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March 2008 - The March Hare

It was the White Rabbit, was it not, who was always complaining that he was late?  I know that in one of the stage or film productions of Alice in Wonderland he even got to sing about his advanced tardiness.

You see, I was musing the other day, like you do, about the fact that I tend to write more about being late for writing these writings, than I actually do about most other subjects.  Well, it has to be said that The Duchess most certainly would be savage if I were to be late, wouldn't she?

It has to be Lewis Carroll who initially gave me my interest in language, words and the way you can string those words together to very often mean exactly what you didn't want them to mean in the first place.

I've never been quite certain, personally, whether, at the end of the day, I mean what I say or I say what I mean.  Now, there's a little riddle which will really confuse our eponymous hero for this month.

So, dear viewers, faithful devotees, welcome along to this glorious tea party which is the latest edition of Nick Harvey's Comment.  We'll start with just the grin, the remainder will follow later, but might fade away towards the end.

Lateness is, after all, only relative.  If you agree to meet somebody under the station clock at a quarter past five, yet you both manage to arrive at a quarter to six, then are either, neither or both of you late?

These and other riddles may, or may not, be answered in this month's exciting edition of Nick Harvey's Comment, being written as it is, right at the last possible moment, on the twenty-ninth of February.

Now, Lewis Carroll also loved oddities.  He would have loved the oddity which is leap year day.  I'm somewhat surprised, therefore, that it was Mr Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, rather than Carroll, who did the most to publicise this most ingenious paradox.

Had this year been last year, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to write these words today; I'd have had to have done it yesterday in order not have been late for tonight's deadline, which was, of course, last night.

Oh dear, the nice lady in the third row, second from the right, beige twin-set, seems to have nodded off.  Could the gentleman on her left possibly give her a bit of a prod with his walking stick?  In exchange, I'll promise to be slightly less obtusely obscure and try to come to the point.

It's all about appointments and lateness, you see.  It's been worrying me ever since they arbitrarily moved my hospital appointment without so much as a by your leave.

And, what is more, this is not the first time this occurrence has occurred.  It seems to happen to almost every appointment with a regularity which is becoming monotonous.

Without going into too much glorious detail, they like me to pop along to the hospital every six months so they can relieve me of some of my blood for them to investigate and then give me a good prodding, in all sorts of odd places, whilst asking lots of dreary questions about how I'm feeling.

It's all rather silly really.  There's only one sensible answer to the "How are you feeling" question.  "Prodded", that's how I'm feeling.  Definitely "Prodded".

Anyway, I digress.  What a surprise!  It's the appointment system I was about to discuss, was I not?

After all the business of the day has been completed, the Registrar, or if you're exceedingly lucky, the Consultant, scribbles 6/12 on the bottom of your form and sends you off, back to the front desk to sort out your next appointment.

Now, seeing as they give you your form to take back to the desk, it's reasonable to assume that you're going to take a look to see what they've scribbled on it, isn't it?  So they really ought to explain a little bit about how their shorthand system works, didn't they?

The first time I ever walked back down the seemingly miles of waiting room, reading the scribble as I went, I got seriously worried that, with a score of 6/12, I was only half fit.  That was probably the truth at the time, yet I don't appear to have got any better over the subsequent years I've been visiting them.

It was only much later that somebody explained that 6/12 is medical speak for six months.  To put it mathematically, something of which Lewis Carroll would, most definitely, have approved, the denominator appears to be 12 if they're talking in months, or 52 if they're talking in weeks.  The numerator is then, quite simply, the number required.

Exactly what the difference is, if anything, between 6/12 and 26/52, I'm none too certain, but perhaps it's best to pass on that one at this stage and not get too bogged down.

Anyway, to avoid my dear friend in the twin-set requiring a further prodding, seeing as I know how uncomfortable that can be, let us now proceed directly to the point of this little discussion.

So you arrive at the desk, with your 6/12 written on your form, and you hand it over to the nice lady behind.  She immediately taps away at her computer keyboard and converts the 6/12 into a date six months hence.

She tells you the date and initially offers you the most inconvenient time she can find that is available on that day.  After lengthy negotiations about preferring mornings to afternoons; needing a time when the car park is likely to have spaces within three miles of the ward you need to get to; and all the other technicalities of the visit, you agree on 10am (please arrive 30 minutes early for a blood test) and she prints out your new form.

Off you go home and put the date and time in the diary.  Now, in the early days, I used to be foolish enough to put the details in the diary in ink.  Nowadays I simply pencil them in, and extremely lightly at that.

For, over the years I have learnt the system.  The whole negotiation process at the desk is a complete farce and a waste of time.  There's no point in getting involved in it whatsoever.

You pencil the agreed appointment lightly into the diary, then you wait until about a week before you are expecting to attend.  That will be the day that the brown envelope flops through the letterbox.  The brown envelope containing the cancellation letter for the appointment you so carefully negotiated and a replacement appointment form for about two weeks later than the original and at that most inconvenient time which you made it abundantly clear was of no interest to you .

"If this appointment is not convenient to you, please call us on 0117 496 0456 to re-arrange" it says on the nice new form.  Don't even consider bothering!  That's the number they leave permanently off the hook, so you can never get through.

You are stuck with the replacement appointment whether you like it or not.  It'll be as convenient as trying to get to the croquet ground in time to avoid the Queen having your head off.  The Duchess will be extremely savage; and the grin will, quite quickly, disappear.

No wonder Mr Rabbit and Mr Hare decided to simply stop time and give up on the whole thing.  I wonder if hospital appointments systems are based on any mathematical lectures from a certain Charles Dodgson by any chance?

Well, there it is for this month.  A slightly shorter edition than normal this time, partly for reasons explained below.  However, don't be foolish, join me again next month for the April first edition.

Just time to check things through before publication, I think.  Right, I'm off, where's me mock turtle?

Comment this month is dedicated to the brown chap, leg at each corner, tail at the back, who has featured in many previous editions.  When I told him it was leap year and he'd have to wait a whole twenty-nine days before he was mentioned again, he decided to give up the ghost early and is, sadly, no longer with us.

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