Thursday, April 28

Keep fit? It’s too dangerous!

OK – I admit I’m not terribly fit and a bit overweight. Sonia keeps going on at me to get fit and be more active. She’s a talented dancer and goes dancing twice a week generally and allegedly walks quite a bit. This must be during the summer or on holidays because she’s never demonstrated a particular strong desire to go for walks while I have known her. On a Sunday we occasionally will walk about 1 ½ miles along the beach to Tynemouth market and back again and despite my alleged out of condition fitness I manage to keep up and it’s generally Sonia who is panting and needs to recover with a cup of tea afterwards.

She says she used to be a good trampoline gymnast when she was younger and as it is a low impact, safe and aerobic exercise that I should take up. I wondered how I’m going to fit a trampoline into the house and how I’m going to avoid hitting the ceiling. And what would the neighbours think? Just out of sheer perversity I suggested that nude trampolining might be a good family orientated activity and that we should do it together. It wasn’t met with an enthusiastic response – I wonder why?

I recalled a trampolining accident I’d been e-mailed a while ago so dug out this link to point out to her the very real and underrated dangers of trampolining.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124395852@N01/1429221/

She wasn’t convinced. Women, eh?

Now that the better weather is here and the evenings are light enough until 8-30 I’m determined to cycle along the sea front and along the river towards North Shields a few times a week. My usual route takes about 45 minutes and covers probably seven to eight miles – though if there are a lot of ships or boats out, then it will take longer as I like to watch them and see what they are, what they could be carrying and if they are coming or going. I could spend all day watching the shipping if I had a house with a sea view (technically I do but I’d have to stand on the chimney pot and hang onto the TV aerial to see the sea. No really practical). You need to keep your wits about you though and pick your route carefully. The traffic isn’t too heavy but the chavs and young blades tend to drive their clapped out Vauxhall Corsas and Renault Clios at speed along the roads. I pick my route carefully and keep a sharp lookout. Riding a motorcycle helps develop road awareness and translates into a “never trust anyone in a car” attitude which keeps me alert.

I’m tempted to get another dog but it isn’t practical – even though the regular exercise in taking him out was certainly a good form of exercise.

It’s either that or take up smoking – at least when I cough I’d be getting SOME exercise …

Tuesday, April 26

Enjoying the election

OK – so this advice is perhaps a bit late for this campaign but I have discovered a way to enjoy the Party Political Propaganda Broadcasts (or PPPB for brevity). I have Sonia to thank for this serendipitous discovery.

She phoned me one evening in the middle of a PPPB and as I had the remote for the TV to hand, I pressed the mute button. I watched in awe as I realised the rubbish being spouted by the Politician was filtered out and I could concentrate on the body language without the distraction and annoyance of the lies and misinformation clouding my judgement. So after I had finished talking to my little pocket Venus, I looked at the TV listing to see when it was being repeated and made sure I tuned in.

Instead of shouting the usual comments at the TV (such as “You lying incompetent bar steward, you thieving arrogant git” etc.) I made up my own commentary to complement the scenarios and body language. I decided that this was the REAL message the politicians are trying to hide from the electorate. It goes something like this.

“Dear electors. I am in a highly paid job, funded entirely by your hard work and efforts. With this job, it doesn’t matter if I turn up or not, I still get paid and can claim massive amounts of expenses regardless of if they are rightly incurred or claimed correctly. I have an excellent non contributory pension scheme which will pay me very nicely for the rest of my life, funded by you and generously topped up by other politicians voting themselves whacking great pay and pension rises”.

“I have my own agenda and ideas how I can run your lives. It doesn’t matter if you are labouring under the delusion that I was elected to represent your interests and give you a voice and say in parliament. I know what is best for you and the country (and when I say “the Country” I of course mean myself). Your concerns are no concern of mine. I wish to build a society which I won’t have to live in – my salary and protected status will ensure I don’t suffer the consequences of my decisions or laws designed to torment you”.

“If elected, my Government will continue to take tax from you and deliver very little in return. I will spout sanctimonious sounding phrases such as ‘You cannot put a price on life’ to justify massive increases in taxation to fund the NHS, for example, but will allow the NHS to continue in its inefficient and Stalinist, monolithic way. I fully realise that if the NHS was reorganised and made to operate in a more efficient and accountable way, for the same money, many more people would be treated and their lives made pain free, easier and more pleasant. Education is a big issue but simply because the schools are turning out people who, after eleven years of expensive education, cannot read or write or do arithmetic competently, I feel there is no requirement to do anything about it, other than pour more money – and I mean YOUR money – into the system to continue this state of affairs. However, you must realise that Government services employ a vast army of people and, just like me, rely on your money to keep them in jobs which are often hard to justify to ordinary people like yourselves. But Political Correctness and a ‘if it saves one life, it will all be worth it’ attitude can be used to justify anything. Therefore I cannot in all conscience alienate these voters so I will do nothing to reduce the vast army and indeed, will vote for more useless legislation to increase the numbers (at your expense, of course)”.

“So that is why I’m asking you to vote for me. I feel I am not getting my message across and therefore need another 5 years of this lifestyle to do so. So I know I can rely on your vote …”

(A well written rant from an American - so make allowances for the references to things American - is at http://www.ravnwood.com/archives/004528.php#004528. It summarises my feelings regarding the rapaciousness and all pervading influence of the Government and concisely describes the "We'll take your money and give you nothing in return" attitude of all Governments).

Do you think I’m exaggerating about the arrogance of our Political Lords and Masters? Look at this link from the Guardian http://media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,,1465709,00.html. It is of course, old two Jags Prescott on top form again. Bear in mind that the Guardian is more left wing than Stalin so for them to report Prezza in such unflattering terms is surprising to say the least.

The “make up your own commentary” works for face to face interviews too. Jezza Paxman generally gives a rottweilering to the interviewee and the body language says it all. An excellent introduction to the game if you want to give it a try.

Go ahead – it’s fun!

Thursday, April 21

Bloggers of the world unite …

I got into a discussion with Sonia about blogs, why I bother reading them and the reason why people take the time and effort to write the blogs. I VERY CAREFULLY refrained from telling her about my own efforts. I very much suspect she would not appreciate my observations of her being publicly aired. I’d end up looking like a pound (or for the politically correct among you, 454 grams) of mince in a string vest after she had finished with me. My little pocket Venus can be a bit fierce at times … in fact she’s fierce all the time.

After much mulling and toying with the reasons in my mind I came to a conclusion. See if you agree with me …

The reason why blogs are written is because the writers feel disenfranchised by the normal channels of communication and information.

There! I’ve said it. I know it is the reason I feel the need to climb on my metaphorical soapbox and pontificate to the world at large (or small if you prefer). Now comes the explanation.

Looking at the mass media there is a remarkable uniformity in the quality of, and the message of the output, be it radio, TV or newspapers. There appears to me to be little variation in the coverage of the range of topics and it is remarkably consistent in its blandness and consensus. This is regardless of the TV channel, newspaper or whatever. The message is “Everything is basically OK and we’re all one big happy family”. As Herr Goebells (the Nazi Minister of Propaganda) said “Tell a lie often enough and people will believe it”.

Of course there are taboos – the mildest comment or question regarding crime, the “management” (and I use the word advisedly) of the NHS, immigration and multiculturism, the personal lifestyle choices of various sectors of society and their expectation that society as a whole should not just subsidise them but pick up the tab completely and so forth.

Any mention of these (and you can add your own personal favourites to the list – in fact feel free to do so) is screamed down by the Politically Correct Thought Police (or PCTP). You are perfectly free to express your opinion PROVIDED it is in complete and utter agreement with these intolerant bigots. Otherwise you will be accused of being “-ist” – be it racist, fascist, elitist, or whatever. This is shorthand for them saying “You are not allowed to have an opinion that I disagree with and I am not going to address your points in a sensible way. You are simply NOT ALLOWED to think this”. It is McCarthyism at its worst.

For those of you who don't understand the expression, McCarthy led the witch hunts for Communists in America during the 1950’s and any denunciation however unsubstantiated or malicious resulted in the wrecking of that persons career, their ostracism and exclusion from society etc. Considering the remorseless and implacable efforts of the USSR to destroy the West, I think an equally robust and single minded response was necessary. I think it is useless to try to reason with unreasonable people – you cannot use half measures when your very survival is at stake but the McCarthy approach was not the correct one. Of course McCarthy was one of the “evil right wing capitalists” so it is allowable to vilify him and his methods whereas a similar process in a left wing or communist country goes unremarked (e.g. the Stalinist show trials of the 1930’s in Russia, the Chinese Army killing protestors in Tiannaman Square in full view of the worlds media, the appalling slavery of the North Korean people, the suffering of Zimbabwe, Burma etc.). One rule for the Left Wing, Right On, Politically Correct, condemnation for the rest …

Taking the ultimate taboo, immigration and multiculturism as an example, where is the discussion and debate about this in the mass media? Answer – there isn’t any mention of it. I did see a phone-in poll on Channel 4 stating that 98% of respondents thought that immigration controls were not working. And that’s it.

My own personal opinion is that multiculturism is an oxymoron. It can be FORCED onto a society by threats and intimidation but History shows that once the gun pointed at the collective head of the population is removed, the results are the same as taking the lid off a pressure cooker at full pressure. Look how Yugoslavia, the USSR and other countries have fragmented once the artificial, enforced constraints were removed. A writer called Robert Ardrey wrote a series of books in the late 1960’s and 1970’s examining the HOW and WHY of human nature. In essence he studied the human species in the same way anthropologists and zoologists studied other group animals. Some of the fine detail of his work has been superseded by more recent research (principally Dian Fossey’s work with gorillas and chimpanzees in Africa) but the core themes are remarkably relevant today.

However you define a society (and for the purposes of the discussion, I’ll cut and paste a dictionary definition here)

  1. The totality of social relationships among humans.

  2. A group of humans broadly distinguished from other groups by mutual interests, participation in characteristic relationships, shared institutions, and a common culture.

  3. The institutions and culture of a distinct self-perpetuating group.

  4. An organization or association of persons engaged in a common profession, activity, or interest: a folklore society; a society of bird watchers.

You will notice that the words “common culture”, “mutual”, “shared” are used. In other words, the Chess playing society, the local photographic society etc. all correspond to the definitions above. Naturally there will be people within these groups that will disagree with minor elements of the society’s rules but you do not join the local photographic society and insist that (for example) all members should drive and enthuse about the same make of car. If you want to do that, join the appropriate club owners club.

By any definition, society in Britain does not correspond to the definitions given above – we have sections of the population who are antagonistic to the way Britain is run, are opposed to the laws and foundations of the society we accept and live in, their pleading for special interest and favour and the rewriting of the laws to accomodate their predjudices etc. are devisive.

It is my unease with the fragmentation and disintegration of society in Britain which is a major concern of myself and when discussed in open – a rare event - with a lot of other people too. But are my and other peoples concerns addressed? Are we allowed to question or discuss things rationally and openly? No – the media stonewalls and ignores anyone who raises the mildest question or lambastes them with the fullest force they can bring to bear as being “-ist”. Which of course effectively stops any discussion and the target frantically trying to "prove" that they are not the evil person the label defines them to be.

So, in short I feel disenfranchised from mainstream discussions and political life. I turn to blogs to seek an alternative viewpoint. It is my opinion that no matter what I know, there will be someone out there with greater knowledge of the subject than I. The only way I can access the information and see a different and insightful viewpoint is to search it out and the results of the inquiries are surprising. The insights from various people and occupations give lie to the propaganda and misinformation pedalled by the media. The freedom of the internet and the ability to openly discuss the taboo subjects are a refreshing breath of sanity in an anodyne world.

I’ll list the links I visit regularly at the right of the page once I can puzzle out how to stop my detail and the links sinking to the bottom of the page like a lead balloon. The Policemans Blog and “Walking the Streets” (a Traffic Warden, who writes particularly well) are worth mentioning. Melanie Phillips is well worth reading too. CIVITAS is running an intelligent voters listing on various topics. The last three are accessible from the coppers blog. But to dismiss their intelligent, thoughtful and concerned writings as being "-ist" is to arrogantly dismiss the real fears of a lot of other people too.

Just gotta find out how to get the blog to behave and list them …..

Monday, April 11

A coffin is for life ..

You sometimes get an oblique insight into the workings of the brains of some people by their reactions – and in this instance I'm referring to Sonia.

Bear with me on this one while I prepare the scenario for the story.

There was a junk shop about 300 yards from where I live called the Kasbah – it sold the usual collection of second hand furniture (of variable quality – some excellent, some ok and the rest would have been shunned by an East European refugee at the height of the cold war), a sad collection of paperback books, old pictures, gewgaws of various and wondrous variety, toys and “collectibles” from the 1950’s and so forth gathered from the usual house clearances etc.

It closed about 2 months ago – which surprised me as it was quite a good example of its type and had a regular turnover. They might have moved but no forwarding address was posted in the window. But I digress again.

It has been taken over by a swish and trendy new funeral parlour. It is called “Go As You Please Funerals”. I’m tempted to comment that on the day itself, you’d have precious little control over the proceedings (and if the corpse sat up in the coffin and announced that it wasn’t happy with the service, I’d be surprised, though clearly not as surprised as the Vicar) so “as you please” may not quite live up to its billing. They are unlikely to get complaints or sued so it’s a safe bet …

Nonetheless; it advertises a wide variety of different, alternative funeral arrangements for those who desire a different and alternative funeral.

A fetching wickerwork coffin is in the window – I’ve noticed it driving past a few times, but never bothered to investigate further. I'm odd like that. I just never seem to be able to raise the enthusiasm to examine coffins.

On Sunday, there being per usual naff all on the telly, Sonia and I were forced to talk to each other (having read the Sunday papers, done the crossword and put the lunch on). I mentioned the new funeral parlour and the wickerwork coffin in the window.

To my surprise, she became quite animated and lively and started to question me about it. She said that, as she was a keen gardener and loved nature, she wanted to be buried in a cardboard coffin in woodland. But a wickerwork coffin, being more environmentally friendly and biodegradable was definitely “of interest”. As it was only a short stroll along the road and a nice day, we proceeded up the road (in an orderly fashion) to view wickerwork coffins. As you do.

When we got there, we pressed our noses against the window and examined the stuff on display. Sure enough there was a wickerwork coffin (with wickerwork handles and wickerwork trim fetchingly dyed in a dark blue colour which contrasted with the very pale cream of the wickerwork itself) and marked prominently with the fair trade label so it was made in Africa presumably. Unfortunately for Sonia, it was for someone 6 feet 6 inches tall and as my little pocket Venus is five feet tall, it was too large. I suggested that if the one on display was £170, then one for her would probably work out at about £140 to £150. This resulted in her giving me the hard stare. I managed to survive by pointing out that there was proportionately less work in making a smaller coffin (but really I was only thinking of her bank balance – she’s very budget minded ….). I could see that she was deep in thought and was contemplating things.

“Steve would be interested too” she remarked. Steve works for another of the local councils and is an arboreal expert and another mad keen gardener. “I’ll have to tell him”.

I was unconvinced. I thought £170 was a bit steep for a wicker basket so thinking a bit laterally, I suggested that this September she should enrol in night classes in basket weaving and as her project, she could weave herself a coffin instead of the usual waste paper or laundry baskets. It would provide a talking point at the end of term open day and that when she took it home, she could get a plate glass top cut for it and use it in the living room as a coffee table and storage unit. She could keep her magazines, CD,s and other bits and bobs in the coffin. Or she could store her summer clothes in it during the winter and her winter clothes during the summer. The open weave design will allow good air circulation and will stop the clothes going foisty.

To my surprise I retained my head on my shoulders and she grunted an agreement.

The open weave design troubled me - it isn't very air tight and if you were going to the trouble and expense of being environmentally friendly, presumably you wouldn't want the body to be preserved or enbalmed. No additives or artificial preservatives allowed. So the funeral would have to take place pretty quick to prevent the congregation being assailed by the smell of the body decomposing. And the outline of the body could be seen through the gaps in the wickerwork against the light. I'd opt to line the coffin with somethng like newspaper to spare the more sensitive members of the congregation from the sight. It's touches like that which will make or break the success of the company - perhaps I should suggest this to them?

Further into the shop, there was a cardboard coffin for £130 which definitely wasn’t worth it in my opinion – you can collect empty cardboard boxes from the supermarket and construct your own. Or is this the result of watching too much Blue Peter when I was an impressionable youngster? Amazing what you can do with a plastic washing up liquid bottle and some sticky backed plastic. Another woven coffin was a bit cheaper – it looked like it was made out of some kind of broad leafed grass but more “basket like” than the wicker one. It was £150.

If you wanted to go semi conventional, then an ordinary coffin was £195 BUT (and here I started to reel backwards in a swoon) there was a conventional coffin but painted in black and white stripes with a Newcastle United crest on the lid! I pointed this out to Sonia and she immediately said “Paul; would like that one!” I had met Paul a few times and he’s a bit like a stick of Blackpool rock – cut him in half and he would have Newcastle United all the way through. He even has a black and white dressing gown with Alan Shearers number on the back. Allegedly he supports two teams – Newcastle United and anyone that is playing Sunderland (if you aren’t from the North East, it would be like saying Ian Paisley supports the Belfast Orange Order Footy team and anyone else playing the Derry Catholic and Republican boys club) so a Newcastle United coffin would be right up his street.

I suppose that her Christmas Present list is taken care of for the foreseeable future – if only things were quite so simple for me!

But wait! The estimable Go As You Please Funeral Company will arrange an interment at sea if you want. It’s advertised as using a Marine coffin and costs from £3560. It might be an attractive and viable option for those who have incurred the enmity of someone who has threatened to dance on their grave but I’m worried.

The North Sea isn’t very deep anywhere and certainly the fishermen trawl all of it down to the bottom without difficulty. I wonder what will happen if they trawl up a body. I can imagine the scene on the boat as the fishermen scratch their heads and consult the EEC fishing rules and regulations when confronted with the coffin. “OK Boys, we can land 10 boxes of haddock, 2 of cod, we’re allowed 12 boxes of plaice and Dover sole but what about THIS?” You see my point - it isn’t fair to shock fishermen like that.

I’ll avoid the spam fritter in the chip shop from now on ….

Wednesday, April 6

Election!! (yawn)

Well Teflon Tony has taken the plunge and declared that there will be an election on 5th May. I could have told you that a long while ago – Sonia works for one of the local Councils and she was warned a while ago that she would be working in the polling station or counting votes that day/night. It pays to have friends in the know …

Now we can watch the antics of our political Lords and Masters desperately trying to convince us of the need to vote for them to retain their well salaried and comfortable lifestyles and gloss over the incompetence and cack handedness they have displayed over the past four years.

Every night, the leaflets are covering my hallway like leaves on the forest floor in autumn. Red, yellow, green with the occasional blue and pink (Pink? Will this colour appeal to me as a voter?). Some of them are glossy, full colour double fold ones and these are invariably from the Labour Party. I wonder where they get the money to produce such a blizzard of paper. But there again, the labour Party has produced such a large number of laws and statutes that have resulted in more paperwork and bureaucracy for the rest of the working population that I shouldn’t be surprised that they are indulging in mass destruction of forestry to convince me to vote for them. I’m tempted to say that they are disposing of these leaflets like there was no tomorrow – and for some, there WON’T be a tomorrow (hurrah!!) but wishful thinking will have to wait.

My local labour MP is proud of the NHS apparently. I wonder why? According to Civitas (link here http://www.civitas.org.uk/) the cash that has been thrown at the NHS hasn’t resulted in much of an improvement – in fact it is hard to see where the cash has gone and a negative to zero improvement in processes has occurred over the time period in question. I suppose he must be confusing ordinary peoples experiences of the NHS with Saint Tone of Sedgefield’s experience. When Saint Tone had occasion to use the NHS hospitals a few years back, he was seen immediately, ushered through the process and had the very best care and attention available. If only my (and others) experience was similar.

He’s pleased to mention “hard working families” several times throughout the leaflet and how they are enjoying unrivalled prosperity under the benevolent hand of the Labour Party. According to The Business (self proclaimed as “Europe’s Global Business News” link here http://thebusinessonline.com/33417/Poor_deserve_better_in_Brown_s_Britain)

“the Centre for Policy Studies has shown, a two-parent, one-earner family on £24,000 a year, with a mortgage and two young children is now just over a pound a week per head better off than a lone-parent household entirely dependent on the welfare state. If it stays together, our £24,000 family will pay over £5,000 a year more in tax than it receives in benefits; if it breaks up, the two households can receive up to £7,000 more in benefits than they pay in tax.”

When I think of the £5 Billion (and in Britain a billion is one million x one million or £1,000,000,000,000) raid carried out by Mr Brown on the pension funds of those working to provide some sort of security in their old age, I can’t seem to reconcile labours claims that it is rewarding the industrious and thrifty and looks kindly on them with their cash grabbing actions. Still, it MUST be true if the Labour Party are saying it.

Law and order is mentioned in the same glowing terms – but again my research and personal experience is at variance with the vision proclaimed in the leaflet. I read about the Police prosecuting to the limit the usually law abiding driven to the limits of their sanity and tolerance by youths, then the same youths being forced to accept an ASBO. Now it is my understanding that an ASBO means that you have been breaking the law persistently for a long period but rather than prosecute, the Police prefer to lump all the lawbreaking together and say in essence “We know you have been breaking the law, but provided you promise not to do so, we won’t prosecute you”. It is significant that the majority of ASBO’s are broken repeatedly by the same people.

Anyone who has raised dogs will know that it is a system doomed to failure. To train a dog, if it does something you object to, discipline it. If you want it to do something, praise and reward it when it does the action. If you don’t care one way or another (e.g. the dog lying on an old armchair) do nothing. The dog will quickly realise that this is normal behaviour. As far as I can see, by NOT objecting and punishing criminals for breaking the law, you are conditioning them to believe this is normal and tolerated by society at large. So by the time an ASBO has been applied, a long period of getting away with the behaviour has been ingrained into the psyche as being normal and therefore is unlikely to be abandoned at this late stage.

I think most people who aren’t protected by armed to the teeth Police (as our political Lords and Masters are) would disagree with the claim that you are safer and better protected than at any time since slime mould dragged itself out a swamp when the world was young (or more prosaically, within history, according to the Labour party spin doctors – but only if history started eight years ago).

He is particularly proud to proclaim that he voted to ban foxhunting with hounds. Go back and re-read the stuff above and see if you might agree that the jewel in the crown of all the legislation passed by this Parliament which has benefited the electorate is this piece of legislation. No matter what your opinion of the merits of foxhunting, I think that the amount of time and effort expended on the process could have been put to better use.

But The Conservative leaflets are hardly better (less glossy but the content is what counts, not the form).

I read on one of the news sites that the parties are spending millions on winning over the 800,000 key voters in marginal seats to gain victory.

Can I offer a tip to our Political Lords and Masters? Instead of concentrating on less than a million voters, concentrate on the Millions (the 95%) of ordinary people and LISTEN to what they want and then deliver.

Any political party that did that instead of concentrating on minorities and listening only to themselves would get my vote.

Monday, April 4

Underpants Update and safety

I was discussing the underpants issue with the lads in the office and Sonia’s resulting behaviour (see the entry for March 14th).

This seemed to amuse and astonish them. I think it’s a generation gap thing. Let me explain.

Years ago, when I was a lad (after the War with Hovis and real butter etc. etc. Cue Dvorac’s New World Symphony) my Mother always admonished me to wear clean underwear “in case you get run over by a bus”. Now this made a deep and lasting impression on me and has influenced my behaviour throughout the rest of my life. The horror of being found wearing knackered underwear is deeply engrained.

If you see men of a certain age standing by the side of the road looking anxiously left and right with their hands in their pockets, take it from me they are not incontinent, sexual perverts playing “pocket billiards” with their goolies in public or checking their loose change. No. They are checking the state of their underwear and wondering if it is safe to cross the road in the presence of busses.

There is a constant nagging uncertainty about the subject which influences my behaviour. I drive the car just that little bit more cautiously if I’m wearing disreputable underwear (just in case I’m involved in an accident), I ride the motorbike cautiously too for the same reason and as for crossing the road, I practically need written confirmation that a bus isn’t due to drive past for at least 5 minutes. So the state of my underwear has a direct and measurable impact on the likelihood of my being involved in a Road Traffic Accident (RTA). So it really is a safety issue. Perhaps Saint Tone of Sedgefield (may he get what he deserves, Praise the Lord) should take this up as a public safety measure. Restrict the sale of underwear and it will have a direct impact on accidents outside the home. If enacted, I can foresee that the Sale of Underwear (Public Safety Measures) 2005 being as significant a factor in his fourth re-election as foxhunting will be in this election. Addressing the REAL concerns of the public will endear him to the league of the great unwashed. Never mind crime, taxation, public services and other inconsequential matters, shabby underwear will make the roads of Britain safer. If it saves a single life, or more importantly, prevents anyone being humiliated and embarrassed, it will all be worth it.

If I REALLY wanted to go totally berserk on the bike, I’d tape over the number plate, strip off stark naked and ceremoniously open a brand new packet of underpants and put on pristine unworn cotton. I suppose if I was in a lyrical mood, I’d sing a version of Jerusalem which included the words “Gird me my loins with underpants new” and so forth. Then get dressed in the rest of the gear and go out, secure in the knowledge that if I DO end up in hospital, I’ll not shock the nurses when they cut the remains of my clothes off my shattered body and see my underkeks. Or perhaps not. I’ll stick to well worn shreddies when riding so that I’ll ride safely.

The bus thing still bothers me though. You can imagine my dismay a few years back when I saw plastered across the front page of The Sunday Sport (and if it appears in The Sunday Sport, you can guarantee it’s Gospel true – they spend literally hours thoroughly researching the stories) that a red London Bus had been found at the south pole. It showed a snow covered bus surrounded by penguins so it was definitely true. I sadly crossed Antarctica off my list of bus free holiday destinations where I could wander around without worrying about the state of my underpants. I’d ban busses and relieve the strain on my nerves. Perhaps that would be a vote winner among those of a certain age. I know it would get my support.

The World is becoming a more dangerous and threatening place, sure enough.

Friday, April 1

School meals (again)

Depending on which news service you consult, the Government (or rather Saint Tone of Sedgefield - may he reap the rewards he so richly deserves) has allocated £280 million to improving the quality of school meals.

However, as with all announcements made by this Government, the headline figure must be carefully dissected for the truth.

First off, the sum to be spent is over 3 years (so that puts things into perspective – it will run out long before the next election) with no commitment that it will be continued on beyond the 3 year period. An opportunity to valiantly renew the funding and save the children etc. etc. and make political capital for the NEXT election.

Secondly, the sum of £60 million is being allocated to “a School Food Trust to advise schools - and parents - on healthier meals”. So of the initial £280 million, fully 21.4% is being skimmed off immediately on a Governmental Department to interfere in the running of the scheme. I would suspect that this will be flung together - after all, it is vitally important to be seen to be doing SOMETHING. It doesn’t matter that what is being done is ultimately useless. Excuses can be wheeled out if the wheels come off the thing and “It will take some time for results to filter down, while these Civil Servants cannot be criticised in doing a difficult job under arduous circumstances” etc. And Saint Tone (also the patron saint of Teflon) can claim more resources (i.e. our money, his Civil Servants and co-incidentally Labour Voters who got their jobs due to Saint Tone) will solve the problem. More funding? I think not – rather a raid on the remaining £220 million.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure that they will need plenty of paperwork and directives to justify their existence. They can happily produce masses of instructions to be issued to schools and masses of forms to ensure their diktats are carried out, which will need to be checked, collated and processed. The individual schools will need to employ someone to complete forms, inspect kitchens and ingredients, train staff in administration tasks etc. to satisfy this Civil Service Department.

It could be done under Local Authority control but again I am wary of the efficiency of the Councils on this point. I live in the Peoples Democratic Republic of North Tyneside. Their efficiency is improving - but only because the arrogant labour Party Councillors, when they heard that an elected Mayor was being imposed, assumed that it would be a Labour Mayor so they voted and assigned quite sweeping powers to the new position. Place all the power in the safe hands of a Labour man and allocate him dictatorial powers was their plan. They had been in power continuously for 26 years so it was a assumed to be a safe assumption. How I howled with laughter when a Conservative Mayor was elected! The authority has gone from a deficit of £26 million (with zero reserves) to a surplus and a sensible level of reserves under her 3 year stewardship. I received a percentage pay rise larger than the percentage council tax rise this year for the first time in 10 years I have lived there … and the company I work for flings pay rises around like an armless Scotsman flings around manhole covers. But I digress.

It might be sensible for the Authority to appoint two or three nutritionists and support staff (inspectors, clerks and any other APPROPRIATE personnel) to look after a number of schools but once again, even with the best wil in the world, these people will have to be recruited, accommodated, provided with equipment, desks etc. trained and paid and will otherwise consume part of the £220 million allocated to the improvement in meals. I wonder what their salaries would be? Certainly if “Market forces” apply (that is, if some skill is rare, you need to pay more to attract the skill level needed) and all councils in this scenario will be competing to recruit the same type of staff, then the salaries will be higher than might otherwise be expected.

I accept that the cooks will need training and paid overtime and kitchens re-equipped but these costs should not be terribly high. And I also believe that people at the sharp end like the “Dinner Ladies” actually want to do a good job. After all, they are seeing the customer every day, aren’t concerned with the politics of the thing, and aren’t concerned with guarding their own backsides and being seen to be politically correct. I’d very much suspect that they want to produce good food to a standard they and their own kids would be happy to eat.

So how much of the cash promised will actually end up on the plates of the kids? I’d suspect a very small percentage of the original, fine sounding £280 Million. Don’t hold your breath but watch this space, as they say.