What the National Health Service means to me

What does the National Health Service mean to you?

In this video patients and staff in Wales state what the NHS means to them. It was filmed to celebrate the 68th birthday of the service. On 5 July 1948, at the Park Hospital (now known as Trafford General Hospital) in Manchester, Aneurin Bevan unveiled the National Health Service and stated, “We now have the moral leadership of the world”.

Bevan had to fight Doctor’s opposition to the service and skilfully offered the doctors and consultants incentives to get them to agree. It came into the world kicking and screaming but it was a fledgling organisation that was to make its mark on the country and indeed, as Bevan had predicted, on the world.

This morning I used the Catch-Up service on my television to view a documentary called “Call the Midwife, The Casebook”.

Cal the Midwife Casebook

This was presented by the actor Stephen McGann who plays Dr Patrick Turner in the excellent series “Call The Midwife” based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth of her time as a midwife in a catholic mission in Poplar in London’s East End in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

In this documentary McGann does not just look into midwifery, which in itself was an interesting subject that was covered, but also gives the background to the pre-NHS healthcare system (which was a mixture of charity and private organisations and individuals). He talks to the first baby born under the NHS (at just after midnight on the 5th July 1948, Aneira Thomas (named after Aneurin Bevan!)  at  (fittingly) Amman Valley Hospital, Carmarthenshire in Wales.

She told  of her grandfather, who had an accident whilst working as a miner and was operated on, without anaesthetic, on their kitchen table. To pay for the operation the family had to sell the only valuable possession they had, a piano.

Ms Thomas said that she was so proud of the NHS because it had given everybody the right to medical support, free-of-charge. The years of having to avoid any treatment because you couldn’t afford it were over. It meant that anybody, whatever their means had a right to treatment.

I was born in 1953 and according to a Labour Party site I was able to find the following


Over the years I have had free injections, a free hospital stay for my  one one and only operation the removal of my tonsils and adenoids, free health checks, dentistry (until I was a working adult) and now that I’m over 60 I get free medication.

My family has been covered by the NHS in so many different ways  and two of my cousins became nurses in the system. Like so many in the Call the Midwife  documentary and in the 68th birthday video I am immensely proud of the NHS and feel so fortunate to have grown up with it as a part of my life.

Unfortunately, the service has been under severe stress due to continuous cuts by successive governments. Many of the facilities are now privatised and this last year has seen doctors and nurses taking to industrial action to defend the service and their future within it.

Like Stephen McGann the NHS means so much to me. It is something that,as a nation we can be really really proud. It is something to fight for and preserve.

What does the NHS mean to you?

The Displaced Persons Orchestra

After the Second World War, the western Allies established Displaced Persons camps in the Allied-occupied zones of Germany, Austria and Italy.

The first inhabitants of these camps were concentration camp survivors who had been liberated by the Allies on German soil.  Conditions in these camps, especially at the beginning, were very difficult. Many of the camps were former concentration camps and German army camps. Survivors found themselves still living behind barbed wire, still subsisting on inadequate amounts of food and still suffering from shortages of clothing, medicine and supplies.

In the midst of these difficult conditions and with undernourished victims who had witnessed events that would have traumatized anybody, amazingly, a number of the survivors were able to use their talents as actors, singers and musicians to entertain their fellow camp –dwellers.

A number of famous or soon to be famous  musicians appeared in concerts given  by these orchestras (for example):

On MAY 10, 1948, a young Leonard Bernstein, invited to conduct in Munich, travelled to the nearby Landsberg and Feldafing Displaced Persons camps to perform Rhapsody in Blue with an orchestra of 17 musicians. These musicians were all survivors of Nazi internment at St. Ottilien, and for three years — from 1945 through 1948 — they travelled by bus all over Bavaria, wearing their striped concentration camp uniforms, and performed some 200 concerts at 100 Displaced Persons camps.


The St. Ottilien Displaced Persons Orchestra performed in their concentration camp clothes as can be seen from the picture of the violinist above. They used these clothes for every performance that they gave between 1945 and 1948.

In June 2007 in New York City a documentary about the St. Ottilien Orchestra premiered. A section of it can be seen here.

The story of the art, music and drama produced by the Displaced Persons Camps is nothing less than the triumph of  humanity over horrific events. It is an inspiring story which more people should know about. I hope in my own small way that I have contributed to this aim.

Teaching hate

AR1nazi board gameAR4

This morning I watched the BBC Programme “Antiques Roadshow: Holocaust Special”. I cannot improve on the following Tweet by the comedian David Baddiel



It was superbly done with Holocaust survivors and their descendants showing artefacts that had been kept from that horrible experience. It reminded me so much of my visit to Israel in 2002. I visited Yad Vashem with a coach full of tourists and we walked around the many displays showing the most horrific pictures, films and explanations about the death camps and the “Final Solution” but it was the artefacts, the gold stars, the child’s shoe the striped pyjamas, that grabbed you and had the most emotional impact.

I remember that I had been told about the one child’s shoe that represented all of the 1.5 million children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, I steeled myself not to break down when I saw that exhibit and I just about managed it. Then I walked outside and saw a tree that had the simple legend: “To the people of Denmark” and I broke down!

Artefacts are powerful. They say so much more than words ever can. They have the power to move you, to make you think. I suppose it is why museums have always been such important places for learning and have played such an important part in my life.

In this programme there were rings, jewellery made in Belsen, old photographs of people who perished in the camps, a pair of striped pyjama trousers worn by one of the inmates, but the most surprising artefact to me was a board game.

The board game came from Germany and was intended for commercial sale. It is a game where you round up Jews and win if you manage to get six of them in a detention centre (a corner of the board) where they are taken to another part of the board for expulsion to Palestine!

This game can be seen in the second photograph above. It left the presenter of the programme Fiona Bruce, temporarily speechless. It shows the extent to which hatred became a part of the culture and indeed it left me thinking about the role of education in “brainwashing” young German children in the Nazi era.

I found a superb lesson plan from the excellent “Facing History and Ourselves” website. The lesson plan looks at “Life for German Youth in the 1930’s “with the subtitle: “Education, propaganda, conformity and obedience”.

There were some  excellent insights in the lesson plan into the role of education in Nazi Germany. An example is:

German school teachers and university professors were not Hitler’s adversaries. . . . Quite the opposite; the teaching profession proved one of the most reliable segments of the population as far as National Socialism was concerned. Throughout the Weimar era, Germany’s educational establishment, continuing its long authoritarian tradition, remained unreconciled to democracy and nationalism. Once in power, the Nazis expunged dissenting instructors, but there were not many. On the other hand, at least two leading Nazis, the rabid antisemites Heinrich Himmler and Julius Streicher, had formerly been teachers. Eventually more than 30% of the top Nazi Party leadership came from that background. Teachers, especially from elementary schools, were by far the largest professional group represented in the party. Altogether almost 97% of them belonged to the Nazi Teachers’ Association, and more than 30% of that number were members of the Nazi Party itself. From such instructors, German boys and girls learned what the Nazis wanted them to know. Hatred of Jews was central in that curriculum.5

I feel that the last sentence is the most telling sentence is the last one. Hatred of Jews was central in that curriculum. It made me think about the curriculums taught in Apartheid South Africa, in the southern States of America. How can teachers live with themselves teaching, literally teaching hate?

If you haven’t seen the programme I strongly recommend that you do. Maybe you will stop and think just as Fiona Bruce did when you get to the board-game  part.

A tale of two Presidents

This post is written just a few days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.

In the past few days there has been a number of articles focussing on the outgoing 44th  President Barack Obama. One of the most interesting of these was “Obama’s secret to surviving the White House Years: books”.

Obama is a keen reader and has made sure that he has read books regularly in his two terms as President. He has been a champion of independent bookstores and has regularly issued a summer reading list of his favourite books.

This contrasts greatly with the incoming President who,as far as anyone can make out, does not read books!

Now this difference in the characters of the two men would perhaps not seem to be the major difference that people may concern themselves with but I feel that it says so much about the kind of men that they both are.

Despite the failings of the promise of the Obama years, Obama himself has always come across as a humane person who is very concerned about the plight of the less fortunate in society and is aware of the massive divisions caused by race and religious bigotry in his country. He has championed the idea of empathy in respect of “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and walking around in them” (to quote Atticus Finch in my favourite book “To Kill A Mockingbird”).

He has said that he learns from books and loves novels as much as non-fiction. Having done some research into the reading habits of past Presidents I found that many of them enjoyed reading a book in their spare time, even George  W. Bush!

This contrasts greatly with the incoming President. The fact that he admits that he does not read books says so much about him. He does not come across as someone who has developed any type of empathy. His reading material is limited to memos, business reports and a lot of Tweets!

Reading fiction and non-fiction changes us in subtle ways. It allows us to see someone else’s point-of-view. Reading as widely as possible is an education in itself.

I worry about someone taking over as the leader of the world’s most powerful nation who seems to glory in not reading books. This aspect of his personality says so much about his narrow point-of-view, his lack of understanding about what it feels like to be poor, powerless and without hope. His male chauvinism, attitude to minorities, and towards those of a different sexual persuasion.

The problem for us all is that he will be the President and his White House will be a very different place with very different attitudes to the literate place that it has been for the last eight years.

What makes a good MOOC

I have been a fan and follower of MOOCs since their recent inception. Now I am aware that they are very much in their infancy but I have now done quite a few to be able to see what are the failings and successes in the MOOCs that I have taken.

Let me start with what I consider to be the two stand-out MOOCs:

(1) Coursera “Social Psychology” (2014)

This course was excellent from beginning to end. It had a great deal of free resources that, as Professor Plious states in the introductory video would have been expensive to purchase and difficult to aggregate.

It did not make the mistake that so many other MOOCs do of lecturing to you and then giving you a test. It showed films, interviews and most importantly interacted with the study resources.

As a person who did not have a background in psychology I was pleased with the lack of technical terms or the assumption that I had a lot of previous learning. MOOCs after all are open to everyone regardless of their academic background and it cannot be assumed that they are aware of the “buzz words” of any particular discipline.

The best MOOCs therefore assume that you are interested and keen to learn. They keep it non-technical and get you involved. They use, as this course did, multi-media resources and they provide you with a variety of multi-media material to further your study.

Lastly, I have  to say something about the personality of Scott Plious the course presenter. He was affable and extremely enthusiastic about his subject. He did not speak down to you but spoke with you in welcoming you into his world. So many of the MOOCs I have taken have been delivered by dry-as-dust lecturers who seem to think that the subject matter alone will suffice. They reminded me of the many times that I nearly fell asleep when I have been subjected to boring individuals drolling on about subjects that are actually fascinating but which they manage to make sound like the reading of tax return statistics!

2. Coursera: Learning How To Learn



Yes, another Coursera course. Maybe this says something about the approach that Coursera have taken to their MOOCs. Make them interesting, remember that it is so easy to just switch off and leave. Keep them hooked!

This course certainly keeps you hooked in fact it was so good that I have signed up for a second time! But don’t take my word for it, watch this video of a student of the course extolling its virtues.

Again, as with Scott Plious and the Social Psychology course it is the enthusiasm of its presenters, Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski who make the MOOC for me.

This MOOC has become the most followed MOOC ofthem all so far. It combines a lot of good lectures, discussions and most importantly student interactivity with good resources.

Barbara has  taken it a step further. Every Friday I receive an e-mail called “Cheery Friday Greetings” from LHTL. There are always reminders of good study techniques and links to great books and articles. This is truly a course that grabs you and keeps you involved.

In conclusion therefore I would say that a good MOOC has to be interesting, multimedia, have availability to good resources, allow interactivity of students and ideally set up online communities that allow for the discussion to continue.

The key to it all is summed up in the following:




The last tweet (a satire)

In the  year of some people’s Lord, 2017, Donald J. Trump, master-Twitterer, became the 45th President of the United States of America.

In the intervals between assassination attempts and the on-going Impeachment process, he managed to keep the world informed of every development by his most trusted form of communication, the tweet.

In recalling the months of his Presidency it is perhaps apt that a link can be made to all developments by the tweets issued.

So, for the sake of history and in an attempt to give shape to a shapeless time, what follows is a chronological list of the main “Executive Tweets” as the White House Press department came to call them.

January 23rd 2017:

China is getting too big for its boots!

February 3rd 2017

Mexico and China must be tamed!

March 2nd 2017

What is Brexit anyway?

April 14th 2017

What’s wrong with renaming the White House Trump Place?

April 15th 2017

Renaming Air Force 1, Air Trump 1

May 4th 2017

1st News Conference today…exhausting folks!

June 2nd 2017

I have survived folks!! Yet again!

July 3rd 2017

Off for a well-deserved vacation, be back in November

November 8th 2017

China is definitely getting too big for its boots

November 9th 2017

Step down yellow folks or the red-button awaits!

November 10th

Who says I don’t listen? Rest easy folks. Off on vacation

December 3rd

I will be taking a much deserved long vacation. Donald J. Trump, over and out.

The Age of Automation and how the planners have let us down

Growing up I was told about a member of our family who had started from humble beginnings in London’s East End and had made his way up the ladder to become the Managing Director of large

The-age-of-automationPelican paperback of the 1964 Reith Lectures

companies. His name was Leon (later Sir Leon) Bagrit and he was married to my mother’s first cousin Stella.

In 1964 he was asked by the BBC to deliver the Reith Lectures for that year. He chose for the title of the series of lectures “The Age of Automation” which, as a pioneer of computing and industrial automation with his company Elliot Automation, was very much the subject dearest to his heart.

elliot 405

The Elliot 405 Computer

His lectures were incredibly forward thinking for 1964. Here is just a taster of what he said:

‘It is now possible to envisage personal computers, small enough to be taken around in one’s car, or even one’s pocket.  They could be plugged into a national computer grid, to provide individual enquirers with almost unlimited information.’
‘Perhaps the most far-reaching use of the new generation of computers will be in the retention and communication of information of all sorts within a national, possibly a world-wide, information system.
‘In many industrial and commercial applications we are moving steadily away from large, centralized computers towards much simpler decentralized units, systems of small, cheap, special-purpose units, rather like building bricks.
‘Car drivers could be told immediately about traffic hold-ups and road works and given alternative routes…”

The remarkable thing to me was that Leon was making these predictions nearly 53 years ago. Now in 1964 they would certainly have seemed like science fiction but as the computer began to make real headway in public consciousness and participation by the 1970’s you would have thought that Governments of any political persuasion would be sitting up, taking note and planning for the future.

.”Yet in 2014, some 50 years after Leon’s Reith Lectures, this headline appeared in an article

47% Of All Jobs Will Be Automated By 2034, And ‘No Government Is Prepared’ Says Economist        17/01/2014 14:43 | Updated 25 January 2014

The Huffington Post

I have to say that on reading this article I was filled with dismay. The consequences of mass unemployment and huge change due to cheaper other markets or automation has fuelled many of the events that made 2016 such a fascinating and worrying year.

But  before you heap the blame on Sir Leon and his fellow automation pioneers you need to heed the words by the authors in the article:

“technology has always been destroying jobs, and it’s always been creating jobs, and it’s been roughly a wash for the last 200 years. But starting in the 1990s the employment to population ratio really started plummeting and it’s now fallen off a cliff and not getting back up. We think that it should be the focus of policymakers right now to figure out how to address that.”

Leon Bagrit was actually an optimist about the role that automation could play in our future, as he stated:

“Science and technology have come to pervade every aspect of our lives and, as a result, society is changing at a speed which is quite unprecedented. There is a great technological explosion around us, generated by science. This explosion is already freeing vast numbers of people from their traditional bondage to nature, and now at last we have it in our power to free mankind once and for all from the fear which is based on want. Now, for the first time, man can reasonably begin to think that life can be something more than a grim struggle for survival. But even today, in spite of the high standard of living which has become general in the more fortunate West, the majority of people in the world still spend nearly all their time and energy in a never-ending struggle with nature to secure the food and shelter they need. Even in this elementary effort millions of human beings each year die unnecessarily and wastefully from hunger, disease, or flood

I feel that, if he were to come back today Leon would be excited by the advances in science and technology and totally devastated  by the failure of politicians and planners to use the opportunities given by automation to better humanity.