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At the heart of general practice since 1960

At least I recognise a corpse

If being able to wire a three-pin plug makes someone an expert in their field, Copperfield says, maybe we need a new definition.

If being able to wire a three-pin plug makes someone an expert in their field, Copperfield says, maybe we need a new definition.

I've been spending far too much time in the loft recently. One thing I've learned up there is that it's impossible to perform even the simplest task without coming across a written warning about ‘consulting an expert' if in doubt.

Last week I was clambering between the joists installing a new TV aerial. We live so close to a mightily powerful TV transmitter it ought to be possible to receive everything from Al-Jazeera to Zoo TV in dazzling HD using nothing more sophisticated than a bent coat hanger and a length of chicken wire. Even so, the installation documents were quite insistent – if in doubt, ‘consult an expert'.

No sooner had I taken the ladder down, closed the hatch and settled the younger Copperfields down to watch re-runs of Top Gear on Dave Ja Vu than the cold water tank overflow started dripping onto the back-door step.

Back into the loft with ball valve and ball cock in hand, the job was done and dusted in the time it takes the Stig to get around the test track in a reasonably priced car. But there it was in the water tank's fitting instructions again – ‘consult an expert'.

By now I was on a roll, thinking back to the number of times I've flagrantly ignored these warnings – on the burglar alarm that needed a blown fuse replacing, the sat nav that needed a new battery, the laptop power supply that needed one joint re-soldering.

And should you be the family that buys Copperfield Towers when we move on, be warned. The flashy new induction hob that graces the kitchen was not installed by a ‘fully qualified electrical engineer'.

In fact, it was installed by a GP.

As we're all suffering a crippling yet entirely self-inflicted lack of self-confidence, perhaps it was no surprise to read a story last week about a policeman who had called upon the police surgeon to confirm death after dragging a decomposing corpse from the River Wandle.

Even the coroner was moved to enquire: ‘Even though there was no head, and there were maggots, you had to call him in?'

‘Ma'am,' replied the officer, ‘They are the experts, we are not.'

I used to be a proper expert. I knew stuff about anatomy, physiology and therapeutics that most people didn't know. Now I'm considered to be an expert because I can wire a three-pin plug and recognise a headless corpse when I see one. It doesn't feel quite the same.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex.

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