Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday, 30 August 2009

I'm at a loss for words...

So many things you can do on your 16th birthday; lose your virginity (legally), buy a lottery ticket, learn to ride a moped, enlist in Army basic training, get married...all in all, quite a busy day.

And now there's another to add to the list; work in an NHS swine flu call centre. Now my 16-year-old is a fairly responsible type but, leaving aside parental pride, is also the last person I'd want answering the phone if I rang up in a panic over complex medical symptoms.

Between you and me, I don't think three hours training, a GCSE in Biology and having seen a few episodes of 'House' is enough ('Well it's definitely not lupus, anyway.'). Still, I'm sure the Urchin would have enjoyed the bit where they all get to bring in games - just like the last day of term - while waiting for the phone to ring.

It's almost beyond belief, but that's not what led to the post title. No, that's inspired by a sidebar I caught when following a link to the call centre story at Ambush Predator (h/t to JuliaM, social commentator extraordinaire); the Mail online is currently displaying the attention-grabbing headline:
'Diet mad Cheeky Girls reveal how they turned yellow and grew fur'

To paraphrase Bill Bryson, whatever is the stage beyond the mind boggling is the stage I reached when I read that. I can only assume that all the Mail employees with any journalistic integrity (always assuming there are some) have gone to the seaside and left the shop in the hands of someone capable of turning anorexia-induced liver failure and hirsutism into a headline of jaw-dropping inanity.

Friday, 28 August 2009

There's Gold in Them Thar Tears

As the emotion-addicts of Britain stock up on tissues and flowers for this year's Dianniversary, I am reminded of a bizarre manifestation of business acumen I witnessed in Paris some years ago.

In the mid-nineties, the Spouse and I spent an enjoyable week in a quintessentially Parisian family-run hotel. Situated in a side-street north of the Jardin des Tuileries, it occupied the upper floors of a large 19th-century building. Guests would enter through a shared courtyard and climb the elegant staircase past the dressmaker's atelier on the first floor to arrive at Reception on the second.

In the Spring of 1998, finding myself in Paris on business, I decided to drop in to the hotel and enquire about booking a stay in the near future. The receptionist was apologetic; 'I'm sorry, but we are fully booked'.

I mentioned that we had stayed there a couple of years before and she looked thoughtful. 'I think I should tell you', she said, 'that the prices have gone up a little since then.' And so they had - by at least 50%. I asked her why and she drew aside the net curtain from the window beside her desk. 'Voila!' she said.

Seeing me none the wiser, she helpfully explained. We were looking down on the back door of the Ritz Hotel. Since the death of Princess Diana, the smaller hotel had been inundated with visitors wanting to stay as near as possible to the scene and many of the guests had booked to take the 'Diana Tours' along the route of the car journey.

Even had we wished to pay the inflated prices, the company of grief-tourism ghouls would probably have put us off our breakfast so I thanked the receptionist and left her to preside over the money-making machine that had sprung from the car accident of a few months before.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Results Day for Wildebeest

Sighs of relief all round in the Tavern as the Urchin's GCSE results appear - we shan't have to send the child up the chimneys after all. As one of those lucky, lucky people whose entire education has been in the hands of New Labour, the Urchin was naturally well aware of the obligation to be pictured in the media on results day with a big smile and shiny hair.

Sadly the cameras were absent, as they were when the Artful Dodger collected his A-level results last week. Perhaps it's just as well, since a review of the coverage suggests that the Telegraph et al are only interested in capturing the celebrations of the Wildebeest (easily recognisable by their long legs, flowing manes and inability to function without the rest of their Abercrombie&Fitch-clad herd in tow) and neither of the Tavern's junior inmates fits the profile.

The Wildebeest is the ultimate New Labour creation - photogenic and obsessed with appearances, achieving 'excellence' within clearly-defined parameters. No dangerous free-thinking here; Wildebeest are careful to like what everyone else likes, to follow the orthodox path that leads to 'year-on-year improvement' and infinite growth. Logic has no place in the Wildebeest world - all must have prizes and everyone can, should and will be above average for ever and ever, amen.

For more on the subject, I thoroughly recommend this at Unenlightened Commentary.