Why I’ll ‘Vote None’ at the June 8th 2017 UK General Election

For most of my life I have voted for a political party that I had a measure of belief in. It was not a mainstream party so, because of ‘first-past-the-post’, it always felt like a wasted vote. Twice, when the consequences appeared to be too great, I was tempted to vote tactically to keep another party out, which worked, but felt like cheating.

At the 2015 election I dutifully cast my vote, but with misgivings – by that time I felt thoroughly jaded by the behaviour of our politicians and our electoral system. Much as I dislike UKIP it seemed appalling that they could take such a significant part of the vote and end up with so few seats. That said, the whole concept of seats now seems redundant to me.

Firstly, I believe we have a responsibility to engage with our culture, our shared lives, our community, our governing and law-making. Part of that, at the minute, means voting – it is one of the few tools we have, however inadequate. How many of us vote for things we don’t really believe in, or don’t even understand? Rather a lot I suspect.

Secondly, I believe that striving for honesty is always useful, if not always easy to achieve.

Combining both of those beliefs means on June 8th I will go to the voting booth and draw a clear line through all the candidates and write ‘None’ as per the suggestion on this website, which I found very encouraging.

Vote NONE on June 6th

The time for party politics and representation is over, and I can’t continue condoning a political system which I have no faith in whatsoever. So what would I like to see in its place?

Sortition is the answer …

It’s time to stop giving power to people who are seeking it. We need to select our government from the general populace as was done in Ancient Greece. From Wikipedia:

“In governance, sortition (also known as allotment or demarchy) selects political officials as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates.[1] The logic behind the sortition process originates from the idea that “power corrupts.” For that reason, when the time came to choose individuals to be assigned to empowering positions, the ancient Athenians often resorted to choosing by lot. In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition was therefore the traditional and primary method for appointing political officials, and its use was regarded as a principal characteristic of true democracy”

Doing something similar to this would mean an end to career politicians. The removal of party politics would mean that a government could work together at finding solutions rather than wasting time and energy on political point-scoring and needlessly pulling down of one another’s ideas – in how many other spheres of work would we put up with the behaviours and manners that we see in the House of Commons?

One very rough model …

From this simplistic starting point I believe many working models could be developed and evolved. I quite like the idea of a government drawn at random from eligible 20 – 35 year olds, who are offered the chance to serve for up to three years. Intakes could be staggered so there is always a change of personnel, with longer-standing members mentoring the newcomers.
Of course, this flexi-government would be supported by a stable civil service and bank of experts in all fields, to be drawn upon as required.
For larger decisions, the entire eligible population would be able to vote in online referendums. In that instance the government’s role would be to ensure that potential voters can access all the relevant information to make a sound decision (unlike our disastrous 2016 referendum, where hard facts seemed very hard to come by).

If it ever came to it, then I’m absolutely certain exact details could be hammered out, but would it work? I don’t know, of course. If we switched over tomorrow, then probably not, but if we knew right from a young age that we might be called upon at some point to help run the country, and had some preparation for that in our school years then I really do think it could. And with careful thought I think a transition from the current form to the new one could also work.

A whole load of corporate corruption could be swept out of the window, and the rest of us could no longer just cast our vote, shirk any further responsibility, and moan about the buggers until the next time!

A Christmas Remembrance with Benjamin Till’s London Requiem

Paraffin Lamp on Christmas mantelpiece at Pistyll Gwyn

At the end of the year – time to remember. 2016 was rough. As well as Dad, I said goodbye to my old schoolfriend Moria Taylor (née Kinsey). Also dying was Betty Fox, a wonderful warm family friend (a childhood friend of my Mum’s), and with particular sadness, Adrian, from Exeter,  who took his own life.

Christmas Day for me is very special quiet time, and after sorting out the animals and taking in the morning I got the living room seriously cosy and settled down with Gwen and Herbert to listen to  The London Requiem by Benjamin Till.
I bought the CD back in October and quickly realised that this should be one of the Christmas Day main events. The London Requiem is a 2012 choral work about loss of loved ones, but more about honouring and remembrance, than raw grief. Alongside the usual ‘kyrie’s and ‘pie jesu’s there are english texts taken from London gravestones, and as well as the choir there is a range of solo performers from Tanita Tikaram to Arnold Wesker and Barbara Windsor. This isn’t meant to be a review of that album – I know I could never do it justice – suffice to say it is a wonderful creative concoction that defies easy categorisation.

There is so much to feel when someone you love dies, but when it is someone very close, as my Dad was, there is also so much to do. After the funeral and memorial,  there were endless trips to Brecon to deal with his belongings and his home – fortunately for me, a shared task. But I didn’t feel like I did any real grieving – apart from  writing my song The Last of Laura’s Children. It was all going on of course, and here at Christmas it was time to move on a bit. Listening to the words of others, sung and spoken by other people again, whilst reflecting on my own experience helped to put the whole thing into the larger pot of life – we come, we live, we die, we leave memories and stories.

What great ones there were! Memories of Dad, his stories and our time together flowed into memories of Mum and Dad, the Scilly Isles, and further back – of times with Betty Fox and her husband Arnold. My childhood in Wisbech … With both my parents now gone, somehow that part of my life feels more … complete.
And then to my day in the summer with Moira Taylor, who had travelled back from the States to say goodbye to her brothers and friends.

Moira Taylor at Walsingham, Norfolk, 2016

Moira had a rare form of cancer which she had tackled once and successfully kept at bay for a few years, but when it returned she very bravely decided enough was enough and that she would rather have quality of time over quantity. I had travelled to Wisbech expecting to have a couple of hours of her time, but was astonished to find her full of life and rearing to go, albeit with the aid of wheelchair and sticks. Although she was in pain she held back on the painkillers in order to keep a clear head and enjoy her reunions. Most of our talk concerned our somewhat troubled teenage years, which had forged such a strong bond between us, but we also touched on our very different current lives – she was now devoutly Christian, conservative and supportive of Trump, although she knew she would not live long enough to vote. It’s a funny old world. How else would someone like me have ever ended up at the Shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham? What I remember most is the laughter – we spent the day laughing! Moira died shortly afterwards on August 7th. I was so grateful she made the monumental effort of that last trip, and delighted that our love and laughter was so much stronger than our differences.

As for Adrian, I just felt sadness. He was not a close friend of mine, but of Barrie, and as such his sudden and unexpected suicide affected me as well. Memories of the Supremes, Diana Ross and Exeter – his connection with Barrie.

So … animals by the fire and on the sofa, a few joyful tears, and my own memories blending with powerful moving music; my own experience shared with Benjamin Till’s ragtag collection of tender words and amazing performers;  both strong and fragile voices singing of war heroes, memories, passion and above all love … a Christmas remembrance.

Mick Westhorpe (Gerald Edward) – 27th November 1930 – 11th April 2016

Mick Westhorpe, 27 November 1930 - 11 April 2016

My father has died.

For me it started with a phone call from a shopkeeper in Brecon on Friday morning, 1st April. For my dad, it started a few minutes earlier when he fell and hit his head on the kerb outside her shop. She told me that he was conscious but had probably broken his nose and the ambulance was taking him to Merthyr Tydfil. After liaising with my brother Mike, I set off for Merthyr expecting to take Dad home to Brecon, make him a meal, and generally try to cheer him up.

Continue reading “Mick Westhorpe (Gerald Edward) – 27th November 1930 – 11th April 2016”

Gwen has Cataract Surgery

Gwen - Diabetic Border Collie after Cataract Surgey
Gwen – with brand new bionic eyes and Barbarella costume!

It has been an emotional week, at the end of an eventful few months. Poor Gwen has had a really rough ride since being diagnosed with diabetes, nearly dying in August and then adjusting to being almost completely blind. As mentioned in my previous post we had set ourselves the goal of restoring her sight, but very soon our focus had to switch to just keeping her alive, in the first instance, and then getting the diabetes back under control and returning her to a state of good health.

Eye Veterinary Clinic Leominster
Eye Veterinary Clinic, Leominster – a place where they work wonders for animals with eye problems

Well, we finally got there at the end of November, so with great excitement, me and Gwen set off to explore the possibility of cataract removal surgery at the Eye Veterinary Clinic near Leominster. Now, less than a month later, the cataracts have gone, Gwen has intra-ocular lenses, and we are all hopping about with joy and excitement on the one hand, and trying to keep her calm and rested while she recovers on the other.

The post-op care is sobering – she has to wear one of those awful collars of course, and we have to administer eye drops and other medications throughout the day, on top of her usual insulin, but it is so worth it! Taking her out for short walks is really exciting – she doesn’t know what to look at next, and the spring in her step has returned. No more bumping into fences … Her vision is not back to 100% yet – that will continue to improve for up to 3 months apparently, but even now, three days later, it is enough just having her watch us again, and to be able to negotiate the place easily and without warnings and assistance from us.

Market Hall Vets in St Clears
Market Hall Vets – our brilliant local practice. It felt like we were living there in the summer!

We’re not completely out of the woods, regarding possible complications,  until the 6 months is up, but they become less likely as time goes on, and as we got through the really volatile first 24 hours with flying colours, I’m optimistic …

We have nothing but praise and gratitude to the staff at the Eye Veterinary Clinic and our local vets practice Market Hall Vets in St Clears, who we feel have done wonders for Gwen and supported us brilliantly as well. We have spent a small fortune, of course, but no regrets there – this has been money well spent. Speaking of which …

Hats off to Mick and Drew

The cataract surgery couldn’t have happened without the help of Mick, my dad, who very generously passed on a sizeable chunk of money that he inherited off his good friend Drew. Any small savings we had started for the barn roof had been quickly depleted by the intense veterinary dramas of the summer, and so Gwen would have had to have just accepted her lot – which she would have done. She had adjusted to being blind, but seeing her try to sort out scrapping alpacas when she couldn’t tell the front end from the back was both frightening and sad.

We’ve all been given a second chance here, so the biggest possible ‘thank you’ goes out to Mick and Drew.

I regret that I never got to meet Drew, but we’ve heard the tales of his great compassion and consideration for all animals – we like to think he would view this as a good use of his legacy, even if it is wasn’t directly used by Mick himself!

Gwen, our Border Collie, has Dog Diabetes

Gwen - border collie with dog diabetes at Pistyll Gwyn
Action Gwennie – watching the sheep on Caerthan’s birthday, April 2015

It’s been quite a week here: last Friday I noticed Gwen walk into the fence rather than go through the gate; this friday she is almost totally blind, on insulin injections and a special diet.

How on earth did we get here?

A few months back we noticed Gwen was eating and drinking more – we were actually pleased she was eating more as she has never had much of an appetite, but without much thought we treated her for various types of worms. We hadn’t connected the times when she misjudged the stairs, or bumped into a half-closed door. Easy with hindsight. I’m feeling guilty that we hadn’t returned to the vets sooner after the second worming hadn’t improved the situation, as we may have been able to save Gwen’s sight, but again – easy with hindsight. It is not as if she exhibited any signs of discomfort or distress.

The previous weekend, in Brecon, I had taken her on a long walk through Priory Wood, which was no different to usual – Gwen running off through the bluebells and ferns, or down to the river, then catching me up, and disappearing off again – the normal full-on dog stuff. It is so hard to believe that the cataracts have developed so quickly since then. Thinking about it, there were signs her vision was impaired, but she could see – five days later, she couldn’t. Apparently the diabetes is exacerbated by her hormones as she has come into season.

Two trips to the vets later and we have started stabilising her with small amounts of insulin. Actually, it’s more about stabilising us at this stage – getting us used to the twice daily routine whilst safely finding the correct dose for Gwen. We’ve also started preparing her food ourselves. I read something on the net which compared feeding a dog with commercial dog foods to feeding a child on McDonalds and Haribo – I felt like a really bad parent! She now gets a mix of brown rice, lentils, oats, some veg, tinned fish and eggs. We may need to get her some other meat protein, but as a long-term vegetarian I am struggling with the thought of directly handling meat. I’ll get over it if need be.

So we are coping with the injections and the food, all three of us. With the blindness, not so much. She can tell light from dark, and perhaps a little detail when the light is very good, but that is all. Herbert the cat seems to be aware of it, and is more forgiving of the times when he gets trampled, or is sent flying by a still over-enthusiastic dog. The alpacas are enjoying the fact that Gwen will spend more time sitting with them, rather than trying to round them up, (although she still has a go). But there’s no more dashing about the wood, exploring the fox holes and mysterious scents. We still do our full walks in the morning and afternoon, but once the light starts to go she struggles to stay on the path and would rather head for the open field. I’m hoping that when we have the diabetes under control,  a bit more of her adventurousness will return and we can resume our night time walks, which surely must have been done on smell and hearing alone in the past? (It can be pitch black up there, and she would never walk in the light of my torch.) She is obviously more subdued, and at times disorientated. She rubs at her muzzle with her paws as if she is trying to clear away the cataracts herself. For Caerthan and I this is heartbreaking. I don’t know is Gwen is directly grieving the loss of her sight, but we are.

And the future? It looks like this – we get the diabetes under control over the next couple of months. Gwen then has to be spayed to stop her seasonal hormones interfering with the insulin levels, which finally puts an end to those occasional puppy considerations. Then …

… we dream of giving her cataract surgery and restoring her sight. Out of the question right now, as it is hugely expensive, but I have stopped dreaming of a new roof for the barn. Who cares? Gwen is not quite seven years old, and despite the fact that the alpacas are not sheep, her heart is in the field. Her disposition is not for the hearth rug. 

We have a new mission – get Gwennie’s sight back!

There is a very informative wikipedia page on dog diabetes here: