(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

This is the cartoon in today’s Times newspaper (that’s the ‘London Times,’ for those of you who live in countries with similarly named newspapers):

© Times Newspapers

I was going to make this a Wordless Wednesday post, but felt the need to add a few words. Apparently, Numpty Trumpty couldn’t resist commenting on the size of the crowds awaiting his photo opportunity trip to Texas, hence this cartoon. Putting aside the possibility that they had been hired to be there, this is crass, even by the low levels of humanity this idiot has established with his Presidency. I accept that politicians are in a no win situation when it comes to their response to natural disasters, but for him and his wife to turn up wearing unsuitable clothing, some of which is now available to buy on his website, and crowing about how many people have come to see him isn’t going to do much for disaster relief, is it? Then again, any scientist who tells him that Hurricane Harvey is the result of climate change will be reminded that it is a Chinese hoax. So that’s alright, then.

POTUS45: the first to be known by his IQ. What an embarrassment. My heart goes out to those affected by this disaster, and particularly those who are mourning the loss of loved ones. I hope that they can be helped to recover and will be protected in the future – despite the fact that, a mere two weeks ago, this same President removed the requirements for restorative work to be carried out to high standards. How that fits with making America great again is beyond me. Maybe he’s hoping that his wall will keep out the bad weather?

A Political Football

A couple of months ago I wrote in my post Mental Health Matters about the way the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) were diverting the ring-fenced funding they had been given for mental health services into other treatments, against the express instruction of the government. To date, this post has received 38 ‘likes,’ the most for any of my posts, so this must have struck a chord with many people. Just for clarification, I’m using the phrase ‘many people’ in its true sense, not in the way Donald Trump uses it to tell the UK government that it should appoint a racist buffoon as its US Ambassador.

But I digress (it was too easy a target!). Last Friday The Times newspaper ran a front page story headed ‘Nine health secretaries attack government for failing mentally ill.’ The piece related to this letter which the paper carried on the same day:

Copyright Times Newspapers
Copyright Times Newspapers
It refers to this as ‘an unprecedented intervention,’ coming, as it did, from former Secretaries of State for Health from across the UK political spectrum. It goes on to say “the decision…to speak out reflects wider concern that people with mental illnesses are neglected in a way that would never be accepted for patients with cancer or other physical conditions.” I agree wholeheartedly with this, but nevertheless this letter causes me serious concern. Not so much in the letter itself which, taken at face value, is fine, but more in the motivation of those who signed it. In effect, the letter is challenging the government to deliver on promises made – it is making a political statement in a political game, and is using mental health as the football in that game.

But is the government really to blame in this case? Don’t get me wrong, I am not a supporter of our government and the direction it is taking, but as my previous post showed, they had been making the money available, but the CCGs were choosing to ignore its purpose and use it to commission other services instead. As I also said in that piece, the CCGs were created by the wholesale changes made by the government in 2010, despite the fact that this had not been mentioned in any election manifesto, as they would supposedly be a more informed group to commission services. The Health Secretary who brought in these changes was Andrew Lansley, who is one of the signatories of the letter to The Times. Either the man is totally lacking in self-awareness or he is now getting his revenge for being sacked from the job and being ‘promoted upstairs’ to the House of Lords when even the then Prime Minister could no longer make excuses for his monumental incompetence. This Times cartoon from that time sums him up perfectly:


Blaming solely the government for the failure of support and funding for mental health services is wrong. The CCGs should also be in the firing line – arguably, at the front of it. The only thing letters like this will achieve is to provoke a political argument and, while that goes on, nothing will be done to give the additional support to mental health services that they so desperately need. It could be argued that the outcome of this letter might be that the government will tell the Department of Health to investigate how funds are being spent on the commissioning of services. For all I know they will already have done that after the report two months ago – and in any event, oversight of the CCGs and how they commission services is a regular part of the DoH’s responsibilities. Either way, we don’t need any more debate, and a letter from a bunch of people who can be too easily dismissed as being self-interested isn’t the answer. Mental health services in the UK have been under-funded for decades, and the CCGs need to recognise this. I don’t envy their decisions, as to allocate money to one service means taking it from another. But it is a question of priorities: they have been given money for mental health treatments and have chosen to use it for other services instead. This is wrong, and they should be called to account for it and required to invest in better mental health services.

The NHS in general, and mental health services in particular, have been kicked around for far too long. Turning them into a political football won’t do anything to improve that. As long as this situation continues, I fear for the future of mental health services in this country. We need someone in a position of influence to lead action on this, not write politically-motivated letters to newspapers.


Walk Awhile

Times obituary 7.6.16
Times obituary 7.6.16

By any standards, 2016 has so far been a terrible year for celebrity deaths. Some have been global superstars and have been widely mourned, and shamelessly used as an excuse for those Z-listers who hang onto the coat tails of the rich and famous – I wrote about this in Starman. Others have been more localised, but none the less tragic for that. I suspect that most of you reading this will never have heard of the person I am writing about, particularly as he died on the same day as Muhammad Ali, although The Times did a rather nice (almost) full page obituary of him yesterday. He wouldn’t have been expecting a 16 page tribute though, so no harm done!

Does the name Dave Swarbrick mean anything to you? No? I thought not. Swarb, as he was universally known, was a fiddle player, singer and songwriter who was a major part of the English folk music scene for over 50 years. He was well loved and respected by fellow artists in this field, and adored by devotees of this style of music, of whom I count myself one. Although not the only one to do it – and there have been many following in his footsteps – he was one of the first to play an electronically amplified fiddle in a band, taking the place of what would otherwise have been another electric guitar. That band was Fairport Convention, which Swarb joined in 1969 having originally been asked to help out on a few tracks of their Unhalfbricking album. Under his influence, the band moved away from being an English wannabe version of Buffalo Springfield and developed a uniquely English style, reworking traditional folk standards. Their first album with Swarb was Liege and Lief, released in 1969, which has become a seminal record in the modern folk rock genre in England. Some years ago it was voted as the most influential folk album of all time, and holds the further accolade of being one of the very few albums that I have owned on vinyl, cassette and CD – a rare distinction! The band is widely known across Europe but, as far as I know, this style hasn’t travelled to North America – please correct me if I’m wrong! I first saw them play live while I was at university around 1973, and have seen him in a number of gigs since then. His contribution always made a difference.

The best folk album. Ever.
The best folk album. Ever.

Swarb was the possessor of a wicked sense of humour. This came to the fore when, in 1999, he was rushed into intensive care after falling ill at a show in Coventry and the Daily Telegraph printed an obituary in error. From his comments he clearly saw the funny side of this:

That wasn’t the first time I’ve ‘died’ in Coventry! I did think of suing, but it was such a good obituary that my lawyer thought it could be argued that it had actually furthered my career. The tabloid press were camped outside my home and in the hospital grounds and it was the most publicity I’d had for years.

His wife brought the newspaper into hospital at 8.30am to show him the obituary. As he said, ‘she was keen to tell me I was dead before anyone else did.’

He recovered from this, and named the new band he formed ‘Lazarus.’ See what I mean about his humour? But his health continued to decline, culminating in a double lung transplant. Through it all he continued to make music, and we have a rich legacy to enjoy. I’ve been playing a lot of his music over the past few days and I thought I’d leave you with one of his best known songs, which was co-written with Richard Thompson, a founder member of the Fairports and a renowned singer songwriter – including in North America 🙂 :

That song was the opening track on the band’s Full House album, and was for many years the opening song of their live shows. The sound quality in that clip is pretty appalling, but it is 46 years old, and I hope it gives you an idea of the man and his music. It has the advantage of being the only clip of the song I could find that also included Richard Thompson, one of my favourite musicians. The chorus runs:

Walk awhile, walk awhile, walk awhile with me,

The more we walk together, love, the better we’ll agree.

That seems to me a pretty good way to live our lives: understanding comes from sharing and talking, not from avoiding and attacking.

RIP Swarb