Sunday, February 25, 2007

I'd have got away with it if it wasn't for you meddling kids!

IT’S ALWAYS the quiet ones, isn’t it? A few weeks ago I advanced the argument that if the cops rounded up and imprisoned every bloke who could be described by his neighbours as “a bit quiet and kept himself to himself” then the world would be a much safer place.

Now we have another “quiet man” banged up on suspicion of sending Jiffy bag bombs to various addresses around the country. (And it must be stressed at this point that the chap is entirely innocent until he stands trial.)

Mind you, the fact that he’s a caretaker from Cambridgeshire doesn’t bode well, nor does the allegation that he’s a “bicycling loner” who lives in a cul-de-sac (see last week’s condemnation of cul-de-sacs by Prince Charles). I suppose the defence could always call in the Scooby-Doo gang of pesky kids, who usually prove that it’s never the caretaker who did it and instead finger a nearby mining magnate or fairground owner.

But then there’s that picture: boss-eyed and ginger. The poor bloke looks like the illicit offspring of Arsene Wenger and Cilla Black. If he does turn out to have had a grudge against society, I think we’ll all know why.

YOU KNOW, I don’t actually think that it’s their mad dash to get their snouts in the trough that really repels me about our elected representatives. After all, given the opportunity to line our pockets at the gullible public’s expense, wouldn’t we all have a dabble?

No, it’s the bare-faced hypocrisy that does for me. Which brings us to environment minister Barry Gardiner and his extraordinary mileage claim. Mr Gardiner is MP for Brent North. He has the use of a chauffeur-driven car which picks him up from home on Monday morning and takes him to and from official business throughout the week. He is therefore only eligible to claim mileage expenses for Parliamentary business conducted in his family car at the weekend. So far, so good.

Mr Gardiner, who drives a Fiat Multipla, lives just 12 miles away from his constituency headquarters. Yet for the year 2005-06, he managed to claim an impressive 10,852 miles (or £4,213) in mileage, enough to drive to Delhi and back, never mind from Chorleywood to Wembley.

Now even to an innumerate idiot like myself, that’s 200 miles each and every weekend of the year. Is this even possible, given North London’s horribly gridlocked traffic? I suppose it must be, otherwise he wouldn’t have claimed it. The poor bloke must spend 18 hours a day on the road every Saturday and Sunday. Perhaps we should probably be praising his dedication, rather than asking awkward questions about his swindle sheet.

FOR REAL hypocrisy, we need to turn to the three-ring circus that is the European Parliament where, after backing public smoking bans in Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, Italy, France, Malta, Belgium and - from July 1st – England, the passengers on the world’s greatest Gravy Train decided that they too should bite the bullet and ban smoking in their own buildings.

Admirable, I’m sure you’ll agree. Only one problem: the ban lasted just 43 days before MEPs were in a constant state of rebellion, sparking up all over the joint, and the ban was reversed as being “unenforceable”.

So let me get this straight. The landlord of the roughest pub in the roughest part of England is expected to stop his tattooed, bicep-bulging, pit bull-toting Neanderthal clientele from lighting up on the pain of a hefty fine, yet MEPs are unable to police themselves? Pathetic. And indicative of how stupidly intolerant the whole thing is.

I SUSPECT that by now I’ve by now made you familiar with P.G.Wodehouse’s assertion that “It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotchman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine”. Well the black-hearted misanthropes have been at it again.

The latest target of a tartan tantrum was some poor weatherman from the BBC who had the audacity to waft his hand over that awful 3D map and declare that “there would be rain, mainly in the Western Isles, mainly in Nowheresville”.

Hardly had he taken off his make-up than the phone was ringing, with Western Isles MP Angus MacNeill (well what else did you expect him to be called?) bleating loudest. Eventually a massive 11 complaints flooded in. The weatherman has since been hauled over the coals and forced to issue an abject apology.

Let me ask, have you ever been to the Western Isles? Well I have, and I can tell you that Nowheresville is a damn fine soubriquet for one of the most Godforsaken places on Planet Earth. It is a land of horizontal trees, mutton and mackerel. The women all look like Kathy Bates in Misery and the men make Dad’s Army’s Private Fraser look like Norman Wisdom. The currency is home-brewed hooch and the language is a cross between Turkish and dog.

Nowheresville? No doubt.

I WOULD have thought that it was a prerequisite of any television advertising campaign that it shouldn’t antagonise the viewer to the point that they vow never, ever to indulge in the product being promoted. Which brings us to Virgin Media and the immensely irritating and repetitive preening and pouting of Uma Bloody Thurman.

You know that scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta plunges a hypodermic needle into her chest? Any chance I might have a go?

ALTHOUGH I feel like a traitor to my class, I have to admit that I've finally become accustomed to Marmite in those new-fangled squeezy bottles.I swore I'd never use one, but when Mrs B. brought one home from Waitrose, I gave it a go. And do you know what? It's easier to use than the old-fashioned jar. You get better direction, improved density control, and when the butter goes back in the fridge it isn't covered in dark smudges.

I fear I may be on the slippery slope to scrotehood. By this time next year, it'll be Findus Crispy Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Prince and the Pot Noodle

A MAN could get seriously depressed should he set aside time to consider the many dangers that threaten our cosy little existence.

Politically-correct policemen, lying politicians, incompetent teachers. Soaring crime, rampant drug addiction, soft sentencing and overcrowded prisons. Social workers. Socialism. The return of Supermarket Sweep to tea-time television. Racism, road pricing and Robert Kilroy-Silk. The Turkey Army. Turkey Twizzlers. Turkey’s entry to the European Union. Muslim extremism, Morris dancing, moray eels. Health and safety, Ainsley Harriott, Audley Harrison. The Welsh. And some bloke in his bedroom stuffing bangers into Jiffy bags.

There’s just a few to be getting on with. But I would never, ever, have pointed the finger at that archetypal ingredient of British suburbia, the cul-de-sac.

OK, it’s got a French name, and that’s got to be wrong, but apart from that what horrors could possibly lie in a dead end of semi-detached houses?

Step forward, HRH the Prince of Wales, who this week besmirched the innocent cul-de-sac as an environmental menace that fostered crime, car dependence and obesity.

It appears that Charlie has persuaded some of Britain’s biggest housebuilders, including Barratt, George Wimpey and Bovis Homes, to bin suburban closes in favour of higher density “Victorian-style grids”. One of his advisers (his name is Hank, so get that pinch of salt ready) explains that many cul-de-sac dwellers routinely burn a litre of petrol on a shopping trip to buy a litre of milk by the time they’ve made their way out of the estate maze to get to the nearest shop.

Another Yank, Dr Richard Jackson, claims that cul-de-sac dwellers weigh on average 6lb more than residents of traditional towns. He fails to acknowledge that town people weigh less because they’re constantly running away from knife-wielding muggers, but there we go.

I don’t know about this. First of all, how often do you see HRH the Prince of Wales nipping down to the corner shop in his slippers for a tube of Pringles and a Pot Noodle? Secondly, cul-de-sacs are relatively safe from crime. Even the cops recognise this. By the time your scally burglar has run the gauntlet of twitching net curtains on his way to that open bedroom window at Number 23, the switchboard at the local nick is in meltdown and the police helicopter is already hovering overhead.

Yes, they’ve inflicted upon us soaring leylandii, wife-swapping and those blokes who dress in stocking-and-suspender aprons and hover over their barbecues on summer weekends, but is that all bad? No cars zoom past your house at 90mph, your kids are relatively safe playing out in the street, and if your marital experience is suffering from bedroom boredom there’s always that minx four doors away who you can see sunbathing nude in her conservatory. If you use binoculars. And lean out of the bedroom window a bit.

Nope, you’ve got this one wrong, Chas. Best talk it through with the tulips.

SO IF I told you that we were expecting four inches of snow overnight, you’d dig the wellies out of the garage, remember to put a vest on, and look forward to the slippy and slidey journey to work as some kind of adventure.

If I was to tell you that 10 centimetres were expected, then you’d put masking tape over your windows, retreat to the cellar with the catering size can of beans and sausage, and load the shotgun ready for the looters to come calling.

Of course it’s all the same. I think of it as a private sector versus public sector sort of thing. Four inches of private sector snow means that most of us struggle to work, the shops stay open and capitalism continues uninterrupted.

Ten centimetres of public sector snow means that thousands of schools are shut, the binmen and the postman daren’t venture out without incurring the wrath of the union, and every single accounts department in the country is at home watching the scrotes taking DNA tests on the Jeremy Kyle Show.

I blame the BBC. If only they had the bottle to use proper imperial measurements in their weather forecasts instead of propagating that foreign muck, we’d have shrugged off a few snowflakes and got on with our lives, instead of battening down the hatches and succumbing to cowardly chaos.

NOW WE all know, without a doubt, that you can’t catch bird flu by eating properly cooked poultry. But that didn’t stop the middle classes hovering nervously around the organic chicken section at Waitrose on Saturday. For those who did take the plunge, perhaps they were reassured by the fact that their bird had led a happy and fulfilling life and now, in death, was now costing them a cool £15.

No such luxury for the shoppers at Lidl. In there people were buying what they could afford to feed to their families, not what a combination of fashion and fear dictated. Pound shop chicken is the staple diet of the nation’s poor. So there’s no point in the rest of us bemoaning the factory farming methods that produce cheap meat unless we can provide people with the financial means to pay for something a bit better. And that’s as well as buying their daily ration of cooking lager.

WE’RE ALREADY being persecuted by council parking attendants, dog muck mercenaries and loitering litter wardens: now another breed of heavy-handed high-visibility jacket wearers is about to descend upon us – yes, it’s the Smoke Police.

Local councils are to be given an astonishing £30million a year to recruit staff to patrol the cafes, clubs and pubs after July 1st this year to hand out £50 spot fines to illegal smokers and grass up publicans and café owners to the magistrates. They will be equipped with secret cameras and will be allowed to go undercover.

There are two reasons why this is a criminal waste of money. Firstly, most smokers are reasonable people who will adhere to the ban; secondly, those smokers who aren’t reasonable and who flout the ban will be either drunk or aggressive, in which case Joey Yellow Jacket won’t be going anywhere near them in the first place.

And finally, we turn to Scotland, where one council has employed two full-time Turkey Army soldiers at a cost of around £60,000 a year to impose the ban. In the past year, they have issued four –yes, that’s FOUR – warnings to transgressors and no – yes, that’s NO – fines. Even I can work out that that’s £15,000 per warning: a splendid use of public money, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Calm down, it's only a column

I’VE NEVER had much time for Liverpool and its inhabitants. I’ve been to poverty-stricken areas all over the world but Toxteth is the only place I’ve ever seen a housewife dragging her weary body, still clad in dressing gown and slippers, to the corner shop to buy a pint of loose sherry while her gaggle of barefoot children trudged down the gutter behind her. At 2.30 in the afternoon.

I’m tired of their forced jocularity and their braying celebrities, all of whom flee to leafy Surrey as soon as the bank account permits. I’m tired of their whining grief addiction and their interminable minute’s silences (if, indeed, a minute’s silence can be interminable).

I’m sick to the back teeth of their self-righteous football fans demanding “Justice for the 96” when any sane person would ask: “What about Justice for the 39?”, namely the dead Italians of the Heysel Stadium disaster. (And what is this “justice” they demand anyway? Kelvin MacKenzie’s head on a stake? Free rides to the dole office in South Yorkshire police cars?)

I was therefore unimpressed when the place was awarded Capital of Culture status for 2008. Oh joy – a Beatles theme park, Jimmy Tarbuck’s stand-up act projected onto the Liver building, and that thin, bespectacled bloke from The Scaffold reciting bad poetry in front of a crowd of tracksuit-clad car thieves. That’ll impress the Europeans.

It comes as no surprise then to read that they’re already managing to cock the whole thing up. Plans for a new £65million Museum of Liverpool have hit the rocks after the uber-trendy, weird-bearded curators have decided that as well as a pair of Roman sandals, the first Ford Anglia built at Halewood, one of the world’s oldest locomotives and Yoko Ono’s All You Need Is Love counterpane from the Montreal peace bed-in, the museum will also “celebrate” the dark side of Liverpool life. And dark it is.

The poverty, the slave trade, here we go again … bloody Hillsborough, the racist murder of Anthony Walker and the appalling saga of the Jamie Bulger case. All suitable entertainment for Japanese tourists, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Unfortunately none of the black polo neck-clad Guardianistas bothered to mention this to Jamie Bulger’s mum, Denise Fergus. They obviously take the view that such public hand-wringing is a cathartic condemnation of the Thatcher Years (even though she’d gone three years previously) and is there for all Lefties to use and abuse as it fits their political agenda.

We’ll leave the final word to her: “I am boiling with rage. What kind of callous people would think of doing this in the name of art and culture? They must be mad if they think I am going to stand by and watch them do this to the memory of my precious son.”

And you can’t say fairer than that.

WHY ARE the police wasting their time “questioning” Celebrity Big Brother housemates about the Jade versus Shilpa or Shipla or Sheila or whatever her name is barney?

We’ve got kids getting shot in their beds, paedophiles running amok in Toys ‘R Us, and the worst burglary figures in Europe, yet politically-correct Plod finds time to quiz a dopey nude model from Liverpool (yes, I can see a trend here) about a few off-hand comments delivered for the entertainment of the masses on a television show.

They’ll leave you at the mercy of the local hoodies, refuse to come out even if you’ve got an armed robber cornered in your kitchen, and dismiss rampant vandalism and anti-social behaviour as “not worth the trouble”, yet in a cell somewhere Jermaine Jackson is getting the third degree – probably aided by the use of coshes – just because he uttered the words “white trash”. It’s madness.

I’ll tell you who they ought to be having a look at – Tory MP James Gray. And as the libel lawyers go into a panic, allow me to explain.

Mr Gray is the gentleman who dumped his wife for his mistress while she was receiving treatment for breast cancer. Last week he narrowly survived an attempt to sack him as member for Wiltshire North, although there are dark mutterings about his ability to hold the seat at an election.

It now emerges that Mr Gray, in common with many other MPs, has for many years been using his Commons staff allowance to pay his wife £2,400 a month to be his secretary. Unfortunately, and according to “friends” of the woman scorned, she denies that she’s actually carried out the role for the past two years beyond answering the occasional phone call.

It should be further noted that the home in which the dumped wife lives is also subsidised by the taxpayer (you and me) to the tune of £21,000 a year.

Mr Gray says that he has secured the permission of Commons officials to continue the payments until his divorce is settled – even though he’s given her notice to quit her alleged “job”. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Whatever Westminster wastrels think, this man has handed over £60,000 of our money to a “secretary” who freely admits that she doesn’t do the job. It’s a fiddle, and one which many MPs conspire to preserve.

So, all in all, and taking into account the venom of a soon-to-ex-wife, I think I’d rather see Inspector Knacker digging around in this stinking trough instead of using a cattle prod on Dirk from the A Team.

A MAD woman in Wales, who just happens to be a head teacher, has banned her 357 pupils from making Mother’s Day cards in case it upsets any children who don’t have a mother.

Helen Starkey claims that five per cent of children in her school are “separated from their birth mother or have either no contact or no regular contact with their mother”. I find that hard to believe, but will charitably put it down to the seeming inability of modern teachers to understand mathematics sufficiently to pass it on to their charges.

There is a simple point to make: while no-one wants to upset the alleged 17.85 motherless children, why should the other 95 per cent be denied a traditional Christian family activity?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I'm A Celebrity, Get Me In There.

NOW IF I got nicked for some heinous crime – putting a cornflake packet in the recycling bin or some such atrocity – I very much doubt that the Judge would let me stroll off with a smacked wrist just because I promised to check in to The Priory for a couple of weeks.

No, I’d be fined £1,000, have my passport confiscated and be ordered to canvass for NuLabour at the next election. In fact, I’d only escape jail because all the prisons would be full of snooping journalists while paedophiles gamboled merrily across our school playgrounds.

Yet as far as so-called celebrities are concerned, a quick dose of public self-flagellation is deemed to be sufficient to wash away all sins.

The nonentity that is Pete Doherty continually cons gullible magistrates that he’s successfully undergoing treatment for drug addiction, only to be pictured a day later shooting up in a hotel room in Thailand. Mel Gibson, who descended into a hilarious outbreak of drunken anti-Semitism (and actually advanced the not-at-all outlandish theory that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”) actually got it written into his sentence that he’d turn himself in to the shrinks and analysts. Now we have the hideous pig-woman of Bermondsey legging it into therapy as a holier-than-thou, principle-wielding mob of Guardianistas runs down from the moral high ground to put a metaphoric brick through her window.

(Meanwhile that hard-faced harridan Jo, former member of SS Club 7, is too ill to be even driven to The Priory and is instead ensconced in a luxury hotel. Smart move. Oh, and Danielle’s agents have called in the police claiming that their client was “misrepresented”. What’s the charge? Indecent exposure of an empty-headed Scouse slapper?)

And have you seen the Priory prices? Two grand a night to be told that it’s all because you fancy your mother? Madness. For that money I’d at least want Doctor Melfi from The Sopranos talking dirty to me.

overcrowding thingy is more serious than you think. Sitting in my local upmarket boozer the other day, all I could hear were failed shoplifters whining that they’d been denied three months at Her Majesty’s Pleasure and instead had to stuff postcards through letterboxes on behalf of NuLabour before the next election.

The reason for their moaning is that prison is not just a cushy option for most scrotes (three meals a day, television in the cell, video games on tap, as many drugs as you can take) but it’s also now a nice earner. No really, prison is now a viable career choice, certainly when compared to a hellhole of a call centre or eight hours a day flipping burgers.

Designing leaflets for charities while in the nick now brings in £5.35 an hour, equating to a salary of over £10,000 a year, plus free board and lodging (valued at £37,000 a year), plus tax credits of £1,300, plus the chance to share in an £8million a year compensation kitty if Mr Mackay forgets to plump up your pillows one night – we’re talking an MP’s salary here.

Suddenly it makes a spot of burglary – or a brief career selling peerages – look like an attractive option, whatever the consequences.

wasn’t racist after all. Perhaps she was just sick to death of having to deal with Indian call centres every time her mobile went on the blink.

Because it is frustrating. Whatever the language lessons, whatever the training in popular culture, you’re never going to be able to have the same conversation with a bird in Delhi as you would with one in Durham. (“Hello, Sir. My name is Mavis, Sir. Did you watch Coronation Street tonight, Sir? Isn’t that Cilla Battersby a foxy lady …?”)

Even imagining that you’re speaking to a semi-naked Shilpa Shetty doesn’t help when you know, deep in your heart, that it’s more likely to be one of the prospective brides from East is East or Grandma Kumar from Goodness Gracious Me on the other end of the phone.

Now some of the companies who moved their call centres to the Indian sub-continent are having second thoughts, with Norwich Union the latest to abandon the cost-saving initiative after complaints from customers.

The only question now is who’s going to do the work in this country? The scrotes can’t be bovvered because they’re all out shoplifting with impunity. Oh, hang on, I’ve an idea. Why not base call centres in prisons?

update: Lunchtime kick-abouts in the playground of Burnham Grammar School, Buckinghamshire, have been banned in case someone gets hit by the ball. Those of us who remember the 30-a-side contests on concrete with a tattered tennis ball will scratch our heads in wonderment. Presumably the kids will now just sit around and get fat.

Meanwhile head teachers have been told that they cannot look inside children’s lunch boxes in case they infringe their human rights. The “guidance”, issued by the Department for Education and Skills, comes after a 10-year-old boy (probably a porker) was banned from his school’s dining hall after a piece of illicit chocolate cake and a packet of contraband cheese biscuits were discovered lurking in his lunch box.

I don’t know about you, but in my day that would mean licence to import as many drugs and guns as the kindergarten tuck shop market would bear.

THERE SEEMS much concern amongst church leaders and community workers that the new super-casino to be sited in Beswick, one of Manchester’s poorest districts, might attract thieves, gangsters and prostitutes, so bringing down the tone of the neighbourhood.

I’m afraid I can only imagine that these well-intentioned souls have never actually set foot in the Beswick area …