Tag Archives: #2015


Once again I return to my growing “disquiet” over news headlines and the feeling that I’m not always getting the full story.

A & E Waiting Times

Austerity measures worldwide are biting hard and Great Britain is no different. The big news story over the last few weeks has been the waiting lists at A&E (accident and emergency) units in English hospitals, where it is stipulated that patients should be seen within four hours of arrival. Many hospitals have failed to comply with this “mission statement” and the BBC is heralding a website where hospitals A&E statistics can be viewed by the public. My husband heard on a BBC Radio 5live breakfast show a caller reporting his local hospital had a 75% rating for A&E admissions. There was outrage from other callers and the studio presenters. Out of curiosity Rob checked our local hospital’s stats and found a rating of 61%. Neither of us is a bit surprised though as the hospital is a recent new build development to replace older stock. However, there are fewer beds provided in the new facility and thus fewer staff to monitor patients and less ancillary staff to run the place. This reduction also falls in line with “austerity measures” put in place to save money. The population of the area has not fallen; in fact it has probably increased. It isn’t rocket science to work out fewer beds and medical staff for more people means increased waiting. And I know for a fact this has been going on since at least last summer, because the hospital I volunteer at in another county has picked up some of the fallout. Suddenly with winter deepening the issue is big news. What angers me is that the BBC by advocating the name and shame website is creating fear and alarm. Although being in possession of the facts can be useful at times, it will be no good to the sick person at the back of an ambulance being driven to the nearest hospital.

Prescriptions to Pay or Not To Pay

My husband and I both use regular prescription medication and each of us has an annual pre-paid certificate to cover costs. In this way we save a bit of money and remove the need to pay on the spot for items. Apparently the government is considering introducing a database naming those individuals who qualify for free prescriptions, in an attempt to stamp out prescription fraud. The matter-of-fact headline stated “with 9 out of 10 prescriptions being free this is a serious issue”. I realise that under 16s, full-time education, the elderly, unemployed and sufferers with certain conditions are exempt, but the rest of us pay. Perhaps if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland figures are lumped in with England the numbers add up, since the other three home nations don’t pay prescription fees. But if Rob and I sat in a room with eight other patients we would highlight the falsehood of such a sweeping statement. It proves to me what I have always thought “you can make numbers say whatever you want”.

Water Shortages in Northern Ireland

On Monday 19th January 2015 I was appalled to see a news feature showing people in certain parts of Northern Ireland melting snow for water. A pension’s dispute between Northern Ireland Water and their employees had meant a work to rule policy and no out of hours repair work going on. As a result NI Water customers involving thousands of properties and households had endured disrupted water supplies for weeks. The dispute had begun before Christmas but this was the first time I was aware of the issue on the main news. Again I had the feeling of being fed “selective news” as this should have been flagged up much sooner. The industrial action by NI Water was suspended on Wednesday 21st January. Perhaps this issue from NI was dwarfed by the bigger story concerning the Stormont government taking so long to agree their budget plans. Austerity measures have not hit the area quite so much and the NI assembly has effectively spent money it never really had. Now they have to claw back some of that deficit by making severe cuts. The NI Water pensions dispute that involved an increase in employees personal contributions, may well have resulted from the cutbacks central government has to make.

Britain & the United States (a special relationship?)

During David Cameron’s visit to see President Obama in Washington a BBC reporter referred to the President as “considered a bit of a rock-star in Europe (if not at home) and that Cameron would hope to bask in some of that reflected glory during this election year”. I’m not really sure Barack Obama does have such a high rating in Europe, but I can easily believe David Cameron would use anyone/anything to make him look better. My initial reaction was that of the typical “fawning attitude from the BBC toward anything USA”. I say this cautiously, but it does seem to me that when the USA sneezes Great Britain catches the cold. I remember just before the London Olympics opened in 2012, an Israeli tourist bus travelling to the airport from a Bulgarian seaside resort was blown up by a suicide bomber. I remember the spectre of Munich 1972 springing to my mind. Shortly after the bus bombing, a man dressed as the nemesis of Batman opened fire in a cinema in the Aurora district of Denver Colorado. The bus bombing story was largely dropped from our news headlines and for days (4 or 5) Denver was the main story. Surely for the security of the world, an Israeli bus bomb loosely attributed to Syria and its civil unrest, merits more importance than a domestic dispute in the USA. With London about to host the biggest sporting event in the world, the threat from potential international terrorism was far more serious and relevant to us. But you would never have known, as the daily news was filled with issues regarding the “American right to bear arms” mantra.

Grab the Headlines

Headlines grab the attention and the emphasis on words in a spoken report can make a huge difference in how you respond to a story. Two big news items from the latter part of 2014 instantly come to mind in this regard. This is how both stories sounded to me, with the words in bold being the ones emphasised during news reports.

Ashya King a SICK CHILD TAKEN FROM HOSPITAL WITHOUT PERMISSION by his parents who are JEHOVAH WITNESSES. This little boy was removed by his loving and well meaning parents after disagreements regarding his care plan. An international arrest warrant was issued, the Kings jailed and Ashya put under police protection and prevented from family contact for several days. I noticed the BBC quickly dropped the reference to the family religion probably in case of calls of discrimination. But it was clear from the beginning that the reference was meant to imply that the family were refusing treatment for the boy. This was not the case; they were seeking an alternative care plan instead. Once the dust settled and some sense was brought to the matter, Ashya received the treatment his parents wanted in Europe. He seems to have responded well to the therapy but remains in Europe with his parents, as they fear a return to Britain will result in them losing custody of him to the authorities.

OSCAR PISTORIUS GETS FIVE YEAR JAIL SENTENCE. Yes he was given that term but a technicality within the framework of the sentence means that he will only be required to serve TEN MONTHS in jail, the remainder of the term being on licence I presume. To me, the smaller jail time issue is a far bigger headline, when you consider that a life was taken however unintentional. But you have to admit it does not have the same sensational impact as the Five Year term. I also wondered at the time WHY the BBC felt it necessary to present day after day live coverage of the trial’s duration, when it had nothing to do with anything related to the British judiciary. I think Oscar’s fame and celebrity had more to do with the decision than the desire to see South African justice being done!

Despite my misgivings regarding news coverage in Great Britain, I still believe we have a fantastic news system with the BBC. It is far better in its range and impartiality than many other nations press core. On listening to the BBC World News Service on the radio, I marvel at some of the incredible in depth reports presented on minority subject areas. Yet for the mainstream TV news reports, I still can’t shake off at times the distinct feeling that an agreed “national party line” is being kept, and that coverage of subjects depends on an agreed agenda for the day.



This film is based upon the memoir of Vera Brittain, an upper-middle class young woman fighting for the same opportunities available to her younger brother in pre World War One Great Britain. The story begins in the springtime of 1914 and we then progress through to around 1920, seeing events unfold through the eyes of Vera. It is a beautifully shot film and incredibly evocative of the time with a much slower pace to the story, a more romantic theme than a war one really. Anyone used to seeing movies with all out shooting, mass explosions and in your face armed combat should not go and see this; frankly such a viewer would probably feel rather bored by it all. What this film does have is heart and a deeply felt poignancy for an era and way of life that no longer exists, mainly because of the outbreak of The Great War.

At the start Vera is desperately trying to persuade her father to let her try for the Oxford entrance exam, whilst enjoying spending time with her brother and his chums on their last spring school holiday. Due to her gender and class, Vera’s parents expect her to be nothing more than educated and cultured enough to run a good house when she marries well. Vera’s fury toward this is palpable and she is only allowed to try for Oxford, after her brother Edward intercedes on his sister’s behalf. The university acceptance letter for Vera arrives on the day her brother and his friends leave Uppingham School. All the boys enjoy a passing out parade as members of the school Officer Training Corps (OTC). Ominously the newspapers report the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.

As soon as war is declared Edward Brittain and his fellow OTC pals immediately volunteer and sign up. Being only 18 and not at the age of majority, Edward needs Vera to petition their father to be allowed to join the army, and she is persuasive. So we see Vera travel to Oxford in the autumn of 1914 to begin her studies, with all the boys who should have gone along with her, going into uniform instead. This includes Roland Leighton, who through family connections is accelerated through training and onto the front, at his behest. Despite his obvious growing love for Vera, Roland feels an over-riding compulsion to do his duty for king and country. His class, upbringing and education have moulded Roland into feeling honour-bound into being of service to his nation. All the other boys in Vera’s social sphere feel exactly the same, and it is only when Roland gets his first leave home, do you glimpse that the realities of war are not as glorious as Roland was taught.

Realising the gravity of the war situation, Vera decides on becoming a nurse, feeling her studies are somewhat frivolous under the circumstances. She undergoes her training and then proceeds to tend the wounded soldiers sent back to England. Vera then transfers to France to feel nearer her brother and to nurse the injured behind the front lines. Ironically she finds herself attending to German soldiers’ wounds, but is also instrumental in returning her brother to full health as well. Vera’s recall from frontline nursing is very indicative of her class status and undoubtedly exasperates her. Whilst at home news comes of her brother’s death in Italy, where she thought the fighting was less intense.

Vera makes good on the promise she made to her brother at their final parting and returns to Oxford. Initially she does not thrive weighed down by all the ghosts around her. At the end her healing begins with a powerful statement at a demonstration and her personal resolve to ensure that those whom she loved and lost would not be forgotten.

I have not read Testament of Youth but if the film is a reasonable interpretation of it, then I think Vera succeeded in her quest to remember those lost in battle. The overwhelming sense I got from the film was that of a very innocent almost naive generation within Vera’s class in society. They were from another world where privilege cushioned members from a harsher reality. Women had servants to run the home, so were always immaculate and genteel and virtually a social adornment for the men, whose stiff upper lip was highly evident. The war shattered the illusionary world that Vera inhabited and became a great leveller of society in some respects. Officers from the upper classes fought alongside the sons of the working class. They faced the same bullets, barbed wire, shells and mustard gas and were wounded and killed in the same awful way. With her own wartime experiences Vera kicked against and helped bring down her world and the etiquettes she despised.

Vera Brittain’s book has been described as the voice of a generation and I can see why as the film is full of service, honour, loss and the futility of it. It is one person trying to comprehend and live with the aftermath of war and find some meaning to the ravages of conflict. This film (and presumably the book) espouses a generation of men who sacrificed their youth, vigour, optimism, hope and lives to fight for a cause that was bigger than them. In that respect they are the Glorious Dead and should be honoured and remembered for paying the ultimate price for our freedom. But as I listened to Vera’s impassioned statement at the end of the film, I was reminded of a poem I learned about in school which still affects me deeply. Dulce et Decorum Est is from Wilfred Owen a voice from the trenches, who I suspect came from a similar world to Vera Brittain. In those lines the hideous consequences of war are laid bare and show the utter lack of glory in drowning in your own bodily fluids after a gas attack, and every nationality on the battlefield faced the same horrific fate. Each new battle and counter-attack perpetuated a cycle of revenge with hardly any gain for either side. Vera Brittain came to realise this as did Wilfred Owen who implored future generations with this plea:

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori”. (my translation-to die for one’s country is a great and noble thing).


On Wednesday 7th January 2015 a major news story developed in France, when several people were killed by gunmen in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. My husband and I were aware of events through Twitter and breaking news mobile phone apps. We were in London for a private exhibition viewing for members of the National Portrait Gallery. We didn’t bother switching on the TV news in our hotel so were largely in a “bubble” until we returned home, but when I eventually did tune in to the news channels my growing “disquiet” at media coverage of events crystallised fully.

The satirical publication Charlie Hebdo through cartoons takes a serious swipe toward the Islamic faith in particular. The ideal of freedom of speech is the notion of a person being able to fully express their views and feelings without censorship, and I whole heartedly support that idea. Charlie Hebdo upheld that ideal in the fullest sense publishing in a nation where “freedom” is enshrined in the republic. So when two Islamic brothers opened fire on Charlie Hebdo employees, the French nation clearly saw that as an attack on their republican heritage. It is abhorrent to think that a democracy that upholds the ideal of freedom of speech could be held hostage by religious fanatics. But my unease was heightened by the reaction of the authorities and the general public to the events unfolding.

As I switched on the TV another hostage crisis was occurring in a kosher supermarket in a separate Paris suburb, and again it seemed that two armed people were responsible for the outrage. Reports from the scene told me that police were staking out the supermarket and on a “manhunt” for the Charlie Hebdo killers. The most alarming thing to me was seeing the swarm of police vans thundering up and down the French motorways on the trail of the Kouachi brothers, and the swat teams armed to the teeth around the supermarket. I know the event was serious and had to be dealt with in an appropriate manner, but looking at the media coverage for the first time, I would never have imagined that FOUR people were responsible. It looked like half the French police were in pursuit of a small army of perpetrators spread over a vast region, because why else would EVERY school in an area be evacuated. Journalists in hot pursuit of the story were stopped on the road by armed cops making it VERY CLEAR they were going no further, and I didn’t doubt they would have used their weapons if they felt it necessary. At that point France did not seem a particularly free nation but more like a police state! The authorities would undoubtedly say everything was done to keep people safe, but at the time of extreme agitation, who keeps the people safe from the authorities? I just knew that the offenders would end up dead before the day was out. When news reporters suggested that the authorities would have preferred to bring those responsible to justice, I actually laughed, and at that moment I realised how cynical I have become to how the news is reported.

The reaction of the general public was understandably shock and confusion and occasionally the question “why France?” Thinking about it I wasn’t so surprised that France had come under attack. Not so long ago the wearing of the “burkha” was banned in public by France, saying it was un-French and not constitutional or words to that effect. Whilst I agree that foreign nationals/cultures should assimilate with the traditions and laws of the nation they find themselves in, I’m sure that Muslims affected by the burkha decree felt more marginalised. And I vaguely recall a football commentator saying during a World Cup match that the parents of Zenedine Zidane (French captain) didn’t have a vote in France. At the time (about 13-17 years ago) I remember thinking that information must be wrong, but maybe it wasn’t. The very nature of Charlie Hebdo is deeply offensive to the Muslim faith which views any unwarranted reference to their holy prophet as blasphemy. When a society upholds the right of such a publication to exist whilst potentially marginalising the faith group it offends, a potent mix can be created.

The incidents in Paris have been global news just like the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and the September 11th events in 2001. The rolling out of 24hr news coverage in the last 15-20 years has meant that we can know instantly when something grave has happened, although the monotonous “round robin” nature of it can be incredibly irritating. Two days later you can still be seeing the same thing as “news” because nothing has changed. The BBC sent out a huge team to France to cover what was happening. You know things are serious when Lyse Doucet is deployed but she had at least four other big name colleagues reporting in the vicinity as well. Although the Charlie Hebdo story was big, and the ramifications from the event are potentially huge, was the size of the BBC report team really needed! Other news was happening in the world but you would hardly have known it and I was reminded of the week Princess Diana died. Two other big names passed away at that time but barely made a blip on the radar Sir Georg Solti and Mother Teresa. At the time I remember thinking we were being fed “selective news” and that the general mass hysteria generated from Diana’s passing was considered the normal. The frenzy of emotion in 1997 was picked up by the media and magnified for their big headlines. Looking at the Paris news coverage I am once again picking up on an emotional frenzy being broadcast as the consensus feeling. Heaven help anyone who is perceived as not being part of that consensus, the least they could expect is to be lambasted through social media.

I don’t think that a publication such as Charlie Hebdo could exist in Great Britain, it’s just a feeling I have. There has been some legislation created almost by stealth which makes me think that the true ideal of freedom of speech doesn’t really exist here. When you can be jailed for an idiotic tweet and covert monitoring is going on in the name of “security” I seriously question the rights we have.

As I write this post there is a mass demonstration taking place in Paris in support of unity, freedom and democracy, and several world leaders have arrived in the city to show support including British PM David Cameron. When London suffered its own terrorist atrocities ten years ago I don’t recall any world leaders coming to our support. When policewoman Yvonne Fletcher was gunned down outside the Libyan embassy in 1984, I cannot recall French police standing in honour at her loss, as our Metropolitan police did this week. Different times and different attitudes I know, but to my mind a clear indication of how much Great Britain is viewed around the globe, not very well and of little significance.

I have always felt that the sense of “freedom” is as much a state of mind as anything else. Never more has that been made clearer to me than this week. The other day I seen on Facebook a reference to Stephen Hawking that said “although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free”. When I heard the people of Paris say they would be looking over their shoulders on the metro I was saddened. By allowing followers of a radical ideology to create in you a sense of fear in your everyday life they have won. Only by remaining hopeful and true to the ideals that are dear to you can you truly remain free.

Off The Beaten Track 4

Radio has always been a great love of mine, and I’ve come across some heart-warming stories associated with the medium in recent weeks, that really made me smile.

ANGEL RADIO in Havant Hampshire

This wonderful radio station was featured in a BBC news feature that I saw quite by chance in early December. Angel Radio is run by a group of people largely over the age of sixty and broadcasts music aimed at a more mature audience. Any music produced up to 31st December 1959 CAN be played whilst anything younger is off limits. The Angel Radio library thus spans music production from 1900-1959 and includes about 126,000 shellac 78’s records. With an audience outreach of around 40,000 in the Havant area, broadcasts can be picked up on FM (101.1fm) and online (angelradio.tel). In addition to the nostalgia, the radio station also provides news and information that is particularly relevant to an elderly listener.

As Offcom are reviewing community radio licence agreements in 2015, Angel Radio successfully managed to raise £5000 from their listeners and supporters, to apply for consideration for an enhanced licence. The application form was put in at the start of December and the outcome will be known in August. Only one other applicant was received and that came from the current licence holder The Breeze, a much larger and more commercially backed organisation from what I can gather.

Having been on air since March 2002 Angel Radio hope they can win the bid to enable them to broadcast to a much wider geographical area in the Portsmouth region. I really hope they are successful in this endeavour, for the elderly can feel particularly isolated in this modern technological age. For a generation who grew up listening to the “wireless”, having a radio station today that plays music and dramas specifically from their youth is an invaluable asset. Angel Radio provides a wonderful service that effectively provides a reassuring hand of comfort and companionship for their listeners. It seems a relatively unique service that should without question be actively encouraged to expand.

NAS CAMPANELLA Australian News Reader

My husband heard this news reader being interviewed on Radio 5 and mentioned how inspiring she sounded. I found a podcast of the broadcast and had a listen myself and wasn’t disappointed. Nas Campanella has a radio voice that is pure velvet to the ear, silky smooth, authoritive, composed, warm and intelligent sounding. Nas reads the news for TripleJ on ABC radio in Australia and although that may not sound particularly inspiring, her journalistic journey is a bit more incredible when you realise Nas is blind. She also has a medical condition (Charcott-Marie-Tooth) that has left her with limited sensitivity in her fingers, so she was never able to learn Braille. Nas has been able to utilise technology developments in computing, to facilitate her education in school and university and now the workplace. But the stand out quality that Nas has nurtured throughout her life is the ability to REALLY LISTEN, something she inevitably has to do in her job having to contend with four sound feeds at the same time! As I listened to this young woman talk about her background and job I could only marvel and applaud what her determined spirit has already achieved. I’m sure Nas Campanella will be a broadcasting name known worldwide one day.

You can see Nas in action here.

Radio 4: Archive Hour: Singing Together

Having missed the original broadcast, I only heard a small fraction of this program on the BBCi Radio Player before “buffering” lost my connection. But it was enough to let my mind go on a trip down memory lane to my days at Cleland Primary School. Like thousands of schools before and since the 1970s, my class tuned into the BBC “Singing Together” series on Mondays at 11am. We had our specially commissioned “seasonal songbooks” with words and music to sing along too. In my day the songs spanned folk tunes from around the world, and to this day I still remember the first verse of “Troika” from Russia! Another one I recall is a real tongue twister from England “I Had Four Sisters (beyond the sea)”. I can’t remember if we ever put a musical accompaniment with the songs, although triangles, tambourines etc. were available in the school stores. I suspect not for fear of disturbing the other classes but I did enjoy our little classroom choir efforts. I heard enough of the program to learn that Singing Together began as a means of bringing together children evacuated during WW2 and boosting morale. Singing Together having started in September 1939 was a regular schools broadcast for nearly sixty years.

To my utter delight I discovered my mother-in-law (a former primary school headmistress) had a small batch of “Singing Together” song books from between the 1960s to 1980s. And one of them from the 70s I recognised immediately, even though I hadn’t clapped eyes on it in about 27 years. Opening it up I instantly remembered the songs and tunes and began to sing even though I don’t read music. This resulted in my husband’s uncle following my lead at the piano and a lovely hearty sing-along ensued. We had all got together for my mother-in-laws birthday and she remarked later, what an unexpected joy it had been to hear something again from her teaching days.