Ten days into the New Year and never in a month of Sundays would most people – journalists, scribes or what we still laughingly refer to as politicians – have imagined the events of the last week. Firstly the ‘beast from the east’ was reincarnated by the mainstream media, with their usual hype and click-bait descriptions of ‘arctic’ conditions which would subject the entire UK to terrifying falls of snow – 15 inches according to one mainstream tabloid, falls never before heard of in the entire memory of most of the population, which seems not to reach farther back than the middle of last week.
A month ago, shows mainstream tabloids reporting some teenage genius – or was it that elderly gent given more than enough time on the most trusted and watched television station the BBC – not – was telling audiences and anyone who cared to listen that future generations would not actually experience something called snow and would presumably gaze in wonder at old newsreel video footage of this naturally occurring phenomenon.
Surprisingly, these journalists – now of an age which labels them as ‘Thatcher’s children’ or, if you prefer, ‘Millennials’, still revert to the hated ‘imperial’ measurements when they want a click-bait headline, the metric system having been adopted in the then ‘United’ Kingdom in 1965. So, we still read that temperatures will be in high 70s in summer and that floods of over six feet were experienced. Why digital video is still referred to as footage also remains a mystery.
When we actually had journalists reporting fact rather than fiction or opinion, events would be reported in a matter-of-fact manner along with photographs of the population struggling to get on with things. A look at reports of how ‘the nation’ coped during the terrible winter of 1947 with gale force winds, 10-foot snow drifts, 300 impassable roads across the country (which in those days still meant England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) finds that people largely got on and did what they could to help. Farmers used pneumatic drills to free produce from frozen fields and electricity to industry and homes was rationed. 1963 and 1967 were other very hard winters with the latter, according to the met office, the coldest since 1740. After several hard winters in the 1970s, ‘climate experts’ were provided with access to the press and broadcast media and the hysteria about a new ‘ice age’ began to appear.
As far ago as 1937 the BBC was upsetting Ministry of Labour staff appalled by a ‘wisecrack’ (that’s a joke to younger readers) made by comedians during a broadcast who referred to somebody who fainted during an interview at the ‘labour exchange’ (that’s the Job Centre to you and me) who, when asked why he had fainted, the reply was that the person had just been given a civil answer by the counter clerk. This was taken very seriously by the Labour Staff Association who said it was in very bad taste as staff had been praised by several Ministers and MPs. A complaint was made to the BBC where an unnamed official said: “The letter will have the consideration of the BBC when received.” Not much change then in the following 83 years.
Epidemics and pandemics were reported in a vastly different way years ago. Following the flu epidemic of 1918/20, in 1937 typhoid struck again, this time in Croydon. It soon spread across three districts. Cases had reached149, the local hospital declared itself ready to deal with the outbreak and it was reported – again without any hysteria – that a 12-year-old girl had been admitted to hospital following the death of both her mother and father from the disease.
The town clerk said people should carry on with business and pleasure as usual. Elementary personal cleanliness was advised and ministry officials were working with the corporation to track down every possible source of infection. The Minister of Health announced an enquiry into the outbreak would take place in ‘due course’. This ‘matter of fact’ reporting and the personal responsibility taken on board by various officials is in stark contrast to these days, when reporting any incident becomes a sort of race to see which newspaper or TV channel can boost their ratings by sensational or misleading disingenuous reporting.
A perfect example of this is the attempt, by sections of the media, to resuscitate the rather odd concept of ‘clapping for the new religion of the NHS’, perhaps never as popular with the public as the media made out – a public which soon noticed that although billions of pounds had been given to the NHS, nothing much seems to have actually changed. Many months later, we are still hearing reports of staff shortages, equipment shortages and for some reason shortages of beds in general, high dependency and intensive care wards.
Incredibly we are now told that some ambulances have been modified to carry oxygen therapy on board so that patients may receive high dependency care during transit! This in an age when highly-trained paramedics, licenced to administer various drugs, crew ambulances fitted with oxygen therapy, blood oximeters and resuscitation equipment. Have these reporters never seen the documentary Ambulance or even Casualty or Holby City?
When serious commentators were suggesting that a second wave of the virus might hit the UK in late autumn, one would have thought that the highly paid officials in the civil service – Public Health England, county council health officials, acute hospital trusts and the myriad of advisers, medical and modelling, quangos, local government departments, not forgetting the multibillion pound ‘investment’ in Track and Trace Service, could have produced a forecast of the outcomes to be expected in a so-called advanced world leading outward-facing (at least since January 1st) global leader? Instead, all we get is the total shambles and incompetence we have often witnessed since last March.
This is one of the problems of our modern society – lots of highly-educated, one may say over-educated, people often in positions of power, making decisions that, when shown to board members in the cosseted world of the board room with its highly polished board room table and expensive specially-designed executive arm-chairs, look likely to produce the right outcomes when watching a Powerpoint presentation by a proponent of this or that strategy.
All very well, but nine times out of ten these management consultants are butterflies, long on theory and design, long on pie charts and Venn diagrams and very short on actual working knowledge, on say civil engineering, building construction, law enforcement, logistics, or as is becoming more evident by the day, crisis management.
Long gone are the days when new entrants, university educated or otherwise, were expected to gain hands-on experience of the process of actually producing, well, anything actually.
There have been many near misses over the last 30 years. The NHS has been crying wolf over various crises each winter for years, each period of bad weather is treated as an unusual event never before experienced, airports, rail, and the road network are often closed or operatives stretched to the limit to keep things moving. And yet on paper at least everything is apparently in place. It’s just that we in Britain supposedly always experience the worst of this emergency or that, and despite all the hardships it will be alright on the night.
Much of this could have been forecast and you would not have had to have the foresight of Mystic Meg to foretell it.
Never in a month of Sundays – part 2 will be published here tomorrow.