Sunday, November 26, 2006

High visibility trousers and the Sunshine Bus

TO TESCO, on sufferance. It is late in the day and, over by the sell-by-date reductions, gangs of starving pensioners fall upon boxes of ready meal lamb shanks like those lions eating the elephant on Planet Earth.

This is a curious place, lit like an intensive care ward and equally determined to provide all that’s needed to sustain life. As well as food, there are clothes, household goods and televisions; a post office and a lottery terminal. Drooling youths prowl the aisles, grateful for the opportunity of minimum wage employment. The Sunshine Bus from the local nuthouse makes regular visits, providing lively entertainment for both inmates and shoppers.

And there, next to the tills manned by resentful, slack-jawed Pollards, there are collecting tins, asking for spare change on behalf of the mug punters who have “lost” their Christmases due to the Farepak scandal. I am momentarily stunned, then outraged.

Excuse me, but the last time I looked, the Great British Public wasn’t to blame for the Farepak collapse. The Great British Public hadn’t used that money to shore up other failing companies. The Great British Public hadn’t done a runner to their foreign villas with suitcases containing millions of quid. So why should we be asked to bail out the poor mugs who’d fallen for this scam? Because that’s what it was.

In my day, a man used to call at the front door every Friday evening (after the rent man and just before the bloke from the Pru) to collect from my mother the Christmas Club sixpence. Each contribution was scrupulously entered into a little book, which was then kept in a kitchen drawer along with other essential household paperwork like the Green Shield Stamps book and the Co-op divi number.

Then, in early December, there’d be a day of neighbourhood madness when money would be thrown about as if a coachload of drunken Scotsmen had pulled up outside the local shops. Satsumas and chocolate money were bought, along with crackers and a small bottle of sweet sherry for Auntie Mary, who used to occasionally overdo it and then hurl vile abuse about Wallace Simpson at the black and white telly during the Queen’s Speech.

Sure, we had the occasional scandal. Every five years or so the current Christmas Club treasurer would suddenly go missing in late November only to be found hiding in a Blackpool B&B with a peroxide mill girl called Doris. It got to the point that minders were appointed around Bonfire Night who would then “accompany” the treasurer every time he left his house. Should the clanking of massed sixpences heard about his person, he’d be quickly escorted back home to reconsider his behaviour.

It’s a shame no-one did that for Farepak, but I’m still confused as to why people sent them money in the first place. From my understanding (and, not being one of the Underclass, that’s limited) people didn’t earn interest on what they gave to Farepak. They didn’t get cut-rate goods – indeed, the contents of some hampers appeared to cost far more than they would have done at the shops (and how many tins of Olde Oak ham do you want?). The fabled “High Street shopping vouchers” were just that, only you didn’t get change from your £20 voucher for your £18.99 purchase.

All in all, it seems like gross stupidity on the part of the customers. They gained nothing and lost everything. A savings account, a credit card or those savings stamps you can buy in supermarkets would have achieved the same thing without the risk of losing it all. Not to mention the man from the Christmas Club.

DID I tell you I’d been to Tesco? It’s my own fault. I’m just another victim of middle class posturing.

It had been decided that we should bake our own bread. Don’t ask me why. Back in the days of Christmas Clubs, only poor people baked their own bread. The rest of us walked all of 30 yards to the local baker, who served up a very nice farmhouse loaf, usually warm. Now it seems that it’s the poor who snap up the supermarket sliced white while the Sunday supplement reading classes labour over a vile mound of brown sludge studded with shards of indeterminable cereal pieces combined with gravel chippings.

This yeast-infested, bosomy concoction – by then I was calling it the Quatermass Sliced - slowly inflated until it had filled all available worktop space; it was like having Faith Brown sprawled across your granite. We cut (or wrestled) a piece from its mass and baked it, as per instruction. Reader, it’s still in the oven, having expanded to the point that it cannot be prised free.

Hence the last-minute trip to Tesco. Those baked beans were calling and would not be denied …

IT’S SHOUT at the telly time again. A BBC1 programme called Traffic Cops shows us how effective the bullies who police our roads actually are.

A harmless if simple girl was fined £30 for driving down a bus lane, while a career criminal caught with £6,000 of wacky baccy in his car was released without charge because no-one could prove the drugs were his. The genius behind these events was a policeman who was so dedicated to his job that he ran out of fixed-penalty tickets halfway through his shift and actually wore his high-visibility trousers as well as his high-visibility jacket. And probably in bed.

Meanwhile one of the Underclass was caught driving with no licence, no insurance and no road tax. She’s been fined £200 and banned for six months. And tomorrow – you know and I know – she’ll be back behind the wheel again. It’s enough to make a cat laugh.

ARE WE past the watershed yet? I ask because the Debate of the Week, prompted by starving male contestants on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, is: Would you let Myleene Klass wee on you in exchange for a piece of cheese?

Hmm. What kind of cheese?

O The views of Mr Beelzebub are purely personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editor or staff of this website, of anyone who’s ever gone up to Heather “Go On Cut All My Limbs Off” Mills in the street and given her a hug, of anyone even remotely surprised that it costs taxpayers £91 in admin charges for every £45 collected in on-the-spot fines, or of anyone who says they’re taking “Annual leave”. What’s that all about then? You’re not in the bloody Army – you’re an accountant from Penge.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take it anymore

I SUPPOSE I’m what you would call an “early adapter”. My first mobile phone wasn’t so much a brick as a briefcase. I had satellite telly from Day One, through one of those squarials, rather than through Mr Murdoch’s dish, and the man came round to fit the Sky+ box the day after it was launched.

I like technology and the convenience it brings to my life. I like trying something new. (Heston Blumenthal’s recipe for 24-hour steak lies in a 50-degree oven downstairs as we speak, as pink and flaccid as a Cleethorpes sunbather.

That’s why I was one of the first people to embrace internet banking. Back in 1990, when I had no money for Nigerian scammers to steal anyway, I threw caution to the wind and signed up to First Direct at a time when carrier pigeons and donkey carts were used to carry cheques down the information superhighway.

We’ve had our ups and downs, mostly due to my almost permanent insolvency, but the relationship has survived. Even when my current mortgage provider promised me a few bob a month off my payments if I moved my bank account to them I declined, preferring to stay with the tried and tested. And, of course, they’ve made thousands of pounds out of me during the past 15 years – bouncing cheques, overdue credit card payments, charges for letters: you know the score.

Now, at last, I’ve reached the “head above water” stage. I owe them nothing, I’m usually in the black and, consequently, my banking is genuinely free. At least it was.

My good old friends at First Direct have announced that from February, all current account holders who have less than £1,500 stashed away will be charged £10 a month for the privilege of phoning their call centres. (They have them in Leeds, Scotland and Liverpool. If a Scouser answers the phone, I hang up immediately. Well would you let one of them dabble in your finances?)

I cannot tell you how angry I am about this. I supported this company when it was new and risky. I’ve stuck with it through a misguided sense of loyalty. And now they want to rip me off to help fund their obscene profits just because they’ve been banned from over-charging poor people with huge credit card debts. Well it’s just not good enough.

I now have to move my bank account, with all the form-filling frustration that entails. I have to build up a new credit history. I have to memorise a new PIN. And I’m effing fuming.

I feel like the Peter Finch character in the fabulous film Network, the newsreader who cracked up live on air shouting: “I’m as mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

So First Direct can get stuffed. The clipboard-wielding Council Tax man who’s coming round to see if I’ve fitted a new toilet roll holder can get stuffed. The local council clown who wants to fit an electronic chip to my wheelie bin can get stuffed. Civil disobedience starts here. I’m as mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.

YOU KNOW that time of year when the council decides to resurface every road in the area because if it doesn’t spend all its money, it’ll lose it out of next year’s budget? I suspect that our old friends in the Jokeforce, the secret government department set up to provide material for satirical columnists, is having a similar crisis, because this week they’re everywhere.

So where to begin? Well, there were the two government policy statements in one day: shoplifters and other “minor” criminals are to be let off if they say sorry, while homeowners (yes, owners) could be thrown out of their property if a family member persistently misbehaves.

Quite where they’re to go once they’ve been evicted isn’t clear. And who gets the house? A party member? I think we’ve been here before.

Moving on, we have parents being threatened with “intervention” (NuLabour’s latest buzz-word) if social services judge them to be ineffective parents. Punitive measures could include nursery rhyme classes where Ma and Pa Scrote would be forced to learn the words to Baa Baa Ethnic Minority Sheep.

In Market Harborough, Leicestershire, a kiddies’ Postman Pat musical ride outside a shop has been outlawed by the authorities in case someone walks into it. It’s been there, keeping thousands of kids happy, for years. Number of cases of Patricide? Zero. Go figure, as the hamburger-eating surrender monkeys would say.

I’m sure you’ve all read about the 200 drug addict prisoners who are to pocket £3,000 apiece because they were forced to go cold turkey in the nick. There’s Mr Blah’s European Human Rights Act in operation, my friends. I’m only surprised that Cherie didn’t get a piece of the action in bringing the case.

The ceremony of switching on the Christmas lights in Scarborough won’t be happening this year. Ten thousand people turned out last year, which has frightened the fire service who only feel capable of coping with 2,000. Rather than try to make it ticket only, the council has pulled the plug completely. Presumably the Chair of the Public Works Committee will now have to sneak out at 3am and flick the switch when no-one is looking.

Race watchdogs (what a horrible, authoritarian nomenclature that is) are studying a reissued edition of the 1939 Dandy comic Christmas issue because it contains within the dreaded N-word. Well it would, wouldn’t it? It’s a historical document, not a handbook for modern life.

Now Desperate Dan, Little Plum and Korky the Cat face prosecution and, presumably, a good old-fashioned book burning. Again, haven’t we been here before?

YET THROUGH the doom and gloom, a bright light shines. A lady called Sue Palmer has opened a nursery in Salisbury, Wiltshire, where the 20 young customers are actually allowed to PLAY OUTSIDE!

The children only come inside for breaks and the rest of the time are allowed to make mud pies, build dens, roam around and explore. They learn about wildlife and insects, sit round a campfire and play on an obstacle course. They have learnt that stinging nettles sting, that brambles scratch, and that fire burns.

Ms Palmer should be made a Dame fast … before she’s sent to prison for child abuse.

O The views of Mr Beelzebub are purely personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editor or staff of this website, of anyone who lost money betting that those lions couldn't eat the elephant on Planet Earth, of anyone not sympathising with David Archer now he's kept the whining wife but lost the best cowman in Borsetshire, or of anyone not outraged at the way Coronation Street scriptwriters disregard simple facts. Everyone knows that Jack Duckworth was born in 1934, but these idiots had him celebrating his 70th birthday last week. History cannot be rewritten in this slapdash way.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ou est le Musee Vichy, monsieur?

TO PARIS once more, where I’m sad to report that the natives were even friendlier and more welcoming than they were a year ago. Even the waiters.

Distressed by this stereotype-busting cultural shift, I am determined to rile the tricky buggers one way or another. Strolling around the Second World War part of the brilliant Musee Invalides (the best value fiver in Paris), I push my luck by suggesting to the attendant that seeing as the years 1942-44 are a little light on content, is there perhaps a wing dedicated to the Vichy Government? No joy. He steers me with a smile into a side room where a guilty-looking map lurks detailing the divide.

I remark upon the remarkably good condition of the French weaponry on show (never used, only dropped once) without a passing veteran spitting bile in my direction. In Napoleon’s tomb, I whistle the Abba hit Waterloo without interference. I shout “Cheese-eating surrender monkeys” at the sentries on duty outside the Foreign Office, eliciting only a wan smile in return. Finally, frustrated, I omit to leave a tip when paying for my £5 glass of near-beer dishwater. “Au revoir, Monsieur,” calls the cheery garcon, as I noisily leave the café.

Something’s wrong. I blame global warming.

SOMETHING IS also amiss in Ambridge. Regular Archers listeners are up in arms over the David-Ruth-Sam love triangle, complaining that the characters are being portrayed in an entirely out of character fashion just to create a cliff-hanger for the 15,000th episode.

Out of character? You’re not kidding. There we are, a knowledgeable, worldy-wise, mature audience, and the scriptwriters are asking us to believe that Ruth is the only woman from the north east of England NOT to drop her knickers on a first date …

Even so, you have to admit that they carried out this cynical ploy with some skill. There was the perpetually whining Ruth, off to visit a “college friend called Laura who lives somewhere near Oxford”. There was the naïve stupidity of her husband (who had himself come close to playing hide the sausage in recent weeks), telling her she could “go off with a clear conscience … and if you enjoy it, you can go again”.

There was the homemade card from the kids reading “Have a wicked time”. There was the tortuous, traffic-jammed car journey to the immoral tryst, punctuated by mobile phone calls from friend and family, and then … then, there was Sam the priapic cowman, lurking in a cheap hotel off the A40 with a bunch of garage flowers and a warm bottle of Borchester Brut.

After seemingly endless months of anguish, the denouement in the car park was almost an anti-climax: “I can’t do it, Sam. I can’t go through with it.” Well thank God for that. Can we all now get back to worrying about whether or not Lynda Snell has recruited enough dwarves for her panto?

Old people like Archers listeners shouldn’t be subjected to torment like this. They’ve already had their pensions stolen and they’ve already been denied life-saving cancer drugs unless they live in Scotland or Wales; to have the state broadcaster toy with their sensibilities in such a shoddy fashion is an insult too far. One can only wonder what they’ll make of the gay wedding at Christmas.

OH HOW we laughed when The Sun and the Daily Mail ran those stories about swan-eating asylum seekers. What tosh. What racist rubbish.

Err, well, hang on a minute. In a not entirely unrelated story, a 150-strong squad of High Impact Fisheries Enforcement Officers (crazy name, crazy guys) has been set up to stop Eastern European immigrants decimating the nation’s stocks of freshwater carp. Apparently the fish is a delicacy in those parts – particularly at Christmas – and assorted Poles and Ukranians are netting them illegally on a massive scale.

Equipped with stab vests and batons, the fish police will patrol riverbanks in a bid to dissuade Johnny Foreigner from nicking carp for the table instead of buying oven chips and microwave pizza like the rest of the Underclass. I make two points: firstly, have you ever tasted carp? It’s like eating doormat hairs coated in mud. Secondly, expect this storyline to turn up on The Archers before long. And won’t Eddie Grundy be cross that he hadn’t thought of it first?

MUCH INDIGNANCE amongst the chattering classes because British Airways (the world’s favourite airline … until you get to the check-in desk at Charles de Gaulle) has banned children from sitting next to male strangers just in case they’re kiddy-fiddlers.

Child protection campaigner Michele Elliot, director of children’s charity Kidscape, said: “It is utterly absurd. It brands all men as potential sex offenders.”

Listen, love, I couldn’t care less. Call me a nonce all you want, but if it means that I’ll never again have to sit next to a whining, mewling, skriking, kicking, puking brat for eight transAtlantic hours then I’m a happy bunny.

THE JOKEFORCE, the government agency that provides material for satirical columnists, has been out and about again. In Plymouth a father is arrested and locked up by the cops for forcibly pulling his 16-year-old son out of bed in a vain attempt to make him go to college. In Kent, a boy of 10 is hauled off to the headmaster’s office by the food police and made to eat his packed lunch in isolation because he had “too many snacks”. The fate of the offending article, a bag of small cheese biscuits, is unknown.

And meanwhile in Tower Hamlets, Loonyville, London, the council decided not to mark Guy Fawke’s Night “because we did that last year” and instead spent public money on celebrating an obscure Bengali folk tale called “Moghul Emperor, the Wise Man and Guardian of the Jungle” which featured a 12-foot long mechanical tiger.

Sparklers, of course, were banned.

O The views of Mr Beelzebub are purely personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editor or staff of this website, of anyone who hasn't received their first Christmas card yet, of anyone who's successfully managed to open a tin of Spam using that new ring-pull thingy, or of anyone currently feigning lack of interest in the I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here line-up when we all know they'll be hooked within days.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

If it moves, tax it; if it doesn't tax it anyway

WELL HELLO there, Mr Holier-than-Thou. You must be feeling pretty chipper this week, what with your wind turbine on your roof, your multi-coloured recycling bins and your energy-efficient light bulbs.

Not sure about the electric car in the driveway though. What happens when you want to drive more than 30 miles in one go? And just how are you going to recycle those enormous batteries?

It’s one of the hazards of penning this weekly diatribe that you’re forced to face your demons every seven days. This can lead to misery, depression, and excessive alcohol consumption. But mostly I just shrug it off and get on with the bar-room rant and tasteless jokes. This week, however, has left me feeling more battered than usual. (Mind you, I had spent the day dipping boiled sprouts into chocolate in readiness for that Trick or Treat nonsense.)

I think it’s the senseless inevitability of it all that leaves me low. One economist comes out with one report about global warming and the world goes mad. Within seconds we’ve got NuLabour apparatchiks coming out with a whole raft of new taxes designed to bully and berate the average citizen and no-one – NO-ONE - stops to say “Hey, hang on a minute, is this bloke right and, even if he is, is taxation the right way to tackle the problem?”

And meanwhile we’re told that those of us lucky enough to have worked hard all our lives to provide our families with a nice house in a nice area are going to be taxed for that “privilege”. Furthermore, a Council Clipboard Clown will soon be banging on our front door demanding entry just in case we’ve got above ourselves by installing a fancy bathroom or a conservatory.

Usually we just bow our heads and accept that we’re about to get another kicking. Well I’m sorry, but up with this I will not put. I’ve had enough. Middle class civil disobedience starts here.

Let’s start with this global warming nonsense. And let’s introduce a few facts to the argument – an unusual approach in these knee-jerk, tokenism times.

For our sins, Great Britain accounts for just two percent of the world’s total carbon emissions, and that figure will shortly fall as India and China metaphorically put their foot on the gas. If every single one of us in this country stopped driving our cars today until the end of time, the benefits to the environment would be outweighed by just 12 months of China’s current (yes, current) emissions.

The Chinese economy is expanding so fast that they’re opening a new, coal-fired power station every 10 days. Yes, every 10 days. They have 30,000 coal mines, with new ones opening every month. China is literally eating the planet, and however many energy-efficient light bulbs Mr Holier-than-Thou buys isn’t going to change that. So we’re agreed: whatever we do simply isn’t going to matter in the grand scale of things. Our self-flagellation is pointless and meaningless.

Now let’s look at this taxation nonsense. Why is there an assumption that increased taxation is the only way to deal with the perceived problem? And what is the money going to be spent on anyway? Vast acres of eagle-mincing wind farms? Solar panels to drive the pizza-frying microwaves of the underclass? Tidal defences to protect the millions of houses that that nice Mr Prescott has ordered to be built on our flood plains?

If it was for building a dozen new nuclear power stations (preferably in Scotland and Wales) then I could understand it, because however many zillions you throw at the problem, you can’t manufacture coal seams and oil fields.

And anyway, if the government is really serious about this, why don’t they just ban cars with engines bigger than two litres? Why don’t they just remove the licences of low-cost airlines? Why don’t they turn the street lights off at midnight?

I suspect you already know the answer. This is not about solving a problem; it’s more to do with finding new ways to extort even more cash from a guilt-wracked and gullible public. Cash that will no doubt help fund the ever-growing ranks of the useless and unnecessary public servants in Mr Blah’s Turkey Army.

And there’s a nasty element of class warfare in there. Let’s bash the rich, with their four-wheel-drives and their five holidays a year. The irony of the situation is that these punitive measures won’t even touch the well-off. An extra £300 on road tax won’t trouble a bloke who’s spent £50,000 on a Range Rover. And massive taxes on air fares won’t stop the wealthy flying off to Venice, but they will stop Mr Average spending the occasional weekend in Amsterdam, or buying a second-hand Freelander because he lives at the end of a country lane.

(Hang on a minute. If the problem with “gas-guzzlers” is that they use too much fuel, doesn’t that mean that the owners are already paying a disproportionate amount of tax anyway?)

And as for the Council Clipboard Clown? Well he’s not coming in. They can fine me that rumoured £200 a day, but I’m not having it. I might have just installed a new chrome toilet roll holder, but I’m damned if I’m going to pay Gordon Brown for the privilege.

PERHAPS ANOTHER destination for the proceeds of this crime might be the trough into which most MPs appear to be dipping their snouts in the last days of the Blah Empire. I have to inform you that the bill for expenses claimed by Members of Parliament increased by £13 million last year.

Yes, that’s increased. The total now exceeds an astonishing £131 million annually. Thank God there’s only 646 of them. Much of this State-approved benevolence is dispensed in expenses meant to cover the cost of a second home, the assumption being that MPs will have to rent or buy a London base. If I told you that MPs whose constituency home is less than 30 miles from Westminster still see the need to claim this allowance, you’ll get the picture.

Now to the best of my knowledge, the average cost of an average house – including mortgage repayments, council tax and utility bills – is around £9,000 a year. Yet many, if not most, MPs managed to claim more than twice that. There is also an ongoing scandal regarding travel and postage expenses, but that will have to wait for another day.

I’m off for a lie down. And a good cry.

O The views of Mr Beelzebub are purely personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Editor or staff of this website, or of anyone who hasn't got time to write this bit because they're due at the airport in half an hour. Bye.