John Bone: A word you don’t hear these days

Without sounding at all pompous or pretentious, the word Alan Fuller used after 30 years as a Soham firefighter was “duty.” He felt a duty to follow his father and uncle in the service. Duty is not a word we hear much these days. We are much more likely to hear words like “rights” and “blame” and “compensation.” But duty, like hope, is what keeps most things going. Sorry. There I go again, sermonising like a vicar. I’d better do my duty and shut up.

Among retirement gifts handed to a Wickhambrook school staff member was a dictionary. This strikes me as much more sensible than the traditional clock or watch. Timepieces are less use in retirement when time of day is a less pressing concern. A dictionary, on the other hand, is just the thing for passing the day solving crosswords. To be frank, the only gift I would want when I retire is a job.

Every other tv commercial includes dogs. No matter if the merchandise is cosmetics or cars, detergents or holidays, beer or insurance, dogs are recruited. Yet estate agents seemingly shun this device. If dogs can sell ice cream and soap surely they could sell houses. I suggest that photographers sent out to get pictures of properties should take a stuffed Labrador with them and pose it on the lawn or hearthrug. Better still, I am prepared to rent out my very pretty tricolour corgi Foxglove. It would be the only use she has ever been.

It now seems certain that the appalling performance of the East Anglian Ambulance Service 
in recent years has chiefly been down to too few ambulances and too few crews. Now they are buying and recruiting like crazy and promise to do their job properly in a year or so. Must we go through the same calamitous process in other public services hit by recession cuts? GPs, police, nursing and education are all suffering, but their cries are less audible because there is nothing like a death while awaiting an ambulance to focus public opinion.

It was a letter from the Dean of Bury St Edmunds Cathedral that finally pulled the rug from under the local MP. Now I see the Dean of Ely Cathedral has joined an MP, a would-MP, a local industrialist and a councillor in sending a five-signature letter to the Local Government Secretary demanding a decision on an Ely bypass inquiry. Who says the Church no longer carries clout? Stand by for an early announcement from Eric Pickles.

My driving instructor told me to assume every other vehicle on the road was driven by a madman about to do something insane. Now there is a new twist to that very wise policy. The Suffolk Coroner has heard how a three-vehicle crash at Barton Mills was caused by one driver suffering deep vein thrombosis. She was badly hurt but would have died anyway. So, add to insanity the assumption that every other driver is about to have some sort of seizure. Suddenly the driverless cars we are invited to take seriously suddenly look much more practical. Except that machines, too, suffer seizures and go mad.

Soham food bank has served over 1,000 meals to 185 adults and 130 children in its first year. What a brilliant achievement but also what stark statistics on our society.

Philip Milbank, one of the victims of a fraud on his Newmarket business, has written to me in the most courteous terms but taking issue with what I said about the case last week. I held, and still hold, that the mild sentence on the woman who had her hand in his till was better than a costly jail term that would have punished us all. Philip speaks of the havoc her case has caused his family and business. “We both understand your point of view and we are pretty progressive in terms of how people are punished,” he tells me, “but to be punished with a £1.20 fine to be paid every day for the rest of her life? That is a can of beer a day or a couple of packets of crisps.” Philip has now written to the Crown Prosecution Service complaining not only about the sentence but about the short notice he and his wife were given of hearings at various stages, often making it impossible for either to attend in person at the Ipswich court. While we may still differ over the sentence, the Milbanks also still have my greatest sympathy and it will be interesting to see how this sad story may further unfold. The CPS may have shown insufficient concern for the victims but I ask myself if I did, too.