Look I know I’m a bit slow on the uptake, but this suppression of terrorism bill, the glorification of terrorism bit, where it says that it is a criminal offence to glorify acts of violence even against a repressive régime; well, we know about the Mandela situation and that’s not really a problem because it’s obvious which side Labour would be on that one, I mean illegal imprisonment and torture on one side, people who might later disapprove of water privatisation on the other - come on! I think people who raise the Mandela situation are being a bit disingenuous. But what worries me is, didn’t George Bush Senior actually suggest to the Southern Shias of Iraq that they made an insurrection (an insurrection cannot be totally non-violent, surely) against their government; before quite properly leaving their government to massacre them. I know the bill doesn’t apply retrospectively, and I’m sure George W has already given explicit instructions to our chap that all Americans are exempt anyway, but even so, it’s sailing a bit close to the wind isn’t it.
Just went to hang the washing out and a heron came high over the woods on the warm south wind, spiralled down just off the stall, silver wings curved like paragliders, secondaries wiffling, and landed in the weeping willow to take the morning sun. I used to think herons were craggy and solitary birds without much sparkle. Not now. In winter I can watch goosanders fishing for rudd on the millpond while I’m shaving. There'll be a heron on the bank, galumphing up and down with sideways hops like an overexcited adolescent football coach. It has reason. The goosanders work by diving and driving the fish in towards the edge, where the heron gets its share. Once I saw one too impatient to wait. The ducks were in the middle, resting and preening. The heron took off, flew across and plonked down amongst the affronted sawbills, floundered around a bit flapping its wings, and managed to lift off back to the side before it got waterlogged. I don’t know whether it was a bad mistake, a sad over-identification with another species, or an under- subtle message to the goosanders to get a move on with the fish-herding.
So it’s one thing to arrange for the death of thousands of unknown foreigners far away, another to challenge the hard men in your own back yard, the kind who use mobile phones while they’re driving as if the iron will and adamantine fist of Labour was as a genteel belch and a toy poodle’s turd, who hunt foxes as if the rule of Parliament was implemented by school crossing wardens, and who now want you to share their smoke, down your throat, and fuck you, tosser bar worker. Yes, Smiling Tony's penchant for short brutal men with a big pull with the military or the Mafia or the smoking rubber boys has let us down again.
Blair, his Sicilian connections, his Christian Fundamentalist enthusiasms, his search for a New Order, his NGO government, his mind-cloned ministers, his hireling parliamentary party, what’s that got to do with education? Well, it seems that when a British Government reaches its final bunker stage of eye-rolling decadence, it has to, as a parting gesture and rite of passage, Destroy Something Big. John Major’s victim, the railways, looks a bit modest now, a measure of the man. Blair is going for the throat. As he’s always said, Education, education, education.
Those who are still members of the Labour Party might make excuses. They might say, “He’s really trying to do something good. He has mistaken the condition of London for the condition of the country, as British politicians are inclined to do, and to find a quick fix for the shortage of school places in the capital he has imposed on the whole nation what might be a viciously wrongheaded and over-reactive and short-term remedy, we’ll go along with you on that, but give the guy his due, he’s doing it in the, okay mistaken, belief that one size, anarchy and chaos and religious superstition and bigotry sure, but we are enforcing choice (or whatever the advantage of the Blair plan is supposed to be), fits all. Agreed, we have a Leader who is prepared to destroy in order to create, who has always been unabashed by a Year Zero sense of history, but you have to allow Him his Greatness and His Legacy. He has done so much for us. We must take the rough with the smooth.” They may say, these yet supporters of the Labour Party who will soon be holding street parties to welcome the New New Labour Nuclear Age. But their excuses no longer convince. They still revel in the “Portillo moment”, these Labour Party Members, the instant when poor Michael’s face dropped on the announcement of his defeat. I voted Labour then, I had been a member of the Labour Party in the days before it became an agency of post-Thatcherite `modernisation` and police and intelligence service-driven repression. But poor old Michael Portillo now - sure he was a bit of a dickhead with his SAS guff and all, but like the Duck of Edinburgh, compared with the Labour Party, you look back on him as an all-round decent guy.
Think what we could have voted in then, if Labour had not been what they are, what Blair, to give him his due, always asserted that they would be. In the eight years that Labour has been in power, we might have: Built the schools that they promised, rather than failing to, then privatising education; Developed a public transport policy, and an energy policy, with all the innovation and economic development that that might engender; Rationalised defence policy, bringing to an end the post 1945 era, removing from taxpayers’ shoulders the burden of the defence industry, which I guess history will show as being the largest single criminal, in the literal sense, organisation in post-war Britain, and removing us from our obsequious subjugation to America; Reformed our abysmal criminal justice system in a way that actually addresses the problems of criminality; and, closely related to this, addressed our largest, in fact overpowering domestic problem, the American-style gap between the rich and the poor, which the Labour Party affects to care about, even though it’s the lifeblood of their ideology.
They have destroyed, and they have created the metastases of a corrupt neo-liberal post-democratic state. With the destruction of the education system, the process will be irreversible. That is the Labour legacy. That, and the only country in the world where the purchase of SUVs, and popcorn in cinemas, is on the increase. Oh smell that Labour fart in your face.
Look here is a here is a boy boy boy a nice boy a nice nice boy He in a Buick and beside a girl a girl a nice so very nice so High they angels in the sun in Santa Ba. Is that the worse can be, the worse of worse? Commy da worse! Dacoke dacom yes/no. I da dreamer dreamer dream Dacoke? Dacom? Yes/no
(Liberte. Choosey, me. Come and see my choose. Brainout on liberte my choose. In puddle outsida my house The worms of death In mud outsida my house The worms of death In mud insida my house The worms of death I drinka water of The worms of death My choose, on liberte.)
High on the peaks of liberte I dream There came a Snake-eye dragging shitta gold, Anjellydad of death, who viscerate stiff dogcleaned spine from bluejean shape like me - Skull gone, by which us know we very own.
To keep my choose, I dream Anjellydad Sweat dustbowl with me brow Torture me make drogue Dicker drogue for liberte Make angel chile with jelly tits in Buick Snort. And then he look surprise - Outraging Drill blood outa me.
I was listening to this elderly buffer on PM and thinking how he came across as straightforward, honest, even modest, certainly unprejudiced. The interview came to an end and they said "That was the ...". They've done our heads in. Eight years under the Blair gang and even the Duke of Edinburgh sounds like a paragon of liberalism.
So there I am sitting in the second pew from the front, all done up in a suit and a black tie because it is a funeral, and my cousin Lady Something is just in front to my left, and I am in a state of severe nervousness because though I have no truck with the English aristocracy or the Anglican God I am not often in the presence of either and the sheer unfamiliarity, the almost certainty that either the earthly representatives of the Anglican God or an aristocratic relation will say something or do something that I do not understand and I will just stare with my mouth open and then reply, not in a witty and urbane way which might go slightly over their heads as I would wish, but with something unambiguously stupid; when the younger cousin who is directly in front of me turns and hands me what looks like a nasal inhaler. I look at it. She looks at me. I stare fixedly for some time at the little brown glass, fluted bottle. It has a rubber bulb on top, connected within no doubt to a glass tube which slides up the nostril before the intra-pharyngal squirt. Nothing useful comes to mind. I turn to my helpmeet on my right, but apparently she has decided to sit this one out and is studying the pipework of the organ. I turn back. Finally I brandish the bottle and say, “What is it?” The cousin mutters a proprietary brand name which I don’t catch. “And what’s it for?” I ask - not, as retrospectively it will appear, out of prurient curiosity, but because it might give me some hint as to what I’m meant to do with this, even between cousins, fairly intimate bit of gear. She sighs heavily - it’s their father, a lovely gentle man, whose life, now over, we have come to celebrate, in fact that’s him under the flowers up by the altar. “It’s supposed to calm you down,” she breathes. I’m even further at a loss. Is my agitation that obvious to someone sitting with their back to me? Suddenly, saving inspiration. “Why don’t you take some?” I suggest. She seems pleased that the contempt which up to now was intuitive has met with the clearest empirical justification. “I would," she says, " if I could get the sodding top off.”
In the same way that avian flu might make the genetic jump to human-to-human infection, boys’ wankmags have jumped from fantasy to meta-fantasy. In between the garbage on C4 about flying saucers last night (for third order wankers. What , me? No, no, in my case, I was watching out of intellectual curiosity; as a male Member of Parliament might enter a brothel [they do of course, most working days, but as the other party close of brackets close of brackets. The advert was for a cars boobs and music weekly, but the theme was that the target wanker was a new man, with a beautiful girlfriend, who lived with him, maybe on a yacht, and he helped her with the housework, every day except Tuesday, when his magazine came out. I think I got that right.
Just read an extract from Robert Winston’s book The Story of God [Transworld £18.99]. I’m sure Winston is tip-top at the day job, but who buys this twaddle? It will of course be a best-seller for Christmas, and it’s clearly well researched, but it is equally clearly written for dim and ignorant people who like being heavily patronised. There are millions such, but do they buy books? Especially books about the evolution of the idea God? Maybe there really is a voracious reading public sandwiched somewhere between people who are a little hazy about where their brains actually are, and people who can work out roughly what a neurotransmitter is without having to lie down with a bag of frozen peas on their foreheads. Oh yes? Which leaves this as just another publishing scam; put out a book by a “world renowned scientist”, at Christmas, with the title “The Story of God” and then chortle over the ratio of the number of people who buy it, as a present maybe, to the number of people who read past page 17. 23367 to 5 would be about my guess. There are classic science books that make you see the world in a different way. Some of mine: The New Science of Strong Materials and Structures: Why Things Don’t Fall Down by JE Gordon. After I read these I started looking for the balance of invisible forces in cathedrals, bridges and aeroplane wings as we were taking off, where before I’d just seen masses of stuff. QED: the strange theory of light and matter by Richard Feynman. Socially Feynman was probably a bit of a fantasist, but this book makes you feel for a while that you can understand the iridescence on a puddle in quantum terms. Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennet: It isn’t explained, of course, but if you want a read that will blow away with a dry desert wind the cobwebs of religious dualism, this is it. Climbing Mount Improbable by Richard Dawkins. The Selfish Gene is the trailblazer, but this book explains an awful lot about evolution, and pre-empts all the impenetrable idiocy of “intelligent design”. Isaac Newton by James Gleick: A short and simple book about the unsurpassed achievement of a very strange but somehow sympathetic fellow. The silhouette of an apple by the falling moon explains what is usually the Dandy‘n’Beano image of a bump on the head. Phantoms in the Brain: Human Nature and the Architecture of the Mind by VS Ramachandran: Down to earth and mysterious about pain and the brain.
Oh, and while I’m on books that changed the way I see the world, Salman the Solitary by Yashar Kemal. It’s nothing to do with science, it is fiction, it was written years ago, it’s a good read once you get past all the butterflies and eagles at the beginning, and it by the by makes clear that the invasion and occupation of Mesopotamia at the behest of a couple of jerk-off politicians and the weapons and oil money was always unlikely to be a good thing for the rest of us.
All a lightyear beyond Winston. Here’s an example of his writing: “Some of the genes [for religion] likely to be involved are those which control levels of different chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain,” Apart from the general informational slop, when someone says to you in that kindly but maddening voice, “called neurotransmitters,” you know they are patronising you. Either these chemicals are neurotransmitters or they’re not, to me just as much as to you, mate. And: “...because of slight changes in spelling of the DNA sequences (a so-called polymorphism)...” We usually say “so-called” when we mean that the label is a pretence, a sham or a boast. And the twee little metaphor of spelling to make it easier for us poor dears to understand is just bollocks. DNA sequences don’t spell anything. The sentences should read something like: “...because of slight changes in the DNA sequences (polymorphism)...” I suspect it is then exposed as further bollocks. Surely a change in a DNA sequence isn’t called polymorphism. Taxi for the good lord.
Kids’ birthday parties. This one was in a room three stories high, full of slides and tunnels and swings and pools of plastic balls “And”, said my son breathing deeply, “great, it doesn’t smell of piss." For two hours lads and lasses with a median age of six tore up and down ramps, slid spinning and swerving down tubes of dark, played hide and seek. At one point there were five in the chilling area with its small chairs and tables. The three girls still had their cardies on and were sitting elegantly chatting, with lots of eye contact and meaningful gestures. The boys had their shirts off and sat on the backs of their chairs with their feet on the seats, sweating and silent. It was the girls, though, who came to the adults in tears, because of emotional anxiety or strain, unkind things said or nothing said at all. Next evening I was watching three of the lads fighting, all-in wrestling, pummelling with hands and heels, heads and knees, jumping on each other, sitting on heads, rolling and thrashing, total commitment to whole body impact. They were young animals. They were five, six and eight years old. It was just before bath time, and the five year old was on the point of complete exhaustion. Every minute or so he’d take ten seconds out, lie absolutely relaxed, then throw himself squealing and growling back into fray. When he could hardly stand I sent them all off to the bath. No tears before bedtime, though they had all taken bumps and thumps that under other circumstances would have sent them squalling to their mums. I’m no fighter myself, a physical coward in fact. I would endure a fair amount of humiliation to avoid the pain of a fist in the face. But fighting is in the culture and the nature of a lot of males. In the old days men from my village used to meet men from Lizard on the cliffs above Dollar Ogo and fight. Later, in Cumbria, Workington would fight Whitehaven, Aspatria would fight Maryport, Wigton would fight among themselves and everyone would go to Carlisle for a Saturday night punch-up. I was discussing all this with my son, father of the five year old, how natural, even hard-wired fighting seemed to be. Sure, he said, when he was younger, a good fight was the pleasantest way to finish a night out with the lads. The sociable fight, like the little lads’ rough and tumble, is fighting as sport, groups of four or five against each other, in there with the fists by choice. I once heard a woman speaking, a Quaker pacifist, about the moral necessity of knowing how flesh and bone feels against the knuckles. She said that the most dangerous men are not those who know that feeling, the potential crunch. The ones we should fear are the clean and obsessive ones who have always shunned the violent contact of their own skin with others’, who cannot fully imagine the reality of bloodied stumps and splintered bone; they, she said, will be the ones who will give word to launch the missiles and bombs against unknown people far away, the ones whose damage to the human frame will come by the ton.
Conspiracy theories are fun, but like a lot of fiction they don’t tell us anything about what’s going on at this moment. What to put in their place? I suggest the Scientific Soaperama. It goes like this. You make up a character, let us say, Tony Blair, you make up the back story of his inner life, then you use your invention to predict the behaviour of the real Tony Blair. This is actually quite scientific; you know, making predictions based on a hypothesis and all that. I’ll start with mine. Tony Blair sees himself as being a member of a triumvirate; him, George Bush, and God. Of these three, God hasn’t said a dickybird for the last one thousand three hundred and seventy three years, so He’s very much a silent partner. If He’s still there. George Bush, well, he admits himself that he has problems with human language. So that leaves Blair. Tony Blair is the voice of the triumvirate. And the other two, President of the USA, Creator of the Universe, whatever, are just there to make up the numbers. The role of the triumvirate is to bring about the New World Order. We don’t have to ask ourselves what that might look like. Like it’s precursor, Democracy in Iraq, we’ll worry about the New World Order when it happens. But I think we can tell from the kind of thing that Blair likes and the kind of thing he doesn’t like, the kind of thing the New World Order will be. When it arrives. So Blair’s motivation, the grand motivation behind all the little projects like taking his country to war in Iraq, becomes clearer. When he says, with that modest but slightly worrying intensity, that he himself personally believes that we, meaning I think the human race, will look back at this time and see it as a turning point in human history, that’s not a politician’s get out, that’s not Okay I fucked up but give it a rest will you. That is putting Tony Blair, the only one with a proper speaking part in the Triumvirate, at a pivotal, perhaps, when all is told, the pivotal point of human history. That is what he is journeying towards. Not just greatness, but... Maybe, when Blair rather tetchily refuses to say if he and Bush prayed to God down on the ranch in Crawford, maybe his irritation is at our inability to catch on. Maybe Bush and God were praying - no, let’s be serious. The thing about the Scientific Soaperama is that the hypotheses are just that, they don’t claim to be true. I certainly don’t think my hypothesis describes the totality of Tony Blair - presumably even world class statespeople are officially recognised as clinically insane if their condition merits it, but Blair is not clinically insane. It’s true that people who are in positions of great power for too long - about six weeks - become functionally crazy, because they never get the feedback the rest of us get. We’d all love to develop delusions of grandeur but friends, family, workmates conspire against it. And we know that delusions of grandeur don’t do much good to the deluded in the long run, look at poor Old Ma Thatcher; geriatric, her criminal past cemented forever into her son’s disgrace. Blair hasn’t gone that far yet, and I’m sure in his domestic, his family, his business, his recreational life he’s as sane as the rest of us. I’m also sure that in these things he’s a banal and tedious man. He does not interest us. But as a politician, he interests us a lot, and will continue to do so. Much of his political behaviour seems irrational and extreme. But every time he does something that makes you shake your head in disbelief, try seeing him as the voice of the triumvirate, the Great Helmsman of the New World Order upon whom History will gaze back in awe; the, white-haired maybe, voice weaker, but still tall and proud, the first and greatest and for ever Prince of Peace and Universal Government. And see if he makes a bit more sense then.
A week ago while he was stuffing his common cold virus-smeared and latex-covered fingers into my mouth (he did an excellent job on my root canal and I didn’t get a cold) the dentist explained to me the new terms and conditions they will be working under from April 2006 (See Infection below). He explained the old and the new set-ups clearly, and I understood everything that he said. On the BBC World at One on Friday there was a report on exactly the same thing by, I guess, a professional journalist. I tried to recognise in her staccato rambling the situation which the dentist had so clearly described. Zilch. Absolutely fuck all. The journalist’s story was a succession of uncontextualised and therefore opaque soundbites from various branches of “the authorities”, spattered with completely meaning-free links by the journalist herself. If she had the remotest idea what she was talking about she was clearly determined not to share it. Of course it is impossible for a news story to contain zero information, even if the information it does contain is attenuated and a long way from anything approaching the actual, but I reckon for vacuous gormlessness that news item was near the top of the pile. It’s the second time I’ve criticised the BBC in a week, but in fact I’m a big supporter. The huge advantage this and other democracies have over dictatorships is nothing to do with a way of life or a sense of fair play or any of that self-serving crap. It’s because historically a huge system of checks and balances has evolved, an elaborate political immune system, of which the World Wide Web is a recent and now a vital component. The diseases this immune system partially protects us democracy-dwellers from are tyranny, torture, crime, false imprisonment, war; all the things that have also, along with the immune system, evolved within h. sap culture. At the moment the Government, the Labour Party, the far right press are the principle vectors of these diseases. The BBC, though weakened by attacks from Labour for truth-telling, is still a voice, a vital component of the checks and balances. And in itself and at its best it is one of the great cultural wonders of the world, particularly BBC radio. It deserves the strong support of all of us who realise that (in CuriousHamster’s words) Orwell’s 1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual. That wasn’t what I started off to say. What I started off to say was that this garbled twaddle about dentists’ terms and conditions from News at One was by no means unique. The Guardian (another vital component of the immune system, despite the sneering of self-styled realists) often runs stories which can make no sense even to the person who wrote them. It seems that some journalists settle down to the keyboard without taking five minutes to work out the basic coherent structure of the situation, system, whatever it is that they are trying to tell us, so they write in a state of almost unsullied ignorance. Instead of description and explication, they seem to think that a jumbled and partial mosaic of surface features will do;and, such is their arrogant idleness, that if they can’t be arsed to understand the logical infrastructure of their subject matter, then nobody else could either. Any old garbage and a few buzzwords like implode and epicentre will do. And this isn’t just trainee journalists. Science stories are often written by a named Science Correspondent, and demonstrate that a named Science Correspondent can make just as much of a baboon’s arse of a story as someone straight out of journalism school. Don't they have sub-editors any more?
So it seems the Cheyney Rumsfeld gang want to send a few missiles over to I-ran, and Dubya’s rent boy is doing the dirty work, his little white arse all of atremble with excitement. Why do we have to do the work of the Labour Party for it? They’re like rabbits in the headlights. Or maybe they're scared of the Prevention of Terrorism act. Rightly so. But come on, you Party Faithful, do you want a police state or don't you? It should be plastered on every available space all over our island. BLAIR OUT
Sometimes, with a fight, the truth gets through. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Back in the eighties Warren, a pathologist, realised that inflammation of the stomach lining, all the ulcers and pain, were probably caused by bacteria, and not spicy diet and high living like the doctor said. Radio 4 six o’clock News had the story of this Nobel prize on Monday, at admirable length, but never mentioned the name of the offending bacterium. I wonder why. In the summer an old friend came back from distant parts where he works, for a holiday and routine check-ups. On the day he was leaving he told me he had been prescribed antacids by the doctor because of his chronic gastric problems, indigestion and discomfort. Did the doctor mention helicobacter pylori? I asked. My old friend gave me that look that is a very English thing, the dismissal of someone who has pretensions to knowledge which is not officially or by custom and practice theirs. I clattered on anyway, casting little bacteria shaped pearls. But no, the doctor hadn’t mentioned it. And now my friend is back in distant climes, and he’ll still be suffering from burning pain below the ribs. There were always big problems with Warren’s and Marshall’s discovery. It was an item of faith in the medical world that bacteria could not survive the acid bath of the stomach. It was an item of faith to which drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline would tolerate no heresy, because GKS made a lot of their profits out of Zantac, an antacid that ineffectually treated the symptoms of helicobacter pylori infection without addressing the cause. People could swallow the stuff for years on end, never getting better, slowly getting worse. And the worse they got, the more dependent they became on Zantac, which at least briefly alleviated the pain. So a simple one-off cure for gastric ulcers would be a disaster for GSK. The result was huge rubbishing of Warren and Marshall’s new theory, slagging off and belittling of Warren and Marshall as scientists and human beings, lies and denunciation worthy of an Ibsen play. The battle of GKS against two Aussie researchers with nothing but the “bloody obvious” truth on their side wasn’t so difficult anyway. A lot of medical training, and medical wealth, is predicated on the products of the drugs industry, and most doctors are not naturally attuned to science. And it’s got to be said that, though things should be getting better with the huge rise in standard of entrants to medical school over the last thirty years, some doctors still seem a bit dim, and no doubt my friend’s GP was just such a one. So he suffers. But it’s his own fault because he did that very English thing of looking at me with embarrassment and fear when I used an unauthorised octosyllabic term. That’s my main point. We should get over it. The BBC should have named the bacterium involved. Without that name, sufferers are powerless. And I suspect that’s the idea, even if it’s half formed and latent. The term helicobacter pylori is still presumed by BBC News to be the rightful property of an élite. To give it to the rest of us would demystify that élite, would turn us from patients who were “under the doctor” into people who could say, ”What about helicobacter pylori, then, mate? Have you thought of that?” I assumed both the BBC and the medical profession had got over this mystifying élitism years ago. Seems not.
I may be getting a cold. It’s a bit hard to say at the moment because I’m not what you call a morning person, and the symptoms of just being up for the first couple of hours are fairly indistinguishable from slight illness, from, for instance, the beginnings of a cold. I could test the cold hypothesis by having a strong cappuccino but I’m a bit of a health freak and I only have one cup of coffee a day. I learnt the technique from my step father. When he was eighty seven and had long survived being given six months to live (seventy one, lung cancer gone metastatic - he did give up smoking) his doctor told him he ought to cut down his alcohol consumption to just one drink a day. A month or so later I went down to Cornwall to keep an eye on him while my mother was having a retina reattached. The first evening I went into the kitchen and he was standing by the sink with a large full wine glass containing, nominally, his Gin and It. It was a lesson in titration. He took a swig, shivered, topped the glass up with water, took another swig, shivered slightly less and so on until there was enough room for the vermouth, then retired to the “drawing room” to sip the rest. “What was going on there?” I asked, and it was then he explained about doctor’s orders and the one drink a day. I didn’t say anything about the doctor not necessarily seeing one drink in terms of half a pint of gin. My stepfather only lasted another seven years. I’m not surprised. On this basis I limit myself to just the one cup of coffee a day, at around 10 am. It’s like rocket propellant. It’ll be time to switch the machine on soon. Until then I won’t know whether I’m getting a cold or whether it’s just the symptoms of it's being 9.21 a.m. - nine minutes before I switch the machine on to warm up. The reason I think I’m probably getting a cold is that I went to the dentist yesterday to have the impression for a crown done. The received wisdom is to go to the youngest dentist you can. They are just out of dental school and have learnt all the latest techniques, and will be keen to get things right and make a good impression. Recently my wife had an emergency appointment and the dentist was so young that she had a picture of her pet rabbit on the wall. Presumably it was a rabbit blessed with the same sort of longevity as my stepfather. But I go to the senior partner and we are on fairly good chatting terms which means in part him talking me through what he might do and what he’s actually going to do and why his chosen path might or might not be a good thing. So before I sat down he told me he had a cold and he hoped I didn’t get it. Well, I thought, masks, rubber gloves; possibly not. (It’s OK, the espresso machine is on now. Twenty nine minutes to go.) I was there an hour. At some point we had moved from global warming - the dentist's wife was going to get a Prius, the Toyota hybrid, seventy miles to the gallon - to next April’s changes to NHS dentists’ employment terms (which I won’t go in to, but sound like short term New Labour wonkery). At one point of great tragedy and drama he wandered away from me entirely and I think rather lost track of what he was doing because he then decided that the temporary crown he’d put on was rubbish and he’d do it again in a slightly different way. But I did notice that his mask had slipped down and he was gently rubbing his nose with his finger - nothing gross, no latex up the nostril, but definite contact. My wife has an important job and is very good at being tactfully but unquestionably authoritative. I am the reverse in every particular. If I had been my wife the dentist, senior partner or no, would have scrubbed up again quickly, efficiently, cheerfully. But I’m not my wife. Rather I thought, well yes, if he has to scrub up every time there is the slightest danger of infection he’d never get anything done; and if you start thinking about all the things they put in your mouth when you’re at the dentist and where they’ve been, you’d just never go. Also, though I once held forth at some length about the fish at a restaurant in Carmona, that was in Spanish, and somehow different. I’m actually English, and so I feel, what the hell, I don’t want to make a fuss, and I might get a cold on the bus for that matter, and he’s already miles behind schedule because of outlining the new arrangements vis a vis NHS dentists from April 2006 and having to do the temporary crown a slightly different way, and anyway he’s got his fingers back in my mouth now so the moment has passed. The coffee machine is a new kind - I avoided the ones that you put sachets of glug in the top, it still uses proper ground coffee, and it froths the milk with genuine, not synthetic, steam; but it doesn't force the water through the coffee by boiler pressure, it has a little electric pump that clatters and hums away. Gaggia it is not and I was a bit pissed off at first because I didn't realise about the pump when I bought it. But as they point out, it delivers the water at a precisely calibrated pressure and temperature. And it does work very well, the coffee just tastes of coffee. It is now one minute to ten and soon I may know whether I have a cold or not.