Back to the days of the anti-heptagonists?

The old Weights and Measures office in the Seven Sisters Road

By Jeremy Miles

So when he wasn’t being distracted by cheese, dancing to Abba, yelling at the dog or attending hard-drinking work meetings, our hopeless Prime Minister was trying to dream up a wizard scheme to nail the nostalgia vote.

That of course was before he was booed at the Jubilee Celebrations, persuaded his wife – not seen in public for weeks – to join him at the Royal bash and discovered that 148 of his MPs and Ministers want him gone.

Tough times for BoJo but at least he didn’t have to worry about Cliff Richard performing at the Jubilee knees-up. Cliffy was kept well away from the stage possibly amid fears that he might have burst into an impromptu rendering of his 1989 hit Carrie (doesn’t live here anymore). 

But hey, back to the nostalgia thing. It had been such a good idea. ‘I know’, Boris had told himself as he wandered into the Downing Street larder and sliced another piece of stilton.  ‘I’ll pretend we are reintroducing imperial measures’. Yaroo! What better way to impress the Little Englanders during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations?

Er perhaps not. The idea bears the classic Boris Johnson hallmarks of being ill-thought through and a piece of pointless populism that actually isn’t very popular at all.

Hardly anyone under the age of 50 understands or has any use for pounds and ounces, feet and inches and most of them couldn’t give a flying firkin if their beer glass has an imperial pint crown on it. 

None of these things impact too much on the over 50s either. We already live in a society that is largely comfortable with a mix of measures. Many of us switch happily between pounds and kilos, pints and litres, miles and kilometres, while clothing is often sized in both inches and centimetres. It’s not a big deal. Almost everyone thought it a bit stupid.  There was one exception.

As I listened to people discussing the matter last week, a woman in her eighties earnestly joined a discussion in my local butcher’s shop. “Oh yes”, she said gleefully. “They’re bringing back pounds, shillings and pence.” There was instant silence. Everyone looked at her and gently explained that that wasn’t going to happen.

Distressingly, I am old enough to remember the official arrival of the decimalisation of our currency back in February 1971. I had just got a job as a junior reporter on my local newspaper so it wasn’t surprising that for several weeks I was regularly despatched to cover meetings and arguments about the imminent switchover to decimal coinage. 

The decision to ditch the nation’s familiar pounds, shillings and pence and replace them with decimal coins had caused a furore. It may have looked like a no brainer to divide the pound into 100 new pence but there were howls of protest from those to whom the then-current pound with its 240 pennies seemed so much more logical…and British.

 To them, decimalisation smacked of bowing to foreign ways. They liked their farthings, halfpennies, threepenny bits, florins and half-crowns too. There were conventions, old and relatively new, that relied on LSD as it was often known. Given the distorted logic of the protestors, it seemed an apt label. I met one man who said that he knew that an old Haig Dimple whisky bottle would hold exactly £40 in sixpences. How was he to save £40 now? 

Shops held training sessions, bank managers gave familiarisation talks, and a booklet was issued with pictures of the new coins. One pensioners’ group I was sent to talk to argued that the Bank of England should wait until ‘all us old uns are dead’ before bringing in the new coinage. 

There was even panic buying. One afternoon I was sent with a photographer to a house that had effectively been turned into an emergency store depot by its elderly owner. He had been buying canned and dried food for weeks, convinced that he would never be able to work out how to pay for anything ever again.

It was clear that messing with a fiscal system that had origins dating back nearly a thousand years was not without its perils. Steps had been taken to integrate the new coins. Several, like the 5p and 10p, had already been introduced alongside existing coinage. 

These were identical in size and shape to the old shilling and florin or two bob bit as it was known. Their presence in people’s change didn’t cause too much of a stir. The nation’s traditionalists weren’t so calm in the Autumn of 1969 when the new 50p coin was introduced to replace the old ten-shilling note. There was an outcry. 

The press called it ‘a monstrous piece of metal’ and, despite it having seven sides, people complained that it was too easily confused with the old Half-Crown. The unfamiliar shape of the new 50p coin annoyed one retired army officer so much that he launched an official protest group, the Anti-Heptagonist Society. 

Even though the new coin featured a portrait of the Queen with Britannia on the reverse, a furious Colonel Essex Moorcroft told reporters: “I have founded the society because I believe our Queen is insulted by this heptagonal monstrosity.” The Queen remained dutifully silent on the issue and by the time Decimalisation Day finally arrived, on 15th February 1971, the furore that had raged so fiercely in the tabloid press seemed already destined to be eclipsed by history.

And that’s why it’ll take a whole lot more than resurrecting the use of a few ancient weights and measures for Boris Johnson to find favour with anyone beyond a certain lunatic fringe. Were he still with us, I’m not even sure that Essex Moorcroft would be on Johnson’s side.

Boris Johnson and the scandal of the care system he claims to have fixed

They’d never have believed that care home fees would cost them £155,000-a-year

By Jeremy Miles

Watching Prime Minister Boris Johnson trying to squirm his way out of trouble last week was a thoroughly unedifying sight. Abandoned by increasing numbers of Tory MPs in the wake of relentless and continuing Partygate revelations and of course that fixed penalty fine from the Metropolitan Police, he has proved a pathetic and desperate sight.

Having been given a right going over during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, a battered and unbelieved Johnson legged it to India on the pretext of doing post-Brexit trade deals. 

This smokescreen didn’t impress the UK journalists who were far more interested in demanding answers about Partygate and pressing Johnson on whether his number is finally up.   

Boris looked haunted and, as he frantically tried to justify his position, he blurted out the usual list of non-achievements designed to make him look good: “I’m absolutely determined to get on and deliver on the pledges we made to the people of this country in 2019…” he burbled.  A list swiftly followed “…building 40 more hospitals, putting 20,000 more police on the street, 50,000 more nurses.…  and getting on with our agenda of fixing social care, as we did.” 

Good Lord, what twisting of the truth. What empty promises. The fact is there won’t be 40 more hospitals and there is little chance of the other targets being reached either. But the claim that sticks in my craw is the boast of “fixing social care, as we did” No you didn’t, Johnson, you lying oaf.

Ask my parents, both in their nineties and living in a care home. Joyce and Ken are old, frail and suffering from multiple health issues. Their decline was relatively swift. They didn’t see it coming. Now Ken is suffering from advancing Alzheimer’s and Joyce cannot walk, has compromised eyesight, very poor hearing and severe arthritis in both hands. 

They cannot look after themselves. The only answer is residential care and that costs, boy does it cost. I had no idea what was in store when the Powers of Attorney forms I signed many years ago suddenly needed to be activated and, as their only blood relative in this country, I committed to managing their affairs.

The way they were: Joyce and Ken, young and in love. Photo c.1950

I watched in disbelief as the fees poured in. My mum and dad’s bill, which has just gone up by nine per cent, costs them well over £6,000-a-month EACH. There are additional charges too for hairdressing, chiropody, the dentist, optician, transport for hospital visits and additional clothing. It amounts to around £155,000-a-year and they are not eligible for any grants or benefits except for a monthly payment from the Department of Work and Pensions of £240 each in Attendance Allowance.

Each month I look on helplessly as huge sums are transferred from their account. My parents are, or perhaps I should say were, comfortably off but were not multi-millionaires and this level of expense is neither sustainable nor fair. I should stress that none of this is the fault of the care home which does a wonderful job in the face of its own spiralling bills. It is the fault of the system.

But here is the rub. In 2019 as he entered Downing Street, Boris Johnson promised that no one would have to sell their home to fund their care home fees. Guess what? That’s exactly what I had to do to ensure that my parents would be able to afford long-term care. 

There is supposed to be a cap being introduced in 2023 that will limit the care bills that have to be paid. But promises are routinely broken by this government and after Brexit, the pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis I can’t help feeling that, come 2023, Boris Johnson or more likely his successor, will kick that particular can even further down the road. Not that the cap is going to help my parents much. By mid-2023 they will already have spent around £500,000 of their own money on care home fees.

Putting the lovely house they had lived in for the past  27 years on the market was heartbreaking.  Clearing treasured possessions with so many memories was truly hurtful. Ironically my dad is protected from the anguish of realising that life as he knew it is over by the cruelty of the very disease that is destroying his mind. The tragic fact is that he really doesn’t know anything anymore. This lovely, gentle, intelligent man who once travelled widely, had a rich and interesting life and loved art, books and the theatre has no memory of the world he once enjoyed so much. I miss our conversations so very much..

 My mum is not so ‘lucky’. She is very aware of everything that has happened to her and fully understands what has been lost and why. Fortunately, I have her blessing as well as the support of my wider family for the steps I have had to take. She has been extraordinarily understanding, wise and loving and often tells me how guilty she feels to have caused me so much extra work . Yet I know that the experiences of the past two or three years have been devastating for her.

Initially, being taken from her home and separated from her husband after 71 years of devoted marriage pitched her into a state of extreme shock. She was terribly ill for several weeks. But she’s a survivor and being a strong and determined woman, she rallied and is now setting her sights on her 100th birthday. “I’ve only got four and a bit years to do,” she told me recently. “It’s not a prison sentence, mum,” I replied. But on reflection I realise that it probably feels very much like that to her. 

The sad fact is that my mum and dad now have such drastically different needs that they cannot even share a room. They live a floor apart. Dad is in a specialist dementia unit while mum needs nursing care. They do get together on most days for tea but dad can often become agitated and sometimes he simply demands to go back to his room. Mum knows that this uncharacteristic and unpredictable behaviour is caused by his illness but it doesn’t make it any easier. She is 95 years old and has lost everything.

Covid hasn’t helped. Until last week my wife and I  hadn’t seen either of my parents without being required to wear a mass of PPE – a mask, gloves and plastic apron. For the first time, on Good Friday, we managed to dispose of the masks, gloves and apron by having tea with them in an outdoor area. We still had to make an appointment and present a negative covid test before being allowed in.  I’m not complaining. I want my parents and their fellow residents to be safe but it is an indication of how complicated a simple family visit can be.

I suspect this is not something that Boris Johnson could even begin to understand. As we all now know he makes the rules and if they don’t suit, he simply breaks them without a second thought. At the time of the controversial Downing Street and Whitehall parties, my poor mum and dad – sick, frightened and in failing health – were facing the final few months in their own home, under strict lockdown. In June 2020 they celebrated, if that is the word, their 70th wedding anniversary with their live-in carer. A big tea party had been planned but government covid regulations meant that invitations had to be cancelled and we, their son and daughter-in-law, weren’t even allowed in their house. We had to toast them through the patio window and even then had risked being pulled over by the police for travelling 65 miles to their home.

This brings me yet again to the shameful incompetent wretch that is our Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The fact is that he imposed rules on the entire population, enforced them with a proverbial rod of iron and yet when he broke those rules himself he not only tried to deny it but he lied and lied and lied about it. That is completely indefensible. He’s not fit to be Prime Minister. He has to go

We shouldn’t be surprised of course. Even when he was at Eton College his housemaster and classics teacher Martin Hammond wrote: “Boris really has adopted a disgracefully cavalier attitude to his classical studies . . . Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility (and surprised at the same time that he was not appointed Captain of the School for next half): I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.”

This widely leaked comment, taken from a 1982 school report and sent to Johnson’s father, should have been a warning for, sure enough, once he entered the world of work, Boris Johnson soon lived up to his reputation. 

He lied as a journalist and he lied as a politician. He was fired twice for lying even before he became Prime Minister. Back in the 80s, he was sacked from The Times and in 2004 the then Tory Party leader Michael Howard dismissed him as shadow arts minister and party vice-chairman after he lied about an extramarital affair.

Another warning came from journalist and military historian Sir Max Hastings who employed Johnson as his Brussels correspondent when he was editing the Daily Telegraph back in the 1980s.

Writing in 2019 Hastings was horrified and scathing about Johnson becoming Prime Minister. He described him as a cavorting charlatan who was unfit for office and “cared for no interest save his own fame and gratification.” 

Three years later it looks as though Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has finally run out of runway. I do hope so because I despise everything he represents. There should be no place in modern politics for greedy, self-serving politicians whose sense of privilege, wealth and entitlement is such that it eclipses decency, empathy and concern for anyone but themselves. 

Almost snubbed for a plate of horsemeat but Ken canters to victory

Ken Livingstone on stage with interviewer Bill Heine at Guildford last night. Photo Hattie Miles
Ken Livingstone on stage with interviewer Bill Heine at Guildford last night. Photo Hattie Miles

Some felt it was like marching into the lion’s den. ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone taking his new on-stage talk-show to true-blue Guildford. What could he be thinking of?

In fact  An Audience With Ken Livingstone went down a storm. Not only did the former London Mayor emerge from the town’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre unscathed but he did so with rapturous applause ringing in his ears.

Continue reading “Almost snubbed for a plate of horsemeat but Ken canters to victory”

%d bloggers like this: