Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Keeping the peace

Now there was a man. PC 'Tug' Wilson on duty in Slab Square (as we used to call it). A very well liked and well respected policeman and as the photograph clearly shows, he was in fact taller than the Town House. Though I expect that was partly the helmet.

Anyway, to my recent visitors from Northumbria Police (surfing in from Ponteland, I see), I thought that if you decided to drop in again, it would be nice to have something in your line, you know, being on the job and all that. You're very welcome, I should say, and do feel free to come again. Since you arrived via the Hayley Adamson/PR post, I suspect you were only Googling to see just how much slagging off you're getting out here in the media and blogosphere.

I would hope you'd get the impression that I actually have a lot of time for the police; I know that these days image can't be entirely ignored; and I bet you're sick as a dog about hearing Peel's old gag about the police seeking and preserving public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law. It's a different world, I understand that. You've apologised. I'm not even going to make anything much of you having time to check out tiny little blogs like this one. But this story angered me particularly because it suggested to me that there was a sad loss of vision at the top of your force about what policing means.

God knows what Tug Wilson would have said about it.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Serves me right

Now, if I'd drunk just a little less beer this afternoon, I'd have been able to get up from the settee when Lark Rise to Candleford came on. As it was, I was trapped, struggling feebly like an aquatic mollusc caught by low-tide.

For those who haven't seen it, Lark Rise and Candleford are, apparently, two villages set somewhere in Islington Script-writer's Generic PeasantShire, towards the end of the 19th century. These villages are inhabited by people who are deeply strange in at least three ways:

1. They're oddly clean for people living with no running water, electricity or indoor toilets.
2. They have the sort of interpersonal relational problems that nobody, in a bazillion years of evolution, had time for, before the widespread availability of running water, electricity and indoor toilets.
3. These relational problems will be dissected in tedious detail for about an hour before being solved with a smile, a graceful compromise, and a general feeling that everyone has been jolly English and well-behaved and frankly a lesson to us all.
4. Despite these villages being perpetually bathed in golden sunlight all the time, even indoors, nobody is dying of melanoma, or is seen to be applying sunscreen. You'd think the place was under arc-lights...

Before you get pedantic, by the way, scrupulously attentive readers will note that I said 'at least three ways' and this in no way precludes more.

So, let that be a lesson. If you're going to drink too much beer of a Sunday afternoon, make sure the TV isn't on BBC1. Nuff said.

Caption for the pic above:
''Ere missis, gi'e us four groats or we'll sing Hotel California again!'
'Cheap at the price, matey. Oh, and put some bloody sunscreen on, would you?'

Friday, 26 March 2010


'Never underestimate the power of human stupidity' - now there's a mistake I haven't made in years. Nonetheless, from time to time something comes along that leaves even me taken aback by its witlessness.

In May 2008, a 16-year-old girl called Hayley Adamson was killed when hit by a police car which was driving at over 90mph, with no lights or sirens. I don't make any comment about the incident itself, other than to note the driver was sent to prison.

No, what has me scratching my head is that Northumbria Police put themselves forward for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations PRide Award last year for its media handling of the case.


I've had plenty of dealings with media and PR types before (one of the reasons I drink too much) but... but... this is made of wrong. What diseased imagination could think this was a good idea? It's bad enough that the CIPR handed out an award in this case - could these professional media and PR wonks not see how this would play? But what on earth possessed Northumbria Police?

Chief Constable Sue Sim
says: 'officers and staff were involved in minimising inappropriate, speculative or inaccurate reporting; working with the family to try to limit the impact of constant harassment by the media and reassuring the local community. This work was singled out for praise by the CIPR.'

You know what? I believe we have too many laws already, but perhaps we could squeeze one more in. Any senior police officer who mentions 'reassuring the local community' should be summarily dismissed. That's it. End of. The 'community' will be greatly reassured thereby, knowing that a fatuous idiot has been removed from a publically-funded position, allowing real police officers to get on with their job.

Time for a drink.

Monday, 22 March 2010

We don't do cool as well as we used to

Now, just consider this image of Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw. Today's anti-fun wonks would be all over that like a rash. Smoking? And drinking? In a bath deep enough to drown in? Heavens. Was that even legal back then?

Yes, and still is. But I suspect it won't be for long. Oh, I know, being 'cool' like this shortens one's life. So we should all stop any such activity, and look forward to an extra three or four years of incontinence in the old people's home. That'll be nice. Only another four hours of sitting in this damp chair and we can have a cup of Horlicks.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Voting rights

It's been a busy time recently, so profuse apologies for the lack of posting since last week. Profuse, but insincere. I mean, it's not like you're paying to read this, now are you? (I can hear a small chorus saying 'Just as bloody well, we'd want our money back.')

But let's move on.

Back in 2004, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK's blanket ban on prisoners voting in elections was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Now, since the current Guvmint was the one to bring in the Human Rights Act 1988 to give further effect in UK law to the rights contained in the Convention, we would naturally assume it would hastily remedy this breach.

Er... or maybe not. Still, it hasn't been inactive on the point - it has launched not one, but two consultations. Good work, chaps. But despite a sharp reminder from Europe, with an election looming, none of the UK's prisoners may vote.

Some of you may think 'serve them right', and take the view that they've forfeited their mandate by offending against society. I say to you: 'you're so far up your own arse we'd need a search party to find you, and there will be few volunteers'.

See, this is where the UK is in breach. If we said, say, those convicted of treason won't get a vote, that would be OK under the Convention - and, for what it's worth, OK by me too. It's the lack of discrimination that's the problem. But those of us with nasty suspicious minds will be thinking that the Guvmint really doesn't want the prison population voting, since a good number are probably Conservative voters. All those inside for crimes of dishonesty, for example, are just working at the extreme end of the bellcurve of those who believe in the free market. Violent offenders fit more neatly into our mental picture of right-wing thugs than lettuce-nibbling Guardian readers. Sexual offenders are generally good candidates for safe Tory seats anyway. So obviously the UK's refusal to abide by the 2004 ruling is a dastardly Guvmint plot!

Oh, and don't get me started on the difficulties the armed forces are having in getting their votes. Given the tensions between Guvmint and the military that have been aired all over the media of late, it's tempting to point at yet another dastardly Guvmint plot!

However, a plot requires a plan, and I'm not convinced that the Guvmint has one at the moment.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

In the spring

First a howling blizzard woke us,
Then the rain came down to soak us,
And now before the eye can focus -
Lilja Rogers

What's not to like about this time of year? Writers get quite drunk on springtime clichés, but there's some excuse when one sees snowdrops, daffodils and crocuses. The ones above were snapped in the local park this morning.

And, of course, a writer may get quite drunk in a more literal sense, as it might be at a beer festival. In this part of the Midlands, the early part of the year is stiff with them, and they're excellent opportunities to try some beers that would be hard to find in the local pubs. Here I am with my study materials, last Saturday.

Yes, I'm afraid I do tick off the ones I've had, but no permanent record is kept, I assure you. It's just a technique for finding out how many I've had should – for any reason – memory prove fallible the next day. (It has been known.)

Yet another good thing about this time of year is the planning. Today I have made bookings for not one, but two folk festivals - Shrewsbury and Bromyard. These are excellent occasions. I expect what you have in mind when you think 'folk festivals' is beards, Morris dancing, tankards and wheezy melodeons. Well, yes, that's about right, though there are some other instruments involved, and possibly some singing, too. And what more could you want than to experience them in beautiful surroundings with a real ale tent close at hand?

Friday, 5 March 2010

Careless talk costs lives

A lesson that was rammed home during the Second World War, but sadly forgotten by some in later years.

In the early 1960s, our Government wisely wanted to make provisions to ensure the safe functioning of official communication in the event of the nuclear war that was then very much feared. Line of sight microwave transmission was the technology of choice, and an Officially Secret project was launched to secure links between London and the rest of the country.

Despite information about the project being so carefully guarded, some loose-lipped and arguably treasonous malcontents started to whisper the news to fellow-travellers and anyone else who would listen. Before long, despite the project's location never appearing on official maps, and despite it being an offence under the Official Secrets Act to photograph the site, it's thought that possibly as many as several dozen people in London (and conceivably beyond) had some idea of the project's existence.

It was not until 1993 that the project's existence was finally acknowledged in Parliament. The motives of the MP concerned must remain a matter between her conscience and the ballot box.

But how did such a closely guarded secret first get out?

We may never know. All we can do is be ever-vigilant against the forces of anarchy and chaos.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

I've got a good idea

In fact I have several good ideas, honed and refined in Professor QO's laboratory and workshop over many years. By 'honed and refined' I may just mean 'stolen from someone with more insight' but you'll just have to decide that for yourself on a case-by-case basis.

OK? Right, let's begin.

• Let's abolish marriage. No, let me be more precise. Let's abolish legal marriage. If two people with common beliefs wish to share a standard form of ceremony, approved by a church or other belief-based organisation, that's entirely up to them. But why should the State have any say in marriage? We can all see what a pig's breakfast the State makes of law-making; what competence has it in matters of love?

• How about, just as an experiment, we forbid men from having any position in local or national politics? We'll let women have a proper go, with no interruptions. Let's say the experiment will last 100 years, then we'll assess the results. Mind you, that's a bit interventionist, isn't it? OK, how about we'll say that no male may have a penny from the taxpayer if he wishes to practise politics (the filthy swine), nor may he occupy any of the senior positions in local or national government.

• While women are running the country, let's insist that all men take some part in responsibility for defending it. Unless he is so handicapped that 24-hour care is necessary, every adult male will serve at least two years in one or other of the military services. And I mean at the sharp and sweaty end, where bullets and bombs may be involved, for at least part of that time.

• What a silly system our current democracy is. One person, one vote - as if everyone's vote was of equal worth. Why should the feckless, ignorant wifebeater, whose drink and drugs habits mean he can't string three words together, enjoy the same mandate as a doctor who owns property, has children, has paid lots of tax and has very much more to lose if the country is poorly run? No. Here are two much better alternatives, and I will acknowledge Nevil Shute for the first (though I've buggered about with updated his notion somewhat).

• If you insist on having an electoral system, let's make it reflect people's commitment and worth to the community. You get your first vote for either gaining a degree or vocational equivalent, or paying tax from employment for three years. (The latter will also apply to immigrants; there will be no other requirement for their first vote.) Another vote for being a parent who's contributing to the child's upkeep. Another for having a certain value of cash and/or assets - say, £100,000. No problem if you inherit, you still have a stake. Pension funds will do nicely, sir. Various other votes for services to the country. Convicted criminals who manage to go five years with no further convictions will be awarded an extra vote. Anyone who appears on The X Factor or Big Brother will be docked a vote. Anyone who fails without good reason to vote in two elections (local or national) will lose all their votes, but may earn them back by achieving the above targets afresh or carrying out unpaid community work to a value of £10,000.

• If you can accept leaving this notion of democracy behind, instead of electing our leaders, we'll appoint them - and strictly on merit. Imagine the application form! 'Evidence your experience in running a large economy... give an example of an occasion on which you averted a major land war in the Middle East'. The dozen or so Cabinet members appointed will get a good salary, but final income will to a large extent reflect national wealth. They will agree to serve a term of five years with a possible extension of a further five. If their performance fails to meet agreed targets, they will be removed from office, and the members of the appointment committee will become personally liable for repayment of salary to that point. Should encumbents be impeached for any reason, all monies paid over to them will be recoverable.

• Providing homeopathic treatments to others for reward will be perfectly legal and will not require any form of licence. However, those who do provide such treatments will not be entitled to free care under the National Health Service.

Well, those should provide some food for thought. Wouldn't it be interesting to see how things worked out under those systems?