Yesterday, while walking through the cornfields to the west of Chelmsford – en route to a comfortable pub in Chignal St James – I heard the unmistakable sound of a Merlin engine overhead. Looking up, I saw a single Hurricane flying towards the north east.
The sight was a poignant one, because only the fields, a few trees and the aeroplane itself were visible and I could have been transported back eighty years to when thousands of Hurricanes and Spitfires were intercepting enemy aircraft over Britain every day. The men flying those fighter planes, The Few, undoubtedly saved these islands from invasion.
What would those pilots have thought if they had known what was going to happen to the great democracy, with its ‘mother of parliaments’, for which they were sacrificing their lives every day? A country riven and polarized, that same parliament paralyzed and incapable of decision, and a prime minister in waiting so gaffe-prone, that his minders refuse to allow journalists and the public access to him, in case he makes a stupid ill-judged remark that could cost him the premiership.
My daughter has just given me one of the best books I have ever read. It was an early Father’s Day present, and I have finished it in two days – an unprecedented record for me.
The book: This Is Going To Hurt is by Adam Kay, and subtitled: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor.
As the title suggests, it details the diary of a junior hospital doctor over a six year period.
IT SHOULD BE COMPULSORY READING FOR EVERY MEMBER OF THE GOVERNMENT, and everyone else who uses the National Health Service.
Let the accolades speak for themselves.
The Times: ‘Hilarious and heartbreaking’
The Daily Telegraph (!): ‘… for all the laughs … a devastating account of our National Health Service.’
The Guardian: ‘So funny and important it should be given out on prescription’
The Scotsman: ‘Shocking, sad, funny and alarming … a truly laudable book …’
And many, many more.
There are some events detailed in this book you might wish you had never read – Kay worked in a series of obstetrics and gynaecology departments – but it relates with hilarity and brutal realism what our junior doctors – and every other employee in the NHS – go through every day.
The book was published when Hunt was Minister of Health and presided over the absolutely shameful defeat of the junior doctors. They simply wanted better conditions and rates of pay commensurate with the responsibility they carried and the number of hours they worked. And Kay finishes his list of acknowledgements:
‘With no thanks whatsoever to Jeremy Hunt.’
Hang on, isn’t he hoping to be the next Prime Minister?
In May 2004, my father wrote to The Times. They did not publish his letter, but it seems particularly apposite today; he quoted the original English, but I think it has more impact using modern spelling:
'It seems appropriate at this time of European Union to quote John Donne (1573 – 1631):
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
Is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; nay man’s death diminished me,
because I am involved in mankind.
and therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”'
The imminent arrival of Airforce One in Essex – Trump will probably land at Stansted – reminds me of the one time I saw that aircraft in the air, and its principal passenger on the ground a short time later.
It was the mid 1980s, and I was doing a sales trip in the USA. We were staying on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago, and were driving back there from visiting Fermilab, a large accelerator complex similar to CERN, situated in a buffalo park some miles from the city. We passed by the flightpath to O’Hare, and I saw the unmistakable colour scheme of the president’s personal airliner as it was coming in to land.
As we approached Lakeshore Drive, situated unsurprisingly on the shore of Lake Michigan, the traffic was stopped by a policeman, who told us that the president was in town and was about to drive past. Apparently Nancy Reagan’s father had died, and she was in Chicago, along with Ronald, to attend to some business associated with his passing.
We were going nowhere until the Reagans had gone past, so we climbed out of the car and stood with several other drivers, looking towards the road where they would be. It was very bright and sunny, and I had my hand up to shade my eyes. Suddenly, there they were, about 50 yards away, and Ronald, mistaking my raised hand for a wave, waved back at me …
I will admit to not having been a great fan of Ronald Reagan at the time; his idolatry of Thatcher was particularly sickening. But with hindsight, it was he who presided over the end of the Cold War, evidently in no small part due to his ability to form a relationship with Gorbachev, the Soviet leader. A very considerable achievement.
He was also notable for the very moving way in which he paid tribute to the victims of the Challenger disaster.
So yes, I have been waved to by a president, but I will not be at Stansted tomorrow nor indeed anywhere where Trump is likely to be while he is here.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs