Selling off the silver, and the care home rooms!

You know you are getting old when you have more hair in your ears than in your head. That old gag came to mind this morning when I glanced around at my fellow hen-cleaners. A visitor from Mars would have assumed that earthites’ upper craniums consist of wool, an explanation perhaps for our woolly thinking. It was cold, though mercifully dry, and with the exception of Albert everyone carried evidence of their partners knitting ability. Albert of course espouses such modern creations and bore aloft his usual northern cap, which like him is showing significant signs of wear.

On brass-monkey days such as this conversation is limited to the occasional grunt and expletive until we reach the hut. Low temperatures are clearly the answer to the traditional low productivity of the Brits, and even Sun readers were digging furiously at the latest hole on the main road as we drove in.

Once settled around the fire with our steaming mugs of Yorkshire tea – forgive the commercial but they have taken to sending us complimentary packets – frozen jaw-bones returned to life. We were all intrigued by the apparent national outrage – as expressed by those strange people who devote their time to writing to editors – about Senator John McClain’s claim that the British air strikes on Syria are “insignificant”. Hasn’t he heard the announcement by our dear leader that the British empire is unleashing its mighty force on those who have incurred its displeasure, they cry. Sorry folks, but it is time for a touch of realism.

The new British air strikes are less than 8 per cent of the US ones, and almost equally insignificant by comparison with those of France and the handsome Putin. In the Gulf wars of 1991 and 2003 the US had more than 100,000 troops to our 5,000 to 8,000. In Afghanistan the proportions were even less flattering. Going back to the Second World War and D-Day over 75 per cent of military personnel and ordnance on the Normandy landing were American. You don’t need to be anti-nuclear to wonder why we would be “defenceless” should we decide to rescue the economy by scrapping our handful of Trident submarines. Whether we like it or not we already are without the Americans. Or the EU!

Perhaps the fantasy of our still ruling the waves and much else is being nurtured in the minds of Daily Mail readers by such eminent souls as Liam Fox. Forget about what happened to Werrity, and read what he said in the Commons debate on air strikes. “We must not contract out the security of the UK to our allies”, cried the Fox to roars of ‘hear hears’ from the faithful Little Englanders. At prescisely that moment the Ministry of Defence was relying on contracted-out help from our allies in the form of a French Atlantique 2 maritime patrol/sub-hunting aircraft, needed to find a Russian submarine suspected of being in British waters.

Of course we used to have our own highly capable maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft, in the form of the Nimrod MRA4, to do this sort of thing. But in 2011 the Nimrod fleet was scrapped by the then Defence Secretary who said that the decision recognised the reality of times in which we cannot afford to stand alone. “There will be no going back” said, er, Liam Fox.

But then there are many things that bemuse we codgers. We increasingly feel that we are acting out a national delusion. The ever-growing House of Lords is but one aspect. When we truly ruled the world it was perhaps an undemocratic indulgence we could allow ourselves. But now? We stand alone in the free world by having a second chamber that remains wholly unelected. A possible addition will be the Lib Dem Danny Alexander, who lost his Commons seat at the general election. Yesterday he was summoned to the Palace to be knighted. Why? Because empires have knights in shining armour.

But meantime the new age of privatisation gathers momentum with only the bearded one casting a questioning eye. We are not opposed to the private sector, but we do find vexing the near impossibility of getting satisfaction from such as the water and power suppliers. And BT who have managed to make customer contact more difficult than joining Branson’s Mars mission. But it is the almost daily unnoticed changes that trouble us most.

Today’s example is the move to allow private investors to purchase rooms in UK care homes on a “buy-to-let” basis. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found hundreds of rooms being offered for sale for as much as £90,000. They offer a “guaranteed” rental of around 10 per cent of the cost and a total return of up to 188 per cent over ten years. The investigation focussed particularly on the Yorkshire based MBi group which is registered to run three care homes, and has at least seven more in the pipeline. They offer a 12 percent annual rental income and pledge to buy back the rooms after ten years for a 25 per cent mark-up. Chief Executive Gavin Woodhouse aims to acquire 10,000 beds. It is, he told a seminar, “a means of satisfying a demanding wife, buying the diamonds and fast cars and at some point shaping an exit strategy”.

Bully for him. But has anyone paused to consider the implications for the vulnerable elderly residents? Philip Challinor, of the financial advisers Chatfield, says that he “wouldn’t touch it with barge pole..you don’t get such high returns without high risks”. Former care minister Norman Lamb says that he is concerned “that if you base the future of care on such potentially volatile schemes there could be crashes and knock-on effects for the elderly people who receive that care”.

We are less polite. This stinks to high heaven and is yet another example of essential services being placed in the grubby hands of fortune-hunters. Selling off the silver is one thing, selling out the public interest quite another!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” The returns proposed by such as MBi are excessively optimistic” …. William Laing, Care sector financial expert.
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Southern Health NHS are a national disgrace!

After a day of voluntary work at the Rosemere Cancer Foundation I was back on hen duties this morning. By way of welcome it was raining and Albert was peppering the puddles with references to those who neglect their priorities. But for those in a mood to listen I reported on an inspiring speaker. His name is Mark Davies. He is a bowel cancer survivor who has published a book entitled ‘Saving My Arse’, now available from Amazon at £9.99. For anyone with cancer, or a fear of it, this young chap is a classic example of the power of humour. And beneath the laughter lies a deeper story, one of hope and determination to opt for life rather than survival. if you are stuck for a Christmas present you could do someone a great blessing. No jargon, no advice to live on cabbage and Actimel – this is a recipe for happiness, however high the odds against may be stacked.

I also met people who had travelled down from Cumbria. some of them have just spent days in appalling conditions. One lady recalled wading through thigh-high flood water to help rescue elderly neighbours. Several others wondered just how they would restore their ruined homes. All expressed disgust at cuts made to flood-defence schemes and wondered aloud how it can be that the people who caused the economic crisis can still be drawing bonuses whilst essential public services are being axed at the expense of people who wish for no more that to enjoy the homes and small businesses that they have struggled to create. The reactive visit by our dear leader seemed to have done little to assuage their wrath.

And like the rest of us they are not too happy at the news that the Paris summit on global warming appears to be heading for platitudes. If what is happening now will not convince our so-called world leaders of the overwhelming need to control emissions nothing will. We all know that our own weather is unprecedented, and in other parts of the world very scary developments are taking place. In Ethiopia the natural reservoirs have turned to dust bowls, the Arctic ice caps are disappearing…only a madman would go on choosing to believe other than that we face an environmental crisis of monumental proportions. Yesterday Professor Gail Whiteman, who is at the Paris talks, said that “thanks to climate change, extreme weather is the new normal. The Cumbria floods are a personal reality check”.

But as we gathered in the hut we reflected that many of our fellow countrymen seem happy to believe that there are more important issues to consider. As at last night over 300,000 had signed a petition demanding not that real action be taken before we all need arks, but that Donald Trump be denied entry to our sceptred isle. When Boris declares someone as mad as a hatter we know that he must be, yet vast numbers see this guy as a major threat Would not the more sensible tactic be to simply ignore him, not least because in reality his chance of becoming US president is akin to manna from a vengeful heaven?

Either way my pals were in no mood to dwell on someone even madder than Boris as we settled with our Yorkshire tea. Their shock and horror was directed elsewhere. At Southern health NHS Foundation Trust to be precise. All of us have consistently defended the health service during its near destruction at the hands of Lansley and Hunt, both of whom would run Trump close in a World Idiot tournament. But what has happened at the largest mental health trust in the land is beyond defending.

It appears that the trust failed to investigate the unexpected deaths of more than 1,200 patients with mental health problems or learning difficulties. The findings of a study by audit firm Mazars concluded that some lives are clearly “more important than others”. The report was commissioned by NHS England after an 18-year old man with epilepsy, Connor Sparrowhawk, drowned in a bath following a seizure. Mazars found that only 13 per cent of the unexpected deaths were investigated. Only 0.3 per cent of unexpected deaths of people over 65 who had mental health problems were checked out, and only 1 per cent of unexpected deaths of people with learning difficulties were considered worthy of formal inquiry. The report added that even when investigations were carried out they tended to be poorly done and late, a tendency criticised repeatedly by coroners.

The fact that our mental health and learning difficulty services are underfunded and poor is well documented. But this is even worse. All people are regarded as equal in the eyes of God, but not it seems in the eyes of the Southern Health trust. It has been quick to trot out the usual claptrap about “falling below our usual high standards”. That is not good enough. The chief executive and every senior executive responsible for patient care must go, and without the usual secretive ‘golden handshakes’. They should be banned for life from ever being responsible for the care of anyone.

What these people appear to have presided over is reminiscent of the worst aspects of Victorian Britain. The NHS has no greater devotees than our gang of codgers, but we cannot defend this. We are repelled and disgusted by it and can certainly understand the reaction of the parents of Connor to the casual apology after another independent report found that his death had been “preventable”.

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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” You end up with a sense that these lives are regarded somehow as less important than those of others”….Norman Lamb, former care minister.
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Flooding: ‘Up here in the north-east, we’re just forgotten about’

Storm Desmond washed us out too, say Northumberland residents who feel abandoned by media and government

“There’s been so much on the TV about Cumbria and the north-west – but what about us?” asked Andy Feeley as he helped his brother Ian clear his ruined house in the pretty town of Corbridge, Northumberland. Sodden carpets, muddy sofa cushions and soggy kitchen units were heaped up in the back garden, the shed tipped on its side, tools spewing out on to the grass.

“They kept showing an aerial shot of Carlisle football pitch, but they could just as easily have come here and shown our rugby and cricket pitches under water,” he said on Wednesday, gesturing to the waterlogged fields behind him, where fish were swimming in the car park a day earlier.

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How come the mega-stars know everything?

I shall be brief, as preachers in the chapel of my youth used to say before banging on for a seeming eternity about eternal damnation. But I mean it. By 10.30 am I have to be at one of the many events being staged in the run up to Christmas by the Rosemere Cancer Foundation. Unlike the big national charities this one has no large headquarters in some smart London location. Instead it is based in the cancer treatment centre itself and virtually every pound raised is spent on the latest high-tech equipment not available from NHS funding. Many a patient has reason to thank the Foundation, and I am looking forward to meeting many of them today at a supporter’s rally.

Many of us tire of the flood of Christmas appeals from charities covering every affliction know to man. As we transfer the postman’s load to our recycling bins we tend to comfort ourselves with the thought that this or that nightmare is unlikely to touch our lives. But that isn’t either true or compassionate. It certainly isn’t true of cancer, which will strike some member of every family in the land at some point or other. Two-time world champion Elliot Willis will agree with that.

Elliot was one of the first British athletes in any sport to be selected for next year’s Rio Olympics. He trains alongside 2012 silver medallist Luke Patience in the double-handed Olympic 470 class, and until a few days ago the yachtsmen dreamed of Gold. Suddenly came the news that he has bowel cancer, and priorities have to be re-considered. Here we have a young, very fit man who ticks all those boxes on any health assessment sheet, horrifyingly demonstrating that no one is beyond the grasp of what is still mankind’s greatest scourge. Yes there have been significant improvements in treatments and recovery rates, but the fight must go on.

Meantime back in the fantasy world of politics the character assassination of Jeremy Corbyn continues. I hold no great brief for the bearded one, but I do feel sympathy. If our dear leader really believes that he is “on course to destroy the Labour Party”, why does he and his media buddies devote so much energy to denigrating him? Could it be that they find it hard to come to terms with a conviction politician? Another reason could be the public pledge by Corbyn and his side-kick John McDonnell to use any future Labour government to “break up the media ownership to thwart the dominance of right-wing proprietors”. No prizes for guessing who they have in mind.

Which takes me, only slightly logically, to my final question. How come the mega-stars know everything. Whilst the rest of us often struggle to reach a viewpoint on weighty issues they seem to be in possession of magical intellectual powers. Over just the past few weeks Emma Thompson has announced that drilling for oil in the Arctic is a “monumental act of selfishness and greed”. Fracking? That, announces Dame Vivienne Westwood, is the “worst thing ever”. Press freedom? “Overrated – a bloody nightmare”, announces Alan Partridge. Traitor Edward Snowden? Not a traitor at all, actually a “bastion of free speech against the sinister authoritarian state”, announces Susan Sarandon. Women’s pay inequality? “An absolute blooming disgrace”, announces Emma Watson, presumably basing her knowledge on being Hermione Granger in no less than seven Harry Potter films.

I won’t go on..I have a list longer than an elephant’s trunk. I am not suggesting that because someone has achieved fame by acting or coming up with the brilliant idea of putting safety pins and lots of extra zips, accessorised with dog collars a la Sid Vicious, they shouldn’t be entitled to an opinion. But why does the rest of society eagerly assume that anything they say must be absolute fact?

It will soon be time for New Year Resolutions. Apart from demanding a realistic approach to flood defences, I think I will include shouting ‘shut up’ every time a celeb is wheeled on to The One Show to pronounce on something where their knowledge is akin to that of Baldrick.

See you tomorrow when we codgers, who known nothing about anything, will pronounce on everything!
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Turn off the television. Don’t read the newspapers. It’s all full of what went wrong yesterday” ….Betty Williams. Nobel Prize for Peace, 1976.
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Read this if you dare!

As we cleaned out the squabbling hens this morning we codgers had much to be thankful for. It wasn’t raining, we were spared the horrifying aftermath of Storm Desmond being suffered by our Cumbrian neighbours, and Donald Trump is an American. On the other hand we paused to regret that we were not Premiership managers – Gary Monk of Swansea is the latest to be lined up for the chop but has the “slight consolation” of a £3 million compensation. We genuinely believe that we could cope with hurt pride given a brown envelope containing more than any of us will earn in a lifetime. We also cast covetous eyes in the direction of that champion of the working classes Gordon Brown who has joined the asset managers – bankers to you and us – having clearly decided that if you can’t beat them the best course is to join them.

At least he is spared the fate of all those on the left who were universally condemned for their finger-pointing only to be vindicated long after the reins of power had slipped from their hands. One such is Arthur Scargill. No consolation for him in the shape of ermined robes now adorning such as John Prescott. He presumably must draw consolation from the occasional bout of I-told-you-so. We were reminded of the long-gone bogey man of the Thatcherites when he dared to claim that come 2015 there would not be a single mine left in the United Kingdom. Yesterday the miners at Kellingley Colliery in Scargill’s native Yorkshire completed their final shift and the last UK mine closed.

Of course we all know that burning coal is no longer to be recommended, but the fact remains that a great deal is still consumed here, not least of the processed smokeless variety. And now every piece of what we used to call black gold is shipped in from abroad. Doom mongers, particularly those of the virulent Scargill variety, are seldom heeded but unfortunately they are often right. At the very least they should prise old Arthur out of obscurity and plonk him on the Lord’s benches alongside all the other revolutionaries now littering those ever more crowded places of consolation.

But despite how it may appear we codgers, with the exception of Albert, are not of a gloomy disposition. As we gathered in the hut where last year’s Christmas tree is making its glittering return, we even neglected to discuss the news that November was the dullest on record, with just 36.6 hours of sunshine recorded. Our dear leader is at this very moment leading the global warming summit in Paris and we are confident that all will be well.

Instead we discussed the latest book being circulated amongst us as part of our codger’s library – a low-cost replacement for the state-run versions now being closed by Gorgeous George. I have just taken delivery of the well worn version of ‘Hack Attack’ by Nick Davies. Although I have only reached the fourth chapter I have read enough to heed my pal’s demand that I recommend it to you, dear reader. Read it if you dare. The cover announces that this is the story of how the truth “caught up with Rupert Murdoch”. But it is far more than that.

Nick Davies is an award-winning journalist with the Guardian. His attention initially centred on what appeared to be a minor story when a private investigator and a journalist from the News of the World received short jail sentences for accessing other people’s voicemail messages, principally those of members of the Royal family. Six years later he had discovered an astonishing story of illegal intrusion and corruption on a massive scale. Davies’ account of how Murdoch and his dysfunctional lieutenants ensnared, enslaved, and frightened generations of politicians is blistering. But they were merely the core of the affair. There was attendant police corruption and cover-ups. There was involvement by Downing Street where a former NotW star Andy Coulson had become a confidante of David Cameron, himself a close friend of Rebekah Brooks, another leading light in the Murdoch empire.

I will spare you chapter and verse, not least because I have yet to read the whole work. But it merits your attention for this is a detailed exposure of lies, intimidation and corruption on an unprecedented scale, and one is left with the uneasy feeling that the closure of the News of the World was not the end, the final cleansing salvo. Perhaps the reluctance of the government to implement the Leveson Report tells us more than we imagined. Perhaps many in high places who condoned, even aided, the systematic character assassination of people who believed that the laws of privacy protected them and their families, are still in positions of power.

Nick Davies and those brave enough to help him have given us all cause to think again when we buy tabloid newspapers. They have also prompted all those who have always chosen to believe that our establishment – politicians, police, media, lawyers – is above corruption to think again and to wonder.

Given its significance I shall undoubtedly return to this book. Meantime I leave you with one line. On 18 July, 2003, the day that Dr David Kelly, the weapons expert who supposedly committed suicide after being caught up in the furore over false claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, was found dead in a field the Sunday Telegraph received a fax recording every phone call Kelly had made in the previous eight-week period. On the same day Davies received detailed stories of envelopes of cash handed over to serving police officers.
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QUOTE FOR TODAY: ” Hack Attack is the most important book of the year”…. Tom Stoppard.
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