Saturday, March 29, 2008

Power to the pupils

ACCORDING TO a survey carried out on behalf of the Mental Health Foundation, one in three of us have a close friend or family member who struggles to control their anger. Well I don’t know anyone like that, so I suspect that the chap they’re talking about could well be me.

And is it any surprise when so much of modern society seems designed to enrage even the mildest-mannered, middle class, middle-aged white bloke?

Only last night I found myself ranting and raving at the telly, like Heather Mills McCartney on the blob, when a throwback to the 1970s turned up in a news report from the National Union of Teachers’ annual conference. Paul McGarr is his name and he’s a teacher from east London.

Mr McGarr’s beef wasn’t pay and conditions, the state of our school buildings or his profession’s appalling dereliction of the simple duty of teaching children to read and write. No, what was getting up his nose was the fact that the Army distributed publicity material in schools. Shock horror.

Where do we begin with this? It seems to me to be eminently reasonable that the Army might seek to recruit school-leavers from the poorer areas of the country, not because these ill-educated youths are mere cannon fodder, but because six years in uniform will give them the basic life skills, self-discipline and sense of purpose that six years of state education has miserably failed to do. If you doubt me, ask one of them.

But this doesn’t seem apparent to Mr McGarr, who stamped his little feet at the podium and demanded what he called “realistic” publicity: “We would have material from the MoD saying ‘Join the Army and we will send you to carry out the imperialist occupation of other people's countries’

“Join the Army and we will send you to bomb, shoot and possibly torture fellow human beings in other countries.

“Join the Army and be sent, probably poorly equipped, into situations where people try and shoot you and kill you because you are occupying their countries.

“Join the Army and if you survive and come home, possibly injured and mentally damaged by the experience, you and your family will be shabbily treated.”

What a rotter. Now I’m sorry, but I thought we had the right to expect our children to receive a reasonable and well-balanced education – to be able to consider both sides of an argument and come to their own, reasoned conclusion.

With teachers like this, I worry that they’re being force fed a diet of left-wing propaganda, the likes of which I haven’t heard since the 70s. It’s an absolute disgrace. If those were right wing opinions that Mr McGarr was spouting, he’d be out of a job by the mid-morning break.

I don’t know what the schools in east London are like, but I suspect that they’re not very good. It’s a shame that Mr McGarr can’t channel his energies into raising the bar a bit, instead of outing himself as a political dinosaur who undermines his own profession at the same time as disrespecting the 6,000-plus men and women of the armed forces who are on active duty at the moment.

SO ALL this probably explains why I had an overwhelming urge to cosh the woman in front of me at the supermarket till because she seemed surprised that the cashier should ask her to pay for her shopping after she’d packed it away.

She stood there, apparently baffled, while her children, little Tia Maria and her sister Jay Cloth, gambolled around the aisles stealing sweets from the display. Then she slowly searched through her bag for her purse, then fumbled out a card, and then promptly forgot her PIN number (yes, I know that’s an oxymoron, the ‘N’ already standing for ‘number’. So do you want to make something of it?)

AND THEN there was the annual trek to IKEA the other week. Driving into the car park an hour after opening time, the joint already resembled a Bruegel painting. It was pouring with rain and a woman was screaming at her husband to hurry up and get the Billy bookcase into the car because the cardboard box was dissolving.

In the next parking bay, a young couple were trying to force a king-size mattress into a white Fiat Uno (one owner, Royal connections, scrape of black paint down one side). It was hopeless, the mattress occupying more spatial volume than the car.

At least, I thought, as I entered the one-way tunnel of hate, there’ll be cheap hotdogs or meatballs at the end of it. But even those never quite live up to expectations. Yes, IKEA might do the cheapest breakfasts in the world, but are you sure that is really bacon? And those meatballs – you order 25 with extra jam, chips and gravy and dig in only to find that you’re done after the first five. And why are you eating jam with meatballs in the first place? It’s just wrong.

After that, there’s little to compensate for the two-hour March of Hell. If you’re really lucky you might find a couple of gays having a row in the fabrics department, or a childless 50-year-old woman having a snivel in the kids’ department, but that’s it as far as entertainment is concerned.

It's no wonder professional miserablist Ingmar Bergman was Swedish. And that the founder of IKEA was an alcoholic.

Friday, March 21, 2008

And so we say goodbye to a TV icon ...

IT’S BBC Radio Five Live at 3.22pm on Monday afternoon and it’s traffic news time.

The A40 near Oxford, a major trunk road, is closed because of an accident. So is the A13 east of London, the vital Thames Gateway route. And here comes the A17 in Lincolnshire, another major road closed. And then there’s the A50, a dual carriageway taking traffic cross-country from Stoke-on-Trent to the M1, also shut because of an accident.

What is going on? That’s four major trunk roads all closed at the same time on the same day because of so-called ‘accidents’. It’s beyond belief, beyond coincidence.

The answer is that none of those roads actually needed to be closed. The subsequently crippled transport network, that led to millions of lost hours worth millions of pounds as frustrated motorists sat in traffic jams didn’t have to happen at all. Blame it all on a combination of power-mad police chiefs and licensed jobsworths in the form of the Highways Agency.

It was a few years ago that the cops suddenly decided that every RTA, or road traffic accident, that might possibly eventually result in a death should be treated as a murder scene. Thus we have armies of boiler-suited policemen crawling along the carriageway looking for clues while a 20-mile tailback sits fuming behind them. And it gets worse.

Once the high visibility-jacketed muppets of the Highways Agency were recruited to take over many of the responsibilities of the low-visibility motorway police, the situation deteriorated into something resembling farce. Now, every time you set off on an important journey – perhaps to win a new order for your firm or negotiate a job-creating contract – the chances of you actually arriving at your destination within eight hours of the due time depend upon a sad group of men who live with their mothers, carry emergency Yorkies in their jacket pockets and who can recite clause number 72b (section C) of the 1995 Road Traffic Act verbatim.

You see, once you give this collection of social inadequates (and who else would want to be a pretend policeman?) the power to close major trunk roads and motorways, usually on the spurious grounds of health and safety, what are they going to do? Use it, of course. Otherwise there’d be no point to their pathetic existence.

Thus we have a slightly damaged Robin Reliant on the A66 near Scotch Corner resulting in the paralysis of north-east England. A milk tanker dribbling diesel outside Tamworth means that no-one can travel from the Midlands to the north. A caravan with a blow-out near Taunton means that families spend their Easter break on the M5, rather than at Centre Parcs. It is desperately unfair and it cannot be allowed to continue.

Instead of coning off vast tracts of our motorway network, those nerds in the black and yellow four-wheel-drive cars (and why fancy four-wheel-drive cars?) should instead be quipped with bulldozers. An accident happens, no-one dies, let’s get the road clear as soon as possible. Shift the debris quickly and brutally. It’s all going to be written off by the insurance company anyway, so why worry about any collateral damage?

The most important thing the jobsworths can do is get the traffic moving again as quickly as possible – not pratting about with their book of Health and Safety regulations in one hand and their spare Yorkie bar in the other.

ONE OF our greatest film and television personalities died this week. Not Anthony Minghella, director of The English Patient; not Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey; not Carol Barnes, fetching blonde newscaster. No, the real loss to our cultural lives this week was the death of John Hewer, aged 86.

John Hewer played the jovial, white-bearded Captain Birds Eye for more than 30 years until his brutal axing in 1998. As sales then dried up, and a vast cod mountain built up in a field on the outskirts of Grimsby, panicking executives swiftly brought the character back, but with another actor impersonating the original.

To demonstrate this showbiz giant’s influence, in 1993 Captain Birds Eye was voted as the most recognised sea captain in the world after Captain Cook. That might also say something about the quality of our education, but fish is regarded as ‘brain food’ so we’re not beyond help.

Incidentally, discussing the delights of a fish finger sandwich on buttered sliced white bread with a colleague this week, I was horrified to discover that he favoured mayonnaise as the essential condiment, rather than the mandatory tomato sauce. There really should be some kind of State register for weirdos like that. If not, you could mistakenly end up letting one of these perverts babysit your kids.

HE’S SURVIVED being hunted with dogs for decades, having a plethora of strange men shove their hands up his bottom, and seen off nouveau rivals in every shape from rats to Teletubbies. But now Basil Brush has met his match, scuppered by the Thought Police.

An episode of The Basil Brush Show is being investigated after police received a complaint of racism. A member of the public (yeah, right – step forward a frontline soldier in job-preserving, publicly-funded Turkey Army) reported a scene which showed a Gypsy woman trying to sell Basil Brush heather and pegs.

(That capital letter is important, because if we don’t use it some woman starts emailing me and accusing me of Holocaust denial).

Northamptonshire Police – and I’m honestly not making this up – say: “The complaint was logged as an incident of a racist nature and our Hate Crimes Unit is investigating.” So that’s children’s TV puppet Basil Brush, being investigated by the Hate Crimes Unit. It really is enough to make a cat laugh.

Meanwhile Bridie Jones, of the England Romany, Gypsy and Irish Traveller Network, bleats: “People are not allowed to joke about blacks or Asians any more because they would be taken to court, but when it comes to Gypsies or the Irish travelling community they mock us - and to them it’s not racist.

“We are the last group of people in this country who you can openly mock and make racist jokes about - who else is there?”

Sorry, love, but it seems to me that the hard-working, tax-paying, English middle classes are the butt of most jokes around here. Even when it isn’t remotely funny.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why wasn't Scarlett doing her GCSEs?

FIRST WE had the McCanns and missing Maddy: nice, middle class professionals, a massive media campaign, and God knows how many millions flowing into the appeal fund.

Next up was little Shannon and her dysfunctional Dewsbury council estate family: a mother with seven children by five different fathers, a current partner who looks a bit scruffy and simple, and the kind of daily routine that didn’t ring alarm bells until the nine-year-old was four hours late home from school.

Now we have the appalling tragedy of Scarlett Keeling, the 15-year-old raped and murdered in the so-called holiday paradise of Goa after being abandoned after an argument by her soap-dodging, pikey mother who left her in the care of a boyfriend 10 years older than her. Scarlett subsequently died horribly after staggering out of a bar and onto the beach at 4am, drugged up on LSD, ecstasy and cocaine.

Now in some areas of the media, Scarlett’s mother, Fiona MacKeown, has been made out to be something of a heroine for forcing a corrupt local police force to accept that her daughter had been murdered after they at first tried to sweep the incident under the carpet. Well not in this manor, squire.

Bleating to the liberal TV channels, whose judgement has been distorted by years of Leftie management, Mrs MacKeown gets away with claiming that “if police had taken more interest in previous suspicious deaths then Scarlett might not be dead now.”

Well forgive me, love, but if you hadn’t decided to cart your eight (repeat, eight) children off to India for a six-month holiday, and then left one of them to fend for herself while you cleared off with your partner and the other kids (exact number of fathers unknown, but at least four), then there’s an even better chance that Scarlett might not be dead now.

Frankly, the mind boggles. This woman lives on benefits on a caravan site in Devon. Her feral children, aged from five to 19, are the victims of a laid-back hippy upbringing that puts the whims of a self-indulgent adult before the needs of her own children.

And what are they doing in India in the first place? Are the social now handing out long-haul plane tickets along with the dole? Why aren’t the children at school? Why isn’t poor Scarlett sitting her GCSEs, instead of rotting in a mortuary on the other side of the world?

We are quick to moan when social services interfere in what we see as normal family lives; that shouldn’t stop us asking what they, and the education authorities, knew of the MacKeown clan and what they did – or didn’t – to stop a selfish mother driving a caravan through the rules and regulations.

I tell you what – it makes popping out for a plate of tapas and the odd crate of wine look positively normal.

WHILE WE’RE on the subject, why isn’t there a national scandal over the 3,000 (yes, 3,000) British Asian girls who have gone missing from school registers every year, believed to have been forced abroad into arranged marriages?

Local education authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that children attend school. If they don’t, the Turkey Army is supposed to spring into action and do something about it. Indeed, several white mothers of the scrote variety have been jailed for failing to make their feckless teenagers turn up for double geography on a regular basis (while axe-murderers get handed a pot of paint and pointed in the direction of an old lady’s fence).

So what of these 3,000 children? What are the authorities doing about the missing kids? Well, nothing really. And that’s because these cases are regarded as being “culturally sensitive”. I haven’t heard anything so pathetic in my whole life.

The massed ranks of Guardian-reading Lefties who infest the public sector simply can’t bring themselves to enforce the law when it comes to ethnic minorities. They’re scared of being accused of being racist; it’s just so much easier to turn a blind eye and instead persecute the helpless mother of a teenage Goth who won’t come out of his bedroom until Kurt Cobain is miraculously resurrected. So much for the concept of Britishness.

It really is shabby. And meanwhile vulnerable and frightened girls, some as young as 12 years old, are shipped out to become the sex slaves of ‘husbands’ they’ve never met. I wonder what the feminists amongst the NuLabour ranks really make of that?

ONE AFTERNOON last July I was driving home through torrential rain when I heard a reporter on local radio blithely blaming ‘global warming’ for the rising floodwater that was lapping around the top of his wellies.

I was so cross that I emailed the station when I got home and asked them what evidence they had that ‘global warming’ was to blame, rather than just a lot of rain on top of even more rain. The answer I got from an idiot producer was along the lines of “everyone knows that climate change is responsible for extremes in our weather”.

Well I’m sorry, but no they don’t. And this week the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology finally reported that the summer floods were “a freak event unrelated to global warming”. It appears that they were caused by lots of rain falling on top of even more rain. In fact, despite popular opinion amongst people who don’t drive 4x4s, our summers aren’t even getting wetter – there was more summer rain around during the 19th century than there is today.

So as I said last week, fire up the Quattro and let’s drown some more polar bears.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Better red than dead

SO PRINCE Harry has been forced to come home and every carrot-topped, strawberry blond squaddie from here to Baghdad can breathe a sigh of relief.

Personally, it made me proud to see our gallant prince go off to fight the wily Pathan. Apparently Prince Michael of Kent offered to go along to play Chung to Harry’s Wolf of Kabul, but unfortunately they wouldn’t let him take his old bat.

I must say it would be nice to see a return to the days of yore when the monarch actually led our troops into battle. I can just see Her Madge, clad in Kevlar headscarf, sitting on top of a tank yelling “Chaaarge!” as Terry Taliban and his mates flee in terror across the wadis.

Meanwhile Princess Anne is clearing trenches armed only with a pearl-topped hat-pin and look, there’s Prince Philip alongside her, shouting “Let’s get the slanty-eyed buggers!” until a lackey tactfully whispers into his ear the fact that the Gurkhas are actually on our side.

Charles, meanwhile, would be talking to the poppy fields.

DID YOU see the picture of that vicious polar bear at Berlin Zoo trying to eat a small child through six inches of armoured glass? Surprisingly, that bear was not so long ago the cute little Knut, hand-reared by keepers after his mother died and the inspiration for millions of marks worth of merchandise.

Now, aged 14 months, he’s rather gone and given the game away. Remember those pictures of the allegedly drowning polar bears on rapidly diminishing ice floes? Shame, wasn’t it? Well save your pity. These ‘cute’ animals are nothing more than wild beasts that would tear your head off and spit down the hole given half a chance. Don’t waste your pity on them.

In fact, we probably ought to drown a few more, just to be on the safe side. Fire up the Quattro and let’s burn some ozone!

A WOMAN who made hoax 999 calls for 24 years has escaped yet another jail term because shock treatment to break her addiction has failed. Thelma Dennis, 50, from Mountain Ash, Cynon Valley – that’s in Wales, if you hadn’t guessed - has been prosecuted 60 times and agreed to electrode therapy which left her screaming in pain every time she dialled the third ‘9’ of 999.

(For some reason I’m laughing uncontrollably as I type this. Can you apply for a job like that? Electrocuting Welsh loonies at state expense? I’ll even do it for free.)

But a court heard that the treatment failed and Thelma cracked and rang the police claiming a bomb had been planted in her local supermarket. There’s nothing left to do with her except bang her up for life. So the judge let her go, without even a pot of black gloss and an order to paint an old lady’s gate.

Now I can see several options here if the emergency services of Mountain Ash (and I’m imagining Trumpton here) aren’t going to spend every evening racing to false alarms while innocent punters are mugged, burnet and drop dead of heart attacks in the street.

Firstly, why not just take Thelma’s phone away from her? Or even connect it up to a tape loop that just says: “Emergency services - fire, police or ambulance?”

Or how about this for a leap of imagination? Warn all the emergency operators that calls from Thelma’s number are to be simply ignored. Yes love, of course your house is on fire. I can smell the smoke. Now clear off.

It’s hardly rocket science, is it?

WHILE WE’RE on nutters, a man who planned to walk from Bristol to India without any money has quit after only getting as far as Calais.

Mark Boyle, 28, who set out four weeks ago with only T-shirts, a bandage and sandals, hoped to rely on the kindness of strangers for food and lodging.

But, because he could not speak French, people thought he was free-loading or an asylum seeker. Having seen a photograph of this feckless soap-dodger, I think their judgement generous.

Mr Boyle, a former organic food company boss, belongs to the Freeconomy movement which wants to get rid of money altogether. (Except for other people’s money, obviously.)
He now plans to walk around the coast of Britain instead, learning French as he goes, so he can try again next year. Because French is widely spoken in Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan and all the other Francophile countries he’d have to pass through en route to his destination, Gandhi’s birthplace.

SPEAKING OF which, morons in Leicester have objected to a council plan to erect a statue of Gandhi in a mainly Indian area of the city. Now they’ve set up a petition to have local football hero Gary Lineker honoured instead.

Now let’s see – sandal-wearing spiritual leader and man of peace versus jug-eared TV host and crisp salesman? Which one do you think is more worthy?

I KNOW we have to be alert in these difficult times, but a mate’s mother might be taking the War on Terror a little too far.

She phoned him last week and said: “I'm a bit worried about those Muslims next door.”

“Why?” he asked.

“I saw them going in the other day and they had a computer.”“And then what?”“Well, you never know what they'll be getting up to with it.”“Erm … what about email, shopping … the kids will probably use it for their homework …”“Ah,” she said, “but you can’t be too careful, so I’ve phoned MI5.”


Monday, March 03, 2008

Do people poo themselves when they die?

I’m not interested in a barrage of policies, each launched as a knee-jerk reaction to a sternly-worded leader column in The Sun or after a minister has had a tough time on the couch at GMTV. I just want to feel that someone is in charge; that someone is planning carefully and yes, prudently, instead of hurtling from crisis to crisis in an atmosphere more gloomy than a Bridgend teenager’s bedroom.

Which brings us to NuLabour’s oft-stated intention of being ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’, which would be fine if only it were true. Unfortunately our prisons are now so full that violent criminals are walking straight out of court back onto the streets because magistrates have been told not to jail them.

Funnily enough, the same over-stretched prison services managed to find room to house 76-year-old Richard Fitzmaurice, who was handcuffed and dragged off to a cell after being sentenced to 34 days for failing to pay his council tax in full. The former warrant officer in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, who objected to funding the gilt-edged pensions of Turkey Army drones, clearly deserves to feel the full weight of the law while muggers and robbers are sent off to paint an old lady’s gate.

See what I mean? Joined-up thinking.

And then we have the government’s latest 10-year drugs strategy, wherein addicts will lose their state benefits if they fail to turn up to appointments with counsellors.

Now I know two things about junkies. Firstly, they’re not great at keeping appointments. Secondly, they commit 99 per cent of all the burglaries, robberies and shoplifting that occurs in this blighted nation of ours. And that’s when they’re already pocketing their housing benefit and Giro.

Take away that few quid and what will happen? Even more burglaries, robberies and shoplifting. See what I mean? Joined-up thinking.

LOOK OUT! Here comes another knee-jerk policy screaming over the horizon. Apparently hundreds of former soldiers could be re-trained as teachers as part of a crackdown on violence and truancy in inner-city schools.

Ex-servicemen – “including retired sergeant majors” – could be drafted in to bring a taste of discipline to children as young as five.

Now while the idea of giving our children a positive male role model simply has to be the way forward, and while the thought of a semi-deranged squaddie making a rebellious toddler do 50 press-ups because his homework was late does appeal on a certain level, I’m not sure this plan has been completely thought through.

For a start, many of the kids will be better marksmen and more comfortable when handling a gun. Then there are the endless questions that mischievous youngsters delight in asking.

“Please Sir, have you ever killed anyone? Please Sir, is it true that people poo themselves when they die? Please Sir, have you ever seen a man’s skull crack open and his brains ooze out?”

You can imagine the kids going home to their families to be asked: “So, did you learn much today?”

“No, Dad. After Jenkins Junior blew up and burst a crisp bag, Mr Atkins just sat staring out of the window, weeping.”

See what I mean? Joined-up thinking.

NOT VERY long after Madelaine McCann went missing, most media vultures started pondering the question of whether or not the case would have received the same, largely sympathetic treatment if the errant parents (and errant they certainly were) had been scrotes off a council estate rather than middle class professionals.

Well now we have the chance to compare the coverage. At the time of writing, nine-year-old Shannon Matthews has been missing for 10 days. She was last sighted leaving school at 3.10 pm in the afternoon. It was only when she hadn’t arrived home by 7pm – after a couple of hours of darkness – that she was reported missing. You see, we’re already making judgements about her quality of care.

We then turn to Shannon’s mother, 32-year-old Karen, the mother of seven children by five different fathers. We’re judging her already, aren’t we? Well I am.

Then there’s Karen’s current beau, 22-year-old Craig. We are told that Shannon had a good relationship with Craig. “They were having tickling fights and telly cuddles. She views him as her dad,” says Karen.

Oh really? Condemn me if you want, but I do wonder how many occasional ‘uncles’ poor Shannon has had to “view as her dad”. The tragedy of this situation isn’t just the angst of a missing child. It’s the depressing normality of a chaotic, irregular, dysfunctional family unit that, in all probability, led to poor Shannon going walkabout in the first place. Not an easy stance to take, I know, but at least an honest one.

ONE OF those stupid surveys claims that the average housewife should earn an annual salary of £30,000 for the performance of her domestic chores.

Forgive me, but when did lying on the couch in your pyjamas at 11 o’clock in the morning watching Judge Judy while scoffing chocolate éclairs pay £15 an hour?