September 25, 2020

Letter from Britain – Part 1


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henry-fraser-150By Henry S. Fraser From Caribbean360

“The land of embarrassment and breakfast.” (Julian Barnes, British author)

“Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain Britain. So conform to it, or don’t come here.”

(Tony Blair)

“It has something to do with being British – we don’t take ourselves as seriously as other countries do.” (Joan Collins)

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Sunday September 28, 2014 – With our son and his wife and children living in Britain we have to make a periodic pilgrimage to the colder of our two mother countries in order to see and have a brief spell of trying to spoil the grandchildren. It evokes both ancestral memories and memories of University life – student marches, London buses, holiday jobs and country hikes. I survived freezing winters and climbing Snowdonia, praying all British mail box in the countrysidethe way. And the plethora of newspapers and TV news provides new angles on what today’s Britain is like – some unchanged and in some ways a new world, on the edge throughout August and September of a bitter divorce.

Kit Hesketh-Harvey, British musician, composer, screenwriter and TV presenter, summarises in Country Life (September 17) what it is to be English: “Rose gardens, Private Eye, idiotic songs, Oxford’s dreamy spires, chickens, the Pony Club, sartorial individuality, English heritage, courage and humour in adversity, Highgrove, a love of landscape, village churches, children on a Cornish beach, kitchen suppers and laughter. Everything that John Betjeman loved.” And I certainly appreciate the beauty of the countryside, the fabulous roses and gardens and the beautiful churches; and even the food, which has moved light years from sausage and mash to some of the best. But the flamboyant and provocative Quentin Crisp said: “The British do not want to be happy, they want to be right.” Substitute “The English” in that sentence and you have what many think is the reason for the political crisis of Scotland’s demand for independence from Britain – accusations of being arrogant, superior, neglectful of the North, and wanting to be right.

Soon after arriving here, the Rotherham scandal broke. A thoroughly researched report described the “grooming”, kidnapping and sexual abuse of 1400 young, teenage girls in the Yorkshire town of Rotherham. Unbelievable. The culprits were a well organised team of Pakistani men, operating over some 16 years. It turns out that social workers became aware, reported it higher up and the police covered everything up in despicable ways, even bullying social workers to hold their peace (astonishingly), while some officers have been moved elsewhere. The accepted explanation is that the “authorities” were afraid of being accused of racism by bringing the Asian perpetrators to jail! And after weeks of investigation, the Police Commissioner of South Yorkshire, allegedly long “in the know”, has finally resigned. No one has been brought to justice …

Another social issue occupying the news throughout these weeks is the state of education in British schools. The unsuccessful and controversial Minister of Education, Michael Gove, is no longer Minister, but neither teachers, children nor parents are happy campers. Articles with headlines such as “Thousands of pupils crammed into ‘cattle classes’ describe the overcrowding in some schools; “Schools turn out teenagers who are ‘sloppy, lazy and not up to the job’”, says Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector; while other articles decry the poor literacy of students, even after university. Britain falls below most European countries, and only one percentage point above the Czech Republic and two points above Poland in the graduate literacy stakes, in spite of the top universities, Cambridge, Imperial College, Oxford and University College being at the top of world universities.

But the big issue on everyone’s mind, everyone’s lips and dominating the airwaves has been the Scottish referendum. Throughout history the inhabitants of these islands have fought each other. There were once many kingdoms, but after the English, themselves a mixture of many tribes, subjugated most of the others through sheer numbers, they shared a King with Scotland for four hundred years and formalised their political union in 1707. This didn’t stop the English and the aristocratic Scottish landowners “in cahoots” from ravaging the highlands from the decade after the defeat of the Scottish rebellion led by Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden – at its worst in the 1760s but lasting for a hundred years. It is estimated that between 170,000 and 200,000 Scots were dispossessed and emigrated, either as freemen or indentured servants, to the Caribbean, Australia and North America after their lands were largely stolen. The damage to the Scottish psyche is said to be there to this day, and consciously or subconsciously to feed the demand for independence.

The YES propagandists have had one overwhelmingly dominant spokesman, First Minister Alex Salmond and the message have been overwhelmingly emotional. The Union spokespersons and propaganda have been contrastingly low key and dour. The message “No Thanks” hardly reverberates, and one has the impression that the government had regarded the whole exercise as placating Mr. Salmond and a small minority, but suddenly last month things changed, and from a small minority the Yeses grew dramatically to poll figures of 51% and panic at Westminster! Happily for those in England AND Scotland who wanted to preserve the union, the result was 55 % to 45 % in favour of staying married …

Bouquet: To Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori (champion and runner up at the US Open) for overcoming the four giants of this era – Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray. A new era dawns.

henry-fraser-150Professor Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website:

IMAGE: British mail box in the countryside

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