Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Column, April 25, 2006

IF there's a case which sums up the depths to which the NHS has sunk it is that of the nurse fined for parking at her own hospital.
The Victorian mill owners missed a trick there didn't they? They paid their staff in tokens to spend in the company shop, giving with one hand and taking with another, but sadly internal combustion and mass production came a little late for them to take advantage of their workers' need to park somewhere.
No matter, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Denbighshire County Council are keeping the spirit of Thomas Gradgrind alive and well and it's hard times for anyone who dares to park on a grass verge, well a £60 fine fixed penalty at least.
Now with even more staff heading for the hospital the staff car park is going to be a target-rich environment for the attendants who hand out the penalties isn't it?
But it's just a symptom of the malaise that afflicts a health service which is meant to be free at the point of delivery, but which is being pushed to fleece its users, and its staff, in any other way possible.
The car parks have long been coveted by private enterprise who see them as a way of making a fast buck. You've got patients, people have to come and visit them, sometimes for a long time, well why not make them pay for the privilege. OK you might have to put up a swanky new bit of building to pay for the privilege of having the car park, but once you've got your greedy mitts on the parking, you can start steadily putting up the fees and employing wardens to ticket and clamp togett you even more hard cash.
Then there's the charming invention of bedside TV consoles. An impressive-looking bit of kit, resembling for all the world one of those bleeping monitors on Casualty, hovering over the beds in lots of hospitals nowadays. They even have a phone attached too, so the patients can call out without even having to get out of bed.
Of course, there's no such thing as a free lunch, or a free TV and time and calls have to be paid for, in advance, with tokens from a machine.
You're not going to let your nearest and dearest while away their convalescence without a telly, and so invariably relatives spend what's left of their change after they've been mugged by the car park machine on buying some TV time.
And here's the clever bit. You can't turn the TV off, because it carries ads, which are also being paid for, to a physically, if not quite literally, captive audience. All you can do with these infernal machines is turn the screen to the wall, volume off, and hope that its glow doesn't disturb your much-needed sleep.
Want a picture of the scan of your baby-to-be? That'll cost you too.
Food, drink - why visit the supermarket concessions in the foyer.
How old people manage to die of malnutrition in hospital is anyone's guess when there's enough to feed the 5,000 sitting in shops in hospital reception areas that are beginning to resemble shopping malls.
The NHS may still be free at the point of delivery, but if you're planning on using it any time soon, best keep you wallet handy, you'll be needing it.

I SHOULD have guessed that I hadn't heard the last of the Blacks saga - you remember the store that was target of a demo after one of its assistants suggested a customer was rude for assuming she spoke Welsh.
Aran Jones, chief exec of Cymuned, whose numbers swelled (if that's the right word, there were after all only 20 of them) the Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg demo, writes in to set me straight in a few matters. Well, he wrote 700 words originally so it's more than a few.
Firstly, a simple factual point - far from being a single shop, Blacks is in fact part of a reasonably hefty chain - over 350 shops in Britain, as I understand. No, it's not as hefty a target as government (a battle which the Cymdeithas have yet to win, by the way) - but it's a long way from the Mom'n'Pop store idea that comes across in your latest article!
Secondly, and more importantly, I genuinely think that you are underestimating the social importance of the kind of attitude that was revealed by this incident. You say that one or two people in a small town are of negligible importance, particularly when compared with government and big businesses - but language planning research over the last fifteen years shows that this simply isn't true.
As you know we state at Cymuned (and, incidentally, eight of the protesters at Blacks were Cymuned members acting in support of the Cymdeithas), community is the key issue in language planning. One of the most damaging aspects of language shift in Welsh-speaking communities is the enormous impact on social confidence that even a small amount of hostility has when it is sanctioned and normalised by the society.
It really isn't that different, after all, to our action against Somerfields. We didn't act against Somerfields because the chain was above a certain pre-determined size - we acted against Somerfields because leaving that kind of attitude unchallenged allows it to become the social norm frighteningly quickly.
Against that kind of background, accepting that a shop worker effectively has the right to scold someone for speaking Welsh with them is like a step back into the dark ages (or the 1950s, at any rate!). Such things are symptomatic - if she was the only shop worker in Betws, or in Gwynedd, to speak like that, local social pressure would have cured her ages ago. She's not - she's one of a worryingly large number, and I'm afraid that articles like your latest give confidence to people who are keen to reject any idea that the language is affected by them as individuals.
There's the key point - too many people now follow the line that they're all in favour of the language, as long as they don't have to change anything they're doing.
As Chris Myant, Director for the Commission for Racial Equality Cymru, says - you can't reverse language shift without some people being inconvenienced, and individual responsibility has to be put on the agenda at some point.
If the nicest person in the world moves into a Welsh-speaking community and doesn't learn the language, they are helping to destroy the social fabric it needs to exist. We have to change attitudes at ground level - no Language Act can hope to do that, but it's just possible that making sure that someone points out how shameful such behaviour is, whenever and wherever it happens, will in the end make it socially unacceptable.
As you know, I think your work on language issues is a consistently important, useful addition to the debate. But I think you may have misjudged this one - disagreeing with tactics is one thing (admirable and often useful), but propping up an unhealthy mindset that reversing language shift is a far away, governmental responsibility, and that no individuals need to change their attitudes, is quite a different matter.

No comments: