NHS at 70



NHS at 70.

At the Barbican Centre  I met Derek from Putney. Both of us  enjoying the excellent Dorothea Lange exhibition. I have known Derek for nearly forty years. He has always lived in the mansion  flat block at the end of Dryburgh  Rd where we live for 26 years.. Until he retired fifteen years ago aged seventy he was a wonderfully non computerised secretary of the Putney Society. Everything manually typed!

His Ozzie wife Alice was also very visible, as she was  librarian at Adelaide’s brilliant secondary school Lady Margaret on Parsons Green. So we were on a little more than nodding terms. Derek is a great rambler and  is very anti motor car,he once got run over trying to stop cars making  illegal left turns into the High Street. Excellent fellow.


Five years ago Alice  was struck down with dementia. She is now in a home  near Bristol which cares for her 24/7 and costs £40,000a year. Derek goes  to see her once a week.

So I asked  how is she. Fine. Does she recognise you. Hasnt for years,barely opens her eyes. Its such a waste. Since society wont do it  we have to  ourselves. I have thought about going to Beachy Head when the time comes. Surely  if you murdered Alice the  courts would be kind and give you a suspended sentence. I wouldnt mind doing time,no shopping, a tele in the cell,three cooked meals a day.time to read,it doesn’t sound too bad. I have thought of letting the wheel chair go at the top of a  hill.

So every week Derek and the grown up children make the pointless  pilgimage to see their absebt mother/wife. We know several others making similar trips.  I went once a week to see step father Hans who couldn’t speak for the last three years. So only two cheers for modern medicine keeping us alive longer.

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Most Memorable Picture

Most Memorable Picture

At the brilliant Dorothea Lange exhibition at the Barbican I once again affirmed ,that for me the most iconic picture of the last 100 years was the Migrant Mother(see link). But of course Lange took many more searing pictures of the victims of the Great Depression as they fled their bankrupt farms  to god  knows any where. Also the pictures of the Japanese American internment and even of old Ireland reminded that  she was one of the worlds great photographers.

Like many great photographers Lange excelled when she hit the common man and woman in adversity. Here the snapper find the drama of existence, the defiance against the odds, the lines of futile tragedy, the bravery a getting through every day ,all in a simple look.

But others have  other views on  their number one photo.  The 1945 kiss in Times Square on VJ Day has all the  right stuff. Historic in many ways, because of the day but also a strange sailor grabs a strange nurse and celebrates. Oh dear. But such was the fame of that picture, many have claimed that Life’s cover shot was them. Bless them all. Its good and its memorable,as is of course the kiss outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris by Doisneau.

Then there is raising the flag at Iwo Jima. So iconic that  Clint Eastwood made a great film about how it was posed and the aftermath. Just as the Times Square picture illustrates the relief and exuberance of a war ending so the flag raising shows the struggle and valour of a war hard won.

One of our great friends author Katie Campbell when I put the question to her, went straight for the burning girl in Vietnam. It has none of the quality of the other photos but  for our generation who were scared and mobilised by the Vietnam war its story had a great effect. As of course did the picture of the South Vietnamese officer shooting his Vietcong prisoner and the poster/picture of Don Mccullin’s traumatised grunt. That last image was on my wall for many years-part of the golden  years of the Sunday Times magazine.

That is, many great historic  and iconic pictures have been taken, usually in dramatic black and white for the once dominant print media,and we all have our favourites. As Alex pointed out Migrant Mother will soon have a double entendre.













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Poor White

Poor White


Sheila lives down the road ,is ninety one, house bound and needs 24/7 care. I spend half an  hour a week with   her. Her carers rotate every two weeks, one of her regular carers is M a 50 plus lady from South Africa, another is  P also an Afrikaans speaker. A little bit a scratching around and I find they are very much part of a mini trend.

Reasonably educated middle class South African ladies who find it worthwhile to spend £700 on an air fare and work for six months as live in carers for £600 a week. M story is typical, her husband’s business went bust, his factory burgled and vandalised he is bust,they were done over in a property deal and have been suing the bank for ten years, her grown up kids  live in America and Australia, blacks get priority in the jobs market and they are barely hanging on. It is a story of endless Dickensian misery.

But  for a variety of politically incorrect reasons she and those on the edge of the South African scrap heap  make ideal live- in full time carers/companions.  Special agencies have been set up to recruit these ladies who have become the last chance  for their families.

An attraction of this work is that there are no live in expenses. But more ,since the misgovernment of South  African  economy since 1994 the rand has gone from 5 to the £1 to 18. This makes earning in the UK and spending in Bloemfontein even more attractive.

But M and P and the 100s  of others doing this work ,six days a week,are given  only a couple hours off a day,usually in a strange  neighbourhood..Those they care for may be cantankerous and difficult,its not a walk in the park They count the days until they go back. And then they return for another six months hard. Its not a great life but they know there is worse.

There are now 80  squatter camps(see link) catering for  400,000 poor whites  in South Africa. A quarter of that tribe now lives in poverty. Traditionally under apartheid the government looked   after the unskilled and unemployed whites. That support has gone. The church and other  charities have tried to fill the gap,but their resources are limited and as the economy nose dives the situation gets worse.

A major problem is that whatever the poverty there is in South Africa’s 4.5m white community there are far worse problems among the 45 million  blacks. We will be seeing a lot more of M and P.

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Second Thoughts

Second Thoughts


Last week the courts decided that the  “human rights” of anti abortion groups  were less important than the “human rights” of those attending abortion clinics. They up held  the decision by Ealing Council to ban protests 100 yards from the local Marie Stopes  clinic. Protesters would cry “Mummy mummy don’t kill me” and throw holy(?) water over those entering. Nice job. In the  States,such is their way, guns and deaths are involved in these pro life(of course you need a fire bomb) protests.

All this came mind as number one daughter was sending scans of will be number one grandson in October. Previously as a liberal/libertarian   I had been unthinkingly pro choice, Now I realised  there was  something more than cutting off cauliflower  heads involved. No more unthinking.

Where human life starts and ends is something that philosophers and lawyers  can bore for the LSE about. But for the man and woman in the street it matters. Do you wreck a marriage by having too many children, do you wreck two lives     by having an unwanted child, does a one night stand become a prison sentence, if we can turn off the life support machine  for a human vegetable near death cant we do the same for an unformed even partially formed foetus-a human vegetable near life?

Having seen pictures of the protesters they look suspiciously like the animal rights  groups.(see link) Veganism has never been more popular. As with so many areas of  social friction the two sides  can no longer talk. The courts have   decided  that they must be 100 yards apart. Rather like rules which coed schools have about keeping the  sexes at bay.

I could have many more thoughts and still be pro choice. But I realise for the many women  that go through this process ( and I know several) its a lot more  than cutting off a vegetable head.  I just hadnt thought.


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Man of Fire

Man of Fire

There has been a lot of discussion about the messages  Trump’s trophy wife is sending out through clothes and her non verbal actions. Is Melania really Joan of Arc, Boadicea, Emily Pankhurst ,a butterfly caught in a wheel or just a bimbo with  barely  a thought in her head, if that.

Few have bothered to analyse what is going on with Phillip May ,the consort ,bed fellow, room mate, partner of our gracious PM,Theresa  . A team of sociologists, psychologists,  consultants various  and general brain boxes have got together to look at what might be  going on. They have ,because they are not middle class, middle aged white men asked to remain anonymous, they know they can be attacked at any time for telling the truth.

“The fact that  Phillip nearly always wears a suit shows that he  doesn’t like working in the City and would really  like to be an estate agent. He only works in the City to try and impress his powerful wife,there is obviously some serious personal/career dislocation. Probably his wife is a mother substitute and he is in awe”

“That he is always smiling shows that he is obviously sad. It shows no natural emotional range. It is  the smile of a clown, He is ashamed of his wife’s complete a)incompetence and b) successful attack on the living standards of the  working class.

“There are times he wears a blue tie, there are times he wears a red,there are are times he doesn’t wear a tie at all. This is totally significant. The tie is a symbol of servitude and status quo acceptance. When he wears the blue he is playing the “trustie”,the red shows a rebellious streak. When he doesnt wear a tie he is dreaming of the wide open spaces,maybe a corn field, possibly in the nude without his wife

“There has been some discussion about whether he wears a  vest, string,T  or singlet? It could say something quite crucial about their marriage. String vests usually go with regular behaviour ,like only doing it when there is a R in the month. T shirt may show a macho Marlon Brando complex while a singlet shows a man on  fire

“He is often shown kissing Theresa. This is obviously a cover up for a man going through a sex change. Real men don’t kiss their wives, especially not in public, or it may be a blatant show of Islamaphobia.

At this point the experts looked at their watches, as consultants do, and decided it was time to get down to the pub and the real business of the day,getting drunk and talking rubbish.











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Street Party

Street Party

Now the younger families have taken over we seem to have  a street party every year, complete with closing the street, bunting, barbeques, inflatable jacuzzis,the works. Not to mention races for the kids, fancy dress, dog shows and a tug of war. Wine flows and sausages are sizzled. Oldies and young kids usually disappear in the early evening but the real party goers go on until the early hours. What fun.

This year we  had the added attraction of unveiling the stone commemorating the Festing Four who died 1914-18. I dressed up resident cartoon character Mr Benn ,local Tory  councillor Mike Ryder did the honours. He told the tragic story of his grandfather who was killed on November 10 1918 the day before peace was declared. I reminded that Mavis ,who died five years ago and was well known , had lived all her 89 years in the street would have known the families of the dead as her father had moved to the street to work at the Roehampton Limb  Factory. “That is ,like any village there are connections in Festing not only among the living but with those who have gone before”.( see link)

But how like a village are we? No one is going to live all their lives in Festing Road ever again. It was her parents’ house,she worked locally and  never married.The house was sold at the end to pay for her care

Unlike villagers we only share the convenience store(if that) at the end of the road, and the parties- of which there have  been six in the last ten years. Only just over a third (of the seventy houses)take part in street activities. Twenty six subscribed  for the stone.

Some  are only renting and not staying the usual ten or so years. Some are too old or ill to come out. Some prefer to keep themselves to themselves. One famously said to me “I don’t do street parties”. Some couldn’t care less and  the street is a dormitory from where they get in their cars and go to work and off for the weekends. They are already committed and their hearts are elsewhere. Some on the day have made prior arrangements.

There is a group for whom the street is a stepping stone. They are just waiting for the moment to make the move from Festing terrace to a larger house,they never see the point of getting involved. Ironically for many younger families Festing is their first/starter house and for many oldies such as Viv and I its our last/ downsized house.

But still that leaves  the twenty plus  houses and their hundred inhabitants oldies,single parents, couples, young families who enjoy the   idea that they know their neighbours, do things together and live somewhere special. What a party we had.


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Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

The child bride was worried .I was leaving the heartlands and going North-to Walthamstow. Had I water,a sun hat, any idea? Trevor once a chain smoking pr smoothie had gone wild and native and suggested a walk around Walthamstow Wetlands. Where?

OK down these streets a man must go. A bag was packed, a will written, tender kisses passed. The Victoria Line dropped us off at Tottenham Hale-gateway to Stansted-the poormans Heathrow.

Now we were on our own. Walthamstow (place where guests are welcome?)is not like Putney, here high rise developments are dominant and diversity is in action. But hey,we crossed the River Lea navigation canal which gave the feel of graceful green living near warehouses and pylons. A couple of cyclists looked up and gave us the thumbs up, were we in France?

But soon we were at the Wetlands.  No charge .13 Miles of  paths  around 500 acres of reservoirs. A few school kids,one or two fishermen, one or two sun bathers, but basically alone in beautiful space and yet in the city. There was  something strange, naughty, secret about the experience. It made me look over  my shoulder. The water shimmered, it would share  the treasure with only the chosen ones,for now.

In the distance Canary Wharf watched, nearer church spires and towers, the cranes of soon to built blocks gave warning, closer herons, geese various, swans, ducks ,egrets swam,flew  and  scavenged on the banks. These were not the pampered birds of Hyde Park or  Barnes ,these were the real thing.

The sun shone and the city fell away. Reeds rippled, mature trees gently swayed,we saw an egret  nesting area, we saw some Brent geese battling over territory. Soon desirable, high rise apartments will  look over this strange paradise, soon it will be on the map but that day it was a secret enjoyed by very few and  even Friday lunch at the Ferry Man was  good, cheap and  shared by barely a handful..

There is a rose in Spanish Harlem and a wonderful wetlands in Walthamstow.



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