National Health? Part 3: Dr Oblique’s prescription

Not my most popular subject….. but I started a series, so I will finish!

These are just a few amateur suggestions to add to the debate, following National Health? Part 2: What seems to be the problem?

Size matters  A few years ago our local surgery opened a branch in the new estate up the road. It was a bit bigger, but not much. Now it is the main surgery. As a result, our ‘branch’ is only open for mornings. This is inconvenient, and may I add, unhealthy; we have to drive to appointments.

In my humble opinion, smaller units are better for health. They are local and the staff know everybody. Of course there is a need for specialist units; but more likely the large establishments are there simply because they are cheaper. I wonder if they are really effective in the long run. The cottage hospital, where people could convalesce (or even die peacefully) was a wonderful thing.

A moan  While I’m about it- as you know, I am keen to keep my blogs positive- would it hurt receptionists to tell patients when doctors are running late? I don’t mind this happening- my ailments are usually not urgent- but it would help my blood pressure to know.

The drugs don’t work Well, they do, of course. But- and I have no statistics to prove this- they must cost billions. OK, I’ll look it up…. over 15 billion pounds. Wow. Drugs are useful and effective, but do we rely too much on them? Do we need them all? To start with, antibiotics are often not needed and their over-use runs the risk of resistance in infections.So patients expect a prescription from GPs? I’m coming to that next week.

(Dr Oblique would ban drug companies from giving freebies to doctors, as a first step. True story: a colleague of mine was using promotional post-it notes at work which she had been given by a doctor relative. Much later I looked them up in a fit of idle curiosity and found they were promoting…. a drug for ‘erectile dysfunction’. Whoops.)

Time wasters  Apparently the huge amount of time wasted by people with silly or trivial ailments, real or imaginary, could be dealt with by a good triage system: sorting all cases cases, especially emergency ones, and referring them, where necessary, to non NHS sources of help. It seems there is still a lack of communication. Far be it from me to promote a technological solution, but there must be some means of producing a database where 101 and 999 control centres, NHS Direct, the police, social services, GPs and others all have quick access to essential notes, so that this can be achieved.

Efficiency  Now I could well be accused of talking rubbish here… but 93 NHS officials earn more than the Prime Minister. Cap the salaries! I like the idea that the highest paid in an organisation should earn no more than 2o times the salary of the lowest paid. And employ a manager with real business experience to examine efficiencies. I don’t mean cutting services; I mean cutting costs.

I apologise to anybody who has read this and finds it worse than my usual standard. I’m just rather disheartened that my last two blogs on the subject got zero and three views respectively. I still have more to say, and will finish next Sunday.

gabriel_nicolet_-_portrait_of_a_nurse_from_the_red_crossThe picture is a portrait of a nurse by Gabriel Nicolet, for no other reason but that it was the first appropriate illustration I came across. It  is not intended as a comment.


100 Blogposts, 178 Pictures

Just for my pleasure, here to celebrate this, my 100th blog, is a collage of most of the pictures that I have used or had considered using in my posts. Well, it makes me happy. All are copyright free as far as I know.


Forgotten Dishes 6: Bilston Marmalade

Marmalade is hardly a forgotten dish, and there are endless recipes. However, I needed an excuse to publicise this one, the origins of which are shrouded in the mists of time and family history. It’s incredibly simple and we find it works very well. OK, OK, Mrs O. finds it works really well. As official taster, I think it’s delicious. Note it’s a smooth one, not chunky.


dscn6481As always, these can be varied according to taste and circumstances. The Mrs Oblique cooking method is an art, not a science. “Don’t fuss about it!” (Mrs O.)

8 Seville oranges

1 sweet orange, clementine or satsuma

18 cups water

16 cups sugar

Method: Again this is not exact.

Cut oranges in half. Squeeze out juice and remove pips. Keep the pips.


Chop orange peel into chunks.


Liquidise skins, with some water. Like this.


Boil the juice and liquidised skins with the rest of the water for 1/2 hour or until soft. Boil the pips for 10 minutes and keep.


Add sugar. Put pips and water through a sieve into the pan. (This produces the pectin, a natural setting agent.)


Boil until set. It gets very hot!




Test by putting a spoonful on a saucer and cooling. Needs tasting of course. WHEN COOL!

Sterilise jars with boiling water. Fill jars and seal tightly.


Footnotes: Despite what I have claimed to the contrary elsewhere, Seville oranges are not the same as poorman oranges: the latter are otherwise known as New Zealand grapefruit. My grandmother claimed that she “always put a sweet one in”. It does seem to add something. Originally I guess that the skins were minced; I know that there were butchers in the Bilston side of Mrs O’s family!

If anybody uses this recipe, please let us know. Of course hygiene is very important…. This was just going to be an outline of a family favourite. I don’t know how it turned into such an epic!

National Health? Part 2: What seems to be the problem?

(Caution: I know little about the workings of the NHS, but I am of course a user of it. Miss Oblique 2 is a paramedic, but I must point out that this blog does not in any way claim to represent her opinons and does not use any of her experiences.)

(Come to think of it, we are all users of the NHS…. just as we all know best about schools, because we were all at school, weren’t we?)

This is not a complete, objective or balanced list of problems with the NHS. It’s just a collection of jottings about what I see as some of the problems, seen especially though the misty lens of my experiences with the likes of Dr B.

  1. Doctors’ surgeries and hospitals cover massive areas. It will be claimed that this enables efficient use of resources. However, the size seems to result in a very impersonal service, and alienation from health care, as opposed to dealing with emergencies.
  2. There seems to be a huge reliance on the use of drugs. Despite efforts to counteract this, patients seem to expect a prescription as a matter of course. Drug companies make huge profits, which they claim are necessary to fund new research (and of course to reward their investors).
  3. There is an enormous amount of time wasted with trivial, imaginary and risible ailments. Runny noses, dandruff, new shoes, sprains, travel sickness….. and more. (Yes, I know there are underlying causes. I will come to these next week.)
  4. Linked to number 3 is a lack of willingness to take responsibility for minor ailments and our own health.
  5. This is probably the most subjective and possibly ill-informed point: it seems to me that the NHS, probably due to its scale and the scale of its sub-units, is enormously inefficient and is wasting a huge amount of money.

I will put my own tentative ideas forward next Sunday. Thanks- I think at least one person has been reading!

The Desperate Bicycles

“Bring your good news on a fast train…..”

Back in the 1970s I used to listen to John Peel’s radio programme a lot. He embraced all sorts of new music, notably the punk scene. One night he played a track called ‘Smokescreen’ by the Desperate Bicycles.


This was recorded by them, completely independently, as a 45 rpm single, which perhaps needs a bit of explaining for younger readers. It was a vinyl record: the most popular medium of the time. However, it was virtually unheard of for a band to produce one without a record company. The Desperate Bicycles did this, apparently for £153.

The music was basic, urgent; the lyrics were inspiring. I ordered a copy by post; it arrived with a message saying “send us a copy of your single when you produce it”.

The Desperate Bicycles were the forerunners, perhaps the prophets, of a wave of independent, do-it-yourself creative forces. Some groups produced their music on cassettes. The punk movement was notable for its proliferation of self-made magazines, such as ‘Spitting Blood’ and many more. The message was you CAN make things for yourself. Your voice CAN be heard.

“If you can understand, go and join a band.”

Nowadays this is taken for granted. We can all record music on computers, even phones, and put it on the internet; we can all produce sophisticated art; heaven help us, we can all put our writing out there on blogs and the like. Perhaps it’s all too easy. Discuss.

It took me many years and a complete change in recording technology to do it, but I made two CDs (as’Oblique’) with a very limited production. I may even do more. Thank you, the Desperate Bicycles. Sorry I didn’t send you a single. You are the one of the guiding spirits behind this blog and anything else I produce. (We will ignore their lyrics about teachers…. and they’d probably be at huge odds with much of what I have to say or play… but the point is surely that all sorts of voices and opinions can be heard. Don’t take it for granted. Do it for yourself.)

“It was easy it was cheap, go and do it!”

National Health? Part 1: Doctor B.

I find that I have some ramblings about health to get off my chest. Cough, cough. So I’ll start with some reminiscences.


When I was a boy, we had a local doctor who I will call Doctor B. (although he must be long dead). Inititally, our local surgery was at his house: the waiting room was tiny, rather like a ship’s saloon. In my memory, his consulting room was huge, with an enormous desk.

He had an endearing way of coping with patients. My mother went to him when she was having difficulties sleeping. He recommended a whisky at bed time.

My father went with some complaint I have forgotten. “Oh, you get that too, do you?” said Doctor B. “What do you do about it?”

Some years later, I came off my bike. Although it was a Saturday, my parents rang and I was taken up to the new surgery. Doctor B. put three stitches in my chin. I can remember seeing his hand shake as he did it……

They don’t make them like that any more. My point? Well, there wasn’t one originally. Except, as usual, I have realised some features as I write- which is one of the reasons I write a blog. Firstly, he was our family doctor. We always went to him. Secondly, he didn’t always hand out drugs. Thirdly, he was was vastly reassuring. Fourthly, he was usually available. I am NOT saying that doctors today are not like this, but that this was what made him memorable. That and the shaky hands….

More to come next Sunday.

Thoughts on Retirement

[For those who don’t know, I retired as a teacher 18 months ago.]

I’m not sorry I retired. I don’t miss the hassle: the pressure, the endless changes to curriculum and testing, the exhaustion, the headaches, the constant negative criticism from the press, the petty impositions; the marking (oh boy, how I don’t miss the marking), the stroppy parents (only some of the parents), unblocking toilets and clearing up sick (no, it wasn’t just the site manager and the support staff), playground disputes….. and did I mention how I don’t miss marking?

(I do miss teaching, when it was going well. It was a great feeling to know you’d made a difference.)

I DO miss…… the people. Of course the children….. But I particularly miss my colleagues, young and old, admin staff, site staff, support staff and of course teachers. They are a peculiar breed…. almost a club. If you haven’t spent time in a staffroom, you might not get it. My favourite parts of my day were spent sitting (yes, with coffee and cake, of course) and just…. chatting.

I miss it even more than I thought I would, and I’m not being disloyal to Mrs O. by saying that, because oddly, it affects both of us: no longer can I return and say: “You’ll never guess what happened today”. I no longer have such a range of experiences and relationships to  enrich our lives. From where I am now, I realise that the major part of my social life was at work.

Although I find it hard to articulate, there is also now a lack of a central direction in my life. When I retired, I was often asked what my plans were. I didn’t have any. I still don’t. However, I feel that it might be time to make some.

Sorry, this is almost soul-searching. Did I mention I don’t miss marking?