A Humble Opinion

Maybe it’s me; I guess it is.

I thought that the medical profession was motivated by vocation – a desire to make the sick well and defend the most vulnerable in our society.   Its values, as I perceived them, were founded upon an ancient and sacred oath.  In return for that vocation, society tends to pay its medical professionals as well as it can.  They enjoy a higher standard of living than most of us, a greater degree of respect, and a greater degree of job satisfaction.

Perhaps I set my standards too high, and perhaps the world is moving on from a place in which we can expect to be healed – I don’t know.  But it does upset the balance of my respect when I see members of the noblest of professions represented by university yearlings waving placards in the best traditions of the Socialist Workers’ Party.  And I do wonder if they realise how ingeniously they are being used.

Today they elected to strike.  That is, they decided to withdraw the conditions of their oath from ordinary people far less well remunerated, with far less reward, than themselves.  They showed themselves prepared to allow a risk of death to we poorer folks in order to advance their cause.

I have this message.

It is personal – forgive me.   It contains some anger.  Again, forgive me.

 You might not like the government, but a majority as defined by our voting system elected them and that contains at least an essence of democracy.  So, sorry, I thought the elected government’s mandate was to run the country?  I don’t remember voting for the British Medical Association, and I don’t expect them to hold the elected government or my health to ransom.  Yours is a political strike, heartless and cynical, with no regard for the nobility of the profession you decided to adopt.  It is not motivated by concern about additional hours, it is all about the possibility you might have to accept a reduction in your ‘Premium Payment’ for weekend working, and your case holds a colander-full of water, because even within your own profession nurses, care workers etc., a lot more poorly paid than you, do not share those privileges.   Stop whingeing and get back to work!

I understand some of you have threatened to resign over this issue.  I personally believe (if that is not merely a disguise for setting forth in private practice) you should.  If you lack that much dedication I would rather not be subjected to your ‘care’.

And who knows?  After you have had some experience of the real world and smelled the coffee, your attitude might change?

Resolutions

“Time tae greet the New Year, Freddy!”  My friend raised a glass.  “What’re ye havin’?”4565034003_d465a7a7c8

Now Scotsmen have a reputation for meanness.  As generalizations go it is not without some substance, but a curious contrariety tends to occur around about the sixth whisky.  Thereafter, from whiskies seven to fourteen the generosity curve steepens logarithmically.  After fourteen it is hampered by incoherence.  I judged my friend to be at around nine – just entering the spontaneous hugging stage.

“No thank you.  I’ve given up.”   I cannot doubt the pall my words cast upon the assembled party-goers.  Silence fell.  Someone turned off the music.

“Given up the drink? Ye’ll nivver do it, Hin. Ye must be mad!”

He was right, of course.  He is right.  Ninety percent of New Year’s resolutions barely survive to twelfth night, although abstinence from alcohol has a better chance perhaps than stopping smoking, travelling more, losing weight, ceasing to swear, or watching less television.  Why?  Because as a dutiful Scot (well, I do have some ancestry in that direction) I am honor-bound to forgo sobriety entirely between Christmas and Hogmanay.  I therefore float into the latter in a sufficiently inebriated state to survive a Haggis, if someone deems it necessary to feed me one, or even to fully misunderstand why they’re hitting that damn great bell twelve bloody times.  So I can hit the ground running.  I am able to draw upon my reserve tanks until the 3rd January at least without another drop passing my lips.   Thereafter it gets harder.

I discussed the problem with my Scots friend over a Coca-Cola:  not a subject that seemed to interest him unduly but it helped me to take my mind off the fumes from the room, his glass, and him. It also distracted me from ‘Dead March in Saul’ which some wag had unearthed and put on the sound system.

“Can ye no see this is the time o’ year for drinkin’?”

“Is there a time of year for not drinking?”  But he had a point.   We are delving into deep midwinter, when a sallow sun can scarcely raise strength to crank itself over the horizon for seven hours, and the rain only ceases when the snow begins.  The wind is a wild rider, Odin’s cart is heard to creak between the gallows trees and Thor’s hammer cleaves the sky.

All right, I’m getting a little carried away.  We don’t have gallows anymore and those clashing sounds have nothing to do with battle at Valhalla:  Ragnarok is more likely to occur at a football match these days, isn’t it?  But you get the idea.

We are embarking upon three months of dark boredom interspersed with moments of terror.  The ship of night has to carry us all the way through to March with absolutely no motivation for a stroll on deck and with sporadic cringing fear as we listen to the wind deconstructing our roof or watch the river come through the back door.  Can there be a worse time to stop smoking?  Is there any other season which competes with television for our attention less successfully?  Is travel a temptation, given snowdrifts, high wind at the airport, or the discovery that the rain in Spain falls mainly on you?  And yes, even the Riviera can be cold.

Do we wonder then, why abstinence in such conditions proves so hard to maintain?  Party music is playing, glasses are rattling, food – wondrous, odorous food – is nature’s way of fighting the cold, and it looks so good; it tastes so sweet, it tempts, it flirts outrageously, it beckons…taken early, your resolution might survive the Week of the Leftover Turkey, but thereafter?

Twelfth night, then:  outside, the wind is blowing, the window panes are laced with snow.   Inside, there is laughter:  harsh and defensive maybe, a little fearful possibly, but laughter nonetheless.  Inside there is music to drown out the night.   The smiling golden liquid glistens in the bottle, waiting to pour free.

“Will ye no just have a dram o’ this single malt, Freddy?  It must’ae been a fine year, this!”

“No.   Well, I shouldn’t.  I promised not to, you know.   I said, didn’t I?  But then, I suppose just the one wouldn’t hurt.”

“Would it?”

Ho-Ho-Ho!

the V and A Christmas Tree
Victoria and Albert – the Christmas Card that started it all?

We are at that junction of the years when it is time to gather the strands of the family once more; to weave back together the hems that have frayed, re-kindle the flames that have guttered or died:  for those who can be with us will know our hearth will welcome them, and those who cannot (sorry, Uncle Francis, but we couldn’t make bail for you this Christmas) can be sure of our thoughts and prayers.

There is coming a day when all of us who thought we could cook are going to be proved wrong, and those of us who thought we could hold our drink are going to confirm what our friends and family already knew.  A morning approaches when normally well-behaved potatoes will emerge charcoal-black from the oven, parsnips will remain resolute no matter for how long we roast them, and the dining table we are extending to its full length for the first time will become unaccountably collapsible beneath the weight of a turkey.  That we should overeat is predictable, even mandatory, just as the afternoon when the ghost of the well-piled plate must haunt us and the need for an extra bathroom is proven once again.

For Christmas is a time of joy, and let no-one waiting at number fifty-nine in the queue for the checkout at Walmart doubt it.   Smile, for this is only the first of a hundred times your children will prove how many orifices they possess and demonstrate how many they can utilize at once.  Smile, for it is the season of goodwill:  the driver coming towards you on your side of the road is not a homicidal maniac, but simply drunk.

It is hard, sitting by the fire on Christmas morning watching the young ones savaging the wrapping on the year’s winter blackmail installment, to reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas.   Perhaps the Internet has made us too wise:  we know that Jesus was not born on 25th December, but more probably around the end of September (making him a Libra, possibly.  Sounds sensible, doesn’t it?) just as we know that even the year is wrong, because he was most likely conceived around 4-5 BC.   The Immaculate Conception of Mary doesn’t hold up in our minds any more than we can accept that Father Christmas somehow manages to pop out of several billion chimneys all on the same night.   So if all the myths have imploded, what is it about Christmas that makes it the biggest occasion in our year?

The answer, I think, lies in roots far deeper than the Christian feast.  Since time Burkhas at Christmasimmemorial the winter solstice has been a time to come out of hibernation – to honor the gods of the land and seek their beneficence for another year, ostensibly, but more probably as an excuse for everyone to enjoy themselves before ice and snow clamped them inside their houses, awaiting the thaws of spring.   It used to be known as Yule:  when the Christians overlaid it with their celebration it evolved into Christ’s Mass, and it never claimed historical accuracy; it was just a good time to celebrate.

So we do.  We join in applauding the good things in life, which may mean food, or gifts, or friends.  It is a chance to show ourselves as we really are.  Relationships initiated here and in the New Year will come to fruition in the spring.  We may satisfy our need to perform Christian duty by prayer, or, more practically by acts of charity.    It is a time to remember those less fortunate than we.

However you celebrate, I raise a glass to you.  I wish you a very happy and fulfilling Christmas and a brave New Year.  For now, I must let my blogging pen rest.  See you in 2015!