IF YOU work in newspapers long enough you become – you think you become – pretty hardened to the horrors that can descend upon ordinary people’s everyday lives, from out of nowhere.
The killing of an infant subsequently denied justice; the needless death of mums and daughters in a mill fire because of criminally negligent owners; the murder of a son whose killer’s life sentence brings no solace or comfort whatsoever – in all those cases, all very local to us, I knew the families of the victims.
There but for the grace of God go we … until that thunderbolt of fate strikes too close to home.
You would have to be some kind of hard-faced journalist not to be affected by getting close to stories of such misery and magnitude.
I didn’t know and had never heard of Motor Neurone Disease sufferer Nigel Casson until I was working on last week’s edition of The Press. As I edited the front page and read about Nigel’s deathbed humour from the Dignitas clinic in Geneva, I found myself choking up. I could only admire and wonder at his courage in deciding that no, he wasn’t going to put either himself or his family through the miserable agonies of the lingering death that awaited.
Beyond that, his family showed almost unimaginable strength to accompany him to the very end. Immense.
That night, still touched by Nigel Casson’s story, I told Mrs L that I hoped I’d be brave enough to do the same in such circumstances (I hope I imagined the fleeting look of joy on her face, although I did find a length of sturdy rope on the kitchen counter the next morning!)
And then I raged at a cowardly society that denies stricken families the mercy we would show a cat or dog.
Why do we make families like the Cassons run away like fugitives to a sordid hideaway in a foreign land to find peace? As Nigel said, why couldn’t that most touching, loving, heart-rending farewell have taken place in the comfort of their own home?
I find it mystifying that in an age when we glorify every abstract or even perverse ‘difference’ in people who suddenly decide to opt out of ‘normality’ we cannot bring ourselves to be honest about the one, inevitable fact of life that confronts us all.
We’re increasingly forced to bow and scrape at the equality altar of every kind of ‘minority’ yet we’re denied the right to a relatively peaceful and dignified end.
I’ve seen too many of my rugby playing-contemporaries stricken by dementia and Alzheimer’s. Is it down to the head knocks they took, in less safety-conscious years, as some clinicians think?
Who knows? But I do know that I can’t count my concussions on both hands. I’ve been knocked out, dragged off the field, and sent back on while it looked like the other team had 26 men. What toll will those less-enlightened endeavours take in years to come?
And for every person who has nursed a loved one through a slow and gradually debilitating, but largely peaceful life-ending episode of dementia, there’s another who has seen an erstwhile mild-mannered spouse or parent turn into someone unrecognisably violent.
Decades of a loving relationship, reduced to years of hateful agonies. And for what? To pay homage to an ancient ‘Christian’ ethos that most of our lawmakers don’t even subscribe to.
It’s ironic, discussing this in a week when the increasingly presidential (ie power-mad) Theresa May felt so cocky that she could slap pensioners in the face over what their old age would cost them.
I’m trying hard to give politics mostly a miss this week, but what a message – we’ll make you suffer the cruellest of hopeless, drawn-out deaths, and then we’ll take all your worldly goods off you once you’ve been thrown on the fire. Have a nice day.
The old nutmeg is always rolled out about a system of euthanasia being open to abuse. Oh, and we don’t get that any way? It’s alright when it’s state-sponsored abuse, is it?
If it’s beyond our ken to build in checks and balances while honouring a living will, we really are in a bad way.
But that’s politicians for you – courage galore in everything that involves controlling our lives and spending the fruits of our endeavours, rank cowardice in confronting the biggest and simplest question of all.
JUST a few words on the three-ringed circus that the General Election has descended into, beginning close to home with Tory hopeful Dr Ann Myatt, seen here consulting with former Batley & Spen grandee Elizabeth Peacock.
Good old social media – the question this Twitter photo begs isn’t ‘What’s up doc?’ but ‘Where are you doc?’ Hence the West Yorkshire A-Z clenched firmly in her grasp. Knows the place like the back of her hand does our Annie ... Not.
Meanwhile the Tory high command is in a virtual state of civil war. Not seen a lot of the Cabinet apart from Mother Theresa, have you? There’s thinly veiled fury at how she and her inner circle of Spads (unelected Special Advisers) have seized control of every element of the Tory campaign.
It seems she/they have swallowed whole the pollsters’ view that it will be a cakewalk. It may well still be, but we’ve seen before how electorates react when someone becomes too big for their boots – or in her case, kitten heels.
Even I could buy into some of Labour’s wilder manifesto pledges like re-nationalising the railways, but only if they were being returned to proper management and not just handed back to the unions.
Sadly where Corbyn and McDonnell are concerned, that destructive truth underpins everything about them.
Still, any cloud on the May horizon won’t have a yellow tinge to it. The Liberal Democrats want to give a home to every waif and stray on the planet, happily bump up taxes, reduce the voting age to about eight (and probably the age of sexual consent similarly, given the predilections of some of their elder statesmen like Cyril Smith and Jeremy Thorpe) and, to put a tin helmet on the lot, legalise marijuana.
Sounds to me like they’d spent all day inhaling before writing that lot of fairytale tosh. And we’d all need to smoke whacky baccy like mill chimneys to try living with the repercussions of those 24-carat dreamers.
THE sleepy Wiltshire town of Devizes was given a communal kick in the wotsits by the local council recently.
They’ve been staging a May Day fair for quite some time without anything more drastic than a thunderstorm disrupting the tombola, coconut shy and egg and spoon races. Not this year though. Terrorism put paid to the steam carousel and pinning the tail on a donkey.
Was it a bomb scare? A bearded bloke with a suntan careering down the high street in a stolen HGV?
Nope, the council axed the fair because the organisers did not have a strategy to cope with a terrorist attack.
I kid you not. Go to the foot of our stairs and kick the neighbours’ cat. What on earth is the world coming to?
How do the local grocer, retired primary school head, and a couple of well-meaning volunteers draw up a plan to cope with a terror attack? Say they’re going to sharpen the points on their garden forks? Bring a barrowload of tin helmets?
Still, I’m sure the oberleutnants of Wiltshire Council were all patting themselves on their pathetic backs on May 2nd, when – surprise surprise – there was no terror attack on Devizes.
Phew, that was a close one. Way to go, guys.
THURSDAY was international ‘Get The Kids Outside Day’ or somesuch.
Thousands of UK schools took part, getting pupils out of the classrooms to enjoy the outdoors. But only after they’d all carried out the appropriate risk assessments of course – which might just give you a clue you why there’s a problem in the first place.