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

Monday 31 May 2010

Darwin Awards - Bank Holiday Special

It's been a good weekend for Darwin Award* hopefuls; today's Telegraph features side-by-side two stories that surely deserve honourable mention.

Firstly there's the Ipswich man who had to be cut free by firefighters after getting his arm stuck inside a pub vending machine. When the machine refused to dispense a cuddly toy for his son, our hero bravely reached inside, becoming so firmly lodged that it took his rescuers more than an hour to free him.

He may, of course, have been inspired by this...

Meanwhile a Manchester builder created his very own fireball when he liberally sprayed air freshener round the interior of his van then lit a cigarette - which makes one wonder why he bothered with air freshener in the first place.

*For those who "do a service to Humanity by removing themselves from the gene pool" in some particularly stupid fashion. In these cases, honourable mention only, as both are now recovering.

Friday 28 May 2010

Tell me a scary story

'Children 'more likely to own a mobile phone than a book'

Children as young as seven are more likely to own a mobile phone than a book, figures show, fuelling fears over a decline in reading.'

Thus the Telegraph in Cassandra mode earlier this week. It seems we are raising a nation of illiterates, at least according to the National Literacy Trust, whose latest study stridently proclaims that, 'Among children in Key Stage 2 – aged seven to 11 – 79.1 per cent had a mobile compared with 72.7 per cent who had access to books'.

Overall, in a survey of 17,000 children aged seven to sixteen, '85.5 per cent of pupils had their own mobile phone, compared with 72.6 per cent who had their own books'.

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted the anomalous phrasing; somewhere along the line, 'access to books' has been replaced with 'their own books'; a significant difference, given the existence of public libraries.

The NLT's website announces that '80% of children who read above the expected level for their age have books of their own; while only 58% who read below their expected level have books of their own'.

Which rather begs the question how did the other 20% manage to get above their expected level with no books? Further information will have to wait until the research is published next Wednesday, but we at the Tavern are wondering whether the data-gathering exercise featured that staple of pressure groups, the loaded question.

If so, it would be opportune for the National Literacy Trust who are - quelle surprise! - launching their 'Tell me a Story' campaign next week; perhaps we'll all be scared enough to click on the big red button on their website marked 'Donations'.

Thursday 27 May 2010

Captain Warren's Mistake

While the Little Ships were crossing the Channel 70 years ago today, a less inspiring event was taking place elsewhere.

At 8.30pm, Captain Warren and the crew of his Whitley bomber took off from RAF Dishforth on a mission to bomb on a German airfield in Holland. After a change of course necessary to avoid a violent thunderstorm over the North Sea, they arrived at the coast and searched for their target.

Amid anti-aircraft fire, they followed the river and turned right; the second pilot called out, "I've got it! Bombs Away!" Mission accomplished, they set a course for home. At the estimated arrival time, they dropped through the cloud only to find themselves over an unfamiliar city with the sea beyond.

A horror-stricken Warren recognised it as Liverpool. "According to my calculations, we can only have bombed something inside England. Christ, what are we to do?"

Flying by a magnetic compass damaged by the thunderstorm, they had dropped their entire load on the Fighter Command base at RAF Bassingbourn. Fortunately for them, if discouragingly for the RAF, the attack caused no casualties and almost no damage at all.

The unfortunate Captain Warren was demoted as a result and dubbed 'Baron von Warren' by his fellows for the rest of the war - two fly-boys in Spitfires even dropped an Iron Cross on RAF Dishforth in tribute.

Caveat: I can find no internet or encyclopedia reference for this story - my sole source is 'The Wrong Kind of Snow' by Woodward and Penn, who sadly do not give provenance.

Wednesday 26 May 2010

A tax on stupidity

How much would you spend if your 'chances of winning were 2,600-to-1'? Turns out, according to the Mail, that those were the odds of winning a prize at a Blackpool hoopla stall, as calculated by a maths expert at Lancaster University.

Trading Standards stepped in after secretly filming two girls aged 14 and 15 spending £70 without winning a single prize. The stall's equipment was sent to Lancaster for analysis and the operators successfully prosecuted by the council for breaching gambling laws.

'Council public protection officer Shaun McKinney said: "One individual who had come to Blackpool had spent £1,200 to £1,500 playing the hoopla game.

"Obviously a lot of it was to try and win their money back from the initial losses, and it's a case of keep playing until they think they can win it back." '

Here's an idea for Michael Gove & Co.; if you want lessons in school to be relevant and useful in later life, you could forget about Citizenship GCSE's and teach some basic probability and a realistic calculation of the chances of winning.

Of course, the National Lottery would take a nosedive...
Update: From the Telegraph,
'Staff at the stall would bully "vulnerable" tourists to keep playing to win back their lost holiday money, Blackpool magistrates’ court was told. Prosecutors said some were even led to cash machines after falsely being told they would eventually win prizes.'

Tuesday 25 May 2010

@andromache - beware of Greeks

Following the news that Derek Simpson twittered his way through the BA negotiations on Saturday there's been much speculation about when and where not to twitter.

Opinion is divided about the stream-of-consciousness trend - it is all too easy to make oneself ridiculous. This quote from Dizzy Thinks admirably highlights the potential of the medium:
'Frankly, even a very shiny arse with neon lights on it saying "I'm a shiny arse" would find it hard to make more of an arse of itself on Twitter than Sally Bercow has in recent months.'

Remember Stuart MacLennan and his political career, or rather lack of it? And what about the jogger who ran into a tree while sharing with an agog audience the fact that he was running in a park? Both are strong arguments for a sort of Green Cross Code; Stop. Think. Tweet.

And for recognizing that there are times when twitter is simply not appropriate. Business meetings are, by and large, out, as are church services of any kind*, romantic dinners for two and anything involving alcohol, but my favourite to date is a sight I observed last week.

Troy has fallen to the Greek army. On stage before a rapt audience, Hecuba the queen laments the loss of her city, her husband and her sons and bewails the fate awaiting the Trojan women. And in the wings, waiting for her cue, stands her daughter-in-law Andromache, baby cradled in one arm, busily twittering on her Blackberry.

*Update: and royal ceremonies - Dizzy Thinks has just posted on a new Labour MP's reaction to the State Opening of Parliament.

Monday 24 May 2010

Flying the flag - World Cup musings 1

Good news for the baboons of Knowsley Safari Park - it's nearly World Cup time again!

These simple primates delight in displaying their red and white car flags to their fellows or using them to adorn their sleeping sites. Groups of young males congregate at the drinking hole draped in the national team's insignia and vocalise raucously for hours.

Fortunate for them, then, that England's retail industry is gearing up to meet the demand. Following a trip to the supermarket (Buy it now! World Cup themed coke, crisps, biscuits [are we getting a pattern here?], breakfast cereal and, for all I know, toilet paper lining the aisles), I return to find an e-mail from Amazon offering me a cornucopia of football-related purchasing opportunities.

The merchandise ranges from the obvious (televisions and dvd recorders) through the predictable (England shirts, beer fridges) via the tacky (England cufflinks, a CD of 'Classic Football Songs) to 'they saw you coming' (car flags, beach ponchos and inflatable PVC armchairs - yours for only £15).

As austerity bites, a fortune will be spent on ephemeral tat made for multinational corporations by third world sweatshops, all in the name of supporting 'England' - now that's what I call 21st century patriotism!

Update: it seems the Merseyside baboons have learnt a thing or two since their first brush with fame in 2006 - some of them now have ASBO's (Antisocial Baboon Orders). We look forward with interest to their exploits during the next few months.

Knock-on effect?

'300,000 jobs in public sector face the axe

Detailed research by The Sunday Times shows that at least 300,000 workers, including civil servants and frontline staff, will lose their jobs over the next few years.

Some estimates suggest that the number of job losses could reach 700,000. These will include tens of thousands of health service managers as well as many thousands of doctors and nurses, according to internal documents from the National Health Service.

A similar analysis of 75 local authorities suggests that at least 100,000 council workers across the country will lose their jobs.'

The Sunday Times, 23rd May 2010

'Toddlers’ bad behaviour is always mothers’ fault, says Oliver James

The psychologist and broadcaster Oliver James has stomped on to sensitive terrain with a book that suggests mothers of toddlers should avoid working outside the home. In a work that has already provoked howls of anger, he argues that children should not be left in the care of others for long periods.

The author claims that young children “need to be in the presence of a responsive, loving adult at all times”, warning mothers who go out to work that daycare is associated with more boastful, disobedient and aggressive children.'

The Times, 22nd May 2010

Sunday 23 May 2010

Queasy juxtaposition of the week

First this, in the Telegraph...

'Pizza in Naples 'cooked with wood from coffins'
Italian prosecutors believe pizza in the southern city of Naples may be baked in ovens lit with wood from coffins dug up in the local cemetery, according to Italian daily Il Giornale.'

...then this, in the Times:

'Pizza ovens: the perfect antidote to changeable British weather'

Friday 21 May 2010

The Labour Leader Race - in song

With apologies to Val Doonican (I know, I know, but sometimes these things just happen, OK?).

Now New Labour had a leader who wasn’t much admired,
When they lost the election he had to be retired;
They obviously needed someone to take his place,
And so the curtain rises on the Labour leader race.
Shyly, slyly, first comes David Miliband,
“If no one else runs, I’ve got it in the bag”.
The forthright Blairite doesn’t have it all in hand,
His brother makes a challenge and the starter drops his flag.

So there’s Diane Abbott, Ed and David Miliband
Burnham, McDonnell and don’t forget Ed Balls
Lined up in the starting gate while all of us anticipate
The backbiting and bitching till the last one falls.
They’re in the public eye again, hoping we’re espying 'em
Winking, blinking and jostling for place,
No hope of dispersing ‘em though everybody’s cursing ‘em;
The runners in the forthcoming Labour leader Race.

Now Balls he is a tough guy, never known to flinch,
And neither of the Milibands is going to give an inch;
McDonnell, he’s the sort who would grab you round the throat
And shake you like he did the Mace to try and get your vote,
Andy Burnham’s lined up with the rest of 'em,
Please forget he left some papers on a train!
Meanwhile Diane thinks that she’s the best of 'em -
Surely no one wants a middle-aged white male again!

So there’s Diane Abbott, Ed and David Miliband
Burnham, McDonnell and don’t forget Ed Balls,
All ready to debate, to bluster and pontificate
In Parliament and studios and draughty halls;
It makes them all feel liverish to know they’ve lost their privilege
Liberals and Tories are sitting in their place;
European unity, care in the community,
All to be debated in the Labour leader race.

A party with no leader, a cabinet with a grudge,
When Gordon faced the cliff edge, who was it gave the nudge?
Gone is any semblance of Party unity;
Like ferrets in a sack all they can do is disagree.
Close advisors, spin and cod psychology,
Each one worked up, ready for the fight,
Fired up, wired up, and without apology
Constituents go hang while they're campaigning day and night.

So there’s Diane Abbott, Ed and David Miliband
Burnham, McDonnell and don’t forget Ed Balls,
There’s no use in complaining, they’re occupied campaigning;
All else falls by the wayside when ambition calls,
But look! Another rider, a total rank outsider,
Is scheming, dreaming of the winning place;
The bookmakers will rub their eyes at the Labour Party's suicide
The day that Glenys Kinnock wins the Labour leader race.

Thursday 20 May 2010

There's no getting off mascot-free.

You know the old adage that 'a horse designed by a comittee would be a camel'? Well, it turns out that if you want a figure to represent the London Olympics and have a vast budget and 40 focus groups, you get these;

described in a comment on the Times article as 'The result of a drunken one-night-stand between the Michelin man and a teletubby' , though I prefer Pavlov's Cat's version.

Wiser heads than mine have been mining the rich vein of comic potential in this story, so I shall merely invite you to consider a couple of minor issues - firstly that, inside those presumably hot and stuffy suits are two actors who must be profoundly grateful that their faces are obscured, and secondly that these repulsive creatures will be with us for two years.

You'd think they'd have learned from the migraine-inducing 2012 logo - memorably compared to alcopop-induced vomit - but no, the creators of these two 'futuristic magical beings' are confident their offspring will generate £15million in merchandising profits, possibly with a nice sideline in compensation payouts under the Disability Discrimination Act every time one of us laughs at their monocular state.

In fact the organisers hope that the initial story-book and animated film will eventually spawn a cartoon series (I wish I could doubt that, but have you seen the rubbish on children's TV recently?) as well as a mountain of plastic tat. Schools can even request a visit from the characters on their national tour in 2012 - that should ensure a few nightmares!

Does anyone else remember Ronald Searle's Molesworth cartoon depicting the educational trust Gabbitas and Thring as a pair of sinister top-hatted Victorians? I wonder what he would have done with Wenlock and Mandeville - however worthy the names, I can't help feeling they should resemble the hand-holding perfumed villains in 'Diamonds are Forever'.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Power to the People!

We're not exactly manning the barricades - not yet, at any rate - but a trawl through the local news stories of the Home Counties reveals an interesting trend.

From the villagers of Meriden and their Home Guard-style operation to prevent an illegal traveller camp to the doughty Dorset pensioner marching backwards and forwards across a pedestrian crossing to protest about traffic volume in his village, the people are on the move.

The latest addition has appeared on an Oxfordshire road where someone, fed up with speeding vehicles, has put up this sign.

Look at the quality and finish - this has taken time and money to produce. Someone wants to make a clear statement. And so far, it appears, the official jobsworths have not arrived to take it down (although this may simply be because they need forms signed in triplicate by the Archbishop of Canterbury before they can do so).

I suspect we will see increasing amounts of direct action as the departure of Gordon Brown has helped to shake the country out of its defeatist inertia - there's a hope that, under a new administration, the institutional bureaucracy and interference of the last decade can be cast aside.

Whether Cameron & co. actually deliver may be less important than the people believing at last that they can make a difference and actually getting out there to prove it.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Well, that narrows it down....

YONA*-spotting is usually the preserve of the indefatigable social commentator Ambush Predator, but this example, so far from the expected urban habitat, struck me as being worth commenting on.

‘A teenage girl suffered a fractured jaw and cheekbone after being kicked in the head and body by four men.'

The 17-year-old girl was walking along a footpath on the outskirts of a rural town at 4.30 on a weekday when,

‘In what is understood to be an unprovoked attack, four men aged about 19 pushed her to the floor before starting to kick her.’

As a parent, I find this chilling - a serious unprovoked assault in broad daylight on a lone teenager not far from where we live. Like many others, I imagine, I want to know what’s being done to trace the attackers. The police have appealed for information and issued a detailed description...

‘One was wearing navy tracksuit bottoms with a white stripe and another was wearing black tracksuit bottoms. All four wore hooded tops with the hoods up and white trainers.’

So as long as they don't change their clothes, they'll be picked up in no time!

*That’s ‘Youth Of No Appearance’, courtesy of JuliaM

Monday 17 May 2010

'N glws gweithia os gallwch chi ei gael*

Conversation in the Tavern recently turned to Muffled Vociferation's post on translation services in the UK - costing an estimated £120million - and an interesting allegation came to light.

It may simply be Tavern gossip, but a visitor from out of town tells us that, should an English speaker wish to transact business in that language in certain Welsh government offices, the staff will, without cracking a smile, call for an interpreter, at the taxpayers' expense, who will solemnly translate the words of the anglophone visitor for the staff and relay the Welsh reply in perfect English.

This despite the fact that the staff almost certainly speak fluent English - even pro-Welsh agencies admit there are now no adult monoglot Welsh speakers - and, in any case, for anything invented after the industrial revolution, the pronunciation is virtually the same, even if the spelling is rather more creative.

*'Nice work if you can get it' (or possibly 'illiterate English prepared to believe sh*t internet translation')

A mass cultural imperative? Pass the popcorn

A Facebook group has been set up (don’t you hate that phrase?) in a midlands town; so far, 150 people have signed up. The founder justifies her campaign thus:

“The Council advertises that one of its priorities is to be cleaner and greener; how can that be true when we have to travel so far by car, adding to the carbon footprint?”

So what is it that forces residents to drive unreasonable distances? Medical care? Education? Grocery shopping? No, all of these are in plentiful supply locally and well served by public transport.

What this town lacks is a multiplex cinema. The unfortunate inhabitants only have access to a two-screen town centre Odeon – 385 and 190 seats respectively – which is, apparently, not enough for some people; the campaign’s founder is ‘fed up having to travel to Northampton or Milton Keynes to view films in a modern big cinema’.

Now I’m not averse to the occasional night out at the pictures, but I’m intrigued by this wish for a multi-screen venue, since the main screen may be large but the other eight or so range in size down to something smaller than some of the televisions on sale in Curry’s. In any case, since you can only watch one film at a time, I’d have thought the number of screens is largely irrelevant.

But more interesting than that is the phrasing – that imperative ‘have to’. A cinema already exists, centrally located and near several car parks, big enough to hold 1% of the town’s entire population. It shows the same films as the big venues, it even sells the same over-priced sweets and buckets of popcorn.

And yet, when the 150 Facebook petitioners pass it by on their 40 mile drive to a multiplex, their increased carbon footprint is someone else’s fault.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Live long and prosper - at a price

The future is here - at least if the Sunday Times is to be believed. Fans of quality science fiction came in for a treat today with reports that we are on the way to not one but three scenarios we have previously seen played out only on our bookshelves.

First we have an anti-aging treatment - John Wyndham: Trouble With Lichen - estimated to appear in the next decade following genetic research. Then there are the six intrepid cosmonauts spending 18 months on a simulated trip to Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson, Ben Bova and a dozen others - and, as if that were not enough, the Brave New World of IVF for all - perhaps the first step towards babies in bottles.

Of the three, it is the first that, despite the advantages it purports to hold out, would have the most devastating effect on society - after all, it's a fair bet humans will continue to conceive in the traditional way for the foreseeable future. In Wyndham's novel - a trenchant social satire - a scientist describes his growing sense of alarm when he realises that he has discovered an antidote to aging:

'But just imagine the result of a public announcement....simply the superficial result of knowing that the means to extend one's term of life exists. The thing would be off like a prairie fire. Think of the newspapers fawning on it.[...] The contriving, the intriguing, the bribery - perhaps fighting, even - that would come of people trying to get in first to grab even a few extra years,[...] The whole prospect was - and is - quite appalling.'

And now, according to Eleanor Mills, a team led by Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, is already developing drugs to mimic the effect of centenarians’ super genes; testing on humans could begin in 2012. He reckons that within five or 10 years people will take these pills at around 40 “and their lives will be longer”.'

So what will be the effect on the day he announces a drug that will prolong life? Well, if past experience is anything to go by, whichever pharmaceutical company is backing his research will immediately slap a price-tag on the product that will rule it our for all but the super-rich. After all, the situation already exists.

For many people with terminal cancer, there are drugs out there which can change life expectancy from weeks to years - at a price. If you - or occasionally the NHS - can fork out £50,000 pa, life goes on; if not, it doesn't. The drugs companies aren't in the business of charity; the bottom line is always profit.

After decades of research, they're going to want some return on their investment in the ultimate in marketable commodities. The Times thinks millions of people will take the drug, leading to the social upheaval foreseen by Wyndham's scientist - think about the effect on annuity values or insurance premiums - but we're far more likely to see a ruling elite firmly ensconced for decades while the workforce live and die as they always have done.

Friday 14 May 2010

'Er...I'll have the second prize, please'

It's been an odd week for fundraising. First, the Urchin's school holds a sponsored swim to fund a playground for Guatemalan orphans and rewards the year-group that raised the most with a mass outing to a theme park - 'Hey, guys, we've bought you a tyre swing; now we're off to Alton Towers to celebrate!' - and then one of the least desirable raffle prizes ever is offered in the USA .

'In an e-mail sent to millions of people who supported Hillary Clinton’s White House campaign, the former President asks: “How would you like the chance to come up to New York and spend the day with me?” For those who would like the One-Day-With-Bill prize, an online donation of as little as $5 will buy them the chance.'

It seems it's a costly business running for President - estimates of debts run up by Hillary during her campaign run at about $25m, which rather takes the shine off the assertion that anyone can be president of the United States. As Secretary of State, Hillary is barred from fundraising so Bill has taken on the task.

This is apparently the second time this year he has raffled himself - the article doesn't say what happened last time; perhaps it's still sub judice - even though the Clintons aren't exactly short of cash. Their joint earnings from speaking engagements and memoirs 2000-2007 are estimated at $109 million.

And there's a horrible future spectre looming - if, as we heard yesterday, Cherie Blair took to sitting in on Cabinet Meetings (h/t Mrs Rigby), could she be harbouring future leadership aspirations? And if so, will we one day see Tony Blair selling himself to fund his wife's political ambitions?

Thursday 13 May 2010

New Shadow Cabinet meets...

Like the aftermath of a Las Vegas wedding, today will doubtless see some interesting scenes in 10 Downing Street as the newly-hitched couple start to find out about each other's intimate habits*, but spare a thought** for those former Cabinet Ministers now consigned to the wilderness of opposition...

Persumably there's nothing now to stop hats being thrown into the ring; given the backbiting and infighting (h/t and farewell LFAT) of which Labour's top brass have shown themselves capable, a leadership campaign should provide us with hours of entertainment in the months to come.

*The Urchin has been idly speculating on whether Clegg ought to have a bedsit on the top floor, or possibly a Thursday-to-Sunday timeshare, in consideration of his party's contribution.

**In the case of Ed Balls, 'Ha ha ha ha ha ...'

Wednesday 12 May 2010

The opposite of aspirin

I think I need a note saying; "Excused Alastair Campbell".

A kindly soul sent me a link to Campbell's blog yesterday, commenting on the man's uncanny ability to wriggle out of any association with the sinking HMS New Labour.

Following on the heels of the coalition excitement and a frantic day at work, a few minutes of Alastair's musings were all it took to give me a headache - not one of your namby-pamby twinge-in-the-temple ones but a full-blown head-in-a-bucket bastard behind the eyes, enhanced by the nausea induced by the thought of his new novel featuring 'an A-list movie star'.

So, dear reader, you have been warned. Posting may be light for a day or so. But if you have the stomach for it, it does make interesting reading (as do the comments - my favourite is the one reproaching Polly Toynbee for not being left-wing enough, but look out for for 'Alastair, Have you managed to clear your pram of toys yet?' ).

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Sights we'd like to see

Does anyone else have an irresistible mental image of the Queen solemnly watching the door close behind Brown before turning round and punching the air with a cry of "Yessss!"?

The caveman offering us a pig in a poke

So he's gone. Or hasn't. Like the leader of the last Neanderthals skulking in his cave, balefully watching Homo Sapiens stride into view over the hill, Brown clearly intends to stay put for the time being and strive to keep the march of evolution at bay.

Of all the indignities his Government has foisted on the electorate, this must surely be the greatest and most unforseen. Brown stays to broker a deal with the LibDems and anyone else they can rope in to make up the numbers, then, when Autumn comes and the LabLib coalition is firmly ensconced, they elect a new leader.

And as the doors of Number 10 open to receive Prime Minister Miliband or Balls or - God forbid! - Mandelson and another unelected leader is foisted on us, all the voting public will be able to do is watch in impotent horror and bury the valuables in the garden.

Prosepective leadership candidates have been asked not to declare themselves yet; it is claimed this is 'for fear of looking undignified' - I'm more inclined to think that, if Balls and Mandelson announce their candidacy, the most undignified spectacle in town will be the scrum queuing for immigration papers outside every Commonwealth embassy in London.
Update: Seen over at Burning Our Money in a fine post on the coalition wranglings -'Tyler's Polish patio-layer tells of an old Polish expression re changing governments - "same trough, new pigs". '

Monday 10 May 2010

Farewell, Letters

Crowded as it has become, the blogosphere will seem an emptier place next week with the demise of Letters from a Tory.

Witty, intelligent, occasionally provoking but always a worthwhile read, the Letters have been regular reading for the Tavern inmates and will be sorely missed.

Coincidentally (with apologies to readers of a sensitive disposition), since the phrase appeared in a comment at LFAT on Friday, the Tavern has resounded to the cheerful tune of 'If I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake' with revised words:

"How can we miss you if you won't f**k off....?
Gordon Brown, Gordon Brown, Gordon Brown!"

Happy earworm, everybody!

Sunday 9 May 2010

And now on BBC 1: The Luvvie Boat

One of the more bizarre elements of the BBC's Election Night coverage prompted Ross at Unenlightened Commentary to remark, "The things you see when you don't have a U-boat to hand," in a post appropriately entitled 'Ship of Fools'.

He was, of course, referring to the £30,000 party hosted by the Corporation at which dozens of celebrities were wined, dined and occasionally asked to pronounce on the state of the nation. Quite why our licence money should be spent ensuring Andrew Neil could call on the political acumen of Joan Collins or Piers Morgan, I'm not entirely sure.

While the presence of rival historians Schama and Starkey is understandable, it's hard to imagine the reasoning behind the invitations to Bruce Forsyth, Ben Kingsley and Kelly Holmes, whatever their respective merits in their own fields. And why did it have to be on a hired boat on the Thames? Last time I looked, the BBC had a state-of-the-art Election Studio with plenty of room for extra guests.

According to a BBC spokesman ‘As part of our election night coverage, we produced live interviews and broadcasts throughout the night from a boat moored outside the London Eye, discussing the election results with views of the House.' (Translation:"we wanted a load of celebs to upstage the competition but they wouldn't play ball unless we gave them free champagne".)

It's the apotheosis of the pointless on-the-spot report - Robert Peston shivering in a deserted Square Mile at 10:15pm or Nick Robinson standing in the rain outside Number 10 while the PM's in Scarborough. Here's the thing - we already know what the Palace of Westminster looks like. We really don't need you to spend £30,000 so you can sit in front of it cosying up to Piers Morgan.

The party did, however, serve to underline just how far we've moved on since the 70's, when election coverage meant a studio full of union bosses, expense account bellies and chins a-quiver, pontificating on the results. Instead, in an enduring legacy of 'Cool Britannia', the BBC sends its presenters out on election night to fawn on perma-tanned, botoxed celebrities - a sign of the times indeed.

Friday 7 May 2010

The Tartan Factor

An idle thought - the Conservatives have just hit the 296 mark; they would now have an overall majority if Scotland were cut adrift.

Just sayin', is all.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Election - the musical; a reprise

While you're waiting for tonight's results, the tavern regulars thought you might like the chance to revisit some of the musical highlights of the campaign.

So here, for your delectation, are links to 'Seaside Manifesto' , the 'Gillian Duffy Blues' and 'It's My Party'. There's also a song that encapsulates the election fatigue that overtook most of us at some time or other (cheer up, NickM and Demetrius - you're not alone) and, in hopeful anticipation of the unkindest cut of all, 'Ed Balls - Who?'

Update: No post-election songs here as yet but Dungeekin's been quicker off the mark.

Game On!

The media may be muzzled today but comment is still rife in the blogosphere. This has been, without doubt, the most interesting and entertaining election campaign I've seen, mainly because of the numerous informative, perceptive and sometimes downright hilarious posts out there.

The downside is that, with a new-found interest in constituencies all over the country, I am probably in for a sleepless night - who could settle down for a relaxed kip when there's the potential Morley and Outwood Castration in the offing, or John Walsh's valiant struggle in Middlesborough?

Here at the Tavern, we usually try to preserve at least a modicum of political neutrality*, but the prospect of massive humiliation for the Rogues' Gallery whose machinations have intruded into every aspect of our lives while they lined their pockets at our expense is too much for our impartial stance - the Tavern will resound to loud cheers tonight if any of Labour's High Command are ousted.

Eschewing the BBC's 'Election Night Party pack', we have ample supplies of drink, we're armed with the Telegraph's handy expenses supplement to read during lulls in results and we plan to drop in occasionally on SUBROSA's live blog. See you there!

*ie we're happy to have a go at anyone who deserves it. To quote one of my favourite fictional characters, 'Honey, I have insults for every race, creed, colour and sexual orientation - I don't discriminate'.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Get Gordon Brown out of my sitting room!

There he was on the screen, grimacing away in front of a field of waving corn (prosperity? a subliminal fertility symbol?) while the adoring multitudes howled with delight at every opportunity.

He was pronouncing what you might call New Labour's Beatitudes, listing the achievements of the past thirteen years, claiming credit for anything that could possibly be construed as positive - Olympics, black women peers, the number of teachers... the list went on and on, while the crowd prostrated themselves to touch the hem of his garment.

I see from the news that I must have been watching Brown addressing 'a morale-boosting rally of 300 activists in Manchester' - which raises the question of exactly whose morale was being boosted. By the time I switched on, Brown was grinning manically, which is not a sight you want to be greeted with after a hard day at work.

The reason for this particular self-satisfied smile? 'Under Labour, there are more students at university than ever before and I'm happy to say the majority of them are women'. Cue: whoops and squeals of delight at a level suggesting the entire audience had just won the lottery.

Exactly why is this a cause for rejoicing? I'm all for equality in educational opportunity, but why is this inequality a source of jubilation? the only reason I can think of is a sort of double negative; women lacking education is BAD, so more women than men in university must be GOOD.

So where does this leave my son? Finding a university place is hard enough already: he'll be set impossible targets because his school is above average for GCSE's - and it's not comprehensive and we don't live in a deprived area, so there are quotas operating against him as well. With application forms now asking about parents' qualifications, he'd be better off being adopted by wolves - or possibly urban foxes.

The slogan 'A Future Fair for All' has a distinctly hollow ring to it, in this household at least.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Labour's Seaside Manifesto - blink and you'll miss it!

Yesterday afternoon, this bizarrely-titled document was appearing in media reports - by evening, there was scarcely a mention. Did they think better of it? Where did it go? Or was it just killed off by the British weather - the planned photo-ops of Brown surrounded by happy families eating ice-cream failing to materialise.

Still, it seems only right to commemorate it in song...

Seaside Manifesto

Seaside, while the media stroll along with me
I'm busy showing them that right is on my side;
See how I’ve teamed up with Duncan Bannatyne?
(You know you’d like to criticise but you can't)
So I’m campaigning madly,
Would town regeneration make you vote for me gladly?
A brand new angle in every marginal
Seaside rendezvous.

I’m getting frantic, three days left to campaign,
So it's Seaside manifesto time - you’ll like it,
It’s fantastic, you can be an entrepreneur,
And there are neighbourhood agreements,
Heritage programmes
And rebuilt piers - it's so fashionable!


And so Great Yarmouth, where I am today
Visiting with Duncan here,
In a renaissance
Will be the Riviera of the North Sea
With just some regeneration and some government cash
If you all vote for me.

So we’re here at the seaside
For a photo opportunity
Maybe things’ll work out right
See how I’m posing with Duncan Bannatyne
In search of some reflected glory from the man?
Though maybe deep down we know
The public’s had enough of us and yearn to see me go
There’s still a place for Labour’s sensational
Seaside manifest-o – it’s adorable
Seaside manifest-o–o-o
Seaside manifest-o, give us a kiss!


Monday 3 May 2010

...and how exactly is that a recommendation?

Today's food for thought comes courtesy of MSP Nicola Sturgeon, heard on the BBC speaking in praise of what the powers-that-be now insist we refer to as a 'balanced parliament' (I think they were getting sick of all the jokes...)

"I appreciate that in a UK context that's something people are not particularly used to, but in Scotland we already have a balanced parliament. The SNP is a minority Government in that balanced parliament and we build concensus on an issue-by-issue basis, with different parties.

Small parties in the Scottish Parliament, the Greens for example, they've only got two members of the Scottish Parliament but they use their influence very wisely to win big concessions."

Now substitute another party of your choice for 'the Greens' and 'UK' for 'Scottish'.....

Sunday 2 May 2010

Fork Out!

Remember Morton's Fork? Henry VII needs a bit of cash so he sends his henchman Archbishop Morton out to extract more taxes from the reluctant populace. The cunning Morton adopts a breathtakingly simple double strategy;
"You're not spending much - you must have plenty to spare for the King" or alternatively "You're spending a lot - you can easily afford something for the King"*.

The same thinking is evident in today's Sunday Times article claiming that 'Students are facing rises of up to £1,000 a year in tuition fees under plans being drawn up by an official review that could eventually allow universities to charge the full cost of a degree'.

If the current fees cap is removed, 'Leading research universities could charge students an estimated £7,000 a year while fees for science undergraduates could rise to £14,000'.

Mandelson's appointee, Lord Browne, heads a panel which has put forward the theory that 'it is unfair taxpayers should subsidise families on middle and higher incomes who have often paid school fees'. No mention, of course, of the sacrifices many of those parents have made to do so, or that those paying school fees save the state around 4k per child per year.

You can see where this is heading; Mandy and Browne's Fork goes like this: 'if you went to a state school, you have paid nothing so far for your education so it's reasonable to ask you to meet the full costs' or 'if you went to a fee-paying school, you obviously have enough money to meet your tuition fees in full'.

Henry VII would be very impressed!

*Or, if you prefer the '1066 and All That' version, he sticks an enormous fork in the unfortunate subject until he pays up, to cries of "Fork out!"

Saturday 1 May 2010

A new journalistic low

This picture, according to the Daily Mail, shows ' The All Saints pupil who was dragged into a cupboard by 'fundamentally decent' science teacher Mr Harvey, and hit about the head with a 3kg dumbbell.'
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Shame on you! But seriously, what is the point?

Happy Hallmark Day!

One hundred years of selling crap,
Of tacky verses, mindless pap,
And vulgar jokes and puns that pass
For humour with the underclass.
They're there in every shopping mall,
Purveyors to the urban sprawl
Of hen night trimmings in bad taste
And pointless cards, a useless waste
Of paper, money, space and time;
You name it, they'll supply the rhyme,
To prove there's no need for thought
When sentiments can just be bought.

Quote of the day

'Rochdale was like being thrust from a gleaming front-of-house to the chaotic filthy kitchen beyond.'

Janice Turner in The Times