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

Friday, 30 April 2010

Why Sir is a Union man

The jury took an hour to decide that Peter Harvey was not guilty of attempted murder. Indeed, as the judge said, it's hard to see how there could be any question of intention under the circumstances.

The premeditation here was all on the part of the pupils who cynically plotted to provoke a stressed man into losing control while they filmed the result. Well, they certainly got what they wanted.

Teaching is an anomaly, a job in which any sign of perceived weakness will be exploited and yet teachers are hedged about with draconian rules about how they may deal with disruption, to the extent that pupils have developed a 'can't touch me!' attitude.

I am not advocating a return to corporal punishment - although the formal public belting of the school bully in my primary days had a markedly beneficial effect for the rest of us - but when a detention, or even a suspension, can be summarily overruled, the message the pupil receives is that his teacher has no sanctions available.

In addition, the class will be fully aware of the 'Rantzen effect' - the common assumption that children do not lie about assault - which allows a malicious pupil to engineer the suspension of an innocent teacher with unfounded and unsupported allegations.

It's easy for the public at large, watching the top dogs of the NUT in action, to assume that all teachers join a union because they are militant activists. In fact, the reason many of them join is the legal support and appropriate professional advice available to members. It's unlikely any specialist counsellor would advise a classroom teacher to 'let his anger out'.

For most teachers, union membership is more like having car insurance: horribly expensive and seldom claimed on but absolutely essential in case something goes horribly wrong.

Update: I am indebted to JuliaM for this from the Daily Mash; black humour at its finest.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Those Gillian Duffy Blues



I met her on a walkabout in Rochdale,
She tried to make me think she was on my side;
She suddenly got tough on immigration,
Put me on the spot with nowhere I could hide.

They should never have put me with that woman!
Whose idea was that? I think it was Sue’s.

I do apologise and say it’s a pity;
I was only trying to be helpful and do it right.
The lady’s got it wrong if she supposes
I’d have said outright to her face what I had on my mind.

She’s just this sort of bigoted woman
Airing what I thought at the time were bigoted views,

(Yeah!) She’s just this sort of bigoted woman
And she’s left me looking a fool on the ten o’clock news.

(Yeah!) She’s just this sort of bigoted woman.
And I know it will all be her fault now if we lose.

PS: Quote of the day (or week - or year!) from Dungeekin', leaving on holiday Wed 28th April:

'Don't let Gordon touch anything while I'm gone.'

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Cameron's University Challenge

Here at the Tavern, we've been considering a political bombshell dropped this week by one of the Offspring currently at University.

Instead of returning to the parental spawning grounds to vote, this wise child has registered in his place of study. This means that a vote has effectively been transferred from a party stronghold to a teetering marginal, by virtue of a term-time election.

And when I say teetering, I mean just that - their present incumbent was elected with a majority of fewer than 500 votes, whereas our sitting MP can, on past showing, expect to secure nearly 50% of the votes cast.

It appears the registration process, facilitated - some might say orchestrated - by campus activists, has been aimed at persuading the 7,500 undergraduates to cast their vote where it will do 'most good' - some will travel home or vote by post while others vote at university.

If the old adage about being a socialist at twenty holds true, a term-time election means a large* unpredictable population of Lib Dem or Labour voters able to select which of two constituencies will have their vote. Combine this with the LibDem's pledge to scrap tuition fees and the student loans fiasco on Labour's watch and things get very interesting indeed.

So if you've tried all the BBC's other interactive toys, why not play 'Spot the University Town' among the target seats and dead certs - bearing in mind that, at the latest count, there are 109 universities in the UK.

*The total number of UK students at British universities is estimated at 2 million.

Monday, 26 April 2010

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts...

...and men have mobile phones. It looks as if a new benchmark has been set for stupidity in the electronic age. This story has left me speechless - so I offer it in full for your edification.

A woman was plagued with almost 3,000 text messages and hundreds of calls after her mobile phone number was displayed on EastEnders. The incident happened last September when a message sent by Sam Mitchell was shown close-up on screen for four seconds.

So either the callers are blessed with eidetic memory or they actually went to the trouble of pausing the programme in order to read it. I know which one I think is more likely...

Above the message were two further texts which had apparently been sent from Mrs Edwards's phone, showing her business mobile number.

So far, so harmless - a simple technical mistake by the production crew. After all, no one would be stupid enough to call a number on a text from a fictional character would they?

The 39-year-old mother of two from Alvechurch near Birmingham was then deluged with calls and texts, with several asking: 'Is that Sam from EastEnders?'

Others, it seems, were less polite:

Mrs Edwards said: 'The calls just keep coming and I can't use my phone for my business. Most have been friendly but quite a few were obscene.'

Luckily Ofcom are there to provide the voice of reason, informing us that:

'We found that Mrs Edwards would not have expected her business mobile telephone number to appear on screen during an episode of a soap opera.'

You don't say! Ofcom added that the torrent of 'unwanted and abusive calls and texts was

' ...further added to after the repeat broadcast of the programme later that evening on BBC3'.

Which probably says more than we want to know about BBC3's viewer profile. However, nobody comes out of this story very well; according to the BBC,

'the number of calls and messages to Mrs Edwards's phone may have been inflated after she complained to the Sun newspaper about the incident and the number was clearly displayed in a screen grab published by the paper. '

Even allowing for repeat messages, that's still a depressingly large number of people who considered it a good use of money to call the number. Either random obscene callers are so short of imagination they need someone to show them a number to dial or viewers have epically failed to grasp that they are watching a work of fiction.

I'm starting to wonder whether universal suffrage was such a good idea....

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

"For it was Saturday night, the best and bingiest glad-time of the week, one of the fifty-two holidays in the slow-turning Big Wheel of the year, a violent preamble to a prostrate Sabbath. Piled up passions were exploded on Saturday night, and the effect of a week's monotonous graft in the factory was swilled out of your system in a burst of goodwill. You followed the motto of 'be drunk and be happy,' kept your crafty arms around female waists, and felt the beer going beneficially down into the elastic capacity of your guts."
(Alan Sillitoe: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

Fifty years on, Alan Sillitoe's words still resonate. The spectacle of young men - and women - drunk and incapable now fills our city centres on a regular basis, while po-faced sociologists wonder what prompts their behaviour and try to secure fat research grants to find out.

Being sociologists, they probably worked hard at school and joined all the right societies at university, thereby ensuring they missed out on experiencing the key element at work here - fun. The 'glad-time of the week', letting go after five days of abstention with an explosion of self-indulgence, coincides with cheap alcohol and long opening hours to create a Bacchanalian perfect storm.

It's an indication of how far New Labour have come from their working-class roots that they fail to understand the phenomenon, instead wringing their hands in bemused disappointment that these 'yungpeeple' persist in ignoring the recommended number of units despite all those expensive initiatives and campaigns.

To reduce it to its simplest cost-benefit terms, the Government has yet come up with anything that outweighs the perceived enjoyment of a drunken night on the town. The drinkers are already aware of the risks - whether violence or health-related - but trade them off against the social advantages; the same phenomenon urges on a herd of animals crossing a crocodile-infested river.

And herd instinct is at the heart of this - again, perhaps a closed book to the cloistered sociology researchers. Sillitoe's words are straight from the horse's mouth - the result of four years as a teenager working in the Raleigh factory in Nottingham - and he understood a thing or two about cameraderie. Drinking is something his anti-hero does in company, preferably raucous and occasionally violent.

The first step to tackling the problem has got to be understanding what creates it in the first place. Instead of endless seminars, consultation groups and quangoes, those whose task it is would do better to talk to the revellers, get to know them and understand the forces at work. Reading Saturday Night and Sunday Morning probably wouldn't go amiss either.

In memoriam: Alan Sillitoe , 4 March 1928 – 25 April 2010

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Barbecue Summer? Fat chance!


A laughing young couple in shorts feature on the cover of today's Sunday Times, above the caption ' all set for a barbecue summer'.

Will jounalists never learn? A few sunny days at the end of April and suddenly they're back in the prediction business, by implication at least. We've been through all this - we live in Britain. It rains here. Quite a bit, in fact. And no amount of newspaper hysteria is going to change the fact.

The Sunday Times in question arrived decidedly damp, the picture ironically spattered with raindrops as the paper-boy picked his way between the puddles. Still, if you're a glass half-full kind of person, you can celebrate the fact that today sees the 102nd anniversary of the invention of the windscreen wiper*, unsurprisingly dreamt up by by a Briton to whom we should all be ceaselessly grateful.

(The wipers of the Tavern's previous horseless carriage, since gone to the great car park in the sky, had a delightfully syncopated beat that was the perfect accompaniment when singing Louis Armstrong's version of 'Mac the Knife' - the radio hadn't worked since 2001 so we had to make our own in-car entertainment - or Lotte Lenya's on intermittent.)

The Barbecue Summer debacle was the result of too much over-simplification and rounding-off; a set of probabilities expressed, through a sort of Chinese whispers (can we call it that any more, or will the EHRC be round?), as a soundbite of certainty. The fuss over the 'unexpected' cold winter shows that the public and media still hadn't learnt their lesson, and it looks like it could happen all over again.

In British weather, the only thing you can be certain of is uncertainty itself.


*This gem comes from 'The Wrong Kind of Snow - How the Weather Made Britain', which carries the best back cover review ever: 'Should be in every loo in the land' - John Julius Norwich.
How middle class is that!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

If the peaked cap fits...



This week the BNP have managed to get smeared with Marmite in a most undignified and entertaining way.

It seems an over-zealous reviewer added a jar of Marmite to the image of Nick Griffin at his desk in retaliation for Marmite's recent advertising campaign featuring two rival parties - 'Love' and 'Hate'.

With a characteristic lack of irony, Mr Griffin explained that the Hate Party was "clearly based" on the BNP.

Well, of course it was. Who else could it be?

And Marmite are frankly no better - ignoring the theory that any publicity is good publicity, they are "currently initiating injunction proceedings against the BNP to remove the Marmite jar from the online broadcast and prevent them from using it in future."

In case we were labouring under any delusions, a spokesman for Unilever (Unilever? Yuk!) helpfully explained that "Neither Marmite nor any other Unilever brand are aligned to any political party".

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

In a Tory Urban Garden - Dave's PEB

Looks like the backroom boys at Tory HQ have been busy with a spot of Freudian analysis. Taking advantage of going last of three, they've looked at the competition and come up with a sharp riposte.



Gone is the blasted heath of Labour's offering*, or the litter-strewn cityscape conjured up by the Lib Dems; Dave sits in a modest back garden in the evening sun surrounded by blossoming fruit trees and a climbing frame - and isn't that just a hint of birdsong in the background? Welcome to 'Hector's House'.

Clever. Very clever. The lone figure striding through desolation is replaced by a relaxed paterfamilias in a secure and comforting environment. Instead of the hurrying passers-by who brush past Nick Clegg (one of them twice - check him out at 1.15 and 1.20 in their video), the supporting cast are attentive audiences hanging on Dave's every word.

And if Labour were tapping into the latent fear of Dr Who's monsters, the Tories have produced an evocation of something quintessentially English - Gardeners' World**. Dave's Spring Garden is channeling Geoff Hamilton and Percy Thrower (with a touch of Parsley the Lion thrown in).

Incidentally, the audio transcription which so mangled the Lib Dem offering strikes again; 'That's why we need a new Conservative government' becomes, inexplicably, 'That's why we need the name Saudi Government'. Plenty of fuel for conspiracy theorists there.

*A propos of Labour's PEB, it has since occurred to me that Sean Pertwee - their proxy Gordon - was a memorable Macbeth in a 1998 Ch4 schools production; not a felicitous image to conjure up for a generation of younger voters.

**Viewers in Scotland have their own programme.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Please Miss, I feel sick!


Next time you're having a bad day at work, stop and think for a moment.

Is it worse than mopping up vomit in a coach full of rowdy teenagers somewhere in the middle of Europe when you haven't slept for forty-eight hours?

There's been some media and blogger griping about the number of teachers stranded abroad this week, mostly in comments by people who obviously have no idea that a significant number of absent staff are in charge of school trips.

Imagine it - you've given up a week or more of your holiday (no extra pay for this, remember) to accompany a group of pupils abroad. Not only are you trying to ensure they have a worthwhile educational experience; you're on 24-hour call in case of emergencies and responsible for returning them to their parents with no injury, loss of baggage or little surprises in nine months' time.

And then comes the travel crisis. Suddenly your flight and relaxing Sunday night at home has been replaced with the coach journey from Hell - 29 hours of travelling with 50 overtired, stroppy travelsick teenagers (rule of thumb: if one throws up, five more will follow suit).

And since the coach drivers need overnight breaks, you and you colleagues have to spend two nights en route in grotty youth hostels, where you get no sleep because, after being cooped up in coaches all day, the pupils are ready to run riot.

And you finally arrive back, having run out of clean underwear somewhere near Rome and patience on the Munich ring road, to a barrage of criticism for your prolonged absence and the assumption that you spent your holiday sunning yourself on the Riviera.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Julie's on to a nice little earner

She's back! Julie Kirkbride, former MP and occasional muse of this column, is looking for a tenant for her Worcestershire mansion flat at £925pcm - yep, that's right; the one where we subsidised the £50,000 extension and the £500 bedroom curtains.

By coincidence, the Times today reports on the EU decree that 'tourism is a human right' and that the taxpayer should subsidise foreign holidays for those too poor to afford it.

'The scheme, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds a year, is intended to promote a sense of pride in European culture, bridge the north-south divide in the continent and prop up resorts in their off-season.

Officials have envisaged sending south Europeans to Manchester and Liverpool on a tour of “archeological and industrial sites” such as closed factories and power plants. The idea is based on a project in Spain in which holidays in the winter off-season are subsidised by the government.'

Well, if they fancy Bromsgrove instead, there's a flat already available, substantially extended with taxpayers' money; surely the state should be entitled to use it for free every now and then. In fact, there are houses in constituencies all over the country paid for, at least in part, by us.

So why not fill them with southern Europeans in search of culture? I'm sure we could develop a pro-rata system - we paid for your guest room so we're putting a couple of Greeks in there for a week next Thursday, OK?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Nick Clegg's Adventures In Poetry - the PEB

In the interests of political balance (see 'Gordon Brown versus the Daleks: AD 2010), we bring you the Lib Dems PEB, reviewed here by Brian Wheeler.





Following a suggestion in the comments, I turned on the audio transcription captions (not available here - sorry), which a pop-up box describes as 'experimental'. Well, they're certainly that. In fact, the entire transcription could probably hide undetected in a collection of modern free verse.

Here is a sample - imagine it being read in a mournful voice to a roomful of earnestly nodding, slightly scruffy intellectuals in the arts faculty of a university near you.

Say Goodbye to Broken Promises
Broken promise
They've been too many in the last year
To many of the lost that
Elections be lifted
But right

Broken promise
You remember them
There are taxes
But from a stroke
But as schools everyone police broke
Clean up polls
Performers broke

I believe is trying to do things differently
I believe it's time for a premise input
Well I believe it's fine
Promises

I expect to see it on the GCSE syllabus about three years from now, or possibly released as a chart-topping rap single along with the soundtrack music by Clegg's official 'Youth Advisor', the ever-so-slightly middle aged Brian Eno (61).

Other treats include the unexpectedly relevant, 'The week kind of painful for air attacks' ('But we can pay for fairer taxes'), an exhortation to 'Break up the Bronx' - so that's who's to blame for the financial crisis - and my particular favourite, the gnomic closing statement 'Jeanne moos little bit', which surprisingly turns out to be 'And choose the Liberal Democrats'*.


*Which did make me wonder whether there was a saboteur at work - on the other hand, isn't it just so Liberal Democrat to agree to participate in an experimental process? Like when they ask you in hospital whether you mind if a student medic has a go. Sadly, Labour's PEB does not include this entertaining facility.

Update: Latest on the nephew stranded in Sicily; he and his fellow students are now returning to the UK by coach - at least 27 hours on the road. 
If his generation needed a lesson on our dependence on air travel, this is surely it.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Behold the wrath of Hephaestos!


A perceptive and possibly prescient post by Demetrius yesterday warned that, 'Iceland is having one of its bumps and bangs, a largish volcano may or may not be in the process of erupting.[...] Being Iceland if one vent goes up there are many more that could follow. Just like their banks used to be.'

This morning we woke to find flights acrosss the UK grounded by volcanic ash, an interesting mixture of rock, glass and sand which definitely does not agree with jet engines. While this lethal concoction drifts about at the inclination of the wind, thousands of would-be passengers wait on the ground for normal service to be resumed.

It's a salutory reminder that, for all our advanced technology, the forces of Poseidon and Hephaestos can still stop us in our tracks. The only winners in this situation are the airport businesses currently raking in a fortune - after all, once you're through security, there's nothing to do but eat, drink and go shopping.

Or, of course, pray - under the circumstances there will be people who feel that a bit of supernatural intervention wouldn't go amiss if they're about to take their chances in the air. There's a certain irony in the fact that airborne beings of one kind or another feature in almost every main religion you can think of.

From the Olympians to Ezekiel, from Quetzalcoatl to the - rather apposite - Valkyrie, the skies have been crowded for millenia with the various deities and their messengers, while priests acted as a sort of spiritual air traffic control.

These days, even an Easyjet flight allows a mere mortal the chance to enjoy a god's-eye view; should we be surprised that on occasion they choose to assert themselves and punish our hubristic invasion of their sphere?

Update: Just heard from my nephew, due back tomorrow from a geography field trip to a stubbornly inactive Mount Etna (having just missed last week's minor eruption there) and, ironically, stranded in Sicily until further notice. Should have gone to Iceland!

Readers with a robust sense of humour may enjoy the long-running thread 'God Hates Iceland' at the Landover Baptist Church.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Gordon Brown versus the Daleks: AD 2010 - the PEB

Labour's party election broadcast:



Spot anything familiar about this man? That's right; Labour’s Everyman figure, the stand-in for Gordon Brown, is Sean Pertwee, son of Jon. And for those of us in our forties, that means only one thing.

When he says, "My father always said 'don't give up’. ‘Show resolve’, he said. He was so right", he’s talking about Dr Who.

The bleak rain-washed landscape has much in common with the sort of place the Time Lord used to end up in on a regular basis – give or take the odd alien life-form - even down to the implausible blue roadblock. You expect the Brigadier to put in an appearance at any moment. ‘Is it deliberate?’ we ask ourselves, ‘What are they trying to say?’

When Brown said of Cameron, “I don’t know him as a human”, was there more to the statement than we thought? Why else enlist an actor who is such a chip off the old block that the opening shots had forty-somethings diving behind the sofa as the conditioned reflex kicked in?

There’s a clue too in the use of speeded-up clocks – time, see? And if that were not proof enough, listen out for the final voice-over. Yes, that is David Tennant, Dr Who in person. The subliminal message is clear.

'Vote Labour or the Daleks will get you.'


Update: Many thanks to Demetrius for this - try playing both at the same time (start the Harry Lauder first). Was it the soundtrack they originally intended, I wonder, or is it purely coincidental?


Monday, 12 April 2010

This Little Piggy...

It was one of those ‘you-could-have-knocked-me-down-with-a-feather’ moments. The Urchin, whose greatest ambition to date has been to get to level 5 of Assassin’s Creed, wants to join the local Youth Parliament.

A Damascene conversion? The beginnings of a social conscience? Well no. Turns out that the Urchin was reading Guido Fawkes’ blog for politics homework (wonders will never cease!) and found an account of the jolly young folk of Surrey’s Youth Parliament.

According to a whistle-blower quoted in the Sun, these enterprising budding politicians blew £15,000 of taxpayers' money on a bash at Epsom racecourse besides awarding themselves expenses-funded meals, new Blackberries and chauffeur-driven car travel.

True, they may need ferrying about, what with not having cars or driving licences, and as they are all aged between 13 and 18, the meals consisted mainly of pizza and chicken wings, but it’s an impressive performance none the less. And nobody seems to know where the buck stops.

‘The £45,000 grant, supposed to be spent on projects to improve life for youngsters in Surrey, with special emphasis on deprived areas, is allocated by Surrey County Council out of central government funds. Surrey County Council initially claimed it was not responsible for checking the cash was properly used. The Government's Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "We expect local authorities to have safeguards in place".'

The story prompted local MP Peter Ainsworth to submit a written question which received a less-than-informative answer; Ed Balls, it seems, has nothing to say on the matter and his stand-in, Dawn Primarolo, produced a singularly meaningless piece of waffle beginning, predictably enough, ‘We are committed to putting youth voice at the heart of our policies and programmes for young people...’

Meanwhile, the cynical Urchin is convinced that this is a golden opportunity to start a career in politics: “Not only do I get on the gravy train early, it’ll also look good on my CV!*”

(I should add two caveats; firstly this story appeared on 2nd April, leaving open the possibility that a gullible Sun reporter was given the story the day before, and secondly the Surrey Youth Parliament is not the same as the UK Youth Parliament, members of which are up in arms at the general slur implied.)

*Which would be no bad thing really, since in Balls’ brave new world, the only way the Urchin will get into a decent university is by time-travelling back to 2004 and enrolling in an underachieving comprehensive.

Beer, glorious beer

"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Spare a thought for the striking Carlsberg workers deprived by a heartless management of a constant supply of free beer.

For over 160 years, workers at Carlsberg's Danish breweries have enjoyed the right to drink beer throughout the day. When the company began in 1847, the local water was not fit to drink, so it made sense to allow the workforce to refresh themselves with the nearest liquid to hand.

(Understandable, really - this was 7 years before John Snow finally convinced the world that polluted drinking water was behind outbreaks of cholera in London and that wells and cess-pits do not good neighbours make.)

What is interesting in the case is that, despite all the Europe-wide public initiatives against the evils of alcohol and its detrimental effects on health, these merry Danes have continued chugging extra strength lager on a daily basis at the company's expense. Even the delivery drivers get three bottles a day (unaffected by the change) - although their ignition keys are linked to a breathalyser.

And the ubiquity of the product suggests that production hasn't suffered. After all, they are merely continuing a time-honoured tradition of refreshment; from the cider-fuelled Somerset farm labourers to the French workman's morning coffee and calvados, alcohol in moderation has featured in the working man's diet for centuries.

In fact, the workers will still be given free beer on tap, but only in the canteen at lunchtime - at other times they must restrict themselves to the soft drinks and water still available on the factory floor. Even the unions have the wit to see that they are on shaky ground here, arguing that it's really a matter of principle: "There was no dialogue over the issue at all, and that is just not good enough."

I believe the phrase is 'Nice work if you can get it'.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Up in Smoke


Barnsley, 2010. A 40' effigy of an obese teenager eating a burger 'will form part of the mayor’s parade and summer gala in July before finally being set alight to symbolise ‘the shedding of unhealthy elements of our lifestyles’.'

Having been out of circulation for a while, I returned to find this astounding story courtesy of JuliaM. It took a subsequent appearance at Counting Cats to reassure me it wasn't a belatedly discovered April Fool and I'm still not 100% convinced.

Still, if it is a hoax, then someone's put a whole lot of work into it. I had a look at the elaborate website of the theatre company involved - always nice to see where your Arts Council-allocated money's going - and found a precedent in their piece to celebrate the millenium.

It was entitled 'Bus of Fools' - somewhat appropriately, perhaps - and consisted of a 30' effigy of a brightly-painted double-decker bus with characters from Viz magazine bursting out of the top. The whole thing was set on fire at midnight, to the accompaniment of a firework display.

The 'spectacular event' took place in the centre of Newcastle and was commissioned by Newcastle City Council. Remember them? They're the ones who took a certain Davendar Kumar Ghai to court at the taxpayers' expense over his proposed funeral arrangements.

Regular readers will recall that the gentleman in question has now won the right to be cremated in a remote spot in the open air in accordance with his religious beliefs after Newcastle City Council refused permission, employing government lawyers to brand the practice 'abhorrent'.

Leaving aside the aesthetic shortcomings of the Viz effigy (the word 'abhorrent' springs inevitably to mind), we are inclined to think that its combustion must surely have released far more in the nature of inorganic pollutants and environmentally harmful substances than will - in due course - the cremation of Mr Ghai.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Election fatigue - Wake me up when it's over

I've tried - really I have. The approaching election should provide an abundance of material for political comment, yet I just can't summon up the enthusiasm. So here's a song instead. And to keep Mark Wadsworth happy, there's even a gear change or two.



It’s not a mystery, we know we want it;
So much depending and relying on it,
So why on earth should I be feeling nothing,
Wishing it were through?
And I can’t bear this Press pandemonium;
On May the seventh it’ll all be over.
People will vote as they intended to anyway;
Nothing, nothing anyone can do.

We’re in the run-up to a general election,
Each side points out the other’s imperfections,
But all they do to get their message through sounds like so much guff to me.
Recall election night anticipation?
This is more like waiting for an operation;
Will the offending growths be removed
To leave us trouble free?
I’ve just had enough, enough, enough,
I’ve just had enough.
I’ve just had enough, enough, enough,
I’ve just had enough.

Excitement levels couldn’t get much lower;
The whole damn business makes your heart beat slower.
It’s a long time since there’s been any pleasure
Reading Britain’s news.
They’ve all got plans, your future is safe with them,
It’s the same story over and over;
It’s enough to make you want to hide away
Which one’s lying? Could we really care less?

So in the run-up to a general election
I groan and throw away the Politics section;
I’ve heard it all already; there’s no innovation, instead just constant irritation.
And as the juggernaut is set in motion
I start to entertain the dismal notion
It’s too much bother, you won’t win me over
There’s no more left to say;
I’ve just had enough, enough, enough,
I’ve just had enough
Of mock sincerity and fake emotion
Yellow, red or blue.

So here we are, stuck in the run-up to a general election,
Hoping everything will take a new direction,
Or is it all lies...
(ad lib)

Friday, 9 April 2010

Stuart MacLennan - retrospective foot in mouth

'Think in your head, now, think of the most...private...secret...intimate thing you have ever done secure in the knowledge of its privacy...Are you thinking of it? Well, I saw you do it!'

(Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: Tom Stoppard)

For the lucky majority of us, the Player's taunt is an empty one. Most of our youthful indiscretions, though they may cause our toes to curl in moments of excruciating recollection, are at least buried in the past with no surviving evidence.

Not so for Generation X-box, the children of the electronic age. Every bitchy e-mail, every inebriated garbled text is potentially there to be viewed in the cold light of day years after the event. The doings of todays young people are recorded in the kind of detail that in previous centuries attended only the actions of royalty.

The concept of privacy has undergone a radical change since the advent of Facebook, Myspace, Twitter et al. Their users treat the world to a constant stream-of-consciousness narrative regardless of merit or consideration. And there are going to be repercussions.

'A Labour election candidate who cursed leading politicians, including David Cameron and Nick Clegg, on his Twitter page has been removed from standing. Stuart MacLennan will no longer be the party's Moray candidate and has been suspended as a Labour member after admitting tweeting offensive comments.' (BBC news)

The offending tweets were broadcast last year when Mr MacLennan was still a student. Now, my student days are long gone but I do remember that, in the political hothouse of my alma mater, I was hardly what you might call a model of moderate speech or opinions.

And I am ceaselessly grateful that none of my self-righteous political opinions from those days can ever come back to bite me.

Update: From Guido Fawkes - Prophetically one tweet said “Iain Dale reckons the biggest gaffes will likely be made by candidates on Twitter – what are the odds it’ll be me?”

Monday, 5 April 2010

In praise of morphine

Last week I found myself heading into town with enough morphine to render the entire neighbourhood comfortably numb for a week. These days, it turns out you can't just 'empty some dull opiate to the drains' (hands up all those who did Keats for 'O' level); you have to take it back to the pharmacy to be checked in when it's no longer needed.

My only personal experience of morphine was many years ago, courtesy of a minor illness in a land of rather less rigorous legislation. The doctor gave me some highly concentrated liquid and instructions to take 'two drops in water every four hours' - thereby ensuring that the rest of the holiday passed in a blissful blur.

On arrival back in the UK I found the vial had broken in my suitcase and, not being sufficiently dependent to want to extract the precious liquid from a bagful of dirty socks, I gave up emulating the more florid romantic poets and returned to everyday life.

But there is comfort in knowing that oblivion is available, should it one day become necessary - at least under current ethics and legislation. The doctrine of double effect allows doctors to administer a dose of morphine that may hasten death so long as their primary aim is to relieve pain in terminally ill patients and death is therefore a side-effect of that process.

It's reassuring to think that when death is near and inevitable, one will be permitted and aided 'to cease upon the midnight with no pain'. What worries me now is that, following recent high-profile cases of doctors giving overdoses, this comfort may be removed from those who really need it. Given the tendency towards knee-jerk legislation in this country, I think there is a very real danger this may happen in the near future.

I hate to think that one day I'll regret returning all those little brown bottles.