A general threat requires a united response!

The weathermen warn that we are about to receive more rain in the next 48 hours than we received during the whole of July. Ye Gods! We can only hope that this proves to be another false prophesy, but this morning we were taking no chances and the hens were cleaned out at Usian Bolt speed. By the time we breathlessly reached the hut for breakfast the sun was out and the skies a brilliant blue. As people with horse-backing prowess akin to that of Eddie the Eagle we are in no position to criticise the forecasting ability of others, but there are moments when we wonder if Albert’s seaweed is not an equally reliable guide to that of the descendants of Mr Fish.

But either way we were all cheered by a report called ‘Cancer: Then and Now’ published yesterday by Macmillan Cancer Support. It tells us that almost half (49.8 per cent) of all cancer patients were now expected to survive ten years or more after diagnosis, compared to 24 per cent in 1971. It adds that more than 170,000 people are alive today despite being diagnosed with cancer more than 25 years ago. Experts quoted say that survival rates have shot up due to earlier diagnosis through screening programmes, advances in diagnostic tools and better treatment.

But sadly the battle is far from won. Cancer continues to be a devastating diagnosis and one that affects a person long after treatment is finished. It is no longer necessarily life-ending but it is so often life-changing. And given the rapidly increasing population the prediction is that the number of people living with cancer is set to increase from 2.5 million to four million by 2035. It is surely time for government to ask itself why the UK percentage of GDP allocated to health services is so much lower than that of countries such as Germany and France, where recovery rates from cancer are even more impressive.

We codgers are ostrich-like and in no time at all had switched our attention to another leading story of the day. But in many ways it is similar for terrorism is beginning to represent a cancer in our midst. This morning Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, has warned that a terrorist attack here is now a matter of “when, not if”. He goes on to say that being an island makes it infinitely more difficult for attackers to obtain the assault-type weapons used in the recent outrages in mainland Europe. And British security forces are thwarting terrorist plots on a regular basis.

The number of firearms officers in the capital has been increased by 600 to bring the total up to 2,800. He rightly pays tribute to officers who volunteer for a role which involves telling the public to “Run, hide, tell” whilst running in the opposite direction. Like the rest of us these officers have families and are as attached to living as we are, but they stand ready to do this for each and every one of us. But they cannot succeed in isolation.

Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley followed up Sir Bernard’s words by emphasising that co-operation between the police and the public is Britain’s “greatest advantage” in the fight against terrorism. Every day over 3,600 reports of suspicious activity are received by the police – proof positive of the old adage about “communities defeating terrorism”. And if every citizen reported any unusual or seemingly threatening behaviour that defeat would become a total reality. Every enemy within has a neighbour.

Unfortunately, as with cancer, government has played a negative role. Police numbers have been cut drastically and there are now far fewer bobbies on the beat to provide easy-access contact. And civil liberties groups continue to campaign about the implications of increased surveillance. Perhaps both should take another look at those horrifying pictures of dead and maimed innocents lying on Paris streets after madmen sought paradise in the blood of others.

But we can either spend our days bemoaning government inaction, political correctness and the rest, or we can resolve this day to get involved. We can volunteer to work for cancer charities, and we can keep our eyes open as we move around. And that includes our ethnic communities – this is no time for a misplaced sense of loyalty.

By now the sun was beating through the hut windows and, after an inevitable comment from Albert about Michael Fish, we discarded our wellies and headed out to collect the eggs.

QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” What a child doesn’t receive he can seldom later give”…. P.D.James.

Leytonstone knife attacker sentenced to life

Muhiddin Mire, who has a severe mental health disorder, will serve a minimum of eight and a half years

A mentally ill taxi driver who cut the throat of a stranger at a London tube station has been given a life sentence with a minimum term of eight and a half years after a judge concluded the attacker was motivated by Islamic extremism.

Muhiddin Mire, 30, who has paranoid schizophrenia, told police the rampage in December 2015 was an act of revenge for coalition airstrikes in Syria, which the UK government had voted to support three days previously.

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The true cost of poverty !

Welcome to August. At least it wasn’t raining as we arrived at the allotments, but the feeling that summer is passing us by grows by the week. Having seen the forecast for the next few weeks we consoled ourselves with the thought that September can be the perfect time for holidays, but out wretched Monday morning inner voices responded with pigs might fly.

But never mind, it is harvest time here. Our Epicure potatoes have yielded a record crop, our sunflowers are reaching for heaven and the runner beans are longer than Albert’s arms and show every sign of reaching normal lengths. It all prompts us to believe that, given a little effort, man can still fight back against the downward trend in nature’s bounty.

In this regard we drew encouragement from news reaching us from friends in Colchester. The Blackwater estuary has had an oyster fishery since Roman times, but numbers have dropped so badly that catching them has been banned. The devastating decline is due to overfishing and pollution, causing an astonishing 95 per cent reduction in numbers. Determined to fight back fishermen and local conservation groups have teamed up to seek ways of restoring the species, and have just released 25,000 farmed adult shellfish and the plan is to leave them to spawn and keep spawning. It will be their progeny that hopefully will enable the oyster ecosystem to eventually be restored.

Our hope is that initiatives such as this will inspire others. And in terms of just marine life they are badly needed. Research published by the University of Palermo reveals that fish spawning rates are being hit as rising levels of CO2 are absorbed by the sea. “Ocean acidification” is significantly reducing the rate at which monogamous fish couples produce sperm and eggs – known as pair spawning. This wider problem will require a good deal more than local initiatives but maybe, just maybe, our world leaders will pause from their political games to realise that unless we act in unison future generations will have rather more to worry about than borders and national self-interest.

Just words, we hear you say. And you are right. But someone in government needs to begin to consider what is happening in a logical fashion. The verdict of history on our past governments will be damning in that regard. Did Osborne really think through the supposed logic in handing control of our energy supplies to China? Did Blair think through the logical aftermath of invading Iraq? Did Cameron think through the economic implications of talking Britain down in his referendum? Did Hunt think through the potential effects of slashing health and social services? The collective answer is surely no, yet now we hear of honours all round to celebrate failure.

And as gathered in the hut for our breakfast amongst the fertiliser sacks we focused in on a specific example of lack of logical thinking. Without doubt the Brexit vote was heavily influenced by the growing evidence of a great divide in our society with the wealthy becoming obscenely so, and those at the other end of the social scale sliding into poverty. Forget for a moment the moral implications and think instead about the supposed economic logic.

A report published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reveals that poverty is costing Britain £78 billion a year. The effects cost £1,200 for every person, and £1 in every £5 spent on public services is needed because of poverty’s effect on people’s lives. The £78 billion includes £9 billion in lost tax revenue and additional benefits spending to address the symptoms of poverty.

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Foundation, said today: “It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, so many people in our country are being held back by poverty. But poverty doesn’t just hold individuals back, it holds back the economy. Taking real action to tackle the causes of poverty would bring down the huge £78 billion yearly cost of dealing with its effects, and mean more money to create better public services and support the economy”.

There are of course many potential actions. Financing local work initiatives, creating environmental clean-up units, building local health centres …the list is a very long one but there would be just one aim. The creation of near-full employment would reduce that £78 billion by increasing the inward flow of tax, increasing productivity and a general sense of fairness and incentive.

Far greater intellects than ours will have ideas. All we ask is for logical thinking instead of the patronising me-first closed minds of those who supposedly lead us ..to nowhere!
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s precisely the opposite”…J.K.Galbraith.

Food for thought !

It has taken a long time, but we codgers are beginning to learn to be thankful for small mercies. No rain this morning and there were even occasional patches of blue sky up yonder. And all around us as we trooped on to the allotments were the fruits of our labours. Rows of runner beans and broad beans, potatoes in flower, bulging cabbages galore, enough roses to equip a wedding party and of course our daily gift of eggs from our long-suffering Columbian Blacktails. And the big greenhouse is sporting a crop of tomatoes the like of which we have never seen before.

When we eventually settled in the hut we were in a reflective mood, and decided that by way of a change we would share with you our greatest passion. With the exception of Albert we all love poetry. The work of the great poets always provide us with food for thought and often offer a mental haven for troubled souls. Since our two major preoccupations are trees and the ageing process we have selected two favourites:

TREES, by Joyce Kilner

I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest, Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast.

A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray.

A tree that may in summer wear, A nest of robins in her hair.

Upon whose bosom snow has lain, Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree!

ON A CAT, AGEING, BY Alexander Gray

He blinks upon the hearth-rug, And yawns in deep content, Accepting all the comforts, That Providence has sent.

Louder he purrs and louder. In one glad hymn of praise, For all the night’s adventures, For quiet restful days.

Life will go on for ever, With all that cat can wish, warmth and the glad procession, Of fish and milk and fish.

Only-the thought disturbs him, He’s noticed once or twice,The times are somehow breeding, A nimbler race of mice.

Of course you will have your own favourites – we would love to hear from you!

QUOTE FOR TODAY ” They flash upon that inward eye, Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils”…William Wordsworth.

Home Office has no immediate plans to change EU passports

Disappointment for pro-leave camp as home secretary says old-style British passport will not return before Brexit

It was one of the more persistent if minor refrains from the pro-leave camp in the run-up to the EU referendum: an end to the burgundy hegemony of the standard EU passport.

But it seems traditionalists are not – at least for now – going to get their old-style British passports back.

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Judge wrong to bar publication of Ellie Butler ruling

Lord Dyson says reporting will not impact on any potential retrial after application by Guardian and other media organisations

A high court judge was wrong to bar publication of a behind-closed-doors ruling relating to the murder of six-year-old Ellie Butler on the grounds that her father might appeal against his conviction.

Lord Dyson, the master of the rolls and the second most senior judge in England and Wales, said on Friday that Mrs Justice Pauffley had “reached the wrong conclusion” when deciding that the ruling, made in the family court in 2014, should stay under wraps.

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Nuclear white elephant – to be or not to be?

The beaming weather lady on TV assured us last night that today would be one of sunshine and occasional showers. Someone must have handed her the wrong script. By the time we had released the hens from their equivalent of Barrett’s boxes we were wetter than Ted Heath on an off day. The first task was to retire to the hut for a change of trousers and socks, the second was to venture out again and to get those even wetter. And the hens? They simply returned to their coops and watched us attempting to disperse the mini-lakes. Not a good start to a Friday in late July!

Unsurprisingly we were soon back in the hut to recover from all the work we hadn’t done. Mugs of tea all round, and it was time to scan the morning comics. House prices are up – slowly but surely the post-Brexit prophesies of our departed dear leader and Gorgeous George are proving as accurate as the weather forecasts. More predictable was the news that Southern Rail is to stage a week-long strike which given the standard of service usually on offer will probably represent little change. Even more predictable is the news that hospitals, having been ordered by the Quality Care Commission to increase their nurse numbers to safe levels have now been ordered to dispense with their services to avoid bankruptcy. Our readers in Germany and France may wonder why the UK spending on healthcare expressed as a percentage of GDP is 20 per cent lower than theirs, but we uncomplaining Brits can only shrug.

But the morning’s greatest mystery concerns the white elephant in Somerset. Our departed heroes assured us that a Brexit vote would lead to the French and Chinese backers for the UK’s first nuclear power plant for a generation – one of the largest infrastructure projects in British history – withdrawing. Yesterday both announced their readiness to proceed and arrangements were made for a celebratory signing of documents. Within less than an hour the British government blinked and the champagne was back on ice.

Why? It could just be because experts have decided that the project is unmanageably vast, technically flawed, likely to run into construction delays and, most important of all, terrible value for money. So why are the sponsors happy to proceed?

Well, for the French government (which owns most of the energy giant EDF) the politically-loaded project is too big to be dropped, too important to France’s own challenged nuclear industry. David Cameron also agreed to compensate EDF for building the plant at a rate three times the current wholesale price of electricity, for 35 years. For China, whose state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation will fund and part-own the power station, Hinckley Point is geopolitically valuable. A loss-leading foreign infrastructure project that gives Beijing a foothold in Britain’s energy market.

But wherever you stand on nuclear power, Hinckley Point C is worrying. Similar levels of investment would transform our renewables technology or industrial energy efficiency – dramatically cutting the demand for electricity. If Hinckley goes ahead on the Cameron terms it could damage EDF, already suffering an internal revolt from managers appalled at the risks involved. It would certainly be punitive to the British Exchequer and public, who would face rising energy bills; and it would leech at the French state finances.

For most of us the technical detail is beyond comprehension. For months now experts have lined up to warn that this type of construction is uniquely complex and likely to take many years longer than suggested. Others have warned of safety dangers such as radioactive particles escaping into the surroundings and the ‘time bomb’ of waste, yet more of vast cost overruns. And ministers now departed constantly replied that the lights will go out by 2025.

We can only pray that our new government will quickly sort out this unholy mess. Heaven forbid that it in some way becomes tangled up in the Brexit negotiations which seem likely to take longer than Hadrian took with his wall. Perhaps canny speculators should invest in candle-making? Or is that a premature judgement on the canny Mrs May?
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Hinckley is a very, very expensive power station, even by nuclear standards. But it’s a bit like Brexit. If it’s happening, let’s make the best of it!”….Peter Atherton, leading analyst and opponent of project.

Newport woman died from ‘side effects’ of contraceptive pill, rules coroner

Case may be referred to medical council after GP dismissed symptoms of pulmonary embolism as back pain

A sales executive died from the side effects of a pill prescribed for acne and as a contraceptive three weeks after her GP advised her to go for a spa day when she complained of pain and shortness of breath, a coroner has ruled.

Business studies graduate Charlotte Foster, 23, was showing symptoms of a pulmonary embolism but was told by the GP that she simply had back pain, the Shropshire coroner, John Ellery, concluded.

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Victorino Chua: ‘angel turned evil’ hospital nurse fails in appeal bid

Nurse who murdered two patients and poisoned others while working in Stockport hospital was jailed for life

A hospital nurse who murdered two patients and poisoned others has failed in a bid to challenge his conviction and sentence.

Victorino Chua was jailed for life with a minimum term of 35 years in May last year after being convicted by a jury at Manchester crown court.

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Research is more than an indulgence!

It is perhaps a measure of our low national self esteem that the emergence of someone called Michel Barnier has caused much head-shaking on high. Appointed by the unelected Jean-Claude Juncker to lead the EU negotiations on Brexit, M Barnier is said to be a “dangerous enemy of Britain”, one who reportedly left Mervyn King “shaking with rage” after the two men met to debate EU Banking regulations. But why the apprehension?

The UK economy is the fifth largest in the world and the latest statistics show that it is in excellent shape, with the growth in manufacturing reaching 2.1% in the last quarter – the best since 1999. We buy from Europe more than it buys from us, and already trade deals with trading giants across the world are opening up. The real leaders in Europe such as Angela Merkel know only too well that their business sectors cannot afford to endanger their UK trade, and have indicated their willingness to negotiate what Theresa May has described as “bespoke” trade agreements.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and with many EU economies heading for collapse we are in a strong negotiating position. Frankly the idea that Mrs Merkel will allow an unknown bureaucrat to start a war of words is a fantasy dreamed up by the media. Better by far to note yesterday’s announcement by drugs giant GSK which is to pump £275m into its three UK manufacturing sites, stating that the UK remains an “attractive location”.

Whilst cleaning out the squabbling hens we quickly dismissed this latest example of twaddle from those who insist on believing that the UK is a backward offshore island dependent for its survival on the former prime minister of Luxembourg. And by the time we assembled in the doughnut and compost-storage hut we had moved on to our favourite subject – research. It never fails to amaze us that so many regard such work as some sort of nerdish indulgence. Not a week passes when some new discovery serves to enrich or enlighten us.

There are several examples today. Remember the ice bucket challenge craze of 2014? Millions filmed themselves squealing as freezing water was tipped over their heads. More than 17 million people uploaded videos to Facebook, urging friends to do the same. £877m was raised and research was funded. Today we learn that it has provided an important breakthrough in the progressive neuro-degenerative disease ALS, better known as motor neurone disease. The discovery of a scientific gene associated with the disease may well lead to new treatment possibilities, and there is a new air of optimism amongst victims and clinicians alike.

Meantime a guillemot has been found on the Scottish Isle of Canna 8 years after it was first ringed. The bird was originally ringed on the Inner Hebridean island in 1979 and was recently retrapped by naturalists from the National Trust for Scotland’s Canna ringing team. It is an incredible discovery. The birds live in a particularly challenging environment and normally spent the winter at sea. Despite this the old bird was found to be in “better physical shape that many of the researchers of similar age”. There are lessons to be learned here!

Our personal favourite involves archaeology. The new ability to capture unrecognised archaeological sites from the air is offering a new understanding of Britain’s history. Many of the new locations are only spotted as the result of drying soil during summer which reveals zig-zag traces of buildings and fortifications beneath farmland and parks that are almost impossible to spot from ground level. Buried remains hold more moisture than the surrounding undisturbed soil. As a result plants or soil above the remains create a darker area in contrast to the parched crops or earth either side.

And the discoveries are pouring forth. The latest involves the discovery of a circular pattern in a field in Hornsea, East Yorkshire. This led to its identification as the site of a rare neolithic henge, or standing circle, which was reused as a later Bronze Age settlement. Such is the importance of this discovery that it has now been designated a scheduled monument. Another find has been crop marks which show elongated capsule shaped enclosures in Stoke Hammond, Buckinghamshire. The enclosures have proved to be neolithic mortuaries for the dead prior to burial.

No, research is not an indulgence. It can teach us about our ancestors and the lessons to be learned from them. It can lead to solutions to problems and afflictions that for so long have seemed too complex and foreboding. And it can out into perspective the supposed threat of an institution that has existed, by comparison, for little more than the blink of an eye.
QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Finance is the art of passing money from hand to hand until it finally disappears”…Robert W Sarnoff.