To listen to many disability pressure groups, adult social care for people with learning disabilities is being slashed by a heartless government. What few of them want to tell you, however, is that the government is spending far more than it needs to on looking after adults with learning difficulties, as well as exposing many to cruelty and exploitation, thanks to an ideological obsession with placing them in ordinary housing rather than the communities in which many have lived for decades.
Downtown Nicosia has been closed, on and off, for more than a week. On the terraces of the upmarket coffee shops, the torches flicker and the disco music babbles. When the Cypriot government shut the banks, many retailers decided to close as well, so the mannequins stare each other out across semi-deserted streets.
As the president tries to negotiate the final bailout in Brussels, I hunch over a cappuccino with a senior MP, who lists the country’s future options.
There are many reasons that the fate of Cyprus is being followed so closely in Britain. One is sympathy for those who are about to pay the price for the sins of a banking sector that was at one point seven times the size of the island’s economy. Another is shock at how the island, to which Britain granted independence just 53 years ago, now finds itself caught between Berlin, Moscow and Brussels. But the real lesson of Cyprus can be applied closer to home: when governments run out of money, they come after other people’s.
Three years ago, on an Ignatian retreat in Wales, two of the staff were taken ill — a priest and a kitchen maid, Maria. At Eucharist, we were given regular updates on the progress of the priest, but radio silence when it came to Maria. Inwardly furious, I raged at the inequality: ‘Who will look after the little guy?’ I thought. A rhetorical question to God is apt to bring about a practical answer, and I determined to change the course of my life, from working in finance to striving for regeneration in the deprived areas of the north-east of England.
Now that his old arch-enemy, Boris Berezovsky, has bitten the dust, Roman Abramovich can devote his full attention to another bête noire — London’s terraced houses.
In his £10 million plan to knock together three houses, worth £100 million, in Chelsea’s Cheyne Walk, the oligarch is raising the roof, ripping out internal floors and walls, and burrowing two floors down into the courtyard. He is also ripping out two staircases.
Easter is the season of rebirth and renewal. It is hard to renew ourselves, not because we are weak and tempted only, but because our pleasure-seeking culture pours scorn on all the old ways of sacrifice, and conceives fulfilment as fun. ‘Have fun’ has replaced ‘Fare well’ as the good wish of parting, and everything on which our happiness depends has been veiled by a mask of instant pleasure.
You don’t have to be a philosopher or a theologian to recognise that pleasure and happiness are not the same.
There’s something about the word located that makes me want to slit throats. Not that I’m a naturally furious chap, not a bit of it. But located makes me want to shoot a puppy. The safety instructions are ‘located’ at the end of the carriage. The life-jackets are ‘located’ under the seats. They needn’t be located. They just are. The life-jackets are under the seats. The information desk is on the ground floor.
If the weather had been this foul at the time of the last Oxford-Cambridge boat race, I might not have found myself in the middle of the River Thames, or served a six-month prison sentence in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. My plan, then, was to make a protest against inequalities in British society, government cuts, reductions in civil liberties and a culture of elitism. Not all of it, I admit, I had time to articulate in the water.