Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a little girl and her name was Emily. And she had a shop. It was rather an unusual shop because it didn’t sell anything. You see, everything in that shop window was a thing that somebody had once lost and Emily had found and brought home to Bagpuss. Emily’s cat Bagpuss – the most important, the most beautiful, the most magical…saggy old cloth cat in the whole wide world.
Well now, one day Emily found a thing and she brought it back to the shop and put it down in front of Bagpuss who was in the shop window, fast asleep as usual. But then Emily said some magic words:
‘Bagpuss, dear Bagpuss, old fat furry cat-puss
Wake up and look at this thing that I bring
Wake up, be bright, be golden and light
Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing’
And Bagpuss was wide awake. And when Bagpuss wakes up all his friends wake up too. The mice on the mouse-organ woke up and stretched. Madeleine, the rag doll, Gabriel, the toad, and last of all, Professor Yaffle, who was a very distinguished old woodpecker. He climbed down off his bookend and went to see what it was that Emily had brought.
He inspected the object and then made that characteristic cackle of his, the one he always made prior to passing judgement on things about which he new little about. ‘That,’ he said, ‘is nothing more than a very heavy, very old, blanket. I’m not sure why Miss Emily brought it here. Don’t you agree Bagpuss?’
Bagpuss yawned as he gazed down on the item that lay before him. ‘It looks to me like something which has been pressed down by the weight of heavy expectation. Take the blanket off and let’s see what’s under it.’
‘Ridiculous, ridiculous, fiddlesticks and flapdoodle’ said Professor Yaffle. ‘There’s nothing under there which is of any value to anyone.’
But even as he said these words the mice set to work. Slowly they dragged the blanket to one side and revealed what lay beneath. What they saw was a tied and rather worn out organisation, one that had clearly been neglected for years, one that had been misused by many and taken for granted by a great number more.
‘What is it?’ the mice squealed excitedly.
‘I rather fancy it’s the National Health Service – or a least it was once,’ replied Bagpuss. ‘It looks as though it’s been overwhelmed by excessive demand and has long since seen better days. It really does appear to be terribly broken’.
The mice looked sad. ‘What should we do?’ they asked in unison.
‘Well, for a start, we all need to look after it better,’ Bagpuss replied.
The mice looked at each other and then one pulled out a role of music and loaded it into the marvellous mechanical mouse organ. Soon they were all singing.
‘We will mend it, we will tend it. We will treat it with care, care care.
We adore it, we’ll restore it, We it’s burdens will bear, bear, bear’
Eventually the song came to an end. ‘I know’, squeaked one of the mice. ‘Let’s train Charlie Mouse up as a GP and then make him work extra sessions over the bank holiday weekend’. The other mice cheered in excited agreement and started to haul the smallest of their number toward the door of the shop, forcing into his hand as they did so a discarded medical bag that Emily had brought back to the shop some months previously.
‘Stop that at once!’ shouted Madeline. ‘You can’t inflict being a GP on Charlie Mouse. He’s only little and without proper training he wouldn’t last five minutes working in primary care, not with current levels of demand. And besides it’ll take more than a few extra GPs to put things right.’
‘How about employing health care professionals from overseas?’, suggested Professor Yaffle. ‘Better still, let’s parachute in an oversized mouse like creature, one of a race of knitted individuals from a far off planet not dissimilar to the moon?’
‘That’, began Gabriel picking up his banjo, ‘would be to drop one enormous clanger! Sad to say some people would ignorantly question the creature’s ability to do the job simply because they sometimes found it difficult to understand what it was that it was saying. But that is neither here nor there. We can’t go round depriving others of the medical care that they need. Who would remain to look after the soup dragon! I’ll tell you what though. I know a song about the NHS. Several songs in fact. Would you like me to sing one for you?’
‘No, thank you’ growled Professor Yaffle a little more harshly than was strictly necessary. ‘We’ve heard far too many of your folksy tunes that bare such little resemblance to real life. What I want to know is what the NHS was really like.’
‘Madeline, do you know?’ asked Bagpuss turning to the rag doll who was gently rocking back and forth in her rocking chair.
‘When I was young my parents used to tell me stories of the NHS’, she said. ‘Of how when you called an emergency ambulance, one would come, when waiting times for hospital appointments were a matter of weeks rather than years, and of how pharmacies could always supply the drugs that patients needed. Back then, patients served by those working in hospitals and GP surgeries were invariably appreciative of the help they had received and recognised how fortunate they were that their care was free at the point of access. Back then it was even said that people actually used to enjoy working in the NHS.’
‘I find all that very hard to believe’, began Gabriel. ‘Some might complain that my songs portray a somewhat romanticised view of the world’, he continued, glaring at Professor Yaffle as he did so, ‘but surely Madeline, weren’t your parents looking at the NHS through rose tinted spectacles. Weren’t their stories actually just fairy tales?’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Madeline. ‘I believe things really were once as my parents described them. Or at least more so than they are now. But things have changed. The NHS isn’t like that anymore.’
Everyone fell silent, staring at the crumpled mess that lay on the floor before them. Nobody felt like singing now, not even Gabriel who laid his banjo down at his side. Some of the mice started to cry.
After a few minutes Madeline looked up. ‘Bagpuss,’ she asked, ‘Do you think the NHS could ever recover?’
‘Oh, I do hope so’, Bagpuss replied. ‘But it’ll take some careful thought’
And with that Bagpuss closed his eyes and began to think of all that would be required for the NHS to be restored. He imagined a government that funded the NHS adequately and enabled it to deliver the care that so many relied on, a government with policies that promoted both the physical and mental wellbeing of its population. He imagined a people who were realistic about what the NHS could do for them, a people who no longer expected it to solve their every problem and instead took more responsibility for their own health, a people who treated those working in the NHS with a degree of respect, recognising that everyone was trying to do their best in what was often an impossible job. He imagined a press which didn’t undermine staff morale with their constant criticism of what they didn’t understand. He imagined a world in which every aspect of everyone’s lives was no longer medicalised, a world no longer full of the worried well as a result of the well no longer being constantly told to worry about their perfectly healthy medical parameters. And he imagined those working in primary and secondary, rather than blaming each other for the problems in the health service, coming together and appreciating the difficulties each other faced.
Eventually Bagpuss opened his eyes again and looked once more on the NHS. And he saw how the mice had been working hard, each busily trying to implement all that he had been thinking about. As a result, the NHS was looking once again as it had done in its prime.
‘Isn’t it beautiful’, whispered Charlie Mouse seeing how it now shone so brightly.
Their work complete, the mice then pushed the NHS into the front window of Emily’s shop. And everyone hoped that those passing by would recognise it for what it was – the National Health Service, not the National Health Slave.
Bagpuss gave a big yawn, and settled down to sleep. And of course when Bagpuss goes to sleep, all his friends go to sleep too. The mice were ornaments on the mouse-organ, Gabriel and Madeleine were just dolls and Professor Yaffle was a carved wooden bookend in the shape of a woodpecker. Even Bagpuss himself, once he was asleep was just an old, saggy cloth cat – baggy, and a bit loose at the seams.
But Emily loved him.
[With apologies to Oliver Postgate, Peter Firmin and everyone at Smallfilms]
Other GP related stories:
To read ‘Mr Benn – the GP’, click here
To read ‘A Bear called Paddington’, click here
To read ‘Jeepy Leepy and the NHS’, click here
To read ‘Mr McGregor’s Revenge – a tale of Peter Rabbit’, click here
To read ‘General Practices Are Go!’, click here
To read ‘The Three Little GPs and the Big Bad Secretary of State for Health’, click here
To read ‘Dr Wordle and the Mystery Diagnosis’, click here
To read ‘A Mission Impossible’, click here
To read ‘Jeeves and the Hormone Deficiency’, click here
To read the whole of ‘The Scrooge Chronicles’, click here
To read ‘The Happy Practice – A Cautionary Tale’, click here
To read ‘A Grimm Tale’, click here
To read ‘The General Practitioner – Endangered’, click here
To sample Gabriel’s back catalogue of medically themed songs, follow the links below. Performances of cover versions are available for those marked with an asterisk.
Other related blogs:
To read ‘The NHS – the ‘S’ is for Service not Slave’, click here
To read ‘On being Overwhelmed’, click here
To read ‘Health – it’ll be the death of us. Is there institutional arrogance in the NHS?’, click here
To read ‘The Repair Shop’, click here
To read ‘The State Of Disrepair Shop’, click here
To read ‘Something to reflect on – are we too narcissistic?’ click here
To read ‘General Practice – A Sweet Sorrow’, click here
To read ‘On being crazy busy – a ticklish problem’, click here
To read ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, click here
To read ‘When the Jokes on You’, click here
To read ‘Professor Ian Aird’ – A Time to Die?’, click here
To read ‘Blaming it on the Boogie’, click here