Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Give politicians a break - they are NOT monsters

I suspect this column won’t win me many votes but I feel the need today to defend what many people regard as the indefensible.

For today I will put my proverbial tin hat on and try to defend politicians. Again.

I do so despite the fact that I accept we are operating in the most hostile, cynical and negative climate about politicians we have ever had to face. And I am fairly certain that even as a pretty proud cynic myself, this isn’t really very healthy.

I have been dragged to the politician-defending barracks again following the reaction to Gordon Brown’s interview with Piers Morgan on Sunday night.

In many ways it was a rather toe-curling exercise watching the preening Mr Morgan pushing the PM on such frivolities of his beach-based proposal to wife Sarah. However, the gentle nature of the interview process really brought the ‘dour Scot’ out of himself. Without a heavyweight political agenda to defend, Brown opened himself up and revealed hitherto unknown aspects of his private life and his private tragedies.

It was actually a very skilful interview by Piers Morgan who knew exactly what he was doing by taking the PM away from Number 10 and as such we learned a lot more about the man behind the famous door than we may have expected.

I doubt, to be honest, if the show won or lost Labour votes but I did feel I was seeing someone being sincere. And yet if you read or listened to some of the reactions that followed the show you would never have believed it. Some critics claimed it was all fake, questioned Brown’s tears or said it was a cynical election exercise. All of which left me feeling nothing short of despair.

You would have to be a total monster to fake tears talking about your first born dying after 10 days – and Gordon Brown may be many things but a monster he ain’t.

In my opinion we have got to this destructive state of politician-bating because of the current state of our dire economic position and last year’s admittedly depressing MPs’ expenses row. As such people are so angry about the people who govern that they will believe any rubbish spouted about them – however far-fetched and ridiculous.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not about to recommend sainthood for our political ‘masters’ and it is obvious there are a lot of them who prove the bad apple in every bunch theory. But then again I can’t think of a single profession that is whiter than white. And if you think yours is, let me know and I will dig into our archives and show you why you are wrong.

So, with an election coming I just hope we can raise the level of debate a bit. Let’s tone down the childish conspiracy theories and not treat our politicians and would-be politicians like we used to treat lepers in the Middle Ages.

Politicians are human beings complete with the same failings as the rest of us but the majority – and I believe it is the overwhelming majority – are just ordinary people who want to make a difference.

Give ’em a break, hey?

This article appears in the Bath Chronicle on Thursday, February 18.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Am I really ready for 'gym'll fix it?'

To gym or not to gym – that is the question.

It is a question I’m sure many of us ask ourselves on a frequent basis and it is one I do my very best to avoid if at all possible.
However, last Friday, the nagging question planted itself back in my mind. Again.

This time it was because we were given a short presentation by Fitness First, a gym which is literally a hop, skip and a jump away from our offices. It was designed to encourage people (like me, I guess ) to think about returning to the treadmill – both literally and metaphorically.

I suppose, like a lot of people, I have two very distinct opinions about going to the gym – my head says ‘yes’ but my body always says ‘noooooooo’.

And it is not as if I haven’t been there before. I’ve had a couple of spells as a gym member and I did think I got something out of it but what I also developed was an astonishing range of excuses to avoid it. The problem for me was never actually the gym itself (well, not much) but it was always the thought of the gym.

If I could get into a gym, sitting on a rowing machine then I was fine. But there was always such a long, long way and a myriad invented diversions between my seat at work and my seat on the rower. When I did go, I always sort of enjoyed it and I know I always felt better a couple of hours later but it still felt like a real effort a few minutes before ‘departure time’ to remember that fact.

People used to say to me ‘no pain, no gain Sam’ – but I would always say ‘isn’t it just better to have no pain?’

Oh and I am not totally without exercise. My somewhat crazed labrador Snoopy often takes me out for a drag (it certainly is not a walk) but my four-legged friend is a bit one-dimensional and so maybe, just maybe, I need to think about more ways of getting fit than just being hauled around by a panting dog.

I know all this, of course, but I have still used many of the familiar excuses for not rejoining.I often cite cost (but to be honest I don’t think prices have risen much over the years), time-poverty (but how come I always find time to watch EastEnders or play loud music?) and of course the self-conscious worry of do I really want to bare all next to people with muscles to shame Hulk Hogan?

The truth is, though, I can’t deny the positive impact the gym has on people around me. So many of my colleagues – who have the same stress-levels as I do and hence the same potential excuses – really seem to benefit from their frequent gym trips even though sometimes they crawl into the office after a particularly hectic session. They look better, they say they feel better and (crucially for an insomniac like me), they say they sleep better to.


So, I think I may be weakening. I think the smell of the changing room, the queue for the torture-style devices and the search for my long-neglected trainers may be about to begin.That isn’t to say, however, that I still wouldn’t really, really value some fresh excuses.

Gym’ll fix it? We shall see.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Bath's hospital and our NHS - jewels in our crown

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to attend a very enjoyable evening in Bath where we celebrated some of the shining stars from one of the city’s biggest and most important institutions the Royla United Hospital.

The RUH is at the heart of city life and as its scope goes many miles away from its Bath base, it is clearly one of the most significant organisations that we all have a collective investment in.

Before I came to the Chronicle in 2005 I was aware that the hospital often had the word ‘troubled’ put in front of its name. For various reasons it didn’t have a particularly good image and I’m sure there were many negative comments about its performance (or apparent lack of it) within the pages of my paper.

I’m delighted to say, however, that these days we are far more likely to be reporting success stories and good news from the RUH than the unremitting bad news of old. That doesn’t mean that we ignore any problems or issues that occur at our local hospital – far from it – but what it does mean is that we are now far more likely to reflect the cheers than the tears because it definitely looks as if the RUH is heading in the right direction.

At the night’s awards dinner the focus was put firmly on the individuals and teams who have really made the RUH a modern day Bath success story. And it was truly eye-opening.

I have to declare something of an interest here in that I am an unashamed ‘fan’ of the NHS and everything it does. Like everybody, you tend to judge things on your own personal experiences and in my case, these have never been anything other than positive. Allied to this is the fact I have members of my family who work in the NHS and through them (and through my own eyes) I can see what an extraordinary organisation it is.

We can all get a bit precious and self-important about our jobs –- none more so than those of us in the media for example – but it’s only when you talk to NHS workers that you discover the true meaning of the word ‘context’.

I remember telling one nurse, a close family member, about the ‘bad day’ I had endured with deadlines and staff issues, etc. She said: “Mmm... interesting. I spent last night holding the hands of someone who was dying and watched them slip away.”

Suffice to say I didn’t complain any more.

The truth is the NHS is one of Britain’s crown jewels – a unique and unfathomably complex organisation that has to somehow meet all the ever-increasing expectations we have of it. Does it always get it right? Of course not – but it does so far more times than it ever gets it wrong and I think we all owe it to ourselves to step back occasionally and acknowledge this.

On the night, I was asked to present an award to the Hospital Hero of 2009, a new trophy where the winner was chosen by RUH staff and our readers alike. The winner (Dr Steve Jones) was a very worthy one but as I heard other tales on the night of NHS/RUH staff who had gone the extra mile, I thought “that place is just full of heroes and indeed heroines”.

So well done RUH.

And thanks.