So for my fourth book of the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge, I selected the category “a book you have been meaning to read”. My choice was Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith. I’d been looking for this for a while and then my husband got it for me late last year. I wanted to really concentrate on it when I read it so it got put off until April of this year. It was well worth the wait.
Its one of the most passionate, angry, heartfelt books I have read in a very long time. In some places it reads like a rant for which Harry Smith has been criticised in some reviews. I disagree. Yes, there are some passages of the book that come across as ranting but I don’t see that as a fault in this case. Harry is a World War Two veteran and one of the dwindling number of people who clearly remember life during the Great Depression. He remembers – and describes vividly – the appalling poverty and deprivation that was the norm of everyday life for far too many people in Britain in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He is rightly angry at how his family – and countless others – suffered and he doesn’t pull any punches in describing what they went through. His descriptions of the life and death of his sister Marion are simply heartbreaking.
Harry goes on to describe the war years and how new opportunities opened up for him. You can hear real joy when he details the impact that free education and the birth of the NHS (National Health Service) had on the lives of the people of Britain. And you find yourself hoping that all is going to be well. But this is the point where Harry’s anger intensifies as he analyses and agonises over how this is all being dismantled and how he can see the same mistakes and wrongs being repeated in new generations of leaders and how he can see the damage this will do to people.
This is not a gentle read but it is gripping. If – like me – you remember Thatcher’s Britain and can see the same happening again under David Cameron, you will find this book pulling at your heart and hopefully your conscience. If you were born after that time you will find much in this that is thought-provoking. If you are old enough to remember the 1950’s and 1960’s, you will in all likelihood read this and weep. But read it you must.
Last night (Mon 25 March) I watched one of the most heartbreakingly sad programmes I have ever seen. ‘No Time to Die’ followed four families with children who have life-limiting conditions and the care they received from Laura Lynn House Ireland’s only paediatric hospice. As some of you will know, I am the very proud mum of a daughter with physical and intellectual disabilities, and while she does not have a life-limiting condition, I found the programme very hard to watch.
Seeing small children so fragile, needing extensive care, and watching their parents remain so strong and brave throughout everything stirred up a maelstrom of emotions in me. I posted this on Facebook just after watching the programme: “Having watched ‘No Time to Die’ and sobbed at the end of it I have a mixture of emotions churning me up right now. Relief that while our darling amazing girl has a significant level of disability, she does not have a life-limiting condition; guilt that I feel that way; enhanced admiration and love for the two families I know whose beautiful daughters use the Laura Lynn hospice; and anger. Anger that we have just ONE paediatric hospice in Ireland yet the banks have been bailed out to the tune of billions. Anger that those families and many other families of children with disabilities have to fight for services, have to campaign against cuts in their allowances.”
Usually such intense and powerful emotions subside fairly quickly, even a drama queen like me can’t maintain that level of angst for too long. But today has been different. The anger has gotten stronger, more intense. There has been a good level of media coverage in Ireland today of the campaign to open a respite centre in Co. Kerry, which is being spearheaded by the parents of Liam Heffernan who has Battens Disease. Liam’s Lodge will be the first respite centre in Ireland for genetic and rare disorders. The team at Laura Lynn House are working to raise funds to build another paediatric hospice.
And I am disgusted that these causes are having to beg – and that ultimately is what it comes down to – for funds and help from private individuals and businesses. (And if anyone is offended by my use of the word ‘beg’, I am sorry, but I have worked as a fundraiser for charities in the past so I know whats involved) Ireland – the Irish State, the Irish Government call it what you will have handed over bilions, billions of our money, OUR MONEY, to bail out the banks in this state. I am sick of hearing the argument this was necessary to ‘save’ Ireland. How many hospices could have built for that money? How many nurses would the Jack and Jill Foundation have been able to provide to families of very ill children to enable them to stay at home with their families? How many home care packages could have been put in place to help parents take their children home as in the case of Jovelyn. Actually the crazy thing is that it costs the State MORE to provide care in hospital to children like Jovelyn than it would to put such a package in place.
How did we end up in this mess? How? I’m angry. I’m so bloody angry. I hope that you are angry too. I hope that you will feel angry and moved enough to ask your public representatives to justify the lack of funding for the various organisations I have mentioned here. If you have a few spare euros (I know its a big if) maybe you’d consider donating them to any of these organisations – they all need your help.