I’ve become something of a fan of antiseptic mouthwash, and those little plastic inbetween things with which one can clean out all the gunge between teeth. This is not enthusiasm so much as mean idleness: I have at last worked out that regular use of both is far more efficient than brushing one’s teeth, and the best method for avoiding dentists. It’s all part of my economy drive – see Getting By – which is a sort of plan for spending less yet continuing to have a pleasant lifestyle. (My last dental ‘check-up’ cost £187: that’s a meal for two at Hix).

My favoured brand and flavour of the moment in the mouthwash stakes is Listerine Coolmint, a light-blue coloured concoction which – if swilled around the gob of a morning – fulfils the dual purpose of zapping anything plaque-forming, while waking me up with a bang. Yesterday I was swigging at the bottle when a neighbour walked by our kitchen window with her dogs. The Ward reputation for copious alcohol abuse will now be entering a new phase in our community, “Oh my God, he’s moved on to anti-freeze”.

Moving in with us this March – as they have for many previous years – were housemartins. The RSPB site refers to their chatter as ‘rather hoarse and poor quality’ which I must confess to finding a very odd verdict: I love the sound. It’s like a cross between the old dial-up internet sound, and thrushes going at it hammer and tongues. I also can’t resist the way they swoop, play, and fly in and out of their nest areas non-stop. They are very busy birds, and a joy to be around.

Our youngest pup Coco does not, however, share my enthusiasm. Their duck-and-dive act frustrates the hell out of her, as she holds fast to the idea that small things are there purely to be caught and then savaged by her.

I have come to the conclusion that dogs can hear the sound of a human eyelid opening. I suggest this as a hypothesis because I have tried everything of a morning to get up, dress and get downstairs before Coco wakes up, realises her bladder is about to let fly, and produces a small Atlantic Ocean in front of the Aga. But nothing works. To be fair to her, she is getting better at holding on, but by the time I’m halfway downstairs there are yelps and whimpers coming from behind the kitchen door.

The theory is confirmed by the way in which dogs bark without warning at something they can clearly hear, but we can’t. Our late dog Harry could detect a silent fart two counties away. Unfortunately, his savantism in this respect caused many traumatised guests, over time, to wind up with their legs dangling from the ceiling.

For several days now I’ve detected a disturbing sound emanating from our Peugeot’s wheels, almost as if a demented cleaning lady were rubbing away to clean them as I drive. Much as this employment idea appeals to me, I was fairly confident that I hadn’t ordered any such thing. So after the noise became alarming yesterday, this morning I rang our village repair shop and asked what they could do. I duly left the car with them, and they rang around lunchtime to say that the brake pads had worn so completely, the pad-holders were scraping against the discs.

Every car owner in the country will identify with what I’m going to write next. It is but three and a half weeks since the car went in for a 12,000 mile service at our nearest Peugeot dealer. They just didn’t bother to check the brake pads. So local engineer Gavin replaced them for me, and I’ve now decided that I’m not going back to Peugeot dealers in the UK any more. This has also become part of The Slog’s economy drive – somewhat by default, given that dealership services are (a) a rip-off and (b) incompetent.

It’s nice to have the main car back in working order again, because the trip to and from Exeter Hospital isn’t that nice in an old VW Polo where the electric windows are broken, there’s no aircon, and overtaking even the slowest bus in front becomes something of a fantasy. But the journey is a breeze compared to the hospital experience itself.

You arrive, and cruise around the car park for fifteen minutes. As car parks go, it is wonderfully prettyfied by lots of winding lanes and maturing trees, but hard to enter or exit – and at least half the size it should be. Once inside the hospital, real medical staff and senior sisters are wonderful, but the general nursing standards below that are a disgrace. On the ward I visit, there are notice boards proclaiming how that ward is meeting all of management’s targets, and visual evidence everywhere of just how irrelevant those targets are: slovenly staff, bad attitudes and general untidiness bear witness to the low morale.

Information is hard to come by – partly because over half the staff are part-time or agency employees, but as often because can’t-be-arsed syndrome is almost universal. The nurses are unaware of specific patient dietary needs, hazy about their medication requirements, and extremely defensive when asked a question about either. Doctors routinely say, when I suggest leaving a message at the nurses’ station, “No, don’t do that – leave it with the consultant’s secretary”. They’re only too aware of the fact that 95% of messages simply aren’t passed on. Yesterday I asked about whether a scan appointment had been fixed. The nurse looked me up and down, said “I’ve no idea” and went back to her task of I know not what. The whole experience is profoundly depressing.

Before new readers dismiss me as a spoilt anti-NHS bourgeois git, let me just explain that I come from a very ordinary background – but also an era when all hospitals were spotless havens of draconian discipline and ruthless hygiene. The reason for this was simple: infection was still a real and present threat to life then. It is not perceived to be so now, but the truth is that – as microbes gain immunity to more and more antibiotics – the danger today is greater than ever before.

Last week, an earnest employee at this hospital replied – when I asked why we had just answered thirty questions about recent ilnesses unrelated to the current complaint – told me, “Look – most people don’t realise this, but over 90% of MRSA infection is brought in from outside”.

The bloke concerned had the sort of estuary pc air about him that rules out the idea of debate about it, but my instant internal reaction was, ‘Well where the bloody hell else would it come from?” I mean, is there a resident MRSA witch in every hospital, cooking up turd of newt and ear of snail prior to wafting about the wards dispensing liberal amounts of airborne MRSA?

His statistic is just another of those Despatch Box soundbites that get the voters nodding, but don’t bear any form of interrogation. The imputation of his factoid is that patient visitors bring disease into hospitals, not staff. Bollocks: staff are by far the most frequent occupants of hospitals, and their obvious guilt for this epidemic is illustrated beyond doubt by the fact that hand-washing at hospital entrances has now been replaced by handwash dispensers at the foot of every patient’s bed.

The fact is that a huge percentage of all hospital procedures today are driven by political shibboleths, and fear of being sued by lawyers. It is still true to say that the senior end of well-trained staff – in medical emergency admission, A&E, and specialist fields – deserve sanctification more than they do tabloid accusation. And it is equally valid to aver that private sector values (while they would quickly eradicate the lowest standards) would make health services in his country unaffordable for all but the privileged few.

But a mutualised Health Service could raise the standards of the lowest denominators….without the blinkered shareholder profit-motive leaving prices beyond the rach of ordinary people.

Neither main Party is prepared to accept this. Speaking as a carer, I find this irksome. But speaking as a Benthamite seeker after majority contentment, I find it irrational and obscene.