RIP Old Gaffer, 1922 – 2014

Steve here, the Old Gaffer’s grandson. I’m sorry to report that my grandfather died in the early hours of this-morning. I was on my way to the airport to fly to Northern Ireland for a visit when I got the call.

What a wonderful and inspiring man he was. And still is. This blog is testament to the colours of his days, his verve for life, his genius, his eccentricity and his unwavering love for friends and family. I will miss him dearly, but he was ready to go, to be honest.

All I’ve been able to think about all day is his big laugh. Sipping a single malt while sitting in his big comfortable armchair as the sun set outside the house on Cavehill Road, bursting out with that laugh, the purest expression of the joy of life.

Much loved, I know he will rest in peace.


The Old Gaffer

I am Steve Jones, the Old Gaffer’s grandson. I’m pleased to report that he’s still around, although is now in a care home. His health is such that he is unable to contribute to this blog anymore, but he wanted to convey his gratitude and best wishes to readers everywhere – the comments have been great over the years.

Am I being naïve?

When I question so much of what is being dictated to us by government, and by industry. Harriet Harman, on a television interview, was praising the fact that the Labour Party now has as many women in the Cabinet as there were men. I can’t see the logic of this. Equality under these circumstances is nothing to do with the sex of the people involved. It is their experience, their ability and their wisdom that is important, not the fact that they’re there to make up the numbers. When I worked as an engineer every year I would get graduates coming from the University to join my group. These young men had been trained to design some of the most advanced structures, I suspect because the lecturers were tired of the same old grind. The problem was that these young men were not trained in the basics and that is what I had to do. I therefore question whether the younger MPs. with their shining degrees in Political Science have sufficient experience to warrant a seat on the Front Bench.

It’s only a couple of years ago that we were being lambasted on every side to save the world, and some of the requirements that were placed upon us in order to do so, were nothing short of ridiculous. Now it seems, that the world has got to look after itself. But it is still being mismanaged by industry. In Northern Ireland we have a county which is well known for its production of fine apples, and yet we in NI are importing apples by air from New Zealand thus using up our fossil fuels. By the same token, how long is it since you had a tomato that really tasted like a proper tomato, grown in this country picked and sold once it was still in its prime, instead of imported rubbish as hard as a stone? Also it is bad before it has ever ripened. I would have thought that we could have had tunnel culture in some of the set-aside land to bring on tomatoes which are essential for our diet, and our pleasure. Surely with the financial situation that we have, I would have thought that we can be very much as we were away back after the last war ,when everything was grown at home, you got it at the right time in the season and it was fresh, and what is more it was cheap. I’m not an economist, but I just don’t understand why stuff that we can produce in this country is being brought in from abroad, in a lot of instances by air.

My generation, and the one following me will remember the Buy British Caption that was on practically everything after WW2, to help bolster our economy and it worked. Today we are importing stuff from abroad, probably made by cheap labour, with the result that the standard shops that we used to rely on can no longer compete and we’re getting the modern version of Woolworths, in every supermarket. The supermarket did away with the family grocer, and now the same thing is happening with the shops that sell the items that we only buy rarely. We are no longer having choice, which we had in the old days going from shop to shop, our taste is limited to what the supermarkets decide they are going to offer. It is our fault, we chose to shop in the Supermarket, in preference to the old-fashioned privately owned shops. So now we all dress alike, and a lot of us eat alike, and I suggest that this latter is why obesity is becoming a problem.

We used to be able to buy things like rice in large packets that were virtually anonymous. Now if you want to buy rice, it comes in a tiny bag, which has printing on every facet, telling you the nutritional values. how to make this that and the other, and we’re paying for this little tiny packet that will only provide two meals for four, so we are having to shop more regularly at the behest of the supermarket.

When I was a boy running errands, I found that the shopkeeper in our local grocer’s stocked things that my mother bought regularly and as a result other people tried them when they saw them on the shelf. Today you can’t be sure that the supermarket will continue to stock something that you like, if it is not sufficiently popular it will disappear from the shelf.

The Pru-Man Looms

What I say here, is nothing new to most of us, but I feel that it has to be said again because you see so little movement in government thinking that gives one any hope, not for ourselves, but the younger generations that are coming up, and are still in school at this time. After all it’s our responsibility that they don’t have to undertake some horrendous burden.

Anyone under 75, will not remember the Pru-Man. He was part of the financial landscape in the 20s and 30s, looking after the benefits of the working class and the lower-middle-class. In those days pensions were unheard-of as a benefit, and this did not happen until after the Second World War, along with the introduction of the health service.

The Pru-Man cycled round working-class and lower middle-class districts, on a huge bicycle, with a carrier at the back which held his raincoat and a book. He took several different forms, but was hailed basically, especially by children answering the front door, by the same term. He was collecting savings house by house, for various purposes. The amounts of these contributions could vary from six pence, to just a few shillings. With his thick book, the page held by a thick rubber band, he would labouriously write in the contribution.

It must be remembered that these people who were contributing, were almost certainly on a weekly wage, and accepting the circumstances that it wasn’t so long since the First World War had brought a low-level of status to the country, anybody who was at all frugal, saved as much as they could for a rainy day, and the future. One of the contributions was inevitably for a burial fund. Another was for the HSA, the Hospital Savings Association. There was no such thing in those days as free medical help, unless it was as a result of an accident either in the home, at work or on the roads. I was treated twice under these terms. Doctors bills were excessively high when the basic income was only £3 a week, and it cost seven shillings and sixpence per visit to the doctor’. There may have been pensions in private companies, but for the general working man he had to take care of that himself, and in consequence these men who called at the door from another company like the Prudential, were collecting a steady increase in savings against the day when these men could not support their families due to old age or infirmity. As far as I know, there was no cut-off age like 60 or 65, you worked till you dropped.

At the end of WW2 the Labour Party which was in power, introduced pensions which were contributory by both the worker and the employer, and the Health Service as we know it. Some would say that had the health service had a cut-off level at which new procedures were within the prerogative of private medicine, the increase year-on-year of the cost of the health service, due to progress in medicine, would not have arrived at a point that it is today. Obviously when some procedures were improved then that improvement would have been included in the system, but larger ranging procedures might have to have had subsidy by the patient.

We are now in a situation where unemployment is staggeringly high, and those who have been made unemployed are losing their employment pension rights for the periods when they are unemployed, in consequence in not too far in the future there will be lot of people trying to get on in their old age without sufficient income. Like today, the old-age pension will be inadequate for even comfortable living. It is manufacturing and export which maintains the financial basis on which a country thrives. If you’ve nothing to sell, you can’t buy abroad forever, without building enormous debts

.With respect to dealings with building societies, stocks and shares, and insurances companies, it is my experience that takeovers leave the individual unable to decide whether he has got the deal he expected, or has lost out. Some of us are a little doubtful about the dealings of insurance companies when it comes to making a claim,. In the old days. before the last war, if you joined a given company that was the company you stayed with forever if you were satisfied.

Today with dealings on the stock exchange you can discover that the company, and even the bank you thought you were with. is one that you would not chose dealing with under any circumstances. Who amongst us thinks it is necessary to research every holding that they have, but today it seems necessary, the reason that I write this is because I wonder how much we can rely over our lifetime that our savings will be safe if we take out a pension system, and are sure that it will not be taken over by a foreign company who themselves will be demanding that you pay income tax not only here, but in the foreign country as is happening to me. I think there is only one way to be sure of having a pension that you can rely on and that is by contributions made to a civil service run bank, not under any circumstances, the run-of-the-mill banks. The days of rogue traders should be over.

Open letter to Spike

Spike is a lifelong friend of my grandson, Steve, and as I have not been able to contact him, to thank him for generously sending me a bottle of Irish whiskey, something that I am very fond of and with which I will be toasting his health, when Stephen and I get together, I am using the blog to send my thanks. In consequence then I thought I would also give an account of how I personally see the changes in the drinking habits of the British, over the last 90 years. However, seeing that we are talking about alcohol, you might find it interesting to use a search engine, typing .’Passing out parade’ on this blog to seek where alcohol was inducing some strange results. In one case I was put in irons and dropped into the tiller flat, an unpleasant part of the ship. To start with I want to say that alcohol is really a social drink, and I find living by myself that I do not have the pleasure I once had, nightly, with my glass of scotch. There is no one to discuss the merits, to talk instances and brands. Instead one is reading, or watching television or dozing, while the glass sits there unheaded.

My experience goes back to when I was in Africa in the British Raj, but my knowledge goes further back as a result of conversations, and expressions of disgust, by different members of the family under certain circumstances when I was a child and a young man. The television has shown the horrors of the 14/18 war, the horrific needless loss of life, and the unbelievable conditions under which those men lived, Introducing words like trench mouth, and trench foot into the English language. If those men became alcoholic, and I believe many did, it would be understandable. In Africa in the 20s, the civil servants in the Colonial service were living well above their means, subscribed by the government, and would meet every evening at five o’clock in somebody’s house for Tiffin, the locked tantalus, would be opened and everyone would be drinking spirits rather than beer or soft drinks.

However the interesting thing that I have found was that drink, and especially the type of drink taken, varied across the social boundaries. Among the general population, leaving aside the Lord’s in their Manors, there were roughly 4 classes in society. There was the working class, the lower-middle-class, the upper-middle-class, and the upper-class, unsurprisingly what people drank in each of the classes depended on two things, habit and money.. I can remember as a child hearing my grandmother give off, when she would see a pram with a child left outside a public house while the mother would be inside drinking one of the regular drinks that women drank in those days, such as ‘Gin and it’,the ‘it’ being Italian Vermouth, Port and lemon, and any other combination that was in vogue.

The working class mainly drank beer, the lower-middle-class, in general, had aspirations to become the upper-middle-class, and they rarely drink at all, except as a mild celebration on high days and holidays. Then, the sherry bottle would come out with a good deal of theatre, but very little sherry. The upper-middle-class sampled the wine list, and if invited to a party by friends in the lower middle class, might be horrified to discover that they were expected to drink ‘Fruit Cup’, made mostly with a bottle of cheap wine.

Then came the Second World War, when young men were introduced to alcohol, the quality of which varied on the depth of their pockets , and the contents of the pub that was on short commons because of the war. Use the search engine on this blog by typing in Southend, you will find a typical wartime drinking session and the outcome. Any time I was on leave I saw little or no evidence of excessive drinking at home. and a trip to the pub on a Sunday was an occasion.

Like with everything else, the 1960s was a time of change when new experiences were the order of the day, but I believe that the level of intake of alcohol, was more to do with money than it was with change. In the 70s, there was a great change, making home-made wine and beer became common, and some of the chemists shops sold ingredients and equipment.

I can remember in the 20s and early 30s it was quite common to see men staggering home on a Saturday night having their one evening’s drink of the week’ .But to repeat myself I have to say that money in the pocket has a great effect on the ability to buy alcohol. We now live in a time when children seem to have unlimited pocket money, and recently in Bangor, Northern Ireland,we had two nights of expensive entertainment by American bands, and it was reported by those who knew, that the excessive drinking and drunkenness by teenage and young people, was staggering to people of a mature age, Especially as it was coupled with a tremendous amount of the most unpleasant swear words taken as part of the sentences.

I’m not a prude, and I work on the principle that everyone is responsible for themselves when they reach a certain age. It’s not up to the individual to dictate to anyone, but what I think is obvious to us all is that there has been a vast change in what Victorians would have called moral standards, in behaviour and our total way of life.

Thank you again, Spike, for your kindness and generosity, yours sincerely John

Further to the Cost of Care

Futher To ‘The Cost Of Care’
Certainly in this part of the country, and probably elsewhere, the immigrant workers in the building trade are now departed, because the differential between the cost of living in Britain is no longer what it was. It is reasonable to suspect that the same thing will happen in the care and hospitalisation milieu, where currently there are highly trained, competent and willing immigrants supporting our health services. If this does occur, the cost of having someone in care will escalate to a point where many of the homes will be forced to shut down. I know of one in our district, where the same reason was muted, but whether this is actually correct I don’t know.

Writing further concerning insurance, which appears to be on the menu, I wish to say that I am totally against the system of insurance. The fact that it is required by statute for driving makes it inexorable. What I am finding is that more and more people are considering carrying their own house insurance, working on the principle that the house will not burn down, or ruined by flooding or settlement, feel that they have very little to gain by ensuring the contents of the house, and indeed the structure of the house as in a lot of cases the repair cost is little more than the voluntary excess, and the loss of any ‘no claims bonus’. The structure of the system in such that many feel dissatisfied with the remuneration system operating, and the benchmarks surrounding that.

I raise this because the word insurance was used in the discussion that I heard, and any money that we have to pay in advance for care when we are aged, should be in the form of savings, something which will benefit the government, but at the same time would provide a nest egg for the coming generation if demands were not made, as would be the case with a high percentage of people who never need more than minimal assistance, or none, in their old age. If it is to be a tax to provide help to the whole nation then there are some things which need to be adjusted. Firstly care should not be a postcode lottery. If we are paying a tax, then what we are receiving in help, maybe split into different categories as it is in care homes at the moment, what should be on offer should be consistent throughout the land, not the way it is now where the homes are run by individuals, to their own standards, and in some cases are probably merely to meet the minimum standards required of them by legislation. I have said before that I have seen friends of mine in homes, living in conditions that no one should be required to live in, yet these conditions appear to meet the standards required by law.

The Cost Of Care

This is my experiences of caring for my wife, having her cared for, while at the same time receiving care myself because I’m handicapped. The politicians are proposing to administer care in the future, to the country as a whole. If you use the search engine on this Blog you will find where I have explained about care in detail, the various aspects involved, such as the provision of suitable equipment, of care in the home on a daily basis, and above all that currently care is a postcode lottery, and I am fortunate in the care that I receive.

To some extent there is a theory that the elderly should pass over their property, and their savings, up to a fixed amount, to ensure that the inheritance to their children is preserved and not used to pay for care in a care home, which will happen if the savings are above a certain amount. In my generation, born at the end of the First World War, we were trained to save, against indebtedness. The problem with the above philosophy is that if you have made over your home and your savings to members of your family, you can lose your home and all the savings you passed on, if one of them gets seriously into debt. In my case I am paying for my wife out of my own and her income and savings, with one advantage, I was able to pick the home which I wanted, because of the standard of the home. I had seen so many of my friends in homes, over the years, where the quality of care was not personal, where everybody was lumped together irrespective of their condition.

There was a programme on Andrew Marr’s Show, where he interviewed Andrew Lansley, MP, Secretary of State for health, concerning the increase in anticipated financial requirement to cover the cost of care across the country, in view of the fact that people were living to an older age. Some points I feel are very serious and could lead to mismanagement. Firstly, very few people in any given family finish up in a care home. Within my family, my wife is the only one out of all of the family, going back to our parents and their relatives, who has had to go into a care home for a protracted period. I suggest that when you read this, you carry out your own exercise to get some bearing on whether the government is making the right decision. They refer to the cost of care as being anything between 50,000 and a hundred thousand pounds, which sounds excessive, but this is only for one person, and considerably greater than I would have expected, and not spread out to a figure that could be taken as the average per person, whether receiving care or not. To some extent this is true depending on the life expectancy of the individual, but in my case using our savings and our pensions, it is only costing us about 13,000 the year, and I repeat that she is the only one in the family who has required this help.

The word, ‘ Insurance’, came into the conversation, and I took it to be that in some way the government wished everyone to have insurance against going into a care home, Perhaps I misunderstood, but I took it that the government was proposing some further taxation, whether it was included in the general tax or was a separate taxation. When I first wrote this blog I used to say that it was like shouting down a well, because all I got back was the sound of my own voice. Insurance is a bottomless pit into which we throw money through fear, with no hope of a valuable return. I would have thought, a quick assessment could be made on the liability of an individual finishing up in a care home, as a percentage,, This would have been a sensible way to go, before going into any other system of taxation. Currently, in most care homes there are different grades of care charged at different rates. The most expensive is the dementia and full-time care. I believe that this differential should also be taken into account when deciding on what sort of tax is going to be levied.

Finally, there is no shadow of doubt that there has been a considerable change from my day to the modern generation with respect to saving, and therefore the system should be designed to take this into account. It seems to me singularly fair that somebody who is careful and responsible, and wishes to assist their successors after they are dead, should be respected, anything else is invidious.

Women, a concideration

Women, a consideration.
In the round, spontaneous pleasures are often more pleasing than if they had been tailored with great care. Take for example two families on holiday in a seaside house. The sun is shining the day is warm and one of the number says that he is going off for a swim. Others say that they will join him and then a voice pipes up, suggesting that they all have a picnic on the beach. Pandemonium reigns, and within no time some are setting out the picnic and others are already swimming. I believe that would have been a much better party than if it had been thought of days before, and catered for.

Having been brought up by women, married, and having two daughters and five married young ladies as part of the family, I am not unaware of how much women enjoy dressing up, looking smart and above all fashionable, I think the film ‘My Fair Lady’, in the Ascot scene, showed just what could be done in the way of style and fashion for women. When I was a young man, women still wore dresses, and it was a delight to see them in summertime, when they had all their beautifully coloured finery on view. I have actually seen trousers on women which were bearable. Women can walk and swing their hair, which often is very attractive, and is even more attractive when it is coupled with them swinging their dresses in the sunlight. OK, trousers are very serviceable especially in the winter, but one couldn’t say that they were terribly attractive and that they do very much for the woman apart from keeping warm.

In these days, as I’ve said before, we are presented on television with nightly scenes of gross damage and carnage, and the inevitable display of adults having sexual intercourse. I have always felt that the actors when kissing, look as though they’re fighting over who should get the largest suck of a sourer lemon. Equally their physical cavorting is more like gymnastics. There is however one common factor in all these films, the women always wear skirts in these conditions, and never trousers. The reason is obvious.

I have been married for over 60 years, and I only see my Sophie on most days in the week for an hour, in her Care Home. but she still likes me. One day I made the point that I have just made above, and she and I reminisced about the past, and how in those days it was only on rare occasions, and under certain conditions, that a woman would wear trousers. Two people working together in their home,or one arriving unexpectedly could well generate Pheromones that would cause a smile and a silent question, which would be reciprocated. There was no preamble of undressing nor later that of dressing. It was fun, It all started and finished with big smiles, a hug and a kiss, and then later when the household started to fill, from time to time there would be secret smiles passed between the couple that added further pleasure, and underlined the relationship.

I am fully aware that wearing skirts leaves those who wish to pander to their urges easy opportunity. But I also think that couples living together and enjoying one another have been denied something which in my day was fun. The opportunity to have spontaneity and immense fun couched in love.

Suicide – A case for euthenasia

What I write here is as a result of my own experience, but not my intentions. My situation is such that I have to live as long as I can, and I hope for at least three years, during which time I shall have to be very careful not to fall yet again. I cannot afford to go into a care home The government seems to be very concerned about the fact that the current older generations are living too long, but doesn’t take into account the fact that the coming generations will never live as long as we did because their habits are so different from ours.
I have known of three cases of suicide, but not the reasons of any one of them. The first was of a man friend of mine who without consideration for the people in the bus or the driver, stepped in front of a long-distance bus, purposely, and was killed. The second case was the wife of a friend of mine. For some reason she drank bleach, which must have given her a most terribly painful death. The third case was that of a young woman, wealthy, apparently healthy, and if the vast number of people who turned up for her funeral was any gauge, she was well loved. I quote these instances because those who commit suicide do not take into consideration the effects on their family or on other’s. The trauma that the suicide can generate can be quite wide. There will be the effects on the immediate family, presupposing that there is affection between them. There will be trauma for those who discover the body, and the subsequent attentions of the police and the coroner’s court, will also be unpleasant. I accept, that the fact of having euthanasia will present the family with some problems, but they would more than likely be aware of the reason why the decision was taken.

I consider that the most cogent reason for introducing euthanasia, is the problems made by the subject being totally incapable, for one reason or another, of understanding the parameters of committing suicide, and thus, failing in the attempt. In this case, the result is that the subject can be totally damaged, and require attention for the rest of their lives, which in turn costs the government thousands of pounds per annum, and puts a burden on the family.

Introducing euthanasia is not a simple matter. One has to be firmly convinced that the subject has reasonable necessity, is not making the decision lightly, nor on the spur of the moment. There must be time to ensure that it is not a whim. What I set out next is just a basic framework for the way in which the processes could be undertaken reasonably, sensibly, and justifiably. Stage one is the application, written by the subject, and witnessed by a reliable person. In the application there would be the names of two family members, who are regularly in touch with the subject. In addition there will be the names of two friends of the family with the same requirement. And finally there will be the name of the doctor treating the subject. There would be a six week period from that point on, to allow the authorities to insure that what they were doing was reasonable. This period also provides that the subject has time to reconsider. Stage two, is split into two fortnightly periods, during which the subject is housed in a very comfortable location, and provided with a very civilised day-to-day existence. At the end of the first fortnight, there will be an opportunity for the subject to indicate that he wished to proceed. Failing this the same procedure would be taken in the second fortnight, when the subject could terminate the exercise at any time, by pressing two buttons only. There would be a switch system, with three buttons and associated coloured lights, set far apart so that they could not be triggered altogether, accidentally. Pressing all the buttons will inaugurated the final stages which will be conducted in such a manner that the subject would not be put under any serious stress. I’m not suggesting that this is a foolproof system, merely suggesting that something along these lines would be essential. If the information that I have received from the Internet about the costs of going to Switzerland is in any way true, then I believe that this alone could force some people into suicide, and hence a viable system at a reasonable price, superintended by the government should be the aim

I believe that we are lucky

I am sure that everybody who writes for public consumption, has written something about the Royals. Due to being ill and in hospital, I wasn’t able to contribute , but I am doing so now on a different tack. Being born in the 20s, I entered an age where it was natural to be a royalist, to be anything else was unusual. On royal occasions the children were given mugs and spoons as keepsakes by the local authority, so the whole philosophy was endemic and taken for granted. It was only just before the war that any thought was given by the general public, to the validity of having a royal family taking care of our affairs, however, the upsurge of the Bownshirts, and Oswald Mosley’s people had little effect on the general public. For this reason, and the fact that the general public are mostly proud to have a royal family, I think we’re lucky because I see little favour in a dictatorship, and I believe our system is preferable to those where the head of state changes every five years

As part of the Raj in Africa, I found the Royal family held a very high position, they represented home, that place miles across the sea, that was look forward to by the civil servants as their final resting place when they retired. .Empire day each year was a great occasion for us in Livingston, in what was then Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe. The children were given keepsakes, and the Governor, at Government House, gave a party for the children in the afternoon and a dinner for the Whites and those of the other races who held prominent positions of authority. Needless to say there were very few Africans invited to these affairs. Some years later, when we returned to England, and the cat’s whisker type radio became in vogue, the country as a whole would sit at Christmas lunch and listen to the King’s speech. This affinity of the man in the street for the Royals, was duplicated during the war when the Dutch resistance, in London learning their trade, would stand and toast Queen Wilhelmina when the Dutch anthem was played on Sunday nights, along with the anthems of every country fighting with us.

Every week,The Prime Minister advises the Queen on current policies and other political matters. Whether this is a polite, historical feature, and serves any real purpose of putting a brake on something the Queen objects to, I feel is unlikely. There is a thing called the Royal prerogative, which has come down through the historical ages, from when kings had total power. I believe that this also has been watered down. All the time that we have a royal head of state, the chances of us becoming a dictatorship, is thankfully, unlikely. We only have to look round the world today to see the disadvantages of the dictatorship.

One of these days we will have a change in the head of state, and when one hears that the current Queen has had as many as 440 engagements in one year, one can see that there has to be a considerable amount of study by the head of state, not only to maintain her or his standards when receiving the Prime Minister each week, but also having to mug up all the details and personalities for each visit. It would seem therefore at the outset, any new head of state has got a prodigious learning curve, and I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes