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

Sunday 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'.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Astral Projection, Cosmic Chakras and Fake Charities

For reasons which are too complex to explain, I have been reading a description by David Icke – pastel-tracksuited self-proclaimed son of the Almighty, remember? – of how he was chosen to fulfil the destiny of his ancient soul (or, if you prefer, how he was taken for a ride by an assortment of New-Age charlatans).

An ancient Chinese mandarin, improbably communicating through a medium called Betty, warned Icke of impending global disaster in the late 90s. Guided by various astral beings (as interpreted by helpful local psychics), Icke dutifully toiled round Britain and Canada unblocking cosmic energy channels and re-aligning the Earth’s chakras.

And it’s a good thing he did, it seems, because thanks to his tireless efforts, the global catatrophe was averted or at least reduced to minimal scale, and the dangerous years passed with no major incident. This, says Icke triumphantly, is conclusive proof of the success of cosmic intervention.

And that reminded me of something I read recently. As a newby to fake charity spotting, I may have this a bit wrong, but it strikes me that this story admirably conveys the essence of fake charity logic; see, they say, there is an urgent need for action to avert a crisis! Give us public money and resources NOW!

And when no crisis materialises, far from being abashed, they rejoice publicly that their prescience and prompt action prevented the impending disaster. See, they say, our strategy worked! How much more we could do if our importance and funds were increased!

Unless, of course, you prefer to attribute it all to astral intervention.

(H/T Mark Wadsworth)

Monday 25 May 2009

Sisters Aren't Doing it For Themselves....

....they're paying someone else a pittance to do it for them.

Some years ago, Robbie Coltrane's character in Cracker abrasively accused a high-flying career woman of hypocrisy, with (roughly) the words,
"So while you're out lecturing on Women's Studies and career opportunities, some poor cow's got her arm round your U-bend."

I was reminded of that by a story I came across while looking up Dick Timney's expenses-funded internet phone (was that really such a good idea...?). It seems that our former Minister for Women has been less than sisterly in her treatment of her domestic staff:

the cleaner at her 'second home' in Redditch, Worcestershire, has been paid £2,400 a year - or about £46.15 a week - without a pay rise for five years. The national average wage has risen by 14.5% over this time.

So much for female solidarity!

Quote of the Day

Not a device I'm given to, as a rule, but this explanation of an expenses claim from outgoing backbench MP Lady Winterton was too good to miss:

She said she had bought an ironing board and iron “as I do most of the laundry myself which saves expense”.

I'm sure it does, Lady Winterton. In fact some people find that doing it all yourself saves even more. It's good to know that these representatives of the people are so in touch with the real world.

Not Learning From Experience

The tavern’s regular day-time population has been temporarily increased by the presence of the Artful Dodger and an assortment of friends on study leave – which seems to be a euphemism for sitting in the garden consuming inordinate quantities of lemonade and ice cream.

In conversation with these youngsters about the recent expenses scandal, it emerges that, while admirably well-informed about the American electoral system and Catherine the Great, they have no knowledge of rotten or pocket boroughs, the Reform Act or Keir Hardie, let alone scandals like the Darien Adventure, and a fairly rudimentary grasp of Parliamentary history outside certain clearly-defined areas.

Not unusual, I hear you say? Well, no, not in general, but these are intelligent young adults who will, in the next few weeks, be sitting A level Politics and History, aiming for careers in journalism and the Law, and most of whom are preparing to vote on June 4th.

‘But it’s not on the syllabus’, they say. And if it’s not on the syllabus at University (for those who get there; as pupils at an above-average school for GCSE results, their chances of getting a place to read History have been drastically curtailed by Ed Balls & co – but that’s another story), then presumably they won’t hear about it at all.

Small wonder then, that our politicians seem to be stuck in an endless cycle of reinventing the wheel.

Sunday 24 May 2009

The air turned blue...

....this morning as the tavern regulars reached the bottom of page 3 of the Sunday Times.

While MPs fritter away our taxes on plasma TVs and designer rugs, the NHS is not far behind with a bunch of barmy schemes offering smokers and drinkers i-pods and helicopter rides if they sign up for help to kick the habit*.

While I don't have a problem with Lanarkshire's leisure centre passes for recovering addicts - a cost-effective way to help them stay healthy - I am less convinced by the cash bribes for those giving up smoking; surely the amount they save by not buying the fags is in itself an incentive.

The one that really sends the blood-pressure skyrocketing, though, is the hare-brained scheme to enter every teenager tested for chlamydia in a prize draw for a games console - "The bad news is that you do have an unpleasant STD, but hey! you've won a Nintendo Wii! How about that!"

All this has come to light courtesy of the same Freedom of Information Act that has provided us all with such quantities of indignation and mirth over the past fortnight. One can only assume that there will be more of the same to come in the future, although anyone averse to bad language should probably avoid the tavern when it does.

*via a prize draw - not such a good idea if they are also addicted to gambling.

Friday 22 May 2009

Just one more duck island post....

It seems that Sir Peter Viggers should in fact be praised for his moderation.

The Telegraph, ever keen to enlighten us, has published a gallery of available duck houses, including the 'Inniskilling' pictured above (rather incongruously on dry land), which retails for an eye-watering £2,291.25. Don't you just love the patriotic little flag?

One thing does strike me, though, which is that a man who buys little houses for his ducks and spends a fortune on manure is a man well-rooted in his surroundings and unlikely to sell his taxpayer-subsidised home for a fat profit in the near future.

The best expenses cartoon yet

Despite Nadine Dorries' best efforts at emotional blackmail, Matt continues to enjoy the funny side of this scandal, along with most of the country.

What did they all expect? Thanks to the apparent Fees Office-inspired confusion of meum and tuum, some MPs were apparently convinced the money was an inalienable part of their entitlement to spend as they liked, and it turned out that what they liked was 40-inch plasma TVs and little houses for ducks.

These are (supposedly) intelligent people; surely the fact that they had to provide receipts should have alerted them to the potential for public disclosure. And as for the ones moonlighting as property developers with a vested interest in rising house prices, how did they think we were going to react when our children can't afford to get on the housing ladder?

Or perhaps, like the Admiral from HMS Pinafore;
I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.

(W.S Gilbert 1878)

Some things never change.

Thursday 21 May 2009

The £1,645 Floating Duck House

No reason for this really - I just loved the picture, and the idea that Sir Peter also submitted a £213.95 electrician’s bill including fixing lights on a “fountain” . He must really love those ducks!.
Admittedly the fees office scribbled 'not allowable' on the receipt for the duck house, but the fact that it is based on an 18th-century building in Sweden (and made by a firm specialising in bird pavilions) surely makes his claim one of the finest Marie Antoinette moments of the entire scandal so far.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Expenses! - the musical: part 5 - The Tory Homes of England

In the interests of political impartiality...

(In the style of Noel Coward)
The Tory homes of England
How beautiful they stand
Upon an annual subsidy
Of over twenty grand,
Though allowances paid to Tory squires
In opulent houses in the shires
Are inclined to stoke the fires
Of resentment,
And especially at the way
They spend the cash we pay;

We helped John Selwyn Gummer
Eliminate some moles
We paid when Letwin’s tennis court
Developed nasty holes,
And even if cleaning the swimming pool
Is within the letter of the rule
A chap could look a fool
If he claims it all
Thinking the voters will
Happily foot the bill.

The summer house and stables,
The Aga and the moat,
Wisteria on the gables,
It all sticks in the throat;
So now they’re prepared to compromise
And pay their own way
To stay
In the Tory homes of England.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Midsummer Madness

21st June - an oddly auspicious day for the speaker to choose to step down.
The notion of a human sacrifice at the Summer solstice is a common one in the Pagan traditions of Scotland and that's all I'm saying.

Alfie Patten - The Price of Fame

Alfie Patten has packed into his short life so far the entire plot of a TV mini-series. He has achieved national notoriety, assumed parental responsibility for a baby and discovered that his girlfriend was, in common parlance, cheating on him, all by the age of 13.

And now this child, who became, fleetingly, the face of ‘broken Britain’, will doubtless be plastered yet again all over the tabloids (I’m too squeamish to look), courtesy of Max Clifford or some similar low-life.

For a few short days, the media frenzy will begin again, with journalists queuing up, cheque books in hand, to get the inside story on the ‘extremely distressed’ adolescent, although I suppose we should be relieved that the DNA results were not, as was at one time suggested, unveiled on national television in a scene that would surely breach some statute on child cruelty.

And the saddest thing of all is that this child’s welfare is in the hands of people who not only condoned under-age sex, but allow, or even welcome, the tabloids into their home. It is surely only a matter of time before someone manages to sell the film rights to ‘The Alfie Patten Story’ or turn it into a 'cutting edge' series for CBBC and the whole sorry business becomes front-page news again.

Sunday 17 May 2009

An Ode to Hypocrisy

The People's flag was deepest red,
But now its guiding lights are dead;
Their principles and lofty aims
Demolished by expenses claims.
New Labour came to rule the roost
And give their private funds a boost
And with a supercilious sneer,
To plant their skull and crossbones here.

While we work hard to pay our tax,
These parasites upon our backs
Indulge themselves in luxury
At the expense of you and me.
So now it's time to play it tough
And let them know we've had enough
And when they're gone we'll raise a cheer;
No more New Labour scroungers here.

Update: excellent letter to the NEC from Labour Activists (h/t to Plato Says)

Saturday 16 May 2009

Expenses! - the musical: part 4 - Elliot Morley

The Ballad of Elliot Morley (with apologies to the Beatles)

Elliot Morley
Pays off his mortgage and pockets a cool sixteen grand
All cash in hand;
‘Sloppy accounting’,
All a mistake and there’s nobody else he can blame,
Oh, what a shame!
All the crooked MPs
Where do they all come from?
All the crooked MPs
Where do they all belong?

Then David Chaytor
Puts up his hands and admits he’s been doing the same,
Playing the game,
Takes thirteen thousand
In interest to pay for a home that he already owns,
No outstanding loans.
All the crooked MPs
Where do they all come from?
All the crooked MPs
Where do they all belong?

A Matter of Interest

"Ooops! Didn't I tell you? I paid off my mortgage a year ago. Still, thanks for the sixteen grand - I'm sure it'll come in handy!"

So Elliott Morley and David Chaytor forgot to tell the fees office they owned outright the homes they were claiming mortgage interest for every month - well, it's easy to forget these trivial details, isn't it?

Morley claimed £800 a month for a Scunthorpe property for 18 months after the mortgage ended. In a statement, Mr Morley said he did his accounts in "yearly bundles" and he had "simply let the established payment run as it has for some years".

Now, this raises a question of some interest, so to speak. I don't know the exact dates involved, but a quick glance through some recent mortgage statements (funded solely by me and my hard-working spouse) shows interest rates have been changing three or four times a year.

So did Morley regularly alter his claim to match? I find that unlikely, given that he forgot to tell anyone when the mortgage ended, although it could, of course, have been a lifetime fixed rate. Do the fees office alter the allowance when the bank rates change? Again, unlikely; banks and building societies don't always conform.

So far, the papers have been remarkably silent on this issue, or perhaps I've missed an explanation somewhere. Whatever the truth of the matter, it's reassuring, isn't it, to know that the country is being governed by people either too dishonest or too careless to keep their own finances in order.

Friday 15 May 2009

Lies, Damn Lies and the BNP

Further proof, if it were needed, that the BNP are, like all political parties, an irony-free zone.

The leaflet that has been dropping through the nation's letterboxes - sample quote 'British jobs for British workers' - features a friendly-looking elderly couple under the slogan 'Why we're all voting BNP'.

It would be something of a surprise if they were, since they are, in fact, Italians. According to the Telegraph, Italian photographer Luca Di Filippo confirmed that the people in the photo were actually his parents, who had only ever visited this country as tourists and do not share the views of the BNP.

Bloggers Stephen Paulger and Tim Ireland reverse-searched the photos on the leaflets and found at least three of them for sale from an agency. As far as they can establish, the pictures above feature two Italians, three Americans and a Irishman.
The BNP are unrepentant; a BNP spokesman said that the images were "clearly meant to be representative" and denied that the party had broken the law.
"All the major political parties use actors in their adverts," he said.

So that's alright then. Only it sounds a bit like the sort of 'everyone else is doing it' excuse we've heard rather too much of in politics recently.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Eight Pointless Things....

Tagged by Ambush Predator today: having asked a passing teenager what a meme is, I now offer for your perusal eight pointless facts about myself.

1. I sing along to Queen in the car (but only when I'm alone).

2. I have never bought a National Lottery ticket.

3. I was once a New Romantic.

4. My favourite book is 'The Kraken Wakes' (John Wyndham) - witty narration, alien monsters and catastrophically rising sea levels; what more could one want?

5. I once saw a UFO - later identified as a missile test flight.

6. I recently inherited a somewhat decrepit baby grand piano.

7. I know all the words to the Spitting Image Chicken Song (despite trying to forget them for 22 years).

8. I've always wanted a long black leather coat, but, alas, I know it would look ridiculous on me.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Expenses! - the musical: part 3 - Westminster Rhapsody

(With sincere and abject apologies to the late, great Freddie Mercury)
I see a little silhouetto of a man
Bloody Hell, bloody Hell, he’s a Telegraph reporter
Digging for expenses, see the evidence is here
The gazebo (the gazebo),
The gazebo (the gazebo),
And the stables, chandeliers and portico – (-co –co –co)
I’m just an MP, nobody loves me,
(He’s just an MP, what a fine thing to be,
Don’t make him pay for this monstrosity –)
Easy come, easy go
Will you let it go?

Expenses? NO! We will not let it go!
Expenses? NO! We will not let it go!
Expenses? NO! We will not let it go!
Will not let it go,
Will not let it go,
No, no, no, no, no, no, no-

Mr Speaker, Mr Speaker, Mr Speaker, let it go,
My housekeeper needs a paycheque to be signed by me - by me- by me -
So you think you can stop me and expose my every claim?
So you think you can print it and make me admit to shame?
Or maybe
You think the public will blame me,
And just vote me out, just vote me right out of here.

Tennis courts and gardeners,
Swimming pools to clean,
The high life on expenses,
There'll be no more expenses
For me.

Gordon Brown's Beauty Tips

Forget the Beauty pages of Vogue, throw away your copy of Cosmo – we can bring you glamour secrets right from the top!

In the recent Government tradition of leaving important documents around in public, a vital state secret has emerged – how the PM does his make-up.
Yes, the exact techniques used for the fresh-faced natural look modelled in his recent webcast have been revealed to the world:
1. Transparent Brush. Foam all over.
2. Small pot under eyes, dimple, creases, blend in.
3. Clinique. Super balanced make-up. All over again, like painting a wall, and ears. Shut eyes over lids then with make-up pad smooth over liquid.
4. Powder (dark brush) terracotta Guerlain, all over.

And so all the flaws are disguised under an elaborate facade. Sometimes a metaphor is just too apt.

Monday 11 May 2009

Sulking with Triffids.

Mirabile dictu! A new John Wyndham book is to be published. But there's a catch. This treasure will set you back a cool £60. SIXTY QUID!

'Plan for Chaos', previously unpublished, was an early Wyndham work, presciently exploring the issues of cloning. Although by all accounts a flawed opus, it would still be great interest for admirers of Wyndham's particular brand of 'cosy catastrophe', as it was called on the Today programme.

So why the sky-high cost? Surely not a tiny print-run, although so far I can only locate 10 copies on Ebay - aa affordable new Wyndham would sell thousands, particularly with a BBC Triffid remake on the way. So is it just a way to extract the maximum profit from loyal fans - a technique the Premier League have been employing for years?

Forget it! At £60 a throw, I'm sticking with my Triffids.

Flipping Nonsense!

While we're all distracted by Maltesers and manure, a far more lucrative side to the Great Expenses Scandal has surfaced - the second home allowances racket.

As if by magic, your newly-refurbished second home is transformed into your main residence and - hey presto! - another renovation allowance appears. Or if you really want to play the system, the newly renovated place goes on the market and you pocket the proceeds and start all over again.

The extent of this practice goes a long way to explaining the property boom that pushed home ownership beyond the reach of our children. After all, what hope was there of any control of the housing market when so many members of the legislature were de facto property developers?

Saturday 9 May 2009

Expenses! - the musical: part 2 - the Things I have Claimed

(Phil Hope MP makes a cameo appearance along with young people from Corby Borough Council’s SHAPE Dance group.)

And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Care Services Minister Phil Hope with his big solo number:
The Things I have Claimed

(In the style of Julie Andrews)
Shelving, a sofa, six lamps and a hearthrug,
Wardrobes and bedding, new blinds and a bathplug,
Kitchen utensils too many to name,
These are the items for which I have claimed.

Carpets and curtains, a dining room table,
New doors and tiling, electrical cable,
I can see nothing of which I’m ashamed
Reading the list of the things I have claimed.

Yes, I’m embarrassed, being harassed
By the Telegraph,
But since it’s all mine and you can’t take it back,
It looks like I’ll have the last laugh.

Friday 8 May 2009

Expenses! - the musical

It seems to me that we have a West End hit in the making - a cast of hundreds, opulent stage sets (courtesy of John Lewis) and plenty of drama - so here's the first big chorus number...

With grateful thanks and apologies to Weird Al Yankovic ('Ebay')

(It's all on) Expenses

A new worktop counter,
A milk chocolate Santa,
A packet of biscuits,
A sackful of horse shit.

A flat screen and Cable,
A new dining table,
A pouffe and a loo seat,
It's all there on the receipt.

Tell me why our taxes paid for Geoff Hoon
(Tell me why) to decorate his bathroom,
Tell me what exactly his defence is
For claiming it on expenses.

A plastic ice-cube tray,
A tea-set from E-bay,
A wine rack, some house bricks
And Dick Timney’s skinflicks.

Tell me why a mirror for your make-up,
Tell me why so many brews at Starbucks,
Tell me why a drill to mend your fences
All claimed on expenses.

Tell me why a packet of Maltesers,
Tell me why two tins of chicken Cesar,
Tell me why you took leave of your senses
And claimed it all on expenses.

(Yes, it's all on expenses.)

H/T to the grauniad via Counting Cats in Zanzibar.
For more details, see the Telegraph - but you already knew that.

Tinky-Winky, Spiderman and Oompa-Loompa in Punch-up

'People dressed as an Oompa-Loompa, Spiderman and the Teletubby character Tinky Winky were among 10 held after a drunken brawl at a holiday camp over the bank holiday weekend.'
Those readers who habitually browse the well-tended acres of the broadsheets for news may well have missed this little gem. Initially reported by the Sun and gradually working its way up the journalistic food-chain, it has now arrived at the Telegraph online where it has been filed in Politics. Politics?

It seems that the story concerns Law and Order, and is therefore a political item (while the enforced smoking quotas of Gong'an Province appears under Weird News (subtitle 'How About That?)). Surely someone got their wires crossed here.

Although, come to think of it, given the farcical nature of recent political scandals and in-fighting, perhaps the headline isn't all that inappropriate for the politics section after all.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Bring On the Morlocks...

Want a recession-proof business idea? Then take a lesson from Pets at Home – pre-tax profits up 29% in the year to March – who are planning to open another 20 stores this year. It seems customers are buying toys and treats for their pets, but that’s not all:

Sales of fashion lines, such as dog clothing, have also risen as owners, faced with spending more time with their animals, try to spruce up their image, the company said.
Read it and weep! Even in the current financial climate, there are people out there prepared to spend their (presumably) hard-earned cash procuring the product of a third-world sweatshop to decorate a dog.

There’s a depressing symmetry here; the RSPCA recently reported that pets are being abandoned in ever-increasing numbers – up 25% on last year. The cost of pet ownership is surely a factor but:

The RSPCA is concerned that people are ready to give up their pets for the most bizarre reasons. One owner told an inspector: “My cat doesn’t match my new carpet.” Another said: “I’ve just bought a new leather sofa and I don’t want the cat to scratch it.”

The general picture is a depressing one; treating an animal as a fashion accessory, dressing it up for amusement or abandoning it for completely selfish reasons are the acts of a child, unreasoning and irresponsible. Britain is full of them, and retail power is now in their hands.

Will the last grown-up to leave the country please turn out the lights?

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Trash TV and Karen Matthews

Trawl through the Daily Mirror and you’re likely to feel in need of a shower, particularly after reading this. A depressing late-night ‘broken Britain’ conversation led to discovering Karen Matthews’ description of life behind bars:

"It's great here. We've got a pool table. I even have my own cell.... We've a wide-screen TV in the lounge." When asked what she missed, she quickly replied: "Sex, shopping and coffee at my neighbour's house." She never once suggested she pined for her seven children.

There’s something particularly depressing in her description of watching her own case being discussed on a chat show – ‘Jumping up and down in excitement on her chair, she said: "We were watching it in my cell. There were six of us. The audience were a*******s."

So this deluded and uneducated woman has daily access to hours of television, including the sort of chat shows that gleefully air the dark underbelly of society. And presumably the choice of evening entertainment on the communal wide-screen TV is hardly going to be what one might call edifying.

Matthews is herself a product of the chat show generation; shallow, immature, self-centred, lecherous and voyeuristic. What a waste, then, to allow her and her like to spend years absorbing yet more of the hypnotic sensationalism that has helped create their distorted values and moral standards.
Or is it now an inalienable human right for prisoners to watch trash TV?

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Put Out More Fags*

All over Gong’an County in China’s Hubei Province, state employees are puffing away as if their lives depended on it, or at least their careers.

In what must be one of the oddest state directives ever – and China’s had some pretty odd ones in the past – civil servants and teachers have been set a consumption target of 230,000 packs a year of locally produced cigarettes to boost the local economy.

Of course, state reliance on tobacco-generated tax income is nothing new – see Peter Taylor’s ‘The Smoke Ring’ (1984) for details – but few governments have gone to the lengths of rummaging through bins for incriminating rival butts or fining those who don’t smoke enough.

Even schools have been issued with a smoking quota for teachers, with inspections by a ‘special taskforce’ to ensure compliance. It seem the lure of vast tax revenues is irresistible - the tail is wagging the dog to an alarming extent; of all the resources for a state to rely on for its income, this is surely one of the least prudent.

But before we point an accusing finger or see this as third-world eccentricity – the Telegraph put this story in its ‘weird news’ section – consider the tax revenue from cigarette sales in the UK; perhaps we should take a good look at the windows surrounding us and put our stones down again.
*British joke - apologies to readers of an American persuasion

Monday 4 May 2009

Going for a Thong

By a happy concidence, I came across this (Telegraph Gallery) the same morning as JuliaM's diverting post on a paramedic who stripped down to a thong in Tesco after staff refused to serve him because he was in uniform.
Since he was trying to buy a bottle of wine, I suppose their refusal is understandable - consider the damage a drunken paramedic on duty could cause - but it seems a little harsh that any uniformed worker has to change their clothes before popping in for a bottle of Cabernet on the way home from work.
One has to wonder whether the thong in question is the paramedic's usual attire (rather uncomfortable wear for an 8-hour shift, I'd have thought), or whether, aware of Tesco's policy, he set up the confrontation to make a point - the recent TV screening of 'The Full Monty' being something of a coincidence.
Still, it made someone's day; eye-witness Rachael happily told the Mail,
'I couldn't believe my eyes. Normally people would pay to see a man in uniform strip but we got a free show.'
My thanks to JuliaM at Ambush Predator

Sunday 3 May 2009

Cometh the hour...

Health Secretary Alan Johnson told the BBC that Mr Brown was "a man for these times".
Swine flu and economic crisis and society going to the dogs, a public disillusioned beyond repair (46,236 signatures and counting) and rumblings among the party faithful; something of a backhanded compliment here, perhaps.

But what better figurehead for a nation plunging into recession than the man whose unshakable belief in the myth of his genius led to hubristic economic policies? Who better to represent the morass of NuLab’s gravy-train cronyism than a clannish Scotsman, walled in behind his privileged coterie of attack dogs?

Or perhaps it's an allusion to goverment by text-message and YouTube, and Brown's attempts to ingratiate himself with that NuLab target audience 'Yungpeeple' - I'm still having nightmares about the funeral-home makeup and creepy smile from that webcast.

Still, you’ve got to hand it to Johnson for standing by his man while the rest of NuLab jostle for positions in the lifeboats, or, to quote UK Commentators, the ship deserts the sinking rat.