I have a friend. There is more to that statement, but I thought I’d just let that basic fact hang there for a while as I’m rather proud of it. My friend, who I have known for almost forty years, is a man who, within my hearing at least, has never ever referred to a qualified medical professional as anything other than a ‘quack’.
To him, quacks aren’t just general practitioners, the phrase encompasses the entire sphere of medicine, including all of the NHS and, latterly, the elements of private health care he has engaged with. Whether free at the point of contact or paid for in advance, they are all quacks: back quacks, foot quacks, tooth quacks, blood quacks, gut quacks and, in the late eighties, clap quacks. In summary, he has no respect for any kind of nurse, doctor, medic, surgeon, dentist or healer whatsoever, despite his frequent utilisation of their skills and expertise, particularly the antibiotics.
It’s an inherited condition. His father, Geoff, now sadly deceased, was a man in the classic mould of the English naysayer, the sort of timeless moaner and iconoclast who would have stood behind the catapult at Agincourt moaning about the higher wages the Longbow blokes were on, or critiquing Henry V’s speech. Two hundred odd years later he would have been chafing the collar of his New Model Army uniform, complaining about Cromwell cancelling Christmas.
As a man mainly of the 20th century, he spent an inordinate amount of time cupping a crafty roll up and detailing what he would do if he were to ever assume his rightful mantel as the ruler of everything. His manifesto was, of course, the absolute opposite of what those who actually wielded the power were doing. He was a tremendous character, and he is greatly missed for his wit and wisdom, as well as his ingrained, endless chippiness. He was often spectacularly incorrect: politically; factually. He called a spade a fucking shovel and to him, all solicitors were crooks, all policemen pigs, all male dancers poofs, all footballers pansies, and all doctors quacks.Geoff’s distaste for professional people was, again, a family heirloom, a legacy of a working class background that stretched all the way back to serfdom. His race memory clearly included bitterness carried over from when sawing peoples legs off and causing them to die, not of gangrene, but of trauma and infection, became the preserve of specially trained people, putting the ordinary bloke who had simply invested in a saw out of business. His distrust of these interlopers was lifelong, and he spent his final hours mocking them for trying to save that long life. According to Geoff, his doctors were quacks: amateurish, ridiculous, dangerous. They did everything they could to keep him alive; he did everything he could to die – just to spite them. Just to prove his point. He most likely died without knowing that he was both part of a long and honourable continuum of working class subversion, and ahead of his time. Geoff, and his son, my friend, and the generations of English men and women like them, will be ultimately proven right as, in the unpleasant aftermath of The Crisis, the quacks will reign supreme.
Seven years of training and countless hours of experience will be of little value in a world without medicine, a world without equipment, a world where surgery is a lottery, and therapy an impossible luxury. Professional medicine will become like visiting a fairground gypsy: a crossing of silver, a crossing of fingers, guess work. It won’t be their fault. Even if their diagnoses are as sharp as ever all that will be left in terms of treatment is stuff that they definitely did not train for: homeopathy and butchery - in short, quackery. In a generation’s time, those that retain any vestigial training and knowledge will most likely be burned at the stake for witchcraft, and the avaricious, ham-fisted artisans that take their place, with their clumsily adapted and rarely cleaned instruments, smelly poultices, reliance on superstition and almost total lack of accountability, will be quacks in the purest possible sense: pretenders, charlatans, bunglers, frauds, killers.
Geoff would have loved The Crisis, fucking loved it, even as he went unanaesthetised before some gap toothed yokel with a talent for divination and a large, dirty knife, giving the thumbs up to oblivion in a world that was finally working on his terms.