Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Wednesday 28 December 2022

In which I mysteriously appear out of nowhere

It seems that we are, at last, to have all of our medical data collected in one place with the expansion of a new system to cover all NHS regions, meaning that -  at least until the next solar flare event/cyber hack/system failure - there is the hope that fewer pieces of important information will slip through the gaps.

For example, when one of the venerable ladies of Clan Macheath was recently bitten by her cat (little Sammy [or ‘Spawn of Satan’ to the rest of us] was decidedly miffed at having spent a week in the cattery), she phoned the surgery to check that her tetanus boosters were up to date. 

After trying several times to fob her off - “We don’t deal with cat bites in the surgery; you have to go to A&E” - the receptionist grudgingly agreed to look. “You haven’t had one,” she reported back,”There’s nothing in the file”, which is odd, given that Granny has travelled extensively and visited the same surgery many times for travel vaccinations, including tetanus. The record of these jabs seems to have disappeared into the ether, possibly forever. 

What is more disturbing is that my origins seem to have vanished in the same way. During a discussion with her GP, my mother discovered that her records said that she had never had children, despite our having been registered at the same surgery from early childhood. As the relevant section of her file was completely blank, the doctors had wrongly assumed that we were adopted and - with potentially dangerous consequences - made clinical decisions based on that assumption.

Now, it’s true that I made my entrance rather unexpectedly in the wild, as it were, and bypassed all the usual hospital formalities, but that’s not exactly unheard of and I suppose that someone must have made a note of the fact somewhere. A few decades on, however, as far as the NHS is concerned, I might as well have been found under a gooseberry bush.

It is to be hoped that this new record system, unlike its myriad mutually incompatible predecessors in the public sector, manages to coordinate information into a coherent - and accurate - whole. Unfortunately, I know from early temping experience that data input and filing, being neither well-paid nor prestigious, doesn’t always attract the most conscientious, competent or careful of workers. 

If it is set up and maintained efficiently, the new system could help to prevent some, at least, of the administrative mishaps I listed in ‘10 Ways the NHS is Killing People’. However, as long as information continues to be lost and the system equates absence of evidence with evidence of absence, mistakes will inevitably be made.

Perhaps this is the kind of thing that will be tackled by Midlands NHS trust’s £115k ‘Director of Lived Experience’, but I’m not holding out much hope.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Having the Last Wordle?

 A dilemma has presented itself to the good folk of the Tavern.

For some months, thanks to a bevy of obsessively competitive grandmothers and aunts, there has been fierce family rivalry over the online Wordle puzzle, with daily updates on the number of guesses as well as avid comparison of statistics at family gatherings.

We’ve been aware that it comes to us courtesy of the New York Times, an organ which hasn’t exactly endeared itself to the British through its insinuation that we - at least those of us whose ancestors have been in these islands a good few centuries - are a bunch of grubby imperialists eking out a miserable existence on boiled mutton and gruel in a cold and boggy hinterland.

While one would obviously prefer to be liked, the ill-informed prejudice of a few sniping activists isn’t particularly important in the grander scheme of things. However, the repeated falsehoods, distortions and anti-British propaganda are starting to grate. Latest in a series of Brit-bashing columns is the new opinion piece, which is being trailed with a startling bit of hyperbole:

'When Prince Harry met and married the American actress Meghan Markle, we saw, in real time, just how high a price the crown was willing to extract from an outsider, up to and including her life.’ 

I thought that sort of thing went out with Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, but clearly the NYT knows better (although if she is one of the undead, it might explain a lot...*) While such over-dramatic metaphors are straight out of the attention-seeker’s handbook and thus beneath contempt, it’s still part of a spectacularly vicious attack on the Royal Family and, by extension, the people of Britain, who are yet again portrayed as overt racists. 

So the dilemma: do we continue to pop in to the New York Times for a Wordle while ignoring the rest of its content or do we desist on principle? I await Mother-in-Law’s final decree on the matter but, in the meantime, I’m taking inspiration from the first Earl of Birkenhead who, when challenged on his daily morning visit to the lavatory at the Athenaeum Club (of which he was not a member), responded with a surprised, "Oh, is it a club as well?"

*Kipling, as he so often does, has just the right poem:

“A fool there was, and he made his prayer

 (even as you or I!)

To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair,

(We called her the woman who did not care)

But the fool he called her his lady fair - 

(even as you or I!)”

The Vampire


Saturday 17 December 2022

Joining the Dots...

Like one of those shifting optical illusions, interpretation of the Lady Hussey affair depends on whether you see a hostile racist mercilessly interrogating her hapless victim or a rather deaf elderly lady, in a noisy gathering of many nationalities, asking impertinent questions about the background of a woman whose name, clothing and hairstyle clearly suggest overseas origins.*

Many journalists were quick to point out that this incident, having no apparent connection with the Sussexes, served as independent corroboration of their tales of unacceptable prejudice pervading the Palace; headlines on both sides of the Atlantic were fraught with terms such as ‘validates’, ‘vindicates’ or ‘gives credence to’ the couple’s accusations.

The timing, coinciding as it did with the Wales’ official visit to the USA as well as the imminent launch of the Netflix ‘documentary’, ensured maximum media exposure for those expressing their outrage. One of the most vocal of these was the photographer whose portraits of Ms Fulani accompanied Vogue magazine’s 2021 feature on her domestic abuse charity: ‘They should have known who she was’, he posted on Instagram, ‘A GIANT [sic] in her field’.

If his name sounds familiar, then you probably read coverage of - depending on your choice of news source - the Sussex couple’s thwarted attempt to bring their own photographer into the Queen’s presence or the select group of guests at Lilibet’s first birthday party. Ms Fulani’s vocal defender just happens to be a long-standing close friend of the couple and was in regular contact with them when he met Ms Fulani, who clearly made a big impact on him and runs exactly the sort of organisation likely to interest the Duchess.

Small world, isn’t it?

Update: there’s a brilliant take on this story at Eccles is saved.

*I have, in the past, met a number of elderly dowagers in various social contexts and been subjected to similar brusque inquisition at first hand, including questions about my ‘people’, a term which, while something of a hot potato in today’s ethnicity-conscious USA, has long been interchangeable with ‘family’ in British landed gentry and public school circles. 

My antecedents being more Baldrick than Blackadder, it usually takes them multiple questions to sort out where I fit into their mental map. It’s a bruising experience, certainly (think of Lady Catherine de Burgh rudely quizzing Elizabeth Bennet in ‘Pride and Prejudice’), but it’s how they and their forebears have behaved towards younger people for countless generations - their ‘culture’, if you will - regardless of colour, creed or orientation.

Thursday 15 December 2022

A Winter’s Tale

This blog has long documented my family’s experience of the shortcomings of the NHS, on the part of both the institution and individual staff members. I have not mentioned this incident before, but it is perhaps, worth recounting in the current situation.

It was in the depths of winter in hill country some years ago. Drifting snow had filled the narrow local lanes to the tops of the banks and hedges, cutting off a number of houses, among them the isolated home of an elderly relative of mine in the advanced stages of terminal cancer. For the best part of a week, the only vehicle to pass the house was a high-clearance tractor driven by the local farmer.

This is not an unusual state of affairs in a hard winter, so there was plenty of food in the house (and gas cylinders to cope with the inevitable power cuts), but, with over a mile to the nearest clear road, getting to the surgery or pharmacy for routine medical care and drugs was clearly not an option.

On the Sunday - her day off - the local pharmacist arrived on the doorstep, bringing repeat prescriptions and offering to do some basic health checks. She had loaded the morphine and essential drugs into a backpack and, leaving her car at the main road, walked several miles through the snow to deliver them to the homes of three patients who would otherwise have run out.

What makes this worthy of comment - apart from the altruism of the conscientious pharmacist - was that one of the GPs from the local surgery lived nearby and was also cut off by the snow. Several times during that week, she and her husband were seen (and heard) out on their cross-country skis, following the tractor ruts in an extensive circuit of the blocked country lanes with much vocal hilarity.

While the doctor was in no way obliged to knock on the door en route and enquire about the patients, it seems less than neighbourly, under the circumstances, to ski cheerfully past the doors of sick people trapped with no access to medical supplies or care - in a relatively small community, there was no question of her being unaware of their predicament. 

Whether it was a lack of imagination, a fear of breaking rules or callous indifference, we’ll never know, but it’s an interesting illustration of how some GPs see their role within the community. As my relative pointed out, it highlights the unpalatable truth that, leaving aside community spirit and common humanity, the pharmacist had a far greater incentive than the GP to keep her regular customers alive and kicking.

Tradition has it that the ancient Chinese paid their doctors only when they were well. We aren’t going to turn careless indifference into altruistic concern but perhaps, among the much-needed changes to the NHS, we could incorporate some kind of motivation to preserve the health of patients in situations like this rather than picking up the pieces when things are allowed to go wrong.

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Where’s a butt of Malmsey when you need one?

Given the latest volley of toys being thrown out of the pram in Montecito, perhaps this is a good time to remember that disgruntled younger siblings are something of an occupational hazard for England’s monarchy and that, thanks in part to Margaret Beaufort, they have thus been clearly provided for within the establishment for centuries.

I am far from being a paid-up monarchist, but I am all in favour of an institution that forestalls the possibility of President Blair (and First Lady Cherie). If we are to have a figurehead at the top of the tree, then far better for it to be someone reared in the expectation of a lifetime of public service rather than habitually motivated by self-aggrandisement.

British royal protocol, like the strict behavioural code of the Samurai, performs a vital function in bypassing the personal and separating the rank from its holder, preserving the peace on an official level and in public whatever the personal feelings of those involved. When it broke down, in less enlightened times, at least, the result was frequently bloodshed  - enough to incentivise subsequent generations to stick to the script as laid out in detail by the mother of Henry VII.

This, of course, was the problem with Meghan Markle. Her stated frame of reference - fairy tales, Disney films and ‘Medieval Times’ fancy-dress themed entertainments - implies a complete failure to grasp the real-life significance of the titles and roles of the royal family or the time-honoured rules governing precedence and behaviour and, by all accounts, she wasn’t exactly open to instruction.  

It is even possible that, ignorant of the rules governing royal succession and coming from a country with no history or tradition of primogeniture, she initially misunderstood the phrase ‘in line to the throne’ to mean that Harry had a realistic expectation of becoming king after - or instead of - William. (It is worth noting that, while an English dictionary defines ‘in line for’ as ‘in a position to receive’, a US one has it as ‘likely to receive’.) Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned - or cheated of a perceived entitlement.

One could argue that the foundations for the current fracas were laid by Diana’s naive insistence on Harry always being treated in the same way as his older brother and by his own lack of insight or understanding of the role and duties assigned to him but, whatever the root cause, the answer is never going to be walking out on the family and setting up, in effect, a rival court, complete with queen, courtiers and hangers-on.

It certainly didn’t ensure a happy outcome for George, Duke of Clarence, habitual drunkard, serial whiner to anyone who would listen and ultimately found guilty of ‘unnatural, loathly treasons’ against his older brother.

Saturday 10 December 2022

Worst Remake Ever...



“Howdy, Stranger! If things have gone wrong, I’m talking to myself and you’ve got a wet towel wrapped round your head. 

Now, get your ass to Canada!”