Friday, October 26, 2007

Why does a breathless fat bird cost us a pound?

IT’S BEEN a bumper week for the Office of National Statistics, the official government branch of Mr Keith Waterhouse’s legendary Department of Guesswork.

First of all they blithely inform us that 3.7 million immigrants are arriving in the country every week, and that every single new house built by Wee Gordie Broon on the green belt and the flood plain will have to be handed over to Romanian gypsies as soon as the paint dries on their front doors.

Then our premier purveyor of pernicious porkies announces that there are now more old people than children in the country (old people being over 60; young people being under 16) and that from now on every supermarket queue will be full of Victor Meldrews complaining about the amount of packaging on their cauliflowers and the fact that the green beans have been flown in from Kenya.

Their coup de grace was the so-called news that everyone is now obese and will only get bigger and fatter in years to come. So serious was this guestimate that the Prime Minister himself “declared war” on the obesity epidemic blighting Britain, warning that it is “as serious a threat as global warming”.

Two points here: Firstly, we should be glad that he’s declaring war on obesity rather than declaring war on some oil-rich Middle Eastern country. Secondly, is an increase in the number of fat people really as much a threat to our planet as global warning? Really? I suppose that if every fatty in the country fled to the coast and then all jumped into the sea at the same time, it might have serious consequences for the Norfolk Broads, but what are the chances of that happening, eh?

Where the Office of National Statistics perennially lets itself down is when it tries to estimate the cost of the various blights heading our way. Allegedly, by 2050, public blubber could be costing the nation £45 billion a year, £6.5 billion of that in extra NHS costs. So how does that work then?

If a fat bird in leggings gets out of puff climbing the stairs to the Food Hall in her local shopping mall, how much does that cost the nation? A pound? A fiver? How on earth can they possibly calculate this? It’s just complete and utter guesswork.

And then we have the moronic quality of life surveys. Now you’ll find this hard to believe, but apparently single mothers suffer from more ill health than married couples. I’m sorry, but as a statistic that’s entirely meaningless. You may as well argue that listening to loud music causes spots, on the grounds that every teenage kid has an iPod and a complexion like the surface of the moon.

Yes, the two things are linked – but through lifestyle, not through cause. Our sickly single mother will live in microwave pizza-ridden Middlesbrough, recently voted the worst place in the country to live, while our healthy middle-aged couple will live in the organic paradise of Wokingham, recently voted the best. So it’s actually poverty that causes the illness, not geography.

I don’t even know why we need all this so-called information in the first place. The figures are usually nonsense anyway. Not even the government knows important stuff like how many asylum-seekers are in the country, or how many foreign prisoners have been released when they should have been deported. That’s information about a situation that impacts on our daily lives instead of a useless titbit that serves only to push up property prices in a leafy Surrey suburb.

I have come to the conclusion that the only way to get through modern life is to assume that everything we are told by any public body is either wrong or a lie. Take the ‘safe drinking’ recommendations that have been in place for many years – 21 units a week for men, 14 for women – but are now deemed to be too high.

Writing in the Daily Mail this week, Michael Hanlon describes how he interviewed an eminent cardiologist who had been involved with drawing up the alcohol guidelines: “He said ‘Well, most of us thought that for most men, say, a bottle of wine a day wouldn't do any harm. But that seemed excessive, so we cut it down to 40 units a week. That meant we were saying that it was OK for men to drink two or three pints a night. Medically, that may have been so, but that would be sending out the wrong message in terms of drinking and driving. So we halved it.’”

So there you go. Completely arbitrary and based more on what the Powers That Be think the public might accept rather than on any medical reasoning. And these are the old figures, not the ones blamed this week for an alleged epidemic of liver disease as the Nanny State - as I always said it would - redeploys its Smoke Police against the demon drink.

Cheers. Mine’s a double.

MORE LIES exposed: we were all told that if we didn’t install solar panels in our roofs, we’d be personally responsible for those poor polar bears drowning. What’s more, we could actually save money on our heating bills by being more environmentally-friendly than our recidivist neighbours.

Hmm. Not so fast, Mr Greener Than Thou. Yes, you’ll save money, but it will take a mere 208 years to recoup your outlay. So your great, great, great, great grandchildren will be laughing … except that they’ll be carrying so many layers of blubber by then that they won’t need to turn the heat on anyway.

Ain’t life grand?

Monday, October 22, 2007

These public sector predators hunt in pairs

MUCH HAS been made of how you can’t fit a cigarette paper between Labour and the Tories. They both nick each other’s policies; they both seek to occupy the middle ground inhabited by Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman.

(The Lib Dems, meanwhile, sack an intelligent, experienced man because he’s got a bald head, a funny name and skinny legs. So much for liberal inclusiveness.)

But there is a significant difference. In fact there’s a huge difference – one that costs us hundreds of millions of pounds a year. Lord Snooty and Wee Gordy Broon might share the same intentions on inheritance tax, education, crime and the stupid policy of pretending to impose so-called green taxes on airlines while knowing all along that it’s the passengers who’ll pick up the bill, but only one of them hands out jobs to hundreds of thousands of recruits to a Turkey Army of civil servants on the basis that they daren’t vote anything but Labour in the next election in case they lose their jobs.

And if you want an example of this self-promoting profligacy, you could do worse than examine the case of Rose Gibb, the chief executive of an NHS trust whose filthy hospitals killed 90 patients before she legged it with a £350,000 pay-off days before the news broke.

Astonishingly, Ms Gibb has previous for skimping on the Dettol. A former nurse, she jumped on the NuLabour-created health service management bandwagon and became operations director in charge of hygiene at Bromley NHS Trust, condemned in 2001 for its dirty wards. From there she moved to North Middlesex Hospital, subsequently named as the worst in the country for MRSA infection, before landing her latest post in Maidstone.

But the story doesn’t stop there. These public sector predators hunt in pairs and Ms Gibb has a partner who is also an NHS suit. Mark Rees was chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust on a £150,000 salary (plus a pension pot of £1 million-plus) before jacking it in days before his missus came unstuck. The trust he ran had debts of £34 million and was one of the 13 worst in the country for financial management. He is also now in line for the same £350,000 pay-off.

And still it rolls on. The couple are being assisted in sorting out their financial settlements by a new union, Managers in Partnership, which represents health service managers – the numbers of whom, by the way, have grown from 4,000 to over 250,000. Nice work if you can get it. And you would be foolish to think that Rose Gibb and Mark Rees won’t soon be back in a senior NHS job. Proven highly-paid ineptitude seems to be no bar to a flourishing career.

So here we have it. An enormous echelon of self-perpetuating pen-pushers, political appointments one and all, who are expected to repay the largesse lavished upon them by voting for Wee Gordy Broon when he finally sums up the bottle to go to the polls. And they will. After all, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

YOU DON’T often see a pack of feral bank managers mugging someone for their mobile phone and wallet on a street corner. You don’t often read about a school governor stabbing a teenage hoodie in the playground. Gangs of drunken accountants doing handbrake turns in stolen cars around council estates are thin on the ground.

Yet these very people – upstanding, middle-aged, middle class pillars of the community – are the latest target for the Nanny State meddlers who scandalously announce that one glass of wine a night “is too much”. One glass? The mind (and liver) boggles.

There are two points to make here. Firstly, this section of society is in full employment and already pays its taxes in full. It then also pays tax on the bottle of Chardonnay it purchases from Tesco Express on the way home. Having coughed up twice, one would expect that free health treatment might reasonably be available for those whose liver subsequently shrivels up like a pickled walnut.

Secondly, when will the great silent majority of this country finally rise up against the Powers That Be who seek to control every aspect of our daily lives? We can’t smoke anymore, we can’t enjoy the food that we want to eat (in York they’re even censoring restaurant menus), and now we can’t even have a single glass of wine after a stressful day without the Booze Police kicking down the front door and carting us off to rehab.

I tell you, the worm will one day turn and there’ll be blood on the streets. And instead of Burmese monks fomenting revolution, it’ll be drunken accountants and knife-wielding school governors.

HERE’S ONE for you: The first cash machine in this country was opened by Barclays Bank in Enfield 40 years ago. But who was the celebrity invited to make the first withdrawal?

It’s the kind of question that might well crop up in your local pub quiz … that’s if your local still has a pub quiz after the latest barmy stealth tax about to be imposed upon us. It appears that “friendly” pubs, i.e. those that hold social events like darts matches, host football teams or stage quiz nights are to have their business rates increased by a considerable degree.

Meanwhile those sticky-carpeted dives where you can buy satellite navigation systems, razor blades and dodgy fags as easily as a pint of rough cider will escape the extra tax.

There seems to be something fundamentally wrong here. The well-run local is the hub of the community, especially now that they’re shutting down our post offices and the vicar has padlocked the church to stop the pikeys running off with the brass candlesticks. So why make it even harder for them to survive? Does nobody care?

I fear not. God only knows what Reg Varney, star of 1967 TV series On The Buses, would have to say about it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Obscene profligacy funded by our money

I TURNED on the wireless in the car the other day to find Ed “Stewpot” Stewart broadcasting the soundtrack of my youth. As part of Radio 2’s 40th anniversary celebrations, we had I’m A Pink Toothbrush, Nellie The Elephant, Puff the Magic Dragon and Terry Scott’s seminal My Brother.

It was marvellous; real radio for real people. Not a hoodie or a visible thong within miles. The only tattoos were those that would wash off in the bath and the only time you put white stuff up your nose was when a sherbert dab went wrong.

And that was the BBC at its best. News and entertainment, structured across four radio stations and two television channels, and managing to cater for every age group and every special interest group. Chuck in some local radio and television, serviceable but not particularly good, and we were happy. The licence fee was worth paying.

These days the corporation is an out-of-control monster. Expensive satellite channels that no-one watches; a multiplicity of websites with a readership of one; a magazine publishing division that abuses its access to free publicity and resources at the expense of those companies exposed to harsh commercial realities; digital radio stations listened to by a teenager in his bedroom in Derby; the madness of BBC Worldwide, an arm of the corporation that should be selling The Office to Saudi Arabia and Teletubby dolls to the Yanks, but instead has just bought the Lonely Planet book company for an undisclosed sum … the lunacy goes on.

And then there’s the obscene profligacy, all funded by our licence fees. The small matter of £18 million over three years for Jonathan Ross, the 400 staff at the Athens Olympics to cover the exploits of 259 athletes, the £11.8 million spent by BBC staff on taxis in 2005 … I’ll say that again … the £11.8 million spent by BBC staff on taxis in 2005.

Still, the gravy train has now hit the buffers. Three thousand staff (out of 23,000) face the axe. There’s a £2 billion black hole between what director general Mark Thompson says the Beeb needs and what the licence fee will provide. So what will he do? Bin the stupid sideshows and crack on with the main job? No chance. The brunt of the cuts will fall on news and factual programmes. It’s an utter disgrace. And with our money as well.

TRY AS you might, it’s difficult to escape the inevitable conclusion that People Are Stoopid.

Take the radio listeners who rushed to text in their entries at 25p a pop when a local commercial radio station in Birmingham announced in May that it was offering 100 tickets “to go to Athens and watch the Champions League Final”. What are the chances of that then? The hottest ticket on the planet (if you remember, Liverpool fans were even robbing the children of fellow supporters to get in) and yet a radio station in the Midlands reckons that it has 100 tickets to give away? Plus travel, drinks and food? It’s enough to make a cat laugh.

Even when you factor in the Bullring Quotient (a calculation that people who wear plastic “leather” blouson jackets and grey, Velcro-fastening shoes are likely to have a low IQ) it beggars belief. Not even the cash-happy BBC would have the money to offer that kind of prize.

True to form, the “Athens” in question turned out to be an area of Birmingham and the food and drink was served up in a Greek restaurant and the match was watched in front of a big TV screen. There’s one born every day …

I’M A bit puzzled by this Alistair Darling fella and his much-vaunted green tax on planes, rather than on passengers. How does that work then?

At the moment we each pay £10 a time inside the EU and £40 for long haul. An average plane carries around 150 passengers, so raises taxes of about £1,500 per hop to France. So let’s assume that the new tax for the same flight is going to be £2,000 (well it’s only going to increase, isn’t it?) Do you really think that the swivel-eyed loon in charge of Ryanair is going to absorb the cost into his profits?

Of course not. The cost will be passed straight on to the poor bloody passenger, who’ll now have to cough up £13.30 instead of a tenner. The airlines will blithely carry on running as many flights as before while forcing us to pay the penalty. And the people in charge of doing the nation’s difficult sums are supposed to be clever? I’d rather trust my bookie to balance the country’s books.

A READER writes to take issue with my argument that there was no need for the Health and Safety Nazis to ban people from knitting in a hospital waiting room in case anyone got injured by a flying needle, saying that he had a pal who lost his eye due to an accident with a knitting needle.

I think you’ll find that’s natural selection – Darwinism in action – rather than anything for the rest of us to worry about. He confesses that he doesn’t know anyone who’s had their arm broken by a swan. That’s a very interesting point. Neither do I.

In fact, is there a single recorded incidence anywhere in the world of a swan breaking a man’s arm with its wing? No. Yet we were all warned by our mothers of the terrible fate that would befall us if we even meddled with a swan. It makes you wonder what other porkies we were force fed as kids.

I’d go out and pull a face until the wind changes, but it’s still not worth the risk that you’d end up looking like Ann Widdecombe for the rest of your life.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Stop tinkering with our language

I SUPPOSE that Carl Lewis (no, the other one) thought he was doing the right thing when, as part of his campaign to be elected to his local council, he raised a petition to evict travellers from an illegal caravan park.

His neighbours certainly agreed, and almost 1,000 names were quickly collected. But the Powers That Be know how to deal with small-time rabble-rousers like Mr Lewis. Once he’d handed in the petition “against any proposed itinerant travellers’ site within Llansamlet”, Swansea Council immediately grassed him up to the Commission for Racial Equality. They are now launching legal proceedings against this troublesome Celt because they claim his campaign material is racially discriminating. And the words they don’t like? “Itinerant travellers.”

According to the CRE, which fritters away £19 million of your tax on such nonsense every year, you can’t say “itinerant travellers” because that phrase relates to their ethnicity, rather than the fact that live in caravans. And that apparently breaches section 31 of the Race Relations Act.

If you look up “itinerant” in the dictionary, you will find that it is an adjective meaning “a person who travels from place to place with no real home”. Presumably, that is why they live in caravans. (If you look up “caravan”, you will find that it is “a trailer or dwelling place on wheels”. Presumably on wheels because it needs to move from place to place.)

Setting aside the sheer idiocy of threatening a man with jail for what amounts at worst to tautology (“needless repetition of the same sense in different words”), what offends me most about the dead hand of political correctness that oppresses our lives is the damage it does to the English language and the rules of grammar.

“Gypsy” is now off limits, “pikey” is perilous; “tinker” likely to be troublesome. We now have committee chairpersons and legions of ethnicity outreach support staff just waiting to jump on anyone who dares to drift outside the official vocabulary of the State.

It is very annoying. And it is something up with which we should not put.

THE USUAL accusation levelled at Mr Blah’s NuLabour (now known as Wee Gordy Broon’s Big Tent party) was that they were a bunch of hypocritical urbanites living in a wealthy bubble that shielded them from the realities – and cruelties – of Noughties life. Therefore they didn’t know very much about the state of our schools, the horrors of our health service or the lunacy of our lack of border controls.

However, such is the breakdown of basic services that even the high and mighty are becoming exposed to the tribulations the rest of us suffer on a daily basis. Thus when four illegal immigrants tumble out of the container wagon bringing Tony Blah’s new armoured BMW over from Germany, the car has to sent back because its “security has been compromised”, which is shorthand for “an Albanian done a poo on the back seat, Guv”.

Not even Wee Gordy is immune. One of the security guards protecting him at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth turned out to be an Algerian illegal immigrant travelling (not itinerantly) on a forged French passport. He even managed to get the PM to pose for a picture with him.

Quite where Special Branch and the Funny People were when all this was going on is beyond me. And, predictably, the miscreant has now applied for political asylum. Well he’ll be fine for references, that’s for sure.

PERHAPS THE cops who should have been protecting our big wigs were instead busy arresting two hard core criminals for scraping an apple along a wall.

The perps, two brothers aged 12, picked up an apple from the street and used it to scrape ants off a neighbours wall, as you do when you’re 12. Unfortunately the apple left a mark and when the boys told their mother about it, she marched them back round to the house and offered to clean it up. The homeowner, in all probability a Scouser, said that he’d have to report this serious offence to the police so he could get a crime number and then claim on his insurance. For what, no-one seems quite sure.

The cops were therefore called and the kids were arrested, had to pose for mugshots, were fingerprinted and had their DNA taken. They were then given an official reprimand for criminal damage. In the meantime, it had rained and the apple mark had washed off the wall.

The robotic computer chip inside the head of Dorset Police Inspector Phil Cheverton was unapologetic. “This was criminal damage to a rendered wall. Such behaviour is not acceptable … and has a negative effect on residents’ quality of life.”

(The ladies amongst you are wincing as you think about the “two brothers aged 12”, aren’t you? Relax. One of the brothers is adopted.)

WE ADJOURN to the Congleton War Memorial Hospital in Cheshire, where patients and relatives, doomed to long hours in the waiting room, have been encouraged to grab a pair of knitting needles and some wool and to knit a small square to be assembled into blankets for local charities.

Aha, but that’s until the Panzers of the Health and Safety Nazis rolled up the driveway. Knitting needles? Sharp points? Not a chance. The box containing the potentially lethal materials has been removed from the waiting room and is now under lock and key behind the reception desk. You can still knit, but you have to fill out a risk assessment form first, sign a disclaimer, and wear a high-visibility jacket and a hard hat.

As always with these cases, we ask just how many injuries have been caused by the knitting needles in the past? How many lost eyes, how many bleeding fingers? And the answer is, as always, none.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Queue here for the Ignore a Drowning Child module

OVER THE next couple of months, 13,000 forces personnel will return to this country after torrid six-month tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those who are wounded will get dumped in general medical wards of NHS hospitals and be warned against wearing their uniforms in case they offend a passing fundamentalist. Those who aren’t will get wrecked down the pub, start a fight and get Tazered by a passing 16-year-old Police Community Support Officer who’s on his way home from the Ignoring A Drowning Child module.

Is this really the way we should be treating men and women who’ve been involved in the heaviest fighting our armed forces have experienced since the Korean War? Of course not. Unfortunately, Mr Blah’s dirty wars have left our returning heroes in a kind of limbo. Many people don’t like what they’re doing out there (particularly in Iraq) so we’re not minded to celebrate their achievements when they return.

The day was that a returning regiment would be paraded through their home town while grateful citizens lined up to applaud their bravery. I remember as a child turning out myself to greet survivors of the Boer War. Yet of 16 local councils due to soon receive homecoming troops contacted this week by the Daily Telegraph, only two had any plans for a welcome parade – and only then after the regiments involved asked for permission to march.

This really isn’t good enough. You might not like the way that Our Boys were sent to war without a democratic vote; you might not like the supposed cause that they’re fighting for; but at the end of the day (cliché alert) they are only following orders and doing the bidding of their Queen and country.

They have suffered serious casualties (many more than the MoD is prepared to admit) but, thanks to their consummate professionalism, they’ve killed thousands of the enemy while keeping their own losses to a minimum.

That, to me, is something to be celebrated, not ignored. Strike up the band. I’ll be first in line to clap them home.

GIVEN THAT our police, fire and ambulance services are now so hidebound by the Health and Safety Nazis that they’re barely able to serve the public at all, I found it somewhat ironic that Wee Gordie Broon went out of his way at the Labour Party conference to latch onto baggage handler John Smeaton, who gave a terrorist a good kicking after he drove his explosive-laden Jeep into Glasgow Airport.

Mr Broon may not realise this, but in the real world Mr Smeaton would have been arrested by police for assaulting the singed suicide bomber, hauled before the courts and given an ASBO forbidding him from approaching any flammable fundamentalist in future. It’s only because the TV cameras caught him slapping the smouldering miscreant that he got away with it, with even the Scotch dibble reluctant to crucify a bona fide hero.

And meanwhile Manchester police are banned from riding bicycles in case one of them falls off (in a city where the gun crime epidemic is run by kids on mountain bikes), fireman are forbidden to climb ladders to rescue cats stuck up trees (and a hundred cartoonists go out of business), and while children drown because two passing hobby bobbies haven’t yet learned how to blow up their emergency water wings. The mind boggles.

IT SEEMS that a day doesn’t pass without some random old person coming up with a new way to kill the rest of us.

Usually the out-of-control automatic car is their weapon of choice. “I must have got confused and pressed the wrong pedal,” said 76-year-old Henry Senile after mowing down 13 people in a bus queue. Even when we ban them from driving proper cars, they continue to slaughter us while speeding along at 8mph in their invalid carriages.

So all credit then to Joan Hiscock, 84, for coming up with a new way to commit mass murder, namely burning down her care home after deciding to grill her slippers. Yes, after deciding to grill her slippers.

Mrs Hiscock, who is clearly as barmy as a Burmese monk, said: “I’ve never had an accident like this before. I put the slippers to dry under the grill after I had washed them, but I forgot all about them.”

Nine firefighters attended, but had to stand back and watch the home burn to the ground because none of them had been on the Combustible Comfort Footwear module of their training course. Such is life.

SO THESE cows that have caught this dreaded Bluetongue virus. Are we absolutely, one hundred per cent certain, that it’s not just a case of Big Daisy grabbing and chewing a biro from the shirt pocket of a passing vet?

I know it sounds daft, but it’s worth asking, surely?

SAD TO say, the seasons are turning and it’s getting colder by the day. On Tuesday night I put my vest on and the central heating was activated on Wednesday. I even had to resort to the heated seat in the four-wheel drive on Thursday morning. I’ve currently got a carbon footprint like Gulliver in Lilliput.

Still, all this means that the festive season can’t be far away. And I can exclusively reveal to you what Mrs Luciano Pavarotti is getting for Christmas.

A smaller turkey.