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The Politics of Inhumanity

August 3, 2017

I will apologise in advance, as this might turn into a rant. In fact, I think the word ‘might’ is an understatement. I must also apologise that this is my first blog post in quite a while.

I am angry. No, I am bloody furious. Seething, and this blog is about the only thing I can do to explain why I am angry.

I had a close friend, to whom I shall refer as K.

K suffered from severe depression and other mental-health conditions for many years. In addition she was diagnosed with agoraphobia and had a few hours a week support from a support worker, as well as regular contact with a Community Psychiatric Nurse and a Psychiatry specialist at her local hospital.

The first obstacle placed in K’s way was in 2016 when she had to apply for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) instead of her Disability Living Allowance. She did exactly as requested, and gathered a shedload of evidence in support of her claim from the professionals who knew her case, and her specific needs, the most. They pointed out that, when she was having a severe depressive episode, she needed someone to physically get her to get dressed, that over the years it had become more and more difficult (and nigh on impossible) for her to leave her little one-bedroom flat (of which more a little later) unless she was accompanied by someone she trusted, and therefore she needed the mobility component.

The result came back – no mobility. They seemed to have totally disregarded the facts as portrayed to them by the medical profession. The medical profession, for God’s sake.

So we decided to appeal. In order to put the most weight behind the appeal, we did out utmost to get K to the appeal in person. This entailed two people (me and her support worker) turning up to get her out of the door, into a taxi, and into the city centre to attend.

I did not go into the appeal, but it transpired that she was asked about her condition with questions such as the following:

“Can you follow a map on Google Maps without leaving your flat?”

Excuse me, but this appears to be totally irrelevant. I am sure you would agree. We weren’t doubting that she was an erudite, intelligent woman, but that she suffered from a severe mental illness to such a degree that she could not leave her flat unless she was accompanied. We left the appeal, with a result being forthcoming within 48 hours. A final decision.

She lost her appeal. In fact, the appeal panel decided that, the fact that she had been practically dragged out of her flat to attend by two people, instead of burying her head under a pillow and refusing to budge due to utter terror, meant that she could in fact get out and about and so was ineligible for any mobility component.

This was the final appeal. There was no recourse unless a legal argument could be found that explained that the process was flawed, which of course it wasn’t.

K’s depression and severe, continuing anxiety meant that, even though she only had a one-bedroom flat and as such was not subject to the universally-reviled Spare Room Subsidy (the hated Bedroom Tax), because she was convinced that, as she was single, she would soon have to be moved to a studio flat after the authorities decided that single people didn’t need a separate bedroom. She would not be swayed and was convinced that this would happen one day soon under the current government.

And so we move to 2017. This government  keeps boasting about how it is investing increased amounts of money to fund mental health care, but this is in fact only half the case. It may be investing the money, but if there are no organisations or no care workers who are available to do the actual supporting, then it doesn’t matter if it’s £5 million or £50 billion. It’s a bloody lie. The organisations that provide the actual day-to-day support for the tens of thousands of troubled individuals rely on everything from lottery grants to private donations to keep functioning. No basic money? Then it doesn’t matter how much a government invests in people who are seriously mentally ill – if there’s nothing to spend it on you’re buggered, eh?

Last week K learned that the organisation that provided her support was to close as it didn’t have the basic funds. She was distraught. Her own individual circumstances, and what she had been through in the past, meant that she would have the maximum amount of funding available, but that there would be nothing available in a practical sense to support her.

K had recently started a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and her support worker would accompany her to the appointments to make sure she got there. K was distraught that she wouldn’t have anyone to go with her, that the government had succeeded in pulling the rug out from under her yet again because of the ludicrous way that the government seems to think it can fund people’s treatment, and then crow about how much money it is spending, even if the people who actually need it cannot spend the money itself.

Within this last week K lost her life. No-one knows exactly how, or why (a post mortem is required), but because she was a very close friend I know of the turmoil and chaos that was caused in this gentle soul’s life as a result of a government that is more concerned with image than a basic understanding of what people actually need.

I would like to meet Jeremy Hunt and discuss this with him. But then again I had best not, as the temptation to throttle him may be a little too strong.


Giving it your all, eh? – My World Cup Blog

June 21, 2014

Words, words, words… they mean so much, don’t they?

It’s seldom I make any kind of extended comment on sporting events, but there are some things that get up my nose (there’s a lot of room up there).

England, surprise, surprise, have been dumped out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup because, simply, they aren’t very good.  Solutions for this are myriad, and I might come up with a suggestion at the end.

I’ve just seen coverage of the England news conference, and am utterly fed up.  There were clips of Messrs Rooney and Hart saying things like ‘we’ve waited for this all our lives’, ‘we’ve been giving it our all’ and various other baseless soundbites.


No, boys, you have not been giving it your all – you’ve been using your position as (supposedly) being among the best players in the world to make money from endorsements and advertising, for everything from razors to mobile phones, mars bars to your new hair.  You regard being part of a national football team as an extra revenue stream.  That applies to all players, not just the two I saw on the TV.

You then say that you think Mr Hodgson is the right man to continue… Well, I may well agree, but you are employees, you are not in any way in a position to judge or pass comment, especially after performing so execrably on the pitch.  Please note, though, that we haven’t said whether you should continue in your jobs.


So where do we go from here?  Well, I think it’s simple.  For many years the England concept has to be to take the eleven best players in the country and put them together on the pitch.  This clearly doesn’t work, and never has done.  Whether it’s trying to fit Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard on the pitch together, or deciding you want to play Rooney in a different position because you want to play someone else in his normal position but think he deserves to be on the pitch anyway.

Don’t pick 11 egos and try to fit them together – pick a team, not necessarily the superstars but 11 players who consistently prove to be effective together.  Then we might get somewhere.

The bell is tolling for GCSE

August 26, 2012

Well, who would have thought that there’d be such an outcry over GCSE this week? Well I did, but I thought there would be more right-wing derision poured on yet another increase in overal A*-C grades- I refuse to call them passes as GCSE was designed with 7 pass grades originally – and then media and successive governments did what they do best when it comes to education, namely to reinforce a culture of failure by labelling those who, even if they have flogged their guts out over two years to get an E, as ‘failures’.

I think we need to take stock after the chaos of the GCSE English language marks and, in true market fashion, sort it out once and for all.


Consider this fact: The exam entry fees for GCSE can cost anything from £20 to £60 per student per subject, meaning that schools spend thousands of pounds every year on exam fees for exams that are often mismarked, and lately seem unfair.


There hasn’t been much concentration on leaving school at 16 in the last 20 years, as the vast majority of students stay on to do further education. You could say, though, that once a student gets the required qualifications to get through to A Level study (or equivalent), they are not needed much any more. Therefore, why not try this system.

Scrap all separate public exams at age 16. This was there will be no grade inflation, no extortionate exam fees, no ritual slating by the press and Mr Gove.

Of course there will have to be something in its place, so why not have a simple certification process, stating that a Year 11 student has reached a required standard in a list of subjects – no externally set exams, no stress, no worries and no Gove on teachers’ backs.


But what in its place, baldie, I hear you ask. Well, it’s simple. For each subject the government, after discussion with subject experts, publishes a set of national standards which would denote suitable attainment for a 16 year old. Schools design their own programmes of study, their own schemes and methods of assessment, knowing what is suitable for their children. Yes, I know what you will say next…


Surely that method is open to abuse? Well, the first thing to dispel is that abuse is rife, as teachers know that if there were any improper activity with regard to subjects that would be ‘it’, career-wise. Secondly there has been chat can be called ‘questionable’ activity in the ‘good old days’ of O Level (just ask anyone who did the dictation exam for languages). 

There is an absolutely foolproof way to make sure that there is no chance of impropriety with regard to assessment – schools will be subject to a moderation visit at any time form the person who is employed centrally to standardise the work to ensure the work meets the ’16+’ standard. At the end of year 11, schols are sent a list of pupils (drawn randomly by govt) and the school sends their work for moderation. Then pupils are simply given a certificate that says ‘Little person has got a 16+ level of education and this is the list of subjects that they have this education in’.


Simple really – comments more than welcome


Sir Blimely – Some answers

May 26, 2012

Today the sun is out and it’s time for frivolity!

Here are some answers to some questions I have been asked over the years. It’s up to you to work out what the questions were:

1)  43 years old

2) Taurus

3) 6 feet 7 inches

4) too much

5) 26 inches

6) size 14

7) Only distantly, but she is not aware of it

8) Divorced

9) 13lb 10oz

10) Twice on tv and once on the radio

11) two – both girls

12) The World According to Garp

13) Goodbye Mr Chips

14) German, French, Spanish and Dutch

15) Not while the train is standing in a station


So what do you think the questions were?

The Blog of my life

May 13, 2012

Well, how often do I do this? This blog post is neither political nor satirical, it’s purely personal. A friend of mine from the mighty Twitter posted about her hero . This has driven me to post about mine – my hero, like hers, is my dad.

Mo was born on 5th November 1933 as the sixth of 8 children. He was the surviving member of a pair of twins, and was a sickly youngster, suffering from Influenza and pneumonia over the years. A wiry and muscular young man, with a thick head of ginger hair. Mo took an apprenticeship as a carpenter witha firm in Tunbridge Wells, and did his military service as a sapper in the Royal Engineers, seeing active service in Malaya and Korea in the 1950s.

He met and married my mum in the 1964 and had 3 sons, of whom I am the youngest. We poddled along as you do, until the wheels started to come off our cosy existence in 1985. It wasn’t a medical matter, but my dad was made redundant from the building firm he worked for. He decided to become a self-employed contractor, and carried on for the next few years.

In 1987 I passed my A Levels and went to University in the beautiful city of Southampton. Dad had started feeling unwell, ever since he had got back off holiday on Guernsey- he and mum had never had a honeymoon and this was the first ever time they could afford a holiday away together. Anyway, he had pains in his stomach, and reluctantly went to see our family GP. I should point out that my dad was a liar when it came to medical matters, and even if he was in agony at home, to outsiders, and that included members of the medical profession, he wasn’t too bad!

Eventually Mo went to a specialist, who recommended that he have scans. In March 1988, six months after falling ill, he had an exploratory op to see what was up. I had never seen my dad in a hospital bed, and burst into floods of tears when I saw him in hospital on that Friday. The surgeons had removed part of his pancreas and the biopsy confirmed the news that we were dreading. Dad had his Chemo and Radiotherapy, and we tried to get on with things. Battles like this are a team effort – we all had to get on and refuse to give up, even though only my dad was suffering.

For the next 18 months (I now know that pancreatic cancer has a poor prognosis, so we didn’t have a bad go at it), Mo carried on as best he could, being polite and civil to neighbours and doctors, but swearing to high heaven inside the house. He was losing weight rapidly, and by August 1989 weighed around 6 stone- this for a man who was 5 foot 10. We had our lighter moments- my brother had an operation that required the services of a district nurse to come daily to change dressings. My Gran lived opposite, and came over one morning saying ‘I see the nurse was late this morning’. A voice thundered out of the downstairs loo- ‘We’ll get her to f*****g well clock in next time shall we?’.

At the end of August 1989 we had a party for all the family. My Uncle Henry died when dad had been ill for 3 months and Uncle Arthur died a year later- the first time I have ever seen my dad cry. This was now one year on and I was off on my travels- off for my year abroad in Germany. He stayed up really late that night, even thought the pain was unbearable- we later found the cancer had spread to his stomach. Once a soldier, always a soldier, he made sure I had cleaned my shoes before I set off. On the Monday morning, he was in great pain but didn’t tell me, he shook me by the hand and wished me all the best- that was the last thing he ever said to me.I suppose he wanted me to carry on, and not to wait around, even though he knew in his heart of hearts that the end was nigh. His elder sister had booked a holiday months in advance, and had told him she didn’t want to go- he told her to bloody well travel, as he didn’t want her to sit around waiting for him to die!

At midday on the Friday 22nd September (it coincided with the bombing of the Royal Marines band at Deal Barracks), I received a phone call at school from my eldest brother. Dad was in hospital – nothing to worry about but the doctor had said that I should be brought home. My mum had booked me on the 7:15pm flight from Dusseldorf to Heathrow (I had never flown before). It was the only flight available and I was to be travelling Club Class!

All I had to do was get to Dusseldorf Airport.

I caught the 2pm train. German trains are renowned for punctuality – well they are when there isn’t a major problem with refugees smuggling themselves across the border! The train was 90 minutes late. I had 2 and a half hours to check in, and 120 miles to cover on a very busy train.

I got on the train and put on my personal stereo – the first song that played was ‘The Living Years’ by Mike and the Mechanics.

That was the longest train journey I have ever endured. Time dragged. I ran across Dusseldorf station and got my connection to the airport. I got to the airport at 7:05.

I finally reached the BA check-in at 7:12, and the staff very kindly let me check-in. I got on the plane, asked a very bewildered lady next to me how to fasten my seatbelt and sat back.

When I arrived at Heathrow I heard my name being paged! It transpired that my brother’s fiancee’s parents had travelled from Eastbourne to Heathrow just to collect me. I greeted them but must admit I said very little during the 55 mile journey to the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells – I didn’t know what to think, didn’t know how I would react, and didn’t know what to expect.

I got to the hospital at 9:15 – Dad was in a coma. I conducted as much of a conversation as I could with my mum and my Uncle Les, whilst trying to keep my composure – I thought I should try and let my dad know I was home. I went home and eventually went to bed, even though I could not sleep.

At a quarter past midnight the nurses went to turn my dad, and he passed away as they were doing it.

Mum came home that night and we didn’t sleep – at 6am we walked the mile and a half to the hospital to pick up the car.

It’s strange – the grieving has diminished a great deal in the nigh-on 23 years since I lost my dad, but it never truly goes. Sometimes I miss the old git, as I fondly refer to him, more than I could tell anyone. He never saw me become a teacher, a husband, a father, and then an ex-husband. Some things he would be proud of, for others he would probably use his most common phrase – ‘you’re a prat, what are you?’. I don’t care one jot – he’s my dad and I will always love him.

Sleep on, Mo, until we meet again. 5th November 1933 – 23rd September 1989

Does the Grand National have a future?

April 15, 2012



The British are supposed to be a nation of animal lovers, aren’t they? Every April there is an event that draws a great amount of publicity and, especially in recent years, negative publicity at that – the Grand National.

Over the years there have been fatalities at Aintree that have drawn our attitudes to such a spectacle into focus. It is the longest race in British racing, at 4 and a half miles, there are 30 fences to be negotiated, fences that are dissimilar from fences at other courses in the country.

In the last 2 years the biggest steeplechase in the country, if not the world, has seen four fatalities. Measures were undertaken this year that sought to lower the risks posed by the race, but obviously they were not enough. A lot of focus in the aftermath of this year’s race is on the fact that Synchronised, a proven quality horse and winner of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, had to be put down after falling during the race, a race before which he unshipped his rider and ran free for a while. The first thing to be mentioned is that any equine fatality is desperately sad, and that the death of the other horse, According to Pete, is equally as tragic. One equine death should not be more important, simply because more people had backed it.


Is Aintree a ‘dangerous racecourse’?

There are, as always, calls for the race to be scrapped as the course is ‘inherently dangerous’. It is challenging course, but is it actually more dangerous than others?

Since 2007 there have been 25 fatalities at Aintree, over the Grand National course and the Mildmay course. That is, of course, 25 too many, but how does it compare?

My local racecourse, Hereford, has seen 20 deaths in the same period. There have been 17 at Ludlow, as well. Nearly every racecourse sees equine fatalities – even the newest course, Ffos Las, has seen 14 deaths since 2009. but Aintree does not have the highest tally – there have been 30 at Market rasen and, sensationally, 40 at Cheltenham. Aintree is the course that attracts the negative attention and comments, due to one set of fences, while the home of National Hunt Racing is focused on to a lesser extent. Admittedly there are more race days at Cheltenham, but Aintree is trying to take steps to reduce the levels of danger to horse and jockey.

My favourite flat racing course, Goodwood, has even seen fatalities – 4 in the last 2 years. A televised race last Summer saw a horse suddenly break down in mid-gallop, and it was heartbreaking to see a horse obviously suffering to such an extent that only one course of action was possible.

Should horseracing be banned?

In the light of the statistics I have mentioned, it could well be suggested, as collateral damage such as the deaths of horses are clearly not acceptable. It would, though, cause a lot more. There are many breeds of horses, but only one races. The Thoroughbred is clearly fragile, with legs and ankles that seem desperately fragile compared to the half tonne of bodyweight that they have to carry, but would you be willing to let it die out as a breed, which is what I am certain would eventually happen.


So what can be done?

Well, it is clear that horseracing overall needs to take steps to reduce the danger to horses to a much greater extent. The current focus is on Aintree and the Grand National, so I will make a few suggestions. I might add that I am merely an occasional racegoer, and not a horseracing industry professional.

  • The number of runners – with the facilities now availiable in terms of training and making horses faster, forty horses charging down the racecourse is clearly too many. As horses fall, more and more loose horses cause distractions, bring down others (as in the case of According to Pete) and are just plain dangerous. If the organisers reduce the field to, say, 25 horses, there will be less risk of interference.
  • ‘Drop’ Fences – The 6th and 9th fences, Becher’s Brook and Valentine’s, have a landing side that is decidedly lower than their take-off side. This is clearly not acceptable any more. The fences in themselves are challenging, so there is no need to make them more so. If Aintree raises the landing side of the fences there will be fewer fallers.
  • Sharp turns – The Canal Turn features a 90 degree turn to the left. Many horses and riders try to cut across the corner so that they do not have to ride round too far. If the right-hand edge of the fence were moved anti-clockwise by 20-30 degrees there would be less of a lurch around and should negate the temptation to cut across the fence causing falls and bringing down other runners, as happened yesterday.



The horseracing industry needs to take urgent steps to minimise the risks to horses and jockeys in races. It isn’t good enough to accept it as ‘an acceptable risk’ – as no injury, to human or equine flesh is acceptable. This needs to be done at all courses. In some ways Aintree should be applauded as it acknowledges that work needs to be done. It is clear, though, that much more needs to be done.

I cannot, of course, guarantee that the suggestions I am making here, and I reiterate I am not a horseracing professional, merely a viewer, will cut the number of incidences of death and injury, but they are a starting point. Horses are beautiful animals, headstrong and stubborn at times and they cannot easily be forced to do things they do not want to (examples of jockeys going over fences without their horse and a horse refusing to leave starting stalls are burned in my memory), and they do need protecting in the industry.

Let’s see what they come up with for next year and judge then.



God Help The Poor

March 31, 2012

I popped into Worcester this afternoon, narrowly avoiding the footpads on the A4103, to drop something off to a gentleman I greatly admire who has a gig in the city tonight. That man is Mike Harding, radio presenter, folk musician and comedian (not actually sure what order to put those in). Mike is referred to as the ‘grandfather of alternative comedy’ and, if you get the chance, you should see him.

Mike also is a songwriter. If ever you get the chance, check out his song ‘Bomber’s Moon’ – it is evocative, haunting and so, so meaningful. The current political climate, with a government that seems to be pandering to the wealthiest in society at the expense of those who struggle, made me think of a song of his from the 1980s, which also features on his ‘Bomber’s Moon’ album. The song is, quite simply, entitled ‘God Help the Poor’.

Going down the road

With a hole in your shoe

Ain’t even got the money

To booze away the blues

Same old story, nothing new

Good help the poor

Got a hole in your coat, a hole in your shirt

Got to wear a scarve to hide the dirt

What you gonna wear to hide the hurt

Oh, God help the poor

For years and years, they kept telling you

“We need you”

Now the only place for you

Is down in the dole office queue

Talk about the thirties, nothing’s changed

Same old people getting screwed again

People at the top saying they’re not to blame, oh

God help the poor

For years and years they kept telling you

“We need you”

Now the only place for you

Is down in the dole office queue

You never was one to shirk a fight

Knew what was wrong, and you knew what was right

Now you’re in the dark

And they’ve turned out the light, oh

God Help the poor

So you’re going down the road with a hole in your shoe

Ain’t even got the money to booze away the blues

Same old story, nothing’s new

God help the poor

God Help the poor

This was written during the Thatcher years. It’s taken a little under two years for David Cameron, with his pet poodle Cleggy, to undo 13 years of history and divide society.

Let’s fight to undo this wreckage

Love and Peace


PS – Here’s ‘Bomber’s Moon’