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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 7 February 2008
Back row, from left, Rose Hacker's sons Michael and Lawrence. Front, from left, Lawrence's wife Tessa, Rose and Michael's wife Liz
Back row, from left, Rose Hacker’s sons Michael and Lawrence. Front, from left, Lawrence’s wife Tessa, Rose and Michael’s wife Liz
Rose, the outspoken educator who inspired everyone she met

IT was one of those moments when you know you are in the presence of someone extraordinary.
I was standing at the back of a large gathering in Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury when an elderly woman walked slowly but firmly to the microphone to speak about nuclear disarmament.
It was only when she was described as being 100 years old that I blinked. A hundred years old? Then she spoke, without notes, for about 15 minutes, clearly, concisely, in a strong voice, obviously that of an experienced public speaker.
That was Rose Hacker, and all I found myself muttering was, “Wow!”
After I wrote about Rose in this column, she talked to a friend, Bernard Miller, and wondered whether the New Journal would run a regular column by her. Well, that column became a regular feature in the New Journal for nearly 18 months, and made a big impact on readers not only in central London but also in other parts of Britain and abroad.
I met her several times after that and every time was a new experience.
The first time followed an invitation for lunch and within minutes of entering her comfortably furnished room in the Mary Fielding Trust home in Highgate, she offered me a glass of red wine. I said it was too early in the day. “If you don’t mind, I’ll have one,” she smiled.
Looking around the room, I could see her computer on a desk, a radio, shelves filled with books, a sink and a microwave. I could see she led a pretty full life there. Later, she accompanied me down by lift to the ground-floor restaurant where we had lunch, plenty of fruit and vegetables, and, of course, more red wine. It was still too early for me. But not for Rose. Afterwards we talked for a couple of hours and I soon noticed she came straight to the point. It was as if she had been suspended in time, and was looking down on us mere mortals. Time was pressing up against her, and she didn’t have time for niceties that masked hidden thoughts.
After her column appeared, she became a bit of a celebrity – journalists and TV crews made a trail to her home, and invitations to make public speeches followed.
I remember her talking about the importance of sex in relationships. Later, I discovered she had written a best-seller on sex advice for young people in the 1950s when matters of that kind were not talked about in polite society.
The last time I saw her over the Christmas holidays conversation ranged over politics and how corrupt politicians had become.
She clearly held the same fundamental socialist views as she had done over the decades. She was Old Labour, and the less said about Tony Blair was the better, as far as she was concerned.
But she could also make small talk. She gossiped about a couple she knew in Highgate who had broken up because of a sex problem, and then about a woman who had gone through a pretty loveless marriage.
Her marriage to her husband, who had died some time ago, had been hugely successful.
Her columns were not just thrown together in a couple of hours like many tapped into keyboards by other columnists.
She would think of an idea, and then ask her friend Bernard Miller to do the research.
In all, a column would occupy several hours. On top of that came all those public speeches. She got about more in an average week than someone 50 years younger than she.
Her columns tapped into a public consciousness that writers of today are either too frightened to write about or cannot because they do not have her world view.
She could have led a quieter life, and perhaps if so she may have lived a little longer. But her fount of ideas wouldn’t let her. The woman she had always been all her life simply didn’t allow her to take it easy.
She had clear views, and she saw herself as an educator. She felt she had much to give – and she was right.
In the 1950s she found a public with her ideas on sex therapy. In the 1960s and 1970s she had a public following through her activity in London local government. Then she found the public again through her columns in the New Journal.
She has inspired thousands of people – and I am one of them.

Why our NHS experts are keeping their opinions private

I MET a scientist the other day who ranks as one of Britain’s key figures in the battle against the hospital superbug MRSA.
A modest, retiring man, he is largely responsible for a major advance in the detection of the virus.
As we chatted about who is to blame for the spread of this foul disease, I, a natural cynic, of course thought I knew the main culprits – private cleaning companies using low-paid and unskilled workers. But I didn’t say a word. To my surprise, this distinguished scientist suddenly unloaded a long moan about how cleaning standards had fallen in hospitals because of the employment of private cleaners. Then, without any prompting, he savaged another of Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s star policies – the building of hospitals by private consortia, part of the Private Finance Initiative mania loved by No 10 Downing Street. He is not the only public figure I’ve met who thinks New Labour has done more damage than good to the NHS. But what brings him to mind is that I have since contacted him several times to ask him whether he would put his views on record.
Presumably frightened, he hasn’t answered my calls. I wonder how many other distinguished figures think it’s best to keep their heads down?

Taking a healthy interest in doctors?

DO we need to know what doctors get up to?
After Shipman some wanted medics to be given the equivalent of the electric tag designed for criminals.
Now MPs have signed a Commons motion seeking the creation of a hospital watchdog known as a Citizens’ Council.
Behind it is a political mixed bag, including Tory Peter Bottomley and Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn (Islington) and Kelvin Hopkins (Luton).
I dropped into a public meeting held in a Commons committee room the other week, attended by nearly 40 health activists, including Alan Spence, chairman of Camden’s Co-operative Party and Vishy Hariharah of the UCLH Patients’ Forum.
Years ago, a watchdog body known as the Community Health Council used to monitor hospitals. Nothing has replaced them since Tony Blair wound them up. Now, something like them may be reintroduced.
MP Kevin Barrie, chairman of the parliamentary health committee thundered about the need for an “inspectorate”.
I wonder whether he wants to invest the Citizen Councils with one of the most effective powers CHCs possessed – the right to carry out unannounced inspections of hospitals!

Kate beats car thieves

KATE Moss is celebrated for many virtues, but I did not know she was a crime-fighter until now.
A shy resident of a Camden housing estate, which overlooks Ms Moss’s new townhouse, told me: “When she first moved in it was hell – my balcony was full of paparazzi and reporters were going door to door offering money for stories. But now she has been here three weeks, car crime has stopped. You used to wake up every day and see a window smashed, but with her security cameras and all the photographers out in the street, it has stopped altogether. There are even fewer traffic wardens, too.”

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