We no longer suffer the ‘London particulars’ which up until the Clean Air Acts bit in the 1960s laid up tens of thousands every winter with acute respiratory illness; instead we have a strange miasma of hypochondria which descends upon the metropolis once the mercury begins to fall. This season’s outbreak has been set off by anxiety about bird flu. Knowing full well that the standard flu vaccine is no protection against its deadly viral cousin, and never having had a flu jab before in their lives, flocks of ‘worried well’ have descended on their GPs intent on a shot in the wing.
None of them is in the high-risk categories of the over-65s or those with illnesses that compromise their immune systems, instead they’ve ligged the vaccine on the grounds that they’re ‘carers’ – ie ‘parents’ – when this designation should only apply to those whose primary role is to tend to the chronically sick and disabled.
Now the doctors are aggrieved. For years now they’ve been struggling to get people to take up the flu jab – so they couldn’t believe their luck when they looked out and saw the waiting room was packed. They accuse the Government of not stockpiling enough vaccine, while Patricia Hewitt slates them for chucking hypodermics about as if they were drunken darts players.
Really, it’s the age-old spectacle of the proverbial bald men fighting over a hair-regenerating comb. There are two problems with the NHS that are continually being conflated. One is the general perception that the speedy advance of medical technology can cure us from every ill, the other is our profound unwillingness to pay more taxes for an improved service. The spectacle of the Prime Minister being given a rough ride this week by the Public Accounts Committee over his plans for healthcare reform was a laughable diversion. It doesn’t matter whether NHS trusts are structured as ‘service providers’ or ‘service contractors’, they still won’t have enough dosh to give everyone who wants it cosmetic surgery, a bionic arm and a nurse in constant attendance.
Matthew Wilson, the Managing Director of Essaywriter.co.uk, is a shameless fellow. This week he defended his company’s business of providing 30,000 undergraduate and A-level students with ‘bespoke’ essays at £239 a pop. According to him, many of his clients are foreign students who, having coughed up their fees, are having difficulties because they’re ‘unsupported’. Hell, he’s only fulfilling the resulting demand for well-written course work like a good capitalist.
What Wilson doesn’t grasp is that examination standards – like immunological protections – depend for their application on universal uptake. His 30,000 cheats – and that’s what they are – destroy the validity of other, honest students’ labours. However, what his remarks do highlight is the extent to which our universities are being turned into sausage machines which churn out graduates who have little or no interest in what they’ve studied. Nowadays you can’t be considered for all sorts of jobs unless you have a quite inappropriate degree, and cash-strapped universities are only too willing to crank the handle.
The abolition of grants and the professionalisation of higher education are creating an entire generation of young people who are not only uncultured, but positively anti-cultured. In my day, students either worked hard because they loved the subject, or lay around smoking dope and listening to Pink Floyd albums. Neither group would’ve dreamed of ‘buying’ an essay, because we understood that while academic success was desirable there is also such a thing as well-cultivated failure.
A la recherche du Science Museum perdu
Who needs a time machine when you have the Science Museum? Entering the great hall of the museum on Sunday afternoon with my four-year-old son I found my cynical old eyes filling with tears, as the years fell away and I was once again a stripling staring at the mighty Newcomen steam engine. Usually the city taunts me with its ability to change without my noticing. Suddenly a huge new glass barn appears and I have no recollection of what was there before. But at the Science Museum the vast engines of the Industrial Revolution remain in exactly the same places that they were 40 years ago, while surrounding them are brand new ramps, railings and a humungous gift emporium. My little boy tripped gaily off towards the rocketry exhibition, while I tottered behind pierced by time’s arrow.
Back to the Holocene
The Somerset House Ice Rink opened last night, and this year there’s a new feature – an ‘ice wall’ for urbanites who wish to experience truly glacial conditions. Despite the looming cold snap, London’s lust for skating cannot be fulfilled by natural means, so more and more of these artificial rinks are springing up. Personally I like a good glissade, but I remain acutely aware of the irony that the power required to generate the rinks is contributing to the global warming which will ‘switch off’ the Gulf Stream and so plunge us into a new ice age. Sliding to disaster indeed.
Life Is But a Stage
Marlowe’s Tamburlaine at the Barbican last week, Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love at the same venue on Monday. Tonight I’ll be at the National for Ibsen’s Pillars of the Community. My theatre jag is getting out of hand, after 20 years when I hardly went at all I’m gobbling at the live performance trough like a pretentious pig. I stopped going to the theatre in the 1980s because I couldn’t suspend disbelief in the performers – whoever they were pretending to be I saw them as actors. Now it’s all gone arsy-versy and it’s real life I find increasingly incredible, while Tamburlaine’s blood-soaked progress seems only too real.