Sunday, October 26, 2008

The real scandal behind those charity accounts

ISN’T IT scandalous about all those charities losing the money they deposited in Icelandic banks? Well, not really. What is scandalous is the amount of money they were sitting on in the first place.
The National Council of Voluntary Organisations says at least £120 million of charitable funds has been frozen and may be lost. One well-known cancer charity (off the record it’s Christies in Manchester, but don’t tell anyone) is thought to have had £4.5 million on deposit – around 20 per cent of its reserves.

Those of us who have lost friends and relatives to cancer (and that’s all of us) might wonder why over £22 million is sitting in the bank when it could spent on treating patients or on research and equipment, but we’ll let it slide. The really horrifying tale concerns another charity close the hearts of the British people.

The Cats Protection League has emerged as the biggest victim with £11.2 million of deposits now at risk. I’ll say that again: £11.2 million of deposits now at risk.

Now one might question what a cats’ charity is doing with £11.2 million in the bank in the first place, but that’s not all. The charity says the potential shortfall won’t affect its work because its income is actually £35million a year, mainly from the wills of mad old ladies.

But even that’s not all. That steady £35 million a year has now built up to the point that the £11.2 million at risk turns out to be just 16 per cent of the charity’s reserves. Stand back while I do the maths. A charity which looks after animals regarded by many people as only one step up from vermin has actually got £70 million stashed away. SEVENTY MILLION POUNDS. Now that really is enough to make a cat laugh.

According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, which should know about these things, there are 7.2 million cats in Britain. The money that the Cats Protection League is merely sitting on – not spending on day-to-day care – works out to around a tenner for each and every one of the blighters. I think we should buy them all a six-pack of Kit-e-Kat and a selection box each and persuade them to defecate in someone else’s garden in future.

And if the Cats Protection League has got £70 million, imagine how much dosh is in the bank of that immensely rich donkey sanctuary in Devon, the one where the inmates have gold-plated hooves and are fed lobster and champagne while reclining on cashmere bedding? The mind boggles.

MORE CHARITY nonsense. Princes William and Harry are nearing the end of a week-long 1,500km motorcycle ride to raise money for UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. We are told that the 80 riders taking part have each donated a minimum of £1,500 to take part in the event and that volunteers have raised more than £300,000 in total.

I have an alternative suggestion to this Royal jaunt. Given the cost of transporting two such important people, and all the security that must have gone with them, wouldn’t it have been simpler just to cough up the £1,500 and then stay at home? Who knows, they might even have donated the money they would have spent buying donkey-quality champers at that Jubblies nightclub they keep staggering out of. Or even chuck in the eight grand Harry is about to spend on his own motorbike. Just a thought.

WHAT IS it about charity that seems to convince previously normal, middle-aged, middle class people that I’d be really keen to help pay for their belated gap year? You know the kind of thing: “Lucinda and I are trekking to Machu Picchu in aid of the Golden Hooves Donkey Sanctuary and we need to raise three grand apiece to pay for it. I’m sure we can count on your support. Here’s the website address. You can use PayPal.”

Well no thanks, pal. Why should I fund your mid-life crisis adventure? Pay for it yourself if you want to go that much. And the same goes for any parachuting grannies, costumed marathon runners or lycra-clad unicyclists en route from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I’m giving my money to the Cats Protection League, where I know it’ll be safe.

WELL, WE knew it was coming, but after the Powers That Be managed to turn smokers into non-citizens they immediately turned their attention to alcohol, and now the hysteria over our alleged drink-dependency reaches ever greater heights on a daily basis.

The latest stage of this ruthlessly organised campaign is to make shoppers face a ‘walk of shame’ to a dedicated checkout counter in the supermarket. This would supposedly deter shoppers from making excessive purchases by putting them under the scrutiny of fellow shoppers.

Have they gone mad? Why should I care what other people think just because I’ve got three bottles of Chardonnay and a six-pack of Peroni in my trolley? The woman behind me is wheeling along a selection of Findus Crispy Pancakes and four tubes of pile cream, yet I’m supposed to feel embarrassed? It’s nonsense. And I’m sure the bloke who hangs around our local Co-op waiting to buy his two-litre bottle of cheap cider at 10 in the morning doesn’t care either.

And all this from the government that for some perverse reason introduced 24-hour drinking. You have to wonder sometimes if they have a clue what they’re doing.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cookery? It's a piece of cake

WE ARE informed by a multi-million pound quango called the Potato Council that four out of 10 young adults can’t cook a baked potato. That’s the notoriously difficult task of rolling a large potato in oil and salt and then baking it for 90 minutes in a hot oven. Difficult, it ain’t.

Neither, it appears, can they cook shepherd’s pie or fish cakes. When we look at this lack of culinary skills, we should go straight back to our schools, where what was once called domestic science or home economics is now relegated to .. well … nothingness. Let’s face it – knocking out a quick Shepherd’s Pie is hardly onerous, but remains a life skill which will stand you in good stead for many years. Especially if gravy is provided. And you’ve got a hot date on the go.

It gets worse. Children in schools in Wales have been told that they can no longer enjoy the delights of Marmite or tomato ketchup with their school meals. Apparently both contain levels of salt which will turn your children into statues of Lot overnight. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the land of swarthy thieves and benefits claimants, even sugar has been banned. Kids at Tonypandy Community College in Rhondda, South Wales, are barred from putting sugar in their tea or coffee, on instruction of the Welsh Assembly.

I will only say this. Tell a teenager that they can’t have sugar in their coffee and before you know what’s happening, they’ll be shovelling it in there like no-one’s business. Diabetes levels will be going through the roof. Seventeen-year-olds will be bouncing off the ceiling like Christopher Biggins at a Lionel Blair reunion.

WHILE WE’RE on the subject of food, a reader writes taking me to task over my assertion, of many moons ago, that a proper English breakfast can’t include toast and fried bread.

The issue arose, if I remember correctly, when Coronation Street’s Roy Cropper, of the famous Roy’s Rolls cafe, served up such an abundance of bread products on the same plate. And, to compound his failure, some mushrooms were noticeably absent from his fry-up offering.

My man writes: “As any connoisseur of English breakfasts will know, the fried bread is there to soak up the tomato juices, whereas one round of the obligatory two rounds of toast lives under the egg or eggs (fried on one side with runny yolks, obviously, none of that American ‘over easy’ nonsense).

“The other round is used to mop the plate once all other comestibles have been dispatched, but before the mug or pot of tea is finished. Of course, both rounds of toast must be copiously coated with large quantities of butter and, ideally, everything except the toast and tea (and possibly the tomatoes) should have been fried in well-used lard, or beef dripping.”

Well, I’m not sure about this. I think there’s a slight problem of physics there. Can a round of fried bread, already loaded with oil or fat, retain the capability to soak up watery tomato juice? I think not. It just won’t mix. Opposites repel.

It makes far more sense to use the toast, in particular the unbuttered underside, to perform soaking duties. Perhaps we need a scientist to clarify the situation.

MUCH IS made of the way so-called England fans booed a player called Ashley Cole after he gave the ball away and set up a goal for the opposition at Wembley last week. The nation’s football writers seem confused: either this is a vile calumny against an honest professional, or a deserved rant against a man who represents all that is wrong with the modern game.

Mr Cole, it should be remembered, is the chap who said in his autobiography (incidentally one of the worst-selling sports books of recent years) that he nearly drove off the road and crashed his car on learning that his employers were only prepared to offer him the pittance of £55,000 a week – yes, a week - on his new contract.

I suspect that when the England fans booed Mr Cole, they weren’t just booing a player who’d played a crap ball cross his own box, they were booing a player who they seriously disliked, and that to whom any opportunity to give a verbal kicking was good enough.

THE REAL problem of the current banking crisis is not that all our savings in Iceland’s Christmas club have gone all Ashley Cole; it’s that the capitulation of the Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS, the twin pillars of the Scottish economy, have had to be bailed out by the English parliament. This means that the Porridge Wogs have suffered a devastating blow to any notion that they might once stand alone “and be a nation again” as the song goes.

I take no pleasure in this. As far as I’m concerned, the quicker we cut them loose and let them drift off into the North Sea the better. Unfortunately, even the most rabid claymore-wielding Jock now knows which side his shortbread is buttered. Expect a dignified silence while they come to terms with the uncomfortable truth.

WE COME quickly to three loony toons of the Nanny State. In Bromsgrove, a man has been banned from fencing in his allotment with barbed wire in case he injures a passing thief. In Penzance, Cornwall, a gardener was hauled before the courts for having the temerity to have an old-fashioned scythe in his van. Meanwhile in Hackney, London, a market stall holder was fined £5,000 for selling fruit and veg in pounds and ounces even though the EU has long admitted that it isn’t remotely interested in imposing a ban on imperial measures. So under which law has she been fined?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

You think it, he'll ink it.

THE MOST charismatic clergyman I’ve ever met was a Priest I sat next to at a wedding in Ireland. For the entirety of the meal we talked non-stop: about fox hunting, drinking, fishing, game shooting, dogs, drinking and women. He indulged in all but the latter. And we spoke about the state of the world and, of course, briefly about religion. If it wasn’t for all that Latin, I’d have converted to Catholicism on the spot.

Having said that, the rector of St Michael’s Cornhill and St Sepulchre without Newgate in the City of London, the Rev Dr Peter Mullen, seems like the kind of vicar you wouldn’t mind having a pint with – a God-botherer about as far away from the lank-haired, dungaree-wearing, whiny-voiced female clergy who now infest the Church as it’s possible to be.

We know this because he writes an internet blog, and on that blog this week he ventured that homosexuality was “clearly unnatural, a perversion and corruption of natural instincts and affections, and because it is a cause of fatal disease”.

Further to that, he also suggested that it should be “obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH”. Well, they do something similar to cigarette smokers, so why not?

Predictably the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, called the remarks “highly offensive” and threatened the Rev Mullen with disciplinary action. Other clergy have queued up to join in the condemnation. Peter Tatchell, of gay rights group OutRage! said he should resign.

Why so? Even if Rev Mullen meant the remarks as a joke, which he now claims, so what? Is no-one allowed a bit of fun any more? In fact, I’d be more impressed if he actually meant what he said and had at least had the courage to say it.

As I’ve said before, I have no problem with homosexuals as long as they don’t do it in the street and scare the horses. But I do have a problem with knee-jerk witch-hunts of honest, if misguided, men.

Perhaps it’s the fear of having to bare their backsides for the tattooist’s needle that has spooked so many of his clergy colleagues …

I DON’T think I’ve ever seen our pubs work so hard, particularly in rural areas. You can hardly walk past them for the blackboards blocking the pavements advertising quiz nights, football, live music, meat raffles, wine tasting, new menus and so on. The only investors smiling at the moment are those who bought shares in coloured chalk. Some landlords have even learned to smile at complete strangers, probably as a result of an intensive CAMRA training course.

I even saw one at lunchtime today with a sign outside saying: “Wanted – Football, Pool and Darts Teams. Food provided. Fees paid.” Astonishing stuff.

I do so desperately hope that they succeed, but I fear that for many this might be nothing more than re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. The smoking ban, the price of petrol, rising food and fuel prices and the decision of supermarkets to sell loss leading cans of lager at 23 pence each – less than half the cost of bottled water – has left many clinging on for dear life. And that’s before the banks start getting snotty about overdrafts.

A bad festive season and the 36 pubs already closing in this country every week will seem like small beer, and that will be very sad.

WHILE WE’RE on about pubs, I was delighted to see that a Japanese company has made an airbag designed to stop elderly people injuring themselves by falling over.
The device is strapped around the body and inflates in 0.1 seconds if it detects it is accelerating towards the ground, the manufacturers say.

Never mind old people – with the Christmas party season just around the corner, this is surely a boon for any binge drinker. The only small problem is that it provides no protection should you fall forwards. This need not be a fatal fault, as long as you don’t mind going out on the pull wearing a crash helmet and with a cushion stuffed up your jumper.

CONSIDERING THE £2million paid out to school pupils in compensation last year, perhaps we should consider fitting such devices to our children. Or maybe we should do something about the sickening, life-sapping compo culture we’ve created.

When I were a lad, playground accidents were part of the fabric of life. Broken noses, grazed knees, minor knife wounds and the occasional gunshot injury were all part of growing up. Now we’ve bred such a generation wusses – or, more to the point, a generation of greedy, needy parents – that these days getting pushed over in a Birmingham playground can bring in a cool £17,901.

Landing awkwardly while playing basketball is worth £9,750 in East London; slipping on tinsel in the dining room yields a cheque for £15,500 in Sheffield; falling out of bed on a field trip earns you £9,000 in Lewisham; while falling off a Space Hopper in Derby only brings in a derisory £500.

Still, there could be worse things happening to our kids at school than a few minor injuries. According to teachers’ union leader Chris Keates, her members shouldn’t face jail and a lifetime on the sex offenders’ register if they get caught having sex with pupils who are over the age of consent because it’s “an error of judgment” rather than a criminal offence.

Perhaps we should all have a warning message tattooed on our children’s backsides.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

So why does Postman Pat need a helicopter?

IF YOUR local post office has been closed down lately, you might be interested to find out where the money supposedly saved has gone – on Postman Pat’s helicopter, that’s where.

Yes, the big-nosed Greendale postie who never once stole a tenner from a child’s birthday card and was seemingly content with the company of Jess, his black and white cat, and the occasional bunk-up with Mrs Goggins has suffered the fate of too many children’s characters. He’s been ‘updated’.

The new Pat, due on a TV screen near you around now, has had his little van replaced by a fleet of new vehicles including a helicopter, a ‘stunt bike’ with a sidecar for Jess, a forklift truck, and a large eco-van, whatever one of those is. And alas, Greendale is no more, and Pat now patrols a new ‘bustling’ town populated by a working mum, a Chinese shopkeeper and, inevitably, a wheelchair-user. It seems no programme is complete these days without the token cripple, even children’s cartoons.

I’m not sure he’s going to be happy in his new role. And if the stresses of modern-day city life take their expected toll, don’t be surprised to see Pat ‘going postal’ and laying waste to the sorting office with a 12-bore.

And meanwhile Bob the Builder has been laid off because of the credit crunch and spends his days drinking cheap cider on a bench outside the off licence while shouting obscenities at passers-by.

YOU’LL NO doubt be relieved to know that while the world’s financial markets have been in turmoil, the petty, selfish, nitpicking whining of the nation’s jobsworths has continued unabated.

We must go to Hull, where the parents of newborn twins are to be sued by a midwife who tripped over a folded buggy at the foot of their stairs during a home visit. Yes, this signed-up member of the Turkey Army is not content with just holding down a public sector job-for-life with a gilt edged pension, but now wants to take advantage of the sickening compo culture bleeding our local authorities dry. Where there’s a claim, there’s blame. And guess who pays in the end, suckers?

Did you think that the Bin Wars that have replaced a single, simple service from your local council with a mad, blinkered creed that seems intent on criminalising half the population had reached its zenith? Think again. Waste minister Joan Ruddock has just announced that people who throw their litter into the wrong street bin risk on-the-spot fines as part of the government’s recycle-as-you-go scheme.

Yep, there you are with your Gregg’s steak and onion pasty wrapper and, as an honourable citizen, you have decided to put it in a bin rather than just discarding it in the gutter like a common scrote. But wait, instead of one litter bin there are now four. That cellophane wrapper: is it recyclable plastic? Are you sure? And that cardboard tray: is it ‘cardboard’ or is it ‘waxed cardboard’? These things matter.

Nervously, you make your choice, and before the cellophane has hit the bottom of the bin, one of the government’s High Street Stazi has leapt from behind his illegally-parked van and hit you with a £110 fine – which is more than you’d get if you’d been caught shoplifting. I tell you, when the masses rise up against the State in this country, it won’t be because of political idealism; it’ll be because some poor old bloke has been a bit cavalier with his potato peelings.

Next stop is Bristol, where the city council has told allotment holders that they shouldn’t padlock their sheds because if they do, thieves will only go and kick their way in through doors or walls causing expensive damage which must then be repaired from the public purse.

Presumably the next step is to order council tenants not to lock their front doors in case they further inconvenience burglars. It’s enough to make Postman Pat’s cat laugh.

BUT IT’S not all bad news. In the High Court this week Mr Justice Blake ruled in a test case that five Gurkhas who had fought for this country should be allowed to live here in perpetuity. This means that another 2,000 Nepalese, including two Victoria Cross holders, can also take up official residence. And about time too.

The right result then, but you have to ask yourself which Home Office nincompoop decided in the first place that loyal soldiers who had fought with immense bravery on our part “did not have sufficient connection” with this country. Jacqui Smith might now be promising new rules and a review of all cases by the end of the year, but surely the person responsible for such stupidity – plus all the anguish and the massive legal costs – should pay the price? Fat chance.

A READER writes: “Travelling back from Jakarta, I bought a bottle of gin in Kuala Lumpur only to have it confiscated in Amsterdam.

“OK, those are the rules. But why is it safe for me to carry a bottle of gin from KL to Schipol in an approved security plastic bag, but not for me to carry it from Schipol to Durham Tees Valley? Who makes up these rules and how do we stop them from doing it?

“Not to mention that if I were a terrorist, I would possibly be the first English, fat, 64-year-old terrorist ever.”

And you can’t argue with that.