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Fourth series, episode 3

All 135 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

The latest episode includes a plea to save the children in Gaza; a sculpture of  the king; techniques for remembering; VapoRubs and lozenges; a slow and silent killer; Wuthering witnesses; AI lies and a man of few words.

Save the children

10th February 2024, The Times of Israel headline read: "Body of Gaza girl found days after recordings emerged of her pleas for help under gunfire.

Remains of six-year-old Hind Rajab, family members and rescue workers are recovered, allegedly after they were killed by Israeli fire; IDF has no immediate comment.

"The Palestine Red Crescent Society accused Israel of deliberately targeting the ambulance it sent to rescue Hind Rajab after she had spent hours on the phone with dispatchers begging for help with the sound of shooting echoing around.

"Family members found Hind's body along with those of her uncle and aunt and their three children … "

The Guardian, 29th November, 2023: "Hamas says 10 month old hostage Kfir Bibas was killed in Israeli bombing."
Strange how the words `10 month old hostage' don't in themselves seem to have been outrageous to Hamas.

Horatio Clare, renowned writer and broadcaster, has asked, in light of the horrific number of civilian killings in Gaza if every day we do not all fight to stop this monstrosity makes monsters of us all. It's been calculated by Save the Children that ten thousand have been killed. In his plea, Clare tries to imagine them, … "ten thousand of them are the bodies of children. Ten thousand kids, all shot, burned, blasted, torn up. Ten thousand kids!"

It's the rest of us he's trying to wake up. Clare utterly condemns what Hamas did and calls them monsters, but also, "what Netanyahu is doing to Gaza is entirely monstrous, and Netanyahu is an utter, utter monster."

I got a message from Andrea Louise, who was disturbed by the withdrawal of funding to UNWRA on the basis of an allegation by Israel, before investigation, "while Israel has been found to have a plausible allegation of genocide against them." Quite.

At least it is possible now for politicians in the west to denounce Israeli actions, without being labelled antisemitic. The government has announced sanctions against four Israeli settlers on the West Bank. More importantly, Biden and his diplomats have been working with other key figures in the region to create a ceasefire in order for medical supplies, water and food to be provided for civilians who have been living in siege-like conditions for months.

Meanwhile, those living in Rafah, their numbers boosted to one and a half million by Israeli demands to move from their homes further north, wait with justified foreboding.

Big C Charles

King Charles announced he has cancer. Darling daughter sent us a photo of a sand sculpture of the king made by Mark from Mytholmroyd.

I remember, I remember

When you get older you lose words. So I've taken up strategies for remembering. For instance, it's taken me the best part of a year to remember the word shingles. But now I visualise the tide washing the pebbles on the shore and the word floats back to me.

Finding a mnemonic for Gall bladder took longer. But thinking of a French guy in a pissoir gave me relief.

For my birthday, the sufferer of the above maladies bought me warm underwear, just the job for this time of year. Now I conjure up the tactile sensation of warm summer breezes against my cheeks to recover the word thermals.

The fact is, we all make mistakes with words. I was watching that nice Joe Swift this week, the son of actor Clive and the novelist Margaret Drabble, when he told his TV audience, "You can't underestimate (sic) the importance of growing your own food."

And according to a special counsel investigation, Joe Biden is forgetting the names of acquaintances and the dates of events from his past. Forgetting proper nouns and the exact dates of past events, happens to everybody, especially when under stress. And apparently, decision making can actually improve with age. A long life of experiences can help older people develop an emotional intelligence that helps them make decisions more carefully and rationally. It's loss of memory of recent events that troubles neurologists.

Nevertheless, voters are put off by signs of memory loss. If the Democrats slump in the polls, I'm hoping his family persuade Joe it's time for him to step down.

I'm about to croak

At the medicine counter in a Brighouse supermarket, an assistant advised me to rub Vicks VapoRub onto my chest before getting blasted by a hot shower in a steamed up bathroom, as a palliative to my winter-long sinus trouble.

Then I headed up to Brighouse Community Centre, where I forewarned my 3rd Age audience that I might struggle to deliver my usual mellifluous tones. Fortunately, they were a good sympathetic crowd, applauding Murphy's Lore snippets and Hippy Valley monologues. Later a woman called Margaret shyly but skilfully performed a humorous monologue she'd learnt by heart. When I got home it was still light and there was a sense of Spring in the damp air.

The government have recently instructed pharmacists to bring down waiting times by offering advice and medicines in chemists shops. Which will also make Sunak's graphs look better. So I strolled into town and had a natter with a chemist who prescribed lozenges and lots of liquids.

I bumped into a Hebden Bridge Hill Milly clog dancer on the way home. She told me that everyone in town seems to have caught the lingering sinus and throat lurgy this long wet winter.

The slow and silent killer …

I've been reading James O'Brien's How They Broke Britain (2023). I was particularly struck by the chapter on David Cameron. O'Brien reminds us that the 2008 economic meltdown was largely caused by the American subprime mortgage scandal, but Cameron and Osborne lied about public sector borrowing and blamed Labour over spending in order to justify their policy of austerity.

Soon after the 2010 election, I remember having a meal at The Stubbing Wharf, where a couple in their twenties discussed the first cuts in public spending. The woman was a support assistant who bemoaned the clamp down on school budgets and wage packets. But the man had already swallowed the Tory line, and blamed Gordon Brown. "He talked about prudence, but then he blew it all."

Despite us bailing out the banks, and Brown being lauded in the States for 'saving the banking system,' the coalition and the media had already persuaded many voters that it was all Labour's fault.

O'Brien quotes The Financial Times's John Burne-Murdoch who reckoned lives were lost because of the cuts. In late 2022 he wrote, "Unlike Trussonomics, austerity is a slow and silent killer. For the best part of twelve years, the Conservatives sowed the seeds. This year they're reaping the harvest."

All this came to a head when the treble whammy of Brexit, an energy crisis and a pandemic caused a collapse in the health service. For example, by the end of 2022, the pay of nurses had declined by 12 per cent compared to where it had been in 2010. But by July last year, Rishi Sunak was arguing that it was strikes by nurses that caused the rise in waiting lists.

A few years back a professor of epidemiology used data analysis to show the effects of austerity on an ageing population, "The greater the deprivation of an area, the steeper the cuts in social care spend. In the most 20 per cent deprived areas, it went down by 32 per cent. In the least deprived, it went down by 3 per cent."

When detailing the failings of Cameron's Remain campaign, as being characterised by vanity and over confidence, O'Brien was clearly glad to see the back of the 'born to rule' Old Etonian.

Little did he know.

Our wuthering witnesses

Wuthering, 'A significant provincial adjective, descriptive of … atmospheric tumult.'

I've been thinking about the moorland between here and Haworth, the area where landowners are planning to build the largest windfarm in England. It's the stretch of wild countryside where the Brontë children had a near death experience on 2nd September 1824, described by John Sutherland in Brontesaurus (2017): `On the ominously named Crow Hill a sudden storm brewed up. A violent wind raised gusts of dusts and stubble. Lightning flashed, hailstones rained down … Crow Hill Bog exploded. No overstatement. Boulders were thrown in the air; mud spewed out in a seven-foot wave and coursed down the hill-side, destroying all in its path.' Patrick rushed out and discovered them covered in mud.'

Apart from demanding that it should be designated a World Heritage Site, I think we should counter attempts to build major constructions on our precious moorlands by letting the great writers do the job for us.

But moorland and bogs can be a harsh and challenging environment. People estimate that Wuthering Heights was located at the ruin called Top Withens. But although the house in her novel was equally forbidding, Emily seems to have had in mind a larger and more strikingly decorated farm house than the Top Withins ruins would ever have been.

Sylvia Plath's feeling of kinship with Emily Brontë, inspired her to write her poem Wuthering Heights. Which includes a verse where she seems to mock any desire she might have for finding transcendence in such grim surroundings.

The sheep know where they are,
Browsy in their dirty wool-clouds,
Gray as the weather.
The black slots of their pupils take me in.
It is like being mailed into space.
A thin, silly message.
They stand about in grandmotherly disguise,
All wig curls and yellow teeth
And hard, marbly baas.

So if we use our great writers to make our argument for us, it's in the knowledge that they didn't write as propagandists. As Anthony Burgess wrote, "Art is dangerous. It's one of its attractions: when it ceases to be dangerous you don't want it."

If we call on the great poets of our moors as witnesses against the giant turbine farm, it's not because they promised us easeful comfort, in this world or the next. Despite which, as in Emily's most famous poem, some supporters might find fellowship and inspiration in a faith that she thought would protect her.

No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven's glories shine
And faith shines equal arming me from Fear.

The AI lie

Noam Chomsky, who has lots of intelligent things to say about language has weighed in on behalf of his own species recently. He told the New York Times:

"The human mind is a surprisingly efficient and elegant system that works with a limited amount of information." We don't swallow terabytes of information, we try to create explanations.

"We shouldn't talk about artificial intelligence, we should call it 'plagiarism software'. AI modifies copies of humans' writing and art and modifies it enough to evade copyright laws.'

Love etc …

Present Wife reminded me not to get sentimental and buy red roses at this time of year. Robbie Burns got it right.

A Red, Red, Rose
O my luve is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June,
O my luve is like the melody,
That's sweetly sung in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun.
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands of life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel, awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.

A man of few words

When I told my youngest sister that I was performing monologues, she said,

'What's new?'

So I wrote A man of few words:

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