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Monday 31 May 2010

Forceps for Meredith Grey?

This morning I put the hairbrush in the fridge again. Yesterday, the green beans were discovered in the sock drawer. Once, and only once, I managed to pop my mobile phone in the post-box, which wouldn't have been the end of the world, except that foolishly, I forgot the stamp.

Being a tad on the forgetful side may be an irritation in the domestic sphere, but in the workplace of course it can prove rather more serious. Not for me, thankfully, since I've never had a job where anything more important than a missing Annex to a background paper on the migrating patterns of actuaries was at stake.

Rather more worrying are the instances of forgetfulness in the operating theatres of Scotland's hospitals, which were revealed in the response to a Freedom of Information request just published by the Press Association.

Forceps, needle tips, fragments of a bone drill and swabs were among the lost property items reported as having gone AWOL in the icky inside bits of real live people. The data detailed that, since 2008, in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde a total of 12 patients had been discharged with objects left inside them after surgery. NHS Borders meanwhile confirmed that forceps, which are typically between six and eight inches long, were left inside a patient at Borders General Hospital.

Hang on a minute, the tip of a needle's one thing but EIGHT INCH long forceps? Surely that can't be right? I mean, we've all left our eyelashes curlers in the hotel ensuite at some point, but come on, chaps!

A number of questions arise about such a mishap. First and foremost, why were the forceps casually laid to rest in the patient's innards in the first place? That's the equivalent of putting your red wine glass down on the cream carpet at the neighbourhood watch meeting, it's never going to end well.

Frankly, it reeks of a rather dismissive approach to the dignity of the patient's entrails. What next? The anaethestist propping his thermos on your spleen while he doles out the egg nog at the Christmas party? The surgeon wedging her compact mirror into your lower bowel while she squeezes her blackheads?

For if familiaity breeds contempt, it must be jolly hard as a practising medic not to get slightly blase about rootling around in some dude's gizzard. We'd like to think that the atmosphere in theatre when we're etherised on the table is as reverent as a Trevor McDonald interview, when it's probably more like the accounts department's 'Cupcake Friday'.

Personally I blame Channel 5. I wouldn't be surprised if next years stats reveal a worrying number of patients who have had to return to hospital due to discarded DVD Box sets of Grey's Anatomy, protruding from under their rib cages.

My hunch is that while the creme de la creme of the country's medical and nursing undergraduates should be stopping in the library, heads buried in Gray's anatomy, they're much more likely to be swotting up the anatomy of Izzy and co. Especially now that McDreamy is on tap on catchup tv, him and his sexy barnet pining for that whiny, pinch-faced, cotton-bud Meredith bloody Grey who has all the sexual allure of an Afghan hound. (I'm sorry, where was I?)

Oh yeah, what sort of example is that to set unattractive, um, sorry, I mean impressionable young Scottish puddins, er... rather, medics? With role models like that, no wonder 12 piece teasets are being casually overlooked during appendectomies. It's hard to keep your eye on the swab count when you're undoing each others' scrubs with your eyes and wigging out to Snow Patrol.

But of course I'm being facetious - they never play Snow Patrol in theatre, only when they're lying in the foyer, spent from a long hard day rolling their eyes and shagging transplant patients.

Seriously though, it's obviously not a barrel of laughs to be wheeled home after an op oblivious to the fact that there's a wee internal party bag of gauze wrapped monkey wrenches festering inside you. Thankfully however, though 'one such incident is one too many', it's still a pretty rare occurence. Partly due to procedures designed to prevent such incidents , particularly that all swabs and instruments should be "counted back out and in" again, by not one, but two members of the nursing staff. (Though budget restraints mean that it's not possible to have Brian Hanrahan on hand for anything other than headline cases.) But also because clumsy, slapdash, buffons like myself are, on the whole, not likely to get through the rigorous training required.

The NHS, despite its cock-ups, is a marvellous, wondrous, life saving and life affirming institution and we all should thank our lucky stars we have it - though sometimes it does pay to have your wits about you - especially if you hear "Chasing Cars" as they're putting you under.

Monday 24 May 2010

Fergie's Fall From Grace

It certainly makes for depressing viewing, a middle aged woman, once the nation's sweetheart, feted at home and abroad, now reduced to a tawdry and pathetic figure, cynically screwing as much money as possible from her association with an institution well past it's sell by date.

But enough of the word of mouth on Sex and the City 2: clearly the big winner in this week's spectacular fall from grace awards is Sarah, Duchess of York, exposed by the News of the World for offering access to Prince Andrew for £500k.

It appears that after the years spent bumping along the bottom of the tank in which "Hello!" keeps its minor royals, Fergie is back on the media A list for all the wrong reasons. Except that in a strange, through the looking glass way, she's gets it so wrong she's almost right.

The joyous wonder of Fergie's association with the Royals is her total inability to cultivate or maintain anything approaching "mystique". She is a walking, talking, human anti-mystique virus. Fergie, just by being Fergie in all her "Fergieness", has let more light in on the magic of monarchy than a bonkers red setter with a penchant for chewing the curtains.

Silly Royal "It's A Knockout"? Poor Fergie didn't get the memo that you're not supposed to look as if you're enjoying yourself - bouncing around in her wimpole like a Spamalot extra. Extra marital affair? No coy glances over the polo cup for her. No, no! Rather grainy pap pictures of her instep being nuzzled by a semi naked YANK!

If the famous fairy tale of regal hubris and collective delusion featured Fergie, there would be no need for a little boy to point the finger. Fergie would be up there on the podium shouting "LOOK AT US! WE'RE NOT WEARING ANY CLOTHES!"

And of course hovering in the background of all her indiscretions was the cardinal sin for a woman in the public eye of allowing herself to get fat and unphotogenic. Diana's press was far from positive at times, but she always had the fall back of the drop dead, knock em' down photoshoot that silenced the critics - not least because their tongues were hanging out.

Of course, until this latest and possibly greatest cock-up Fergie had long been on the road to public rehabilitation, hauling herself out of debt, acquiring a new self-help, no self pity persona - oh and of course shifting some weight.

This is where I need to say that those of you who were expecting a republican rallying cry should look away now. I know her behaviour is appalling, sad and lacking in any kind of integrity, I know it wasn't some sort of conspiracy that forced her to seek to fund an expensive lifestyle that she could no longer afford. But, she also is a woman who still bears the scars not just of an unhappy childhood, but of the pressures of sudden global fame for which she was clearly ill-equipped.

Several months ago she appeared on Pamela Connolly's 'Shrink Rap' discussion programme. From Fergie's point of view it was no no doubt an opportunity to share how she triumphed over adversity. But instead it showed a woman with her face oddly frozen and a disconcerting habit of talking about herself in the third person, still not at ease despite all the NLP mumbo jumbo.

And it will take some going to bounce back from this latest 'indiscretion', caught on camera slurring like Oliver Reed in the green room, miming 'give me the money' and incoherently wittering about wire transfers like a Nigerian fraudster.

There will be many who see no reason to pity a woman from a privileged background who, despite her claims of "not having a pot to piss in", still lives in a luxury most ordinary folk can only dream of. Fair enough.

But there is also something slightly disturbing in the sense one has of vultures circling overhead, now that she is once again in the wilderness; of smug satisfaction that those long ago cries of "vulgar, vulgar, vulgar" have been proven true. And sometimes it's healthy to feel a degree of compassion even for these we don't particularly admire.

In the final event one thing's for certain, as a cautionary tale for any young woman who thinks that marrying her prince is a guaranteed happy ever after, they don't come much better this.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Rolling News

BREAKING NEWS: As I write this, Gordon Brown has just left Downing Street and the nail-biting cliffhanger of the past few days is over. Never have so many flights of steps borne witness to so many platitudes and a collective sigh of relief can be heard, if not across the nation, then at least in the TV satellite vans currently besieging Westminster. Relief that, at long last, there is something to report.

Well "Hallellujah!" and praise Laura Keunssberg!

For Ms Keunssberg, Chief Political Correspondent for the BBC News Channel has been an absolute trooper, always there, like Zelig, on the shoulder of history.

Take, yesterday afternoon, when it fell to Lib Dem negotiator David Laws to update the assembled hacks on the state of play with Con - Lib negotiations. David duly did the needful, muttering "friendly", "constructive", "national interest" and "more Red Bull please". The fairly obvious gist was that they hadn't reached an agreement, but hadn't given up on doing so. Called upon to explain the complexities of this concept, Laura K went all Donald Rumsfeld and intoned "Well, it's not a deal, but it's not not a deal."

Ms Kuenssberg is obviously not daft, no- one gets to be a Beeb Chief anything without being very bright, very knowleadgeable and very hard working. It would have been as clear to her as anyone else that a deal had not been reached. But then a deal had not been reached ALL DAY and this in news terms, was frankly unacceptable. It then becomes the reporters job to convince the viewer to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes. It's not an option for Laura Kuenssberg to say "move along people, there's nothing to see" since, horror of horrors, we very well might.

So what made said bright, able professional tie herself up in double negative knots (apart of course from near exhaustion which is taken as read...)?

Two words; rolling news - which in recent days has reduced the nation's finest journalistic brains to a rabble of breathless curtain twitchers.

"They're in the car! They're gettting out of the car! They're on the steps! They're at the top of the steps!" The hack pack recorded the movements of the negotiating teams with all the obsessive mundanity of an anxious first time mother checking the contents of her baby's nappy.

Of course, rolling news also had it's pre-polling day moment in the sun, outside the very ordinary Rochdale front door of Mrs Gillian Duffy. "These are amazing scenes" the journos exclaimed as the minutes rolled by, the door remained resolutely shut and scenes of any sort, amazing or otherwise, truculently failed to materialise.

To return to the curtain twitchers in the street, they were ably supported by the graverobbers in the studios. Since anyone who was anyone and knew anything was either in the talks or under wraps, the ghosts of Government past rose up to be stroked and petted back to life by Burke and Hare aka Huw Edwards and Jon Snow.

The mummified remains of Lord Hurd (previously plain Douglas) were exhumed, propped up next to the cheery spectre of Shirley Williams, and most chilling of all, a cadaverous John Greenwood slithered into the studio, to lecture us from the beyond political grave about what "the public wants."

But the most entertaining media spectacle of them all was the already legendary face off between Adam Boulton and Alastair Campbell. Campbell verbally planted his palm on Boulton's forehead and whistled nonchalantly while Boulton swung ineffectually at him like a demented emoticon. It was indeed very extremely hilarious and merited all it's youtube hits and retweeting.

But it was frankly also slightly disturbing that a professional journalist of that seniority should lose it so comprehensively on national television. Even if we take into account the possibility of a strong dislike of Campbell, it is also a symptom of the hysteria which has collectively gripped the political hacks. Boulton seemed like the personification of a lobby on the edge of professional meltdown, compelled as it was by the demands of the news schedules to find endless new ways of saying nothing much at all.

So what, you might say? A few slightly overwrought journalists at Westminster is surely nothing new. And yes, sadly, that's true. But given the fragile nature of the negotiations, and the "uncharted territory" that was being reported on, we "the public" might have a right to expect that those granted the privilege of recording proceedings keep a level head.

The sight of Brown leaving Downing St. hand in hand with his wife and children was poignant, moving and captured a sense of the incredible burden and privilege it is to hold such a high office. We need the cameras there to capure such moments and we need able writers to underscore and help make sense of the story unfolding. And we all need a moment to catch our breath and take it in.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Stand for Parliament? I'd Rather Lick the Pavement Clean

So by tomorrow it will be all over. Except of course that it won't. Even if we're spared the hysteria which will surround the horse trading which comes with a hung parliament, the hangover from this election will be pounding in our heads for a long time to come.

Whatever the new administration looks like, we can be guaranteed that gangs of hacks, jaundiced from weeks of binge campaigning, will be desperately trying to prize the fag end of meaning from this empty can of electoral Kestrel.

But pity the poor sods charged with creating a coherent narrative arc from this soap opera. Non-doms, Tory Toffs, Brown the wounded dancing bear; leaders' wives, bigotgate, and the Lib Dem love in. There's a doctoral thesis in the coverage of Mrs Duffy's front door alone. The emerging concensus on the top story though appears to be the impact of the leaders' debate and the Presidential nature of the campaign.

But if that is the tale that we are to tell our grandchildren, we are overlooking some very important protaganists in this story. No, not the electorate you narcissists - ALL the other candidates.

Watching the election coverage one does think "Stand for Parliament? Why not lick the pavement clean?" Except that doesn't begin to cover it. How about, lick the pavement clean as passers-by shout abuse and encourage their dogs to lift their legs on your new suit from Next, while an Oxbridge graduate from the BBC holds his nose and asks you to justify your position.

Before you all beat me about the head with a copy of the Daily Telegraph, yes I remember the expenses scandal, yes I've seen a picture of Eric Pickles, yes I know that some of our elected representatives are shallow, vacuous, greedy, indolent, self -pitying egomaniacs whose presence on the hustings is an affront to our intelligence and common sense. But if those elected and seeking election are a bunch of losers, (even the winners), why aren't we all stepping up to the plate?

Well because most of us would, I know, rather cover our naked forms in Marmite and have it slurped off by Ian Beale than spend 10 minutes in the company of the slippery snake oil salesmen that we no longer read about in the papers every day. And there's the rub. What is the tipping point at which your average concerned competent citizen actually wants to join in? We might all agree entirely that someone's got to take the lead, it's just not going to be us.

In any event, not wanting to hang around with some of the most hated men and women on the planet is not the only disincentive to seeking a political career. What if you actually get elected? Here's where I admit that for 10 years as an official at the Scottish Parliament I actually worked cheek by jowly jowl with elected politicians.

Chatting with friends, it often became clear that most people had a rather warped view of what the daily grind represented for your average parliamentarian. My mates imagined a demanding programme of champagne fuelled receptions and fact- finding tips to Bali interspersed with a little light fete opening and the occasional piece of fiery oratory delivered to serried ranks of cheering followers.

The reality of course is "somewhat" different. Most elected politicians spend most of their time in dingy flourescent lit offices reading mind numbingly dull tomes on matters like finanical performance indicators in further education, leavened only by a welcome phone call from a constituent screaming abuse about their rubbish collection (which, as we all know, is a matter for the local authority.)

One of the reasons why I, and many of my former parliamentary colleagues, loved The Thick of It (TTOIT) so much was not just that it is was so funny, but that it captured the mundanity of every day political life so perfectly. You could smell the curled up chicken tikka sandwiches lurking in Olly's briefcase from the lunchtime meeting buffet. TTOIT also caught the sense of forlorn frustration that many politicians feel at the fact that "making it" politically often makes it harder to do the things that got them into politics in the first place.

Because, shocking though it may sound, (adolescent high foreheaded policy bots and political junkies aside) most politicians start out wanting to help people and many continue to feel that way. Perversely though, the business of getting through the day for most MPs can leave little time for campaigning on the issues that they are truly passionate about and which may have got them elected in the first place. Add to that the electorate's high expectations and we find ourselves with disappointment and hurt feelings all round.

For the breadth of skills required to be a fine parliamentarian is pretty mind boggling. They need to have the oratorical skills of Jed Bartlett, the forensic questioning technique of Petrocelli, the charisma of George Clooney and the balls of Madonna. But most of all they need to be the kind of bloke we'd be happy to have a pint with. Especially if they're female. And for all that we are prepared to pay them roughly the same as an Area Manager for the Carphone Warehouse.

Of course politician's must take their hefty share of the blame for the contempt in which they are now widely held. We've been lied to and patronised and ignored and all too often treated like an irritation by those who are supposed to serve us.

But still we're a pretty tough crowd. I suspect even a cross between Nye Bevan, Mandela and Joanna Lumley would have some voters muttering "Too bloody Welsh...". As Alain de Botton posted (postulated?) on his Twitter account in the wake of the bigotgate farrago "We want our politicians to be at once entirely ordinary and completely exceptional."

And of course the fourth estate play their part in this. The demands of rolling news, a complusion to editorialise anything that moves and the (probably age old) insularity of the Westminster media/political village paint a political picture that rarely tells the whole story.

Political journalism is also dominated by the same kind of mindset as old fashioned politics, which is to say going for the jugular and admitting no weakness. So while we say we want politicans who listen and respond, we ridicule them for "flip-flopping" "caving", or "u-turning". We say we want politicians to tell the truth but in reality they would often be crucified for it. The attraction of the debates for many people may actually have been the opportunity to hear the politicans speak at some length about their policies

This is not supposed to be an apologia for politicians. Many, indeed very many, behaved disgracefully in relation to their expenses. Some have the intellectual rigour of a demented donkey and the compassion of Cruella de Ville. A number would be lucky to find and keep gainful employment of any kind in the real world. I've met politicians who would leave you for dead at the side of the road if it meant two minutes in the Newsnight studio. I've equally known politicians who are decent, kind, considerate and tolerant in their views. Both kinds, I might add, can be found in most parties you care to mention.

Politicians are human, awful, admirable, fallible. To paraphrase that great political philosopher Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, at the end of the day they're just people, standing in front of the electorate, asking you to vote for them.