Martin Hannan: Human spirit to stir the soul

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Though I have had occasion to visit them only once each, I recall my visits to St Columba’s Hospice and Marie Cure Hospice with wonderment at the fabulous work the staff of these establishments do.

Both places caused me to do something that is deeply buried in our human instinct – deal with imminent death.

In general, we are not very good at it. Modern society doesn’t “do” death. Only when we have to confront our own mortality or that of a loved one do we really think about death.

Yet in various hospices across the country, death is a feature of 
everyday life. It’s part of the process of being human, for we are all mortal, and the only qualification for death is to breathe even once – from that moment on, you will die.

The question is, how do we deal with death? May I suggest that we learn from the hospice movement?

On Friday night I saw a magnificent documentary, 80 minutes of the most riveting television I can recall in many years, and I am using this column today to beg anyone who did not watch Seven Songs For a Long Life to get on to BBC iPlayer now and view this extraordinary paean to the courage of ordinary human beings.

There are no words high enough to praise Amy Hardie, the Edinburgh woman behind the camera, for her record of her three years as filmmaker in residence at Strathcarron Hospice in Denny.

She brilliantly captured the essence of the place, with a simple but ingenious device of linking six lives through the songs the people sang. Whatever gongs are being handed out for 2015, Ms Hardie deserves as many as she can carry.

It was the patients themselves who made the film so special. I won’t spoil it for intending viewers by saying who survived at the end, and who did not, but Tosh, Alicia, Nicola, Iain, Julie, and Dorene all told their stories with dignity and no little humour, while the love and care shown to them by the hospice staff and volunteers was humanity at its best. It was powerful beyond belief, all the better for the story being told in an almost dispassionate manner that captured the vaunting courage of these ordinary people. Aye, and it showed their frailties, too.

One scene that made me livid with anger was Tosh O’Donnell, one of life’s charmers, having to fill in a form to get some extra allowance, basically asking him if he thought he would die within six months. What kind of country is this that our controllers demand that a dying man judge how long he has? That, surely, is the province of God or nature, and not the state. The very fact that someone has been diagnosed as terminally ill should get them every allowance going – and no length of time should even be considered. The scenes of Nicola McInally with her children were heartbreaking, but the loveliness of her singing was transcendent. John Grierson himself would have been proud of this blend of fact and beauty – proof that a documentary can be art.

Please watch this film if you can. At the very least, it will put your own troubles in perspective and reassure you of the indestructible fortitude of the human spirit.

Hands up if you don’t want to toe party line

According to the Unionist propagandists masquerading as supposedly impartial political journalists, my party the SNP is totally dragooned into toeing the party line as laid down by the high heid yins.

Maybe I dreamed it, but at the party conference last week, I am sure I witnessed the delegates voting for more radical land reform than the SNP government is currently offering. There was also criticism of the government’s stance on fracking.

SNP members disagreed with the leadership, and made their feelings known, while maintaining the self-discipline that so many members evince. No wonder the SNP is leading the new politics.

Example set by specialist unit

The SNP conference heard First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledge new units in the Lothians for specialist operations such as knee and hip replacements, all based on the work done by the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clyebank.

Ten weeks on from my own knee replacement there, I hope all the new units rival the Golden Jubilee for excellence.

Morain can rest in peace at last

On the subject of an indomitable human spirit, I was saddened to learn of the death of Morain Scott. I didn’t know him well, but I had infrequent dealings with him over the years.

The way in which Morain handled the murder of his daughter Helen and her friend Christine Eadie was inspirational. The World’s End murders, as they came to be known, tore apart Morain’s life, and brought a premature end to the life of his wife Margaret in 1989.

He could so easily have given up, yet he battled on for justice for Helen and Christine, and he lived to see Angus Sinclair jailed for 37 years for his evil crime. Now Morain can finally rest in peace.

A Christmas fare tale

Congratulations to the cabbies who got themselves a right little earner when a Thomson flight was diverted to Edinburgh from Aberdeen and only black cabs were available to ferry people north. Christmas come early?