Thursday, February 25, 2010

The NHS Thermometer of Suffering

Someone at the NHS must have bought themselves a new set of coloured pencils.

And that someone is clearly not afraid to use them.

A few days back a leaflet plopped through the letterbox from B&NES NHS. Your guide to choosing the right NHS service if you become ill or are injured this winter, it’s called, which trips off the tongue like... well, like something that isn’t very good at tripping.

And in any case, isn’t winter pretty much finished for his year? It’s February. There are lots of green sprouty things pointing out of the ground, and even the occasional crocus if you look closely enough amid the churned-up mud. It’s two months too late, quite frankly.

No matter: the NHS wants to tell you about winter infections, and has drawn up a snazzy colour-coded-rainbow-thermometer-type-thing to help you decide on your course of action based on the severity of your symptoms when you’re poorly.

For want of a picture, here’s a f’rinstance. You have a “Hangover”, a “Grazed knee”, a “Sore throat” or a “Cough”. Any one of these means you’re in the blue column, and you should opt for self-care. There’s even a dinky little logo of a house, which obviously means you should stay at home until you feel better.

Hmmm. Sounds like you’ve got carte blanche to ring your boss on a Monday morning and tell her the NHS says it’s all right for you not to come in to work because you’ve got a hangover. Your call.

Next comes the green column, which includes really nasty symptoms like “Unwell?” and “Need help?” Oh, and “Vomiting” and “Diarrhoea” for good measure. If you’ve got any of that lot then under no circumstances should you go within 25 metres of a health professional, in case it’s catching. Just get on the phone or that modern internet thingy to NHS Direct, and they’ll patch you up in no time at all.

Further up the Thermometer of Suffering comes yellow-green (“Back ache”? “Runny nose”? Go to Boots), and then yellow-orange.

Symptoms here range from “Constant pains” to “Constant aches,” with “Lumps” and “Bumps” thrown in for luck. For these you should visit your GP. Who will send you back to the blue column with a thick ear, because it was only a hangover in the first place.

In the second-worst, deep orange, get-thee-to-an-NHS-walk-in-centre column, things get a bit confusing.

Because among the “Strains” and “Sprains” comes “Itches”. Itches? Really? Since when did scratching stop being the cure for the itches?

Finally, we reach the Big Red One. The scale of suffering, that is, not the US infantry division.

If you’re in this column, with “Choking”, “Chest pain”, “Blacking out” and/or “Blood loss”, then – and only then – are you a candidate for Casualty.

Either that or you’re already dead. Still, you didn’t want to trouble the doctor, did you?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Feel the funk y'all

I don't often get all excited by new music coming out but I love this.

It's THE HAWK feat. Little Hannah Collins: Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover.
Craig Charles has been plugging it on his BBC 6 Music Funk and Soul Show and I just think it smokes.

The single's out on Monday and I'm going to buy it from

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Olympics: discontent in Vancouver

Having promised not to discuss the topic of snow again for the foreseeable future, it’s with a heavy heart and a crushing sense of inevitability that we turn our bleary eye once more to the Winter Olympics.

Not that snow has much to do with it, really. British Columbia  is enjoying (if that’s the word) its mildest winter since records began, and lorry-loads of the white stuff have had to be ferried in to Cypress Mountain from chillier parts 160 miles from Vancouver.

All of which launches us, bobsleigh-like, into something of a vicious circle: unusual climate conditions provoke extra carbon emissions from the Olympic ice road truckers, which in turn cause even more unusual climatic conditions. Or do they? Let’s not get into that one right now.

In any case, it’s a good bet that any extra emissions will be offset by the spectacularly embarrassing torch malfunction during the opening ceremony, which resulted in the non-combustion of a good 400 litres of prime lamp oil, and thus saved the planet from destruction for at least another six months.

Anyway, we sat down to watch the snowboard cross a couple of nights ago, and whatever the local problems – lack of snow, closure of spectator area, BBC commentators touting expensive branded jackets and triggering tabloid outrage (what are they supposed to wear, string vests?) – it was all pretty exciting.

And it was fairly obvious why.

Because the competitors were racing against each other, and bumping into each other, and pushing each other off the track.

In so-called sports like ice dance, this just doesn’t happen. No event where the outcome depends on a mark for artistic impression can really be called a proper sport, and even bona fide challenges like downhill skiing get pretty tedious.

Unless there’s a prang, of course.

And then there’s the small matter of the Brits not winning much.

OK, we brought home the gold in women’s curling in 2002. Remember the huge surge in kids wanting to take up curling that that sparked?

OK, Shelley Rudman won silver in the women’s skeleton bob in 2006. It was a great performance and a heart-lifting moment, but it was the only medal the entire country won at the entire Torino winter games.

So when Clare Balding starts getting worked up because our best hope in the skiing is holding his position in the top 40, you know she’s clutching at straws.

And when it’s 10.30pm in the UK, and most  viewers have gone through contortions with the digital red button to get to watch in the first place, you know that Hazel Irvine knows that in two hours’ time her only audience will be the terminally insomniac or those with an unhealthy fascination for ice hockey.

Let’s face it, the Winter Olympics just isn’t our thing. Unless, of course, we win something.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

They call me Mate, they call me Young Man, they call me Sir, they call me Babber...

... that's not my name.

The final poem in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats poses a serious and important question: “How would you ad-dress a Cat?”

After the tales of  Growltiger, Macavity, Mr Mistoffelees, Skimbleshanks and the Rum Tum Tugger, T.S. Eliot discusses the propriety and good manners of talking to creatures of the notoriously stand-offish feline persuasion.

(Just had a thought – someone could make a musical out of Old Possum and his cats. The cast would dress up in stripy cat costumes, there’d be lots of catchy tunes, it’d make a fortune. What? Oh.)

Anyway, after some intense metaphysical speculation about the difference between cats and dogs (“A CAT IS NOT A DOG” – Wittgenstein would have been proud of that one) Eliot comes to the conclusion that if you’re being polite, you address the relevant moggy as  “O CAT!”

If you’re on more familiar terms then you can try “OOPSA CAT!”

And if you give the cat enough nibbles, or noms as cool cats call them, “in time you reach your aim, And finally call him by his NAME”.

Nice idea, Thomas Stearns. Although it doesn’t work for the Hairiest Cat in Christendom, who slummocks around our house all day and whose reaction to any attempt at intelligent communication is to dump another load of spare fluff all over the sofa.

But what happens about the ad-dressing of people in general, and the present writer in particular?

You walk into a bookshop. You pick up whatever slim volume you want to leave lying around the house for the next three months without opening, let alone reading. You get to the front of the queue and the assistant calls you “Mate”. It’s meant in a friendly way, no doubt, but you need to be pretty familiar with someone to call them “Mate” without it sounding just a little bit false. Unless you’re in Peckham, which you aren’t.

You visit a computer games shop and they call you “Dude”. Do you really look cool enough to be a dude? No: it’s just flummery, or corporate programming.

You step out of your front door and you happen to bump into the Mayor of Bath (yes, it does happen). He calls you “Young man.” A flattering thought, although it stretches the definition of the word “young” to breaking point when it’s applied to someone who won’t see the good side of 49 again.

Still, it’s better than being called “Old man”, which while close to the truth in this writer’s case sounds patronising in the extreme.

How about “Sir”? The trouble with that one is that it can be used with such a huge variety of nuances – from the respectful to the neutral to the downright sneering.

No, whatever T.S. Eliot may have thought about cats, the best bet if you don’t know someone’s name is probably just to keep quiet.

Although “Guv’nor” has quite a ring, come to think of it.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Auditioning for Eggheads - the road to fame and fortune

It’s a long way from Bath to Manchester. Four hours by car, give or take, through rain, through wind, through tailbacks, through contraflows.

It’s a journey made no less arduous by the realisation  that Costa Coffee have detected your imminent arrival from their armoured watchtower at Stafford services, and have adjusted their prices accordingly.

Four coffees and a couple of buns for 17 quid? They must indeed have seen us coming.

And even with an excellent driver, there’s the daunting prospect of the long ride back after a two-hour stay.

However, go we must. Four regulars from the St James Wine Vaults quiz night have – shall we say? – “volunteered” to audition for BBC2’s Eggheads, and landlord Neil has taken the wheel to ferry three of us Oop North for our date with destiny.

The Eggheads, as you may know, are hyper-brainy people who’ve already won various TV and radio quizzes. They get set up in a quiz challenge against teams of  punters who want to recoup their licence fees with the prize money.

But before you can get on the show, you have to audition. Hence our Mancunian adventure.

In the moments when pub quizzer Jamie isn’t having last night’s winnings extracted from him to pay for the coffees, the journey up (sorry, oop) is punctuated with brain-sharpening multiple-choice questions from Neil’s official Big Book of Knowledge.

Do you know what a Glagolitic Mass is? Or who won the Grand National in 1911? Us neither. Which doesn’t bode well.

After a slight contretemps with a John-Cleese-themed sat-nav system which is only interested in taking us back to Bath, not away from it, we arrive in Manchester, where contrary to popular belief it doesn’t rain all the time.

The auditions themselves take place in the Palace Hotel, a Grade II Victorian red-brick extravaganza built as the headquarters of Refuge Assurance and whose corridors, all green and white tile, remind one a little of the sort of school where the masters wear mortarboards and the cane still swishes. Molesworth would have felt right at home.

The auditions, by contrast, are a jolly affair. Two young BBC folk cajole us and four other teams into pretending that we’re really playing Eggheads, we make a reasonable stab at proving our telegenicity (it’s great having your own column, you can make up whatever words you like), and even if the head-to-head, brain-to-brain bit is a bit nerve-wracking, we come out feeling fairly confident of success.

For now, though, we must wait. Our audition tapes and notes go to the Big Important Producer, and if they like us then we could be off again, this time to Bonnie Scotland, for our stab at fame and fortune.

If we don't get on the show, they don't come back to us. Which should save a bit for the licence payers.

Will we, won't we? Watch this space.