Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Load of Old Rubbish

How a once great and powerful nation can prove unable to pick up its own trash on a weekly basis is beyond me. Perhaps they've looked at the example of Naples and decided, as quasi and reluctant members of the EU (unless it suits them), that a bit of trash on the streets won't hurt.
And this does not only relate to the hordes of youths roaming the streets at night.
In France, where the towns are run as a sort of private fiefdom and the mayor is God, failure to pick up the trash weekly would be a guillotining offence and it would be a matter of personal pride that he should provide his townspeople with the best possible service.
Yesterday in my mailbox was a four page glossy magazine, published by the private contractors who perform this service for us, illustrating exactly how they go about it.
A full explanation of the process of recycling was included together with description of their fleet of truck and pictures of many of their operatives, none of whom seem to have complained about the weight of the bins they have to lift.
If, by chance, as my wife did the other day, you put something in the wrong bin for recycling (they're colour coded and provided free of charge), instead of a swingeing fine or summons, you get a polite note pointing out your error.
It's a highly efficient and reliable service reinforced by the public disposal units in every town, the déchetteries, where you can dump any surplus rubbish.
Perhaps if the British had a better organised system for the collection of waste, some of the government computer discs that get mislaid on a daily basis would come to light.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dumb and Dumber

The news that some commercial operations are to be allowed to issue their own diplomas and degrees has been God's gift to the media since that purveyor of hamburgers to the proletariat, McDonalds, happens to be one of them. They can now trot out that weary and over-used line “D'you want fries with that” for a cheap laugh.
These qualifications that undoubtedly will be of as much value as the burger paper they're printed on will hardly cut much ice with any reputable seat of learning nor employer. But at any rate McDonalds are an efficient, highly organised company from whom much might be gleaned that would be of value in a commercial world.
The same can hardly be said of one of the other companies. A qualification from Network Rail would best be concealed, I feel, for one anxious to further a career in commerce.
As to FlyBe, quite what a future trolley dolly can learn from them I fail to understand.
But it is, of course, wonderful PR for the companies concerned and for G. Brown Esq. whose contribution to education will probably earn him an honorary degree from the Hamburger University.
Why there is so much resistance to teaching the three R's in school (you know, reading, riting and rithmatic) I will never understand. Once you have mastered those, all options are open to you since from then on, if you really want to, there are no barriers.
My cousin, the son of a jobbing builder (and not a very good one at that) was under pressure to join the business. With no more than a council school education, as it was then called, he put himself through university, becoming a famous Harley Street consultant.
Ernest Bevin, virtually self educated, became Foreign Minister.
And Charles Dickens, with no formal education, no, not even a diploma from the shoe blacking factory where he worked, is as fine a writer of the English language as can be found.
Winston Churchill, although benefiting from that now much despised institution, the public school, never achieved a degree, other than honorary one's granted him many years later.
The 'Have Your Say' columns so popular with the media have been full of complaints about this 'dumbing down' of the educational process. It seems that this has been going on for longer than we might suspect since many of the complainants don't seem to know how to spell 'dumb' and a few other hard words.
But let us look forward to the day, which cannot be too far off, when every child born in Britain receives a degree along with his, her or its, birth certificate.
It was Darwin, I believe, who propounded the theory of 'The Survival of the Dumbest.'

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Law and Disorder

If there was ever one single incident to encapsulate the dire situation of law and order in Britain today, it must surely be the arrest of an old age pensioner for remonstrating with a bunch of teenagers for stoning ducks.
The majesty of the law was sent to arrest and incarcerate briefly an innocent citizen for performing an act that should have by rights been the responsibility of PC Plod. But PC Plod is Politically Correct nowadays and thus law and order are no longer within his purview.
Yobs have rights but not OAPs apparently and together with the mealy mouthed response by the police to the killing of innocent citizens, together with a judiciary anxious not to cause offence, it's no wonder the nation is spiralling into lawlessness.
The Gendarmes in France have long had a reputation for not bothering with the niceties of political protocol when it comes to dealing with hooliganism and Germany are to be admired for their stance in shipping a notorious repeat offender off to Siberia.
London is now one of the few cities in the world where I feel uneasy to be out on the streets at night and I see that by remonstrating with any thugs, I am the one likely to be prosecuted.
But I am sure that watching the CCTV video of myself being beaten up will be a great solace to my family as well as to myself as I view it from my hospital bed, should I be lucky enough to survive.
And I'm sure a Chief Constable somewhere will have some encouraging words to say on how they are 'addressing the problem.'

Friday, January 18, 2008

Send in the Clowns

Whilst France may appear to have something of a Karaoke Clown for a President at the moment, this is nothing compared with the British, who appear to have cornered the market in clowns, Karaoke or otherwise, for their government.
Recently, one minister, Ms. Harriet Harman, advocated reducing the voting age to sixteen in order to 'develop a voting habit' in the young.
Presumably this was in line with NooLabour's 24 hour binge drinking policy to promote a 'cafe culture' and anyone who has warily trodden the pavements of London late at night, can see the evidence for the success of this policy as they scrape the vomited tikka masala from their shoes.
Perhaps Ms. Harman hasn't had the pleasure of eavesdropping on the conversations of her young constituents as they ride the top of a bus of an evening. If she had, she would probably not have understood a word they were saying, such is their appalling use of the English language.
But such a policy would ensure that NooLabour could garner quite a few votes in the future.
Undoubtedly, many of the new electorate now roaming the streets at night in search of some excitement in the form of intimidation and mayhem would vote in favour of such a government and their policies.
Apart from unbridled binge drinking, there would be the requirement that all young voters be allowed to carry knives. Accidentally killing an innocent citizen by stamping on their head would be treated as a minor offence of lesser magnitude than that of parking a car in a no-parking zone.
Cocaine and drug use would be compulsory, especially for 'celebrities' and presenters of children's television programmes.
The three R's could finally be disposed of as a useless hangover from Victorian days and replaced with meeja studies (i.e. the watching of TV for a minimum of 12 hours per day).
Parents who had the temerity to scrimp and save in order to send their children to private schools to ensure their education would be heavily penalised.
And the standards for university degrees should be lowered, only meeja studies being on the syllabus, in line with the policy of 'no child shall be without one.'
It's something you can all look forward to unless you get the circus to pack up its tent and leave town pretty soon.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Funny Numbers

A body with a title such as The Economist Intelligence Unit would, one might assume, be a pretty intelligent group. But in today's Guardian (so it must be true) there was a remarkable 'statistic' produced by HSBC bank people using their findings to show that Britain was an awfully expensive country in which to live.
This could hardly have come as much of a surprise to the British, who would surely not have needed the Economist Intelligence Unit nor HSBC bank to tell them that, but the more surprising thing was that the savants concluded that only Norway and France were more expensive.
It's been a while since I spent time in Norway, where I do recall that Scotch was priced in the same range as liquid gold, but France?
I spend enough time in the capitals of the two countries, Britain and France, to have a pretty good handle on the relative costs of living in each and found that conclusion hard to believe.
But then, as with all statistics, which can be rearranged to prove any hypothesis (remember, a good accountant will always ask 'and what answer will you be requiring?'), one needs to look at the parameters of the research.
For this remarkable conclusion was not reached by comparing that rather ethereal number known as a 'standard of living' but by how long the Brit's average annual spending spree would last them in France if they maintained their current life style. Even stranger, it assumed that the average Brit ate out twice a week and, if he can do that cheaper on Tikka Masala and fish and chips than in a Parisian cafe, I am surprised.
Here, in the sticks, admittedly, my local cafe does a four course meal for eleven euros but I can get much the same price at one of my favourite hangouts in Paris.
Perhaps the clue here is the phrase 'current life style,' for to eat English fashion in France would undoubtedly be costly, picking and choosing from an a la carte menu is not a good idea if you want to eat at a reasonable price. And Tikka Masala is hard to find. Portions are smaller too, as I heard one Englishwoman complaining when the main course arrived, “My Fred would have had that for a starter.”
But I think the Economist Intelligence Unit along with the HSBC 'experts' should
count themselves lucky that their conclusions didn't involve a train ride!
Benjamin Disraeli is credited with saying: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Apparently the Briton in France will run out of money after eleven months and a few days.
No doubt HSBC will make him a loan to tide him over the remaining few days, at a price, of course. After all, it was their statistic.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Press and Probity

You buy a newspaper to read the news. Right? You assume that the reporters and editors have done their best to provide you with correct information and to not deliberately mislead you. Wrong.
In one of London's less erudite papers this morning, the one I see the Brit passengers on Ryanair clutching to their bosoms as they fly off to their second homes in France, there is an eye catching headline.
“Diana told 'without any doubt' that she was being bugged by a five-strong surveillance team” it ran and continued: “An electronic surveillance expert made the astonishing discovery that Princess Diana's bedroom was being bugged after Diana asked him to check her Kensington Palace apartment, her inquest sensationally heard.”
“Ah Ha,” you say, and turn to the sport pages, since the second inquest on Princess Diana, performed at the behest of an unsavoury immigrant shopkeeper and paid for by you, the taxpayer, is a bigger bore than Britney Spears. “So Charlie boy was checking on her, not surprised.”
And so the world (well, those that read the Red Tops) now believe that Prince Charles had a bug placed in Diana's apartment. Must be true, it was in the papers.
But hang on a minute. Having produced a banner headline porky, the editor must have had second thoughts, for those that could be bothered to wade a little further into the mire would have come across this paragraph:
“He (the surveillance expert) said he was unable to get behind the wall to examine the device. But there was "no indication" that the fabric of the wall had been altered. He said he swept the room again later that day and the signal had gone. "I could not give an explanation to the reading. It could have been innocent electronic equipment in another room. But the noise behind the wall was very similar to a transmitter device."
So there was no bug. Yet the first paragraph stated quite clearly that the room was being bugged. This is, of course, by today's newspaper standards a better story than that the reading had been caused by Prince Charles' curling tongs.
All the news that's fit to print?
And I seem to recall that the newspaper in question used to have “For Queen and Commonwealth” at its masthead. Hope she appreciates their standard of probity.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Too Austentacious, Mr. Darcy

It was almost inevitable that the BBC should launch another Jane Austen epic on their public. After all, they must have tons of period costumes and other bric a brac left over from their previous essays into Austenland.
If you happen to be an Austen afficionado this is well and good but for the rest of us it can only be a bit of a beautifully presented bore. Fortunately, the adaptations by Andrew Davies do much to relieve this.
Purist Austenites complain about his tendency toward bodice-ripping but, by gosh, if Jane's works need any enhancing, it's surely in the area of bodice-ripping.
Jane Austen's life was boring and it does tend to be reflected in what I always think of as her one-dimensional outlook on life. The characters move like cardboard cut outs over a pastiche of the period and, although there are flashes of brilliance in the dialogue, they tend to be few and far between. Everything is terribly upper class, as was Jane herself
I suppose I miss the broad characters and humour that Dickens brought to even his most maudlin subjects.
Bleak House, a remarkably successful adaptation, once again by Andrew Davies, was a fine example and to have compressed such an unwieldy novel onto the small screen, was no mean achievement even if inevitably, much had to be discarded.
But it does seem a pity that some of the other authors of the period are neglected.
There were plenty of them such as Charles Kingsley, Daniel Defoe, Emma Orczy, Charlotte Bronte, Henry Fielding, Sir Walter Scott, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Thackeray along with a good many others.
Surely a competent wardrobe department could adapt the costumes from Pride and Prejudice to fit?
Austenmania tends to go in phases, the last outburst was at the end of the 19th. Century followed by a brief Hollywood spasm in the middle of the 20th.
She only wrote six novels, so sooner or later the BBC have got to move on.
But then I suppose there's all the repeats.