The effects of plans being turned upside down... - Veterinary Practice
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The effects of plans being turned upside down…

The Mercury Column, in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

OVER the Christmas holiday period,
I had two conversations with people
which left me with a lasting

The first was with someone who
had been without power for five days
leading up to and during Christmas and
the second was with someone whose
son, his wife and children had found
themselves living in a small town where
the principal, and more-or-less the
sole, employer had gone into
administration during December.

In both cases, the tonality was
one of despair – not just because of
the situation that they found
themselves in but because they felt
abandoned by the system.

Leading up to Christmas, we all saw
the advertisements for charities
representing people who might be
homeless or otherwise in a situation
which they believe leaves them without
hope but, for most of us, such a reality
is far from our own experience.

When we give to such charities, I
wonder whether my motivation to give
is reflecting some gratitude on my part
that this is the case and that I am
somehow celebrating my own good
fortune as much as trying to help others.

Classic time

Of course, Christmas is the classic time
for charities to be able to touch our
consciences and, from Dickens to
Disney, the whole gamut of
entertainment concerns the seasonal
swing towards a more charitable
relationship with our fellow man.

However, before I verge on the
saccharine side of this concept, spare a
thought for the thousands of families
whose plans for the festivities were
turned upside down by the seemingly
terminal absence of electricity.

Most of us pay some lip service to
the preservation of our ecology by
wandering around the house turning off
all the lights that teenagers have left on
and our views have shifted sufficiently
over the last decade for us to experience
a small frisson of outrage when we see
profligate wastage of resources.

There is a mansion not far from
where I live that houses a footballer,
from Aston Villa, and his family. Over
the Christmas period, the light show outside would have put NASA to shame
and, once Twelfth Night had passed,
mere mortals were treated to a nightly
glimpse of consummate disregard for
the world’s ecosystem as every one of
the 18 windows at the front of the
house remained lit from dusk to dawn.
Once upon a time, I might have noticed
it with curiosity, now I have a more
prurient view.

Of course, excess in one quarter wasn’t the cause of the
deprivation that affected the south-west
of the country and so many parts of
the north-west coastline too but it is
clear that attitudes are changing.

One wonders what the response
might have been, in the worst affected
areas, by the power companies’ claim
that repairs were hampered by their
desire to ensure that their employees
were entitled to have a nice Christmas at
home with their families. Roasting a
chestnut over a camping gas stove when
the contents of the fridge have putrified
might affect one’s sensitivities

Neither did it ring entirely true when
the same power companies explained
with patronising clarity that they
couldn’t access the worst areas to
restore supplies because their heavy
equipment couldn’t cope with flood

Not to worry, though, because, with
the huge bonuses that their chief
executives have earned from the
swingeing price increases, they’ll be able
to go to Sumatra to see how third world
communities manage perfectly well in
restoring power supplies during the
monsoon period.


The sense of abandonment felt and
described so poignantly in New Orleans,
following Hurricane Katrina, is probably
something akin to that experienced by
communities all over our own country
which have found themselves cut off by
flood water.

At least the lack of electricity, mains water and any hope of
restoring any semblance
of the status quo will have
been alleviated by their
inability to watch
millions of others
fighting to get into the Harrod’s sale.
It was this juxtaposition of the
semi-tragic alongside the
celebration of other
people’s normality that resonated so
strongly in the conversations I’d had
over Christmas; it was almost as if there
were two concurrent communities and,
to a large extent, the fortunate one had
only a passing, curious interest in the
less fortunate one – certainly not
enough to do anything about it.

I suppose that I’m not entirely sure
what could be done anyway, at an
individual level, and that probably
encourages the otherwise normal
process of watching other people’s
privation – whether in Syria,
Afghanistan or rural Dorset – while
actually contemplating getting up from
the sofa to fetch another mince pie.

Perhaps it is this sense of
detachment which allows us to process
such information comfortably and
encourages us to
deal with it
remotely by sending
a donation by text.

How then do
we deal with the
less transient
problems of
privation when a
whole community is
thrown into disarray
and despair when
the main employer
leaves town?
However poor the
response, most homes which were
without power are now reconnected and
the flood waters will recede to leave a
foul-smelling reminder of how good it
is to see the grass again.

In those blighted communities
where unemployment is sometimes
three times the national average, not
only do families have little hope of
getting back to a “normal” standard of
living but many of them have little hope
of ever working again.

Perhaps some form of migration is
the only way forward for the more
enterprising ones – and the whole
concept of migration has hit the
headlines again as the barriers
preventing the immigration of
Bulgarians and Romanians have been lifted. Our problem seems to be a
partisan one or, at least, one of
prejudice against a people most of us
have never met.

The reality is that the UK has too
few people under the age of 16 and too
many over the age of 60 for the
precious few to be able to keep the
oldies, like myself, in the manner to
which we’ve all become accustomed.
Actively, we need to encourage more
immigration of people who are
prepared to work to pay taxes and to
discourage tax evasion among those
who can best afford to pay their taxes.

Both courses of action would make
a serious contribution to our ailing
economy but to do so we’ll have to let
go of some of our older and most
comfortable ideas.

So, for 2014, my own, personal resolution is to be
prepared to let go of
some of my most
entrenched ideas
and to attempt to
see things as others
do. To be honest,
my personal track
record in such
matters is
disappointing and I
may not stick to it
very well when
things become a tad

On a national level, however, those
of us employed in the business of
providing services for others may have
to come to terms with the need to cut
our cloth according to the needs of
those able to pay for our services.

In most communities, there are
those with plenty and many with not so
much and one imagines that 2014 will
be a year where we will need to more
actively tailor our offering to a wider
and more disparate audience. Most of
us should be thankful that, for the
moment at least, disparate doesn’t mean
desperate – but that shouldn’t give us
licence to be complacent.

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