Thursday, December 08, 2005

On a lighter note – Susan Pevensie Lives !!

I’ve been posting some fairly serious things in the past few days, many of them quite depressing, but I am looking forward to taking my twin son and daughter to the cinema for their first time in the near future when “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” comes out.

There was a time when I would never have expected that C.S. Lewis’s wonderful fantasies could be portrayed adequately on screen but I would have said the same of the work of his friend J.R.R. Tolkien. And look what a good job they made of “The Lord of the Rings”.

By all accounts the new Narnia film is supposed to be both brilliant and true to the books, and it has provoked a lot of discussion, mostly positive. However, there is one particular comment about the Narnia stories which has cropped up in a lot of reviews and online discussions which is quite wrong and really gets to me, so on a lighter note – here is the truth about Susan !

C.S. Lewis made clear that the Narnia stories are primarily just that – stories to entertain children and adults – and that the Christian allegory is an optional extra. He also cautioned people against trying to take those allegories too far. Lewis was a noted Christian writer, and in that capacity he used as an argument against certain types of theologian and biblical critic that people in his own lifetime who tried to deduce what was going on in his head from his writings nearly always got it wrong. He added that the same applied to the work of his friends, specifically including J.R.R. Tolkien and “The Lord of the Rings” - some people had interpreted the Ring in that story as representing the atomic bomb, but Tolkien had told Lewis that although quite plausible this was not correct.

Nevertheless some people, both among those who love the stories and those who do not, do try to make far too much of the allegories or go into far greater detail than C.S. Lewis himself ever imagined they should.

One example which is just plain wrong, and has been suggested by far too many people, some of whom ought to know better, is that Susan is “excluded” from the Narnian heaven. This mistake is apparently based on the fact that at the end of the final book, “The Last Battle”, most of the characters meet in the Narnian part of heaven, but Susan is not present. She is described as having lost interest in Narnia.

However, a careful reading of the book will show that it does not predict whether Susan will go to heaven when she dies. There is a far more practical reason why she does not join the other characters in heaven at the end of the book – she isn’t dead yet. At the conclusion of the Narnian series Susan is alive and well in England and, if she has any sense, suing British Rail for vast sums of money as compensation for wiping out her entire family in a rail accident.

This is not just my own interpretation, although I arrived at this view myself from reading “The Last battle”. C.S. Lewis confirmed it himself in a letter to a boy named Martin in 1957 which can be found in the book “Letters to Children.” In his words

“The books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end – in her own way.”

Personally I suspect that Susan would have come back from what would appear to her as the wasteful and tragic death of her parents, brothers, sister and cousin by campaigning for better rail safety and justice for the survivors and families of rail crash victims. When Susan rediscovered the strength she had as the Queen who defied and outwitted Prince Rabadash, the Board of British Rail and the Department of Transport wouldn’t have known what hit them !

C.S. Lewis did set out which allegories are intended. He made clear that he was not trying to represent the real Christian story in the Narnia books. He preferred to say “Suppose there were a world like Narnia and it needed rescuing and the Son of God (or the ‘Great Emperor oversea’) went to redeem it, as He came to redeem ours, what might it, in that world, all have been like?”

He added that

1) The creation of Narnia in “The Magician’s Nephew” is the son of God creating a world (not necessarily ours)

2) Jadis plucking the apple in the same book was, like Adam and Eve in Genesis, an act of rebellion but this is not as significant a sin because she was already fallen before she ate it.

3) The Stone table in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is meant to remind one of Moses’ table

4) The passion and resurrection of Aslan are the passion and resurrection which Christ might be expected to have in that world - similar to that in ours but not necessarily identical.

5) Edmund, like Judas, is a sneak and a traitor, but unlike Judas he repents and is forgiven.

6) At the very edge of Narnia in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, Aslan begins to appear more like Christ as he is known in this world – he shows himself to Edmund, Lucy and Eustace as a lamb, has breakfast with them which Lewis compares to the breakfast at the end of St John’s Gospel, tells them that in our world he has another name, and adds that “you have been allowed to know me in this world so that you may know me better when you get back to your own.”

7) The false Aslan set up by Ape and Puzzle in “The Last Battle” corresponds to the predicted coming of the Antichrist before the end of our world.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Health in West Cumbria

There was an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Monday of this week about NHS Services in West Cumbria.

Adjournment debates provide a half hour slot for a backbench MP to raise with a minister an issue of concern to him or her, usually something affecting the welfare of people in the constituency he or she represents. Time is strictly limited: the form is that someone proposes “That this house do now adjourn,” then the MP or MPs raising the debate gets 15 minutes to explain what they are worried about, and the relevant minister gets 15 minutes to reply. Then the motion is carried and everyone goes home.

I was pleased to learn that one of these debates had been allocated to discuss the serious problems affecting healthcare in West Cumbria and looked up Hansard (the record of everything said in parliament) the following day to see what came up in the debate.

This was a valuable opportunity for the MP for Copeland to raise the many concerns affecting health in the constituency. The one thing I can say to his credit about the way he used this time is that he showed a much less complacent attitude than he did during the election – at least now he recognised some of the problems which he dismissed in April, as when he claimed that there is no threat whatsoever to West Cumberland Hospital.

Sadly however, Mr Reed wasted some of the time he could and should have used to spell out more of the problems affecting health in Cumbria by making untrue comments about my election campaign !

During the run up to the election I and my colleagues collected signatures on petitions to support local hospitals, stressed at every stage that we wanted to support services at West Cumberland Hospital and Millom Community Hospital, and attended public meetings supporting those hospitals. We set out clear policies for better dental care and to fight hospital acquired infections such as MRSA. We brought the shadow Health secretary, Andrew Lansley, to West Cumberland Hospital. Our policy was to switch resources from administration, the bureaucracy needed to support the government’s 400 health targets, and bodies such as the Strategic Health Authority into front-line services for patients. Every penny we wanted to save on NHS administration would have been ring fenced and ploughed back into health care.

Despite the fact that Copeland Conservatives have strongly supported local NHS services both before and since the election, Copeland’s Labour MP had the cheek to claim that we had campaigned to cut health spending. Now it would have been one thing for Labour to offer another opinion about whether our policies would have worked, but it was totally dishonest to claim that we were campaigning to cut health spending. This is the sort of disreputable smear tactics which gets politics and public service a bad name.

I was very pleased by election of David Cameron yesterday as Conservative leader, and one of the many things which I welcome in his statesmanlike acceptance speech was the wish to move away from playground yah-boo-sucks childishness. As he put it

“I'm fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster, the name calling, backbiting, point scoring, finger pointing.”

Exactly, and making false claims about what your opponents stand for is not something which should have any place in grown-up, modern politics. So let me suggest what would have been a better use for the parliamentary time which Jamie Reed spent doing so: he could instead have raised another concern about health care in Cumbria which was not covered in Monday’s debate and which I have not yet seen mentioned anywhere in the press, but which deserves attention.

One of the potential side-effects of Diabetes is blindness. It is a good idea for diabetics to get their eyes checked regularly: if eye damage starts to develop as a result of the disease and is not caught at an early stage, it is not always reversible.

For this reason, until now sufferers from Diabetes have been exempt from the £10 charge for eye tests. However, this facility is being withdrawn from at least some patients in Cumbria with effect from 1st February 2006.

On the same day as the Adjournment debate, I was shown a letter which was recently sent to a diabetic in West Cumbria by her optician, advising that eye tests for sufferers from diabetes on or after 1st February 2006 will cease to be free. The letter strongly advised her to make an eye test for an appointment before the end of January.

So if anyone reading suffers from diabetes, or knows someone in your family who does, and has not recently had an eye check, I strongly advise you to contact your optician urgently and check whether this applies to you: if it does you need to make an appointment quickly so that you can you be seen before the charges come in at the beginning of February.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Don’t drop your guard!

On the face of it, the decision to postpone consultations on proposals to emasculate Millom Community hospital, as well as half a dozen other community hospitals around Cumbria, is to be welcomed.

I am certainly pleased that the local NHS trusts and the Strategic Health Authority appear to have woken up to the depth of public support for local community hospitals and the harm which major cuts in the services they provide would do.

But the hospitals have only had a reprieve: we are not out of the woods yet. Underlying problems with money and recruitment & retention still remain for the NHS in Cumbria and need to be tackled. And after all, we have been here before.

Last year, when the review of services was launched and it was suggested that Millom Community hospital might be adversely affected, the Chief Executive of the Primary Care Trust came to a public meeting in Millom and stated that there were no plans to close Millom Hospital. I am not suggesting that this statement was made in bad faith, but it is now clear that the fact that the trust was not planning to close the building did not mean that services at the hospital were safe.

During the run up to the General Election both the Chief Executive of the NHS Acute Services trust and the then Labour parliamentary candidate, now MP, for Copeland stated that there was no threat to West Cumberland Hospital. Since the election half the mental health services have been transferred away from Windermere ward and a serious threat is hanging over maternity services.

However pleased we are that the proposals for local hospitals are to be reviewed, the danger has only been postponed and has not necessarily gone away.

It was once said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Those who value local hospital services will be well advised to watch the local NHS trusts like a hawk.