….and another thing

By John Stettaford

So it’s confirmed—I’m probably on my last legs! No doubt you saw the report by “experts” who have discovered, or at least declared, that if you can’t balance on one foot for over so many seconds, there’s a good chance you’ll pop your clogs sometime soon.

Well, I’ve not been able to balance very well since I was about seven or eight, and I’m still here. But then, so often the “experts” have got it wrong with me. And if with me, how many others, one wonders? The first dietician I was asked to see lectured me about being overweight. This is the worst thing possible with diabetes, she hectored. Only problem was she reminded me of one of those toilet-roll toys. You know the sort of thing, a harlequin ballerina with a flowing gown over the toilet roll to hide it in plain sight. She was, as the saying goes, as fat as butter, and not a good advertisement for her profession.

But so often people are not personally good advertisements. The politician who watches pornography on his mobile ’phone in the House of Commons, or the doctor who sniffs his own drugs in his dispensary.

I was struck this past week by the BBC’s harping on ‘the poor’ struggling to feed their families. Yet the woman pleading with tears in her eyes was the size of a small haystack, covered in expensive tattoos and sitting in a sitting room with furniture fit for the royal family.

I understand her predicament. We have been constantly drilled that the comfortable life is our entitlement. That if we are sick it’s someone else’s responsibility to make us better, or at least to look after us. That was never true until 1947 and the introduction of the Health Service in this country. And I have to say that I have benefited greatly from that “cradle to the grave” concept. Prostate cancer treatment in other countries can cost all your resources and more; my treatment was “free at the point of need”.

But this concept of ‘they owe me’ can permeate our thinking into other areas. “They” owe me a holiday—and what’s more, a holiday abroad in the sun. That’s only been possible with the advent of modern travel, especially low-cost air fares. Most people in earlier times were born into the village they eventually died in. The extent of their life-time travel might only be to the nearest market town once a year.

There were itinerant travellers. One group were charcoal burners. I remember reading a history of some local charcoal burners who travelled around Hertfordshire slowly cooking wood so that it turns into charcoal. In pre-electric and gas cooker timess, charcoal was one of the better home cooking methods. In the spring they’d travel along the rivers and canals; in the autumn the woods and hill sides. I was a teenager adventuring on my bicycle when I chanced on one of the last of that breed hard at work lolling in his tent flap, watching steam and smoke rise from his kettle incinerator.

And as Christians we have assumed that we have a right to our beliefs and practices. That was never true until the United Nations was formed in 1947. Even the League of Nations, its forerunner, had no such ‘bill of rights’ enshrined in its provisions, and certainly not in king John’s Magna Carta. Consider: even into the Victorian era, if you fell on hard times the only right the individual had was to appeal to the trustees of the local workhouse. Even so, the only way to obtain “poor relief” was if they agreed. Later it became a right for admittance to the workhouse—but still you could be evicted and excluded if the trustees or the Beagle (the man in charge) so decided. Even the right to read our Bibles dates only from the 16th century. Value your freedoms; don’t take them for granted. Always they are under threat.