Saturday, May 26, 2007

What do you call an octuple of officers?

HOW THE LAW WORKS, Part One: Let’s assume that you arrive home after popping out for a meal and a few drinks to find that your home has been broken into. Several valuable items are missing (although hopefully not a wonky-eyed toddler).

So you call the police, fully expecting a proper turnout – fingerprints, forensic, the works. After all, you’ve seen enough television cop shows; you know how it works. I’m afraid, dear reader, that you will probably be disappointed. You’re more likely to be given a crime number (insurance, for the use of) by a bored desk officer followed a couple of days later by a letter advertising the services of the Victim Support organisation, a bunch of hand-wringing, do-gooders offering a packet of Jammy Dodgers and a shoulder to cry on.

Not much consolation when you’ve got poo smeared all over your walls and your Granny’s wedding ring is on sale at the local car boot, is it?

Of course, it’s not the fault of the police. As they continually tell us, they’re far too busy filling in forms and attending racial and sexual awareness awaydays to actually investigate any crimes. But wait, what’s this? There’s a minor barney in a Nottingham curry house involving a TV celebrity and a flying spoon and eight – count them – EIGHT body-armoured Plod turn up to arrest Mr Chris Tarrant at his hotel.

And here we are in the leafy avenues of Belgravia. Again, there’s a major crime in progress. A Yorkshire Terrier is rumoured to have been smuggled into the country, bypassing the stringent rabies and quarantine checks. No time to lose, lads. This one’s a biggie. And before you know it, eight – count them – EIGHT body-armoured Plod turn up at Jose Mounrinho’s house to investigate.

(Is there a set size for a Celebrity Harassment Squad? Have the Health and Safety Nazis dictated that it takes an octuple of officers to safely detain a squiffy sportsman or a pissed-up presenter?)

So it’s not all bad news. Bedevilled as they are by red tape and regulation, the boys in blue can still turn out in numbers when there’s something important to do – or when there’s a juicy story to be sold to the tabloids.

HOW THE LAW WORKS, Part Two: Our police are now target-led – they have to achieve certain numbers of arrests and clear-ups or … well … err ... nothing really. They don’t get a bonus and they don’t get sacked. Either way it’s a daft idea, but one which they’ve embraced with a vengeance.

Let’s take the case of the youngster, aged under 16 so he can’t be named, who collected £700 in sponsorship for Comic Relief. Rather than hand it over to Lenny Henry, who would spend it on pedicures for Romanian tramps, he promptly blew the lot, probably on blue alcopops and heroin.

Alerted to the situation the police force in question, who can’t be named because they’re inept, leapt into action and investigated the child for obtaining money by deception. Officers diligently interviewed all 542 people who had given the lad money, then decided to let him off with a formal warning anyway.

But wait – all 542 donors had had a crime committed against them, so 542 crimes were logged. And, because the situation had been officially dealt with, 542 crimes had been “solved”. So a youthful misdemeanour results in the figures being manipulated to read as if 542 murders, rapes or burglaries had been cleared up. The cops are happy; the government is happy. Job’s a good ‘un and trebles all round. If you can stomach it.

Part Three: The dusty, geriatric judge is an English institution. Sheltered by an upbringing that goes from Eton to Cambridge to the Guards, and often strangers to the charms of ladies, we half expect these crusty old individuals to be out of step with modern civilisation.

Thus there wasn’t exactly massive surprise when one halted a terrorism trial last week to ask: “And what exactly is a website?” Mr Justice Peter Openshaw, 59, for it is he, later covered his tracks by claiming that he understood computers perfectly well and was merely asking the question on behalf of the jury, just in case the 12 good men and true hadn’t come across the phenomenon.

(Given that the British were described by the latest edition of the Lonely Planet guide book this week as being celebrity-obsessed, binge-drinking internet porn addicts, that seems unlikely, but doubting a judge’s word is never a sensible step for a writer.)

I’ll tell you who does know about websites and their rather more exotic offerings inside out – Mr Justice Peter Openshaw’s colleagues, that’s who. An amazing 1,434 complaints against judges and magistrates for misuse of their work computers, including viewing pornography, have been registered in just 10 months.

Seeing as there are just over 100 judges in the first place, including the ones currently suspended for playing hide the sausage with the housekeeper, that’s a remarkable strike rate. You’d think they’d have more sense. Or perhaps it was “research for a book”.

Of course, you aren’t supposed to know this. The Lord Chancellor’s department had originally admitted it had held the information but refused to provide it, claiming that it was exempt under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Then it got confused and refused to confirm whether or not it even held the information. It still refuses to divulge the number and rank of judges and magistrates who have been disciplined.

I wonder how many body-armoured Plod it takes to kick down the front door of a judge’s house?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Drowning polar bears by the pound

I APPEAR to be at war with two of Britain’s biggest supermarkets. And it’s not my fault, honest.

It all began when I pitched up at the cigarette counter in Tesco carrying a shopping basket containing two bottles of beer, a baguette, and two newspapers. What I took to be a nice old lady was behind the till.

Before I’d even had the chance to ask for a packet of fags and two lucky dips, she was at my throat like a pit bull on speed.

“Only three items here,” she barked, triumphantly pointing to a sign behind the desk.

“Err … why?” I asked, somewhat mystified.

“Because it causes queues,” she said.

I looked behind me - no-one there apart from a special needs kid pushing a broom and a tramp lurking with intent by the sell-by-date sausages.

“But there’s no-one waiting,” I ventured.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said, “Rules are rules.” Her eyes gleamed with the fervent certainty of someone who’d Been On A Training Course.

I had two choices at this stage. Number one, for that mad second that the red mist descends, was to empty the basket out on the floor, turn on my heel and walk out, dignity intact. Number two was to swallow my pride and get on with it. I wanted a beer, I wanted a fag, I wanted to win the lottery, so number two it was.

“Right,” I said. “I’ll have these two newspapers and the baguette, 20 Silk Cut Purple and two lucky dips for tonight.” Rosa Klebb smiled thinly and proceeded with the transaction. I had plenty of cash, but paid by card just to annoy her. She handed me my receipt and began to turn away.

“And now,” I said, “I’ll have these two bottles of beer.” She froze in her tracks. We eyed each other across a display of cut-price Caramacs, like gunfighters at the Pic ‘n Mix Corral.

“You can’t do that,” she said. “Only three items.”

“Yes,” I said, “but this is a new transaction, and I’ve only got two items.”

“Then you have to go to the back of the queue and wait your turn.”

I looked behind me. The special needs kid had stopped pushing the broom and was picking his nose. The tramp was hurrying across the car park, a suspicious bulge in his trouser department. Of waiting customers, there was none.

I smiled; the smile of victory, the smile of napalm in the morning. Rosa had no choice but to bite the bullet. But if she could have spat in my beer, she would have done.

SO TWO days later I’m in Waitrose, just about to go through the checkout, when I notice that there are no carrier bags for my shopping. So I asked what I took to be the nice old lady on the till if I could have some. She only turned out to be Rosa’s long-lost sister.

“Don’t you want a Bag For Life,” she asked. “They’re better for the environment.”

Yes, well, they might be, but I’ve already got 137 Bags For Life. They tend to lie around in the car boot for a few months and then get thrown in the back of the garage. They never, ever, get taken back into the store to be used for the purpose for which they were intended.

“No thanks,” I said. “I’ll just have some carrier bags please.”

I think I’d have got a better reception if I’d asked for half a pound of horsemeat and a big bag of smack. I was then subjected to a lecture from Rosa’s sister delivered with the fervent certainty of someone who’d Been To An Environmental Awareness Seminar.

Now I was getting a bit cheesed off by now. I don’t go to Waitrose to be preached at. I go to worship at the altar of excessive consumption. So I pointed to a shrink-wrapped cauliflower lurking on the conveyor belt amongst my shopping.

“Well if you’re that bothered about saving polar bears from drowning, why have you wrapped that in plastic,” I quite reasonably asked.

“It’s to keep it fresh,” was the reply.

“Well it was fresh before you wrapped it up, wasn’t it? How is half a yard of clingfilm going to help?”

“And we need somewhere to stick the barcode …”

“Why? Why do you need a barcode on it? Can’t the till tell you how much a cauliflower costs?” I was on a roll now.

“In fact, I don’t want the packaging. You keep it; you dispose of it.” And I stripped off the plastic, left it on the belt, and handed Rosa’s sister the barcode back.

Then I emptied out the two avacados from their rigid plastic shells (it’s a Jamie Oliver recipe for fish), took the wrapping and box off the asparagus, and even liberated Mrs B’s Vietnamese Whirls from their cellophane, cardboard box and plastic container. And then Rosa’s sister called Security…

Not to worry. I’ve heard that Lidl does a very nice line in German Stilton.

SO NOW the private sector has started bullying us with the same relentless vigour as the public sector has been doing for the past few years, and all in the name of “Theenvironment”.

I'm still not quite clear why another polar bear drowns every time I ask to buy a pound of mince, but I'm sure there'll be a government-funded advertising campaign coming along to explain it some time soon. After all, does anyone not know that smoking is about to be banned? There must be someone, because the government is currently spending £1 million pounds a week telling us.

No wonder smoking causes high blood pressure.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Beware the 1980 Bees Act

AND SO we say farewell to dear Tone, the man who promised so much and delivered so little. Except in one area – that of new laws. Oh, and wars.

I haven’t updated my list lately, but I can inform you that when I checked back in August of last year, Mr Blah’s NuLabour administration had already introduced 3,000 new laws since he came to power – that’s around one a day. I have no reason to believe that the tidal wave of legislation has diminished since then.

I must admit that I had this weird idea that modern Socialism was all about personal freedom. I was obviously wrong. We are now more tightly controlled, aided and abetted by an indecent level of State surveillance, than at any other time in our history. Not even Oliver Cromwell made growing an unruly hedge a criminal offence. Mr Blah did.

We all know about the big ticket legislation – the hunting ban, for instance. But there are myriad other areas where you may find yourself innocently breaking the law. These include the importation of potatoes from Poland, the sale of ruddy ducks or grey squirrels, failing to label honey correctly or entering the wreck of the Titanic without the permission of the Secretary of State.

You can also be sentenced to six months’ chokey for organising an unlicensed concert in a church hall and under the Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act 1998, it is illegal to cause an … err … nuclear explosion.

And then there’s the spot fines – for putting the wrong kind of cereal box in your recycling bin, for eating an apple while driving or for being drunk on blue alcopops in the High Street on a Friday evening. (While this last one might be law, with the ludicrous “marched to the cashpoint” fines as a deterrent, it certainly has never been implemented.)

You might think that you’d be safe if you stayed home and hid behind the sofa. Unfortunately not. There are now 266 justifications government officials can use to forcibly enter your house. Some are sensible, for instance if you’re planning to cause a nuclear explosion. Others are plain daft. Under the 1980 Bees Act, the police can check your abode for the presence of foreign bees. So how they know which bees are humming Rule Britannia and which are the cheese-eating surrender bees?

What we have seen is a dehumanisation of public services. By the time we’ve taken on board all these new laws, and then factored in the jackboot of the Health and Safety Nazis, and multiplied that by the number of Turkey Army staff recruited into non-jobs, and larded the lot with the Data Protection Act and European Human Rights legislation, we’ve created a culture where to serve is to fail. More effort goes into not doing something than does to providing the basic services we should all be able to expect for our assorted taxes.

For a prime example, let’s pay a visit to the leafy, middle-class oasis of Cheltenham. There the council has decided on a new response to the perennial problem of dog shit. Once a member of the public calls the Turd Hotline (no, really) to report an illicit deposit, the Canine Crap Rapid Deployment Squad will race to the scene and spray-paint a red circle around the offending item. This is intended to draw attention to the “crime” and to shame the culprit. Or, more likely, its owner.

Seven days later the Poo Protection Team returns to the scene of the crime and, if the Mr Whippy is still there, another circle, this time of yellow paint, is added. A week later, the boys are back again, this time adding a white circle. By now, if the “installation” hasn’t been nominated for a Turner Prize, one can only imagine that it is dwindling somewhat in volume and potential smearability.

Finally, a month later and after having created a whole new series of neo-classical hopscotch grids across the Regency avenues of Cheltenham, the Excrement Enforcement Unit will move in and remove the poop (i.e. kick it into the gutter). Job done.

Now you may well ask why on earth they didn’t do this on their first visit. Wouldn’t it have been far more cost-effective and, well, sensible? Isn’t their primary task to keep the streets clean for residents and tourists alike? Don’t be silly. The new motto of our council commandos is Punish the Public. They’re not interested in doing the things you want them to do; they’re far more concerned about stopping you doing the things they don’t want you to do.

This is the perverse culture NuLabour has created (along with hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs). It’s no longer about public service; it’s about public servitude. And what can we do about it? Nothing – just carry on paying the bills.

IT’S TAKEN a few days but now the tabloids, frustrated by a lack of story-tickling tit-bits from the Portugese police, have decided to put the parents of little Maddie McCann through the wringer. How dare they leave these children alone while they waltzed out for a slap-up meal and, probably, the consumption of cheap alcohol?

It’s not pleasant reading, but you have to wonder if it would have happened a damn sight sooner if, instead of being a nice middle-class professional family (doctors, no less), Maddie’s parents had been benefits-claiming scrotes from a sink estate.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The cretinous jobsworths strike again

SO IF YOU walked into your local branch of Gregg’s for a mid-morning cheese pasty livener and saw, nestling amongst the iced fondants and chocolate éclairs, a confectionary item labelled “Pig Tart”, what would you think?

Would you think “Hmm … there must be pork contained within that delicious concoction of eggs, sugar, butter and pastry”, or would you think: “Oh look – they’ve called it a Pig Tart because there’s a little piggy’s face etched into the icing”.

Similarly, were you to come across something called a Robin Tart, would you really expect to find real robins on the list of ingredients? Of course not. You’re not a moron. Despite the nursery rhyme about four-and-twenty blackbirds, your life experience has equipped you with the gift of logic and the ability to reason. That’s why you don’t expect to find pieces of a swarthy Welsh sheep-botherer in your microwave shepherd’s pie.

Yet some cretinous jobsworths in the Trading Standards department of Dorset County Council have told baker Val Temple that she can no longer use the names Pig Tart and Robin Tart as descriptions of her pastries. There must also now be a long list of strictly accurate ingredients listed as well. Goodness only knows what they’re going to do about Fairy Cakes.

Now I actually listened to the bloke in charge of the Trading Standards department concerned on the wireless the other morning. While admitting that no-one would seriously expect to find beaks and feathers in their Robin Tart, he was resolutely immovable: “It’s the law … new legislation … people are paying more attention to their food ... blah, blah … like it or lump it.”

Well it might be against the law (very little isn’t these days), but it’s also a complete and utter waste of public money and council time. But that doesn’t matter to the Turkey Army, Gordon Brown’s massed forces of Vote Labour Or Lose Your Job public servants. They have to at least try to justify their pointless and expensive existence, so off they go, finding out what makes people happy and then banning it forthwith.

The new Roundheads are amongst us, folks. Give it a year and we’ll all be wearing sacks knitted out of yoghurt and beating ourselves with twigs every time an enjoyable thought pops into our heads.

ANOTHER NONSENSE from last week was this demand for stricter legislation to stop parents giving children under 15 any alcohol – not even that thimbleful of wine with Sunday lunch. Why? How many drunken toddlers are running riot through Suburbia, disturbing gentle snoozing to Songs of Praise? Absolutely none. It’s the teenage hoodies swigging cheap cider outside the off licence who are the problem.

It should be a question of balance and common sense. I don’t presume that any of you would think it right to have a two-year-old sitting in his high chair with his mitts wrapped round a pint of wife-beater and singing “Roll Out The Barrel”, but what’s wrong with letting your well-behaved 14-year-old daughter (there must be one somewhere) have half a glass of Chablis with her vegetarian chops and tofu?

Doesn’t demystifying the alcohol experience lead to a more sensible approach in later life? Do these interfering idiots really want to see young girls puking up blue alcopops down the High Street every Friday night? I suppose it would help them justify the appointment of another three Vomit Containment Outreach Workers at the taxpayers’ expense.

IF WE’RE talking about confused consumers, then you’ll have to count me in. Walking around Waitrose the other morning, my eye was caught by something called Cat Milk. Yes, Cat Milk.

My first thought was “How on earth do you milk a cat? I do hope the poor sod who has to do it gets danger money.” I was then further baffled by the thought of who might want to drink it. It was fully three minutes before I worked out that it was milk especially FOR cats, not FROM cats. What an idiot.

Then I wanted to buy a razor. My current model has, I think, three blades. The new one I was eventually persuaded to buy has six. Yep, five on the front and another one round the back. A six-bladed razor, with a battery that makes it vibrate as well, just in case you’re too sober to shake for yourself in the morning.

I remember my dad’s shaving kit that he brought back from National Service and used until his death at a ridiculously early age. One plastic shaving mug, check; one badger bristle shaving brush, check; one safety razor, check: and when the blade went blunt – Eureka! – you just put in another one.

Now we’re surrounded by over-engineered nonsense that none of us can work and which is obsolete in a month anyway. Check out your kitchen cabinets. I bet you’ve got a once-used breadmaker, a redundant smoothie-maker and one of those Goerge Formby grills. I know I have.

Mind, it’s not just me. In front of me in the queue at the garden centre on Sunday was a young woman with her mother. They were trying to return one of those fancy sundials because, the woman stated, “The arm’s stuck. Look, it won’t turn round.”

Perhaps she’d been on the blue alcopops.