1.          Happy New Year - Hilary Boyle
2.          America, Coast to Coast - Chris Gait 
3.          The Taming of the Shrew - Christine Smith 
4.          Medical Society AGM
5.          Baksheesh, Sharing of Wealth - Noor Ahmed
6.          Medical Society Ball, 2001 - Martin Lewis

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This palindromic year has clearly been a fascination, triggering much recent correspondence in the Guardian letters page (whoops! what a confession - I promise I don't eat muesli, cultivate a beard or wear sandals except in summer). Rather than contemplating the digits, I indulged in a surreal daydream where 'forward movement’ really did begin to go 'backwards" - rather like a cartoon running in reverse with shattered fragments regrouping to a whole. It was refreshing to fantasise some of the less worthy NHS reforms disappearing. I try to believe that most of the recent 'reforms" in the Health Service are inspired by the desire to improve quality of care and that none - perish the very thought - have any other political or financial motivation than achieving that goal. Any change will inevitably bring disruption and difficulty during the transition process. Most changes are - or at least seem to be, to those of my vintage, who have survived previous NHS re-organisations - cyclical, which does undermine ones confidence in it. However – New year resolution number 2 - keep positive, and believing that the hard work of all members of the profession, to ensure progress is indeed for the benefit of the patients, will bear fruit Perhaps this palindromic year could indeed see a reverse of fortunes.

Some consolation may be had from the predictions of a friend in health service management (confession number two!) Two years ago, he suggested that, five years hence, there would only be five super hospitals in the region. Although rather smaller than ideal, the new Worcestershire would be one of these, protected by its status or a PFI. I presume this is analogous to the cloak of invincibility worn by a community hospital not too far distant, named after the People's Princess. I am hoping so. 

Hilary Boyle

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America - Coast to Coast

After many weeks of training and cycling around the countryside in circles, the time for talking had gone and the moment to leave and do it for real had now arrived! I left early on 25th July to sort out transport, insurance etc, a few days before Steph and the boys were due to fly out.

At Gatwick there was a half-hearted attempt to prevent foot and mouth by washing the bike wheels with Dettol before packaging up the bike for the flight. An easy trip via Newark to Seattle for me, with NO BIKE at the other end!!!!!!!! Many promises by Continental Airlines that it would be on the next flight - do not worry sir, anyway it is only a bicycle - and other helpful comments obviously eased the situation enormously. There were some problems with the Motor Home (RV), which made me think that this trip was not meant to be. However, the motorised transport difficulties would be sorted by the time the rest of the team came.

48 hours later the bike was delivered to the hotel at 5am, so I decided to get on the road. At that hour only the very pleasant, but camp, receptionist was around to see me off. He was most intrigued about the trip and seemed to take a particular interest in my lycra cycling shorts. It was a cold and damp morning with the first task to be dipping the rear wheel in the Pacific Ocean as the official start to the trip. This accomplished, onward to Route 2 and the Cascade Mountains , which fortunately I could not see due to the mist. However it was great to get underway and the clouds lifted after 60 miles to reveal an enormous climb in sunlight. A huge climb over Stevens Pass (4100 ft) and the first real challenge had been overcome. Then there was 20 miles of breathtaking downhill, most of which was alongside the torrential Wenatchee River . Could not find a hotel along the Columbia River area so had to crawl up a 200Oft gulley, at the end of long day, to Waterville . The memory of this last bit will remain embedded in my mind (and derriere) forever. The hotel could have been used for a remake of Psycho, but it was most welcoming. What a first day!

The next day was along the flat Columbia Basin , a fascinating 250Oft plain, which was great cycling with a strong tailwind. Only slowed up by 5 punctures in the day. Passed through the Grand Coulie Dam area and then had lunch at Wilbur with charming relations of friend in England . With the wind behind I made Spokane and stayed in a hotel which I was sure doubled up as a knocking shop. However, my thoughts and energies were concentrated on the next day with the start of the Rockies (the mountains that is - not the movies)

Onwards the next day out of Washington State into Idaho with the prospect of some big climbs which started around the lovely Couer d'Alene lake and led on to the 41 of July Pass and Lookout Pass (480Oft) into Montana. This meant one time zone change - a great source of confusion on the trip. Wherever I stopped, people stared as if the last bicycle they had seen was in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In fact until reaching New England only a handful of bicyclists were spotted - the next few days showed why. Crossing the state border led down the stunning valleys of the Bitterfoot Range, and after many punctures, I limped into St Regis and then caught the overnight bus to go back to meet Steph and the boys.

It was good to meet up with them in Seattle and hearing about their exploits trying to bring the tandem on the plane There was a change of plan with the RV as the original was not ready. However this frustration was resolved and we all set off the next day in the van that was to be our home for the 8 weeks or so. We travelled overnight the 420 miles to St Regis to restart the cycling surrounded by ever higher mountains. Montana is nicknamed the Big Sky state and it lived up to its name. The cycling was made less arduous by having the RV as support and Adam or Chris as extra muscle power on the tandem. The first campsite at Clinton was ideal as we all watched the sunset over the mountains, while supping the mandatory Bud.

31 days of cycling                                     3055 miles in total 13 states visited

Chris Gates

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"Bring warm clothes" we were instructed. So at 6.30pm on one of the hottest nights of the year, Medical Society members queued outside Witley Court carrying their fleeces. Our President and Secretary patrolled the line, handing out bottles of sparkling Chardonnay. (I wouldn't dream of complaining that the invitation had promised champagne.) A cultural feast awaited us.

But first, there was a gastronomic feast. The "Promenaders" laid their rugs right at the front, and the rest of us with chairs, bagged good spots in the "Stalls". Picnic hampers, cool boxes and Sainsbury's bags revealed a tempting array of delicatessen gourmandise, and, with curtain up within the hour, some serious eating and drinking was required.

Replete, we settled in to watch Heartbreak Productions convince us that this secluded corner of Witley Court grounds was somewhere in Italy. The still, warm evening helped the illusion, and a banner displayed at each scene change ensured that the audience knew where we were meant to be. So we joined Katharina and her dysfunctional family.

Her father, Baptista, was a suitably ineffectual single parent, and Kate's display of "terrible twos" temper tantrums and attention- seeking behaviour was nicely balanced by her infuriatingly goody-goody sister Bianca, who certainly had more than a touch of minx about her. Surely, just a typical Wyre Forest family. Petruchio (with his wonderfully Welsh servant), "come to wive it wealthily in Padua ', established himself as a charmer and a bit of a lad. He had also read the Elizabethan equivalent of "Toddler Taming", quickly showing Kate who was boss.

As a recent "Mother of the Bride" myself, I could only sympathise with poor Kate when her bridegroom turned up for the wedding dressed in a tatty pair of shorts, showing more buttock than a hospital theatre gown. Her punishment continued as she was deprived first of attending her own wedding reception, then deprived of her dinner, her sleep (including, we understand, any sex), and possibly worst of all, was tantalised by a lovely new designer outfit that she was not allowed to keep. The psychology certainly seemed to work, but even Petruchio was not entirely convinced by Kate's capitulation. Kate had simply learned new and more subtle man-management techniques.

Of course, no Shakespeare comedy is complete without its identity swaps. With many characters to cast, and just seven actors, there were more than just the scripted swaps. However, it was hard to spot the doubling up of roles and all credit to the energetic players for managing it so smoothly. The Shrew has no gender swapping in the plot, but Heartbreak Productions gave us their own bit of cross dressing by casting a very able actress as Tranio, and the third bride in the final scene - the rich widow - appeared with falsetto voice and beard. An excellent evening's entertainment for a bargain £7.50.

The short interval allowed little time for socialising. With the inevitable queue for the Ladies' loo, I had a scant ten minutes to check out the quality of the Booths' picnic. They probably had more china plates, more strawberries and much more beer, but we had a table (with cloth), a citronella candle and a home-made lemon tart.

At the end of the performance, Petruchio appealed for the audience to donate any left over picnic to the cast. The "Promenaders" responded with a few lobbed items of food, and it was good to see that payment in kind is making a come-back. In these times of threatened mass resignation from the NHS, we should all take comfort. 

Christine Smith

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The Annual General Meeting was - due to a clash with the October half-term holidays -  not fully attended but nevertheless a lively affair. It is always enjoyable reliving the pleasurable events of the social year - despite the severe limitations caused by the foot and mouth on the original programme - and it was also good to hear of the healthy financial state.

Geoff Summers relinquished the chair to the new President, Richard Davies, with Jan Meggy being made Vice President. There were numerous new members (Dr Margaret Grant, Mr Richard Downing, Dr Oliver Owen-Smith, Dr Caroline Heath, Dr Elizabeth Palmer, Mr Nick Hickey, Dr John Scanlon, Dr Marie Hanlon). The select gathering was joined by partners afterwards for an excellent meal.

All of the new members are given due notice that they will be approached for a brief introduction to themselves for the wider membership, to be printed in future Newsletter editions!  


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May I submit the following piece for publication in the next Kidderminster Medical Society newsletter? The publication of an unadulterated article, contrary to the views of the editor, would , I think , be good evidence of editorial integrity!

I was sorry to read of Barrie Davies' experiences in the September newsletter (On the Banks of the River Nile). It seems that he spent most of his time in Cairo worrying about Baksheesh rather than enjoying the splendour and history of this grand city, judging by the number of times he mentions the former, and which he found “incredible and offensive”. I am neither Egyptian nor of Arab extraction, but have had the honour of having lived amongst the poorest of Cairo for many years. While begging may be an irritant to tourists, it is a deeply humiliating experience for anyone at the receiving end, anywhere in the world.

Sadly, many who make a living from the tourist industry (the second major source of income for Egyptians) are compelled to do so out of unimaginable poverty. The latest United Nations figures show that 26.5% of the Egyptian population does not even have the minimum daily calorie intake recommended by the WHO. 25-40% of all Egyptian children have growth retardation due to malnutrition. Infant mortality is rife and 75% of pregnant women are anaemic. Over 90% of the population have less than one US dollar (66p) to spend, per person, per day. (1998 figures).

The literal meaning of Baksheesh is "sharing of the wealth". In that culture, the rich are expected to share their wealth with the poor. This is not to be equated with tipping, for services rendered; the link with a little service is simply to make the recipient feel a little less humiliated. Most of us can, I think, contemplate giving to the poor directly without expecting equivalent services in return. And those of us who cannot, or face the realities of world poverty, should perhaps venture no further than Bournemouth , tightly clutching our Gold cards.

As far as the customs of tipping (in return for services) alone are concerned, a well known international travel guide declares that..."Worldwide, American travellers are considered the world's best tippers. In a Conde Nast survey a couple of years back Australians, French and Italians were accused of being the meanest. Germans were considered fair but predictable and the British suspected of "hiding behind a convenient affectation that only the vulgar tip." Tipping generosity also varies amongst professionals; a survey of 5000 service providers by BARTENDER magazine in December 2000 revealed that..."Lawyers and doctors are the worst tippers. Normally, doctors are the #1 tightwads. In rougher times, it's lawyers"…

Therefore one cannot really blame our author who perhaps has cultural and professional constraints to Baksheesh. I would however suggest handing out something a little less humiliating to the recipient than the one dollar bills recommended by the author, when sharing one's wealth. Giving someone 5 dollars means that their family would be able to have at least a decent meal that evening. And spending perhaps £100 or £150 this way while on holiday, at least makes me feel a little bit better about enjoying a lifestyle which the teeming millions in the host country cannot even dream about. It is after all a very small proportion of what we spend every year merely on our holidays.

Noor Ahmed

An excellent viewpoint on what is certainly a controversial subject! However, I have always been brought up with the view that a tip is a reward for the quality of service offered and the size of the tip reflects on that quality. Charity on the other hand is a completely different matter and I’m sure Noor will agree that Brits in general and doctors in particular are not the #1 tightwads in this respect !!

Barrie Davies


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A number of ground-breaking innovations were adopted for this year's formal social event. Ninety four members and their guests were welcomed by the President Dr. Geoff Summers and his wife Mary at Spring Grove House on September,  28th.

Among the gathering, we were delighted to greet our local MP, Dr. Richard Taylor and his wife Chris, as well as a number of retired General Practitioners. Most local Practices were well represented, as usual, with a rather more select group of Consultants.

For this occasion, the formal dinner was replaced by an excellent and varied buffet and after the meal the only speech was a short address by Dr. Summers. He took the opportunity to thank members for their splendid support for the other social events held during the course of his Presidential year and also to express his appreciation for those who had helped to organise the evening's festivities.

During and after the meal, the musical entertainment was provided by Pete Hartley and Friends. This bright and jazzy group eventually encouraged a number of members and guests onto the dance floor with their spirited interpretations of many familiar tunes and vocals from the 1960's and beyond. There is no doubt that a very enjoyable time was had by all!

Martin Lewis

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