THIS DAY IS APTLY NAMED. I feel as if I had been 12 rounds in the boxing ring with the world champion. I am exceedingly groggy but still standing, just. The match isn’t over, it will go on for some time yet. Best not to count the days, hope each one will be a little less gruelling. Two weeks ago my husband had an operation on his heart, according to the medical people he is recovering well, on Christmas Eve we brought him home.
It has to be confessed we are both old people, he had his 76th birthday the day before his operation. I am the elder by two years. These are the facts of the matter. The whole business raced away with us, some complaints about being breathless, pains in the neck and shoulders, pop in to see the GP and the world collapses; within days a hospital appointment and what had looked like a minor problem suddenly becomes a major concern. A transfer from our local hospital to a specialist regional hospital with expertise in heart operations. Further tests and the decision is taken, a heart by-pass operation is necessary.
A cousin of my husband’s take me to visit. I’m a non driver. Himself is lying on the bed with tubes attached barely aware that I am present. Events seem to have a momentum of their own, its Christmas Eve, I phone to say I will visit and he says I will come home with you. An extremely kind and helpful cousin takes me through, yes he has been discharged officially he can come home. We travelled home in the gathering dark, the same relative as a Good Samaritan.
Now to get to grips with looking after someone who can do very little in looking after himself. Who knew that washing and dressing could be so complicated and take so long? Me I’m the squeamish type, I feel faint at the sight of blood. But needs must, be calm in the face of angry read scars make a joke about the problem of getting socks on swollen feet. Feel a huge sense of satisfaction my man is washed and dressed, collapse in a chair, feel like going back to bed.
This is an unusual view of British society, there are certain facts that appear difficult to assimilate. Throughout the twentieth century Britain has been in a constant state of change. there have been waves of immigration; Jews from Russia and Poland, successive waves of immigration from Ireland, the displacement of people during the 1 World War and the much greater movement of people after the 2 World War from the devastated countries of Eastern Europe. Yet we like to think of ourselves as a homogenous British group that we have been since the days of the Norman Conquest a thousand years ago. Two groups that are largely missed out from this story are those who came on the Empire Windrush in the 1940s from the West Indies and those who came from India and Pakistan, from what was then the British Empire.
Another subject mentioned only briefly was Britain’s leading part in the inhuman Slave Trade for two hundred years. Some British families got exceedingly rich and set up their very large estates on the profits of this trade between Africa and the Caribbean. Some beautiful mansions were embellished with paintings and elaborate furniture bought with the profits of treating human beings as if they were bits of machinery to be used ceaselessly and thrown aside when their usefulness came to an end. Historically Britain’s part in the slave trade has been minimised to the point of being a footnote. Maybe generations have to pass before we can face the full horror of what we have done.
Of course we know that workers in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries worked in appallingly dangerous conditions: in the mines, in the factories, on the land and in the ships. The only issue that mattered was Profit. The workers were not owned by the coal owner, instead it was a kind of serfdom. The programme ‘Black and British: a Forgotten History’ by the historian David Olusoga on BBC2 was brilliantly done. I’m looking forward to episode 2 tonight.
Young babies learn amazingly quickly when they are hungry they cry and someone feeds them, when they are wet someone changes them. At the same time the baby responds to mother by gurgling and smiling at this caring person. The caring person responds in very much the same way and also by adding some words: whose a beautiful baby then. Very quickly mother and baby are communicating with words. Some time later Bill or Sue will learn to walk and then walking and talking will develop with astonishing rapidity. Much of this learning is a one to one business, one person speaks and the other listens, they take turns. Sitting in front of a television set is completely different. There is no to-ing and fro-ing , the programme has no interest in the person watching whether that person is two years old or eighty-two. It is totally unresponsive.
I heard on the radio that some children in England starting school in their fifth year are scarcely able to talk. Teachers expect children to follow simple instructions and to be able to respond using brief sentences. It is inexpressibly sad that young children in a rich country like this one start school at such a terrible disadvantage. There is a view that the education of poor children is an unnecessary expense because they will get ideas above their station. In this rapidly changing world who knows what skills and knowledge will be required in 20 or 30 years. Countries where only a small wealthy elite are educated like Saudi Arabia or Syria tend to develop very unhappy populations ripe for any demagogue who appears. What follows is hundreds if not thousands of deaths and a society always in poverty. In countries where the education of every child matters for example Finland, Sweden or The Netherlands populations, societies are at the forefront of modern developments and their societies are peaceful and prosperous.