Fox and Angel, Creative Partnership

A final word on Vicky Pryce

March 11th, 2013

Sir: I am in no doubt that Vicky Pryce, when faced some years ago with the prospect of being stuck with all those late evening and early morning airport runs, should Chris Huhne be deprived of his licence, made a pragmatic decision to take his points. However having made this pact, their unremarkable secret should have been taken to the grave. All the rest, including the fact that he may or may not have wanted her to have an abortion is irrelevant flim-flam. It is indeed hurtful to be an abandoned spouse, however if she wanted to get her own back she should have needed Nora Ephron’s words, “revenge is best served cold… a book”.

In reply to Carol Sarler

January 27th, 2013

Sir: I have two children in their twenties and, so far least, they have turned out ok. However this general okay-ness is the result of two decades of hard work on the part of many individuals but most especially by me, their mother. Motherhood is complex; it requires hard graft, inspiration, loyalty and constant vigilance. This is more often than not, not the mother hen clucking type of behaviour but the more considered kind, of allowing them freedom to grow and make mistakes whilst knowing when to pull them in when boundaries are crossed.

Furthermore, although babies and toddlers would seem to be the most time-consuming, and the yup and nope teenage stage the most trying on the nerves, your job is not over until they are paid up independent self-sustaining members of society. It is often said that successful parents give their children both roots and wings: this is a fine balance that requires good judgment and constant thought.

Much of the work in child rearing is dull and repetitive – the washing of football kit and the finding of clean uniform never seems to end, but it is all part of the caring process. There is also a lot of waiting about while they learn to ride bikes and swim and you spend ages spent sitting with them while they learn to drive; however these are all vital life skills. 

Obtaining a decent education for your child whether in the state or private sector is almost a full time job, no wise parent can take their eye off the ball. (You must also be aware of high octane couples flying by who demand preferment for their child at the expense of your own).

However along the way the mother’s most important duty is the transmission of values and this job is never ending. Facing up to tricky conversations that both you and your children would rather not have is probably the most difficult task of all.

Motherhood is a lot of things, but part-time it ain’t.


January 15th, 2012

Sir: Michael Gove lives in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks we do not put up with incompetent midwives and surgeons. It is not unknown for a doctor to operate on the wrong leg or leave instruments behind in the patient. Having given birth to two children, once assisted by a good mid-wife and once by a bad one I know the difference.

The problem with routing out poor teachers is that heads already employ the best they can find, there is not a great pool of splendid teachers waiting to step up to the plate; the problem is a simple one of supply and demand.

Until the profile of teaching as a profession is significantly raised to attract a better standard of recruit little is likely to change. Retaining teachers is also critical: good departments are built over years not months. Having three maths teachers a year is like having no maths teacher at all.

As a one- time teacher myself and having seen my own children through to University I can testify that poor teachers exist in both private and state sectors and the best one can hope for is that one’s child will not be stuck with this or that not very good teacher for too long. However until you spend a year in a classroom yourself it is impossible to understand the demands made on teachers, (particularly the relentless intensity of the work), and for this reason rather than any other teachers should be cut some slack and allowed “off-days” just like anyone else, Michael Gove included.

He is doing his best with a very knotty problem but to make the assumption that there are no poor midwives or doctors as opposed to teachers is a complete fallacy. It might be just that little bit more obvious to everyone if you are a poor teacher, that is all.


July 20th, 2011

We have been taking a break for a few months due to my house move, (impending), an office move and a general re-grouping.

I have discovered that it takes months to empty a family house after nearly a quarter of a century and that this is not compatible with thinking or writing.

Hazel, (who moved house last year) and I are starting on our next book in September in our new office in Winchelsea.

In the meantime if anyone out there is interested in buying a beautiful two hundred years old house on the Ashdown Forest with a wild-life garden home to 25 species of birds, not to mention foxes, badgers, toads and newts please get in touch!!


July 20th, 2011

When I visit my local GP practice I see a busy well-run surgery. What I don’t see however is a lot of GPs with time on their hands sufficient to run new consortium. My GPs seem to spend every minute of the day seeing patients, visiting patients, organizing referrals as well as involving themselves in training. If they did have more time I am sure both patient and doctor would like them to be able to extend their appointments beyond the usual 7 minutes. As a patient you are severely under pressure to explain symptoms and receive considered advice in this narrow time-frame.
Since GPs are fully stretched already presumably they will be ‘outsourcing’ and ‘franchising’ (to use common parlance), if they are not to abrogate their existing responsibilities, (unless there is a stealth plan for GPs to run consortiums while cheaper nurses take their places in the surgery?). As far as I know there is no new and keen as mustard band of managers available to take up these important positions. Therefore the existing NHS managers will be being fired or made redundant by whatever legal mechanisms possible, in order to be redeployed by the new bodies. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that some of these bodies will be lead by managers currently heading up existing hospital funding, although since it is deemed in urgent need of reform presumably they are thought not to be doing it very well?
However the changes work out we can safely assume that there will be a lot of hokey-cokey: people will be scrabbling for new jobs or hoping to hang onto their old jobs, and for some months will not know if they have a job or what it will entail. There will be stress and malfunction and loss of moral. For quite some time nobody will have a clue who they are answering to and there will be endless and drawn out computer glitches as nobody will tell the boffins what changes are needed because they don’t really know. During the mayhem this fluid situation will be an open door to collusion and cronyism and will be, certainly in the short term, extremely unlikely to drive up standards as is hoped.

So, if the man in the street is sceptical it is because he is right to be. Lansley, in spite of writing one of the longest and most convoluted government documents in history, (so much so that no-one has apparently actually got to the end of it) has not explained how his reforms will address the problems in the NHS that people actually worry about. What is the connect between his reforms and the reality on the ground such as long waits, nowhere to park, lost notes, uncertainty about which doctor you will see and their level of competence, (the funny thing about being ill is that you are usually not well enough to scour the internet comparing death-rates of individual doctors and hospitals as has been suggested we might like to do), poor staffing levels, over-worked (and often unfit & overweight) nurses and mid-wives, poor quality hospital food and no one to sit you up or help you eat, not enough staff to take you to the toilet and fears that you will be consider a bother if you ask, no joined up thinking and collaboration between departments, (essential for the elderly who almost never present with a single issue), and poor communication between other government agencies. (All the child abuse scandals have been exacerbated by different departments, sometimes even in the same hospital, just hanging on to their bit of the jigsaw).

In addition it is unwise to be unwell during school holidays, especially August, and hospitals barely function at weekends and bank holidays even though people are ill at the same rate. The cost of agency nursing is scandalous as is the use of foreign doctors, (often of doubtful provenance with poor language skills and inadequate checks) to fill the gaps in the out of hours service that we should remember GPs gave up to the benefit of themselves but to the detriment of their patients.
If all the safeguards the government promises are put in place there will no longer be “the competition to drive up standards” as hoped, (they can’t have it both ways) and if they are not put in place the danger is that straightforward medical procedures will be cherry-picked and patients with complex problems will be shifted from pillar to post, possibly ‘outsourced’ to the point of invisibility. Governments have a shocking record when it comes to regulators in any event, who are initially enthusiastic but ultimately toothless and are unable to protect the public.

Medicine in hospitals should be team work with everybody from the cleaner to the consultant working towards one simple goal, a good outcome for the patient. Knowledge should be freely shared and all concerned should be able to speak the truth as they see it without fear of reprisal. This is the culture that the government should be promoting. A new philosophical approach is needed not more business-speak. Most doctors do not want more initiatives, they just want to get on and do a good job.

If the government had truly wanted to help the health of the nation it should have should have instead instructed Lansley to take on the food and drinks lobby which would do much more to save money by keeping people out of hospital in the first place.

As it is Cameron has taken fright, Clegg has watered the bill down and now nobody knows what, if anything, is to happen after all.


July 20th, 2011

(as seen in the Guardian & The Week December 2010)

Sir: Every time the Prince of Wales raises his head above the parapet there sounds a cacophony of outraged voices who ask what right he has to tell us how to live. Well, when it comes to planning, it seems we need some help.

You only have to lok at the tawdry shopping malls, unimaginative housing and the acres of identikit out of town supermarkets to see that something has gone seriously wrong in the last forty years. Planners, architects, councils and builders have lost all aesthetic sense in the rush to make money. Much regeneration is exactly the opposite, already out of date, stale and run-down.

If this is the best they can do, it is not good enough and I for one do not want the Prince of Wales to be silenced on this particular issue. It is pretty obvious that when it comes to planning, big business and featureless corporations have leverage and pay lip service to the supposedly democratic process.


December 23rd, 2010

As featured in The Independent on the 14th Dec

Sir: Abruptly raising the cost of University tuition is a crude way of allowing the markets to sort out the complex philosophical problem of what education should be about.

Blonde in Florence

December 6th, 2010

Blonde in Florence by Camilla Johnson
I think a lot (and seemingly even more so in Italy). This blog is my way of getting a good night’s sleep; a space for the many musings that run through my head everyday.

A year at The Old Fox House

December 6th, 2010

It has been a topsy-turvy year. The coldest winter in living memory killed plants I’d nurtured for two decades. My passion flower withered and died, once rampant on a sheltered south-facing wall. Brimstone butterflies normally wake in January, in 2010 their first appearance was in March and even then they fluttered only tentatively.

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Lack of Maintenance

December 6th, 2010

As featured in The Telegraph, Dec 5th, 2010

Sir: It is not just big projects that the British don’t do well, it’s maintenance. The whole of the railway system needs up-dating, not to mention the mind-set of all who work and run it.

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