Peggy Ashcroft had a lump on her face.
I'm not sure what it was. A mole, I suppose, or a skin tag. The kind of thing we humans tend to get as age advances. It didn't, of course, make her any less beautiful or striking or any less convincing as an actor. But I remember a fierce row about it with an American friend of mine who worked in show business. He reckoned it was a disgrace that she hadn't had it removed, while I expatiated on the merits of allowing our bodies to grow old, without slicing, sluicing, scraping and stitching every part of our mortal coil into permanently pristine nubility.
Peggy died 20 years ago and things have moved on. The cosmetic surgery business is now worth billions, and, in many cases, it has given real relief to people whose feelings about their appearance had depressed and intimidated them for decades.
My worry, though, is that while cosmetic surgery clinics look and sound like medical outfits, they don't all quite work to the same medical code as we might expect. It was brought home to me when I was thinking of having my eyes lasered eight years ago. I tried five different clinics and they really gave me the collywobbles. Yes, everything looked clean and hygienic. Yes, the receptionists were friendly. And, yes, the ophthalmologists seemed well qualified. But what put me off in four cases was the fact that almost before I'd sat down in the waiting room, they were offering me a loan to pay for the procedure. The overwhelming feeling was that someone was flogging me something, whether or not it would actually be good for my health. Even then, laser surgery was pretty straightforward, but I just couldn't go ahead with a clinic that felt like the medical equivalent of a car showroom, so I chose the only one where the doctor honestly explained the risks to me.
In the end, it went brilliantly (apart from the smoke and the slight smell of burning roast pork as the laser started its work on my eyeball), and I've had eight years without contact lenses. But it is still disturbing that laser eye surgery, along with the vast majority of the cosmetic surgery industry, lies well beyond the reach of proper regulation. Indeed, virtually the only requirement is that a clinic be registered with the Care Quality Commission, whose resources are extremely stretched.
If we want to avoid another implants-style healthcare scandal, we should enforce a far stricter code on the whole industry, with registration backed up by proper monitoring and criminal sanctions. Richard Desmond may not know what ethics means, but commercial cosmetic surgeons should surely understand medical ethics.
In praise of the Speaker's tough love
Because the media is far more interested in process stories about Parliament than anything that is actually discussed in Parliament, there was another bout of Bercow-phobia just before Christmas. I have to confess, I'm not impartial. John Bercow was instrumental in changing the rules so that Jared and I could get married in Parliament (not in the Chapel but in the Members' Dining Room), and his wife Sally definitely adds to the sum total of joy in the world. So you may dismiss what I'm about to say. But the truth is he has been a splendidly invigorating Speaker. Where once MPs could ask interminable questions and ministers could stonewall back, talking down the clock, Bercow is now so tough on prolixity and the causes of prolixity that front and back benchers alike tremble. So much so that when Bercow coughed while the Lib Dem minister Lynne Featherstone was at the despatch box on Thursday, she nervously turned to him and asked, "Are you coughing at me, Mr Speaker?" as if to suggest that the merest epiglottal stop from the Speaker's chair could bring her to an end. That's why he'll be Speaker for many years yet.
An odd piece planned for the Welsh jigsaw
Boundaries. I know, you may not be interested. But indulge me for a minute. The new draft parliamentary boundaries for Wales came out this week (on my 50th birthday). The commission had a tough job, cutting savagely from 40 seats to 30, which is fewer than at any time since 1832 and just three more than in 1601, despite the population of Wales rising from roughly 300,000 in 1600 to three million today. The Government's legislation was so obsessed with the numerical equality of seats that there are some very odd results. In the Rhondda's case, they are suggesting that part of the Cynon Valley be added to my Rhondda seat. It's a tiny quibble, but the only way to get from one valley to the other, short of a Von Trapp family climb over the mountain, is via two other constituencies.
How the Commons punishes the wicked
The Culture Committee is considering its report on phone hacking, so the Commons will soon have to decide what we should do about those who have lied to Parliament. We should remember Charles Grissell, who boasted in 1879 that he could get the Tower High Level Bridge Bill rejected for a consideration of £2,000. For this blatant contempt of Parliament, he and his lawyer, John Ward, were summoned to the bar of the House. Grissell legged it to Boulogne, leaving Ward to be arrested and imprisoned. When the Speaker sent a messenger to Boulogne to demand Grissell's return, he was found "disporting himself in summer clothes" and invited the messenger to dinner. Knowing that the Commons could imprison him only while the House was in session, Grissell gave himself up just before Parliament was prorogued, whereupon he was sent to Newgate for just a few hours. The Commons was still seething, though, when it resumed the following spring, so Grissell was returned to Newgate on 2 March. He had to be released again when the general election was called on 24 March, but the Commons had made sure it got its man.