The Ministry of Silly Walks

Two days ago the British government announced a strategy to stop people feeling lonely.  In a time when public services are being cut down like enemy soldiers in Rambo III, it seems utterly preposterous that the government now intends on spending money in an effort to identify precisely why people are feeling lonely.  It does not require twenty million pounds to realise that human contact is the cure for loneliness.

When I first read an article about the strategy for loneliness prevention I thought it was a joke.  In one article it made reference to the minister for loneliness I could not help but laugh.  It could not be true, so I thought.  A few minutes later google confirmed that the UK does indeed have a minister for a basic human emotion.  It troubled me on many levels.  First and foremost was the name.  If the minister for health was responsible for making us more healthy, and the minister for trade for making more trade, surely the minister for loneliness was meant to make us more lonely.  Would she travel the country executing our spouses and telling our friends that we secretly hate them?  The second and most troubling thought was the fact that the government are looking to minister our emotions.

Loneliness has not been the only somewhat peculiar topic on the agenda.  In the same week the government has announced a minister for suicide prevention.  Granted it is a significantly more appropriate name, and yet it also left me with a sense of disquiet.  When the two new ministers are considered together it becomes apparent that the government has become acutely aware of a mental health crisis across the UK.  The pertinent question is whether there is a genuine crisis or is this a case of a government encroaching on Big Brother territory.

In 2017 there were 5,821 suicides in the UK.  In a country of over 65 million people it sounds like a drop in the ocean.  When you look across Europe you find that although it is the fourth highest total in Europe, it is also the fourth lowest suicide rate in Europe.  Therefore, it seems strange that the government has chosen to pursue these two policies in a time of austerity, whilst slashing so many other services.

It is evident that across the country the budgetary cuts have played merry hell with mental health services.  It perhaps would be wiser to give the services that are in dire need of more funding the money earmarked for figuring out why people are lonely.  The fact is a lack of access to therapists and counselling, as a direct result of a lack of funding causes loneliness.  Overstretched mental health departments having to prioritise people’s problems causes loneliness.  Stupidly long waiting times for people suffering anxiety and distress cause loneliness.  Worst of all is that all of these problems, if fixed, would likely contribute to a lowering of the suicide rate and save actual lives.  It is not rocket science, it is basic human empathy.

If you like me are feeling exceptionally lonely, feeling isolated by a government that throws money at identifying the problem with people, rather than the problems caused by the system, feel free to contact our minister for loneliness.  I’m sure she will do her best to help…

A New England

On previous occasions I have written posts about the changes I have witnessed in Poland(e.g. I Love Warsaw, 7 Years On) without writing a single word about England.  Now I can’t help but wonder why?  Perhaps my reticence is due to the claim that people should only write about what they know(After all I haven’t lived in England for nearly 8 years).  I suspect it has something to do with the motherly maxim ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’

One of the strangest things about growing up in England was the importance of television. The most striking thing about English soaps and films was how fucking miserable they were compared to other countries.  It appears that very little has changed.  If soaps are to be believed England is full of po-faced cunts sitting around drinking tea and moaning.  Our film industry has reached such a low ebb that our biggest money-spinner is a blond James Bond with manners better suited to the Elizabethan era.  Our only saving grace is comedy.  Sitcoms, comedy dramas, mockumentaries, sketch shows and stand ups all prove that comedy is alive and well in England.  It has even hijacked the quiz show genre.  The question the overabundance of comedy on our tv screens poses is why do we possess such an insatiable appetite for humour?

Is England depressed?  How on earth do you go about diagnosing a country with depression?  Are we witnessing the emergence of a new 21st century mentality?  Is this what the Latin scholars christened Couldn’tgiveafuckitus?  A quick look at www.mentalhealth.org.uk was enough to convince me that something is definitely wrong.

Is this the result of a nation which feels obliged to answer fine when someone asks how are you?  Is our stiff upper lip affecting our happiness?  What does it really mean when we say mustn’t grumble in response to a personal question despite the fact we are obsessed with grumbling about the weather?  Are we witnessing the implosion of English stolidity? Are we all destined to end up on the Jeremy Kyle show?

On a recent visit to England I was stunned by the amount of times I heard someone utter the magnificently British phrase ‘I can’t be bothered.’  Initially it left me wondering where such a crippling inertia stems from.  I was convinced that the vast majority of English people think that Carpe Diem is some kind of fish.  Now I suspect that it is merely a symptom of something more.  After all there was a reason the financial recession of the 1920’s was known as the Great Depression.  Or maybe I am wrong.  Maybe England has always been that way.

The times they aren’t a-changing –
Yeah, England’s still shit and it’s still raining,
And everybody’s jaded and tired and bored
And no one lifts a finger because
It’s just not in our culture.
Our culture is carrion and we’re all vultures,
And no one seems bothered by this state of play –
It seems that the stench is with us to stay.

Frank Turner – Once We Were Anarchists