Saturday, March 28, 2009

Whither now, dear Bazza?

THE FINANCIAL crisis gripping the regional newspaper industry means that I have finally lost my last paying customer. It's been a good innings so I'm not complaining, but where now for Mr Beelzebub?

I won't miss the Wednesday night slog, with 900 words to turn out (and occasionally churn out) between the end of Coronation Street and the midnight hour. And I won't miss writing for other people's newspapers. When I was an editor I could say more or less what I wanted in my own newspaper, as long as I was prepared to defend myself in court and on the streets. When you're submitting stuff to other editors, you naturally pull back a bit.

Maybe that's the answer. Freed from worrying about what other editors have to print, I can now be more potty-mouthed and more offensive than ever. And if you don't like it, don't come here.

Hmm, I'll mull it over for a while. Maybe a daily blog is the answer - although if the half a million of you who have visited this site had chucked in a penny a time, I'd be more amenable to banging on.

In the meantime, here's the last newspaper column, as it appeared in the York Press under the name of Mike Bentley.


I THINK it was the East German Stazi who were the most successful when it came to persuading children to inform on their parents. Now, inspired by these secret policemen, some of our schools are now in the same game, urging their Kindergarten Quisling pupils to go home and pester their mothers and fathers into adopting a healthier lifestyle.

“Please Daddy, don’t smoke that cigarette.” “No, Mummy, put the Chardonnay down.” It must be a nightmare, being nagged by your own offspring in what was once the comfort of your own home. No wonder digging an extra cellar appears to be an attractive pastime for hen-pecked middle class dads.

And it’s not going to stop there. The most alarming story of the week revealed that an army of snoopers is being recruited by the government to ‘nag’ colleagues, family, friends and neighbours into leading a healthier life. These so-called “public health mentors” will be enlisted by the NHS to offer on-the-spot advice to people whom they judge to be smoking, drinking, or eating to excess.

So eating a third fried breakfast of the week in the works canteen, having “one for the road” in the local after work, or smoking too many fags while waiting for the bus will lead to the office sneak sidling up to you and whispering a health warning in your ear: “You don’t want to be doing that …”

And what if you ignore these warnings? What then? Does the sneak then shop you to social services, who will come round and take your children away? Are you hauled before the Health Courts and fined or imprisoned?

The government thinks this initiative will help to cut NHS costs. I do hope they’ve factored in the increased number of office sneaks who will be presenting themselves in A&E with broken noses.

IT’S TIME to come clean. My name isn’t really Mike Bentley and I’m not just a mere newspaper hack. I’m actually a field officer in the government’s top secret Department of Misinformation. Sorry about that.

This is how it works. Fifteen long years ago, when the NuLabour project was first conceived, the shape-shifting lizards behind the grand scheme recognised that the Great British Public might not be entirely amenable to being treated like lab rats in this social engineering experiment and would need some kind of outlet for their anger. They therefore proposed to install supposedly dissident columnists on newspapers across the land through whom readers could vent their bile. Spleen Diffuser Agents (Grade 2) is our civil service name. Smoke and mirrors is our game.

(Littlejohn is one of ours, as is Rod Liddle. Not Jon Gaunt though; he failed the entrance exam.)

You see, while we were wibbling on about minor scandals, the major outrages were going on behind your back. While we were moaning about a family of fat people getting £20,000 a year in benefits because they were too lazy to work, hundreds of MPs were pocketing that amount and more by fiddling their expenses – all by the book of course.

While we were complaining about our imaginary relatives being left on trolleys in hospital corridors, the reality of the situation was over a thousand patients dying in one hospital alone because target-chasing managers refused to employ enough staff to clean the excrement off their charges.

While we were shaking our heads at a 27-year-old reality TV ‘star’ selling the rights to her own death for £700,000, a dodgy 50-year-old failed banker was using public money to fund a pension of that amount for every year until he keels over – not to mention a £3million lump sum.

And it worked, brilliantly, for many years. Good God, they even managed to drag the country into two pointless foreign wars without widespread revolt. People were more concerned with the rumours we were spreading about them being fined for putting the wrong kind of cardboard in their recycling bins, or how some anonymous school somewhere down south had re-written the words to Baa Baa Black Sheep.

But now it’s over. The bubble has burst. The bright shiny people of the Blah years have been reduced to malodorous, shuffling hulks, made stupid by lies and staggering from crisis to meltdown like zombies who’ve lost their sat navs. The project has failed and chaos reigns.

Our elected representatives seem to be institutionally corrupt, indulging in morally fraudulent expenses claims to an extent that would have Mr Plod feeling collars in any branch of commerce.

The nation faces financial ruin, lulled into a spending frenzy by an unsustainable property bubble. And while hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs, the public sector keeps on recruiting – and handing out pay increases.

The education system is a farce, where every child gets a full set of A-levels before going on to university still unable to read and write properly, and where their main ambition is to emulate a dead reality TV star who was famous for being famous.

We’ve surrendered any kind of control of our borders as far as illegal immigration is concerned, yet we’re about to force British citizens to fill out a form consisting of 53 intrusive questions before allowing them to leave the country. It’s now illegal to tell a joke about homosexuals, but extremist Muslim preachers can call for gays to be stoned to death and no-one blinks. And, in a final sign of the collapse of our civilisation, Pot Noodle have launched a Donner Kebab flavour.

So my work here is done. I’m being relocated to teach Advanced Spokeweasel on a politics course at a polytechnic down south. That’s all. Over and out.

Pip pip!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The children's programme for the over-50s

ARE YOU sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

From 1950 until 1982, generations of children gathered around the wireless at quarter to two waiting for a programme called Listen With Mother, first on the Light Programme, then on the Home Service, and then on BBC Radio 4. At its peak, over a million youngsters were listening. Then came that flashy television thing, its hi-tech stampede led by Muffin the Mule, and life changed forever.

But not at the BBC. Still, somewhere in those dusty corridors, the Children’s Unit lived on. I like to think of it as a kindly spinster in a moth-eaten cardigan smelling of 4711 cologne and cats. But the lure of computer games and the 42-inch plasma was irresistible. By 2001, Radio 4 was down to one just children’s programme, a strange concoction called – in the irritating, illiterate modern parlance - Go4it. For some reason it went out at 7.15pm on a Sunday, just after The Archers, when there was presumably a high residual audience of receptive five-year-olds … not.

Now I don’t know how much radio programmes cost to make – let’s guess at £10,000 a go. What I do know is that every Sunday night for eight years, the Beeb has happily broadcast Go4it to an audience of … nobody. That’s over 400 episodes, all gratefully received by … nobody.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer has admitted that Go4it sometimes attracted zero listeners from its target four-14 age range, but did manage to catch the attention of up to 450,000 listeners aged between 52 and 55. When he says “catch the attention”, I suspect he means “people who had fallen asleep during The Archers and left the radio on”, but there we go.

Now my beef is this: for eight years, the BBC has spent a small fortune – perhaps £4million - on a programme that has singularly failed to get anywhere near its target market and therefore completely failed to fulfil its public broadcasting remit – and yet nobody seems to have noticed or even cared. Don’t they check these things? Do they just go on pumping out irrelevant crap regardless, without anyone giving a toss whether or not the money it’s costing is being well spent? Can you imagine that kind of arrogant waste being tolerated in any kind of commercial business? I don’t think so – there you have to graft for your money, rather than it being handed to you on a plate.

THAT FAT lass who turned up for her X Factor audition looking like a cross between Miss Haversham and a Lidl trifle has been bleating in the papers, along with her equally obese family, about the difficulties of getting by on a mere £22,000 a year in benefits. Apparently 19-year-old Emma Chawner (5ft 3in, 17st), sister Sam (21, 5ft 9in, 18st) and parents Phillip (53) and Audrey (57), both 24st, are all “too fat to work” because of a claimed hereditary problem. Utter laziness, I’d call it.

Asked why they didn’t simply go on a diet, Mr Chawner said, “We don’t have the time,” adding: “We love TV. It’s on from the moment we get up. Often I’m so tired from watching TV, I have to take a nap.” Yes, pal. I bet you do.

Emma says: “I’m a student and don’t have time to exercise. We all want to lose weight to stop the abuse we get in the street, but we don’t know how.”

Let me give you a clue, love. Eat less, do more. It’s not exactly rocket science, is it? And give the microwave pies a miss, even if you did once buy some pears “but they tasted funny”. Sheesh.

AS THE jobless total tops two million for the first time since Phillip Chawner last did a day’s work (that’s 1997 to you and me), it’s nice to see that the government is sharing our pain and cutting back on frivolous spending. That’s presumably why they spent £780,000 on flowers in the past four years. Yes, £780,000.

Unsurprisingly, Baron Mandelson of Hartlepool is first in the queue at the florists, spending £500 a week on flowers for his office since returning, unelected, to the Cabinet five months ago. Meanwhile the education department under Ed Balls has spent a mere £174,000 dressing up its Whitehall offices like a pop star’s wedding.

Why? No-one is suggesting that the people who run the country should hold meetings huddled in the gutter under a tarpaulin while fending off assaults from obese chavs intent on stealing their Rich Tea biscuits, but is such blatant largesse really necessary? Will fewer 15-year-olds pass their exams if Interflora stops paying daily visits to the oak-panelled offices of ministers? I don’t think so.

WHILE WE’RE at it, a quick look at one of the few job vacancies available to the nation’s unemployed reveals that Gordon Brown is advertising for a ‘Director, Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit’ at a cool £100,000 a year.

Should Phillip Chawner be reading this and fancy a punt, the job apparently entails: “Providing leadership in the delivery of the key responsibilities of the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, including unlocking delivery obstacles, performance management, performance policy and capacity building and cross government learning on delivery”.

Now I’m sorry, but I haven’t got the faintest idea what any of that means. It’s a coded language; strings of gibberish that only those already inside the public sector can understand. So that conveniently counts out the likes of you, me and Phillip ‘Fatso’ Chawner.

LORD AHMED, who was jailed for 12 weeks for sending text messages shortly before he killed a man in a fatal car crash, has been released after just 16 days inside. Why am I not surprised?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Put your trust in the Tooth Fairy

SO THIS quantitative easing we’ve been hearing about. What’s that all about then?

As I understand it, it means that the Royal Mint will run off loads of new banknotes in an attempt to kick-start the economy, but what happens to the money once they’ve printed it? How does it get into the hands of the likes of you and me?

As ever, it appears that it doesn’t. I think they’re just intending to give wads of cash to the now State-owned banks, who will use it to it to pay their miserably-failing bosses huge bonuses while continuing to withdraw the overdraft facilities of small businesses. So unless you’re a Ferrari dealer or an expensive Russian escort (one’s a car, the other isn’t) you’re unlikely to see a penny of this new money.

I have an idea. Why don’t we enlist the Tooth Fairy to ensure a fair distribution of all this cash? And let’s not stop at tucking tenners under pillows. Let’s hide money in McDonald’s napkin dispensers, railway train seatbacks, Tesco carrier bags and behind park benches. Tucked into the pages of the Daily Star and inside Greggs’ pasty cartons. In packets of Silk Cut Purple and under hedges in lay-bys (traditional home – before the Internet - of lorry driver porn mags).

Come on Gordon, that kind of redistribution of wealth would really kick-start the economy. And cheer everyone up as well.

of McDonald’s, and whatever the eco-protesters say, now and then you just have to succumb to the lure of the Golden Arches. And now they’re all made out of organic food grown by pretty people in their flower-strewn allotments (well that’s what it says on TV), then there’s no guilt attached either.

I had my most recent MacAttack last week. Quarter Pounder with cheese and a large fries since you ask. Black coffee, six sachets of sugar. As usual, the five-star kid who served me had acne of Krakatoa proportions and there was a tramp in the corner arguing that it might be 10.31am but he still wanted an Egg McMuffin to go with his Special Brew, but what I hadn’t bargained for were the number of fat kids spending their half term holiday not only eating between Happy Meals but actually eating between snacks.

It was a real struggle just getting to the counter through this waist-high tide of pre-pubescent porkers. It was like walking through quicksand. Strawberry shake-flavoured quicksand.

It appears that the problem of obese children has now got so bad that last week one expert demanded that gastric bands should be fitted to all porkers aged over 15. Well, hang on a minute. I may have hit on a radical solution to this problem. Why not just stop them stuffing their faces while spending sedentary hours in front of the telly or the Nintendo? Encourage them to get some exercise. Make them EAT THEIR GREENS. It’s not rocket science, is it?

When I were a lad (and it was all fields around here), I used to come home from school, get hit with a ruler because my tie wasn’t done up, be handed a slice of bread and dripping and sent back out on the paper round. Either that or onto the park for a 37-a-side game of Next Goal’s The Winner.

If, in a moment of madness, I’d wandered up to the larder and helped myself to its contents, I’d have been locked in the coal cellar until Christmas. These days kids waddle in from school, stock up on an armful of e-numbers and a Bacardi Breezer and park their vast bulk in front of the idiot box to watch the soft porn on satellite. And it’s not entirely their fault. Not even those whose parents bleat: “It’s their glands.”

For a start, successive governments have allowed the wholesale selling-off of school playing fields. Lazy, anti-elitist teachers reluctant to run sports teams and greedy head-teachers eager to take the builders’ shilling to fund their next black, bicycling lesbian outreach worker to teach 3C that “men are evil and middle-class white men are even more evil” are all complicit in this scandal.

The compensation culture also plays a part. Mr Jennings is unlikely to take his class on a field trip to Malham Cove if he thinks he’s going to be sued senseless if little Damien slips and cuts his knee on an aggressive, if ancient, ammonite.

Consequently, organised school sports or outdoor activities are virtually non-existent, which might come as a relief to those of us who had to do cross-country running in our grubby Y-fronts because we’d forgotten our kit, but also neglects a vital aspect of life’s education, namely that team sports provide a very good early lesson as to what lies ahead. Namely, you lose more often than you win.

And then there’s the climate of fear we create around our kids. In my largely car-free village it’s a rare, if welcome, sight to see children playing out unsupervised. Too many parents are simply paranoid. Is there really a child-molester on every street corner? I don’t think so. Uncle Jimmy might be a little careless with his hands when it comes to the piggy-back rides, but surely that’s just part of life’s rich pageant?

I’ll tell you what really worries me. Here we are, with British soldiers under daily attack in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we’re breeding kids who daren’t set foot across the doorstep in case they’re menaced by an empty crisp bag blowing down the street. Where are the soldiers of the future, willing to march bravely through Luton while half a dozen Muslim extremists call them cowards, murders and rapists? Answer me that.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Where the women smell of mutton and look like Jimmy Krankie

THERE ARE few compensations for those unfortunate to live north of the border, where the weather is foul, the food deep-fried and where all the women smell of mutton and look like Jimmy Krankie. Trust me, it bears little resemblance to the idyllic scenes you see on the front of shortbread tins.

One of those very few compensations has always been the Jocks’ tolerance of public drunkenness, to the point that the only way to safely walk down a city centre street after nine o’clock at night is to be bladdered yourself, your own drunken weavings then mysteriously co-ordinating with the wobbles of oncoming imbibers like some kind of intricate plankton dance.

I remember with head-banging horror the first New Year I spent in the Far North – on a small island in Shetland, so probably more Scandinavian than Caledonian. There were 12 houses on this island (I say houses, but hovels is probably more accurate). In each house was, on average, eight people. It began early on December 30th. A group from one house would set off to the next house, dodging puzzled sheep being blown past them at head height in the constant blizzard, where each visitor would then give each resident a dram from his or her bottle. The recipients would then reciprocate with a dram of their own. And then on to the next house, and the next. When you got back to your own quarters you simply started again.

This went on for several days – how many I can’t tell you, because I can’t stand whisky and was therefore in bits by early afternoon on Day One. Suffice to say, I’ve never touched a drop since and never will. But I think we’ve established the fact that strong drink is an integral part of Scotch culture.

And cheap strong drink even more so. I was hugely impressed to see an item on the telly a few weeks back claiming that you could buy seven, one-litre bottles of cider (I think it was a brand called ‘Lunatic Soup’) for just a tenner in some Glasgow corner shops. Let’s see John Lewis match that.

But, it seems, no more. Ministers are set to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol in what is called a radical plan to reduce binge drinking. It is alleged that alcohol misuse costs the NHS and the justice system £25billion a year (although the Ministry of Guesswork may have had a hand in that calculation) with a disproportionate share of the bill coming from Scotland. Another statistic claims that the average Scot gets through 125 bottles of wine a year, which seems rather modest to me, even if you factor in the teetotal percentage of the Presbyterian population who worship at the Wee Free.

The idea is that your average alcoholic scrote will be priced out of the market, unable to afford to buy the drug of his choice. (Although that doesn’t seem to have bothered the heroin and crack addicts, who’ll simply burgle your house to fund their habit. Have they really thought this through?)

So tell me then, Lord McPorridge. Where will you pitch your price to stamp out this avalanche of alcoholism? The answer, it seems, is 40 pence per unit. That heinous charge will make the average 13 per cent alcohol bottle of wine a whopping … £3.90.

Three pounds ninety? Are they joking? That’s really going to stem the tide, even in a place where you can get seven litres of cider for a tenner. You’d be hard put to find a drinkable bottle of plonk at that price in most supermarkets.

So it all seems a bit daft. Perhaps we can rely on those rebellious Scots to boot this daft idea into touch before the idiots down here catch on to it. But then, they did cave into the smoking ban a full year ahead of the rest of us …

LAST WEEK I was complaining that while we were being subjugated by a camera-saturated state jackboot, it was now an arrestable offence for a Japanese tourist to take a photograph of a policeman. Well you’ll be glad to know that they’re just as heavy-handed when it comes to their own. (The cops that is, not the Japanese tourists.)

The kitchen in a police station in Brighton has had problems recently with rubbish littering the floor, spilt food and dirty crockery left in the sink. Instead of doing what you or I would do and leaving a stroppy Post-It note above the sink, senior plod instead decided to install a CCTV camera above the sink in a bid to catch the guilty parties. So that’s the police, spying on themselves, in their own police station.

Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett (he’s new, so that might explain a lot) said: “A small minority of people have been misusing the facilities. I have therefore had to reluctantly take the decision to use an overt camera to dissuade people from spoiling the facility for others”. (Can’t you just hear that pinched, nasal drone?)

So there we have it. Too busy to catch alcohol-crazed Scotch burglars, but more than ready to nab whoever left that festering Pot Noodle in the sink. It really is enough to make a cat laugh.

Monday, March 02, 2009

There's an inebriated accountant with a dissolving liver clogging up intensive care

I’VE BEEN telling you this would happen for years. The middle classes are finally on the verge of revolt.

According to The Guardian, the police are preparing for a ‘Summer of Rage’ as victims of the economic turndown take to the streets to demonstrate against financial institutions. Polishing his extendable baton, Superintendent David Hartshorn of the Metropolitan Plod “raised the spectre of a return of the riots of the 1980s, with people who have lost their jobs, homes or savings becoming ‘footsoldiers’ in a wave of potentially violent mass protests as middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger”.

Well they’ve been doing it in Europe for years. In recent weeks Greek farmers have blocked roads over falling agricultural prices, a million workers in France joined demonstrations to demand greater protection for jobs and wages and Icelandic demonstrators have clashed with police in Reykjavik.

As ever, a delightfully funny and rather rude website called the Daily Mash ( does it better than I could, so I make no apology for quoting their take on the story: A senior officer said that “Economic downturn means people you would not normally associate with civil unrest taking their anger on to the streets. It’s a very special time in a policeman's life.

“A lot of my lads were too young for the poll tax riots and so this could be their only chance to knock the absolute living shit out of a Guardian reader. Ideally it’ll be the sort of people who have fancy dinner parties, with their Le Creuset pots and their Cloudy Bay and their nonce friends, passing round the marijuana cigarettes and raising money for Hezbollah.”

He stressed that anyone who is thinking about protesting this summer should not be put off, adding: “Come to London. Have a day out. Throw bricks, deface banks with your tins of Farrow and Ball paint and above all, when the policemen charge at you, stand your ground. And when six of my lads are dragging you by the hood of your Fat Face cagoule into the back of a van, please do struggle a bit, thereby giving them reasonable cause to boot you squarely in the kidneys. They love that.”

Marvellous stuff.

MAYBE THE Met aren’t being unreasonable. After all, it’s becoming clear that the real rot in our society isn’t caused by the workshy, benefits-bleeding Poveratti, but the supposedly squeaky-clean middle classes. Just look at their drinking habits, for instance.

Some of them imbibe more than a glass of wine a night. Outrageous. What kind of burden is that imposing on our struggling health service? Nary a night passes without an inebriated accountant with a dissolving liver clogging up intensive care. And that’s if they don’t have diabetes as well, the lardy-arsed, glucose-gobbling wasters.

Still, the Nanny State has an answer. They’re going to fit CCTV cameras inside shops, supermarkets and pubs so Big Brother can identify those of us who take too much advantage of Threshers’ three-for-the-price-of-two wine offer. Presumably we’ll then get the six o’clock knock from one of Harriet Harman’s hit squads and be carted off to a gulag in Glamorganshire where we’ll be taught the error of our ways.

In the London borough of Islington, it is already compulsory for any premises applying for an alcohol licence to fit CCTV. Expect that to spread as the Town Hall Trots find another way to bully the small businessman.

I was talking to the landlord in one of my locals the other night. He reckons that it would cost him three grand to fit a basic camera system. That is money he can’t afford. He’s already been battered by the idiotic smoking ban (to the point that he’ll now allow you to smoke as long as you sit by the log fire) and by supermarkets selling bottled lager for less than bottled water. This added expense will merely nudge many pubs over the edge. Thinking about it, maybe that’s the plan.

IT’S IRONIC that in the week that our already camera-saturated nation had another level of surveillance inflicted upon it, it also became illegal for an ordinary citizen to take a photograph of a policeman. Counter-terrorism, you see. And they’re obviously getting twitchy about middle-class rioters snapping them snapping limbs during this summer’s coming demonstrations.

I’VE A new modern day parable: Beware the empty barber.

I’d been trying to find time for a haircut for weeks and was starting to look like Worzel Gummidge, but every time I found half an hour to spare, my usual premises were either closed or packed to the rafters.

Then, on coming out of an unfamiliar pub in an unfamiliar part of town on Friday afternoon, I found a barber’s shop two doors down that was absolutely deserted, apart from the barber. Or so-called barber.

I now know why the shop was empty on a Friday afternoon. It is the worst haircut I have ever had. I look like that kid out of the Adams family and, to be honest, given my sparse locks there was little scope to cock it up in the first place.

So now you know – beware the empty barber.

I SAW a television advert the other night for our local Safety Camera Partnership. What’s that all about then? Never mind the waste of the money that they’ve already stolen from us, but do they really expect anyone to say: “Ooh, that’s a good idea. Let’s have some more speed cameras”?