June 12, 2014
Other People’s News
Have you ever noticed how newspapers and magazines are always far more interesting when someone else is reading them? You know the scenario. You skimmed through a paper, maybe while at the dentist, sugery waiting for the painful process of having an extraction of money from your wallet. Nothing in the paper really got your attention. Then another person picks it up and as soon as they start reading, you look over their shoulder and keep seeing fascinating stories that you missed and want to grab the paper back. As I trawl through the websites of several publications every day, from sensationalist tabloids to erstwhile scientific journals, I find it is often those little links at the bottom of the page that lead you to the more interesting bits of news. This is the Internet equivalent of the “over the shoulder” syndrome. Here are some I spotted this week.
My “oddity” of the week is the strange tale of the discovery back in 1867 of two skeletons in a renovation of the theater in the Spanish city of Alicante. Of course skeletons are sometimes found when old buildings are knocked down or renovated. But what makes this story different is the fact that the two characters whose remains were uncovered in a sealed passage look like they had killed each other. The Illustrated Police News article revealed that one skeleton had a large knife in its chest and the other one was holding the handle. The second guy had a broken knife in his neck. Sounds like a hell of an argument. The great puzzle is how they came to be walled up especially as they were both still standing when they were found. There’s a great tale in there but we will never know what really happened.
The next snippet is equally gruesome but in a different way. News of rising numbers of homeless people in the UK is a frequent topic for the daily British rags. A few of them this week have featured a tale of anti-homeless deterrents being deployed in London. It’s a bit like those nets and spikes that are used on buildings to stop pigeons from landing and pooping but this time it is anti-human spikes that grabbed the headlines. Outside a block of private apartments on Southwark Bridge Road someone has implanted spikes in the floor next to the entrance. As yet nobody seems to know who is responsible for the spikes. They are clearly designed to stop people sleeping, though. This has kicked off a Twitter storm. Treating the homeless as vermin is the general theme. It’s a symptom of our times. The last three years have seen homelessness grow by over a third in the UK and by 75 percent in London. So the answer now appears to be to just move them on like so many rats or pigeons. This could backfire. I don’t know how many fakirs there are in London, but I know those hardy holy men are known to like sleeping bare-backed on beds of nails. Get yourselves down to Southwark lads — could be right up your alley. Or how about putting spikes on the plush soft seats of the House of Commons? Joking aside, if this is someone’s idea of how to deal with a homelessness crisis it shows to what extent Nimbyism is taking over real policy.
Finally, I noticed a reference comparing the causes of high mortality rates in Glasgow, Scotland, to the problems of Australian Aborigines. The city’s former medical officer Harry Burns believes that Glasgow has experienced a “perfect storm of adversity” leading to its citizens having “much in common with demoralised indigenous communities”. Then I looked at the hard facts. This was truly startling. I already knew there was a massive difference in life expectancy between the more affluent parts of Britain, especially those in the South, and the poorer areas of our bigger cities but the scale of the problem in Glasgow is shocking. Babies born in Glasgow have the lowest life expectancy of any in the UK. 75 percent of Glasgow men will not see the age of 65. A lot of the excess deaths” occur in the age group 15 to 45 and 60 percent of the deaths are the result of drink, drugs, suicide and violence. Even in the more affluent areas of Glasgow mortality rates are 15 per cent higher than in equivalent parts of the country. Burns believes this may be down to a genetic legacy resulting from the deprivations of previous generations.
In the early 18th Century Glasgow was, according to Daniel Defoe “the cleanest and beautifullest and best built city in Britain”. The story of Glasgow’s transition into an overcrowded industrial city and the economic decline of the 20th Century are brilliantly told in a BBC article “Why is Glasgow the UK’s sickest city?” I recommend you look over my shoulder and read this one, a disturbing tale of the modern world, full of moving personal stories.
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