retiring to the Ritz- can you do it?

The old man wasn’t one to be conventional. He was proud to have been denounced from the pulpit for having the cheek to cause a local election rather than simply allow the nationalist and unionist cabals to nominate ‘their’ councillors. On being warned that this behaviour meant he’d never get a council house, he said that wasn’t a concern, he’d be buying his own house. The gall. A working class lad? Getting to the grammar school must have given him airs above his station. Buying his own house- whatever next?

Many years later, the patient in the next bed in the regional cancer centre (but originally from the same town) said to him “I haven’t met you before, but I know who you are. You’re the first person I ever heard of who bought a house.”

In the intervening years, he’d taken promotion and moved away from his home town- a short distance, but a big step. He refused further promotion- why would he move from the far edge of the region, to be closer to the bosses, 80 miles away? He loved his life and his family- the wee boat, a stray dog, the delights of Donegal. He stopped being politically active as the local situation became more, not less, sectarian, but he stayed a Labour supporter. I wonder how he’d have coped with Blair and ‘New Labour’?

My political education at home was anti Thatcher. As an adult, none of her policies was to change my mind. She was strong and driven, a commanding figure. A figure who did not believe in society. Everyone for themselves. Individual responsibilty; no social contract.

I don’t agree with that. I believe we are all better off in a society. We have a responsibilty to others, and they to us. We need housing, food, warmth, security, health provision, education. We all need support sometime.

Mrs Thatcher died yesterday. She was an enormously divisive character, and we’ll be seeing many more programmes about her ‘legacy’, her not-state-but-full-of-pomp-and-ceremony funeral. I’m avoiding most of it.

However, my head has been spinning at how the very wealthy insulate themselves from the real world. When the old man was dying, he was at home, with nurse vists. Herself’s needs were not small- she moved to a nursing home after a series of home adaptations failed to keep up with the pace of her degenerative illness. Mrs Thatcher, who hadn’t been a public figure for about 10 years- a frail, 87 year old with dementia, who’d had strokes- lived in a hotel rather than manage the stairs. By hotel, I don’t mean a cheap and functional chain. The woman lived at The Ritz.

I’m struggling with this, although I’m not surprised. If one can afford to live in such luxury, why not?

I just wish everyone struggling with stairs, dementia, or needing full time care had a choice; that they could access appropriate care in a timely manner, in a place that suits them and their family.

That’s not the case now, and it won’t be the case as long as there is no concept of society. Individual responsibilty and a social contract should not be exclusive. We do need to look after ourselves and each other as best we can.

We’ll never all be able to live at the Ritz, but we could reduce homelessness. We won’t be able to provide private nursing care for each individual, but quality nursing for everyone who needs it should not be beyond us. Not everyone will choose a wee boat on Lough Erne, but everyone should have an opportunity to nourish their soul, through access to libraries, museums, parks, leisure centres, decent public transport, events. A more equitable society would be good for all of us.

Unfortunately, Dave and his mates are part of Thatcher’s legacy. We have work to be doing.

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20 thoughts on “retiring to the Ritz- can you do it?

  1. Hear hear. Yes, Mrs Thatcher’s rejection of “society” has left a shockingly destructive legacy in which the welfare state is increasingly seen as some sort of millstone rather than a common-sense way of helping people in trouble.

    How fortunate for Mrs T that she had a fortune to spend on the best possible personal care, and how tragic for all those who have to put up with sub-standard care because they don’t have the necessary cash to splash around.

    1. Interestingly, on twitter yesterday somebody reckoned that noone under 52 could claim to have experienced Thatcherism, and therefore shouldn’t comment- as if we’re still not living with it :) Apparently one needed some political experience before she came to power to be able to comment sensibly.
      I’m not often told I’m too young for anything these days :D

  2. Dear Speccy, so well put, a truthful history. However, while not the Ritz, somehow I feel your old man was surrounded by a different class of care, the people matter and love you kind. I don’t suppose Mrs. T meant to bring despair to so many, like all fundamentalists/idealogues she was passing on stuff denied from her own space, compartmented boxes where human-ness didn’t find a fit. Insulation is a good word for how it continues to happen. Maybe the pomp and all the obits will raise awareness of her dreadful legacy? Some people write truthful history, thankyou for being one of them.

    1. Some of the articles say that on a person level she was thoughtful and funny- there must have been a human being in there at times, but I still find that difficult to reconcile with her handling of the miners, the Falklands and NI amongst everything else.

  3. I watched some of the news with an awful fascination, though I did enjoy the programme about Jon Snow’s various encounters. People have very short memories. Her legacy includes huge erosion of our civil liberties, a dreadful muddling of nationalism and patriotism – a technique used effectively by many dodgy politicians – and lost opportunities to invest in green growth.
    Re the hotel, I was at a family owned hotel a while back, and discovered that the matriarch of the family lived in one of the suites. She was elderly, frail, known by all the staff, and it worked a treat for her.

  4. People are entitled to spend their money as they like. I cannot predict that if I had the resources I would not at least visit the Ritz- if they let me in. However this is the woman who took free milk from school children and then lives in the Ritz; and yes you do need to look after yourself but you must benefit from the benefits of the society you live in. I would not like to live in an Ivory Tower looking out for myself if society collapsed – it would be a very lonely place to be.

    1. It seems so odd to us, but maybe if you don’t believe that society existsin the first place, then you don’t notice that it’s not there to support you?

  5. Wonderful piece, brilliantly written. I wish the woman had been fit to read it and learn from it. You’re so right – a more equitable society benefits everybody. Dying at the Ritz, or in a gated community, what’s the difference? It’s just sad, but particularly sad on the millions whose lives her policies blighted. Her sneeringly smug inheritors are set to do even worse, if that’s possible…

    1. She had conviction; they’re just out for themselves. It’s like the toffs got the grocer’s daughter to do their dirty work and now they’re finding it all easy

  6. Thanks for that nuanced, thoughtful post. It’s telling that the response to Thatcher’s death is as polarising as her policies. This is what happens when you ignore society and prioritise greed. We’re compelled to relive the nightmare because it’s still with us, in the Coalition and New Labour before them.

    1. Girl2 asked “Who’s Mrs Thatcher?”
      Girl1 groaned “Sssh! Don’t get her started”…
      Spurs Fan wondered if it was safe to come home.
      They know me too well :)

  7. Out of the Hippie era came so many uptight types. I wonder if that was their rebellion against the ideas of love, sharing and careing!

    I think your chap with the boat had a happier life staying near to his roots.

    1. He had, Sidey. My dad was lucky- decent job, warm secure home, beautiful family (of course ;) ), the boat, the voluntary work, an ok life. Pity it only lasted until he was 52!

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