The special letters that come by post or by email stand out. Every week I am prompted to think more clearly, to act more vigorously and to commit myself more fully to working for common sense, for justice and for a better life for constituents, for people around our country and for fellow humans abroad.
One this weekend came from a fellow student of economics. More than 50 years ago she invited me to sit with her and her friend at our first lecture. She went on to become a professor; I went on to put neon lights outside West End cinemas and theatres.
She reminds me how to face illness and life-limiting conditions. When the end of earthly life approaches, I give thanks to the skill and love in the hospice movement.
It is an honour to be a fellow columnist with Hugh Lowson who leads our St Barnabas House. My friend’s niece gave her name to the first children’s hospice, St Helen’s in Oxfordshire. My doctor aunt worked with Dame Cecily Saunders at St Christopher’s in Lewisham.
Death is not to be feared. One of our loveliest elderly friends Jennifer Plunket died in London. She chose to stay at home for her last days and hours, cared for by a southern African.
Jennifer had given her life from the mid-1950s to non-racial progress in what are now Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.
I am glad she lived to see the prospect of better government after the tragedies of Robert Mugabe and the excesses of President Zuma.
I seldom speak bluntly when it might unnecessarily upset a minority or a majority in a meeting. I confess to doing so recently in the House of Commons when there was a gathering of supporters for what can neutrally be called ‘death on request’.
Experts told us about the benefits in the Netherlands, Belgium and in some states of the USA, particularly Oregon and neighbouring Washington.
My contribution was clear and unpopular in the room. They said they were talking about rare cases when they judged doctor-assisted suicide was requested and appropriate.
I pointed to the great differences between Oregon and Washington and the differences between Belgium and the Netherlands. The Dutch figures multiplied up to the British population would lead to death-on-request numbers four times our self-harm suicide total.
My experience over 40 years is occasionally hearing people saying they wished life were over. Not one yet has declared near their end that they wanted assistance. Some sensibly declined useless procedures.
I turn to the problems of the frustrations of rail passengers. Some might saying waiting on a platform for a train that does not come or does not stop can feel like a fate worse than death.
Nearly as bad is being carried past your station as a train tries to catch up with its schedule.
The messages this Tuesday and Wednesday by John Vaughan tell the stories. I am putting them to Transport ministers: ‘Wed 7th Feb: due to a staff shortage the ticket office will be closed on this day’; next image shows the Ticket machine with a printed notice applied ‘OUT OF ORDER’.
The day before, his intended train made up eight of a nine minute delay by cutting out the passengers at Goring by Sea, Durrington on Sea, West Worthing and Worthing, leaving Haywards Heath just one minute late; the lay-over at Victoria was 20 minutes.
John fairly describes the ‘crime’ of abandoning passengers as outrageous.
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