Monday, June 30, 2008

The Boneless Wonder

“But you have not imparted to me,” remarks Veneering, “what you think of my entering the House of Commons?”
“I think,” rejoins Twemlow, feelingly, “that it is the best club in London.”
When Charles Dickens wrote ‘Our Mutual Friend’ he can have had no idea of just how good a club it would become.
Veneering was duly voted in (unopposed) to the constituency of Pocket Breeches for the trifling sum of £5000, but there is no record of his having claimed for a second home, groceries, travelling expenses or the employment of Mrs. Veneering. It seems he was there to serve the constituents, not to augment his income.
A new book by David Craig, ‘Squandered,’ throws an interesting light on the costs of the British parliamentary system that might surprise a public already pretty inured to hearing of the excesses of those they had elected to represent them.
There are in all 1,021 politicians to represent the interests of fewer than 70 million people, or one for every 68,000 citizens.
Apart from these, there are also hundreds more politicians in the House of Lords and thousands in local government, jobsworth to a man, or possibly, woman.
By contrast, in the United States, there are 435 members of Congress - one for every 680,000 citizens.
The total cost to the taxpayer of the MPs alone is now well over £366 million a year.
As much of the legislative load is now passed along to the European Union, Craig argues that halving the number of MPs would save the nation some £180 million each year. It might, of course, mean that some would have to put in a full days work or even to make some sensible decisions on behalf of the nation.
But the Tourist Board should also be encouraged to promote Parliament as a source of education and enlightenment as lesson in how not to run a country. For never, in the field of human conflict, has one government got so many things wrong and so many been made to suffer for the errors of so few
However, that farsighted politician, Winston Churchill, was not unaware of the potential entertainment value to be derived from the House of Commons.
He said that, as a boy, he always looked forward to the arrival of Barnum and Bailey’s circus, but that there was one exhibit he was not allowed to view as it was ‘too revolting a spectacle for the human eye.’ It was the side show called ‘The Boneless Wonder.’
He continued, “Now, after thirty-six years, where do I finally find this freak show? Not in the circus, but in the House of Commons, sitting on the front bench – the Boneless Wonder.”

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Small Step for Old Men

British septuagenarians must be rejoicing today that a 73 year old janitor has successfully sued his employers because he fell off a step ladder.
As a means of augmenting the rather niggardly government old age pension, this looks to be a winner.
No doubt applications for the job of caretaking are escalating – have stepladder, will travel – and many are secretly practising the arcane art of teetering on the top step.
But there must surely be some concern here for the learning curve of those who have passed three score years and ten, one of the few targets not set by the current British government.
Surely, after all those years, they should know that, if you lean over too far, you will fall?
Here’s a golden opportunity for the authorities to introduce yet another degree course.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sorry Sir Robert

No doubt Robert Mugabe spent a sleepless night recently, knowing that in the morning he would no longer be Sir Robert but just plain old mister.
I was so worried about the poor old dear that I pulled up some pictures of his palace on the internet and visualised him wandering aimlessly through the 30 jewel encrusted rooms or pottering about the 44 acres of manicured garden, uncertain as to what further blows might befall him.
And then Britain launched their ultimate weapon. They would apply sanctions against Zimbabwe.
In the good old days they might have sent a gunboat, although this would have presented a logistical problem here, but in default of much in the way of armed forces nowadays, it had to be sanctions.
A chilling response that must have sent shudders through his ancient frame.
Now anybody who has spent any time in Cuba will be aware that sanctions only impinge on the little people of a nation. The top echelon remain totally unscathed and, in fact, many of the more enterprising citizens can turn the situation to their own advantage, although not that of their fellows.
There is much blathering about a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe that sanctions can only serve to acerbate.
But meanwhile, the major supermarkets are happily buyng from a desperate nation forced to sell their products at rock bottom prices.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Life-Style Gurus

When I was living in the United States, I always felt that the last person I would want to see in my house would be the life-style guru, Martha Stewart, telling me how to run my daily life.

However, I had never considered her to be a real menace to society.

The British authorities are clearly more perceptive than I, since they have denied her a visa to visit their islands.

The reason given is that, horror of horrors, she did a bit of tax fiddling a while back. Now we all know just how upright and honest all the members of Her Majesties Government are, confining their financial skulduggery to getting the taxpayers to cough up for their second homes etc., so I can see how offensive Miss Stewart’s misdemeanour would appear in their eyes.

Yet many others, guilty of far more heinous crimes, are allowed to set foot on the sceptred isle, many of them without shoes or visible means of support until they get their first benefit cheque.

So for Miss Stewart, I can offer a solution.

She has ample resources to purchase a fake passport, and recent events have shown that being caught with one is no hindrance to leading the good life in Britain.

And, if she plays her cards right, in a trice she could being in comfortable accommodation paid for by the government and drawing more benefits than the age old pensioners around her who have paid their dues to society over the years.

Now that’s what being a life-style guru is all about!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Merry go Round Broke Down!

Yesterday proved to be something of a banner day chez nous.
It had started normally enough. Arising betimes, as Samuel Pepys might have said, I hit the button on the coffee maker and went to what, in moments of euphoria, I refer to as my office. It’s actually the bit of space to the left of the deep end of the grand piano – our cottage is very small.
Opening up my mailbox, there they all are. All my old friends from the E-Mail community.
There’s Olga, who says she has seen my profile and would love to get in touch. Says she’s a nice girl which is something of a disappointment but hey ho.
A large number of on-line pharmacies are there promising that, with their help, I can do Olga a lot of good.
And of course there’s my old mate, Dr. Bango Obango, a high mucka mucka in the Central Bank of Nigeria who has been wanting my banking details for yonks so he can send me several million of whatever currency it is that they use in Nigeria. I’m embarrassed that I haven’t obliged him, so I’ve sent the banking details of one of my defaulting clients instead. It’s the least I can do.
There were a few E-mails demanding my attention but before I could respond, the connection went dead.
For a moment I was non-plussed.
There was I, cut off from the civilised world and even Great Britain.
Of course, there was quite a lot of work that I could have been getting on with but, without Internet connections, it all seemed a bit pointless.
So I went and sat in the garden and read up on some notes. Then I took a nap. It was all rather pleasant.
Alexander Selkirk must have felt much the same way as he watched his ship disappear over the horizon. It was a lot more peaceful without all those rowdy sailors.
And then my Man (actually woman) Friday arrived with a lunch of baguette, pate and a bottle of wine.
As the geeks had still not been able to splice the bits of wire together, I settled down to a quiet afternoon of contemplation.
And it occurred to me that former captains of industry had managed quite well without our ‘must have’ technology.
Take Isambard Kingdom Brunel for instance. He never even looked at the Internet and look what he accomplished without Cad Cam, mobile phones and the like. He even did most of his travelling on horseback which, I suppose, would have been quicker than using today’s public transport.
But he didn’t have to waste his time sitting at a computer.
So, having ruminated on this, rather as cows do, which is, I suppose, why they are so placid, I’m thinking of going back to the idea of Rowland Hill.
But hang on a minute. That doesn’t seem to be working too well nowadays either.
I bet they’ve been computerised.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Persona Non Grata

To an outside observer, it is hard not to form the impression that the management of Great Britain PLC have lost their collective marbles.
In fact, for all I know, marbles may have been banned by the Health and Safety people as a hazardous sport.
But the failure to deport an acknowledged terrorist and, in default, house him at the expense of the British taxpayer to the tune of £500,000 per year, must be well up there in pantheon of governmental stupidities.
Having arrived some years ago on a forged passport, that alone should have been sufficient for him to have been returned from whence he came – no questions asked. Many nations, the United States for instance, ask that visitors hold a return ticket, a sane and sensible precaution, to save their taxpayers the expense.
No doubt the excuse will be that to deport this man, who happens to be a Muslim extremist, would somehow infringe an obscure EU regulation concerning his ‘legal rights’, the usual evasion for taking positive action.
But the other day, the French decided that one of their citizens, legally resident and properly documented for many years, was persona non grata by way of having been accused of war crimes in his state of origin.
Without fanfare, nor protest from any group, he was shipped back to face the music.
The British seem to be in thrall to anything that concerns those of the Muslim faith, the overwhelming majority of whom are, of course, good honest and valuable members of the community.
And this must surely be the only reason for awarding ridiculous amounts of damages to a young lady because she was rejected for a job at a hairdressing salon. Her feelings were hurt.
This should open the floodgates for anybody who has failed a job interview in the past and I am going through my letters of rejection at this moment.
Although I have never seen it, I understand that Sir Alan Sugar has occasionally been unkind to candidates on ‘The Apprentice.’ So he better watch out.
I suppose the only safe solution would be to hire everybody that applies.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Au Revoir, George

Personally, if I had been the most disastrous president of the United States in living memory, I think I would have foregone a European tour. A quiet retirement to my Texas ranch where I could have busied myself assembling my Presidential Library of cartoon pop-up books and chatting with God occasionally would have done me.
Or had I been Britain’s most expensive premier, I would have serenely spent my days shuttling between my mansions, most of which appear to have been subsidised by the British taxpayer, and quietly counting my ill-gotten gains.
But world leaders seem loth to abandon the spotlight. Which is, I suppose, why I was not cut out to be a world leader, nor, as I see, to even be recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours yet again.
However, I am applying for a cleaning job with the Speaker of the House which should take care of that for next year.
President Bush arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport, apparently unaware of what a disaster area it was, since he turned down the offer of a military base, and brought with him a carbon footprint almost as big as Texas. To be honest, I haven’t the foggiest idea of what a carbon footprint is, but, as it seems to be the phrase du jour, I thought I’d throw that in.
In France, President Sarkozy had welcomed him, Gallic tongue in cheek, and, secure in the knowledge that he was only in power for a few more months, assured him of France’s friendship with America. Why America should doubt that, I have no idea. George Washington’s forces were 50 per cent French and the War of Independence had been largely subsidised by French money.
In Britain, Brown was probably equally relieved to say au revoir.
But during his visit, Bush said that Iraq was now free and life for the Iraqis was now infinitely better than before.
I beg to differ. I am currently working on a book concerning the exploits of the British military in Iraq and in particular, the deed that won Corporal Hayden of the RAF Regiment, the Military Cross. The incident, in which one of his men was killed, was known as the battle of Al-Wiki Market, an incredibly fierce gun battle – and just one of the many that are a daily occurrence for British and American troops in the region.
It was several years ago that Bush, complete in Mickey Mouse uniform, landed on the deck of a US carrier and, backed by a banner declaring ‘Mission Accomplished,’ declared the war to be over
If this is the sort of peace that the United States brings to the world, Heaven help us.
Let us hope that the next president is less myopic.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Touch of Deja Vu

Visiting the United Kingdom nowadays, I get the strange feeling that I’ve been in this sort of environment before.
I can’t say it’s a sense of reliving a former pleasurable experience – rather more a sense of unease and insecurity.
And it was not until the other day that I recognised where I had felt the same way in the past.
Many years ago, for my sins, I spent a good deal of time in the Eastern Bloc countries. In most of these, life was pretty good for a visitor from the west, especially if he had a spare pair of jeans to flog on the streets of Moscow.
But there was one notable exception.
The People’s Paradise of East Germany presided over by Mr. Honegger.
There, every citizen spied upon his fellows, uniformed Stasis were on every corner and a slew of pettifogging rules and regulations ensured that almost every citizen became a quasi criminal.
Reading the current crop of offences committed by the beleaguered citizens of Britain reminded me of that former communist state.
In the UK, I fear that at any moment some CCTV camera will catch me breaking some cockamanie by-law that will end up in court.
Failure to swipe one’s Oyster card correctly, even though the correct fare is offered, is a case for the courts. Standing in a First Class rail carriage is equally heinous, even though the company, who have gladly accepted the exorbitant fare, have failed to provide adequate seating.
Tourists better adopt the same procedure that applied behind the Iron Curtain and keep their cameras securely packed away. They might be accused of being terrorists and, if the government have their way, be incarcerated for six weeks whilst the authorities find out that they aren’t.
The nation is now overwhelmed with little Hitlers, all eager to impose their pseudo authority, indicated by a dayglo jacket and a clipboard, on a strangely quiescent public.
And, what a surprise! A government hotline set-up to enable neighbour to spy upon neighbour to report tax cheating has been abused.
It’s a pity George Orwell’s not around to write a sequel to 1984.
But I suppose there is little better to be expected from a government that rate traffic wardens above soldiers when it comes to rewarding them.
After all, the enemy rarely spit upon soldiers.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sorry, Wally.

In my peregrinations around the streets of London, a city of endless fascination for me in spite of its present troubles, I take a keen interest in the little blue plaques affixed to houses indicating that they were, in the past, the place of residence of some person of note.
Most of the names I recognise, but some, such as ‘The Honourable Twistleton ‘Thumper’ Cholmondley lived here, 1779- 1801’ are beyond me. And I suggest that most people feel the same way, possibly other than descendants of the aforesaid Thumper.
Thus it seems strange that the group who allocate such things – I assume The Committee for the Sticking Up of Blue Plaques on the Houses of Notables – have rejected a request to place one on the former residence of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, in Bryanston Square.
The house in Bryanston Square played a pivotal role in the future of Britain and, love her or hate her, Wallis Simpson may well have proved a bigger blessing to Britain than the Lend-Lease programme by removing a rather vacillating although likeable King from the chessboard.
A popular ditty of London kids at the time ran:
“Hark, the Herald Angels sing,
Mrs. Simpson’s pinched our King.”
The reasons touted for the rejection are specious and based upon the idle gossip and speculation surrounding the Duke and Duchess.
As were many others, they were initially in thrall to the apparent successes of the Nazi regime.
The committee cite the rumour that Wallis was not only the lover of the German Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop, but that she was also guilty of passing along state secrets as reasons for the rejection.
There is not a shred of reliable evidence to support either supposition.
Wallis had little love for the Royal family from which she was so rigorously excluded and, for their part, the Royal family returned the compliment with knobs on.
But once war had broken out, both Duke and Duchess forsook all connections with the Nazi regime and David ranged himself wholeheartedly alongside his brother, if not without maintaining a constant bleating over the refusal to call Wallis Her Highness.
For their part, the Germans occasionally fantasised about restoring the Duke to the throne once they had subjugated Britain but there is not the slightest indication that Wallis was ever considered in the Mata Hari role.
In fact, she worked remarkably hard in The Bahamas providing much needed recreational facilities for the airmen stationed there by running a canteen and social centre.
That most diligent researcher of Wallis, her biographer Michael Bloch, although admittedly an ardent Duchessophile, had unrestricted access to her documents whilst he was working as the amanuensis of her attorney, the formidable Maitre Suzanne Blum. He found nothing that would give any credibility to any such stories of treachery.
The Blue Plaque Committee might do well to consult historians rather than tabloid newspapers when making their decisions.
However, I can relieve them of one decision for the future.
The flat I occupied as a student in Brook Mews North, Lancaster Gate, is no more. I suppose they could stick a plaque on the pub on the corner, however.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bravo, Boris!

If the new mayor of London wanted a ringing endorsement of his ban on alcohol on London Transport, he certainly got one at the weekend.
The mindless display of blatantly anti-social behaviour and hooliganism exhibited by the morons who engaged in the pre-ban party just served to indicate how valid his argument was.
Those who participated must be proud that, thanks to YouTube, their display of British culture and good manners has been flashed around the world, a salutary reminder to prospective tourists that, for the nonce, they would do well to avoid the septic isle until sanity is restored and civilisation, lacking for some years now, has been re-instituted.
The alleged organiser of the affair says he is fearful for his job. If he worked for me, he would have nothing to fear since he would no longer have a job. Customers of his present employer, The Royal Bank of Scotland, must be comforted to know that their bank employs such sensible staff.
But it does serve to put Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ into perspective.
That appears to have been quite a pleasant evening by comparison.