For one reason or another, I've had a bit of hospital time over the last few weeks. I have had some time of my own up here in Dumfries whilst family members have been in hospitals in the North West of England. And bloody hell, talk about compare and contrast....
There are always two ways of looking at things. There are the statistics thrown in our faces by politicians and the media. And then there is what you see with your own eyes. There are endless arguments about the stories and fairy tales which get spun out of statistics. But when it comes to what you can see with your own eyes, well it's a slam dunk.
Last month I was gearing up for my annual tobacco buying road trip down to Belgium. As in twenty hours of driving. And there was a thing. My leg was swollen and once upon a time when I was a stressed out corporate type I had a deep vein thrombosis. Was the swollen leg a warning of some kind?
It was half past seven in the morning and I was due to set out for Belgium at five in the afternoon. Should I play sensible? The prospect of a massive coronary on the A1 persuaded me discretion was probably the better part of valour.
I called up the GP surgery and asked if there was any chance? There was. Pitch up at 10.15 and wait. So I pitched up and waited. For fifteen minutes. The Doc tutted a bit and asked if I smoked and kept on tutting. Then she asked how much I smoked and she tutted some more. She reckoned it was best to put the trip off. A scan and an Xray were deemed to be prudent.
The scan was booked for four days later. The Xray a week after that. So it was I made my debut in our brand spanking new hospital on a bright breezy morning where the view from the front door stretched forever and then some. The outside of the new building is a tad on the boxy side, but the inside makes you feel like you've been teleported to Berlin. I'm no kind of architecture boff, but it wasn't hard to gasp at the spectacular use of light. Gardens between the wings and the café actually had a terrace and lawns. Christ. More like NASA HQ than a hospital.
My appointment was for 10.20. And at 10.20 the woman behind the desk called my name. By 10.35 I was back in my car and lighting up a fag I wasn't even craving so hard.
Another week and this time an Xray. Appointment time 11.00 and at 11.04 the woman behind the desk called my name. This time I was in and out in less than 10 minutes.
It was like being a super rich Wall St type with the best health insurance money could buy. It was bloody jaw dropping. And I duly celebrated by taking a 950 mile road trip to save £15 a pouch on baccy.
Time passed and I told this tale to my brother in law in England. He shook his head at me like I was painting pictures of Martians landing on the Tesco car park. He's not a doctor going sort of guy. In January he had picked up the phone for an appointment for the first time in six years. Of course sir, let me check, OK, I have a slot in six weeks time.....
Two and a half hours plays six weeks..... Stuff the statistics. Reality tells a different story.
The last week or so has seen more of the same. Another family member is in a hospital in the North West and we drove down to visit. I might talk about chalk and cheese. I might talk about Romania and Switzerland.
Christ. Where to start? Maybe with the air of quiet doom wrapped around every brick. Slowly rotting wings, closed down one by one. Grimy windows offering glimpses of stacked up junk. Weeds growing through cracked paving stones. Drifts of cigarette butts outside building entrances. A lift with walls of scrawled, scratched graffiti. Old scrawled. Months and years of it. 'Abused by staff' scratched into the grimed paint. Obviously cost cutting meant there was nobody to provide a new lick of paint. Instead someone had tried their level best to over scratch the word 'staff'. But it hadn't really worked out.
Dead plants, their pots overflowing with litter. A sign on the door said the visitor's toilet wasn't working. And the sign was obviously as old as the graffiti in the lift. The staff toilet doubled up as a storage room for plastic chairs and somewhere along the way the toilet seat had gone west.
Outside the spring sun splashed the moors into postcard prettiness and the rows of terraces seemed quaint rather than desperate. The last of the mill chimneys remembered the days when the town once joined with the people of India in paying all London's bills.
No wonder the poor sods voted so overwhelmingly for Brexit. When you are forgotten you feel forgotten. Maybe if they had a Parliament of their own, then they wouldn't see their taxes shovelled into Crossrail and HS2 and instead into a hospital looking like the one we have in Dumfries.
But they don't. They have London rule shoved down their throats. Like a strapped down hunger striker getting a plastic tube shoved down his gullet.
And here's the thing, this stuff doesn't just stop with hospitals and getting to see a GP. It runs through prisons and the probation service and the police and a hundred and one other areas where we now do our own thing.
And nobody seems to be asking why. When I was doing my thing during the 2014 Indyref, I mugged up before various debates with Better Together's Westminster finest. And fair enough, we do spend a bit more per head on the NHS up here in Scotland. But not that much more. Not in a million years enough to explain the chasm that has opened up between up here and down there.
I don't pretend to have any answers. It's not my field and it never will be. Gut feeling? Well maybe the answer might be found in the recent Carillion thing. We don't do much privatisation up here, thank God. Down South and it is everywhere. And if you take a pile of cash and open it up to greed and a corruption, well there won't be much of a pile left once the boys on the Carillion board have had the chance to fill their pockets.
You really would think this would be a thing our Government in Edinburgh would shout from the roof tops about. Well, you would wouldn't you?
But they don't. Instead they are as meek as Indian Maharajas back in day cowering at the feet of their colonial masters. The unwritten rule is to never criticise the English. Be nice to the English. Bow and bloody scrape to the English. Well I don't feel any obligation to stick to these timid rules for the simple reason I was born English. All my family are English. The first forty years of my life was English. And I had to watch my English dad live out too much time at the end of his days in nasty, festering English hospitals. And I worry about my mum and mother in law ever needing any kind of care from the non existent English care system. And I worry about my nephews and nieces ever needing A&E. I and my own family might be lucky enough to be New Scots, but we have left plenty behind and it isn't so very hard to feel their pain: especially when they find themselves in hospital.
So here's the thing. This well kept secret isn't going to last forever. And human beings don't tend to change so very much. When things get really bad, we up sticks and move. War in Aleppo? Get out of Dodge and into Lebanon. War in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Uganda looks like a good bet. Highland Clearances? Let's roll the dice and check out New York City. People will always be drawn from places which are crap to places which are a whole lot better.
It's called migration and it is as old as the hills. Sometimes you need a passport and lots of paperwork to get out of Dodge. And if you are living in the North of England and at your wits end, there is an overwhelming bunch of paperwork to get through before you will get anywhere near Australia of Canada or New Zealand.
Or maybe you might opt for an easier route. The one we took. A hundred miles up the M6. Past the blue and white sign at Gretna. No visa required. No proof of bank account or job. No criminal record checks or health forms.
Park the car, find a place to stay and you're good to go. Five minutes of form filling and you're in the system. A New Scot. No more prescription charges. A healthcare system to leave you open mouthed. Free tuition. Free care for the elderly. Air that tastes like air. And if your skin is brown, the chance to walk the streets without waiting to be told to 'fuck off home you Paki bastard.'
It is isn't so very hard to see what is about to happen next. In fact my gut tells me it is happening already. After hundreds of years of Scotland seeing its young up sticks and leave for better prospects to be found in all corners north, south, east and west, the tide is starting to turn. Sure London isn't about to allow us any say when it comes to people coming here from the rest of the world, but there isn't a thing they can do to stop internal migration.
Most people up here don't see this. Most people up here don't know they're born. Nobody in Edinburgh is about to tell us just how crap things are getting in the North of England. And nobody in the media is about to tell us how crap things are in the North of England. You can find out for yourself if you want to. Take a road trip to any Northern town. Follow the signs to the hospital, stick a few quid in the meter and check it out. I promise you. You'll be shocked.
As this migration from England to Scotland starts to pick up pace, it will certainly present challenges and opportunities in equal measure. Scotland has land and resources coming out of its ears. The only thing we lack is people, particularly hungry young people. If thousands of these very hungry young people become disgusted enough with the spreading Brexit ugliness and racism and decide to up sticks and head north, then in my humble opinion we should embrace it. You can bet your bottom dollar not one of them will be joining forces with Better Together 2 in when Indyref 2 comes around.
Last week I attended an anti-poverty bash hosted by the local Council. The nearest thing we have to an Anti-Poverty Tsar is Wendy and I mentioned all this stuff to her. She asked me to put my thoughts down on paper for her. I hope a blog page does as well as paper.
It's all yours, Wendy!