Dw i ddim ffan grêt o’r haf, mae’n well gen i’r Gaeaf. Yn enwedig, dw i’n mwynhau’r gaeaf pan mae’n bwrw eira. Mae’r eira yn tynnu pob lliw allan o’r tirlun, yn gadael llun monocromatig. Mae bob darn o rwtsh wedi diflannu a dim ond yr amlinelliad o natur yn parhau i fod.
I am not a great fan of summer, I’m more jolly in the time of the holly. Snow hiding the rubbish and painting monochromatic pictures are the joy of the season. In this case a holly tree under snow
It is fair to say I will never be described as saintly; I have never mastered piety, my good works, such as they have been, are mundane, and I too easily slip into my vices. I imagine, that the majority of us, I am better described as a sinner than as a saint. However, over the past year and a half I have developed a saintly aspect, rather small but perfectly formed, I have developed the patience of a saint and I have needed it.
I live and work in a rural, agricultural part of the country where the majority of my neighbours, mainly farmers, voted in favour of Brexit. I tend, like my friends, to have liberal views and to be welcoming of change. I also voted in favour of Brexit. Since the referendum there has been a steady barrage of complaint – “How did you come to make this dreadful mistake ? The area you live in needs EU money. Farming can’t manage without subsidies ?Without the EU illiberal policies will threaten the fabric of our civil society”
Now it is perfectly reasonable that after a vote discussion will continue. I am sure that, had the vote had gone the other way, I would still have argued my cause. But the wilful blindness which refuses to see any shades of grey in an argument is starting to become irksome. The tendency so see every mishap as a consequence of our impending exit from the EU is largely boring. Having kept up with the newspapers, I am sure after we leave, by failing to be part of the European Weather Consortium, we will be prone to worse winters and plagues of frogs. The Guardian and Independent, in particular, now have become almost mirror images of the Daily Mail in their search for hysterical straplines.
This, however, is not the problem. This is just the normal push and shove of political debate and anyone with an IQ adequate to be literate can see this and handle the details appropriately. Where my patience is stretched is peoples’ inability to see the larger issue. Again and again it was stated that people voted for Brexit to “take back control“, some people argued the issue in terms of ‘sovereignty’ others in terms of a ‘democratic deficit’ which had developed over the years. All argued that democracy was less effective in the EU as decision making had become remote and removed from the people. For most people who voted for Brexit this was the single biggest issue – Democracy works when people are involved in it, not otherwise.
Now this is the first stress on my saintly patience. I like others voted to improve democracy but now I am told I voted for lots of other (usually disreputable) reasons and we really need to look again at the vote because we got it wrong. So, just like the Irish after their wrong decision in their first referendum on the Lisbon treaty, we are being encouraged to “do it again but get it right this time“. I am sorry if this sounds harsh, but can these people not see the irony of questioning a referendum that voted for greater democratic involvement and suggesting that the “experts” know better and we better vote again.
The second stress on my saintly demeanour is when we are rebuked for failing to see the financial benefits that the EU gives us and, without which, we would be in dire straits. The maths are easy, the UK is a net contributor to the EU, so we give more in than we get out. Precise figures aside we can decide how to spend this money. It is suggested that this will be better done by bureaucrats in Brussels rather than bureaucrats in London, especially when this argument is played to a Scots or Welsh ear. Why on earth should this be the case ? Apart from having a racist tinge to it, “Those terrible English”, it also seems so improbable. A bureaucrat in London has a shared history and culture with us, he has probably heard of Falkirk and Fishguard, he probably has family members and friends from our area of the world, he may have even had a romance with someone who hailed from our neck of the woods. This bureaucrat might just conceivably be on our side! But even if not we could vote them out if they let us down, something impossible for the politicians making the decisions in Europe.
And finally, there is the stress to me and my sheep. My activities, and my neighbours, are controlled by the Common Agricultural Policy. For over a generation this has set all aspects of agricultural policy in the U.K. – No planning, no development, no vision, no change has started here. Do you know who is the Minister of Agriculture ? (*) When was the last time you heard discussion of our farming policies ? In a rural area, such as where I live, we need to be able to think about agriculture, it is the very stuff of life and not something that can be left to bureaucrats. Especially when the plans these bureaucrats create result in subsidies to Lord Iveagh of £900,000 a year or the poor racehorse owner, Khallid Abdulla Al Saud, getting only £400,000 annually. If public money is going to subsides agriculture we need to democratically control how it is used. This means bringing the control back to the area where the activity occurs and to the people who do the work and know what can and should be done. No-one wants subsidies that allow inappropriate businesses and practices to thrive, we don’t want a repeat of butter mountains nor wine lakes, and we can only avoid this by closer democratic scrutiny and accountability. The same fate that affects my sheep has also affected the fish through the Common Fisheries Policy and many other areas of industry.
Tony Benn was right when he said that the suggesting EU membership was “asking the British people to destroy democracy” because if ‘you cut the umbilical cord that links the lawmakers with the people, you destroy the stability of this country’. So, as a first step, let is get power brought back from Europe to Westminster, then from Westminster to Edinburgh and Cardiff, and hopefully later even more closely to home. We need to review and improve our agriculture and stewardship of the land. The changes needed will be best decided locally and what works well in Meirionydd may not be the best plan for Morbihan nor Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Brexit is an opportunity to refresh our democratic involvement and to refresh our industries, let us not waste it.
By all means point out my errors and explain why European Union can be a beneficial thing. I know the reasons I voted and, I am sad to say, that I am more certain as the undemocratic nature of the EU has become evermore apparent; in its both its handling of the Brexit negotiations and its stance towards Catalonia). Explain routes to counter these problems, see if you can get the EU to rekindle interest in subsidiarity, suggest alternative plans, but lets be constructive in our debate on the future. Don’t force sainthood on me by testing my patience by obdurate calls that the majority of the populace was stupid and hoodwinked. Please don’t repeat your mantra “forgive them, for they know not what they do”, I did know and if necessary would do it again.
(*) A trick question as it has been merged into the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and it is Michael Gove, for the time being
Perhaps we should not feel surprised when we discover that a politician’s computer has been used to view pornography. Possibly we could feel disappointed but hardly surprised. It is unreasonable to expect that politicians are free of the vices to which the rest of us are prey. I accept that, if a politician has spent a career promoting chastity and moral virtue, then the discovery of a habit of viewing pornography may allow us genuine surprise at the discovery of their hypocrisy and deceit. But the simple fact that politicians may be lazy, or obese, or smokers, like the rest of us should really upset no-one; one would have to be very naïve to believe that they are very much superior to the rest of us. Like the rest of us they will be on tenterhooks when their browsing history is being reviewed by the computer repairman, their boss, or the police.
In the UK there are the beginnings of a scandal as retired policemen, Neil Lewis and Bob Quick, revealed that they had seen pornographic images on the cabinet minister Damian Green’s computer during an investigation into a cabinet leak in 2008. There is no reason to believe that any legal action was intended regarding these images they were simply discovered in the process of seeking evidence about the cabinet leak. These images, if they were present, were an unrelated find, so why have they been brought to the fore now ?
It is clear that there is a history between Bob Quick and Damian Green. Bob Quick had to issue a public apology, and resign, 8 years ago after he had made unfounded accusations of impropriety about Damian Green. There is a danger that this recent revelation may simply be the an old battle being fought on new fields. But there is a further, more worrisome, aspect of this.
When police work with us to prosecute crime we cooperate as we wish the guilty to be found and the truth established. We give over aspects of our privacy to enable this. If I was mugged while out walking one evening and the police, during their investigations, found I was not with my wife, it would not be reasonable for them to disclose this aspect and jeopardise my marriage. If they coincidentally find a crime, then so be it, but my private life is my own and this should be respected. If this respect is not given then I might be rather reluctant to contact the police if the victim of a crime for fear that I might be forced to reveal details of my life I wish to keep secret.
When I worked as a doctor I routinely asked patients about many aspects of their life, experiences, habits and opinions. This helped me form a diagnosis and to formulate a plan of treatment with them. However, I was bound by a contract of secrecy, and an professional oath, never to divulge this information. This information was only given to aid the treatment of the patient. If patients felt that they could not trust me to keep their privacy then fear and shame would certainly deter many people from seeking help. This contract is rightly inflexible and persist after my retirement to until my death.
Police are in a privileged position in our society, they can on occasion gain access to our private lives but they only gain this access with the contract that they can not disclose details found which are not related to a crime. If we can not trust this then we will be unable to work cooperatively with the police. If we fear that they may use information they collect for their own ends and advantage (such as settling political scores) then we can not be expected to share information with them.
Damian Green obviously has his problems at the moment as he is being investigated for “inappropriate behaviour towards a female activist” but this should be dealt with appropriately and not taken as a opportunity to refight old battles. He may well have to ‘fall on his sword’ for these present accusations, but more importantly the policemen who have breached the trust given to them, and broken their contract of privacy with us, should be investigated and if found guilty punished. The police can not see themselves as the law, nor as being above it, they are simply its agents.
Perhaps the best reason to join a book club is that it will encourage you to read books which otherwise you would have missed. This was certainly the case with the “Bookseller of Kabul” which I ignored since its release in 2003 despite having garnered a considerable degree of praise. For some reason it never captured my attention sufficiently to get to get around to reading it. It was clearly an important book but one which passed me.
It passed me by, that is, until our book club decided to have a year avoiding European and American literature in an attempt to broaden our horizons. This was the second foray further afield, Israel having been our first. Am I glad that I have read this book ? Certainly, it was an interesting and educative read. Did the book deserve the praise it has received ? I am not convinced, it is a rather patchy offering, a rather strange hybrid of fiction and non-fiction.
This book is the result of a Norwegian journalist’s four months spent living with a family in Afghanistan. She has taken the interviews she had with the family members and turned them into a readable family saga. The book is well written and well translated, it is easy to read and she creates good character portraits of the family members. She has managed to convey a sense of life in modern Afghanistan which is revealing.
However, it is because it is this hybrid form that it also disappoints. Had it been non-fiction then supporting information about the historical events would have been valuable as well as some analysis of their relevance. As it is the occupation by the Russians and the Taliban are described as nothing more than scenery as the backdrop to this family story. Had this been a novel then there may have been more emotion. The author has tried to be non-judgemental and simply describe the lives of the participants. There are no heroes here, there is no attempt by anyone to change things, there is no questioning of the rightness of the situation. Like the women in the story, everything is passively accepted.
These snippets of daily life are so depressing, no-one fights or rails against their lot. Nobody has any vision of a better life. The lives of these women in a middle-class afghan household is that of servitude and bondage. Even the members who were older, and able to remember better and freer times, do nothing to try for significant change. The way this life, more suited to the medieval era, is accepted as reasonable leaves the reader with a feeling of hopelessness for the future of Afghanistan and especially its women. So, although this book does open a window to let us see an aspect of life which is often hidden to us, it also hides any causes or solutions (if there are any) from us.
I recommend the book therefore to anyone who doubts the dreadful position that women have in this part of the world; they need the distress of reading this. If you already know this sorry state of affairs it might be better using your reading to search for an explanation or, even better, the start of a solution.
As it is December, and Christmas nears, I have been reminded by the incessant TV adverts that I should really get down to the serious task of present buying. It is, after all, the meaning of the season and the sooner we get down to buying and consuming the better. I have written before that I won’t be joining this type of Christmas, in a post-scarcity world I have no desire to take part in this feast of over-indulgence. I would, however, be keen to try and rekindle an older sentiment of the season, that being the call for “Goodwill to all men” .
My initial thought was that I could change to issuing charity gifts for friends and family and, likewise, they could send these to me. However, on further deliberation I don’t think that this is a good idea. I fear that charity gifts never really benefit the sender or receiver and are not the most effective way of benefitting the charity either.
I want to be charitable, and to do so, I must take something of mine and decide to give it, without desiring any reward, to someone who needs it more than I. If I had decided to spend £20 on John’s Christmas present but instead made a £20 charity gift on his behalf then I have not really donated to charity. I did not forego anything to make the donation so I can hardly be thought of as having made a charitable act. In fact, it might be argued that I deprived John of his gift and stole the £20 from him to make my charitable donation.
Similarly John has not made a charitable act in receiving the gift. He did not forego anything nor did he make any conscious decision to make an act of charity. Indeed, had he chosen to act charitably he may not have concurred with my decision, he may not have felt that my donation to the “Campaign to save the Guinea Worm” was the most pressing of the world’s concerns. So neither of us has managed to act charitably by the exchange of this gift. But there are further problems.
When we make acts of charity it is generally wise to keep these private. As the bible enjoined us “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,”. It is helpful not to “sound a trumpet” before us to publicise our actions. If we wish to give without thought of reward or recompense we should avoid this publicity, it is possible that the publicity and good regard we obtain could be thought of as a reward for our donation. These issues are not minor, as thoughts of how we might be viewed for our donation might influence which causes to which we donate. By not publicising our intentions it might free us to consider charitable causes which might be less popular but actually of more merit. So this publicising is not good for me, as the donor, and can only act as some virtue signalling to John who now gets a present which simply reminds him that I feel virtuous after giving his present to charity.
It would have been more honest and appropriate to put £20 pounds in an envelope and send it to John with a note suggesting he might want to donate the money to any charity he so desires. This would circumvent another problem. Charities are aware that sometimes recipients feel these gifts are less festive and thus they bundle a gift with them – in my case a lovely cuddly, fluffy guinea worm toy! The £10 that manufactured, packaged and posted this gift cut the charitable donation in half making this type of giving less efficient. Rather than giving gifts to each other, with a charitable component, we should give directly to those in need.
Christmas used to be powerfully special. It had the strength to stop the madness of World War I, for an all too brief few days. It gave a temporary respite to the hell and madness of the Western Front. The importance of Peace and Goodwill was what marked Christmas apart from those other winter festivals which we use to raise our spirits in the middle of these dark, cold days. Indeed, there are even new occasions, such as Black Friday, to give us an excuse to loose the reigns on our consumption and counter any qualms we might have about over-indulgence. Unfortunately, however, this tendency has begun to affect Christmas also. If you were to look at the paraphernalia surrounding Christmas (the adverts, TV programs, shop windows, cards, craft fairs, grottos, etc) you would clearly see the theme of maximising our personal pleasures. With the emphasis on consumption and indulgence, and the loss of any sacred elements, Christmas has been hollowed out. It has no core nor substance, the traditional virtues of this season have been lost, but all is not lost, we can recover the situation.
This is what we need to do to reclaim Christmas. We must stop giving presents to those who already have, to those who we know, and start giving to those who have not, and to those we don’t yet know. We must start to show “goodwill to all men” and start to spread the benefits that we enjoy so that they can be enjoyed by others. Therefore I want no presents, not even charity presents, and hope that with any money you save you may be able to use for your own charitable activities. I, for my part, pledge that I will keep my part of this bargain and ensure I do likewise. Between us we can start to recover some of Christmas’s significance and its power to make the world a better place, even if only temporarily. We may be clutching at straws but if we do not act we might lose Christmas forever.
I read today [OECD] that Britain has the highest rates of obesity, and fatness, in Europe and is the 6th most obese country in the world. There is also the terrifying statistic that the rate of obesity has doubled since the 1990’s and we face the serious prospect of this bankrupting the NHS. Obesity is a major risk factor, as we all know, for diabetes, cancer, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and dementia – this rate of change should alarm us – but it won’t.
For many years, most of my working life, I ignored a growing problem. This problem was the growing size of my belly and my increasing size. By the time I changed my lifestyle 6 years ago I had managed to create quite a respectable problem for myself. My waist was 35 inches, my weight was 14 stones and unfortunately not being a tall man my BMI was 31.6. I was quite clearly obese. This had crept up on me, I knew as I aged I was becoming less fit but I didn’t look that different to many other middle-aged men and nobody passed any adverse comments. As a doctor, I knew I was building up risks for myself but I was able to minimise these in my head. Nothing bad had happened, I don’t look that unusual, my blood pressure is OK, I still stay active – it really was easy to convince myself that this was no great deal.
Then came the rude awakening. Five years ago I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes mellitus with blood sugars so high I had the full range of symptoms and was started on metformin instantly, at a pretty high dose. I then went through the NHS’s education package. This told me to take my medicines, eat regularly and sensibly, and take a bit of exercise. With this, I was assured, the thing was manageable and I’d be fine. No-one took a blind bit of notice of the large, and obvious, wobbly bundle of fat I had around my middle even though this was the most conspicuous thing of my appearance. (If you want to imagine me then – not recommended – then imagine a potato with four cocktail sticks as limbs, that was me to a “T”). I sat on classes with other similarly shaped people and we all pretended that there was nothing amiss, nothing that eating a stick of celery couldn’t sort out. I went to the gym, where the rhythmical bouncing of my and my new friends’ bellies, while we tried to jog on the treadmills, was almost hypnotic to watch. Through it all no doctor, no nurse, no dietician, no-one said – for goodness sake get rid of that belly ! They were all too polite to mention it.
When I received the diagnosis a cold shiver went down my spine. I’d worked in an area where I’d seen the consequences of diabetes. I’d spoken to men about to have their feet amputated, I’d given rehab advise to folk after their stroke, I’d completed forms confirming that a diabetic man was now blind, and I’d consoled widows after their spouse’s fatal heart attack. I knew my mortality risk was now considerably increased and I knew some of the problems I might face. I also knew, from very cursory information gathering, that my poor diet and obesity were the main factor in this.
I decided to change, I was so scared and shocked, I knew I had to change. I went on a low carb diet and lost 3 stones, I kept on the diet and took regular exercise. I saw my waistline shrink, my belly disappear and my blood return to near normal. After a few months I came off medication and have remained medication free, and with relatively normal bloods, for the past years. A couple of my diabetic pals, who were equally shocked, did the same thing with similarly good results. But I meet my other pals, who were never troubled by the thought of their weight; still obese, still taking medication and now starting to experience the adverse consequences of this illness.
So I have a personal interest in this report of growing obesity in the UK even though I am a relative neophyte to the world of diets and healthy eating. What are we to do to try and stop this growing trend. It is clear that there are some things we can’t do.
We can’t reduce the availability of food. This is a non-starter, there is no way we can limit what people eat – they must do this themselves. If you don’t sell the double pack of Mars bars I’m smart enough to get around this by buying two packs as is everybody else. Attempt to limit things by smaller packaging could only work if we were happy to accept central rationing of our food, otherwise we just buy more of the smaller packets.
I don’t think that we will get around this by education. I don’t think that there is anyone left that thinks a Big Mac and fries becomes a healthy option because it has a gherkin in it. We all know that a salad is healthier than a bar of chocolate – education is the answer when ignorance is the problem. That is not the issue here.
I doubt we will have much success tackling our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Anyone suggesting we get rid of the automobile, or suggesting we dig roads by hand or get rid of any other labour saving machinery, is unlikely to have a successful career in politics. We can suggest that people exercise and find ways to make it easier but, unless we are going to have forced marches then we need to find ways to make people want to do this.
The key in the affluent west is that we need people to want to be normal sized, to fear being obese. This is what we have lost. As I walked around I saw other people the same shape as me, it normalised my obesity. Chairs, cars, everything has been slightly adapted to suit the larger body, each step making it easier to be obese and, more importantly, making it easier to ignore your own obesity. I needed somebody to tell me – “Whoa ! You’ve got far too big there. That doesn’t look right” but even when I had fallen ill people were too afraid to mention it. They were happier to let me die earlier or loose my sight, or foot, than to be accused of “fat shaming”
We would prefer people to be comfortable in their obesity, than in any way upset – but this is precisely what we do not need. Discomfort might prompt thought and redirection and improvement to their health and life. I wish someone had spoken honestly to me, when I asked “How do I look ?” I wish they had said “you are getting fat” rather than lied with “Fine”. There is no need to be unpleasant about this we just need to be honest. We also need to be careful about attempts to actively normalise obesity. I noted, when in the supermarket today, this is not as strange and impossible idea as I had thought – three of the covers of magazines (directed to young women) were using obese models. It may be dangerous to promote anorexic stick insect ideals of beauty but it is equally dangerous to promote obesity as a good choice.
The problem of obesity has unfortunately got bound up in the gender issues of objectification of womenWe but obesity doesn’t affect only one gender. All of us are at risk when we treat our health and future in a cavalier way like this. There are many vested interests who would prefer us not to think about it; the food and pharmaceutical industries would be much happier we consumed more of their products and dealt with the consequences. The media and beauty industry can sell us their products either way, fat or thin models, it is of no concern to them simply which model sells more copy.
People are free to live as they wish, they are free to be fat or thin as they choose, but they must choose with adequate knowledge. We should not influence these decisions because of our political biases and we should net let people die early because we were too afraid to tell the truth.
Today’s daily prompt, about the egg, got me thinking about food and the basics of life. In particular, it made me think about the furore over foodbanks in Britain. These charitable concerns were set up, initially, by church groups such as the Trussell Trust, in order to help the poor and hungry in our society and to allow its members to do the most important thing that we can do as people – to look after our fellows.
It is a shame, therefore, that foodbanks have become the current political football. Rarely are they mentioned but to complain about there presence – “There should be no need for charity in a rich country like ours” – is the common refrain. The existence of foodbanks is used in many political debates as a stick to beat the opponent as a symbol of their failings. However, I would contest that it is heart-warming to see the growth of charity and people trying to help their brothers. Voluntary, local organizations such as this are better than centralised government agencies.
Man is a social animal, it is in his nature to help his fellows. Left to his own devices he is cooperative and adventurous and works in groups to increase the wellbeing of his group. An integral part of this is charity. 150 years ago there was boom in self-help and mutual aid organisations (mutual societies, friendly societies, insurance schemes, religious and trade groups) and over three quarters of working men had some form of health and unemployment insurance. These growth of these schemes was seriously hampered by the development of the current welfare state which rapidly became the monopoly provider (with all the consequent problems that monopoly providers have).
I would guess that we would all agree that we want to help those less fortunate than ourselves for whatever cause and it was this desire which promoted the developments of those schemes. Unfortunately, there has been the development of very negative views on the left and on the right of the poorer in our society. On the right there are concerns that they might be indolent or reckless and need some punitive element to their assistance to try and correct what they see as bad behaviour. On the left the poorer are seen as incompetent, unable to organize and requiring central planning to take over. The left also tend to view us all as egocentric and greedy who would not look after our neighbours were we not compelled to by act of law and threat of punishment.
Both of these views have damaged societies abilities to develop better local schemes. The welfare state has created a gap between donor and recipient, which is poor for both parties – donors can not easily influence how their assistance is used and recipients become increasingly seen as “the other”, something outside of society – apart and lesser. (However, as an aside, I have to say I am grateful of this gap when it allows me not to feel too close to the decision to use my tax payments to kill some Yemeni child.)
Welfare states may not make people lazy, there is really no evidence for this, but they do often cause dependency, and apathy, and often can have perverse incentives which reduce the ability of individuals to return to work and sometimes damage family structures. Welfare states, by their national basis, are often the reasons for people’s dislike of free movement – incomers are seen as jumping into a scheme they and their families had not established (thus felt to be receiving benefits without entitlement) rather than being viewed as possible new partners with whom to work and grow (all studies find immigration strengthens economic growth).
As we now use the term “poverty” to define a group a specific distance from the mean wealth of the population we will always have people in poverty – unless there was no deviation whatsoever in incomes (an unlikely scenario) there will always be the relatively poor and we will always need and want to aid them. All the great religions and philosophies have seen this as a cardinal act of humanity (“If anyone with earthly possessions sees his brother in need, but withholds his compassion from him, how can the love of God abide in him?” in the Bible and the Koran’s recognition that there is a “” to our wealth”) Those, often religious groups, who wish to do this through foodbanks should be applauded for their actions. We should not give all power and planning for assistance away, the less charity there is in a society the less human, less cooperative and less kind our society becomes.