Posts tagged ‘PPE’

Aug 24, 2021

Bottom Lining: blood and soil Tories, a mad monarch and debauched Duke of York

The UK is not a migrant friendly country. It says it is. It isn’t. The UK is hostile to migrants. Not all of the UK but certainly that bit that controls migration.

People have migrated. That’s it. People have migrated the whole of human existence. Migrated to find the essentials of living – basically what it takes for survival.

When humans migrated across continents they came from Africa. Oh, yes. Even you racists out there, pucker up because you are basically, African. Learn to love your genes. Of course none of those emigrants who landed on these shore about 1,000,000 years ago would be welcome today. Imagine the scene  – boats loaded with terrified people attempting to make safe landing. But wait, back then there was no evil little Home Secretary shooing them away. There was nobody here at all. And so the British African arrived. And that was that. People forgot who they were. But we haven’t got all day – fast forward to – not Patel but a government not unlike today’s unscrupulous Tory gang of spivs and toffs.

James Gillray’s depiction of British MPs getting ready for the daily grind

The year is 1803. Britain was at war with France. Again. They didn’t want any queer democratic revolutionary happenings in Blighty. So war it was. Tories were in charge. Again. A guy called Henry Addington and a mad King. Just call him George.

The mad king has his sights on Boney

Like most Tories the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Back in 1803 it was all the rage – on the take, doing a mate a favour, you scratch my back. We’re well acquainted with the idea. Well acquainted. Pub landlords getting squoodles of millions for making virus test tubes. Turns out they were – well not test tubes as science understands the term. But. Well, always a but. Didn’t have viruses back then. They did but didn’t know them as viruses.

Anyway. 1803. War. Tories in power. Tories everywhere. Even those who didn’t call themselves Tories were Tories. Tory = look out for the bottom line. In Tory minds that meant squeezing the last sweat of profit out workers. One of the most horrible jobs back about 1803 was cutting, gathering, laying out to dry, burning and collecting the ash of kelp. Kelp is a type of seaweed that was essential to manufacturing soap and glass. Everyone needs glass and/or soap – except the Hudsons. In-joke involving cruel snorting schoolkids at sight of 19th century add for Hudson’s soap because of a local family of that name who weren’t too familiar with soap. Enough of this nonsense. Soap and glass back in 1803 delivered excellent bottom lines because so much of the hard graft going into them was done by kids. What do child workers mean? Profits. Kids and their folks were sick of this work. They’d been farmers until thrown out of their homes by their lairds. This is Scotland, in the Union, in 1803. Highland lairds (landowners) found a better bottom line by throwing impoverished natives off the lands of their ancestors and replacing them with sheep. People pay to eat sheep and wear wool and sheep don’t need much looking after. Bottom line, remember.

Where were we? Yes, people were sick of this kelp drudgery. They couldn’t return to their burnt out homes invaded by sheep so many chose to migrate to North America. Migration was quite a thing across the British Isles and families who claimed to own the Highlands were so bottom lining with sheep they’d persuaded lots and lots of people to pile into boats and take their chances in North America where they might eventually be able to farm.  What I mean by persuaded is forced. Some had a choice. Some had no choice. People wept, said their last farewells to any too old or decrepit to migrate. They wouldn’t see them again. Or the land. Or the graves of their families. Choice wasn’t really a thing back then – for the poor.  One way out was to risk everything, basically everything these folk had was their lives, and emigrate. No Union bonus for them.

Pause for a link but come back a’body. Kelp, Clearances, Clanranald, Speculators and Scottish Scoundrel Lairds

Furious lairds did what they could to dissuade them from leaving – apart from paying them properly and improving their working conditions. When this didn’t work they lobbied their friends in government to make it all but impossible for these poor folk to leave the country and so leave proprietors without labour to do their dirty work for them.

The Tory government and the mad king were happy to play their part. The Passenger Vessel Act was quickly pushed through parliament in London. To add insult to injury it was tarted up as being in the interests of migrants – to protect them from being exploited by transportation organisations with less overcrowding and better treatment of passengers. Bunkum, of course. The motivation was entirely to prevent workers leaving the United Kingdom to settle in North America, for example, the fare to Canada tripled from £3 to at least £10 which in today’s money is a hike from £300, still a small fortune back in 1803, to an outrageous £1,000 per person; on a par with people smugglers skinning desperate immigrants nowadays. And we’re talking about the most impoverished folk with virtually no money to their name. It’s worth saying at this point that the Act was repealed in 1827 when prices for kelp plummeted and Highland lairds wanted rid of what had become unwanted workers – 20,000 once employed in the kelp industry. Westminster was only happy to oblige them once again by dropping the cost of migration onboard vessels to North America. Westminster politicians were as unscrupulous then as they are today.  Alexander Macdonell, chaplain of the Glengarry Fencilbes, said the 1803 Act was passed on a

specious pretext of humanity & tender benevolence towards the emigrants.

Passengers were crowded onto vessels

The swiftness of the Act’s passage through parliament took some Hebrideans by surprise. They had already given up their tenancies and were abandoned by the government for a generation.

However – always a however – there were exceptions allowed. What are friends in high places for if not to pull strings. The Earl of Selkirk who had ambitions to resettle Scots in Prince Edward Island in Canada was indulged as was the Hudson’s Bay Company (echoes of PPE contracts). Selkirk set up travel agents at Portree and other Highland ports to collect prospective migrants’ deposits, some very large amounts.

Highlanders were being pushed from pillar to post. They were despised by most of the rest of the United Kingdom as uncivilised brutes and scum. But uncivilised brutes were exactly what UK military leaders, government, the mad king and the Duke of York (who was involved in sex scandals which seem to be an occupational hazard for Dukes of York) wanted as recruits to fight its wars. A regiment was formed in North America to absorb some of these hulking Highlanders who had proved so willing to spill their blood for king and country; the Canadian Fencible Regiment appeared then disappeared in 1804 when recruits grew disgruntled over their treatment and were condemned by the military authorities, parliament, the mad king and the debauched prince as strìopach (stroppy). The government, mad king and the grand ol’ Duke of York were feargach (angry) and raged at the men they’d soft-talked into signing up for becoming ‘troublesome’. Though not so troublesome they’d leave them be. Parliament and royalty – mad and bad – were desperate for cannon fodder, fit and brave young men they could sacrifice on the altar of Empire. The 1819 Military Register refers to Highlanders’

blood copiously shed in our service.

In 1810 Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register asks why government grants that were provided to the Highlands to keep the young from migrating was not available in Ireland. Perhaps it was something to do with the copious amount of blood shed by the youth of the Highlands and Islands.

So, sheep were moved onto land where once there were people; families and villages and the communities scattered hither and yon. Not untypical were the seven or eight families who lived on a farm in Argyleshire forcibly evicted and the farm let to “a gentleman because he can give more rent” and the 100,000 acres of lands of Glenshiel (then Glen Sheal), Morvich and Dornie on the west coast of Ross-shire once filled with communities of people was advertised in 1810 as pasture for sheep and black cattle, game, fishings, lead and other minerals. 

Oh, why I left my hame by Thomas Faed

There was panic on both sides – months before the Act with warnings over the “destructive depopulation of our island” and calls for “immediate and vigorous interposition of our Legislature” to stop the removal of desperate Highlanders with no means of support by what amounted to ‘unwilling banishment’. Highlanders whose only language was the Gaelic were approached by human traffickers armed with travel documents in English. Some were inevitably duped by them.

Highlanders were the disposable property of landowners in the 18th and 19th centuries. After the ’45 uprising and the butchery and cruelty that followed there were Scots desperate to leave to find safety. The Highlands were treated as alien territory by the British army which built forts which it filled with loyal troops to remind Highlanders who was in charge and put down resistance to its hegemony. The incursion of sheep and sporting estates created other incentives to leave. The 1803 Act was another means of controlling Highlanders. And that was another bottom line for the Union.

Jun 4, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 11.

What a difference a week makes.

Week 11 and I was taken unwell, phoned 111 and ended up being taken by ambulance to hospital about 25 miles away.

Safety precautions are very tight, thank goodness, with restricted entry by way of a Covid-19 corridor where questions are asked such as what day is it? where was I? but thankfully not the name of the Prime Minister or else someone would be mopping vomit off the floor. A mask was placed over my face and away I was wheeled into the Accident and Emergency Department that was filled with staff but few patients.

I was seen by so many doctors and nurses I lost count of the number and underwent tests and tests and more tests, including one for Covid-19. Not sure I’d believe results from home-testing for it’s an uncomfortable one to do and I was just glad I had a nurse to jamb the swab into the back of my throat before jamming it up my nose. No waiting for x-ray which took a millisecond, as it is digitised I was told, and a CT Scan that took two milliseconds. Efficiency everywhere, moving through more corridors and up or perhaps it was down empty lifts in this ghost hospital.

Abutilon Rhododendron Peony Cactus Poppies Peony Rockii

Until my Covid result came back I was isolated in a single room with a large yellow notice slapped onto the door warning staff to keep alert on entering – always protected by much PPE. It is an uncomfortable moment. It was said to me,  I hope we can make you better. It was meant so caringly by such a kind member of staff  but it brought home, although it didn’t need much bringing home, just how deadly dangerous Coronavirus is. There is no certainty of recovery and everyone who treats this as nothing of consequence, moves into another’s space, insists they won’t cooperate with imposed restrictions needs to get a reality check and fast develop a sense of responsibility towards others.

Unlike pre-Covid days room doors are not left open with staff wandering in and out to pass the time of day and carry out treatment with cheery chat going on in the corridors, doors are kept firmly shut. Aside from being masked and gloved everyone entering puts on a fresh apron outside which is removed before they leave, disposing of it in the room and washing their hands all inside the room before they go. I can now appreciate how quickly supplies of PPE are used up during this pandemic and how dangerous it must be in parts of the world where it is not available.

As the hospital is in tight lockdown no visitors are permitted. Rarely has time passed so slowly. That afternoon and into the evening I watched the hands on the clock opposite my bed turn more slowly than any clock hands have ever turned. The window blinds and all the windows were open which was probably a mistake but it wasn’t cold and I liked having the air to help breathing. Aberdeen skies don’t darken much at this time of year but when the light in the room grew too gloomy to read and I didn’t know where the light switches were I just gazed out at the subdued pink and grey sky from when things began to go quieter at 8pm, 9pm, 10pm, 11pm, 12midnight, 1am, 2am, 3am – wind back – 2.45am seagulls on the roof opposite started calling to one another. At 2.50am a nurse came in to take my temperature and blood pressure. Looked through family pictures on my phone. Closed my eyes and at 3.50 another nurse came in to do more checks and we had a chat about this and that. Beginning to get weary and closed my eyes then around 4am another nurse appeared to do more checks. Eventually fell asleep and woke up with a start and wide awake, looked at the clock – hurrah 7.30am – desperately wanted it to be daytime and not feel so isolated. Waited a while longer until I thought it a reasonable time to phone my husband at home. Picked up the phone. It was only 6.30am. Looked out at the only bit of sky I could see over the roof tops opposite listening to the gulls and a couple of screeching oyster catchers flying by the window.

By 9.30am I heard my Covd19 test was negative. I expected the result to take around 24 hours and was astonished and relieved to have it so quickly even though it seemed like an age. Well done SNHS.

A wonderful doctor came in to talk me through the various test results, what she thought my issue had been and told me that I could go home.

Getting home doesn’t happen quickly in hospitals but anyone who leaves them during this horrible time is very fortunate and by early afternoon I was being wheeled down to an exit by the lovely young nurse who had provided me with washing things, towels, toothbrush and paste, all forgotten by my husband when he did the 50 mile round trip to drop off an overnight bag. The bag contained a pair of pyjamas and my phone charger. I used the prongs of the phone charger to comb my hair in the morning.

It is very good to be home. Very good. I am so grateful for the Scottish NHS. I am so grateful for the staff who were not only professional but friendly and helpful: the delightful local para-medic who spoke to me throughout the long journey to the city at a tense and worrying time, her partner who drove like a demon, cleaner, radiographers, tea woman, Keith the porter who wheeled me through empty corridors, so many people from so many countries around the world – the young Asian nurse who was with me all the time I was in A&E and who was such a delightful, attentive person, a host of other nurses (the one who said she loved my hair), doctors who struggled to make sense of me and my problem and who took time to explain and discuss my test results (I was even phoned at home by another charming woman doctor the day after my release.)

To each and every person at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary I encountered, including the guy in the carpark, who asked if I was okay as I headed out with my bag with the pyjamas and phone charger to a tearful reunion with my husband. Thank you, one and all.

Nearly finished Laxness’ epic, Independent People, a book about sheep – wet sheep – mainly because of my hospital night. I’ll say more about it next time.

Stay safe