Tag Archives: national

Who are the British? Or are they at all?

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

During last night’s General Election coverage – with the Scottish National Party effectively wiping out the other three parties in Scotland, Labour just-about holding the North of England and the Conservatives (except in London) dominating the South – someone on BBC TV talked about a three-colour layered cake of a nation. Yellow at the top, red in the middle and blue at the bottom.

The line between red and blue is somewhat skewed by Wales being red, but it is a fairly good image.

The result of the 2015 Election

The constituency result of the 2015 Election

I think to people outside the UK – particularly to people who have always referred to the UK as “England” – the extent to which the UK is and always has been a hotchpotch has never been realised.

My blog yesterday headed Maybe the Scottish Nationalists should move the border south into England? was about nationality.

Five years ago – in November 2010 – I wrote a blog headed The British have always been a violent race 

That was about what the people on the island of Britain – England, Scotland, Wales – were arguably like, not about the individual nations.

There were a couple of interesting comments about that November 2010 blog – one made in June 2013 and one made in October 2014 – and, yesterday, an unknown (to me) person called Dean replied to both of those comments. Below I reprint the comments and Dean’s responses as an interesting insight into some people’s thinking, which is perhaps relevant in view of the strong support the UK Independence Party got in yesterday’s election.

I have to say I think some of Dean’s facts are a tad suspect – and I think he confuses “British” with “English” – but his views are interesting.

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it


COMMENT BY RONNIE (June 2013)

I think all Germanic countries are more violent than Southern European countries. It’s strange because they tend to be richer and more successful than the Southern European countries. There is a big drinking culture and that only makes things worse. England is worse than other Germanic countries like Germany and Holland when it comes to violent behaviour. There is a big difference here between working class and middle class people. The working classes are often undereducated and this leads to poverty, child pregnancy, unemployment which in turn leads to frustration and violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

England is not a Germanic country in the very least… England is a pre-Celtic origin country. Germanic invaders had little impact there unlike the myth usually tell us… Germanics like Dutch or German are cold with the outsider but gregarious with their family and close friends…They are direct, can appear rude as being too direct but are in reality very honest and civilized people, who rarely will fight. They have respect for human beings and love to discuss like civilized humans.

Britons like to cheat… They are polite, which means they always will show you fake acceptance… but they do nothing else but backstab you… The Brits are not direct people… and that can grow a big bad enviroment… People don’t really know how to communicate in England… so every frustration comes in form of physical aggression. Brits love to fight and have no sense of human aesthetics or style.

Dutch, Germans, Swedish, Danish, Norwegians, etc – true Germanic people – are very civilized people. They can be colder but once you get to know them well they will accept you and they will be honest to you; they have sense of human aesthetics; they like to appreciate human life and love to look good.

Britons are animals. They don’t care about people but only about their own instincts.


COMMENT BY ALAN (October 2014)

Britain is made up of 3 countries: England, Scotland and Wales. The Scottish and Welsh are Celtic and the English are Germanic. The Welsh are the native Britons, the Scottish are Gaels and Picts from Ireland and the English are Anglo-Saxons. Britain has always been a violent place, its culture is based on violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

English origins aren’t Germanic. English look the same as Irish or Scottish. The Anglo-Saxon impact in England was tiny. Most English roots (as much as 80%) come from pre-Germanic/pre-Celtic inhabitants, which were of neolithic origin.

That’s why there are so few natural blonde and Nordic/Germanic looking people in England or the UK compared to Scandinavia, Holland or Germany. Most Brits have dark hair, pale skin and hazel eyes and their stature is mediocre at best.

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The British NHS – pain is still pain & death is death despite good intentions

My personal experience of the blind bureaucracy of Britain’s National Health Service – which I blogged about yesterday – continued after yesterday’s blog.

I blogged about how I encountered well-meaning bumbling when I had to have my eyes checked at the Ophthalmology department of my local NHS hospital in Hertfordshire.

My friend's painful horizontal wisdom tooth (left)

My friend’s painful horizontal wisdom tooth is seen on the left

Later yesterday, though, a friend of mine encountered continuing blind bumbling at the Dental department of Guy’s Hospital in London.

She has had painful problems with a wisdom tooth for, I guess a couple of years. A couple of weeks ago, she was told by a very amiable doctor at Guy’s that the tooth could be taken out but, as it was close to a nerve, they would first have to take a cone beam mandible CT scan to see exactly what any potential problems might be.

Good.

It might take six weeks to arrange the scan.

Well, OK.

So it was a surprise when my friend got home yesterday night to find a letter from Guy’s Hospital telling her the appointment to have the scan was arranged for yesterday morning.

She had been away from home for a couple of days.

The letter from Guy's Hospital - bad timing

The letter from Guy’s Hospital – bad timing

The letter for a scan at 10.00am on Friday 15th February, dated Thursday 7th February, had been sent second class on Monday 11th February. In theory, this should have arrived on Wednesday 13th February. If you trust the Post Office.

My friend was at home on the Tuesday, away Wednesday/Thursday and returned at 2300 on Friday night. She missed the scan appointment at 1000 that day. The letter, we think, may actually have arrived on Thursday, one day before the appointment.

In the minds of the no doubt amiable and well-meaning people creating the letter on 7th February for an appointment on 15th February, that was enough notice. But then the letter was not posted until 11th February. It was sent second class so – even if the postal system worked effectively – it would not arrive until 13th February and there was no thought of someone being away from home on two consecutive days.

So well-meaning people bumbled into incompetence.

At the bottom of the letter, it says: “If you are unable to attend your appointment please contact the Department giving 48 hours notice… If you do not attend an agreed booked appointment your form will be returned to the referring Doctor and you will need to contact your Doctor for a new referral.”

So, even if my friend had received the letter on Wednesday 13th (with the mail being delivered late-morning) she could not have re-arranged the appointment with 48 hours notice.

And now, because she did not know about the appointment, she will have to go back to her GP, get another referral, get another appointment to see a doctor at Guy’s, get that doctor to make another appointment for another scan, wait for the system to arrange another scan and then hope she receives a letter in time to know she actually has a scan appointment.

400 - 1,200 patients killed at Stafford Hospital

Stafford Hospital – where 400 – 1,200 patients were  killed

In some parts of the NHS, of course, patients die because of lack of care.

A couple of days ago Lord MacDonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, was calling for police to investigate the “needless deaths” of between 400 and 1,200 patients at Mid Staffordshire Hospital between 2005 and 2009.

Five days ago, NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh announced that nine English hospital trusts were to be investigated because of abnormally-high death rates:

– North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust

– United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust

– George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust

– Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust

– Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

– The Dudley Group NHS FT

– Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS FT

– Medway NHS FT

– Burton Hospitals NHS FT

My experience in Hertfordshire and my friend’s experience in London are of course – in comparison – wildly trivial. But they are a sign that, even when well-meaning people try their best, the NHS (perhaps like all large bureaucracies) is a mess.

In the case of the NHS, though, it is not just inconvenience which is caused but, in my friend’s case, continuing pain and, in many other people’s cases, death.

From tiny, slightly deformed acorns do vastly warped oak trees grow.

My friend phoned the number on the letter this morning and got no answer.

“It rings and rings for ages, then cuts off,” she told me.

So she then phoned the main telephone number at Guy’s Hospital.

“You get a voice recognition computer which asks for the department you want,” she told me, “If you ignore it, it gives you operator. The operator told me the Appointments Department is only open weekdays.”

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Britain’s National Health Service: Sod’s Law. What happened to me yesterday.

NHSlogo

Mostly amiable but badly organised

I have said it here before. What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a moan?

My mother had the eye disease glaucoma. So did my father’s mother. And so, I think, did my mother’s cousin. It is hereditary.

If you get it and the doctors catch it early, you can be cured. If they catch it late, there is no cure. You will go blind.

So I have regular eye tests.

After the last eye test, my local optician said the pressure on my right eye (always my weakest eye) was slightly – but only slightly – abnormal. So she sent me for more tests at the Ophthalmology department of my local NHS hospital. I went yesterday afternoon.

I am not going to name the hospital because the people who dealt with me were well-meaning people and trying to do their best. But, as in most of the rest of life, meaning well gets tsunamied by Sod’s Law and everything goes arse-over-tit.

When I eventually got an appointment, it was not in a letter. I got a phone call last Friday (the 8th) from a computer with an automated voice. It told me I had an eye appointment at my local hospital on Thursday the 14th at twndthee.

What?

Twndthee.

I phoned the number a couple more times and, as far as I could tell, the automated voice was saying “twenty to three” but I was only, perhaps, 65% certain. It might have been twenty past three or something else to do with three. Or possibly two. If it was, indeed, saying “twenty to three” they had, presumably, programmed the computer to say that phrase as it is friendlier than saying “two forty”.

A good intention. But the result was less clear.

I decided to wait for the inevitable letter.

This arrived on Monday confirming that, indeed, my appointment was at 2.40pm.

On Wednesday, I got a phone call from a genuine and very polite human being asking if I could come a little earlier – 1.30 instead of 2.40.

No problem. All agreed. Earlier appointment at 1.30 was confirmed.

Yesterday morning, my eternally un-named friend asked me: “Are you going to drive there?”

“Ah!” I said. “I had forgotten about that. I think they put eye-drops in and warn you not to drive.”

I looked at the letter.

“There’s nothing in the letter about it,” I said.

So I phoned up the telephone number on the letter.

“What is your reference number?” I was asked by the very amiable man on the other end of the line.

I read the reference number on the letter.

“Not that number,” said the very amiable man. “I need the reference number.”

“That is the only number I have,” I said.

“What is your NHS number?” he asked.

I read it off the letter. There was a pause.

“…and what is your password?” the very amiable man asked.

“Erm…  I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t know I had one.”

“It is on one of your reference sheets with the reference number,” said the very amiable man.

“I only have one sheet,” I replied.

“I cannot process your request without a password,” said the very amiable man. “The reference number and password are on the referral letter sent by your GP to the Hospital.”

“I don’t have any copy of that,” I said. “I only have the appointment letter sent to me by the hospital.”

“I need a password to process your request,” said the very amiable man.

“I am having eye tests at the hospital in a couple of hours for glaucoma,” I said “and just wanted to know if I was allowed to drive. I wondered if they might be putting eye drops in which would mean I shouldn’t drive.”

“I cannot speculate on the answer,” said the very amiable man, “but sometimes they put eyedrops in. I cannot speculate on what they may do without access to your medical records, which I cannot access without your password.”

So, yesterday, I got a bus to my local hospital for the 1.30pm appointment. I arrived early and had a cup of tea. Then:

1.20pm – I turn up, present my letter to the receptionist and point out I have been asked to come for the earlier 1.30 appointment. No problem. I am logged in.

2.25pm – I think it best to check. I politely asked the receptionist if he can double-check what time my appointment is. Much fiddling on computer. “Two forty,” he says slightly aggressively. “Ah,” I say.

2.35pm – I am called in to the very amiable nurse, who makes the first tests on my eyes, photographs the back of my eyes and tells me she doesn’t think there’s any real problem, but I will be having two more sets of tests by other people and then seeing the Consultant.

"Wait in here," I was told

“Wait in here…” I was told by my first very amiable nurse

2.50pm – She takes me to another examination room and says, “Wait in here. You may have to wait a bit of time for the other tests.” I sit down. She leaves.

2.59pm – Another very amiable nurse comes into the room to get something and is surprised I am sitting there. I tell her why and I describe the nurse who left me. This second very amiable nurse takes my name and goes off saying “I will check.” I tell her: “The other nurse told me I might have to wait a bit.” The second nurse tells me with a smile: “Don’t worry unless it starts to get dark.”

3.06pm – The second very amiable nurse comes back into the room again to get something, looks surprised again and asks, “Any luck yet?” I say , “No.”

3.11pm – The original very amiable nurse comes into the room to get something, looks surprised to find me there, and says: “Oh, you’re not supposed to be in here: you’re supposed to sit outside” (in the corridor). I go and sit on a row of seats in the corridor.

3.17pm – I hear my name being called about 15 feet to my left, in the original waiting room. It is a very amiable Consultant. He examines my eyes.

The end result is he says I have no signs of glaucoma. “Your nerves are way too healthy,” he tells me. “When I look at them, they’re lovely and pink, lots of nerve tissue there. You’ve got thick corneas so, when they test your pressure, particularly with the air puff machine, they’re going to get false, high readings. The most important question is Is this pressure damaging your nerve? and the answer is No. Your nerves look 100% healthy. They’re lovely.”

“So I can put my nerves into the 2016 Olympics?” I ask.

“Yes,” says the Consultant.

Everyone was very amiable.

The organisation was a mess.

No one person was to blame.

That is life.

Sod’s Law.

I guess death in the NHS is much the same.

So it goes.

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The rules of being an Italian stereotype

Yesterday afternoon, I flew back to London from Milan. The English girl in the next seat on the Ryanair flight was at university in Italy. We were talking about the bureaucracy there. Italy is a good place to visit. Not a good place to live because of the bureaucracy.

“I’ve never known inefficiency like it,” the girl said. “I thought England was bad… but Italy…!

“It’s the lying,” she continued. “Constant lying. If they actually said something would take two months, I might be irritated. But they say it will take ten days, knowing it will take two months, then I’m just very, very angry. It’s like they enjoy it.”

That morning, on a motorway near Bergamo, I had been talking to my friend who lives near Milan about the cliché of Italians.

“They’re very conventional,” she said. “The way they dress, the colours of the cars they drive. The neatness of the way they dress. The women’s make-up. It’s like they obey the rules they think are expected of them.”

“What about the cliché of bad Italian drivers?” I asked. “I’ve never driven in Italy, but they never seem to me to be as bad as the stereotype. There’s a problem in Rome, but it’s because they have enormous wide-open street junctions and no traffic lights. The system’s haywire, not the driving.”

“I tell people who come here,” my friend said, “that the most dangerous thing on Italian roads is to drive slow. You have to drive fast because everyone else does. If you drive slow, they will go straight into the  back of you. You have to drive with confidence even if you don’t have any.”

“They drive far too close to the car in front,” I agreed. “No braking space if anything happens.”

“They ignore all the rules on the road,” my friend said. “It’s like they think they’re expected to disobey the rules of the road, so they all disobey the rules because that’s the rule. They weave in and out and use the hard shoulder. They tailgate like they have a death wish. I’ve been overtaken a hearse at traffic lights. He ran the red light at great speed, with the cross on the bonnet wobbling.”

“It’s the legacy of the Ben-Hur chariot race,” I suggested.

“Mmmm,” my friend said as we were overtaken on both sides by speeding trucks.

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The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

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