26 January, 2013

"Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike...."

Oscar winner?
When Pat and I visited the cinema last week to see “Les Mis” we saw the trailer for the new film “Lincoln”. Since we both studied American history at college many, many years ago, and since a book I often return to is Carl Sandburg’s great trilogy "Lincoln", the film is  a huge attraction for us. I’m sure that we will be popping along for a matinee performance and paying our senior citizen prices for a view! I thought about this a few days later as I watched the 44th American President Barack Obama being sworn in and using the Lincoln Bible.

The political analysts have, in the past few days, picked over Obama’s 2nd Inauguration speech to glean some insight into his plans for the USA during the next four years. Clearly, much of that will be of more moment to Americans than to me sitting in my little house in the middle of England. But, as we know, such is the power and influence of America in the global world that it has never been more true to say that when America sneezes everyone else catches a cold – or, as has often been said, what America does today, we in the UK (and I guess many other parts of the world), will be doing tomorrow. What Obama plans and works towards will inevitably have an impact, sooner or later on the wider world.

The power and influence of the USA throughout the world is indisputable – from McDonalds and Starbucks on every street corner  to the huge sponsorship and influence of companies such as Coca Cola.  From the might of the American military machine to the wielding of vast political power ensuring that in every area of the world American interests are powerfully represented.  From the vast economic wealth that can, with one flick of a computer switch, bring an economy to its knees or alternatively make stock markets across the world rise or fall.  From the depiction of the “good life”, the American dream, as described by Hollywood to the increasingly worrying trend identified by American film critic Michael Medved  when he protested at Hollywood's relentless overt (and at the same time subliminal message), "that violence offers an effective solution for all human problems".
I could go on – and on – sufficient to say that the USA not only is a super power but has an influence that overtly and covertly spreads its tentacles in a myriad of ways. The American life style, consumerism, free markets, celebrity culture, “Americanisms” in language and the rest have become part of our lives for good or ill.  For many they are the way forward, the future, for others a thing to be viewed with some concern. 

I have absolutely no doubt that one of the very great problems facing the world is that no matter how well meaning are the intentions of American politicians and no matter how  enticingly  desirable the American dream is, many countries and cultures might fear the onslaught of the Americanisation of their culture. We in the UK, on the other hand, seem to want to grab American culture at any cost. Not only do many often see us as the 51st  State but  our politicians clamber for the approval and the crumbs of goodwill from the Washington political table by lusting after something they term a “special relationship”. I'm not too sure that Washington sees it in the same way and  I have no doubt that many, like me, view Washington and US influence across the world  with some anxiety. Indeed, I would far prefer a special relationship with Europe - our cultural, historical, political and geographical neighbours - than a country on the far side of the world. Even allowing for the barriers of language!  As I have blogged before, if I was an Afghan or an Iraqi. I can’t help thinking that if I lived in a remote village I might look at my TV set and see the violence portrayed from Hollywood, I might look at the bull necked US soldiers with their skinhead hair cuts and guns walking down my street and be very afraid, I might see my children being influenced by the ‘attractions’ of McDonalds or Coke, I might see the mass shootings that seem to increasingly occur in American schools, I might question what I perceive as a shallowness in American life as depicted on my TV screen,  I might worry that my long held religious beliefs might not be followed by my children when they see the glitzy and superficially exciting society portrayed  on my little TV set, I might be concerned that my daughters might give up the role and position that women have traditionally occupied in my society for many thousands of years...........yes, I think I might have anxieties. Many may well dispute my view, but my anxieties and misgivings are real and I cannot believe that I am the only person in the world who feels them!
The 44th President presents his vision of what might be.

There is, however, another side – and I was reminded of this on Monday as I watched Barack Obama. Whilst recognising all these concerns, it seemed to me that Oscar Wilde’s judgement of a century ago that America is the only nation to have gone from barbarism to decadence without a civilization in between is a little harsh. Whatever its faults – real or perceived – the USA has been a world beacon (maybe, sometimes, illusionary!) of freedom, democracy, aspiration, enterprise, culture, ambition, good will and resolution. In its short life as a nation, whilst it has had its darker periods – I think for example of the George W Bush years – it has also provided some of the world’s very great leaders who would stand scrutiny with any from past ages and other continents – Lincoln, Roosevelt, Carter (a man, much vilified at the time, but now recognised as a world statesman), Kennedy  – and now, maybe, Obama.  Whilst I might rail against what appears to me to be the superficiality of the "have a nice day" aspect of American life and the dumbing down of culture I cannot deny that  America has produced some of the very great names and ideas that have moulded our world. Whilst I might become angry when I think of the excesses of the free market and Wall Street I cannot but remember spending two nights some years ago enjoying a drink with the kindest of men in a bar in New Jersey. He worked in the twin towers as a senior financial worker for Morgan Stanley and was a delight to talk to – he died, I think, on 9/11. I cannot forget when I first visited New York and sat on a bus, stood in Tiffany’s jewellers or reached the top of the Empire State building – having an overwhelming and quite new feeling - that in this land anything was possible. But, secondly, and for a staid, grey suited, middle aged, prejudiced English man something that I found quite unnerving. As I stood in Tiffany’s, humming "Moon River" whilst gazing at the jewellery and  in my mind's eye dreaming of Audrey Hepburn in that "little black dress", or as I stood on the Staton Island Ferry going out to see the Statue of Liberty, or as I sat on the bus going back to my hotel  the same feeling came into my mind - I had no idea who the person at the side of me was. I could not “pigeon hole” him or her. I couldn’t listen to him speak, look at the cut of his clothes or tell by his mannerisms and immediately categorise him as well I might in the UK. He could have been a millionaire, a celebrity (ugh!) or a penniless drop out – there was no apparent distinction as there so often is in the still stratified society of England. I’m sure that any American reading this blog may disabuse me of this - maybe it was simply because I didn't know what to look for and maybe I was just naive -  but at the time these feelings were, and still are, very real. As I have blogged before when my wife and I stepped out of the air port at New Jersey, totally lost in this vast country, our taxi driver swept us along – and despite my grumpy old man viewpoint I suddenly felt more than a tinge of emotion – we were racing along the New Jersey Turnpike! – a road in a song that spoke to generations:

Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all come to look for America
All come to look for America

Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” – within the words the hopes and dreams of a whole generation – not just Americans. And when we got to our hotel our cabbie – a huge black man - insisted on coming inside checking that our room was ready and that we would be well cared for – “and if you folks need help give me a call”  he said as he left – leaving us his card. We were immediately captivated by this great land and its people.
"Counting the cars on the NJT........they've
all come to look for America"

So a balance has to be struck. At a personal level, I can, in my prejudiced Brit’s way, accept that for every George Bush or Ronald Regan there has been a Jimmy Carter or a Roosevelt or of course, a Kennedy and a Lincoln – now maybe there is an Obama; for every violent movie coming out of Hollywood there has been an uplifting offering; for every bit of dumbed down culture there has been an incredible bit of research, technological breakthrough or a John Steinbeck - that has changed the world. The huge generosity of America and Americans is well known and although I might rail against what appears, from this side of the Atlantic to be the gross inequalities in American life and the willingness of the Republican Party, in particular, to rob the poor to reward the rich I also know that another fact of American life is the nation’s capacity to throw up great writers, thinkers, politicians and protesters to challenge the establishment and to change not only America but the world – John Steinbeck, Bob Dylan, Rosa Parks, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, Martin Luther King....... 

As I write this I am taken back to my childhood. My dad was a lorry driver and for many years in the 1950s one of his regular trips was to an American Air Force base about 40 miles away – Burtonwood. It had long been an RAF base but in those years was American – I can still remember the sign outside: “USAAF station 590”. If dad went during the school holiday I would sit beside him in  his cab and have a day out – always looked forward to because I knew I would come back with sweets (or “candy” as the GIs mysteriously called them!). We would arrive at the gate and be greeted by a huge armed soldier who would wave us through when dad’s papers had been checked. Invariably, as he checked the papers he would thrust a bar of chocolate or a packet of sweets through the lorry window. When my dad’s lorry was unloaded we would be taken off by one of the soldiers to the camp cafe and a huge hot dog put in my hand usually accompanied with a soft drink of some kind.  These were the days when the UK was still subject to post war rationing so this was a real treat – and by the time we left the camp, the delivery made, we would be taking other things with us – tins of corn on the cob (to my eyes a really exotic food and something I would boast to my friends about!),  doughnuts, American magazines. I can remember one called, I think, “Coronet” which was rather like Readers’ Digest and I would sit and devour it on the way home looking at the photographs of sky scrapers, American presidents, gangsters, film stars and baseball.......... . It all seemed, to my eyes, very exotic – and above all friendly and reassuring – just like the soldier with “candy” on the gate of the camp! And, yes, it spread American influence – I might today view that with a certain amount of cynicism - but then it was a very real and magical. I never knew whether these gifts were "legal" - certainly dad could not have afforded to pay for them but they were given freely and with affection. When we returned to the drab back street where we lived I felt I had been somewhere very special, an exciting place of jet aeroplanes, soldiers, smiles, sweets (candy!) and hot dogs! When we walked in and dad put two or three tins of corn on the cob or tinned meat on the table, when he unwrapped two or three doughnuts for us to enjoy in the evening, I often thought, how soon can I get to this wonderland!

Fifty years ago he had  an idealistic
vision that changed the world.
He looked forward to the time when....

And of course this is what America has offered to the world since the day of its birth – the promise of something better. It is why millions travelled there in the nineteenth century – and, of course, still do. Now via the internet, TV, Hollywood and the multibilllion dollar global economy it makes its promise to people in far of places – Starbucks, Coca Cola and the rest pass their subliminal messages about the desirability of the American dream to Asia, South America, Europe!

And as I watched and listened to Obama it occurred to me, all these considerations apart, that there was another message –and one that had not occurred to me before until I listened to him. 

Firstly, as we all know, Obama is the first African-American President of the USA and second, as the American Chief Justice swore Obama in he said “Barack H Obama” – the “H” standing for “Hussein”. All this, of course, is well known but it suddenly hit me that this is what democracy is, or should be all about. Here is a man who both by his name and his colour had everything stacked against him in contemporary America – and yet he can still end up President and his wife “the first lady” - and judging by reports, a very popular first lady.  In the end, of course,  Obama is a hard nosed politician - you don't become President  by just being a nice guy and someone who is quite photogenic and has a good line in sound bites - but none the less there he is, at the top! And added to this, I can’t help thinking that there is something inherently good and forward looking in the whole inauguration thing. It is something that we do not get in the same way in the UK. Every four years America looks to the future sometimes with a new leader - and certainly every eight years with a new leader. Unlike in the UK change, the future, is implicit in the system.

And at the Inauguration the President, whoever he is, presents a vision. Obama did just that and to my ears did it very well. All great speakers (Oh! for someone like him in the UK) present a vision, something to inspire the audience, an ideal to reach out for - that is what orators do - and it is what leaders should do. All right, it can all be taken with a pinch of salt – but there is an inherent forward looking inspiration: “...........what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago...... Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time...Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together....... we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action........ My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.......For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it...... We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own........We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth......It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began...... That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time........For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit .......You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.......

His dream inspired whole generations

Yes, and I accept that much oratory is no more than idealised dreaming and probably not worth the paper it is printed on when the hard business of politics gets going. But it is a dream and vision of what the future might be – and this is what aspirations and ambitions are made of. Fifty years ago JFK offered America  and the wider world a dream, eighty years ago FDR offered depressed America and the world a dream – something to work and to hope for. In the UK our visions are too often rooted in the past – our glorious past - but a glorious past does not guarantee a successful future. We, too often, celebrate the past  but fail to aspire to the future. Year after year we reward and choose as leaders those with a vested interest in preserving the past – people who have gone from the quadrangles of Eton, to the dreaming spires of Oxbridge to the corridors of power in Westminster - a self perpetuating reaffirmation of the establishment and the past. We need only look at the policies of the current government - all hark back restoring a society of days past. Sadly this is just as true of the Labour party as it is of the Conservatives. We sing a national anthem that does not recognise the continual rebirth and regeneration of a nation and its millions of citizens but rather celebrates a monarch based upon accident of birth and asks God to save her (or him) and preserve her/him for even longer!

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

For virtually all of my life we have celebrated and sung about the same person – during that time America has had many changes of leader – and many opportunities to rise again, to start afresh, to have a new dream and ambition, to look to the future. Of course the Queen’s role is quite different from that of the President but that is irrelevant – she is the figurehead just as Obama is, and it is through the figurehead that nations aspire. We, of course, have a Prime Minister - but that is not the same - he leads a political party who happen to be the government - he is not the figurehead of the nation. 

In the final analysis who would I follow into battle: a monarch who is there by accident of birth and who represents the country’s great heritage and past and who begins her annual speech with “My husband and I........”  and then, gently and warmly, pats us on the head for being good “subjects” over whom she can "long reign". Or a man elected by the nation, who has some experience of life other than “the establishment”, who addresses us as fellow citizens, who knows he only has four years to impress his fellow citizens, put his stamp on history  and who begins his speech:  Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens......” . There is no question for me – it is the latter.

The other day I happened to see a news clip of Obama and his vice president saluting a wreath draped in the American flag, hands on heart while a band played the American national anthem. I assume they were saluting America’s soldiers and war dead. As they stood there proud and solemn I thought, yes, I could do that, salute the nation – for the nation is something to be proud of. Sadly, when the flag is hoisted up the pole in this country and we listen to or sing the national anthem we are not saluting the nation as such but bowing a knee to an unelected 80 year old lady, asking God to save her (from what?), we are ascribing all sorts of doubtful qualities upon her – nobility, graciousness – and we are asking that she be victorious (over what?) and that she be glorious (why?) and that she be happy (well, I’ll allow her that, at 80 she is like anyone of us, entitled to be happy.). And all this could go on for another few years yet. And, when at the end she hands on the crown, we will go through the whole thing again for another lifetime – where is the forward looking in that?
Rosa Parks - could she have dreamed that
things could change so much - the power of
dreaming and looking forward 

In writing this I have a mental picture of the Scottish comedian Billy Connelly. Many years ago he did a hugely funny and damning satirical sketch about National Anthems. He made this very point about how good or depressed they can make one feel and how they can make you more or less proud of your nation. He was particularly scathing about God save the Queen – partly because one of its versions many  years ago was scathing about the Scottish (and the French). But the main point he made was in suggesting that a more inspiring melody should be chosen – something light hearted and jaunty. He suggested the theme tune to the BBC radio programme “The Archers!” This he suggested would make people smile, walk with a spring in their step, look upwards – quite unlike our current dirge. It was all good knock about fun and quietly seditious but he undoubtedly had a point. Nations and national anthems need to look upwards and look forward to raise the “vision” both physical and metaphorical of the citizens to the ideal they are aiming for. And, I would suggest, make people  feel good about their nation and their fellow citizens - not pray for the life of an individual who happens to be born to a particular station on life - and not to celebrate and regurgitate the past. Indeed, singing a song to extol the greatness or the graciousness of a leader seems a bit to me like what happens in a dictatorship - huge crowds sing of the wisdom and virtue of Mao Zedong or Saddam Hussein or Joseph Stalin! For example, 

The east is red, the sun rises.
From China arises Mao Zedong.
He strives for the people's happiness,
Hurrah, he is the people's great saviour!
Chairman Mao loves the people.
He is our guide
to building a new China 
Hurrah, lead us forward!

It all sounds pretty much like God save the Queen! Why is it any different just because we are in the UK and the Queen is quite a nice old lady? Would we still sing that song if some successor to the Queen happened to be a rather unpleasant individual - who, of courseunlike Obama we could not get rid of in four years time? 

And this, for me is what happens on a January day in Washington every four years - a whole nation has its batteries recharged and looks anew. And, at the most every eight years there is a new figurehead to look up to (or to challenge) – it is all self regenerating  and looking to the future. It is quite unlike the dead hand that runs through our own political and social life – unchanging, backwards looking, preserving the status quo.
Obama's hand rests on the Lincoln Bible - honouring the
past but using it to inspire the future. We in the
UK have much to learn

In the great scheme of things the Queen has been honourable and wise in doing an almost impossible and totally anachronistic job in the modern world. But, the whole notion of royalty and the manner in which our country is rooted in the past by the dead hand of the establishment means that as I watched Obama at his inauguration I felt a great deal of envy for the forward looking world that Americans inhabit. Fifty years ago in 1963 Martin Luther King stood in Washington and “had a dream” - an idealistic vision of what could and should be. But America took that dream and made hard choices, they had a plan to make the dream a reality, followers of the dream have struggled and fought to make it a reality Could King ever have believed that fifty years later his dream would have put an African American in the White House. Could Rosa Parks have ever believed on that day when she boarded that bus that within the life time of her children another  black woman and her daughters would be the first lady, respected and style icons for the whole nation when she, Rosa Parks, was not even allowed to sit down on that Alabama bus. 

That is the power of dreaming and looking forward. And in the years since, we in the UK are still asking God to “save” the same Queen, still reminding her that she is "gracious" and "noble" as we did then. Where is the future in that? Yes, despite a myriad of problems and questionable behaviours the USA can teach us all something.

15 January, 2013

"Evening All............."

Kent Walton
In the late 1950s  Saturday night in the little terraced  house where I lived tended to follow a similar format. Our little black and white TV standing in the corner would be the centre of attraction and I can remember, with considerable nostalgia, the warm cosy feelings (especially on a winter’s night) as my mother, dad and I gathered round the coal fire to watch some of our favourite programmes. I can remember, too, that at about  7 o’clock I would be dispatched to the local fish and chip shop to buy fish and chips which we would all eat as we watched the flickering black and white screen – TV was still a very wonderful thing to ordinary people in those far off days!
Billy Two Rivers

Two programmes, in particular, I can remember looking forward to.  At about 8 o’clock there was wrestling – commentated on by someone called Kent Walton. Kent Walton had, to my young ears, an exotic voice – sounding very trendy and American – I was wrong, having just looked him up on Google he was oft mistaken for an American but in reality was English born and bred!

And again!
 I would sit there on the floor, in front of the fire, eating my fish and chips and get very excited as I watched strange looking men with strange sounding names grapple and wrestle with each other – the crowd in the background howling their approval as Kent Walton dispensed knowing comments about this particular wrestling hold or tactic that was being employed. Of all the wrestlers I watched, my favourite was one who gloried in the name of Billy Two Rivers - a red Indian. And, indeed, he was a member of the Mohawk nation. He would appear before the bout dressed in full Red Indian regalia and when he stripped down to his shorts would display an exotic Mohawk haircut. Billy was my favourite – he was always portrayed as the “good guy” – he never wrestled “dirty”, never got into scraps with the referee or abused the crowd. One of his adversaries was the famous Jackie Pallo, another was Mick McManus, these two always took on the “bad guys” role – and as Billy  wrestled I would be wrestling with him, and hoping against hope that he would overcome these evil “bad guys” to win! All very contrived, of course, but to me (and, I suspect, much of the nation in those innocent times) it was exciting stuff and important too – the good guy always wins – that is right and proper. It was, to young minds, a life lesson, an example - to use modern terms a positive role model.
Jackie Pallo
One of the "bad guys"
Another "bad guy" - Mick McManus
The other programme that we all enjoyed was before the fish and chips! – and much of the nation tuned into it.  Even today, when I hear its theme tune, I am transported back to those nights around the fire and the fish and chips and Billy Two Rivers! I see in my mind’s eye a dark, official looking doorway with a lamp over it. And out of the door steps a policeman, his helmet smartly on his head, his hands clasped behinds his back. He looks into the camera, smiles, nods his head and says “Evening All.........”,  and then launches into a little explanation of what he has been up to during the past week.  And as his words and picture faded  we were shown his week by actors acting out the story. “Dixon of Dock Green” - as the words of the theme tune reminded us -  was “An ordinary copper patrolling his beat around Dock Green, ‘Hello, Mister Dixon!' shout the kids in the street, Around Dock Green.........” George Dixon (the actor Jack Warner) played the role of Dixon for many years. Each week’s episode told of the happenings in fictional Dock Green, London. It told of George’s family and how George had been involved in some way in foiling the evil intentions of some bad guys or perhaps helped someone in difficulty. It was all very low key stuff – old ladies who had had their handbag snatched, cats stuck up trees, incompetent local criminals, shop assistants who had stolen from the till because they had no money to feed their children and the like. And George would always be there to sort out the mess, restore order, provide a kind word and ensure that it all ended with a smile. At the end of each half hour programme, reassuring George would stand on the police station doorstep again and bid us all good night and sleep safely.  He would provide a short homily to remind us of the moral of the story and to behave, do well, look out for old folk and the like and then touch his helmet in salute to us, the audience – to me and millions of others around the nation - and say  “Evening all - be good”. Dixon left everybody, including me, with a feeling that all was well with the world, the good guys will win, the bad guys will get their just deserts.  He passed on positive values, he stood for respect and manners. He was a policeman – a man to be trusted - gentle, mature, professional. He was to be respected and listened to – because throughout the episode these were the qualities that he had displayed to the victims of crime, the tearaways and the hardened criminals – and these qualities always seemed to win through – damage was repaired, the victim of crime made happy, the old lady’s handbag safely recovered intact, the shop lifter who stole to feed her children pardoned and George would find a way of helping her, the criminal caught and punished but at the same time reformed. The good guy won.  The world was a very innocent place – and we all learned something about goodness!
"Evening All....be good"
Jack Warner as PC Dixon

All these memories flashed through my mind over the weekend when I read a comment by a senior police officer.  He said that senior policemen are concerned that there are far fewer young policemen being recruited – there has been a dramatic down turn in the last few years. There are a number of well established reasons for this but, it was suggested, a significant and worrying  consequence was that it would impact upon the police’s relationships with the young.  Young policemen (in their early twenties) had, I read, an important role – they could relate to the gang culture of teenagers, they spoke the same language, they “understood”, they could win the confidence of potential young offenders. I am not an expert but I’m sure, in today’s world, this is true.

How far we have come from the world of George Dixon – he spoke benignly to young offenders and tearaways rather like a father figure. It all sounds very “naff” today.  I know this was only TV – maybe in real life it was not so. - but the image portrayed was of the young and the potentially criminal being guided to something better by the wisdom and kindness of those in charge – be it policeman, teacher, doctor, parent or grandparent. Today, sadly this seems not so true – if the Chief Policeman  mentioned above is correct, then the way to win the hearts and minds of the young and violent today is to meet them at their level – to talk their language.
Modern policing

This is reflected in police programmes and films - gratuitous violence is the theme – both by the criminal and sadly, the police. Nor is this limited to films and TV. Read virtually any of the top police crime writers – Ian Rankin, John Harvey, Stuart Macbride and many others and you will soon believe that not only do the police have to deal with violent criminals capable of the most macabre crimes but are themselves characterised by hard drinking, foul language, violent behaviour, in fighting between policemen and police departments,  broken marriages, sexism, racist or many other questionable motives. There are, of course exceptions to this – watch a TV police drama like “Morse” or “Lewis” and we return again to good guy/bad guy world but sadly, so far has the agenda moved, that these – like Dixon of Dock Green - look increasingly old fashioned and out of touch.

I’m sure that the reality of the police world is not as the TV, Hollywood scriptwriters and authors of best selling crime fiction would have us believe. But, I’m equally sure that the world has changed and gone are the days of George Dixon when the bad guy said “All right Mr Dixon, it’s a fair cop – lock me up”. But for me, it is sad that they are portrayed in this negative way. And what is, I feel, especially unfortunate is that the police seem to allow themselves to be portrayed in such a manner and maybe add to it. Over the past few years we have had what seems a non-step series of “exposures” about alleged police brutality, doubtful convictions, sexism and racism operating in the police force, “bent coppers”, aggressive policing and other police scandals. In recent months the policing of the  Hillsborough disaster, the fallout from the Steven Lawrence murder, the various police failures related to the News International   affair, the continuing recent disagreements about the Andrew Mitchell “plebgate” affair which cast doubts on the veracity of police evidence and,  waiting on the horizon, the policing of the 1980s miner’s strike. These  have all lowered the esteem that the public have for the police.
Dixon's policing
Times, indeed, have changed. Policing, I am sure, is infinitely more complex and demanding than it was in the 1950s. I am, undeniably, looking back through rose coloured glasses – it was probably never like I imagine it or remember it. Society has changed and seems to have become more violent and demanding. Our expectations have changed – once, popular culture has it, policemen would reprimand youngsters with “a clip around the ear” – clearly any officer trying that today would soon be himself in the dock for child abuse!  Equally, whatever my anxieties about modern policing, it is not a job that I would wish to do. I only have to walk through Nottingham’s city centre on any evening of the week to feel threatened and uncomfortable at the levels of drunkenness, the huge numbers of milling youngsters oblivious to other people, the casual aggression that can suddenly flare up or the constant sound of police sirens as every few hundred yards it seems flashing blue lights herald some problem.  It is the police that have to clear up society’s ills. It is they too, who every day, put themselves on the line and of whom we have great – probably totally unreasonable - expectations when we are in dire need.  Clearly, WS Gilbert was not wrong almost a century and a half ago when he wrote his song for the Pirates of Penzance  “A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.......” – it could not be more true today. No, good old George Dixon could not today dispense his little homilies or benignly pat some young villain on the head and tell him not to do it again and all would be well.  It simply wouldn’t work.

But, I reflected, as I pondered all this when, all those years ago I sat as a ten year old and watched PC Dixon, I knew that if I was in trouble I would, and indeed should, turn to a policeman for help because rightly or wrongly he was perceived as a caring and upright professional who would act on my behalf and always act in my interest. He would be the good guy.  If I were a ten year old today I’m not sure that what I see on TV or on the news would fill me with the same confidence to seek help from what I might perceive as a violent, aggressive, hard drinking and swearing officer. Sad, but for me, true.
Slightly intimidating? I'd think twice before I would want
 to approach this man for help - for me, he oozes aggression.

What is for me sadder is that over the years the police seem to have done little or nothing to redress this negative perception.  I have never heard the police complain about them being portrayed as aggressive in police crime programmes or in books by an author like  Ian Rankin – indeed, I read recently a Rankin book being recommended by a police officer as being “a good read”. When I watch the occasional TV “fly on the wall” documentary about police work, all too often I see policemen with shaven heads and sporting tattoos.  Only, it seems, their uniform distinguishes them from the violent people they are pursuing. When I walk around the airport I see heavily armed  men in jack boots, short sleeved shirts displaying tattooed arms and wearing  baseball caps on their often shaven heads. I presume this is to intimidate any would be terrorist – well it certainly intimidates me and gives me a very negative view of the police force. Whenever I see this I am instantly reminded of a meeting that Pat and I attended about twenty years ago. Our village “bobby” – yes, we had one in those days - was giving a talk to interested residents about home security and helping to prevent crime in the village. During his talk he outlined things that we ought to be aware of – and one of them, I remember, was youngsters wearing baseball caps – especially wearing them back to front! This, he suggested, was a common trend amongst wayward youngsters. Even in those days this was an outrageous statement and although as a teacher dealing with youngsters I knew he had a point, I was uncomfortable with his stereotyping of young people. Nowadays, of course, the wearing of baseball caps is high fashion – on the cat walks, amongst the jet set, among young royalty and sadly, even prime ministers and Presidents of America sport them.  But, so too, do gangland drug dealers and others identified as young criminals.  Presumably this is why it is now not uncommon to see heavily armed police officers wearing them – it’s a statement of toughness and intimidation. Maybe it’s part of that same policy that the police chief was referring to over the weekend - to “communicate with the young on their terms”, talking to the young in a language they understand.  Sadly, I prefer to call it sinking to the lowest level. It seems to me perverse and totally the wrong message to send out - to reassure the bad guy that although the police are on the opposite side of the fence they will compete on equal terms with the bad guy – we can be as aggressive, as intimidating or as objectionable as you. It reminds me of the old schoolboy taunt “My brother is bigger than your brother........”- a constant escalation of potential aggression and violence which feeds on itself.
Bernard Hogan-Howe

On the plus side I was heartened to read a few weeks ago an announcement by the the policeman in charge of the London Met. Unfortunately, he also opened a hornet’s nest.  He announced that policemen should not display tattoos – because, he said, “they damaged the professional image” of policemen.  Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe said policemen must register details of any body art with line managers, or risk being thrown out of the force. It was good to feel that he was anxious to portray a more positive image – an image built upon being a mature and responsible member of society, a sort of modern day George Dixon, rather than a tough bruiser in uniform. 
Policing Nottingham

Sadly, police representatives didn’t agree with him – the Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation described the policy as a "heavy handed" and there was much criticism from enraged journalists and readers in the press. Now, maybe it is a bit heavy handed and maybe it does offend the senses and the personal liberties of policemen. Maybe it won’t help one jot in making the met more efficient and able to solve more crimes – but it just might make children and many in society a bit more willing to respect and look up to a more positive role model for that is what it is. If the Police Federation can’t see this then not only are they blinkered but they are also doing their professional image a grave disservice. Ask any psychologist or sociologist, watch any teacher dealing with a class of potentially disruptive children, ask any paediatrician and the message that you will get back is the same – violence and aggression breeds violence and aggression. The abused child can easily become the child abuser; the teacher who stands in front of the class and shouts or beats children virtually always has a noisy and aggressive class; violent criminals have all too frequently been the product of violent families and home life.......the spiral continues. By the same token those same people, the psychologist, the teacher, the sociologist will tell you that positive role models, inspire confidence, participation and positive behaviour. It may seem very idealistic and far removed from the drunken brawls that I have no doubt will be kicking off on Nottingham’s city centre streets this snowy evening and which some poor police officer will have to try to sort out – but it is an ideal to aim for and which, sadly, I don’t see too often happening.

Very intimidating - baseball caps, guns
and look carefully and you'll see the tattoo
George Dixon and Billy Two Rivers were the “good guys” from a world now, sadly, long gone. Their methods, I accept, wouldn’t work today. Ten year old boys are far more street wise and cynical than I ever was, criminals probably intrinsically more violent, society as a whole possibly more aggressive and demanding. But at the moment we seem to be sinking into a morass of increasing aggression and the policy seems to be one of lowering ourselves to be like the bad guys in order to defeat them. The bad guy carries a gun  and  so will we, the bad guy looks like a thug – and we will too, the bad guy sports his tattoo just as we can,  the bad guy puts his baseball cap onto his shaven, bull necked head and so can we. And so the aggressive posturing  escalates. Rather than being something for youngsters and society to look up to the goalposts are being moved inexorably downwards.
Dock Green Police - the "good guys"

Billy Two Rivers, I remember, defeated the "evil" Mick McManus by fair means – he didn’t stoop to the nasty tricks of McManus. Yes, wrestling  was a con and we were all naive  – but  he and it, together with PC Dixon, reminded me every Saturday night, as I ate my fish and chips and sat by the blazing coal fire of the truth, of the ideal - that good can overcome evil, that the good guy wins because he has the better ideas and right on his side. And we, and I, loved good old George and Billy for it. Maybe our modern policing, TV script writers, crime fiction writers and Hollywood producers should remember that!

08 January, 2013

One visitor, once a week and no children – how expectations have changed.

Hardly a day goes by in the UK without the state of our hospitals and issues concerning the National Health Service being front page news. This weekend, for example, the Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt has announced that hospital managers and administrators will be sacked if they fail to provide the best patient care. For much of the past year or so there has been a continuing political debate at all  levels about changes that the government proposes to make in how the Health Service is organised, funded and run. We have almost weekly exposures of particular problems – poor care, lack of funding, financial mismanagement and waste, medical errors, anomalies of provision in different areas of the country, inequalities of access amongst different age groups and so the list goes on. There are clearly issues that need to be continually addressed and improvements that need to be made but at the same time it seems to me vital not to miss the point – that the National Health Service is a most wonderful thing and something that we should all be very proud of.
Dickens, drawn at the time, giving
one of his readings

This was brought home to me last week when I read that at the beginning of 1858 Charles Dickens became President of the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital Appeal and on February 9th of that year he read his great book “A Christmas Carol” to an assembled audience of social reformers and potential donors. Before the reading he gave what is often regarded as one of his greatest and most powerful speeches about the social conditions of his time. The whole, very long, speech is recorded The Nursing Record of that time. In it he told of an experience he had had whilst on one of his many – almost daily - night time walks around London’s poorest areas:

“There  lay, in an  old egg-box, which the  mother had  begged  from a shop, a little feeble, wasted,  wan,  sick  child.  With  his  little  wasted face,  and  his  little  hot  worn  hands folded over  his breast,  and  his little  bright  attentive  eyes,  I  can see him  now looking  steadily  at  us.  There  he  lay in  his  little frail box,  which was not at all a bad  emblem of the little body,  from  which  he  was  slowly  parting, - there  he lay  quite  quiet,  quite  patient,  saying  never a word.  He  seldom cried,  the  mother  said;  he seldom  complained;  he  lay  there  seeming  to  wonder what it  was about.  “God  knows” I thought, as I stood  looking  at  him,  he  had  his  reasons  for wondering- how  it  could possibly come  to  be  that  he  lay there,  left  alone, feeble  and full of pain......... There  he  lay  looking  at us, saying  in  his   silence,  more  pathetically  than  I have ever  heard  anything  said by  any  orator  in alI my  life,  “Will  you please  to  tell  me  what  this means,  strange  man?  and  if  you  can  give me any good  reason  why  I should  be  so  soon  so   far advanced  upon  my  way  to  Him  who  said that children  were  to  come  into  His presence,  and were not to  be  forbidden,  but  who  scarcely  meant,  I think,  that  they should  come  by  this  hard  road by which 1 am  travelling..........”

Today, Great Ormond Street is still providing care for very sick children – not only from this country but, when necessary, all over the world. What began with only 10 beds in the early 1850s is now one of the world’s foremost  hospitals.  And as I read Dickens’ words I reflected upon a number of things. Certainly, how pleased Dickens would be that for the most part the conditions that he described are long gone. He would be amazed if he could walk around a modern hospital – especially Great Ormond Street - and witness the vast amounts of money, care, expertise and support that is freely available and at the disposal of the hospital and thence the patients. At the same time, I have no doubt that Dickens’ eye for injustice, anomaly and hypocrisy would, even today, soon spot weaknesses, unfairness or inequalities in the system.
Great Ormond Street today

Just before Christmas an MP Ann Clwyd complained, bitterly and publicly, of the treatment that her terminally ill husband had received in his final days. He was, she said, “treated like a battery hen” and called into question many issues in relation to the quality of basic nursing, care and compassion. Her comments, both then and since have received much coverage, and have sparked off a debate about the quality of nursing and care. I’m sure that Mrs Clwyd had a very valid point to make – indeed, there have been instances in the past few years when I have had similar concerns myself when my father and mother in law were in hospital. But it was also good to read a timely reminder in the Guardian a couple of days later when a lady wrote a very long and impassioned letter to the paper extolling the wonderful nursing, care, love and compassion that her young son had received in hospital over a very long period as he battled against a potentially fatal illness. Coincidentally, the hospital was Great Ormond Street but her comments, I’m sure, would have been equally true of any other hospital – she was praising the NHS not a specific hospital. She ended her letter by listing all the people – nurses, doctors, admin staff, cleaners, carers, porters and many others who had played a part and to whom she was very grateful. It was a very long list and went a long way, I felt, to redressing the balance and keeping things in some kind of perspective.
The NHS lauded in the Olympics Opening Ceremony 2012

As anyone who lives in the UK will know the National Health Service is something which politicians meddle with at their peril. Whatever its shortcoming – and I am sure that there are many – it is perhaps the one facet of national life most valued by the electorate. Indeed, the use of the NHS in the Olympic opening ceremony a few months ago was met with great public approval and pride – it clearly set the Service as very much a jewel in the crown of British daily life.  Because it is so valued and crucial both metaphorically and politically to the life of the heartbeat of the nation it also engenders strong feelings of support – and sometimes criticism  when things are perceived to be not right. Add to that the fact that it deals with highly charged matters of individual and public concern –  matters of life and death – and it is surely a recipe for strongly held opinions. On the one hand when your child gets better after a life threatening illness and a stay in hospital and the nurses are rightly regarded as “guardian angels” by relieved family and friends. But when your terminally ill father dies a lingering death born of old age then nurses can easily be seen as callous and uncaring – they didn’t, it can appear, make him better or make his painful exit from the world manifestly less distressing when you, the relative, wanted it to be.

This is the problem, amongst many others, that the NHS faces – differences in perspective and expectation. I have absolutely no doubt that even if the NHS were funded to the hilt, even if it was awash with the world’s most wonderful staff, even if it could cure the most threatening of diseases in the blink of an eye – it would, and could, never satisfy expectations. In Dickens’ time to have a health service of the kind we have today would have been unimaginable. Dickens and his peers  really would have thought they were in paradise. Indeed, even in my life time things have changed so much – and not just the curing of illness – important though that is.
The hospital where I lay as  four year old - and the lawn on
 which my mother stood and waved. I was in a bed near one of
the ground floor windows. The hospital had previously been
 the local workhouse - something Dickens would  have
known and maybe found worthy of comment! 
I have some little reminders of that in my box of family “heirlooms”. I have a post card posted on 28th Feb 1949 – I was four then and the NHS was in its infancy. It was sent to my mother from the local hospital to tell her that I would be ready to leave hospital on 1st March at 10 am. I had been in hospital suffering from scarlet fever – a common complaint at the time. It was highly infectious and I was allowed no visitors – my memory is of my mother standing outside the window on the hospital lawn waving to me as I sat up in my bed. She often said that she was never allowed to set foot inside the hospital because of the infectious nature of the illness. I was in the hospital for almost a month. The wording on the postcard is clear – be there at 10 am - no negotiation, no consideration about whether it was convenient or whether my mother was able to do this, no other information of what to bring or to expect. Any hospital today that took this line would be subject to massive criticism and accused of callousness and lack of consideration for the needs of people. Times have changed.
The permits and instructions my mother recieved
And the other memento – a little visiting card from 1954.  My grandfather was in hospital – he died soon afterwards – and the card is a permit (notice the wording) for ONE person to visit him – at a designated time once a week. My mother (she is named on the card – could see her failing father on Wednesday 3rd April between 2.30 and 3.30 pm. No other visitors were allowed, no children. There were only four visiting times per week – Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday – and you were allocated one – no reference to convenience, work issues, travel issues, family responsibilities etc. – that was the rule. If you wanted to see your loved one then you fitted in with the hospital rules – and people willingly accepted this. They knew that the alternative was to go back just a few years when there were no facilities such as this for the ordinary man and woman. How times have changed. How much more we expect and demand today. And this is the problem – we make far more demands on the NHS now than we  ever would have done in the past – it can never meet all our needs and desires. I suspect those working in it often feel overwhelmed as they run faster and faster to keep up with society’s expectations but fall further and further behind.
I have often reflected when I have visited people in hospital and several of us have sat around the bed, how this affects the daily life of the ward. We hear today that infections are a major problem in hospitals and we are reminded, it was so much better in years gone by – nurses kept things scrupulously clean. Our modern NHS doesn’t do such a good job is a common criticism – lazy, uncaring cleaners and sloppy nurses don’t provide basic care the right wing press often remind us. Mmmmm,  well maybe that is right but it always seems to me that in days gone by when a single visitor per patient was the norm it must have been so much easier to keep outside infections at bay – and, as is common today, when visiting hours can stretch from (say) 2.30 to 8.30 it cannot be easy for staff to ensure that everything is kept as clean as maybe it should be. But, society demands open access – you try telling today’s young mum that she cannot actually go into the ward where her child is lying – that she has to stand (as my mother did) outside on the lawn and wave through the window, or that she can only visit once a week at a pre-ordained time. You try turning the large family group away who all want to see desperately  ill granddad at the same time, you try telling mother that her little boy or girl cannot go into the ward to see their ailing Dad and that they will have to sit outside! Do so and your hospital manager, your nurse, your doctor would soon be headlines of the popular press and labelled as uncaring, callous, unsympathetic monsters. Times, indeed, have changed.

I find it beyond reason that anyone would go into a career like nursing and not have at least some innate measure of compassion and commitment – indeed, the lady who wrote to the newspaper praising the many different staff at her son’s hospital made exactly that point. What I believe does happen is that the constant pressure and unrealistic expectations imposed by society and, more especially, politicians, anxious for a quick vote, can take its toll on even  the most committed of  professionals. In this morning’s Guardian this point is well made by another correspondent: "...... compassion that led them [nurses, doctors etc.]  into the profession … [is] ground out of them" said the correspondent  And he went on "For the last three decades the NHS has been subject to a constant stream of Stalinist directives: "You must do this – no discussion, no piloting, no argument [and] the constant denigration of public sector staff as being lazy, incompetent, immoral or a combination of all three [by politicians];  the lies told by generations of politicians, who pretend a small uplift in budget or yet another "cost improvement programme" can deliver more and more services, of greater and greater complexity, without any real attempt to understand the true staffing and other costs of the planned service... [results in undercutting professionalism, endeavour and commitment]". Having spent four decades in the classroom and experienced the sort of criticism referred to above by a succession of governments one does, in the end, say "why bother".
Dickens could never have dreamed of this -
Victorians, and indeed my Grandfather would have seen it
as paradise
 Another aspect that has to be added into this complex equation  is the belief today that everyone will get well – that modern medicine is so miraculous that a solution can always be found – and, by association that health workers, therefore, have a responsibility to ensure that this happens! In Dickens’ day and indeed until relatively recently people, I think, were far more accepting of illness, pain and indeed death. Today, we get a cold, which we know will eventually go, but our response is to go along to our local GP and demand antibiotics. When the doctor is reluctant to prescribe them we feel slighted – we expect health and freedom from pain. I read recently that this is  major problem in many parts of the western world – especially the USA where many, I understand, are “hooked” on prescription drugs so that they never suffer any sort of pain. And, following on from this, we have expectations  for the health service that Dickens would never have recognised – nor indeed would many older people like myself: when our noses are too big or our skin aged or our breasts too small we increasingly demand that  the medical world  help us – we look for, and demand, physical perfection.  Or, go to a hospital casualty department any night of the week and you will see people in there who have come for the most minor of conditions – and then they complain when the service is slow or somehow doesn’t meet their expectations. When we watch the multitude of TV programmes about hospitals and their work we see high tech equipment, cutting edge diagnosis, hugely talented surgeons and the resulting happy and smiling patients leaving the hospital after being close to death. It is a twenty first century manifestation of some Biblical miracle, the lame are made to walk, the blind are made to see and the dead rise from their beds! And we think that this always happens – or should do. We forget that reality can be rather different, and all too often is. Sadly, however, death, the unpleasant aspects of aging and illnesses that cannot be cured do not, on a regular basis, make for good TV ratings. Better to have happy endings and an optimistic glimpse into the future that promises health for all than the reality of life, illness and death! The result, unfortunately, is that we all have a mistaken concept of the reality of illness and what can or should be done to help us. And, when I go to my GP I can now go for a variety of things - not simply to be cured when I am ill; I can have my annual flu jab to prevent my getting influenza in the coming winter, I can get advice and help if I want to improve my diet or stop smoking or limit my drinking. If  I am a woman I can arrange for a variety of gynaecological tests to be carried out. If I am a non-English speaker there is provision for some nineteen (yes, nineteen at my local GP!) languages to be made available to me so that I can explain my symptoms and know what is being proposed to help me!  I can get all the necessary injections I need to go on some holiday to a far off land. I can have my blood pressure monitored or my children can be immunised against many illnesses – now, wouldn’t that have impressed Charles Dickens when he spoke of the sad child in the egg box!   Each month when I visit my chemist to collect my regular prescription of eight or nine separate medications that keep my heart working, I stand in the chemist feeling slightly guilty. These wonderful drugs keep me upright – and yet cost me not a penny. I am not rich, but nor am I poor. And, yes, I’ve paid my taxes all my life so many would argue that I’m entitled to these “free” drugs. I’m not so sure – I could easily afford to make a significant donation each month towards the cost of the drugs – it seems to me only reasonable - and in doing so it would maybe ensure that those worse off than me might enjoy slightly better provision. But should any politician or party talk of raising prescription charges or ending free prescriptions for those like me who are retired - and all hell breaks loose.
A far cry from the suffering child Dickens described
And don’t think I am just  looking through rose coloured glasses  - that I do not see any problems in the NHS. Over the years I have complained with the best – and still do! When I can’t get the appointment that I want, when I disagree with what the Doctor tells me, when my father seems to not be getting the right sort of support, when my mother in law seems to be wasting away before our eyes because no-one appears to help her to eat her food, when my son breaks his leg and then has the operation to insert a pin postponed three or four times because of other priorities, yes I have complained and do complain. Sadly, in the emotive and highly charged world of health provision that is what happens - self interest, a lack of ability to sometimes see the bigger picture,  unreasonable expectations and the rest all kick in.
Dickens, I think, might have recognised these human characteristics  of self interest, intolerance, greed and the rest  that we all display – I’m sure that in their many ways they were just as prevalent in Victorian England as they are now. He would not, however, have had much truck with many of our 21st century responses and unreasonable expectations.  Nor, do I believe, that when the NHS was born in the late 1940’s such expectations were implicit in its original conception.

High tech health - a modern day re-enactment of a Biblical miracle
Times have changed. The expectations now placed upon what the NHS can and should provide are skewed and, perhaps, totally unreasonable. The government (and indeed, sadly, the Labour party) see the use of the private sector as a solution to many of the problems. I read this morning that the government is to allow many of the traditional NHS functions to be undertaken by what is called “Any Qualified Provider” (AQP) – physiotherapy, hearing aids, MRI scanning, dermatological services and the like can be provided by private companies. I’m sure that there is much to recommend this but it leaves me more than a little uneasy. I’m sure that it will be fine, indeed, the hearing aids that I use I bought privately from a separate provider. But, deep within me, I cannot escape the notion that it is a basic function of any society to provide for its citizens in matters of health and well being and that this is not a matter for big business, profits, the stock market or any other commercial enterprise – it is not a thing that you hive off for someone else to fund and from which they will profit. It is rather about what a society should be doing for itself and its citizens.
And that, for me, is the glory of the NHS – it is provision for the people by the people. That rationale says much about that society and its values – it was the back bone of the various social measures – including the NHS - introduced after the War by Atlee’s government. It says something about what we are as people. It says, whatever the shortcomings, whatever the costs we are prepared to fund, for the benefit of all – not just those with money – the necessary facilities to ensure health and well being - something that Dickens would have recognised and approved of all those years ago.
What Dickens saw each night on his walks around the East End
In his appeal for Great Ormond Street Dickens did not advocate the use of private companies – he knew only too well the potential conflict that ensues when care and compassion collide with  cash and capitalism.  On the night he made his appeal he  read to his audience “A Christmas Carol” – a story intended to point a finger at the excesses of the City and at the gradgrind world of the  accountant and selfish  Scrooge-like  figures that haunted it. He knew that people mattered when it came to care and compassion not cash, cheque books and capitalism. No, Dickens was appealing to ordinary people to pay up, to be responsible for the health and welfare of their fellow men to have a moral standpoint. His little story of the young child in the egg box was intended to plant a moral question into the minds of his audience and to ask them to shoulder the responsibility – not hand it on to some management accountant or venture capitalist or private equity company.
Part of Dickens' speech
Later in his appeal Dickens appealed directly to his audience and put the ball squarely in their court:   " Now, ladies  and  gentlemen,  such  things [the sick child in the egg box] need not be,  and will  not be,  if  this  company [the audience],  which  is  a  drop of the life-blood of the  great compassionate public  heart,  will  only accept the means of rescue and  prevention  which it is mine to offer [to make a donation]........ if every grateful mother who brings a child  there [the hospital]  will  drop a  penny  into  it [a box placed on the wall of the hospital],  the  Hospital  funds  may  possibly  be increased  in  a year by so large a  sum  as  forty pounds......... I will  not believe that  in  a Christian  community  of  fathers  and  mothers,  and brothers  and sisters,  it [the hospital] can fail........ to  be  well and  richly  endowed.   

The man himself
As Dickens concluded his appeal, the records tell us, that there were great cheers from the audience.  It worked - the appeal was very successful. Dickens acknowledged , it was a small drop on the ocean – he was originally looking for only thirty beds (an increase on the 10 beds that the hospital had started its life with only a few years previously) but in fact by 1865 there were 75 beds available.  It wasn’t the NHS; it was very small stuff with which to tackle the giant health and social problems of the time. The hospital had to depend upon the goodwill of well wishers and patrons - but work it did. People put their hands in their pockets, not necessarily for themselves but for their fellow man and woman – reflecting the basic premise and contract of a fair taxation system. It was a small start but what would he think today as he saw the results of his appeal and as he looked at all that we have and take so much for granted? I’m sure he would be unimaginably proud and be keen to remind us that we need to keep things in perspective and appreciate gratefully the magnificent provision that we have.