Monday 6 July 2009

The desperation of the long distance columnist

14st 10lb, 7.4 units. After filing over 160 weekly columns for my local newspaper, and a further 50 monthly ones for its business pages, I have become desperate enough to consider taking requests. So when someone who plays a major role in making my continued existence financially possible said “Why don’t you write about the NHS?” it seemed churlish to refuse. Particularly considering that I had been burning people’s ears about my dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the service ever since The Baby was born.

Having lived for most of my life in a Labour heartland in which it is generally accepted that the National Health Service is the finest creation in British history, staffed exclusively by “angels” and let down only by the failure of Government to pour yet more money down its bottomless pit, I naturally had to restrain myself from writing what I actually think. In particular, I took care to avoid any references to the comical obesity of such a high proportion of the support staff in what purports to be a “health” service, or to their careless and uncaring natures. I certainly did not suggest that they should all be sacked immediately, and redeployed to the sort of ancient, unhygienic burger vans where they would clearly feel more at home, while all the NHS hospitals in the country were bulldozed and their sites sown with salt.

Dear me, no, that would have been a catastrophic mistake, mainly because it could well have resulted in my house being burnt down, with me and the family inside it, whereas the relatively mild version I filed (see should lead to no more than a few windows being "put through", as they say in the North East.

(Memo to Theresa May: if you truly believe that the Tories are "the nasty party", may I respectfully suggest that you have not spent nearly enough time in the company of Labour party members in Northumberland and, more particularly, Durham).

I mentioned in the piece that the only other institution which seems to be exempt from the prevailing culture of systematic disrespect is the Muslim religion. Let’s just hope, from the viewpoint of my personal Elfin Safety, that next week’s client request is not for a column about why Islam is Bad and Wrong.

I relaxed this evening by eating a delicious salad while watching David Platt go mad on Coronation Street and pelt his love rival Jason “Two Planks” Grimshaw with various plumbers’ requisites and bricks. If only real life could be as satisfyingly dramatic as this. But after having half watched one of those “real crimes” documentaries about an ‘orrible murder in Southampton, and applied slightly more focus to the ten o’clock news, I took The Dog for a walk near my temporary quarters in Chester and found all peaceful and quiet, apart from the church clock striking 11. The local garage, the Chinese takeaway and even the pub were all dark and closed. Only a pair of scratters on duty outside the filling station, with a pit bull terrier on a chain, added a promising note of menace, but our passing failed to provoke them from their torpor. Perhaps, like the guards outside Buckingham Palace, they have been trained to ignore disobliging looks or comments from passers-by.

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