Waking for charity with Melanie

We’ve been out walking, 10km (not miles, that’s the way it is these days), for ‘Walk the Wards’, a charity event to raise money for local hospitals in the Cheltenham area. (My partner, Hazel, is a volunteer on the oncology ward at Cheltenham Hospital.)

There’s something wonderfully positive about such events. I’ve run marathons for charity, but this was more laid-back, more focused – one charity, not many, and walking, so time to think, and no crowds to cheer you on, just mud (too much rain overnight) and a sense of common purpose.

The mood continues into the afternoon, this afternoon, Sunday afternoon. It’s drizzling outside.

It was drizzling – raining – at Woodstock in 1969, when the singer Melanie came on stage for her first-ever performance to a big crowd. The audience were lighting candles to beat back the rain. (We had imagination in those days!) She came away, as she said, a celebrity, and with the chorus of ‘(Lay Down) Candles in the Rain’ in her head. ‘I left that field with that song in my head, the anthemic part.’

Lay down, lay down, lay it all down…let your white birds smile/at the ones who stand and frown./Lay down, lay down, lay it all down…let your white birds smile/at the ones who stand and frown.

We were so close, there was no room, we bled inside each /other’s wounds.

We all had caught the same disease..and we all sang, the songs /of peace.

I wasn’t at Woodstock, but I listened and lived it back in 1969. Listening to Melanie singing Ruby Tuesday (in the bath, after the walk!), and that catch in her voice – something of the old optimism came back to me.

Today’s walk, ‘Walk the wards’, did a little bit of the same. Brought back the optimism.

In this overly negative, too often backward-looking era, with Barack Obama a memory (though still an inspiration), we have to hang on to the ‘can-do’, make it new, share it with our kids and their kids.

Another Melanie song, ‘Peace will Come’:

And my feet are swimming in all of the waters /All of the rivers are givers to the ocean /According to plan, according to man …

Oh there’s a chance peace will come /In your life

Each generation feels the push-back, each new generation has to push forward, all progress is slow, but if the older generations can find it in them to join with the younger, as I did with my two children, very grown-up children, last year, opposing Brexit in Trafalgar Square, then there is hope…

And yet… a mention of Brexit slips in. Many walking today will be Brexit supporters. Nothing is ever simple.

Junk food wins the day

Environmental regulations are under threat, and the funding of scientific research (despite government protestations) is threatened.

But at this stage they are concerns, not as yet actualities.

We now have an actuality – the scrapping of tough new measures to combat obesity proposed by health secretary, Jeremy Hunt. We’re left with a sugar tax and a plan to encourage primary school children to do at least one hour’s exercise a day, which is merely repeating exhortations made over the last twenty years, which have come to little. And what have we lost? Two specific items:

#  Restrictions on two-for-one offers on junk food – 40% of the food we buy is bought on promotion. So it’s hardly surprising that cash-strapped families buy junk food – and suffer the consequences. (The chair of the Commons’ health select committee refers to ‘the burning issue of health inequality.’ Money can’t buy you love but it can buy you health.) Two-for-one offers on perishable foods are also an major cause of the appalling scourge of food waste.

# Restrictions on the advertising of high-sugar foods, with celebrities no longer employed to sell them.

We’re left with a challenge to food companies ‘to reduce overall sugar across a range of products… by at least 20% by 2020.’ The best way to make progress we’re told is government working in partnership with industry on a voluntary basis. Given ‘progress’ to date, I am profoundly cynical.

The Times reports that Downing Street ‘doesn’t want to burden the food industry as the economy falters.’ I can’t imagine that there would be many job losses – consumers would switch to other products. There’s another agenda – a small-state anti-regulation agenda – operating behind this, the more doctrinaire element of the Tory right asserting itself, at the expense of a clearly defined and enforceable national health agenda. Note also the phrase ‘as the economy falters’ – and whose responsibility is that, I wonder?

And finally, we have the Department of Health justifying the emasculation of its earlier proposals: ‘we are confident that our approach will rescue childhood obesity while respecting consumer choice, economic realities and, ultimately, our need to eat.’ [My italics.]

No-one, I should add, is underestimating the role parents, and schools, have to play in combating obesity in children, but it is a responsibility they share with government and the food industry, and if the government and the food industry rely on platitudes what chance do we have of really engaging with parents (I know how hard many schools already try), and getting them on board?