Far be it from me to be name-ist, but Ian Dalton has one of those solid, boring-sounding names that inspires confidence the moment you say it. Which could be a colossal advantage in his new job. Currently chief executive of NHS North East, he was yesterday named National Director for NHS Flu Resilience, or, in common parlance, "flu tsar". The appointment takes effect forthwith.
But while we might count ourselves fortunate to have such a patently reliable character to handle what remains of swine flu, and all the future pandemics that threaten, Mr Dalton is a lucky man, too. Lucky, that is, to have us, the Great British public, as his charges. Resilience is one of the new buzzwords of the security world, and it is a quality the British have in spades.
National security, the legions of post-9/11 experts will tell you, has many different components. The state must anticipate a wide range of contingencies, from military attack to floods and – yes – epidemics. The armed forces and the emergency services must be properly trained and equipped. Hospitals need emergency generators that work. Doctors and other key staff, at power stations say, need to be contactable out of hours. There must also be reserves of basic supplies, such as non-perishable food and clean water.
Some emergencies can be useful in revealing dangerous lacunae: the police and ambulance mobile phones that would not work underground after the 2005 London bombings; the power station in Gloucestershire that could not be reached by the fire-brigade because, as the water rose, closed flood-gates blocked access.
All that is absolutely standard. But there is another, crucial, ingredient to national security, which is not completely covered by the word morale. It is resilience: the capacity of the civilian population not to panic in the face of the unexpected or unpleasant. And, on a very informal, international scale, it is something the British are rather good at.
Now you could argue, a little cynically perhaps, that we have had a lot of practice, what with the proportion of people who still have memories of the second world war, the experience of the miners' strike and the three-day week, the IRA bombs in Northern Ireland and on the Mainland, and the new threat from Islamic extremism. But, as the aftermath of the London bombings demonstrated, it was the coping of the many as much as the heroism of the few that staved off still greater chaos. A similar spirit could be seen in the determination of those who turned up to dance at London's Tiger Tiger the night after the club was the target of a (failed) car-bomb.
It is still early days, but in Britain swine flu may prove in the end to have been more of an inconvenience than a major public health danger. The same may be true almost everywhere except Mexico. But this did not stop China quarantining Mexican workers, Egypt destroying pig farms or Russia halting imports of many meat products. So far, we have five schools closed for a week and no rioting for Tamiflu. The Government is distributing leaflets, and several patients have gone public to play down their affliction as "just like a cold".
National resilience is a quality neither money nor propaganda can buy. Ian Dalton's brief as "flu tsar" should be to do nothing that would imperil such an asset.
Not quite the compleat newspaper editor
Given the credit crunch, the slump in advertising and the diktat of the internet, newspapers have had precious few opportunities to feel good about themselves recently. But State of Play, the recently released Hollywood blockbuster, masterminded by the British director, Kevin Macdonald, offers the old-fashioned press a welcome fillip.
Nostalgic and romantic the film may be, and with more than half a nod to the Washington Post, Watergate and All the President's Men. But I half-think that, with its stylish arrangement of all the familiar set-pieces – journalistic rivalry, early page proofs, rolling presses, not to speak of "hold the front page" tension, it could just help to inspire a new generation and revive what is too often dismissed as a dying industry. Believe it or not, most people still prefer to read something they can hold, touch and take with them – something like a newspaper.
For all its faithful representation of the daily newspaper world, Macdonald and his team get one thing grievously wrong.
Helen Mirren's character, as the editor juggling priorities, is credible – though personally, I felt this was not Mirren's finest hour. What I can say, though, with total confidence is that she would never have got anywhere near the editor's chair if she had staked all on her star reporter delivering his scoop. Hold the front page, by all means, but never leave yourself without a back-up in the bag.
Stop trying to modernise old favourites
I know I should be used to it by now, but it still pains me to find mini-chocolate eggs and hot cross buns on the supermarket shelves year round. From seasonal delights they have mutated, almost unnoticed, into national staples.
But there is worse. Reaching for a pack of hot cross buns just before Good Friday – all right, I should have baked some, but my relationship with yeast-cooking is too hit and miss – I was horrified to discover not just hot cross buns, to borrow the adman's phrasing, but apple and cinnamon hot cross buns. The next batch I took came with cranberry. Why are marketers so besotted with innovation that hot cross buns, which should taste like hot cross buns, now come in a choice of flavours?
By the way, I'm not that keen on blueberry or orange crème brûlée, either. Why, when chefs set out to prepare a classic, do they not concentrate on making the best, most faithful version they can, rather than adding that fatal, personalising, twist?
* The railways, as every would-be passenger knows, have a nasty habit of closing key sections for repair at weekends, and the various branches of London transport are no different. The Docklands Light Railway – a minor miracle of engineering that has no drivers and affords panoramic views of 20 years of urban regeneration from its carriages – is trying to make us all feel a little better about this periodic disruption.
If you were setting up a website where the public could find details of line closures, lift-failures and other disruption, what might you call it? The DLR has – wait for it – DLR.co.uk/improvements.Reuse content