Monday, January 30, 2017

Health-geekery February 2017

I can't always get the health and social care links I want, but sometimes if I try repeatedly, I can get the health and social care links that I need.

As ever, inclusion in the list doesn't signify agreement, merely that I've found something to be interesting.


Belatedly, here's a series of essays hosted by the Kings' Fund imagining What If scenarios for the future of the NHS.

Even further back into the past, here's a very handy briefing by the Neurological Alliance on issues affecting neurology services from April last year.

Returning to the present, things do seem to have gone (temporarily no doubt) quiet on sustainability and transformation plans in the English NHS. However, Health Campaigns Together have produced some activist resources in the meantime, which may be useful whether you agree with their take on STP's or not.

Social care

New research from Scope finds that fewer than one in five people with disabilities (18 per cent) get the right social care, which [editorial voice intruding] is frankly gobsmacking.

Most councils unconvinced that increasing social care precept to 3% will resolve care crisis (ITV)

Local services by local people

New report from Locality calls for locally-commissioned and delivered public services which would provide "substantially better outcomes and value than standardised, one-size-fits-all services."


Changes to staffing on Southern Trains risks affecting accessible transport for people with disabilities. (Guardian)

Northern Ireland

Scope NI interview with NICVA Chair Seamus McAleavey has some interesting comments on health and health reform in light on renewed political instability.


News from the Wales Rare Disease Implementation Group as Rare Disease Day approaches on 28 February.

And a link to Wales' Digital Health Strategy, just because.

It's that man again...

Theresa May doesn't rule health out of any trade deal agreed with the US (Independent)
Caroline Molloy of Our NHS fires back


Presentations and related resources from National Voices annual conference.

And finally

An American patient in London - comedian Rob Delaney talks about his contrasting experiences of UK and US healthcare.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Pulp fiction meets Sid Meier's Civilisation - Eric Flint's 1632

I'm not surprised I liked Eric Flint's 1632. I am surprised how much I took from it.

The basic concept is a real doozy, for starters, stranding a turn-of-the-second-millenium West Virginian mining town in seventeenth century Germany in the middle of the Thirty Years War. Our intrepid time-travellers then (of course) attempt to start the American Revolution a hundred and forty years or so earlier than scheduled.

We Brits tend, I think, not to know a great deal about the Thirty Years War; our ancestors were mostly distracted by domestic quarrels. But we missed out on an unholy mess of rebellion, foreign intervention and religious strife that makes our own Civil War look like a barroom brawl. A worse indictment of monarchy, aristocracy and church could scarce be found in early modern Europe.

Against this backdrop, Flint is able to juxtapose the values of the Founding Fathers and the civic virtues of America (tolerance, inclusion, democracy, practicality, informality) to their full advantage, without the need to include a corresponding critique. His own background as a union organiser also brings the American tradition of equality into full focus alongside the more familiar call to liberty. 

Effectively, the story itself is a pulp exercise in nation-building. As much consideration is given to generating power, to trade, logistics and constitutional theory as to the lives of its protagonists, or the battles that interrupt a narrative that would otherwise resemble a game of Sid Meier's Civilisation.

Not that I'd complain about a novel that was pure Civ fan-fic. Just saying.

I call 1632 pulp fiction because it is - the good characters are uncomplicatedly so, the villains mostly likewise, and Flint creates ample opportunities for the reader to cheer at one cliche and jeer the other. That doesn't mean it isn't clever at the same time: he uses the road-map of American civics to make some interesting points about religious and racial tolerance and women serving in the reconstituted US army.

It being modern US pulp SF, there's a truckload - heck, several truckloads - of guns: how else are displaced West Virginians going to achieve military superiority? On the plus side, Flint doesn't turn combat into a video game; on the debit side, he lingers rather too much on the brutal impact of modern firearms to my British taste.

As to why I got more from 1632 than expected - well, wherever you come from politically, it's quite refreshing to find a book that doesn't just suggest that the status quo can be changed, but is quite clear than no change is not an option.We don't live in the midst of the Thirty Years War, but at the present time the thought of working together to build a new and better polity - a better world, even - sounds like an ever more attractive idea.

Five more contenders from January 1976

Here are five more of my favourite songs from the charts of January 1976.

I've discounted leftover Christmas songs still hanging around, as it just seems odd to be talking about them in January and Greg's Lake I Believe In Father Christmas and Mike Oldfield's In Dulci Jubilo do get a lot of love and airplay anyway.

Paul Davidson - Midnight Rider - swinging, string-assisted reggae cover of Allman Brothers' outlaw hymn
The Miracles - Love Machine - a politer monogamous answer to Sex Machine powered by  falsetto and Fozzie Bear voice.
R and J Stone - We Do It - you will probably think you do not know this song, but wait for the chorus, and trust me, you will. MOR soul at its finest.
Osibisa - Sunshine Day - seminal Afro-funk from UK pioneers.
War - Low Rider - that bassline, those cheeky horns, those oh so subtle drug references...

All of them underlining what a golden age for funk, soul and reggae the mid 70's were.

Coming up next in the 1976 project: Donna Summer's Love To Love You Baby and the rise of proto-disco.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

High concept, high seas: Sailor's A Glass Of Champagne

January 1976's Number Two hit A Glass Of Champagne by Sailor sets its lyrical tone right away with its opening couplet: 'I've got the money, I've got the place / You've got the figure, you've got the face.'

Yes, we're foursquare in the 1970's here, chauvinism and all.

Easily the most bizarre band I've covered so far, Sailor come on like Roxy Music with a nautical fixation - the same synth and piano boogie that drove Virginia Plain married to a lyric about getting together over a glass of ... well, you can see where this is going... delivered by four men in a distresed approximation of nautical gear (the video is from Germany, where Sailor were a very big deal)

Two of whom are hunkered around a Heath Robinson synth-piano-organ-glockenspiel device called a Nickelodeon.

What elevates Glass Of Champagne is the fact that it's ridiculously catchy, without a redundant phrase in its three and half minutes and is delivered with a cheerily gonzo intensity by this merry crew. Bass chants of 'a little glass of champagne' and all.

Seventies songs like this are probably the reason Gang Of Four wrote half an album about commodified love three years later. But moments in pop don't need to be anything other than of their time and A Glass Of Champagne is certainly that.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Meta-pop: 10cc's Art For Art's Sake

Having started out on familiar ground, it's time to strike out and see what else 1976 has to offer.

I'm not really familiar with 10cc bar a few tracks, like the deathless I'm Not In Love and the enduring reggae pastiche Dreadlock Holiday. So I'm pleased to report that their January '76 Top Ten hit Art For Art's Sake, previously unknown to me, is five-minutes-plus of gloriously psychedelic pop: a little bit late Beatles, a little bit glam and a little bit alternative comedy revue besides.

Self-produced by the technical wizards of 10cc themselves, it also sounds fabulous, with a recurring clockwork Franz Ferdinand-y guitar riff and smatterings of wooshy synth.

You can hear it alongside this animated video from the 10cc Fan Club here.

The great thing about Art For Art's Sake is, like Bohemian Rhapsody, that it feels like it it's extending the boundaries of what's possible in pop. Lyrically, it's an early sign of it entering a mature, self-referential stage, providing ironic commentary on itself and the industry that surrounds it while delivering a cracking tune at the same time.

I mean, the whole song revolves around the chorus/punchline 'Art for art's sake / Money for God's sake' - suitably so for a band that started out as songwriters-for-hire. A band as accomplished and clever as 10cc couldn't be blind to commerical imperatives, even if they couldn't be seen to be following them too overtly and also maintain their credibility at the same time.

Ironically, the art versus cash question was shortly to divide 10cc, with Kevin Godley and Lol Creme leaving the band later in 1976 to concentrate on a triple album promoting their guitar effect tool, the Gizmotron, while Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman continued to take the band in a less ambiguously pop direction.

Art For Art's Sake though, shows a band with eyebrows fully raised, making pop music about pop music (meta-pop?) long before it was fashionable. And it's an absolute banger with it.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Deep in his decadent period: David Bowie's Golden Years

Part two of my look at the music charts of 1976.

If Queen were entering their imperial phase with Bohemian Rhapsody as 1976 began, then their future collaborator David Bowie, a little lower in the Top Ten with Golden Years, was deep in his decadent period.

As Simon Reynolds' recent excellent glam rock history Shock And Awe relates, 1975-76 was something of a personal (if not creative) nadir for Bowie. Isolated in Los Angeles, greedily synthesising New Age esoteric philosophy, occultism and more in an attempt to make sense of the world, and by his own admission taking a large amount of drugs, he experienced a kind of functional crisis.

The kind of crisis where on the one hand you can still manage to knock out Station To Station, Golden Years' parent album, on the other also claim many years later to have no memory of making it. 

Golden Years itself is a fun but fragile piece of mid-70's pop soul, dragged to some mid-Atlantic latitude by Bowie's theatrical vocal and the sense of estrangement between music and text. While the tune is all sweetness and honey, listen to the lyric, to David desperately trying to persuade his love that things are great, that they will never get better, as long as they keep living (or keep performing) this life of dream cars and adoring audiences.

Watch him lip-syncing his way through the song on Soul Train too, and you'll see a man who either lacks the courage of his song's convictions or is intentionally casting doubt upon their sincerity. It's hard to tell with a man in a functional crisis.

You don't need to think about this to appreciate Golden Years' goodness / oddness, of course. But part of Bowie's enduring appeal, I think, is that his songs often echo a vulnerability in ourselves, our attempts to put a brave face on and face the world. Heroes is like that, as is Space Oddity, Sound and Vision, Quicksand, Rock N Roll Suicide and more

And so is this funny little funky song.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Health-geekery January 2017

It may be a new year, but health certainly hasn't been out of the news, with patients facing record waits in A and E and the British Red Cross describing the situation in hospitals as a 'humanitarian crisis.'

Below the headlines, here's how the think tanks are looking into aspects of the same story.

The King's Fund have timely data on how demand for NHS services continues to rise (and see accompanying blog).

Fourth annual report from Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation monitoring the quality of health care finds "ongoing pressures on the NHS risk making the health service more vulnerable to serious lapses in care in future, despite impressive achievements in maintaining and improving care quality in important areas."

Northern Ireland GP practices at breaking point

One in six GP practices in Northern Ireland wrote to the Health and Social Care Board in 2016 to raise concerns about workforce pressures ... and NI GP's are now threatening to leave the NHS and charge patients directly (both stories from GP website Pulse) as they do in the Republic.

Sustainability and Transformation Plans

What are leaders in health and local government really thinking about STP's? The Institute of Healthcare Management has asked them and written a report on it.


Carers UK research suggests that if you don't identify as a carer you might not look to access the support available.

Social care

Centre for Health and The Public Interest publishes report with the leading title of The failure of private adult social care in England: what is to be done?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Scaramouching its way to the top: Bohemian Rhapsody

Part one of my look at the music charts of 1976, the year in which I was born.
When the clocks struck midnight on New Year's Eve 1975, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody was just over halfway through its nine (nine, people, nine!) weeks at Number One. I doubt I'm spoilering anyone for the rest of my look at the music of 1976 if I say that no other chart-topper that year was as formally ambitious, as preposterous, as emotionally rich or as just plain odd as this one.

Watch the legendary video for Bohemian Rhapsody here.

On the face of it - it shouldn't work. If you describe Bo Rap without playing the actual song -  maybe six song fragments, depending on how you count them, drawing on hard rock, torch balladry, doo wop and light operatic silliness, it sounds like a hot mess of studio cookery.

And yet it works, this pocket symphony. Beautifully assembled by the band and producer Roy Baker, it still sounds great, but what really makes it work is Freddie Mercury's central performance. Freddie is Queen's not so secret weapon - a singer who isn't just outrageously technically gifted, but inhabits the song and grounds it emotionally. Without him, Bohemian Rhapsody would risk being too clever-clever, all surface-no-feeling or just plain comic pastiche.

Another One Bites The Dust aside, all my favourite Queen songs (I Want To Break Free, Somebody To Love, I'm Going Slightly Mad) are the ones where Freddie hits the sweet spot between performance and vulnerability. Even at their most bombastic (We Will Rock You) he locates the human in the mass moment.

Given that he also conceived and wrote Bohemian Rhapsody as a song-suite, then his achievement is clear. He turned a potentially disjoined assemblage into an impressionistic and curiously moving portrait of a man driven to do terrible things, who may repent of his crime but sees no future for himself in this world.

And rather than it remaining a cult curiosity, the British public send this jolt of nihilism to number one for nine weeks! And again for another five weeks in 1991! It's the third best-selling UK single of all time!

Bohemian Rhapsody isn't quite as timeless, as sui generis as it seems from the other side of the millenium, mind you. Queen weren't the only band using improvements in 70's studio technology to try and out-Brian Brian Wilson (hey there 10CC, for example, who were also in this week's top twenty with Art For Art's Sake). And in a sense, 'all' it does is squeeze the classical and theatrical pretensions of their prog rock and glam contemporaries down into a 6-minute single. 

'All' [snort]

What it was in 1976 however, as we'll shortly discover, was something of an anomaly in the singles chart. With most 'serious' rock acts concentrating on albums and single-oriented glam rock on the wane, the field was left clear for soul, pure pop, reggae, disco, even country to shine. Alongside (ahem) our enduring fondness as a nation for nostalgia and novelty records.  

And while there is something of the novelty record about Bohemian Rhapsody, scaramouching it's way to the top as it did, it has a pastiched plastique heart ten times bigger than most contemporary 'authentic' rock. And that's something to celebrate as we head onwards into January.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Introducing the 1976 Project

Canonically speaking, 1976 is the year before punk happened - a year by which all the vital musical movements of the preceding years had spent themselves, leaving listeners in a wilderness of faded glories, novelty pop, nostalgia and kitsch. Or so the story goes.

It's also the year I was born. Friends and family will have heard me maintain in the past that the 1970's is my spiritual decade, both for the music and the fashion. And if that is so, then 1976 has to be my own personal temporal anchor within it.

So, I've decided an interesting exercise in semi-autobiographical history will be to follow the 1976 UK charts in real time through 2017 to see what made it into the top ten and the truth behind the mythology. Look at some classics, maybe pick out some hidden treasures; almost certainly cringe at some of the rubbish that made it in.

We'll be starting this week with the New Year's Top Ten, which by finding a home for Queen, Hot Chocolate, Bowie, Dana, Demis Roussos, Chubby Checker and Laurel & Hardy, seems to simultaneously validate any and all arguments about the condition of music that year.