THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Where are we now?

It’s been two months since I last posted here. The Last Ditch is not dead but it’s moribund. The same might be said for me.

I have made some progress since Mrs P the Second left last November. I am no longer in purdah. I am going out with my friends. I am making plans for my future. I have progressed from saying that I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me to actually meaning it. That’s not the same as being happy about it  I still feel bereft, lost and lonely.

We have filed for one of the new mutual divorces. We have agreed on the financial terms of our separation. It has not taken many conversations with friends who have experienced divorce for me to realise that I am blessed. Mrs P the Second is being reasonable, kind and considerate. She clearly regrets hurting me and is trying to make this as easy as possible. If anything, I like her better than ever. By this stage of most divorces, the other party and her lawyer would have raised the emotional temperature to the melting point of love. I know how lucky I am (though a smidgeon of hatred might make it easier at this point).

The pandemic being over, I am making travel plans. I intend to tour all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie locations in New Zealand on an epic road trip next January/February for example. I hope my spirits will have sufficiently revived by then to make a good travel blog of the journey. I’m not shipping Speranza though. I will do it in a hire car.

Having no wife to leave my assets to tax-free I am revising my estate-planning. I’m responding to the wicked, perverse incentives of Inheritance Tax by planning actively to destroy the modest wealth I worked so hard and long to build. I hate that, of course. Those perverse incentives, born of envy and malice, will destroy our civilisation one day.

An Ancient Greek proverb said a civilisation is where a man will plant a tree to shade his grandson. By that definition IHT is uncivilised. No UK-resident family will ever own a global company in the way the Porsche family does. Much English energy that could have been expended on wealth-creation will be wasted. But “equality” (defined as “all being equally insignificant in the face of state power”) is more important to most English people now than productivity. Especially to the leftist “Deep State” Establishment wedded to that state power.

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Felicity

Those readers who know me will be unsurprised that I plan to destroy my wealth by automotive depreciation. My much-loved maternal grandfather was a store man at the Bentley factory in Crewe. He died young and still in service when I was sixteen. The company (then Rolls-Royce Motors of course) sent a car and bearers to his funeral. Talking to his co-workers I learned that grandad, though he had no interest in cars himself, had marked me as a petrol-head. He’d persuaded his craftsman colleagues to make me a scale model from offcuts of real cars. He was almost fired when caught trying to smuggle it out for me and was forced to destroy it in a furnace. Ever since hearing that story for the first time at his funeral, I’ve had an ambition to commission a new Bentley. 

I have already worked out the configuration for “Felicity”, as she is to be known. She’s to be a V8 Flying Spur in a burgundy colour. I plan to place the order when the divorce is final. My financial advisor is clear I shouldn’t tick off the Family Court judge by placing it sooner. Mrs PII is a robustly independent feminist who wants nothing from me but continued friendship, but our courts still see marriage as a financial transaction.

I’m not sure what the lead time is so this may take a while. I’m hoping to take my mother to the factory to collect Felicity. I plan to have Bentley place a plaque in the engine compartment that says “Commissioned in memory of” my grandfather. If you know Mum don’t spoil the surprise please. She hates all extravagance and is quietly horrified by all this. I’m hoping the plaque will make her smile. 


What is Putin up to?

I practised law in Central and Eastern Europe. My old firm had offices in both Moscow and Kyiv. I lived in Warsaw (11 years) and Moscow (7 years). The region is where most of my friends are, including both Russians and Ukrainians.

I am pleased to see some of the former putting dove of peace emblems on their social media profiles. It says much about Russia that I worry it may have adverse consequences for them. One of my Ukrainian friends was interviewed on BBC radio recently. It was chilling to hear his usual calm, reasonable tone as he talked of joining a citizens militia and preparing to resist invasion. He and I were law partners. I fear for his safety and that of his family. He was born to a Ukrainian family in Canada and had the option to leave. I respect and admire his decision to stay and fight. I hope, in his position, I would have his courage. As his friend, I wish he was in Canada.

I hoped against hope that Putin was sabre-rattling. Part of the secret of his success has always been that, one way or another, he keeps Russia in the western news, which soothes his electorate. Why? Because it was a shock to their collective psyche to descend from being one of two super-powers to just a regular nation with an economy the size of Belgium's. Britain struggled psychologically in descending from being the greatest empire in history to just another G7 nation, but we had decades to adjust. We had time to build such institutions as the Commonwealth to soothe the jangled psyches of citizens used to red world maps in their classrooms. Russia had only days.

I am not excusing Putin's aggression by saying the West has made terrible mistakes in handling the demise of the USSR. They flowed not from malice but from a naive, innocent and as it turns out optimistic belief that Russia would rapidly become just like us. Fukuyama's book The End of History and the Last Man (published as I moved to Warsaw) pretty much summed up our leaders' attitude in that respect. The West simply did not feel the need to take the Russian elite's paranoid views on NATO seriously. It saw Russia just as a new, economically-insignificant, member of the Free World. 

NATO was an anti-Soviet defensive alliance. Its weaponry was trained on Russia and the Warsaw Pact. When the USSR ended, it should probably have been disbanded precisely because Russia's military and intelligence communities (who, unlike in other Warsaw Pact countries, were not purged after the fall of the USSR) had grown up thinking of it as "the enemy." They felt threatened by it. That feeling was unjustified. NATO was a defensive alliance with a "no first strike" doctrine. It poses no threat to Russia now and, in fact, never did. The feeling is real though. More accomplished diplomats than ours would have understood its significance.

If post-Soviet Russia's economy had been bigger, it might have been listened to. Ignoring the fears of its generals and spies because it was now a country that didn't matter very much seems in retrospect to have been an error. It won't help a paranoiac to laugh and say he doesn't matter enough for anyone to be out to get him.

This became a worse (but still unrecognised) problem when Putin and his chekisti (ex-KGB men) came to power. The military, intelligence and political communities were in practice just different arms of the Communist Party in Soviet times. Real democratic politics was in its infancy when Putin came to power. Once he was in the Kremlin, Russia's political elite was once more completely aligned with the attitudes of old KGB guys like him.

I suppose we in the West thought we could just rewrite NATO doctrine and retarget its weaponry to handle other threats. NATO worked, so why not repurpose it? The other Warsaw Pact countries, after all, cheerfully applied to join. I was in Poland when that happened and can assure you my friends there still saw it (having had the same education as their Russian contemporaries) as an anti-Russian alliance. That's exactly why (knowing Mother Russia rather better than we did) they wanted to join! I mentioned to a person I met from the Foreign Office at the time that I thought it was a mistake because Polish attitudes were (a) entirely contrary to NATO doctrine and (b) likely to fuel Russian paranoia. She said (I quote from memory, but I am confident it's pretty accurate);

The Foreign Secretary privately agrees with you but the Cabinet doesn't. Anyway the Americans wouldn't hear of excluding Poland.

So while we in the West sincerely saw NATO expansion as harmless (and would probably have accepted Russia as a member, with some conditions) the Russians didn't. Neither did some of their former allies who were joining it – and the Russians knew that. We are not responsible for their paranoia, but we did feed it. 

That said, Putin is lying comprehensively in his depiction of NATO. There's a useful (and very mild) web page of refutations from NATO itself, which is well worth a read. He is just spinning a yarn to justify doing what he wants to do. He's pretty clearly expressed his view that the Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent nation. My hopes have failed. He's about to fix that "error" and, in so doing, write himself into Russian history as (he thinks) a hero. 

The Putin of my days in Moscow was cleverer than this. He knew that rattling his sabre was enough. I fear that his isolated life for so long among people too scared of him to tell him he's wrong has caused him to lose his mind. I don't fear for the West, which could defeat his armies as readily as we could defeat those of Belgium, I do fear for my friends in the region.

I explained to a Ukrainian lady I met yesterday that – while I could understand if she had no time for that at the moment – I feel sorry for the Russian people. They are a wonderful, cultured people who have almost always been badly led because of endemic corruption. The end of the USSR didn't end that, as anyone who'd read Gogol could have predicted. Russia didn't stop being a problem to the West when the USSR fell. It may prove to become a worse problem now because the old Communist leaders always responded rationally to circumstances. I fear this madman won't. 

The West's leaders must perform better now than they have so far because how they respond could expose the world to much more than the loss of Ukraine's independence.


New Year, Old Story

Firstly, some sad news. Some of you will  – like me – have once followed JMB's Blog Nobody Important. It's open only to invited readers now but back in the heyday of blogging (when we all thought citizen journalism was going to change the world) you will remember her often mentioning her husband, whom she dubbed "The Old Scientist". I am sorry to report that he has passed away at the age of 89. I had the pleasure to meet him just once, when I stayed at their home in Vancouver on my North American road trip in 2013. He was a decent man who lived his life well and I feel for my friend in her loss.

Secondly, as I seem to have exposed more of my personal life than usual of late, just a brief report that – though my situation is as sad as before – I am getting on with my life and feeling better. I had a good run in Speranza to visit my parents last weekend. There are not many Ferraris in the world with over 91,000 miles on the clock, but (touch wood) she's in fine fettle and running well. I don't know why I don't drive her more. Call me shallow and materialistic, but she lifts my spirits every time. It is hard to feel sorry for yourself on the open road at the wheel of a bella macchina. I can't wait for borders to be properly re-opened so I can visit my friends on the Continent. 

Thirdly, a brief "state of the nation" summary from my point of view. If you think I am wrong, please tell me. Trust me; I would love to be wrong. 

It is gradually dawning on the British public that they've been had over COVID. They still don't tell the pollsters so but it's becoming an object lesson in the difference between stated preferences (which often signal "virtue" or seek to give the questioner what s/he wants) and revealed preferences (shown by how we behave in practice). For example, when out and about in London it's clear that only state fanatics and submissives are still wearing masks. I dutifully obeyed when on public transport in London for most of the Scare, but now I just carry one to wear if challenged by an official. Most travellers are not wearing them and the submissives now dare to do no more than cast a stink-eye. I hope the divisive hatreds stirred up by Government propaganda will now die down but I fear that many friendships have been irremediably broken. 

Most of the West panicked in a very similar fashion, though Florida has thankfully provided a control group for an experiment that would otherwise have lacked one. As data reveals the ineffectiveness of non-medical interventions (the use of state force) we can therefore expect a united front from the global establishment and its lickspittles in the media. Data will be spun. Evidence will be bought, paid for and rigged. Every government will point at all the others and say "we followed global best practice based on the data we had at the time." That may have been true for a month or two at the beginning but it's clear now that the British Government, for example, knew damned well that its tyrannical measures were not necessary. The real scandal of "partygate" is not that Downing Street civil servants at the heart of the state apparatus ignored the law. It is that their conduct reveals they knew their propaganda was false and/or wildly exaggerated. 

If they believed what they told us, the law would have been irrelevant because they would have been too scared not to comply. 

The British Establishment is safe however. Not least because, as it metaphorically thrashed the British public, HM Opposition's only complaint was that the whip was not thick enough, was not applied soon enough and was wielded with insufficient vigour. The Labour Party is not going to hold HM Government's feet to the fire for forgetting our every liberal tradition because HMG's ripostes will all be examples of Labour's demands for more, more, more state violence. 

It's hard to say now (as I have believed my whole life) that Labour cares less about Liberty than the Conservatives. I am not sure the latter has left any space at the authoritarian end of the political spectrum for Labour to occupy. The "Conservative" knee-jerk reaction to a perceived threat was to boss us all about in excruciating detail, while borrowing on a colossal scale to throw public money at the problem. If a Labour manifesto were ever to be written in plain English, that's pretty much what it would say. As "Conservative" support for government tyranny weakened, Boris Johnson, in effect, became the Leader of the Labour Party – herding its lobby-fodder to vote for his measures. Every time he wrote about Liberty (and he has done so many times in his career as a journalist) he lied. He may be the cleverest PM we've ever had, but he's also (and I recognise this is a huge claim) the least principled.

Intelligence without principles is more dangerous than the politicians' usual dozy uselessness. I see no better replacement from either side of the House, but he must go. 

I cannot imagine ever bringing myself to vote again. I have always voted (as I remember explaining to my Polish teacher as she prepared to vote for the first time in the immediate post-Communist era) in the cynical manner of an intelligent citizen of a long-standing democracy. I know them all for rogues. Their aspiring to have power over their fellows while living on them parasitically reveals them as such. So I have always voted for the robbers who would steal – and the thugs who would bully – less. I never saw my vote (except perhaps during the Thatcher years) as anything more than a damage-limitation excercise. When push came to shove, however, it seems – even in my world-weary cynicism – I was deluding myself.

Can we hope for any useful lessons to be learned from the pan-panic? When the butcher's bill is received for the non-COVID patients killed by state action, will it give politicians pause for the next emergency? We can hope so. I fear what they have mostly learned, however, is that if they deploy their psychological-warfare "nudge" units effectively enough, they can get us to put up with far more than they'd previously dreamed of. Buckle up, friends. I suspect you're going to see more of your governing classes than you previously feared.


Thoughts at year end

It's easy to identify wrong choices after the event but it's important not to lose your life to regret. Every door you choose to open, leaves not one but many closed. Who is to say which of the others would have led to better paths? If real life gave us a video game's opportunities to go back and make other choices, even three lives might still not be enough.

At dark times in my marriage to the late Mrs P., I sometimes remembered a time at university when I considered ending our relationship to pursue another woman. In those fantasies, the alternate Mrs P. and I lived happily ever after in fairy-tale style. In truth, that potential relationship would have had its issues too. I might well have married the other lady and found myself fantasising that I had chosen Mrs P. instead.

In a way, the last six months of the late Mrs P's life were the best of our marriage. The problems that had often made us miserable were put into perspective. Faced with the real problem of her cancer, they hardly seemed worthy of the name. Just as we'd grown together in the struggles of our early lives, the shared focus on her survival brought us close. As I took care of her in ways she'd never imagined I could, her insecurities about my love disappeared. Focusing on her care made me, for a while at least, less selfish. Things that might once have made me angry suddenly seemed far too trivial to fret about. Some of that perspective never left me. I am a calmer man than I was if not a wiser one. 

When Mrs P. died, I discovered how complex grief is. Among many things, I grieved the loss of my hope that one day we'd solve the problems of our marriage. It may well have been a forlorn hope; clung to rather than embraced. Perhaps if she'd survived her cancer our new perspective might have made for a perfect marriage? But she didn't. In these matters, as in so may, you just can't tell, so why waste time speculating?

In the month since Mrs P. the Second left me, I have experienced grief again. I have wished I never met her. I have cast aside every happy memory in dark thoughts. Yet the truth is she may well have saved my life. In my grief at the time I met her, I was taking no care of myself. That I lived to experience this new loss is painful but without her I might not be here to experience it – or anything else.

We don't learn much from success in my experience. It tends to make us complacent and stale. It was the success of the Kodak company – proprietor of arguably the world's best-known brand – that made its leadership dismiss digital photography when one of its employees invented it. Off he went to a competitor and off they went into the dustbin of commercial history.

When I look back on my life, I realise it was the errors and losses that helped me grow. In fact all that was best in my career arose from my very worst mistake. I have often used that story when counselling friends and colleagues worried about career choices. I tell them "make the best choice you can, but don't worry too much. The bad choice might lead to great things too."

With that positive thought I wish you all, gentle readers, a very happy new year. I hope that 2022 will be a better year for all of us.


The uses of Law

In an interesting article in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Dan Hannan (arguably the British politician I least despise) makes some sensible points, which you can read yourself here

In the course of that he says indignation about #PartyGate is misplaced because, amongst other reasons, no-one strictly complied with last years COVID rules. Of the critics condemning the alleged “gathering” he says;

My point is not that they are hypocrites; it is that the rules are wrong. Laws that no one follows are, by definition, asinine laws. By all means blame politicians. But blame them for imposing these absurd prohibitions in the first place rather than for behaving like everyone else.

Hannan has a decent mind and sound instincts, but here he strikes me as naive. We tend to think of laws as rules proscribing bad behaviour or (less often) mandating good behaviour. Practising law for a few decades as I did will make a cynic of the best of us but even a politician should know there’s another use of law — to absolve a rule-maker of responsibility.

In the private sphere, if more of us read the “standard terms and conditions” we sign up to blind (often these days on a “click through” basis) when contracting for goods and services, we’d find rules the suppliers never plan to enforce. Their lawyers put them there to ensure that in myriad circumstances — foreseen and otherwise — where a problem might occur, their clients won’t be legally at fault.

If your child finds a website that encourages her to commit suicide for example, the company hosting it will point to a rule forbidding such use of its services. It didn’t make the rule so that it could enforce it. It has no employees combing its servers for breaches. It made the rule so it could point to it when your child dies. That’s a dramatic example, but there are millions of others to which you would probably say “fair enough.” Businesses couldn’t sell many goods and services economically if they were expected to take the blame for any wicked use of them.

The fact is that in the public sphere government uses law in similar ways to address what spin doctors call “the optics” of a situation. It feels that “something must be done” about a perceived harm and will often promote new legislation without even considering whether existing law covers the matter. How many of the thousands of new crimes created during and since the Blair years can you name? If it’s any consolation, I bet your MP can’t name any more than you.

The government didn’t make it illegal to visit your gran, hug your mum at your dad’s funeral or have sex with your new girlfriend with any expectation that you’d be so servile as to comply. It did it so that, if any of those ladies contracted COVID, it would be your fault. That’s why Number 10 staff partied, Cummings conducted motorised eye tests and Hancock and Ferguson shagged.

The intent of the law was neither proscriptive nor prescriptive but exculpatory. It was one rule for everyone, but no one was seriously (in those circles in the know) expected actually to comply. This is a subtler complaint than the angry “one rule for us and another for them” beloved of bar room ranters, but in its way it’s actually worse.

I have used this quote from Montesquieu so often that regular readers will be able to sing along in the original French;

If it is not necessary to make a law, it is necessary not to make a law.

He also said — and how this still resonates today;

There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice

You’d expect a libertarian to be cynical about laws, but anyone should be able to see the damage that such “click through” criminalisation does to respect for Law itself. I suspect the British government was as surprised by the servility of its citizens as I was disgusted. I tremble to think of our future now that it realises how weak we mostly are.

That said, I hope the mishandling of the pandemic by democratic governments almost everywhere will lead even the most servile to an understanding that Law is a dangerous tool that is lethal when misused. Make too much of it too lightly and you make criminals of us all — with criminal attitudes to compliance rather like Captain Sparrow’s approach to the Pirate Code — or Dan Hannan’s approach to the Highway Code!


Grief, loss and hope

I apologise for posting once more about my personal life. It’s not in my nature, I hope, to overshare. The Oprah Winfreyite idea that everyone has a personal “truth” that it’s somehow brave or noble to bare disgusts me. It’s self-indulgent and morally-corrosive. Having begun a sad story here however, I didn’t want to let lie the impression it must have left.

I have felt sorry for myself since that post. Apart from two doctors’ appointments I’ve stayed home alone thinking dark thoughts and kept away from friends and family. There was perhaps an element of improper pride in that. I didn’t want the people who love me to see me broken. 

Today I had a drink and a meal with an old friend. A simple and yet a powerful thing. We touched on my grief and my reaction to it, but mostly we talked of things I blanked out in my self-pity. It was enough to help me see that, though I’ve suffered a blow, my life is still good.

We began, for example, to hatch a plan for a trip to Japan — for whose culture and food we share an affection. I would love to make that happen and document it here. COVID has put travel (and blogging about it) on hold but it would be good to do more. To take better photos, a wise man once advised, “stand in front of more interesting stuff”. It would be good to dust off my photography gear and do just that.

Yes it’s hard to be rejected by someone you love. It’s sad when a relationship breaks down, for whatever reason. Being dumped is certainly not good for that self-esteem the Winfrey-ites value above all but so what? How we feel about ourselves is often a poor guide. The Kray Brothers did not lack for self esteem, for example. The world might have been better if they’d had less of it. Amour-propre used to be considered a bad thing.

Ultimately there’s no value in being with someone who doesn’t want to be there. The only good human relationships are consensual. That consent having been unexpectedly and disappointingly withdrawn, a good libertarian must blink back his tears and move on. My soon-to-be-ex wife has her story and I love her enough to hope, in the end, it’s a good one. I’m sorry I won’t be in future chapters but hey ho.

Thank you, gentle readers, for your words of support and encouragement. They helped. I apologise to those of you (and those of my family and friends) who reached out directly and were ignored. I did not mean to spurn your help, I just wasn’t ready to handle it gracefully.

I am sorry to have troubled you here with problems that were no concern of yours. Please let’s say no more of it and move on with dignity.


Arthur – a child, betrayed

Ambush Predator: Maybe It's Time You Stopped Talking About 'Learning Lessons' And Actually Learned Them..?.

Julia M at Ambush Predator's heart is – as always – in the right place. Her scorn for the ritual public sector response to the cruel abuse, torture and death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes is palpable and justified. Our "servants" in the Deep State indeed played a role and their meaningless mantra of "lessons will be learned" is truly sickening.
 
Six year old Arthur was murdered by a wicked stepmother worthy of the Brothers Grimm. She was egged on in tormenting him by Arthur's father, who was besotted by her. The couple took good care of her children, so there's no question that they were capable of better. They alone are to blame for what they did, for their lies to social workers and for their exclusion of those (like the child's grandmother and uncle) who might have protected him.
 
Arthur's wider family blame Solihull Council's social workers. Perhaps those functionaries could have done more or better, but he might have had a better chance if they did not exist at all. This story illustrates perfectly how the British State has elbowed aside those in the family and community who would otherwise often have done a better job. The Welfare State's pledge to take care of us all from cradle to grave is, and always was, that most meaningless of all promises – an election slogan. 
 
Election slogans persuade voters to give up their rights and responsibilities to an all-caring, all-embracing, all-controlling state. They farm voters by creating "jobs" for those most likely to vote for an even bigger state and rewarding them with average pay in excess of that earned by the productive voters who pay for it all. The promise is that all these farmed voters will serve and protect us. Yet what do we actually get?
 
The social workers were easily sent packing with a stupid lie. Poor Arthur had an uncle who worried about him and wanted to intervene. Our "servants" in the police force service (there to protect us, right?) threatened him with arrest if he intervened. His grandmother feared for his welfare but the wicked stepmother was easily able to exclude her and the state would have supported the killer if she'd forced her way in. 
 
People who have to be paid to care for you don't. In this world, the best hope of help you have if you're in trouble is your family or your friends. The underlying evil of the Welfare State is that it displaces family, friends and neighbours. It reduces us all, psychologically, to children under its protection. It prevents the development of responsible adults who care naturally for others, without being paid to do so. It infantilises those who might have protected vulnerable infants like Arthur.
 
This is not to say that children weren't abused, tortured or killed before the Welfare State was invented. There were always evil people amongst us, but I wonder if more victims were not saved then than now.
 
My grandfather once asked my uncle's school friend about his black eye. When told that the boy's father regularly beat him when he tried to prevent him abusing his mother, my grandad didn't call the police or social services. He turned to my grandmother and said "make up a bed, he lives here now." When the boy's father turned up on the doorstep, drunk and raging, grandad (a war cripple, but still feisty) sent him packing. The boy grew up with my family.
 
Ask yourself how that story would end today. With my grandfather in jail, probably. Our modern police are tough with the law-abiding who pose them no threat and weak with the evil ones who do. More likely, conditioned by decades of Welfare State, grandad (hard though it is for me to imagine, knowing him as I did) would have just relied on the authorities to deal with it. I can't envisage – thinking of poor Arthur – that would have led to a better outcome.
 
Before the Welfare State, people knew that there was no-one but them to solve the problems they saw around them. Families, neighbours, vicars and priests were far more inclined to intervene and the police would not threaten them if they did. There were churches and charities staffed by volunteers motivated, not by an above-average salary, job security regardless of performance, and a pension guaranteed by state extortion taxes but by actual, honest caring. 
 
If Arthur's uncle or grandmother had not relied (as the law encourages them to do) on state "carers" and if they had ignored the police threats, he might live in safety today. Sadly given the woeful history of state children's homes in the U.K., he might also now be suffering abuse at the hands of other state employees.
 
How many times do we have to read such stories before we realise the Welfare State is a wicked con trick? It exists, not to serve us, but to provide jobs to the mediocrities we so regularly hear reciting the "lessons will be learned" mantra.  If we really care about vulnerable children like Arthur, we will demand changes to the law to allow access rights to wider family. We will give families back their confidence to intervene when children are suffering. The solution to the failings of the state cannot always – surely – be more state?

The blogger at bay

The second Mrs P., who led me from my grief at the death of Mrs P. to a new and briefly happy life, has left me. She met a new man at her work. 

Our age difference (almost thirty years) was always a risk. For years before we married I told her that – good though it was for me – our relationship would never work for her in the long-term and that she should find someone more suitable. A religious friend told me I was selfishly putting my own happiness before hers; denying her the prospect of a full life, children etc. I was too weak to take his advice to break it off for her sake.

Perhaps it really was selfish on my part. I tried not to fall in love with her, but failed. I convinced myself that she knew her own mind and that – crazy though it seemed – I was blessed. So much for that nonsense.

Today I am paying the price. I am the old fool there is no fool like and this feels like the end of more than just my marriage. When I told one of my best friends – a younger man I mentored long ago – it was noticeable how quickly he passed from sympathy to boasting of his own achievements. In that moment, I felt like a wounded old lion, skulking off into the veldt to die alone.

My sense of loss is in some ways greater than when Mrs P. died. She, after all, did not choose to leave me. That thirty year relationship was fraught at times and far from perfect. I was no more the ideal husband than she was the ideal wife, but – robustly critical as she often was – she did not reject me like this. Unlike our daughters whose reaction to my remarrying was implacably hostile. They refused to come to the wedding and have mostly spurned me ever since. Another price I pay for folly.

I am not sure what this development means for an already-faltering blog. In COVID times, it's become apparent that the vast majority of my fellow-citizens are as far from my view of politics, economics, justice and morality as it is possible to be. I was already posting infrequently because I felt my cause was lost. The pontificating of a broken and bitter old man is even less likely to win anyone over. 

I shall read and write a little every day. I shall exercise and try to take care of my health. I shall focus on my hobbies and perhaps make a solitary road trip or two. The story took a dark turn but it is not ended yet. 


Doctor Dalrymple's insights

The Pleasure of Apparatchiks > Theodore Dalrymple.

Theodore Dalrymple is the nom de plume of Anthony Daniels, formerly a physician/psychiatrist at Winson Green Prison but now better known for his writings. Wikipedia describes him as a cultural critic. He's certainly one of the best commentators on the culture of modern Britain. He's clear-sighted, thoughtful, tolerant and articulate. He's everything I would hope our society's leaders would be yet spends most of his life quietly documenting how little like him they sadly are. 
 
The linked article recounts his experiences pitching an idea for a television series; a series of interviews with deposed dictators. It would have been fascinating but the TV executives were not buying it in either sense of that expression.  
... the experience was valuable, in a way. It gave me an insight into the pleasure experienced by apparatchiks obstructing the creative and imaginative, such power to do so being a kind of consolation prize for being without original ideas of one’s own...
In my current circumstances – negotiating my father's future with apparatchiks – this rings very true. Their tone  signals the pleasure they take in their position. We're not allowed near him to assess his health or state of mind ourselves. One look in his eyes would tell us all we need to know, but that's forbidden. It seems to annoy them that we press for more details. We have been incredibly polite throughout (our loved one is at their mercy, why would we risk being rude?) but still their lips purse when we don't meekly walk away. 
 
We are concerned about reports of elderly patients languishing for weeks in wards unnecessarily – and at present denied all visitors. We were told there were 150 patients in that position at this particular hospital because of a waiting list for home support; known in the inelegant jargon as re-ablement.
 
Both parents were frail before this latest episode. My sisters and I decided they now need carers at home and found a company to do two visits a day. We have also discussed with them stepping up that care temporarily when Dad is discharged.
 
Yesterday I called the "Discharge Liaison Nurse." She said Dad was not on her professional horizon because he was "not medically fit". Nor was there any discussion of moving him to a rehabilitation ward. I pointed out his consultant had told me he was now "medically well" but in need of physio and that the staff nurse had told me last week they were looking at moving him to rehab. She was unimpressed until I also mentioned the magic words "private care". She said she would talk to the ward staff and have someone call me.
 
In the afternoon I went to pick up laundry etc. and asked to speak to a nurse. She said they'd heard we had private care so we could take him home on Friday. I pointed out the care didn't start until Monday (and we'd have to discuss whether the company could step it up to cope with Dad) so she said "fine, Monday then". I asked about evaluating his needs for care and she said "that's for when social services are going to provide it. If you're doing it yourselves that's up to you."
 
In a few short hours we'd gone from "not fit to be moved to a rehab ward" to "take him home now". 
 
The good news is Dad made it and his discharge is under discussion. The less good news is that the NHS and authorities charged with elder care really don't seem to play nicely together. I worry about the 150 patients on that local waiting list who must be atrophying literally and figuratively on hospital wards while the state apparatus "cares" for them and keeps them away from their loving families. I worry that people always insulated from market forces and – during COVID times – now also insulated from concerned families are quietly enjoying their irresponsible power.

What the British State has learned from COVID

No-one escapes the consequences of the government's response to the COVID pandemic, but the Paine Family has escaped unscathed from the virus itself  – so far. My elderly parents were vulnerable because of their age and health but have managed to steer clear of those hubs of infection - care homes and hospitals. Until this week.

I am currently staying with my frail, elderly mother while my frail, elderly father is in hospital. He collapsed when he attempted to get up on Sunday morning. He was retrieved from the floor and returned to his bed by kindly neighbours. He was eventually hospitalised on Sunday evening after a grandson had spent hours on the phone to medically-unqualified, algorithm-driven NHS gatekeepers in call-centres.

I say hospitalised but gurney-ised would be more accurate. He was not diagnosed until Monday morning when he was finally taken off his trolley, admitted to a ward and given antibiotics. Too late, it seems because he had developed sepsis (one of the most common agents of death in emergency care). Crowds of medics materialised and his life seems to have been saved from the threat their previous absence had quite possibly caused.

This sob story has, I promise, a point. The experience has exposed us directly to the interesting way in which the government health service in Britain has responded to the pandemic. My mother, my sisters and I faced a situation in which Dad seemed likely to be lost to us, but we were forbidden to visit him or be at hand. In normal times, we would have had opportunities to speak to his consultant. Instead we have a number to call. Sometimes a recorded message tells us all staff are busy. Sometimes an anonymous voice summons a staff nurse to give us an update. Sometimes she comes. Sometimes another anonymous voice tells us she's too busy.

After forty-eight hours of that, I asked if it was possible to speak to the consultant. This seemed to be considered a radical request. However I was given a name and told to call the main switchboard and ask for his secretary. I did so and left a message on her answering machine. I called again the next morning and left another. I then got a call saying my message has been passed on and "he knows you want to speak to him". I am still waiting. Despite her careful choice of words, I take some hope from the fact that his secretary did not seem to think it lese-majesté on my behalf to ask.

It's quite shocking how normal this all now seems to NHS staff. They seem actively to prefer not having to deal with the families of patients. Assuming (as I think is reasonable given the staff nurse's response to my request) that most families don't ask to speak to consultants, they at least must have a more relaxed life than usual. I suppose it's up for debate whether the time staff nurses spend on the phone to families is more or less than the time they used to spend dealing with them in person. 

I find it hard to imagine a socialised service untrammelled by market mechanisms will ever return to its old standard now the public has meekly accepted this kind of service. One of my sisters said that "someone will have to give them a rocket" but who, pray, is likely to do that? The Labour Party is the political wing of the public sector unions and the "Conservative Party" is now – at best – New Labour reborn.