Regular devotees of this column (maybe even both of them if I am lucky) will know that where I am concerned, the rest of this famous quotation ‘…I will say zees only wernse’ rarely applies. After 30-plus years of penning a fortnightly or monthly column such as this, in a field such as dentistry, I am likely to have made the same or similar points many times. The fact that I seem to get away with it most of the time, is both gratifying and depressing. Depressing because it could mean that nobody reads the stuff first time around, or that they don’t read it second time around, or that they don’t read it at all. Or perhaps that it is such rubbish that nobody remembers it anyway. Undeterred by any of this, let me tell you a story. A fellow passenger on my daily 200-mile round trip commute to my place of work, was having trouble getting the promised – and much publicised – wi-fi connection on the train. The guard listened attentively, expressed his profuse apologies and reassuringly confirmed that he would be right back. And so he was, this time armed with a leaflet explaining what to do if experiencing problems with the on-train wi-fi connection. Minutes later my travelling colleague descended into peals of laughter because the leaflet provided an email address through which to access the wi-fi helpline. Priceless. Sometimes I wonder if there is so much ‘stuff’ coming at us all day, every day, that there is no longer enough time to filter it and activate the bull**it and ‘do you really want to say that?’ detector. On the morning when William and Kate woke up in Malaysia to the news that topless photographs of Kate were circulating on the internet and were about to appear in the French press, a BBC commentator started a sentence with ‘they were reported to be….’ and then he paused. For a split second I held my breath, thinking that we were about to be treated, over our cornflakes, to an assessment of Kate’s upper body strength. But then he continued ‘…saddened’. Panic over. But, in a year when Harry’s lower body strength and credentials at naked billiards, and the derriere of Kate’s sister P Middy have come under such sustained public scrutiny, I was reminded that things often happen in threes. (Now that would have been a story).
You may have noticed the recent juxtaposition of the publication of the damning findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, and a piece on the detention of terrorist suspects by coalition troops in Afghanistan. In both cases, although chronicling events separated by over 20 years, reference was made to the culture of solidarity and loyalty to colleagues, without which the police and defence forces could not exist. Around the same time, several national newspapers brought together stories about a surprising number of high-flying head teachers who were under investigation over financial and management irregularities. Nobody would question, I am sure, the appropriateness of listening to the background noise, rumours and whispers about what really happened at Hillsborough all those years ago. Unfortunately, this was hardly a case of ‘listen very carefully… I will say this only once’ because those poor families had to tell their story over and over again before anyone was prepared to listen; how different today in healthcare where the ‘raising of concerns’ has been turned into something of an art form. It has become an institutional means of removing unwelcome colleagues, of advancing one’s own career, of settling scores, and other dark arts.