The British only seem comfortable when they can slot people into pigeon-holes, so someone who speaks cultured BBC English is perceived to be a person from the upper classes, richer and probably cleverer than somebody with a regional accent.
According to this stereotypical thinking, Londoners all speak demotic Cockney and are cheeky but loveable; Scots wear kilts, have red hair and play bagpipes over peat fires in their remote cottages; and Northerners like me clump around our coal heaps in clogs and flat caps betting on whippet races.
Whatever truth there may once have been in these perceptions, they are now grotesquely out of date. Speaking for Northerners, I can say flat caps long ago gave way to baseball caps, clogs are unheard of and I never saw a whippet race in my life.
There are, of course, regional avocations, especially in the fields of sports and leisure. Northerners do keep greyhounds (the whippet’s big brother) either as pets or to race on professional tracks, they do grow giant leeks and enter them into competitions and they do keep pigeons, either as a hobby or to race for cash prizes.
It was his knowledge of these local predilections that helped a village doctor diagnose and treat a sick patient.
Brian was hot, miserable, had a dry cough and chest pains and his joints were aching. The doc decided this was pleurisy and prescribed painkillers and antibiotics. There was no improvement. Suspecting pneumonia, the doctor ordered a chest X-ray and prescribed more antibiotics with steroids.
The X-Ray showed the pneumonia diagnosis was right but the medication was not working. On a hunch, the doctor asked Brian if he kept pigeons. No. Parrots? No. Budgies? No. What the physician suspected was an infection called chlamydia psittaci which is often caught from birds.
A subsequent blood test showed the doctor was right for this was indeed the case. This, it seems, is an infection that laughs at most antibiotics, but knowing the enemy, the doctor was able to prescribe the precise killer, tetracycline, and the patient quickly recovered.
So was there no link to birds? Indeed there was. On further questioning, Brian said he was a heating engineer and had cleared some dead birds and their droppings from an air-conditioning system. QED.
By the way, there are a lot of illnesses you can catch from animals: cat scratch disease, hookworm, lyme disease, toxoplasmosis. So if you keep cats and dogs make sure they stay as healthy as you do.
Regular readers of this column will remember a story of how a teenage love affair led to calculated murder. Last July, a London court heard that Samantha Joseph, aged 15, was dumped by her boyfriend, Danny McLean, 18, because she had a fling with another boy, Shakilus Townsend, 16. She was prepared to do anything to get McLean back and he demanded, “If you still love me, will you set up Shak?”
The prosecutor said, “She played her part to perfection.” CCTV footage showed how the girl led Shakilus into a back-street ambush where he was beaten with baseball bats and stabbed six times by a hooded and masked gang, McLean’s friends.
McLean personally knifed the boy in the chest, twisting the blade as he did so. As he lay bleeding to death, Shakilus cried, “Mummy, mummy, I don’t want to die.”
Street cameras showed Samantha laughing as she walked away. Retribution big time came last week for the seven young black Britons, all judged guilty of murder. “You left Shakilus to die a lonely death, crying for his mother,” said Judge Richard Hawkins.
He sentenced McLean to a minimum term of 15 years in jail and Samantha Joseph, now 17, to a minimum of 10 years. Four of the five gang members, aged 17 to 19, received minimums of 12 years, including one 18-year-old who had been to a posh private school and played rugby for the leading London Irish club.
The fifth gang member got 14 years. In a prepared statement, Shakilus’s mother described the seven as “young people with no souls” and said, “They should never again be allowed to destroy another family. I may forgive them one day but not today.”
A newspaper report of the sentencing said, “As the male defendants were led from the court, they made defiant noises that were echoed by supporters in the public gallery.” Whether they remained defiant when the cell doors clanged behind them later that day we can only conjecture.
In case anybody should think that Britain’s National Health Service is one long gravy train, I better be more precise about the freebies we oldies get, as mentioned here last week.
Specifically with regard to eye tests, for instance, the situation is that over-60s are entitled to one free sight test per year. If you go for another one within the 12 months, it is up to the optometrist to decide whether or not to charge and, if so, how much.
When I inquired about getting stronger glasses after 10 months, I was told that if it was found my eyesight had worsened, I would get the test free. If there had been no significant change, I would be charged £25 (Sh3,080).
I decided to wait the extra two months.
By the way, you also get free tests if you are under 16, aged 16-18 and in full-time education, and if you have diabetes or glaucoma.
After 25 years manning the Bristol Zoo car park, come hail, rain or snow, the attendant one day did not show up. Eventually, the zoo called the city council and asked them to send another parking agent. The council said it had never supplied staff to the zoo.
Meanwhile, sitting in a villa somewhere in Spain is a man who installed his own ticket machine at the zoo and collected parking fees of a pound (Sh124) a day for cars and £5 (Sh623) for buses. For 25 years.
Lovely story, but alas not true. The Bristol Evening Press dreamed it up a few years ago as an ironic contribution to a debate then raging on the Urban Legends industry and it took on a life of its own.
Like they say about con tricks, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Now here is a strange story that really is true. Malcolm Darby was born with poor eyesight and had to wear thick glasses from the age of two.
Last May, aged 70, he suffered a massive stroke and had surgery to remove a blood clot. When he woke up he could see perfectly.
Doctors believe there may have been pressure on the optic nerve at the back of the eye which was relieved when the clot was cleared. However, in a strange twist, Mr Darby lost his ability to speak French.
A husband frantically telephones his doctor. His wife is pregnant and her contractions are coming only three minutes apart. “Is this her first child?” asks the doctor. “No, you idiot, this is her husband.”