2nd October 2012 

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Feel ashamed... 

News and Comment from Roy Lilley

We stepped out of the mahogany elegance, left behind the linen table cloths and the marble, into the autumn sunshine of London's Pall Mall.  Nothing like a good lunch to get the thinking, thinking.


Wrapped in earnest conversation about choice and why there isn't any, attitudes and culture in big organisations and how to change them, and why NHS care can't simply be distilled into; 'It's only good enough if it's good enough for our families'.


We swung right and dropped around the bottom of Trafalgar Square, chatting about the 'money thing' and the impact of the next election.  Did Labour really mean they would repeal the Act or bits of the Act.  Which bits?  The NHS; there is always so much to talk about. 


We noticed how tourists make a two handed Nuremberg salute when standing in front of well-known monuments.  Arms extended at 45 Degrees - with a camera-phone at the end.  Touring vicariously through a lens.  Does anyone 'look' anymore?  An iVisit.


Wait for the Green Man, cross Whitehall, dodge the party of Japanese.  Remember to smile at them.  We need their money.  Turn right into Northumberland Avenue.  That's where I saw her.  Standing on the corner, against a pillar of Portland Stone, in the sunshine, like a statue.


Black shoulder length hair, black velvet jacket and scarlet scarf wrapped around her neck.  This was a woman who had acquired the poise and dignity that comes with middle years.  She was tanned.  The deep walnut tan people get when they spend most of their life in the open air.  Not for her sun blocker, or moisturiser or night creams.  Every day of her life was on her face for all to see.  An astonishingly beautiful, peaceful, characterful and graceful face.   We made eye contact.  Crystal blue eyes that danced with fun but hinted at having seen more of life than they wanted to.


'Hello' she said.  I guessed.  County Cork.  Hanging, half hidden by the scarf, something you would never have expected.  The ID badge of the Big Issue seller.  Who knows what twists and turns of life had brought her to this street corner, at this time, on this day.


We are all ordinary people, leading ordinary lives until disaster strikes.  How did this woman get here?  I wanted to ask but couldn't find the words to open the pages of a story that could only have been written with pain.


I handed over my cash and she said; 'Thank you, you've broken my duck.  It's the first copy I've sold all day.'  I glanced at my watch.  It was nearly three o'clock and the street corner was teeming with people.


This week the Big Issue celebrates 21 years of continuous publishing.  Modestly prevents me from providing you with a complete list of the literati who have written for it over the years (!), but it is a good read.


It never disappoints.  Where else will you find the ubiquitous Fry, the omnipresent Boris, Charlotte Church, Jimmy Carr, Ian Rankin, Joey Barton, Jimmy Govern, the Homeless World Cup, film, TV, books and music reviews?  This is journalism worth paying for.   


The Big Issue started in 1991 when an estimated 2-3,000 people slept rough in London.  Since then it has gone from strength to strength.  Nationwide and acquired a cult status.  And, it is a disgrace.  For all its success, for all the hand-ups it has given, for all the great work it has done and is doing, the fact is, in June there were 5,678 people sleeping rough in London.  An increase of 70%, up on last April. 


It is a bloody outrage that after 21 years we haven't made the effort or had the wit, wisdom or money to end it.


I looked back to the corner, the sun still shone on the Portland Stone but she was gone.


I promise you, your Hobnobs will taste better and the cuppa-builder's will be more refreshing taken with a read of the Big Issue.  Please buy a copy and help a vendor build a small business we can all be proud of, and feel ashamed...  


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>>  Labour people can't seem to make up their minds if they are going to repeal the Act, or repeal bits of it.  Careers, companies and patients might like a little certainty, please?
>>  I'm hearing in Wales Powys LHB want to push waits to 36 weeks in order to balance the books.  Hywel Dha LHB want to do it but only until April 2012 when they will reinstate 24/26 weeks  - makes an interesting comparison fo Scotland who want to go to 12 weeks.
>>  Andy Burnham has been telling the Labour Conference fringe that his team 'won't be on every Save Our Hospital's picket line'.  Really?
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