Sunday, October 28, 2007

Jobsworths at the Airport

Returning from a few days working in Ireland, I passed across that River of Styx known as Stansted Airport a couple of times. As you know, the Styx circled Hades nine times which is about the number of circuits I made of the departure lounge during my stay.
One has plenty of time to ruminate on matters during these wastes of one's lifetime hours and I amused myself by noting that every airport scanner was manned by some ten jobsworths. Multiply that by the number of scanners and then by the number of airports and you arrive at a pretty hefty total. And I'm forgetting the bored operator who scans your shoes for gelignite plus the ones who ensure that your high explosive in placed in little plastic bags.
Now it then occurred to me that no government in its right mind would voluntarily throw such a large unskilled labour force onto the open market by doing away with the totally futile exercise known as airport security.
Neither would the airport be in a hurry to do so, having had to invest in the requisite machinery.
That plus the fact that the long delays predicated by the system means that bored passengers can fritter their money away in the so-called duty free shops so that the airports generate a substantial revenue.
All in all, this means that we cannot expect any change in the procedures even if every terrorist in the world had been accounted for.
Flanders and Swann used to have a song that ran “It all makes work for the working man to do.”
And in those days the word jobsworth had not been thought of.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Madness in the Air

This evening I board a flight for London and, as always when contemplating such aeronautical ventures, my suppressed fury at the inanity of the so-called security measures boils over.
For many years my office was at the sharp end of one of these people carrying tin tubes where I was a sort of superannuated bus driver.
It might give much consolation to know that not only you, the fare paying passenger, but also your crew have been subjected to the same idiotic and time wasting procedures that authority deem are for your safety.
Not only you but your captain will have been deprived of their nail clippers for a start. I have searched most diligently the records and have been unable to find an instance of nail clippers having been used as an offensive weapon, not only in flight, but even on the ground.
And safety razors are incapable of giving you more than a nick, and that's if you try very hard.
So your captain is unable to trim his nails in flight or even have a quick shave. Teeth cleaning is also verboten, the explosive properties of Macleans dentifrice being a well documented hazard according to Big Brother. And don't even mention shampoo – unless of course you put it in a plastic bag sold to you conveniently at your departure point for a few hundred per cent profit. The explosive retaining power of polythene is well known.
But now, gentle reader, follow me on to the flight deck, secure in the knowledge that your captain's shoes have been irradiated to prove he has not absent-mindedly filled them with high explosive.
You, the passengers are now strapped in your seat and, as is the custom, ignoring the safety procedures being demonstrated to you along with the fasten seat belt sign. You are defenceless, authority having removed that old ladies pair of scissors that she tried to smuggle on so she could do her needle work, a cunning ploy if ever there was one.
But up ahead of you, behind that locked and armoured door, is your captain. Nail clipper less, razor less, deprived of his toothpaste and shampoo but far from impotent.
For stored on the bulkhead just behind his head is a vital piece of equipment without which the flight cannot leave.
It is a very substantial crash axe, designed for chopping through the side of the fuselage in an emergency.
So next time you go through security , I suggest you carry one of these. When arrested, you can point out that there's one on board already.
I would do the same this evening but I have an appointment to keep.
Let me know how you get on.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On the Menu

“The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” wrote Keats and, by golly, I couldn't have put it better myself!
Here in our corner of France it is the time of the vendange and grape picking is in full swing. Sadly, much of this is done by huge machines nowadays but those who were foolish enough to volunteer to go pick them by hand at some time will probably think that this is a jolly good idea. Sounds romantic but it is back breaking hard work, nature having decreed that the vines shall grow at the best height for damaging the human spine. I suppose it all comes from when Noah over-indulged and was caught drunk in charge of an Ark. It was thought that making the things difficult to pick would be a curb on alcoholism. They seriously underestimated man's ingenuity.
But now the morning air is redolent of the grape and, since this time of year coincides with the muck spreading season for the dairy farmers, there is a piquancy about the atmosphere found in few other places in the world.
The French are proud of their earth and its produce – where else would you find restaurants advertising a “Menu de Terroir”? “Menu de Tesco” more like in many places.
And, apart from the visual beauty of autumn, it's also mushroom time. Here the fields are alive with sound of champignon hunters.
I don't mean those anaemic looking emasculated things you see wrapped in plastic at the supermarket but real, “of the earth, earthy” wild mushrooms.
Although I suppose the much vaunted Champignons de Paris were originally cultivated in that city, most of them come now from the Tufa caves of the Loire Valley. Saumur boasts of two mushroom museums, a haven for tourists on wet days, where one can see an incredible variety of specimens, some of them distinctly gruesome looking, lurking in the recesses of the caves.
But nothing compares to the flavour of the wild, open air variety.
And for those who are concerned that by selecting the wrong ones you may send the entire family to perdition, the French have the solution.
You take your haul to the nearest pharmacy and spread them out on the counter for them to approve or reject for you.
It's a free service. And the mushrooms will be delicious.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Entente Cordiale

When your own country is going to hell in a hand basket, it's a good idea to divert attention by pointing out the defects in others. That seems to have been the editorial policy behind one London newspaper this morning, who must be in the pay of Gordon Brown.
For they carry an in-depth review, with excerpts, from book entitled “Fifty Reasons to Hate the French.” It is, of course, intended humorously and is about as entertaining as a root canal job only not as useful.
All the tired old clichés about the French are trotted out and any publisher that thinks that the word “hate” is desirable in any book title nowadays needs to wake up. It is harmless enough drivel however.
In the same edition there is an article by a correspondent living somewhere unspecified in the French countryside listing all the things that make the French so miserable and dissatisfied with their life and their country. One thing is for sure, he doesn't live in my village and he fails to explain just why, if things are as bad as he says, why he doesn't return to the UK.
Comparisons are odious in any context and to compare the two countries is ridiculous. Of course neither are perfect – no country is – but I suppose it will cheer the newspaper's readers up and make them think that they are not as badly off as they really are.
King Edward VII put the Cordiale back into the Entente with his visit to Paris in the 1900's. Not only did he win over the hearts and minds of the French but also the hearts, minds and a few other bits of some of the cast of the Folies Bergeres. But since then the Brits have had a strangely ambivalent view of their neighbours.
When the Channel Tunnel project was resuscitated early in the 20th. Century, the British military vetoed the project, apparently envisaging the French army, bras en bras, swarming into the Kent countryside to rape, pillage and plunder.
But this weekend sees perhaps the most serious conflict since the Hundred Years War.
France v. Les Rosbifs in France's second most popular sport, the first being tax avoidance.
It promises to be a Rugby match, par excellence and we've been invited to watch it in the home of some expatriate Brits. It won't stop us from shouting “Allez les bleus!” however.
And whether the correspondent from that miserable little village likes it or not, the French still have their “joie de vivre.” I think that perhaps he is the miserable one.
During the Hundred years War, which of course many of you will recall, Froissart wrote, “In France, the English enjoy themselves in their own miserable fashion.”
Seems not much has changed.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

MyTravel were Wrong

It was predictable that Captain Pablo Mason would be fired by his employer, the Mytravel airline, for disobeying a company rule. No doubt it was done in a fit of management spite since Captain Mason was that anathema to all modern management, an individualist.
The rule he broke was not, as the airline maintained, one imposed by the authorities but a piece of small print written into the company's own operating manual.
By allowing a passenger on to the flight deck of his aircraft he neither endangered the safety of the flight nor did he break any Aviation Authority rules since the ban applies only to Public flights and not to private charters.
That the whistle was blown by one of the superannuated trolley dolly coffee shop attendants down the back must add an Orwellian touch. Not only Big but Little Brother is now watching over you, rather as the Dog Patrol recently shopped a driver for lighting up a gasper in his truck.
Had Nelson obeyed instructions from head office, the Battle of Trafalgar would have been lost and had not the Light Brigade obeyed theirs, Lord Tennyson would never have written “Half a league, Half a league etc.”
And if Captain Smith had not been under instruction from his employer, the Titanic would, in all probability, have reached New York.
In those far off halcyon days of aviation it was assumed by many of us that, as captains, we were responsible for the safety of our aircraft and passengers and that this responsibility was not to be abrogated to some pen pusher in a distant back office.
Those of us who had the pleasure of flying for Sir Freddie Laker will probably agree that had Captain Mason performed the same way for that airline, the result would have been very different.
Sir Freddie would have fired the flight attendant and thanked Captain Mason for doing a good job of PR for the company.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Human Rights.....and Wrongs

The recent burning of their school uniforms by some kids encapsulates a good deal of what would seem to be wrong with many British children today. No doubt they were exercising their “human rights” which are so liberally used as an excuse to defy authority when authority is merely exercising common sense.
Human rights were instituted to avoid, or attempt to avoid, unwarranted persecution, an unarguably fine idea. But the wearing of a school uniform can hardly be viewed, even by the British judiciary which often seems unbelievably obtuse, as persecution.
But the children can hardly be blamed. Rather as there are very few badly behaved dogs, there are a good many badly behaved owners and it's the same with kids.
If the parents of the incendiarists have any sense, they will give their offspring a hearty clip around the earhole (ensuring that there are no dog wardens watching who might report them), dock their pocket money until the clothes have been paid for and enter them for early admission to the French Foreign Legion.
But now the children rule. It seems many complain of the school meals being provided for them. When I was at school, we always complained bitterly about ours – the difference being that we were told to shut up and clean our plates. We were unaware in those unenlightened days that we had “rights.
Of course all this bad behaviour, kids and adult, stemming from human rights can be blamed on Brussels and the EU, but the Belgians, French and most other European nations don't seem to have the same problems.
Now it seems that television for the very young is viewed as being of poor quality. Gosh, have you ever seen it? What a surprise!
Of course, it's a wonderful device to remove the necessity for parents communicating with or reading to their children, just plonk them down in front of the telly, keeps them quiet for hours.
My solution would be to have no children's television and get back to their spending some time in the company of the family instead, but no doubt some toddler will complain that it violates their human rights.
Come to think of it, shutting off the television wouldn't be a bad idea for adults as well.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Brought to Book

The other day I read somewhere that the day of the E-Book had come and that very soon we would be ditching all those fuddy-duddy paper things.
Mind you, I've been reading this sort of stuff on a pretty regular basis for the past few years. The ancient Assyrians probably used to hear the same sort of rumours about papyrus taking over from clay tablets but, in that case, there was a difference. Papyrus is a lot more convenient to handle than bricks.
But as I see it, lugging around an electronic gizmo has only one thing going for it. You can store a lot of information far more conveniently than in even the Concise edition of the Oxford Dictionary to say nothing of the Encyclopaedia Britannia.
So for a peripatetic writer such as myself, I can see a use. But not for the pleasure of reading.
And just when you're getting to the juicy part of War and Peace, the batteries run out. Or the system crashes and you get to listen to the Microsoft jingle.
Just try turning the corner of a page down to mark your place (I trust you only do this with paperbacks ) and you're in for some expensive repairs I would think.
This thinking that technology is the solution to all problems will be the downfall of mankind. One claim is that you can store umpteen books on the gadget at any one time. Now I don't know about you but I rarely read more than a couple of books at a time, so the others will just be loitering about, taking up gigabytes or whatever those things are called and gossiping among themselves.
And if you think that it is easier to get the time of a train by calling Mumbai than it would have been to open a copy of Bradshaw, well, I've got news for you.
My catalogue from the Folio Society arrived this week which is what prompted all this.
And the incomparable pleasure that I get from opening a beautifully printed and bound volume will never, ever be matched by a sort of literary iPod.
And, the computer industry being what it is, you can bet that your E-Book reader will be overtaken by newer and even better E-book reader technology which will not be backwardly compatible with yours.
Remember the videos that NASA took of the moon landings? They had to go to the museums to find the equipment to play them.
Printed books have been around for nearly a thousand years. Let's see just how long the E-Book lasts.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Law is an Ass

In my view, there is something seriously wrong with a society that can impose a swingeing fine on a schoolmaster with an unsullied reputation of thirty years, because a pupil bangs his head in the school playground.
It is a distressing accident undoubtedly but my sympathies with the parents are considerably diminished when I see that they are proposing to launch a civil suit against the headmaster.
If I were a schoolteacher in Britain today, I would walk off the job.
Accidents are a fact of life, regrettable enough, but the culture that someone must be to blame seems to be inherited, like so many other undesirable things, from the United States.
And the legal profession is as much at fault as anyone.
The old saying used to be that “Only fools go to law” but now with the gleam of gold to be seen and a judiciary that seems to be deprived of its senses, going to law can be a profitable business.
Now I see that the Tories are proposing that, in the unlikely event that they make it into government, schoolteachers will be protected from such abuse and, Heavens above, may be able to take their pupils on field trips without the shadow of prosecution from the Elfnsafety idiots hanging over their heads.
It should hardly be a political issue, more one of common sense, but this seems to be a quality seriously lacking in the law of the land.
It is, perhaps, a measure of the ethics of today's society that the bereaved parents of the boy who died in the school playground, still wish to pursue a vendetta, no doubt for cash, against a blameless headmaster.