The Aged P

…just toasting and ruminating….

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University Then (1959) And Now (2020)

Eager student with a fellow student- now my lovely wife of 57 years..

In 1959 97% of school leavers didn’t get a sniff at university. Even in my selective state grammar school’s 1952 intake a third left at 15 and another third left at 16. Moreover at the end of sixth form only nine of us went on to uni – that was just 10% of the original intake of eleven plus “winners”. Not forgetting that the bulk of my primary school fellow pupils “failed” the 11+ and went on to secondary modern schools.

That was the stark reality of 1950s England where the concept of “failure” was built into the hurdle race that was the key driver of the education process – never publicly acknowledged, of course, but privately accepted in many quarters with much talk of achievement and “stretching”

A lot has changed since those days. A university place for nearly half of school leavers is now the norm. Of our grandchildren Hannah has recently graduated, Oliver is starting his second year and Pippa has just arrived for her first day. No doubt that the youngest two, Evie and Harry will be wending their way shortly.

All these thoughts welled up as I cast my mind back to September 1959 when I arrived at my Leicester University hall of residence in Oadby.. I was a grammar school boy from a South London working class family whose parents had left school at 14 and had never owned a house or a car but but both were autodidacts who treasured reading and learning and study and encouraged me to make a bid for university.

I suddenly found myself, for the first time in my life amidst a bunch of people I had never met before….some of them even had northern or Welsh accents!!!! Most of us had trickled in during the day. We had our first evening meal then, afterwards, we sat around in the common room. After an initial burst of chatter we all became quiet, lost in our own thoughts. My own mind suddenly wished that I was back home, having tea with my mum and dad in familiar surroundings.

Why the hell, I asked myself, had I got myself involved in all this? I was absolutely homesick.

Then suddenly someone shouted “Let’s all go down to the pub!!!!”

My homesickness instantly evaporated – and never appeared again. I was now a fully fledged university student – the first ever from my family – and I was now going to enjoy it to the full….

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When Wasp Dreams Come True

You know when you have that nightmare where you dream that a giant wasp is crawling over your head and you try to brush it off and it stings your face and it hurts like hell and you cry out and your wife wakes up and says what’s wrong and you say I was dreaming that I had been stung in the face by a wasp and she says does it hurt and you feel your face and there’s no sting and you sheepishly say sorry it was just a dream and she says you shouldn’t have eaten that kebab and turns over to go back to sleep?

Well, that.

Except last night it wasn’t a dream. I really did wake up with a wasp crawling over my head and brushed it off and it stung me in the face and it hurt like hell…….😬😬😬😬

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Getting Ready To Welcome Home A Dad I Couldn’t Remember…..Demob 1945

Mum, dad and me..January 1941

 

I have no specific memory of VE Day itself, partly because I was only four and a half years old at the time and recollection from that age is often difficult to disentangle from imagination.

Dad had been sent to Algeria with the British army in the autumn of 1942 but even before then he had been stationed in various camps all over Britain since after call up in 1940 so, like millions of other young children, home during WW2 was a dad free zone. Throughout those years, however, in Britain, Algeria or, later, Italy, he wrote regularly to mum and always included a note for me, usually a set of funny cartoons.

So, for millions of women like my mum the importance of VE Day was as a sign that their menfolk, after years of separation, would be coming home.

The magic word was “demob”……demobilisation, the release of millions of servicemen from the routines of military life into “civvy street” and the process began just a few weeks after VE Day.
I must have sensed an air of excitement as I was told about daddy coming home.There had been some photos of course plus the little drawings and I knew about daddies from stories and nursery rhymes but otherwise “father” was in reality as strange a concept as the man in the moon.

I don’t remember his actual arrival. But I do have a few mental snapshots of the time the way most of us recall isolated events in our younger days. He must have returned in one of the earlier demob waves because I have a memory of houses up and down our road being decorated with union jacks and red, white and blue bunting and lots of signs saying “Welcome Home….Bill or Jack or Sid”….or in my dad’s case “Eddie”. I also remember my mum’s oldest sister, my maiden aunt (do they exist anymore?) lifting up me onto the wall of our front garden, giving me a small flag to hold and saying to my mum “he’s a flagpole” and them dissolving into laughter and me feeling very proud and important…

Precious memories….

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A Bit Of Cancer Surgery To Liven Up The Coronavirus Lockdown

Had a bit of a break from lockdown with a fun day at East Grinstead a few days ago. The Lovely Mrs P dropped me off at Queen Victoria Hospital at 7.45 for some neck surgery to cut out a bit of cancer. At the car park nurses were electronically testing temperature but it was too cold for an accurate reading so they let us through. Next step was a CT scan to check if I was a CV carrier….apparently QVH is doing that for all surgical procedures. Currently QVH is tagged as a “cold” hospital that will not cater for any Coronavirus cases.

Fortunately I’m not a carrier so straight then to theatre reception, gowned up and into the theatre after an initial chat with the surgeon and anaesthetist who both suggested, because of heart problems, a local rather than a general anaesthetic.

Now QVH, a twenty five minute drive from us, is one of the best in the world for head, neck and facial surgery so who was I to argue.

So I had my neck sliced and cut with a dentist type local plus a sedative feed to keep me comfortable. But I stayed awake and had some good banter with the surgeon and his team. Whenever the cutting became a little too sharp I squeezed the anaesthetist’s hand and she upped the sedative for a moment. Oddly enough the whole process put me at my ease and, as my surgeon said afterwards, a settled patient reduces pressure on the theatre team.

When all was done went back to ward at eleven and enjoyed an NHS Lancashire Hotpot and Apple Crumble at twelve. Because the wards were almost empty I had Prince Charles type attention from the nurses with copious cups of tea and digestive biscuits in between BP takes.
As the local wore off neck felt slightly but not unbearably sore so was able to persuade the staff to give me a box of that scarcest of drugs….the humble paracetamol….lol

Discharged at 3.30 so was able to walk into the car park just when my wife arrived to drive me back home.

As I said to Mr X and his team as I left the theatre I would rather not go through it again but if my neck needed to be sliced and diced I would opt for them every time….

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CORONAVIRUS AND THE RETURN OF THE BRITISH BOFFIN…..

Unlike the rest of us who can bloviate about coronavirus knowing full well that nobody else in the public sphere has to take a blind bit of notice of our Facebook blatherings Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, and chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty bear an unimaginable and unenviable burden of responsibility which few outside the military will ever experience – so anyone who has ever been in a position of authority will understand that being at the top can be a frightening place.

But cometh the hour, cometh the men…

For just when it feels like we’re about to enter full-scale coronavirus panic mode, two quiet doctors enter from the wings – and magically chime with our national, keep-calm-and-carry-on temperament.

Dr Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, are just the kind of modest eggheads we crave. They don’t make a drama out of a crisis; they just quietly get on with doing the right thing, leaving the frantic jazz hands to others.

Because they’re so clever and understated, we trust them. When Dr Whitty quietly lays out the measures needed for the ‘delay’ phase of the crisis – the symptoms to look for; why we should be isolating ourselves for a week if we have them – we see the sense of it.

When Sir Patrick gently explained, on the Today programme, why it was safer to go to the Cheltenham Gold Cup and watch it live than go to a pub and watch on TV, we listen.

Theirs is a respect rooted in intelligence and achievement, as well as their air of quiet, cool command. Chris Whitty, 53, was brought up in Nigeria, where his late father worked for the British Council. Educated at Malvern and Pembroke College, Oxford, he went on to collect four postgraduate degrees. He is an NHS Consultant Physician at University College London Hospitals and the Hospital for Tropical Diseases. He was a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He’s an expert in malaria and Ebola.

Sir Patrick was educated at Truro School and London University and was also a professor (at UCL Medical School). He went on to become head of research and development at the huge pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline. He’s an expert in vascular medicine.

In a world obsessed with celebrities and show-offy Instagram influencers, what a contrast it is when two gentle scientists against their better wishes, take centre-stage.

It’s the return of the boffin, the understated hero, who dominates our attention by not shrieking for it…

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With Trump The UK Telegraph Consistently Goes Pravda..

I have always found it a useful rule of thumb to treat DT articles on American politics as simply agitprop regurgitated from WaPo/NYT via cut/paste. For eight years the US media set aside its critical faculties and acted as Obama’s Palace Guard and DT writers aped that sycophantic style. Throughout 2016 they shifted this devotion to Hillary.

BRS and co totally failed to read the runes during the campaign and their faulty analysis and lazy assumptions got the election wrong

Instead of learning from the mistakes of their shoddy “journalism” they have let their anger fester and used it to drive this systematic anti Trump agenda……so Read more…

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JAZZ HANDS – COULD THEY BE JUST A TINY WEE BIT…..RACIST?

Students at Manchester University have decided that applause and cheers create an unsafe environment for some people because it can be intimidating for students with autism, sensory issues or deafness.

Ms Khan, the union’s liberation and access officer, who proposed the motion at a recent meeting said clapping can “discourage” some from attending democratic events.
So-called “jazz hands”, she said, encouraged an “environment of respect”.
“I think a lot of the time, even in Parliamentary debates, I’ve seen that clapping, whooping, talking over each other, loud noises, encourages an atmosphere that is not as respectful as it could be,” she said.

 

 

But the pic of Emma Sone doing jazz hands did seem to stir a long forgotten memory buried way back in TV Past – The BBC’s Black and White Minstrel Show from the 1970s where white men in blackface danced and sang surrounded by a troupe of pretty white girls, recreating the long established tradition of American minstrel shows.

Although it initially attracted strong audience numbers the basic premise of the show, a stereotype of the child like black man, alternately jolly and sad but without any depth of intellect began to fit less comfortably with the times and in 1978 it was cancelled.

And if there was one image which characterised this patronising  of of the intellectually stunted black man it was this

 

A direct descendant of the nineteenth century image

 

So maybe those Manchester students might be a tad less comfortable if they were aware that they were perpetuating an action that could be considered demeaning to black people and just……racist….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bit of a nuisance – I’ve got cancer….

Well that was a bit of a nuisance. Got referred to East Surrey by GP at end of February. Consultant told me I had neck cancer (relatively rare, apparently) Went into Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead in April for an op. Big but neat scar on my neck and a bit knackered but still compos mentis. .

Just about to start second part of procedure – four weeks of radiotherapy

Keeping calm and carrying on…….

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“Dunkirk” 1958 and 2017….Two Very Different Perspectives

Having seen Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” I remembered that way back in my uni days in Leicester at the end of the 50s I had seen a film with the same title starring John Mills and Bernard Lee (actually it was made in 1958). I couldn’t recall much about it but fortunately it’s on Amazon Prime so a day or so later we watched it on Firestick.

Being nearly sixty years old, of course, some aspects of it are a tad dated. It’s in black and white, some of the scenes are obviously studio bound and the women are either cheerful cockneys or very middle class with cut glass accents. However, at 2 hrs 14 mins the director could take a broader brush approach and not only focus on the beaches (actually Camber Sands) but also set the scene by looking at the events which led up to the evacuation

The story was told through the eyes of three individuals. Bernard Lee (who later played M in the Bond films) was a cynical journalist, John Mills a resourceful army corporal and Richard Attenborough an English factory owner making a handsome living off the Army by manufacturing belt buckles.

Unlike the current film the 1958 production showed how during the period of the “phoney war” of the early months, when there was hardly any fighting most civilians felt disconnected from the war. Government and media were complacent and there was a feeling that, in Chamberlain’s fateful words “Hitler had missed the bus”. By the end of the film, as people flocked to welcome and help the soldiers successfully evacuated from Dunkirk the mood had changed. Many more in Britain felt part of the war.

The film also recognised the actions of the rearguard, those soldiers who were ordered to defend the perimeter to the last man and the last bullet in order to protect the men already on the beaches.

The first half of the film followed the civilians as they volunteered to take their small boats across to Dunkirk and John Mills leading his squad through the countryside to the beach. Thereafter the storyline was closer to the 2017 movie with some significant exceptions.

There was a small medical post in a bar by the front staffed by a handful of doctors and orderlies trying their best to cope under extreme pressure. Eventually the chief is sent orders to evacuate the walking wounded to the ships but to leave the most serious cases to await the German forces. Three volunteers are requested to stay behind with the patients and inevitably face being taken as POWs. They decide to draw lots and one of the three to draw the short straw, when asked his name straw gives a very common Jewish name. Nothing is said but the look on his face conveys a solemn message. If the film had been rooted in the First World War there would have no concern at being a Jewish POW. The 2017 production skirted such issues about the Germans… they were just a faceless “enemy” with no hint of darker forces.

In 1958 the film picked up on a moment when a simple service was held on the beach. Most soldiers of that time were not particularly religious but closeness to danger and death often makes men more conscious of their mortality and the scene showed many of the troops kneeling for the Lord’s Prayer. Maybe by 2017 the film makers felt uncomfortable with the notion of men kneeling in prayer….

We also know that on the beaches at the time there was a feeling that the Luftwaffe appeared to be having a free hand in the skies over Dunkirk without much opposition. In fact the RAF was working very hard further inland to deter enemy planes at quite considerable cost. Bur this didn’t stop many of the soldiers feeling angry that the “Brylcreem Boys” of the RAF had let them down. This was picked up in 1958 when John Mills had to step in when a RAF driver who had got them to the beach was threatened by other soldiers. By 2017 this had been airbrushed out.

But the most glaring omission in the recent movie was something picked up in the original film where, sat on the beach, John Mills describes the whole business as a mess and ask how on earth the Germans had managed to drive Britain to the very edge of defeat in such a short time. Bernard Lee blames it firmly on the “never again” reaction to the bloodshed and suffering of the ’14-’18 war. This had encouraged an ostrich like attitude to the rise of Nazi Germany. Lee said, laconically, that Germany had chosen guns before butter while British politicians and the public had chosen the other way around.

How could any film made in 2017, in the midst of the continuous hand-wringing built into the commemoration of the First World War, dare to even suggest that it was the motif of “never again” that had led to the slaughter of even more millions during WW2?

The 1958 “Dunkirk” came from another country. Almost every adult involved with the film would have been impacted by the 1940 evacuation. Many would have actually had experienced WW2 as soldiers or civilians. Even younger folk like myself would have had memories of family in uniform and stories about the Blitz. But now there is very little connection with those experiences at first hand.

Both films have their strengths and weaknesses. Both are, on balance, artistically sound. But both are also of their moment – and if you want to get closer to how people felt at the time then “Dunkirk” 1958 wins hands down.

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It’s A Bit Rich For Nigel Farage To Dump On Paul Nuttall’s Failure To Win Stoke

It’s now clear that Paul Nuttall made a mistake in allowing himself to be hyped into the Stoke by election, partly by the media and also by Farage/Banks. (Remember that Nigel has never had the cojones to be a candidate in a by election) Paul  should have brushed off the “frit” nonsense and let a local face stand – the result would then have been seen in a different light. At present May is riding a Brexit wave because she is not perceived as a con man like Cameron…which is why the Tories did well in Stoke. What everyone seems to conveniently forget is that Nigel lost at Thanet in 2015 for a similar reason – Tories were nervous about the possibility of a Miliband/Sturgeon majority in the Commons so UKIP were not able to siphon off those crucial votes and Nigel lost by a much larger margin than John Bickley did in the Heywood by election in 2014

Paul’s task is to rebuild the party from the mess left by two years of civil war so that it is ready for the next opportunity. Political energy should be concentrated on the target areas and educating the electorate, using the 2015 manifesto as a framework for policy. Selling this should be a collegiate task using as many voices as possible. This was a disappointment not a defeat. Hysterical overstatements should be avoided. Additionally it should be recalled that Nigel has tried to become an MP several times and always failed  so his implied criticism of Paul was not only untimely but also a tad laughable……..

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