Friday 28 August 2020

Britain in 2070, no country for old men looking back to the “Happy Days” of their youth in 2020

For the old men and women on Britain today, those in their 70s had their childhood years in the 1960's. Those in their 80s had theirs in the 1950's and those in their 90's had theirs in the 1940's.

Despite the deprivations and strictures of the times, most of them would say that they had "happy childhoods." This will not be the case of many teenagers in Britain today, who will experience their old age in the Britain of the 2070's and will not look back to "happy days".

The 'Annual Good Childhood Report' from the Children’s Society has found that more than a third of 15-year-olds in Britain scored low on life satisfaction. In fact, children in Britain have the lowest levels of life satisfaction across Europe, with “a particularly British fear of failure” partly to blame. The rise in Britain's child poverty and school pressures were cited alongside the fear of failure as reasons why only 64% of British children experienced high life satisfaction – the lowest figure of 24 countries surveyed by the OECD.

Richard Crellin, one of the authors of the Report said : “Children and young people talk a lot about the pressure that get placed on them to do well. We reflected this could be linked to a pressure in British society to take things on the chin and have a stiff upper lip. Young people across the UK told how they feel judged if they don’t succeed first time.”

Mark Russell, Chief Executive of the Children’s Society, added : “As a society we can’t be content with children in the UK being the most unsatisfied with their lives in Europe. It has to change.”

Data for the Report was collected before the coronavirus pandemic struck, suggesting things may now be significantly worse for Britain's young people. In July a survey by the Children’s Society found that nearly 20% of children aged 10-17 in Britain – the equivalent of 1.1 million – reported being unhappy with their lives as a whole during the coronavirus lockdown, up from an average of 10-13% over the last five years.

Mark said : “Even before the pandemic, which we know has taken a huge toll on our children’s wellbeing, many felt their life didn’t have a sense of purpose. We believe it is not only a fear of failure – which in previous research we found was higher amongst those living in poverty – but also rising child poverty levels that could partly be to blame.” He called on the Government to “hit the reset button” and introduce a National Measure of children’s wellbeing.

Professor Tamsin Ford, from the Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the Report’s findings were very worrying, particularly as 2020 had been especially distressing for lots of children.“We want to see a strong focus from Government on improving children and young people’s mental health to make sure this generation of children are not forgotten about. We must do everything we can to support their wellbeing, including the increased provision of mental health support in schools and specialist mental health treatment for all children who need it.”

 selected countries, 2018, scores out of 10

Children in Romania had the highest levels of life satisfaction (85%), just ahead of Finland (84%), while Britain fared worse than Spain (82%) and France (80%). Clearly, their old people in the 2070's will look back on more "happy days" than those in Britain.

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Britain, assailed by Covid-19, is a country where old men with undiagnosed cancer have a champion in Professor Karol Sikora

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Last week 'The Times' reported the case of John Anderson, who is 72 and has watched with frustration as his brother Alan’s condition worsens due to a lack of proper treatment. He said : “He has battled bladder cancer for the past 18 months or so and was well into his treatment” when his programme fell apart when the Covid-19 lockdown started. Alan went into a hospice in Luton eight weeks ago. Of course, he was very ill, but we know he would have had a chance. Now he is under palliative care and very, very ill. He is in excruciating pain as the cancer is now in his spine. The doctors have told him there’s nothing more they can do. We think if he’d got the treatment when he should have then it might have extended his life. My view of the NHS is, at this time, not the same as all the ‘clappers’. I am watching my brother in pain.”

I had a bladder cancer diagnosis four years ago and underwent a course of chemotherapy before my bladder was removed in five and a half hour surgery, along with my appendix, prostate and a dozen lymph nodes. I think that if the Covid-19 Pandemic had struck 4 years ago and my surgery had been postponed, I like Alan, would have been in a hospice, receiving palliative care and very, very ill.

Karol Sikora is a 72 year old Professor specialising in Cancer Medicine, who was a former head of the World Health Organisation’s Cancer Programme and has become the country’s most prominent critic of the impact of the Covid-19 Lockdown’s impact on National Health Service care for other diseases and in particular, cancer. He has gone on record as saying : “Some estimates say a few thousand cancer patient lives could be lost. I think you can easily multiply that by ten. It’s far worse than people appreciate.”

He uses the fact that studies suggest that more than a decade of progress in saving lives will be wiped out this year. “We have almost certainly caused the death of something like 30,000 patients. I think it’s going to end up in that sort of number. 30,000 who would have probably been cured if it hadn’t been for Covid. I’ve seen a lot in my half a century in medicine. I’ve never been more worried about cancer care than I am now. This is an unfolding disaster and so many aren’t seeing it.” His advice is :  “Don’t get cancer in 2020.”

In Britain at the moment, cancer is responsible for the deaths of 88,000 men and 77,000 women every year. Prostate cancer is both unique to men and the most common cancer in men, with 48,600 new cases diagnosed in 2017. In fact, about 35% of all new prostate cancer cases in the Britain are diagnosed in old men aged 75 and over and it kills 11,700 men every year, the equivalent of 32 every day.

In recent years, an attempt to reduce prostate cancer deaths has led to increased publicity aimed at getting men to seek an early diagnosis. The Covid-19 pandemic has now seen that progress grind to a halt, not the least because many men have avoided visiting their GPs with a fear of being sent to Covid- laden hospitals for treatment.

Karol admits that he underestimated the seriousness of Covid-19 early on. Now official statistics are proving that one central message was correct : The virus has been a disaster for cancer care and 250,000 children, young people and middle-aged and older men and women, who would normally have been urgently referred by their GP to a cancer specialist are missing from the diagnostic pipeline. This, he points out, is the tip of the iceberg, because millions more have either missed routine screening appointments, or are waiting for diagnostic tests and treatments and as a result, survival rates are poised to sink.

He believes Britain’s cancer diagnosis and treatment pipeline was already fragile and underfunded and Covid-19 policies have effectively severed it. Patients who should have gone to their GP with suspicious lumps, or blood in their stool or persistent coughs, which is a symptom of Covid-19 but also of lung cancer. Instead they were told to :
He said GPs : “shut up shop” and directed patients to NHS 111, which is no good for those with conditions such as pancreatic cancer, which typically requires more than four GP visits before a referral. In addition, hospitals closed diagnostic services, postponed treatments and hunkered down for the Covid-19 storm to pass.

He said : “I’ve seen patients with colon cancer that almost certainly would have been 'Stage One' at the beginning of this.” The disease was missed and he now suspects that they have progressed to 'Stage Three'. The key to successful cancer treatment is to find the tumours early : “Early colon cancer - 90% chance of cure. 'Stage three', when the lymph nodes are involved, high up in the abdomen, then the chances of cure are less than 20%”.

As the pandemic approached in February and March, Government Ministers and officials promised that cancer services would be unaffected, but those pledges clearly were not met. A study last week from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the healthcare management consultancy 'Carnall Farrar' entitled : 'The hidden cost of Covid-19 on the NHS - and how to ‘build back better’' shone a light on how :

* more than a quarter of a million urgent cancer GP referrals were missed between April and June.
* about 7% of those people will have cancer.
* these GP referrals account for about a quarter of the cases that are spotted.
* outpatient referrals account for about a fifth and are also sharply down.
* another fifth come from patients whose cancers are spotted after they go to A&E departments, which were often quiet during lockdown.

In April a report by NHS Providers, which represents hospital bosses, said that some oncology departments had seen an 85% reduction in referrals. Patients already in the treatment pipeline have also faced disruptions. Operations have been postponed to avoid those with weakened immune systems braving hospitals that may be Covid-19 hotspots. Intensive care units were set aside for virus patients.

Karol believes that what is needed now is an urgent shift in focus : “The Government is throwing everything at a potential second wave of Covid. What about the cancer disaster that is already unfolding?” The emphasis, he said, must be on getting the NHS’s diagnostic pathways fully open :  "That means getting rid of the backlog - the only way through is to extend the working day in diagnostic departments. So, the same way we did with Covid, we’ve got to get the same drive, the same incentives for staff to actually turn out more CT scans, more MRIs, more bronchoscopies, more endoscopies - all that stuff has to be at much greater speed.”

These departments he said : “tend to shut at five o’clock and tend to not open at weekends. We’ve got all this expensive equipment just sitting there for two days idle. That the staff won’t come in - that’s the excuse. Well, pay them to come in and work out how we can do it with less staff. Certainly you don’t need to have very highly skilled people in at the weekend; you don’t need to have any decision making. You just do the scan and read it later.”

Karol joined Twitter in March and recalled :  “We were just going into Covid. I was having a drink with a colleague who’s a retired oncologist who’d been on Twitter for ten years and he’d got 117 followers. He said : "You could do Twitter to get your message over - what’s your message Karol?" And I said : "The message is that cancer is going to be bigger as a killer than Covid if we go down the route of shutting everything down. If we do that, there are going to be more cancer deaths than Covid deaths’.”"

Karol is using Twitter to urge anybody with warning signs to see their GP and last week posted :

“Forget the rest of my tweets, these are by far the most important. So many times we’ve been unable to help because the cancer wasn’t caught early enough. Unusual lumps. Abdominal pain. Blood in poo/urine. Unexplained weight loss. Any persistent symptoms. Please get checked!”

          Val Curtis :  I'm one of the thousands of extra cancer deaths we'll see this year

Saturday 22 August 2020

Why is Britain a country which has failed to honour and say "Goodbye" to its old Prince of Luthiers and Master of Guitar Makers, Chris Eccleshall ?

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It is ironical that Chris, the consummate guitar maker of should die at the age of 72 on the same day as the consummate classical guitar player, the 87 year old, Julian Bream. Chris who worked as a luthier for over half a century, made custom-built acoustic and electric guitars also produced a standard range of solid body electrics under the name 'Electric Lady.'  He also made solid-bodied electric mandolins, acoustic mandolins, mandolas and bouzoukis and was an authorised repairer of Martin, Gibson and Guild guitars and received the blessing of Mario Maccaferri to make reproductions of his Selmer-Maccaferri jazz guitars.

What is even more ironical is that, whereas Julian's death has been marked hundreds of comments on twitter and obituaries in both the 'Times' and 'Guardian', Chris' death, by contrast, was marked by just two tweets and no obituaries.
The tweets where from 'Mansons Guitar Shop' and another which said : 'It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Dartington Morris Man and luthier to the stars, Chris Eccleshall. He will be very much missed.' The fact that Chris was a self-effacing craftsman and not an assiduous entrepreneur, goes some way towards explaining why he often either, didn't get the credit, or the remuneration for his inventions and by the same token has been given no credit with his passing.

Chris was born three years after the end of the Second World War in the Spring of 1948 in Gosport, Hampshire the s0n of Doreen and Leslie, a Royal Navy officer and attended one of the secondary schools in Gosport before he moved into the Sixth Form at the new Brune Park Secondary High School in 1965. It was in his school years that he taught himself to make musical instruments by studying guide books for the construction of guitars, dulcimers, mandolins and banjos. In addition, he studied photos in catalogues and sketched different models and after he'd his first guitar, found himself commissioned to make more for his school mates.

After leaving school at the age of 18 he started an apprenticeship as an aircraft maintenance engineer working on aircraft engines in the Fleet Air Arm's shore establishment in Gosport at HMS St Vincent. However, after 9 months he decided engineering was not for him and left to "hitch-hike around for a while". Later he acknowledged that his acquired metal working skills : "Stood me in good stead. The grounding it gave me in metalwork has helped put me in a position where I can make almost everything for the guitar myself, including bridges for electric guitars and truss rods."

His travels took him to Hastings, where he became assistant to John Howard-Lucy, a well-respected violin maker. John was quick to recognise Chris's talent and later placed him at the age of 18 with W. E. Hill and Sons of Bond Street, which, founded in 1701, was one of the oldest violin houses in the world and at the time, was the number one violin company in the world.
He stayed with Hills for three years serving his apprenticeship and, in the process, found himself working on violins worth as much as £15,000. Chris worked under the guidance of master craftsmen, including Grandfather Hill and was taught the skills of restoration, fitting up and bridge peg fitting. He also had the opportunity to work in the guitar department at the Victoria and Albert Museum and after three years, with his apprenticeship complete, he was a qualified 'Violin Maker & Restorer'.

He left the company at the age of 21 in 1969 and moved to Ealing Strings at Ealing Common, London, mainly to work on violins, although any guitar brought in for repair would inevitably be passed to Chris. His interest in the guitar was such that he spent most evenings making guitars in the shop's upstairs workshop and finishing them off at his nearby roof garden.

At the age 23 in 1971, he decided to branch out on his own and acquired two garages further down the road, which he converted into workshops and made a start with a handful of tools and his final week's wages from Ealing Strings. He recalled that he "had to get through the barrier of not just being 'Chris down the road who knocks up guitars now and then', but to be accepted as a professional guitar maker who knows what he's talking about and gives value for money." He was working 10+ hours a day, six days a week, at a time of which British guitar makers were unheard of and was one of the first to win recognition, along with Tony Zemaitis and John Birch.

In these early days he was heavily influenced by the guitars of the American companies, Martin and Gibson when making his flat-top acoustic guitars with the archtops drawing inspiration from Gretsch. He was also influenced by John Bailey whose guitars were well regarded by the folk musicians at that time.

He gained the blessing of the Maestro of guitar makers, Mario Maccaferri after being commissioned to make a replica of a Selmer Maccaferri guitar. Chris recalled :  : "Louis Gallo asked me to deliver the first guitar to him and invited me to his house for a meal. I turned up with the guitar and walked in to find Maccaferri himself sitting there. Louis had invited Mario to dinner. I was a bit nervous, to say the least, but he liked the guitar and gave me his blessing to make some more. So I suppose you could say that I was officially sanctioned by Mario Maccaferri to make his guitars."

In fact, Chris said that the 'Maccaferri Gypsy Jazzer' was the most difficult of all acoustic guitars to make :"Its a real challenge to do it the way Maccaferri designed them. They're arched over the braces both back and front and then they have a real sharp cutaway. It's a sod of a job and can only be done by hand."

Chris spoke poetically about his work : "The different woods give you different tonal qualities. Rosewood is a very hard wood. When it's sanded smooth, it's a very reflective wood and gives you a very sharp sound. Mahogany is a more absorbent wood, giving you a nicer middle tone. my personal preference is for a mahogany guitar because it gives a nice warm sound. To me, rosewood guitars are a bit too clean and harsh. For classical guitars, it's probably best to use rosewood to get that clearity. For an all-round guitar, if you want to play flat-picking or finger-style, I think mahogany will give a better sound. It's a matter of splitting the difference." He also treated wood with reverence as can be seen in his shaping the neck of a guitar.

The amount of time he took to build a guitar would vary : "If the finish is tricky. I can spend three days on the woodwork and three weeks on the finish; building up the lacquer, colour staining and polishing it. It's probably the trickiest part of the whole operation, because its got to be so good."

In 1975 he recalled that when he struck out on his own  : "It was terrible for the first six months. I was living on egg and chips for months and I had hardly any money. But word gets around and I started getting work. Rory Gallagher was the first main customer. He phoned me up at home one day and said he had a lot of stuff that needed sorting out, so that was about two month's work in itself. The word gets around because you'd get a couple of roadies coming round with repairs, and they'd meet other roadies at gigs and tell them, and so it would go on. Since then, of course, it's snowballed and I can pick and choose now."

 At first the work for Rory involved rebuilding guitars, but he became Rory's favoured guitar technician from 1971 to 1985, rebuilding and re-fretting his revered and battered Sunburst Fender Stratocaster 18 times. He was also responsible for disabling the Strat's vibrato mechanism using a wooden block, a modification he was also commissioned to apply to Eric Clapton's 'Blackie' which he first played in 1973 and through to 1985. Donal Gallagher has said : 'It meant so much to my brother that another craftsman could appreciate his guitar-craft and comprehend the fine detail Rory was requiring.'

Rory, who was just two months older than Chris, could be an exacting client.
When, on one occasion, Rory's Fender Esquire guitar was damaged by airport baggage handlers it was handed to Chris for urgent repair. To save time he was forced to use polyurethane rather than lacquer for the finish, which had a green tint when lit from particular angles. Rory wanted it urgently enough that he collected the guitar himself on the afternoon of the gig and when he saw it lit at just the wrong angle by the rays of the setting sun, he said : "Oh my dear boy, I don't want a green guitar!" When Chris had explained the situation, Rory got interested in the possibilities afforded by the guitar being modified when refinished and asked Chris : "Could we make it a black guitar and could we make it a three-pickup guitar?" 
Chris subsequently fitted the Stratocaster pickups supplied by Rory and refinished it in black and he used it when he played 'Souped up Ford' on the 'Old Grey Whistle Test' in 1976. As well as repair, Chris made a number of instruments for Rory over the years, including this black electric mandolin. Rory's brother, Donal has said : 'Key to Rory's search was the 'true' amplification of his musical instruments, in particular, when endeavouring to have his italian mandolin playing "Goin' To My Hometown". At first he played through a microphone, the mandolin was competing with the hand-clapping and foot stomping fans tattooing out the underlying rhythm of the ballad leading to maxed out microphone squealing with feedback. So Chris produced a solid, electric mandolin for Rory a a first of its kind, this allowed my brother to be more abitious in both his stage and studio use of the instrument.' 

In his first 5 years in his own business, he made over 140 guitars and repaired more, which he described as a "soul-destroying job, just correcting other people's mistakes." What he meant was the misuse and wilful destruction of guitars on stage : "I made a few guitars for 'The Sweet' and one only lasted a week. It came back in about 7 parts. I did some repair work for Pete Townshend, but no way will I build a guitar for him. I know how it will end up." In fact, Chris did go back on his promise and did build one guitar for him. He made about 12 guitars for 'The Sweet', both acoustic and electric, including Andy Scott's double-neck and a black Gibson J-200-style acoustic for singer Brian Connelly with a silver pearloid Everly Brothers-style scratchplate.

These were the years in which he made the 'Eccleshall Scimitar' and 'Excalibur' shaped with outward curves, rather than the inward curves of traditional electric guitars derived from the rounded classical guitar. He also made his 'Eccleshall C-Model' acoustic guitar as a classical guitar for steel strings and his his 'Special' was a variant of this.

An electric guitar with a solid mahogany body and neck took him between 30-50 hours work and was marketed at £50-80. They were also the years he was involved in a competition with fellow
guitar makers, Tony Zemaitis and John Birch, as to who could get their outlandish guitar designs onto 'Top of the Pops' during the 70s heyday of British glam rock. Chris himself said at the time : "It's great to see 'Top of the Pops' and see guitars I've made. It's nice to realise they are being used. I put a lot of time and trouble into making them, so it's nice to see people taking them out and using them."

In 1975 Chris told 'Melody Maker' : "David Bowie has got a 12 string of mine and I made that star-shaped guitar the 'Glitter Band' used on Top of the Pops." His gold coloured guitar was destroyed in a baggage-handling accident and a second, silver one was made by John Birch to replace it. "Then I did one in the shape of an axe, which I believe went to Alice Cooper. I've done repair work for Eric Clapton, Mud and Wizard. Sometimes guitars come through for repairs and I don't even know who they belong to. Then I see them on tv and I realise I'd been working on them the week before." Chris described the electric stick guitar, commissioned by Patrick Campbell-Lyons of 'Nirvana' as "a plank with two pick ups." Paul Weller used his Eccleshall TV Model for the Jam's 'Down in the Tube Station' in 1978.

Additionally, Chris made guitars for Dave Davies, Davey Arthur of 'The Fureys', 'The Levellers', 'Echo & the Bunnymen', 'This Picture', 'The Men They Couldn't Hang', 'Steven Woodcock', Richard Stilgoe and Richard Digance.

In the mid 70's his connection with Townshend brought him into contact with the American David Shecter of 'Shecter's Guitars' fame. At the time, Chris was very interested in the Telecaster style, but wanted to do something a bit different. He recalled : "Between me and David, plus Pete Townshend and a couple of other people chipping in, we came up with the idea od a bound-edged, flat-topped Tele with figured maple from and birdseye maple neck. David went back to the USA and made the tele-style guitar and Pete eventually bought six of them and then came the 'Schecter-Pete Townshend Model'. It could just as easily have been the 'Eccleshall-Pete Townshend Model'."

It was a good example of Chris, the non-pushy craftsman loosing out to the hard-headed businessman. He told 'Guitar Magazine' in 1996 : "Sometimes it makes me really furious. You get Fender saying 'You can't call your guitar a Strat or Tele, because it's not', but they quite happily use my ideas, like that maple-topped guitar and say it was their idea."

In the early 1980s, Peter Hook, playing in 'New Order', recalled that he was dissatisfied with Gibson guitars. Interviewed in 2017, Peter said of its replacement : "I've got Yamaha electrics with a Gibson body and because it's hollow you get great feedback. So I can use the body to feed back like a guitar. So I've used those, by a guy called Chris Eccleshall, since 1982, live. So I use the hollow bodies live because of the feedback, because they're as raunchy as fuck."

In fact, Chris made his 335-style bass, a unique hollow-bodied instrument for Peter, Eddie Macdonald of 'The Alarm' and Simon Gallup of 'The Cure'.

This was a time when Chris struck a licensing deal with the Japanese-made brand Kimbara to make and distribute an Eccleshall-designed Stratocaster-style guitar. He travelled to the Japanese factory to supervise the setup and was pleased with Japanese engineering standards.

For the late John Perkins he crafted the world's first electric sitar using hickory, ash and rock maple. It took three years to make and John said : "I came up with the idea to have an electric sitar and asked Chris if he would make one for me. He is a perfectionist and agreed to make it as long as I was willing to wait." 

Over the years Chris worked with many apprentices and assistants and trained and advised other luthiers including
George Lowden and Kevin Chilcott. Always inventive, he didn't receive credit for placing guitar neck's truss rod in an alloy U-channel and later regretted that he hadn't patented the idea and the first sideless hardtail bridge for a Telecaster without the original design's raised edges and pioneered the rectangular solid machined steel block bridge saddles.

In 1986 Chris uprooted from his Ealing and moved his business to Dartington and a few years later moved his workshop again to Buckfastleigh. In 2008 Chris and local timberman and guitarist Eddie Cameron created a series of hand-made co-designed guitars to a standard design and marketed under the name 'Electric Lady'. They were based on the Stratocaster, but with locally sourced timber and British humbucking pick-ups, the two coils used to "buck the hum" or cancel out the background interference. His last workshop move was to relocate to Totnes, Devon.

Chris once said :
"Making guitars in the UK is really hard work. There's very little glamour and you don't make much money. I'd have been better as a window cleaner."

Thankfully, because of all the pleasure his instruments gave their players and their audiences over the years, he didn't become a window cleaner and deep down, he probably wouldn't have wanted it any other way.