Authors: Christopher Brookmyre
Tags: #Short Stories (single author)
Since his award-winning debut novel
Quite Ugly One Morning
, Chris Brookmyre has established himself as one of Britain's leading crime novelists. His recent novel,
Where the Bodies are Buried
, marked a new departure for his writing and was a Top Ten bestseller.
QUITE UGLY ONE MORNING
COUNTRY OF THE BLIND
NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
BOILING A FROG
A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY
THE SACRED ART OF STEALING
BE MY ENEMY
ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEBODY LOSES AN EYE
A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL
ATTACK OF THE UNSINKABLE RUBBER DUCKS
A SNOWBALL IN HELL
WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED
WHEN THE DEVIL DRIVES
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This collection copyright © 2012 Christopher Brookmyre
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
She stopped at the gate and spent a moment taking in the shiny new sign bolted to the wall outside the terraced premises half way along Pilrig Street. The name was picked out in friendly but calm colours, the typography sparky without seeming frivolous. ‘place b.’ it said, all informally lower-case, the full stop an open, bubbly circle rather than a closed black spot. ‘Where you’ll find a genuine alternative to medicine,’ it explained in a smaller font beneath the logo. Along the bottom, in a more sober font, she could read precisely who, and by what credentials, was offering this alternative:
‘Char. Litton, Consultant. KU. AK.’
She proceeded to the front door, where she rang the bell and was promptly greeted by a smartly dressed young woman who accompanied her to a small waiting-room-cum-office. The young woman sat herself behind a reception desk and took her name, checking the appointment details on her computer.
‘Just take a seat, Mrs Cooper, and I’ll inform the consultant that you’re here.’
She sat on a fresh-smelling leather bench as the receptionist lifted the handset and pushed a button on her phone. ‘Mrs Cooper for you, sir,’ she said quietly.
She barely had time to lift the copy of
magazine that was sitting on a low table before a door opened at the far end of the waiting room and a fair-haired man in his forties emerged with a welcoming smile. He wore a charcoal suit but no tie; instead opting for a more relaxed light-grey v-necked top. Rather than merely hold the door, he came right through into the reception area to bid her his greeting and accompany her personally into the consulting room, where he guided her towards one of two high-backed reclining chairs upholstered in the same soft, dark brown leather as the bench. Along one wall she could see a rather clinical-looking tall cupboard and worktop, bearing a computer monitor, a phone, a thermometer and some glass beakers. However, the rest of the room was in reassuringly marked contrast to the tone and décor she had encountered in any GP’s surgery. The room was spacious, high-ceilinged and airy, its spotless, pastel-painted walls adorned with large-framed photographs of brightly coloured landscapes. There were plants and fresh-cut flowers, classical music playing quietly in the background.
She had no sooner taken her ease than the receptionist appeared to offer a choice of herbal teas. No, quite definitely not like any GP consultation and she hadn’t opened her mouth yet.
‘Now, Angela, what can I do for you? Or would you prefer if I call you Mrs Cooper?’
‘No, Angela’s fine, doctor.’
‘Good, though I have to stress that it’s not ‘doctor’. I’m a consultant, though either way, it’s Charles, please. I don’t find it helps anyone for practitioners to put up these sorts of barriers between themselves and their patients. We have to have real communication between us, a genuine connection, before we can ever truly help each other.’
Angela nodded in earnest agreement, at which he smiled.
‘That’s why I believe that before you start telling me what’s wrong with you, you should instead begin by telling me what’s
with you. I want you to tell me about yourself, your whole self, because I’m here to treat a person, not a condition, do you understand?’
‘Absolutely,’ she insisted.
‘I mean, you can give a condition a name, but no two people get the cold the same, do they? For some lucky ones it’s a sniffle into a few hankies, but for others it’s three days in your bed.’
‘More like a week,’ she said with a roll of her eyes.
‘Tell me about it,’ he replied, laughing a little. Then he sat forward in his recliner and said again, more softly, more invitingly: ‘Seriously, tell me about it. Tell me
She talked and he listened, very occasionally making an interjection, usually by way of encouraging her to expand further. She only realised how much time had passed when she went to lift her herbal tea and discovered that the cup and its contents were cold.
It had been close to an hour and she had barely scratched the surface of how she was feeling. Nonetheless, she felt assured that he understood her. She felt there was a connection, and that was the crucial thing. He
She’d never had a consultation with her GP like this. Never paid a hundred quid to see her GP either, but she was already feeling like it was money well spent and he hadn’t given her anything yet.
‘So what do you reckon, doct— I mean, Charles. Any hope for me?’ she asked with a little chuckle.
‘I reckon we’ve barely dipped our toes,’ he said, further proving that he got what she’d been telling him. ‘But I think I can prescribe something to be going on with.’
He got up and walked across to the cupboard, taking several small, thin packets from a cabinet and placing them in a pile on the worktop.
‘Are these homeopathic medicines?’ she asked with a slight degree of anxiety, all of it concerned with the possibility that the answer might be in the negative.
‘Yes and no,’ he said. ‘These are not, strictly speaking, homeopathic, but they work on a very similar principle. The pills we prescribe here at the place b. clinic have a success rate almost identical to homoeopathic medicines. Better, in some cases.’
‘What’s the difference?’
‘Well, at the risk of blitzing you with too much jargon, homeopathic tablets are technically classified as Without Approved Therapeutic Indications. You may have seen the wording…’
‘On the packets, yes,’ she agreed.
‘The crucial difference is that ours have clinically proven effects, as well as what are technically classified as “non-disproven therapeutic benefits”.’
‘That sounds great,’ she said with an almost impatient sincerity. ‘It really, really does. I’ve tried all sorts of things, but nothing my GP has prescribed has—’
‘I understand,’ he interrupted. ‘But I must insist you to take these in tandem with your GP prescription, not instead of. It’s a professional courtesy as much as anything else; not that it’s always reciprocated. The thing is, we can’t go completely abandoning conventional medicine can we?’ he asked with a smile. She shook her head: the prospect had crossed her mind.
‘See, I have a lot of doctor friends still practicing conventional medicine, and we in the alt-health world need to keep an open mind about their remedies just as they need to do so about ours. Though I have to say, it’s quite annoying when somebody who has been taking alternative remedies for ages gets a prescription from their GP and then, when their condition clears up, gives the GP’s pills the credit simply because that was the most recent thing they took!’
He handed her the packets of pills, plus her dosage instructions, and accompanied her back to the waiting room, where she took a firm hold of his hand as she expressed her thanks, clutching her pills in her other fist.
‘Now, just before you go, remember it’s vital that you let me know how you are getting on, so come back in a week or so. The more I know, and the more I know about you, I may decide a different place b. remedy is more suited to you. Again, it’s about you, not about what’s
She thanked him again, then turned eagerly to the receptionist, who had her bill prepared and waiting.
A few minutes later, she was back on Pilrig Street, looking once more, this time with some satisfaction, at the sign on the wall.
Char. Litton, consultant. KU. AK.
Charles Litton. That’s me. Except it’s not. My name is Jack Parlabane, and I’m a journalist, working an angle on a multi-million-pound scam. When I tell you the details of what I’m about here, it may seem like a lot of work just to get a story, but sometimes the long game is merely a matter of time and patience rather than effort.
Plus, at a hundred sheets an hour from the likes of Mrs Cooper, I was more than covering exes.
So what’s the script?
Well, I’d admit that in my opinion you can always tell somebody is seriously struggling to make their case against an idea when they say the money could better be spent on schools and hospitals. However, it wouldn’t be hypocritical of me to say that it fair boils my piss to know that every year, millions of pounds of the money that’s supposed to be
hospitals is spent on giving people sugar. Let’s be clear: I don’t mean any kind of metaphorical spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. I mean no actual medicine, just very, very expensive sugar.
And who’s behind this super-scale fraud? Tate & Lyle? Trust me, if they could command these sorts of prices per gram for
sucrose products, they’d be buying out Microsoft. No, to get individuals, not to mention health authorities, to shell out this kind of coin on sugar (I’m not kidding with this:
sugar, for fuck’s sake!
) requires a little bit of hocus-pocus known by the name of homeopathy.
Yep, here’s where I’m going to lose a few of you, because you – or at least people you know – utterly swear by the stuff. I’m not saying it isn’t popular: that, in fact, is the problem. More than forty per cent of NHS GPs either prescribe it or refer patients to homeopathists; thirty per cent of health authorities fund this kiddy-onny medicine, and a few years back the taxpayer swallowed a £20 million refit of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, one of several such institutions funded by the NHS. The royal household has enthusiastically employed and endorsed homeopathic remedies for several generations (who said in-breeding lowers intelligence – shame on you), with Prince Charles an extremely high-profile public advocate. And to Buckingham Palace’s endorsement, we can add that of the Palace of Westminster too, where in 2007, 206 MPs signed an early day motion in support of NHS homeopathic hospitals.
‘The onus is less on homeopathy to prove itself than on its detractors to prove it necessarily does not work,’ said one of them, that cheeky chappy Lembit Opik, demonstrating that it’s not only his name that’s silly. Try substituting the words ‘voodoo’ or ‘sorcery’ or ‘goat-sacrifice’ for homeopathy in that sentence, then see if it’s easier to spot the minor philosophical flaw in the principle.
‘We need to keep an open mind,’ was the position of several other signatories, and I would agree, with the caveat that our minds should not be so open that our brains fall out. Keeping an open mind does not mean naively attributing equivalency between two positions irrespective of the evidence. And when money is limited, as it is most inescapably in the NHS, shouldn’t we be spending it on stuff that we know for sure
Here’s a very good indication that homeopathy doesn’t: if it did, then every pharmaceutical company on the planet would be marketing the stuff for all they’re worth.
Why, then, do so many people – intelligent, otherwise rational people – so fervently believe otherwise? More pertinently, why
symptoms sometimes improve; why, more generally, do so many patients say homeopathy makes them feel better? The answer is written on the sign outside my clinic. The remarkable but little-understood human ability to self-heal is sometimes triggered by the mere belief that a given remedy will work, or even simply by the belief that one is in good, caring,
hands. Hence the placebo effect is often going to kick in when a patient has had a one- or two-hour consultation with a solicitous homeopathist in a calm and cosy environment, as opposed to an NHS average seven-to-ten-minute consultation with a harassed GP in a coldly clinical and often worn-out-looking surgery. The feeling that a patient is being cared for can of itself have a healing effect, as randomised, double-blind trials have consistently shown. It is, in fact, one of the ways by which new drugs are asked to prove themselves: they have to consistently demonstrate better results than are achieved in a placebo control group. Homeopathy consistently doesn’t, but its advocates are adept at marginalising the significance of these findings. Take Dr Timothy Cullis, head of the Edinburgh and Lothian Homeopathic Hospital. (It doesn’t have a casualty department, in case it ever happens to be the nearest facility when you’ve had an accident: sugar can be sticky, but it’s not so effective taken orally when you’re trying to glue someone’s limbs back together.) When asked by a Holyrood committee about the remarkable similarity between the results his remedies recorded and the results achieved by placebos, Timmy quoted his fellow homeopathy advocate, Dr Peter Fisher: ‘It seems more important to define if homeopathists can genuinely control patients’ symptoms and less relevant to have concerns about whether this is due to a “genuine” effect or to influencing the placebo response.’ I’m not a doctor, but I’d have thought it was more important to concentrate on that whole “genuine effect” thing, especially if we’re shelling out millions of pounds a year for a few hundred quid’s worth of sugar.