River Wissey Lovell Fuller


May 2007


When I was a young man

In the 1950s I was working to the north of London but living in South London. There was a time when I travelled by bus and tube, catching the tube at Edgware and getting off at Stockwell, then going by bus to Streatham. I often worked very late into the evening so that I would arrive at Stockwell as late as 10.00pm, or even later. On one occasion I missed the last bus and walked from Stockwell through Brixton to Streatham. Recalling these journeys recently I realised that at no time was I in fear of being mugged on the train or walking through Brixton, even though there may have been times on the train when there was only one or two other people in the carriage. I know that if I attempted that journey today I would half expect to be mugged and might be regarded as foolhardy for trying.

When I was a young man doctors, nurses, firemen, ambulance men were all held in some esteem; even policemen, if not loved, were respected and many were quite popular within the community they served. Nobody would ever have thought of attacking a nurse or fireman or ambulance man when they were going about their work. A pregnant woman or the elderly and frail would not be left standing on a bus or train whilst others sat. A motorist would stop to help another in difficulty or offer a lift to someone walking in the country.

Why have we become a more selfish and violent society? Is it down to the competitiveness encouraged in the Thatcher years? I doubt that. Is it because of the changing culture? When writing about London recently, a journalist wrote that, apart from its geographical location, you could no longer regard London as an English city. He was, of course, referring to its cosmopolitan make up. He wrote as though he was very proud of what London had become and proud of its population mix. Apparently he was not concerned at the stabbings and shootings occurring with ever increasing frequency. Perhaps it is because I am getting old, but I read his article with a degree of sadness and it left me wondering how much of the changes that we see in attitudes stems from what has happened in our large cities.


The government's intention to introduce foreign language studies into primary schools is to be welcomed. Hopefully it will help to improve our very poor national ability to speak other people's languages. It would be a big step forward if we were to concentrate on some of the major languages of the world that are currently poorly dealt with in this country, languages such as Chinese, Arabic and Russian whilst at the same time recognising the importance of Spanish. Because of the proximity of France, French will always be important to us but it should not be to the exclusion of these internationally more important tongues.

Different languages are a barrier to mutual understanding and it is to be hoped that in the future the trend will be towards a reduction in the large number of languages in use throughout the world. Over the past centuries some languages have faded almost to the point of extinction and I find it difficult to understand the sort of tribal pride that forces some groups to fight so determinedly to preserve their dying language when no other people in the world want to speak it. Of course these languages are historically interesting but there are adequate means available to ensure that they are preserved for academic interest.

One such dying language is that of Catalan. I was amazed to hear recently that, in their desperation to maintain interest in their tongue, the Catalan authorities were offering to finance pornographic films provided that they were filmed using the Catalan language. Presumably they thought that in this way they might attract wider interest in the language. I suspect that they were misguided, however, I don't imagine that the focus of attention in the film would be on the dialogue. Another example nearer to home, of course is Welsh. Who wants to speak Welsh apart from some Welsh people? It is just as important for Welsh children to learn international languages, they must be competent in English, why burden them with this additional rather useless language when they have so many other subjects to study?

Service Uniforms etc

I have often felt that British military uniforms are not the smartest in the world. I know that dress style is a matter of individual taste but anyone who goes to the North Norfolk Railway's 1940s day cannot help but notice the difference between those dressed in the uniforms of British army privates and NCOs and those of similar rank in the US forces. The same is true, if to a lesser extent, for the navy and airforce. I was also struck recently by contrast in the appearance on TV of two people receiving British medal awards. One was a US marine, resplendent in his dress uniform, the other, a female British soldier who was in khaki with a peak cap. The peak cap was in a style favoured by some Guards regiments with the peak flattened almost to touch the nose. The result is that the wearer has to hold their head back and look slightly down their nose in order to get a view forward. It just looks stupid.

In my opinion American uniforms are not only smarter in design and in cut but the quality of the material often stands out as superior. The contrast may not be so significant in the officer grades but even here, in my opinion, they often do better, although some may feel that their uniforms are a little over the top compared with the British understatement. It is not only with Americans that our uniforms compare unfavourably. On occasions the French and other European military are smarter.

Uniforms are probably just another example of the way in which British armed services, of whom we are justly proud, are not well treated by our politicians, a situation that has persisted for many years.

Our service people are sent to areas of conflict, often inadequately equipped, at the direction of politicians when, at times, the cause that they are expected to risk their lives for is itself very questionable. It is important that they should be treated with the respect and care that is due to them.

A not untypical example of the way in which service personnel are treated was reported recently when the wife of an RAF man serving overseas was given an eviction notice from her home on the former RAF base at Coltishall. The house that she was living in had been sold, along with thousands of other MoD homes, to a private developer. The houses were going on the market but if she wanted to buy one she was expected to join the queue with all the other prospective purchasers. At the time of a report, she was having to live in a tent to maintain her place in the queue. A serviceman serving abroad should be entitled to expect the MoD to ensure that his family is safe and secure, he should not be left with domestic worries of that nature. She eventually got her house for the price of £150,000. That whole incident reflected badly on the decision by a previous government to sell the MoD housing stock at an average price of £22,000.

Ron Watts

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