Thursday, May 23, 2024
HomeThat Reminds MeThat Reminds Me: What have they done to my country, ma?

That Reminds Me: What have they done to my country, ma?


IF YOU’D asked me what was wrong with Britain when I were a lad, I would have struggled to come up with many answers apart from the northern weather and the price of dolly mixtures.

Today I hardly know where to start.

OK, let’s look out of the front door. Potholes, potholes everywhere. The country lanes around our Lancashire cottage are like ploughed fields, forcing you to crawl along at a snail’s pace if you want to avoid disaster. On the rare occasions when these craters are filled in, the inferior material used ensures they will be as bad as ever within weeks.

Then there are the motorways. A trip up or down the M6 takes for ever thanks to the congestion, caused mainly by roadworks which never seem to be completed. The M25 is basically a car park. And when even the most minor of accidents happens, you get 20-mile tailbacks. On a visit to Germany for a wedding many years ago, we were highly impressed by the network of alternative routes on to which drivers were automatically diverted in the event of a crash. Some hope of that ever happening here. Meanwhile car insurance becomes more expensive by the day, despite multiple-driver discounts and so-called no claims bonuses, thanks to the hordes of unlicensed and uninsured ne’er-do-wells careering around our streets.

So why not let the train take the strain, as the adverts used to say? As my missus wrote here, a rail trip to London requires a second mortgage and your train will be bursting at the seams because the previous and next services have been cancelled. Services are more often late than on time. Local trains are equally pathetic.

Airports are the price you have to pay for going abroad, packed with drunken Brits swilling pints of Stella at 4am before facing interminable queues for customs. Computer problems bring air traffic control grinding to a halt, leaving stranded passengers camped out like refugees.

That’s enough transport. Let’s move on to the NHS, which has more administrators and fewer nurses than ever, and a waiting list for operations of more than eight million. On a recent visit to Blackburn Hospital the wife found 85 people ahead of her in A&E, and she had to spend the night on an examination couch because there was a 45-hour wait for a bed and there weren’t even any trolleys free. There has never been a worse time to be ill. Try to get a GP appointment and unless you have a limb hanging off you’re looking at a four-week wait. NHS dentists are like hens’ teeth, but scarcer.

Given the third-world quality of our hospitals, we as a family have invested in private health insurance, for which you pay through the nose and yet are told that they will not pay out for any existing conditions. There is a limit of £500 a year for outpatient treatment which my wife exceeded in one visit. Call them and you get someone in Ulan Bator speaking pidgin English. It’s very tempting to cancel but we know that if we did we would be instantly struck down by some horrible cancer, which would theoretically be covered. Unless they find a way out of that too.

Over to pet health, where the vets’ bills take the breath away. We took out insurance for Tiger the working cocker, our last dog but two. When she was nine the premiums suddenly shot up so we decided to switch to another provider, but here’s the trap – no insurer would take on a dog aged nine. After Tiger died we worked out that we had shelled out more than £9,000 in premiums during her life, and had got back less than £800 for treatment. That decided us not to insure our next cocker, Bingo, who at the age of three broke a front elbow in two places by catching his leg in a rabbit hole. Following an unsuccessful operation to pin and plate the bone, he had to be put down. Final bill well north of £10,000. So our current dog, Teddy the labrador, is insured at colossal cost, which should mean he will stay healthy for life.

I can’t remember the last time I walked into a bank. NatWest, where we have an account, have closed their Clitheroe branch, as have Barclays and Santander. Our elderly next-door neighbour asked where the nearest Barclays branch still open was, and was told Nottingham. Very soon the only cashpoints available will be at supermarkets, and it’s a good bet that they will start to charge for the privilege of using them.

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you about the impossibility of dealing with the taxman, which must be done over the phone taking up endless hours of your time waiting for a reply – if the helpline is in action at all. Our accountant claimed a rebate for me some 18 months ago which has never been forthcoming, although we have both since received demands for underpayment which we settled under the threat of swingeing fines. I think I’ll send the bailiffs in to the Revenue.

Dealing here with sensible country coppers, we have little experience of the wokism sweeping the force elsewhere, with criminals operating with impunity while Christians are persecuted for praying in public and officers take the knee to Black Lives Matter. Lifeboatmen are there to provide an escort service for dinghies full of illegal immigrants. What a contrast to the heroes of yore. 

Which brings me to the bonkers world of politics. Who in their right mind would conclude that the answer to soaring immigration is to fly illegals more than 4,000 miles to Rwanda? Answers on a postcard please to R Sunak, Westminster. Good luck finding a post office to buy the stamp. The politicians’ complete lack of interest in the concerns of the ordinary voter make it hard to resist the idea that they are taking orders from elsewhere.

Every major policy seems to fly in the face of reality. HS2, for a start. Why squander billions upon billions on a scheme to shave a few minutes off the rail journey from London to Manchester when the whole service is wrecked? Why blow trillions on the doomed Net Zero project while India and China merrily open more coal-fired power stations than you can shake a stick at? Why close the country down over a flu-like bug? And why hand huge amounts to fraudsters claiming to need financial help in the ‘pandemic’? A friend who lives in Blackburn was told by his postman that covid relief cheques from the government came in a distinctive envelope. At certain addresses on his round, up to 30 such envelopes were delivered to the same house. Did no ministry types spot the racket? No, they were all ‘working’ from home. Or following the example of senior Tories and getting their leg over with someone not their spouse. What an utter bloody shower.

In every public service, laziness and incompetence is the order of the day. It’s enough to drive you to drink, not that I need any excuse. And that brings me to the only positives I can think of about modern life. The first is mail-order wine merchants such as Laithwaite’s, Naked, Majestic and the Wine Society, all of whom will instantly dispatch a nice case of red to your door at the click of a mouse. The second is our plumber, electrician, builder and all-round good egg Darren, without whom we’d be up the creek.

Er, that’s it.

Old jokes’ home

Two women who had just bought a Hillman Imp each were driving along, one behind the other. All of a sudden, the car in front stopped and wouldn’t start. The driver got out, opened the bonnet and said: ‘Good grief, the engine’s fallen out.’ The woman behind said: ‘That’s all right; I’ve got a spare one in the back of mine.’

A PS from PG

I once got engaged to his daughter Honoria, a ghastly dynamic exhibit who read Nietzsche and had a laugh like waves breaking on a stern and rockbound coast.

PG Wodehouse: The Inimitable Jeeves

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to

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