Watching the first spell-binding episode of Adam Curtis’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, Dr No was repeatedly struck by the revelation that modern humans are giant biped ants. We live in colonies, ruled over preposterous queens — Jiang Qing, Mao’s fourth wife, and key player in the China’s Cultural Revolution, got a lot of air time in the first episode — and organise ourselves by the division of labour. We have workers (the likes of Dr No, and most of you), soldiers (our NHS frontline heroes) and drones (politicians and the mainstream media). Colonies readily attack other colonies, be it the maskers attacking the anti-maskers, or the lockdown fanatics attacking the lockdown sceptics. Like ants, we swarm, and frankly, the only discernable difference that Dr No could make out between a swarm of ants and a swarm of humans is that the ants know exactly where they are going, while the humans don’t have a clue.
Clive James once wrote about how he agonised over getting metaphors right. His efforts certainly, to use a clichéd metaphor, bore fruit. One of Dr No’s favourites describes Demis Roussos. ‘His stage manner reflects the opulence of his domicile. There is an immense reserve of inner warmth, as in a compost heap.’ Then there is the near perfect description of Barbara Cartland. ‘Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked like the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff.’ Neither are kindly, but it is not the TV critic’s job to be kindly, but to observe, and in the writing add something, and James’s writing is perfectly larded through and through with metaphors that add richness and flavour, like the marbling in a fine piece of beef.
“When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.” An Old Jew of Galicia, quoted by Czeslaw Milosz in The Captive Mind (1953)
Competent enough when reading out Google finance reports, Radio 4’s Simon Jack falls apart when loaded with a ministerial interview. Even with the bar set as low as it is these days on the Today programme, and the minister for jabs having all the appeal of a lump of blu tack stuck on the seat of your pants, Jack approached the interview like a teenager rugby tackling a brick wall, only to crumple through lack of preparation. Attempting to ask why individuals with learning disabilities weren’t being prioritised for vaccination, given their high covid mortality rate, it soon became apparent that the interview was to be as illuminating as mountain of Welsh coal slag. Click. The sound of silence filled Dr No’s kitchen.
There is a rather good video satire of Ivor Cummins on Caption Generator. In the interests of balanced coverage, Dr No offers this alternative version, of Hancock’s desperate last days in his bunker as the pandemic fizzles out and the government starts to lose control over the people. WordPress does not appear to allow embedding of video from Caption Generator, so here is a link to a tweet that has a link. Or you can use this direct link.
The BBC, now officially the unofficial news station for the Conservative party, came a cropper over the weekend when Hugh Squim, the oleaginous health editor for Broadcasting British Conservatism, reported that a leaked draft NHS white paper proposing radical changes to the NHS ‘would see a reduced role for the private sector’, when in fact it says nothing of the sort. Squim subsequently re-wrote the offending paragraph after being hand-bagged on twitter by the redoubtable Prof P, but the episode only goes to show how sloppy the BBC news reporting has become. It is the BBC’s job to give us unbiased fact based news, not our job to correct it’s shoddy reporting with the true facts. What can we glean from the leaked draft?
Perhaps the most putrid specialty in a profession that has more than its fair share of stinkers is public health medicine. A natural bunker for malfunctioning medical Mussolinis and failed physician Pinochets, public health medicine has evolved an alien and grandiose medical culture in which they who practice it are above mere patients. Instead, they have populations. Just as Mussolini engineered a society in which the trains ran on time, so public health physicians would have it that the population abstains from fags fizz and fornication, downs its five fruit and veg a day, and, armed with a faecal occult blood testing kit in its hands, opens its bowels on time. Their vision, like their ideological forebears, the Stalinists and the Nazis, is one of the nation state as a boot camp for health, a vast breeding ground for a pure population free of disease, infirmity and disability, all watched over by health marshals wearing caps emblazoned with the rallying yet blinding cry, Health for All, and All for Health! What could possibly go wrong?