Saturday, May 02, 2009

Health Matters

Splashed across the front page of today's Oldham Echo is a local angle on the swine flu pandemic ( ).
You can tell it's a slow news day for the toiling minions on Old Hall Street when they're reduced to leading on a woman's recovery from the flu at quite an early stage. Indeed, the Echo dithers over whether to give the story the full "Don't Panic!" treatment, designed to have the opposite effect, or whether to go with the dry, factual advice given by a local health professional. In the end it opts, reluctantly, it would seem, for the latter.
Far more informative, insightful & germane to the subject is a piece by Felicity Lawrence in today's Guardian ( ).
Lawrence draws a neat & unarguable parallel between the banking crisis & the intensive farming of animals such as pigs which has led to the pandemic. In both cases a toxic legacy has emerged from unsustainable, reckless & short-termist practices.
I'm not a vegetarian, but a passage from Lawrence's excellent analysis may well make this carnivore look at meat differently:
"If these new viruses are the toxic debt of the food system, the genetically improved pig is its highly engineered and artificial derivative. Pumped up like a bodybuilder, dependent on antibiotics and vaccines to keep it going, it has disproportionately large back legs to meet a market that likes hams more than shoulder of pork; it has tiny ears and no tail to limit the scars from the aggressive behaviour distressed conditions produce; and it is bred without hair for ease of slaughter. When herds of 5,000 of these genetically identical modern animals catch flu, it rips through them."
Still looking forward to that pork tomorrow?
A reminder of a much more immediate & so far deadly malaise was provided earlier this week with news that Bootle sculptor Terence McGunigle is hoping to produce a statue of Kitty Wilkinson for display in the city ( ).
Kitty Wilkinson remains one of the unsung figures in Liverpool's history. One of the many oversights of culture year was the virtual omission of her name from the Culture Company-produced literature. When you consider her feat, it is nothing short of scandalous:
"Catherine (Kitty) Seaward was born in Londonderry in 1786 and came over to Liverpool with her family three years later.
"In 1812, she married a French seaman and was expecting their second child when he drowned at sea.
"Soon after that, she married Tom Wilkinson, a former teenage sweetheart whom she had met working in a Lancashire cotton mill.
"Together they made the link between poor sanitation and the spread of cholera, and had a boiler fitted at their home in Denison Street.
"Mothers from the neighbourhood would visit her to wash their clothes and linen, so she turned it into a wash house and later opened Britain's first official wash house, in Upper Frederick Street, to accommodate more people.
"She died in 1860, aged 73, loved by rich and poor alike, and was buried at St James' Cemetery."
However, the cost of the project is £60,000, & it's fair to point out that in a recession, spending such a sum of money on a statue probably isn't the best or most cost-effective way of remembering the contribution she made to the city's health.
Be that as it may, her story does highlight a little-known period of the port's history prior to the arrival of millions of Irish people during the famine; it's also worth bearing in mind that this remarkable Irish-born woman, said by many to be the original Mary Ellen, was a Protestant. Liverpool's Irish heritage has been depicted as being largely Catholic in character. This shows, yet again, that the reality was much more nuanced.
There are some fascinating details about Kitty's early life at this website: .
A popular song which would have been familiar to the young Kitty Wilkinson, Mrs McGrath, was revived a couple of years' ago by Bruce Springsteen: .

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