Monitor would like to reassure anyone hanging around Heathrow Airport recently that the finance director of the NHS does not normally wander round clutching a Zulu shield. It's just that Colin Reeves had to stand in for Dobbo at short notice on a trip to sell South Africa's health service the wonder that is the private finance initiative. As a ministerial stand-in, Colin duly found himself enjoying all the privileges normally accorded a visiting political dignitary, including a government helicopter to ferry him around the country and, apparently, cheering crowds who thronged to greet his arrival (something, incidentally, the NHS Executive is now considering introducing here as standard for hospital visits by top civil servants). And the shield? Colin was presented with it by a member of the local royal family. Unfortunately the Foreign Office officials travelling with him refused to put it in the diplomatic bag, forcing our man to carry it all the way back in his hand luggage.
Back home, that Yvette Cooper's only been in the public health minister's job a fortnight, and already she's making a contribution to delivering those tough new targets on heart disease. Browsing, as you do, through Parliamentary Portions, the wonderful compilation of MPs' favourite recipes published by Politico's bookshop, Monitor came across Yvette's 'barbecued bananas'. Obviously something she picked up in her days campaigning for that notoriously healthy-eater Bill Clinton since it involves splitting a banana lengthwise, inserting a bar of chocolate and bunging the foil-wrapped item onto the coals.
'You'll know it's ready when you open the banana to find that it has gone soft, the chocolate's melted and you're left with one sweet, gooey and delicious mess.' And newspaper profiles suggest that husband Ed Balls does most of the cooking.
Elsewhere in the DoH, there will be disappointment at the failure of Monitor's appeal to raise enough money for that special retirement present for chief nursing officer Yvonne Moores. Despite what the nursing unions may say about their members' pay, the coveted NUR5E car number-plate went at auction for a rather stunning£8,000 - and a DVLA spokesperson reckons you can add about 25 per cent for VAT and auctioneers' fees. Funnily enough, it easily out-sold PUL5E, which went for£6,300 and even V14GRA at£6,600. Monitor did ask the Royal College of Nursing whether top bed-pan warmer Christine Hancock had bought it with this year's pay rise, but a spokesperson thought not.
No prizes for spotting NUR5E on the road, but definitely a little reward for any reader who can enlighten Monitor as to the whereabouts of former Dobbo hard man Joe McCrea. Though suave policy wonk Simon Stephens has managed to hang on following the bearded one's departure, Monitor is led to understand by sources close to ministers that the Enforcer has now packed his bags and gone. A sad loss.
Difficult to get a handle on, these ministers, though - with all that facial hair it can be difficult to tell them apart (see pictures, left).
Hence, perhaps, the News of the World piece at the weekend after the reshuffle, beginning: 'If anyone is in dire need of medical treatment, it is health secretary Frank Dobson. He has obviously lost his marbles.'
Unlike, say, the editor of the News of the World, who appears merely to have lost his grip on reality. In case you missed it, his Dobship drew the paper's ire by sending a solicitor's letter in response to its suggestion of a link between intractable waiting lists and his sudden desire to be mayor of London. 'We have advised our client that in libel proceedings he would be bound to succeed in recovering substantial damages, ' a self-confessed lawyer at top solicitors Bindman and Partners warned. And the paper's response: 'We'll see you in court Mr Dobson.'
If mention of the News of the World leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, Monitor can do no other than to recommend the British Dental Association's forthcoming 'bad breath seminar', to be run by 'Professor Mel Rosenberg, the world's leading expert on bad breath'.
Yes, according to the press release, the£130 fee does include lunch.
No, it doesn't say what's on the menu.
Finally, brow-furrowingly serious issues occupy the minds of all at Worthing Southlands trust, where a five-year recovery plan is being drawn up to deal with a projected£2.6m overspend. This news arrives on Monitor's desk in a detailed press briefing, which goes through the cost-saving measures and proposed service developments. And on the final page? 'Mooney Bear is to visit Worthing Hospital, dropping his trousers as part of a hard-hitting campaign to promote awareness of bowel cancer.' Wonderful stuff.