Conscientious objection

8 October, 2012 (11:29) | All articles | By: Stuart Fraser

Now then, now then. Is it just me, or are any of you, too, slightly repelled by the people queuing up to spill the alleged beans on Sir Jimmy Saville?

They all say they couldn’t possibly have made such allegations while the wretched man was still alive, such was his power and influence and such was the climate of the day.


I rather hope and pray that if I ever saw somebody behaving as Jim is alleged to have done, I’d have had the bollocks to, at the very least, report the incident to the police or preferably  to have gone public with the accusation. The risk of getting it wrong, or losing a job, would have been outweighed by the thought that at least people would behave with care around the man. I really hope I’d have been brave enough to have damned his eyes and risked my career if I really thought he was fiddling with under-age girls.

It’s very interesting to have all these people telling us his behaviour was an open secret for years. But not as impressive as it would have been to hear the remarks when something could have been done about it.

This post-event wisdom crops up in the unlikeliest of places: my own favourites are the politicians and economics experts telling us how they all knew the world was headed for economic catastrophe. If only they’d been certain enough to say!

It’s specially hilarious when the towering intellectual titans that are Cameron, Osborne and Clegg blame the Labour government for the planet’s economic ills. If only they’d been in charge, eh? We’d have been OK then, wouldn’t we?

Should Jim be fixed? Allegations this serious should of course be investigated, if only, if proved, to shame those who could and should have done something to stop it.

Conscience, that’s what we’re talking about.

My elderly father was told last week he needed a cataract removing. The consultant who saw him could remove it on the NHS in five months’ time, or on October 19th if handed an 83-year-old pensioner’s cheque with a few noughts on the end. How does he sleep at night, then? How does he square it with his conscience that he can take money from an old man and act quickly to safeguard his sight, but those without the sponds to buy his time can go blind for all he cares?

Conscience in the health industry has always struck me as an extraordinary thing. You would hope, wouldn’t you, that if you had the Coconut-Eating Crab-given gifts to save people’s lives, or make people’s lives better, the sharing of that gift and the improvement of the fates of others would be reward enough?

Given that we are constantly told this is hopelessly idealistic, maybe you’d accept that if you had those Crab-given abilities then, yes, you would want to cash in on your commitment to acquiring the skills through your knowledge and your labour, and maybe earn lots of money. But wouldn’t you hope you were able to identify enough money? Wouldn’t you want to do everything you can to share the gifts as widely as possible?

That’s why we work in the NHS, say consultants. To which I say: October 19th or five weeks…

Last week at the bar we had a heated debate about health which touched on the subject of homeopathy. Brother Fiddle and the Landlady are advocates; I, suffice to say, am not. But I quoted Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science, and I recommend to you his chapter on the subject.

I bring him into this debate on conscience because he has a new book out about the pharmaceutical industry, Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients (Fourth Estate, £13.99, if you can ignore the excruciating title).

I’m with the Guardian reader who asked Goldacre: “The blindingly obvious inference is that this is an industry totally unsuited to being run on profit-maximising lines by conventional shareholder companies. Given that, and the tremendous level of subsidy the industry already receives from governments around the world, why not spell out the vital necessity of locating it within publicly owned/non-profit organisations where there need be no obstacle to full transparency?”

Or, as I would put it: if you can develop things that cure people or make them better, wouldn’t your conscience want you to share them as widely as possible and to hell with the idea of profit?

Goldacre, disappointingly, says: “I am a realist about this. I don’t want a central-command state economy. In general, drug companies are reasonably good at developing new treatments and there’s also a lot of good in the industry. The point of my book is that it’s possible for good people in badly designed systems to perpetrate acts of great evil completely unthinkingly. I don’t think any of the people I write about would punch an old lady in the face, but they would inflict the same level of harm when they are abstracted away from the outcomes of their actions.”

I think if you’re going to price a drug at a level that is hard to afford whether by a private patient or a state health system then you are effectively punching people in the face, but there Goldacre and I must disagree.

(He believes we need a better – “competent” is the word he uses – regulatory system for the pharmaceutical industry. That’s over simplifying it, of course – you must read his book. Maybe our Brother Uncle Richard, who worked in the industry and therefore knows a darned sight more about it than I, could share his views?)

I think some in my family would wonder if I have a conscience sometimes. Last week, what would have been my late mother’s 71st birthday passed unnoticed by me.  My sister made a special trip to her grave and placed flowers there, which made her feel better but, I fear, did bugger all for my late mother. Still, it’s important to many people to mark graves and anniversaries. It just doesn’t occur to me. I think of my mother often and in all sorts of ways, but never when prompted by a date or a hole in the ground which contains the wreckage she left behind. Should I examine my conscience?

Well, I’d struggle to find the time, to be honest. Every time I scream at the children I examine my conscience and find myself wanting. Every time I lose my temper I turn to my conscience, though sometimes I find it untroubled. There are a host of subjects on which my conscience and I are not on speaking terms.

I think, though, that my conscience is clear on the idea of shared opportunity and care.

Here’s what a very, very great man indeed has to say on the subject of living with yourself: the chairman of the board, the king of the blues – ladies and gentlemen, Mr BB King.

The living legend, now 87, is interviewed in this week’s Observer in a fine piece by Ed Vulliamy ( ), who met BB at a gig in his home town – the 35th annual ‘homecoming concert’ which honours the great man’s friend Medgar Evers. Evers was a civil rights activist murdered by white supremacists.

Anyway, for hundreds of nights a year, BB has picked up his guitar Lucille and sung the blues. I’ve seen him. He’s a giant, in every imaginable sense of the word. He told Vulliamy: “I think I’ve done the best I could have done. But I keep wanting to play better, go further. There are so many sounds I still want to make, so many things I haven’t yet done. When I was younger I thought maybe I’d reached that peak. But I’m 86 now, and if I make it through to next month, I’ll be 87. And now I know it can never be perfect, it can never be exactly what it should be, so you got to keep going further, getting better.”

Now, a few more thoughts on conscience… could, for example, a slightly dodgy second-hand car dealer, who perhaps styles himself The Punter’s Friend, could such a man sleep easy, having foisted off upon innocent members of the public Fords of ancient vintage and dubious provenance?

Sheepskin jacket or not, surely a man’s conscience could help him abjure scarred Escorts and 200,000-mile Sierra estates? Not The Punter’s Friend, oh no.

Having said all that, it was The Punter’s Friend who offloaded upon us an old Escort, not unknown to one of our younger Sisters, which was in a shameful state (go on, admit it!) but which, to be scrupulously fair, did us proud for many miles.

Management hated it, for starting it became something of a lottery and its scarred paintwork shamed her in the school car park, but I rather liked its raffish charm and cheery good nature. Max the dog adored it, maybe because by the end it smelled so much of him.

In the end it was the subject of the second worst trade-in deal of my life: I abandoned it on the forecourt of a garage from which I’d purchased a Toyota Corolla and exited hurriedly stage left, pursued by a garageman saying: “But I don’t want it! I don’t care if it’s free!”

When I got home I found The Punter’s Friend had parked his old Sierra outside my house and posted the keys through the door with the message: “Congratulations on your new purchase”, or some such thing.

The worst trade-in experience of my life? When I traded in my beloved but clutch-eating Triumph Spitfire for a Dolomite.

I drove the Spit to the garage, having agreed £250 against the £800 price of the luxurious Dolomite.

I came down the hill, indicated left, entered the forecourt – and with a terrible rending noise the Spitfire’s rotted framework gave way. The rust beneath my seat hit the deck and I slid to a halt at the apex of a V where the boot and the bonnet faced up and my arse, showered in sparks, was anchored in the dirt.

I didn’t get £250.

But I do have a feeling that there may be Brothers and Sisters who can better that….





Comment from One Old Fiddle
Time October 8, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Mmm…sounds like a possible title to a song: “You are the rust beneath my seat”.

Comment from One Old Fiddle
Time October 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm

And to put the above research into context I found this: “It’s also worth bearing in mind that the BMJ’s 2010 analysis of 3,000 common medical treatments shows that only 11% of them — that is, 11% of the treatments offered on the UK’s NHS — are proven to be beneficial. Interestingly, “skeptics” are not calling for the other 89% to be removed from the NHS.”

Comment from Hamster
Time October 10, 2012 at 7:14 pm

We had an old Ford Orion once and it started misbehaving and the worst being that it would do or not do, was unlock unless it wanted to! Anyway we managed to save enough money to buy the cheapest car on Vospers forecourt and traded in the Orion. Often we would look over the fence as driving passed to see if it had been moved or made into an ornament. I think the cheapest motoring I had was when I bought a very old Toyota Celica for £240 with 12 months mot and tax, after the 12 months drove it Toyota Celica breakers in Kelly Bray and they give me £40.

Comment from Hamster
Time October 10, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Sadly as the week goes on it seems Jimmy Saville might well have been up to no good and to echo Bro Fraser, and I know that it isn’t easy but…. This weeks Hamster Top Tip – stand up for what’s right even if you stand alone.

Comment from The Jopster’s Friend
Time October 12, 2012 at 9:51 am

I loved that car. Even when the gear stick fell off, I had to use a coat hanger for an aerial and the strange, forever elusive, smell started in the boot. I loved the white stripe down the side and the look on policemen’s faces whenever the pulled me over and found out that I wasn’t the racer-boy they had assumed me to be.

Good to have a car that starts in the morning now though…

Comment from MotersRus
Time October 13, 2012 at 9:16 am

See… mr Frazer…see….I sed you wos drivin it orl rong…you nead lots of imajinashun to drive my moters proply

ps I dont member you payin me the larst stalmont on the Siera…you got a reseat?

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