Land of little hope and Tory for heroes

By Charlotte Hofton

Friday, November 30, 2012

 

THE VIEW FROM HERE DO you remember Alec Penstone? He’s the war veteran I wrote about a few weeks ago, a hero who served in the navy on those hellish Arctic convoys and who has now been refused permission by the British government to receive the Medal of Ushakov.

Russia wants express its gratitude by awarding this honour to those few remaining heroes of that vital operation but our pusillanimous government says this would not be in accordance with the rules. Apparently, in order to receive a foreign award, you must have performed a specific service within the past five years to the country concerned.

The rule book should, of course, be torn up and Alec should get his medal. No such luck, though, certainly not with this government, which has steadfastly ignored him.

He’s not the only one, either. There have been similar stories around the country of other heroes who have been denied this honour in their old age. It’s an insult to them and it’s an insult to Russia.

There have, however, been a couple of developments since my original article on Alec. Neither of them will really help our heroes get their medals but they say an lot about attitudes in this country compared to those in Russia.

Ah, yes, Russia. Despite perestroika and all that, it’s still creepy, isn’t it? Can’t really trust them, what with Putin and all those oligarchs. Surely not a place you’d want to be close friends with?

Actually, from what Alec tells me, it’s exactly the sort of place you’d want as a friend. They have never forgotten those who served in the Arctic convoys and remain eternally grateful to them.

Not only do they want to award their Medal of Ushakov to the few veterans who are still alive but they instil the importance of that wartime courage and sacrifice into young Russians.

Alec often receives cards and letters from Yakterina Yermolina, a teacher in the Russian port city of Murmansk, whose students learn English and who regularly honour the memory of those who served in the Arctic convoys. Alec has just heard from Yakterina again. Her card reads: "In remembrance of all you have done to help us during the Second World War. You are ever in our thoughts — hoping to get over to the UK in May."

So this teacher and her students, in addition to according great respect to Alec and his comrades in their own country, are planning a personal visit to say thank you.

Now, what about Britain? Surely our glorious government will exemplify all that is good about this country? We can’t be put to shame by kids in Russia, can we?

Yup, I’m afraid we can. I wrote to both the foreign secretary and the prime minister on November 5, enclosing my original article and asking them, very specifically, whether Alec Penstone could hold out any hope of receiving his medal from the Russians and whether they were personally content that at present he was disbarred from doing so.

I have received an entirely meaningless and anodyne letter from the direct communications unit of Downing Street, bearing an indecipherable signature and telling me: "Mr Cameron appreciates you taking the time and trouble to share your concerns."

That’s it. No answer to my questions, no addressing the matter in hand, just a completely uninterested there-there, as if I should feel tremendously soothed by Mr Cameron’s appreciation.

Well, I don’t. And I know perfectly well he never saw my letter, so the indecipherable-signature person can just stop patronising me.

From the Foreign Secretary, not a word. As yet. I’m not holding my breath.

And these are the Conservatives who sing Land of Hope and Glory and ask us to vote for them at the next election.

Some hope. And precious little glory.

Council takes the biscuit for tedium

I DON'T know why the Island hasn’t latched on to this already but there is something called the Boring Conference, which sounds right up our street.

The 2012 Boring Conference has just taken place in York, a massive yawn occasion in celebration of the mundane and ordinary.

The buffet comprised undressed iceberg lettuce and cucumber chunks, white sliced bread, dry crackers and tap water, while lectures included a seminar on the square root of two and a discussion on concrete overpasses. It was all fantastically dull but it was a sell-out.

And yet the York conference sounds positively sexy compared with an IW Council meeting.

That takes the dry biscuit for tedium and, if you can get 400 people to pay to eat cucumber chunks and listen to somebody droning on about square roots, we could certainly make a profit on the boredom that is our council.

Marvellous. Book the 2013 Boring Conference in at County Hall and give us all a rebate on our council tax.

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