Liam Farrell: On the silence of poets

When I was young, because there were no PlayStations nor DVDs and because watching Irish television was like watching old people eat, I used to read a lot.

In those days, there being no such things as bookshops in rural Ireland, you didn't buy books, you just read whatever was available, and one day my dad bought an old bookcase in an auction. The bookcase, perhaps not surprisingly, was full of books, and it's only looking back now that I realise what a formative experience this event was for me.

The previous owner had had eclectic tastes, and each of the books influenced my future; Gerald Durrell (I am still a bird-watcher), Greek and Indian mythology, The Iliad, Odyssey and Aeniad (I can hold my own with any classical scholar), the Five Find-Outers and the Adventurous Four (I became acutely class-conscious and ultimately a Trotskyite). Fortunately, there was no porn, so I was happily able to cultivate my own unique perversions.

The collected works of G K Chesterton a weighty tome, included his three novels, the Father Brown detective stories, and all his poems. Chesterton was a great man for the pithy phrase: 'The past is not what it was', 'When a man stops believing in God he does not believe in nothing, he believes in anything'.

One had specific relevance for general practice. 'Poets,' he observed, 'have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese'. After my fourth patient of the day with waxy ears, I can see where he was coming from.

Earwax is not glamorous, nor is it a major tragedy, and it is unlikely to be fatal, unless the sufferer accidentally stabs themself through the brain with a cotton bud, yet it forms a substantial part of our workload.

I therefore await some guidance from on high; maybe all those experts jetting in and out for intercontinental conferences on swine flu could be diverted for a few minutes, maybe while they are sitting swilling their complementary cocktails in the business class lounge.

A statement from the RCGP might be helpful, perhaps, or maybe some new NICE guidelines, although, whatever the subject, NICE guidelines always seem to amount to the same thing i.e. there is no real robust evidence for doing anything, so do the cheap thing and let 'em get better on their own.

Which, for once, might be right.

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