Friday, 29 October 2010

Wood's story of England ends,Life without Work is Getting on and Mad Cat Ladies

What a week it's been so far. Loads of  telly to watch and most of it really good. But before I get onto that, a few  quick notes about the Tyne Wear Derby coming up and the e-mail I got from my editor. As some of you might know if you've been good readers and read ALL my stuff, you'll know I'm working on a few articles for a Sherlockian journal. Today I got a pdf of the mock up of the first draft of article one without images. My reviews of BBC's Sherlock have been reduced to a smooth veloute sauce of silky verbiage in praise of the New Sherlock risen from the minds of Moffat and Gatiss. I'm assured there will be one last version presented as and when the editor can sort the copyright issues for a few images from the BBC.  Just as big is of course the build up towards the long missed Tyne Wear Derby taking place at the weekend. BBC Radio Newcastle's Total Sport team had on tonight a special edition where the usual cast of talking heeds and  fan forum members took themselves to a 5 aside pitch in North Shields to decide once and for all just who's supporters could play Sunday side best. As it happens the Mackem lads edged our boys 4-3, but to hear our manager tell it, the ref ignored a clear penalty shout and the net wasn't big enough for some of our shooters. Not to be outdone by the main sport site, Total Sport then went to several cages at the zoo to ask The monkeys, the dolphins and octopi for a score line.  Monkeys 2-0 for the SMB's, Dolphins 2-2 draw and the octopus called for 0-0 draw. Seems even the animal world's opinion is divided on this. Hear the entire bit of madness on Listen again Radio Newcastle for 28th of October.  Good Luck Lads, we're playing at home, don't embarrass us.

On to business dear readers. As the title implies, this one is mostly history and a dash of NHS comedy.

This week Michael Wood's Story of England wrapped up the series with part 6 dealing with modern Kibworth/England. In Victoria to the present day, we trace the progress of Kibworth from 1830 when all right thinking people feared society changing revolution from below. Turns out they were right , but it wasn't the violent ideological revolution of Cromwell or Marx, but that of the reformers and the dissenters. Commercial interests, along with the growing British Empire served to drag England into the next century whatever the old world thought of it. Several things happen to insure that the lot of the poor and illiterate is improved.  In 1832 90% do not have the right to vote, a number that changes in fits and starts. By 1870 school for the 5 to 12 year olds is accessible , by 1880, it's mandatory. Children who enter service at 12, were expected to be smart and know how to read, a skill that served them well when it came time to challenge the Poor law courts. By1900 there is 90 % literacy rate. The railroad also came to town in  1857 . Kibworth's own Loveday, in a single stroke, creates more voters and homes for workers of modest means, by building houses. These people achieve the status of franchise holders, thus causing the Tories of the day to respond to workers or risk losing power.  ( insert own coalition joke or barb here). Despite things like the march for the unemployed in 1905, truly revolutionary tendencies are sublimated by the firm hand of the clergy on the moral pulse of the village through Penny Concerts filled with upright songs about tea and the tragedy of  a girl imploring people to ask her father to come home form the pub. This is not to say that the working men's clubs did not have the saucier sort of songs, dances and broad comedy we have come to call "Music Hall". WW1 and II do their worst and the full vote comes to all in 1928. Baby boomers come, Land Girls become mums and Kibworth becomes part of one the most multi ethnic parts of Britain.

So what in all of this was strictly Kibworthian? Well rather a lot as it turns out. This time Professor Wood utilises the resources of the best local volunteers to search through hitherto untouched parish records from the 19th century, later used to illustrate the Poor Law section. Whole groups of children walk through Kibworth on a Victoria walk, learning  that Thomas Cook was of Kibworth. The fact the dissenters movement was deeply imbeded in the village, with the result that much of what we take for granted of the writing and traditions of the movement was from Kibworth and can still be studied in libraries long since merged with more mainstream institutions, brings home the importance of the place, even if the descendants of those reformers are not spoken to directly. One of the truly nice bits was when the town was pressed ganged into recreating a Penny Concert as well as a less moralistic or upright Music hall show. A particularly poignant moment was when a class of children read of the experience and deaths of family members in the Great war then went on an annual trip to visit a battle field in France where a group of Leicester soldiers posed for a photo. Sat in the same spot, it wasn't hard to imagine most of those young people about to waste their lives on a trench charge. They then went over to the large cenotaph  to pick out the names of great grand parents. Another great use, In this last segment of the Kibworth series, Michael Wood, through photos, film and re enactment, connects the streets and homes to the events of the recent past and makes the current village seem more than a semi rural destination you might normally avoid unless you knew somebody there.Not a bad way to wrap up a series. Catch up the entire series on the iPlayer

Continuing with the theme of the working man's history of the recent past, BBC A life without work, does a brilliant job of bringing the poverty and working conditions of 1910 Yorkshire to life. Richard Bilton explores the report that is the very underpinning of the modern welfare state the Government is so busy taking apart bit by tiny bit.  While there are some abuses and ill effects of the policy on modern society, it is no reason to destroy it. In watching this programme, you realise just how close we are to the family in the 1910 diary but for the very safety net keeping large portions of the population out of abject poverty and subsistence labour.  Seebhom Rowntree, a dissenter, a Quaker ( see Kibworth) and deeply religious man, continues the grand tradition of the social reformers of the earlier Victorian era. In 1910, York is a city just recovering from a recession, a city that was among the wealthiest in the land, in which there were no poor people or social problems. All was good with the land and no person worthy of note was doing badly.  In fact the opposite was true. A full quarter of the population in poverty or constituted the working poor. Seebhom , who was later to run Rowntree's, set up a methodical survey of all persons on some form of relief or out of work. The results were assembled, collated and boiled it down into a shocking picture where even in one of the wealthiest cities of Britain, people were living on tea, bread and margarine with the occasional bit of fish on Sunday. Mrs Nevinson of the survey, has 22 children, of whom 5 survive to adulthood.  The Nevinsons are but one family among many who help with raw data, but the words of the father ring out from the pages 100 years on urging us to see his agony, the futility of his efforts at times, and the fact he is working very hard for little return.

So who were the Nevinsons? Bilton tries to answer the question with the help of genealogists and archaeologists, tracking down this working class family. After a few false starts, the blind daughter is identified as Ivy Addy, who's father is John Thomas Addy who with his family, lived for a time on Phoenix street, and whose descendants still live a mere 2 mile  away to this day. Through the search portion of the ep, we visit the Hungate dig already mentioned in my time team piece on the real Vikings, and see the tiny cramped two story hovels these people were forced to live in, sometimes 15 at a time. It's one thing to read about it, but to see the site and the conditions they were expected to maintain a brave face in , is so much harder to ignore. If you follow the dots from Ivy Addy through several generations . you end with the fat bloke from the film The Full Monty, Mark Addy. Ironic isn't it that he should find fame playing an out of work labourer during a depression. Mark and many of his relatives  were brought together on the site of the Phoenix street house for a reunion and to see where they came from. From the humble beginnings of a  labourer, the Addy's achieved greatness in the military, glazing, and now acting. 

Not to ignore Mr Rowntree, his conclusions laid the groundwork for much of the legislation that insured safe working conditions, paid holidays, decent housing, and recreation. As an employer and company president, Rowntree created a village that included pools parks and libraries. He was to create the model for the ideal employer.  During the worst of the depression , he kept the plants going, churning out chocolate and keeping people employed, this despite massive losses of 33% in 1931.  Surely an example of the old notion of noblesse oblige where the lord of the area has an obligation to the people on his land to keep them safe, whole and healthy. Next time, we see the modern face of post Thatcher and current York. It will be interesting to see just how little or how much has changed. Nicely done that, Mr Bilton, telling the story of reform through the very real experiences of one family from 1910 to 2010.

We wouldn't have Getting On  to write about without Mr. Rowntree and people of his ilk. So a big thank you to all those responsible for bringing us the kind of health care we take for granted, and other parts of the world only dream of.  Getting On for those of you who hadn't seen series one, is about a hospital women's unit that deals with all sorts of miseries and illness brought on by poverty, bad diets and the middle class obsessions of personal fitness. Jo Brand and the fat lass from the Thick of it, play out the day to day existence of hospital staff in a modern well equipped, but stressful and rushed environment of a ward trying to juggle beds, doctor time and teaching. One of the great throw away lines was when Jo brand's character was told she could not call Hillary a twat, so she said "Hillary is such a vagina", later she's taking the piss out of a patient... away for disposal. In this Thick of it filming style, the realistic situations of hospital life comes through sharply and still manage to be humorous. The visit of a patient's daughter all the way from Scotland exposes the sort of cold rule based life that has taken hold in all institutions and the admission of a  geet smelly homeless woman, presses the ward to find a place willing to un-ming her while yet others look for her identity so they can at least have a name to call her. In the US and many parts of the world, that poor woman wouldn't even get a second look. But the NHS, imperfect as it is sometimes, HAS to take her. Take the time to watch this comedy gem, you'll be adding it to your must see programmes list. If you like Richard Hawley, he sings the brilliant theme song.

I'd like to write something about the last Wonderland, Mad Cats and Englishwomen, precisely because it was  so troubling to see the way that fully half the cats in London are treated and the shocking conditions in which the people who care for them live in. The heroines of the cat world are overworked, lonely people who have turned to cats after a life of drugs and alcohol. Pat, who we meet starts the programme  thinking she is doing a sacred mission and that men don't understand, but by the end realizes that she has pushed  men and most people for that matter, from her life by taking in so many cats.  This poor soul has had a rough life in Dagenham and it hasn't got any better over time. The Ex vogue model who runs the cat and dog sanctuary is not much better. Poorly funded and overcrowded, the staff and animals live in quarters as sad and cramped as the well intentioned Pat.  I don't know what appals me more, the treatment of cats by careless and horrible people, or the conditions that those who would save them have condemned themselves to live in. This is no sentimental, humour tinged, crazy cat lady special, it is gritty and disturbing, AND well worth the watch if you've the stomach for it. Celia Hammond and her band of volunteers deserve all the help they can get, but the sad part is that they themselves are as lost and sick as some of the cats they save. I felt sick after watching this, I'm not sure why even now, except to say that no one should live like that, man or beast.

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