Sunday, March 25, 2007

Anyone know where I can get some bull bars?

I SUPPOSE it was a delicious irony that the stentorian tones of The Thieving Scotchman issued forth from the car wireless announcing his new punitive tax on so-called gas guzzlers at the very moment I was test-driving a four-wheel drive BMW along the country lanes.

So will his spiteful, bandwagon-jumping, pretend-Green punishment put me off buying such a vehicle? Of course not. If I can afford a £35,000 car, I can certainly afford a couple of hundred quid extra road tax. In fact if anything, the class-based hatred NuLabour and its yoghurt knitting acolytes have for four-wheel drives makes me all the more determined to get one. It’s like the fox-hunting ban all over again, only this time there’s rather more horsepower involved.

(Not that I’m ridiculously wealthy. For instance, the only way I’ll ever get to travel first class on British Airways will be to drop dead in economy.)

I should point out that my “gas guzzler” will be no Chelsea Tractor. Instead of being loaded with school run booster seats it will carry dogs and guns. It will venture into fields and off the beaten track. It will get muddy, properly muddy.

And so will most of the other four-wheel drive vehicles in my neighbourhood. Because they have been bought not for vanity, or to make an on-road social statement, or to carry legions of Jocelyns and Jocastas from piano lessons to Mandarin classes, but out of necessity. They are working vehicles; the day-to-day tools of farmers and farriers, district nurses and digger drivers - in fact, the sort of people who can’t readily afford another couple of hundred quid in road tax.

I don’t suppose Mr Brown took that simple fact into consideration when deciding to punish these selfish destroyers of the ozone layer.

PS: I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m totally irresponsible when it comes to our environment. I will be continuing to carry out my weekly recycling run of bags of newspapers and boxes of empty wine bottles, only in future it will be at roughly 27 miles to the gallon.

AS WE’RE bullied and hectored from the cradle to the grave, our most rabid persecutors seem to be the local councils that we directly fund and directly elect. Daft, isn’t it?

The latest kick-the-council-taxpayer scheme emerges in Ealing, West London, where the Garbage Police are planning to leave tiny CCTV cameras lying around hidden in baked bean tins in an attempt to catch residents who have the temerity to put their rubbish out on the wrong day. For committing this heinous crime they will be fined up to £1,000.

One thing tells you all you need to know about the effectiveness of Ealing Council. If they consider discarded baked bean tins to be suitable camouflage – an everyday sight that won’t catch the eye – then they can’t be doing their rubbish-collecting job properly in the first place, can they?

NOW I’M not suggesting for one moment that we should force five-year-olds to read the classics, but it’s a sad condemnation of our laughable edukashun system that around 50 schools have rejected the offer of free books because they are “too difficult” for today’s pupils.

(Perhaps even more worrying is that a further 40 schools turned down the books because they had no library in which to store them.)

The free books scheme is run by the Millennium Library Trust, which donates sets of up to 300 books to schools to encourage youngsters to read classic works of fiction. The books include the likes of Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Oliver Twist and Lord of the Rings.

But so woeful are our children’s literacy levels that many teachers won’t even attempt to talk them through some of the milestones of English literature. As one teacher says: “The bottom line is getting the pupils to read, whether it’s a newspaper, a comic novel or a magazine. The books for nowadays are Manga, the Japanese comic books that you read from back to front.”

Another school branded the covers of the books “boring” and said that what was needed was “the familiar paperback format with an attractive jacket and abridged versions.”

So there you have it. Goodbye David Copperfield and hello Electro Jelly the Space Ninja. No wonder we’re turning out generations of illiterates.

THE JUDGE who sentenced child-killer Ian Huntley recommended that he should serve a minimum of 40 years in prison. The Lord Chancellor says he thinks that Huntley should never be freed and should rot in jail. Even Huntley’s father and mother came forward this week to say that the prospect of their son ever being released is unthinkable.

So that’s clear then. Expect him to be out and about well in time to take his grandstand seat at the 2012 Olympics.

JOKEFORCE ALERT: A school in Manchester has banned knotted ties because it says they are a safety risk. Pupils have been told to wear clip-on ties instead, or face being sent home.

Two points: Firstly, the number of pupils who’ve suffered third degree burns after setting their ties on fire with a Bunsen burner or who have been dragged screaming into the woodwork lathe in the past 30 years equals exactly … err … none. Secondly, clip-on ties are the uniform of traffic wardens and special constables – social inadequates who expect to get routinely beaten up. Any headteacher who expects fashion-conscious teenagers to commit such a sartorial crime has been reading too many Japanese comic books.

MEANWHILE a teaching assistant in Brighton has trotted off to an employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal on the grounds that she was discriminated against because of her faith. Sommer de la Rosa, who worked in her school’s religious studies department, is a witch. Yes, a witch.

I have to ask, at which point did she ever think that she was remotely suitable for such a job? Or is this just another compo scam, where the complainant counts on the (usually) publicly-funded employer caving in and handing over £30,000 or so before moving on to the next set of suckers?

I don’t know, but I think we should be told.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Give me the child, and I will give you the government quango

YOU MIGHT think that your local council would be busy enough finding ways to fine you a couple of grand for chucking a waxed cornflake packet into the wrong recycling bin or smoking a crafty gasper in a bus shelter.

Unfortunately the devil makes work for idle hands, and the Turkey Army is so vast in number that there is always a spare battalion of public sector busybodies with time on their hands.

This might explain why 12-year-old children in Torbay were sent a personally addressed questionnaire asking them how much alcohol they drank, what illegal drugs they took and how often they had penetrative sex. Yes, I know.

The local authority, which sent the survey directly to 400 youngsters aged between 11 and 18, bleats that it was “undertaking partnership work with schools” to combat teenage pregnancies. There are two points to make here. Firstly, when I was 12 years old, contact with the opposite sex was limited to throwing worms at them, and remained that way for at least another couple of years. Secondly, if you ask a 12-year-old about his or her drinking habits, drug use or sexual encounters, doesn’t that suggest to a young mind that perhaps they’re falling behind their peers by not indulging?

I realise that times have changed. Today’s pre-teens aren’t the pre-teens of the Just William books. But let’s at least give them a chance to decide for themselves just when they want to start behaving like the Bishop of Southwark.

(Incidentally, did you see the story about the Israeli ambassador to San Salvador who was found outside his embassy drunk, naked, trussed in bondage gear with a gag and rubber ball in his mouth and surrounded by sex toys? I bet invading Lebanon was easier to explain away than that.)

BUT WAIT, the social engineers aren’t just content with turning your 12-year-old into a drink-crazed sex pest junkie; they’re now after messing with your five-year-old’s head as well.

A new series of books to be used in primary schools include the story of a prince who shuns three beautiful princesses before falling in love with a man and living happily ever after. Other stories involve a spacegirl with two mothers and a baby penguin with two dads. Yes, they’re Fairy Tales. And Grimm indeed.

The scheme, funded by your taxes, is run by the sort of organisation that is regularly spotted advertising well-paid jobs in the Guardian’s Turkey Army section. Its aim is to show that homosexuality is a part of everyday life and to reduce homophobic bullying in the playground.

Now hang on a minute, we’re talking primary schools here. How many five-year-old kids at your children’s school do you see mincing across the playground like a cross between Quentin Crisp and John Inman? So where’s the bullying?

Project boss Elizabeth Atkinson says: “The most important thing these books do is reflect reality for young children.”

No they don’t. Reality for young children is at least a mother and usually a father as well. Reality for young children is a Happy Meal and Shaun the Sheep, not a Shirley Bassey CD and Queer as Folk.

They want to be careful. I can’t see our notoriously tolerant Muslim communities taking too kindly to all this.

BUT WAIT, the social engineers aren’t just content with turning your five-year-old into a Nancy boy; they’re now after controlling your baby’s life as well. Under a new government curriculum – legally enforceable and linked to future funding – nurseries and playgroups must now test the development of the children in their charge against a 69-point checklist.

Babies up to 11 months old must communicate by “crying, gurgling, babbling and squealing”. Two-year-olds must “seek to gain attention in a variety of ways”. By the age of three, they must be able to “make random marks with their fingers and some tools”. Hardly challenging, is it? So what’s the point?

There is nothing quite as competitive as a new parent. Every blink, twitch and mumble of their genius offspring is carefully measured against other kids. It is imperative that they are always a step ahead, whether it’s potty training or painting the dog. Quite why the Thought Police feel we need legislation to impose this is beyond me.

Anyway, what are they going to do with the thick babies who fail? Will social workers take them away from their parents? Then what? We already have a burgeoning underclass. As far as I know there aren’t any vacancies for trainee scrotes. Maybe it’s time to follow the lead of the Spartans and just leave them out on the hill in the snow.

IT IS immensely satisfying to learn that staff at the Health and Safety Executive, storm troopers of the Jokeforce, the government quango that provides copy for satirical columnists, have been involved in 500 accidents of their own over the past three years.

What puzzles me is the nature of some of these life-threatening incidents. One person slipped on a raisin (not even Claims Direct have come up with that scenario) while another, quite delightfully, cut his head by walking into a warning sign. Karma there.

Strangest was the woman who reported a bruised eye after a toilet paper dispenser fell from the wall and hit her. What was she doing for a toilet roll dispenser to hit her in the eye? The mind boggles.

KARMA AGAIN. A North Pole expedition meant to bring attention to the impact of higher temperatures caused by global warming was called off after one of the explorers got frostbite. Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen abandoned what was intended to be a 530-mile trek after Arnesen suffered frostbite in three of her toes, and extreme cold temperatures drained the batteries in some of their electronic equipment.

Apparently it was quite a bit colder than expected, with temperatures inside their tent touching 58 degrees below zero, and outside temperatures were exceeding 100 below zero. Silly women. I can hear those stranded polar bears laughing from here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Why are poor people fat and rich people thin?

FOLLOWING ON from last week, and it’s like a game of terminal Top Trumps. First we had a 14-stone eight year old, then a 15-stone nine year old, both finally steamrollered in the porker parade by a 25-stone, size 32, 15-year-old called Natalie Cox.

(That’s a lot of figures in one paragraph for anyone who was educated after 1972, but bear with me.)

Natalie’s mother – herself weighing in at 16 stone, obviously – says that her daughter’s addiction to food is so severe that she once resorted to eating the leftover scraps of a family meal from the dog’s dinner bowl. “She just can’t stop eating. She loves food. The first thing she’ll do when she gets in from school is go straight to the cupboard for a load of biscuits then onto the fridge to see what she can get her hands on.”

Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to her that if she stopped buying bulk supplies of Bourbons or container loads of junk food for the fridge, her porcine offspring would have no choice but to gnaw on a turnip for amusement.

But wait. What’s this coming over the hill? Is it a monster? Well, yes. It’s the latest entrant in the National Clottery, a 42-stone mother-of-four who’s claiming that she’s been “left to die” because the NHS won’t pay to treat obese people.

Sharon Mevsimler, 37, has so much strain on her heart and lungs that she claims that she is permanently connected to an oxygen tank. (Well she can’t be permanently connected, can she? She somehow manages to prise the mask away long enough to shove down the occasional pie.)

Of course, it’s not Sharon’s fault – it’s down to her local health trust for refusing to cough up the £5,000 a week required to treat her in a private clinic. Put that in the context of the £2.50 a day needed to treat sufferers of Old Timers’ Disease and you can see their point.

One thing strikes me about this literal landslide of obesity. The “victims” are all from poor families. Now I don’t mean 1950s poor; all cardboard shoes and rickets. I mean 2007 poor; plasma screens, DVDs, PX2s, STDs and mobile phones, but without the necessary cash to smoke Silk Cut instead of Tesco Value gaspers.

But surely it’s the poor people who should be thin, and the rich people who should be fat? Look back through history and it’s always been famine for the riff-raff and feast for the wealthy. So when did the balance tip? And why?

I blame vegetarians. And cyclists, and Guardian readers, and bandwagon-jumping politicians, and the middle-class yummy mummies who willingly pay a fiver for a bunch of rapidly-wilting organic broccoli from the trendy farm shop before driving it home in their unnecessary 4x4s. These are the people who have priced the underclass out of the basic, seasonable vegetable market.

(It’s the same with bread. When I were a lad, only poor people baked their own bread. Now it’s strictly the province of the ciabattering classes, with their £100-a-pop machines, their strong Canadian flour and their expensive imported yeast. The rest of us muddle along with a Warburton’s sliced white, although even that is now approaching a quid a loaf.)

Our chavs, povs and scrotes are now reduced to foraging for food in the frozen wastes of Iceland. Or Lidl, or Aldi, or anywhere that Findus Crispy Pancakes and oven chips can be found on a two-for-one offer.

Mind you, I suppose that it’s not all bad news. If we accept that fat people are generally more jolly, then Sharon must be an absolute riot at parties.

know that some of you think that I’m going soft, but some of the anomalies of our legal system have caused me much concern in the past week.

On one hand we have the Attorney General legging it up and down The Strand, credibility flapping out of the back of his trousers as he desperately tries to gag the BBC, The Guardian and the Daily Mail amongst others to stop them discussing new evidence in the Cash for Honours scandal – a duty that undoubtedly suits the government.

On the other hand we have comparatively Draconian prison sentences handed down to those who have offended the Establishment in other ways – and for whom punitive new laws have been especially introduced.

Now I have no truck with animal rights protesters. I think that they are cowardly, small-minded, selfish scum who would soon change their tune were they to need a cancer-fighting drug that had been developed in laboratories that used animals. I despise their tactics of bullying small companies and digging up the remains of people’s grandmothers.

But this week saw three animal rights activists jailed for between 15 months and four years for taking part in a campaign of “intimidation” which seemed to mainly consist of shouting insults at passing scientists. No arson, no nail bombs, no digging up your Gran; just a bit of shouting.

These sentences are recommended under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The investigation and subsequent prosecution was conducted by the CPS and the Police National Domestic Extremism Team. I don’t know about you, but at a time when paedophiles are getting off with a smacked wrist (or even getting off on a smacked wrist), I find this a little bit frightening.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Poking the porkers with pointed sticks

IT’S FAT KIDS week in the nation’s media folks, so let’s all gather round and poke the juvenile porkers with pointed sticks.

First out of the traps (it was a bit of a squeeze but the cattle prod shifted him) was eight-year-old Connor McCreaddie, troubling the scales at an impressive 14 stone, who narrowly escaped being carted off into care by social workers after a film about him was shown on Sir Trevor McDoughnut’s telly programme. Anyone who saw the film will have quickly realised that it was the poor lad’s feckless, work-shy, hopeless mother who needed taking away, but until the Tories get back in we’re lacking the necessary legislation to jail scrotes simply for stupidity.

Two days later and a new contender fills the ring, or at least Page One of The Sun, this time nine-year-old Samantha Hames, who weighs in at 14 stone two pounds and is a size 18. I’m obliged to the nation’s favourite tabloid for putting Samantha’s size in context: she’s apparently the same weight as two Victoria Beckhams and is a couple of stones heavier than spud-faced nipper Wayne Rooney.

I think what most impressed me about Samantha was her sheer dedication to infant obesity. As well as a dozen family-size bars of chocolate each week and an artery-clogging daytime diet, it’s her after-school efforts that shine through. At 4pm it’s two rounds of sandwiches and a Pot Noodle. At 5.30 it’s a tea (or dinner if you get out of the bath to have a wee) of an Indian takeaway and a bowl of ice cream. At 7pm, with the hunger pangs gathering, it’s another two rounds of sandwiches and a Pot Noodle. And at 11.30pm, it’s 12 yoghurts or another full meal.

Hang on … 11.30pm? This child is nine years old. Why isn’t she in bed at that time? Where are her parents? Ah, I see. A single mother, herself a not inconsiderable 17 stones, struggling to cope with her lard-arsed little one.

And there’s the rub. When I were a lad, we were only allowed one official fat kid per school year. It was called the Bunter Principle. The council kept them in stock and issued us with a new one every time the current incumbent keeled over during a game of British Bulldog or hanged themselves from the banisters after the bullying got too much. Now they’re everywhere, wallowing around like drunken sailors behind their equally enormous parents, and generating enough static electricity from their Lycra leisurewear to power several branches of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

So why is it happening? Our food – even that of the fast variety – is healthier then ever. Low sugar, low fat, low salt, low lard … even a modern Fray Bentos tinned pie knocks nutritional spots off a traditional 1960s meat-and-two-veg. It’s a puzzle. But then I heard a programme on the wireless about Olympic silver medal winner Roger Black spending a term at a school in London in an effort to get children fitter and more active.

Despite getting them better equipment, despite getting them better organised and despite getting them better facilities, his biggest frustration was that many of them just couldn’t be bothered to do PE at all. They just didn’t turn up, or failed to bring their kit. And these days, it seems, you don’t even need a forged note from your Mum to escape the ordeal of the gym.

When I were a lad (again), if you didn’t bring your kit then you did it in your underwear – even if “it” was cross country in a blizzard. It never did us any harm, even if you had to run the gauntlet of the predatory park keeper who wanted you to pop into his hut and view his collection of mucky mags.

Now they can just refuse, point blank. No detention, no lines, no getting flicked by a wet towel in the showers by a psychopathic gym teacher. No wonder they’d rather eat sandwiches and Pot Noodles in front of the telly.

OF COURSE, all these fat kids are going to grow up into fat disableds, complete with blue badges and disability benefits. Well, those who live past 30 anyway.

But even life as a licensed lead-swinger isn’t as easy as it used to be. Just ask Lady Heather Mills McCartney.

Once she announced that she was going to appear on the American version of Strictly Come Dancing, the militant Federation of Disabled People kicked off over her future right to use a disabled badge on her Mercedes. Spokeswoman Kathy Gordon said: “Clearly she has mobility so she should refrain from using the badge. It's not fair on other disabled people.”

Ooh, hang on a minute. The country is awash with so-called disabled people shinning up rock faces, absailing off buildings, playing basketball in wheelchairs – even running the 20 metres in 20 seconds. But when it comes to bagging the best parking space at Tesco, they’re suddenly legless.

Disabled? My foot.

seriously odd about this petrol nonsense.

Think about it. The petrol companies are denying that there’s anything wrong with their fuel. But then they would say that, wouldn’t they? And we’ve got car mechanics saying that they’re having to replace bits of people’s cars at great expense. But then they would say that, wouldn’t they?

I blame all those cheapskates who bought their factory-farmed fuel from Tesco and Morrisons, instead of investing in the free range, gamboling-round-the-fields petrol from Waitrose.

AND WE come full circle, with news that the Girl Guides are dumping traditional badges like Homemaker to introduce new qualifications like Circus Skills, Film Lover and … err … the History of Chocolate.

Step forward, Samantha Hames, patrol leader of the future.