Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Where To Invade Next?

Our minor rebellion against Trump's inauguration on Friday was to pick up a DVD we've had out on rental for a while and finally watch it: Michael Moore's Where To Invade Next?

I think that most of the vilified "liberal elite" (for how terrible a thing it is in today's world to be intelligent, well-read and considerate!) probably wish that Michael Moore had been the larger-than-life figure on the podium in Washington becoming the 45th President of the United States instead of the belligerent orange Wotsit we can only hope doesn't kill us all over the next four (or - please no! - eight) years.

The film was made under the Obama administration, when if it weren't for the Republicans blocking every move he made, the country might still have stood a chance. Michael Moore went round (invading) various countries (mostly European) seeking out their best bits to steal, peacefully and politely, to implement back home. For the greater good.

Things like French school dinners, which look fit to serve in a gourmet restaurant. Or Italian paid annual leave, which runs at seven weeks, with an extra 15 days to cover your honeymoon if you get married, and an extra month's pay in December to help fund Christmas. Or the Finnish education system, which doesn't believe in homework and still gets some of the best results in the world. Or Slovenian universities, which don't charge tuition fees (remember when British ones were like that?). Or the notion of work-life balance in Germany, where your doctor can prescribe you a trip to a spa to relieve everyday stress. Or the Norwegian penal system, where prisons are open and the inmates trusted with knives in the kitchen as they work. Or the Icelandic police, who prosecuted and jailed the bankers who had bankrupted the nation in the 2008 global financial crisis, instead of bailing them out. Or the Portuguese police, who don't arrest people for drug offences any more and have seen drug use fall as a result. Or Tunisian women's rights to health care, family planning and parliamentary representation which, you know, exist.

Note that he didn't bother with us. He took nothing from Britain.

America, Moore concluded, had much to learn. Although some of the ideas (appropriate punishment, prosecuting fraudsters) were actually American in origin. They've just lost their way somewhere along the line. No more so than now.

And it made me despair that the British government is now rejecting Europe and all of its brilliant ideas in order to suck up to the lies, mysogyny, extreme right-wing policies and racism of the Trump administration. All because he dangled a little carrot on a stick (yes, little, yes, orange, from the man whose name means fart) and Theresa May is desperate for some sort of trade deal after she makes us turn our backs on the great European Single Market in pursuit of her Daily Mail Brexit. It's disgusting. It's embarassing. It's frightening. How can any of this be happening in 2017?

And given that some countries in Europe have different (and better) laws and rights to Britain, it rather flattens the Leave campaign's argument that Brussels was dictating everything we did and that we needed to "take back control".

So where would my family most like to escape to, once Brexit trashes our lives completely and Trump annexes what's left of the UK as another American state, compounding it with the rising hate crime on our streets, no environmental regulation of what little manufacturing is still functional, and no free health care for anybody?

Well, Finland looked pretty good, with its belief that children should be allowed to just play rather than being trained to perform in standardised tests and nothing more. With our daughter due to sit SATS next year, that has big appeal. She's at a good school which does its utmost to make learning still fun within the draconian confines of Gove's 1950s National Curriculum, but it breaks my heart that she will only get the one childhood, one chance at schooling, and it has to be under this sodding Tory government. Who only care about neat handwriting (when nobody handwrites anything in the real world any more), fractions and archaic grammar rules. (Don't get me wrong, as a linguist I love grammar, but not taught like this.)

We do our best to make sure our daughter does lots of art and play and sport outside of school - things that even Mrs Thatcher let us do in our infant school in the 1970s - but why not go somewhere that just encourages it from the get-go?

Posh hotel: the SAS Radisson Royal

Finland was the first place my husband and I went on holiday together, in 2001. It was also the first place we stayed in a properly posh hotel, as top-end business accommodation in Helsinki sells for half price in July and August, when all the Finns retreat to their summer houses. We had a fun few days exploring the capital and its waterfronts and gardens, and all of its architectural styles - the yellow and white palaces reminiscent of St Petersburg, its orthodox and unorthodox cathedrals, its modern art galleries and colourful art nouveau quarters, the fortress on the island of Suomenlinna and Saarinen's unusual granite railway station. We then caught the catamaran from the South Harbour over to beautiful Tallinn in Estonia for the second half of the week.



...and Unorthodox.

Railway station

Like St Petersburg

Art nouveau

Modern art gallery


Kaivopuisto Park

But I am not sure living so far north, with all that dark in winter and all that light in summer, wouldn't send me just a teensy bit mad.

So where else? Well, those school dinners in France were something else... Scallops, followed by lamb and couscous, followed by creme caramel. They even have a cheese course. How lovely to see kids tucking into a hunk of Camembert with not the red wax husk of a BabyBel or a Cheestring wrapper in sight. It's been much commented on that when they eat out, French kids just eat normal food, unlike their British counterparts, whom restaurants here expect to feed a rotation of fishfingers, beefburgers, chips and pasta in tomato sauce ad infinitum. Although our brats' fussiness seems to be infiltrating across the Channel these days - in Annecy last year it seemed every restaurant offered a menu enfant at vastly inferior gastro quality to the dishes on the a la carte.

Lake Annecy lunch

And if Marine Le Pen wins the Presidency, France will become as much of a no-go destination as the US.

So is it time to make my husband learn German? Angela Merkel has an open-door policy for refugees, but by the time Theresa May, Boris Johnson and David Davis have finished offending her in their failed Brexit negotiations, I doubt very much that will include the British.

The hardest thing is knowing that just as we want to go and live somewhere else in Europe, we will no longer have the right to.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017


Well, it's been a while. Brexit, Theresa May's incompetent government, Labour's utterly ineffectual Opposition to the incompetent government, and now the prospect of Donald Trump becoming US President this week have made me lose enthusiasm for pretty much everything, and this blog is one casualty. It's no longer fit for purpose. Times have changed. I don't want to watch television because I don't want to see the news. I don't want to travel anywhere because the pound is worth peanuts and I am embarrassed to be associated with a country that has become xenophobic in spades, bullied and dictated to by the right-wing press, and is now overrun with people too ignorant to spot the lies they are being drip-fed.

So I need to change tack, and write something more appropriate for the times, or something that might actually do some good. I am still mulling over ideas.

But a documentary last week about a London NHS trust, filmed at St Mary's hospital in Paddington, London, made me angry enough to seek an online outlet to rant. And this is currently the only one I have.

There is no escaping the fact that the NHS is currently in dire straits. Theresa May and Jeremy (cough)-Hunt may claim otherwise as they sing "lalala" with their fingers in their ears before cutting off more money and handing out more private contracts to Richard Branson, but the rest of us can see it's cash-starved and desperate. Nobody wants to get ill ever, but now there is little guarantee of speedy or safe treatment if we do.

They may be contemplating (or actually) leaving in droves, but right now, the NHS is still staffed by brilliant, caring doctors and nurses. But it's bloody difficult getting to see them. And this documentary showed why. Two highly experienced and skilled surgeons with two urgent patients to treat, and yet both were kept waiting for hours by managers trying to secure each an intensive care bed, none of which were available in the hospital. So the surgeons just sat around, scrubbed up and ready to go, for hours, waiting and waiting. One eventually got to operate, on a lady from Norfolk with a ruptured aorta. The other, treating a man with an oesophageal tumour, had to wait until the next day. So these surgeons were effectively paralysed, unable to attend to more routine matters, or perhaps see outpatients or catch up on paperwork, because they were on call, waiting for the go-ahead. They were frustrated and cross and tired, and had been at the hospital for hours before the operations were finally allowed to take place late in the day, all of which surely has to compromise patient safety. Seeing clinical experts sitting around DOING NOTHING, wasting all their years of training and and practice and research was beyond farcical. It was utterly maddening. All because the government won't give the hospital any more money to open up more intensive care beds.

And there were no beds anywhere else in the hospital either. People were unable to go anywhere, even if they didn't need to be in hospital any more, because there's no money to fund social care either. Managers were sitting in meetings seriously debating whether it was acceptable to turn endoscopy suites into makeshift wards, or to lie adult patients alongside children in the paediatrics unit. The lack of beds meant routine operations were being cancelled to allow for emergency life-saving operations to take place, thus causing delays further down the waiting lists for those with long-term but less urgent needs. Possibly then making them become urgent. And when serious cancer treatments and surgery get delayed, it reduces their chance of success. Everything just gets worse, people need more treatment, and the whole system grinds to a halt.

The Red Cross has likened the state of Britain's NHS to the humanitarian crisis of a warzone or a Third World country. How can this be happening? The NHS has never had everything it needs, it's never been performing as well as it could, and there undoubtedly has to be major changes to how it operates and how it is paid for, but to deliberately starve it of funds like this, ready to usher in some American style privatisation, is beyond despicable. This government just does not care. As long as rich Tory MPs can get to see their private GPs and consultants, as long as City bankers have their health insurance schemes, they will never give a shit about anyone else. Welcome to Brexit Britain, which sold itself on a lie and a false bribe about the NHS on the back of a bus.