Friday 31 January 2020

Brexit Britain is, on this day, a country where old men see the lamps going out all over Europe and know that they shall not see them lit again in their life-time

On the eve of the First World War in 1914, the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey's met his friend John Alfred Spender, the Editor of  'The Westminster Gazette', at the Foreign Office.

As they looked out of the window into the sunset and as they saw the first oil lamps lit along the Mall, Grey said : "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time." He repeated the observation in his memoirs published in 1925 and it earned wide attention as an accurate perception of the coming War which changed Britain beyond recognition, not the least in the human and economic cost which put the country's development back by decades.

Sunday, 24 March 2019
Brexit Britain is a country where old soldier, Brigadier Stephen Goodall, took to the streets in protest against the threat to the peace in Europe for which he once fought

Saturday, 30 March 2019
Brexit Britain, bitter and divided, should heed the advice and experience of its oldest of old men, Bob Weighton and restore its once greatest virtue : the art of compromise

Saturday, 13 April 2019
Brexit Britain is no country for proud old men

Wednesday, 5 June 2019
Brexit Britain, ironically a country where 75 years ago, very young servicemen, now very old D-Day veterans, fought to liberate a Europe it subsequently joined and now wants to leave

Sunday, 11 August 2019
Brexit 'Britain' is a country which is, in the mind of its old Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, facing an existential crisis

Friday, 13 December 2019
Brexit Britain, divided and diminished, is no longer a country for those old men who will always cherish the belief that its place is in Europe

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Remainer Britain, must remember it is half the country, fight on with Will Hutton and Winston Churchill and light the coming darkness on January 31st with its candle power

Monday 27 January 2020

Scotland is a country with islands called the Shetlands, where past Guizer Jarls look down and remember their own 'Up Helly Aa'

The Shetland town of Lerwick's 'Up Helly Aa,' January celebrations, held over the 51 years since 1958, have been presided over, in turn, by 51 Jarls, twenty of whom have passed away.

The latest was John Hunter, who sadly died last year and was 'Johan Sanderrevet of Valsgärde' in his galley 'Jägare' ('Hunter') in 2011. Johnan was born in 840 in the kommune of Valsgärde, Sweden and was famed for his voyages in 'Jägare', the most memorable of which became a famous Swedish saga.

Wherever they are, in their Heaven or in the hall of Valhalla, in Asgard, ruled over by the god Odin, the old Jarls will remember that last Tuesday in January, when, on the stroke of 7.30pm, a signal rocket burst over the Town Hall, the torches were lit, the band struck up and the amazing, blazing procession began, snaking half a mile astern of them, the 'Guizer Jarl', standing proudly at the helm of their doomed replica longship, or 'galley'.

It took half an hour for their squad of Vikings to drag them to the burning site, through a crowds of 5,000 spectators or more. Then, the guizers circled the dragon ship in a slow-motion, catherine wheel of fire and sang the traditional 'Up Helly Aa' song.

Another rocket exploded overhead and they left their ship, to a crescendo of cheers. A bugle call sounded and the torches were hurled into his galley and as the inferno destroyed four months of painstaking work by the galley builders, the crowd sang 'The Norseman's Home' - a stirring requiem that brought tears to the eyes of the hardiest Viking.

Mirth followed, as the night rolled on and more than 40 squads of guizers visited a dozen halls in rotation, where each squad performed its 'act', perhaps a skit on local events, a dance display in spectacular costume and all accompanied with another dram, soaked up with vast quantities of mutton soup and bannocks.

This year's Guizer Jarl, Liam Summers, follows in the footsteps of other departed Jarls, one of whom was Jack Scott, who took the character of 'King Magnus Barelegs' in 1959 in his galley 'Hok' ( 'Hawk') and was captured on film by Pathé News.

He was joined in the Hereafter by Willie Tait (left) who was 'Olaf the Saint' in 'Visund' in 1960 and James Young James who was 'Harald Hardrada's Vaerings' in  in 1961.

Willie continued to contribute to Up-Helly-Aa by making torches for the procession, was known as 'Feejur' and referred to as 'Indestructable' and in in January 2014, was photographed getting his.hands on the coveted shield and axe of Guizer Jarl, Ivor Cluness.

When Willie passed over, he joined the company of G. Leask who was 'Olaf Kyrre' in 1962 and G.Paton as 'Sigurd the Crusader' in 'Jorsalfarer' (Crusader) who was Jarl in the harsh winter of 1963.

These old Jarls were chosen following the tradition of choosing a 'Guizer Jarl' or 'Chief Guizer', who was the leader of the Jarl Squad who were the 'Vikings For the Day.' It dated from the time when they were first elected by their fellow guizers (disguisers), back in 1882 and were given the title of 'Worthy Chief Guizer.' By 1906 their importance was such, that it was decided to buy them, for their use, a Viking suit of armour and the other trappings of the chief and to call them from then on, the 'Guizer Jarl.'

At first : “He wore a silver helmet, with raven’s wings rising high on either side, a corselet with sleeves of silver mail was worn over a jerkin, fastened round the neck and hung loosely from the shoulders. On the legs were thigh length black stockings and on the feet were rawhide sandals fastened with tan leather thongs which criss-crossed over the instep and all the way up the thighs. He carried a round silver shield on which was engraved a raven, a large silver-headed battle axe and dagger hung from his belt.

In 1931 improvements were made to the outfit and each year the suit of armour with helmet, breastplate, shield, axe, dagger and belt were passed down to the next Jarl who, in turn, chose his own design for his 'kirtle', his medieval tunic, in colours that both contrasted and highlighted them from their squad.

Willie also joined J.Hunter who was 'King Harald Graafeld' in 1964 and Tom Moncrieff who was 'Ottar the Explorer' in 'Loki' (wily trickster god of Norse mythology) in 1965.

Joe Hunter was 'Haakon the Good' in 'Feeyarsund Belphegor' (Demon of Freys Sund) in 1966 and Thomas Simpson was 'Halfdan the Black' in 'Viggyrdil' (War Girdle) in 1968.
Harald Graafeld or 'Greycloak', who died in 970, was King of Norway and Ottar the Explorer
was Ohthere of Hålogaland, a Viking Norwegian seafarer known only from an account of his travels that he gave to King Alfred of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex in about 890. Haakon was the King of Norway from 934 to 961 and was noted for his attempts to introduce Christianity into his kingdom, whereas Halfdan was a ninth-century King of Vestfold and was the father of 'Harald Fairhair', the first King of Norway.

Willie also joined William Peterson who was 'Einar Thambarskelver' in 'Ormrinn Langi' (the Long Serpent) in 1970 and Allan Anderson who was 'Tore the Hound' in 'Ulvin' (The Wolf) in 1971.

In 1034 Einar Thambarskelver and several other Jarls went to Russia to invite Magnus, King Olaf's only son to return with them and become the King of Norway and was immortalised by the American poet Longfellow :

Tore Hund was one of the leaders of the Stiklestad peasants who opposed King Olaf II of Norway, later named 'St. Olaf'' who was reported to have been among the chieftains who killed the King in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030 and Kali Kolson of Orkney was born in the year 1098, son of Kol Kalison Earl of Caithness.

John L. Laurenson was 'Bonder Gula' in 'Ting Skib' ('Ting Ship') in 1972 and John Johnston was 'Kali Kolson' in 'Fifa' (Arrow) in 1976.

Kali Kolsson, Jarl of all Orkney and Caithness was born 1100.

Saturday 25 January 2020

Britain is no country for old soldiers with combat stress

In Britain, 'old soldier' is a generic term for ex-army soldiers, men and women, some of whom may be very old and others still relatively young. Three days ago, in a gesture of magnanimity, the Government announced that it was launching, for old soldiers, a 'Veteran Railcard', giving them a discount on rail fares. This new new railcard, available from Armistice Day this year, will allow the 830,000 eligible veterans a third off their fares.

Feeling pretty pleased with himself, the Cabinet Office Minister, Oliver Dowden, said : “Our new action plan will help to make the UK the best place in the world for veterans. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs will drive the plan from the heart of government, working to help veterans on jobs, housing and health, through better data and a more joined up approach."

'Combat Stress' is a charity offering therapeutic and clinical community and residential treatment, free of charge to former members of the British Armed Forces who are suffering from a range of mental health conditions, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was formed in 1919, as the 'Ex-Servicemen's Welfare Society', following World War I, when the effects of shell shock were first becoming known.

On average, it takes 13 years for an old soldiers, sailors and air personnel to make first contact Combat Stress for advice, help, and treatment. For those, the 1,185, who sought help who served in Iraq in Gulf War I and Gulf War II and the 971 who served in Afghanistan, the time period was much shorter.

Today Combat Stress dropped a bombshell when it said that it isn't able to take any new cases in England and Wales, because of a funding crisis which has seen its income fall from £16m to £10m in the current financial year partly due to Government cuts in National Health Service funding support. Previously NHS England has commissioned Combat Stress to provide a six-week residential programme with more than £3m funding a year. The charity still receives more than £1m from NHS Scotland and it will continue to take on new cases there and in Northern Ireland.

Although the charity can now only refer new cases to the NHS, Sue Freeth, Chief Executive of Combat Stress, has questioned whether NHS England will be able to cope and told the BBC : "I don't believe the NHS can pick this up. That is why we exist." She said that 80% of veterans who come to her organisation have either used the NHS and have not had their needs met, or have felt unable to use NHS services.

In addition, the charity's President and former Head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall, said : "The onus to treat the small minority of military veterans suffering from mental ill-health is falling on a charity that lacks the resources to meet the current demand. We all have a responsibility to sort this out".

All of this has galvanised Government 'Minister for Defence People and Veterans', Johnny Mercer, a former Army captain, into action. He said he will hold an “urgent meeting” to discuss Combat Stress’s problems caused by, err ..... the budget cuts imposed by Mrs May's Conservative Government in which he served as, err.....Veterans' Minister.
Last September after saying post-combat stress “ripped apart” those he served with, he said : “I have an intimate understanding of the issues. I am not going to pretend for a minute that I have all the answers. I don’t think anybody has got all the answers, but I am determined to get mental health care, whether it’s in the veterans’ community or the military community or indeed the NHS, to a place where we can offer those who have served in this country the best mental health care in the world.”

Apparently, old soldiers in need of help need have nothing to fear because a spokesperson for the NHS has said: “Our number one priority is providing the best care for veterans and, after listening to what they wanted and a competitive process, the NHS has rolled out new specialist services to every part of the country which have seen over 10,000 people to date and are funded by more than £10 million every year. For anyone who has served in the Armed Forces and may be experiencing mental health difficulties help is available through speaking to their GP or contacting the dedicated NHS services directly.”

In other words, despite the fact that 'old soldiers with problems' prefer to seek help from an organisation dedicated to 'old soldiers with problems' , they now have no choice. Needless to say, many will simply not seek the help they need and this, against the background where, a number of groups and charities have warned of a spike in the number of veterans taking their own lives.

Earlier this month the body of a former soldier, Jamie Davis, was found after he went missing. His wife Alicia has criticised the "lack of intervention" to help him with his post-traumatic stress disorder.  Jamie's former commanding officer in Afghanistan has also expressed his concern.
Retired Major Richard Streatfield served in Sangin in 2010 and said Jamie was the fourth soldier under his command to have died at home in "similar tragic circumstances". He said the British Army and the Government has a duty to dedicate time and resources to those who have been exposed to trauma.

Britain : a country where old soldiers can get free rail travel because they are old soldiers, but can't get help with the mental health problems they have because they are old soldiers, from a charity dedicated to them, as old soldiers

Thursday 23 January 2020

Brexit Britain is no country for a bitterly disappointed old lord called Alf Dubs

The 'amendment' Alf refers to in his tweet today, is one of the five the House of Lords made to Boris Johnson’s Brexit Bill, pioneered by Alf and the one that would have restored the right of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their families in the Britain. This means that the Bill will become a law when, within a few days, it gains Royal Assent. On passing the Bill, Prime Minister Johnson, feeling very pleased with himself, made a brief comment calling for an end to “rancour and division” and "at times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it.”

Alf's amendment, passed in the Lords on Tuesday, was rejected in the Commons by the votes of the 342 men and women who are Conservative Party Members of Parliament who represent the interests of all the citizens who live within the boundaries of their parliamentary constituencies. One of them was my own MP, Rehman Chishti, who considered it to be in my best interest that unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Europe should be denied the right to join their relatives in this country.

Forty-one year old Mr Chishti, full name Atta-ur-Rehman Chishti, was once, himself, a child immigrant. Born in Muzaffarabad in Kashmir, Pakistan, his father Abdul Rehman Chishti had been  appointed 'Federal Adviser on Religious Affairs' to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, two years before young Rehman was born. In the year before he was born, Bhutto was overthrown by a military coup by General Zia-ul-Haq and would be executed two years later. Rehman's father left Pakistan for Britain in the year he was born and began a new life here as an imam. He did not see his father until he was 6 years old, when he came to settle in Britain in 1984.

Mr Chishti clearly knows what it is like to be separated from a parent, yet he still voted with his 343 colleagues to deny child refugees stranded in Europe the right to join their relatives in this country. A month ago, during the election campaign, he, like them, had backed the Conservative Party Manifesto which, on page 23, had pledged that : 'We will continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution, with the ultimate aim of helping them to return home if it is safe to do so.' 

It is difficult not to agree with Stuart McDonald, the SNP’s Immigration Spokesperson, who said: “Rather than stepping up and playing its role in addressing the refugee crisis, the toxic Tory Government has instead lurched to the extremes and closed the door on some of the most vulnerable children in the world.”

Lord Dubs finds the Government's action 'bitterly disappointing' because 81 years ago, in 1939, he himself, was one of the 699 child refugees brought out of Prague by the individual action of the stockbroker and humanitarian, Nicholas Winton, prior to the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. Alf has told the House of Lords in a debate : "It is thanks to Sir Nicky Winton, who helped to organise Kindertransports from Czechoslovakia, that I got here at all. I almost certainly owe my life to him."

The year before Alf came to Britain, when he was 5 years old, representatives from 32 western states had gathered in the resort town of Evian in Southern France to discuss whether to admit a growing number of Jewish refugees, fleeing from persecution in Nazi Germany and Austria. Lord Winterton, representing Neville Chamberlain's Conservative Government, like most of the other representatives of their countries, decided to do nothing.

That same year, with the German invasion of his country, Czechoslovakia, Alf's father disappeared.
He recalled : "My mother said "he's gone away" and a year later he remembered his mother : "put me on the train. I can still see in front of me Prague Station and my mother standing there and looking anxious. It was about midnight. A German soldier with a swastika standing there." 

After a two day rail journey, which he remembered because :
"My mother gave me a little rucksack of food and I didn't eat anything for 2 days, so I must have been traumatised."  He arrived at at Liverpool Street Station and was reunited with his father. He reflected : "I was very lucky because most of the Kindertransport children said "Goodbye" to their parents in Prague and never saw them again."  At first his mother was refused permission to leave Prague, a cause of great anxiety, but eventually got an exit visa and joined them in Britain.

Alf's interest in politics sprang from his experience as a refugee "When I was about 12 or 13, or even perhaps, younger I began wondering : 'why what had happened to me and the world ?' and I said to myself  : "if evil politicians can do so many terrible things maybe politics could also be a way of changing that." In other words if politics has the power to make things worse for people, it could also have the power to make things better for people." So I got passionately interested in politics."

After attending university he : "joined the Labour Party. I became a local councillor and the I stood for Parliament and the first time I didn't and then I got elected to Parliament and then I lost in one election and then I was head of the Refugee Council. It was quite odd, somebody who was a refugee to actually become the Head of the Refugee Council, although the refugees at that point, this was later, were mostly from other countries, not European and then I was put in the House of Lords, where I still am."

He confessed : "I didn't know for years about Nicholas Winton. I knew I'd come on a Kindertransport and then only 15-20 years ago the news got out and I met him several times." The occasion had been when Nicholas made an appearance on Esther Rantzen's BBC tv programme,  'That's Life', in 1988 and asked "whether any in the audience owed their lives to him ? and, if so, to stand", at which point more than two dozen people, including Alf, rose and applauded and because the programme was aired nationwide, many other rescued children wrote to and thanked him.

Sadly, no tv programme will now be made about Alf, where those present are asked : "whether any in the audience owed their reunification with their families to him ? and, if so to stand."

Brexit Britain : Hard. Uncompromising. Lacking humanity.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Britain is no country for poor, middle-aged men born in the 1970s, facing the prospect of more illness than their grandfather's generation born in the 1920s

Dr Stephen Jivraj is the author of the new study from University College London which sought an answer to the question  : 'Are self-reported health inequalities widening by income?'  In part of his answer he reveals that we know that rich old men and women in Britain have always been in better health than their poor counterparts, but now it appears the differences have widened since the 1970s.

The study involved him analysing data collected on 200,000 working-age people over the course of the past 100 years, much of which came from the a succession of 'Annual British General Household Surveys' carried out between 1979 and 2011. It showed that :

* among men and women in the poorest third for household income, those born in the early 1920s reported lower levels of limiting long-term illness than those born in the late 1960s.

* for those men born in 1920-22 who reported a 'limiting long-term illness' there was a 9 percentage point difference between the rich and the poor.

* those men born 1968-70 who reported a 'limiting long-term illness' there was a 24 percentage point difference between the rich and the poor.

On the other hand for the men in the wealthier two-thirds of the population there was a drop in limiting long-term illness among those born in the 1960s compared to those born in the 1920s.

Ben Franklin, the Head of 'Research at the Centre for Progressive Policy', said the study added to a growing body of literature showing a widening gap in the health of people with higher and lower socioeconomic status. “We have got the NHS, which is a great thing for the UK, and it helps to level up the UK in terms of ensuring equality of access to world-class healthcare, but that alone is not going to solve persistent and growing health inequalities. Obviously there are things in society that are happening to poorer people that are meaning that they get ill more than wealthier people. So actually if we are going to deal with our health inequalities in society, we need much greater upstream prevention.”

In his report Dr Jivraj said : 'Results presented here show a widening in health inequalities by income in later-born British birth cohorts, 1920-70. They point to a greater future demand in healthcare from people in society who will be least capable of managing their health as they enter ages when ill health becomes more common.’ Unless action is taken, there will ‘likely be further widening of the gap in early deaths between the richest and poorest in society, meaning poor people are more likely to die at a younger age.'

Britain in 2020 : 

If it is bad enough that 25% less well-off grandfathers born in 1920-22 reported a chronic condition while, for their less well-off in their grandson's generation, this had risen to 33%, for women the figures are hardly better, with 23% less well-off grandmothers born in 1920-22 having reported a limiting long-term illness compared to 32% of the less well-off in their granddaughter's generation.