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

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.