Last Friday was the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I spent the eleventh hour in the garden of remembrance at Westminster Abbey. The reason was that years back, like every newly retired person, I compiled one of those family trees and discovered a great uncle who was killed at Arras on Sunday 24 March 1918.
He was 45, a Private in the Seaforth Highlanders and had been – I think – a seed merchant in civilian life. But it proved impossible to find anything else as, although he was one of nine – Victorians had huge families – the rest, except for my grandfather, all died young from things that today would not have killed them. My grandmother who would have known him, died before I knew of his existence so I could not ask her.
In 2010, I planted a cross in the garden of remembrance and another in the similar one in Edinburgh – or rather the British Legion did as I never went to have a look. It seemed so sad, to have survived so late in the war, to have joined up as a middle-aged man, and to be completely forgotten, that a memorial cross seemed the thing to place. His name is on the memorial at Arras but there is no grave.
This year, however, a friend was going who had more recent family crosses to plant – you can buy them at a shop beside the Abbey and plant them yourself. I did not know this and have carried on as I started, getting one through the British Legion. Friday was an oddly impressive occasion. The cross was there in a still remarkably well-filled plot for the Seaforths given that most, if not all, must be for people who died a century ago.
A substantial number of people were walking round the garden, and at the eleventh hour the chimes from Big Ben rang out, everyone observed the silence, a few tourists taking selfies apart, after which we walked up Whitehall as far as we could looking for a pub. It was blocked off for what appeared to be a rehearsal for Sunday's commemoration, slightly tacky in that having paraded past, the units came back to have their picture taken in front of the Cenotaph, which left the spectators stranded behind the barriers uncertain whether to wait for things up Whitehall to clear or head back to Parliament Square.
Today, I could Google lots of what I wanted to know. That was not possible when I did the research, through all sorts of records at vast expense. So if you want to know about your family's past, don't wait until some time in the future – ask questions of those alive today.
Since I wrote last week's Notebook piece (9 November 2022
) regarding the continuing progressive privatisation of NHS dental services, I took the opportunity to contact two central city practices who were officially listed as taking on new adult NHS patients. In the first case, I was told that as there was now a waiting list of 200 potential NHS patients, the practice was no longer taking any. In the second case, I was told that I could join their waiting list but I would be unlikely to be able to see a dentist for about eight months. The latter also advised me to register with as many practices as I could on the off chance of a place coming available sooner elsewhere.
What puzzles me is, if there are so many people wanting or requiring NHS dental treatment and so few practices willing to accept them, why is this not a matter of more general public concern? People are talking about it. Professional people I know, like myself, can probably manage, but what about those who can't? One of the practices I contacted had a list of comparative prices between NHS and private. The private fees were between two and three times the NHS ones. This in a cost of living crisis should be a matter of public concern. How is it going to affect the nation's dental health over time?
It also seems to be profoundly immoral to change the status of patients who may have been registered with a practice for many years in such a way as may adversely affect their access to effective treatment. Something is very far wrong with our system of dental health provision.
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