Yes, this post will go all over the place, like I did this week…..
A short midweek break at Bishop’s Castle, a quaint but real town in Shropshire. The Border country where Saxon and Welsh place names mix (along with some Norman ones like Montgomery). We included a walk (with Offa, according to the leaflet describing it) over Stapeley Common in the searing East wind. Possibly not the best idea as my chest infection wasn’t going away, as I found out. Our bedroom was in the attic of the Castle Hotel, with a floor that meant our feet were some way below our heads. I liked the beams where you can see the adze-work and imagine the town in the 17th century when pretty much everything was sourced locally.
We came back on Fri morning to dodge the snow, which was a shame as we would have stayed to do a further walk.
I thought it was time to get my chest checked out and rang the doctor to see if they had any slots that afternoon. I was told that they had no appointments this side of Easter, but could ring at 8.15 on Monday for an unallocated appointment. It fulfils my prejudices about the present state of GP services – a lot of (public) money for very little service. I thought back to my childhood, the 1950s, the early years of the NHS: 20 people waiting on bentwood chairs for the GP who would see everyone (no appointment system – why would you have one?) before doing his house calls. Instead I went to the excellent walk in clinic. This is at another GP practice where they have their own patients but also have a walk in facility. There too there is ration – only one more slot after me and (3) people were sent down the road to accident and emergency: in the case of a mother and toddler I didn’t feel too bad about this, she’d probably need to go on a nebuliser the way she was coughing. A good examination and off I went to the chemist (pharmacy to you foreigners) with my prescription for antibiotics and bronchodilator (one of those jobs with a spacer and face-mask – did I look that incompetent?) and a peak flow machine (I like data!). To my near astonishment I realised that being over 59 I now get free prescriptions! Well I’ve paid my taxes – it’s called risk pooling and is one core principle of the whole NHS.
I’ll come back to the NHS before the end of this.
On Saturday we went to the cinema twice (having tickets already bought). Two more films in the Spanish and Latin America film festival here.
Las Buenas Hierbas is a Mexican film about a women herbalist/botanist and her daughter. Mum has Alzheimer’s syndrome and the film beautifully explores the relationship as the mother loses her psychological functions. References to the struggles going on in Mexico now via scenes at the alternative radio station where daughter worked, and also the violence as the murder of the granddaughter of a friend is also, I think, a reflection of loss. We liked it. Tea (manzanilla) and cakes at the city art gallery and a quick spin around the C19th collection – oh I do dislike the Pre-Rafaelites (though I do like their predecessor and friend Ford Maddox Brown).
And back to Cornerhouse for the next film. Because the art gallery closes at 5.00 we had to find somewhere for a drink and made the mistake of the Cornerhouse upstairs bar. Bloody Mary at £6.50 – Bloody Hell more like! That’s taking the tomato juice, it really is.
Hey ho, the film was Infancia Clandestina about an Argentinian family who are Tupamoros (urban guerillas) who return clandestinely from exile in Cuba in 1978. We see the strains on the family and the young boy, although there are many happy and funny moments too. The film ends tragically – you can guess how (I won’t spoil it) – and is based on real events. The Tupamaro strategy was pretty doomed and it was strangely Thatcher who helped down the dictatorship with the defeat over the Falklands/Malvinas (two bald men fighting over a comb). At least Argentina has a fairly progressive government now who could teach Europe a thing or two about dealing with the public debt. But the self-determination of the islanders will be a difficult thing to ignore Cristina. A good film. Both films brought a tear which is unusual (if increasingly frequent) for me (big boys don’t cry – but maybe old farts do).
The other film in he festival we saw the previous week was Violeta se fue a los cielos, about the life of Violeta Parra. This was rather disappointing – not enough on the social and political context, and not enough of her music and the process of gathering folk music (she was, among other things, the Cecil Sharpe of Chile).
And back to the NHS – I responded to a not bad article on the Compass website (sort of left social democrats with a funny mixture of anti-neoliberalism and neo-Keynesianism – a muddle like all the Labour Party but worth watching as they are trying to find a way out of the mess). By the way my fat fingers seem to want to type labout (is that layabout) instead of labour…
The article was about the Mid-Staffs scandal (where elderly people in general hospital wards were treated so badly that many died unnecessarily after awful experiences – like being left lying in shit, starving, de-hydrated). My comment connects with the article I posted earlier and it tries to take the debate beyond the public private, State-market debate – not that I’m in any way arguing for market solutions – it’s just that I don’t think these problems are solely reducible to the distorting influence of capital – the problem is deeper, older. Here is my comment (with typos corrected),
I agree with this, as far as it goes. My initial socialist instinct is to blame the neoliberal commodification of care, together with an allied approach to performance management that lost sight of the real content of the caring relationship. My problem is that I fear there is a second dynamic at work. How could it be that staff acted so callously – as it were leaving their hearts at the entrance of the hospital? Is this just reducible to the particular conditions of the NHS under the neoliberal regime or is there more to it? I remember the conditions endured by vulnerable people in ‘mental handicap “hospitals”‘ and ‘geriatric hospitals’ under the pre-Thatcher NHS and it was nothing to celebrate at all. Care scandals are not new but they are made more likely by running the system instrumentally and with tight resources.
My hypothesis is that there is something more fundamental in the way Western society treats ‘the other’ – the marginal, the frail, the inconvenient. That’s how it is possible to walk past people who live on the streets, its what underpins punitive responses to delinquency and its what makes mental distress so hard to acknowledge. It also underpins racism and sexism. It has its origins in that ideology-action-structure complex that we call modernity, with its roots in the colonisation of the Americas, where the techniques for administering the ‘other’ as used by the modern state were born, for it was there that other humans appear to have been first redefined as subhuman. This is a hypothesis, but if it is right it calls for a different kind of socialism, one that this article is groping towards, one that starts from the ethical relationship between vulnerable, marginalised, oppressed and excluded, and the rest of us (who may also share those qualities to varying degrees). It means a focus not so much on the adminstrative techniques of the state as on the very nature of social relations that we mean to construct. In this it has a lot in common with those early opponents of the modern regime, the Lolards, the Levellers, the Diggers. It connects with concerns of feminism and (in that it rejects the duality human-nature) with the ecological dimension. You can find it in the Melanesian socialism of Walter Lini and the Buen Vivir/Vivir Bien movements of the contemporary Andes.
Am I right? I’m not sure if all the detail of the argument is quite right, but it indicates my perplexities and how I think we might break out of the intellectual-political-ideological and emotional impasse.