Monday, September 24, 2007

The Roundhead approach to Cavalier food

AS THE Chinese curse goes, may you live in interesting times. Things are getting weird around here, with Gordon shaking hands with the Blessed Margaret on the doorstep of Number 10 while the Tories decide to make themselves unelectable by announcing that they’re going to impose further taxes on holidays, decent cars and your 42-inch plasma telly. Just about everything that a protégé Tory would desire then.

Policy is being made up on the hoof – there is no legal precedent for bailing out Northern Rock and, presumably, now every other financial institution, however reckless, will feel entitled to the same protection – and daft ideas are announced daily without any debate or, apparently, much thought.

Take this £120 that Wee Gordie Broon’s boys have decided to give to pregnant women so they can buy “healthy food”, the money to be paid in the seventh month of pregnancy. Was there any consultation with the medical establishment before it was announced?

I ask because anyone with a remote understanding of biology (or anyone who has been force-marched to those horrendous pre-natal classes) knows that the bun in the oven is pretty well baked by that stage. All it’s doing by then is lying around breaking wind and kicking while coming up with 100 inventive ways to make your life hell over the next 20 years.

(The birth of my first child was completely painless. I was summoned from my bed, walked into the delivery suite, fainted, and woke up on a trolley an hour later with the whole messy thing over.)

The key stage in the development of a foetus is in the first 24 weeks. That’s when the nutrients are important, and when broccoli and liver are more beneficial than Findus Crispy Pancakes and a six-pack of alcopops. There is also less chance at that stage that the mum-to-be will fritter the money away on things like coal and gherkins, mainly because she won’t be able to keep much down.

So the whole thing is just nonsense. The money will not serve its purpose by the time it comes through. So expect to see lots of seven-month pregnant women waddling down your High Street wearing new shoes. And a hat.

I WONDER what Gillian and Sky Rees would spend the money on? Scratchcards? Supermarket cider? Twenty Superkings and a month’s supply of takeaway kebabs?

I ask, in this judgemental manner, because the sisters are the latest additions to the ranks of the dreaded Underclass. Luckily, we have the Daily Mail to alert us to their presence. So here we go.

Gillian, 19, has two children, one by Gavin and one by Barry. She says: “I’ve wanted kids since I was 12. I was sick of babysitting other people’s and wanted one of my own.” She achieved her ambition at the age of 14.

Sky is 16 and also has two children – Johnpaul and Connorlee (no, really) – both by her boyfriend Jamie, with whom she lives.

Mother Pauline, who has five children by an assortment of fathers, says: “The more the merrier. When my children grew up I felt so sad. I wanted babies in my house again. I adore kids.” So that’s alright then.

Shall we do the sums? No-one anywhere in this extended family works. Both girls receive £160 a week in child benefit and tax credits, as well as £180 a fortnight in jobseekers’ allowance, plus free council house accommodation and council tax. Their mother pockets the jobseekers’ allowance (yeah, right) plus another £8,000 in child tax credit because Sky is still under 18. (Is it just me or is this utter madness?)

One final point in mitigation. They’re all Welsh.

I WENT out to dinner the other week with a mixed crowd of people. Most of them were fine, managing to find something on the lengthy menu that they’d like to eat, but one stick-thin, rather needy women was an utter pain from start to finish.

I swear that there were probably 50 dishes listed on the Italian restaurant we visited, most of them, by the nature of their ingredients, cooked from fresh. But could she find something “safe” to eat? No chance.

The waiter was summoned. She was lactose intolerant, so couldn’t eat dairy products, had a problem with wheat and also had a nut allergy. What could he recommend? Baffled by this Roundhead approach to Cavalier food, he summoned the chef.

He was very tolerant, trying to explain to her that for someone who couldn’t eat wheat, a restaurant primarily serving pasta probably wasn’t the wisest of choices. In the end, and after much anguish for the rest of the starving pack, she settled for an egg white omelette and some rocket. Frankly, I could have slapped her round her self-obsessed chops, but I was suddenly too busy sucking the marrow out of a veal bone.

And now, quelle surprise, we find out that three million Britons are suffering from “imaginary” food intolerances. Apparently 12 million of us claim to be allergic to everything from mustard to milk, but fewer than a quarter have any medical evidence to support their fastidiousness.

So that’s 10 million people then who are merely fussy eaters. Goodness knows what my Gran would have made of it all. She once served me the same plate of cabbage for the first five days of a six-week summer holiday until I “ate it all up”. She never did work out why her dog had such bad wind all afternoon.

SOMEHOW YOUR heroes always end up letting you down. I can cope with those who fall victim to human frailty – drugs, drink, sex addiction, that sort of thing. But Paddington Bear has survived all of those only to betray his principles for a big cheque, and that’s unforgiveable.

Selling his soul by forsaking marmalade to promote Marmite in a television advert is a Wellington-booted step too far. I hope he’s happy with his little pot of gold.

talking food, and the decision of Mars to introduce smaller versions of their popular chocolate bars which has been heralded as a huge step in the fight against obesity.

Who do they think they’re kidding? This is just a scam. They’ve been shrinking our confectionary for years. Just look at what’s happened to Wagon Wheels, for instance. They used to be the circumference of a saucepan lid. Now they’re the size of a £2 coin.

This is just a way to make more money while pretending to care about the consumer. And the daftest thing? The mini bars will only be available in packs of 10. Rather defeats the point, when the porkers out there will just snuffle them two at a time.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

And I will continue to refuse to believe it even if they are convicted ...

WHEN IT comes to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and the subsequent plight of her parents, I honestly can’t remember another news story that has obsessed the Great British Public quite so much – not even the death of Diana, of which more later.

Everyone has a theory: the pasty-serving woman in Greggs, the petrol-dispensing woman at the garage, the ironing-and-cleaning woman in bed next to me – everyone thinks they know what happened and when. So why shouldn’t I have a go?

Well, as if having to fly home on EasyJet wasn’t hard enough on poor Kate and Gerry, they are now having to endure more diabolical speculation that they killed poor Maddy. Why? Because of so-called “DNA evidence”. This is nothing short of ludicrous. Now I’m no forensic expert, but I happen to know that everyone has DNA. So how can we be sure it was Maddy’s?

Apparently the latest crackpot theory is that some boffin in a Birmingham laboratory says it might be. How inappropriate to apply science to a situation of such raw emotion. Are we expected to believe that the McCanns, who have touched everyone with their incredible sang-froid and poker-faced resilience despite the abduction and possible death of their daughter, could have done anything to harm sweet Maddy just on the basis of cold, hard science?

Who are these faceless ghouls in white coats playing with their test tubes and bunsen burners when their time could be better spent helping the poor McCanns in their indefatigable hunt for their little girl?

I don’t know what the doctors do in Portugal, and frankly I do not wish to know, but someone should tell the Portimao plod that British doctors aren’t murderers. And before anyone cries ‘Shipman’, may I point out that there’s an exception to every rule, and seeing as Harold Shipman has already proved himself the exception to that particular rule, it means that the McCanns couldn’t possibly have killed their daughter. If only the Portuguese police could apply such logic they might have found Maddy by now. My instincts tell me that the McCanns are innocent, and I trust my instincts far more than any foreign police force or hairbrained scientist.

The McCanns deserve our respect and admiration for standing strong and continuing to insist that their daughter has been abducted, in spite of a lack of supporting evidence and an uncaring Portuguese police force preoccupied with solving crimes. I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe the McCanns had anything to do with Maddy’s disappearance, and I will continue to refuse to believe it even if they are convicted of murder in a court of law. Even if they confess, it will only be so they can get all of this nonsense out of the way and resume the search for Maddy from their police cells. Such a confession would only act as a beacon of their innocence and decency.

I’m sure I speak for everyone at dinner parties up and down the country when I say: “Don't worry, Kate and Gerry. We believe in you and everything you say, except when you say something that isn’t true just because it will help in the search of Maddy, who we know you couldn’t have possibly killed.” I trust that’s clear.

a minute. How about this for a theory, as discussed in an internet chatroom: We know that Maddy was conceived using IVF. We know that she is a beautiful little blonde girl. Does she remind you of anyone? Princess Diana when she was a girl, perhaps? And the rant begins …

“It is well known that Diana wanted a daughter. What if she had some eggs frozen that were then used years later BY MISTAKE? What if Kate McCann has given birth to the heir to the throne, and then MI6 and the Royal Family have found out and have abducted Maddy and took her away and now, unhappy with the publicity, they are fitting the parents up with the crime - IS IT ANY COINCIDENCE that the charges are being brought just around the 10th anniversary of Diana's death and the anniversary of the September 11th attacks as well?

“I would wage good money the Masons are involved too …”

The internet is a wonderful thing, but the quicker they introduce an intelligence test that people have to pass before they’re allowed to log on, the better.

fascinated by the story of David and Jean Davidson, both in their seventies, who have done a full Partridge and now live permanently at a Travelodge on the A1 near Grantham.

Mr Davidson says: “This is our home. We have everything we need here and the staff are like family now. We don't get hit with huge heating bills and it’s safer than a lot of places these days.”

The couple also like the disabled access and the convenient Little Chef across the 41-space car park.

Two questions occur to me. Firstly, where do they go on their wedding anniversary? A Hilton Express? And secondly, why aren’t Travelodge running the country’s care homes? They seem to be able to do it far better and far more cheaply than the corrupt thieves who are supposed to be looking after our old folks.

SPEAKING OF which, I’m sure we’re not the only people to be harassed by a mad old woman who keeps turning up on our doorstep insisting that she still lives here. Usually we just give her a cup of tea while calling the home to come and fetch her.

Credit to Gordon Brown – he invited her in to spend the afternoon with him.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT is big business. Car firms spend fortunes to get their latest model featured in the latest James Bond film; having your mobile phone shown in Mission Impossible is worth millions.

So where does that leave the manufacturers of Cuddle Cats? I don’t know, but I’ve already sold my shares.

SO HAVE you seen the gorilla playing the drums in the Cadbury’s Dairy Milk advert yet? You do realise that it’s Phil Collins in that suit, don’t you?

No, really.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The next stop is Poltroon Parkway

NOW THAT the nation’s youth is back at school it’s once again safe to go out on the streets during daylight hours without worrying about getting hit by a stray bullet.

This has obviously occurred to the cops in Bolton, who managed to set aside the form-filling to sneak out of their nick long enough to raid a string of pubs that were showing live Premiership football matches without the express permission of Sir Rupert Murdoch.

(For the uninitiated, the broadcast of live football matches in this country is prohibited between 3pm and 5pm on a Saturday afternoon, the idea being that all those people denied the privilege of watching Manchester United play Chelsea will flock down to their local non-league club to watch 22 half-drunken plasterers hoofing the ball up and down a muddied, sloping pitch. In reality, landlords buy dodgy satellite receivers and tune into the foreign channels that show any number of English matches live. And sell pints for £2.)

Two things bothered me about this story. Firstly, we must wear a hat made out of a spare copy of the Daily Mail and shout: “Haven’t they got anything better to do?”

Secondly, the raids were carried out by “police officers and staff from the Media Protection Services”. Who are they then? Did you know your local plod had set up a special unit to protect the profits of an Australian billionaire? Why are we wasting our own limited resources on this issue when Old Rupe is wealthy enough to hire hit-squads of machine gun-carrying Hummers to patrol the boozers of our Northern inner-cities?

Who knows – perhaps your local Plod gets free copies of The Sun and pictures of Page 3 girls beamed direct to their mobiles in exchange for this valuable service. Or perhaps not.

from Cumbria, where firefighters had to cut a 19-year-old man free after his Fiat Punto crashed into a water buffalo on the A590. Police, presumably from the local Buffalo Protection Unit, said the privately-owned buffalo, called William Shakespeare, died at the scene. It had escaped from a nearby field.

Now I know it’s one of those stories that has to be read twice, but what would you call your water buffalo? Keith?

William Shakespeare is as good a name as any, so let’s have no laughing at the back.

, however, smile at the fate of Stephen Strange (not, as far as I know, the one from the popular 1980s beat combo Visage).

Mr Strange, from Chippenham, developed an unnatural interest in what went on in ladies’ tanning salons. Thus, when a 22-year-old woman stripped off and lay on a sun-bed, she was somewhat surprised two minutes later when there was a crash and Mr Strange’s face appeared through a gap in the ceiling. I suppose it could have been worse.

He was hauled before the courts, presumably by the local Sunbed Voyeurism Special Patrol Group and received a suspended sentence, probably in tribute to the suspended ceiling that literally let him down.

When challenged by the girl, Strange had said that he “just wanted to see what people do in here.” Yes, and my name’s William Shakespeare.

WE REGULARLY mock the courts for spending thousands of pounds of our money on prosecuting cocktail sausage-throwers and their ilk. This week we had the case of the Flip Flop Martyr, a young lady called Kathleen Jenkins, who was taken to court by train company Merseyrail for putting her feet on their seats. She appeared in court on Tuesday, courtesy of the local Seat/Foot Interface Enforcement Squad, and was more or less let off, with magistrates criticising the company for bringing the case in the first place. She then became a Page 3 girl – in the Daily Telegraph.

But hang on – why shouldn’t she have been hauled before the beak? It may seem like a minor offence, but isn’t it time we cracked down on this sort of anti-social behaviour? Let’s have a bit of zero tolerance for a change.

Much was made of the fact that a conviction might affect Ms Jenkins’ ambitions to be a schoolteacher, but do we really want someone who shows so little respect for others put in charge of our children? I think not.

Of course, what the papers might not tell you is that this prosecution is part of a campaign by Merseyrail to improve behaviour on trains that has been running since February. Over 250 people have been taken to court, and a further 600 are awaiting their appearances. So the only reason such a fuss has been made over this case is because Kathleen Jenkins is a photogenic, attractive young woman who happens to be a Cub Scout leader who also works with disabled children.

Well I’m sorry, but in the eyes of the law she should be treated no differently than your average alcopop-swigging, innocent-bystander-killing, gun-wielding hoodie. So a conditional discharge it is then.

OF COURSE, why should we stop at prosecuting people who put their feet on seats? Surely there are far more offensive crimes committed on public transport on a daily basis?

There’s the constant zizz-zizz-zizz of the morons with the iPods, the braying tactlessness of the shouting fools with the mobile phones, the people who seem to think it’s quite acceptable to eat their breakfast or lunch, drooling and slack-jawed, in front of their fellow passengers.

But the worst offenders, to my mind, are the staff themselves. I mean, who was it who told train guards that they were brilliant raconteurs, the Peter Ustinovs of the railway network? Frankly, I don’t want some gibbering idiot reciting a monotonous mantra about making sure I don’t leave any luggage behind, and that this station is so-and-so and that we’ll also be calling at Braindead Junction, Nincompoop Central and Poltroon Parkway. All I care about is that they wake me up when I arrive at my stop, particularly on the way back from London after a heavy lunch.

So cut the comedy and get on with persecuting the seat foulers.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The grief junkies go into overdrive

WHEN IT comes to Self-Pity City, God certainly knows how to lay it on thick. Liverpool’s latest tragedy – the murder of 11-year-old innocent, Rhys Jones – has sent the grief junkies into overdrive. Poor florists are collapsing exhausted after going without sleep for days while Chinese teddy bear factories are on overtime.

(And is it only me who wondered how long those signed Everton shirts and boots would last at the shrine before our old friend Sticky Fingers had them away? Give me a minute and I’ll have a look for them on eBay.)

There was even the first recorded case in this country of tragedy hijacking, when Liverpool fans – upset at being left out of this Everton tearfest – invited Mr and Mrs Jones to Anfield so they could show what compassionate fellows they also were. Sadly the match had to be abandoned after individual minute’s silences for little Rhys, that Spanish footballer who dropped dead on the pitch, and the 63 people killed in the Greek forest fires meant that the crowd had to leave while there was still time to catch the last bus.

So that’s the best seats in the house for two football matches in three days and the chance to choose your own pre-match music? I bet Gerry McCann is spitting feathers.

, we shouldn’t just mock the Scousers – it’s not all their fault. The blame for this Dianafication of our society lies firmly at the feet of err … well ... Diana.

Here we are, 10 years on, and our emotional history has changed radically. No more stiff upper lip; lots more cellophane flowers. Run over a badger, as I did last week, and you’re almost honour bond to erect a carefully carved tombstone. With a daily delivery of lilies.

And as for this memorial service, has anyone stopped to ask why? I don’t remember Sir Winston Churchill having a 10-Years-On party. Why are we having inflicted upon us another period of mawkish mourning over a nice but dim girl who fell foul of the system?

And what’s this nonsense about Camilla not turning up? Is there anybody in their right mind on the staff of the Prince of Wales (and on around £250,000 a year) who thought this might be A Good Idea? The poor woman herself didn’t want to go. The guillotine-chasing mob of middle-aged Diana fans didn’t want her to go. Even Her Maj didn’t want her to go. So let’s pretend that she’s going and then let her pull out at the last moment. Genius. A PR disaster of Gerald Ratner proportions.

You might have thought that The Firm would have learned a few lessons in the past decade. Sadly not. They’re still as dim and distant as the Planet Zog.

that the death of Diana did give me was a morbid fear of bad poetry. This came about after the Great British Public (Over-65 Branch) decided that the only way to mark her departure was with a few lines of desperate doggerel.

Thus our newspapers were soon swamped with crapulent couplets and stunningly awful stanzas. Inevitably, this led to our own spoof office competition, the winner of which succinctly summed up the whole story in just 13 words:

Gone to Heaven, not to Hades,
And all because of a fast Mercedes.

Champagne all round, chaps.

A FEW weeks ago I discussed at length the disdain with which our politicians regard the men and women of the armed forces who fight their dirty wars for them. In particular, we railed against the decision to award an RAF typist £484,000 in compensation for having a sore thumb when troops who lost a leg received only £57,000.

How can it be right, I asked, that the lads at the front put their lives on the line carrying out their orders and get comparative pennies if it all goes wrong, while the clerk typing out those self-same orders gets enough cash to retire on just because she’s got a poorly finger?

And sadly, all too soon we had a perfect example of this iniquity. Ben Parkinson, a paratrooper who lost both his legs as well as suffering myriad other devastating injuries after being blown up by a land mine, has been awarded just £152,000 for his ruined life. Ben needs 24-hour care, and his mother just wanted enough money to buy him a house with disabled facilities. Unfortunately the MoD didn’t even see fit to award him the maximum compensation of £285,000 – in itself, not nearly enough.

The good news is that Ben’s parents are now off to the High Court to challenge this pitiful level of compensation. Obviously, they’ve been denied legal aid, but well-wishers will fund the costs. If they win, the whole issue of how much our damaged troops receive will be taken away from the penny-pinching suits at the MoD and thrown into the public arena, where judges rule and civil servants run scared. And not before time.

The government is already trying to cover up the true numbers of serious casualties returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who do return are treated shamefully, abandoned onto NHS wards amongst the elderly, infirm and incontinent and denied the support network of military company. They are left vulnerable to attack and intimidation and are forbidden to wear any part of their uniforms in case they offend a passing Muslim.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about this kind of ungrateful attitude back in 1892 – thankfully, he wasn’t around at the time of Princess Diana’s passing – which went:

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!” But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country,” when the guns begin to shoot.

You would have thought that we’d moved on a bit since then.

we should be spending on the missing legs of paratroopers appears to be heading instead towards ever more sophisticated models of speed cameras. The latest James Bond version is said to be toughest in the world, with a fire-resistant body and a stiffened steel base. It is fitted with smoke and vibration sensors in case it’s attacked and covers four lanes of traffic, nigh and day, with a limitless supply of digital “film”. And it costs up to £50,000 a time. Or a soldier’s limb, if your tariff works that way.

And if you do decide to drive a tractor into it at the dead of night, it automatically downloads all data to the nearest nick and then summons the cops to come and defend it.

One question. What can it do about one angry motorist with a 99p can of black spray paint, determined to obliterate the lens? Go on then, answer me that.

THE CHAPS at Alton Towers have come up with a wizard scheme to keep punters dry during their days out by doing something called “cloud seeding”. This apparently involves shooting dry ice into clouds to make them shed their raindrops prematurely.

Only one problem. The weather in these parts comes in mainly from the west. By the time the rocket scientists lurking behind the Nemesis spot a threatening rain cloud approaching, it’ll be about six miles away. Over a town called Cheadle.

That should make for fun and games at the next town council meeting.