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

Saturday 12 September 2009

"Free The Romney One!" - A Lamb's Tale

Following JuliaM's excellent post on the subject, the saga of Marcus (or Market) the sheep continues to cause much mirth and merriment in the Tavern, particularly since the animal has had to go into hiding to forestall any rescue attempts by the (depressingly unoriginal) Save Our Sheep campaign or Paul O'Grady.

A poor little lamb’s been hidden away,
Baa, baa, baa,
Since he made the front page yesterday,
Baa, baa, baa.
On Monday he goes to meet his fate;
He'll end up cooked on someone’s plate
Though Megan’s mum got in a terrible state,
Baa, baa, baa.

The kids of Lydd have had their say,
Baa, baa, baa,
Thirteen to one said ‘Chops today’,
Baa, baa, baa.
No room for sentimentality
Or offers of hospitality,
Just a lesson in basic reality,
Baa, baa, baa.

Update: for some good comments on this story, see Mark Wadsworth.

A Glass Half Full

Following yesterday’s post, we at the tavern have been selflessly investigating the contents of Britain’s wine glasses.

Remember the days of cheese’n’pineapple hedgehogs and Black Forest Gateau? If you do, then you’ll remember that in those days a wine glass was small and round (unless you were posh and had special ones) and held about 125ml.

They were tough, those little glasses, and able to stand up to the rigours of everyday life and mulled wine. The Sandi Toksvigs of the wine glass world, what they lacked in size they made up for in character and robust durability.

Then along came the willowy long-stemmed style icons. Slim-legged and elegant, they were photographed wherever beautiful people were gathered for a convivial glass. They found their way into sitcoms and property shows, soap operas and films, providing us all with something to aspire to.

Meanwhile advances in dishwasher technology meant that placing these slender beauties in the top rack no longer meant opening the door two hours later to the heart-sinking scrunch of broken glass. Even pubs began to offer wine in them, hoping to attract the image-conscious drinker.

And instead of the paltry 125ml of the 70s, these glasses held 250ml, a third of a bottle. In fact, a quick visit to M&S website reveals that the full capacity of their medium wine glass is 320ml, while their large ones can hold an eye-popping 450ml – nearly a full pint.

No-one is suggesting that you fill these glasses up to the top, but they do help reinforce the constant drip-feed of suggestion that a bottle each is a reasonable amount for a quiet evening in. The media abound with comments to that effect, particularly in relation to young women, and must bear some responsibility for the high levels of consumption reported for that group.

However, with a legal drinking age of 18, the consumers are, by definition, adults. They have been bombarded with messages about safe limits and units, yet some will still choose to drink to excess, just as some of them choose to smoke despite graphic health warnings.

The most effective way to reduce consumption among the young and impressionable would be to use the same methods as the advertisers. Find some way of making small glasses stylish, of suggesting that the big ones are out-of-date and ugly – it takes far more effort to get through a bottle if your glass has to be topped up at least five times.

Sadly, unless the Department of Health signs up a PR genius in the near future, it’s about as likely to happen as London Fashion Week employing models who are five feet tall. Meanwhile, here at the tavern, we resolutely cling to the habits of our youth and a cupboard full of little round glasses.


(For a more philosophical examination of alcohol consumption, I recommend this from Demetrius at the Cynical Tendency.)

Friday 11 September 2009

One for the Road to Perdition?

Poacher turned gamekeeper Frank Skinner has launched a vehement and interesting attack on alcohol consumption in today’s Times. As one might expect from a former problem drinker, he insists that Britain has a dependency culture and that intervention is essential:

"the BMA should forget about cosmetic changes, such as banning advertising and happy hours, drop the niceties, come down at least as hard as it did on tobacco and say what needs to be said: alcohol is a dangerous drug dressed up as a warm and reassuring companion."

Of course, coming down hard on tobacco hasn’t exactly stamped out smoking, as a walk down my local high street will amply demonstrate. In fact, I should hazard a guess that the same people whose alcohol consumption gives cause for concern are those whose health is being undermined by their smoking and eating habits.

Here in the tavern we are generally as politically neutral as possible (saves arguments with the regulars) but should Mr Skinner turn up for a lime juice, we might find ourselves getting in touch with our inner libertarians:

"We can’t trust the people to decide for themselves because their dependency — often not readily apparent and so easily denied — obviously clouds their judgment. We need the BMA to provide impetus for a great national sobering-up."

Nobody would deny that there are serious alcohol-related problems in this country and that there is a risk that excessive consumption is seen as normal. However, to suggest that we are all, to some extent, alcohol-dependent and in need of regulation is rather too like the prescription of statins for all because some people are overweight.

If Frank Skinner does drop into the Tavern, I sincerely hope Ambush Predator will turn up for a chat; the ensuing debate should be well worth watching.

Thursday 10 September 2009

No Parachutes for Algernon

Can you build an anti-gravity machine for mice? It sounds like one of those questions you’d ask in the pub, but those clever scientists at JPL have done just that.

Not content with making frogs hover in mid-air – who said science was boring? – they’re using magnets to suspend mice above the floor of a specially designed cage to study the physical effects of weightlessness on mammals.

A superconducting magnet generates a field which levitates the water inside living tissue and the rest of the animal goes along for the ride, so to speak. Which is probably a good thing, really, particularly for the mouse.

Their first subject became agitated and disoriented – wouldn’t you? – so the next mice to try it were sedated. Just imagine what was going through their tiny, stoned rodent minds; ‘Hey man, I think I’m flying! No, really!’

The plan is to continue the experiment long enough to study the long-term effects of a zero-g environment. What we don't know is what will happen to their brains - experiments have shown that exposure to magnetic fields can affect brain activity and can duplicate effects sometimes described as profound religious experiences.

Who knows? This could be the beginning of a spiritually enlightened super-mouse.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

It could be you....and you....and you...

‘The Lottery – a tax on people who flunked math’ (Monique Lloyd)

Quick! Grab a pen and paper – Derren Brown’s going to predict the lottery numbers!

Sadly for those who fancy riding on his elegant coat-tails to untold riches, this latest stunt will doubtless involve some kind of envelope, frustratingly sealed from the eyes of slavering viewers until after the draw has taken place.

How much more fun would it be if he announced the numbers before the draw? A bumper day for newsagents and kiosks up and down the land as customers flock in for their tickets, travel chaos as queues reach unprecedented lengths and millions of people sitting down breathlessly in front of their televisions, each fervently clutching a sheaf of winning tickets.

And best of all, the expression on their faces when they realise that their share of the prize money will be about 57p. If Brown kept the numbers to himself, of course, he could clean up – every week! At least he could if he weren't such a principled individual; naturally that must be the only thing stopping him.

In the words of Jay Leno, “Here’s something to think about; how come you never see a headline like ‘Psychic Wins Lottery’?

Update: Comment from the TimesOnline article:
'What he's done here is spend the last year pre-recording all 14 million (or whatever) outcomes! Then as he has walked from the TV over to the balls they spliced in that pre-recorded segment.'

Tuesday 8 September 2009

It's not big and it's not clever

We’ve all heard them – the cars that cruise past the bedroom window in the middle of the night with open windows and speakers blasting out the jacked-up bass into a quiet street. What goes through their tiny minds, we wonder, and why do they do it? (Although these questions are usually phrased rather more explicitly, particularly at two in the morning.)

Last night’s Gadget Show provided an answer in the shape of young turk presenter Ortis, ‘pimping his ride’ for a car competition at the slightly incongruous Santa Pod Racetrack, Northants.

Eschewing the Aga-sized bank of in-car speakers favoured by his competitors in the entertainment class, he mounted external speakers on the doors of his Golf. ‘This will really impress the girls’, he announced proudly.

So that’s it. An audible phallic symbol. And the rest of the neighbourhood has to put up with the racket even on rainy nights because the driver can wind up the windows and still annoy everyone in the street while he and his passengers play on the built-in games console in the dashboard.

But the worst of it is that this particular car could soon be coming to a street near you; the Gadget Show is offering it as a prize in one of those intellectually demanding phone-in competitions (‘Madonna had a hit with a)American Biscuit b)American Crumble c)American Pie – calls cost £2.50’) so there's no knowing where it will end up.

There is only one consolation when you’ve been woken up for the third time by one of these inadequates cruising past – the theory that the vibrations caused by these speakers can drastically loosen the bowels of those in close proximity.

Sadly there appears to be no scientific evidence for this but I, for one, fervently hope it’s true.

Sunday 6 September 2009

Close Encounters of the Incendiary Kind

This week the truth is out there - way out there - in the guise of a 66-year-old lorry driver from East Anglia whose shady dealings apparently led to 'Britain's Roswell'.

Anyone with a passing acquaintance with UFO-based TV programmes will have seen the juddery out-of-focus reconstructions of US servicemen dashing about breathlessly in Rendlesham Forest on the trail of some multi-coloured lights. The 1980 incident achieved notoriety as an encounter with a possible UFO which left behind physical evidence in the shape of scorched trees and traces of molten metal.

Now Peter Turtill has come forward and claimed that on the night in question he found himself inadvertently in possession of a truckload of stolen fertilizer which broke down on the Rendlesham road. Not wanting to be caught with his incriminating cargo, he took the truck into the forest and set light to it, generating a spectacular burst of vari-coloured flames as the chemicals caught fire.

When the armed Americans appeared, he took fright and towed the burning truck away; not surprising, since being caught with a lorry-load of hooky fertilizer in the vicinity of a US airbase could in no way be described as a good move. There are, to be sure, several loose ends in this tale but then the world of a man who 'lends his truck to a friend' who 'returns it' full of stolen goods probably doesn't bear close scrutiny.

This invitation to wield Occam's Razor has, however, been met with charming scepticism by the UFO fraternity. This week's prize for logic goes to UFO investigator Brenda Butler, who wonders why he remained silent for 29 years (the dodgy fertilizer deal may have something to do with that) and opines:
"There have been so many witnesses who have come forward. He would have to come up with an awful lot of proof to call them liars."

Meanwhile, Mr Turtill must have been enjoying a good laugh...

'In 2005 (or possibly earlier), Suffolk's Forestry Commission received £2,000 of Lottery funding from the Lottery's "Awards for All" grants project. The Forestry Commission decided to spend a portion of that money on a "UFO trail", in the aim of attracting more people to Rendlesham Forest.'

Friday 4 September 2009

Resting in peace in a theme park

For those who prefer rapiers to clubs, at least as far as satire is concerned, a great literary work of the 20th century was brought to mind by today's news headlines.

In Evelyn Waugh's 'The Loved One', a cynical young Englishman discovers the florid and artificial world of the American cemetery when he visits Whispering Glades, the apotheosis of the mortician's art and a monument to pompous euphemism. The cemetery's extensive acreage abounds with meaningful statues and pseudo-cultural artefacts such as the Wee Kirk o' Auld Lang Syne (complete with authentic inscription in Scots) and the pre-recorded beehive sound-effects on the Lake Isle of Innisfree.

The real-life counterpart of Whispering Glades is, of course, Forest Lawn, final resting place of Michael Jackson. Nowadays a chain of Forest Lawns exists across America to help you 'memorialize your Loved One', but purists will be pleased to know that the original location in Glendale Ca. still boasts the artistic attractions immortalized in Waugh's satire including the Wee Kirk o' the Heather®, 'a faithful rendition of the village church at Glencairn, Scotland, where Annie Laurie of Scottish lore worshipped'.

It is somehow fitting that Michael Jackson should end up in this Never-Never Land of the departed; a theme park in the literal sense of the term where you can choose to rest in one of a multitude of carefully structured environments completely isolated from the outside world.
Anyone who wants to join him there to await the last judgement will be pleased to know that Forest Lawn offers a handy online planner to coordinate your Before Need Reservation.

(For anyone who enjoyed Waugh's book, I thoroughly recommend 'The American Way of Death' by Jessica Mitford - a sort of 1950's 'Fast Food Nation' for the dismal trade.)

Update: While working on this post, I was presented with this tasteful prospect by Google Ads -

Ashes into Glass
Cremated ashes to beautiful glass "Keep the memory".

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.

Thursday 2 July 2009

In absentia...

The Tavern bar will be untended for a couple of weeks - but we do value our visitors and like to keep them entertained.

Why not make yourself comfortable, pour yourself a drink and consult the archives? You're sure to find something there to divert, amuse or interest - or simply infuriate.

Tuesday 30 June 2009

A Song for Greg Hands MP

Following Greg Hands' account of the attempt by a member of Ed Balls' staff to keep him out of the school in his constituency where Balls and the Prime Minister were holding court. H/T to Plato Says for providing inspiration.

(In an ambitious leap of imagination, you will have to imagine that the tenor voice belongs to Ms Izzet.)

I’d like to go in – No, you can just stay outside;
They’re about to begin – You're out of the way outside
I know you’ve got Balls – It's private; didn't you get our calls?
And Brown in there – D’you know what? I really just don’t care!
People here voted for me – You know, you're starting to bore me;
I’m acting well within my rights – Are you looking for a fight?
It must be because I’m a Tory – Oh yeah? That old story!
You could be a bit more polite – If you piss off I just might, you never know...

Please get out of my way – No, you can just stay out there,
I can’t stand here all day – You’re out of the way out there
This chat really is –And you’re not coming in;
Going nowhere – Don’t blame me if you think it’s not fair.
I’m calling the Council Leader – Oh yeah? I’ll get Ed Balls out here
I think you’ll find the law’s on my side – Or even Damian McBride
You can’t just make me wait here – If you don’t do what I tell you
                          And stay outside.

Monday 29 June 2009

A Cancer Specialist Within Two Weeks?

Let's give a hearty two-and-a-half cheers for the guarantee of seeing a cancer specialist within two weeks - and a trip to a private consultant if the NHS can't do it.

Except that the 'pathways' in current use by GPs - accessible via NHS Direct - already state that a patient suspected of having cancer should be seen within 2 weeks. Yet again, New Labour make a song and dance about an 'initiative' that's already happening.

Ah, you may say, but now it's a concrete guarantee - infallible, surely? Well, no, actually, because you have to be 'suspected' of having cancer before they let you in through the gates, and that means having a GP who can spot the signs.

Don't get me wrong - there are many excellent GPs out there, my own included. Unfortunately every system has its flaws. As regular readers will know, members of my family have had less than ideal treatment in the past. The scenario goes something like this.

You visit your GP with a problem - or even just for a check-up - and he/she puts you on statins/HRT/steroids (despite your misgivings), citing endless studies (but not PCT targets). Your symptoms worsen but your GP puts it down to side-effects and changes the dosage/brand; this can go on for months.

You repeatedly ask for cancer tests, but are told firmly that it won't be cancer - you're not obese/sedentary/a drinker or smoker (and your GP has a shaky grasp of probability - he/she tells you that if 97% of sufferers are obese, your chances of having cancer are 3%).

Eventually you find another GP who agrees to do the test - and you win first prize: an instant trip to Oncology with added chemo and an emergency operation thrown in. And here's the kicker; you still fall within the 2-week rule because the first GP never 'suspected' it was cancer.

Freudian slip of the week

From The Spouse, feeling fragile after carousing with friends until the early hours;

'...and then I had to get up at the crap of dawn.'

Ah, the perfect phrase for a monday morning!

Sunday 28 June 2009

More on the Brentford Squatters

Despite the BBC's silence on the matter - presumably to avoid a massive gathering at the house - the story has made the Observer, albeit in a disappointingly sober and matter-of-fact way. The coverage at Demotix is much more fun.

However, I'm puzzled by the claim that the squatters got in through an open window, much having been made of the boarded-up status of the house. In a high-profile case like this where, I hope, the whole point is to get to court and force a public examination of the facts, the squatters would be fools not to do everything by the book and avoid all criminal damage.

Since photos of the protest show the house completely unboarded, I can only assume that the Keens, in an attempt to deflect criticism, 'pulled an Uddin' and showed up to demonstrate that 'it is our main home - really it is!', unboarded the windows and then forgot to close them all before leaving to go back to their luxury riverside flat - at least I'd like to think so; it would have a certain poetic justice, after all.

Update: Interesting comment here from Guido's blog suggesting the work in progress looks suspiciously like doing up to sell. Given the Keens' claim for a £520,000 mortgage on their £500,000 luxury flat, are we also subsidising the Brentford renovations, enabling the couple ultimately to pocket a large premium at our expense?

Saturday 27 June 2009

Mr & Mrs Expenses vs the Squatters (in song)

News from Guido Fawkes; Police have been called to deal with squatters at the Brentford house belonging to MP's Alan and Ann Keen.

This old house looks fairly empty,
This old house look pretty grim,
But it lets us claim expenses
For the flat we’re living in;
This old house was being mended
Then we fell into dispute
With the builders, who stopped working,
But it still brings in the loot.

We don’t live here any longer,
We don’t live here any more,
So we boarded up the windows
And we boarded up the door,
But it’s our official dwelling
You can be sure of that
So the second home allowance
Pays the mortgage on our flat.

This old house is full of rubble
And the garden’s overgrown
And we hardly ever visit
This old house that we both own
But one day we’ll move back in here
And it’s quite untrue to say
That our home’s an empty dwelling
And we’ve learned to make it pay.

We don’t live here any longer,
We don’t live here any more,
So we boarded up the windows
And we boarded up the door,
And together in the meantime,
For forty grand a year,
We’ve a flat beside the river
Just about ten miles from here.

This old house was in the papers,
This old house was on TV
Because Hounslow Borough council
Were eying it with glee,
But it seems a bunch of squatters
Saw the articles and knew
That our big old house was empty
And there’s nothing we could do

We don’t live here any longer,
We don’t live here any more,
So we boarded up the windows
And we boarded up the door,
Now we hunker down together
In our plushy Thameside flat
And we ask why our accountant
Never warned us about THAT.


A Garden is a Lovesome Thing...

(Major h/t to JuliaM at Ambush Predator for her entertaining post on the subject)

How many nit-picking jobsworths does it take
To forbid an urban garden?
Just who exactly is offended when you make
A forbidden urban garden?
With a bit of buddleia,
Jasmine or a fuchsia,
What was a crumbling mess for thirty years
Can be turned from an eyesore into a thing of joy,
As a pretty urban garden.

"How did you think you could break the rules and make
An illicit urban garden?
We’ll let you go if you say it's a mistake
And you beg the council’s pardon.
Put back every cobblestone,
Leave the bramble stems alone,
Uproot the flowers and l
et it run to seed,
Or we’ll do it ourselves and we’ll make you pay the bill
To remove your urban garden."

Why should the council spoil someone's fun
And destroy an urban garden?
So they can claim that something's being done
When they destroy an urban garden?
Hoodies with their lager cans,
Graffiti scrawls and burger vans,
Litter and vandals are difficult to deal with;
Much easier to pick on one retired florist
And her little urban garden.

Friday 26 June 2009

Mystic Ed and his Crystal Balls

The BBC’s very own news timewarp - reporting events still in the future – has been discussed before in the Tavern and elsewhere (h/t Blognor Regis) but, oblivious to criticism, they continue to offend, serving as the organ of choice for pre-emptive government leaks.

This morning, with a complete lack of irony, we were treated to a digest of an announcement Ed Balls will make next week. Next week! Not only does the man leak details of his dastardly plans before announcing them to Parliament (h/t Witterings fromWitney); he and his minions are now predicting what will happen three days hence.

The diktat from whatever the spin doctors are calling Balls’ outfit these days – the Department for Children, ASBOS and Junk Food, or something – may well have been drafted, but who’s to say Balls will actually make the speech? After all, he might be late for the meeting, stuck in traffic or suffering from food poisoning*.

The BBC’s confident assertion that Balls will make the announcement in person looks to me like a prediction of future events. Tavern regulars, mindful of the Vagrancy Act (Any person who pretends or professes to tell fortunes ....shall be guilty of an offence. ), wonder about this; after all, we know that the Today presenters have their palms liberally crossed with silver for broadcasting this stuff.

Perhaps, though, we'll forgive them on this occasion: the demise of the literacy and numeracy strategy, 'delivered' by jargonmeisters Capita (I picture it arriving in a series of cumbersome crates), and the resulting liberation of Primary Schools to adapt their teaching to the needs of pupils is a welcome development indeed.

*Please note this is neither a threat nor a suggestion; merely an hypothesis.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Presence, Passion and Panache at Kirklees Council

Kirklees Council - remember them? Won't let you be cremated in your own clothes? A £10,000 court case for a wind-blown sweet wrapper?

Well, if you fancy joining their happy band and a salary of £119,000 appeals, get yourself off to Huddersfield now, where Kirklees council wants a new Director of Organisation Development.

"A new what?" I hear you cry. Apparently this is a newly created position for an "Exceptional professional required to place communities at the heart of our services, a leader with presence, passion and panache."
The post would require 'cross-functional experience' and would involve 'making sure: That the diversity of Kirklees is understood by all in the organisation; is valued as a strength but a strength that challenges us to respond to its complex implications; and is reflected in the career structures within the organisation.'

I hope that's sufficiently clear. Actually, according to the plain English campaign, it isn't. "The advertisement contains many examples of typical Government jargon that is perfect for confusing, hiding and misleading the reader."

The Taxpayers' Alliance goes one better: "This is a classic example of management gobbledegook. It is bad enough that Kirklees is spending so much money in the middle of a recession, but at the very least the job description should make some sense."

But Cliff Stewart, human resources director at the council, doesn't see a problem; "The terms used in the advert will mean a lot to the sort of people who are looking at this."

Says all you need to know, really, doesn't it!

Wednesday 24 June 2009


Despite serious competition from Westminster, this week's prize for the most implausible lie goes, of course, to Belgian Kimberley Vlaeminck.

The only surprise in the case is how anyone thought this would get to court; since the father started off the whole media circus after going to the police, I suspect the involvement of a newspaper or magazine may have been a catalyst. This story is simply a vastly overblown version of what happens when teenagers get it wrong and blame someone else.

More surprising is the tattoo artist's chastened declaration that he will from now on get written consent before beginning work - the implication being that any one of us could previously wander into his tattoo parlour on impulse and come out looking like Angelina Jolie or David Beckham - at least in the human graffiti sense - without any contract changing hands.

Where tattoos are concerned, at least, it's clearly a case of caveat emptor - which, come to think of it, might look good written in a banner with a crest above it, right here.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Who wants to 'Protect And Survive'?

Best joke of all is 56 seconds in - at least with 2009 hindsight!

Those of us the wrong side of 40 are today being given an interesting glimpse into our own past with the release of the Government War Book, the official strategy manual for dealing with an escalation of hostilities during the Cold War. Throughout the era, Whitehall's finest would regularly carry out a full-scale theoretical exercise to test the contingency plans (replacing real Cabinet Ministers who were, to be honest, a bit rubbish at it).

Meanwhile, the Government's general information leaflet, optimistically entitled 'Protect And Survive', had a horrible fascination back in the 70's for those of us still living at home with our parents - the idea of being confined to the cupboard under the stairs for two weeks with the whole family coming pretty close to a teenager's definition of hell.

The general opinion, as far as I can remember, was that all this whitewashing and taping up of windows was an inspired ruse to keep us all out of the way while the Government and civil servants convened on their reinforced concrete bunkers. The rest of us lesser mortals would, of course, have to make do with a creative arrangement of doors and mattresses.

In our case, this would have been a fairly pointless exercise, given the nearby 'secret' submarine base - a prime target. In theory, we could have constructed a proper concrete shelter, but my father, on learning that the only local safe refuge was to house the Regional Council, announced that he had no intention whatsoever of surviving to emerge into a post-armageddon world populated by cockroaches and local politicians.

It's an interesting thought that the generation who fuelled the excesses of the 80's were subjected to all this at an impressionable age; eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!

Monday 22 June 2009

For Fans of Blue String Pudding

A fantastic post from Plato Says on the missing Clangers episode - Vote For Froglet - links to the BBC's cult TV Clangers page.

Here you can find such trivia as the fact that the Clangers' feet were nailed to the set to keep them in place (Aaaah!) and a link to directions for knitting your own Clanger. Fans of the series will, of course, be aware that instructions for making the inferior felt version appeared in the Clangers Annual.

The best bit of all is Oliver Postgate's description of the Creation of the Clangers' world:

In the beginning was the void and the void was dark and without form, being 'eight by five' sheets of battened hardboard painted midnight blue. And on the first day took we a bucket of white emulsion and big floppy brushes and threw white stars thereon, even unto the extremities thereof. And we looked upon it and saw that it was terrible.And on the second day we painted it out and started again...

A great man, sadly missed.

Expenses Discrepancies

And did we all get the Telegraph's handy expenses supplement this weekend? Well, it seems there was some discrepancy; while village shops in the Tory shires had stacks of Telegraphs lining the aisles, urban dwellers rushed from pillar to post in the hope of finding a shop which had not sold out (h/t A Brief Encounter).

Does this mean that country-dwellers are indifferent to the political scandal sweeping the nation - or have Blears, Darling et al engineered a plot to keep the information out of key Labour seats? Maybe the distributors thought that edgy urban types would seek out the information online, while their rustic cousins needed a helpfully illustrated colour supplement.

There has, of course, been no shortage of online material. I leave it to other bloggers to discuss the differences between the official blacking out and that of the Telegraph - other than to say that there do seem to be anomalies between the two, not least in what constitutes sensitive information to be hidden at all costs.

I cannot be the only person reminded by this of the old story of the three politicians surprised by press photographers on a naturist beach - two immediately dropped their newspapers to cover their private parts while the third calmly raised his to cover his face.

Saturday 20 June 2009

Tales of Terror From the Dungeon

If you’re planning a fun family day out this weekend, you might be advised to avoid Warwick Castle’s new Dungeon attraction, at least if you are of a sensitive disposition. In the month since it opened, it seems that 15 visitors have fainted and another 4 have been sick.

The new feature includes “decaying bodies, chanting monks, torture implements and execution”, together with lashings of fake blood and life-size models of torture victims.

Of course, cynical readers may already have concluded that this story actually constitutes a warped sort of advertising; after all, Londoners flocked to the first stage production of ‘Dracula’ after the management advertised that a nurse would be present at each performance, in case audience members were overcome by terror.

Certainly the terms and conditions on the Castle’s website suggest that it’s not as bad as all that. With a cheerful disregard for punctuation, they assert that “Due to it's scary content The Castle Dungeon may not be suitable for children under the age of 10, all children must be supervised by an adult”.

So if you’re over 10, you’re fine, then. Surely anything deemed suitable for an 11-year-old is hardly likely to warrant visitors dropping like flies. They probably fainted at the Dungeon’s family entry fee of £30 – that’s on top of the £48 you’ve already paid to get into the Castle.

Sadly for those who fell by the wayside, the conditions also remind you that “The Castle Dungeon is non refundable”.

Expenses! - the musical: part 8 - Oops! I did it again...

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!

I think I did it again.
Asked you to believe
It’s sloppy accounting,
Oh baby;
It might seem like a fix,
But please don’t treat me
Like a criminal
Cause to lose all my expenses...
That would really devastate me.
Oh, baby; baby.

Oops! ... I did it again.
I filed the receipts
And put in two claims
For the same item, baby.
Oops!... You think I'm a fraud
But it’s all above board...
I'm really innocent.

You see my problem is this:
I've claimed for some things
That I suppose technically didn’t exist
And too much council tax,
Then redacted the forms
And covered my tracks.
But to lose all my expenses...
That would really devastate me.
Baby, oh.

Oops! ... I did it again.
I played with the system
Got lost in the game.
Oh, baby; baby.
Oops!... You think I'm a fraud
But it’s all above board...
I'm really innocent.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Friday 19 June 2009

Another Song of Kirkbride

(Perhaps a little late with this one, but then again she did spend £500 of our money buying curtains for her son's bedroom)

Bless you Julie Kirkbride
Wherever you may be;
You’ll soon be stepping down with your other half
So no more fiddle-dee-dee.

Lucky Julie Kirkbride,
Although you’re going grey
You’re the archetype of the busy young mum,
Or so your apologists say.

So you and Andrew split the bill
While he played the system with consummate skill
You both claimed for second homes until
The day
He gave it away.

Canny Julie Kirkbride,
Your brother came to stay;
So you built him a room for fifty grand
And got the voters to pay.

You’ve expressed no shame for playing the game
And you’ve put the blame in your husband’s name
But the way you claim ignorance sounds lame
To me
For a gal who sits in the House
As Bromsgrove’s own MP.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Expenses! - the musical: part 7 - Hey Kitty!

Hey Kitty!
(With apologies to Toni Basil)

Oh Kitty
Were you blind?
Did you think
We wouldn’t mind?
Hey Kitty!
Hey Kitty!
Oh Kitty
Were you blind?
Did you think
We wouldn’t mind?
Hey Kitty!
Hey Kitty!

So you lived there for a month?
Well that’s not very long
To claim it’s your main home
And I think you got it wrong
But still you made the sale
And pocketed the dough:
Oh Kitty!

You wouldn’t pay the bill
The accountant told you ‘Don’t’,
He fiddled it with skill
And told you ‘No, you won’t
Be liable for tax’;
And you happily agreed;
Oh Kitty!

Oh Kitty, what a pity
You don't understand
That blatant tax avoidance
Is really underhand;
Oh Kitty, sitting pretty,
On your forty grand,
Didn’t you know, Kitty,
How it would go, Kitty, go Kitty,
Right from the start, Kitty?

Oh Kitty
Were you blind?
Did you think
We wouldn’t mind?
Hey Kitty!
Hey Kitty!
Oh Kitty
Were you blind?
Did you think
We wouldn’t mind?
Hey Kitty!
Hey Kitty!

Update: The Crown Blogspot has extracts from Kitty Ussher's receipts here (but don't expect too much!)

Dungeekin' has a version of this for Michael Martin - well worth a visit.

Crimes of Fashion

First there was heroin chic, now there's stabbing style. Today's award for pretentious and unpleasant navel-gazing goes to the fashion designer whose latest collection, 'inspired by knife crime', is on show at Harvey Nichols this week.

Every now and then, you see a news story of such jaw-dropping strangeness that you think it has to be a hoax, but this is reported in po-faced style by the Telegraph, hardly a hotbed of tabloid inaccuracies.

The 'exciting young talent' responsible for this assortment of hooded tops and modified tracksuits seems a little confused in his thinking, claiming inspiration from the "narrative of 19th century Japanese pottery" but also including the statement that "knife crime is an issue that has affected and somewhat darkened the society that we live in today".

Somewhat? Somewhat? You mean 'it's all a bit unpleasant, but guys, your clothes are great!' Still, he also asserts that his work is "not just for anyone" and was "not designed for people who commit crime" but the "honourable victims", so that's alright then, isn't it?

As an exercise in tastelessness, this surpasses even the satirical film Zoolander, where New York's fashionistas swoon over the rags and dirt of the homeless-inspired 'Derelicte' collection. Its creator is now being tipped for the top, so look out in future for collections inspired by random muggings, gay-bashing and racist assault.

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Would you buy a tattoo from this man?

The hot debate over at the Mail online is whether you could fall asleep while being tattooed. More specifically, whether a Belgian girl could, as she insists, have slept peacefully while the gentleman pictured embellished her face with 56 stars instead of the three she allegedly asked for.

Not being one of the inked fraternity, I'm in no position to judge the possibility of this, but I've always understood the process to involve what doctors refer to as 'some discomfort', particularly in sensitive areas. Either this young woman has the hide of a rhinoceros or she was well fortified with some pretty effective pain relief (if so, what? And please can I have some?)

In any case, was it really wise to entrust an aesthetic decision to someone who decorates himself to such an extent, then puts on the most boring pair of glasses imaginable? Although, to be fair, Mlle Vlaminck too seems to have somewhat unconventional ideas about sartorial taste.

He claims she asked for the stars tattoo covering half of her face, only to change her mind when her family reacted badly.
The fact that she seems to have paid the £55 bill is in his favour, as is the assertion in some comments that tattoo artists always ink on a guide pattern in advance.

Still, haven't you ever started doodling and just gone on and on until you filled the page, even though you never meant to?
(Update:this from Graze: Kimberley Vlaminck, 18, claimed that she asked for only three stars to be tattooed near her left eye as a present from her father, Diego, who was upholding a family tradition of tattoos."My father wanted to pay because in our family everyone has a tattoo," she said. )

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Gran Theft Auto vs Laura Attic

Eheu! Eheu! The Urchin’s X-box is no more. Amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth (why gnashing, I wonder?), the resolution was formed to buy a replacement, so we set off for town.

In the sweaty, pulsating hell-hole that is the local shopping centre, we were offered a trade-in deal on a replacement console with a free game – the latest ‘Grand Theft Auto’: £40 worth of car crime, sex and violence, rated 18.

Moral considerations aside, the Urchin is not yet 18, so I assumed that another game would be substituted automatically. Not a bit of it – according to the package, we had to take ‘Grand Theft Auto’ (or, as I once saw in a small ad, ‘Gran Theft Auto’, which sounds altogether more interesting) or nothing.

After that, it seems, we could immediately trade it in for the Urchin’s desired Tomb Raider game or, as it’s known in the tavern, ‘that thing with Laura Attic in’. Now I could be wrong here, but it seems to me that, if the computer gaming industry is serious about enforcing age restrictions, then a non-negotiable deal on a notorious 18-rated game is a little odd.

And I find myself wondering just how many under-18s are out there tonight happily playing their new Grand Theft Auto games. Although I suppose it’s marginally better than doing it all for real.

But I haven't got a thing to wear!

We’re all tightening our belts these days, but it seems that some of them are brand new ones from Matalan. Despite the gloom and doom of the High St, the fashion chain is planning to speed up its expansion plans, claiming there is room out there for a further 50 stores.

With like-for-like sales rising over 8 percent in the past 14 weeks, they have the figures to back up this assertion. But it does leave one wondering where all these clothes will go in an already saturated national wardrobe; after all, if clothing sales were completely halted for the next year, none of us would be wandering round naked from necessity (from choice, now; there’s a different matter).

Somehow the nation has become stuck in a sartorial feeding frenzy. Yesterday, an interviewee on the radio said that she would spend her benefit money on clothes for her children rather than paying her utility bills - at the same time, schools have abandoned second-hand uniform shops because parents and children will not accept used clothing.

And so the juggernaut rolls on, fuelled by the media propaganda of ‘must-haves’ and ‘fashion essentials’, and to make room for it all, the UK annually dumps 1.2 million tonnes of clothing in landfill sites. Another 50 Matalan stores - that's just what this country needs!

Monday 15 June 2009

For pity's sake, don't encourage him!

Church of England attempts to broaden appeal with songs by U2 and prayers for Google

It sounds like something from Private Eye’s latest number; in an attempt to appeal to ‘yungpeepul’, the Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a new book as part of ‘Fresh Expressions’, a programme designed to ‘boost church attendance with more relevant and exciting services’.

These include a service at which worshippers are told that"our planet is messed up" and "things are not right" before walking round to ‘meditate at eight "prayer stations" representing themes such as "gender equality" and "environmental sustainability".’

Then a psalm is recited in "beat poetry" style and prayers are said "for the corporate world, for influential CEOs who oversee billion-dollar industries", naming, among others, Bill Gates, Dr Eric Schmidt of Google and H Lee Scott Jr of Wal-Mart Stores.

Are your toes curling yet? It gets worse; the new service book also brings us the U2charist, in which traditional hymns are replaced by the self-important maunderings of Bono & co. Presumably pretentious Armani sunglasses are optional, although the priest’s vestments will be made by Mrs Bono’s hugely expensive fair-trade clothing line.

It’s incredible to think that this was created without the intervention of Ian Hislop, yet the Church has managed, entirely unassisted by satirists, to come up with this monstrous hybrid of Holy Communion and U2 tribute night. With any pop musician this would be a dubious exercise, but considering Bono’s messianic delusions, the CofE may have taken on more than it bargained for.
As the T-shirts say: Make Bono History.

Saturday 13 June 2009

10 Ways the NHS is Killing People

Over the past few years, three close relatives of mine have been seriously ill. In each case, their chances of survival were seriously impaired by a catalogue of mismanagement and inefficiency. In particular, the delays in diagnosis and treatment, if other patients have had the same experiences, could be significant in the UK’s shameful cancer survival statistics.

'No shows' at consultant appointments cost the NHS many thousands every year. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever fully researched why patients miss appointments; they could start by asking members of my family, who, despite their assiduous efforts to attend every appointment, have experienced the following:
1. A consultant’s appointment letter sent to an empty house – the ‘client’ being a long-term in-patient in another department of the consultant's own hospital at the time. 
2. Several urgent appointment notifications received some days after the appointment date because ‘the hospital post-room only operates one day a week to save money’.
3. A vital letter which the consultant never saw – according to subsequent enquiries, it was opened by a secretary who decided it was not urgent and put it straight into the filing cabinet.
4. An urgent letter from a consultant which did not reach the patient in time because his secretary took two weeks to type it up. 
5. The receptionist who failed to mark the patient as having arrived for an appointment – so the consultant went home without seeing her. 
6. The receptionist who gave a cancer patient an appointment (requiring an 80-mile round-trip by taxi) on the consultant’s day off.
Of course, you have to get a referral to the consultant in the first place, which is not easy when you are faced with:
7. The GP who missed a cancer for 2 years, despite textbook symptoms, because the non-smoking, non-drinking 7-stone patient ‘didn’t fit the profile’. 
8. The GP who dismissed advanced cancer symptoms as side-effects of HRT, saying ‘if people bothered about side-effects, nobody would ever take anything’. 
9. The GP who refused for 5 months to carry out a PSA test (an indicator of prostate cancer) because, he said, the patient was merely experiencing 'normal side effects from statins'– when the test was finally done, the cancer was too far advanced for treatment.
And then again, there’s the careless lack of attention to detail:
10. The consultant who, we can only assume, gave a diagnosis of cancer to the wrong patient. On checking in late (after traffic delays), my relative was told by a puzzled receptionist, 'You've already had your test results; your name was ticked off the list when you went in twenty minutes ago'.
All of the events described here have happened to members of my family in recent years and have contributed to at least one premature death. I’m not going to say any more on the personal side here, but I have promised them that I will use any means in my power to publicise what has gone wrong while safeguarding their anonymity.

Friday 12 June 2009

Addicted to Statistics

What is it with football and statistics?

The sports pages of the newspaper are not my usual stamping ground but, contemplating a follow-up piece to a post on Kaka, I have been reading up on the details of the £80m price-tag attached to Cristiano Ronaldo.

In fact, it’s all so ridiculous that I can find little to say on the matter, but I was amazed at the way readers are bombarded with pointless figures. Why on earth, for example, should I want to know that Manchester United’s football pitch measures 116x76 yards, or how many Wayne Rooneys you could sign up for £80m? And as for ‘how many Ronaldo minutes per successful dribble’, whatever that may mean! (It’s 36, if you must know.)

Amidst all the doom-mongering that surrounds GCSEs and the dumbing-down of the nation, there exists this small anomaly; that people who applied themselves in the most rudimentary manner to the acquisition of knowledge at school can effortlessly reel off arcane statistics ad nauseam when discussing football.
These statistics have become a liturgy; the secret knowledge that binds a club’s supporters together in a tribal group. As such they must surely play a part in the emotional blackmail that keeps fans paying out as ticket prices and subscriptions rise inexorably to feed the ravenous maw of professional football.

Morning Traffic

In honour of the Artful Dodger’s last day at school and the fortieth anniversary this year of The Who's 'Tommy', here’s a little something that brightens my mornings:

(with venom; and apologies to Pete Townshend and Elton John)

Every weekday morning, between half eight and nine,
From London to the Midlands, from the Mersey to the Tyne
They’re out there in their thousands, all forming little lines
It’s the school run mothers,
Gotta get there on time!

In your rear view mirror see her far too close behind,
She’ll try and overtake you on a corner though it’s blind,
Or pull out right in front of you; who needs a Give Way sign
When you’re a school run mother?
Gotta get there on time!

Bull bars and a hairdo,
Gotta get there by the bell,

The school run mothers
Are the flying squad of Hell.

Thursday 11 June 2009

Interplanetary Billiards

Wow! Look at the headline! Mars or Venus could collide with Earth! Total global annihilation!
Well, no, actually. Typical scientists – get your hopes up and then tell you it won’t happen for a billion years if at all.

Is ‘Tiny Chance of Planet Collision’ really front-page news? Or worthy of a spot on the Today programme? Or does the BBC’s science correspondent have a quota? – “Come on, Pallab; 500 words NOW or no pay-cheque this month!”

Maybe he just got bored, sitting alone in his little cubby-hole in Broadcasting House waiting for someone somewhere to announce a momentous scientific discovery.

It’s one of those questions of proportion; the chances of it happening are infinitesimally small, but should it ever actually happen, it would be the biggest news story ever. I suspect there is a formula the BBC applies in such circumstances.

The mathematics of this are beyond me (I could never get the hang of statistics) but assuming minute odds of occurrence multiplied by almost infinite newsworthiness, one presumably arrives at the conclusion that it is as significant a news event as, say, an MP putting a floating Duck house on expenses.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

101 uses for a Dead Mouse

In another strange bit of news classification - on a par with this gem - the unpleasant discovery of a dead mouse in a malt loaf has been placed by BBC news in 'Northern Ireland Politics'.

As the deceased rodent was the subject of a court case, it seems that it automatically qualifies as political news. Since the BBC has at its disposal a juggernaut of news-gathering machinery, are we to assume that the same resources were brought to this story that would normally be deployed for rather more momentous events?

For those of us who grew up to the constant soundtrack of reports of Northern Ireland's sectarian violence, there is something truly satisfying in the knowledge that things are currently peaceful enough for journalists to go out and report on dead mice.

Friday 5 June 2009

Word of the Week

A busy week, so just time for a word - literally.

Shaun Woodward, faithful Brownite and ex-Tory, has missed out on promotion this time, it seems, so in his honour I should like to proffer the word tergiversator.

The word, courtsey of professor Erich Gruen, means a political turncoat (lit. one who turns his toga).

Meanwhile we observe with trepidation Glenys Kinnock's simultaneous elevation to the Cabinet and the House of Lords - be afraid, be very afraid!

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Just who are they in the Fees Office?

Wherever you look in this whole sorry saga, there they are, permitting this, allowing that and occasionally vetoing the other. “I discussed it in advance with the Fees Office” – how many times have we heard that recently?

In a particularly sordid little vignette, it seems we paid for ‘life coaching’ classes for the girlfriend and PA of Andrew Turner MP, a young woman whose ‘fiery’ nature led to ‘a poisonous atmosphere’ in the constituency office.

Turner had to pay £10,250 in compensation to a former office manager for unfair dismissal; the unfortunate man had previously been subjected by the charming Miss Dennett to a 20-minute "tirade" that left his "knees knocking and his stomach churning".

. Other employees gave evidence that Mr Turner was "very weak" and that Miss Dennett appeared "fiery", "especially when crossed or if she'd taken a liquid lunch". The tribunal chairman ruled that Mr Turner supported his girlfriend ahead of staff – even though her treatment of other workers was "far below acceptable".

And here’s the icing on the cake – Mr Turner claimed £6,471 of the compensation bill on expenses. The delightful Miss Dennett, too, was in contact with the Fees Office; in 2005, in an email to them, she wrote: "Look forward to receiving the money – I shall then be able to spend it on lots of booze so that the forthcoming election goes in an alcoholic blur. What do you think?"

Turner’s defence for this was that it was a shared joke between people in regular contact. If the Fees Office is staffed with people who enjoy sharing jokes with the likes of Miss Dennett, I think we should be very worried indeed.

Monday 1 June 2009

Twittering All The Way to a Darwin Award

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Darwin Awards are for people who "do a service to Humanity by removing themselves from the gene pool" in some particularly stupid fashion.

Previous holders (usually postumous, naturally) include an American who jumped out of a plane to film skydivers without wearing a parachute (1987), and the Brazilian who used a cigarette lighter to inspect the inside of a fuel tank (2003).

For those who do not actually die or lose their reproductive capacity, there is the honourable mention. This is a game we can all play at home; my personal shortlist, for example, includes the three boys I caught last week lighting a surreptitious fag while perched in a row on the school's oil-tank.

Today I'd like to nominate the young man who ran into a tree while simultaneously jogging and tweeting. According to the victim, in a scene which must have been viewed by passers-by with no little satisfaction and Schadenfreude, "The branch came out of nowhere and hit my face hard."

Well, they do that, branches. In fact, there's a whole lot of dangerous Nature out there, just waiting to pounce on the unwary jogger, particularly if he's using both thumbs and most of his brain to broadcast the amazing information that he's "Running to work, very late".Luckily for the waiting nation, he survived to tell us "Smacked my face against a branch, hurts". To think that we came so close to being deprived of such a literary talent forever!

Duck Houses and Red Herrings

A look at my recent visitor statistics shows a surprising number of hits from one particular search term. 'Expenses', perhaps, or 'Kirkbride'? No, the term of the week is 'floating duck house'.

Sadly it appears that many of the searchers, being practically minded Nova Scotians or Queenslanders, are actually seeking plans and instructions for building such a thing and are hardly likely to be impressed by UK political commentary, let alone a specialist firm who'll charge you £1,645 plus shipping for a 'bird pavilion' - I bet the Queenslanders have a choice phrase for that sort of thing.

Like the rest of us, they have been lured by Viggers' folly away from the real matter in hand. While Britain gets hot under the collar about the Petit Trianon antics of a few Tory squires, the property scandal has been going on largely unheeded by the general population.

In fact, part of the problem here is the scale on which 'flipping' was used; it's easy to report in detail on a single duck house or chandelier, but when there may be hundreds of MPs involved in these complicated procedures, how do you make a headline-grabbing story?

The thing that's puzzling me here is how they all seemed to play a complex system so expertly. I gather there's a sort of Freshers Tea after every election where new MPs are shown the ropes, but from my experience of such occasions you are so overwhelmed you can barely remember afterwards where the lavatories are, let alone the mechanism for maximising your ACA while balancing your CGT liability.

I suspect that, once the Telegraph has drip-fed us the last of its already tediously spun-out titbits, we will finally see the emergence of an eminence grise from the Westminster shadows - a sinister controlling intelligence whose sole purpose is to enrich MPs at our expense.

Sincere apologies to all you Australians, Canadians etc who've been led here again by mistake.

Sunday 31 May 2009

101 Uses for a Dead Rat

Ma Peachum – always a woman of infinite resource and sagacity – says that when you find a dead rat, you have to do one of two things; you either hide it away and hope no-one finds out about it or bring the revolting thing out and dispose of it publicly.

This week, we have been able to watch both methods put into practice; while Cameron has grasped the expenses nettle and called for police investigation (though it helps that the prime property/tax offenders aren’t his responsibility), Brown has vanished into the murky depths of No. 10, emerging only for some carefully choreographed photo-ops.

There was some speculation in the press this week that Brown’s hands-off Mafia-boss approach – leaving a team of ‘enforcers to do the dirty work – might pay off by keeping his hands clean, but it seems that they underestimated the public desire to see justice done.

In fact this particular dead rat has afforded far more than Ma Peachum’s simple alternatives; there is the political capital to be made from a public moral stance, the opportunity to settle old scores and the chance of a sly bit of Class War (moats and chandeliers, anyone?), to say nothing of the Telegraph’s boosted circulation and the rising profiles of political journalists.

But perhaps the most interesting effect is that, up and down the land, rich or poor, we’ve all got a ready-made conversation topic of mutual interest. In fact, not since the days of Thatcher have I discussed politics so frequently and with so many people; friends and colleagues, my hairdresser, bus drivers, shop assistants - everyone I meet seems to have an opinion and wants to share it.

They may be a bunch of amoral, avaricious scorpions, but you have to admit they’ve brought the country together.

Friday 29 May 2009

Vermin Seeking Ermine

This morning's Guardian presents us with the unedifying but highly entertaining spectacle of 52 Labour MPs (so far) jostling for position in the queue for promotion to the Lords, or as the Artful Dodger put it, rats leaving the the sinking ship for a slightly less rickety one.

As a clear demonstration of their profit-based motives for seeking election, it takes some beating. After all, the lure of a £45 grand allowance for life and a title beats the hell out of continuing an anonymous career of public service at a lesser level, so I suppose it's no wonder that these committed socialists suddenly find themselves among those who 'dearly love a lord'.

And that 52 is without any of the big cheeses, whose places in the lifeboat are virtually guaranteed by their lofty positions in New Labour's hierarchy; imagine if that bunch of principled and high-minded characters had to join the others in the scrum - we'd be picking body parts out of the carpet for weeks.
It seems I need to update the previous post...

Consider Yourself (And the forthcoming media feeding frenzy)

You could find yourself a way,
You could get yourself out of this difficulty;
Forget all your claims and frauds
And get yourself a place in the House of Lords.

It’s not just a gravy train;
You pocketed the whole bloody railway set,
Now you need to get away
Before they find out and make you pay.

If there should chance to be
Adverse publicity
At your duplicity,
Why grouse?
You’ll be sure to find
There’s lots more chaps like you
When you’re in the Upper House.

Consider the ermine robes,
Consider your Lady wife
And the annual allowances and pension perks,
Consider yourself
Made for life.

And this time, for those of a musical turn (and who are not reading this at their desks at work), there's even a karaoke version to sing along to....

Expenses! - the musical: part 6 - Consider Yourself...

By popular demand....

Consider Yourself (And Your Hefty Expenses Claim)

Consider your second home,
(It helps if it’s owned by one of the family);
A mortgage or just the rent
There’s lots of money there to be spent.
Now head off to Peter Jones
To pick for yourself some jolly nice furniture,
And renovate it at will,
Who cares? The taxpayer foots the bill!

Nowadays it's true, you will view
The Telegraph
With a hollow laugh
But hey,
Always a chance they’ll find
Worse than you
And you’re safe for another day.

You might manage to cling on,
You may not be in a hole,
But when the voters all decide they’ve had enough...
Consider yourself
On the dole!

Thursday 28 May 2009

Weasel Words in Bromsgrove

Today's Fun Quiz...

Word goes round the office that X is moving 'to accomodate her growing family'. Do you:

a) Ignore it - it only means they'll be sending round another bloody envelope?
b) Congratulate X on the impending arrival of a second child?
c) Assume it means that her free-loading 59-year-old brother wants his own room?

Well, exactly! What were the Fees Office to think when a woman who has already, in the best 'having it all' tradition, produced one child as an MP sends them this letter?

"The extended mortgage was taken out to pay for the building of an extra bedroom at our property, accommodating the needs of our growing family.
I trust this is all in order."
What she actually meant, of course, was, "The flat is big enough for us and our son but we want an extra £50,000 extension on expenses to accommodate my brother, who helps out with a spot of babysitting at weekends", but it's not obvious, is it?

The use of the stock phrase 'growing family', if not a deliberate attempt to mislead, is at the very least open to some ambiguity when applied to a woman of child-bearing age with an eight-year-old son. It hardly suggests that her home requires an extra room to house an adult relative of independent means.

After all, this is an 'honourable member' - if the fees office draw the not unreasonable conclusion that she is pregnant, they are hardly going to ask her for proof, are they? (That treatment is reserved for the rest of us proles, like the young woman recently refused NHS dental treatment despite abundant evidence of her condition - H/T Ambush Predator)

Whether she intended to mislead or not, the implication was there, particularly in her insistence that they would have to move to a bigger house if the extra money was not forthcoming, and could have influenced the decision of the Fees Office. This is the final straw in her already damaged credibility and has convinced me, at least, that she has to go.

Update: She has just announced she will step down. This has been touted as a blow against working mothers - but then how many working mothers expect the state to subsidise live-in childcare?

Wednesday 27 May 2009

'A Bromsgrovian's Lament' or 'The Song of Kirkbride'

(With apologies to John Betjeman - or for those of a musical persuasion, The Song of the Clyde)

Ms Julie Kirkbride, Ms Julie Kirkbride,
You're in real trouble, it can't be denied;
There are some things the voters find hard to forgive
Like the fact that you don't seem to know where you live.

In your box room your brother lives five years rent-free,
Claims a grand’s worth of gadgets on a fun high-tech spree;
It’s of course a coincidence, no more or less,
That his IT firm's based at the selfsame address.

As what of your sister, who pockets twelve grand
Of taxpayers’ money for lending a hand
When your secretary’s absent? That’s pretty good pay
For odd jobs done two hundred miles away.

So put up your hands and admit to the way
You’ve exploited the system and made us all pay;
Now the scandal is out there is nowhere to hide,
They won’t rest till you’re history, Ms Julie Kirkbride.

For an interesting and varied collection of comments on this issue, see Iain Dale's Diary 27/5 'In Defence of Julie Kirkbride'.