London Bridge (‘Build it Up’)

In 1014 King Olaf of Norway, failing to land in Danish-occupied London, fastened ropes around the pillars of London Bridge and, sailing away with the incoming tide, pulled the bridge down.

Early 20th London Bridge

Recalling this incident is the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’; the rhyme has spanned the centuries far more effectively than any memory of King Olaf himself; a timely reminder to those who pursue the course of Islamic Fundamentalism that ideologies fade far faster than cities. Their twisted form of Jihad will be left, Ozymandias-style in the ‘lone and level sands’ of time. Indeed, there used to be a sundial on the old Medieval London Bridge that bore the engraved motto, ‘Time and Tide stay for no Man’; perhaps ISIS would do well to remember that the next time they think about trying to spread the ideals of their warped Caliphate.

London Bridge 2

It is important to note that despite the title, ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’, the most oft repeated phrase in that nursery rhyme are the simple words, ‘build it up’. The call to ‘build it up’ comes twelve times in the traditional verses of the rhyme, becoming a mantra of renaissance and resistance. And after each successful assault on London Bridge and its people, Londoners have indeed ‘buil(t) it up’. Today’s bridge, completed in 1973 and deemed ugly by most architectural standards, stands on the site occupied by at least ten predecessors bearing the same name. The simple message is that Londoners always build it up again; any assault against the beautiful thing, which is itself a design of unity, spanning and joining two sides whilst refuting the tides that batter her banks, will be pointless. Many metaphors can be read into the beauty of a bridge and here the bridge becomes the heart of a multicultural, all-spanning London and all her myriad Londoners.

Heads on London Bridge

London used to display the heads of traitors on the bridge too. Many lifeless eyes have gazed out from London Bridge onto the city their tried to destroy (sorry William Wallace, Thomas Cromwell, Guy Fawkes et al). Those dead eyes would ‘see’ the opposite of the poet Coleridge’s ‘mawkish sensibility’ when he too gazed from the bridge; they would see resistance, determination, and the fierce heart of the city, which burns against all who would seek to destroy her. “Build it up. Build it up. Build it up…” London always sings; only the foolish don’t take heed.

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Finally The Shard, the UK’s tallest building which overlooks London Bridge, was designed to represent many things: the church spires that dot the London landscape; the masts of the ships that once rested in its docks and finally, the hope of all humanity, reaching to skies, looking to better itself, like a giant finger pointing to the sun. Today it sits, framed by London Bridge hospital; it is another symbol, in a city of symbols, of the enduring power of hope, and of London’s ability to pierce the clouds that threaten it.

First 2017 Election Interview with Mr. J. Brazier Esquire.

Oh Goodie! I do like a good old General. Election that is… Nothing like those piles of paper to warm the blood. Little mountains of votes, just for me and my mountain is always the tallest of the mountains. I am an Everest amidst a sea of hillocks.

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‘Hillock’, I said. You clearly misheard.

Anyway, good old May (Tezza to her chums) has said that she also fancies a bit of a General, so off we go. First past the post, reigns to the ready, Whips whipping what they need to whip.

You see, I hail from Canterbury. That’s where I reign. The thing about Canterbury is that even if I beat a small scraggy child in the street, said I supported the ambitions of Kim Jong-un and mowed over an old lady with my motor, they’d still elect me. Fools.

[What’s that Kate? Of course, I’d love a bit of crumpet. Yes, the more butter the better. Layer it on.]

Policies? Not a clue sorry. Next question.

Retire? Never. When I see the pearly gates, I’ll hand in my notice. Next.

Opposition? Ha. Well, Labour did come close once, but those were the dark days, you know… [shudder] Blair. I suppose if they really did their act together and form some sort of alliance with those Liberal Demo-prats and Greenies, they might just mount some sort of challenge, but even then, I’m pretty sure I’d romp home.

‘Romp’, I said. Do you enjoy romping? What do you mean that’s an inappropriate question?

Anyway, must go. Got to dust off the rosette and take off my slippers. Kate! Kate, can you help me pull of my slippers. Always nice to have a woman to hand, if you know what I mean [snort].

Toodle-pip.

See you in 2022.

[Warning: Mr. J. Brazier is a fictional creation. Any similarities to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental]

Last Rites for Kent’s NHS

A&E provision in East Kent is among the worst in the country. Not only have the closure of Emergency Departments in Dover and Canterbury left outlying communities with a potentially 40-minute drive to their nearest A&E, but recent figures released also show that poor consultant provision and huge waits that welcome the injured when they do arrive.

Ambulances struggling to cope with winter illness

Each time that LabourMum checked online to ascertain the current waiting times at East Kent A&Es (checking 8 times in the past week), William Harvey Hospital in Ashford was posting waiting times of ‘Over 4 Hours’. Even with only 10 patients in A&E in Ashford, a new arrival would typically have to wait over 4 hours.

More scandalously, figures released recently in response to a Freedom of Information request, show that the A&E department at William Harvey Hospital was without any consultant provision during ordinary working hours Monday-Friday for a total of 250 hours in 2016. This means, there are an average 5 hours in every Monday-Friday week where you could turn up to A&E to find absolutely no consultants ready to help treat you.

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Reviews of William Harvey A&E care in January on www.nhs.uk show that some vulnerable patients have been left on trollies overnight, without food, drink and assistance with toileting. Other reviewers talk about being treated with an abject lack of ‘dignity and respect’. A further review from December 2016 wrote from the waiting room: ‘I arrived at the William Harvey hospital at 11.30pm’ the anonymous reviewer said, ‘and am still waiting to be seen at 6am it’s not the doctors or nurses fault I know there doing the best they can its all down to the government… (sic)’

The picture is of course, even more perilous at weekends. Some hospital trusts have no consultants at all working at weekends in Emergency Departments, although across East Kent Universities Trust (QEQM in Margate and William Harvey in Ashford) there is a consultant present in A&E for 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday. This is still not good enough. A friend’s daughter recently admitted to A&E on a Sunday evening at 9pm, waited 4 hours, despite only two other souls seemingly waiting (endlessly) for their own treatment.

With a 23.3% increase in the over 65 population of East Kent forecast for the next 10 years, the Emergency Care situation is now intolerable. Facilities (QEQM in Margate) are archaic and need re-building completely. Which political party is going to say it? We need to raise taxes, perhaps even a specific new tax or complete reformation of National Insurance, to pay for our NHS. Missed appointments with ordinary G.P.s should be paid for (some exceptions of course for those whose illnesses actually prevented attendance) and G.P. facilities absolutely should stretch to at least Saturdays. All G.P. surgeries should aim for turn-up-on-the-morning-and-be-seen provision, as is proving immensely successful in Whitstable, Kent. Further suggestions include raising VISA fees for visitors to the UK with the specific aim of balancing the cost of health tourism upon our shattered and broken health system.

beveridge

In 1942 the Beverage report identifies the ‘Giants’ of the day as being Want, Ignorance, Disease, Squalor and Idleness. Times have changed and the diseases of ’46 (Tuberculosis, Polio, Measles) have been replaced by the new problems of an increasingly elderly and obese population (Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Diabetes). Want, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness continue to afflict the U.K. It is time for a new ‘Beverage Report’ for the Twenty-First Century. We are not too late to save our NHS, but this time next year we might well be.

My M.P. just got a knighthood….HELP!

So, my M.P. got a gong. I should be celebrating right? I mean, these knighthood-relics from the days of yore are for the special, the hard-working, the community-minded, the humble, the kind…

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Sir Julian Brazier, the longest-serving member of the House, has been afflicting us here in Canterbury, Whitstable and surrounding villages since 1987. He won his knighthood for services to politics and public services. Prior to becoming an M.P he worked in corporate finance and then did a few years telling other people how to work in corporate finance.

He is in person a very nice man. Quentin Letts once described him as an ‘adolescent giraffe’ and I do not doubt the dedication of a life in the service of his beliefs; one can only pity his wife, but I suppose she’s found time to take comfort in her puddings.

However…and here’s the rub. A knighthood has just been given to a man who supported the (unsuccessful) Prohibition of Abortion Bill in 2005, which would have made abortion an imprisonable offence. He voted against the government’s same sex marriage legislation in 2013. He supported Brexit (I mean, okay, so did my mum!) but on the grounds that ‘that the EU makes the people of our country less safe’. Apparently being in the E.U makes our soldiers more likely to fall asleep in their tanks, or something like that. He also voted against a proposal to accept an extra 3000 of the most vulnerable refugee children into the U.K. He voted in favour of Fracking (I’m personally not too bothered about this), was fundamental in planning a trip for M.Ps to visit the Falklands, a political move which ramped up tensions between the U.K and Argentina. The actor Sean Peen accused Brazier and his friends on the trip of ‘ridiculous demonstrations of colonialism’.

But even if this knighthood is the Conservative Party’s equivalent of a golden handshake, pushing Brazier off the back-benches to take up more golf, the fans of the man needn’t worry. In the spirit of 1817, politics in this area is a nepotistic affair. Brazier’s son John, is already considering putting himself forward for the job. He is eminently qualified, having been elected as a city councillor for Westgate ward in 2015. John Brazier lives full-time in London.

Happy New Year 2017!

Trick of the Tongue – The Art of the Speechwriter

‘Few love to hear the sins they love to act’

In Season Four of that sublime Machievellian feast House of Cards, there is an episode where a new speechwriter criticizes the work of the Underwoods’ writing team. Reading their latest offering he says “There [is] no imagination to it. No rhythm.” The established team take offence (of course they do): “We’ve been writing their speeches since they took office. We know what we’re doing.” The new speechwriter shrugs: “Well, do you want it to be good, or do you want it to be yours?’.

Finding the right voice for a great speech is an art; it is a tricky art, born of rhythm, cadence, inflection and reflection. A speechwriter must know the subject (of course); pretenders to the crown of authority will always be found wanting. But the writer must also know the tricks of the trade. The human ear is easy to fool, and as everyone knows, the heart is all too easily led by that most biddable of orifices.

marcanthony

We can look to the best speeches in history and literature in order to spot those tricks. Antony’s magnificent sarcasm, by repeatedly intoning within his famous ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech that Brutus is ‘an honourable man’ (III.ii) is one of the best examples of speech-trickery. Ever. Brutus has spoken first and has made it clear that Antony may speak whatever good he wishes of Caesar so long as he speaks no ill of the conspirators. So Antony does speak no ill: but in his repeated benediction of Brutus and his coterie of cronies (alliteration is a speechwriter’s friend), he serves a rotten surfeit of praise and the audience chokes (descriptions of hyperbolic violence are always memorable… care to remember Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech).

In his February 2016 speech announcing that he was backing Brexit, Michael Gove used the ‘Antony trick’ (ultimate irony surely, as June would see him taking the role of Brutus to Johnson’s Caesar!). When Gove referenced David Cameron, the accolades piled up; Cameron was ‘an outstanding prime minister’, he had led a ‘great reforming government’ and it ‘pain[ed] him to disagree [with Dave]’. Oh stop it Michael! Put down that giant knife…In his Inferno, Dante confined Brutus to the lowest circle of hell for betraying Caesar; at least now he has company.

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Of course, a speechgiver wants to sound geniune whilst also learnéd (note the Chaucerian inflection of that word can make one sound pompous, but certainly draws the ear). Of course, you don’t want to over egg the pudding and too many clichés will make you sound as honest as the day is long (and can be confusing; is a day really that long?). Equally, avoid the use of foreign languages in speeches. If you can’t say it in English, then find another way to phrase it; afterall, a speechgiver using foreign words is just bacati kajmak u oči[1] of their audience, and they may just be about sauter du coq à l’âne[2]. Remember, quem não se comunica se trumbica[3].

You don’t want to bombard any audience with facts, although there must be a few. In the modern era of on-demand TV, the tone is set within the first paragraph and a single joke is worth a thousand statistics (Cicero that Roman master of rhetoric, integrity and proof is turning in his grave). Boris Johnson, a rare speciment of a politician who writes his own speeches, is certainly a master of the gag. Talking to the 2015 Conservative Party Conference (a stony-faced crowd generally), he said of the future of the Party, ‘We’re not done yet. We come now to what we in City Hall call Operation Juddering Climax…’ Johnson knows that the British will always be party to a little twinge of smut. When the politics thing doesn’t work out Boris, there’s an opening at the Christmas cracker factory…

The other tricks of speechwriting are numerous: Repetition (Education, Education, Education anyone?). Brevity. Use of elipsis and well-timed pauses (see paragraph above) and of course the old Grecian logos, ethos, pathos – the classical modes of persuasion from Aristotle’s Poetics.

 An audience loves a personal anecdote. Michelle Obama (U.S President 2024), recently exemplified the art of pathos in modern day speech-giving. ‘My father,’ she said to the Democratic National Convention in September 2016, ‘was a pump operator at the city water plant, and he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when my brother and I were young. And even as a kid, I knew there were plenty of days when he was in pain.’

Key words to end paragraphs (see above, ‘pain’), resonate. Yet the end to any speech should always be positive. Never leave an audience glaring into the gloom. The rhythm of those last words is vital; an iambic inflection to the final sentences gives a steadying heartbeat, a lulling music to the crowd. No one wants the meter they remember to have the panic of a butterfly furiously beating its wings against a window; the final tone should always sing of sun.

[1] Croation: throwing cream into the eyes (i.e lying to)

[2] French: to jump from the cock to the donkey (i.e changing topics without logic)

[3] Portuguese: He who doesn’t communicate, gets his fingers burnt.