It’s hard to find something to smile about in gloomy Britain

UK doctors

Protesters calling for better pay for Junior Doctors, hold a protest in Whitehall, outside the gates of Downing Street in central London on August 11, 2023.

Photo credit: Henry Nicholls | AFP

Headlines over this column in recent weeks might prompt readers to see the writer as something of a Mister Glum, and who would blame them?

Articles warning of global boiling (up from warming), of happy pictures being snatched from children, fears for future health care and the dangers of a digital world are unlikely to have enlivened the Sunday breakfast chit-chat.

And if this introduction might suggest a U-turn this week, I’m sorry to disappoint, since assiduous surveying of the national scheme has found little to raise the spirits.

Despite a 40.3 Celsius record set on July 19, the weather has been dismal: Four straight weekends of cloud and rain – not to mention all the damp and soggy weekdays in between.

How about something encouraging in the sports world? Alas, hopes that our cricketers might snatch the Ashes back from Australia were dashed when we managed only to tie the series, while Australians also accounted for our women netball players, defeating them in the final of the World Cup.


Shoplifting, mentioned here last week, has continued to make news, with staff of John Lewis, one of the UK’s biggest retailers, being given bodycams to help catch offenders.  Others were offered “de-escalation” training to predict when a situation may become violent. 

Even problems Britain has escaped, such as the heat wave across continental Europe and the wildfires in Greece, could generate problems for this damp and shivery island.

One expert forecast that food prices would spike due to the failure of crops caused by soaring temperatures in Europe, the United States and China, and by floods in India, pointing out that the sub-continent has already halted exports of its rice crop to conserve food stores.

Climate fears target agriculture and food security. As the climate destabilises, agricultural yields will fall around the world. It is worth remembering that Britain’s problems can affect others than the British. Cuts in this country’s overseas aid budget will result in thousands of women in Africa dying in pregnancy and childbirth, according to an internal assessment by civil servants.

Appalling injustice

Reductions in the Women’s Integrated Sexual Health Programme across Africa will reduce the number of unsafe abortions averted from some 300,000 to approximately 115,000, while the number of maternal deaths averted will drop from 2,531 to just over 1,000.

Many of the cuts were imposed because about a quarter of the aid budget is being siphoned off to house refugees crossing the Channel to Britain.

The opposition Labour Party described the impact of the cuts as “absolutely horrific”, but the Foreign Office said spending next year would rise sharply.

A spokesman said, “While the budget for low-income countries has had to be reduced in the short term, it is due to nearly double for those countries the year after, including in Africa, where it will rise from £646 million to £1.364 billion.”

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It’s hard to think of a more appalling injustice than that visited upon Andrew Malkinson. Firstly, he spent 17 years in jail for a rape he did not commit. Then, when he was finally cleared and released, he was charged for living costs – food and housing – for the time he spent in prison.

People who are wrongly jailed for more than 10 years can be paid up to £1 million under a government compensation scheme. Under previous rules, savings made on living costs while in prison could be deducted from compensation.

The government hastily scrapped the rule when Mr Malkinson’s case came to light and he was paid full compensation.

However, at least three other cases are under scrutiny, according to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk. He said his “blood ran cold” when he heard about Mr Malkinson. “It’s appalling to think of an injustice in that way,” he said.

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Finally, something to smile about… the medical profession and its patients:

Doctors are forever complaining about alcohol, but I’ve seen a lot more old drunks than old doctors.

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An elderly man was rushed to hospital with concussion. The doctor asked him, “Do you know which city you are in?” London, the old man said.

“Which hospital is this?” Paddington General. “What is my name?” Dr Sam Smith.

When the doctor had gone, the old man turned to the nurse and said, “They were really silly questions.” Why, asked the nurse. “Because all those answers were on his lapel badge.”

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A psychiatrist told me I had a split personality and charged me £160. I gave him £80 and told him to get the rest from the other idiot.

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Patient: I’m getting old and I need to know how to avoid wrinkles. Doctor: Take off your glasses.