The Empty Shell of a Newspaper…
My father came to London a few years after the war to train as a doctor at Barts (St. Bartholomews Hospital), the oldest hospital in Britain. It was founded in 1123 by Raherus, (died 1144, and entombed in the nearby priory church of St Bartholomew-the-Great), a favourite courtier of King Henry I.
His fellow medical students were the generation who defeated the Nazis. Many had interrupted their University education to fight. They had come home determined, after 6 years of destruction, to create a better society–more equitable, more just, more free.
They were predominantly Labour voters with Socialist leanings and they believed fervently in the newly created NHS. They couldn’t be bullied, intimidated, silenced or suborned. Hitler had tried and failed miserably. They were idealistic, passionate, argumentative and engaged and they were virtually all Guardian readers. Shortly after his arrival, my father became a Guardian reader too and remained one for the rest of his life.
In due course, my father qualified as a doctor, specialized in neurology, became a Fellow of The Royal College of Physicians and returned to Kuwait, where he was appointed a cabinet minister, (health, naturally). His first act of office was to make health care in Kuwait free for all. Until that time, health care had been free for Kuwaiti citizens, then as now, a minority in our own country. All others paid.
My father went to see the Emir, (who was married to an Al-Adwani) and persuaded him that it was grotesque that those least able to afford health care should be the only ones to have to pay. With the stroke of a pen, my father re-created the NHS that he had so admired in Britain. His thinking formed by those brave and commited men and women he’d trained with and whose ideals, ambitions and thoughts had been best articulated in the Guardian. The first newspaper I ever read was the Guardian. I suspect that the first printed matter I was ever aware of was the Guardian.
So when people say to me, “why get so upset? It’s just another crap newspaper”, I reply, “yes, but it used to be so much more than that.”
Looking at the Guardian now is like discovering that a clever, funny, kind and beautiful girl you once loved has become a raddled crack whore. The newspaper that Marx and Engels read devoutly now deems 6 People Poisoned by Blowfish Testicles worthy of its front page. A newspaper that once felt a responsibility to explain itself to its readers now treats its readers like importunate scum, ingrates who have the effrontery to ask questions. I’m more sad than angry.
Watching the death of an old friend is always a melancholy business. As I sat gazing out of the window and wondering how to end this elegy, (and it is an elegy) some lines from an early poem by Auden popped into my head. I can’t explain exactly why, but they seemed to perfectly express how I feel:
“O where are you going?” said reader to rider,
“That valley is fatal when furnaces burn,
Yonder’s the midden whose odours will madden,
That gap is the grave where the tall return.”
I think the tall returned long ago. It’s taken me until now to accept it.