Friday, 21 July 2017

Britain is a country where old men don't live, but do work, longer and longer

In a statement n the House of Commons this week, David Gauke, the Government's Work and Pensions Secretary, had some unwelcome news for about 7 million young men and women in their 30s and early 40s : when they become old men and women, in the late 2030s, their state pension age will rise from 67 to 68. This would happen to them, rather than the generation coming behind them as previously planned.

He said implementing the proposals would create : “Fairness across the generations, and the certainty which people need to plan for old age.” Apparently, by making them all work longer he wanted Britain to be : “The best country in the world to grow old” and failing to act “would be irresponsible and place an extremely unfair burden on younger generations.”
This 7 million have to thank former CBI Director General, John Cridland who published a review in March which recommended accelerating the planned increase in the pension age to prevent the costs of the state pension becoming unsustainable. Graham Vidler, the Director of External Affairs at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, referred to this group as "the sandwich generation" who "are also those most at risk of inadequate private saving – they have not had the same access to final salary pension schemes as their parents and are too old to enjoy the full benefits of automatic enrolment that their children will see."

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said it was “astonishing that this is being announced the day after new authoritative research suggested that the long-term improvement in life expectancy is stalling.” She was referring to Sir Michael Marmot, the Director of the 'Institute of Health Equity' at University College London and an expert in the links between poverty and ill-health, who has produced a report which shows that the trend that old men and women in Britain could expect to leave longer and longer is no more.

It was the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, who described the changes as “anything but fair” and argued that many pensioners faced a “toxic cocktail” of ill-health long before they reached 68. She might well have been referring to those living in the pink to red areas in the West and North on the map below where levels of social and economic deprivation are forecast to remain high.

Men's life expectancy in England and Wales in 2030 as projected by The Lancet :

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Britain is no country for old men like Noel Conway who wish to live no older

Noel Conway, who, at 67 years old, is scarce old, wants to die or rather he wants the right to die at a time of his own choosing, but as the law stands in Britain at the moment, he cannot do this. If a doctor was to help him end his life, he would face 14 years in prison. He wants this right because he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2014. His condition is incurable and he is not expected to live beyond the next 12 months. He has said : “I am going to die, and I have come to terms with this fact. But what I do not accept is being denied the ability to decide the timing and manner of my death. I am not prepared to suffer right to the end, nor do I want to endure a long, drawn-out death in a haze of morphine."

His High Court Hearing, in which three senior judges will consider his plea to be allowed to arrange his death, began this week and is scheduled to last five days. Noel is supported by 'Dignity in Dying' and other organisations campaigning to change the 1961 Suicide Act. Last week several hundred supporters staged a protest on a Thames river boat outside the Houses of Parliament after which he said : “In the past months I have been struck by the number of people who, like me, want the right to choose how we die. Today has shown the huge strength of feeling of people who want the right to a dignified death.”

People like Noel, who seek help to end their lives, are currently forced to travel to a clinic in Switzerland and at the moment one person a fortnight travels to Dignitas from Britain to do just that.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, said : “It is completely wrong that people who are of sound mind but terminally ill or incurably suffering are denied the choice to die with dignity. The deliberate extension of suffering as a matter of public policy is a stain on our humanity. The majority of the public want change but as long as Parliament is unwilling to act, it is up to brave individuals such as Noel to fight for all our rights. We will always stand with such courageous and public-spirited champions.”

Noel's lawyers will ask the Court to declare that the blanket ban on assisted dying under the Suicide Act is contrary to the Human Rights Act and will argue that as a terminally ill, mentally competent adult, his right to a private life, which includes the right to make decisions on the end of his life, is unnecessarily restricted by current laws. His aim is to bring about a change in the law that would legalise assisted dying for those who are terminally ill and are assessed as having six months or less to live.

The last time a right to die case was considered in detail by the courts was in 2014 when the Supreme Court asked Parliament to reconsider the issue and after debating the subject, Parliament rejected making any changes to the law.

“The option of an assisted death should be available to me, here in this country, in my final six months of life – this is what I am fighting for. It would bring immense peace of mind and allow me to live my life to the fullest, enjoying my final months with my loved ones until I decide the time is right for me to go."

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Britain is a country where most old men can no longer expect to live longer and longer

Sir Michael Marmot, the Director of the 'Institute of Health Equity' at University College London and an expert in the links between poverty and ill-health, has produced a report which shows that :

* the trend that old men and women in Britain could expect to leave longer and longer is no more. In fact, a century-long rise in life expectancy has stalled since 2010, when austerity brought about deep cuts in the National Health Service and Social Care spending.

* in 1919 men lived for an average of 52.5 years and women for 56.1 years and by 2010 that had reached 77.1 and 82,6 but by 2015 it had only crept up to 79.6 and 83.1.

* life expectancy at birth had been going up so fast that women were gaining an extra year of life every five years and men every three-and-a-half years and now the rate of increase was, according to Marmot : "pretty close to having ground to a halt" and “It is not inevitable that it should have levelled off.” 

In Sir Michael's opinion, the “miserly” levels of spending on health and social care in recent years, at a time of rising health need linked to the ageing population. had affected the amount and quality of care older people receive. “If we don’t spend appropriately on social care, if we don’t spend appropriately on health care, the quality of life will get worse for older people and maybe the length of life, too.” 

Sir Michael, interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' Programme this morning said that his Report had identified two things : "What we had expected over time, this relentless increase in life expectancy, improvement in health has stalled and the second is that there's dramatic differences by where you live and level of deprivation. So, the more affluent, the longer our life expectancy."

"What we see, classically, that life expectancy and health is worse in the North of the country, better in the South. The best stop is Kensington and Chelsea. But what we also see is that within areas dramatic differences by levels of deprivation. Take Kensington and Chelsea : the most wealthy local authority in the country and the level of inequality, the difference is 16 years of life expectancy at the bottom end and it's no accident that Grenfell Tower is in the poor part of Kensington."

In other words, the richest old men in Britain, continue to live longer and longer, but the less well off, do not.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy 70th Birthday" to Wilko Johnson

Wilko, former rhythm and blues, 'Dr Feelgood' guitarist and founding father of the English punk movement is 70 years old today. Showing fortitude in the face of death, when he was told that he had terminal pancreatic cancer in 2013, he spoke of the strange "euphoria" he experienced since and said the news had made him feel "vividly alive" and had lifted the bouts of depression he had previously experienced.

"Every little thing you see, every cold breeze against your face, every brick in the road, you think 'I'm alive, I'm alive' - I hope I can hang onto that. I've had a fantastic life. When I think about the things that have happened to me and the things I've done, I think anybody who asks for more would just be being greedy. I don't wanna be greedy.This position I'm in is so strange, in that I do feel fit and yet I know death is upon me. I'm not hoping for a miracle cure or anything. I just hope it spares me long enough to do these gigs - then I'll be a happy man."

What you possibly didn't know about Wilko, that he :

* was born in 1947 on Canvey Island, Essex, survived the floods of 1953 and shares his nostalgia at the sight of the River Thames with Jools Holland :

at home in the 1950s and 60s was hit by his violent, ex-soldier father who died when he was a teenager attending grammar school at Westcliff High School for Boys and played in several local groups, before going to the University of Newcastle to study English, Anglo-Saxon literature and ancient Icelandic sagas.

* after graduating, travelled overland on the hippy trail to India and Afghanistan, before returning to Essex to play with the 'Pigboy Charlie Band', which evolved into 'Dr Feelgood', where he developed his own style, coupling choppy playing with novel dress of  black suit and unfashionable pudding basin haircut and jerky movements on stage. He also played riffs and solos at the same time on a vintage Fender Telecaster without using a pick which allowed him to move without fear of losing it.

* featured in the BBC4 series, 'Punk Britannia' in 2012, which stressed the importance of Dr Feelgood as 'pub rockers, a generation of bands sandwiched between 60s hippies and mid-70s punks who will help pave the way towards the short, sharp shock of punk'.

* reviewing his 2012 autobiography, 'Looking back at Me', Mark Blake of 'Q Magazine' said of Dr Feelgood : 'In the mid-70s the band's brutish R and B and their guitarist's eye-popping thousand-yard stare inspired a young John Lydon, Paul Weller and Suggs from Madness.'

* left the band in 1977 and joined the 'Solid Senders', then, in 1980, Ian Dury's band, 'The Blockheads' before forming the 'Wilko Johnson Band' and continued to pursue his musical career in the 1980s and 90s.

* in 2009, appeared in the documentary film 'Oil City Confidential' and was described by  reviewer, Philip French as : 'a wild man, off stage and on, funny, eloquent and charismatic' and director, Julien Temple  as  'an extraordinary man – one of the great English eccentrics.'

* had Peter Bradshaw of the 'Guardian' say of him : 'the best rockumentary yet, the most likeable thing about this very likable film is the way it promotes Wilko Johnson as a 100-1 shot for the title of Greatest Living Englishman.

* made his acting debut, cast in the role of mute executioner 'Ilyn Payne', in the HBO fantasy series 'Game of Thrones' after the producers had seen him in 'Oil City Confidential' and said :
"They said they wanted somebody really sinister who went around looking daggers at people before killing them. That made it easy. Looking daggers at people is what I do all the time, it's like second nature to me."

* in 2013 made a tv appearance with 'Madness', , fell ill and then recovered to play at the Wickham Festival in Hampshire in August and in the Spring of the following year, appeared in support of Status Quo and played in collaboration with Roger Daltrey on 'Going Back Home' :

* faced his illness head on and went on a 'Farewell Tour' and recalled that he was : "extremely calm" when he "felt this extreme sense of elation" because he believed : "Staring at death gives you profound feelings. Everything seems more vivid. Walking down the street everything seemed sharper, brighter, more in focus.”

* at the age of 68 in 2014, had his pancreas, spleen, part of his stomach and part of his small and large intestine removed in a nine-hour operation at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge where Surgeon, Emmanuel Huguet, who removed the 7lb 11oz tumour, said : “It’s no exaggeration to say Wilko’s been taken to the limit of what a human being can take.”

* in the year which followed, during which doctors said he should be dead, had further tests which revealed that his pancreatic cancer was, in fact, a neuroendocrine tumour, a rare and less aggressive malignancy.

* now that he appears to be out of the woods with his cancer, says that he laments the loss of that feeling of elation : “I wish I could regain it. It’s like a powerful dream that has faded. Feeling like that almost made having cancer worth it.”

  * had said :
“I always had this idea that when I grew I old I would be sitting in an Oxford college room with the sun slanting through the mullioned windows. I would be reading medieval poetry and I would be wise. The nearer I got to being old, the more I realised the wisdom wasn’t coming. So I’m just as confused as ever. Now I won’t actually grow either old or wise.” 

Wilko may never become wise, but now at least, may become old.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Britain, after all these years, is still no country for old, gay men

Michael Penn is 76 years old. He was born during the Second World War in 1941. Michael was 45 years old when his partner, Brian, fell ill in 1986. He recalled : 'We were spending the Christmas break at our holiday home in Suffolk. Brian spent all of Christmas Day in bed and on Boxing Day morning I could tell he wasn’t getting better. I called a doctor friend to get his opinion. He took one look at Brian and said we must take him to hospital straight away. Anyone who contracted HIV back then, as Brian had, was almost certain to die. On top of that, there was so much we didn’t know about how the virus worked or how it was transmitted.'

Fifty years ago, Michael was 26 years old when the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 'decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men, both of whom had to have attained the age of 21.'

Twenty years later Michael recorded : 'On 28 May 1987, Brian died. He was just two months away from his 40th birthday. It was a tragic year for me, as I received my own HIV diagnosis too. Having cared for Brian in his last months, I didn’t know how long I would live and I assumed the worst.'

He also recalled that, back then : 'The Government had recently launched its National Awareness Campaign, 'Don’t Die of Ignorance', featuring tombstones and icebergs, and every household had received the now infamous leaflet. Everywhere I looked there was the idea that HIV was a death sentence.'

In 1990 Michael was told that he needed to go on medication to control the virus : 'At the time only azidothymidine, known as AZT, was available. I was confused about whether I should start treatment. I’d heard about the dreadful side effects and, to be frank, I wasn’t sure if it would help me or hurt me.' In fact, he did start the medication and experienced side effects.

At the age of 55 in 1996, Britain had become a country where Michael had the prospect of becoming an old man : 'My world changed for ever. Combination antiretroviral therapy became available. It was revolutionary. It wasn’t a cure, but it enabled people to live well with HIV, with few, or in my case no, side effects.'

Michael says : 'Today, I take just two pills once a day. Effective treatment works by suppressing the HIV virus. It is reduced so much that it can no longer be detected in the blood. We now know this also means, incredibly, that it can’t be passed on.'

Yet, despite this, he is still, ill at ease : 'I worry about stigma as I grow older and hear stories about terrible treatment of those with HIV in care homes, with staff who have never really had to think about the virus and although I am healthy and speak openly about my status, I have experienced stigma myself. There is still a lot to do to bring public attitudes and awareness up to date with the medical reality.'

To confirm Michael's fears, a recent 'Terrence Higgins Trust Survey' revealed that nearly one in three Britons wrongly believed that HIV can be transmitted by sharing toothbrushes and one in five think that HIV can be transmitted by kissing.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Britain is a country which says "Goodbye" to Brian Cant where many remember him as a friend who entertained them on tv when they were young

Brian, the presenter of several long-running series in the Golden Age of children's television from the 1960s to 1980s, has died at the age 83. In a career in kid's tv which spanned a total of 40 years, Brian entertained successive  generations which must have totalled millions of children. He spoke to them directly in his simple, gentle manner and they trusted and loved him in return.

What the kids didn't know about Brian was that he was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, in the Summer of 1933 and grew up in Lancing
Avenue in a new semi-detached house, where the family was supported by his Father who worked as an engineer. Having passed his 11+ during the Second World War he took himself off to Northgate Grammar School for Boys towards during the Second World War in 1944. In the school photo taken after the War in 1948, taken when he was in the 4th year, his smiling face can be picked out in the centre of his serious-looking contemporaries.

For someone who later became the consummate theatrical professional, he later confessed that : "I never did drama at school. I was too shy." In fact there was no family connection "with showbiz except for my mother's father who was a roller-skater on the halls. He used to go round the music halls doing his skating act on a tiny little portable rink; the only thing I know about him is that there's a sepia photograph of him doing a pirouette and on the back there's a message to my grandmother saying something like "Hello dear, I'm playing Colchester next week and hope to send you some money!"

Brian left school at 16 and, no doubt at his Father's suggestion, was enrolled as an apprentice lithographer at a printing press in the town. He described his role rather grandly as : "A lithographic artist in a fine art shop in Ipswich."  Working, on what must have been the unexciting and unexacting process where metal plates were used create images for the print shop, Brian sought outlets in sport and the stage.

These were the years when he still had dreams of playing football for Ipswich Town, having trained for the club in their youth section while at the same time, as he recalled, he would "watch the Ipswich Theatre and started joining in a bit, helping and then I began doing amateur work around Ipswich" and "used to watch all the old music hall stars, Max Miller and all the rest, at the local Hippodrome and I went to all the summer shows at Felixstowe and Clacton and just got the feeling that I wanted to do this."

After returning home after his two years National Service in the Armed Forces in the early 1950s, his desire for the theatre was undiminished and at the age of 24, in 1957, having graduated from stage hand to actor he performed in an amateur production of the thriller, 'Safe Harbour' and was damned with faint praise in a review which said : 'Mr Cant does incredibly well within the terms of an almost embarrassingly inept caricature.' This was the year in which theatre called him away from Suffolk which he left for London, having "got a girlfriend who was in RADA."

To support himself he continued working as a printer by day and acting by night, mainly with the amateur Mount View Theatre Club, which met in Cecile House at Crouch End in North London. Formed by Peter Coxhead while he was in the Navy during the Second World War, it put on about 20 plays each year and, as Brian later said, it was "amateur, but there were also lots of pros keeping their hand in so-to-speak," After being spotted by an agent, he took the plunge the following year, jacked in his job as a printer, turned professional and spent the summer season in rep at Buxton, Pavilion Arts Centre in Derbyshire, where his income fell dramatically from £23 to £3 10 shillings per week. He recalled : "Luckily, when the season finished, we went to Peterborough and took over there. We were the Penguin Players and I spent two years there playing all sorts of parts. That's really where I learnt my trade." 

In 1960, at the age of 27, he made the transition from stage to television when a friend, Dennis “Slim” Ramsden, introduced him to a BBC TV director and after a successful audition he was cast as a P.O.W in one episode of a six part Second World War 'The Long Way Home.' He then, over the next four years, played by turn in tv series : a miner in 'The Secret Kingdom', a corporal in 'Sir Francis Drake,' a police constable in the comedy series 'Bootsie and Snudge', a Special Branch man in 'The Sentimental Agent', Det. Sgt. Barnes in 'No Hiding Place' and Det. Sgt. Bailey in 'Detective'.

Then in 1964, and now 31, Brian recalled : "I had been doing a lot of schools' programmes and in one of them I was being a Roman sitting on an urn." The production assistant, Cynthia Felgate, told him she was setting up a new show, 'Play School' to which Brian, the pro from hundreds of children's audiences from his days in rep said : "How do I audition ?"

Although, Brian continued to pepper his career from that point with roles in serious drama, it was his work in children's shows that earned him the love and affection of successive generations of children. The start of what would be his 21 year involvement in 'Play School', which led directly to his work providing the voices for the Gordon Murray puppet series, 'Camberwick Green' in 1966, 'Trumpton' in 1967 and 'Chigley' in 1969.

Between 1971-84 Brian co-hosted 'Play Away' while presenting the children's show 'Bric-A-Brac' from 1980-82 and at the age of 57 he began to play the part of Brian, the farmer in the tv puppet programme, 'Dappledown Farm' and completed that work at the age of 70 in 2003. It was in that year that he began work on the Channel 5 shows 'MechaNick' and 'The Softies.'

Play School 
Joy Whitby recalled in 2012 : 'When Brian Cant came to the audition, I asked him to sit in a cardboard box and imagine going on a journey. He sailed away with a broomstick and found, he said, a wellington boot full of custard. He was totally natural and he became Mr Play School.'

Brian recalled : "They wanted a programme aimed at the single child at home, so you were working eyeball-to-eyeball. I think that was why it was so successful; whoever you were talking to, you had to make them feel that they were the only one, that you were doing it just for them, and so there were all sorts of guidelines we had to follow. We were never allowed to say "ask your mother/father" because they might not have a mum or dad, so you'd say "ask a grown-up" or "ask an adult", and you couldn't talk about going to play on the lawn, because there'd be lots of children in high-rise blocks who didn't have gardens, so you'd talk about playing in the park."

"You were always trying to make the child feel that you were doing the programme just for them; I think it paid off, and I think it's why so many people remember it as being special to them, because they got to know each and every one of us as brothers, sisters, uncles or whatever. But no-one ever called me Uncle Brian; it was more as if I was just a grown-up mate who came over and messed around, chatted, read stories."

Brian and the clock :

Brian the bird :

The Trumpton Trilogy 
Set in the fictional county of Trumptonshire was the market towns and villages of 'Camberwick Green' in 1966, 'Trumpton' in 1967 and 'Chigley' in 1969, Brian narrated each part and sang every song in the 39 films of the series, which told the gentle stories of everyday events in the lives of the postman, doctor, farmer, milkman and others. What his audience didn't know was that Brian : "Never saw the puppets or the filming of any of the shows” and “used to go round to Freddie Phillips’s house and sit in his cupboard, which was also his recording studio. I would do roughly three shows a day in there. It was tiring work.”

It was Brian's voice that weekly introduced kids to the townsfolk of 'Camberwick Green' :

“Here is a box, a musical box, wound up and ready to play. But this box can hide a secret inside. Can you guess what is in it today ?"

Mrs Honeyman and her Baby 

Captain Snort

Peter the Postman

His opening words for 'Trumpton' and remain familiar to many who were the kids who watched the programme, were addressed to that town’s firemen :
“Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grub” 
Brian's 'Play Away' was a live entertainment spin-off of 'Play School', for older children, incorporating comedy songs and jokes, it ran between 1974 and 1987 with him as a presenter throughout.

One feature of the programme was a sequence of short one line gags based around a theme, for example :
“I’m a bean, I’m a bean, what kind of bean am I?”
Jeremy Irons also presented the show with Brian during its early years.

Brian played the owner of a kind of junk shop, who went round finding things that began with different letters of the alphabet and in 1984 faces in a mirror :

                   Dappledown Farm 

He took the role of a farmer on a farm full of puppet animals which included Dapple the Horse, Mabel the Cow, Stubble and Straw, the two mice, Columbus the Cockerel, Lucky Ducky, Colin the Coot, Millie the Moor hen, Fiona the Frog and Harry the Heron.

In 2010 when he was 77, Brian was given a 'Special Award' at the Children’s Baftas and began his acceptance speech with :
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. When I became a man I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child and they paid me for it." 

At the time Brian was asked by the BBC's Bill Turnbull : "what would he have liked his young viewers to take away from his programmes ?"
He replied, with perfect self-deprecation :
"Maybe, that I made them laugh and generally made them feel happy"

Mission Accomplished Brian

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Brexit Europe is no continent for old men from Britain living on their pensions

From the 1990s onwards cheap air travel, increased longevity, rising British house prices, inflation-proofed pensions, together with Spanish property speculation and the EU principle of free movement, added about 310,000 British citizens to Spain’s current population and over 106,610 of these are elderly old men and women claiming and in some cases, heavily dependent on their state pension from Britain. The southern regions of Costa del Sol and Alicante have been their most popular places to live.

Most of them make no effort to integrate at all. One-third rarely or never meet Spanish people, apart from in shops and restaurants and 60% do not speak Spanish well. Instead, they congregate together British restaurants and pubs, eating English breakfasts and drinking pints of bitter.

Other EU countries also have substantial numbers of British citizens : Ireland has 255,000 and France, 185,000 out of a total of 1.2 million British citizens living abroad in the EU and many of these are also pensioners.  At the moment. thanks to EU regulation, they receive the same annual pension rises as those back home in Britain, when such rises are denied to pensioners living in most non-EU countries.

Now there could be trouble ahead for these old Brits because the pound’s fall against the euro has already shrunk the pension’s value by 10% in one year and Britain’s withdrawal from the EU may also mean the ending of the index-linking that pensioners inside the EU presently enjoy.

Another concern for them is healthcare, where at the moment there’s a big imbalance between British pensioners using European health services and European pensioners in Britain using the National Health Service. In Spain, for example, 70,000 retired British citizens use Spain’s doctors and hospitals, while in Britain only 81 Spanish pensioners are registered for treatment by the NHS.

At the moment reciprocal agreements between the states inside the 'European Economic Area', which consists of the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, mean that costs are covered by the migrant’s home nation. On this basis, Britain paid £674.4m in health bills to other EEA countries in 2014-15 and claimed back only £49.7m. However, if Britain leaves the EEA as well as the EU, this health provision, which is free at the point of delivery, would, unless it is renegotiated with individual countries, also come to an end.

In the words of Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP and pension campaigner, the victims include “a lot of very elderly, very frail people" who "have sunk all their disposable income into their properties.” 

These old Brits are trapped. They can't sell their homes at the price they paid for them and the inflated house prices or rents in Britain make their return impossible. What was once their idyll in the sun is starting to turn into the millstone around their necks.