Tuesday 30 October 2018

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old Polymath and consummate communicator called Aubrey Manning

Aubrey, who has died at the age of 88, was born the second child of Hilda and William, a grocery inspector for the Home and Colonial Stores, in suburban London in the spring of 1930 and recalled : "We had a small garden in Chiswick where I was born and I remember being fascinated by snails and ants."

It was the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 and the prospect of the bombing of London which prompted the family to move to Englefield Green in Surrey and "it was with our move into the Surrey countryside near Windsor Park that I really became involved. There were fields next to our house with a stream running through." By the age of ten he was spending long days exploring the fields, woodlands and hedgerows around the village.

He recalled : "I remember so vividly that within a week of getting 'The Observer's Book of British Birds' I had clearly identified what then were exotic species to me - tree creeper, nuthatch, greenfinch, jay - which had always been there of course. You just need your eyes opened and the natural world begins to spring to life all around you."

Having gained and taken his place at Strode’s Grammar School for Boys, in Egham, in 1941, he found "a new master founded a scout troop and a friend and I began working for our 'Naturalist's Badge' - I was hooked! I began devouring natural history books - especially on bird behaviour and I knew I wanted to become a zoologist." In fact, he recalled : "my first publication was with a school friend on wood warblers." The friend in question was Derwent May, who would go on to forge his own career in academia and journalism and the publication was a 1947 edition of 'British Birds Magazine.'

Chemistry also became an interest until he nearly blew himself up making fireworks. In addition to school and scouts he also, through the family, belonged to the local Baptist church, although his religion didn't seem to have had an enduring impact on him. He told the ethologist, Richard Dawkins when interviewed in 2008 that "I was brought up a Baptist, very much evangelical kind of stuff, lots of good hymn singing. Much better than the C of E."

His love of landscape also originated in the 1940s and he was doubtless recalling trips out in the family car when, in 2014, he told the BBC 2 tv series, 'Seven Natural Wonders' : "I remember going to Finchampstead Ridges with my parents when I was a boy - it was so much more open then" and "I've lived in Scotland for many years now, but I was born and brought up in the South and several of the places chosen brought back memories of a happy childhood and student days - Stokenchurch, The Devil's Punchbowl and Cuckmere Haven. The great sweep of the chalk across the South of England has been a dominating feature for humans for thousands of years and countless generations have worked it and come to love it."

His 'student days' began in 1948 when he "went up to University College, London, generally acknowledged to be  the fount of all goodness, to read zoology" where JBS Haldane, the great scientist and Professor of Genetics, was an early inspiration. It was now, at the age of 18, that he began to question his strict Baptist beliefs and later said : "I do remember that it was when I went to study biology at University College that I began to have serious doubts." 

"When I was a research student at Oxford, I used to do fieldwork on Wytham Hill to the west. I would look southwards across the vale of the White Horse to the Berkshire Downs and, of course, in my memory it was always a brilliant sunlit landscape. I always loved going to the White Horse at Uffington, because it's magical to know that it really is old. This is the one really ancient chalk figure we have in England, 2,800 years old, carved in the late Bronze Age. It gives you a wonderful link to the people that used to live on this landscape."

"During this time at the University I travelled the A40 a great deal. When returning south, the car I had at the time, an old Armstrong Sidley had a tough time getting up the steep hill at Stokenchurch. I am certain that had there been Red Kites at the time, I would have stopped at top to watch them souring above this area of The Chilterns."

Having excelled in his first degrees at London he "Eventually I went on to Oxford to do research under Niko Tinbergen on animal behaviour which has always remained my first interest." The brilliant and charismatic Dutch scientist Nikolaas Tinbergen was clearly a major influence on Aubrey and he recalled : "It was a wonderful introduction to behavioural research. Niko there with a gang of research students - we were a very tight-knit kind of group and he was like a great uncle to us."  "He was a superb naturalist and to be out in the natural world with him was a wonderful kind of inspiration. He really saw the web of like." "Niko showed how you could do good science, yet more or less, work with animals in their own environment, see the beauty of it, the excitement, the emotional response that you have."

While completing his DPhil on the 'Behaviour of Bumblebees', Aubrey shared a flat with the late David Snow, who, six years his senior, went on to become a celebrated ornithologist. Another of Niko's doctorate students was Margaret Bastock, who had been a zoology undergraduate at Oxford when the War broke out when her studies were suspended and she went to work for the BBC. Having graduated after the War she started her doctorate in some years before Aubrey, in 1950, examining the relationship between genetics and evolution in the fruit fly. It was through Niko that she met Aubrey and they collaborated on her work on 'courtship behaviour.'

Having successfully gained his doctorate, Aubrey undertook his two years National Service in the Royal Artillery and then, at the age of 26, joined the University of Edinburgh in 1956, as an Assistant Lecturer in Zoology and married Margaret three years later. This marked the beginning of a love affair with Scotland that continued for the rest of his life.

At Edinburgh he became something of a star, with his lectures attracting students from non-zoology disciplines with the university scheduling his lectures at 9am on a Monday morning in order to get students out of bed. At the age of 37 he published his 'An Introduction to Animal Behaviour.' Six years later, in 1973, at the age of 43, he was appointed Professor of Natural History. Nine years later Margaret died from cancer, leaving him and their two sons when she was 62. Aubrey married Joan Hermann, three years later, with whom he had another son.

In 1990 he became, and was to serve for 6 years, Chair of the Council of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, where he encouraged the growth of urban nature conservation and raised the profile of campaigns against such activities such as open cast mining and peat extraction. Hearing that an EU fund to promote nature conservation was receiving  no applications from Scotland, he was instrumental in securing a bid for £350,000 to restore Scottish lowland raised bogs.

His career in the media began in 1995 when for BBC TV, he talked about his life and work and chose seven of the things he found most wonderful for the science series called 'Seven Wonders of the World.' He chose 'Trees'. 'The Bee Dance'. the Tasmanian Tiger'Little'i', the 'Hit-or-Miss Governor', 'Durham Cathedral' and the 'Grand Canyon'.

He retired from Edinburgh at the age of 67 in 1997 and set off on a BBC Science Department round-the-world shoot for the series 'Earth Story', visiting Switzerland, Kenya, South Africa, Bali, Lombok, Australia, Canada, the US and Iceland. As a gifted communicator he used the advantage of being a non-geologist to explain geological plates, plume mantles, volcanoes, glaciers and asked questions and drew out answers that could be understood by non-scientists.

The eight episode Story covered :
1. The Time Travellers 
2. The Deep
3. Ring of Fire
4. Journey to the Centre of the Earth
5. The Roof of the World
6. The Big Freeze
7. The Living Earth
8. A World Apart

In 2000 Aubrey presented a series of three programmes on human evolution for Radio 4 and in 2001 he narrated BBC TVs six part ‘Talking Landscapes’ in which he covered :

1. The Weald.
2. The Pembrokeshire Coast and its connections with the sea.
3. The Yorkshire Dales and how generations of Yorkshire families made a living from the the Dales.
 The Fens and whether they are a completely man-made landscape.
5. The Cairngorms.
6. The Vale of Evesham where a flight with a local pilot helps uncover an Anglo-Saxon agricultural revolution.

For BBC Radio 4 in 2002, he narrated, over five series, 'Unearthing Mysteries' which over 20 episodes saw him visit : Turkey for a possible first city; Meadowcroft Rock Shelter near Pittsburgh; Spitalfields for archaeological finds; San Galgano in Italy for the Sword in the Stone; Roumania for a Roman temple; the Valley of the Kings in Egypt to unearth a mystery; Bronze Age mines at Great Orme Head and fossilised remains of Lynford Quarry in Norfolk.

With the Open University his BBC 'Landscape Mysteries' was broadcast in 2003 and in which he in :

1.Search of Irish Gold : asked : Judging by the quantity of gold artifacts discovered in Ireland, gold was readily available there in the Bronze Age but where did it come from?
2. Figures in the Chalk : investigated the enormous chalk figures - such as the Uffington White Horse and the Long Man of Wilmington - carved into hillsides in Southern England.
3. Britain Before the Ice : visited the Gower Peninsiula in South Wales to investigate a 29,000 year old skeleton of a young man and unravel the mystery of the lost world in which he lived.
4. Secrets of the Flood : looked at the land movements in Britain with sea levels falling in Scotland and rising in the south.
5. The Tower People of Shetland : set off to discover what sort of community built the Broch towers and for what purpose.
6. The Abandoned Marsh : traced the history of Romney Marsh in Kent with its ruined churches in the middle of fields and tales of towns lost at sea.
7. The Riddle of the Yorkshire Tracks : uncovered signs of an early chemical industry on the Yorkshire coast.
8. The Terraces of Avalon : travelled to Glastonbury to investigate the origin of a series of stepped terraces on the tor.

His travels continued with his BBC Radio 4 series, 'The Rules of Life' in 2006, linking animal behaviour to evolution. His 8 rules covered :
1. Life Before Birth when a mother's nutrition and stress levels affect her offspring's later life.
2. Early Days when if at first you don't succeed, you don't succeed, where only 50% of grey seal pups survive in their first year.
3. Going Independent and leaving the safety of home can be a testing time, with many new skills to acquire and young bull elephants spend years learning from older males before they can breed.
4. Pairing Up when attracting and choosing a mate can be a tricky and dangerous business and red deer stags have to battle it out for access to females.
5. Happy Families where parenting is often a challenge and meerkats work together to feed and look after the next generation.
6. Food Is Not For Free where for many animals there's a balance between getting enough food whilst not being eaten yourself and spiny lobsters screech like a violin to scare off predators.
7. The Twilight Years when ageing affects us all and for some species it brings dominance and respect, for others life becomes very tough.

8. Changing the Rules where humans can influence animal behaviour in subtle way and as people move into lion territory they drive away wildebeest and zebra and in n Tanzania some lions have switched to hunting people instead.

In 2007, for BBC Radio, his  'Origins Revisited' he explored the latest ideas and discoveries in the quest to understand the origins and evolution of humanity and covered the advances made by palaeoanthropologists and archaeologists since his first series in 2000.

In 2008 for BBC Radio in an 8 part series, 'The Sound of Life' he took listeners on an 'acoustic journey to discover the past, present and future of sound'  which took them from prehistory to find the first animal to ever communicate with sound to Costa Rica where being the loudest really matters,

It was in 2008, when Aubrey was 78, that he was asked, when interviewed by Richard Dawkins : "Do you take a pessimistic or optimistic view of the future of the world ?" and he replied :

"I struggle very hard to be optimistic, a short-term optimist. I have children and now I have grandchildren and one thinks about their world and so I cannot allow myself to feel that things aren't going to get better. What I'm absolutely certain of is that we're going to need some very powerful taps on the shoulder from the planet. Kicks up the arse really and I think we're going to get them."

In his latter years he became increasingly concerned about the question of population control and in 2011 delivered a lecture at the University of Edinburgh entitled : 'Population : Can We Begin to Talk Sensibly ?' In 2016 when asked the question : "When did you first realize the link between environment and population?"  He replied : "Probably when I started as a biologist in the 1950s. Biologists tend to notice the changes. There was a period of rapid recovery after the War, which brought huge advantages, but one could see that the amount of disturbance and development that was going on was putting a bit of a brake on some aspects of wildlife. It struck me that human numbers was a key factor."

"A common response to population concern is that it’s ‘anti-human’. That’s grotesque, it’s pro-human. How else are we to ensure that our children can grow up into a world that has choice and opportunities? You will be labelled fascist, racist, anti-human, but my back is broad, they can call me what they like! You have to be a short term optimist, otherwise you wouldn’t get up in the morning. It is still a beautiful world."

In 2013 at the age of 83 he reminded his audience of his brilliance as a lecturer when he delivered his illustrated lecture 'Scotland's Place in Earth's History' in which he covered the country's contribution to earth sciences.

In 1995 Aubrey said :

What better epitaph ?

Monday 22 October 2018

Britain is a country about to consider whether offences against old men and women should finally be recognised as hate crimes

At the moment 'hate crimes' in Britain are defined as offences motivated by prejudice against someone's disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

The Daily Express’s 'Respect For The Elderly' Campaign has been calling for offences against old men and women in Britain to be made 'hate crimes'. At the moment around 1 million older people are victims of physical, financial, psychological and sexual abuse each year, yet criminal convictions are rare and sentences far too lenient. Age is not a strand of hate crime under current legislation and prosecutors say they are unable to apply for tougher sentences as a result.

In fact, of the one million cases of abuse against the elderly, only 0.3% result in successful criminal convictions. In 2016-17, there was a decrease in police referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service for crimes against older people compared to a year earlier, They were down from 3,568 to 3,467 and resulted in 2,783 suspects being charged.

According to a report in the 'Express', in 2007 twenty-six police forces in England and Wales recorded 7,379 violent assaults on over-65-year-olds. In 2016 the attacks rose to 20,921 and in 2017 they rose again to 26,474 : an increase of 258% on the figures recorded 10 years earlier.

Last week, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, asked the Law Commission to investigate whether ageism should be recognised as a hate crime in similar manner as offences motivated by hate based on race, sexual orientation, religion or disability. He said : “Hate crime goes directly against the longstanding British values of unity, tolerance and mutual respect, and I am committed to stamping this sickening behaviour out. Our refreshed action plan sets out how we will tackle the root causes of prejudice and racism, support hate crime victims and ensure offenders face the full force of the law.”

Gary FitzGerald, Chief Executive of the charity 'Action on Elder Abuse', said : "For far too long we have seen older people routinely neglected and abused across the UK with no end in sight. The systems designed to protect seem incapable of doing so and the law fails to deliver justice for the victims."

Gary said : “We are demanding legislation to make the targeting of older people a hate crime, but what we have got is something that won’t act as a deterrent and doesn’t fundamentally change anything. There have been some horrendous examples of people being targeted because of their age. What we need is a law that sends a strong message saying if you prey on the elderly this will be the consequence, but we haven’t got that. Lawmakers have missed a trick and I do wonder what side the Government is on.”

He also said that Britain "now has an opportunity to join other countries including the US, Japan and Israel by making elder abuse a crime, with the sorts of punishments that the public expects. We must make it clear that we as a society will not tolerate these cowardly acts against some of the most vulnerable people in our community.” 

The question remains  : Whether labelling crimes against old men and women as 'hate crimes' really act as a deterrent to the criminals who abuse and prey on them ? 

Sunday 14 October 2018

Britain is less and less a country for old men seeking 'senior concessions' to cultural attractions

Large numbers of old people in Britain enjoy cultural visits and more than three-quarters of museums, galleries and other attractions are giving £65m of ticket-price concessions to over 60 year olds every year. They are offered them as 'seniors' regardless of their ability to pay and even when they are below the state pension age. This is illustrated by the pricing structures (on the right) of the most popular sites.

Among leading attractions, only four : Chester Zoo, Stonehenge, Canterbury Cathedral and Bristol Zoo Gardens, have raised the ticket-price concession threshold in line with the state pension age of 65.

Old men and women of Britain Beware ! Moves are afoot to end your concessions.

Chloe Wall of the 'Intergenerational Foundation', who has co-written a report entitled 'Baby-boomer Concessions : How ticket prices for a wealthier generation reinforce unfairness'  has said : 'In the past, concessions were used to help poorer older people to be able to afford to participate in society’s cultural life, but our findings show that these are increasingly bungs to wealthy baby boomers.'

Two attractions in Cornwall where senior concessions have been axed are the National Maritime Museum Cornwall and The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Richard Doughty, Director of the Maritime Museum said that revenues had increased by 40% since the rates were changed three years ago and the Museum simultaneously offered better concessions for children by extending the age range for junior tickets to 18. He said that there had been some negative reactions : “We’ve seen a fall-off in gift aid. They feel if they’re not going to get a concession they will penalise us by not giving us gift aid.” By 'they' he means 'old people.'

James Stephens, a member of the marketing team for the Gardens, acknowledged that there had been some angry emails but said that the abandonment of the £2 discount for pensioners had allowed them to freeze the ticket price for adults at £14.50 and introduce concessions for students. He said that senior concessions were a hangover from the Sixties but many organisations were realising that older people were relatively resistant to price changes.
One old visitor to the Gardens of Heligan posted a two-star review two weeks ago because of frustration with the price and loss of the "hangover" : 'Perhaps the ticket seller might want to learn how much the basic pension is.'

Last year it was announced that the proportion of single pensioners relying solely on State hits highest level in over 20 years and the number of single pensioners who rely completely on the State for financial support has increased by 26% to 1.1 million over the last five years. In addition, 330,000 pensioner couples are also completely dependent on the State Pension, income related benefits and disability benefits for their income.

The full State Pension for 2018-19 stands at £164.35 per week

Caroline Abrahams, the Charity Director of 'Age UK' has said that the removal of concessions could be damaging for the ability of old people to lead a full life : “There is a bit of an urban myth going around that our older population is universally well off, but this is far from the reality for millions of older people today who are managing on a tight budget. For them, a cut-price ticket to an attraction may make all the difference between being able to go or not, so we hope operators will bear this in mind when deciding their pricing structures.”

Friday 5 October 2018

Britain is no country for old women who want to live long lives, free from pain and sickness

An analysis by Public Health England but based on data from Eurostat taken from all parts of Britain and being published by PHE as part of its annual 'Health Profile for England', reveals that women in Britain are living shorter lives on average than most of their counterparts in Europe.

The average age may seem high at 83 years, but it sees British women placed 17th place out of the nations in the European Union with Spanish women having the highest life expectancy in Europe, at birth, at 86.3 years in 2016. British men do better at 10th place with above-average life expectancy of 79.4, but behind Italy, the leading nation, where old men can expect to live on average to 81.

Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at PHE said : “We are in the middle of the pack and we would like to be at the top. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be as healthy as anywhere in Europe. It is certainly of concern that we have worse outcomes than other European countries. We tend to do badly in men with respiratory disease and in women with cancer, especially breast cancer. It is a sign of the numbers developing disease.”

In addition, the report also shows that healthy life expectancy – the number of years people live before they begin to suffer from illnesses – hasn't changed much in recent years. Women in 2014-16 were spending nearly 20 years of their life in poor health, while men spent just over 16 years in poor health, according to data from the Office for National Statistics included in the report.

The data was based on responses to the following survey question : "How is your health in general; would you say it was : very good, good, fair, bad, or very bad?" If a respondent answered "very good" or "good" they were classified as having ‘good’ health. Those who answered "fair", "bad", or "very bad" were classified as having 'not good’ health and equate to those in ’poor’ health in the reported figures.

Old women are more likely than old men to have either chronic or ongoing health problems such as arthritis, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. They are also more likely to develop multiple health problems and to have either memory or other cognitive problems and difficulties carrying out daily activities such as dressing, walking and bathing without help

When it comes to the end of life, the leading cause of death for women is now dementia and Alzheimer’s disease which is responsible for nearly 16% of their deaths, with heart disease second at just over 8%. For men, that is reversed, with heart disease causing 13.6% and dementia and Alzheimer’s just over 8.% of deaths. However, having said that, PHE says that dementia and Alzheimer’s will become the leading cause of death in men too, possibly within two years.

The Alzheimer’s Society has said that one million people will be living with dementia by 2021 and that the disease has not had the attention it deserves. Sally Copley, Director of Policy said : “We have stressed for a long time that dementia was set to be the 21st century’s biggest killer – it has already become so, and what is the stark reality for women is now also set to be the case for men. What makes this more sobering is that it is the only leading cause of death that we can’t cure, prevent or even slow down, showing the critical need to tackle the dementia crisis.”

In addition, obesity in Britain is causing a big surge in the numbers of old women and men developing type 2 diabetes and the PHE Report shows the numbers are expected to rise swiftly, from just under four million last year to nearly five million in 2035. Along with alcohol consumption, obesity in women is also one of the factors behind the rise in breast cancer.

All of this is attributable to old people in Britain living longer with the number of 85-year-olds tripling since the 1970s and will reach more than two million by 2031.

Professor Newtown also underlined the fact that in Britain in 2018, the inequalities in longevity continue to be related to the inequalities in wealth : “People in wealthier parts of the country enjoy 19 more years of good health than in poorer parts of the country. They live 9 years longer – for men – and 7 years longer for women. These are unacceptable variations.”

This was echoed by Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs who underlined the fact that it is well known that : poor diet and lack of exercise = poor health and has said there were genetic and socioeconomic reasons why people were developing long-term conditions affecting their health and “There remains a clear connection between the quality of our patients’ lifestyle and their overall health”.

However, the lion's share of pain and suffering and the leading cause of poor health, responsible for more than 22% of the pain and suffering in old man and women is low back and neck pain, which can be caused by a number of things, including injury and rheumatoid arthritis. After that come skin diseases such as acne and psoriasis and for a third for men is sight and hearing loss, while for women it is migraine. Fourth for both is depressive disorders.

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages......
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

Speech by The Melancholy Jaques in 'As You Like It'. William Shakespeare. 1600.