All posts by The Fat Controller

“I’m telling you, and you’ll listen …

… you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services or with their homes.”

That was Neil Kinnock at the Labour Party Conference in 1985. I remember it well. It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen a politician do. For those that have forgotten or weren’t here, he was taking the Militant Tendency head on. They had been running Liverpool City Council, had been in dispute with the government and ended up deliberately making their workforce redundant just to  make a political point. Kinnock went after them bigly, a huge risk at the time, but got a thunderous standing ovation from the majority of his party.

Kinnock had a very serious point to make. A person elected to  government has a serious responsibility towards those who invest their lives in providing services to the taxpayer. These people are never to be used as pawns in a game of political chess or become the victims of grandstanding. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that Trump and his lickspittles need to learn. That, and the fact that he is not a dictator.

American politicians are jealous of the British Parliament because, by their standards, it’s easy to get legislation passed. Some in the UK would say it’s too easy and we end up with one day of democracy followed by five years of elected dictatorship. But the American system of federal government was designed the way it is so that power is not concentrated in one place – in other words you need to build a consensus if you are going to make major changes. If he ever understood this Trump has now completely lost sight of it.

The President makes a huge fuss about the country desperately wanting the wall – you know – the one he said Mexico would pay for? But just because he thinks it doesn’t make it so.  Well, firstly he didn’t get a majority at the polls, Hillary did, and he’s only President because of that weird-arse electoral college which is a hangover from the horse and cart days. Secondly, there’s the mid-terms and the massive change in the lower house. If that wasn’t a verdict on him and his bloody wall then nothing is. The Emperor is suddenly looking rather naked.

Trump may still genuinely believe that the wall is needed, although he makes a complete pig’s breakfast of producing any convincing or credible evidence. What he hasn’t got and never did have is any kind of mandate to build the bloody thing and much less to land the American taxpayer with the bill it.

More to the point he doesn’t have the right to play politics with people’s jobs the way he is. Both he and the Republican Senators who refuse to reopen the departments currently shut down are showing us what a bunch of cruel and uncaring bastards they really are. That they are so cavalier about the  livelihoods of so many public servants is a national disgrace and they should hang their heads in shame. But I really don’t think they have any.

It’ so funny …

… how we don’t talk any more.

Not, to be honest, that we ever did. I come from a generation of “Big Boys Don’t Cry” and self- reliance and bottling up problems because they’re ours and and we can’t possibly show weakness by asking for help. That’s partly why suicide rates are so high among young men – they can’t answer the question “Who am I, really?” and asking for help would make them look feeble. My father’s generation was even worse. My father-in-law kept the illness that eventually killed him from most of his family until the last few hours of his life. I only found out that my own father had been diagnosed with dementia long after he had died.

That’s why the visit I made last Friday was both highly emotional and very uplifting. It was to a work colleague. I’ll call him Charlie, for reasons he will appreciate. Those who know him will realise who I’m talking about – for the rest of you his real identity doesn’t matter.

Three weeks ago Charlie was playing tennis. He got an ache in his leg which his doctor thought was a DVT. Sadly it was only a symptom of a much deeper and more serious problem. He has advanced pancreatic cancer which has spread to his liver. It is not susceptible to surgery or chemotherapy, either of which would only buy a few months more. Charlie has opted to receive only palliative care and has very little time left to him.

I knew nothing of this until last Thursday when he appeared on my chat contacts list after having been missing for some time. Of course I asked him where he’d been and the awful story emerged. I had been planning on going shopping for Alex’s Christmas present in Guildford the next day, but I went to see Charlie instead – a four hour train and ferry trip each way which is no mean feat when you’ve got your own terminal illness screwing up your lungs. But I’m glad I did, and for two reasons. The first and lesser is that if I hadn’t gone to see him before he dies I would beat myself up emotionally afterwards. The second was because of the long talk we had.

This had all come along so suddenly that I didn’t know what sort of meeting it would be. From the time I worked with him, I recall Charlie as a highly educated man with an agile mind, and that is the way I will continue to remember him once he has gone. But there is a natural human tendency to feel bitter and lash out and/or slump into a whining heap of self-pity when life kicks you in the balls like this, so I was prepared for it to be an emotionally difficult visit. It was, but for good reasons.

What I found was calm acceptance. Charlie is undeniably angry at what has happened, particularly as, at the age of 55, he had finally got most of the ducklings in a row and was making his plans to retire. But he was dealing with a situation that he couldn’t change by quietly and efficiently putting his affairs in order and making his peace with this world. (I was most moved by his determination that some good should come from his passing by placing money in a trust to fund a university place for a young member of his extended family. That will be a fitting memorial for him.)

We were able to have a long talk about what had happened, how he felt about it and how he will approach the inevitable end. I was struck by the stark comparison between this and a situation I must have seen a hundred times before. As some of you may know I worked as a volunteer in our local hospitals for many years. Out on the wards I’ve so often seen the scene – a patient with their visitor(s) – the patient knows they are going to die, the visitor(s) know it as well, but they are sitting there in embarrassed silence because they are emotionally incapable of addressing the elephant in the room. We need, as a society, to be more open with each other about dying. How many times have you heard someone bemoan that they didn’t tell a loved one something while they were still alive. “If only” is one of the saddest phrases in the English language.

We none of us know how we will approach our impending death. I only hope that I will have the grace and manners to do it in the same calm and rational way as Charlie. I did not want to say Goodbye to him because that is so final, but we both knew that this was almost certainly the last time we would meet.

To my friend when the time comes I would paraphrase the late, great Douglas Adams – “So long, and thanks for all the chilis!”.

Ups and Downs …

Today has been rather extraordinary!

It has involved two of the most interesting men I have ever had the privilege of regarding as a friend.

It’s seen the wedding of a man I have known well in excess of a decade to his significant other, who I have never met. I’ve seen the first photos and they do look radiantly happy together. John and Siobhan, you make an exotic and lovely couple and I wish you very many happy years together, although I’m still disappointed that you didn’t ask me to be a bridesmaid.

Also today I have heard from a colleague that I worked with a couple of years ago. A very educated and interesting man and he told me why we haven’t seen him around for a few weeks. He has pancreatic cancer which is inoperable and terminal and he has only two or three months to live.

Life can be so beautiful and yet such a bitch at the same time!

It’s that time of year again!

Nowadays, from November until the “big day” itself there will be a steady trickle of stupid non-stories about councils banning Christmas, or having to say “Happy Holidays” or some such nonsense. Scratch the surface of this drivel and you usually find that the truth is far more prosaic than the headline promises.

Early off the blocks this year is Paul Vivian, an evangelical preacher from Grimsby. (I will resist the temptation to get all regionalist and say that they need some light and enlightenment up there … but ever since the great Austin Mitchell retired from Parliament they’ve been somewhat lacking!) Mr Vivian has got his little proselytising knickers in a twist over a billboard which has been doing the rounds and which wishes the public a “Mary Christmas” and invites them to the town’s “Supercalifragilistic Light Switch On”.

He was so shocked about it that he wrote to Grimsby Live (the local rag). He was full of “disgust and outrage”.  He says “The people responsible for inciting this offence are not in line with the law of this country or laws governing Human Rights, and I, as an ordained Minister of the Gospel request an immediate apology, and removal of this billboard!”  In his argument Mr Vivian cites Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which obliges countries to adopt legislative measures against “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I would have said that inciting religious hatred would be something like advocating gassing Christians, or throwing Muslims off tall buildings – not equating the alleged birth of a person not proven to exist with the activities of the truly invented. (I’ll leave you to figure out which is which!)

Mr Vivian claims that “We need to lawfully and wholeheartedly respect all religions and their festivals, without preference or prejudice.

Err, like fuck we do! If that were truly the case we would not be having Christmas at all. There is no Biblical evidence that Jesus was born in December and no physical evidence for him at all. Given genuine respect for other cultures, we should be getting ready for the Winter Solstice – a celebration that 4th century Christians nicked.

Oh, no they didn’t…

Forgive that, but Brexit is turning into a right pantomime

Fascinating to watch all those who claimed that Leavers were misled and didn’t know what they were voting for demanding a people’s vote on a 500 page document that 95% of the population won’t even read let alone be able to understand.