Hit & Run: Doctor America

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The Independent Online

Reports that CNN medical correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta is to join Barack Obama's team as the first Surgeon General of the incoming administration may seem an eye-catching appointment on this side of the pond – isn't that a bit like Robert Peston being asked to head up the Treasury? However, those US Democrats who had hoped they were voting for change will surely feel frustrated that the pro-status-quo Gupta has been gifted the post.

After all it was Gupta, a 39-year-old TV reporter who practices neurosurgery in Atlanta (and was named, in 2003, by People magazine as "one of the sexiest men alive"), who effectively neutered Michael Moore in a Larry King Live debate about his attack-documentary Sicko, which criticised the American health-care system.

Not that Americans take the post of Surgeon General, the top federal spokesman on matters of public health, that seriously; certainly not since Reagan's appointee, C Everett Koop, a paediatric surgeon whose pronouncements on Aids had him dubbed "C Everett Crap" and lampooned by everybody from Frank Zappa to South Park. Bill Clinton's first appointee (and the first black surgeon general), Dr Joycelyn Elders, was fired for publicly raising the possibility of teaching masturbation skills to children to keep them from having sex.

Anyway, with Western leaders still eager to associate with Obama and all his works, can we expect Alan Johnson, New Labour's salt-of-the-working-class Secretary of State for Health to be reshuffled to make way for a star of medical TV? Or David Cameron, eager to shift the spotlight from the Lazarus-like Gordon Brown, to appoint a daytime-television doctor to his shadow cabinet? Who would be the likely contenders?

This Morning's Dr Chris Steele, despite a long career doing sterling work on nicotine addiction and cancer awareness, is surely too long in the tooth for these youth-obsessed times. And then there's that unfortunate video of Dr Steele, demonstrating how women should inspect their breasts for signs of cancer, with the aid of a live female model. YouTube rated the video as "suitable for over-18s only".

Dr Hilary Jones from GMTV is also probably too old, at the age of 56, to be considered a candidate – despite being the face of public-information adverts warning about the signs of meningitis and septicaemia. Dr Mark Porter has the looks, the bedside manner and the MBE, but my recommendation is for quite a different beast altogether: Dr Phil Hammond – and not just because he used to write for this newspaper. The presenter of BBC2's Trust Me, I'm a Doctor and Radio 2's Struck off and Die, Hammond is also an anonymous author of Private Eye's Medicine Balls column, a post that makes him ideally suited to surgically remove cant from the political discourse.

Hammond is also probably the only TV doctor with direct political experience, having contested Bristol West on behalf of the Struck Off and Die Doctor's Alliance at the 1992 general election. Unfortunately he only garnered 87 votes. Gerard Gilbert

Eat a grey, save the red!

When does it become acceptable to eat small, cute, fluffy creatures? When it's in the name of pest control. British farmers' markets, butchers, village pubs and elegant restaurants are dishing up grey squirrel meat as fast as hunters can kill the bushy-tailed creatures, according to The New York Times. "Part of the interest is curiosity," says Barry Shaw of Shaw Meats, which sells squirrel at the Wirral Farmers Market. There is an environmental aspect, too: greys, imported from America have driven off the native reds in recent years. But the bite back has begun. Rob Sharp

Where do sitcom stars go to retire?

When telly heart-throbs hang up their medallions, they don't retire to regular nursing homes – they check into Brinsworth House. It is here that Richard O'Sullivan, of 1970s sitcom 'Man About The House', is spending his sunset years, according to reports. Past residents of the mansion in Twickenham, London, which has a "fully-stocked" bar and hair salon – include Alan "Fluff" Freeman, Captain Birdseye (John Hewer) and Dame Thora Hird. Founded in 1908 by the Entertainment Artistes Benevolent Fund, it is partly paid for by phone votes on ITV's 'Britain's Got Talent'. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the weekly sing-song... Susie Rushton

'I'm in deep water – sailing solo around the world'

As I write this, it's Wednesday afternoon, and I'm aboard my boat, Toe In The Water, in the West Pacific. Not long ago, I learnt that Jean Le Cam, one of my fellow racers in the Vendee Globe, the most prestigious round-the-world solo yacht race, had just been rescued. Since it began in 1990, the annual event has claimed the lives of three of its 67 competitors. Jean very nearly added to the toll. My primary thought right now: 'There but for the grace of God go I.'

The end is only ever one bad wave away. It reminds you of the dangers, and it's worth being reminded. But it doesn't affect my motivation. Sailing pushed all my buttons from day one – the mental and physical challenge; the knowledge that you will never stop learning; and the adrenalin buzz.

If you want to go sailing, you want to go racing. And if you want to race, then the Vendee is the be all and end all. I gave up my job to prepare, over many years and on a shoestring. Solitude comes with the territory. We set off in November. Christmas was the worst part – missing my wife and our four kids back home in Dorchester, and knowing that they miss me. I was at the bottom of the world in all senses. But I gave myself a slap, told myself to get on with it. Rounding Cape Horn is one goal; finishing in Sables D'Olonne, France, is the other. I can barely credit I'm in 10th place of 30 starters. My only aim is a safe passage. Steve White

Read Steve's race diary at www.whiteoceanracing.com

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