20 January 2013

The cold, cold, cold spell the forecasters have been predicting is still not here but I suppose it could be a matter of perception. Temperatures for the past few days have been hovering just around the freezing mark which is cold, admittedly, but does that really qualify as cold, cold, cold? I’m not sure. So it was interesting to run across a little comparison site on the BBC web site (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21044545). While it’s -1 o Celsius here, it tells me that it is -38 o C (-36 o F) in Yakutsk, Russia. So, one can’t really say that we are enduring cold, cold, cold temperatures in comparison. At the same time, it’s worth noting that Los Angeles is enduring temperatures as low as 17 o C (63 o F) and Sydney, Australia is managing to struggle along with temperatures of 37o C (99 o F). It’s all relative, I guess.

One nice feature of the cold snap, the ground is frozen so no more muddy patches – Molly’s and my morning walk has included the railway cutting for the first time in several weeks.

SnowWhat we do have, though, is snow, snow, snow. It started coming down in the middle of Thursday night/Friday morning and continued throughout most of Friday. Of course, Sod’s Law means that Friday morning I had two early meetings in West Oxfordshire which, by the time my alarm went off, was already under about four inches of snow. While I probably could have got there, I might not get home again so discretion got the better of me and I rolled over and back to sleep.

I was somewhat amused this week when I received concrete evidence of the government’s (of successive flavours) success in achieving their long-term, over-arching aim for the NHS. Ever since the Thatcher government, the mantra with regard to the NHS has been “Choice” and specifically the intention to give the patient (or “customer” if you prefer) as much choice as possible as to who they see and where they go for treatment. Blair continued the emphasis and it’s clear that Choice in the NHS has finally been delivered.

Now, I’m all for choice when it’s real and when that choice can be made on the basis of evidence and data. Successive governments have tried to do the same with schools – in theory, any parent can send his/her child to any school they want to. And, the government collects and publishes statistics to help parents make an “informed” decision. The only small problem is that essentially there is no real choice except in very few circumstances. In the rural areas the only real choice is the local school; in towns there may be a few secondary schools and in the large cities there may be several within a reasonable proximity. However, the “good” schools, not surprisingly, attract the highest demand and the funny thing about schools is that they are generally of a fairly finite size and when they’ve accepted the number of students they can accommodate, they’re full!

But, in the NHS we definitely have choice as demonstrated by the letter I received the other day.

For the past four or five weeks I’ve been having increased pain and discomfort in my neck. You will remember that I’ve had two surgical procedures and, for the past two or three years I’ve had very little pain. Now, all of a sudden and out of the blue, the pain is back. So, I trotted along to our GP and he referred me on to see a consultant.

A couple of days later, I received a letter inviting me to book my appointment . This I could do in a variety of ways at a number of institutions, the letter suggested. Excellent – what’s better than having a choice?

The first section of the letter contained simply my personal details. Yep, those are all correct.

The second section explained the various ways I could make my appointment – by phone, by textphone or online via the Internet. Fabulous – I am loving the choices I have!

The third section invited me to book my appoint for ONE of the following institutions. This gets better and better – even more choice!

As I read through the options available, however, I spotted a couple of small problems. The ONE institution listed at which I could book my appointment was the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Hmm, no real choice. The letter then went on to note that:

Online booking for this service is not available. Phone between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday.

I guess it’s all about providing the illusion of choice?

We are awaiting the arrival this afternoon (I am writing this on Saturday) of our good friend and favourite international diplomat, Jordan Ryan. He flew in on Friday to attend a conference in Sussex and is planning to come up by train this afternoon. Hopefully, the bucket-loads of snow we’ve had won’t make his journey too miserable. I’ll let you know.

(Yes, he made it.)

Finally, Simon Hoggart, a very amusing political columnist for the Guardian whom I have mentioned in the past, writes every year about “Round Robin” Christmas letters (such as ours) which he detests. Every year in the run-up to Christmas people send him some of the worst examples they have received. In a recent column he highlights some of his “favourites” which includes the following:

But what is most amazing is that at the very end of this seven-page letter, with its accrual of detail so boring that it becomes weirdly fascinating, he writes: “My mother passed away, aged 89, after a stroke. We were planning a big celebration for her 90th, but it was not to be.”

At least our Christmas note doesn’t run to seven pages although I’ve no doubt it’s tediously boring.

And finally, finally, happy birthday to our Nick whose birthday is today (not last week).

Love to you all,



4 thoughts on “20 January 2013”

  1. Much as I hate to disagree with me esteemed colleague….I have to report that the temperature on the Central Coast, NSW was in fact 45, rather than the reported 39 degrees….and I am sure you will agree, 6 degrees in that range makes a difference!!!!

  2. A belated Happy Birthday to Nick.
    Temperature in VT was a reported -7F a couple of nights ago. I personally was in -50F in the late 1970s, with the wind howling, so wind chill was -75F. That was COLD!!!!!! My husband Gene and I had gone to the movies that might, and when we came out, we almost could not start the car because the oil had nearly congealed. We were living in Madison, WI at that time.
    President Obama has taken his private Oath of Office, and will take his public one tomorrow, amid much celebration among many, and a serious Congressional divide in our legislature. The 24-7 news media is already at it. Enough said.
    The sun is on its path North ( rather the earth is rotating on its axis) and my thoughts are turning toward renewal and growth in the earth. Cousin Bunny W.

  3. Minus 25C with wind chill in TO today – balmy compared to the minus 43 being experienced by those hardy souls in the Yukon – but plenty cold for us wimpy southerners.

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