Published: 14/03/2002, Volume II2, No. 5796 Page 97

Bonjour ! Monitor is belatedly celebrating the all too brief visit of French health minister Bernard Kouchner the other week. What a wonderful opportunity for him to tell Big Al all about French hospitals' spare capacity. And what a good moment to put 22 miles of very deep cold water between himself and the French nurses and GPs who recently staged strikes and demonstrations. 'Best not be ill today or tomorrow, ' Le Parisien recommended, as strikers from four of the five main health unions took to the streets (see picture, left). Now That is what Monitor calls demand management.

A lucky HSJ journo was summoned to meet the man himself at a French Embassy press briefing, staged in the lobby of DoH HQ. But zut alors! - the embassy appeared not to have told Richmond House's rather surprised reception staff about the impromptu quote-fest in their lobby. Also, Monsieur le ministre spoke French. Only French.

Sadly, the note sent to HSJ 's newsroom failed to mention the need for language skills, and our less than francophone newshound was left to make a largely visual interpretation of the main points.

After a series of questions from French journalists, the minister was asked - in French - if he would answer some questions in English. Monitor's colleague struggled to translate the reply, also delivered en franþais , but says: 'He basically said you should learn to speak French better.'

Monitor can only agree. And below, to help NHS managers who may find themselves lost for words, is a handy guide to all the phrases you will need to converse with your counterparts in France.

Now to matters nearer home and the promised update on the DoH's fascinating survey of trusts' use of the private sector concordat. Regular readers will recall that just a fortnight ago, an HSJ hackette was patiently informed for the Nth time that the survey was still 'being analysed'. Surely, though, the DoH would be keen to show how splendidly the concordat is working and would have rushed the survey - closing date 12 October - urgently to publication. Strangely not, it seems. 'Still the same as last week, ' the nice DoH press officer says. Monitor wonders why. Are the results not good news?

Which brings us to the quest for Alan Milburn's smile. Despite Monitor's pleas for photographic evidence, no joyful snaps have been forthcoming. Perhaps he really cannot smile, and the twisted expressions usually seen on Mr Milgurn's lovely face are manful efforts to hide a deep inner sadness. But Monitor is not one to stand by and let sorrow seize our health secretary, so here's a contest: to find 'a song for Alan'. Can you think of a song that would cheer him up? Or is there a message you'd like to get across to him in a subliminal - if not supportive and developmental - way?

A suggestion from an early implementer goes straight in at number 10 and will surely remind Big Al of a dear colleague: Making Plans for Nigel by a band Monitor's most rocking friend calls 'cerebral punk funsters' XTC. Or what about The Police's paen of praise to micromanagement, Every Breath you Take? For those unfamiliar with the lyrics. . . 'Every breath you take, every move you make; Every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you .' Is this bringing on warm thoughts of Alan? More, please, to the e-mail address, left.

Trois étoiles Three stars Zéro étoiles. Est-ce que c'est le chant Eurovision Norvégien?

No stars. is not that the Norwegian Eurovision song contest entry?

Beaucoup des objectifs Lots of targets Pourquoi est-ce que vous avez plus d'étoiles que moi?

Why have you got more stars than me?

Les médecins sont en grÞve The doctors are on strike La liste d'attente The waiting list Bonjour Monsiuer Milburn, j'aime beaucoup votre NHS et la Maison de Richmond est comme la cathédrale Notre Dame Hello Mr Milburn, I really like your NHS and Richmond House is just like Notre Dame cathedral (see pictures, above left) En changement l'équilibre des forces Shifting the balance of power La prise de la Bastille The storming of the Bastille.

Translator's note: just like Shifting the Balance of Power, but featuring an actual shift in the balance of power Non, je ne suis pas une touriste. Je suis ici pour une pose d'une prothÞse de la hanche No I am not a tourist. I am here for a hip replacement