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, 27 January 2012

Where's Lembit Opik when we need him?

A busy afternoon but I couldn't let this one pass unremarked. Opik may have strayed from his erstwhile preoccupation but some of us are still watching the skies:

An asteroid will pass by the Earth on Friday in something of a cosmic near-miss, making its closest approach at about 1600 GMT.

At its closest, the space rock - named 2012 BX34 - will pass within about 60,000km of Earth - less than a fifth of the distance to the Moon.

A near thing, in cosmic terms, but a long way from sending us the way of the dinosaurs; in any case, the asteroid in question, first detected on Wednesday, is a mere 11m in diameter.

There seems to have been some uncertainty about its exact path:

Earlier estimates put the asteroid's closest distance at as little as 20,000km, near the distance at which geostationary satellites reside, but observations overnight showed it will pass at a more comfortable distance.

That's quite a difference; the predictability of Newtonian mechanics is all very well but you can only calculate with the observational data you have available - in this case, that has evidently been subject to a certain amount of revision.

"It's one of the top 20 closest approaches recorded," said Gareth Williams, associate director of the US-based Minor Planet Center.

So quite a rare occurrence, then? Er, no; according to a NASA statement last year, an object of this size can be expected to come this close to Earth about every 6 years or so, on average. They may want to rethink that calculation, though...

The asteroid's path makes it the closest space-rock to pass by the Earth since object 2011 MD in June 2011.

That one, you may recall, passed us by at 12,000km, while in September 2010, one whizzed by a more generous 80,000km away. Certainly these are vast distances when you're talking about a rock a few metres in diameter, but it does suggest there are quite a few of the things up there.

So for all the apocaholics out there, don't worry; there'll be another one along soon! Meanwhile, we in the Tavern always regard a passing asteroid as the perfect excuse for a party; feel free to join us in spirit (or spirits).

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Show me the way to go home...

You can always count on the Clacton and Frinton Gazette for a good read, and this week is no exception.
A man has been jailed for stealing an ambulance fast response car.
*gets popcorn*
Daniel Glover led police on a high-speed chase along the A12 after stealing the vehicle in Clacton in the early hours of New Year's Day. The car was only brought to a halt when officers used a ‘stinger’ to burst its tyres.
It seems he adopted this unusual choice of transport to get back to his London home after attending a party in Clacton. Police found him to be more than twice the drink-drive limit - probably much more, if the excuse he offered is anything to go by:
He claimed he did not know the vehicle was an ambulance car as it was dark at the time.
Just for the record, this is an ambulance fast response car.


Now I may be going out on a limb here, but I'd say those blue lights on top are a bit of a giveaway, and, in any case, I'm guessing those bright yellow bits are designed to be visible even after dark, particularly under the street lights of Valley Road. Perhaps he was confused by the fact that the word AMBULANCE on the bonnet is written backwards.

Meanwhile, according to the Telegraph, a family member adds an interesting element of confusion to proceedings:
Outside court Glover's father said: "He doesn't drink normally and he didn't know what he was doing. He thought it was a taxi."
To be honest, it's not really the best plea in mitigation, particularly for a man who actually makes a living delivering taxis on a daily basis. At least he admitted the offence:
Glover, 26, of Old Ford Road, Mile End, east London, admitted charges of aggravated vehicle taking, drink driving, no insurance and obstructing police.
The last of which translates as threatening to break a police officer's nose, which at least adds a certain credibility to his claim that he wanted to go home after falling out with someone at the party. They must have been glad to see the back of him.

Meanwhile 'aggravated' doesn't even begin to cover the offence of stealing a paramedic's car (and equipment) on A&E's busiest night of the year - an hour after the theft, a man was attacked and fatally injured in Clacton and, at the same time, a security guard was stabbed in nearby Walton.

The subsequent silence on that story leads me to hope the victim is making a full recovery but he's certainly had his fill of bad luck; it's bad enough to be attacked in the early hours by knife-wielding thugs without finding out that some drunken oaf has stolen the local paramedic's car.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Interlude

The refurbishments continue apace, so posting will have to wait - though I have given in to the temptation to comment elsewhere.

Thus I have no time or leisure to do justice to the delightfully symbolic news story that the Houses of Parliament are sliding inexorably into the mud of Father Thames.

Fortunately, wiser bloggers than I have done the story justice, so without further ado I refer you to Demetrius and Anna Raccoon.

And to accompany the mental image of the Palace of Westminster gently subsiding into its historic swamp, here's my current earworm - self-indulgent, lush and far too much fun to keep to myself....

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Toast of the week - the Buggrit

In keeping with yesterday's post on nostalgia, today I should like to celebrate a household electrical appliance that is older than I am and still fully functional - the Buggrit.


The Buggrit, or, to give it its proper name, the Belling Bed warmer, consists of two steel dishes that clamp together housing a standard fitting for a 40W light bulb. The design was developed in the 1930s as a way to heat up a cold bed before you got in - an updated version, if you will, of the ember-filled copper warming-pans of the Tavern's eighteenth-century namesake.

Our version is the fetching Germolene pink pictured above - though in its 1950's heyday it came in a variety of pastel colours - and was a much-appreciated asset in a household with no central heating; you simply plug it in and place it between the sheets well before bed-time, where it generates an impressive amount of heat.

There is, however, a significant drawback to this ingenious invention (particularly if your family, who have never believed in doing things by halves, have substituted a 60W bulb for the 40W one intended). It was many years before I realised that Buggrit was not, in fact, its official designation, the name having passed into family usage thanks to the rantings of the unfortunate guest who leapt into bed on a chilly night without removing the thing first.

Doubtless Health and Safety would have much to say about the bed warmer, and electric blankets and central heating - not to mention low-energy bulbs - have made it all but obsolete, but the simplicity of its design and fitness for purpose, as well as the fact it still works perfectly after 50 years, is something I consider worth celebrating.

Ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses to - the Buggrit!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be

Following yesterday's musings on the fact that my treasured glass beer-mug is now, apparently, 'retro-cool', I've been thinking about nostalgia.

I'm not the only one; A K Haart today waxes lyrical on the effects of the passage of time. He's right, there is something quite disconcerting about the realisation that part of your life has now technically become history.

Teaching brings that into sharp relief; you are constantly confronted with fresh-faced adolescents to whom the pre-internet past is not so much another country as a different planet. In years to come, the spread of the internet will doubtless seem as socially significant as the Industrial Revolution.

The Tavern provides an interesting measure of social attitudes to the past; the current refurbishments have involved removing the ceiling tiles, textured wallpaper and sliding doors installed by a disciple of the 1950s TV home decorating guru Barry Bucknell, the man who turned a thousand charming Victorian homes into feature-free modernist boxes.

With an impressive irony, replacing the lost features has proved easier than Bucknell could ever have imagined; today every DIY store has an abundance of Victorian-style accessories and designs. Those of us born at the height of his fame are actively embracing technology beyond his wildest dreams while surrounding ourselves with the trappings of the past.

Meanwhile, the post-internet generation seems to cherish much the same fondness for a more recent era; led by the marketing machinery of the modern media, the fashion, music and culture of recent decades are reappearing at a startling rate, fed by the breakneck speed of communication and need for constant innovation.

All of which leads me to one of my all-time favourite articles from The Onion which says it all better than I could ever do myself.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Mine's a pint!

In case anyone was wondering, the recent silence here has been due to the extensive refurbishments the tavern is undergoing; as a bar to creativity, the pram in the hall is as nothing compared to the decorator's ladder on the landing.


As the sidebar implies, I am very attached to my pint mug, albeit a heavy-bottomed one made of glass rather than the handsome antique specimen depicted.

These days it serves mostly as a water-glass, though back in my distant penurious past it doubled as a cereal-bowl on the mornings I couldn't be bothered to wash up, not to mention occasional money-box, flower-vase or wasp-catcher.

When the Urchin came of age, he too wanted a pint mug of his own; however, it proved surprisingly difficult to find one. Pubs had, almost universally, replaced their handled glass tankards with straight glasses and shops had followed suit.

I'm hoping Bucko - having relevant experience - can enlighten me as to the reason for this*; I always thought that it was because the weight and the handle made a pint mug a potentially lethal weapon, but, according to the Telegraph, the reason is far more prosaic:
In the late 1970s and early 1980s drinkers rebelled against tankards. ‘In a straight glass, not a jug’ was a common request. The move saw most pubs ditch them and stock 'straight' glasses only.
Real ale - the sort for which you are supposed to wear a woolly sweater and, preferably, a beard - still came in handled mugs, but for everything else you got a straight glass (unless you were female and in the North, when you would automatically be issued with a half in a 'ladies' glass' complete with stem).

It is thus highly amusing that, as reported in the Telegraph, style-conscious city-dwellers are now insisting on traditional-style glass pint mugs for their beer. In the words of a Wimbledon pub manager:
“More and more people are specifically requesting their beer in a pint jug with a handle, particularly when they see other drinkers with one. There is definitely an element of nostalgia about a proper pint jug.

They are seen as retro-cool yet comforting and traditional, reflecting the return to more traditional pub values.”
'Retro-cool', eh? Just goes to show; hang around long enough and, like it or not, you'll be at the cutting edge of fashion.

*Update: According to Bucko (via comments):
"the glass was phased out because of its adaptability as a nasty weapon. If you hold the handle with your fingers all the way through the hole, so your knuckle is touching the glass, turn it 45 degrees onto it's side, then bang it hard on the edge of a table, the glass shatters leaving you with what is called a 'glass fist'. A bit like a knuckleduster with jagged glass edges. You can imagine the damage such a weapon would do."

It's rather sad when your low opinion of your fellow-man turns out to be entirely justified - though my respect for those who successfully ply the publican's trade has increased in proportion.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

A walk on the tacky side

Readers of this blog, being people of taste and discernment, may well have missed a news story that provides both an aptly fitting fable for modern morality and an example of dramatic symmetry worthy of the most contrived Restoration comedy.

It concerns a television programme called 'Take Me Out', which the Times' Caitlin Moran today describes, with her customary pithy brilliance, as "essentially 'Blind Date' for the Rohypnol generation".

The show features male contestants displaying their wares - metaphorically speaking - before a panel of women, who express their reactions by the use of light switches, giving rise to what is described as the show's catchphrase, "No likee, no lightee" (frankly, I'm amazed that one got past the race relations people).

The victors in this sleazy enterprise are sent off for a weekend together for the subsequent delectation of the viewing public, and that's where the dramatic irony comes in. Last week, the Mail gleefully outed one winner, supposedly a construction worker, as a '£50-an-hour male escort' with a previous conviction for violence.

Spotting a clear opportunity, the woman who had been despatched to a foreign resort to enjoy his company with the blessing of the producers immediately claimed that she had been 'manipulated' into sleeping with him - this evidently being the expected outcome of the trip.

All was not as it seemed, however; two days later, the paper revealed that she, too had a secret - though working as a hairdresser, she had previously engaged in an altogether more horizontal profession at a princely £200 an hour (as with houses, the Mail seems to feel obliged to define escort services by price).

Thus these two photogenic young people, whose courtship was due to be observed with much the same prurient intensity as that of Edinburgh's pandas, turned out to be on something of a busman's holiday at the TV company's expense.

Not surprisingly, 'Embarrassed show producers have now decided to axe follow-up footage of the couple on holiday when the show airs again on Saturday night.'

Meanwhile, as the icing on the cake, other members of the cast - if that's not too cynical a description - are in trouble for holding a 'two-day mass orgy' in a rented mansion in Chepstow; a misdemeanour that has Zeitgeist written all over it.

To paraphrase the German writer Heinrich Boll, the fact that a competition to meet today's criteria of desirability was won by two members of the world's oldest profession is 'neither accident nor design, but simply unavoidable'.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Ill-gotten gains

Under normal circumstances, I'm not the sort of person who tells a complete stranger to b***er off.

Yesterday, however, was different. The refurbishments had just hit a snag when a lath-and-plaster ceiling suddenly decided to start a new life as a floor, necessitating expensive and time-consuming repairs, while an abundance of ladders and wet paint has turned every journey upstairs into a gymnastic exercise.

Naturally, I was upstairs when the phone rang; expecting the builders, I dashed down with as much speed as the obstacle course permitted to answer it. What followed was, alas, a script with which I have become all too familiar.

Last year, someone backed - very gently - into the side of my stationary car in a car park lane, causing a small dent which was fixed on his insurance; as I was in my car at the time, I was bombarded for months afterwards with calls urging me to claim for non-existent injuries.

Their evident bafflement that I was not prepared to lie - "The money has already been allocated; all you have to do is claim it!" - suggested that the usual response is rather different. No wonder MPs are calling for tighter control of payouts:

The committee pointed out that there has been a 70% rise in motor insurance injury claims in the past six years, despite a 23% drop in the number of casualties actually caused by road accidents.

The calls eventually stopped - until yesterday, that is, when the caller not only suggested that I should make a claim but said he had evidence that I had been admitted to hospital following the accident; when I said he was mistaken, he became aggressively insistent - hence my unaccustomed rudeness.

There was a certain irony to this blatant incitement to commit fraud on the very day that the issue once again makes the news. Perhaps my details, initially sold on by the insurers or repairers, have now trickled down past the merely shady into a stratum where fake hospital records and thuggish tactics abound.

The figure bandied about at present is that fraudulent claims are now adding £90 to the cost of car insurance, up from the £74 suggested last year, when a member of the Association of British Insurers described whiplash as a 'fraudster's dream'.

I wrote this last April, but it's as true now as it was then:

They have turned car insurance into a lottery – sure, you pay a bit extra up-front, but if your number comes up, there’s at least £1,500 waiting to be claimed every time. Having someone run into me and freely admit liability was the equivalent of a winning Premium Bond.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Why on Earth not?

It's that time of year again. Britain's emergency services are issuing press releases about the time-wasting calls they have to deal with on a regular basis, South Central Ambulance Service among them:

In the past three months, call centre staff have dealt with a call from a young woman who had a headache after a night out, a man who wanted paramedics to treat his dog's injured leg and a man reporting that a hedgehog had been run over.

On New Year's Eve, a drunk man called for help to get up the stairs to his house.

A combination of excess alcohol, ubiquitous mobile phones and, in many cases, the cognitive skills of a crustacean has meant a perfect storm of this kind of thing; a large percentage of calls on Friday and Saturday nights, according to paramedics, are from people too drunk to get home.

It's an unfortunate combination, and one we've seen at work with the RNLI; an emergency response organisation with no alternative but to take each call seriously is forever at the beck and call of the thoughtless (not to mention intoxicated), who can summon assistance at the touch of a button on phones that may well, in some cases, be smarter than their owners (as described by the indefatigable JuliaM).

The quotes above are from a local paper's version of the story; there are similar pieces appearing around the country. What caught my eye with this one, however, is that the reporter includes not only the cost to the taxpayer of each call-out (£257, if you were wondering) but a memorable quote from an ambulance service spokesman:

"SCAS does not bill timewasters. That is not the NHS ethos."

It goes further than that, however; the ethos appears to be that no restitution of any kind is called for. Since it would be impossible - and expensive - to assess each case on merit, only persistent offenders are punished, while ambulance crews and paramedics are repeatedly diverted from their real purpose.

Now, I'm sure some of these calls are from people who genuinely do not understand the priorities involved - 'care in the community' has left many unfortunate souls struggling with the complexities of modern life - but it seems over-generous for us to foot the bill when a wobbly inebriate fancies a lift home.

There is an encouraging and heartwarming trend for those who have been plucked to safety by the RNLI to engage in subsequent fund-raising activities for the charity. There's no bill, no costly legal involvement, no compulsion; it's what you might well call an ethos.

The NHS ambulance service may not have the same need to raise cash, but wouldn't it be a fine thing if those time-wasters could be induced to do something in return?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Parish news

Things will be a little quiet on the blogging front for a few days as we are redecorating the Tavern; time, I think, for another of Pa Peachum's favourites...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Here we go again!

Thanks to some over-enthusiastic hammer-wielding as part of the Tavern refurbishment, I'm laid up with a bad back this evening while the Spouse is off to a party.

A resulting trawl through the evening news shows that Jeremy Clarkson has provoked yet another media storm, or rather that the Telegraph is doing its best to whip up a frenzy following his latest gaffe.

In a column for a tabloid newspaper, Clarkson mocked the sport of synchronised swimming as "Chinese women in hats, upside down, in a bit of water", adding: "You can see that sort of thing on Morecambe Beach. For free."

Crass? Definitely. Tasteless? Certainly. But is it really news? Was it necessary for the Telegraph journalists to scamper off in search of quotes from 'a Morecambe town councillor' and 'a member of the Chinese Lib Dems'?

Two predictable but gratifyingly quotable reactions later, a story is born, though, given Clarkson's form, it's debatable whether this one will run and run or fizzle out in a flutter of raised eyebrows and a yawn - not Clarkson again!

As Diane Abbott found out this week, the price of the Faustian pact of fame is eternal vigilance; every word you utter, type or text can be scrutinised and pulled apart in search of offence. Every lapse of taste, every error of judgement is writ large for the world to see.

It is, in a way, the intellectual equivalent of the magazines that gleefully highlight the cellulite and bulges of swimwear-clad celebrities for the delectation of the masses; Clarkson's fame makes him fair game for a high-profile article because his name guarantees column inches and ample cause for righteous indignation.

Clarkson's status as national enfant terrible means that a story like this falls firmly into the category of 'Dog Bites Man'. Surely the Telegraph can find something more interesting to offer its readers on a Saturday night.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Diane Abbott's true colours?

From the Telegraph:

Diane Abbott is facing fresh calls to resign after enraging London’s taxi drivers with a claim that they routinely refuse to pick up passengers who are black:

“Dubious of black people claiming they’ve never experienced racism. Ever tried hailing a taxi* I always wonder?”

And to think that this woman - in her own eyes, at least - was a contender for the labour leadership! It's a good indication of how short a step it is from multiculturalism to mentally dividing the population into homogeneous groups of 'us' and 'them'.

Wiser bloggers than I - Al Jahom, Dizzy Thinks, Leg-iron, Longrider and the Heresiarch, among others - have spilled much virtual ink over the matter of Abbott's tweets, but I think I may have the perfect soundtrack...



(With apologies to Fleetwood Mac)

Oh no, here she goes again,
Upset the public again;
If you take an anti-racist stand
You've got to have an even hand:
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa Diane!
Whoa there, Diane!

No room for doubt, it's plain:
She'll get no taxis again.
So is she getting out of hand?
Will another call from Miliband
Go, "Oh, whoa, whoa Diane!
Whoa there, Diane!"

(Repeat ad lib nauseam)

*Not that Abbott seems to have had much trouble: with delicious irony, also from the Telegraph: She was also criticised during the MPs expenses scandal, after claiming £142,000 in 2009, including £1,100 on taxis.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

All present and correct?

While on the theme of exotic animals (see previous post), we've mentioned this before, but why should London Zoo be holding its annual animal-count slap-bang in the middle of winter?

The papers are awash with shots of the customary photo-call - this year, it's the penguins - as a keeper poses with a clipboard and journalists try to think up an amusingly punning headline.

I suppose the staff are less busy now than at any other time, but it does seem a little harsh on the poor animals to be turfed out of their nice warm beds for roll-call - I heartily sympathise!

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is being castigated for spending nearly £43,000 on a 'welcome party' for their new pandas, though it's not quite the extravaganza the term suggests:
The money spent by the Scottish Government includes a grant of £12,900 offered to the Royal Zoological Society Scotland towards the arrival event, £23,000 on marketing links between Scotland and China in both countries and staff costs of £6,822.
So that's what it was about: I thought there was something distinctly odd about the ranks of children obediently cheering and waving their little flags in unison as the lorries went by - though I bet it played well back home among the big bosses in China.

Subrosa certainly wasn't impressed:
'I have no problem with businesses introducing new ideas to boost their profits, but using live animals under the canopy of improving relationships with China, is a few steps too far.'
Looking after your neighbours' pet rabbit while they're away is worry enough; I hope, for Scotland's sake, these two furry hostages to fortune thrive in the chilly winds of Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Oh, I do hope so!

From the Mail:

'What could be Britain's most daring thieves were last night on the run from police after around 100 exotic animals - including a 5ft crocodile* - were swiped in a pet shop raid.

Officers are now hunting the missing menagerie and have warned the thieves they could be risking life and limb trying to handle the stolen predator
.'

The BBC has more: 'Shop worker Paul Williamson said the caiman was "aggressive".

"I've been here for four years and I've never picked it up. I wouldn't want to physically go in there and pull it out - they're not the biggest animal in the world, but they can do a lot of damage.

They're very powerful, very strong and they've obviously got huge teeth, so if they bite, the next place for you go to is hospital."'

Perhaps someone's been reading Angry Exile and got some ideas about cross-breeding (very cross indeed, I should think, if that caiman has anything to do with it.)

Update from a Manchester news website: 'Stolen' 5ft crocodile and other reptiles miraculously reappear outside Stockport pet shop

The thieves seem to have bitten off more than they could chew; I wonder whether the caiman did too...


*Loosely speaking; but then the Mail has form in the area of vague taxonomy.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Toast of the Week - Ronald Searle

This week, we are raising a glass to mark the passing of Ronald Searle, the gifted and witty cartoonist who brought Nigel Molesworth to life and gave us the original St Trinians.

The skills honed in the appalling conditions of an Asian prisoner-of-war camp developed in peacetime into a distinctive style that captured the popular imagination and inspired and clearly influenced later generations of cartoonists.

I could choose from any of dozens of iconic works to illustrate this piece, but I have chosen a new discovery; published last year, 'Les Tres Riches Heures de Mrs Mole' is an affectionate reworking of a medieval Book of Hours.

Made for his wife when she was undergoing chemotherapy many years ago and only just released to the public, the drawings show Mrs Mole going about her daily chores in the beautiful Provencal house the Searles had just bought.

Searle had his dark side - the St Trinian's girls exuded menace on all sides and what reader of Molesworth could forget the sinister Gabbitas and Thring kidnapping a young man and taking him off to be a schoolmaster? - but these pictures have a warmth and charm that any artist would be proud to leave behind as a parting gift.


Image courtesy of The Bloghorn

There is much, much more at this blog celebrating Searle's work.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Brighton Walton Rock

If the thought of going back to work this week is getting you down, spare a thought for this chap:

A security guard has been stabbed in a confrontation with two attackers in an Essex seaside town.

The 27-year-old was stabbed in the stomach on Walton Pier, Walton-on-the-Naze, shortly after 04:30 GMT and taken to Colchester Hospital for treatment.

Police have appealed for help to identify "two attackers" who are described as teenagers.

This was in the early hours of January 1st, when he could have been forgiven for thinking that all the fuss had died down and he could finish his shift in peace.

It's a given that New Year's Eve has become a sort of Walpurgisnacht for the hard of thinking, as the Daily Mail annually delights in informing us in articles helpfully accompanied by abundant photos of scantily-clad revellers of a female persuasion sprawled in the gutter (you don't really need a link to that, do you?).

As a result of the tendency of the inebriated to damage property - or themselves - in various imaginative ways, structures such as piers are carefully monitored at this time of year; what those safeguarding property do not usually expect is a knife in the guts.

The hour and the violent response suggest an attempt at vandalism, arson or theft; there's nothing new about that (though rising scrap metal prices play a part these days), but it is disturbing that, confronted by an unarmed man employed to prevent them achieving their nefarious ends, these teenagers resorted to such an extreme form of retaliation.

However grim tomorrow looks for you - my employers have laid on a staff training day complete with instruction in the use of fire extinguishers - take comfort in the thought that at least it's unlikely to lead to emergency abdominal surgery.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The mean streets of rural Oxfordshire

Here's a little something that seems to have slipped under the news radar: it seems that parking chaos (see previous post) was not the only thing going on in Bicester on Boxing Day.
A man was stabbed while shopping at Bicester Village.
Not as serious as the Oxford Street attack, admittedly...
The 22-year-old was stabbed in the buttock with what police believe was a knife.
... but enough to land him in the nearest hospital - probably quite a lengthy and uncomfortable ambulance journey, given the miles of stationary traffic in all directions and the site of the wound.

The attack took place at 3.50pm, in a short alleyway at the centre of the shopping village; the alleyway leads to the toilets and, with 30,000 shoppers visiting the retail park that day, there was almost certainly a substantial queue of potential witnesses.

Sure enough, the police have a clear description of those responsible:
Police believe the attackers were four or five black men in their late teens to early 20s wearing black clothing.
So we have a public stabbing - albeit a relatively minor one - involving a group of men on the busiest day Bicester Village has ever seen. Even allowing for the fatal attack in London the same day, one might have thought this merited more than a few paragraphs in a local paper.

It was presumably the Oxford Street events that led police to add this statement:
"We have no reason to believe at this stage that the incident is connected to the retail industry or involved any kind of dispute over shopping or goods".
I have to admit I'm slightly baffled here - after all, there aren't many other reasons for being at an out-of-town shopping village on Boxing Day afternoon, unless, of course, you are retailing a little something on your own account.

I suspect the low-key response to this incident is a fair indication that the stabbing was a little internal difficulty within the group and highly unlikely to affect outsiders and passers-by; one comment suggests it is a standard method of settling an issue of 'respect' - or, presumably, a lack of it.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that events like this are not uncommon on the street - or even in school playgrounds - in Britain's cities, and the phenomenon is rapidly spreading to smaller towns. One might, however, have thought that a sanitised pseudo-American shopping street, awash with bright lights and security cameras, would be free from this kind of thing.

That it is not is something we should find very worrying indeed.