Idly looking through my emails, I read one about interesting facts and figures including the age range in different populations. One category stood out, the towns with the largest percentage of an older population, this immediately caught my attention. (you can guess why). At the very top of the list was the city of Sunderland, the city of my birth and the first thirty years of my life. I immediately asked myself the reason for this strange fact.

     When I was a child several large industries: ship-building, coal mining and engineering employed thousands of men. In the twenty-first century those industries are totally gone. I wonder what industries have taken their place, the one which springs most readily to mind is education. By law every child from the age of five years must go to school and a very large percentage stay there until the age of eighteen      Education is a very labour intensive occupation and has a   very high rate of turn over, teachers burn out many of them in less than five years.  As a former teacher I have complete understanding of their daily trauma, the government has introduced a system of frequent testing which many children fail, the corollary is that in fact the teachers are failing. Many teachers decide to leave before they are pushed while they still have command of their own senses.

     In addition  to primary and secondary schools, the city has its own university. This developed over many decades from a small technical college teaching the draughtsmen, engineers, the skilled men of the shipyards and the mines the more focused education they needed to take up their skilled work, the Sunderland Technical College was established in 1901, a time of increasing industrial activity.  In the 1950s the college expanded the number of courses it taught to include : typing, business English, short-hand, also O level and A level subjects such as French and German.

In 1969 the Technical  School of Art and the Teacher Training College were absorbed by the then Polytechnic. The activity continued every day  from 9 am to 9 pm. In 1992 the college gained university status.

    In the years  2016-2017, there were 10, 725 undergraduates and 2,300 post graduate students. The university also had a bases in London and Hong Kong, the motto chosen was, ” Sweetly Absorbing  Knowledge.” Pharmacy and Naval Architecture were also part of the specialist areas. It was regarded as one of the best universities in the North-East of England. There were two campuses in the city; the Sir Tom Cowie campus based around St Peter’s Church, and Scotia Quay and Panns Bank across the river from  St. Peter’s campus.  In depth learning in this area has a very long history going back to the monastery established by Benedict Biscop in 674 AD.

     There is currently in place a new ten year strategy costing around £700 million to create 300 new academic posts and increase the size of the university to 21,000 students, especially more international students; including a state of the art Media Centre near St. Peter’s Church. This is by far the biggest economic enterprise of the county.

Durham City.

This small city is the administrative centre of the county, the civil servants who organise the public amenities work in a building on the riverside. In addition  Durham city has a hospital and on the outskirts a prison both employing a lot of people. It would seem that most jobs in the future will involve providing a service for people rather than producing goods to buy. According to the economic expert Robert Peston the UK is still a rich country, perhaps the wealth could be shared out more fairly.



Friday 20th April, 2018, so far so perfectly ordinary, I switch on the radio, just like every day, 8 am the weather forecast. An excited voice announces that this is the warmest April day for seventy years, I put my cup down, can this be true? The announcer states again, the last time this temperature was reached in the month of April was 1947. I was eight years old, living in an upstairs flat with my parents and sister. I can’t claim to have any memories of this special day, I went to school as usual, ran around in the playground and enjoyed my lessons but nothing stands out. My mother was keen to get through the next few weeks, she was due to give birth to my brother in July. Of course no-one had any idea that the baby would be a boy.

My dear brother was born on the twenty-seventh of July 1947, he was a hungry, healthy baby, I was almost nine years old  and my sister was seven years old.  Dad was recovering from rheumatic fever, so all in all Mum had a very busy life. There were no labour saving devices, washing, cooking, cleaning required enormous amounts of physical effort and it all fell to Mum’s lot . If I could say there was plenty of money around that would have been a great help but alas there wasn’t. Buying the essentials necessitated much careful calculation, again that fell to Mum and somehow she managed it, a Wonder woman indeed.


    MONDAY 14th MAY.

I’VE been managing a budget for some 5 decades now, quite a small budget and one affecting only members of my own family. In day to day terms I’ve had to learn more about economics, for someone who has passed no maths exams this was pretty scary. I understand the money which is coming in and the money which is going out. My financial dealings are pretty limited and remain largely the same from month to month. The financial dealings of a country, the UK, are huge and incredibly complicated. The basic premise is that the services everyone needs in a peaceful, prosperous, civilised country needs: health care, education, support for the sick and disabled,an affordable decent housing system, a prison service and well maintained roads should be paid for out of taxation. The alternative that these essential services should be paid for privately means that only the very few wealthy and privileged people can afford them. The 99% die younger, most lack education and live in cramped, deplorable housing. This was the situation until the late 1940s when the Welfare State was set up.

     I was born a few years before the Welfare State came into being and I am very grateful for the support I have received. As a teenager I had my appendix removed the treatment and care was provided free at the point of need. I attended a good school, my transport to the school was also free and in my last year my mother received a small allowance as there were three younger children in the family. From the 1950s my family lived in a decent affordable house which was provided by the council. The majority of families were in the same position as my own.

    In the twenty-first century the same type of poverty is returning, more people are now unemployed, good food has become beyond the reach of many families.  Food banks have again appeared to feed children in the holidays. Hospitals, and doctors and nurses are now so overworked that the care of patients is threatened. Newly qualified teachers are leaving the profession in the first five years, this has seriously detrimental effects on the children who need the most help.

     Austerity is now the preferred policy, this means cut-backs in all the areas that most of us depend on from time to time. Of course the results are painfully obvious; young people ill-prepared for the rapidly changing world in which they find themselves, older workers continue with long-term debilitating illnesses and there is growing anger from the disappointed hopes and dreams of a growing section of people looking for work.

     At the same time a tiny number of  people, the economist Danny Dorling calls them the 1%, who are in fact getting more and more fabulously wealthy. They have huge influence with the politicians and their special ability means that they are entitled to their enormous rewards.


Bank holiday Monday, sunshine all day long, blue sky and a gentle breeze, we haven’t had a bank-holiday like this in decades. Has something changed, Britain moved closer to the Mediterranean ?  Whatever the reason it has been a lovely day. I had a little walk wearing my sunglasses, clothes too of course, fewer than usual. Said hullo to a few neighbours busily doing gardening, the birds were singing, all seemed right with the world, if only for a little while.

     Resolved to sort out pressing problems, where does all this rubbish come from? Some the postman brings, an endless supply of adverts, no interesting letters at all. But treasures turn up unexpectedly, an extremely interesting man called Steven Pinker appeared on the internet, talking about our society in a very clever way. I think I understood most of it. He talked about the power of words, I found it fascinating.