THE LAST WORD

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Icouldn't believe my ears recently when an actor began to talk about a new children's project he was involved in, charmingly named Pig Heart Boy. I wonder what that's about then. It's a bit like calling Reach For The Sky, No Legs Bloke.

It does, however, illustrate that medical advances don't take long to find their way into the drama schedules. No sooner has an ear been grown on a mouse than Charlie in Casualty is gambolling around with one on his arm.

So, we should prepare ourselves for the arrival of Tuberculosis Ted And His Lumpy Lungs. Yes, TB is back and it's angry. Well, not so much angry as multi-drug resistant, which in the long-run means the same thing.

In this country, tuberculosis, which we all thought had gone out with dried egg and community singing, has got a foothold again, with cases increasing by a fifth in the last decade.

"It's all down to these foreigners spitting everywhere," an obviously medically trained taxi driver told me yesterday.

Apparently though, despite the aspirations of cabbies everywhere to be doctors, the increase in TB is all about people failing to finish the course of tablets.

Now, I've had it drummed into me by various doctors over the years - in the same way that I was told by my parents never to take a lift from a strange man, which I do pretty much every time I hail a cab - that unless you finish a course of drugs you might as well not bother.

So how come so many people are failing to hear these instructions? Well, I suppose the options are that they either don't understand doctor's orders or they disobey them. My money would be on the second option. I don't think it's a conscious thing, but I suspect a lot of people don't continue the course because they can't be arsed.

"Can't be arsed" is a very popular approach to modern living, and its apathetic clutch pervades all areas of our lives.

See someone drop some litter ... should tell them to pick it up ... they're built like a Martello tower ... can't be arsed.

See a parent hit a child in a supermarket ... should say something ... I'm late for my assertiveness class ... can't be arsed.

In fact, we're the "can't be arsed" generation. That's why loads of people who thought Blair would help poor people by redistributing wealth now have to try and convince themselves that poor people probably don't deserve a better life anyway.

It's much easier to be concerned about yourself, which is why, I suppose, there are huge numbers of people who believe that at the slightest sign of a sniffle they should get straight down to the GP for a two-week supply of penicillin, despite the fact that we are all aware that the constant consumption of antibiotics has resulted in our immune systems becoming lazy and refusing to fight illness.

This year I have held out for weeks against antibiotics and suffered the fact that I look like someone has painted my face white, added some angry red blobs and arranged for my lungs to be torn out, stamped on by someone in stilettoes and put back in, wrapped in a blanket made of fresh chillis.

Eventually, the hacking Dickensian cough and shivers get to me and I give in. But when the serious infection strikes will I be unable to cope? Will I be laid low by one of these legendary spitting foreigners?

I have always seen TB as an illness connected with poverty. The taxi driver was right to the extent that something like 40 per cent of new cases are immigrants mainly from eastern Europe.

However, it may be that we're forcing them to live in crappy conditions where they're more susceptible to the disease, rather than the fact that they're gobbing in an arbitrary fashion all over our lovely, shiny British air which we like to keep so clean.

It's also been announced this week that an extra million have been added to the numbers of people who are considered to be living on the poverty line.

Somehow, at the end of the century, we are rewinding. I suspect it won't be long before we tread backwards through the century's advances and come to rest in a hundred years' time with women having surrendered the vote through boredom, once curable diseases rampant, a world war in the offing and the House Of Lords quite happily restored to its former, snoring glory.

Happy Christmas and a predictable new century everyone.

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