YOU’RE NOT ME

June 16, 2011 at 9:17 am (Uncategorized)

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Theodore Dalrymple fans will be delighted to know that Anthony Daniel’s second book, Fool or Physician, is now available as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. This is Daniels’ memoir of his early years as a doctor, working in London, South Africa and the Gilbert Islands.

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The below is taken from Second Opinion: A Doctor’s Dispatches from the Inner City (published by www.mondaybooks.com)

Available in trad book form here with free postage and packing worldwide, or here at amazon.co.uk

NOW ALSO AVAILABLE as an e-Book at amazon.co.uk (for British orders) and amazon.com (for US and worldwide orders)

RECENTLY WHILE TRAVELLING on the London Underground, the opening words of Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte ran through my mind like a refrain:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world historic events and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Why, you might ask, did this passage insinuate itself into my brain on the District Line between West Brompton and Earl’s Court?

Standing opposite me was a young man badly dressed in black, on whose baseball cap was inscribed the word ‘Victim’. On his black T-shirt were the words, ‘I wish I could be you’, which implied self-pity on an industrial scale. On his right forearm (from which, Sherlock Holmes-like, I inferred he was left-handed) were a series of parallel scars from self-inflicted injury. On his right forearm was tattooed a simplified reproduction of a picture by Gustav Klimt. All paintings appear twice: the first time as art, the second time as kitsch.

Reaching my destination, there was an announcement over the public address system. Because of the hot weather, it said, passengers are advised to carry a bottle of water with them while travelling, and passengers who felt unwell were advised to seek assistance. Who, I wondered, would help me with my profound sense of irritation?

I was on my way to lunch with an old doctor friend. He was in a lather of indignation, as usual, against the administration and its Newspeak. He was particularly exercised by the term ‘quality assurance’, the locus standi of yet another layer of bureaucracy.

‘The problem is,’ he said, ‘that no one can be against quality.’

Then we started to utter slogans by turns.

‘Down with quality!’

‘Down with equity!’

‘Down with easy access!’

‘Down with world class!’

‘Fewer patients, more paperwork!’

‘Shorter consultations, longer lunches!’

The other customers in the restaurant of the Royal Academy – for that is where we were – must have thought we were lunatics with delusions of medical qualifications who had been let out for the day.

Later that afternoon, I waited for my wife at a pub near a well-known railway station. It was pleasant to sit outside with a drink, even if most of the other drinkers had shaven heads or pony-tails, or (in one case) both. The only woman around, before my wife arrived, was also a man.

He was clearly in the throes of the sex change, for he dressed like a woman, and had breasts, but spoke and behaved like a man. I wouldn’t have mentioned this had he not spoken so volubly about something called a ‘gender assignment certificate’.

Here indeed is a new field for bureaucracy to till. I suggest such certificates be made compulsory, like identity cards. There will be errors, of course, but such is the cost of progress.

I accidentally knocked an empty plastic bottle off my table and it fell at the feet of another drinker. I bent down to pick it up. ‘I wouldn’t bother if I were you,’ he said.

‘But you’re not me,’ I replied.

And then I thought of the man on the District Line: ‘I wish I could be you.’ Then I wouldn’t mind wading through rubbish as I walked down the street.

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THE METAPHORICAL URBAN DARKNESS

April 1, 2011 at 9:46 am (Uncategorized)

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Theodore Dalrymple fans will be delighted to know that Anthony Daniel’s second book, Fool or Physician, is now available as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. This is Daniels’ memoir of his early years as a doctor, working in London, South Africa and the Gilbert Islands.

+ + STOP PRESS + +

Taken from Second Opinion: A Doctor’s Dispatches from the Inner City (published by www.mondaybooks.com)

Available in trad book form here with free postage and packing worldwide, or here at amazon.co.uk

NOW ALSO AVAILABLE as an e-Book at amazon.co.uk (for British orders) and amazon.com (for US and worldwide orders)

The Metaphorical Urban Darkness

SCRATCH THE SURFACE and there is always tragedy, mixed, of course, with wickedness.

Because of the economic crisis, I was waiting at the bus station: £2.80 for a bus instead of £28 for a taxi home. I had 50 minutes to wait and was reading a book by Richard Yates. I was wondering why the literature of so optimistic a country as America was so deeply pessimistic (awareness of death is the answer, of the bust after the boom of life from which there is no upturn), when a lady in her eighties sat down beside me. She was tired. Her cheeks puffed and her lips pouted as one with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

‘I prefer to take taxis,’ she said to me, ‘but I took one yesterday and I can’t do it all the time. I’ve got a little in the bank, but you never know how long you’ll last.’

These days, you don’t know how long the bank will last, either, but I didn’t say that.

She told me the story of her daughter, aged 44, whose consort, aged 57, had died of cancer a couple of months ago.

‘He was perfectly fine until last Christmas, then he wasted away and he was like a little old man by the time he died. He was a lovely feller.’

Her daughter hadn’t bothered to get divorced from her first husband until it was clear that her consort, with whom she had lived ten years out of wedlock, was dying.

She finally got her divorce, and shortly before his death asked the registrar to marry them at home, he on his deathbed.

‘The registrar telephoned her and said I’m sorry to have to tell you that there’s been an objection to the marriage. I’m not allowed to tell you who it was.’

But it was obvious: it was his former wife and their children, who were worried about the inheritance. They went round to the dying man’s house two days before he died and created such a disturbance that the police had to be called, but they left before the arrival of the police. They had learnt that their objection to the marriage had made no difference, since he had long ago changed his will. Their parting words to the old lady’s daughter as they left were, ‘Enjoy your little house.’ They were still making trouble.

The old lady caught a bus before mine, and a respectable old couple came and sat beside me. We were soon joined by a drunk in his late thirties, his clothes filthy.

His face had obviously kept many casualty departments busy in the past, and he had a cut with stitches over his left eyebrow.

Swaying and lurching towards the old couple, he asked them where his bus-stop was.

‘That depends,’ said the woman gently, ‘where you’re going.’

This came to him with the force of revelation. He propped himself up against the glass of the bus-shelter and slid slowly down it on to his haunches.

‘I’ll have to think about it, ‘ he said. ‘Wait a bit.’

I thought of a line of Gloucester’s in Lear and adapted it in my mind: I have no way, and therefore want no bus.

If it is possible to crawl to your feet, he did so.

‘Want to hear a joke?’ he asked. ‘What do you call a rabbit with a bent dick?’

This was clearly a question that the old couple had not previously considered.

‘A rabbit with a bent dick,’ he said.

The bus arrived, he didn’t get on it, and soon we were speeding along the literal darkness of the country lanes, instead of lingering in the metaphorical urban darkness.

LIFE AT THE BOTTOM IS ALSO NOW AVAILABLE AS AN E-BOOK HERE (US and worldwide) HERE (UK-only)

OUR CULTURE, WHAT’S LEFT OF IT IS ALSO NOW AVAILABLE AS AN E-BOOK HERE (US and worldwide) HERE (UK-only)

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PUSILLANIMOUS DOCTORS VERSUS AMBITIOUS DIMWITS

March 1, 2011 at 1:23 pm (Uncategorized)

Taken from Second Opinion: A Doctor’s Dispatches from the Inner City (published by www.mondaybooks.com)

Available in trad book form here with free postage and packing worldwide, or here at amazon.co.uk

NOW ALSO AVAILABLE as an e-Book at amazon.co.uk (for British orders) and amazon.com (for US and worldwide orders)

ANYONE WHO DOUBTS that, at least from the cultural point of view, the Soviet Union won the Cold War in Britain hands down should attend a conference organised for doctors about impending organisational changes in the National Health Service (and organisational changes are always impending in the NHS).

There he will be convinced that every doctor will soon have a political commissar working alongside him to remind him of his wider responsibilities to government and party.

Doctors in Britain are now roughly in the position of Tsarist generals, scientists and ‘specialists’ in the first phase of the Russian Revolution: necessary but distrusted, hated and feared, and to be eliminated altogether as soon as possible. The British revolution, however, has been carried out neither by the proletariat nor in the name of the proletariat: it is, rather, the revolution of the ambitious but ungifted, of whom there is a gross oversupply. For everyone is persuaded these days that there is only one thing worth having, and that thing is power.

Last week I attended, for the sheer fun of it, a conference about some forthcoming changes to the NHS. One of the lectures was given by a lady apparatchik from the Department of Health whose grimacing attempts at smiles, and whose bodily writhing as she tortured the English language with neologisms, acronyms and platitudes in the service of evident untruth, made Gordon Brown’s bonhomie seem like a model of spontaneity. She knew what the assembled doctors thought of her, so in a sense she was being brave; at one point in what I suppose I must call her ‘presentation’ there was a single guffaw of contemptuous laughter.

It was an illuminating moment, a flash of lightning in a moonless night-time landscape.

For a moment I felt almost sorry for the speaker: you could see the panic on her face, a fear lest 150 doctors turn on her and demand explanations in comprehensible language.

Alas, doctors are far too well brought up and chivalrous (or is it pusillanimous?) to humiliate an ambitious dimwit in public; and so the ambitious dimwits live to plot their revenge and increase their power.

Once in the Equatorial Guinean capital of Malabo I spent a very happy afternoon counting the number of aid agencies whose white Land Cruisers passed me in the street (the only vehicles there were). I counted 27 agencies in all, which goes to show that corrupt dictatorships are the boon of aid agencies. And I had a friend who played a game of special cricket in his mind whenever he was in the company of an eminent but notoriously self-obsessed colleague. A run was scored every time the colleague said ‘I’; there was a wicket whenever he uttered a sentence without mentioning himself. Needless to say, no innings was ever completed.

In like fashion, I spent the conference counting the acronyms. Of course, I may have missed a few after lunch, when my stomach was full of soggy quiche and a banana. Here is a list, probably not exhaustive: RIA, BIA, HEI, ASW, PQ, GSCC, IMCA, MCA, DOLS, PCT, LA, CSIP, AMHP, NWW, CPA, MDT, MHA, LPA, SCT, EMI, ECHR, EPA, SHA, AC, RMP, CRMO, NR, CTO, SOAD, RC. The best acronyms, of course, should provide no clue as to their meaning, and yet be bandied about as if the meaning were known to all. Once their meaning is known to all, however, their bureaucratic utility declines: for acronyms are to modern bureaucrats what incantations are to ancient shamans.

British slang converter:

Not so much a slang conversion for our overseas readers, but a brief explanation of Dalrymple’s cricketing metaphor.

Cricket is played between two teams of 11, each taking it in turns to bat while the other bowls. The aim of batting is to score as many ‘runs’ – almost but not quite analagous to points – as possible; the aim of bowling is to dismiss each batsman (‘get him out’, or ‘take his wicket’), in order that he retires from the field and can score no more runs.

Each innings has 10 wickets (one batsman is left ‘not out’ at the end); thus, when Dalrymple writes that ‘Needless to say, no innings was ever completed’ he means that a sentence lacking the word ‘I’ was uttered fewer than 10 times.

LIFE AT THE BOTTOM IS ALSO NOW AVAILABLE AS AN E-BOOK HERE (US and worldwide) HERE (UK-only)

OUR CULTURE, WHAT’S LEFT OF IT IS ALSO NOW AVAILABLE AS AN E-BOOK HERE (US and worldwide) HERE (UK-only)

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I was Just Trying It On To Get Some Sleepers

January 31, 2011 at 11:14 am (Uncategorized)

Taken from Second Opinion: A Doctor’s Dispatches from the Inner City (published by www.mondaybooks.com)

Available in trad book form here with free postage and packing worldwide, or here at amazon.co.uk

NOW AVAILABLE as an e-Book at amazon.co.uk (for British orders) and amazon.com (for US and worldwide orders)

I Was Just Trying It On To Get Some Sleepers

I PREFER ALCOHOLICS to drug addicts. They are more often people of character and are much more amusing. Even their special pleading (for themselves) is often funny, and they can be brought to see it. By contrast, drug addicts whine horribly and frequently turn nasty.

I see a lot of drug addicts. They clutch their abdomens with their arms in an effort to impress the doctor with the severity of their withdrawal symptoms, intestinal cramps being one of them. But as often as not the doctor has seen them laughing and joking with their peers shortly before.

Last week a drug addict came to see me in the prison.

‘Will I get my meffadone?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I replied.

‘What about sleepers?’

‘No, no sleepers either.’

‘But I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept for three days. I got to get my head down.’

‘No sleepers.’

‘Then it’s on your head,’ he said. ‘It’ll be on your conscience.’

‘What will?’

‘You’ll see.’

He meant suicide, of course. Were it not for the administrative inconvenience that his suicide would cause afterwards – not that it was very likely, except as a stupid gesture that got out of hand – I should have taken the Humean view that self-slaughter was his inalienable right. Instead, I gave orders that his clothes were to be removed and he was to be put in Home Office issue clothing, specially designed to prevent their being used for hanging.

The addict was horrified. ‘That’s not necessary, guv,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to go into a strip cell.’

‘But you’re suicidal.’

‘Naaaah!’ he exclaimed. ‘I was just trying it on to get some sleepers.’

‘So you’re a liar?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

‘So how do I know that you can’t sleep?’

He left the room, cured of his suicidal tendencies and his insomnia. As he did so, I thought how, if we ever rebuilt the Academy in modern England, we should inscribe the words ‘Just Trying It On’ instead of ‘Know Thyself’ over its portal.

British slang converter:

‘Trying it on’ – Attempting to make some gain by (usually hopeless and easily-spotted) trickery

‘Sleepers’ – Sleeping tablets

‘Guv’ – Abbreviated form of guv’nor, itself a bastardisation of ‘governor’. Informal term of respect.

LIFE AT THE BOTTOM IS ALSO NOW AVAILABLE AS AN E-BOOK HERE (US and worldwide) HERE (UK-only)

OUR CULTURE, WHAT’S LEFT OF IT IS ALSO NOW AVAILABLE AS AN E-BOOK HERE (US and worldwide) HERE (UK-only)

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The Tweeded Pedants, Of Whom I Am One

January 4, 2011 at 6:04 pm (Uncategorized)

Taken from Second Opinion: A Doctor’s Dispatches from the Inner City (published by www.mondaybooks.com)

Available in trad book form here with free postage and packing worldwide, or here at amazon.co.uk

NOW AVAILABLE as an e-Book at amazon.com (for US and worldwide orders) and amazon.co.uk (for British orders)

The Tweeded Pedants, Of Whom I Am One

IF YOU WOULD like to see the kind of out-at-elbow tweed jackets once beloved of schoolmasters before they discovered the joys of earrings and the like, and still by far my preferred apparel, you must go to provincial book fairs.

They are smaller and less frequented than they used to be.

It is a strange thing, but I am now usually at the lower end of the age spectrum of the people who attend the events that I enjoy.

I have the not altogether unsatisfying impression that civilisation is collapsing around me.

Is it my age, I wonder, or the age we live in? I am not sure. Civilisations do collapse, after all, but on the other hand people grow old with rather greater frequency.

There are two types of people who attend provincial book fairs: the tweeded pedants, of whom I am one, and the nylon-padded monomaniacs, who tend to smell unwashed and who collect books on (say) road building or double-decker buses of the world.

But we are all eyed with something approaching malevolence by many of the booksellers. They have all, I think, read, marked and inwardly digested that short but very great late Victorian work, The Enemies of Books, by William Blades.

It has wonderful plates, including one of John Bagford, shoemaker and biblioclast, and another of a charwoman burning a Caxton in a fireplace.

In a series of chapters on the destroyers of books that resembles a great chain of being, and that rises from the inorganic forces of destruction, fire and water, to those of insects and other vermin, and proceeds via bigotry to human boys, especially those aged between six and 12, and female servants who would clean books – ‘Dust!’ says Blades, ‘it is all a delusion. It is not the dust that makes women anxious to invade the inmost recesses of your Sanctum, it is ingrained curiosity’ – he finally reaches the worst and most ferocious enemies of books, book collectors, who are worse even than book-binders. That is the indelible lesson that most booksellers must have learnt from Blades.

I knew a bookseller who was so ill-disposed to his clientele that he often would not open his door to them, and those privileged persons that he allowed to enter were subjected to recordings of Schoenberg to ensure that they did not linger. He once refused to sell me a history of Sierra Leone – I was writing a book about Liberia at the time – because he thought my purposes in wishing to possess it were insufficiently serious. He thought my projected book frivolous. Several reviewers agreed with him, I am sad to say.

On this latest occasion, however, I found a congenial seller who did not find me totally unworthy of his stock.

I dithered over a very expensive but beautiful early edition of a famous 17th-century work, and finally agreed on a price, somewhat lower than that marked in pencil on the inside cover. ‘You couldn’t rub that out, could you?’ I asked. ‘My wife would be horrified.’

He took out a labour-saving device that I had never seen before, an electric rubber.

‘You’d be surprised,’ he said as it went to work, ‘how many customers ask me to do that.’

British slang converter:

‘Rubber’ – an eraser. Also, obviously, sometimes a condom, but not in this instance.

LIFE AT THE BOTTOM IS ALSO NOW AVAILABLE AS AN E-BOOK HERE (US and worldwide) HERE (UK-only)

OUR CULTURE, WHAT’S LEFT OF IT IS ALSO NOW AVAILABLE AS AN E-BOOK HERE (US and worldwide) HERE (UK-only)

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