Thursday, 9 February 2017

Falling Angels


Comrades of physicians,

More useful than a priest they stand

Bound by paperwork, short on hands,

Rarely ever short on caring,

Just drained of energy and sleep.

Male or female, angels are androgynous;

Wingless yet celestial:

A nurse is forever a nurse.

Yet beneath the prowling politician’s mask,

Hidden by their ‘caring’ camouflage

Dark hearts are lurking on the hustings

Electioneering evil, their moneyed masquerade

A catalogue of flawed belief.

Such are the methods of the City thief;

A conviction that all human souls

Are up for sale.

If every man and woman has their price,

Minister, investor, tell me this:

How do you privatise a nurse’s mind?

Where is your dividing line

Between profit and compassion?

From their wee small hours on darkened wards,

Let the busy, silent nurses speak.

Whilst corks pop from your Bollinger,

I collect the bedpans, whilst you wallow

In some shareholding haze

That gilded glade where profit blooms

Whilst I push trolley loads of pain

Into the healing, sterile rooms

Where lives will hang upon the straining thread

Of your insatiable greed.

And as you scheme and calculate

To tabulate my fiscal worth,

I still dispense thin oxygen of hope

I work where time is tight with saline drips

A catheter, syringe.

And as my long shift ends I wonder;

To my aid, what will you bring?

Survival of the richest,

not treatment of the sickest?

Will you let me do my job,

Will you grant me any hope?

And when the time arrives for you

To occupy a bed,

Will your profits  help me cope?

Don’t think your cash can purchase nursing

Forget the market

And its narcotic rush

The angels aren’t for falling,

No matter how you push.

Thursday, 26 January 2017


As Old As the Hills
Reflections on being a codger

I remember a day, perhaps 50 or more years ago. A hot day in summer, when I was between ships, working ashore in the building trade to earn a few extra pounds. Unskilled work was abundant then.

It you were fit and strong, could handle a pick and shovel or shoulder a bag of hot cement, most firms would employ you. It was sweaty, honest work after which cold beer tasted all the better and restful sleep was guaranteed. For the first 15 years of my post-school, working life, I did my share of it. In those days digging footing trenches for building a house wasn’t done with a JCB. Manual labour was the way; the trusty spade, the wheelbarrow. On that day, I remember the foreman standing over us, puffing on his briar pipe, telling us to put our backs into it. It didn’t annoy me, because I felt so strong, virile and invincible that I dug into that grey clay with even more vigour. I thought my energy might last forever. I was a human machine primed, lubricated for constant action. How foolish that notion seems now.

   Time for reflection. On the other hand, you might call it navel gazing. The moment has undoubtedly arrived; just two months away from 74 and I’ve finally had to surrender to taking an afternoon nap. I know this is the kind of thing the laid-back Spanish do, the siesta,
and much of my experience visiting UK OAP care homes has proved that for the inmates, the challenge and physical strain of getting through a sandwich and a Viennese whirl at lunch would usually result in a comatose two hours in a Shackleton’s chair (remember them?) interrupted only by afternoon tea and a biscuit.

But now, even though I still have all my own hair and teeth, I too am an ‘Old Age Pensioner’. I’m one of today’s 65+ group of the early 21st century who grew up with rock’n’roll. In the immediate post war years we were a ‘marketing opportunity’ - the first real ‘teenagers’. The generation of ‘oldies’ before us are dying off. They were the ones who went through the war. I was born in April 1943 with a vague infant memory of the Luftwaffe over Hull.
The way we were - a marketing opportunity with disposable income

The older generation who braved the shrapnel passed into peacetime loving Glenn Miller, the clunky Billy Cotton Band Show and dreary post-war BBC radio shows. Radio to them was ‘The Organist Entertains’ and the anodyne insipidity of ‘Sing Something Simple’, a Sunday teatime regular of such stultifying tedium it made you realise why the Lord’s Day Observance Society still had bombed-out Britain by the throat. But we, the rockers, weaned on Elvis, Little Richard and Lonnie Donegan, still imagined, even by the 1990s that we might well live forever, because our culture appeared as immortal as Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks or Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On LP.

If my memory serves me well, much of what you could do physically at 20 could still be managed in your 40s. Add three decades and the situation changes. I did try going to a gym once to tighten myself up, but found the experience highly distasteful. It was full of preening narcissists and the vinyl upholstery on muscle-punishment machinery and bench presses always seemed to have a patina of some would-be Schwarzenegger’s sweat on it.
another sweaty narcissist ...
I swam 50 lengths a day in my late 50s and early 60s and that eventually informed me that when all those abdominal muscles you thought were indestructible pack in, they express their weariness by giving you a hernia, and with hernias there’s a choice from inguinal to umbilical and beyond (check this out) and some, as I’ve discovered after three bouts of surgery, can all but finish you off.
I tried riding a bike but that was exhausting. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you can still have sex, because you can do it in a more leisurely fashion horizontally in bed. (I should be so lucky...) You can even go up and down in straight lines cutting your grass with a lawnmower and push the wheelie bins out or chop firewood.  But past 60, other things kick in. Then there’s the strong possibility of arthritis. This seems to favour the knee joints and coincides with that time when you’re just about to ‘enjoy’ retirement. Hips are another danger area. If, like me, you’re borderline obese and love your food, you’ll also find that whereas ten years ago you could walk two or three miles and feel a sense of achievement, now a half mile walk to pick up your newspaper demands an immediate nap when you get home. Smoking? Yes, I’ve puffed my way through many an ounce of Golden Virginia and packs of cigars; stopping’s easy. I’ve stopped loads of times. As I write this, due to my current disabling injury I haven’t smoked for 26 days. Will I smoke again? Put me in the vicinity of a couple of pints of decent bitter and I’ll no doubt surrender to the weed. It’s an evil, pernicious, death dealing carcinogen and indulgence in it is like Russian Roulette. Yet I’ve been stupid enough to do it.

The sad thing is that all these ailments (and for many victims, more serious ones) is that they don’t just ‘come and go’ when you enter your 70s. They come and stay. You can, as I do, take enough vitamin pills each morning to make your guts rattle like a pair of maracas, and eat your ‘five a day’ healthy foods, but if your number’s up, that’s it. You wonder what’s next; dementia? Alzheimer’s? Anything’s possible. 

There is no secret, spiritual palliative to aging. Your body’s like an automobile. Think back to all those shiny new cars 20+ years ago you once proudly polished and sat in. Where are they now? Big ends, carburettors, gearboxes, brake linings … all worn out and rusting at the bottom of some dystopian metallic death mountain in a distant scrap yard. They’re a fine analogy for the human body.
Yet I can only speak as a man. Women are much tougher than us. When you consider childbearing - nine months of carrying an infant in your body, then the pain of birth itself, the struggle to maintain a position and dignity in an unequal, male-orientated world, women deserve medals and a double pension.
So, what do us old folk do to keep ticking over? We try to be useful. Our experience is sometimes valuable. Those who can, turn to daily creativity. This blog is an example. Those with extended families are stimulated by the love of grandchildren. Others dance, try to exercise, read, study, expand their knowledge. Some of us remain pointlessly political; anger, said Johnny Rotten, is an energy.
And if we continue to annoy some sections of the younger generation, they should think on; we’re dying, we’ll soon be out of your way, we'll stop drawing that pension which annoys you so much (yet which, like the NHS, we've been paying for throughout our working lives) and then, guess what? You too will get old, creaky and cantankerous and believe me, kids, it ain’t no fun.

The Inauguration of Donald Trump: The Daily Show

Wednesday, 18 January 2017



Mention the name Lembit Öpik these days, and this ex- Liberal Democrat  MP for Montgomeryshire usually conjures up an erogenous image of his dalliance with Rumanian pop tarts  the Cheeky Girls.
But hang on. Lembit’s granddad was into celestial bodies of a different nature, and he’s a link, albeit a tenuous  one, in the more humorous annals of ufology. (Yes, honest, they do exist).
Lembit’s grandfather was none other than astronomer Ernst Öpik, who left Estonia in WW2 to settle in Ireland.
Ernst Opik
He was based at Armagh Observatory, where he worked with none other than the Sky at Night’s monocled, high-trousered space oddity, Patrick Moore.  In 1922, long before space probes, Ernst predicted correctly the frequency of Martian craters. Ten years later he came up with a ground-breaking postulation that comets originated in a cloud orbiting far beyond the orbit of Pluto. Today this cloud is called the Öpik-Oort Cloud in his honour, and the asteroid 2099 Öpik is named after him. The crater Öpik on the Martian moon Phobos bears his name.

    As well as his interest in good time Rumanian girls, grandson Lembit is well known for his enthusiasm for searching for asteroids that may collide with the Earth. However, his grandfather holds another distinction. He seems to be the inspiration for a fictitious stargazer by the name of Dr. Egon Spünraas, created by Ernst’s Armagh colleague, Patrick Moore. Let the fun begin.

    In a Maida Vale bedsit one tranquil night in 1954, the 35 year old tenant was washing his dishes[1]. What happened next was enough to crack a cup and saucer, as a disembodied voice told him

     "Prepare yourself! You are to become the voice of the Interplanetary Parliament." A week later, with the bedsit’s doors locked and presumably with the pots all washed, an uninvited stranger materialised in the room. He was without a name, but known to be a ‘world famous’ swami, and he was the harbinger of a new life beyond the tea towel for the new interplanetary spokesman. Four decades later, a long way from Maida Vale, with no need of Fairy liquid, this ‘chosen one’ would be known as Sir George King, O.S.P., Ph.D., Th.D., D.D., Metropolitan Archbishop of the Aetherius Churches, Prince Grand Master of the Mystical Order of St. Peter, and HRH Prince De George King De Santori.
Impressive nomenclature for a former taxi driver whose early oratorical prowess was gained by sermonizing  his passengers in the back of his cab on their lack of spirituality .

    Fortunately, George King (1919–1997) had a head start to equip him for his inter-galactic role. He’d immersed himself in orthodox Christianity, explored spiritual healing, yoga and psychic phenomena. Apparently, the voice he’d heard that night was that of a 3,500-year-old Venusian known as ‘the Master Aetherius’.  King’s assigned mission was to tell the world to pull its socks up, make love, not war, and take better care of planet Earth. Soon, after a series of  successful speeches at London’s Caxton Hall, he had a growing army of followers. The Aetherius Society gradually became a global religion, with offices from London to Los Angeles, with its own journal, The Cosmic Voice. King would speak to his disciples whilst being ‘channelled’ by extra-terrestrial beings, known as Mars Sector 6, Jupiter Sector 92, Saint Goo-ling, and even Jesus Christ himself.  Scientific progress and the negative feedback on the inhabitable conditions on Venus, Mars and Jupiter from US and Russian  space missions could not dent Aetherian belief that these barren worlds were populated by superior advanced beings of high intelligence and supreme power.

    Yet if you can’t puncture irrational faith with practical science, you can always try humour. Laugh, and the world laughs with you, as the saying goes, unless, perhaps, that world is Mars or Venus. Before long, tongues firmly in cheeks, bona fide astronomers were on King’s case, with some hilarious results. Pre-Brians May and Cox, they included Britain’s most popular TV stargazer. Enter Patrick Moore, the man with a comical plan.

    The mid 1950s were Ufology’s heyday. Translated into 12 languages, Flying Saucers Have Landed, by George Adamski and Desmond Leslie was a massive best seller.
But it had the advantage of silvery saucers landing in a California desert, where the wise and likeable fantasist Adamski met with a blonde, jump-suited Abba-esque Venusian who communicated telepathically, and, oddly enough, with his footprints, casts of which George duly took. After all, one
 should never go into a desert without a bag of plaster of Paris. What Britain needed was its own Adamski, and proof that the long-haired blonde aliens didn’t mind a touch of good old British fog and drizzle. So, as George King was dealing with his new role as dictated from Venus and Mars, in London the publishers Frederick Muller got on the Adamski space wagon with an exciting scoop, Flying Saucer from Mars by Cedric Allingham.

     Mr. Allingham opened with a run-down of what UFO literature existed at the time, then launched into his captivating story of his close encounter of the third kind. He’d been ambling peacefully along in a remote corner of Scotland when a flying saucer landed close by. Out stepped the pilot, and Allingham engaged him in conversation, using sign language. It transpired that the Highland-hopping space jockey was a Martian. As with Adamski and Leslie’s offering, Flying Saucer from Mars had a collection of photographs, which, unfortunately, weren’t up to Californian standards. The pictures, bearing similarities to Adamski’s, were out of focus, and one blurry shot showed the ufonaut walking away, with his craft out of the frame. The saucer had the characteristic dome, but this had what looked like a radio aerial vertically poking from it, (or, as some sceptics suggested, a wire to suspend it from). Never the less, we had a UK close encounter, and whereas Allingham’s writing style lacked some of Desmond Leslie’s florid flow, the writing was good enough and the story drew the attention of the press.

   However, Cedric Allingham seemed to be a bit of a mystery man. The science correspondent for the Sunday Express, Robert Chapman, was keen to interview the author, yet no one was able to track him down. Yet he did make one public appearance. It took place at a UFO club in Tunbridge Wells. The chairman of the club was none other than one of ufology’s favourite pillars of authenticity, a true believer, Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding. Dowding was at Allingham’s one and only talk, and sitting alongside him was the man who had tutored the air chief’s stepson; astronomer Patrick Moore. Anyone present at that talk was privileged, because Allingham vanished into history when it was reported that he had died from tuberculosis in a Swiss sanatorium.

   Robert Chapman did not believe this. He thought there was something fishy about the project, saying:

      “In my view, there is a strong likelihood that ‘Cedric Allingham’ is alive, in excellent health and far from repentant at having pulled a fast one on thousands of credulous saucerers.” But who was Cedric Allingham?

 In his book[2] A Directory of Discarded Ideas, John Grant wrote:

     “I have good reason to believe that Allingham’s Flying Saucer From Mars was in fact written by a well-known astronomer . . . but have been sworn to secrecy.”  Years later, in 1985, Steuart Campbell and Christopher Allan, a pair of UFO sceptics, had similar thoughts and decided to do some digging. They concluded that ‘Allingham’ at least knew his astronomy, appearing familiar with the works of astronomers like H. Percy Wilkins and Patrick Moore.  He had obviously read the Journals of both the British Astronomical Association and the British Interplanetary Society, neither of which graced the shelves of W. H. Smith. So they checked the membership lists of the BIS and the BAA.  No Allingham.

   Oddly enough, Allingham’s name did crop up several times in various works by Patrick Moore.
Considering Moore’s disdain for anything connected with UFOs, this seemed odd. A further revelation emerged.  A journalist from Oxted in Surrey, Peter Davies, had been engaged to add a little semantic polish to one of Patrick Moore’s early books. Moore was living not far away in East Grinstead. The photographs in Flying Saucer from Mars include one of ‘Allingham’ standing by a telescope in a leafy garden. The garden - in East Grinstead  - and the telescope, were Patrick Moore’s, and the man posing as Allingham is, in fact, Peter Davies, wearing the same disguise he used at the Tunbridge Wells UFO club; a false moustache, horn rimmed glasses - and a false nose. The mercurial Moore never owned up to what seems to have most certainly been a literary hoax, and whatever secret he had he took it with him to the grave. He did issue a warning to anyone accusing him of writing Flying Saucer from Mars that he would sue. Yet he never did. But although Britain’s favourite TV astronomer may have been laughing up his sleeve at Adamski and Leslie with this stunt, his irrepressible pursuit of a jokey hoax was far from quelled. Which will eventually lead us back to Dr. George King, but not before we enjoy a reminder of how Adamski and Leslie were themselves hoaxed in their own blockbuster UFO book. As a softening-up process, a tasty entree to prepare the reader for George Adamski’s main course, Leslie’s quasi-academic style was fairly compelling, although had he been more scientifically rigorous in his research he might well have saved some embarrassment. A good example of his scatter-gun approach was his inclusion of what had become a favourite “ancient UFO” story among the growing celestial crockery brigade. This was the Ampleforth Abbey sighting, said to have occurred way back in 1290. Leslie aims at authenticity by quoting the “original” text from the old monks in Latin, then gives a translation in English. He gives credit for the supply of this edifying nugget to a man with a name one might only expect to see in a black-and-white 1940s British public information film – Mr A. X. Chumley. It tells the story of two Ampleforth monks, Wilfred and John, and their abbot, Henry. They are roasting sheep when the crucial line of the Ampleforth Latin appears, with the sudden announcement: “res grandis, circumcularis argenta, disco quodum had dissimilis” (“Lo! A large round silver thing like a disk flew slowly over them”).

In his assessment for the Condon Report on UFOs for the University of Colorado, Samuel Rosenberg goes into some detail with his incisive dissection of ancient UFO sightings. For example, the Ampleforth Abbey “sighting” morphs bizarrely into the “Byland Abbey Sighting” as subsequent, post-Adamski authors clamber on to the gravy train. Whoever Mr A. X. Chumley was, he certainly had a sense of humour, for as the archivist at Ampleforth would have told Leslie (had he bothered to check the story), the “large round silver thing like a disk” and the rest of the “monks roasting a sheep” yarn turns out to be a joke perpetrated in a letter to The Times on 9 February 1953 – in a scurrilous communication sent in by two Ampleforth schoolboys. They made it all up[3]. Talking of cod Latin inscriptions, Patrick Moore often mentioned a Roman urn on display in a museum, the location of which he never revealed, but he liked to tell us it bore the inscription

Iti sapis potitis andantino ne.
see final footnote

To get a handle on Moore’s impish sense of fun, just try moving the letters around and you’ll soon realise what a wag he was.

   So, UK saucers duly ridiculed, it was time to boldly go where no hoaxer had yet gone, into the peace-loving corral of the Aetherius Society. Once George had his organisation up and running, the Society's journal, Cosmic Voice became essential reading for adepts. In 1957, a series of articles appeared in the journal, all submitted by eminent scientists and physicists from various countries and institutions.  It seemed to readers, and King himself, that the interplanetary communications were being taken seriously. The lofty proclamations channelled through him from Master Aetherius, Mars Sector 6 and Saint Goo-ling (not forgetting Jesus) were having some positive effect, because these academic contributors were taking notice. Mainly foreigners, they had unusual names. They included the eminent astronomy lecturer Dr. Walter Wumpe, PhD., D.Sc., F.R.A.P.C., reporting on the Geophysical Year Programme. Other top academic names lining up to add kudos to Cosmic Voice were Dr. Dominic Fidler, Professor Huttle-Glank[4],  other pillars of scientific academia including N. Ormuss, L Pullar, R. T. Fischall, E. Ratic, Dr. Hotère, Dr. Lupi, and Dr. Waathervan. Completing this list was a certain Egon Spünraas (remember him?) and two Dutch physicists, Drs. Houla and Huiezenass.

     Step forward the cool voice of spirituality, the cult-watching newspaper Psychic Weekly. The paper’s sense of humour was not as overcooked as that of the Master Aetherius - it was still medium rare enough to spot a cosmic joke in all its glory. John Grant’s Directory relates that “when it was rather publicly pointed out to King, in the newspaper Psychic Weekly, that he was perhaps the victim of an L. Pullar, he furiously cracked down on such spurious contributions to knowledge - accusing the British astronomer Patrick Moore, among others, of being the perpetrator of the hoax”.[5]  No doubt Patrick, sides splitting, was polishing his monocle in glee.

   Eventually plain old George King, Interplanetary Parliament Spokesman, needed to sound a little grander, so a Doctorate might do the trick. According to David Barrett, in A Brief Guide to Secret Religions[6], King’s Doctorate came from "the International Theological Seminary of California, a degree mill with no accreditation." The Knighthood came later, (but not, it seems from Buckingham Palace). The Knighthood  was eventually bestowed on him by a certain Prince Robert M.N.G. Bassaraba de Brancovan-Khimchiachvili-Dadiani. The ‘Prince’, according to William Brynk of the New York Sun, “ran a bogus Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta from his faux-marble apartment (filled with equally genuine Louis XV furniture) at 116 Central Park South. If you had a passage fee, he had a gong for you, and hundreds of men and women with more money than sense each paid him up to $30,000 for his phony knighthoods. Prince Robert styled himself an "Imperial and Royal Highness." This is not bad: A Roman Catholic cardinal is merely an eminence. In a program for one of his ceremonies, held at Manhattan's Christ Church, he described himself as "Grand Master, Grand Chancellor, Grand Bailiff, and Grand Prior of the Knights of Malta." This was a few years before the prince vanished after his 2001 indictment for wire fraud.”[7]

     One would assume that Dr. (Sir) George King would have claimed all these expenses from the Interplanetary Parliament’s Bursary.

   Hoaxing the UFO[8], paranormal and psychic community can be fun, yet as this writer can testify, it is dangerous ground. The borderline between an obsession or cult and religion is to say the least hazy. Tread on a true disciple’s toes and you’re in trouble. However forteans, even with our sense of humour intact, want to believe. The question is, however, what exactly is it we want to believe? One has to remember that in the UK, spiritualism is a bona fide religion. Yet ever since the days of Houdini, the hoax and the fraud remain as the sceptic’s weapons, and they are frequently wielded.

   A report by Matt Roper in the Daily Mirror, on 28 October 2005 exposed a few unwelcome revelations concerning the most over-the-top, melodramatic current medium of them all, Liverpool’s Derek Acorah. Dr. Ciaran O’Keeffe, lecturer in the paranormal at Liverpool’s Hope University, was drafted on to Acorah’s TV show Most Haunted as resident parapsychologist. Dr. O’Keeffe, in speaking out, was in danger of committing media suicide, but he believed viewers should be enlightened as to the real nature of Most Haunted. In an attempt to establish whether or not Acorah was acting deceitfully, Dr. O’Keeffe came up with a ruse which he prepared whilst the team were filming at Bodmin Jail (alternatively Bodmin Gaol), an old prison on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. This historic building dates from 1779 and was closed in 1927. He invented a long-dead South African jailer called Kreed Kafer – an anagram of Derek Faker.

   “I wrote the name down and asked another member of the crew to mention it to Derek before filming. I honestly didn’t think Derek would take the bait. But during the filming he actually got possessed by my fictional character!”

O’Keeffe made up another non-existent character for the shoot at Prideaux Place, Cornwall. This time, it was the highwayman Rik Eedles – an anagram of Derek Lies. It didn’t take long for psychic Derek to begin talking to the fictional outlaw. These are just a couple of the hoaxes Acorah fell for. Dr O’Keeffe’s summing up was pretty devastating: “In my professional opinion we’re not dealing with a genuine medium … all we are seeing is showmanship and dramatics.”

   Doug and Dave’s bogus corn circles, YouTube awash with fake UFO footage, phoney ghosts, cold-reading mediums, all these are simply aggravating speed bumps on the fortean highway that takes us over the hill to give us a glimpse of those genuine unexplained mysteries which add zest to our lives.  Yet as the wily old Patrick Moore has demonstrated, there’s nothing wrong with pulling into a lay-by now and again for a good laugh.
is this Cedric Allingham or Peter Davies - and does that look like a false nose?


[1] This version according to the late Dr. Christopher Evans, Cults of Unreason, Harrap, London 1973.
[2] Grant, John, A Directory of Discarded Ideas  Ashgrove Press 1981, Corgi Edition 1983
[3] For more on this comical prank, Anselm Cramer OSB, Archivist, Ampleforth Abbey, gives a good overview at  
[4] Dr. Christopher Evans, in Cults of Unreason, Harrap, London 1973 tells us that Dr. Dominic Fidler’s article entitled Mescaline and Flying Saucers ‘was challenged for scientific inaccuracies by a Professor Huttle-Glank.’
[5] Grant, John, A Directory of Discarded Ideas  Ashgrove Press 1981, Corgi Edition 1983
[6] Barrett, David V. A Brief Guide to Secret Religions: A Complete Guide to Hermetic, Pagan and Esoteric Beliefs
Robinson, London 2011.
[7] WILLIAM BRYK New York Sun Men Who Would Be Kings (Or Knights, or Counts) June 15, 2005
[8] For a classic case of UFO hoaxing, the Warminster Photographs, go to  Experimental UFO Hoaxing. David Simpson

'It is a pis pot, it is, and a tin one.'


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Ants and Elephants


I am 73, typing this with one hand as my broken left arm is hanging limp and useless in its brace at my side. As an elderly Briton, like many of my ilk, I could sometimes be accused of taking healthcare for granted. The idiotic way I ended up in my current state of disability fills me with shame. It involved everything a sensible mature person should have avoided, and the timing was a disgrace. New Year’s Eve, too many beers, some wine, an over-confident ascension of the stairs, slipped footing, a somersault, punished by lying prostrate on the hallway floor in agony, my bloodied face smashed against the wall, unable to move my body. At 2 am on January 1st, as on other days throughout the festive season, I always raise a glass to those dedicated and underpaid operatives in all those industries which cannot simply close down because of Santa Claus or Auld Lang Syne; the police, utility workers, firemen, the forces and especially the thousands who work selflessly as ambulance drivers, paramedics, nurses and doctors. To inflict an extra burden on these due to my own profligate carelessness is something I am not proud of. Thus, whilst more deserving and innocent patients, the genuinely sick  elderly, accident victims and those suffering cardiac arrest filled the NHS work rota on this notable night, I have added to it all by being a thoughtless drunk.

And yet the blue lights and the sirens came, and the kind, patient and compassionate paramedics avoided calling me a stupid old drunk; they gave me dignity and morphine, they carried me with gentle sympathy to hospital, where empathy and benevolence through pain-relieving doctors and nurses continued into the New Year dawn. These often overlooked workers who we only come into contact with via our surgeries or some health problem, are in my opinion representative of the finest vocation anyone can aspire to; the care and comfort of fellow human beings. And they are not by any measure rewarded  adequately for their labours. Compared to the disgusting ‘rewards’ given to bankers, CEOs, (perversely, often for failure) advertising executives and city speculators, they have all the financial kudos and visibility of ants in a herd of elephants.

The media onslaught against our National Health Service is currently at full tilt, presenting us every day with yet more stories of crisis, long  waits in A&E, potential deaths from waiting on trolleys for a bed … it goes on. Yes; the situation is bad. Could it be fixed? Of course it could. A few pence on income tax or National Insurance could do wonders, and if sold properly and sympathetically to the public, it wouldn’t lose any votes. The real reasons for the heroic struggle NHS staff are shouldering today are hidden behind a smokescreen of lies and falsehoods.

Since 2010 the Conservative government has laboured under the long-desired notion that eventually, due to their mandate, they can fulfil their dystopian dream; the dismantling of the NHS, the sell-off of all its assets to Downing Street’s favourite private ‘service suppliers’ such as BUPA, G4S, Capita, ATOS, Serco, Virgin Health etc. and the rapacious insurance industry. Like the Royal Mail, our railways, transport, telecoms, gas and electricity, all of which were once owned by us, the people, Tory MPs (and others) may well secretly regard their privileged parliamentary status as something approaching that of robber barons. The hijacking of public services for conversion into profit centres to be parcelled out to party donors and well-heeled supporters is a disgrace and an insult to morality. Yet it goes on, a covert movement of bean counters and iniquitous lobbyists who will spend more on lunches and soirees in a month than a registered nurse on 12 hour shifts will earn in a year.

Sadly, those of us who see the reality of this avaricious landscape for what it is, the burgeoning kingdom of greed, are a diminishing tribe. We are demeaned as scroungers, lovers of the ‘Nanny State’ and even worse - as socialists.  Only when the benefit of this stubborn human desire to serve our fellows with dedicated care has vanished into the City of London’s financial cyberspace will the nostalgic question be asked;  Whatever happened to our final freedom - to be ill, free of charge?”

Until then, whilst my NHS screams its swansong, I salute it and all those who labour as I sleep to keep it alive.

Sunday, 8 January 2017


How odd the way the stars align and spark events without warning. Yet if that sounds more than a little airy-fairy, it probably is. The way my New Year commenced was little to do with stars or fate; more down to geriatric stupidity. I discarded the 2016 Hogmanay reality of my age - 73 - and swapped it for 23. I drank copious amounts of ale, and at midnight consumed half a bottle of champagne.

At around 1.30 am I tried to stagger upstairs to bed; five steps up I slipped, fell backwards, did a somersault, my head hitting the hallway skirting board, landing flat on my back . It took a few desperate hours for the ambulance to arrive, but when it did the combined anaesthetic of 7 bottles of beer and the champagne  had worn off. The only cure for the agony of my useless broken left arm was morphine. The saintly NHS Paramedics  delivered the painkiller, stopped me from shaking like a leaf, cleaned my bloody head wound and finally transported me to Kings Mill Hospital, where I was X-rayed and fitted with a wrist-to-shoulder cast.

Now I’m feeling very sorry for myself and very worried; there is no neurovascular connection between elbow and wrist. My left arm is useless; only the fingers of the hand work, but I’m typing this one-handed with my right index finger. What now? Will I eventually be able to drive again?  If not then alcohol will have deprived me of the freedom of independent travel. Its early days as yet; suffice it to say this has been one festive season I shall not forget in a hurry … and I can’t play guitar any more. Watching TV is no substitute for creativity. I’ll simply have to become the fastest one-finger typist in history.

I did this to myself, therefore the words of Marcus Aurelius  now apply: The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.