When I was working as a junior clerk at the City Hall in the mid-1960s, paying council bills by using a room-sized prehistoric computer, I used to walk home, mostly. One day I was not feeling so well; so I called in at my doctor’s surgery on the way. He diagnosed an upper respiratory tract infection – and gave me something for it.
Obviously I could not do anything like that now. For one thing, computers are much smaller, and anyway I can pay bills using my iPhone.
And I couldn’t call in to see my doctor, because the NHS has advanced so much that discussing something with a doctor is laughably old-hat. Or just impossible.
Over the past couple of months I have developed an illness which resulted in my going to A&E, staying in hospital a couple of nights, having a catheter fitted and after I went home, receiving appointments on different days in different parts of the hospital, which I dutifully attended.
Because of the catheter – and the delay – i got two infections and had to take two courses of antibiotics. I am now taking five pills a day, at least three of which I suspect are unnecessary. But I can’t call in and talk to a doctor about it. I am scheduled for an operation: I know what it’s for, but I still don’t know why.
At least I found a nurse who would take my catheter out. That’s the thing about the NHS. Individuals are often very nice, but it’s all too specialised. It’s a jigsaw that nobody puts together, and so am I.
A lot of other things have gone downhill too. A large number of the streets round here have been closed to traffic; others have had speed bumps installed, which is idiotic on every level.
Back in the 1960s, when I wasn’t walking, I often rode a bike. If I rode it on the path I could expect a passing policeman to feel my collar and get me fined. Scooters were for children, and the bikes did not go very fast because they had three gears at the most and were heavy. No cycle helmets; no Lycra. There were no cycle paths – or as a friend of mine puts it, we always had cycle paths. We called them roads.
Was everything much slower then? I don’t think so. You could get quick answers to questions by something called a telephone, many of which were available in red boxes on most streets. There were much fewer regulations generally, which helped. If something went wrong, someone came and fixed it. Road works were completed at lightning speed. People worked in offices, and you could find them there. They generally responded to you quickly, because that was their job, and they took pride in it.
So what happened to progress? Shouldn’t things get better? Depends what you mean by progress, I suppose. I think we should have a few years – or decades – without it and see what happens. As Ogden Nash put it, progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on far too long.