Mark Rowe

February 2014 issue

by Mark Rowe

Before Christmas I had to do some hospital visiting. It was a time of nostalgia in part because at meal times I remembered how in my year off in Australia last century (!) I worked for three months as a kitchen hand in a Sydney hospital. Needless to say I found the delivery of meals to wards as I did it far better than the NHS did it. It was our job to deliver the meals (to the right patient, obviously) on time and whether they ate it was not our problem. I cannot recall any conflict with patients – only the supervisers frightened me. By contrast as a ward visitor I saw how fragile tempers can be. Who among the patients wants to be there? I marvelled at one man, called Roy. Compared with all the other patients, barely able to raise their arms to eat, he was wandering, sometimes barefoot, moaning and demanding. I can well believe that ‘challenging behaviours’ can arise in hospitals (page 52), a safety issue perhaps (to other patients) and security, as many of the nursing staff are women, they could easily get hurt if an old man lashed out, in frustration or fear.

All the talk of social media and memory sticks (page 60) that we have come to take for granted can make you nostalgic for the days – only 30 years ago – of land-line telephones only, not even faxes, but things sent by post. Among official papers released by the National Archives was the fuss at highest levels of government – director-general of the security services level – over a tape recording of a supposed phone conversation between President Reagan and PM Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands War. The technical analysis found it was a hoax – my favourite line was that the voice didn’t sound like Reagan – ‘it was far too fluent and articulate for the man in ordinary animated conversation’. Who did it? The KGB? The Argentines? Probably a punk band.

Yes, how we have come on. Buildings are ever smarter; the printers, the window shutters, the heating, you name it, inter-connected. Yet that same ease of turning the air-conditioning on or printing a document from whatever’s the nearest printer can work against you, besides for you (page 41) and you might not even know it. I know I said it last month but the official website is well worth a visit if you have a spare hour and want some bright ideas. But don’t let me put you off giving this month’s issue a good read, whether you’re in a control room (page 58), nuclear power station (page 43), or on some ocean (page 36).

Or indeed fishing beside some river (page 72).

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