Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Back in action

Many apologies for the long delay - I haven't died or broken my leg in the snow. I've been on four weeks' sabbatical, a very civilised practice which the Guardian still offers for every four years' service in spite of its financial challenges. Penny and I were in Sri Lanka, where the North-South division has had terrible consequences. Like everyone who visits the beautiful island and its great people (to at least half of whom we now seem to be related through my older son's marriage) we hope that they find a way to go forward together.
One thing which has helped bridge some of England's infinitely gentler division has been a fair distribution of well-paid and talented medical people across the country, a point highlighted in True North. As with the universities, but in striking contrast to the media, medical excellence is as common in the regions as in London and several books on my shelves explain why. Pig in a Suitcase, the Autobiography of a Heart Surgeon (Smith Settle 1999) is one, describing the remarkable career of Geoffrey Wooler. The way he saved the life of Lord Woolton at the Conservative party conference in Scarborough in 1952 is strangely gripping. Another very significant Northern doctor was Sir John Charnley, inventor of the hip joint operation which keeps so many of us pottering along. John Charnley: the Man and the Hip by William Waugh (Springer 1990) is a very good biography, and Charnley's career is well set in its wider context in Opposite the Infirmary by Penny Wainwright (Thackray Medical Research Trust 1997), which describes in detail Charnley's collaboration with the Leeds medical company which made the artificial joints to his extremely demanding specifications. Penny - none other than my wife, so I declare a very strong interest - also tells the story more briefly as one of the contributors to Leeds City Business (edited by Katrina Honeyman and John Chartres, Leeds University Press 1993). It was significant, and wholesome, that Charnley required any surgeon wishing to carry out the operation to spend a couple of days with him at Wrightington hospital near Burnley, where this ground-breaking process was pioneered.

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