Friday, 5 January 2018

Gratitude at New Year

Years ago an elderly nun gave me a bit of advice. 'Keep any cards you get thanking you for something you've done. Put them in a box and when you have a really bad week, get some out and read them.' Up to a point, I've followed her advice. I've kept a lot of the unexpected cards of appreciation that people have sent - thank yous for things I didn't even realise I'd done or notes from people whose lives very briefly intertwined with mine and who wrote to say, 'That was significant', letters from people with whom I've journeyed at what turned out to be a special time.

Very occasionally, I look at them. They bring back all sorts of memories of precious people, happy and sad times, places and projects. They remind me, too, of words and gestures that have communicated appreciation and a shared sense of achievement. The time someone marched up to me, looked me in the eye for a full 5 seconds said, 'Thank you,' and disappeared. The time one of the doctors I worked with said something so encouraging I've never forgotten it. The time someone looked round at an event and said, 'This is my idea of the Kingdom of God.'

I find that in the days around New Year I'm often drawn to this kind of reminiscing, possibly because early January tends to be one of the parts of my year when there is more time for reflection. My bit of advice to add to my elderly friend's is that as you go over these memories in your head, it's sometimes nice to write a card to someone who has meant a great deal to you and say, 'Just been remembering that time when .... Thank you.' It means perhaps even more to receive a message that someone still remembers a significant exchange years later. It colours the future more brightly with refreshed hope and maybe even renewed friendship.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

More Questions than Answers

What a very strange year 2017 has been politically. It's felt as though we've been waiting for something all year - waiting for the outcome of an election, waiting for answers to our many questions. And they are slow in coming.

A review of the papers over the past few days shows that, while there has been an upturn in the global economy, the British economy is bucking the trend. It also suggests that we are already spending £340 million a week on exiting the EU (Financial Times, The Real Price of Brexit Begins to Emerge, Chris Giles 18th December here) and that even the Brexit Secretary might be having second thoughts about a 'hard Brexit' or leaving at all (Daily Mail, Britain Might Not Leave the EU David Davis Privately Admits, Brendan Carlin 31st December here.) I'm usually pretty skeptical about what I read in the Mail but when it prints a story like this which is so contrary to its usual line, you sit up and think there must be something in it. In addition we have, of course, Lord Adonis' words in his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, 'Brexit is a populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump. After the narrow referendum vote, a form of associate membership of the EU might have been attempted without rupturing Britain's key trading and political alliances' BBC News, 29th December.

We have statements from those responsible for the NHS to the effect that there has already been a serious 'talent-drain' caused by key staff returning to EU countries and there are not, in fact, plenty - or indeed any - British doctors and nurses queueing up to take their jobs; rather, there are pressing concerns about how we increase the number of people we are training over the next five years, bearing in mind that it takes four years to train a nurse and six to train a doctor (Why Brexit Britain Needs to Upskill its Workforce, Financial Times, Simon Kuper, 16th November here). Other industries are similarly finding that British people are not trained or willing to do jobs that have already been vacated, in particular in construction and agriculture. Building, land management, food production and health care all appear rather vital to the well being of any country and certainly not things to be left to wishful thinking and chance.

The thing about Brexit is that it has created a whole heap of uncertainties about job security, access to essential services, safety and employment standards, gathering inflation and the extent to which people we all rely on are welcome to remain in the UK. This is undermining, to say the least, despite the fact it all comes to us accompanied by repeated encouragements to 'be positive' and to make the best of new opportunities. I have yet to begin to form any real notion of how these opportunities might be created or accessed or how they might repair some of the damage already done to the fabric of 21st century Britain.

From where I stand, the care industry in which I work has already lost valuable workers along with the kind of dedication to working long hours that is not easily replaced. The farmers among whom I live are in the dark as to where their markets will lie in 18 months' time (try planning what stock to buy and what crops to grow in that scenario!) The city I live near was among those denied the possibility of becoming the European City of Culture with all the investment and publicity that might have brought. My fortnightly shop now costs about £20 more than it did in 2015 and other bills are going up at an alarming rate. Alongside this, people I know are uncertain about the continuance of joint projects on the European mainland while other friends work in services and industries that have been making plans to open offices in mainland Europe at the expense of employment opportunities for scores of British workers.

Where are the plans to recruit and train the workforce we need? Schools and life experience have not prepared many young people for the kinds of employment required. Where are the new industries and markets wanting to partner with the UK from other parts of the world? (Huffington PostMinisters Cannot name a Single Country that Asked UK for a Post Brexit Trade Deal, 1st January 2018 here). How will our financial quarter and public services be maintained, let alone developed? How will an ageing population (who voted for Brexit in relatively larger numbers) maintain good relationships with the younger members of society who have markedly less sympathy for this new isolationist turn the UK seems hell bent on taking?

Over the course of the year, the sense that we do not seem to be any nearer answering these questions has grown, along with anxiety that there does not seem to be much public awareness of the direction of travel required to find solutions. At the beginning of last year I was more ready to trust that the government was making progress, even if behind closed doors. However as we draw nearer to March 2019 there surely ought be information emerging - and there is scant sign of it.

Not a very cheerful reflection for the start of 2018, perhaps, but an honest assessment of how many people are feeling. Of course we want to be positive and to contribute to whatever scenarios lie beyond 2019. However, there is a sense of 'waiting in the dark' which has increased rather than reduced during the past 12 months. All we can do is to go on making the best contribution we can in our particular fields of expertise and work, trying to keep ourselves as open as we can to the people and relationships around us and to opportunities that do exist. And, of course, there is no sense in which we are called to give up campaigning for a re-assessment of the disastrous decision to leave the EU suddenly and without due planning - a campaign that will continue to be fought with vigour.

Finally, a huge thank you to all the members of other EU countries who have and are contributing to the life of our country in so many ways, not least in the NHS and Social Care sector. May you find that there is still a welcome for you in the UK and may we all work to overcome narrowly isolationist attitudes and policies. Heaven knows, we need to for the health of our future society!