I’d like to end 2020 on an upbeat note.

But I have no desire to stick my head in the sand

Civil society in Wales is not in a good place.

Our Covid figures are the worst in the UK nations and the NHS is falling, or probably has already fallen, over.

And political accountability on a range of issues is non-existent.

Starting with the small stuff first, the idea that the majority of people pay the smallest amount of attention to various enjoinders or rules about the Covid situation is a joke.

I see secondary school children, old ladies and athletic looking middle aged men without masks in shops unchallenged by shop workers while pre recorded voice messages play over the tannoy system telling us all how there is a one way system in force, everyone must wear masks and assistants will enforce the rules.

Families have extended family over to visit from many different households and not just in the Christmas window and way beyond those limits.

And why would they pay attention when the rules change seemingly from day to day?

And when someone writes to ask a question via email about the policy, the system, its implications for a Welsh student studying and living in England and whether they can and how they should return for essential services still registered for in Wales, and might the Welsh Government apply a little more thought to those in that position, they are ignored.

The official system my daughter used to contact Mark Drakeford some months ago specifically says that the enquiry will receive an answer. She wasn’t expecting a personally signed vellum scroll in reply, but not to receive even an acknowledgment, as required, undermines belief in even the most basic lip service to democratic accountability and engagement.

But politicians and officials seem to care little about what the pubic want. We have recently had a new superhospital open in our area, The Grange at Cwmbran – the one recently in the news with no beds for A & E and patients sat overnight in ambulances waiting. Which is odd as it is the A & E hospital now for the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board. This has a huge catchment area and is not on the established public transport links in the area. Newport is the focal point for transport links in the area. Cwmbran is up one of the valleys and if you need to get there you have to change buses or trains at least once, in Newport, to get there and then the hospital is nowhere near the station in Cwmbran.

But obviously if you need to get there in an emergency you will use an ambulance to get you there in time to save you without the bother of public transport.

The 86 year old grandmother of a friend of my daughter had a fall a couple of days ago. She was in agony and the family couldn’t move her themselves as they suspected she had broken her hip. They rang for an ambulance to take her to the new state of the art centre of excellence that is the Grange at Cwmbran.

26 and a half hours later an ambulance arrived. The ambulance driver said he would complain as his patient was by then in a bad way and he had not heard about the call until recently. That obviously stops the press stories about waiting in ambulances for a bed.

As suspected, she as a broken hip, and will have an operation tomorrow.

I’d suggest writing to someone to complain, but as nobody is even likely to acknowledge it, it hardly seems worth it does it?

In case anyone thinks Covid and/or teething problems with the new hospital in Cwmbran are to blame, nearly two years ago my GP rang for an ambulance for me when my heart went into atrial flutter and I had a resting pulse of c150 beats per minute. I waited for a couple of hours and rang to see what was happening. There were no ambulances. They sub contracted a taxi.

Fortunately my wife got back from hospital and drove me to hospital. The ambulance/taxi never did arrive.

There were no beds. There were no trolleys. I sat in a chair in the waiting room overnight, eventually hooked up to a drip to see if they could get my heart rate down before I saw someone about sixteen hours later and I eventually got a trolley. I moved up through the hierarchy for a couple of days until I eventually got to a cardiac ward bed, got my heart rate under control and was discharged for cardioversion at a later (five month) date.

There was no Covid. There were no teething problems

I’m not having a pop at the NHS staff, but at the failure to finance, organise and direct their efforts while talking gibberish about how brilliant everything is.

A little less effort on the ‘message’ front and a little more at getting the bloody thing right would help.

It’s not just the NHS, and it’s not just Wales.

Underfunding, poor planning and a desire to egregiously lie about how ‘World Beating’ everything is at every verse end is infecting every facet of public life in the UK. And it is not ‘public service inefficiency’ that is the problem. The efficacy of the Government’s remedy of choice, privatised sub contracting, can be seen in the woeful performance the World Beating private test, track and trace system in England. It is undoubtedly setting records but not at the end of the leader board you’d like it to be.

A little more honesty and genuine attempts to fix problems rather than ‘perceptions’ would go a long way.

Whither/Wither le Carré ?

I finally got a chance yesterday to read the Review section of the Observer from the weekend just gone. ‘Paperback of the Week’ grabbed my attention because it was about ‘A Delicate Truth’ by John le Carré. I read the book when it came out and was interested to see what the ‘smart money’ thought of it.

Edward Docx (hmm?) thought there were flaws, the character of Mrs Spencer Hardy being the main one. She is, for our Edward, too much of a cartoon character, a two dimensional device to serve a plot requirement. This flaw, if it is one, and we’ll come back to that point in a second, is one which many believe ‘late le Carré’ is prone to, according to Edward.  He asks the question whether it is possible to believe le Carré is both an important writer whose works will be read for centuries, and a writer whose formal skills are undermined by ‘a weakness for clichés of characterisation and pedestrian late period imaginings of “good” and “bad”’.

He doesn’t give us answer but falls back on saying that le Carré gives him great reading pleasure.

I’m glad he does.

I would agree that le Carré’s later works are sometimes not quite as brilliant as ‘The Spy Who Came in From the Cold’ or ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, but are we surprised at this? How many novels of that quality does one man have in him? There is also the point, and it is a major one, that the world has changed.  We should not forget the shock that the murky, seedy world of espionage as portrayed in the cinema verité form of le Carré’s early works, caused. In a post war flight from reality, espionage stories had been about a fantasy world of upper class heroes, partying their way across the glitzy resorts of the world. Le Carré shocked because he turned his back on this fantasy world, and shone a light into the murkier demi monde  of what spies really did.

When he did that his work was considered ‘edgy’, exposing great truths about society. We expect that sort of world to exist now. It no longer shocks or surprises. To keep plugging the same line would be flogging a one trick pony to death. The world has moved on, and so has le Carré. Perhaps more than those who grew up reading him would like. In the cold war it seemed that despite everything, if one dug deeply enough we knew who was good and who was bad. Psychopaths were there but the system in the west restrained and channelled them whereas the Communists gave them free rein. Flawed, nuanced, doubtful characters abounded, but we knew ours were safer than theirs.


We don’t know that now. Our society revelled in beating communism and forgot that bit about psychopaths being everywhere. Le Carré hasn’t, and if some of his obsession with good and bad seems just that, an obsession, it may be because he sees it more clearly than those blinded by the smoke and mirrors. It may very well be that Mrs Spencer Hardy is a little two dimensional. Some people are. She may be a thinly drawn cipher of a right wing American whose hatred of everything governmental transcends sense and morality, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t an accurate portrayal of what is going on in some areas of the western establishment.

Le Carré’s ‘imaginings’ of good and bad only appear pedestrian because so many of us have swallowed the relativist pap we have been fed in recent years. Le Carré has well rehearsed worries about where our Intelligence Services may take us if we allow them to go unchecked. I don’t think that is as much of a problem as it may appear. What worries me more is the privatisation of the intelligence and security sector. A concern le Carré now seems to share. In ‘A Delicate Truth’ he refocuses, in a well timed swing, on the ‘Private Contractors’ who increasingly act as highly paid, unaccountable, self appointed mercenary arms of the State. And increasingly of a State which represents not the will of the People but the will of Global Corporations whose reach and interests subvert and obscure the real purpose of Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

A writer who will be read for centuries? Depends who is controlling what we read.


This was a short sketch I wrote in 2009 when the eventual privatisation of Royal Mail became clear. Although the idea of a rump public sector service has gone by the board the resonance with the current erosion of the universal door to door service and the fattening up for private acquisition still amuses me in an ironic way.


C = Customer

PO= Post Office worker.


C         I’d like to send this first class please.

PO       Public or private?

C         Sorry?

PO       Public or  private?

C         I just want to post it.

PO      (Sighs)

PO       Where to mate?

C         My auntie, in Devon.

PO       Devon? How old is she?

C         She’s 67, look what’s that got…

PO       Drive does she?

C         Yes. Well, she can, but she’s not very confident now her eyes are….

 PO       Better be public then.

 C         Why?

 PO       Delivery to the door

 C         Okay how much is that?

 PO       £25 mate.

 C         What!

 PO       First class Royal Mail £25 to Devon

 C         It’s only a birthday card for God’s sake.

 PO       Well that’s the first class postage to Devon these days sir.

 C         I could drive there and back for nearly that much.

 PO       I was doing to suggest it sir.

 C         But why?

 PO       Well, that’s the public sector for you isn’t it?

 C         What do you mean? What’s that got to do with it?

 PO       Well you’re paying for years of wasters expecting a free ride.

 C         A free ride?

 PO       Pensions, contracts of employment, redundancy pay, a 37 hour week, a living wage, all that socialist rubbish.

 C         So how much is the private mail to Devon?

 PO       Ah now you’re talking sir, I knew you’d see sense. £2.50.

 C         It’s still pretty steep… but okay.

 PO       Very wise sir. You won’t regret it.

 C         And when will it get there?

 PO       First class sir, tomorrow, guaranteed next day delivery.

 C         Great, it’s her birthday tomorrow.

 PO       Checks her mail every day does she sir?

 C         Well, of course, she doesn’t just leave it on the mat.

 PO       Mat?

 C         You know when it drops through the letter box, she picks it up straight away.

 PO       Very funny sir.

 C         Why funny?

 PO       It’s the private sector sir, efficient, fast, reliable.

 C         So?

 PO       Efficiency does not do door to door.

 C         So what does it do?

 PO       All she has to do is pick it up from the Local Customer Satisfaction Collection and Delivery Point.

 C         Which is where for Devon?

 PO       Reading. Thank you for using EasyMail. Next