This is the text of the eulogy I gave for our Mum on the day of her funeral, May 13th 2013.
This could be the hardest thing I have ever done, to stand here before you now saying my goodbyes to our Mum.
I say “our” Mum, rather than “my Mum”, not only because she belongs to all of us, to all the brothers and sisters here today, to our children and grandchildren, and to our Dad, but also because that is how we always spoke of her, as “our Mum.”
It’s a Birmingham expression. We never talk in the singular in Brum, but always in the plural. So it’s “our Mum” and “our Dad” and “our house” and “our family”. It’s a generous way of talking and it includes all of you here today, even those who are not related and for whom Mum was a more recent friend.
Shall I tell you what it was about our Mum? She never grew old. I remember her saying, only a year or two ago, that she was always surprised when she looked in the mirror, to see that old lady looking back at her, because she didn’t feel like an old lady at all. She said she felt just the same as she always felt, when she was a little girl growing up in Birmingham, under the ever watchful eye of her beloved father, Arthur.
This last year has been very hard for our family. We’ve watched our Mum go from the peak of health to someone who was, finally, bed bound and helpless, incapable of doing anything for herself.
For this reason I say that, while we can’t help but grieve, we should not be sad.
Mum is glad not to be on this Earth any more. She is glad to have escaped the pain. She hated what had become of her body. She hated the humiliation of it. In the end she only wanted to be free. In the end, it is the best gift that we can give her that we let her go.
The last few days with her were a privilege, however. She was at home, which is where she wanted to be. She was pretty well unconscious most of the time, but she did wake up occasionally, and I know that she knew where she was, and it was this fact that gave her the strength to move on.
The day before she died there was a sudden storm as I was driving round to see her. It was really dramatic. The rain burst from the heavens in a veritable deluge, while, at the same time, the sun came out, and, turning the corner into Downs avenue there wasn’t just one rainbow, but two, one above the other right over our Mum’s house. It was the first time I’d ever seen a double rainbow. And then, later that day, there was the most beautiful sunset over the Isle of Sheppey, like someone had set the sky on fire.
Mum always used to say that that was her view. Whenever we got to the top of the hill and looked out on the estuary below, she would say, “how do you like my view?”
So I’m going to say, and no one is going to tell me otherwise, that Mum had arranged that for me, that sunset and that rainbow. It is how I will always remember her. She chose her moment, in a glory of light and colour, like the light that she gave to all of us, which will live now forever in our hearts.
As you will know by now, the Whitstable delivery office is due to close on the 20th May and the staff and service be relocated to Military Road, Canterbury.
It will be a sad day for postal workers and for the town as one more vital facility is closed and shifted over to the city nearly eight miles away.
However, the staff are sanguine about it. We put up a good fight, we held the company at bay for over three months and we won some important concessions along the way, with significant help from you, the public, who wholeheartedly supported us in our efforts.
No one could have fought more fiercely or with more spirit and determination than we did. We gave the company a run for their money. We won the media campaign, we won the moral argument, plus we had the most fun while we were at it.
The day of our strike, the 12th of January, will go down in history as one of the best days ever.
I must admit that I always thought that we would probably lose in the end, and I was regularly cautioning my colleagues to be aware of this. To my mind it wasn’t a case of who would win and who would lose. It was a case of standing our ground because to do otherwise would be to accept that we are nothing more than cogs in a machine to be shifted about at the company’s will, regardless of what we believed in.
One thing is certain: the Royal Mail will never, ever disregard the voice of its staff at the Whitstable delivery office again.
I have to take issue with the company’s press release on the matter, however.
It continues to repeat the same tired old lines about “ongoing transformation and modernisation” being “vital to put the business on a secure and sustainable footing for the future”, as if it hasn’t learnt a single thing in the last more than two years of campaigning.
So, just to recap the argument:
There is nothing in the slightest bit “modern” about shifting postal staff from bikes into vans. There is nothing “modern” about making staff do a 32 mile round trip, to and from work, and to and from their rounds every day. The Royal Mail will not be “contributing to a reduction” in their carbon footprint, as it claims in the press release. Carbon emissions will go up overall if you include staff journeys to and from work, and journeys by the public to and from the caller’s office to collect their undelivered mail.
The Royal Mail won the campaign because it had the resources to throw at it. It spent large amounts of money on beating the strike, and it will continue to spend large amounts of money on hiring casual workers to take on the extra work that will be required to maintain the service, given that staff will now spend upwards of an hour a day sitting in traffic instead of delivering letters as we currently do.
It will not mean a better service, it will mean a worse service, as even the Royal Mail, in an off-guard moment, were forced to admit. Holders of PO Boxes, people who receive a lot of special delivery letters (such as jewellers) and people made to travel into Canterbury to view excess charge mail before paying for it will definitely suffer a significant reduction in service.
The Royal Mail did not consult with its staff over the closure of the office, and while there was an initial consultation with the union, most of the union delegates walked out in disagreement at an early stage. The fact that one union representative continued to attend subsequent meetings does not constitute proper consultation in any recognised sense of the word.
The closure is not “being undertaken in line with the national agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU for modernising the business”. There was never any agreement between the Royal Mail and the union over closure of delivery offices until November last year. If the union agreed to these changes, it did so on the nod, and without consultation with its members.
The Whitstable caller’s office will not remain open because of “feedback from elected representatives and customers”. It will remain open, firstly because the company are legally obliged to give 28 days notice to customers over any change in the service and, secondly – and most revealingly – because the company has been unable to sell the premises, and therefore has to find some use for them in the meantime.
The closure of the delivery office will not result in a saving to the company. It will cost the Royal Mail, in travel time alone, upwards of £180,000 a year. This does not include cost of the vans, petrol costs or wear and tear to the vehicles, nor the cost of compensating staff for their travel expenses for the first three years after the move. Any gains the company might make due to the sale of the premises will be completely obliterated within three years and after that it will cost the company, year in, year out, forever more: or until the company collapses under the weight of its own inept decision making process, probably sooner rather than later.
This has nothing to do with efficiency. The only tangible gain will be that an underused building in Canterbury will now be filled – at a cost to the wellbeing of its own workers, and to their customers, many of whom will be forced to make a journey they currently do not have to make, through a congested corner of a congested city, adding significantly to stress levels and pollution on the way.
It also has nothing to do with “falling mail volumes” or that there are now “more parcels and fewer letters”, as Ray Tompsett adds in his own personal note at the end of the press release. More parcels means that a local delivery office in the town would be even more vital to “help put Royal Mail on a secure and sustainable footing for the future”, and to throw that away on a short term gain is to throw away the company’s only significant advantage over its competitors.
So, Ray, let me just add a few personal words of my own.
You won, we lost. That’s all there is to it. You have the power and the resources. We don’t. We will accept the move with good grace. We will do all that we can to make sure that there is as little impact as possible on the service, or upon our customers. If the quality of the service remains half decent, it will be because we have made every effort to ensure that it is so. If the quality drops at all, it won’t be because we haven’t tried. We will take our time and learn to enjoy the facilities that are on offer in our new location. In particular, we will avail ourselves of the canteen facilities and enjoy a good breakfast before we go out on our rounds in future.
But, please Ray, don’t try to pretend that this move is in the best interests of either us or our customers, because we know otherwise.
My Mum, Mary Stone, passed away last Saturday.
It was a gentle death. She kind of sailed off, like a boat which has slipped its moorings and which drifts away on the current.
It was my Dad who gave me that image. He was sitting next to her as she died. He said it was like she had sailed away.
I won’t tell you about her illness. It wasn’t very nice. It was ugly and painful, and in the end I’m certain that she was glad to be free of the body which had turned so humiliatingly against her.
She died at home, which is what she had asked for. She wasn’t properly conscious for the last few days. She didn’t speak, but she did open her eyes, and I know that she knew where she was, and it was this fact which allowed her to relax enough to finally let go.
My Dad is devastated, of course, as are my sisters, Julia and Helen, and my brother, Robert. We know that we have lost a Mum like no other, and that we shall never see her like again in this world.
She was a unique individual, always funny, even in the midst of her illness. She had a way of rolling her eyes and sticking her tongue out when she thought we were nagging her about eating, which she was refusing to do towards the end. It was like she was a naughty, stubborn little girl defying her parents wishes and that our roles had mysteriously reversed.
My most abiding memory of her is from about two years ago. It was a sunny Sunday, and she was out in the kitchen preparing lunch, listening to the Gypsy Kings on the CD player, and she just started to dance. The sun was streaming into the kitchen at her back, and she was swivelling her hips and swaying like a young girl at a rave party.
Still dancing at eighty, that was our Mum, listening to this wild, romantic guitar music, completely in love with life.
According to my dictionary, Irony is defined as an “incongruity between actual circumstances and the normal, appropriate, or expected result.”
Incongruity, yes. Incongruity between what is said, and what actually happens. Incongruity between the public face of an event, and what lies behind it. A kind of opposition between appearance and reality.
It is also interesting to note that it is rooted in the Greek word for dissembling, meaning to conceal or disguise one’s true motives, to lie or to deceive.
That’s exactly it. In the period following Margaret Thatcher’s demise, and leading up to her funeral, the ironies have been heavy in the air, like the pall of smoke from her funeral pyre, and from the many pyres of those whose lives she destroyed.
Take this, for example. Margaret Thatcher said she believed in the primacy of the free market. She closed down our public institutions in order to sell them off to the private sector, on the oft repeated assertion that the private sector was more efficient. And yet she is to have a ceremonial funeral organised by the state, at the cost of £10 million to the public purse.
Really, if we were to follow the Thatcher doctrine to its logical conclusion, we should have privatised her funeral, put it out to competitive tender and accepted the cheapest bid, as Ken Loach, the filmmaker, suggested, just as she did with our public services.
Meanwhile, according to the Daily Telegraph, paupers funerals are on the increase because hard-pressed families are being turned down for funding. “Even for those who do get help, the typical sum awarded is £1,217, which is far short of the average £3,091 cost of a funeral.”
In other words, tens of thousands of poor families are being short changed on their funeral costs, while one family of multi-millionaires gets state funding for their lavish £10 million public affair.
Pundits complained when spontaneous parties broke out all over the country to celebrate her death, calling them “death parties”, and yet the rest of us are being subjected to a celebratory death party at our expense, regardless of our views. At least the people who assembled in Trafalgar Square on the Saturday after her death, and all over the country on the day it was announced, were paying for their own drinks.
They said that we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, and yet, when Hugo Chavez died, only a few weeks earlier, we were subjected to a torrent of abuse at his memory. Thatcher was in power for 11 years, and never won an overall majority of the vote. Chavez was in power for 14, always winning a clear majority, and yet they called him a “dictator”, and her a “champion of democracy”.
So in order to protest, tens of thousands of people bought a copy of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead, from the 1940s musical The Wizard of Oz, in the hope of having it played on the Radio One chart rundown; using the free market system to emphasise their disagreement, spending their hard-earned cash to make a political point. It reached number 2, and yet, despite that, the publicly funded BBC decided not to play the track, instead inviting a journalist on to explain background to its entry in the charts, as if we were all too stupid to understand.
The rival song, “I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher” on the other hand, was played in full.
Are we beginning to see any patterns here? When it comes to public funding, the rich get what they want. When it comes to the free market, the rest of us can go hang. It’s communism for the rich, and censorship for the poor.
The reason people felt the need to disagree is that vast amounts of air time have been spent eulogising her legacy, using her death as an excuse for a barely disguised frenzy of propaganda. We’ve been treated to a series of rousing speeches as justification for a political philosophy which serves the interests of the few over the interests of the many. Over and over again we’ve been hearing lies about what Thatcherism has actually achieved and a whitewash of her multiple crimes.
They said that she promoted democracy and freedom. In fact she supported Apartheid in South Africa and called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. She described the fascist General Pinochet of Chile as a “friend”, supplied arms to Saddam Hussein, and even stood behind the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
They said that she was a patriot. And yet she destroyed that most British of institutions, the National Union of Mineworkers in order to sell our nation to the international corporations, wiping out skilled, unionised, well paid jobs in the manufacturing industries, to replace them with unskilled, non-unionised, low-paid jobs in the service industries: selling us off to McDonalds for the minimum wage.
They said she curbed the power of the Trade Unions, and this was true. But she also unleashed the power of the City in the financial Big Bang of 1986, which lead directly to the banking crisis of 2008; replacing the power of one set of institutions, which served the majority of people in the UK, with the power of another, which only serves the interest of the minority.
They said she broke the monopoly of the state-run utilities, which was also true; and yet she sold off our public services in job lots, turning them from state-owned monopolies into privately owned monopolies. She made the accountable, unaccountable, in other words, using public funding to subsidise profits instead of quality of service, hoiking up prices and lowering standards at the same time. Anyone who says that the rail industry is better off now than it was under public ownership needs their head examining. Anyone who thinks that we are better served by the energy companies than we were by British Gas and the electricity boards when they were publicly owned, clearly has no idea of the real state of affairs.
They said that she was against the power of the State, and yet she used state power to attack all those opposed to her, unleashing a highly paid and politicised police force in a frenzy of violent assault, firstly against the miners, then against the New Age Travellers, and finally against everyone else who stood in her way.
She destroyed mining communities, travelling communities, manufacturing communities, and wrenched the heart out of our great cities, turning them into post-industrial wastelands. She sold off our housing stock, leaving us with a housing shortage. She turned the South against the North, the rich against the poor, the middle class against the working class, Basildon against Barnsley. She destroyed the post-war consensus which had created a fairer and a freer Britain and killed off the hope of a generation.
And this from a woman whose first words on coming to power were these: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
Was there ever a greater incongruity between what was said and what was actually meant?
No wonder so many people turned their backs at her funeral.
I’ve had the same dentist for the last nearly thirty years, ever since I first came to Whitstable: Howard Paterson of Kelvin House in Nelson Road.
I think I can say that we’ve always got on – as much as you can say that about anyone whose relationship with you is entirely based upon them delving around on the inside of your mouth. At least he recognises me in the street, which is more than I can say for my doctor.
When I first went to see him Kelvin House was, like most dentists, an NHS practice. Over the years it went private, but it still maintained its existing NHS patients. I was one of them, and I’ve been going there ever since.
Until last week, that is, when I was told that I could no longer see Mr Paterson as an NHS patient, hence my sudden need to find a new dentist.
Actually it’s not only about the cost: it’s also the principle. I am an NHS patient, like my parents and my grandparents before me, and I always intend to remain so.
The case of dentistry shows the effects of privatisation on the Health Service. Prior to the 1980s we had universal dental care provided by the NHS. Since then we’ve seen an increasingly polarised dental care system, in which some people can afford to go private, while the rest are forced to make do with a second class service.
For years, until the opening of the Whitstable Dental Centre on Oxford Street, there wasn’t even an NHS dentist in the town.
The argument that is usually given for this is one of “choice”. It is the same argument being put forward for the opening up of the Health Service to private contractors which took place on April 1st this year.
But this “choice” is an illusion. Choice only exists for those that can afford it, which means it isn’t a choice, it’s a privilege. Those that cannot afford it have no choice.
Meanwhile, the dentist I’ve trusted for 30 years is no longer my dentist, and I’m forced to start looking around for someone else.
In case you haven’t heard about it, it’s a celebration of the achievements of the 1945 Labour government, done as a series of interviews with people who had seen the pre-war world and knew what the alternative would be. It has taken me a couple of weeks to absorb its message.
This was a very different Labour government than those we have seen in recent times. In six dizzying, triumphant years the Labour Party laid the foundations of the welfare state.
It nationalised the coal mining and the steel industries. It created the National Health Service and British Rail. It began the process of decolonisation. It oversaw the return to full employment – finding jobs for all those demobbed soldiers – while rebuilding and improving our national infrastructure, building tens of thousands of council homes, and reconstructing whole cities and whole industries in the process.
Talk about austerity. This was a nation completely exhausted by war. It was broke. It was in pieces. And yet we managed to achieve all this, by sheer will and determination, in the spirit of hope, that we could build a better world than the one that had existed before.
That was the world that I grew up in. It was an optimistic world. It was a world in which we truly believed that each new generation would be better off – more secure, better educated, in better health – than the one before.
This was what was known as the post-war consensus. So all-pervasive was it that even Tory governments participated. In those days governments vied with each other, not about how much to cut our public services, as they do today, but over how many houses they had built, about how many jobs they had created, about how much they had spent on improving the quality of life for all sectors of the population.
All of this was done by government intervention, not by private industry. The glorification of the market began in 1979, with Thatcher.
It was Thatcher who sold off our nationalised industries, who attacked the trade unions, who deregulated the finance industry, who privatised our utilities, who sold off our housing stock. After that successive governments have vied with each other over who was more ruthlessly neo-liberal than the next. As Peter Mandelson said in 2002, “We are all Thatcherites now.”
And now look. The post-war consensus is broken, and private enterprise rules. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Our bills are going up while our wages are going down. State funding is no longer used to build houses, or to improve the quality of life for the population, but to bail out the banks and make sure that bankers keep their bonuses. Even the NHS is being made subject to “marketisation”, which is a euphemism for privatisation: people’s health being thrown out onto the overblown lottery that is the world Capitalist system.
Thatcherites often characterise the welfare state as “The Nanny State.” And why not? Better that than the vampire state we have created to take its place.
The Spirit of ’45 has been criticised for being a propaganda film, for glorifying the 1945 Labour government, while demonising Thatcher. And it’s true: it leaps boldly from 1945 to 1979 as if there was nothing in between.
But this makes sense to me. These were two markers on the page of history: two turning points that defined what went before, and what happened after.
The world after 1945 was a better world than the one that went before. The world after 1979 started to get worse again.
I know which of the two I prefer.
The Spirit of ’45 links:
A friend of mine has just received confirmation that, because of the bedroom tax, he will now be required to find an extra £13.38 per week towards his rent.
My friend is disabled and the spare room for which he is liable is little more than a box room. Two square feet less and it would have been defined as a box room. The letter also contains a veiled threat. “If you don’t keep up with your rent payments,” it says, “your home will be at risk.”
Isn’t this just the meanest piece of legislation ever? What it really amounts to is a benefit cut for the most vulnerable in our society, penalising them for being unable to work.
What is my friend supposed to do? He cannot move. There are no suitable one bed room flats available. His only option will be to absorb the cut in his already meagre income or risk being thrown out on to the street.
Meanwhile, at the same time, the government has also scrapped the 50p tax rate which will mean that, on average, millionaires will be £100,000 a year better off. And on the same day, Barclays announced that is was giving its top executives £38.5 million in bonuses.
You may wonder at the timing of this, making this announcement on budget day. Was it a ham-fisted attempt to bury the news, or a show of bravado, making it clear to the public that the bankers really don’t care what we think?
Head of the investment arm of the bank, Rich Ricci was given £17.6 million in share options which he immediately cashed in. In other words, this one man, with one single bonus payment, could pay the bedroom tax for well over twenty five thousand people for a whole year.
The single homeless person’s charity, Crisis, said recently that in the last two years there has been a 31% increase in rough sleeping. What the bedroom tax will do will be to exacerbate the situation even further, driving many more people out of their homes. Expect more deaths on our streets in the near future.