Sunday, 3rd September

[Day 1266]

Today has been quite a day, what with one thing or another. It did not get off to the best of starts because Meg required quite a lot of attention to get her up and dressed this morning. Even after a good night’s sleep, she is still exhibiting a lot of fragility and this is having all sorts of consequences. Eventually, I got Meg up, washed and dressed and made progress downstairs but we had a simple breakfast. I started watching the new Trevor Philips hosting of a politics program on Sky News starting at 8.30 and some parts of this seemed quite good but other parts of it I dozed through. The principal contribution of note was Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequeur, who was commenting upon the crisis caused by the aerated concrete used in a lot of schools from the 1950’s to the 1980’s and which now stands in danger of imminent collapse. This problem has been known about for some time and is like a slowly ticking timebomb for the government. The Department for Education (DfE) has newly identified 104 schools and sixth forms with problems, but it is understood a full list of them will only be released when all parents are informed and mitigations are in place. Initial press reports indicated that about 150 schools and colleges might be affected but there are some indications that this in itself might be a gross underestimate. During the day, I have seen an interview with a prominent Conservative member of the Public Accounts Committee promising that a survey of all of the potential schools affected might be completed ‘by the end of the year’ i.e. in four months time. So, it would not be surprising if the number of affected schools might rise considerably. There is an even more alarming dimension to this story, revealed by today’s Sunday Times. That is that scores of public buildings caught up in the crumbling concrete crisis are also likely to be riddled with deadly asbestos. Experts fear that the presence of RAAC also increases the danger of exposure to asbestos which kills 5,000 people a year in the UK. If this proves to be the case, then we are not just talking about the ‘remediation’ of a few concrete panels but the complete rebuild of a school. The dangers of asbestos are not to be underestimated. Whilst Meg and I were working at Leicester Polytechnic, we worked on the top two floors of a building called the James Went building. On the first floor, electricians undertaking routine maintenance work discovered the presence of some crumbling asbestos and this evidently required expert removal. The way that this was done was to completely seal off rhe affected floors and then put the whole of the area shrouded in thick industrial plastic under negative pressure i.e. air was gently blown in so that any asbestos fibres would be contained within the insulated area. To monitor that no escapes of asbestos fibre were taking place, a series of monitors were placed on every floor of the building. But when the system was put into operation, every monitor lit up like a Christmas tree indicating that there had been a regular escape of asbestos probbably over the years. So the whole building was evacuated as though there had been a major fire and according to the rest of my recollection, it probably took at least a year if not a year and a half to remedy the problem. So all of the staff offices were vacated with half eaten sandwiches and the like whilst specialist teams of operatives, complete with breathing apparatus, were designated to go and search for some of the critical files and student records. The disruption to the work of the Polytechnic was extreme as various departments, including our own, were relocated to temporary office accommodation whereever it could be found in the proximity of the Polytevnic and as staff, we all had to go to our doctors and request an X-ray to indicate that none of us were suffering from asbestosis, even though the results of this do not show up for about 30 years.

And so we revert to the domestic difficulties I have been facing today. Meg has lost the ability to stand unaided so it has been an ‘interesting’ day with four absolute falls, three just about saved in the nick of time because I happened to be in very close proximity, one glass smashed on the kitchen floor and one and half cups of tea spilt in our living room. During the night, I will contact Admiral nurses and first thing in the morning report all of this to our doctor who I suspect will do very little. I have received a very supportive email from one of my ex-colleagues from Winchester whose flat on the South Coast had been put at our disposal and which we intended to make use of for a night or so to help us celebrate our 56th wedding anniversary in one week’s time. But this is now out of the question for self evident reasons. One of our friends down the road invited us round for coffee tomorrow morning so I gave him a quick update on what had been going on. As things stand, it may be difficult even getting Meg into our car so trips to the park might be off the agenda for the foreseeable future. We will have to see what tomorrow might bring.