold. People bring three-masted schooners, clippers, yachts and racing boats. It's marvellous."

He admitted that it was the work itself that drove him and "the money didn’t come into it at all."

In 2011 he said :

'I like wearing bright colours. My trousers are from Gallyons countrywear shop in Norwich, and my beret is from the UN peacekeeping force. Being a toymaker is quite a romantic notion. I play with cars and trains and boats and planes all day – it's a substitute for real life. I don't want to look drab. I live in a world of make-believe.'

Tim Rowett of 'Grand Illusions', tribute to Ron : 

Saturday 22 July 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old Street Photographer called David Newell-Smith

David, who has died at the age of 80, was born two years before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1937 in Chislehurst, Kent, the son a Florence and Frederick, a Post Office engineer. Having left school he was called up for his National Service in the RAF in 1955, where over the next 2 years he learned and honed his skills as a photographer. After demob he freelanced for several picture agencies and the 'Daily Sketch' before receiving occasional assignments from 'The Observer' and then a full-time position as staff photographer in 1964.

He married Sonya Hirsch, herself a freelance photographer, who he photographed in the same year. His photo appeared, two years later, in the British Journal of Photography, with the caption : 'The pretty girl in Regent’s Park, one autumn day. Became the photographer’s wife.'

The picture department was small, with limited resources, and it was made clear to him from the outset that he would be worked hard. At 34 and versatile and energetic, he soon proved his worth and within 6 months the Picture Editor wrote to him to say : 'Before I leave the news-room this morning, I want to congratulate you. Seldom if ever can any photographer have had so many pictures published through all the editions of one Sunday’s ‘Observer’. Never, to the best of my knowledge, has anyone achieved such a high standard over so wide a range of subjects – news, business, feature and sport, in a single issue of the paper. Thank you for working so willingly and so well.'

Photographer, Tom Smith, who made his name working on the Daily Express and was one of the two photographers allowed to work on the Falkland Islands during the War in 1982 recalled, in 2010, working with David at Camera Press in the 1960s

"I met this guy, who used to be a night printer there and spouted on Shakespeare. Ten, eleven o'clock at night and you'd hear him printing away to "Now is the Winter of our discontent." I went on to work with him on the Observer and that was the most underrated, best photographer I've ever known. David Newell was better than all of them. He shot stuff on the Observer - really good stylist. He flogged a 105mm lens with a 28mm lens to death. He shot everything on it. Never had a flash gun. Had a real eye for that. He was the Observer. "

He told fellow Observer photographer, Bryn Campbell, in the British Journal of Photography in 1967, when he was 37 : “There is a part of me that would like to go away and take photographs 24 hours a day, live and eat photography, work myself into a lather and imagine I’m a sort of a Van Gogh, but the other half says you have got to earn a living.”

These were the years in which he captured :

'Abandoned cars. Walworth Road. 1966'

'Street Fighting in Glasgow'


Paris 1968

'Anti-Vietnam War demonstrators. 1968'

In the middle period of his life he left photography and set up the Tadema Gallery, in Camden Passage, Islington, when he was 48 in 1978 and where, together with Sonya, he showcased 20th Century art, furniture, sculpture, paintings, ceramics and glass.

David returned to street photography, with Sonya, after an absence of 40 years in 2008, when he was 71. In his spare time he documented the street life around Brick Lane in Tower Hamlets, East London, which today, it is the heart of the City's Bangladeshi-Sylheti community and is known to some as Banglatown. The result is a testimony to his talent as a photographer who captured the exuberance of multicultural street life in Britain today, just as he had done as a young photographer on the streets of a largely monocultural Glasgow and London in the 1960s.


Friday 21 July 2017

Britain is a country where old men don't live, but do work, longer and longer

In a statement n the House of Commons this week, David Gauke, the Government's Work and Pensions Secretary, had some unwelcome news for about 7 million young men and women in their 30s and early 40s : when they become old men and women, in the late 2030s, their state pension age will rise from 67 to 68. This would happen to them, rather than the generation coming behind them as previously planned.

He said implementing the proposals would create : “Fairness across the generations, and the certainty which people need to plan for old age.” Apparently, by making them all work longer he wanted Britain to be : “The best country in the world to grow old” and failing to act “would be irresponsible and place an extremely unfair burden on younger generations.”
This 7 million have to thank former CBI Director General, John Cridland who published a review in March which recommended accelerating the planned increase in the pension age to prevent the costs of the state pension becoming unsustainable. Graham Vidler, the Director of External Affairs at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, referred to this group as "the sandwich generation" who "are also those most at risk of inadequate private saving – they have not had the same access to final salary pension schemes as their parents and are too old to enjoy the full benefits of automatic enrolment that their children will see."

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said it was “astonishing that this is being announced the day after new authoritative research suggested that the long-term improvement in life expectancy is stalling.” She was referring to Sir Michael Marmot, the Director of the 'Institute of Health Equity' at University College London and an expert in the links between poverty and ill-health, who has produced a report which shows that the trend that old men and women in Britain could expect to leave longer and longer is no more.

It was the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, who described the changes as “anything but fair” and argued that many pensioners faced a “toxic cocktail” of ill-health long before they reached 68. She might well have been referring to those living in the pink to red areas in the West and North on the map below where levels of social and economic deprivation are forecast to remain high.

Men's life expectancy in England and Wales in 2030 as projected by The Lancet :

Thursday 20 July 2017

Britain is no country for old men like Noel Conway who wish to live no older

Noel Conway, who, at 67 years old, is scarce old, 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. 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 12 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."

His High Court Hearing, in which three senior judges will consider his plea to be allowed to arrange his death, began this week and is scheduled to last five days. Noel is supported by 'Dignity in Dying' and other organisations campaigning to change the 1961 Suicide Act. Last week several hundred supporters staged a protest on a Thames river boat outside the Houses of Parliament after which he said : “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.”

Noel's lawyers will ask the Court to declare that the blanket ban on assisted dying under the Suicide Act is contrary to the Human Rights Act and will argue 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, is unnecessarily restricted by current laws. His aim 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.

“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."

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Britain is a country where most old men can no longer expect to live longer and longer

Sir Michael Marmot, the Director of the 'Institute of Health Equity' at University College London and an expert in the links between poverty and ill-health, has produced a report which shows that :

* the trend that old men and women in Britain could expect to leave longer and longer is no more. In fact, a century-long rise in life expectancy has stalled since 2010, when austerity brought about deep cuts in the National Health Service and Social Care spending.

* in 1919 men lived for an average of 52.5 years and women for 56.1 years and by 2010 that had reached 77.1 and 82,6 but by 2015 it had only crept up to 79.6 and 83.1.

* life expectancy at birth had been going up so fast that women were gaining an extra year of life every five years and men every three-and-a-half years and now the rate of increase was, according to Marmot : "pretty close to having ground to a halt" and “It is not inevitable that it should have levelled off.” 

In Sir Michael's opinion, the “miserly” levels of spending on health and social care in recent years, at a time of rising health need linked to the ageing population. had affected the amount and quality of care older people receive. “If we don’t spend appropriately on social care, if we don’t spend appropriately on health care, the quality of life will get worse for older people and maybe the length of life, too.” 

Sir Michael, interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' Programme this morning said that his Report had identified two things : "What we had expected over time, this relentless increase in life expectancy, improvement in health has stalled and the second is that there's dramatic differences by where you live and level of deprivation. So, the more affluent, the longer our life expectancy."

"What we see, classically, that life expectancy and health is worse in the North of the country, better in the South. The best stop is Kensington and Chelsea. But what we also see is that within areas dramatic differences by levels of deprivation. Take Kensington and Chelsea : the most wealthy local authority in the country and the level of inequality, the difference is 16 years of life expectancy at the bottom end and it's no accident that Grenfell Tower is in the poor part of Kensington."

In other words, the richest old men in Britain, continue to live longer and longer, but the less well off, do not.

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy 70th Birthday" to Wilko Johnson

Wilko, former rhythm and blues, 'Dr Feelgood' guitarist and founding father of the English punk movement is 70 years old today. Showing fortitude in the face of death, when he was told that he had terminal pancreatic cancer in 2013, he spoke of the strange "euphoria" he experienced since and said the news had made him feel "vividly alive" and had lifted the bouts of depression he had previously experienced.

"Every little thing you see, every cold breeze against your face, every brick in the road, you think 'I'm alive, I'm alive' - I hope I can hang onto that. I've had a fantastic life. When I think about the things that have happened to me and the things I've done, I think anybody who asks for more would just be being greedy. I don't wanna be greedy.This position I'm in is so strange, in that I do feel fit and yet I know death is upon me. I'm not hoping for a miracle cure or anything. I just hope it spares me long enough to do these gigs - then I'll be a happy man."

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

* was born in 1947 on Canvey Island, Essex, survived the floods of 1953 and shares his nostalgia at the sight of the River Thames with Jools Holland :

at home in the 1950s and 60s was hit by his violent, ex-soldier father who died when he was a teenager attending grammar school at Westcliff High School for Boys and played in several local groups, before going to the University of Newcastle to study English, Anglo-Saxon literature and ancient Icelandic sagas.

* after graduating, travelled overland on the hippy trail to India and Afghanistan, before returning to Essex to play with the 'Pigboy Charlie Band', which evolved into 'Dr Feelgood', where he developed his own style, coupling choppy playing with novel dress of  black suit and unfashionable pudding basin haircut and jerky movements on stage. He also played riffs and solos at the same time on a vintage Fender Telecaster without using a pick which allowed him to move without fear of losing it.

* featured in the BBC4 series, 'Punk Britannia' in 2012, which stressed the importance of Dr Feelgood as 'pub rockers, a generation of bands sandwiched between 60s hippies and mid-70s punks who will help pave the way towards the short, sharp shock of punk'.

* reviewing his 2012 autobiography, 'Looking back at Me', Mark Blake of 'Q Magazine' said of Dr Feelgood : 'In the mid-70s the band's brutish R and B and their guitarist's eye-popping thousand-yard stare inspired a young John Lydon, Paul Weller and Suggs from Madness.'

* left the band in 1977 and joined the 'Solid Senders', then, in 1980, Ian Dury's band, 'The Blockheads' before forming the 'Wilko Johnson Band' and continued to pursue his musical career in the 1980s and 90s.

* in 2009, appeared in the documentary film 'Oil City Confidential' and was described by  reviewer, Philip French as : 'a wild man, off stage and on, funny, eloquent and charismatic' and director, Julien Temple  as  'an extraordinary man – one of the great English eccentrics.'

* had Peter Bradshaw of the 'Guardian' say of him : 'the best rockumentary yet, the most likeable thing about this very likable film is the way it promotes Wilko Johnson as a 100-1 shot for the title of Greatest Living Englishman.

* made his acting debut, cast in the role of mute executioner 'Ilyn Payne', in the HBO fantasy series 'Game of Thrones' after the producers had seen him in 'Oil City Confidential' and said :
"They said they wanted somebody really sinister who went around looking daggers at people before killing them. That made it easy. Looking daggers at people is what I do all the time, it's like second nature to me."

* in 2013 made a tv appearance with 'Madness', , fell ill and then recovered to play at the Wickham Festival in Hampshire in August and in the Spring of the following year, appeared in support of Status Quo and played in collaboration with Roger Daltrey on 'Going Back Home' :

* faced his illness head on and went on a 'Farewell Tour' and recalled that he was : "extremely calm" when he "felt this extreme sense of elation" because he believed : "Staring at death gives you profound feelings. Everything seems more vivid. Walking down the street everything seemed sharper, brighter, more in focus.”

* at the age of 68 in 2014, had his pancreas, spleen, part of his stomach and part of his small and large intestine removed in a nine-hour operation at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge where Surgeon, Emmanuel Huguet, who removed the 7lb 11oz tumour, said : “It’s no exaggeration to say Wilko’s been taken to the limit of what a human being can take.”

* in the year which followed, during which doctors said he should be dead, had further tests which revealed that his pancreatic cancer was, in fact, a neuroendocrine tumour, a rare and less aggressive malignancy.

* now that he appears to be out of the woods with his cancer, says that he laments the loss of that feeling of elation : “I wish I could regain it. It’s like a powerful dream that has faded. Feeling like that almost made having cancer worth it.”

  * had said :
“I always had this idea that when I grew I old I would be sitting in an Oxford college room with the sun slanting through the mullioned windows. I would be reading medieval poetry and I would be wise. The nearer I got to being old, the more I realised the wisdom wasn’t coming. So I’m just as confused as ever. Now I won’t actually grow either old or wise.” 

Wilko may never become wise, but now at least, may become old.