Sunday, November 23, 2008

Who will save me from a Nazi plumber?

I NEVER thought that when defending freedom of speech, thought and action, it would be the fascists I would be sticking up for.

I don’t know how many people spent Wednesday searching that leaked BNP membership list for people they knew or who lived locally. I certainly did, and was massively disappointed to find my plumber on there. Do you know how difficult it is to find a good plumber these days? What do I do now? Find someone else or live with the knowledge that the man rhythmically thrusting his plunger up and down my toilet bowl is probably humming Send The Buggers Back to keep time?

Already similar ramifications are spreading. At the time of writing, a serving Merseyside police officer is under investigation after his name appeared on the list and a TalkSport radio DJ has been effectively sacked. No doubt more will fall by the wayside in the days to come.

And here’s my problem. The BNP is a legal political party. Anyone who wants to be a member can be, without fear of prosecution - never mind persecution. And that’s the way it should be in a democracy. Yes, you’d have to worry if your children’s teacher was on there, and we already know that the police are banned from being members for fear of accusations of racial discrimination. But what about soldiers, and prison officers, and social workers? Since when have they been disenfranchised?

What about this chap: “Retired teacher. Diploma in Education. Commission in Territorial Army (Infantry). Adjutant of regiment's Old Comrades Association. Member of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. Hobbies: landscape painting, gardening.”

Yes, you probably wouldn’t want to sit next to him at a dinner party, but then we all know people like that.

Then there’s this lady: “Nurse (District. Sister). State registered nurse. Orthopaedic nursing Cert. & Diploma in Nursing. Hobbies: walking, caravanning, cross-stitch & knitting, helping people in need.”

Helping people in need of sending back where they came from, no doubt, but who are we to say that she shouldn’t keep her job?

Coming on top of the moral witch-hunt sparked by the Brand/Ross affair, I fear that we’re now facing a full-scale outbreak of McCarthyism. We are living in a control freak society, and it’s not going to get any better any time soon. Fear your kids, say nothing to your neighbours, guard your thoughts, because you never know when the six o’clock knock is going to come (apart from it being at six o’clock, of course).

LIKE DRUNKS scuffling for tab ends in the gutter, the big department stores have launched into their Christmas advertising offensives, and offensive is the word. We’re still the best part of five weeks off and yet if I hear It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas once more, I swear I’ll put my foot through the 42-inch plasma. Neither do I want to see Take That pretending to enjoy a country house celebration with Twiggy and that bird in a bikini off last year’s I’m A Celebrity. Richard Hammond? Stay in the Arctic, you supercilious little toe-rag.

And meanwhile the third most important news of the day on the BBC’s Six O’Clock bulletin, ahead of the BNP story, was the fact that an ageing political reporter had stepped down from a reality dance show. What have we become?

THE ONE thing worth watching on television at the moment – IACGMOOH apart - is the advert for those personalised stamps featuring the dancing cat. Very funny and technically excellent.

But one thing occurs to me: ever the subversive, I’d quite like to get a picture of the Queen’s head and use that as my personal Christmas greeting.

THE PROBLEM is, the way things are going we might only be left with commercial channels to watch. The poor old BBC, through its inept handling of the Brand/Ross affair, has opened a Pandora’s box which may eventually fundamentally change the way it is funded.

Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, has been complaining bitterly for months in the pages of The Spectator about how the TV licensing storm-troopers, employed by that model of common sense, Capita, refuse to believe that he doesn’t have a television at his London flat. He’s regularly in receipt of threatening letters with dire warnings that detectors vans will catch him at it (even though they now contain nothing more technical than a man turning a bent coat hanger pushed through the roof).

Now, spurred by Manuelgate, he’s now refusing to pay his licence fee at his country home (the posh git) while Jonathan Ross is employed by the BBC. Unfortunately for the Beeb, he’s had letters from hundreds of other viewers who have similarly held back their telly tax – seemingly without the fear of prosecution. This ended up as a full page in the Daily Mail, and that’s when you know it’s getting serious.

The theory is that Capita, aka the BBC, is afraid to prosecute big-name conscientious objectors, fearful of making them martyrs, but is instead happy to persecute impoverished council estate scrotes with impunity. So what would happen if the middle England readers of the Mail refused en masse to cough up? The jails certainly couldn’t hold them, even if the political will was there to further criminalise the voting classes.

This could get very, very interesting. Watch this space.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I never again want to hear that 'lessons will be learned',

YOU WOULD think that there would be so many levels of Turkey Army bureaucracy infesting our public services that mistakes would almost be impossible to make; that somewhere in the warren-like system, someone, somewhere would inevitably say “Hang on a minute – this isn’t right”.

After this week’s events involving Haringey Council at the Old Bailey, the answer has to be clearly not - although I suspect, with its £100 million a year budget, it’s through utter ineptitude rather than any laughable notion of under-staffing.

The case of 17-month-old Baby P, who despite being on the council’s at risk register, despite being seen 60 times by social workers in just eight months (that’s once every three days), and despite being the subject of two police investigations, was left to die in agony in a blood-stained cot with a broken back and multiple injuries after being tortured for months by his parents almost beggars belief. It has made me very sad and very, very angry. I actually couldn’t bring myself to read the long list of injuries published in the newspapers. The detail of how they were inflicted – “he was punched so hard in the mouth he swallowed a bottom tooth” – makes me feel faint.

And that’s where the anger overcomes the terrible sorrow, because Haringey Council has previous for this sort of thing, being the same social services department that was to blame for the death of little Victoria Climbie eight years ago. You would think that if any public authority had learned how to protect its children, it would be this one. But no.

We have the social worker who visited repeatedly and yet failed to spot the injuries caused by months of torture and, just four days before his death, was fooled by the boy’s mother smearing chocolate and nappy cream over his wounds.

We have the team leader who agreed that the baby should continually be returned to his home, despite two police investigations and the warnings of hospital staff.

We have the ‘chair’ of something called the Haringey Local Safeguarding Children Board who has shifted the blame quicker than an incontinent puppy, claiming that “The council didn’t kill Baby P; his parents did.”

And we have the doctor, the paediatrician who examined Baby P two days before his death and failed to spot that he was paralysed with a broken spine and also had several broken ribs and multiple other injuries. (Read that sentence back again and consider what it means. I bet you’re shaking your head, aren’t you?) She blamed this gross negligence on being unable to carry out a full examination because Baby P was “miserable and cranky”. Yes, I bet he was.

Still, heads will roll, won’t they? The people who allowed this horrific abuse to continue unabated will be sacked, won’t they?

Err ... no. At the time of writing, three written warnings have been issued and it has been made very clear that no-one will lose their job and no-one will be resigning. (I suspect that may have changed by the time you read this.)

And then, to top it off, we have that aforementioned ‘chair’ turning up on the TV news telling us, in that patronising tone the Guardian-reading classes use when they’re talking down to the rest of us, that “Lessons will be learned”.

I tell you what. I never want to hear a public servant using the phrase “Lessons will be learned” ever again. Because they’re clearly not, are they?

DODGY VICARS have been a staple of the Sunday tabloids for years, but they’re usually male. Now, since the ordination of women, we’re getting dodgy female vicars coming unstuck – and, I would suggest, in proportionately higher numbers.

The latest example is a motorbiking mother from Daventry, Northants, who has been banned from the clergy for 12 years by a Church of England disciplinary hearing after turning up drunk for services and also boasting to fellow clergy that she and her husband went on swinger’s holidays and that she was a keen contributor to some dodgy websites. Hardly the Vicar of Dibley, is it?

The best bit about the newspaper story I read was right down the bottom: “It is thought she has now trained as a teacher.” Well, that’s all right then.

DID YOU see that TV programme on Prince Charles the other night? The one celebrating his 60th birthday today? What do you reckon?

Spoilt and tetchy? Of course – it goes with the territory. If I was a multi-millionaire heir to the throne, I’d be a right pain in the backside as well. I wouldn’t have porky male valets squeezing my toothpaste from the tube. It would be half-naked 23-year-old pole dancers. Or even half-naked 23-year-old Pole dancers. I’m not fussy.

But honest and well-meaning? I think so. Whatever the baggage he drags with him, and whatever the peculiar characteristics his upbringing has instilled, I think he’s definitely a good man who recognises his public duties and tries to carry them out to the benefit of us all. If only he was in charge of Haringey’s Local Safeguarding Children Board. There’d be fewer tortured babies out there, that’s for sure.

TOP TIP this week comes not from Viz, but from the front page of the Daily Telegraph (yes, the front page).

If you’re feeding the birds this winter and your bird table keeps getting mugged by squirrels, just sprinkle a bit of chilli powder on your nuts. Apparently the birds don’t mind it, but the squirrels hate it. Probably keeps you warm as well. Pip pip!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The perils of wearing a trilby while driving

THE GOOD weather of a couple of weekends ago brought out the Sunday drivers en masse around our way. Unfortunately they all seemed to be elderly men wearing hats.

Now something happens to a man when he takes that major lifestyle decision to start wearing a hat while inside a motor vehicle. Why this should be necessary is something of a mystery. They’re not going to get wet, are they? And those thinning locks are hardly going to need an expensive hairdo should they be disturbed by the breeze. But this is a democratic country, and if a trilby is deemed de rigueur for driving, then so be it.

It’s what happens to the brain of the hat-wearer that troubles me. There must be some scientific evidence that the resultant constriction of the forehead, or perhaps cranial overheating, causes everything around them to start moving very fast – a bit like the ‘interesting’ morning I suffered after picking mushrooms for breakfast from the field at the back of the house. I know this because the hat-wearer then begins to compensate by doing everything really, really slowly – including making painful progress along the Queen’s highway. Spatial awareness is also obviously impaired, leading them to settle in the middle of the road ad nauseam, effectively blocking any overtaking attempt.

Or perhaps it’s just because these people are clearly very old, and probably shouldn’t be driving anything more dangerous than a mobility scooter in the first place.

I don’t know if 86-year-old Allan Skoyles was wearing a hat when he ploughed into three pedestrians outside a church in Norfolk, maiming one and – according to a judge – contributing to the eventual death of another. But I do know that Mr Skoyles, who is registered deaf, has undergone eight heart operations and suffered a stroke which leaves him barely mobile, shouldn’t have been driving anything more dangerous than a mobility scooter in the first place. Are we quite mad, allowing nonsense like this?

MORE CLASS warfare. Bournemouth Council has banned staff from using Latin words because they are “elitist and discriminatory”.

I’m not talking about full-blown extracts from Homer here, or even the phrase Pulchritudo et Salubritas, which adorns the crest of … err … Bournemouth Council, but everyday additions to our language of which most people understand the meaning even if they don’t know the literal translation, eg (sorry) bona fide, status quo, vice versa and et cetera.

(There are a couple of examples up above for you as well, albeit not Latin ones per se.)

If this had been done to make council missives clearer and more understandable, I would have some sympathy, but it’s not: the word “elitist” gives the game away. Latin is being banned because only ‘toffs’ have been taught it; the common herd of hooded chavs lurking around the gates of our comprehensives struggle with English, never mind anything more testing.

Funnily enough, I don’t recall them banning words like bungalow, jodphurs or even thugs, all words of equally foreign origin. And Pulchritudo et Salubritas? Beauty and health, if you were educated after they disbanded grammar schools.

I BET that when the forces of the liberal Left suddenly realised that they’d have to stand up to the Daily Mail’s new self-appointed role of national moral guardian, they didn’t think they’d be defending Jeremy Clarkson.

It’s a delicious irony that the motor-mouthed petrol-head, scourge of cyclists, lentil-eaters and yoghurt-knitters everywhere, finds himself next on the hit list after a slightly dodgy comment about lorry drivers having a predilection for murdering prostitutes. (Dodgy, perhaps, but undeniably true – see Peter Sutcliffe and the Suffolk Strangler, both one-time HGV merchants.)

In the wake of the Brand/Ross affair, the cross the BBC now has to bear is the launch of an immediate lynch mob the second anyone steps out of line. An iffy joke, a slightly off-colour comment, and the complaining classes will come pouring out of the bingo halls screaming ‘Burn the witch’ and calling for Alan Titchmarsh to be made Chief Government Censor. It’s an end to innovation and risk-taking. Welcome to the New Puritanism.

Of course, as plenty of other writers have pointed out this week, if we’d been living under that stifling yoke for the past 30-odd years, there would have been no Monty Python, no Fawlty Towers (and therefore, with splendid synchronicity, no Andrew Sachs), no Till Death Us Do Part, no Blackadder, no The Day Today, no The Thick Of It … the list is endless: all special programmes that raised the bar in one way or another which would have been smothered at birth by the Daily Mail’s puritanical pillow.

And why risk offending anyone at all? As Charlie Brooker suggested in The Guardian: “Perhaps it’s time to put a ‘Complain to Ofcom’ button right there on the remote control: if enough viewers press it, the show gets yanked immediately, like a bad variety act being pulled off stage by a shepherd’s crook.”

On the other hand, we could just acquire a sense of perspective about the whole thing. So 30,000 people complained about that evil slur on the innocent young stripper, dominatrix and porn star Georgina Baillie? So what? That’s at least 49,245,000 of the adult population who didn’t and that, I would suggest, is a far better guide to the national conscience.

DRIVING PAST one of those small business parks yesterday, I saw four tow-trucks lined up in menacing fashion outside one of the buildings. A prima facie case of a small company about to have its reps’ cars repossessed. The bank calling in overdrafts or the finance company playing hard ball? Either way, a worrying sight indeed. Caveat emptor.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The sad case of the silly boys and the Satanic Slut

ONLY A week ago I was begging for a story, any story, to knock the self-pitying credit crunch misery off the front pages and from our news bulletins. Listening to Radio 4 had become rather like having a permanent window on a Bridgend teenager’s bedroom. The TV news had you reaching for the loaded revolver. But I didn’t think it would be two pathetic, giggling, overgrown schoolboys and a tasteless, tawdry joke on the wireless that would grab forests of newsprint and acres of TV screen.

But unfortunately, since Sunday, there’s been no escape from Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand and the subsequent media maelstrom their antics have produced. The feeding frenzy has been bizarre; the proportionality of the coverage completely out of well, proportion. But let’s look at a few facts.

After the misguided broadcast on October 18th, there were two complaints about the comments left on Andrew Sachs’s answerphone about his grand-daughter, Georgina Baillie. That’s just two complaints. Perhaps only a few thousand people even heard the offensive comments, although the show is reckoned to have an audience of some two million. After someone at the BBC (and we’ll return to that in a moment) tipped off the Mail on Sunday which then splashed the story on its front page, the world went mad, with 27,000 complaints logged at the time of writing, including one from a certain Mr Gordon Brown of Westminster, who you might think has more important things to worry about.

So what happened? Where did the momentum come from? We must first turn to Mr Ross’s well-publicised salary of £18 million of public money over three years and his comments, when the deal was criticised by news staff, that he was “worth 1,000 BBC journalists”. There is no doubt whatsoever that there is an element of revenge at work here. You might also wonder who alerted the Mail on Sunday to the broadcast more than a week after it took place. Then there’s the public envy and dislike of a performer who is not to everyone’s taste but who is pocketing the entire licence fees of a town the size of Bournemouth, population 166,000. (Good God, even that loathsome porker and well-known paragon of virtue Piers Morgan had a pop at him.)

The BBC’s abject failure to kill the story stone dead with an immediate apology and the sacking of the numptie producer who allowed the programme to go out unedited has also left this once-great institution under siege. Commercial rivals and most national newspapers rarely forgo the chance to pillory the Beeb, regarding it as out-of-touch, politically biased, wasteful and lazy. And they’re probably right. The hyping-up of Manuelgate is too good to miss. (There’s a thought. I wonder how many complaints were received about Mr Sachs’s depiction of a blundering Spaniard?)

And then what about the young lady so viciously maligned in the telephone message? Well, ‘maligned’ is clearly the wrong word, because it suggests an element of untruth. As we now know, courtesy of her deal with Max Clifford and her decision to sell her exclusive story to The Sun, she was indeed a self-confessed conquest of the priapic Mr Brand. Furthermore, she’s a wannabe singer/model/Page 3 girl who is a member of a burlesque troupe called the Satanic Sluts and whose website is adorned with pictures of her posing in basque and suspenders or even less. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but I would suggest that perhaps an ambitious young lady who’s quite happy to get her baps out for public display might not be entirely averse to being splashed all over the newspapers.

What a shame she’s had to cut short her tour with the Satanic Sluts to take maximum advantage of all the publicity … err … sorry, “comfort her grandfather”.
EDIT: Since writing this, the shy and retiring Georgina Baillie, who is mortally offended by details of her sex life being made public, has turned up in a porn film, being not at all shy and retiring. I'd link to it but you'd get in trouble at work or with your wife.

TWO ITALIAN football fans who started fighting on a Ryanair flight bringing them to this country have appeared in court near Stansted charged with affray, had their passports confiscated and been ordered to stay in Newport, Gwent, until December 19.

Newport, Gwent? What’s going on here? Whatever happened to the principle of ‘innocent until proved guilty’? Why this ‘cruel and unusual punishment’, outlawed until now by our 400-year-old Bill of Rights.

Are the CIA involved? This is like extraordinary rendition - take the suspects to some backwater country outside the view of the modern western world and hope to extract confessions from them. Where’s that Shami Chakrabarti when you need her?

I SUPPOSE it shouldn’t beggar belief these days, but I’m still left gob-smacked by the news that plans for an outdoor Christmas ice rink in the genteel city of Bath have been scuppered over fears that it could be used by paedophiles to groom children. Have you ever heard such tosh in your life?

The plan was withdrawn by organisers because of doubts raised by a local primary school near the proposed site about “child protection issues”. Quite what these “issues” are it’s hard to understand, particularly as the rink would have been near a leisure centre, rugby club and cricket club which presumably are already sites where children gather.

The boss of the ice rink company doesn’t mince his words: “It comes as a great shame when something as fun and innocent as an ice rink can be thwarted due to unfounded suggestions by a minority with a misguided agenda.”

And so say all of us. Perhaps the Headmaster was worried that BBC radio presenters might start phoning up his pupils …