Nothing stays the same for ever, as they say in China - Veterinary Practice
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Nothing stays the same for ever, as they say in China

The Mercury Column, in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

A FEW days ago, I was fortunate to
be able to stand at a busy
crossroads, close to the centre of
Shanghai, and watch the world
cascade past me – thinking all the
time that it was something of a
privilege to be able to be there at all.

To be fair, had I dared to attempt
the life-threatening challenge of a solus
attempt to cross the road I might not
have been here to tell the tale and at
one stage an Australian father pushing
his infant son in a stroller came over to
ask if we might pool our resources
as using four eyes to check the
traffic onslaught might be better
than just two!

It’s hard to think that, despite
the excitement and buzz generated
by the teeming 23 million
inhabitants of this enormous city,
China’s dynamo progress may be
slowing down a little as the costs
incurred in their explosive ascendency
in world trade make them less
competitive, but, if we are to believe the
economists, that may be true. Strange
but true.


Things move so quickly in our
technology-driven Brave New World
that no sooner have you decided to
formulate a plan, things change and
develop, rapidly rendering that plan

As I write this, the quiet revolution
in Ukraine which emerged as a fragile
political blossom of hope in a world
that believes that democracy is
desirable, has been burned with the icy
frost of a Russian invasion of the
Crimea to defend the interests of many
who eschew democracy and want a
return to Russian control.

In my naïvety, I had made the
assumption that a democratic solution
would be more or less universally
welcomed and that the achievement
would be lasting. Both assumptions may yet be proved to be questionable.
In a famous advertising agency in

New York, there is a large mural
painted on the wall of the creative
department that, in typically colourful
Bronx-speak, states that “Assumptions
are the mother of all F-ups”. I suspect
that not only can you fill in the gaps but
you’ll find it hard to disagree with such

Thinking back, it doesn’t seem that
long since most of the world’s countries
were available to the intrepid traveller but now the list of places where access
would be prohibited or, at best,
foolhardy is growing almost as you
watch it and a scan of the Foreign
Office website shows more and more
countries or regions for which travel
insurance would be impossible to

Outside the list of war-torn regions,
there remains the risk of local
insurrection in many other places and
such a map would be constantly

Two years ago, I recall
recommending the cancellation of a
conference we’d been planning to hold
in South Korea because of rioting in
the street of several major cities there.


That seemed an entirely pragmatic
decision based on the safety of
potential delegates and, less altruistically,
our concern for the commercial success
of the project.

What we didn’t anticipate was the
dismay on the part of the local
veterinary community there who live
with these problems on a day-to-day
basis and who felt that the scale of the problem had been
significantly overstated by the
UK press.

To be fair to them, we
have seen rioting in the
streets of many
European cities where
protest against the effects of the economic
downturn has
demonstrated the extent
and scale of resultant
hardship. Is protest in South
Korea more worrying than protest in
Paris or Barcelona or is it just rather
more exotic-sounding to our sanitised

But how can we look critically at
Paris or Barcelona when we think back
to the rioting that took place in London
not that long ago?


While we’re at it, the recent interest in
the appalling case of Keith Blakelock, a
London Metropolitan Police constable
who was killed on 6th October 1985
during rioting on the Broadwater Farm
housing estate in Tottenham, north
London, serves to remind us that civil
unrest on our streets is hardly new.

The rioting broke out after a local
black woman died of heart failure
during a police search of her home, and
took place against a backdrop of unrest
in several English cities and a
breakdown of relations between the
police and black

Long before that we
had the start of The
Troubles – a violent 30-
year conflict that began
with a civil rights march
in Londonderry on 5th
October 1968 and
concluded with the
Good Friday Agreement
on 10th April 1998.

At the heart of the
conflict lay the constitutional status of
Northern Ireland and
two mutually exclusive
visions of national
identity and national
belonging. During the
Troubles, the scale of the killings
perpetrated by all sides – republican and
loyalist paramilitaries and the security
forces – eventually exceeded 3,600.

As many as 50,000 people were
physically maimed or injured, with
countless others psychologically
damaged by the conflict, a legacy that
continues to shape the post-1998

those who lived through that period, many were the
dark days when hope seemed not just
evasive but impossible and when the
problem erupted on the UK mainland,
none of us could any longer pretend
that this was a distant and somehow
remote problem for others to sort out.

Very few of us ever believed that a
political solution could ever transcend
the violence and, while the status quo still
occasionally shudders with subterranean
heavings of discontent, it serves to
remind us that such a peaceful
conclusion remains one of the triumphs
of the 20th century, as well as a
cautionary lesson in how rapidly things
can change.

Talking to a young veterinary
surgeon in Shanghai, I asked her how
she saw the future for pet ownership
and for small animal medicine in her
country. She thought for a moment and
then answered that she was glad that
she couldn’t read the future as nothing stays the same for ever.

What she was determined to do was
to take control of her
own future by grasping
the opportunities that
presented themselves.
Waiting doesn’t make
you stronger, she told
me, waiting just allows
other people to get
ahead of you.

Perhaps there is a
lesson there for us too.
So many of us have
decided to sit back and
wait for our own
economic downturn to
pass over like a dark
cloud before picking up the pieces and starting again but none
of us should wait too long before re-
investing in our practices and our
people if we fear being left behind as
the recovery gathers pace.

As my wise new friend reminded
me, nothing stays the same forever.

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