Monday, 8 May 2017

I've heard a rumour...that hindsight is a powerful foe - my Catholic Universe column

If you are a forty-something man like me the biggest news of the past week wasn’t the ongoing campaigning for the upcoming general election, we’ve got weeks of that to go, and it wasn’t the analysis of President Trump’s first 100 days in office, we’ve literally got years of that left. No, it was something altogether much more exciting.


When you’re forty three and can remember growing up in the 1980’s this week's biggest news story was undoubtedly the reformation of one of the greatest pop acts of that era. Bananarama are back!

If you’re not my age then you just won't understand how big a deal this is. I can vividly remember dancing in my Farah slacks and pastel coloured cardigan to three sultry big-haired girls melodiously chanting that ‘Robert De Niro’s waiting’, waiting for what I can’t seem to remember.

I recall the day my Saisho Soundman, Dixon’s own brand version of Sony’s world dominating and far more expensive Walkman, chewed up my cassette tape of the band’s mega hit ‘Love in the First Degree’. How despondent was I for what seemed like weeks after until I had saved up enough to buy a replacement copy from my pocket money?

And how can I forget that first schoolboy crush on Keren, the ‘dark-haired’ one of the three original band members?  Every boy seemed to fancy Keren, she was just exotic enough to be exciting but just attainable enough that she could, just maybe be living in a council flat down the road.

I’m not sure why a horde of spotty teenage boys at a Catholic comprehensive in the midlands thought that a sophisticated and famous pop star ten years our senior would be interested in them but we just knew if she ever met us she would be bound to find one of us, most probably me, absolutely irresistible.

And now the three original girls from Bananarama are back and looking through the eyes of my former thirteen year old self maybe a little older, they’re now all in their mid fifties, but they’re still as good as ever.

All I can say is if the Catholic Universe does get offered access to the band for a press junket I would really, really like to put my name forward to be the one to interview them.

Now of course I fully understand that no matter how excited I am about the return of an eighties pop combo other things are going on in the world. I didn’t launch into a lengthy pitch to interview one of Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s finest acts for the sake of it. No, there is purpose in my reminiscences.

It is very easy to be caught up in the past. To look back and think about how wonderful things were when, in fact, looking back without the hindrance of rose tinted glasses they may not have been so good after all.

Take for example Bananarama. I know now when I listen to their songs that whilst some were outstanding pop hits others were, to put it kindly, simply not very good. For every ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’ there was at least two frankly woeful ‘Shy Boy’s or ‘Cruel Summer’s.

But it didn’t stop me and every other young teenage boy thinking at the time that every single was a musical masterpiece at least on a par with, if we only had any clue who he was, Irving Berlin.

We were doing what we at the time thought to be right, thought to be true. It didn’t matter that experts, in those days the New Musical Express or Melody Maker, were telling us the band was at best run of the mill we had made our minds up and nothing was going to change it.

Looking back idealising my favourite act from thirty years ago thinking they will be every bit as good now as they were then is of course a fantasy; certainly no greater fantasy than all of those leave voters wanting Britain to be ‘how it used to be’, but a fantasy nonetheless.

There has been another story in the news this week which has caught my eye.

Last Friday the Independent reported that ‘Cancer Drugs Fund: £1.27 billion initiative set up by David Cameron a ‘waste of money’, finds review’.

The newspaper reported in depth that a fund promised by David Cameron in the Conservative’s 2010 election manifesto designed to provide ground breaking new drugs to cancer patients had upon careful examination been a flop.

A report in the medical journal Annals of Oncology had found that the majority of the 100,000 patients who had received drugs through the scheme had not been helped in any way. Sixty two per cent of those who had received drugs under the scheme, not normally available through the NHS, had received no meaningful clinical benefit. Many patients suffered from significant side effects caused by, in some cases, drugs with somewhat spurious records of effectiveness.

The press to a greater or lesser degree have pinned the blame on the last Prime Minister for making a gargantuan and politically motivated error. With the benefit of hindsight they say the fact that unauthorised drugs were being prescribed so regularly should have indicated that they may not be that effective after all.

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing and, by definition, easy to have after an event has occurred. Just like I am able now to be a little more objective about my schoolboy crush it is easier to look back and say that an aspirant Prime Minister was promising something to the electorate that was both costly and foolish.

But, and we all know this, at the time of making his promise Mr Cameron didn’t have the benefit of hindsight. He was living in the moment.

So I decided to go back and look at what the newspapers were saying about access to groundbreaking cancer drugs in the year before the run up to the 2010 general election.

Without too much searching I found a 2009 Telegraph article reporting ‘Thousands of breast cancer sufferers to be denied life extending drug -  Breast cancer sufferers at the end of their lives should be denied a new drug that could give them three extra months, the NHS rationing body has recommended.’

 Another article from the same year, this time in the Daily Mail, proclaimed ‘Kidney cancer patients denied life-saving drugs by NHS rationing body NICE.’

And yet another story, from April 2010, reported ‘Woman sells home to pay for cancer drug denied by NHS.’

Three stories at the tip of an iceberg of thousands of lives at risk of beings shortened by cancer, thousands of families being ripped apart by that horrible disease.

Whether Mr Cameron’s cancer drugs fund was a purely political response to those suffering or whether it was the mark of a man trying to have an effect on those families I guess that we will never know. I would very much like to think it was the latter.

Interestingly at the time of making his promise Mr Cameron was to some extent ignoring the ‘experts’ who didn’t think the cancer drugs fund would work.

It was experts, this time musical ones, that I ignored too in my love for Bananarama.

Last year millions of us ignored experts when voting in the EU Referendum, prominent ‘Leave’ campaigner Michael Gove famously saying at the time ‘Britain has had enough of experts.’

The problem is that experts, whether they be musical or medical or economic, tend to be experts for a reason. Of course we can ignore them, sometimes it is even wise to do so, but more often than not their predictions do tend to come true.

I wonder how many of us will listen to experts in the upcoming general election? Or whether in five years time we will be sat asking ‘well why did that go wrong?’


And with that I’m off to back comb what's left of my hair, dust off my old cassette player and listen again and again to ‘I heard a rumour’. Have a great week.   

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