Afore ye go… what about the rest of the United Kingdom?

Are our flags about to change?

Are our flags about to change?

This time next week we could be living in a very different country.

Maps may have to be redrawn to remove the words ‘United Kingdom’. Certain flags may become obsolete and sporting unions would have to be changed dramatically ahead of, say, the next Olympics in Rio. Currencies would have to be re-thought.

I would suggest the loss of MPs north of the border would also make it far more difficult for Labour to win a General Election when relying on an electorate in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Yes, the list of repercussions of a ‘Yes’ vote in next week’s Scottish referendum on independence from the Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland goes on and on. And on.

Why anyone would want to carve up our tiny island further is beyond me – particularly as the inevitable consequence will be that each part will have its influence on the world stage diminished as a result.

Having covered General Elections as a journalist since 1992 I’ve developed a healthy disregard for opinion polls.

But it seems that the result of next week’s vote is genuinely too close to call.

To my mind, both sides of the debate are guilty of scaremongering and crass hypocrisy.

I think the truth is neither side fully understands or can predict all the ramifications of Scotland going it alone.

Sadly, the main parties in Westminster give the impression they have only just woken up to the possibility of the ‘Yes’ campaign winning.

The sight of the Prime Minister, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg scurrying north of the border to bolster the ‘No’ campaign smacked of desperation to me and I can’t believe it will have any substantial effect on voters.

Meanwhile, Alex Salmond and the nationalists can’t shake off the simple fact that independence is a huge gamble – not just for Scotland, but for the UK as a whole.

Not that the SNP give much of a monkey’s about the rest of us.

A lot of the ‘Yes’ campaign’s rhetoric seems to be based on perceived historical injustices and the fact that the south east of England gets all the money and attention from the powers-that-be at Westminster.

Of course, on that basis, anywhere north of the Watford Gap has a gripe.

Indeed, I eagerly await Stoke-on-Trent’s bid for independence from London and the ‘sarf’ east.

I will, personally, be extremely sad to see a majority of the people in Scotland vote for independence. I love the place. I holiday there most years and I think it has the best landscape in Britain and, perhaps wrongly, I consider it part of ‘my country’.

I’ll be sad because we’ll be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of tradition and ties – involving, for example, the military and the Royal Family.

The Union that survived two world wars will have been undone by the drip, drip effect of devolution.

Even if it’s a ‘No’ vote this is a ‘win-win’ for Mr Salmond and the nationalists because more powers will be ceded north of the border by the main Westminster parties as an incentive to keep the fragile Union together a while longer.

I dare say there are plenty of people here in England who will say, without hesitation: ‘Let them go and have their independence!’.

They will be angry that the constituents of Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown continue to enjoy free prescriptions and free university tuition paid for, arguably, by taxpayers in the rest of the UK.

Meanwhile, here in England prescriptions cost £8.05 each and a university education is cost-prohibitive for many because it equates to a second mortgage.

I’m not jealous of the Scots. Good on ’em, I say.

In fact, here in England I would suggest we could learn a few lessons from them with regard to their relentless pursuit of equality and fairness for all.

I joked earlier about the Potteries and the north seeking independence from London and the south east. But I believe there is a genuine argument for the rest of the country outside London no longer being treated like second class citizens on account of the capital being ‘the City’ and our ‘financial powerhouse’ – as Boris Johnson and the like constantly to refer to it.

From an English perspective, the Scottish referendum on independence is sort of like watching your brother rail against his parents and threaten to leave home.

What’s worse is that you’re not allowed to have a say in his decision – even though your brother’s departure will have a huge impact on the family as a whole.

Whatever happens, I wish the people of Scotland all the best for the future because I consider them my friends and neighbours – even if they do take the high road.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

Pride of ‘temp’ who kept healthcare in the family for almost 42 years

Bryony Pratt who is retiring as a doctors' receptionist after almost 42 years working at the surgery in Norton.

Bryony Pratt who is retiring as a doctors’ receptionist after almost 42 years working at the surgery in Norton.

When Bryony Glass began work as a receptionist at the doctors’ surgery in Norton it was intended to be a temporary position.

Almost 42 years later Bryony Pratt, as she is now, is due to retire on Thursday – bringing an end to her family’s 100 year connection with health care in North Staffordshire.

When her father, Charles John Glass, was born in Smallthorne in 1915 her grandfather Charles Stanley Glass – originally from Scotland – was already an established GP in Norton.

It was her dad who, in March 1971, persuaded her to cover as a receptionist at the surgery.

He was a GP partner and his daughter was in-between jobs and aged 21 at the time.

Bryony recalls: “They were a bit short-staffed due to illness and so my father asked if I would like to help out.

“I absolutely loved it. I loved interacting with people.

“I am a Nortonian born and bred and the patients were people I had grown up with. I just fell into the job very naturally.”

A few months later tragedy struck, however, when her father passed away suddenly at the age of just 55.

Bryony said: “It was just assumed that I would carry on and so I did.

“At the time there were only two of us – the surgery manager and myself.

“We had just one telephone and there were no appointments.

“If people were ill they would turn up at the surgery and ask if they could see one of the doctors. There were four when I started.

“Of course, many people didn’t even have telephone and so would go to the home of the nearest person who had one or even go to a shop where there was a phone.”

Things have changed an awful lot since Bryony greeted her first patients back in the early Seventies but her commitment to the job has been unwavering.

She still almost always walks the 40 or so minutes from her home in Clay Lake which she shares with her husband Colin to the surgery in Station Road, Norton.

Bryony said: ”There have been many changes over the years – such as switching from paper records to computers in the mid-Eighties. There are now more doctors, we have an additional sister surgery in Endon and the number of people working for us has grown to 10 receptionists and seven other staff.

“We have practice nurses on site who do a lot of things that GPs like my father used to do and we now operate a triage system. We are also a lot busier these days because the population has grown and patients’ expectations are far greater than they used to be.

“There was a time when people were happy to take a doctor’s opinion and advice. Nowadays people are better informed and want to go away with something.

“The doctors themselves do far fewer house calls these days because many people have vehicles and are able to get to the surgery via public transport.

“The advent of the out-of-hours system, which means doctors are no longer on call 24 hours a day has also changed things dramatically.

“I remember my father was constantly in and out of bed. In fact, he used to make house calls in his pyjamas and sleep in his coat because we didn’t have central heating back then – nobody did.”

What shines through from meeting Bryony is her passion for not only the job but, more so, the people whose lives she has touched over four decades.

She said: “There are patients who came in for their school injections at the age of five or so who are now in their mid to late forties and have grandchildren.

“They have quite literally grown up with me and it has been a real privilege to be a part of their lives for so long.

“I’m very proud of my family’s service to the health profession and the people of Norton and the surrounding areas.

“When my father passed away I felt he was still with me and that I was carrying on in the family tradition.”

Bryony hasn’t even retired yet and already she’s received 23 cards, flowers and chocolates from grateful patients who will miss her dearly when she’s not there.

She said: “It makes me very emotional. You can’t help but be because this job requires a very personal touch. Over time you develop friendships. People confide in you. Trust you. Rely on you to make decisions in their best interests.

“It is not always easy but I like to be at the sharp end and I have never lost sight of the fact that my priority is the patients: the people who come through those doors.”

She added: “I just want to say a huge thank you to all the people who have let me into their lives over the years. It has been a genuine privilege and I will miss them all.”

But won’t she be bored after Thursday?

Bryony laughed. “Have you seen the size of our garden? I also like to walk. I do about 20 miles a week. I also enjoy swimming which I never seem to have the time to do but I perhaps will now.”

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

Holiday made me remember just why I love Scotland


Holidays are supposed to be relaxing. This is, of course, a myth perpetuated by travel operators and anyone who doesn’t have children.
How many times have you picked up a holiday brochure to be confronted by a gorgeous,
bikini-clad woman on a lilo floating across a calm, sky blue swimming pool seemingly without a care in the world?
I guess the image of said woman trying to cram her family and most of her household belongings into a car in the pouring rain isn’t quite so appealing.
Yes, the truth is that – for parents – going on holiday is one of the most stressful and tiring undertakings of the year. So much so that I’ve returned to work for a rest.
It wasn’t like I’d been on a round-the-world trip, either. We had a week in Dorset and a week in Cornwall.
It started off well enough. Despite my protestations, we managed to squeeze two children, a puppy and most of our worldly goods into a small hatchback.
Granted, I couldn’t see out of the back window and my car did have a Flintstone-esque lilt to it as we went round corners – but we coped.
We also possess something my mum and dad never had – the advantage of in-car DVD players.
However, having listened to The Wishing Chair theme tune a couple of dozen times I was ready to throw the technology out of the window by the time we reached the M5.
Which was precisely where the problems began. That was where the four-hour journey to Dorset turned into an eight-hour slog.
We hit a tailback so impressive it would have had Norris Mcwhirter reaching for his notebook.
That’s when I developed an irrational hatred for caravans and motorhomes and that infamous radio travel bulletin phrase ‘sheer weight of traffic’.
That’s when the bribes with confectionery and endless games of I spy commenced.
I have honestly never seen so many vehicles. While the northbound carriageway was like the D-Road at 3am on a Sunday, it seemed like the whole of the UK was heading south to stay in the same cottage as us.
You may have thought that our Sat-Nav would have come to our rescue at this point. You’d be wrong.
Robot-voice attempted to divert us across cabbage patches and down country lanes last navigated by a horse and cart when we still had an empire.
Suffice to say that it’s good, old-fashioned maps for the Tideswells from now on.
Delays and traffic jams became a recurring theme for the whole holiday.
Sadly, the congestion didn’t ease even when we arrived at our various destinations.
You see, I remember Land’s End as having a gift shop and nowt else. These days it is a costly tourist attraction with a car park so vast you need a map to find your vehicle.
Quaint little fishing village St. Ives was like Hanley on a Saturday night – only with a few more parking spaces and bit less vomit.
St. Michael’s Mount – that beautiful island just off the coast of Penzance – was overrun with so many tourists as to render a visit to the priory/fortress pointless.
Wherever we went, no matter how early we set off, there were hordes of people pushing and shoving and driving round in circles for the holy grail of a parking space.
I realised that things have changed an awful lot since mum and dad took my brother and I on holiday to Paignton all those years ago.
Basically, England is now full. Enough said. Never mind whether or not it’s the school holidays there are simply too many people and too many cars.
Given that all of the places of interest were rammed I fell back on the simple pleasures.
The weather was overcast but who cared? It was ice creams all round down on the beach at Sennen Cove.
Then my mum fell asleep while the missus read the paper.
Lois scoured the rock pools with granded and fearless, four-year-old Mina paddled in the sea (even though it felt like the water temperature was around minus 30).
Meanwhile yours truly set about building sand castles with the kind of care and precision employed by Arthur Wellesley in the construction of the Lines of Torres Vedras.
Waves crashed against the rocks, the seagulls cried and finally everyone relaxed.
It was at that point that I remembered why we holiday in Scotland every year: Because when you get north of Fort William there’s no bugger there.

Bring on a dusting of the white stuff

More snow? Really? Well, that’s what our weather forecasters are saying. Arctic blasts hitting the UK in the next couple of days. First Scotland will get a dusting of the white stuff and then the rest of us, with temperatures dropping to minus five or even lower. Of course, we have to take much of this with a large pinch of salt – meteorologists have been wrong before. But I, for one, love snow. Never mind all the moaning and groaning, give me cold weather any day of the week rather than those awful sticky summer nights when you can’t sleep because it’s so bleeding hot. I’ve just returned from a holiday to Scotland where there’s still a bit of snow in the Cairngorms. It’s magical to wake up to. My kids love it, my dog loves it. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…