Sick notes

Posted by Ian

Like most of the country, I was ill over the Christmas holiday. I say ‘most of the country’; I’m actually extrapolating from what I know of family, friends and colleagues. But I’m pretty sure their and my experiences were replicated across the nation. Why, then, has this story not been picked up by the press? I haven’t spotted anything in the papers about this winter being an especially sickly one. It’s still the case, it seems, that ‘ordinary’ people falling ill isn’t news. If you’re a celebrity, or a so-calledĀ ‘illegal immigrant’, or already in hospital for something else, then of course it’s a different matter.

One of the things I heard on the radio over Christmas was Start The Week on Radio 4. A guest predicted that 2008 could well be the year when the world experiences a flu pandemic. His reasons? We are a planet with populations that move about more than ever before. We are a planet that doesn’t know how to look after itself. And also the year ends in 8. The last great flu pandemics were in 1918, 1958 and 1968. I’m minded to believe him, regardless of the fanciful nature of his latter claim, because he is Liam Donaldson, the country’s Chief Medical Adviser.

I think it was Tony Benn who once proposed a similarly cyclical theory to explain events, though in his case he was talking about political and not medical turbulence. He noted that recent British history can be organised into blocks of roughly 35-40 years, each of which began with a revolution in the way the UK was governed.

The first started in the early 1900s, with the introduction of pensions, unemployment insurance and social housing; the second began in the late 1940s with the introduction of the NHS, industrial planning and government control of the economy; the third started in the late 1970s with the deregulation of the economy, the privatisation of industry and the rise of personal debt. Interestingly, each revolution was started by a different political party: in order, Liberal, Labour and Conservative. We’re due another revolution in 5-10 years. Who’ll lead the charge this time?

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