Tuesday, November 27, 2007

It's like having Heather Mills McCartney on a piece of string

MAN HAS a curious relationship with Dog, his alleged best friend. They need us to provide shelter and food and are prepared to acknowledge that fact in a way a self-reliant cat never would. We need someone to look up to us and someone to regard us as leader in a way no self-respecting wife ever would.

In return, we tolerate the slobbering, the barking, the unexpected deposits and the unexpected withdrawals – not, it’s not the wife this time - when £1,000-worth of that expensive sisal carpet gets unravelled.

I have a dog – a lurcher/Labrador cross, 10 months sold. He fulfils all of the above requirements without complaint and even allows me to share his kennel in times of matrimonial crisis. So how do I reward him? I have him castrated.

You see, he’s out of control. Come in through the front door and you’re assaulted by this demented blur of fur and claws. Put him on a lead and he turns into a Tasmanian Dervish, all yelping and frothing at the mouth. It’s a bit like having Heather Mills McCartney on a piece of string. And if he sees another dog seven fields away, he’s gone. I’ve had to go home and get the car to fetch him back.

So, in a bid to temper this over-exuberant behaviour, he’s for the chop. I popped into Harold Shipman & Sons, Veterinary Surgeons to the Gentry, while I was in town yesterday to book him in. And do you know what? When I returned home he was good as gold. No jumping up, no frothing at the mouth, no howling. He just sat there, giving me the accusatory eye.

He knows, doesn’t he? But how? It can’t be the smell because he’s never been to the surgery. But he just knows. And he knows I know he knows.

But the die is cast. By the time you read this, the deed will have been done. And I’ve got 14 years ahead of me living with the guilt of betraying my so-called best friend. Still, it might save me a few bob in expensive carpet.

Broon’s government of all the talents – the big tent theory – looks more like the Big Top with every passing day.

Such are the calamities enveloping his administration, you almost expect to see Charlie Caroli’s car drive into the ring with Alistair Darling at the wheel, only for the doors to fall off in a cloud of smoke while Ruth Kelly runs up and throws a bucket of tinsel into the audience.

If Alistair Darling was a badger - and let’s face it, with that eyebrow/hair combo he’s halfway there - he’d have been culled by now. He may well have been put out of his misery by the time you read this. Not because he’s to blame because the personal and financial details of 25 million people have been mislaid; that’s the fault of a spotty postal clerk in Tyne and Wear. No, I’d sack him because seven million families –many of them extremely prosperous – receive child benefit payments in the first place.

(Incidentally, I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the thieving postie stuck the discs he’d just “liberated” into his CD player.)

I happened to catch a bit of daytime TV on Wednesday when the story broke and the indignation was total. One after another, highly-paid presenters like Fiona Phillips, Philip Schofield and Fern Britton gave vent to their outrage that a Nigerian internet scammer might be looting their bank accounts as they spoke. But why are they getting £18 for their first child and £12 for the second every week out of the national purse when they patently don’t need it?

I always thought child benefit (a.k.a. family allowance) was intended to be a payment that protected wives from poverty inflicted by their drunken, wife-beating husbands who hogged the pay packet and spent it all on 22p-a-can supermarket lager and scratchcards. Somehow I don’t think Mr Fiona Phillips falls into that category (although who could blame him if he did?).

It’s truly scandalous that this money is being wasted like this. I bet Wee Gordie could find a use for it – buying Patricia Hewitt one of those squirting buttonhole flowers, perhaps?

OF COURSE, if we really want to talk about wasted money, how about the £7.5 billion a year paid out in incapacity benefits for such debilitating illnesses as “tiredness”, gout and acne?

I realise that it’s a convenient way for the government to keep the underclasses off the unemployment register, and seeing as they’ve no intention of ever working anyway that’s probably a justifiable step, but do they have to be quite so blatant in their bare-faced bribery?

The Department of Work and Pensions has a checklist of 480 possible complaints that people of working age have used to receive incapacity benefit, including almost 2,000 claimants recorded as suffering from obesity ( pocketing £4.4 million), another 1,100 with sleep disorders, and 50 with the skin disorder acne. So that’s fat, lazy and spotty – remind you of anyone? The average teenager, perhaps?

And guess where the most incapacity claimants in Britain are located? Wales, that’s where. The land of leeks, song and sick notes. And almost one in five of the nation’s slackers seems to be living in or near Merthyr Tydfil, where the principal industry appears to be swinging the lead.

A plan to twin the town with Liverpool can’t be far away.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Everything's coming up, Rosie

ALTHOUGH I occasionally slum it down at Tesco instead of frequenting my usual Waitrose, I have yet to see any of the Spice Girls hiding unconvincingly behind boxes of crackers. Nor have I noticed Alan Hansen, Lulu, Denise Van Outen or Gabby Logan hanging around outside Morrisons, although that could be just because none of them live round here.

And on my biannual raids on Marks & Spencer (two suits, four shirts, a pair of shoes and some socks, in and out in 17 minutes, £400 lighter) I have yet to see Twiggy or that bird in the white bikini from I’m A Celebrity at the returns counter trying to claim a full refund on sale merchandise.

Yet the marketing geniuses behind these ad campaigns think we’re all stupid enough to believe that we’re likely to bump into a superstar while rummaging in the best-before bin for the half price microwave pizza. And don’t get me started on Iceland and their £2 king prawns or Lidl’s frozen lobster. Yes, frozen lobster. I’d rather be handcuffed to the radiator in Boy George’s flat than eat that.

Cheap food, expensive adverts; and that’s when cheap doesn’t necessarily mean good. Is this really what the average consumer wants? Even busy mums?

THE BIG supermarkets came in for another bashing this week with assorted do-gooders feigning horror that own-brand tins of beer now cost less than bottled water. So what’s the problem with that?

If I want to get bladdered on 22p lager then that’s up to me. If you (and that’s if you’re a silly young woman) want to wander the streets clutching a £2.22 bottle of water that could have come out of a tap in Peckham, then more fool you.

Of course, the very idea that the common people should have access to cheap booze outrages the Nanny State Nazis. Don Shenker, policy director at Alcohol Concern, says: “This sends the wrong message. We are trying to steer young drinkers away from alcohol abuse.”

Well dare I suggest that downing eight cans of weak, gassy crap in the safety of your own home (total cost, £1.76) is infinitely safer, and therefore better, than risking a Saturday night on the feral streets of Booze Britain (total cost, £100 and a broken nose)? Unless you happen to bump into a giddy Rosie Webster from Coronation Street, that is.

BUT WAIT. There appears to be something of a revolt amongst the Health and Safety stormtroopers. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (the people who carefully add up the number of trouser-related injuries every year) says that we shouldn’t wrap children in cotton wool and that it is “positively necessary” for youngsters to take part in activities that could lead to a twisted ankle or a cut knee. (We’re back to that minx Rosie Webster again here.)

Chief executive Tom Mullarkey said: “People have this perception of ‘elf and safety’ as something that restricts your life, rather than helping you to live fully and successfully.” Err … well … yes. Who was it that banned conkers, football boots and snorkels? Who took down goalposts on playing fields in case someone ran into them? Who tried to ban hanging baskets in case they fell on someone’s head? Who tried to have all the palm trees in Torquay dug up in case their vicious leaves maimed a passer-by? Elf and Safety, that’s who.

Still, as Jesus said, there will more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who refuse to rub sun cream on burning youngsters in case they might be allergic to it. (And once again, a vision of Rosie Webster makes an unwelcome and probably hazardous appearance.)

DOWN THE years many of this column’s more extreme suggestions have eventually been taken on board by the Powers That Be – giving away heroin on street corners being the most recent. Now they’ve seen sense and done it again, by embracing my argument that fat people should pay more to fly than thin people.

Well it’s common sense, isn’t it? They weigh your baggage and jump at the chance to charge us extra if we stray a couple of pounds over the limit. Yet the woman sat next to you on the plane could easily be twice your weight, and no-one bats an eyelid – especially if you’re travelling in the USA.

It’s actually the Australians who’ve come up with the ‘tubby tax’, with their tame expert saying: “Airlines are buying fuel and if you are carrying a heavy weight on a plane it is you who should be paying for it.” Quite right too.

As ever, there is a dissenting voice. Dr Tim Gill, head of Australia’s Obesity Society (they have a society?) says that it’s unfair to single out those with weight problems and that instead airlines should install a few extra-large seats for obese passengers. Yes, or make them travel in the hold.

sake of propriety, and to avoid the six o’clock knock from the Nonce Squad, I should point out that while Coronation Street’s Rosie Webster is still just 16, Helen Flanagan, the actress who plays her, is almost 18 years old.

It’s a small point, but one that might circumvent any Chris Langham-style nastiness.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Leech bites leech shock horror

ONE SHORT story in The Sun newspaper this week tells you all you need to know about what’s wrong with this country. Eyes down, look in:

“A mature student is claiming compensation after being attacked by blood-sucking leeches on a jungle field trip. James Sheridan, 50, says he suffers malaria-like fever, sleeplessness, excessive sweating and lethargy since the trek six years ago.

“He told Neath County Court, South Wales: ‘I haven’t been able to get a proper job because of the health problems I have suffered since going on the trip.’

“Mr Sheridan, of Townhill, Swansea, is suing Swansea Institute, where he was studying for a masters degree in tourism.”

So there you have it. Mature student, never had a job in his life, from the disability benefit centre of the universe, studying a Mickey Mouse degree at a made-up university, and now trying to jump on the compensation gravy train that blights all our lives in the hope that he’ll never have to get one.

The state of Britain at the end of 2007, all in just 84 words. Brilliant.

AND NOW for some very serious news. Tailors are no longer making shirts with a breast pocket because they say it ruins the line of the shirt. (Personally, I think they’re finding it too difficult to teach nine-year-olds in a Cambodian sweatshop how to sew them on properly. And all those patches must cost money.)

The nation’s gentlemen’s outfitter, Marks & Spencer, tells us that 90 per cent of the shirts it sold a decade ago had a breast pocket. Today, it’s just 25 per cent.

So why is this such a problem? Well I can’t function without a pen in my hand. I can’t think, I can’t make a phone call, I can’t argue and I certainly can’t write. However, on occasion, I need to put my pen somewhere and hitherto that has been in my breast pocket.

So what do I do with it now? Tuck it into my belt, ready to inflict serious pain should I sit down without remembering that it’s there? Slip it into my trouser pocket, ready to leak all over the Werther’s Originals, lottery tickets, bits of string and balls of fluff that are already in there?

And it’s not just me. Phone up your company’s Turn-It-Off-And-Turn-It-On-Again department and ask for a housetrained geek to visit and I guarantee that he’ll turn up with a row of pens in his top pocket, carefully colour co-ordinated from left to right. And with a mobile phone in a belt holster. And with a huge bunch of keys jangling from his waist.

Thus a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and sets off a tornado in Texas. The flap of material that goes missing in Phnom Penh could end up having a devastating impact on British industry. Hundreds of thousands of middle managers rendered speechless and incapable of creative thought. Journalists unable to write, IT engineers unable to hold a sensible conversation with fellow human beings … err, yes, well, perhaps that’s not a great analogy.

I WONDER if they’ve been wearing breast pocket-less shirts in the offices of our railway companies for the past 20 years. I ask because, just as the loss of Concorde represented our first technological step backwards since the invention of fire, the opening of the new high-speed rail link to Europe draws some uncomfortable comparisons with the service the rest of us have to put up with on a daily basis.

This is, after all, the country that invented rail travel, so why should we have to put up with a Third World service? Now while we might not have people clinging to the roof of the 08.36 to Kings Cross (well not unless they’re hoodies “surfing”, anyway) we do have the toothless tramp begging on the platform, the overflowing toilets and filthy carriages, and the two drunken Scottish squaddies playing cards in the middle of a sea of empty beer cans. And that’s before the repetitive and moronic announcements telling us why won’t be getting where we’re supposed to be going any time soon.

Twice this year I’ve had to abandon business trips to London (and the free, boozy lunches involved) after assorted points failures and line closures. It simply isn’t good enough. George Stephenson must be spinning in his grave.

WAR VETERAN Bill Burrow isn’t the sort of man to ignore letters from the council, so when he received a survey about garden waste recycling, he sat down to fill it in.
He duly answered seemingly irrelevant questions about his marital status (Civil Partnership, Married, Co-Habiting or Single) and his religion (Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Rastafarian, Sikh or Other). But the 91-year-old great-grandfather was somewhat perplexed about the issue of sexual orientation. Was he a Lesbian, a Gay man, Bisexual or a Hete … hetero ... heterosexual? In the end he had to ask his son.

Of course, no-one stops to question why Leeds city council should be conducting such an intrusive line of questioning in a survey seeking to find out how people want their leaves and grass cuttings collected. We are so inured to oppressive officialdom that often we don’t even notice when they’re overstepping the mark.I suppose that there could be a single aggrieved Rastafarian out there who thinks that the council are deliberately snubbing his clematis cuttings on the grounds of race (and no doubt the compo claim will soon be winging its way to the courts), but I would hope that the other 443,246 people of that city might show enough Yorkshire cussedness to tell these nosy parkers where to stick their stupid survey.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hubble bubble toil and Fiona Phillips

I CAN think of nothing more appropriate than turning on the television on Halloween morning to find Lady Heather McCartney Mills and professional harridan Fiona Phillips huddled around the cauldron that is the GMTV coffee table.

What on earth are we to make of this shrieking barmpot? And that Lady Mucca woman is a bit barking as well.

OK, so she committed the cardinal sin in the eyes of women of a certain age by marrying a Beatle, but she’s hardly done herself any favours with her needy, pathetic whining, has she? And does she honestly believe that we’ll accept that she’s had “a worse press than murderers and paedophiles”?

Personally I couldn’t care less about the domestic arrangements of a hard-faced, one-legged ex-soft porn model and a moon-faced, peace sign-waving Frog Chorus composer with badly dyed hair and an unshakeable, if faulty, conviction that everyone loves him. They’re both damaged goods, snapping and snarling like irritable poodles over obscene piles of cash. Let’s just let them get on with it and save our pity for the poor child in the middle of the rich-for-life bunfight.

Still, you can’t fault her workrate. In just one day she mithered GMTV, Radio 5 Live, This Morning, BBC News 24, Radio 1, the Six O’Clock News, Newsnight, Panorama and Desert Island Discs … quite exhausting. I bet she couldn’t wait to get home and put her foot up.

THE DAY didn’t get any better. I can’t be doing with this crappy American Trick or Treat nonsense, so on Wednesday night I had a choice to make. I could either pin up on the door one of those stickers the local dibble will give you reading “Go away and don’t hurt me – I’m an old lady”; I could turn all the lights out and pretend not to be home; or I could be honest and front up all the mini Draculas who came calling. Stupidly, if honestly, I decided on the latter course of inaction.

It was hardly a brave decision. In my nicely middle-class village the only kids to come calling are pre-teens in costumes accompanied by their yummy mummies, so it was unlikely that I’d be knifed or would have the house burnt down. So the knock comes on the door and out I go.

So there’s a five-year-old witch and her six-year-old brother, who had a bit of a Bela Lugosi thing going on, either side of a rather fit 30-something corkscrew-curled blonde in a white polo neck and shortish skirt. I have a good look and then say: “Sorry, but I don’t really agree with trick or treating. I think it’s a tacky, commercial, American affectation and a bad example to our children.” And then I gave the kids some sweets anyway.

This displeased Blondie greatly. “How dare you spoil Halloween for my children? You should be ashamed of yourself,” she shouted. (If she’d had a Geordie accent she’d have reminded me of the one-legged whinger.)

I calmly tried to reason with her, pointing out the fact that for 364 days of the year she tells her children not to accept sweets from strangers in case they’re kiddy fiddlers, yet on one night she positively encourages them to dabble with “paedo horror”. To no avail. The lady was not for turning. Never mind, I thought. At least it’s not me dragging my children around the village on a schoolnight extorting sherbert dabs from old ladies.

And when I left for work the next morning, someone had keyed my car. So it goes. Next year I’ll be wearing one of those Scream masks when I open the door.

SPEAKING OF barmy blondes, the hideous Diana inquest hobbles expensively on with a Usual Suspects line-up of paparazzi in the dock this week. Apparently, even if it can’t be proved that they were to blame for causing the crash anyway, we should still vilify them just because they earn their living by dabbling their fingers in people’s private lives.

Two things: Photographers take pictures – that’s their job. There is even a kind of dislocation between what’s happening in their heads and what’s happening on the other side of the lens. They can’t always understand what they’re seeing and just keep pressing the button regardless, hence the brilliant news pictures that document our history.

Secondly, why were at least seven paps pursuing Di and Dodi? Because they knew that the right picture would earn them lots of money from primarily British newspapers. And why would British newspapers hand over hundreds of thousands of pounds for the right picture? Because they know that you – yes, you – will buy their newspapers to look at the pictures.

It’s not the paparazzi that killed Diana; it was the Great British Public.

as well go for a full house of dysfunctional blondes by casting another stone in the direction of Kate McCann and her steely-eyed hubbie. Whatever sympathies you have for their circumstances (and at least they’re not having as bad a time as poor Lady Mucca), dipping into the Find Maddy fund to make two mortgage payments on their £400,000 home in Leicestershire was a monumental mistake.

My granny didn’t send off her pension money (consequently having to live on cat food for a week) just so a pair of middle-class NHS professionals could spend another month on holiday in Portugal. The million-pound fund isn’t there to finance the McCann’s household expenses; it’s there to finance really important things like sending the couple to Spain, Italy and Morocco; employing a spokeswoman who ran up bills of £51,000 in salary and expenses – much of that spent in Praia da Luz restaurants; sacking her and then taking on another PR man on at least £50,000 a year (although I’d guess it was nearer £100,000); setting up a website where mad women with crazy hair can post their conspiracy theories; and spending £80,000 on an advertising campaign in North Africa and across the Iberian peninsula.

Just thought I’d clear that up. We wouldn’t want them to get a bad press, would we?