Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Pneumonia, a nine-letter word

I WELL remember the first newspaper office I ever worked in.

Everyone smoked, incessantly – even the company doctor. Overflowing ashtrays littered every desk, you had to wade through knee-deep drifts of ash if you ventured off the beaten track and the corridors echoed to the hacking coughs of grey cardigan-wearing sub editors.

We even smoked in the bath. Many’s the time I’ve come home from a hard day at the coal face to light up a Capstan Number One while Mrs Beelzebub scrubbed off the Quink stains and pencil dust while I sat in an old tin bath in front of the fire. Rumour has it that W.D.& H.O.Wills were even working on a secret waterproof cigarette that could be smoked in the shower before the health Nazis banned the idea.

And we didn’t smoke these poncy modern fags. We smoked real gaspers: Park Drive Plain, Woodbines and Senior Service. Give an old-fashioned newspaperman a Marlboro Lite and he’d faint in the street. Our fags had flavour and nicotine and tar and chemicals and cancer.

Look around the modern office these days and it’s inconceivable to imagine that just a few years ago, a nimbus strata of cigarette smoke would have been hanging above the desks. You can’t even pull out a tin of snuff now without the health and safety rep evacuating the building.

I have always tried to be a considerate smoker. I don’t smoke in church or in primary school classrooms. If a pregnant woman is present, I give her a ten-second start before reaching for the lighter. And I never smoke between courses in restaurants … unless I’m having more than one course.

But despite this mannerly approach by myself and most other smokers, we continue to be persecuted by the rest of society and by the government. Smoking in the office has long gone, and now the ban has spread to shopping malls, cinemas, theatres and football grounds. Soon pubs serving food, office block doorways and even bus queues will become no-go areas.

And if this blatant victimisation isn’t enough, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt intends to turn the entire nation into police informants by sticking notices everywhere smoking is verboten urging people to ring a hotline number if someone is brave or daft enough to light up. Crack teams from the Fag Inspectorate will then descend upon the hapless nicotine addict and fine him or her £50.

What next? Grassing up the diner on the next table for failing to eat his greens? Calling in the Alcoholic Unit Enforcement Officer when someone orders that second bottle of port? Compulsory weigh-ins in market squares on Saturday mornings, where the general populace can gather to ridicule any lard-arses who haven’t lost the government-approved amount of weight? I tell you, the world is going mad.

The irony of the situation is that the potential flashpoint for confrontations between smokers and the Fag Inspectorate will be licensed premises like pubs and clubs, whose purpose in life is to supply the hoi polloi with vast quantities of alcohol, thus endangering their health and leading to outbreaks of rowdiness and violence.

Tell me, when did you last see a gang of unruly youths rampaging through the streets after overdoing the Lambert & Butlers? When has a teenage girl ever collapsed vomiting in the gutter after a night of binge smoking? When have our hospital wards ever been clogged up by the victims of Friday night cheap cigarette promotions … oh, hang on.

By the way, coming next from the control freaks is enforced recycling. In future you’re going to have to separate glass, tins and paper from the rest of your household rubbish or face a visit from the local council “recycling assistant”, who will lecture you po-faced on the damage you’re doing to the environment and then drive off belching fumes from his council-funded diesel van.

Persistent backsliders will face a court summons and a fine of £1,000. No, really. Let’s just hope that they don’t start counting the cigarette ends.

I SEARCHED in vain on the 48-inch plasma telly to find any live coverage of the climax of the Trafalgar 200 celebrations on Tuesday night. The Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation, which had shown some bits earlier in the day, stuck with a drama-soap about a hairdressers and a repeat of some middle aged women moaning (they can’t do it half as well as we men) followed by “highlights” of a tennis tournament.

BBC3 had a repeat of Little Britain and BBC4 was showing a horribly right-on programme about African music. So nowhere on our public service broadcaster’s network was there room to televise a major state occasion featuring Her Majesty The Queen and what’s left of our once-mighty Royal Navy.

That, I’m afraid, is an utter disgrace. The PC mob had already denigrated Nelson’s memory by avoiding mentioning that he gave the French and the Spanish a right good shoeing at Trafalgar; now the Lefties at Broadcasting House stick their muddled heads in the sand and pretend that nothing of consequence was happening. And they wonder why I don’t pay my licence fee.

Incidentally, and while we’re on the Royals, can I ask all those traitors whining about Prince Andrew’s extravagant use of chartered helicopters one question? Where were you when he was using a helicopter as an Exocet decoy during the Falklands War?

ALONG WITH most of the nation’s pensioners and students, I was saddened by the death of Richard Whiteley. He seemed a decent cove, even for a Yorkshireman.

And there seemed to be a certain synergy in the manner of his unfortunate death: Pneumonia, which is, of course, a nine-letter word. It’s what he would have wanted.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before a weeping Carol Vorderman was wheeled out in front of the TV cameras to pay tribute to her Countdown partner. She seemed truly upset, or so I thought …

Barely ten minutes later, and on a different channel, there she was all smiles and reassuring nods offering to arrange for me a quick and easy, low-cost loan with flexible repayment options. Has the woman no shame?

O The views of Mr Beelzebub are purely personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editor or staff of this website, of anyone who failed to smile at the sight of all those hippies’ tents floating away at Glastonbury, of anyone who doesn’t think that Kev’s new Bev lacks the emotional power, range and insight brought to the role by the previous incumbent, or of anyone who doesn’t want to see the hateful Saskia and Maxwell dragged from the Big Brother house and promptly burned at the stake.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tin foil hats and the Turkey Army

PEOPLE WHO have suffered from being educated from the 1980s onwards won’t know this, but there is an excellent novel by John Wyndham called The Midwich Cuckoos that used to be a set work in schools.

It tells the tale of a village where for a full day, every living thing is rendered unconscious by a mysterious force that forms a perfect circle enveloping the whole town. Just about everyone wakes up from the ordeal none the worse for their experience. Until it is revealed that every woman of child-bearing age in Midwich is pregnant.

The subsequent children turn out to be golden-eyed, telepathic, and with an accelerated growth rate. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but their presence is problematic. Which brings me to Education Secretary Ruth Kelly and her mission to keep children in schools from dawn until dusk, a NuLabour project clearly modelled on the Midwich experience.

I have already discussed at length in this column the social engineering project that is Mr Blah’s Turkey Army. Armies of bright-eyed if stupid 18-year-olds emerging from so-called schools with a full set of worthless A-levels, collecting an equally-worthless degree from an equally-worthless so-called university, and then marching off into a publicly-funded job-for-life in the Civil Service with a publicly-funded final salary scheme pension at the end of it.

Not surprisingly, these turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas, because electing NuLabour for another term keeps the gravy train on track. And meanwhile the rest of us who struggle through a risk-laden life in the private sector watch our pensions evaporate to the point where tins of Kit-e-Kat and bags of Werther’s Originals will become luxury items, rather than daily purchases. (Well that’s what old people buy, isn’t it? It’s all they seem to have in their trolleys when they’re blocking the aisles at Tesco anyway. Oh, and tinsel, especially in January.)

Now, not content with processing right-thinking cannon fodder from their teenage years, Ms Kelly’s mad-eyed evangelism is trying to steal our children away from us in their primary school years. How long will it be before our own offspring are grassing us up to the Thought Police for anti-social crimes like eating burgers, having a quick fag in the potting shed or shouting “Get off you big Nancy Boy” at the telly whenever Peter Mandelson appears? It’s frightening.

And what about the thick kids: the ones who are too stupid to pass even NuLabour’s tick-the-box exams? Asbo Estates, that’s what. The modern-day version of the Victorian workhouses, where recalcitrant youths are made to wear hoodies and hang around outside shopping centres in exchange for weekly supplies of microwave pizza, alcopops and oven chips.

They will then be ministered by publicly-funded social workers while Lottery-moneyed artists build them sculptures made out of broken bicycles and grant-aided street theatre companies put on shows about the horrors of glue-sniffing. It’s beautiful; it’s perpetual motion.

I’ve had enough. I’m digging a moat and making a tin foil hat.

NOW I’M NOT one to pre-judge (arf!), but I have a terrible feeling that the offspring of Ms Trisha Parsons and Ms Hayley Fisher might be inhabitants of an Asbo Estate 14 years from now.

Their babies, both little girls, share the same father - a lumpen scrote called Scott Bingham. The two mothers have become firmest of friends after discovering each other’s existence, and now even dress alike and have their hair dyed in similar fashion. A touching tale of modern-day relationships, I think you’ll agree.

So why am I so ready to condemn these children, not yet out of nappies, to a lifetime of cheap jewellery, Pot Noodles and scratchcards? Their names. One is called Porscha and the other is called Khyra-Jaye.

To be honest, you may as well pierce their ears, stick them in thongs and make an appointment at the tattooists right now. When did you last hear of a university lecturer called Khyra-Jaye? Have you ever come across a managing director called Porscha?

What’s wrong with Vera or Elsie, Norma or Gert? It’s madness. Branded from birth by a dodgy monicker just because your schoolgirl mum watches Footballers’ Wives. Where were social services at those Christenings? Eh? Eh?

MIND YOU, an Asbo Estate can pitch up just about anywhere these days. Just ask the residents of one of the leafiest streets in Kensington, where houses routinely fetch over a million pounds.

Their peace has been shattered by the arrival of the 13-strong Julian clan, who have been given a five-bedroomed council house in the street from which to menace the neighbourhood while pulling in £600 a week in benefits.

Let’s do a name check, shall we? Amongst the 11 children, aged from 18 months to 18 years, are Tee Jay, Mason, Mia and Armani. (I may have made that last one up, but you get the picture.)

And again, not wishing to judge too soon, I will simply point to the fact that family’s pets are a Staffordshire bull terrier and a Rottweiler. They may as well pierce the dogs’ ears, stick them in thongs and make an appointment at the tattooists right now.

NANNY STATE update: For decades, the television legend that is Blue Peter has led the way in recycling, turning empty washing-up bottles, cornflake boxes and sticky-back plastic into everything from homemade Tracy Islands to large-scale models of the Big Brother House, complete with a plasticine effigy of that gobshite Maxwell.

But, for a school in East Sussex, such engineering marvels will be no more. An essential component of any Blue Peter project – the empty egg carton – has been banned, for fear that they might pass salmonella onto teachers or children who handle them.

It would be appropriate at this point to ask the health and safety Nazis just how many people have ever been stuck down by this disease after willfully handling said containers. But we already know the answer: none, not one, ever.

Still, you can’t be too careful, can you? God only knows what Brunel would have made of all this.

MEANWHILE THE nation’s farmers, usually one of the least politically-correct groups of society, have been made giddy by the sudden sunshine and have picketed the offices of the Oxford University Press complaining about the use of the phrase “couch potato” in their dictionaries.

Apparently – wait for it – the term is insulting to potatoes and is putting people off buying them. No, really.

Given the amount of moaning farmers usually do, you would have thought that they would have been too busy to waste their time on such a stupid stunt. Perhaps Mr Plod ought to take a closer look at that burgeoning crop in the Lower Meadow.

O The views of Mr Beelzebub are purely personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editor or staff of this website, of anyone not tired of Tim-mania already, of anyone came into work with a face like a tomato on Monday morning and then complained about sunburn, or of anyone who’s obsessed with Sudoka – it’s a crossword with no clues. What’s the bloody point?