Decisions, decisions


I have been reading an excellent book by the renowned Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh called “Do No Harm”.

The title comes from part of the admonitions of the father of medicine Hippocrates to all doctors of the future… “First, do no harm”.

In the book Marsh talks honestly about the job of being a neurosurgeon. He recalls different cases that he operated on, some of which he was highly successful with and others which resulted in pain, disability or death for his patients.

Throughout he reveals his fears and his anger at attempting to treat patients who are seriously ill. The fear is in making mistakes and he admits that a brain surgeon learns more from failure than from success but at a very high price in terms of the lives of his patient and their family.

He recounts how his own child, ironically, developed a brain  tumour when only three months old. He recounts rushing with his wife to his local hospital and his feelings of overwhelming fear and frustration at the seeming slowness of action for what they believed was a life-threatening condition.

It turned out that the tumour was benign and easily removed but the experience of the events stayed with Henry Marsh and made him well aware of the emotions of his patients’ families.

The key to Marsh’s book is the fact that surgeons are only human. They have to make decisions on a daily basis. Some of these decisions will be good ones and some will be seriously wrong.

I spent my working life as a teacher and consultant. I made decisions that were, as I now realise, wrong. My decisions did not have anything like the consequences that a surgeon’s decisions have. There is no life and death outcome.

Another theme of Marsh’s book is his growing resentment at developments in the service that he works in. He is a committed believer in the National Health Service and has spent nearly 40 years within it.

He bemoans the fact that many of his operations have to be postponed, often when patients have been prepared for them, because there is no bed-space available. He bemoans the paperwork that exists and the stupidity of government rules that can hinder him from operating, often with deadly results.

The video above was from a BBC “Newsnight” programme just before the recent election that has seen a Tory Government returned with intentions to continue the stealth cuts that have made our National Health Service weaker and potentially non-workable.

In the election there were many of us who pointed out that the NHS was under pressure and that an outright victory for the Conservative Party would cost lives.

Politicians make decisions that cost lives just as  a surgeon does. The surgeon does so in an attempt to help and cure, in the best traditions of Hippocrates. The politician has no such idea in mind. They are the slave to their political and economic ideologies.

It is a pity that they do not have a statement that guides their actions as they seek to govern. If you can do no good DO NO HARM!



I have to admit thatI had never really come across William Zinsser until yesterday. Unfortunately the reason for my discovery was because of his death on May 12th aged 92. (see

I read the BBC report on his life and decided to look at what many consider his masterwork “On Writing Well” which is a master coach’s advice on how to put pen to paper or better still use a word-processor which he loved and championed later in his life.

This story that I am now writing would no doubt have been scrutinised by the master for economy of language, for care not to use too many buzz-words and for personalisation.

He was very much someone who believed in writing as a craft and felt that every piece of writing needed to be kept simple and personal. He stated that you write specifically or yourself and that it is up to your audience to appreciate your efforts. Do not pander to what you think your audience wants to see but what you want to tell them.

What I want to tell you is that, as a subscriber to Scribd, I was able to access the audio book of “On Writing Well”. I sat back in my comfortable chair and heard the soft tones of the author himself reading his book.I found myself thinking, as he read, of the other pieces that I had written (over 600 of them!) in this blog.

Had I used to many long words for affect? Had I thought too much of who was reading my piece. Was it simple and most important was it really my voice that could be heard or somebody I thought my readers wanted to hear?

Many years ago I had a dream of becoming a writer. I wrote mostly short plays with very wooden dialogue that looked right on the page in front of me but would have tested the skills of the greatest actors in the world. I dabbled with the short story and found that they had some reasonable reviews in my student circles. I sent a few plays, a film-script and a collection of short stories to agents and a few directors.

I got a few replies, saying that there was a germ of talent but I needed to find my own voice. My favourite reply was from the film director Ken Loach, who I wrote to after seeing and reading the script to his film “Kes”. He said that writing was a personal thing and that you needed to write from deep experience and “put your guts on screen”.

I never really found my voice. I disobeyed most of Zinsser’s fantastic advice. This was a book that I needed in 1972 and it wasn’t there until 1985!

So my story is of discovery, regret and hope. William Zinsser is someone you should read if you have any pretensions to becoming a writer. You should read and reread his advice and if possible, get hold of the audiobook and listen to the words of the master.

My hope is that this story might have got some sort of nod of appreciation from the man himself, although I’m sure he would have hauled me over the coals for some areas that did not heed his advice!

May he Rest In Peace.

Reflections on the Conservative victory yesterday

Neil Kinnock was a much derided and hated individual by the right wing press in our country.

In our pre-Blair Labour supporting household, I have to admit that he was considered something of a “windbag” who lacked real political depth.

After yesterday’s highly unexpected defeat of  the Labour Party by the Conservative Party under David Cameron though a speech came to my mind that he delivered in Bridgend, Glamorgan, on 7 June 1983, it was two days before Mrs Thatcher had a resounding victory despite a first administration full of class warfare and policies that were based on giving aid to the rich at the expense of the poor.

The reasons that his speech came to mind was that he gave a powerful warning about the “victims” of Thatcherite Government. It resonated with me because the last Government has introduced cuts in public services that are due to the need, they say, for austerity following the 2008 economic collapse caused by greedy bankers.

Theere have been Old People’s Centres closed down, there are free food Co-Ops floourishing, a huge increase in family poverty and a huge number of unemployed youth who can look forward to never owning a home and having to work till they are in their seventies or beyond in order to quaify for what will become a reduced pension (compared to today’s values).

When Kinnock delivered the speech he knew that he was going to lose. His voice was almost gone from days of continuous speechmaking in a doomed cause. The speech was from the heart and remains one of the most moving and effective speeches that I ever heard.

It would have fitted so well in response to Cameron’s victory yesterday.

Here is the transcript of the speech and below is a link to a video clip from the speech.

“If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as prime minister on Thursday, I warn you.

I warn you that you will have pain–when healing and relief depend upon payment.

I warn you that you will have ignorance–when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.

I warn you that you will have poverty–when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay.

I warn you that you will be cold–when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford.

I warn you that you must not expect work–when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies.

I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.

I warn you that you will be quiet–when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.

I warn you that you will have defence of a sort–with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.

I warn you that you will be home-bound–when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.

I warn you that you will borrow less–when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday–

– I warn you not to be ordinary

– I warn you not to be young

– I warn you not to fall ill

– I warn you not to get old.”

Why I voted


Yes, I know. The election is upon us after six weeks of to-and-fro negativity. The whole process has been called as a “non result” before it began.

If you live in a constituency such as the one I live in, the result is pretty much a foregone conclusion. My vote will not count under the present “First Past the Post” system.

I have just voted in the local Community Centre where local government employees are earning a little extra cash checking my polling card and handing me my voting slip. I make my way to the flimsy polling booth and then fold my wasted vote and place it in the black ballot box with a smile on my face which is duly reciprocated by the clerk in the seat opposite.

Why did I bother? The picture below says it all! I vote because I can do so. I do not live in a country where I have no opportunity to vote. I did not have to protest in Tianamen Square. I did not stand in front of a tank and later die to get the chance to do what was so boringly comfortable to do in our local Community Centre just a short while ago!


Yes we will get Muppets as our next Government but at least we have the right and the opportunity to vote them in!