… getting increasingly annoyed by the Tories. It started last Saturday morning when I turned on the radio. Generally I feel as if I need to know what’s going on in the world but when I find out, I want to un-know it. Whenever I’ve listened to or read the news recently, I’ve wondered why we don’t just remove all the detail and put up a banner headline saying ‘The Tories are steering us to hell in a handcart’. Saturday morning, and all I’m aware of from the Today Programme is that the government think that the UK is populated by shirkers.
The misery continued on Monday, with Channel Four news reporting that we’re all going to hell… Sorry, to be more specific, that ATOS is either screwed, or is screwing us. Who can tell any more? Probably, it’s both. The marvellous Chris Grayling, employment minister, was spouting off on a topic about which he appears to know very little. According to Chris, it compromises the doctor–patient relationship for a doctor to say ‘actually you are fit for work’. Say what, come again? Since when has anyone been annoyed when a health care professional, whose judgement they trust, tells them that actually they’re quite well. Do this government not realise that the vast majority of people want to work and would be pleased to know this? What kind of human being thinks that others are glad to be told that they are ill? Do they think we’ve all got Münchausen’s? It’s almost as if the Tories cannot understand how humans can trust and respect each other, or want to do an honest day’s work without fraudulently claiming expenses to which they are not entitled.
Grayling ended by proclaiming ‘that’s why we look for specialist evidence within Job Centre Plus and not simply a letter from a GP’. Great, thanks for that one Chris. It is true that my GP is a medical generalist, rather than a specialist in occupational health. But I think GPs would find it rather odd to be told that their knowledge of medicine precludes them from saying whether or not someone is well enough to work. At the root of all this is the Tories’ base assumption that people do not want to work. Tories have a dim view of their fellow humans, and assume that everyone is a skiver. One can assume that most people want to work, and that a sick note protects them from employers. Or one can assume that employees dislike work, and that the sick note is a scam to fool employers. The Tories choose the latter option.
This time last year, I was one of those dreadful people who was off long-term sick. I was signed off for four weeks with depression brought on by work stress. To be frank, I was relieved when my GP told me that there would come a point when I was well enough to work. I was glad to know that the panic attacks, out of body experiences and suicidal tendencies would recede. And indeed since leaving a job in clinical audit and working elsewhere, I have not had a day off sick. In the meantime, the social enterprise company I worked for have lost various contracts. They have down-sized. The person who was my manager whilst I was at my most depressed has been made redundant, and the organisation is part of an investigation into the death of a patient.
Sometimes it really is the fault of the employers. Sometimes people are just ill. And you have to be rather sick yourself, though in quite a different way, to make the assumption that anyone signed off long-term sick does not want to get better, and is in fact some kind of fraudster. I’m not naive, I don’t doubt that some people are malingering. But this government is harkening back to the 1830s and the days of the New Poor Law. They are deliberately trying to make claiming for state help so humiliating and so difficult that hardly anyone does it. What they fail to realise is that the scammers will continue to scam, no matter how difficult one makes it. But the really ill and genuinely needy will give up, or just kill themselves. And as a taxpayer, I would far rather pay for the genuinely ill, plus a few fraudsters, than see genuinely sick people go through the humiliations of the current system.
To take my mind off all of this, I tried listening to some music. However, my CD player kept stalling. So I put in the cleaning CD. To add insult to injury, the cleaning CD stalled. Disconsolately, I left for the supermarket to get the ingredients for my pumpkin and apple curry surprise. The surprise being that I think no good ever came from eating pumpkins so I use butternut squash instead. Hunting around in the supermarket for a normal sized squash amongst all the huge ones, I was reminded of a previous trip during which there had been only two squash left, both of them distinctly phallic. Well I say phallic. A horse would have been proud, but nonetheless they differed from the usual enlarged pear shape of the butternut squash. I had found myself wondering if they were rejected because they made some people feel inadequate and others embarrassed. Not that other phallic vegetables suffer from this problem, so maybe what we fear is the thing which is out of place, which is not how we expect it to be. Or maybe I think too much in the supermarket.
I thought, there I go again, that maybe watching Strictly Come Dancing would give me a break from all the thinking, and all the ills of the world. It did, sort of. It was the Wembley edition and during the week, when Zoe Ball had explained that the arena was 20m by 40m I thought ‘oh, that’s the size of a dressage arena’. Turns out that in fact it’s a much better size for dressage than for dancing, as you can pick out a horse at a distance whereas a human just becomes a small whirring dot.
It was dreadful. Almost the whole thing. For the opening, the BBC decided to fill the stage with some sort of dance medley which might have looked great live, but on a TV screen just gave me the sense that either I was seasick, or I might be about to get a migraine. Russell Grant jumped a shark, or rather was fired out of a cannon. Everyone appeared to lose their sense of timing completely or perhaps it was because all I could hear was echo. And you know something is going deeply wrong with your life when you find yourself thinking ‘perhaps Jason Donovan can pull this back from the brink’.
QI didn’t help make me any happier. Fry was talking about the preservation of DNA from extinct animals, so that they could be resurrected via cloning. He was banging on about how marvellous science is whilst all the time I was thinking ‘Would it not be simpler if we didn’t hunt everything to extinction’. Apparently not.
On to Monday, and work, where we listen to the radio. And the radio keeps playing a hit by The Wanted. It’s that repetitive lyric ‘It’s a little bit frightening, I think we must be playing with lightning’. Please, please go out and play with lightning before you release another song. Failing that, am I allowed to shoot that lyricist?
I wasn’t really helped by the new John Lewis advert. You know the one. Small child, running around waiting for Christmas. Soppy music that I’ve only listened to once, though since then I have done borderline damage to myself in the rush to get to the remote control and the mute button in time. We’re meant to think that the child is desperately waiting to get his presents but no, the child is desperately waiting to give his mum and dad their present. Now frankly, you could see that one coming a mile off. And how could I see this? Because the child clearly isn’t normal. That child scares me more than Damon in The Omen. He will go through life leaving behind a trail of bewildered and frightened people as there is something about him that makes one realise that the universe is thin and that behind it lie night terrors.
No, that child and the world he represents are not normal. So what is wrong with me? Why, despite my belly aching that people are basically lovely and never fraudulent, can I not believe in this child? Am I really just a hardened cynic? That one stumped me for a while before I realised. I’m not the cynic, but the manipulative tossers who wrote the advert undoubtedly are.