Sunday, 11 June 2017

Brexit Europe is no continent for old men from Britain living on their pensions

From the 1990s onwards cheap air travel, increased longevity, rising British house prices, inflation-proofed pensions, together with Spanish property speculation and the EU principle of free movement, added about 310,000 British citizens to Spain’s current population and over 106,610 of these are elderly old men and women claiming and in some cases, heavily dependent on their state pension from Britain. The southern regions of Costa del Sol and Alicante have been their most popular places to live.

Most of them make no effort to integrate at all. One-third rarely or never meet Spanish people, apart from in shops and restaurants and 60% do not speak Spanish well. Instead, they congregate together British restaurants and pubs, eating English breakfasts and drinking pints of bitter.

Other EU countries also have substantial numbers of British citizens : Ireland has 255,000 and France, 185,000 out of a total of 1.2 million British citizens living abroad in the EU and many of these are also pensioners.  At the moment. thanks to EU regulation, they receive the same annual pension rises as those back home in Britain, when such rises are denied to pensioners living in most non-EU countries.

Now there could be trouble ahead for these old Brits because the pound’s fall against the euro has already shrunk the pension’s value by 10% in one year and Britain’s withdrawal from the EU may also mean the ending of the index-linking that pensioners inside the EU presently enjoy.

Another concern for them is healthcare, where at the moment there’s a big imbalance between British pensioners using European health services and European pensioners in Britain using the National Health Service. In Spain, for example, 70,000 retired British citizens use Spain’s doctors and hospitals, while in Britain only 81 Spanish pensioners are registered for treatment by the NHS.

At the moment reciprocal agreements between the states inside the 'European Economic Area', which consists of the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, mean that costs are covered by the migrant’s home nation. On this basis, Britain paid £674.4m in health bills to other EEA countries in 2014-15 and claimed back only £49.7m. However, if Britain leaves the EEA as well as the EU, this health provision, which is free at the point of delivery, would, unless it is renegotiated with individual countries, also come to an end.

In the words of Sir Roger Gale, the Conservative MP and pension campaigner, the victims include “a lot of very elderly, very frail people" who "have sunk all their disposable income into their properties.” 

These old Brits are trapped. They can't sell their homes at the price they paid for them and the inflated house prices or rents in Britain make their return impossible. What was once their idyll in the sun is starting to turn into the millstone around their necks.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to Jeffrey Tate, whose life bore testimony to the power of the human spirit

That is no country for old men..
Caught in that sensual music all neglect 
Monuments of unageing intellect.    

Jeffrey, who has died at the age of seventy-four served his apprenticeship in the world of professional music in his late twenties in the 1970s as a 'repetiteur' at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, under the tutelage of Sir Georg Solti and he loved it. He defined his role as one of "bashing notes into players" and "the dogsbody of an opera house and great fun."

As his reputation as a coach grew in the 1970's, so too did the calibre of the artists with whom he worked : Kiri Te Kanawa, Jessye Norman and in 1976, Maria Callas, who was : "very suspicious of me at first as I was of her, but after the month was up, I think we'd become very, very close friends. Whether I could actually coach her is another matter." 

These were the years in which Jeffrey loathed opera and : "Used to go to Convent Garden and wonder why the singers were never with the beat always sang out of tune and why the productions looked so horrible and I would rather go to the Royal Shakespeare Company." He had not seriously considered conducting and thought that he would "rather be the best coach than one of many second rate conductors." 

He became a conductor "purely by accident. I was in Bayreuth assisting Pierre Boulez on 'The Ring' and he put me in charge of all the piano rehearsals and maybe that began to get me think that I could do that kind of thing. One thing led to another and I ended up conducting a series of 15 Carmens at the Gothenburg Opera and it sort of snowballed slightly from there with a reluctant Jeffrey sort of 'tagging on behind.' " 

After his conducting debut in 1978, in Sweden, he graduated to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City the following year and the stage was set for his international career.

Recognition in Britain came at the age of 42 in 1985, when he was appointed the First Principal Conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra and the 'Principal Conductor' of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden the following year, the first person in the House's 250 year history to hold the title.

From 1990, when he left the English Chamber Orchestra, he performed less and less in Britain and reflected that : "After I gave up the ECO, everything sort of dried up here. My mother's friends would ask her, 'Where is your son? Why doesn't he come to Britain any more?' They all thought I had gone into exile or something." He was Principal Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra from 1991 to 1995 and in  2005, was appointed Music Director of the San Carlo Theatre of Naples and remained so for five years.

Jeffrey reappeared briefly in Britain in 2008, when he returned to Covent Garden to lead a production of Wagner's 'The Flying Dutchman' then formally took up a Hamburg Symphony post the following year. Fluent in German, he always felt that Germany was his spiritual home. "Whatever the politics seem to be there, culture is always very central. In Hamburg, there are three major orchestras, an opera house, and one of the great concert-hall acoustics in Europe at the Laeiszhalle, in a town a fifth the size of London. And that's not unusual. In Germany, there are dozens of towns with two or three orchestras. The connection with music goes very, very deep."

His accomplishments were recognised with a knighthood in the 2017 New Year Honours for 'Services to British Music Overseas.'

What you possibly didn't know about Jeffrey, that he :

* was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire half-way through the Second World War, in the spring of 1943, the son of Ellen, who had Welsh antecedents and Cyril, who worked in the Civil Service as a Sales Representative for the Post Office.

* had Ellen say of him : "When he was a baby I didn't notice that he was disabled. He was a sweet little boy. You couldn't image that anything was wrong with him. Only when he couldn't walk properly was he examined by a specialist."

* at the age of three, was examined for the benign condition of 'flat feet', but was found to suffer from, in addition to congenital spina bifida, the complication of kyphosis, a forward rounding of the back and breathing problems and compressed internal organs.

* recalled that : "I was odd from the word go. Slowly, as I grew up, my back began to stoop over and my left leg became shorter than the right one."

* in terms of music : "began playing the piano when I was about five and had lessons for about five years and then stopped because my parents wanted me to concentrate on more important things, so they thought and I just went on playing the piano. That was instinctive, I suppose, and I used to go to my local library and get out books of operas and I sang a lot and in a way, therefore, taught myself to perform."

* said that his Mother "played rather well" and played Mendelssohn when he was very small. In addition remembered that Grandfather Evans : "loved opera and there was masses of opera selections in his piano stool where I used to go sit when my father went to the football match with him and my Mother's cousin played the violin quiet well, so I'm not absolutely without predecessors." 

* found that, despite the fact that he had a younger sister and his parents encouraged him to be "a perfectly normal child" and insisted that he "do errands, clean my room, ride my bicycle into town to get groceries, things children generally do," he still had a lonely childhood.

* felt that he was "isolated from the other children. By their own reactions to me, I would retreat to a piano, often with a book. My great childhood thing was to take a book that I was reading put it on the piano and literally improvise as I was reading the book. It was a very curious state of affairs and I would do that for hours. My mother said I was perfectly happy then, just let my fingers stroll over the keys and would not miss anybody. I'm sure that music and the notes were my friends rather than the children." 

* had his first stay in the Rowley Bristow Orthopaedic Hospital in Surrey, previously known as the 'St Nicholas' Home for Crippled Children,' when he was eight and spent 6 months there after major surgery.

* recalled that he : "lay on my back for four months and had to relearn to walk. I suddenly realized that the world was a much nastier place than I ever imagined" and forty years later was able to reflect that : "an atmosphere of children on their own isn't a particularly happy one, I mean 'Lord of the Flies' is not an unreasonable book. In that sense children are very nasty to each other particularly in isolation, particularly under stress. and I learnt to lie and do all sorts of terrible things that I hadn't really done before." 

* passed the 11+ exam in 1953 and gained a place at the all boys, Farnham Grammar School, where, things took a turn for the better because, as he said, he was "lucky enough to go to a school which was immensely sympathetic in all respects."

* had "a great music master with lots of music and a very fine play reading society" and "found a lot of companionship in people of like intelligence." As to his disability, found that : "in the last resort, I stopped worrying about it" and at the age of 17, was chosen as Head Boy, which he later reflected was "a tremendous gesture on the part of the Headmaster" who was George Baxter.

* found that school life was still punctuated by "perpetual check ups and terrible visits to places which had to measure surgical shoes for me" which he "got fed up with it. It was just boring."

* on his two month stay in hospital in 1955, when he was 12, while in plaster, was wheeled into the hospital’s radio studio so that he could put his hands through the bars on his bed to play the piano and 'The Mountains of Mourne.' for other patients and thus made his first public performance.

was lucky to have Alan Fluck, who later founded 'Youth and Music, as his 'lively music master and took part in school productions as one of the 'pickled boys' in front of Benjamin Britten in his 'Saint Nicolas', and on the piano in front of Gian Carlo Menotti in his one act opera 'Amahl and the Night Visitors.'

* was photographed at school, in the centre, with a cake-cutting Benjamin Britten. As to his disability

* in 1961, the year he left school and with his life before him he : "Was told when I went for a life-insurance exam when I was 18, that I was not likely to live past 50, so I refused to pay the premium." 

* probably knew by this time that he would never achieve his full 6'6" height and would, instead, be confined to 5'10" but, at the same time : "had a great sense of debt to medicine. I realised I was an ambulant creature because of what science had done for me, so I got into Cambridge on a state scholarship to become a doctor."

* attending Christ's College at the University for his medicine degree in the early 1960s, also started to direct theatre productions.

* in the mid sixties, finished his medical training at St Thomas' Hospital, London, planning to specialise in ophthalmology, but where he felt increasingly ill at ease : "I would go on ward runs in black leather jackets and jeans and I knew more and more I couldn't fit into the doctor cast."

* initially, had another lonely time and : "spent an awful lot of time alone particularly in my twenties after I came down from Cambridge and came to London and got very much used to thinking and being by myself. I didn't like it particularly, but I got very used to making my own world up for myself." It was then he got "entangled in a rather wonderful opera workshop and spent much more time learning how to coach Rhine maidens than walking the wards. So I failed part of my finals and that was a great shock to me because I'd never failed an exam in my life." 

* reassessed his career. A friend put his finger on it when he said : "You're pining to be a musician." He applied a place at the prestigious London Opera Centre for Coaches based in the old Troxy Cinema in Stepney and recalled : "I remember finishing my ward rounds, getting a tube to Covent Garden, and playing to a formidable and terrifying panel of people. I thought I had played appallingly, and went and got very drunk at the Salisbury in St Martin's Lane."

* to his surprise was offered a place and kept it open while he completed his finals when he "decided I had to give it a whirl. I had to discover if this was the way of the world or not. I spoke to my consultant who was very good and said "yes if you do a year of opera, no one's going to say "no" if you come back to medicine." So I did that year on the assumption that if I hadn't found my feet at the end of that year then I'd go back to medicine having tried and then I couldn't say at 49 : " never did it." "

* in 1975, at the age of 32, finally liberated himself from the uncomfortable plastic brace he had worn "religiously" from the age of 12 which "started below my arms and went to my groin and one day in '75 in a very, very hot summer in France I decide no more. This is enough, even if I fall down and I took the damn thing off and didn't need it."

* found that, as time went on, developed strategies  to cope with his disabilities and, for example, always felt "a bit odd walking in front of all those people" and as a consequence tried to do it slowly. and learned this the hard way, when. : "Conducting I rushed on to the podium and slipped on the first step and fell into the arms of the viola player and, of course, it took me about half an hour to recover from that. I learnt a savage lesson for that : that despite being nervous and very self-conscious, walk very, very slowly."

* made a supreme physical effort during his performances and lathered up to such an extent that between opera acts he had to change right down to his shoes and socks but despite this, found that they had a therapeutic effect and found : "after a rehearsal of a performance that I have more breath, and can walk better and climb stairs better than I could before. It's as if I've expanded my lungs doing it. Basically speaking, conducting is quite a healthy profession." He professed : "If people had told me that I would have the stamina to conduct 'Ring Cycles,' I would have been amazed."

* was convinced that his disability had given him a sense of detachment, since he felt different physically to most people : "So I observe life a little bit, rather than participating in it. That's a good description of the conductor's role on the podium, too: conducting involves controlling and criticising the musical experience."

* in 1989, became and the President of UK Spina Bifida Charity 'SHINE'  (Spina Bifida, Hydrocephalus, Information, Networking, Equality)

* when he reflected on his disability, said : "Of course I'm bitter. I'd be stupid, not to be bitter. There are times when, of course, I'd love to be perfectly straight and perfectly normal. There are many occasions in my life in which it would have helped a great deal. Others in which it wouldn't. The bitterness is part of a great sort of panoply. It's a useful thing to know about bitterness. I don't think it's bad to know what bitterness means. I'm not basically bitter, but it does perhaps represent seven to five percent of my life. Why not ?"

* enjoyed the company of his partner of forty years, Klaus Kuhlemann, a German geomorphologist. who he had met while conducting at Cologne in 1977 and concluded that : "The gay world is immensely hung up with physical perfection for some curious reason. Therefore, being disabled in that world is harder."

** on BBC Radio's 'Desert Island Discs' in 1989, chose, as his last record, one which he put on when he was "feeling particularly sad and it makes me feel even sadder. In fact, it's also full of hope. It reminds me of America, which I love. It's Billie Holiday singing 'Ill be seeing you.'  

* chose Piero della Francesca's 'Nativity' from the 1490s as 'The picture he would take with him to his Desert Island,' because it was :

"full of people singing and wonderful."

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" and "Thank You" to the unsung hero and Father of 'Infection Prevention Control', Professor Graham Ayliffe

Graham, who has died at the age of 91 will long be remembered for the 'Ayliffe Technique,' a six step hand-washing technique he helped to formulate in the 1960s to reduce the spread of infection, adopted by hospitals throughout Britain and endorsed by the World Health Organisation in 2009. Yet his death has passed without obituary in either the 'Times', 'Telegraph' or 'Guardian' newspapers.
It is impossible to verify how many lives have been saved as a result of its implementation, but it is probably safe to assume that that the figure runs into hundreds of thousands.

He was born the son of Winifred and Arthur in the small village of Hambrook in Gloucestershire in 1926 and between the age of 11 and 18 was educated at Queen Elizabeth's Hospital School. an independent school for boys in Clifton, Bristol. Founded in 1586 it was situated in the centre of town with a Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1590 when it was specifically charged with 'the education of poor children and orphans.
In fact, the school had nothing to do with medicine, with the term 'hospital' used to denote a charitable institution for the needy scholars who wore poor, blue coat uniforms.

After leaving school he joined the Royal Navy in 1945 and did a three year stint serving as a sick berth attendant and medical lab technician. It was his first taste of the world of medicine and was probably on board ship that his interest in the spread and prevention of infection was first ignited.

He took his initial step towards building a medical career when he graduated from Bristol University with a BSc degree in 1951 and then built his qualifications incrementally, with Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees in 1954. Armed with these he gained his first medical appointment as a Tutor in Clinical Pathology under Professor William Gillespie at Bristol Royal Infirmary Hospital where he worked for three years before moving to London.

Fifty years later, Graham would reflect on hospital practice in these years : "Initially, I was involved at Bristol in the mid-1950s with William Gillespie on the control of wound outbreaks and although isolation was well accepted at this stage, we were concerned with preventing infection in wards where no isolation was possible. Topical antiseptics and antibiotics, such as neomycin and chlorhexidine, were applied to noses and wounds, plus some environmental improvements, such as sterilization of blankets, etc. We found in those days that a single measure by itself was very unlikely to be successful; also if you removed an infected patient from the open ward, the outbreak tended to go away. But by 1960, although we had some measure of control, this was a period of disenchantment with antibiotics, and in those days only these highly toxic antibiotics (vancomycin and ristocetin) were available to treat these highly resistant strains. "

He indicated his 'disenchantment' when he recalled : "When I was a house surgeon in the mid-1950s, penicillin and streptomycin were widely given for surgical infections. I wonder whether this combination was really very effective, as it has been shown in recent years that Bacteroides is one of the main causative organisms of surgical infections and is usually resistant to both antibiotics."

Graham worked as a Research Assistant at the Postgraduate Medical School in London and under Professor Mary Barber in the Department of Bacteriology at Hammersmith Hospital for five years until 1964, having qualified as a Doctor of medicine in '63 and before his move to the Midlands, where he would do his influential work in infection. Working with Mary had a formative influence on him : "Superbugs have long been a cause of hospital infection. Hospital gangrene, pyaemia and erysipelas caused by haemolytic streptococci and Staph. aureus were responsible for many hospital outbreaks in the nineteenth century and had a high mortality. When penicillin came along we thought this was the end of staphylococcus as an important cause of hospital infection, but resistant strains soon appeared and Mary Barber described them at the Hammersmith Hospital, London, in the 1940s."

In 2006 he recalled : "In about 1957 Mary Barber was perhaps the first person in the country to introduce an antibiotic policy for most of the hospital. In this policy she reduced, or tried to eliminate, the use of penicillin apart from a few conditions such as endocarditis, to reduce the use of antibiotics as much as possible, and to give all antibiotics in combination. This was actually followed by a reduction in the numbers of penicillin-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus isolated. She mainly used erythromycin and novobiocin as a combination therapy, and resistance didn’t emerge for a while, but gradually, over the years, it did. When methicillin appeared this policy was no longer needed. But she still had a written policy which she enforced with a hand of 

Between the ages of 38 and 54 he worked as Consultant Microbiologist at the Hospital Infection Research Laboratory (HIRL) at the City Hospital, Birmingham in the team led by the extraordinary pathologist, clinician and poet, Professor Edward Lowbury. It was funded by the Medical Research Council and Regional Health Authority. He recalled that Lowbury "was working on burns patients in Birmingham. He found in the 1950s that resistance emerged rapidly to tetracycline, erythromycin and ovobiocin and there was really little else left at that time for treating staphylococcal infections. The use of combinations only delayed the onset of resistance."

Under Lowbury he contributed to one of the first large 'prevelance survey of hospital infection' involving 30 hospitals in the West Midlands, undertook a detailed assessment of an isolation ward in the prevention of the spread of staphylococal infection and explored the necessity of hand hygiene, the emergence of antibiotic resistance and surgical site infection. He also helped to report an extensive UK outbreak of severe eye infection traced to traditional, but wholly inadequate, guidelines for the preservation and management of opthalmic products,

Working with Babb and Quoraishi, pronounced as a 'C', he developed  the six step hand-washing technique, known as the 'Ayliffe Technique' which was soon adopted by hospitals throughout Britain. He said that it evolved when it became evident that parts of the hands were being missed, particularly the thumbs and fingernails. One of his students had long thumbs and it was proving difficult to clean effectively, which is why the Technique included the action to rub the thumbs separately. With self-deprecating modesty, Graham said it just happened his name began with 'A' and that he was just one of three practitioners, 'A', 'B' and 'C', who invented the technique.

With Lowbury, in 1975, he published 'Control of Hospital Infection : A Practical Handbook' and after Lowbury's retirement, he crowned his career as Director of HIRL and Professor of Medical Microbiology at Birmingham University's School of Medicine for eight years until 1989. He developed a practical course for medical students and focussed his own research interests on the control of MRSA, biological safety and endoscope decontamination.

In 1980 he became a founder member of the 'Hospital Infection Society', now 'Healthcare Infection Society' and chaired its Committee and edited its journal for its first four years and served as its President for six years until 1994.

In the last phase of his career, Graham worked as a consultant for the World Health Organisation until the age of 75 in 2001 and for the rest of his life was recognised Emeritus Professor in Medical Microbiology, University of Birmingham. In 2003, with Mary English, he published 'Hospital Infection: From Miasmas to MRSA', a wide-ranging survey of the long ­history of hospital-acquired infections and the battle against them which proved timely when the spread of "superbugs" was posing problems on a worldwide scale. Its contribution to the subject was recognised in 2004 when the Society of Authors and Royal Society of Medicine gave it the Award for the 'Best New Medical History Book.'

In 2004, Graham, a past winner of the Men's Epee at Birmingham Fencing Club, celebrated over 100 years of the Club and 70 years of the Tournament with the publication of a book detailing the history.

At the age of 87, he had the pleasure of seeing the 'Graham Ayliffe Training Fellowship' established in 2013. Its purpose is to enable trainees currently working in the field of infection prevention and control to take a one year paid leave of absence to pursue their specialist area by broadening their knowledge base and imparting that knowledge to the wider scientific community.

In life, wittingly or unwittingly, Graham had lived up to the motto of his old school, Queen Elizabeth's Hospital :

'dum tempus habemus operemur bonum'

'Whilst we have time, let us do good.'

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Britain is a country which still has a love affair with an old song called "Waterloo Sunset" and its old writer called Ray Davies

On the BBC Radio 4 'Soul Music' today the focus was on 'Waterloo Sunset' which the 23 year old Ray Davies wrote 50 years ago this year. The programme was narrated by musicologist, Professor Allan Moore, the Professor of Popular Music in the School of Arts at the University of Surrey who "takes songs apart to work out how they work and put them back together again."

Independent from the programme, last year Ray revealed : "Waterloo is a part of London that has always had a lot of significance for me. When I was a kid, my father took me there to see the 1951 Festival of Britain. As we looked at the Skylon Tower, he said: “I think that’s meant to be the future." Then, when I was 13, I had a bad injury and my ward in St Thomas’ hospital overlooked the river and Parliament. It’s a very vivid memory. Also, as a student at Croydon College of Art, I used to change trains at Waterloo. There was a romantic element too : as a teenager, I used to walk along Waterloo Bridge with my girlfriend."

"Although I’m an observer in the song, in many ways it is about me. I’d had a breakdown and, though I wasn’t a gibbering wreck, I was feeling vulnerable. The river is depicted as a protective force. I didn’t show the lyrics to the band in case they sniggered. Instead, I played it to my niece Jackie and sister Rosie and, when I told them I didn’t want it to be released as a single, they seemed to understand."

"I carried these thoughts around in my head for years, then suddenly the song popped out. The tune and the lyrics came together very quickly, almost like the song was writing me, not the other way round. I come from a large family and my sisters’ generation – the one before mine – were expected to get married, work in factories or do menial work. They weren’t supposed to excel as individuals, so I wrote the song for them."

" Of course, everyone thought “Terry and Julie” was a reference to Terry Stamp and Julie Christie, since they were immensely famous because of Far from the Madding Crowd. But actually, the image I had in my mind was of my sister and her boyfriend walking into the future. I do have a nephew called Terry, but his nickhame is Todger and he emigrated to Australia."

In the programme Allan dissected the song's clever construction : "The melody starts with a very simple idea, which is then repeated lower and then repeated lower again and the harmonies that he puts too, are very simple. They're the bedrock of centuries of popular song. We hear that twice. Then we hear a contrasting idea that's very different in tone. It's much higher. It's much slower. The key about both those ideas is that they draw you in." "The emphasis in terms of the lyrics, is not in the beginning of the line, but somewhere towards the end. 'Dirty old river' is not sung as "Dirty old river", but "Dirty old River flowing in to the Night. People so Busy, make me feel Dizzy." The emphasis is, in terms of the lyrics, is always on the end of an idea. So you're being thrust forward into the song, rather than simply being allowed to take it or leave it. I think you'd probably take it."

Allan made the point that the song was the first song Ray had sole control over. It was his conception and "right the way through there are certain little things which would be due to him, mostly with the stereo. You would expect to hear the singer in the middle of the stereo. If you listen to this Ray Davis isn't in the centre, he's off to the right which is absolutely correct for he is not the central figure. He's positioned himself off to the right, so that he's merely narrating and I think that's a beautiful touch."

Allan has also said :
"It is quiet special in the history of popular music, certainly in history at that particular point because it does something that no other song at the time really manages to capture : it turns the most ordinary events into something quiet wonderful.... " As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset I am in paradise." But he sings the word "paradise" which is normally set to a very bright tone or a very high end register, it's right at the bottom of his range where it gets a little bit rough. The way he sings "paradise" is symptomatic of the way the whole song works, that something that's very ordinary : a "dirty old river," "Waterloo Station," that low part of his voice, is made to seem magical. But it's so understated, it's almost typically English in that understatement and I think of it as a mixture between the mundane, which is what the song is all about : a very ordinary melody and the ecstatic."

Ray :
" The song is about how innocence will prevail over adversity. It starts out delicate, but by the end has become awesome in its power. Those triumphant chords come in – and the angels tell you everything is going to be OK."

Dirty old river, must you keep rolling
Flowing into the night
People so busy, makes me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
But I don't need no friends
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo sunset's fine

Terry meets Julie, Waterloo Station
Every Friday night
But I am so lazy, don't want to wander
I stay at home at night
But I don't feel afraid
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise

Every day I look at the world from my window
But chilly, chilly is the evening time
Waterloo sunset's fine

Millions of people swarming like flies 'round Waterloo underground
But Terry and Julie cross over the river
Where they feel safe and sound
And they don't need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset
They are in paradise

Waterloo sunset's fine

Monday, 15 May 2017

Britain is a country which made but Australia is a continent which has lost, its scarce old, journalist giant and broadcaster, Mark Colvin

Mark, who was for many years in the front line of Australian journalism and broadcasting, has died at the age of 65. Based in Sydney, for the last 20 years of his life he was the presenter of 'PM', one of the flagship Australian radio current affairs programs on the ABC Radio Network. Confined to the studio, after having contracted a rare auto-immune disease covering the Rawandan Genocide in 1994 which blighted his life and led to years of subsequent illness, he was Australia's eyes on the outside world. Mark's life in Australia began when he was 23, in 1974, but before the leather-jacketed, motorbike-riding Gauloise-smoking Mark joined ABC as a cub reporter, the essential Mark had been made in Britain. He was the product of both a unique family life and traditional public school / Oxford University education, but was always much greater than the sum of his parts.

Mark was born in London in 1951, the son of Elizabeth, who came from the Western District of Victoria, Australia, who had escaped the “stifling and parochial atmosphere” of 1940s Melbourne and John, who had been brought up in leafy Hampshire in England. He later reflected that his Father 'was not at my mother’s bedside when I was born because he was working in espionage.' In fact, although he had officially joined MI6 in the the same year as Marks's birth, he had joined clandestinely two years before.

John probably told young Mark that he himself had been born in Tokyo the son of Admiral Sir Ragnar Colvin, the then British naval attache in Japan, and who later commanded the Royal Australian Navy during the early years of the Second World War and he himself had trained as a naval officer before the War. It is entirely possible that he didn't mention that he : had been on the battle cruiser Repulse when it was sunk by the Japanese off Singapore in 1942; was blown out of the crow's nest then picked up from the water by escorting destroyer; in 1945 led a small band of guerrillas behind enemy lines in what later became Vietnam and although only a 'lieutenant', received the swords of the Japanese commanders when they surrendered.

Although he didn't know it at the time, Mark later reflected that the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the USA - led West, 'dictated our movements as a family and defines the first half of my life, because my father was a warrior in its front line.'  It meant his Father was 'often wandering around doing things secretly. Even my Mum didn't know where he was and what he was doing a lot of the time, that's the nature of being a spy' and 'I remember him reading me stories when I was going to bed, but a lot of the time he just wasn't there.'

Mark found out later that, when he was 4 in 1956, his father 'was part of the delegation that went to America to try to persuade the CIA to bring America in with Britain in the invasion of the Suez Canal, which was a massive event in 1956 in which the French and British tried to get the Suez Canal back from Egypt and completely failed.'

On of his Mark's earliest memories were of Austria, where his Father worked at the Secret Intelligence Service station in Vienna and where as a three year-old, he was confined to standing in the back seat of the family car and contented himself by waving his fist at a passing trucks while repeating a naval expression picked up from his father : "Go to buggery."

He remembered, with affection, the time when he "was very happy when I was four and five and six." The family were living in Kuala Lumpur when his Father was running of hill-tribe forces as counter-insurgency troops during the Malayan Emergency. It was an idyllic childhood existence where they lived behind a high hedge next to the racecourse and where the trunk of mangosteen served as a cricket wicket. He recalled that in some ways it was his "Garden of Eden" with horse riding, swimming and snorkeling on reefs in the southern islands, butterfly hunting and visits to the villages set among the rubber tree plantations.

Then at the age of seven, he was flown back to England and 'Summer Fields', a boarding school for boys on the outskirts of Oxford, which he recalled, with understatement, as : "pretty horrible"  and where, in reality, he "was savagely, savagely beaten and physically, not sexually, abused by people who got some kind of sexual charge out of physical abuse of small children and I think the thing I'm left with from that is a really strong understanding and empathy for that whole subject of child abuse."
(8.57 into the clip )

He still returned to Malaysia : "I would still be coming home in the long holidays to Kuala Lumpur and my parents were still together, but when my parents split up, that was a very unhappy time."

He recalled ; "In the summer holidays of 1964, when I was twelve, I discovered the world of Sherlock Holmes and over the course of a few weeks, devoured it all." Many years later he wondered if his career as a journalist had a "Sherlockian tinge — bouts of frenzied activity followed by torpid meditation " and provided a useful insight into how he saw his craft : "I’ve been intrigued by the relationship between Sherlock and his older brother Mycroft. Sherlock is driven to experience the world for himself. He is a pair of eyes, sometimes aided by a magnifying glass or a microscope, but one who uses his capacious learning and fierce intellect to interpret what he sees. Mycroft, who rarely leaves the Diogenes Club, however, is almost like a disembodied mind, a brain that uses the eyes of others to see the world, then processes it."

This was the year he took up his place as a boarder at the prestigious public school for boys, Westminster School, located within the precincts of Westminster Abbey at a time when Andrew Lloyd Webber was in the sixth form. With origins before the 12th century, its alumni included Ben Jonson, John Dryden, Robert Hooke, Sir Christopher Wren, Louis Theroux, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, Edward Gibbon, Henry Mayhew, A. A. Milne, Peter Ustinov, Tony Benn and seven Prime Ministers. It prided itself on an ethos based on liberal tradition reflected in the 1560, 'Charter of Westminster' which stated : ‘The youth which is growing to manhood, as tender shoots in the wood of our state, shall be liberally instructed in good books to the greater honour of the state.’

1964 was also the year his father took him to a smoky, basement Paris nightclub, which revealed : “something of the chameleon about him obviously, whether by nature or training: the spy’s ability to be at home in, or fade into the background of, wherever he was.”
Mark indicated his unhappiness in these years when he recalled that, as a teenager, he was “more shy and gawky than obstreperous. I probably seemed an excrescence”

Between the ages of 15-16, his father was posted as the British Consul in North Vietnam capital Hanoi from 1966-68, which coincided with the American bombing operation, 'Rolling Thunder,' where he wasn't permitted to build an air-raid shelter under his residence and, unknown to his family, observed proceedings over a cold drink from his balcony. Mark missed him badly : "He was there for two solid years and those were the two hardest years of my adolescence" and had "zero contact" with his father at a time when he "really sort of needed him in a way."

In addition, when his Father did return to Britain : "he married my Stepmother, which changed the relationship a lot. My Dad was a weird guy - he got married in secret" and without telling him and his sister Zoe, which was "like a complete and utter shock." They had, in fact, met the new wife when his father had contrived a 'chance' meeting in a train before he remarried. On the journey between Winchester to London they were "walking up the train, ostensibly looking for a nice compartment with three spare seats, But in fact, what happens is that we're halfway up the train and he says, "On look, there's somebody I know." So we go in and he introduces us to this young woman, Moranna Cazenove and that's how we met her. It was obvious in retrospect that it was totally pre-planned, but that was the only time we'd actually met her before they got married."

After successfully gaining a place at Oxford University at the age of 18 in 1969, he took a year out working as a photographer in Canberra where he had "parental support from my Mum." Then returning to Britain he embarked on his undergraduate study for 'Greats' and Christ Church College and was scarcely settled in when his father left Britain for a posting in Outer Mongolia, despite promising his mother, in Australia, that he would be around for Mark's undergraduate years. Mark recalled : "The whole decision that I would go to Oxford was taken on the basis that he would be there."

"the one place you couldn't ring him" and "when I eventually did go there, I had to fly to Hong Kong and take this six day train journey through China to get there."
As Her Majesty’s Ambassador in what was then Ulan Bator, capital of Outer Mongolia, his Father was there to run the signals intelligence station to monitor communications between China and the Soviet Union. It was

"I had the last two and a half years at University completely on my own without a parent to support me." He had no where to stay during vacations and "ended up with an uncle and aunt who were kind to put me up."

Towards the end of his studies he : 'took a walk in the Suffolk countryside with a friend of my father’s, a man who’d made a lot of money in the Mad Men era in New York working for the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. He asked me what I wanted to do. ‘Write, I think.’ ‘What do you want to write about?’ ‘I’m not sure. I’ve just spent three years studying the Greats, and that’s intimidating. And on top of that, I don’t feel I’ve done enough or seen enough to write a real novel.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘people who can write but don’t have a subject are generally advised to go into advertising or journalism.’ 

Mark's undergraduate course, known colloquially as 'Greats' would have involved him in the study of the classical writings of Greece and Rome with a strong emphasis on first hand study and critical reading of primary sources in the original Greek or Latin and ranging over History, Philosophy, Archaeology, and Linguistics. In Mark's case, the aim of the course : to give him the skill to 'effectively assess considerable amounts of material considerable amounts of material of diverse types and select, summarise and evaluate key aspect' and 'acquire the skill of clear and effective communication in written and oral discourse and the organisational talent needed to plan and meet demanding deadlines' were, in the light of his subsequent career, fulfilled.

There is no doubt that Mark's three years at Oxford had a formative influence on his young mind that partly explains why he would say years later, as a successful journalist and talking of his professional ethos : “My real interest, was, had always been, in the opinion and perspectives of others: in walking around a subject, as one walks around a building or a sculpture in a museum, trying to see it from every possible angle.”

Mark also drew comparisons between his own profession and that of his father : "The journalist’s classic questions — What makes you tick? Where’s the money? Who really runs this town? Cui bono? (Who benefits?) What lies behind what you’re telling me? How will this actually work in practice? Why are you lying to me? Who are you loyal to and who would you betray, and for what? — have become second nature, to the extent that the greatest temptation and danger is cynicism. They also, again, almost uncannily, mimic the mindset of the spy."

Having graduated from Oxford, Mark lacked direction : "I wasn’t totally indolent — I’d achieved a perfectly respectable ‘good second’ BA (Hons) in English at Oxford — but above all I didn’t know what I was fitted for."  He ruled out photography : "I’d worked for nine months in a photographic darkroom at the Australian National University in Canberra, and for a while as a photographer at a local newspaper in the West of England. But, although competent, I thought I didn’t have the ‘eye’ to be as good as my photographic heroes, and that I was better at writing the captions than taking the pictures."

In 1974 Australia beckoned him. His mother has remarried and settled in Canberra with her second husband. Shortly after arriving he literally walked into an ABC journalism cadetship in Sydney. "Somehow, Aunty, where the BBC voice was still pretty prevalent in those days, saw something in me and, stylish in a denim jacket with patch pockets and a pair of flared trousers." 

Within a year was reporting from the capital, the bush, the fires and the NSW Parliament 'bear pit' and was soon on the tiny reporting team at infant Sydney youth radio station 2JJ. He still 'had no long-standing vocation to be a reporter before I became one. Even halfway through 1974, my first year as a trainee I had real doubts about whether I would stick with the trade. I was one of those people who, at twenty-one, did not really know who they were, let alone who they wanted to be.'

Mark only found out the full truth of his father's work as a spy when he was 25. It led him to consider the similarities between himself and his father :

'The possibility that I stepped unconsciously into a field of work that I thought was the opposite of what my father did, but may have only been so in the way that the reverse sides of a coin are opposite to each other. Running in a great circle, only to realise you’re almost back to what you were running from. And there’s this : a spy and a journalist, if they’re doing their jobs properly, are both trying to find out the truth behind the lies and propaganda, even if they use radically different tools. So in some way, by trying to be as unlike my father as I could, I was perhaps not so different at all : for both of us, information gathering was our trade, and constant doubt and questioning the knives we wielded.'

and the differences :

'Yet there was a fault line between father and son, the believer and the doubter, the insider and the outsider, which came into sharp view years later. One night he asked his father about “the mirror-world of moral grey areas, dilemmas, paradoxes and complexities” explored in the novels of John le Carre. “What about you?” he asked his father : “Did you ever find any ambivalence or ambiguity about what you were doing?” To which he replied : “Never. Not once. Not for a single minute.”'

There is no doubt that Mark's early years endowed him with the intellectual curiosity and spiritual resilience which took him through the rest of his life. He said of his autobiography, published last year, 'Light and Shadow: Memoirs of a Spy's Son,' that he felt like 'the legendary lost dog on the poster - Three legs, blind in one eye, missing right ear, tail broken, recently castrated … answers to the name of 'Lucky' and that 'despite near-death experiences and chronic illness' he'd had 'A Fortunate Life.'

Mark was no stranger to Australia at the time of his arrival in 1974  There were the visits to his cousins when he was a boy, as can be seen with him riding behind his Dad in a farm truck at Christmas in 1959 and his first taste of Australian farm life on the Mondilibi Homestead when he was older, when his grandfather died and, of course, the year he spent working in Canberra when he was 18. Before he settled in Australia, Mark already rated the country “as one of the places I’d call home" and it is not possible to know if he would have enjoyed such a glittering career as a journalist if he had stayed in Britain, but it unlikely. Nick Bryant, the BBC's Sydney Correspondent from 2006 to 2011, put his finger on it when he wrote : 'In that great Australian everyman sort of way, he could detect the cant and fraudulent in an instant. His Australian side asserted itself more strongly than the British.'

In his last tweet, it seems only fitting that Mark may be showing deference to both the much loved English actor John Le Mesurier, who uttered the words : "It's all been rather lovely" to his wife before slipping into a coma in 1983 and Buzz Kennedy the long standing editor and columnist for 'The Australian.' who published 'It was Bloody Marvellous', his anecdotal memoir in 1996.