The State : Its historical role. (Piotr Kropotkin)

The State : Its historical role. (Piotr Kropotkin)

One of the great advantages of the e-book and e-readers is the ability to gain access to a huge library of published work for free. Most of the classics from the ancient world are available and a large library of modern and, not so modern, work is available for the easy job of a little bit of browsing. It is hard to believe but most of us now have access to a library that would have made Croesus jealous. Emperors and kings a hundred years ago would not have believed, and would have envied, the texts which I have available today. It is almost impossible to think of a philosopher, political theorist, or other man or woman of letters that is not easily available either for free or for a very modest price. I find this wealth of literature captivating. I browse the 56,00 books available at the Gutenburg Project, or the 15,000,000 texts and books (including 550,000 modern ebooks) of the Internet Archive and wonder at the riches available. But this surfeit of choice does bring problems – ironically, “What to read next ?


There are problems when choosing books from this library. Some have become very dated and are only really interesting as historical artefacts. Others were a fad of their day and really didn’t need to weather the years. Many other are well written and important but with the passage of time modern readers have changed. Modern readers can find the dense, heavy prose difficult to read and, at times, the vocabulary can be archaic and thus not understood. A further difficulty in understanding can arise from a prior presumption that readers would be familiar with the classics and the bible which is no longer a safe generalization. This having been said, I have been pleasantly surprised how many do stand the passage of time. H.G. Wells still reads as if he were writing yesterday and his science fiction is still enjoyable despite the appearance of the horse and cart along side the rocket ship.

I have tried to cope with this problem by the simple strategy of trying to read the classics of which I have heard. This includes reading books which I thought I had already read, as sometimes I found that I had never actually done so. My knowledge of the book was apparently achieved through cultural osmosis rather than actual reading. Sometimes this has been startling when I discover what was the actual content of the book.  Sometimes I have reread classics simple because I was too young first time around. Some books were wasted on me as a callow youth and it is only reading them now, with the hindsight and hopefully wisdom of age, that they truly make sense. This was my strategy which lead me to Kropotkin’s “The State : Its Historic Role

With regards to readability this is not a problem, it is clearly written and its still is easy on the modern reader. There are references to important political events which would have been known to any informed reader in 1897 but which might be more hazily recalled for the reader over a century later. Occasionally he makes assumptions that authors discussing the Paris Commune, or describing the Lombardy League, will be known to us. However, this is not sufficient a problem to impair the enjoyment from the text.

The basics of the text are his views on the historic development of the state and the crushing of  societal developments which existed before this. He describes the development of the Communes and the Guilds across Europe and how this allowed the mutual aid which provides support for the members of societies. His concern is that society is in our nature, as it was in the animals from whom we evolved,  and mankind will always find way to create supportive societies and does not require the state to do this.

“Man did not create society; society existed before Man.”

“Far from being the bloodthirsty beast he was made out to be in order to justify the need to dominate him , Man has always preferred peace and quiet .”

“Henceforth , the village community consisting entirely or partly of individual families – all united , however , by the possession in common of the land – became the essential link for centuries to come .”

Unfortunately my knowledge of medieval history is rather poor and I find it difficult to assess the accuracy of his descriptions of medieval city life. He is clearly very impressed with the early municipalism and syndicalism that he describes :-

“Was it not in fact the rule of the guild that two brothers should sit at the bedside of each sick brother – a custom which certainly required devotion in those times of contagious diseases and the plague – and to follow him as far as the grave , and then look after his widow and children ? Abject poverty , misery , uncertainty of the morrow for the majority , and the isolation of poverty , which are the characteristics of our modern cities , were quite unknown in those ‘ free oases , which emerged in the twelfth century amidst the feudal jungle ’ .”

But he pays rather scant regard to the problems of the serf in feudal society  and to the other well documented problems for the poor of this time. However, he does detail the developing strategies that were made to provide support and succour which operated at a more local and personal level prior to the development of the state. Though I fear that sometimes he was donning spectacles with a strong rosy hue when reading his source texts.

He sees the state developing through the cooperation of chiefs and Kings, the Church and the priesthood as well as the judiciary :-

“And who are these barbarians ? It is the State : the Triple Alliance , finally constituted , of the military chief , the Roman judge and the priest – the three constituting a mutual assurance for domination – the three , united in one power which will command in the name of the interests of society – and will crush that same society .”

He describes the operation of these agencies to impose their power, in the form of the state, over prior voluntary organizations. He pays particular attention to the role of religious belief in the development of anarchist ideas and thinking. He is very aware that the Protestant revolutions did much to free the minds of men at the same time as the established church tried to limit thought and opinion. He ultimately reports that in this ideological battle for the soul of man the established church won.

“Lutherian Reform which had sprung from popular Anabaptism , was supported by the State , massacred the people and crushed the movement from which it had drawn its strength in the beginning .”

He is scathing of Martin Luther who he views as a turncoat who, by the end,  encouraged “the massacre of the peasants with more virulence than the pope“. In general Piotr Kropotkin deals well with these issues. There was much greater understanding by these seminal authors, compared to contemporary anarchist writers, that to build an anarchist society depended on a change in the hearts and minds of men and women. These early writers saw the importance of personal responsibility and morality and dealt with the need for a root and branch reform of societal relationships in a much more thorough manner. These were not simple economic or political arguments but moral and spiritual also.

Once the state has started on its development he was aware that it would brook no opposition. He describes the hostility the state has to any autonomous societies or support organizations  as it views these are threats. It sees them as “a state within the state” which can not be tolerated. Any alternative forms of mutual aid are opposed and although our instincts are to band together and help each other this is discouraged if it is not done by the agencies, and under the control,  of the state.

“Peasants in a village have a large number of interests in common : household interests , neighborhood , and constant relationships . They are inevitably led to come together for a thousand different things . But the State does not want this , nor can it allow them to join together ! After all the State gives them the school and the priest , the gendarme and the judge – this should be sufficient .”

In our present days where the state has a large welfare component these factors are still important. Self help and mutual assistance is lost while centralised state provision takes it place.

“ The neighbor , the comrade , the companion – forget them . You will henceforth only know them through the intermediary of some organ or other of your State . And every one of you will make a virtue out of being equally subjected to it . ”

“ No direct moral obligations towards your neighbor , nor even any feeling of solidarity ; all your obligations are to the State ”

In many areas of the western world social care, health care, and education are removed from the individual. While basic safety and care may be provided the ability of the individual to participate in these matters is severely curtailed and their personal responsibility reduced. Further, it is the cooperative arrangement of these types of aid and support which creates our societies. It is possible, as we are discovering, that it is possible to have a large state providing many aspects of welfare but at the same time to have small or absent communities , an alienated and atomised population and very little society.

In the future, our ability to create societies which support our diverse peoples is going to be the biggest challenge in the face of the spreading state and globalisation. Anarchists and libertarians will need to take their part in this challenge and some of the history in the book may usefully guide them. His call to action is still valid as it is not simply and economic change we require but widespread social change.

Throughout the history of our civilization , two traditions , two opposing tendencies have confronted each other : the Roman and the Popular ; the imperial and the federalist ; the authoritarian and the libertarian . And this is so , once more , on the eve of the social revolution .



Pwll Y Gele

Pwll Y Gele

Over the recent months I have discovered that one of my favourite morning walks is the meander to Pwll Y Gele. This is a gentle stroll of just over three miles with no difficult terrain being largely on the road or good footpaths. The time of day, nor the weather, really matters much for this walk, as it always holds interest. On the outward leg you have open vistas looking towards Cader Idris and Foel Offerwm and on the return journey there is Aran Faddwy to fill your view.

If the weather is poor it is still worth the walk to see the clouds and winds whipped up like an impressionist painting over the mountains and the rain will soon fill the streams and waterfalls to make them interesting. On a pleasant morning, like today, the sun and its warmth will have brought out the birdsong which changes as you proceed through different birds areas. Although this morning the woodpecker and his tapping seemed to be everywhere


On a pleasant day there is much to be seen which will repay proceeding slowly. This is a meander, or stroll, not a walk to be taken quickly and earnestly.  There are many reminders of older agricultural and industrial practices if one is careful to look and not press on by. There are the oblong raised mounds which are the remains of the  domestic rabbit warrens from the days when rabbit was a staple meat. These are termed cony-garths or  conegars which is not a great deviation from the Welsh word for a rabbit warren of cwningar. The spelling is a little different but the pronunciation is largely the same. The old dry-stone walls show a pattern of farming quite different to that of today with many more smaller active farms. Here are there, there are the reminders of older practices such as the beacon towers used to pass information across long distances in the days before electronic communications.

Other mounds represent reminders of the old charcoal industry which was itself part of the iron industry which was important in these parts. It seems that on the edge of every hill there are the adits, looking like caves, which are the entrances into the many mineral mines in the area. One of the biggest reminders of these changes in industry is Pwll y Gele itself. Those who understand Welsh will immediately have a clue as to this areas importance in history, as Pwll Y Gele translates to The Leeches Pond. Indeed, a few hundred years ago Wales was the centre of the industry breeding leeches for medical use in Europe (In the Victorian days 42,000,000 leeches a year were used medicinally in Britain). Pwll Y Gele was one of the pools used for breeding such leeches. The leeches are no longer here but the area is still a wonderful site to see bird, animal and insect life.

Names, such as Pwll Y Gele, are valuable links to our past and there is a problem in Wales that sometimes these names are being lost. Names, which carry historical information, are sometimes changed by new owners of properties to something that they feel more pleasant on the ear. Thus Bwthyn Y Gof, the Blacksmith’s cottage, is bought and renamed Ashview or similar. People who do not know the meaning of these names, or who find the names difficult in their mouths, often change the names to modern English versions. Sometimes there is an attempt to preserve the historical link but often it is lost and another pleasant but anodyne name replaces an informative name which was part of the history of the area.

Some have suggested laws to prevent this occurring which is not a strategy I’d support People have the right to change the names of their houses as they see fit. It may well be that new names are, in fact required, as time progresses. If I open a church or sanctuary I may wish to rename my property to reflect this and we should not make the mistake of confusing heritage with culture. Out heritage and past do help create us, but our culture is hopefully always developing as we adjust to, and cope with,  new challenges.

However, our links to the past are important and we shouldn’t discard them unthinkingly. People who move into an area need to recognise these links and learn from them, so that they too can benefit from the knowledge they impart. They also need to recognise that when they rename, for example,  Y Hufenfa to The Old Creamery while they may have managed to preserve some information in the name (Hufenfa is Welsh for Creamery) they appear dismiss the indigenous language and to cast it aside. This looks and feels like colonialism ! In changing an established name they  run the risk of looking too aloof to learn new words, or seeming  supercilious in their avoidance of contact with the local tongue. If one wishes to settle in an area it is usually because the culture and history of the area appeal to you. This being the case, it would be anticipated that you would engage with the culture and the local life. If you convert your little bit of Wales into your little bit of England (Or Scotland) then  don’t be surprised if you are thought of as more an occupier or invader than a neighbour. In small communities society is strong and welcoming but you have to want to take part.

Walking with an older staid dog

Perhaps there is one caveat I’d add before taking this stroll, that is – Go with quiet companions. I much prefer this walk with the older dog. With the young dog;  he is too excited by the sights and smells to behave sensibly, and 45 kg of excited dog bounding through undergrowth does not make for a relaxing and quiet walk. The same caveat applies to grandchildren. A three and six year old will be keen to have brought their bikes and scooters, the  noisy toy that they just bought, and will want answers to all the questions of the day – “Why is the sky blue ?”, “What is that mountain called ?”, “Why is it Cader Idris and not Cadair Idris ?”, “What’s a leech ?”, “Could a lot of leeches eat a whole sheep ?”, “Are we nearly there yet ?”. This noise will precede you and act as a warning for all the more timid wildlife who can then hide. This is unfortunate, as this walk goes through land which has a large deer population, and if one walks quietly (especially in the morning or at dusk) one is almost guaranteed to meet them as I did today.

Still not witnessed by the grandchildren. Perhaps next year ?

However, my grandchildren and going to have to mature for a few more years until they are going to be able to share this experience. Meanwhile they are happy enough with the rabbits, squirrels and the dragonflies by the lake who seem less susceptible to the din.







What goes on underneath ?

What goes on underneath ?

It is a fact that sometimes I stretch the definitions of words, almost to their breaking points, to try and take part in the Daily Prompt. It’s a fact that sometimes I look at the prompt and think “How on earth can I wheedle that word into a sentence ? What does it even mean ?”. However, it is also a fact that today I had no such difficulty. Over the last week I have been working hard simply because of the fact that good foundations make good sheds.

Because kidding and lambing are soon to start (my neighbours have had their first lambs already) I have been getting ready. This year we will need more bays for the goats and this had meant we have to move half of the barn’s content into a nice new shed. Now I have a lot of experience in knocking up sheds and know that this can be a lot of fun. But there is a first fundamental step which is no pleasure at all – building the base. It is an easy step to omit or to bodge, but when I have I have always regretted it. The shed is never really robust, and always ends up rotting, when I skimp on this step. So, in lieu of a new year’s resolution, this year I was going to do it properly. This means about  weeks preparatory work for a small shed.

The first step is digging. It is necessary to DSC_2783.JPGdig out a level area about a yard wider and longer than the shed you intend to erect. In our land this is no fun as we have a very clay rich soil – indeed we have thought about abandoning growing vegetables and try pottery instead. With a mild damp winter the soil has been very wet which made digging a real chore. It is best to start from the lowest, easiest corner then dig back into the deepest area. All the time you do this use you spirit level and a large plank to try and create as level an area as possible. I found for a 12×8 foot shed this took me two days.

Next is a good idea to insert pegs, madeDSC_2787.JPG from scraps of wood from an old pallet, at approximately a yard apart. Use the spirit level to tap these in so that the tops are all level one with another. This is also a good time to check that you can create straight edges to work with. I use long lengths of 4×3. Once you have these in situ check that the corners are at right angles with a square edge. Another check, at this point, is to measure the two diagonals – these should be exactly the same if your corners are true.

The next stage is to spread aggregateDSC_2790 (half inch to dust as it is called) to a depth of about 3 inches. I needed just over a ton to cover the base of this shed. Spread the aggregate and level it with a rake. Then walk all over the area to tramp it all down. At the end it should be level with the tops of the pegs and the sides of the planks.  I found that this was  a fairly slow job as my aggregate could only be delivered to an area about 300 yards away. So it was innumerable trips with a wheelbarrow and this stage took about a further two days.

DSC_0004 3The next stage was laying concrete slabs. I have found that using 600mm square slabs are easier to use than the smaller versions. It is much easier to keep things level when using a larger slab. I use large dollops of cement under each slab to hold it in place. As you site each slab check that it is level in both directions and level with its neighbours.

DSC_2839Work along one of your straight edges first to get  good straight row to start to follow. I use a gap of about 1cm between each slab. I have found a mortar mix of 1 part cement to 5 parts sharp (not building) sand gives a good result. Be careful not to over water your mix; you want it slightly on the dry side to keep its shape as you manouevere your slabs. Again I found I needed two days for this step. After a full day to let the mortar dry I used the same mix to fill in the gaps between the slabs.

The next stage is optional but worth DSC_2874considering if you are in wet area. If you omit this step then consider creating a gutter around the base to stop any chance of the water pooling and encouraging he base of the shed to rot. I put 5 old railway sleepers evenly spaced across the slabs. These are treated with creosote and, although I treat them as sacrificial, will last for longer then the shed. We had the same fun shifting these as the aggregate as, again, we could not have them delivered that close to where we were building. Another day of heaving and swearing – be prepared these are heavy.


By the end of the week we had our base ready. It took about 3 hours to assemble our shed on top of it. In three hours I had hidden all of my work. The shed feels rigid and dry and I think nothing will shift it.  But, no matter how good the shed looks, the fact is I am happiest about the base, that was the important part of the job and that’s a fact.




Liberty + Responsibility = Freedom

Liberty + Responsibility = Freedom

It can be quite messy when you find you are and anarchist or libertarian. The is a great deal of good writing on the subject and many fora in which to debate the issues of individual freedom and the dangers posed by the state.

The messiness arises from a variety of factors but two are particularly important. The first is a problem of nomenclature. The words anarchy and libertarian mean very different things to different people. In particular there is a problem in that the words have quite different meanings depending on whichever side of the Atlantic Ocean you find yourself living. (Debates on the internet often cross this divide without participants knowing and taking the different vocabulary into account).

Here in Europe anarchy has a long an established tradition with its roots in the writings of Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Krotopkin,  Pierre Proudhon,  and Rudolph Rokker among others. Anarchists split from the socialist tradition because of obvious incompatibility over their views of the state but they shared the socialists concerns for the poor, their egalitarian impulses and their opposition to discrimination and unfairness. Their tradition is seen in America in the writings of such luminaries as Emma Goldman or Benjamin Tucker. It is not unusual to see the term “libertarian socialist” or “anarchosocialist” in Europe, as the dividing line in Europe is the role of the state and personal autonomy rather than the other aims of socialists.

In America such  groupings  (e.g. libertarian socialist) would be seen as unusual and even a “contradiction in terms” as the origins of libertarian thought  are different and follows the works of early writers such as William Godwin and Lysdander Spooner, and later the works of Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand and Robert Nozik. The philosophical base is also individual liberty but there is an acceptance of the capitalist economic system as the best way to deliver material prosperity to people. In Europe these groups would often be considered “Classical Liberals” , or unflatteringly “Neo-liberals“.

This difference in terminology often leads to messy confusion and  one needs to know a lot more about a someone who calls themselves an ‘anarchist’ or ‘libertarian’ before you can guess at their opinions or moral view of the world. Hence, the proliferation of adjectives to try and explain their positions : left-libertarian, anarcho-capitalist, libertarian socialist, agorist, etc. etc. However, this problem is relatively easily solved. A bit of reading or discussion will normally clarify what the persons views are and how they see the world. A much bigger problem and mess arises when people discuss liberty.

Most people view individual liberty as an obviously good thing. It is something to be fostered and promoted, and when we see attempts curtail liberty most of us try to stop this. However, it is impossible to promote liberty without recognising the need at the same time to promote responsibility. Liberty without responsibility is impossible. Indeed as George Bernard Shaw said “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it”. Many people are happier to feel safe than to feel free; they would happily subject their freedom to the authority of the state if the state keeps them fed, warm and free from crime.

If a society was going to give up the role of the state as the guarantor of safety then it requires that individuals ensure that safety themselves. They may behave as they wish, but if we are free to pursue our own aims then we must be responsible for our actions, we must accept and deal with the consequences that follow. This responsibility will replace the state. Responsible individuals will want to work cooperatively with their fellows to their mutual advantage. Responsible individuals will want to curtail some of their desires today for safety and security tomorrow. Responsible individuals will want to make friends and allies, will wish to help others, as it may furnish the social capital that they might need to all on in the future. In short, if there is no state then there needs to be a big and effective society. If we need an effective society we need responsible individuals. In the past religion has, in part, provided this, in the future, it appears, we are going to have to find this on our own.

A failure to recognise the essential unity of liberty and responsibility has lead to the many rather sad and tawdry aspects of anarchist and libertarian writings. Often liberty has been mistaken for libertinism and calls for equality of opportunity have been barely concealed brutalism in furtherance of injustice. Libertarians and anarchists must by necessity hold themselves to higher standards, they cannot call on the excuse of duty or law, they must be responsible for their actions. However, being free and responsible is the essence of living as Viktor Frankl  recognised when he wrote the following in his book “Mans search for Meaning.

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our question must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual

Indeed he proposed a Statue of Responsibility on the East coast to remind us of we need both sides of the equation :-




Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Responsibility  on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast




Getting out while I still could.

Getting out while I still could.

I recall that about half-way through my medical career I had a premonition of the problems with patient dissatisfaction  that we are now see. It was therefore with dismay, but no real surprise, that I read the results of the British Social Attitudes Survey on patient satisfaction with the NHS and social care. This has shown that growing dissatisfaction continues; now only 57% of people were satisfied with their healthcare while nearly a third (29%) were dissatisfied. These were significant changes, and deterioration, from previous reports and there was a particular drop in satisfaction with General Practice services. Primary Care had previously been the jewel in the crown of the NHS but now was viewed little better than other areas of the NHS. Some areas barely managed a majority of the population feeling satisfied (A&E for example at 52%) and these are generally worrisome figures.

These rates of satisfaction should alarm us. We often hold up the NHS as the “envy of the world” despite its relatively lacklustre outcome measures. We are now watching it slip to the bottom of league tables, of developed European countries, in public satisfaction as well as in performance. Why is this ? It does not seem that it is due to sudden increases in public satisfaction with other European services (though they have generally modestly improved their scores on this matter). It is because of an increase in dissatisfaction with the NHS’s provision and people cite unhappiness with inadequate staffing, delays in being seen, and poor quality of care. They tend to view this as a consequence of inadequate funding and government interference.

These two factors will, without any doubt, foster and magnify dissatisfaction but I am unsure that these factors are as important as they might initially seem. European healthcare funding has been squeezed in all countries but other countries have not witnessed the deteriorations in satisfaction we have observed, indeed, some have even seen slight ongoing increases. It is difficult to quantify government interference but it is a safe bet that this has not been absent in any of our comparator countries. But could there be another factor underpinning this dissatisfaction ? I thought I felt the start of this change many years ago, and this premonition, lead me to leave the practice of medicine earlier than I might otherwise have done.

When I finished University and started working as a practicing doctor I was full of enthusiasm and keen to learn and use new skills. I saw myself as a medical technician; the better I could be at various techniques then the better my patients would fare and the more satisfied I would feel. This was a useful approach, it spurred my education and learning. When a young doctor I had little time for the “professional” hokum that my seniors espoused. It seemed to me to be a way of holding onto power in the face of technological change and advancement they seemed to be using calls to “professional standards” as ways to obstruct needed change. I was certain that I would never become an old reactionary like them.

But time progressed and I learnt my craft and I started to realise that technological skill was only one aspect of healthcare. There was also a large number of other skills that were necessary, political ability for example, to effect change. I also learnt through my successes and, more importantly, failures that there was an art to the practice of medicine which was as important as my knowledge or technical ability. I know that the times that I failed patients it was rarely through ignorance or ineptitude but rather because of a failure to relate to the patient equally and fairly. I recognised that when I failed; it was the times I rushed, did the job but little extra, and paid inadequate heed to the opinions of the patient or their wishes. I started to recognise that I needed more in order to be a decent doctor and began to discover the importance of professionalism.

I grew to learn that professionalism was an asset for both me and the patients I worked with. The NHS was changing around me, a culture of target setting and central planning was reducing the autonomy of clinicians and reducing the choice for patients. It is often said that patients have difficulty in making healthcare decisions due to the knowledge deficit and that they are almost wholly reliant on their medical attendants in order to make these decisions. This is not the case. I grew to be very aware that one skill that patients have is the ability to distinguish between good and bad doctors. They are much better at it than fellow professionals, they know who is good at the job and who is not. But unfortunately they do not get to make that most basic choice – the choice of whom to see, whose advice to seek and with whom they will work to improve their health. In the NHS these decisions are removed; you see the GP that covers your area and the specialist contracted for your area, the patient has little or no say in the matter. If they are lucky they will be paired with the best, on average they will receive average care, and if they are unlucky they may be stuck with the underperforming. You could be referred to the best doctor for people with Parkinsons  disease but if your problem is diabetes then this might be less than wonderful. Patients would rarely make this kind of mistake, systems often do.

This lack of patient choice was worsened by another aspect. The patient didn’t chose the doctor and the doctor increasingly didn’t feel that they worked for them as an individual. The central planning and target setting meant clinicians felt that their employer was the NHS, in its various bodies, not the patient per se. Targets were set at Health Board meetings not by patient-doctor discussion. Many times targets could be thought of as useful but a target which pays doctors to increase the number of people on statins might mean that the elderly man who went to see his GP because of loneliness and poor mobility might find himself on the bus back home with a prescription for a statin he had never thought he wanted. It may be beneficial for him, and it might reduce the cardiovascular morbidity of the group, but that had not been his issue and it is possible that the time taken to discuss the statin left less time to talk about the poor mobility and their fears about this. Taking a professional approach meant that, while we would try and meet the targets put forward by my employer, my first loyalty was to my patient and we had to address their concerns first, agree a plan of action with them, and only secondly try and mesh this with the central dictats which were aimed at improving the group.

Without this professional approach there was a great danger of starting to practice a little like a veterinarian. When you take your hamster to the vet, the vet assesses the hamster and discusses with you how you would like to proceed. If the vet informs you that you will have to sell your car to pay for the hamster’s surgery, or forgo a holiday, it is quite likely that the hamster’s days are numbered. We will all grieve for the hamster and agree that it was for the best. Increasingly I found that patients came to me for advice, for example with Alzheimer’s Disease, and I would consider whether we should start a cognitive enhancer. But I would not discuss this with the patient, who is now in the role of the hamster, but with the NHS prescribing group who was in the role of the hamster’s owner. They (Hamster owner/ Prescribing Group) often decided that economically it was for the best that we didn’t prescribe and while this was true at a group level (in health economic terms) it may not have been at the individual level.

These are always difficult decisions but they are difficult decisions that should be taken openly, after discussion, with the patient. The patient should be able to trust that the advice they are being given is the best advice for them as an individual not simply the best decision for the community. When patients choose their doctors they are seeking the best source of advice, advice they can trust because it is not skewed to meet a third parties interest.

In the NHS patients lack the ability to choose who they see. Doctors and nurses are  becoming increasingly micromanaged and their professionalism, and thus their independence, undermined. Together this leads to patients unable to work well with their medical attendants and unable to be certain that the advice given is the best available. It sets up distrust and discontent, they see that other European countries, with similar healthcare budgets to ours, do better by patients with common serious medical conditions. Patients read that survival rates for breast cancer in Britain are poorer than elsewhere and that we have more infant deaths than the European average. No matter how many politicians tell them that there are more doctors or nurses, or the NHS is doing more than ever before (which is quite possibly true), will counteract their experience of impersonal healthcare and poor quality outcomes. They will become dissatisfied and this dissatisfaction will continue to grow until the primary problems are addressed.

Until individual patients are again at the centre of how healthcare is delivered it is likely that even if we throw much more money at the system (which will probably be the electoral strategy) this discontent will grow. When we look back, we see the Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid Society made a great influence on Aneurin Bevan and influenced the development of the NHS. Unfortunately we seem to forget that the workmen in the Medical Aid Society chose and employed their doctors – they voted on who would be employed and sacked those that were felt inadequate to the job. I am sure this choice greatly enhanced the likelihood of patient satisfaction and is something that we need to rediscover.

Before my career had arrived at its natural end, I had premonitions that dissatisfaction by patients would be inescapable and lead to dissatisfaction in  clinical staff also. I could see the first changes in morale and attitude and felt I had to leave. I hope that I will be proved to be wrong in this prediction, as I have been on many others, but recent news has not given me cause for optimism.






Our work in preparing the sheep has continued and through the last week we have been fleshing out the skins and salting them. In the last day or sowe have even started to put some of the skins into the tanning solution. At our present rate of progress we anticipate continuing with this work for another fortnight or so.  However, earlier last week something captured my attention and made me pay more attention to the poultry.

Emrys, one of our cockerels, a White Sussex, was looking depressed and dejected. It also looked as if he had been fighting and not always winning. I then noticed that I had mis-gendered one of the “girls” that I had added to his harem after the last batch hatched. One of the girls had grown rapidly and was now as big as Emrys. He had started to crow in the morning, and on further inspection was clearly not a girl but another cockerel.  None of our cockerels, at the moment, will tolerate other males around them and they fight viciously. Emrys and the new boy had started and it was only a matter of time until serious damage, or death, would result. We decided therefore that the new boy had to go and planned that he would be our supper that night (and lunch for a few days after as soup).

I find that the safest and fasted way to DSC_2695dispatch poultry is using a killing cone. This is made by using an old traffic cone, pared at the top at bottom and screwed to a large tree. This holds the bird firmly but not unpleasantly and allows you to use the machete, or axe, in a way that there is no chance of missing or just maiming the bird. From arrival at the cone to the completion of the deed takes about 10 seconds, it does not seem unduly disturbing for the bird, and death is instantaneous. This also allows you to leave the bird for a short period after dispatch, with a bucket below, to catch the blood which flows in a controlled fashion.

The next stage is to prepare your bird. I find that plucking the bird is best done as quickly as possible, it is an easier job when the bird is still warm. If you can not do the plucking immediately then it is best to wait for DSC_2696 (2)quite a while. Birds pluck easier when they are either still warm or are completely cold – a half warm bird can be difficult to pluck.  Although there are ways to aid plucking by putting the bird in boiling water for a short spell, or by buying plucking  machines, it is not a difficult job and most people can pluck a DSC_2697chicken within 15 to 20 minutes (The same, unfortunately, can not be said for ducks.)

Pluck by grabbing small amounts of feathers between your index finger and thumb and pull sharply. I find pulling ‘against the grain’  – from bottom to top – works best. Don’t be tempted to take too large clumps as you will risk tearing the skin and will also find you tire more quickly and the job ends up taking the same length of time. After you have plucked the chicken use a cleaver to remove the feet and scissors to remove the remains of the wings.

DSC_2701Remember, as always, don’t waste anything, even the feet are edible. I find that the chicken feet recipes often call for a lot of work, and often spices that I don’t carry all the time (star anise, for example). However, my two assistants are not bothered by all that culinary pfaff and prefer their chicken feet raw. Also the feathers should have been collected as these have their uses while I will describe in a future post. Now onto the next stage.

After plucking we have to dress the bird. DSC_2703This can be a messy and smelly task but it is not a difficult one. Firstly it is important to cut around the bird’s anus. This will allow is to pull the intestines out without them bursting or leaking which is something we obviously want to avoid. Having done this, make a cut from this cut up to the birds breastbone this will allow you to put your hand in DSC_2704 (2)and remove the innards. Having got the intestines out it is important to put your hand back in and up as far as you can manage to pull out the heart and windpipe. Once these are removed you have largely dressed your bird ready for the oven. Remember to wash the heart, gizzards and liver for use later on. These can be used as the giblets for making gravy, or the liver is an excellent base for pate, and the meat from the gizzards, once fried, is excellent in a salad (salade gésiers).

About three quarters of an hour after startingDSC_2706 the task the bird is ready and can be used in any of your favourite recipes. This one, however, was going to be very simply treated and roasted in the range. Before going in, it was laid on top of a bed of onions and  root vegetables  (parsnip & carrot) and seasoned with tarragon and garlic. It was cooked for the usual time and the juices reserved for making gravy and the cooked vegetables were used as a side dish. Once roasted it was ready to eat.

Be prepared, chickens you rear and prepare yourself will not be like the conveyor belt chickens you have come to expect. It will, in the first place, be smaller – a free range chicken which as been active and enjoyed its life will never be as large as its factory counterpart. All the exercise it has enjoyed also means the meat will be firmer DSC_2707 (2)and less tender. These two signs should let you know that you have done better by the bird and you let it have a better, more natural life. The biggest difference, however, will be in the taste – it will taste of chicken. It will not be the bland white meat devoid of interest but instead it will be full of  flavour and this will more than make up for any lack of size.



A day of blood and guts.

A day of blood and guts.

Today has gone to plan and has been, as hoped, a day of blood and guts. We dealt with the lungs, heart and livers yesterday and the big shock of the day was eating the billy goat’s liver. I had anticipated that this would be very strong tasting and was slightly worried that it might be malodourous, as I had heard that the smell of billy goats can carry through into the meat. I am glad to say there was no odour whatsoever and, more importantly the liver tasted lovely. We had it pan fried with some onions and only a minimum of seasoning with salt and pepper. It was mild in flavour, rather like lambs liver, and not at all as strong as beef or pig liver.

Today continued with the management of the offal. In the morning we coated the skins again with salt. We have about 10kg of salt over the skins and it is drawing all the fluid out of the skins as brine. They are lying on inclined hurdles so that the brine drips off onto the gulley in the middle of the barn’s floor. At the moment the skins only need a little work each day to top up the salt but after_20180118_200316.JPG the weekend they will start to demand a lot more of our attention and work. The major tasks for the day were the finish off the lungs, make the blood tofu an deal with the tripes.

The lungs had been in the dehydrator overnight and now were well complexly dry and ready to be packed. We vacuum seal these and they last well in the refrigerator. We have found that, doing this, they will keep for at least a year. Our dogs are still enjoying the treats that we prepared last year.

The next task was to clean the stomachs. DSC_2679 (2)To do this it is necessary to cut away the spleen and intestines from the sheeps’ stomachs. Sheep have four stomachs and these will be full of grass in various stages of digestion. This needs to be washed out. We have found that standing in the stream with a sharp knife or scissors if the easiest way to do this. Mind you, however you do this job it is not glamourous.

We have found that sheep tripe is not as good as that DSC07289from cows but we know two who think it is the greatest thing in the world – our dogs. They are very enthusiastic for tripe as can be seen in their rapt attention as I cut it into strips. We then add this to the scrap (old and bendy) carrots we have left over at the end of the year. We boil the carrots and mince them with the tripe to make dog food. (We mince them so the dogs can’t eat around the carrots like children – eating the tripe and leaving the vegetables).

The last job for the day was to make the blood_20180118_200549.JPG “tofu” or “curds”. The blood which we collected had clotted and we cut the clot into lumps with a sharp knife.  These lumps are then put in salted boiled water and they harden. We don’t add anything to make the equivalent of black pudding or blood sausage. This was partly due to lack of planning as we didn’t have oatmeal or seasoning to hand. Next year we hope to do this. The way we have prepared them this time, they are rather bland tasting.  I can see why they are  often used in broths which themselves have a lot of  flavour. In a broth like this the curds bring protein and vitamins to the meal rather than any particular taste.

We had visitors while we were busy this afternoon. The kitchen unfortunately looked a little like a charnel house with tripes on the table and blood being boiled on the stove. I had the feeling as they sat there that they felt that it might be easier just to go to the supermarket. However, as we talked and remembered the meals of our youth they remembered that meat is a precious thing. It is best seen as a special part of the meal a treat not something commonplace.  We remembered meals, like neck of lamb, pork belly or cheeks, which were eaten when we were young because they were the cheaper. They were the bits of meat that people didn’t want to buy and our mothers used these cheaper cuts, or offal,  in recipes to eke out their budget. Unfortunately the methods of cooking using these cuts has been gradually forgotten and this amnesia causes us to miss many excellent dishes. Try and buy mutton now, you will have difficulty. However, it is true to say that most farmers will tell you mutton is superior in taste to lamb but it has fallen out of fashion. If you get the opportunity to try it you should take it, you will be pleasantly surprised.