When I say the union, I’m not talking about the United States of America but that other union, the one between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, what has happened to the United Kingdom? Why is it in such a state, beset by strikes and unrest?
It’s hard to say but a big factor is the Covid 19 epidemic which led to major lockdowns over the past three years. The nurses of the NHS are striking for better pay yet not long ago we, the British public, were clapping them outside on our streets because they were on the front line, risking infection whilst battling against the pandemic. Now, underpaid and overworked, they want more money. True they have done a great job but to be fair, all of us are in the same boat seeing our income dwindling because of inflation and seeing our utility bills soar as well as food prices going up and up.
Many suffered financially during the lockdown, especially those in the hospitality sector. Pubs and clubs were forced to close their doors, some feeling the financial burden so badly that they were unable to reopen and now they have further problems. Because of Brexit, many foreign workers in the licenced trade have returned home to Poland and other places in Eastern Europe. That means that pubs and restaurants are feeling the pinch because they can’t get the staff. It’s the same in the NHS; nurses and hospital staff are working more and more hours because there is no one to fill the numerous vacancies, and yet there are still 1,382,000 people unemployed in the UK according to the Office of National Statistics.
So why is it that despite all the available jobs going are people still unemployed? Is it that we as a nation think that jobs in bars and restaurants are beneath us? Are cleaning and hospital jobs not good enough? There is a great move in the UK to push more and more people into higher education which is great but it seems that these days everyone and his dog is wanting to go to university, so who is left to do the cleaning and beer pulling? The Poles and the other Eastern Europeans? No because they have all buggered off back home. Of course, there are a shed load of illegal immigrants parked up in various places in ex army camps and hotels that have been taken over by the government but they are too busy being looked after to do any work but perhaps in the future they could be offered work in the NHS and in bars and restaurants.
The other day I happened to be watching the film The Dambusters which as you will probably know is about 617 squadron which was formed in World War II specifically to attack the dams of Germany so as to destroy the Nazi industrial capability. Destroying the German dams flooded the Ruhr Valley and dealt a huge blow to the Nazi war effort. The story was more than that though, it was also about Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb and showed how he developed an idea from the drawing board through to models and finally to the real thing.
At the beginning of the film Barnes’ wife calls the doctor to look at their sick child and also to have a word with Barnes himself as his wife suspected he was working too hard and making himself ill. The doctor was a kindly old chap who came to the house, attended to the child and dispensed advice and wisdom to the hardworking inventor.
That was back in 1940 but try getting a doctor to pop round to your house these days! Not only would that be next to impossible but try to get an actual appointment to see a doctor! At my surgery I thought it might be possible to ask for a routine appointment, something of a non-urgent nature so I could perhaps discuss with the doctor some minor ailments that were causing me a little discomfort. No, I was told, not possible. I have to call in at 8am in the morning and try and get through for one of the appointments for that day which, based on previous experience, will all be booked up by about 8:30. Not only that but the last time I visited my doctor after two days of trying to get through on the phone, he was already writing out a prescription for painkillers before I had even finished telling him about my problem.
It was not easy for Barnes Wallis to develop his idea for the bouncing bomb and it was even harder for him to get Whitehall and the RAF to follow through and actually prepare to attack the German dams. Perhaps what we need in the NHS is someone similar, someone with vision, someone both creative and tenacious that can sort out the whole terrible mess we seem to be in now.
One of the problems of reshowing the Dambusters film on TV these days is that back in the 1940’s, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the leader of the Dambusters squadron had a black dog and this being the 1940’s he chose, like many others of the time, to call his dog by the N word. I’m sure Gibson chose that name quite innocently but it is a word that has caused untold pain and unhappiness to a great many people with dark skin. Just prior to the famous dam busting raid, Gibson’s dog was killed in a hit and run accident and he asked that his dog should be buried at the same time as he was going into action over Germany. I mention this so you can see it would be pretty hard to delete the entire dog scenario from the film so as not to cause offence with viewers today.
What did happen though was a pretty remarkable editing job in which the dog was renamed ‘Trigger’ via some really outstanding audio dubbing. So outstanding that you can hardly even believe a change had taken place. In a way it’s a little sad that we worry so much about offending others that we must change historical names that are considered today to be unacceptable. It’s not as if by doing so we can change the past. Anyway, the result was that this story of ingenuity and heroism can still be told and seen by young people without upsetting anyone.
Guy Gibson won the Victoria Cross for commanding the raid on the dams of Nazi Germany. He was later stood down from active flying after completing his 174th mission in 1943. He was asked to join Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a trip to Canada. He also visited the USA for propaganda and publicity reasons. On his return to England, he was asked to write a book about his experiences, again presumably for publicity purposes.
After writing his book, Enemy Coast Ahead, he was posted to RAF Coningsby where he was mostly responsible for planning and liaison which did not suit him at all. He was anxious to go flying again and was concerned that the war would end before he could get back into combat.
On the night of the 19th August 1944 an order came through for a raid on Germany and as senior officer he took control of a Mosquito aircraft for which he had only logged 9 hours and 35 minutes flying time. Returning from the mission Gibson’s aircraft entered into a steep dive over Steenbergen in Holland. The aircraft crashed killing all on board. In 2011 a British film maker made claims that Gibson’s plane had been shot down by a gunner aboard an RAF Lancaster who mistook the Mosquito for a German Junkers 88.
Gibson was buried in the local cemetery in Steenberegen where there are a number of streets dedicated to his memory, Gibsonstraat and Warwickstraat named after his navigator James Warwick.
This week Liz and I have flown to Lanzarote to get away from the cold of the UK. Luckily we weren’t flying last Thursday as Manchester Airport had been closed because of half an inch of snow. I read about that on an English newspaper site so I assume it was accurate, despite Prince Harry having a go at English journalists and blaming them for all his problems.
One of the books I have brought with me to read on holiday was a book by the BBC’s former World Affairs Correspondent, John Simpson. His book is called ‘A Mad World, My Masters’. In his introduction he says this.
I decided to lift the title of this book from the Jacobean playwright Thomas Middleton because I felt it expressed the sense that many people have now, and clearly had 400 years ago too, that things around them have gone mildly crazy. Of course, today’s craziness is tomorrow’s rational order, which becomes disrupted again at some future point and then becomes a new and and perfectly workable basis for society.
That was written in the year 2000 and seems still relevant today over twenty years later. Still, I’m sure the United Kingdom will still be in one piece when we get back. I can just imagine being stranded at Lanzarote airport like Tom Hanks in the film The Terminal. ‘I’m sorry, you cannot fly with a UK passport as the UK no longer exists’ the airport staff tell me.
Oh well, I don’t mind staying in sunny Lanzarote while the UK sorts itself out!