Going home

After spending several weeks on the road supporting Runrig Malachy starts the long journey home from

Having been in England touring for the past three weeks, it felt good to be on the way home again.

I took the nine o’clock train on Wednesday morning from London King’s Cross and gazed out of the window as we rolled northwards towards Edinburgh. The clutter and bustle of the city soon gave way to green, and the urban interventions grew increasingly infrequent the closer to Scotland we became.

A dense haze lay over much of the country, covering fields and towns, and cloaking Durham cathedral in a strange half-light which made that city seem hardly real at all. And when the sea finally appeared, just south of the border, the horizon too was disguised, so it was hard to discern where the water ended and the sky began. It was a relief though to have it there – the cold North Sea – alongside the train, and I felt somehow more relaxed to see it, and to feel the space open up beyond the shore.

From Edinburgh I took a second train, continuing onwards to Aberdeen. The route follows the east coast, passing small seaside towns and villages on its way, as well as the cities of Perth and Dundee. It is a pleasant journey, and one which I have taken dozens of times over the years. Here the air was clearer and the sky blue. The horizon was now sharp as a knife edge.

Getting to Shetland can be done quickly or slowly – by air or by land and sea. I prefer the slow route. For one thing it is more comfortable; the hours spent on the train from London were relaxing, if not exactly luxurious, and the ferry journey north from Aberdeen can be enjoyable if the weather behaves, as it did this night.

It is good, also, to be reminded of just how far away from things we really are – from the noise and the dirt and the chaos of London in particular. Seven hours on a train, then 12 on a ferry, are enough to give a real sense of distance and, I think, of perspective. Travelling by plane makes it all seem too easy, and too close.

The boat arrived in Lerwick at 7.30 on Thursday morning, just as light was beginning to descend on the town. A pale sky of pink and blue in the southeast was just fading towards daylight as I walked from the ferry terminal towards the town centre.

At this time of year there is no way of getting to Fair Isle on a Thursday, which meant I had a day’s wait in Lerwick before my Friday morning flight. Or, at least, that was the plan. But Friday dawned grey and dark, with a south-westerly gale still raging from the previous night, and all plans were suddenly worthless.

Phoning the airport at regular intervals during the day for updates on the weather situation, I could hear an infectious lack of optimism in the voice of the woman I spoke to. And though the wind did ease during the morning, the change was accompanied by clouds descending and rain increasing. So when I was finally told at three o’clock to get myself to the airport as quickly as possible, I could hardly believe we would be getting home after all.

I was right. We didn’t. The clouds lifted briefly, and then descended once again. The flight was cancelled.

So I’m sitting writing this in a friend’s living room in Lerwick, with the rain still battering the window. The next flight will be Monday morning; though, again, the weather doesn’t look promising. On days like these, distance can suddenly lose its appeal.

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.