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 John Barclay

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If, next time you visit this site, this photograph has disappeared, it’ll be because I’ve worn the shirt for about five years and it needs a wash or to be replaced.




What do President Trump and ex-President Obama have in common? Politics? Foreign policy? Ethnicity? Previous experience? Temperament? Style? Charm? Obviously, none of these. What they have in common is that neither of them knows how to use an autocue properly.

Some 30 years ago, when I was a company speechwriter, I attended a class given by the television presenter, the late Bernard Braden. It was a demonstration of how to use a public-speaking aid that in the 1980s was comparatively new. “What you have to do,” he explained, “is memorise your opening phrase beforehand and, when you start to speak, say this phrase to the people in front of you. Then, glance to the left and read the next few words aloud off a little glass screen scarcely visible to the audience. Memorise the next few words, turn to the front and deliver those words to the middle section of your audience. Turn to the right, read aloud, memorise and so on. The device allows a perfect illusion of someone addressing the whole audience.”

Unfortunately, the American political system provides no training for presidents. And it seems that no one has the guts to say. “Mr President, now you have been elected leader of the most powerful nation in the world, you’ll need to learn the basics of public speaking.”  As a result, Obama and Trump speak only to left and right, giving the game away and missing out the central block of their audience.The centre is where the main camera is placed, so the millions watching on television never once feel their president is talking to them. What a missed opportunity!

Bernard Braden’s lesson is easily learnt, with a patient tutor (and an equally patient student!). Even Donald Trump can hold a single idea in his head for a short length of time. To be fair to him, when speaking, he does manage the occasional tentative glance directly ahead. I wonder if he’ll get the hang of the autocue before he triggers World War 3. Watch this space.



Rather late in life, YouTube has introduced me to “Country Music”. The singers are as provincial as people you see in a motorway service station. Few of the men are good-lookers, beneath the facial hair. The women favour long hair, glossy or crimpy. In boots and big-brimmed hats, everyone dresses for a party not a concert. The songs are unsophisticated and sentimental. The tunes are easy listening and you can hear most of the words. What’s not to like? It would be fun to drop a coach load of country music performers at the Wigmore Hall and tell them they’re the warm-up act for a recital of German lieder.




For five years, I have been a patient of Sickford General Hospital (not its real name). In this time, the staff of the hospital have looked after me and my cancerous bladder to the high standards I grew up to expect from the NHS – until, that is, my latest visit this February, when cracks in the Unsinkable’s vast hull were clearly visible.

At my six-monthly check-up, I was told I needed an urgent operation to exterminate a score of tiny re-growths. After this alarming news, my blood pressure was raised. The nurse said I should get two further readings at my local surgery, handing me a form so tiny I had to staple it to a larger sheet so I wouldn’t lose it. Cost-cutting is everywhere.

A week later, I received a letter offering me an appointment for the operation. When I rang the hospital, all morning a recorded message said there was no one in the Department to deal with patients. The next day, they said, “Can you hold on a moment? We can’t find the diary!”

When the written confirmation of the appointment arrived, I noticed that instructions for fasting and when to stop drinking had been omitted, but I managed to get the information over the phone.

On the big day, the surgeon said, “Your cancer keeps coming back. Maybe we should give you a drug to stop that happening. We’ll have to see.” I heard no more from him on this.

After the operation, I was taken to the Urology Ward where I had to wait four hours for my over-night bag. I mentioned this several times and it only arrived after I shook them up by asking to speak someone from Security.

There were fewer staff than last time and those present confirmed that numbers were short. Routine observations (blood pressure etc) were less frequent and less regular than I remembered. As it was a urology ward, I assumed the long established practice of recording water taken in and urine passed out would be strictly followed. So I conscientiously asked the staff to replenish my 1-litre jug, instead of re-filling it myself. But, when the day staff came on, one of them asked me how much I had drunk in the night. “I can’t remember,” I said, “I thought you people were keeping a record.” “A glass?” she persisted, “I just need a figure to put on the chart.” Clearly, the nurses had failed to keep the chart up to date and considered it merely a box-ticking exercise.

Finally, when the nurse-specialist appeared, I asked her what they’d found during my operation. She said nothing about the drugs to inhibit recurrences and I forgot to ask, so I still don’t know. I was sent home without the usual follow-up instructions about taking it easy and what to do faced with blood in the urine. So when I kept putting out fluid the colour of tea without milk, I had to consult advice posted on-line by another hospital. We patients have to look out for ourselves now. We can’t expect the NHS to do it.




   Trumpty Dumpty sat on the wall

   he’d built to exclude the Mexicans all.

   All the States’ forces and all the statesmen

   couldn’t stop Trumpty from goofing again.

John Barclay   29.01.17