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Plague and pestilence: a medieval reality check


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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Plague and pestilence: a medieval reality check

As 1 April 1349 dawned, darkness descended upon the land. Babies mewled in their cradles, dogs whimpered at the door, porridge burned on the stove, milk turned sour, horses took fright, church steeples collapsed, ponds and rivers froze and a bitter wind rattled the windows of hovels and ale houses.

Locusts laid waste the crops, rats devoured the grain, wolves destroyed flocks of sheep and wild bears roamed villages making off with children, the old and infirm. 

It was just as the Royal College of Witches had predicted: the health and social care reforms – the most sweeping and radical changes since Magna Carta - heralded the end of the world. 

For the ordinary hard-working serf family, the change may not have been obvious. 

Plague and pestilence had been cropping up on and off for as long as anyone could remember. 

It didn’t help that the latest wave of public concern coincided with a period of general economic hardship, which started when the barons lost all the tithes in a game of cards and told everyone else to tighten their belts to make up for it. 

Local services had started to fail in some areas. Anyone seeking an expert in potions, spells and the application of leeches might need to travel the distance of several villages to find a witch. 

Out-of-hours services were criticised for using poorly trained old hags in place of properly qualified crones. It didn’t take a genius to see that lack of groats was only partly to blame. 

The authorities had announced measures to deal with the problem, including new taxes on firewood, nursing mothers and those whose poor lifestyle choices resulted in avoidable cases of leprosy, typhoid or bubonic plague. 

Itinerant workers from neighboring villages were to be discouraged from upsetting the fragile local job market with a range of disincentives including moderate use of cudgels, spells in the stocks and packs of dogs. The dogs also proved useful in weeding out skivers, the inability to run fast enough signaling a general weakness of character.

Most radical of all, there had been an overhaul of the system for procuring medical services with witches at the heart of the new commissioning arrangements. The witches were to be accountable to the peasantry through so-called local healthmobs, which were empowered to deal with any shortcomings in services.  

Enlightened as they were, none of these measures addressed the underlying problem that peasants were living longer but not healthier lives. 

Their poor health made them useless for productive toil, while the cost of keeping them alive put an increasing burden on the rest of the village.  

Health bosses came to rely on rearranging the system for procuring witches’ services. This made very little difference to anyone in the long run, though it was upsetting for some of the witches at the time.

If the world feels different post 1 April 2013, remind yourself that the baby probably has nothing more serious than colic, that the dog never did like the postman, that the milk was past its sell-by date and that it’s been the coldest March for centuries.  

tonyjones says:
Apr 05, 2013 08:31 AM
There was also fear in the land. The Health Ombudsman promissed higher levels of complaints against health professionals would be addressed, a new regulator to the scene CQC promissed to close poor quality practices & one Mr Francis promissed a no harm culture in our hospitals with lots of whistleblowing & attachment of blame. The consequence of all these things was yet a further increase in fear which contributed to yet more risk averse behaviour throughout the land thuis filling the overcrowded hospitals & putting poor serfs at yet more risk.
b_devine61@hotmail.com says:
Apr 05, 2013 09:13 AM
Never a truer word spoken in jest.
The very heart of the system is being tinkered with, the jewel in the crown (note the olympic opening creemony what if they had used this as the script)is being sold off sliver by sliver.
 Private enterprise is good, when thought through, we now have GP's commissioning the entire service.

Rather like me being asked for my in flight meal choice and then being asked to fly the plane.
Great blog as always.
alisongs@btinternet.com says:
Apr 05, 2013 09:24 AM
For all you Discworld fans out there (yes, you - I know you're there): can we please borrow Grannies Weatherwax and Ogg for a bit? We need witches who are not afraid to bring their hearts and humanity to work as well as headology