Friday, February 22, 2008

What Ho, Jeeves!

THAT FOUNT of all knowledge, the Mate In The Pub, suddenly announced last night that 50 per cent of the total working UK population was now in the direct employ of the government, either in the public sector or in private companies employed by the public sector. He also reckoned that the working population of the UK is around 20 million people. So that’s 10 million people in the ranks of the Turkey Army and 10 million of the rest of us without (without pensions, mainly).

Now this got me thinking. Wouldn’t it make sense to give each of us private sector wealth-generators our own, personal public servant? A sort of Jeeves character, although obviously a lot more common?

They could just follow us around doing all the essential but annoying things we don’t enjoy, like taking our household refuse to the rubbish tip, cooking us healthy, five-a-day food, nagging us when we smoke or drink, filling the potholes in the road on our way to work, and advising us on safe sex as we stagger out of nightclubs because they’re going to have to deliver the resultant baby and then teach it for 18 years.

In fact, all the things our local authorities should be doing in exchange for our council tax but patently don’t. And we’d pay Jeeves direct, instead of coughing up ever increasing amounts to the council to fund advertisements for one-legged, black, bicycling outreach workers in the Guardian.

And another thing: this sort of thing would wipe out the problem of benefits cheats at a stroke, as there simply wouldn't be any. They couldn’t get away with not working, or pretending to work, as we’d notice straight away and grass them up to the Jeeves Police who’d ship them off to camps for corrective training.

You know, I think we’re on to something here.

WITH THE football season reaching such a busy stage, Mrs Beelzebub has been deputed to decorate the master bedroom suite. Nothing major – bedroom, dressing room (his), dressing room (hers), bathroom, observatory and terrace with hot tub.

Because of her arthritis (a condition she carelessly exacerbated when moving the four-poster bed) Mrs Beelzebub struggles a bit with those big paint rollers, so I sent her off to DIY store Homebase to treat herself to a small one. She returned having spent a rather extravagant £5.49 and set to.

One small problem: the roller, once assembled, wouldn’t fit in the paint tray. It was a classic of useless design. Not even the Irish could have come up with this one.

Back to Homebase she went, where the giggling nincompoop on the returns desk wiped her nose on her sleeve and said: “Oh, yes. We’ve had a few of those brought back. The roller doesn’t fit in the paint tray.”

And over what time period, Mrs Beelzebub enquired, had these faulty items been returned? “Ooh, a couple of weeks, now,” snuffled the be-fleeced phlegm monster.

Mrs Beelzebub then asked, quite correctly, why the useless product was still on the shelves, causing inconvenience and irritation to everyone who bought it?

“Ooh, I don’t know,” giggled the minimum-wage idiot.

You see, that’s what’s wrong with this country. All it needed was for someone with a bit of gumption to drag the manager away from watching pornography on his office computer to tell him that his shelves were stocked with an item that was not only unusable, but the purchase of which would annoy anyone foolish enough to buy it.

He could then send the damn things back to China (where the children who assembled them would no doubt have their wages docked) and everyone’s happy. Instead stupidity and indolence rules, dozens of wasted carbon-emitting journeys to the DIY store are made and several polar bears drown as a result. I hope they’re pleased with themselves.

If it was me, I’d have had the manager either refund my petrol money or pop outside to be introduced to my new, on-board baseball bat. Or I’d have sent my Jeeves in the first place.

WE HAVE a splendid high-speed dual carriageway in our neighbourhood, linking two motorways in a really efficient manner. One afternoon last week there was a nasty car crash involving two vehicles travelling in opposing directions on the same side of the carriageway.

Not pleasant. Both drivers dead, no passengers involved, yet still the cops saw fit to close this vital link road for EIGHT HOURS. No, really.

I know that they now consider fatal accidents to be crime scenes as they try to pin the blame on one driver or another (must get those targets met) but in this case there was no point in spending hour after hour trying to establish blame. You can’t haul a dead man through the courts, after all. You can’t give three points to a corpse.

All that was needed was a cursory examination of the scene to keep the Coroner happy, and then it should have been a case of “wagons roll”. The cost to the economy, in the middle of a busy week, is almost unquantifiable. And we won’t even mention the succession of accidents which left several people injured as HGVs rampaged through the villages unfortunate enough to be on the diversion route.

Perhaps it’s time we each had our own personal policeman; someone to focus on our personal concerns and protect our own property. I shall call mine Dixon.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Beware the deranged curtain-twitcher

I THOUGHT long and hard before I bought the baseball bat and tucked it away beneath the carpet in the car boot.

The machete under the bed I can justify to myself: anyone coming up those stairs in the dark is clearly up to no good and is therefore going to get it. Similarly, the sawn-off pool cue tucked away in the hall near the front door. Both are defensive weapons, for use only against significant intruders, and while their use might not necessarily be deemed as “reasonable force”, at least I’d have a fighting chance in court.

Not so the baseball bat in the car. That might well also be for protection in these dysfunctional days, but its very location leaves me open to a charge of possessing an offensive weapon. So what to do?

After several weeks of pondering, I drove into the local sports shop on the way home from work and purchased a 32-inch Louisville Slugger in white ash for a very reasonable £31.99. But that wasn’t all. A further £6.99 bought me an authentic leather-bound baseball, and the master plan was put into action.

For the next week I took the dog out every evening, as well as the bat and ball. The bat I dragged along the dry stone walls and generally dented; the ball I threw for the dog until it was suitably chewed up. The bat then went into the car boot and, crucially, so did the ball.

So ask me, officer, what I’m doing with a baseball bat in my car and I’ll happily tell you. I use it to hit a ball around and exercise the dog. Look, there are the teeth marks.

Of course, instead of quizzing me over why I’m transporting a potentially offensive weapon, the cops might be better off asking themselves why an ordinary, middle-aged, middle class, white male should feel the need to carry a hefty club in the first place. But that’s a far more complicated argument, and one no-one seems to want to tackle at the moment.

THE REASON I mention this dilemma is that the Association of Chief Police Officers appears to have given up on the idea of having coppers patrolling our streets and is now suggesting that we might like to do it ourselves.

The idea is that teams of Neighbourhood Watch members could spy on villains, patrol crime-hit areas and check cars for out-of-date tax discs. There is even a suggestion that “secret” teams might get together to gather intelligence on possible wrongdoers.

I can see several problems with this frankly idiotic plan. Firstly, anyone who has ever lived in a rural village will know how they are riven with snobbery, jealousy and petty feuds. The idea of letting the deranged curtain-twitcher at Snout’s Cottage gather “intelligence” about her neighbours reminds me of East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down.

Secondly, while I am quite prepared to patrol the streets of my locality, discreetly dented Louisville Slugger in hand, where do I stand when a hooded teen scrote accidentally gets damaged in a robust exchange of views? In past experience, it’s me who gets carted off into custody while the feral yob gets given a free Playstation and a week’s canoeing in the Lake District. And two litres of cheap cider.

MR KEITH Waterhouse’s legendary Department of Guesswork has been busy again, this week supplying figures for a Health Protection Agency report on global warming. It appears that by the year 2012 there is a one-in-40 chance of a heatwave in the South East of England that will kill 3,000 people immediately, with a further 3,000 deaths to follow. And all because I drive my 4x4 to the tip to recycle my wine bottles.

Let’s have a closer look at those figures. A “one-in-40” chance in the next five years? How does that work then? It doesn’t make sense. Presumably a “one-in-40” chance means once in 40 years, doesn’t it? So how can that happen in the next five years, unless we’re very, very unlucky? I’m getting a headache.

And these 6,000 people supposedly killed, according to the report, by a combination of skin cancer, hot weather, floods and malaria – how do they work out that number? Is there an accurate computer model somewhere that details exactly how many people will drown in floods, how many people will spend too long in the sun and how many people will get bitten by a passing mosquito? If so, why don’t they ring them up and warn them? It’s just nonsense.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Milder winters will apparently mean that 20,000 fewer pensioners will freeze to death in front of Countdown, but that’s probably utter bollocks as well.

AS IT’S a Leap Year, men throughout the country are at risk of being press-ganged by desperate women into marrying them. Before they fall for the feminine wiles (Beef Wellington and a BJ seems par for the course), they would do well to consider the case of poor Timothy Mortimer who was persecuted by his ex-girlfriend after deciding, quite reasonably, that the grass was greener on the other side of the lunatic asylum.

Mr Mortimer’s ex, a mad woman called Lee Amor, subsequently sent him nearly 11,000 text messages in just 65 days. The Department of Guesswork reliably informs me that that makes eight text messages every minute, although I suspect that one message every eight minutes is nearer the mark.

I wonder if Mr Mortimer might be interested in buying a second-hand Louisville Slugger, slightly used?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Not drowning, just waving

NOW FORGIVE me if I've got this wrong, but isn't bigamy against the law in this country?

Every now and again a story will crop up in the tabloids about the serial wife who's been busy taking husband number three to the cleaners without bothering to dispense with husbands one and two. She's usually a late forties bottle blonde with a spray tan and a well-used pair of stockings. She'll wink at the judge but still get two years in the nick while drunken, feral Dad-killers get sentenced to nothing more strenuous than painting an old lady's fence.

Very occasionally you'll get a male bigamist, usually a former member of the armed forces who's taken the adage about a girl in every port a bit too far. He'll do time as well, because there's nothing the State hates more than someone who unwittingly demonstrates that many of its laws are outdated and useless. Seven years is the top whack. Meanwhile, it can only be a matter of time before a taxi driver is prosecuted for failing to carry a bale of hay.

So how does the Department of Work and Pensions (until recently the domain of absent-minded pocket-stuffer Peter Hain) get away with blithely announcing that not only is polygamy now an officially recognised status, but that those indulging in the possession of more than one wife can now claim state benefits for all of them?

This extraordinary announcement is, of course, a scaredy cat sop to Islamic law, which dictates that a man can take up to four wives. (Although why anyone would want to is beyond me. Nagging in quadrophenia? No thanks.)

The DWP has decreed that the going rate is £92.80 a week for hubby and wife one, with a further £33.65 for subsequent wives. They don't say that the upper limit is four, but I bet that it is.

So what would happen if our local vicar suddenly decided that he fancied adding another three fillies to his stable? Would Mr Plod turn a blind eye, or would the miscreant be hauled before the courts for a full-on tabloid monstering? I think you know the answer.

So how did this happen? When did Parliament decide that sharia law is now applicable in Britain? Who decided to give extreme Muslims immunity from the day-to-day strictures that apply to the rest of us? I must have missed that debate and subsequent vote.

The truth is that there has been no debate and there has been no vote. This outrageous move is just a craven, cowardly capitulation by a branch of Wee Gordie Broon's Turkey Army; a politically correct accommodation by Guardian-reading cyphers who find it hard to relate to real life … or real people. It's an absolute disgrace.

Funnily enough, half of me says bring it on. Let's embrace Islamic law in all its hard-line cruelty. Let's chop the hands off junkies caught shoplifting in Lidl. Let's hang murderers, paedophiles and rapists. I'm even up for stoning the odd adulteress, particularly if she's just done me out of a house in the divorce settlement.

I think what worries me most about this whole farce is the damage it does to simple racial integration. We should be striving towards a society that treats everyone equally; a society where no-one enjoys special privileges and no-one is subject to victimisation.

Yet when I'm doing overtime tonight in a desperate bid to pay the ever-increasing mortgage, the thought that my taxes will be subsidising the serial bed-hopping, Viagra-popping sex life of Mr Patel from the corner shop will be of little compensation, trust me.

WHILE I'M now clearly at risk of the six o'clock knock from the Thought Police, I may as well bash on with this next one. The BBC is in trouble after apparently breaching the Race Relations Act by advertising for a "young, zany Oriental or Asian person with a science background".

It seems that you are not allowed to advertise job requirements "that lead to one or more racial groups being favoured over others". Well why not? What's more honest? Saying up front that you definitely want Asian applicants because the programme you are making is aimed at an Asian audience, or making candidates from other ethnic groups jump through the hoops of pointless, time-wasting interviews just to keep the quota up when you already know who you want for the job?

Again, legislation designed to protect minorities only results in resentment and bad feeling. Maybe the Department of Work and Pensions could find a way around it?

OH GOOD, I thought. Pancake Day next week. Let's watch out for some idiotic Health and Safety officer closing down a pancake race on the grounds that it is a threat to public safety. Little did I know that it would be the famous 600-year-old Ripon Cathedral race that would fall foul of the fluorescent jacket-wearers.

Insurance costs, the lack of marshals, the issue of road closures and increasing paperwork have all been blamed for the cancellation. I'm getting tired of this. When will some organisation stand up and say: "Sod this - we're going to do it anyway, and prosecute all you like after the fact"?
Who knows, maybe some legal immunity can be found under Islamic law.

THE PUBLIC Information Film is back, only this time it's not Joe and Petunia at the seaside ("Oh look, that man's waving at us") or even the classic 'Charley Says' series. This time around it's some annoying carton about alleged global warming in which we are informed by some earnest kid that: "Just one recycled bottle keeps a computer running for 20 minutes".

In the spirit of which, I should inform you that this column has been brought to you by four bottles of Lindeman's Bin 65 Chardonnay. Enjoy.

FOOTNOTE: This column was written before the Archbishop of Canterbury, who I've long regarded as Satan's representative on Earth, weighed in with his ludicrous and dangerous support for a two-tier society, as outlined above. Frankly, the man must be barking mad.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The name's Bond ... from the Parish Council

NOW NOT many people know this, but this fine country of ours - or ‘binge-drinking Britain‘ as the tabloids would have it - actually has an Interception of Communications Commissioner.
The Right Honourable Sir Paul Kennedy is his name and, apart from his age (70) and some brief details about his career as a Judge, I can’t find out anything more about him. Still, I expect he’s a thoroughly nice chap.

I’m not sure that the Powers That Be will be thinking so kindly of him this morning because in his organisation’s annual report, published this week, Sir Paul rather blew the whistle on the frightening extent to which we are under the tyrannical thumb of the State Snoopers.

Let me explain. Sir Paul has announced that there are 28,000 applications made to him every month from various public bodies who want to tap the phones, monitor the emails or intercept the post of British citizens. That’s a thousand a day - an astonishing number.

Even worse than that is the quite terrifying number of public bodies which can apply for permission to snoop on your everyday communications. There’s a gob-smacking 800 of them. No, really.

All the usual suspects are there: the cops, MI5 and MI6, the Home Office, the Serious Fraud Office and the Ministry of Justice, which I thought was the Home Office anyway, but there we go.

(Can I just say that I have no problem with the spooks bugging my phone and opening my mail. That’s how they stop wannabe fanatics chopping up British soldiers in a lock-up garage in Birmingham.)

But then there’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Ministry of Defence and the Financial Services Authority. Borderline, but passable on the grounds of investigating criminality.

Then the really frightening stuff starts. Able to apply to open your post, tap your telephone and bug your emails are the Food Standards Agency, DEFRA, the Environment Agency and the Post Office. Yes, the Post Office. Why? What possible reason could there be for that nice old Mrs Scoggins who dispenses postal orders and first class stamps from behind the counter to have your telephone tapped? Is there really a nationwide investigation into people who’ve been stealing the little bookies’ Biros they keep on bits of string?

But worse, much worse, is the fact that on that list of approved bodies granted a voyeurs’ charter is your local council. I find that terrifying.

Most of our dealings with our local councils are antagonistic. They’ve either refused to empty our bins because there’s a dog hair in the special recyclable left-over avocado container, or they’ve allowed our roads to deteriorate until they resemble the B654 in Basra, or they’re planning to build a mobile telephone mast in the local primary school playground. Either way, we tend to be at odds with them.

So when they grant Orange or O2 permission to radiate our kids, we do what the middle classes all over the country do and form a protest group. We come up with some daft acronym - Villagers Against Giant Incursions of Nastiness At Schools, for example - and we stick up posters, raise petitions and mob council meetings.

But wait. Council officers (full blown members of the Turkey Army and therefore none too bright) could use the fear of the risk of disruption of a public meeting as reason enough to apply to tap the phones and bug the emails of the protest group committee. All of a sudden they not only know what colour the protest posters are going to be or what flavour of muffins Jemima is bringing to the next meeting, but they also know what legal advice you’ve received and how your case is being constructed. It’s hardly fair, is it?

And then there’s the possible abuse by the truly bent; the corrupt councillor or malleable planning official. (You think our MPs are on the fiddle? Trust me. I’ve seen far worse cases of blatant dishonesty on local councils down the years.)

So you’re an eager young reporter on the local paper who gets a sniff about something amiss. So you start asking awkward questions. The next thing you know - or don’t know, to be precise - is that every phone call, every email and every letter is being delivered into the hands of your target? Again, hardly fair, is it?

But of course, you say, these things are subject to careful checks and balances. No-one would get the nod to open my red electric bills without a High Court judge weighing the evidence against my basic human right to freedom and privacy. Ah, but might I refer the reader to the fourth paragraph of this piece? They’re getting 1,000 applications a day. The Right Honourable Sir Paul Kennedy might be acting in the best of intentions, but in reality he can be little more judgemental than a nodding dog with a rubber stamp, or one of those weird ostrich things that you dip in a glass of water.

No-one can possibly assess the pros and cons of every single one of these applications. There just isn’t the time. Therefore you can be assured that many, if not most, merely go through on the nod.

And the only thing left to tell you is that this stupid and dangerous law is, in fact, an EU Directive. But then you’d probably already guessed that, hadn’t you?