Northern Lights: An '˜old fashioned northern rant' on the basics of good public health

I have been mulling over what to write about on this occasion. Brexit? The challenge for Dan Jarvis as the incoming regional city mayor '“ without any resources '“ or just a good old-fashioned Northern rant.

Thursday, 24th May 2018, 08:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd May 2018, 12:16 pm

I’ve chosen the latter! I just think it would be nice to get one or two things off my chest which have nothing whatsoever to do with politics, and might just therefore persuade you to “read on”.

Some things that really get my goat have to do with not being able to see. They are trivia really, and don’t interfere over much with getting on with life. They just sometimes irritate.

For instance, whether I’m in a restaurant or at an official event, the waiter pouring a full glass of wine, and continually topping it up, without asking me is a bugbear. Not just because we all have a tendency to drink what is in the glass because it denies me choice.

Yes, I appreciate that everyone experiences this from time to time but unless you’re diverted talking to the person adjoining you, you are likely to be able to spot the waiter coming and put your hand over the glass.

It’s some years ago now since I wrote in the Weekly Telegraph my reflections on how for reasons I did not understand, Sheffielders weren’t on the whole interested in wine. Interested in drinking it but not much about it or whether it was of any quality. The deluge of responses that hit me were not about how I was wrong but how “Dare I”.

What’s happened to his “cloth cap” was a familiar refrain? “Where is his working class background gone” was a similar response. As though being brought up on Parson Cross required you to like gassy beer, smoke Woodbines and generally be grateful for your lot in life.

As it happens, I still wonder why it is that despite some real improvements, we’re still struggling as one of the largest cities in the country, to have our fair share of decent restaurants and to train the beleaguered staff to know something about the wine (if there is something to know about the wine list they’re presenting to you)!

It is funny what actually irritates one person but has no impact whatsoever on another. My major gripe in public life has not been about the ignorance or the way in which people treat each other in the political sphere but something much more personal.

Namely, those who sneeze without using a handkerchief or tissue! Yes, I’m fully aware that people often say “I put my hand over my nose or mouth”. But the hand is not an absorbent object. Not only do the droplets bounce off but also you really don’t want to shake hands with someone who’s just sneezed into their palm! That is of course how ailments are spread.

At the moment, many people have at least some excuse. The pollen count has been incredibly high, spores dropping from (dare I mention) trees, have a particular impact. This applies specifically to plane trees, and I couldn’t believe it when I discovered that they were still being planted in numbers even though the evidence is that they cause havoc with people’s nose, eyes and throat at this time of the year.

I’m particularly affected in central London. My fault for working in the House of Lords and beyond. But when I come back home and I’m nowhere near plane trees, or I’m out in Derbyshire, I don’t have “hayfever”. What I have instead is an urban blight, where pollution mixes with spores and pollen, is accelerated in its impact when the sun comes out and ensures that those who would otherwise take real care in terms of spreading their ailments, find themselves coughing, spluttering and sneezing.

I have been so obsessive that I once actually told someone off in the House of Commons Legislative Committee, and it registered in Hansard, with an apology from my offending colleague.

I once told someone off on the London Underground after I believed they’d sneezed five times without using a tissue. My problem was I got the wrong person – it was the individual sitting next to them! I have not done that again.

But there is a serious point here. We could stop a lot of misery, drop in productivity and just general feeling under the weather, if there was a bit more consideration about not spreading things to other people. Its basic courtesy, it’s also about good public health. We’re all guilty, and we can all do something.

Oh, and yes finally, there is one other thing that gets my goat. It’s those people who manage to find a grumble in just about everything. For instance waiters pouring wine without asking. Individuals who sneeze without using a handkerchief or a tissue! The Mr and Mrs Angrys of this world who have nothing better to gripe about than the little inconveniences that others inflict on them.

Given over recent weeks the sad death and illness of several good friends, I think it’s time that I took my own advice seriously!