Current affairs and politics


At work the other day, we had a call from a dental surgery. A clasp had broken off from a casting that we made for one of their associates a few months ago, which shouldn’t happen. We said that we’d repair it free of charge, because it shouldn’t have failed so early in its life. Yesterday they called us again to ask how much we’d originally charged them for the work, which seemed a little suspicious since we’d already agreed that the problem could be put right without money changing hands. It isn’t as though we’ll have to remake the whole thing for them, because the design is sound and as far as we know it fits perfectly. It will take about half an hour to put on a replacement clasp, and the combined time used by the surgery staff has been about an hour.

This morning we had a call from the prescribing surgeon, who had been informed by his former associates that they were billing him for a complete remake of the denture. Apparently his profit-sharing position in the surgery obliged him to repay to them any costs incurred after the fact on any work he conducted for them. Furthermore they were adding £150 for their time. Their one hour of working time: half an hour to see the patient and discuss the options, half an hour to have two ten-minute conversations with us and put the broken denture in the post.

If I were feeling charitable, I’d assume that the surgery intended to guarantee absolutely that the device would not fail again by asking us to make it again from scratch rather than make a simple repair to it, but I’ve seen enough of dental surgeries to take a more cynical view. I suspect that what they will actually do is get us to repair the damage for nothing, then claim the best part of £500 from the original surgeon, possibly bill the patient for their time too, and laugh all the way to the bank. The only fly in their ointment is that we go back a long way with the original dentist, and he called us as soon as he heard from them. What happens next is fortunately not our problem. We’ll make the repair, send it back and let them all fight it out amongst themselves. However, the situation does offer a nice example of how much penny pinching, marking up and general unprofessional money grubbing goes on in the dental trade. If you thought that the laboratory bill for dentures was about what the surgery charges, think again. I’ve heard of twice the bill for making the dentures being added on to the patient’s account by the surgery for their time, which is typically about three half-hour appointments and a couple of phone calls to their laboratory. More than that, there are still some surgeons who try to make an even bigger profit than that by buying the cheapest technical work they can possibly find and then charging it out as the most expensive.

What does all this mean? Well, for those who have good teeth, not much. Look after them, floss, use mouthwash, avoid contact sports and don’t pick any fights, and the preceding story will always be irrelevant to you. If you do need dentures, I’m saying that you should be aware how much your dentist pays for the work he fits in your mouth. Despite that degree and the fancy surgery, he’s just as likely to rip you off as a car mechanic or a builder. The surgery is legally obliged to supply you with a certificate of manufacture that will tell you where the work was done, and most technicians are finally catching up with technology and have websites with price lists on them (a surgeon once asked us to take ours off line in case his patients saw it, but it’s still there). If your work was done overseas for resale, you’re entitled to know that too; make sure you ask, since the Dental Laboratories Association is currently running a campaign promoting British dental technology.

In short, then, it’s not just what’s being done in your mouth that you should worry about, but what’s being done in your wallet. Apply the same standards to your dental work that you would to any other product purchase. In the end it’s your health, and caveat emptor never applies more than it does in that area.

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So where have I been since October last year? Well, obviously I’ve been right here in Exmouth and I’ve been quite busy; but I don’t particularly feel like telling the world at large what I’ve been up to.

I don’t usually go in for political commentary here, because usually everything that can be said has been said on the internet before I find out about it, but occasionally I read something utterly vulgar and depressing and I think it worthy of a punt.

The most obvious thing to deplore is what has upset the Daily Fascist, which is a paper that people read in order to be outraged. The protest during yesterday’s Armistice Day silence was vulgar, tasteless and calculated to be as offensive and nasty as possible, and it clearly succeeded in being all of those things. What it did for the plight of Muslims throughout the world is far more debatable, but somehow I doubt that was ever the point. The aim of the protesters was to become instant hate figures, and hopefully to provoke some violence from the police or members of the public. That this failed to happen is clearly not due to the forbearance of the Great British Public, which is predictably violently angry about the whole affair, but somehow I wish it were. I wish that everybody had commented on how childish it is to pour scorn on a solemn national ceremony in the hope of starting a fight; how laughable and pathetic it is to seek martyrdom when the people you want to kill you are paying more attention to what happened on The Apprentice last night than to you or your religion; or that someone who takes Armistice Day as a celebration of British military power has completely failed to understand the ceremony and is therefore an idiot.

Sadly, that is not how the people of Britain have responded. Some have set up hate campaigns against British Islam; others have simply called for the deportation of those who engage in these ridiculous publicity stunts, demanded their arrest and criticised the police for protecting them from the violence they intended to provoke. The people of Britain are in this respect failing to understand their enemy, and therefore failing to hurt him effectively; and I think that we could learn something about that from our grandparents.

The enemy in this case is the religious extremist. He has absolutely no sense of humour, takes himself very seriously, is utterly convinced that he is right and believes anything he does for the good of his religion as he sees it to be justified. He will do anything to be heard and cannot abide any attempt to argue with him; but what really hurts him is one of two things: either to be ridiculed or to be ignored. The religious extremist has a lot in common with the political extremist, and back in the ‘forties Britain had to deal with political extremists who had managed to take over a country and were therefore far more of a threat to us than a lot of cretinous hillbillies with stupid placards. Yet even while bombs were falling on British cities and the enemy was trying his hardest to break civilian morale, the civilian population was defying him with two very simple weapons: the ‘business as usual’ sign and the lampoon. People laughed about Hitler; they laughed about how fat Goering was, and what a skinny runt Goebbels looked; about Hitler’s ridiculous fringe, or how his moustache made him look like Charlie Chaplin. They refused to be afraid of their enemy and turned him instead into a figure of ridicule. They then proceeded to try as much as possible to live their lives normally, because that defies an enemy who wants to break public morale, but mainly because the only other thing to do was to give up completely.

In this respect, the Metropolitan Police have done exactly the right thing. They have denied the enemy the martyrdom he craves and instead given him the opportunity to state his case in such a way that nobody will ever agree with him who was not already a rabid supporter. They have given him enough rope to hang himself, but have prevented Britain from perpetrating a lynching, while the only people who have been dishonoured or sullied by yesterday’s vulgar display are those who perpetrated it. We have been protected from being dragged into the gutter of unreasoning violence that extremists of all stamps inhabit while demonstrating that we really believe in free speech, and we will not be the losers by that. We would do well to remember that the moment when British fascism ceased to be a realistic political movement was not at the Cable Street riot, but at Oswald Moseley’s most triumphant rally at Olympia, where the extremists had free rein to expose their moral bankruptcy to the full glare of public scrutiny.

If we must pay attention to the nutters, then, I would like it to be in the form of comedy. Perhaps their protest could be overdubbed with dialogue from Yes, Minister, or re-cut so that they appear to be dancing to the Birdie Song. I’d like to see the placards Photoshopped so that they say ‘Sorry about the bag; didn’t have time to shave’ or ‘Danish Bacon is great’. I want to see people laughing at the enemy, because it will hurt him; and I think he deserves to be hurt.

As I was conducting my usual half-hour debate with myself about whether or not to get out of bed this morning, the radio informed me of a government report about NHS sick leave. The way in which it was presented was strange, though. It appears to have been deemed significant and worrying both that there are higher absentee rates in the health service due to ill-health and that staff sometimes turn up for work despite the fact that they feel a bit poorly.

I know as well as anyone else that Parliament is in recess, which leaves everyone short of something to report; but this sort of self-contradictory nonsense is simply not to be borne. Firstly, people who work long hours in the presence of people who are ill are bound to contract more illnesses than people like me, who work in a small team with relatively little public contact. Secondly, the reason that the private sector loses fewer working hours to sick leave is precisely that people come to work even though they’re feeling ill. Even adverts for flu remedies encourage this ‘sickness is for wimps’ work ethic, but there are obvious problems with applying it to health care. Either you want doctors and nurses to soldier on through their own problems regardless or you want them to stay at home and avoid compromising patient care. You can’t have it both ways.

Perhaps the most significant waste that was pointed out by the BBC report to which I linked is, however, the fact that the NHS has more administrative staff than doctors and more managers than paramedics. It’s nice to see that the Health Service has discovered the benefits of actually caring about the health of its staff, but I’m certain that more money could be saved (and if the government isn’t trying to save money it jolly well should be) by cutting administrative positions across the public sector, rather than singling out one group of public-sector workers and suggesting that they take too much sick leave. Karen Jennings of Unison made the most sensible statement in that entire article, and she has nothing to do with the government. Could these two facts possibly be related?