Sunday, January 25, 2009

So that's what they call garage music...

AS THOUSANDS of people lose their jobs every week in the private sector, Wee Gordie Broon’s Turkey Army marches on in double time, with eight out of 10 local councils announcing that they have no plans to cut back on planned recruitment.

Thus we have £40,000-a-year posts (plus gold-plated pensions) for Sausage Content Enforcement Officers, Stairlift Speed Control Executives and Canine Kerbside Output Managers. Well, probably, anyway.

I suspect that it was one of these made-up-job merchants who turned up at the garage workshop of 61-year-old mechanic Len Attwoood, in Witham, Essex. The chap with the clipboard (and surely a high-visibility jacket, hard hat and ear defenders) informed Les that he was from the Performing Rights Society and had noticed that the premises didn’t display a sticker showing that he had a licence to play music in public. This is not surprising, because Les doesn’t even have a radio, never mind a revolving Sunday Night at the London Palladium stage on which top variety acts regularly perform, watched by Simon Cowell, some dolly bird, and that bucket of lard Piers Morgan.

But wait, sayeth the jobsworth, your customers might have their car radios playing when they drive into your garage. Verily, thou will either buy a PRS licence or thou will be fined a cool £2,000.

And what do you do? How do you appeal against the mindless excesses of these people? Well you don’t, unless you fancy taking them on in the High Court while running up thousands of pounds of legal bills (while they fund their own action out of your council tax).

We’re being bullied, harried, picked on and victimised and no-one seems to give a damn. Worse than that, our elected authorities seem to be forever searching for new ways in which to punish us … and then charge us for the privilege.

Can no-one stop this madness?

TELL ME this. If Nick Leeson got six-and-a-half years in prison in Singapore for “speculative trading”, why aren’t we seeing British bankers being marched off in handcuffs? What’s the difference?

Their lack of care has plummeted the financial industry into crisis, pensioners and savers have seen their investment income decimated, bully boy tactics are being employed against anyone who might accidentally miss a credit card payment and the £500 billion that Wee Gordie bailed them out with seems to have disappeared into thin air and they’re back banging on the door asking for more. To the tune of another £410 billion, if you don’t mind.

I have an idea where all that dosh might be going, and it’s not to us. A mole tells me that bankers are being made redundant by one firm, collecting their big cheques, and then moving on to the next branch in the City. The big job losses you keep hearing about aren’t affecting the boys in the red braces; the permanent victims are low-level admin staff. Worse than that, when they move to their new desks a few hundred yards down the road, they’re going into positions with guaranteed bonuses (yes, bonuses) set at 2007 levels.

Now it seems to me that we now own most of the banks in this country. Is it therefore unreasonable that the government should apply a bit of common sense to the manner in which billions of our pounds are being chucked away willy nilly? Because the snouts are obviously still in the trough, and nobody seems to be able to do anything about it.

I SUPPOSE a more sensible question would be: “Is there anyone not on the take?” We’re used to our policemen having second jobs while they’re supposed to be out on the beat … or filling in diversity questionnaires. Now, after retiring at the age of 45 with a handsome pension, they’re piling into lucrative second careers, but once again at the public expense.

When Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alf Hitchcock leaves the Metropolitan Police in April, aged 49, he’ll go with an £80,000-a-year pension. And where will he go? Straight into a £120,000 a year job with a government quango called the National Police Improvement Agency, where he will ‘mentor’ potential chief constables. And where he will pocket another huge pension once he retires from that job.

I reckon Nick Leeson got it wrong. He should have joined the local Plod.

I TURNED on the television on Tuesday afternoon in a state of great excitement, expecting to see a successful black man in the prime of his life enthralling his audience with the power of his personality. Instead those idiots at the BBC had gone and replaced Ready Steady Cook with some tosh from America.

I don’t know what all the fuss is about when it comes to Barry Obama. Is it really so special to have a black President? Zimbabwe has had one for years, and you could hardly call him a raging success.

And then there’s the biggest disappointment: Obama can’t dance. All these years we wait for a black President, and when one turns up he wibbles around the dance floor at his inauguration balls like a drunken uncle at Christmas. What were the odds on that, eh?

POOR BOY George, banged up for 15 months after an unfortunate bit of rent boy/radiator interface. Never again will he be able to sing: “I’m a man, without conviction…”

Monday, January 19, 2009

A sudden outbreak of common sense

A POLITICIAN from Manchester called Gramha Sitnerg has caused a bit of a fuss by claiming that dyslexia is a myth invented by education chiefs to cover up poor teaching.

Well said, that man! At last some common sense creeping into the public arena. (Although as Mr Sitnerg is a Labour MP, don’t expect to hear from him again. Lord Dracula of Hartlepool has probably already been round to administer punishment. And that’s if Alistair Campbell didn’t get there first to kick his door down at six o’clock the next morning.)

But before he’s silenced, let’s listen: Dyslexia, he says, is “a cruel fiction that should be consigned to the dustbin of history.”

“The education establishment, rather than admit that their eclectic and incomplete methods for instruction are at fault, have invented a brain disorder called dyslexia. To label children as dyslexic because they're confused by poor teaching methods is wicked.

“If dyslexia really existed then countries as diverse as Nicaragua and South Korea would not have been able to achieve literacy rates of nearly 100 per cent. There can be no rational reason why this brain disorder is of epidemic proportions in Britain but does not appear in South Korea or Nicaragua.”

And you’ve got to say that there’s not much to argue with there. How come this blight apparently occurs in the back streets of Salford and Moss Side but not in the much poorer back streets of Seoul and Managua?

All I know is that when I was at school, we didn’t have dyslexia. We just had thick kids and lazy kids. (And polio and whooping cough and diphtheria and rickets, but enough of that.)

Now no-one wants to victimise children who are simply lacking in the brain department, but giving them soft excuses for under-performing isn’t the answer. They need help, proper help - and that, according to many experts, is the synthetic phonics method of teaching which, in one area of Scotland, has wiped out so-called dyslexia.

But wait, what’s this? It appears that there are currently 35,500 kids receiving disability allowance for being dyslexic, at an annual cost to the taxpayer of £78.4 million. So it’s not only a great excuse for not doing any work, but it pays a wage as well? Splendid stuff. It’s enough to make a tac lugah.

I TEMPTED here to lay into ‘nut allergies’, again something we didn’t have when life was played out in black and white, but it can’t be much fun if your child suffers from this affliction so I’ll leave it. I must be going soft.

But ‘milk allergies’? What on earth are those? I ask because Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate, which even the most dyslexic kid must recognise might possibly contain milk, will in future carry a health warning saying “Contains Milk” – right next to that famous little logo of a glass and a half of milk. And a list of ingredients beginning with ‘milk’. So that’s clear then.

Cadbury say that they are “meeting legal requirements”. In that case, the law is indeed an ass. And be careful, because asses (or, more correctly, Jennies) might contain milk.

THIS RECESSION is really biting on the High Street. In Poole, Dorset, a Pound Shop has closed with the loss of seven jobs because a 99p Shop opened up opposite. No, really.

Customer Karl White said: “I would certainly cross the road if it meant I could get a similar item for a penny cheaper. The more you buy for 99p, the more pennies you save. I’ve just bought six items so I’ve saved 6p.” (I suppose we have to praise the education system for Mr White’s obvious numerical acumen.)

Interestingly, wounded Pound Shop owners say they hope to reopen the branch under a new name. Go on then … let me guess.

MORE BAD news for the Poveratti. A company called Newcastle Productions, which makes Findus Crispy Pancakes, the staple diet of scrotes, has gone into administration. This creates an immediate problem: from where will the Underclass now get their daily protein?

Well, there’s always Pot Noodles, Ginsters and Greggs. Cold beans straight from the tin. Or, for those special occasions, Iceland mini chicken kievs on potato waffles. And the real Giro Day luxury, a Fray Bentos tinned pie. Marvellous stuff.

EVER WONDERED why your TV licence fee costs so much? Well on Wednesday of this week the BBC launched Persian TV, a Farsi language channel aimed at the Iranian market, at the small cost of £15 million a year.

So that’s the entire population of Cambridge contributing every penny of their licence fee to provide a television channel for people in a distant foreign country who aren’t going to pay a penny for the service. Why? What is going on here?

The director of the BBC’s World Service, Nigel Chapman, says: “Persian TV builds on our distinguished history of broadcasting in Persian and brings the best of the BBC’s news and documentary programmes to audiences.”

Again, why? Why isn’t the BBC spending money on local radio and television, bringing “the best of the BBC’s news and documentary programmes” to audiences in Towcester and Trowbridge rather then Tehran? And buying Bruce Forsyth some new jokes? It’s an utter disgrace.

I DO feel a bit sorry for HRH The Prince of Wales being dragged into this so-called Royal racism row. So he calls a friend of Indian descent ‘Sooty’? So what?

Have you seen the bloke concerned? He’s a dead ringer for Harry H. Corbett.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Look out - here comes the Wakey Wakey Squad

IT SEEMS that never a day passes without our media-obsessed Ministers popping up on well-known heavyweight political programmes like the Lorraine Kelly show or Hole in the Wall to announce yet another ‘major initiative’. It’s either creating non-jobs, tackling knife crime, or telling us we’re all fat and are going to die young. (Let’s face it – that seems like a decent option at the moment.)

Wednesday’s Crackerjack pencil went to the ginger midget Hazel Blears, our Communities Secretary (no, I don’t know what one of those is either), who dismounted from her motorbike to announce that a crackdown on ‘Shameless’ families could see state officials turning up at people’s homes to get them out of bed for work and make sure their children go to school. No, really.

Here are the brave new words: “In a recession, there’s no space for freeloaders. We need a more muscular approach to the ways the state intervenes into deliberately-unemployed people’s lives.

“We should give local agencies and voluntary groups new powers to do whatever it takes to get people off the sofa and into a job.”

So let’s get this straight. It’s 7.30am outside a tower block on an inner city sink estate. Up above around 500 scrotes snore soundly, sated by an overdose of Findus Crispy Pancakes, White Lightning, Tesco Value Fags and Freeview porn. Suddenly a coach rolls up. It’s the Wakey Wakey Squad - 50-odd social workers, bailiffs and assorted Plod, all come to arouse the underclass to put them to work painting old ladies’ fences and scrubbing graffiti off the underpass.

So what happens next? Presumably they have to kick in a few doors to wake the heavy sleepers and drunks. Do they then wash and dress their children, stoke them up with Ready Brek and pack them off to school? Do they find the missing gym kit or write the notes excusing Tyrone from games because he’s got a verruca? And what do they do with the kids who are being hidden underneath a divan bed in a bizarre kidnap plot?

Do they then do the same to the adults, ignoring Frank Gallagher’s whining because his poached egg isn’t runny? How do you dress an uncooperative lowlife? Do you iron his hoodie and brush the dandruff off his baseball cap?

How can this possibly work? Have you ever heard of anything so daft in your life?

If we then multiply that one tower block requiring 50 public sector staff by the number of tower blocks in Britain, then add in every other slovenly abode on a dodgy estate across the nation, and you can see just how stupidly impractical this whole thing is.

It’s nonsense, blathered out by an idiot politician and unthinkingly reported by an increasingly under-resourced and amateurish national press. Did no-one think to say: “Hang on, Hazel, how is this actually going to work?” No, of course not. The column inches are in the bag; the TV minutes have been logged by NuLabour’s media stormtroopers.

It demeans every other sensible policy that might, once in a blue moon, emanate from Westminster. And it demeans the noble craft of journalism, and as a hack that makes me very cross indeed. It’s pathetic, just pathetic.

HAVE YOU seen that telly advert for financial services giant Norwich Union announcing how it’s changing its name to something moronic like ‘Aviva’, in which famous stars recall how they had to do the same to achieve real fame?

There’s Richard Starkey (not even the best drummer in The Beatles), Walter ‘Bruce’ Willis, Dame Edna and Vincent ‘Alice Cooper’ Furnier, all extolling the benefits of a new monicker. But I can’t help feeling that if they really wanted to make the point, they should have put a phone call in to a certain Paul Gadd. I wonder why they didn’t?

OVER THE past few months, I’ve been replacing any expired lightbulbs at Beelzebub Mansions with these new-fangled low-energy things. It has to be said that they’re hopeless. They give off a horrible, dim, cold light; they’re twice as expensive as the normal ones; they flicker in a way that can cause migraines, nausea or even epileptic seizures; and if you break one they’ll fill your home with poisonous mercury gas and kill all your children.

But try to buy a traditional 100 watt bulb and you’ll struggle, because retailers have been bullied into adopting a ‘voluntary’ ban on them after government pressure. Why so?

It appears that we blithely signed up to the ban during a European Union meeting in Brussels in March 2007, attended by Tony Blah. Over what appears to have been an amenable lunch, we also agreed to build thousands of wind turbines, give over millions of acres of productive farmland to growing ‘biofuels’, pay fines of millions of euros if Mrs Smethwick from 37B chucks an errant Brussels sprout into her ‘fortnightly’ bin, and to let Mr Berlusconi have first go on Lucy Pinder now she’s been evicted from the Big Brother House.

I’ve actually followed this one through with assorted council officials. Once everyone sobered up after the meeting, the rest of Europe waddled off home and said no more about it. Here, being less than a generation away from Nazism, the policy was ruthlessly imposed despite it being impractical and unworkable.

So we now we are chucking away light bulbs – and fittings – that are tried and tested, that don’t make a silly buzzing sound, are cheaper, more effective, safer, don’t make anyone ill, and are probably more environmentally-friendly. And that, we are told, is progress.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Telling hoodies not to polish the slide with bread paper

I BET that when you bought your Lottery tickets on New Year’s Eve, you didn’t think that your hard-earned cash would be going towards paying almost £40,000 a year to a Community Space Challenge Co-ordinator in the London borough of Southwark. But it did.

That’s just one of the many non-jobs highlighted in the end of year report from the Taxpayers’ Alliance, and by no means the daftest.

What a Community Space Challenge Co-ordinator actually does is described as “Telling young people ‘at risk of offending’ how to use public spaces”. Quite what that entails I’m not sure, but presumably it involves wandering around the local park telling hoodies not to polish the slide with bread paper and to perhaps try not to stab each other while queuing for a go on the witch’s hat.

We should not belittle this job. Southwark is a tough patch, where even the area’s top clergyman is liable to get legless at an Irish Embassy reception, clamber into a stranger’s car and throw the owner’s children’s toys into the road shouting “I’m the Bishop of Southwark. It’s what I do”.

So who else is on this Roster of Nonsense? Well, there’s the £42,000-a-year Head of Participation and Inclusion at Hertfordshire County Council, whose job description seems to be “encouraging people to play musical instruments”.

What about the £37,000-a-year Head of Communities and Partnership in Charnwood, tasked with “ensuring that community issues are resolved with lasting solutions”?

And then there’s the £20,000-a-year job of Street Football Co-ordinator at Moray Council in Scotchland … err … organising and promoting street football. Actually, I quite agree with that one. I can think of no better use of public money than getting kids away from their computer screens and out into the fresh air … as long as it’s not my wall they’re kicking the ball against.

The problem with this explosion in the number of State apparatchiks is that public sector workers used to be rewarded with generous pensions for all their years of lowly-paid toil for the benefit of others. But no more. The average public sector worker was paid £21,413 in 2008, more than those on the private sector average of £20,715.

Furthermore, despite the economic implosion engulfing us all, their jobs are still regarded as much more secure than those of the rest of us. It’s the Turkey Army principle, where NuLabour must create safe jobs for the people most likely to vote for them next time around.

The place to see this obscene snout-in-the-troughery to full effect is in the jobs section of Wednesday’s Guardian. There, despite the recession and jobs losses already in the thousands, the number of public sector posts up for grabs has increased by 14,000 in the past three months. In the past three months. Something to think about when your new council tax bill drops through your letter box this week.

I SUPPOSE I can see why all of our Olympic gold medal winners picked up further gongs in the New Year’s Honours (even if Sir Chris Hoy is just a very fast paperboy), but why was the tax-dodging Lewis Hamilton granted an MBE?

OK, so he won the Formula 1 drivers’ championship, but he triumphed in a rich man’s sport where the size of your team’s wallet more or less decides where you finish in a race. And seeing as he’s already decamped to Monaco because he was tired of being “pestered” (by the Inland Revenue, mainly), that to my mind disqualifies him from any kind of official recognition.

THE STUPIDITY of the general British public never ceases to amaze me. In the forefront of these plebeian poltroons are the idiots who phone 999 for ridiculous reasons.

There’s the priest who called the cops when staff at the WH Smith shop at Manchester Airport wouldn’t let him use their toilet, despite the availability of public conveniences all around. (I suspect he may have been communing with the Bishop of Southwark.)

Then there’s the woman who complained that she couldn’t get through to Strictly Come Dancing to cast her vote, the man who phoned up because staff at a takeaway had put mushrooms on his pizza and, sadly, former Page 3 girl Linda Lusardi – her of the goosebump diddies – who dialled 999 for permission to use the hard shoulder to get to her pantomime in time when stuck in a traffic jam. Listen, love, it’s not all about you. We drunks who fall downstairs have 999 needs as well, you know.

NEW YEAR’S EVE was somewhat muted in the Beelzebub household after a stand-up row over Israel’s decision to bomb the Gaza Strip into submission. (Yes, I know, but we’d run out of the usual arguments over Christmas.)

Mrs Beelzebub, an old school Leftie, can’t see beyond solidarity with the poor Arabs. I take the view that if someone was firing 100 rockets a day into my country, the time might well come when I’d like to put a stop to it.

Either way, it wasn’t the most propitious of starts to a new era. The twiglets went uneaten, the champagne went flat. The dogs hid in their bed and the man next door got a right roasting for setting off his Roman Candles after the good lady had taken to her bed.

Ah, well. A Happy New Year to you all.