Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A cost-free improvement for the NHS

I have not actually seen the film "The Sense of an Ending" but was sufficiently intrigued by the adverts to buy Julian Barnes's book.  There I was delighted to read, put in the mouth of the first person narrator, Tony Webster, sentiments that coincide exactly with my own:

Do you know something I dread?  Being an old person in hospital  and having nurses I've never met calling me Anthony, or worse, Tony.  Let me just pop this in your arm Tony.  Have some more of this gruel, Tony.  Have you done a motion, Tony?*  Of course, by the time this happens,  over-familiarity  from the nursing staff  may be well down  my list of anxieties, but even so. (Page 69)

Change "Peter" and "Pete" and that's exactly how I feel, not just in the context of old age and physical incapability, but in all contexts when discussing matters with people I neither know nor am likely to know. (eg buying insurance over the telephone, receiving letters from my Party's leader).

However, Barnes is right (presuming he is airing his own views.) that the situation is most acute in the medical context, when we feel at the most vulnerable.  In that situation the last thing we need is to addressed  by authority figures in a manner which takes us back to our days in the mixed infants.

So the free improvement for the NHS is that all staff should  address people by their honorific (Mr. Mrs, M/s or something posher) and family name  and that should be the default position.   If patients then prefer their first name, nickname or something more familiar that's fine, but the initiative should come from the patient, not the practitioner.

I am not and never have member of BUPA or any other private medical scheme, but I'm pretty sure  that in those places patients are" Mistered" and "Missised" routinely.

More generally, the English language, which is so prolific is most other areas (we have half a million words and counting, compared with a mere 100 000 in French) we have no equivalent of the French Monsieur,
Madame or |Mademoiselle, which can be used indiscriminately without any sense of status difference or servility.  The French also get around the difficulty of distinguishing between Missises and Misses by addressing every woman who appears to be over 30 as Madame. (though that may be an unwelcome rite of passage)

In English, outside school, the army, police  and high-end department stores , "Sir" and "Madame" sound deferential, and outside Buckingham Palace and detective stories featuring senior female officers I suspect no-one uses the abbreviation  "Ma'am" (to rhyme with "jam," not "psalm").

I have no suggested alternatives to make but should be pleased if someone could come up with one to replace "Pall", "Mate" "Squire " (ugh) or nothing at all.

Of course, here in Yorkshire the unisex "Luv" covers all cases

*Barnes himself has dispensed with quotation marks

Monday, 10 July 2017

Great Britons

I spent last week walking on the Western edge of the Chilterns with an Anglo-French  group.  As is our custom we took a day off from walking midweek and did touristy things.  In this location the obvious choice was Cambridge, where we took a ride on a punt on the river, which was very good value, and a walking tour round the colleges, which had the cheek to charge £20 per head  ( though as "concessions" we got it for £18)   which included all " entry fees to colleges,"  but as we didn't actually enter any, or King's College Chapel, was a bit of a rip off.

When we were told of the original of Newton's Principia Mathematica in the Wren  Library (along with the drafts and sketches for Winnie-the-Pooh), the college to which Professor  Stephen Hawkins belongs,   and pointed to the pub where Watson and Crick relaxed whilst uncovering the structure of DNA, my British bosom swelled with pride.

A quick search on the internet will tell you that Cambridge University has, at 61, more Nobel Laureates than any other university in the world (Harvard is next with 48), and there are lots of other distinguished literary alumni (E M Forster, C S lewis and Bradford's very own J B Priestley) in addition to A A  Milne.

I do not subscribe to the view fostered by our school history courses that  Britain  has been "top nation" for most of the time since the reign of Henry VIII until the Americans took over, but the Cambridge experience is a reminder  that for the past few centuries we have been among the leading nations for science, medicine, exploration, literature, politics, philosophy, engineering, economics and culture. 

Britons have made serious and significant contributions to making the world a more civilised, stimulating and comfortable place.

Nor do I suggest that, post-Brexit, no one from these islands is ever gong to write another decent book or make another scientific discovery.  But if we go ahead with Brexit not only shall we be economically poorer - that seems now to be almost universally accepted - but we are deliberately dropping out of the big league.  The implications, especially for  science, are particularly severe.