Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Eighty Years Young

Eighty Years Young- Growing older ---  15th November 1932 
       It began slowly almost imperceptibly gradually gaining momentum until it was flying along, almost hysterically. In the last few years it has been traveling at break neck speed. Hours became days, days became weeks, weeks became months until today when I awoke like any other with the sun rising in the east. I lay there slowly surfacing, nothing seemed to have changed but everything had. I had reached that magical age of eighty and still going strong. When I look back to my childhood, eighty was uncommon, most people died in their seventies but much change has occurred and here I am sitting comfortably at this computer writing these few reminiscences.
      Is this old age? I guess it is, certainly if I look in a mirror, I see an old face looking back at me but when I think, read or talk, my age seems to dissolve away and I could be any age at any time. Inevitably death enters my thoughts more frequently time goes on  although it has been by my side for as long as I can remember, gently nudging and chiding me. I have seen it visit many people during my lifetime  and have been struck by the calm that its presence brings to the body that remains. The future remains an enigma. We really don't know what it holds and perhaps it is better that way.  Certainly the past gives no indication of what is to come.
    Could anyone have foretold the changes that have occurred during these years, so many innovations, scientific advances, technical improvements?  I am reluctant to use the words advances as each brings with it disadvantages. The motor car an almost miraculous invention has left behind a wake of death and disability. The airplane another unbelievable invention has had its toll of death. Medical advances such as the antibiotics, joint replacement, heart, lung liver transplants are now familiar to all. Perhaps the most remarkable and the one that has most affected our lives is in the field of communications ranging from the old style Radio to Television, computers and mobile telephones. The latter have changed the way we live our lives, no longer needing to plan every action as we can speak to each other in most parts of the world.  Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone in 1870 has blossomed into a facility that is a central part of our lives. So much so that most of us couldn't imagine a world without one.
     So what of the future? Will the wheel be replaced by a hover system?  Will our roads become rails with cars linked together?  Will we be able to fly using a self propelled system? Will surgery become unnecessary as more and more treatment is carried out through the body's existing channels such as the veins, the arteries the mouth etc.  Will we understand the chemistry of the aging process and begin to control it?
So many exciting things to come…..

Friday, September 7, 2012

Immigrants - Out of the blue

Out of the blue

He was tall and thin, and walked with a slight stoop. As soon as he spoke, I saw his teeth were stained and irregular. We had met by chance as we were both walking in the same direction along Edgware Road in London. He had turned to me,
'There are too many of them?' he had muttered as he walked past me. I stopped.
'Who do you mean?' I had asked innocently.
'Them!' He had said pointing to the crowd standing at the bus stop.
'Them!' He had repeated, 'there are too many of them They shouldn't be here, they don't belong. Look at them, there ain't a white face amongst them, and look at 'er over there on the pavement she's a Somali begging, for God's sake.'
'How old are you?" I had asked,
'75 and proud of it,' he had replied pulling back his shoulders. 'I went through the war. I suffered for this country and I was proud to be British. Now any Tom, Dick or Harry is British. British! What a joke. It never used to be like this, the country's going to the dogs. We don't need them at all. They should be made to go back to their own country and leave England to the real English.'
I listened as he went on and wanted to ask him whom he thought the real English were but I refrained. He was angry and disillusioned. His pension was buying less and he was worried about the future. He thought of these people as stealing his life. But the truth was that it was he who had been cushioned all his life although he wouldn't agree. He wouldn't want to think about the millions in the world living in poverty, real poverty, grinding poverty not what passes for poverty in this country.
I wanted to say to him, how lucky he was to have a pension so many people in the world don't, and to live to 75 when the average life expectancy in the world was below 50 but I knew that he wouldn't appreciate my preaching. He was bleeding and he was blaming the immigrants for his pain. But this complaint isn't new. Ever since Britain became a nation with a common belief, people have been coming here initially through invasion and conquest and later to escape persecution or to seek a better life.
I wanted to remind him that it all It began in ernest a long time ago with Julius Caesar in 54 BC and again with Claudius in AD 43. During the 400 years of occupation, Roman soldiers based on the mainland settled, married and became Britons, bringing Latin into the language. It has been estimated that 40% of modern English words are based on Latin. Not long after came the Anglo-saxons from Germany and France and throughout,the centuries, Irish immigration had been a continuing movement varying with the state of their economy.
Nor did he want me to remind him about the invasion from the Vikings in 800 AD followed by armies and settlers bringing their own distinct culture and language ultimately leading to Danelaw which was gradually replaced by the Anglo-Saxons. The Normans under William the Conqueror settled leading to an Anglo-Norman population. So many others followed adding to the richness and variety of the language and culture in particular the Huguenots around 1700. At the same time, the rise of the East India Company with the recruitment of Lascars as crews resulted in many remaining in England and establishing families. The Navigation Act 1660 was passed specifically to limit the employment of Indian crews.
The 18th century saw the impact of African slavery. It is thought that up to 15,000 Africans settled largely as servants in upper class families. The 19th C saw the movement of large number of German to England but anti-German feeling at the beginning of the First World War saw the number decrease. The Jewish migration at the same time had a significant impact on English life. Of the 2 million jews that left Russia as a result of persecution,120,000 settled in the UK. The Alien Act in 1905 and the Alien's Restriction Act of 1914 were passed as a result of strong anti-jewish public opinion.
So what is different about the present emigration? Is it different at all? He clearly sees something different. Undoubtedly the establishment of the Welfare State in 1946 significantly changed the ground rules. Previously each wave of emigrants had to survive on its own wits, each movement succeeded as a result of the hard work and application of the individuals but that all changed when the welfare state came into being. It provided benefits for the unemployed, the disabled and the family, and these benefits were available to all. Now those being admitted to the UK can claim the same benefits as the general population.
The two devastating European wars in the early and middle parts of the 20th Century provided the impetus to establish a European State. In 1957 The Treaty of Rome was signed by six countries. Belgium, France, Italy ,Luxembourg, Netherlands and West Germany, They chose a new currency the Euro and relegated their old currencies to history. In 1973 the EU enlarged to include Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom; Greece in 1981; Portugal and Spain in 1986. In 1990 with the fall of the Iron Curtain, the former East Germany joined with West Germany to form Greater Germany. By 2011, there were 28 members. In 2008, with the financial collapse following the USA's Prime Mortgage scandal, the UK has been saddled with an enormous debt which has prompted an austerity programme from the government.
My own story is informative. My grandparents came from eastern Europe at the time of the pogroms. My father was a taxi driver. He had three sons, One became a national service pilot and business man, the second an NHS surgeon and the youngest a solicitor.
So is the stranger correct? Is he right to resent the current influx of foreigners, and is there a limit to the numbers our economy can sustain and if so how do we know when we have reached it? Meanwhile we are facing a demographic explosion with the numbers of people living to over 80 increasing year by year, and at the same time our birth rate is declining. So logically we need new immigrants, young and fit men and women to do the jobs which fuel our economy, pay for the health service and the retirees pensions. These and many other questions remain to be answered before we can ever fully understand the implication of the present influx of foreigners.


The Paralympics

As the second week of the Paralympics comes to an end. it is opportune to analyse the significance of this extraordinary public event. A hundred and forty six countries sent athletes to London to compete in the same magnificent facilities used by the Olympics a month earlier. The overwhelming impression was one of enormous courage, skill and sportsmanship. The method of classifying the disabilities was complicated and inevitably some degree of inequality stepped in, for example, single and double lower limb amputees competed together. It is debatable whether that was a fair match. Similarly in swimming, upper limb and lower limb ablations were treated as similar handicaps. Many more examples can be quoted. Putting that aside, the competitors gave the spectators an insight into the challenges faced by them on a day to day basis. Races competed by blind athletes assisted by guides were particularly humbling.
The games gave to this observer another and arguably very important insight namely a bird's eye view of the incidence and causation of the conditions underlying the disabilities. The physical ones comprised, in no special order, trauma, cerebral palsy, polio, drug induced limb deformed such as Thalidomide, blindness birth or acquired etc. etc.
Of these the following are either treatable or avoidable, much trauma, polio, birth trauma leading to Cerebral Palsy, much blindness etc. Thus although the games reflected the enormous resilience of human beings there is a sadness that many of these conditions hadn't been avoided for example by by better birth care to minimise Cerebral Palsy, Innoculation to prevent Polio, Public health measures to prevent secondary blindness, withdrawal of drugs as in Thalidomide etc. etc.
In an ideal world, none of these conditions would exist and that is a target to which all countries developed and developing should aim.