31 March 2022: Bad news; Interesting news; E-scooterist news: A German crime; Language ’empires’; & Other stuff.

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España/Galiza

A couple of bits of bad news . .

Inflation in March is estimated to have reached 10%, the highest number in 37 years. I’ve certainly noticed price rises in every café, bar and restaurant I frequent.

A chilly front from Scandinavia will bring a wintery start to spring across the whole of the top half of Spain, with snow inland and a significant temperature drop [up to 15 degrees] everywhere else.

An interesting news item: The government of the Balearics has been forced to remove from a public exhibition a cartoon that depicted judges as out-of-touch misogynists. The cartoon shows a judge asking a woman wearing a sling why he should believe she’s been abused by her husband as she’s not dead. It drew widespread criticism from Spanish judges who said the portrayal was defamatory. Maybe.

So, are all the e-scooterists in Pontevedra city obeying the new law about wearing helmets and not riding through pedestrian areas and on pavements? I’m sure you know the answer to that. But I have seen one rider with a helmet on . . .

The UK 

The NHS: The minority view . . . The maternity report proves it is not a national treasure – it’s a national disgrace. Contrary to its humanitarian branding, the NHS is a Stalinist organisation with a culture of institutionalised bullying. See the full article below


Germany helped to create the Putin regime. Now it must share in the pain of confronting it. Chancellors Schröder and Merkel became hooked on Russian gas – but the country has the perfect opportunity to right the wrong. See the 2nd article below.


A British ‘spy chief’ claims Putin faces a growing military insurrection over his “personal war” in Ukraine, as his advisers lie to him about the campaign’s failures.


An architect has been accused of evading €50m in taxes. His most famous project was the ‘$1bn’ mansion on the Black Sea in Russia which is tied to Putin and allegedly contains an underground ice hockey rink, a vineyard and three helipads. The architect has boasted that 44 Russian billionaires had been his clients and that he was without doubt the most fashionable architect in Russia. Will he now pay the price for this rather questionable glory?

The Way of the World 

A fascinating map from The Economist. I guess the grey zones are of countries whose languages are not widely spoken as first or second languages in other countries, including China and Germany.

A pub in the UK thought it’d be amusing to change its ‘Ploughman’s lunch’ to ‘Ploughperson’s’ lunch. But humour can be misinterpreted and the owners suffered a backlash from the anti-woke brigade. BTW: The Ploughman’s lunch has naff all to do with 17th-century men tilling the soil. It was invented by the British Cheese Bureau in the 1950s to promote the sale of cheese. Staggeringly, it can now cost £12.50/€15.00 for a bit of bread, cheese and a couple of pickled onions. Possibly a lot more next month.


The allegations get stronger and stronger: Joe Biden is president in name only but the US establishment refuses to admit it.


The ladies in my Pilates class chatter endlessly in Gallego or in the mixture of Gallego and Spanish called Castrapo. Yesterday, one of them sighed Miña nai!, which I eventually realised was Mi Madre! My mother! So, I figured My father in Gallego Would be Miño pai But it isn’t; it’s O meu pai So, now you know. Just to add confusion, a friend tells me that Miña mai doesn’t mean the same as Mi Madre but is closer to Dios mio. I could do without these complications and I envy my 3 year old grandson down in Madrid who only has to deal with English and Spanish.

Should you want to know a bit more re Castrapo, here’s wiki on it. With a bit more in Spanish here.

Finally . . .

Even female cricket players don’t wear gloves. Unlike baseball pussies . . .

For new reader(s): If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.  


1. The maternity report that proves the NHS is not a national treasure – it’s a national disgrace. Contrary to its humanitarian branding, the NHS is a Stalinist organisation with a culture of institutionalised bullying: Allison Pearson, The Telegraph

What will it take for this country to extract itself from a frankly abusive, co-dependent relationship with the bullying, sometimes downright dangerous NHS? How about 300 dead or damaged babies? Is that dark and dismaying enough to make us question whether our health service really is “the envy of the world”?

Three hundred is the heartrending number of infants who either died or were left with brain damage due to cruel or wilfully wrongheaded care at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust (SaTH) between 2000 and 2019, according to a report by senior midwife Donna Ockendon, which is published on Wednesday. Think of it. Three hundred tiny boys and girls with perfect fingers and perfect toes; the movie of their marvellous life to come playing behind their softly fluttering baby eyelids. Three hundred longed-for daughters and sons, their birthdays – and their death days – never to be forgotten. “My twins would have been doing GCSEs this year,” said one mother.

At least 12 women perished in that same trust, thanks to an obsession with “normal births”, and because there was pressure within the NHS to reduce caesarean rates. Costs, you know. By 2002, SaTH had the lowest C-section rate in the country, for which it was actually praised by the Commons Health Select Committee – but babies were dying.

Kamaljit Uppal pleaded for a caesarean because her baby was breech. A doctor told her to get on with delivering. Only when the baby was firmly stuck, with two legs protruding, was his mother finally allowed to go to the operating theatre. Kamaljit has two pieces of paper among her most precious possessions; one is her son Manpreet’s birth certificate, the other a death certificate. Both are dated April 2003. The time on them is just two hours apart. Our NHS did that to Manpreet and his mother.

It wasn’t just in Shropshire either, although the lying NHS will lie to the public and say that it was. (An expert panel is currently looking into another “baby death scandal” at East Kent Hospitals. There will be more to come.) We know how this goes, don’t we? A few bad apples, sincere apologies, won’t happen again, lessons to be learnt. But they knew. There were maternity units that had bad reports from the Care Quality Commisison, the NHS regulator, because their C-sections stats were “too high”. Penalised for putting safety first.

They knew. At SaTH, the C-section rate was eight to 12 per cent lower than the UK average of about 30 per cent, but mortality rates in the trust’s maternity and neonatal services were running at least 10 per cent higher than at equivalent hospitals. In April 2017, the then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered an independent review into 23 cases of newborn, infant and mother deaths at SaTH. A year later, when the inquiry was widened because 16 more grieving families had come forward, Simon Wright, the trust’s chief executive, said: “To suggest that there are more cases which have not been revealed when this is simply untrue is irresponsible and scaremongering. This will cause unnecessary anxiety among women going through one of the most important times of their life, and I would like to assure them that our maternity services are a safe environment with dedicated, caring staff.”

Scaremongering? There, ladies and gentlemen, you have the arrogant, disgustingly complacent tone of the senior NHS apparatchik. I mean, how dare mums who have lost perfectly healthy babies and husbands who have lost their beloved wives challenge the sacred health service before which we must all bow down?

If hundreds of babies were dying or having their skulls fractured during painfully drawn-out labours, well, at least they were doing so in Wright’s “safe environment”. The local clinical commissioning group, which ordered its own review of SaTH maternity services in 2013, also concluded, astonishingly, that they were “safe and of good quality”. Whenever possible, the NHS prefers to mark its own homework.

The NHS groupthink about “natural birth” had its origins in the Active Birth Movement, which began in the 1980s as a reaction to the over-medicalisation of childbirth. The movement had a point. An earlier NHS policy, called Active Management, was intended to standardise labour to a maximum of 12 hours per woman. To achieve that, interventions became routine – induction of labour via amniotomy (breaking the waters), and a syntocinon drip to speed up contractions.

But the idealism of the earth mothers soon hardened into ideology. They harked back to a time when women were “last firmly in control of birth – in the 17th century”. No one seemed concerned by the dire survival rate for mothers and babies in the centuries before obstetrics.

I have no doubt that brainwashed midwives played a major role in the tragedy at SaTH. The “Wait and See” campaign by the Royal College of Midwives advised that C-sections “shouldn’t be the first choice – they should be the last”. Let mum get on with it and if, after 24 hours, baby was showing signs of distress, drag the poor mite out with high forceps and ventouse suction, leaving mum partially incontinent and baby with a head as pointy as a dunce’s cap. If you were lucky, that is. Three hundred, they were not lucky.

My daughter could easily have been among them. I had both my babies in the era those SaTH deaths were taking place. My first birth plan was in tatters from the minute they decided to induce me. Instead of Mozart playing, there was a drip in my arm which caused contractions like giant waves smashing against the shore. After 25 hours of that, a registrar popped in, took one look at my cervix, which was about as dilated as a Polo mint, and said, “Let’s get this baby out!”

She weighed 9lb 10oz and, with her daddy’s brainy cranium, there was no way that little Miss was coming out the front door. At almost any other time in history, we would have died, baby and I. Thank God for UCH, which is a great London teaching hospital and not an outfit in Shropshire where, according to one witness, “the CEO ran the place like a fiefdom free of quality standards”.

So, no silly regrets for me about missing out on a “meaningful experience” as preached to middle-class mummies by the National Childbirth Trust. Although I do remember feeling like a failure at one post-natal mother and baby class where north London’s crochet-your-own-placenta crew made their disapproval plain of the surgery that had just delivered me a living daughter.

I was blessed, too, in Humphrey, the consultant with the stripey bow tie, who told me, when I was expecting my second, that I should go for an elective C-section. “If you were a 16-year-old girl with childbearing hips, pushing out baby would be a doddle. But you are 38 years old, with a small pelvis, and carrying a baby who is quite likely to go over 10lb.”

He’d probably be disciplined for such heresy now, but it was brilliant advice. Women are starting their families later and later; babies are heavier. Of course a vaginal delivery is ideal, but only if it works for the individual mum and baby concerned.

The question I have is this, how could the worst maternity scandal in the history of the NHS possibly go on for 19 years? Contrary to its humanitarian branding, the NHS is a Stalinist organisation with a culture of institutionalised bullying. Whistleblowers, says one medic, are “treated like dissidents in an authoritarian regime”. Only the bravest dare to whistle. The complaints process is designed to make patients give up. In 2018/19, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman upheld just 2.4 per cent of complaints.

That the evil at SaTH was ever unmasked is almost entirely down to the heroic persistence of Rhiannon Davies and her husband, Richard Stanton. The couple fought tooth and nail to establish the truth about the death in 2009 of their baby Kate Stanton-Davies. After the original NHS England investigation into Kate’s death was found “not fit for purpose”, a second one discovered that changes had been made to Kate’s clinical notes after her death. This is the NHS we all pay for, tampering with evidence to hide the appalling neglect which caused the avoidable death of Kate Stanton-Davies and hundreds of babies like her.

In her report, Donna Ockenden praises Rhiannon and Richard and another bereaved couple, Kayleigh and Colin Griffiths. “The parents’ unrelenting commitment to ensuring their daughters’ lives were not lost in vain continues to be remarkable… In a void described as ‘incomprehensible pain’, they undertook their own investigations to […] insist upon meaningful change in maternity services that could save other lives.”

That change must be real and start today. An apology is not enough. There is no apology that will suffice for causing death or lifelong damage to 300 babies. Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, must take steps to ensure that those who conspired in the cover-up at SaTH for almost two decades are arrested. A charge of corporate manslaughter should be looked into. Medical staff who failed to offer timely surgery to distressed mothers must never work again. And any mother who wants a C-section must be allowed to have one. Let that be the living legacy of the 300.

Shockingly, the OECD has ranked the UK 27th out of 38 for infant mortality, and 20th for maternal mortality. We must cease to be in thrall to the idolisation of an institution which ended 300 precious lives before they had begun. The NHS is not a national treasure – it’s a national disgrace.

2. Germany helped to create the Putin regime, now it must share in the pain of confronting it. Chancellors Schröder and Merkel became hooked on Russian gas – but the country has the perfect opportunity to right the wrong: Ben Marlow, The Telegraph [Not AEP]

Germany has been presented with a golden opportunity to end its addiction to Russian oil and gas. With Vladimir Putin threatening to pull the plug on exports if European leaders don’t bow to demands to pay for supplies in roubles, Berlin has enacted an emergency plan for a possible disruption of natural gas flows from Moscow. 

“If you want gas, find roubles,” the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, told Western nations yesterday.

In Germany, the panic is palpable. Companies and consumers are being urged to reduce energy consumption wherever possible. “We are in a situation where every kilowatt-hour saved helps,” economic minister Robert Habeck said. If that fails and supplies dwindle, then the Government will cut off certain parts of industry from the grid and give preferential treatment to households.

It seems unlikely that Putin will follow through with his threats. Much has been made of Europe’s reliance on Russian imports but the relationship is one of mutual interdependence. Last year, Russia exported 8.9 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of liquefied and piped natural gas, 36% of the 24.8tcf it produced.  Three quarters of those exports went to Europe with the bulk of it going to Germany, Turkey, Italy, Belarus, and France. More than half of the 8m barrels of oil it produced a day in 2021 ended up in Europe.

Within hours of the ultimatum the Kremlin was already rowing back, minds focused no doubt by the fact that EU payments for Russian gas and oil are funding the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine. In Germany’s case, it is estimated to be sending somewhere in the region of €800m (£607m) a day to Moscow, a figure that makes a total mockery of Western attempts to end the war with sanctions. Until those payments stop, Russia can bombard Ukraine with abandon.

There are already signs that the impact of sanctions is waning. The rouble has pared much of its post-war losses, rallying to a March-high of 89.75 to the US dollar. That means it is now only about 10pc lower against the dollar than it was before the invasion. But why wait to see if Russia is true to its word? Surely Putin’s blackmail, and the risk of roughly half of Germany’s gas supplies vanishing overnight, is the moment that its Government has been waiting for: the perfect justification for a total ban on Russian oil and gas imports rather than the incremental wind down that it has been strongly advocating for ever since the Kremlin’s tanks breached Ukraine’s borders.

Germany has been loath to introduce a full embargo despite pressure from other EU nations for fear of unleashing economic mayhem on voters in a country where inflation is expected to hit a 40 year-high of 6.3% this month. But Chancellor Olaf Scholz can now point to the real danger of being at the behest of the Kremlin for such a large proportion of its energy needs. He won’t get a better chance to make a break for it. German finance minister Christian Lindner has already laid the groundwork for such a move. On Monday, Lindner declared: “Whatever happens, we are ready and will find solutions.” If that’s the case then what is it waiting for?

Opinion is divided on how quickly Germany can wean itself off Russian oil and gas imports. Scholz has warned that an embargo would wreak economic havoc, while stoking social unrest of the sort that paralysed France during the gilets jaunes protests of 2018. An abrupt stop “would mean plunging our country and Europe into a recession”, he told parliament.

Some experts believe it would be able to make the shift much quicker and more smoothly. The most authoritative estimate has come from a group of economists led by professor Rüdiger Bachmann of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

They put the cost at between 0.5%c and 3% of GDP, a contraction roughly equal to the one that followed the pandemic. Scholz has dismissed such models as “irresponsible” but a second study from the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina concludes that Germany could manage if the state sought alternatives and increased coal output.

The Government’s stance has softened since the invasion began. Its latest commitment is to all but wean itself off Russian gas by mid-2024 and oil by the end of this year. But Habeck has also acknowledged Germany could function without Russian supplies over the summer, as a result of the precautionary measures it has already taken. Russia’s market share of German imports has fallen from 55% to 40% in the past few weeks.

There is widespread public support for Germany to move more decisively too. A survey by the broadcaster ZDF found that 55% of the country favours an embargo, while more than 80 schol­ars, politi­cians, and business­ leaders, and entrepreneurs signed an appeal for a boycott.

Berlin has done more than any other country to help prop up the Russian regime, through decades of appeasement. Both Angela Merkel and predecessor Gerhard Schröder have been tarnished with the Putinversteher (Putin-whisperer) label – establishment figures that mistakenly believed they could “tame Vladimir Putin with empathy”, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Sunday described it. And Germany took the easy option of becoming hooked on Russian gas, a terrible strategic decision that has left it beholden to Putin.

The question isn’t whether Germany can unhook itself from Russia. That’s a red herring. The real puzzle is how big a sacrifice it is willing to make to help end the war.

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