Shambles over a flu shot + Ghost-written obits + Goodbye to my book

Feel a wee scratch to stop flu? YOU should be so lucky!

IF MY NEIGHBOUR DOREEN hadn’t tipped off the Deacon’s Wife and if she hadn’t mentioned the conversation to Mrs B and if my Good Lady hadn’t called NHS Scotland’s Flu Vaccination Booking line (twice, despite the fact that I had emailed them, receiving no more than an auto-response) then the wreath on our front door might have meant something much more mournful than ‘Merry Christmas’ this year.

In this most scary of all winters the flu vaccination programme (at least the one north of the border) is an epic omnishambles: instead of the jabs being administered by one’s own GP – as in all previous years – letters are being sent and appointments administered by NHS Scotland.

Which, if you enjoy bureaucracy, is fine. . . unless, like we and dozens of other Borderers, you happen to live on the English side of the Tweed while your GP is located o’er the water. IN WHICH CASE YOU DON’T GET SENT AN APPOINTMENT!

Devolution of political power is one thing, leading as has become pitifully obvious during the coronavirus pandemic, to petty squabbling and one-upmanship among the four wee tinpot ‘nations’. Devolution of the NHS, on the other hand, is a disaster: England versus Scotland, competing for funding leaving Border folk, quite literally, in the middle of mainland Britain to be ignored by both ‘sides’.

We now both have appointments for vaccination at a hall in Duns, Berwickshire, involving a pleasant 35-mile round trip. Thankfully, we have a car; without one, getting to and from our appointment would take most of the daylight hours.

Of course, says the government, we could always grt a jab at the chemist or make an appointment for a shot in the arms at the supermarket (to my suspicious little socialist mind, yet another ‘trick’ to wean us away from the NHS) and those outlets don’t seem to be having any difficulty in laying their hands on the flu vaccine.

But beware: our parish council chairman and keeper of Etal village post office/café/shop – one of the best in these parts – tells me that he’s finding it impossible to get a vaccination appointment at Tesco in Berwick, such is the demand.

Meanwhile the Prime Minister hints at progress on the COVID-19 vaccine front. Lord knows how that will go down with the ten per cent of crazy ‘anti-vaxxers’ and the 19 per cent ‘don’t knows’ (according to a recent nationwide YouGov poll).

A prominent economist recently suggested that a substantial cash inducement be paid to persuade citizens to consent to a coronavirus jab. I support an alternative idea, proposed by a Times reader: when we have developed a safe, effective vaccine and administered it to as many people as possible so as to reach herd immunity, access to public spaces, events and transport and so forth should be made conditional upon proof of vaccination.

Anyone without such proof, home or abroad, would be refused admission. Vaccine deniers will then be free to vent their misguided opinions in glorious perpetual social isolation.

Now that’s what I’d call the firm smack of government!


My ambition: to outlive the ghost
writer who memorialises me!
  in the posh papers are the obituaries: eventful lives well described by talented researcher/writers who usually files the report while the subject is still living and whose work is updated with the passing years until the article, sadly, is required..

I share this somewhat spooky curiosity for the recently departed with my journalist daughter who, twenty-something years ago, while doing work experience at The Economist, decided to prematurely investigate the ‘obit’ files for what might be written about her father. Fortunately, details of my brush with notoriety as a Fleet Street editor were brief and will, by now, have surely shrunk to nothing.

But, I wonder, what happens if the obituarist pre-deceases the subject? In the recent case of the actress Juliette Gréco, her eulogy in The Guardian was followed by the dolorous notice that “[the obituarist] Patrick O’Connor died in 2010. This obituary has been updated”.

Ghost written, in other words!


Since when was not going to uni
seen as ‘giving up’, minister?

NO WONDER POLITICIANS get themselves a name for being out of touch, and I’m not just talking about Johnson, Gove, Cummings and the rest of the Eton mob.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, defending the government’s lockdown order on students, said it was important that students “do not give up a year of their life by not going to university”. What nonsense is this from a lad who went to a state comprehensive (even if it was the posh Parmiter’s School in Hertfordshire)?

Since when was not going to university and doing something else instead– like most of his ‘red wall’ new Tory voters did – seen as giving up?



Schmuck! Now that book
will never be written!
once: his young wife left his latest typewritten manuscript on the seat of a Paris train. It was never found, probably junked by some over-zealous railway cleaner eager to get home for her tea.

It was his only copy. All he could do was to sit down and write it all over again.

Schmuck! He was at heart a newspaper reporter and ought to have known better. “Always use five blacks and never fuck a colleague” was the first and best piece of advice I received when I started as a 17-year-old at the Warrington Guardian.

So much for Hemingway. Something awfully similar happened to me today when I sat down to submit a manuscript proposal to a publisher. Unbelievably, and with fifty more years’ experience of journalism than the great American writer had back then, I chose to use my mobile phone to submit my synopsis and personal details.

Thirty minutes of creativity later, with two or three hundred carefully crafted words captured in a minute typeface on my handset, one pudgy finger mis-stroked and – SCHMUCK YOURSELF! – the submission disappeared for ever.

A frantic search of my iPhone found nothing. A despairing call to the publisher produced sympathy but nothing more than a hesitant, “Maybe you could write it again and resubmit?”

Should I? I’m no Ernest Hemingway; I lack not only his ability but also the twenty-something-year-old ‘hungry fighter’s’ ambition.

Besides, I prefer writing 800-word columns to 80,000-word dust-gatherers.

Maybe it’s an omen that my memories are best left to lie where they are.

PS. . . It’s just too good an opportunity to miss. . . from Boris, the boy who gave you ‘bubbles’ and the Rule of Six comes his latest crazy catchphrase: The Tiers of a Clown!



  1. Flu jags cannot be had for love or money in the Berwick area; phone calls to surgery and pharmacy get the same response; ‘Try next week, or possibly next month’. Apparently there are problems with the supply chain – on this basis what chance for the government being able to administer a Covid-19 vaccination? At least you have an appointment – I just hope they are actually able to source a supply by then. However, our MP is on to it – so that’s alright then!

  2. I had my flu jab in Boots, Berwick on the 8th Oct. I booked it a couple of weeks earlier when I happened to be passing, and only had to wait for the vaccine to be delivered – no massive line of bare arms waiting, just me on a chair by the Pampers.


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