Sunday 27 December 2020

Britain in 2020 was no longer a country for and said "Farewell" to 20 remarkable Old Men


8th November : Jim Radford

23rd October : Chris Killip

23rd September : Sam McBratney

11th September : Paul Knight

3rd September : James Partridge

25th July : Peter Green

2nd June : Bryan Wharton

29th May : Bob Weighton

23rd May : Richard Sadler

29th April : Jonathan Barden

2nd April : Bill Frankland

29th March : Paul Nicolson

19th January : Derek Fowlds

13th January : Roger Scruton

11th January : Charles Sprawson

And lost, before their time, to Coronavirus : 

Tim Brooke-Taylor
Eddie Large
Andrew Jack
Umar Afzal
Dixon J.Scott
Michael Gerard
Leonard 'Nipper' Read
Sir John Laws

Thursday 24 December 2020

Britain is a country where old men know that, until their time runs out and sure of their cause, they must continue to oppose Brexit

In these dark days it is time to reprise the spirit of the article Will Hutton wrote in the Guardian this time last year : 

In it he reminded readers that : 'Remain Britain – half the population – has no champion.' However, he said that : 'Brexit must be opposed in every dimension. This is a Conservative project. The Tories must be its sole sponsor and live with the consequences. I think it will break them.'

He ended by suggesting that :
'So at 11pm on 31 January, dismiss Johnson’s extravagant claims for what lies ahead and the faux celebrations. Light a candle in a window, at your door, in your garden; find friends to do it together. We stand for a European Britain. We will be back.'

Although Old Men know that it is unlikely that they will not see Britain rejoin Europe in their lifetimes, in their continued opposition to the anathema, they can take heart from the words of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who said in 1941, in the darkest days of the Second World War : 

"You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done. Those people who are imaginative see many more dangers than perhaps exist; certainly many more than will happen; but then they must also pray to be given that extra courage to carry this far-reaching imagination. But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period - 
this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Britain's Medway Towns in the County of Kent : the most dangerous places in Britain, for old men in Covid winter

Last week Health Secretary Matt Hancock issued a stark warning to the people of Kent.

He said there was a "very serious problem" in Kent and that every person there should "act with responsibility" and approach each situation as if they have a virus.

According to the Office of National Statistics the average age of people who have died from Coronavirus in Britain is above 80, with more than 9 in 10 deaths among the over 65s. In addition, the statistics also show that there are more deaths among boys, young men, middle aged and old men than girls, young women, middle aged women and old women, up to the age of 84.

Against this background, analysis has shown that a new strain of the Coronavirus has appeared in Kent and the South East of England, including London, which could increase the reproductive rate by 0.4 or more and that it may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant. Although these areas are now under the Government's most restrictive measures, with Family reunions at Christmas banned, it is expected that this dangerous variant will spread to all areas of Britain. However, at this point in time it is the old men of Kent who are in the firing line.

Not unsurprisingly, the number of Coronavirus cases have increased dramatically in Kent in the last week and latest figures show that almost one in 100 people living in the Medway Towns in North Kent could have the disease. Old men will make up the majority of the 1050 cases recorded in these Towns today and will have made up the lion's share of the 13,000 total number of cases. By way of comparison, the old men in the cathedral city of Canterbury, in the heart of Kent, are marginally better off with their total of 186 daily cases being added to their 4,897 overall total.

Most old men in the Medway Towns are blithely unaware of the danger they are in of contracting this new variant, with its all-too-often, tragic conclusion. They continue to do their Christmas shopping in their local supermarket, completely ignorant of the fact that their chances of picking up the virus from an infected shopper are now almost twice as great as they were a week or so ago and there's a good chance that there is at least one infected shopper present. In most cases they take their elderly partners along on their shopping trips. It's even possible that they may have read the Sun's headline a week of so ago and ignored its implications : 

 Sadly, for too many, this will be their last Christmas, spent in the I.C.U. in Medway's Maritime Hospital.

Sunday 6 December 2020

Britain is no country for 800,000 Home Alone Old Men this Coronavirus Christmas, locked in a Silent Epidemic of Loneliness

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Twice the number of people as normal are expecting to spend Christmas alone this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the issue is particularly acute among those old men and women aged 65 and over, with as many as 1.7 million of them saying they expected to be alone on Christmas Day. 

A new Opinium Poll for the Observer Newspaper has revealed that :

*  overall people expecting to spend Christmas on their own has gone up from 4% in a normal year to 8% this year

* among the over-64s, the figure has risen from 7% to 14% – or 1.7 million people

* just 23% of adults say they will spend Christmas with their parents this year, down from 35% in normal times

The survey results follow a growing body of research raising concerns about the impact of loneliness during the pandemic. Similar polling for the British Red Cross in the autumn found that among adults :

* 39% had not had a meaningful conversation with someone in the preceding fortnight

* 32% worried that should something happen to them, no one would notice

Zoe Abrams, the Executive Director of Communications and Advocacy at the charity, said the seasonal impact of loneliness on top of the pandemic “cannot be underestimated” and “Shorter daylight hours and a very different Christmas for many could compound feelings of isolation, especially for those who may have lost family members this year. Loneliness is a public health issue – it can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia. We’d encourage civil society organisations to involve people dealing with loneliness in designing solutions. We’d also like all governments across the four nations to have a Winter Loneliness Plan.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said while digital technology would help many older people connect with family over Christmas, hundreds of thousands will be “totally on their own and won’t hear from or speak to anyone at all. As you move up the age range far fewer older people are online too, more than half from about the age of 75, making them more cut off still. With coronavirus still a very present threat it is more important than ever that we keep up the spirits of the older people in our lives by making the effort to stay in contact. A friendly phone call, a note through the door of a neighbour offering help with shopping, a letter or Christmas card to someone further away will all help beat back the intense feelings of loneliness.”

Ed Davey, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, said : 

“This pandemic has created a silent epidemic of loneliness". 

Friday 20 November 2020

Britain has lost, but Wales was the nation which made and anointed the future Prince of Solid-State Chemistry, John Meurig Thomas

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John, who has died at the age of 87, was one of the greatest British scientists in recent decades who was known worldwide for his research achievements in solid state chemistry and catalytic science. He was both inspirational and eloquent in his expression of the elegance and utility of science beyond the world of academia through his lectures, articles, reviews and books.

Although he left Wales at the age of 46 in 1978, after working at the Universities of Bangor and Aberystwyth, to become Professor and Head of Chemistry at Cambridge, it was in Wales that he spent his formative years in the 1940s and early 50s, as a child, a grammar school boy and university undergraduate. It was here that he was made as he was influenced, in turn, by his father, the chapel, his Physics teacher, the popular science writings of J.B.S. Haldane, Dorothy Crowfoot and Eric James and the examples of his hero and lodestar, Michael Faraday and the Principal of University College Swansea, John Fulton. From his mother he gained his prodigious memory. With all his success in solid-state chemistry, John paid tribute to all of them when he said that his greatest achievement had been "to combine being a teacher, a researcher and a populariser of science over 50 years".

He was born, the son of Edyth and David, in the winter 1932, in small mining village between  Llanelli and Camarthen, South Wales and grew up in a family of seven in the Gwendraeth Valley. He recalled the area with great affection : "It's an area where the coalmines run out and where beyond that valley you come to the agricultural  areas of Carmarthen and they're beautiful. It's the setting of Dylan Thomas's Fern Hill, for example". He was proud of his solid, Welsh, working class stock : his maternal grandfather was a gardener in the Swansea valley and paternal grandfather was a farmer and engine driver in Carmarthen. His own was a coal miner and fiercely intelligent man, who rose to the position of 'overman' in his colliery, but was barred from management through lack of formal education He had a profound influence on John as a boy and he recalled : "He taught me a great deal; he had great linguistic skills but was quiet hopeless mathematically". His mother, on the other hand, who spoke to him throughout her life only in Welsh, had no linguistic skills, but did have a formidable memory.

His father clearly did not fight shy of talking about his service in the Welsh Division in the First World to his son, since John recorded that War had influenced him profoundly and said : "It was his university". He fought on the Western Front at the Battle of the Somme, on the Greek Island of Patmos and in North Africa and must have been a warrant officer, since he received the Military Cross at Gallipoli in 1915, as a recognition of his 'distinguished and meritorious service in battle in situations'. 

John recalled that the : "thing I took a great interest in at a very early age and induced by my father, was bird watching. He knew all the birds there were in that area and could tell how the skylark went about its nesting and how the nightingale sometimes came very, very rarely to that part of the world". He also collected birds eggs, but very responsibly, only taking one egg when there were five or six. 

"The Welsh words for birds; the dipper is called the 'yr aderyn trochi', the 'black bird of the water'. The jays, they're called an onomatopoeic
description, 'sgrech y coed', which means the 'terrible screeching of the bird'. That's exactly what it does. Its not a  mellifluous bird, from the point of view of its song."

He acknowledged the influence of the power of the Methodist chapel over him both in its music and language : "The chapels in South Wales where brilliant  places for getting 'Elijah', 'The Messiah', 'Judas Maccabaeus'. I was about six when I heard the choir in the chapel and all the congregation sing "The heavens are telling, the glory of God", in 'The Creation'. Fabulous". Over 70 years later, in 2014 when he became the President of the National Eisteddfod of Wales, in his address he declared: “I am proud, indeed I rejoice in the fact of my being a Welshman. It was in the chapel that I learned to be an academic by listening to and analysing very many powerful sermons.”

He recalled that in 1942 : "My father decided, when I was ten, that my English was so atrociously bad and was petrified with the idea that I might not pass my 11+ , he expressed a very firm imperious edict : "From now on I speak to you in English and you answer in English". Which is what I did until the day he died in 1954".

John gained his selective, fee-paying place in secondary education and remembered : "What was so nice about Gwendraeth Grammar School, was that there was a mingling of the sons and daughters of farmers and rural agricultural communities and the sons and daughters of coal miners and there was a big contrast. The former class were rather lugubrious and slow, very matter of fact, didn't really rush to things. While the latter were, in that respect, the sons and daughters of coal miners, because they were in danger all the time, were much more alert. Much more alert and quick witted".  

John had nothing but praise for the quality of teaching at the school and had 
particular praise for his Physics teacher, Irene James, in whose lessons “the flame of science was lit in my heart and in my mind”. She "had the gift of, not just telling us what physics was about, but mentioning to you what Isaac Newton was like, the great Lord Brayley, Michael Faraday, of course. He became my hero at the age of 14, 15. The greatest joy for me, much much later, was to occupy the chair that was created for him". (John became Director of the Royal Institution at the age of 54 in 1986).  John recalled that he was "enthralled" and "in awe of Faraday from that moment onward.” 

" He left a greater corpus of scientific knowledge after his death than any other scientist and yet he left school at 13, equipped only with reading writing and arithmetic, became a bookseller's apprentice. At the age of 21 he was going to literary debating societies in London. He heard Humphry Davy lecture at the Royal Institution. It transformed his life. He decided to become a scientist at 21. By the age of 34 he was a Fellow of the Royal Society and by the age of 50 he was a Fellow of all the academies of the world".

The volumes of H.G.Wells 'Outline History of the World' were also a favourite with John, but they were eclipsed in influence by the writings of J.B.S. Haldane "an ardent Communist and wrote articles in the 'Daily Worker'". John recalled : "In the barber's shop where I grew up the local Communist, one of several passionate, well-informed individuals, would deliver the 'Daily Worker' free of charge every morning to the three barber's shops". It was here that he discovered Haldane's articles and remembered that : "He wrote in such authoritative terms about : 'Why is there so much iron in the body ?' He described haemoglobin." 

'Haemoglobin is of a deep purple colour. If you want to see the colour, prick your finger or ear lobe and let it bleed into some water till you have a nice clear red fluid. Put this in a small bottle and add a crystal of sodium hydrosulphite (not hyposulphite). This will combine with the oxygen and the liquid will turn purple.'

"There was a wonderful one on 'Being the right size'. If you were to drop a mouse down a well it would drop 20 feet then run away. Try doing the same with an elephant. How it was the stretch of your bones, rather than dimensions. 'How do you lose heat ?' He was a scientist and he would talk about the atmosphere of the planets. He induced my interest in science through that adventitious paper in the barber's shop".

John gained another source of inspiration in science in Mee's 'Children's Encyclopedia' where he "pondered on a writer, Dorothy Crowfoot, who turned out to be Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin the Nobel Prize winner". In later years he got to know her very well and told her how she had influenced him as a child.  

John recalled that he studied chemistry in the sixth form by accident. He'd wanted to study  physics, mathematics and geography at 'A' level but the Headmaster decreed that the timetable would not allow that so he was told to take chemistry. He was the only pupil in that class, so in one-to-one tuition, during the first hour would talk about rugby and the second would do his chemistry. 

He recalled that he "read an extremely important book by Eric James, later Lord Rushholme, then chemistry master at Winchester, 'Problems in Physical Chemistry'. What struck me about it was it was so elegantly written. It was like reading a novel. There was mathematics in it too. It was exhilarating. He did influence me in an ineffable kind of way."

Having gained his place to study chemistry as an undergraduate at Swansea University in 1950, John came under the influence and was inspired by the Principle, John Fulton. He recalled : "He was the leader and when he spoke he was inspiring. He didn't talk about fund raising and things like that. He talked about : 'What is democracy ?' 

We had to read essays to him - all the all the first year students. There were 250 of them. They each had to do 4 essays in all, on various subjects. He gave you a list, you could choose and every two weeks or so, in the first year, you had to read an essay - Rush Rhees the philosopher, who was a big friend of Wittgenstein. Others you might read to -  the Assistant Director in French or the Reader in Physics. 'The idea of Nationalism', for example, you'd speak to the Professor of History on that. But John Fulton took as in, four at a time. We would each read our essays and we'd have an hours conversation. The top man found time to do that. That's impressive". 

John admitted that John Fulton "made a lasting impression". In addition, "the other thing he did, which set him apart : every tuesday afternoon, every student went into a lecture theatre -world class speakers : Isaiah Berlin talking about 'The Brother Karamazov'. Gerald Moore : 'The Art of Accompaniment'. Absolutely mesmerising.  Garnet Rees on 'Marcel Proust and the Psychological Novel'. Kinglsley Amis, a member of staff there : 'The novel : why was it that Jane Austen, George Eliot and the others all came more or less together ? How do you account for this ? and how important is the novel ? and how long ago did novels start ?  A wonderfully educating thing. Scientists too : Somebody talking about 'Relativity' or 'The Revolution in Modern Physics'. So that was, I really reckon, that in a small welsh provincial college I received first class education". 

When he was in his 50s and lived in the same quarters that Faraday once occupied in the Royal Institution’s building on Albemarle Street, London, he sat in Faraday’s chair and worked at his desk. 

“When I retired at night, the bathroom furniture had a brass plate bearing his signature; and each time I gazed at it, I felt, knowing how prodigiously hard he used to work, that I had not done enough to earn a night’s sleep.”

Monday 16 November 2020

Britain is no country for a very old Second World War spitfire pilot called Flight Lieutenant Edmund James

Edmund, who is 98 years old, is one of the last remaining fighter pilots from the Second World War. While, at the age of 17, he was too young to fight in the Battle of Britain, Edmund enlisted in the RAF and joined 93 Squadron and based at Biggin Hill he saw action over British waters and above the fields of France during and after D-Day in 1944.

He was involved in a lot of combat mission fighting enemy planes and has said "At 17, 18, 19 or 20 you don't think of it as being unnerving, but you think of it as being exciting. I enjoyed it in a way. My memories are just pleasant. I know I lost a lot of friends at the time, but it helps if it's what you wanted to do. I wanted to be a pilot as I was inspired by Biggles."

Now he has been devastated by the fact that the photograph he kept hanging in the same room as his war medals in his home in Falmouth has disappeared, following a pre-arranged visit by someone who was doing some work for him. It showed the aircraft he flew and the photo was signed by fallen comrades.

He said : "I was so angry. The picture was signed by my friends. Some of whom were killed and didn't get through. Gone before they were intended. I would really like to have it returned. It used to hang on a hook in the study, it had hung there for many decades. Whoever took it had piled up books to fill in the gap in the hope I wouldn't notice. I wouldn't like to say what I want to do them, but I just want it returned to the police."

After the War Edmund trained and qualified as a GP and during the 1980s was the head of Child Health in Cornwall.

A reminder of his bravery :