Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

Another year ends. In Cornwall, for many 2011 has been a gruelling, exhausting time. Job prospects and real wages continue to drop away. Housing supplies are ever-reducing, though I see in estate agents' windows a few second homes being flogged off in St Ives or St Agnes: very helpful. Cornish folk are strong, and many live in real communities which try to look after everyone. Yet even in these close-knit societies people seem near to unravelling.

More and more I encounter a weary resignation, a battered worn-out acceptance of the next affliction or sacrifice demanded. Food and fuel price increases; public services constricting; small businesses starved of cash; the waste and disappointment of the young unemployed; elderly folk too frightened to put an extra bar on the fire. Cliche? Not any more.

Just recently it’s been the expense, for many the worry of Christmas. And all the time, cruel advertising pounds out the same message: buy stuff you clods, and be quick about it.

We’re about to enter the fourth year of recession, without an end even remotely in sight. Banks continue to prosper, everyone else is on their uppers. This is the Britain of Cameron and Clegg; it’s unbelievably harsh. I don’t know about you, but I’m almost out of Dunkirk spirit.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Goodbye Kim Jong-Il

It’s been a good year for the fall of evil men: Bin Laden, Gadaffi, and now Kim Jong-Il, ‘Dear Leader’ of North Korea. According to Radio Pyongyang the pint-sized super-villain died of overwork. Across the country synchronised blubbing has broken out among the population, especially where the regime’s cameras are rolling. That’s most places.

The weird, reclusive country was ruled by Kim for 17 years as a personal fiefdom, mixing breezy Stalinist ideology with a relentless cult of personality. Kim’s domestic management toolkit included a typical dictator's combination of absolute media control, secret police and a network of trembling informers. To help deal with international disapproval, he had nuclear bombs.

Kim was a master of propaganda and social manipulation, but he also suffered from delusional mania, profound insecurity and OCD. Here are some facts about him, as reported to the North Korean people by the country’s media.

  • When Kim was born, suddenly spring broke out and a shower of rainbows appeared in the sky. Kim was the most prominent statesman in the world, and people around the globe celebrate his birthday with films and festivals.
  • Kim invented a new sandwich called Double Bread with Meat, to provide best-quality food for Pyongyang’s university students. The dish bore a coincidental resemblance to the hated Americans’ beef burger.
  • He was the best golfer in history, despite playing the game only once. In 1994 it was reported Kim shot 38 under par on a regulation 18-hole golf course, including 11 holes in one.
  • Kim’s range of menswear became a style phenomenon. The inspired look of his zippered khaki tunics with matching trousers has spread across the world, testament to his image and influence.

And here are a couple of real facts.

  • Before Pyongyang’s World Festival of Youth and Students in 1989, Kim had disabled residents removed from the city. His government also distributed pamphlets advertising a wonder drug which would increase the height of short people. Those who responded to the pamphlets were banished to uninhabited islands. Kim himself was just over five feet tall and wore built-up shoes. Clue there?
  • Hennessy Cognac reported that for many years Kim was its best customer, spending about £500,000 annually. In comparison, the average North Korean makes about £600 per year, and under Kim's rule millions have starved.

Recently the Dear Leader’s third son, Kim Jong-Un, was unveiled as The Great Successor. Following in dad's footsteps, already his birthday has been made a national holiday. But should the new boy fail to step up, other leadership contenders are apparently the current Minister of Finance, Han Din-Til, and Foreign Minister Sen Din-Tanx. In an uncertain world it’s reassuring to know North Korea has a stable succession plan.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Old People At Christmas

500,000 elderly people in Britain are facing the prospect of spending Christmas alone, a recent survey shows.

The charity Hello Old People commissioned the study to examine attitudes of the young toward older folk during the festive season.

The survey revealed most young people wouldn’t be inviting elderly relatives to their Christmas meals or parties, and would rather befriend animals than older citizens. Many didn’t have time to visit an old person, especially at Christmas. Others said they couldn’t be bothered, or had a feeling elderly people already received enough visits.

The chief reasons for older people being abandoned, say the youngsters, are their unattractive habits. Rudeness and tutting; mania for quizzes on flags of the world; a belief their anecdotes are worthy of film rights. It’s claimed many old folk endlessly bemoan the decline of common sense in modern times, and expect reverence simply because of their age.

But some young people did make visits. A few were religious, others doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award. The survey also revealed affluent elderly people, especially those in poor health, received frequent calls from the young. The Enduring Old People charade is a well-known Christmas game, and can be lucrative.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Tesco's Christmas Dinner Pizza: Yum Yum!

Yuletide. A traditional time to share with family, with friends, as we gather to celebrate the Christmas story. Coloured lights and carols, gifts and mistletoe all add to the magical festive fun. And Christmas is also a time to enjoy food. Beautiful food.

To help us make merry this year, 'your' Tesco, the nation's favourite superstore, has come up with a mouth-watering contemporary spin on an old favourite: the Christmas Dinner Pizza!

Tesco's treat features toppings of turkey, stuffing and little sausages as well as the usual pizza staples: mozzarella cheese and chemicals. It's rumoured a second, deluxe version will include a segment of Christmas pud.

Louise Sampson, Project Engineer for the ground-breaking corporate creation, chirped: "We set out to create a pizza for all those people who simply can’t wait until Christmas Day for a feast, and wanted a sneak taste beforehand." Louise didn't mention that from September it's been possible to visit thousands of 'carveries' across Britain, all peddling the nation's most tedious meal.

Tesco's demographic analysis, which ran alongside the pizza's development,
suggested the new product will appeal to people who are unsure of how to use a knife and fork. Expect a manufacturing licence to be announced with Lidl.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Oh No - Chiles and Bleakley Lose Jobs!

After months of rumour fuelled by a handful of jealous detractors, this week ITV reluctantly made it official: Christine Bleakley and Adrian Chiles have been ditched as presenters of bedridden breakfast show Daybreak. They’ll leave before the end of the year.

The channel's reported that instead, Adrian will ‘prioritise’ his role as presenter of ITV’s live football coverage, which should ensure rival stations’ match-viewing figures stay perky. He’ll also host what’s described as a ‘topical discussion programme’, the brainless Sunday Night Show, inexplicably set to return next year for a third run.

Brand Bleakley’s been parcelled off to Dancing on Ice, which has featured such heavyweight contestants as Bobby Davro and Kerry Katona. It’s hard to believe such a show dovetails with Christine’s views on the scale of programme she’s entitled to present. She’ll also host ‘Westlife: For The Last Time’ and join ITV’s charity special ‘Text Santa’, though sadly both projects have limited long-term potential.

Since September last year, the Christine and Adrian dream team has worked tirelessly to ruin ITV’s breakfast ratings, already poor after years of idiotic marketing platform GMTV. Arriving from the BBC’s One Show for packages totalling £10m, much was made of the two’s on-screen chemistry which it was felt would boost ITV’s figures.

But Chiles’ scowling personality simply isn’t right for the breezy, cheerful world of early-morning commercial television. Equally, with her absurd permatan and enormous brassy engagement ring, toothsome Bleakley’s hardly the friendly girl-next-door type to start the day with.

Instead, as ITV’s blunt announcement made their failure a public humiliation, Christine tweeted her astonishment and distress to all her followers: "What a lovely headline to wake up to. I hope my sarcasm comes across in this tweet." Adrian said he was "angry, upset, and acutely embarrassed", a state of mind in which he seems to spend much of his time. How did it all go so wrong?

Since the announcement Daybreak’s viewing figures have actually improved; let’s hear it for viewer malice. If you want to win the breakfast television war, ITV, there’s a simple one-stop solution: pinch Carol Kirkwood.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Spot The Difference (7): Catherine Southon vs Margaret Thatcher

Being self-employed, I do no real work at all. Lunchtime begins around noon as the TV goes on for BBC's Bargain Hunt. Each armed with £300, two teams of amateur collectors visit an antiques fair to acquire the best buys they can, which are later auctioned; who'll make the most lolly? Presented by hilarious eccentric Tim Wannacock, it's a surefire winner before my changeover to ITV3 for the rest of the afternoon.

Today, I noticed a startling similarity between Wannacock's pretty co-presenter
and a much-loved British political figure from the past.

(1) Adored control-freak Margaret Thatcher, who presided over Britain's happiest days of the twentieth century and possibly, ever.

(2) Cool and yummy antiques babe
Catherine Southon. Sorry Margaret, curvy Cath would get my vote every time!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

News International: Please Don't Hurt Us

Through its reptilian lawyers, News International has told the High Court that celebrities, politicians and victims of crime currently suing over phone-hacking mustn't be allowed to conduct a witch-hunt. Numerous well-known figures including Jude Law and Labour MP Chris Bryant, as well as members of the public including Sheila Henry, whose son was killed in the 7/7 bombings, have brought actions against NI for breach of privacy.

A News International legal representative is reported to have said: "it is not appropriate … for claimants to begin a crusade. The proceedings must not be conducted as a witch-hunt against my client."

Cruelly-injured NI is the concern which
allegedly hacked phones belonging to the parents of murdered Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Further targets for NI's staff have apparently included families of service personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. NI also acquired the medical records of Gordon Brown's disabled son. Brown said of the episode: "They told me they had a story about Fraser's medical condition - I was in tears but there was nothing I could do."

Among the most terrible of the alleged crimes is the hacking of Milly Dowler's cellphone. The 13-year-old vanished in 2002 and was later found murdered. Before her body had been discovered NI reporters hacked into her voicemails, deleting some to ensure space for any new messages which might arrive. But the changes, detected on the missing phone by police, were interpreted as suggesting Milly could still be alive. Through its ghastly interference, what false hopes did NI raise in the Dowler family?

Two wrongs don't make a right, but in the context of a dispassionate trial for News International it's barely possible to hold that thought. Meanwhile, so desperate has its standing become that NI is considering running a series of newspaper crusades for society's greater good. Perhaps they should start with an anti-drugs campaign, since News International knows all there is to know about selling shit.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

From Our Religeous Correspondent

Bookseller W H Smith has pulled off the publishing coup of the week. Seen in its stores recently, the book to the left.

Opinion is divided as to the Bible's author, with most people who expressed an interest believing it was compiled by a holy ghost-writer. This latest edition of the Good Book contains an appendix recalling the loving achievements of Christians throughout the ages, beginning with the Reformation.

On other religeous themes, please be aware that tonight's BBC TV programme Songs of Praise contains strong language, and scenes of a sexual nature.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Duchy of Cornwall: All-Change For Charles Windsor

Prince Charles, or more correctly Charles Windsor, must be hopping mad. Information Tribunal judges have ruled that his personal cash-cow, the Duchy of Cornwall, is a "public authority". The Duchy estate, which owns large swathes of land across Cornwall and elsewhere, has been obliged by the ruling to disclose environmental data under the Freedom of Information Act.

The judgement undermines 700 years of the Duchy as the heir to the throne's feudal domain, and may lead to wide-reaching consequences for Windsor and his affairs. Making the Duchy subject to Environmental Information Regulations (EIR), which are part of the FoI regime, could also be a step toward revealing details of Windsor's newly-exposed penchant for vetoing Parliamentary bills affecting his financial interests.

Recently the FoI Act was amended to exempt the Monarch and the first two royals in line to the throne. However, that doesn't apply to environmental legislation such as EIRs, which are subject to a public interest test. Father-of-one Windsor and his advisors had maintained the Duchy isn't a public authority under EIR, and so didn't have to respond to the request for data. Sadly the judges have pronounced otherwise.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Great Little Railways of Cornwall

My new book, 'Great Little Railways of Cornwall', is complete in draft. Written for Cornish publisher Truran, it will be out next March.

Since ‘Captain Dick’ Trevithick’s black Puffing Devil clanked up Camborne Hill on Christmas Eve 1801, Cornwall’s had a close association with steam transport. During Victorian times railways flourished and a web of routes spread across the Duchy, connecting towns, villages and a shoal of tiny halts. Today, though a great deal’s changed, nostalgic reminders of Cornish steam travel are still with us. Four lines survive, the locomotives and their guardians keeping former times alive and providing enjoyable days out for everyone.

Scenic rail travel too has survived in Cornwall, despite the cuts of the 1960s. Rural areas were widely affected; Cornish closures included parts of the North Cornwall Railway and the West Cornwall Railway. Today though, across the Duchy five scenic branch lines run by operator First Great Western meander through wonderful countryside, well away from the bustle of main-line services; they offer great trips, often to places you might otherwise overlook.

As usual Truran have been darlings, which helps. They work closely with their authors and once again it’s been a joy.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Charles Windsor: Democracy and Hidden Power

Prince Charles, correctly known as Charles Windsor, is regularly asked to give his assent to proposed legislation passing before Parliament. He isn't a minister or an MP but a subject of the Crown like any other, yet if his interests are affected he has the power of veto over elected government. Since 2005 ministers have requested his approval for a dozen bills relating to coroners, economic development and construction, marine and coastal access, housing and regeneration, energy and planning. This process has been kept from the public eye and has no accountability.

Attempts to gain access to official papers setting out Windsor's meddling have largely failed, with most government departments, ministers and MPs questioned reserving the right to keep communications with the royals private.

An exception is Labour peer Lord Berkeley, who's also Harbour Commissioner for the Cornish port of Fowey. Recently he sponsored a private members' bill on marine navigation. On 6 September he received a letter from the House of Lords bill office. The letter stated: "The marine navigation bill you introduced would affect the Prince of Wales' interests, and so will require the Prince of Wales' consent for its consideration by Parliament.” Berkeley was told it was a matter of "if" not “when” Windsor would grant consent.

Through his position as the Prince of Wales Windsor is the beneficiary of the Duchy of Cornwall, created as a cash-cow for Edward III's eldest son who became Prince of Wales in 1343. Today the Duchy funds Windsor's multi-millionaire lifestyle, and bills affecting its interests, revenue or property must be agreed by him; he's also Duke of Cornwall. The estate’s a hard-nosed business; even during these bleak economic times its portfolio value has increased from £618m in 2006-7, to £712m in 2010-11. Over the same period, Windsor's annual income from the Duchy has risen from £15.2m to £17.8m.

Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives in Cornwall, has urged ministers to reveal the process by which Windsor interferes with the democratic process. When asked about Parliament’s consultation with the Prince on the recent Children's Rights Bill, the Education Minister, Sarah Teather, confirmed it had happened but said: "We don’t disclose the contents of correspondence with members of the royal family." George also enquired whether the Duchy had made any amendments to the draft Coroners and Justice Act; Justice Minister Crispin Blunt repeated the line.

The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which oversees the drafting of legislation, has declined to reveal under what conditions Windsor can veto proposed legislation, saying its refusal to disclose such information is a matter of "legal professional privilege".

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Mail Online: The Amanda Knox Case

The Mail Online, electronic organ of the loathsome Daily Mail, has sunk to new lows. Yesterday the trial came to an end in Italy of Amanda Knox, accused of murdering British student Meredith Kercher. Attempting to scoop the verdict, the Mail Online published a pre-written piece the moment the judge said the word "guilty."

Unfortunately though, the Mail was caught out by the judge finding Ms Knox guilty of slander, before clearing her of the murder charge. At the sound of the judge's first "guilty" they simply hit the 'publish' button.

The Mail's piece included a description of the defendant's ashen face after the guilty verdict had been read out against the murder charge. It also considered the likelihood of Ms Knox's appeal against her murder sentence; the probability of the appeal's rejection; and the speculation she'd be placed on suicide-watch. Reactions of both girls' families were described, the victim's relatives staring stonily ahead, the defendant's in tears; prosecutors were said to be delighted. Of course, none of this actually happened.

It's one thing to prepare two draft outcomes for court stories; in news journalism this is standard practice. But the Mail simply fictionalised the entire episode. Had the murder verdict been 'guilty', the dishonesty of the piece would have stayed undetected. The mistake isn't just about a pre-written story, the wrong boilerplate or predictive cliches. It's yet another in a long line of the Mail's unmitigated ethical disgraces.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Spot The Difference (6)

Left: former BBC news reporter, now presents gentle TV programmes for the elderly. Pencilled in for Songs of Praise.

Right: One-dimensional 'comedienne': "I'm fat, I'm fat, all men are bastards, ooo a cake." But still funnier than grandson Russell.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Spot The Difference (5): Miliband vs Plasticine

Left: Labour party supply leader. Brought in as a stop-gap until the party's appalling record under Gordon 'Chuckles' Brown has been forgotten by the electorate, when he'll be replaced by Yvette Cooper.

Right: Piece of plasticine. For short periods, can be animated.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Country Walking: Stick People

One of the joys of Cornwall is the scenery; I love tramping across the countryside. Be it coastline, moor or the truly atmospheric Cornish antiquities, on goes my walking stuff.

My boots are a good ten years old, dubbined until they're like butter. In a sale a few years ago I bought a second pair thinking that eventually the old faithfuls would drop to bits, but they're still a going concern.

Above the boots I tend to wear army surplus stuff. There are loads of pockets for necessaries, and it's tough. Hacking through brambles on Predannack Down may not be your cup of tea, but it would be a jolly sight worse in Marks slacks.

My car's filled with vital equipment. A change of clothes for when it rains.
A map, food, a small pack, a camera, a book. The last doubles as my toolkit - if I break down, I can read it until the RAC arrives.

Walking's a gregarious pursuit. You meet other explorers and people stop for a chat. Often they're middle-aged, but walking is great exercise and many are very fit. Some know about the locality, or have friendly dogs you can make a fuss of. Others can give you directions, which is helpful when the map's wrong (this happens quite a lot). The old campaigners are easy to identify; they use worn-in, battered but serviceable clothing and equipment.

But can someone please explain the current fad for walking with the aid of sticks.

We see this particularly among smartly-dressed walkers, couples with matching cagouls in bright, jolly colours. As well as their new booties and little packs they favour telescopic, carbon-fibre walking-sticks, sometimes just one, often two. To these people, sticks are an indespensible aid to motion.

Couldn't the stick people just walk normally? Sometimes the terrain's perfectly flat; it's never likely to reach the severity of the Matterhorn.
There's no need to push off on every stride, as if they were dragging a laden Arctic sled behind them.

No. Even in the uncomplicated world of walking about, the nurtured need has arisen to accessorise. Megacorp is snaring this simple activity in its loathsome commercial grasp. What further ridiculous embellishments can we look forward to?

Message: don't be a victim, don't buy stupid sticks! They aren't cool, they don't help you to walk; you learned to do that some time ago.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Charles Causley: My Mother Saw A Dancing Bear

Charles Causley was a poet of international stature, born and bred in Launceston, Cornwall where he lived for most of his life. Highly-regarded by John Betjeman, Ted Hughes and Roger McGough, Causley’s early work was noted for its narrative style and included many references to Cornwall and its legends.

During the 1970s Causley began to publish poetry for children, simple rhymes to delight readers by their very sounds, often illustrated by prominent artists. He also wrote plays, short stories and opera librettos. In 1967 he was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry; a CBE followed during 1986. Causley died in 2003.

'My Mother Saw A Dancing Bear' is my favourite Charles Causley poem.

My mother saw a dancing bear
By the schoolyard, a day in June.
The keeper stood with chain and bar
And whistle-pipe, and played a tune.

And Bruin lifted up its head
And lifted up its dusty feet,
And all the children laughed to see
It caper in the summer heat.

They watched as for the Queen it died,
They watched it march, they watched it halt.
They heard the keeper as he cried,
"Now, Roly-Poly!" "Somersault!"

And then my mother said, there came
The keeper with a begging cup,
The bear with burning coat of fur
Shaming the laughter to a stop.

They paid a penny for the dance
But what they saw was not the show;
Only in Bruin's aching eyes
Far-distant forests, and the snow.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

This Is No Ordinary Dinosaur ...

Recently, Bill Bennett was overcharged by Marks and Spencer for a sandwich. He sent an email to them:

I was in your Taunton store a couple of days ago, and bought a sandwich. You’ll notice from the photos enclosed that the sandwich was priced up on the shelf at £1.90 but scanned through at £3.00. I would be grateful if you would refund the difference to me, preferably back to the payment card used. Regards.
The store replied:
Thank you for your email regarding your sandwiches. I was sorry to hear you were overcharged. Unfortunately, I am unable to refund the amount onto your credit card but if you would like to send in your address details I will happily send you a gift card. Kind regards, Tracey Burns, Retail Customer Services.

Time passed but Bill's gift card wasn't sent. He emailed:

I’ve still not received the gift card, could you please advise? Rgds.

From M&S came:

Thank you for contacting us. I’m sorry we’ve not sent your gift card yet. We will arrange this as soon as possible. Kind regards, Anne Gledhill, Your M&S Customer Service.

Bill responded with:

It’s [address]. For the inconvenience of all the letters, I would also like a hand-drawn picture of a smiley dinosaur to be included with the gift card. I trust you will be able to comply with this request.

An unusual demand but fair play to him. Not to be outdone, M&S replied with the following:

Thank you for getting back in touch and I am sorry to hear about the overcharging in our Taunton store for the sandwiches. As agreed with my colleagues Tracey and Anne please find a gift card for £5 to cover the overcharge of the sandwiches.

Please also find a picture of a smiling dinosaur, hand drawn. Unfortunately art was never my strong point, but I hope you will appreciate it. Thanks and regards, Steve Jones, Customer Adviser, Retail Customer Services.

Mr Jones may not have a future in the world of art, but his innovative customer service skills succeeded in prompting from Bill: "It’s awesome – they’ve more than made up for overcharging me." A neat ending, and another satisfied customer.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Sloe Gin: Country Phial

Lovely weather yesterday, here in Cornwall. London Acres was bathed in warm sunshine, across the meadow the blue river twinkled; peaceful silence broken only by birdsong. Time to go out.

In the nearby lane I met an elderly lady snaffling blackberries and sloes from the hedgerows. I nipped back for two carrier-bags.
What better than to gather succulent fruits during an afternoon stroll around the local fields, or along the river path. Both have blackberries galore - lovely with a dollop of cream, or in a pie. But also of great interest are the sloes.

Christmas has many disadvantages, but one compensation is sloe gin. Smooth, sweet, sticky, it brings comfort, a warm fuzzy swaddling as it slips down; the loathsome period recedes. You have to know to make it, so here are some instructions.

1) Collect lots of sloe berries - don't leave it too long, get out there over the next couple of weeks or you'll find they've started to turn. Good luck with this bit if you live in Newham. In fact, good luck generally.

2) Buy two 70 cl bottles of Asda Smart-Price Gin.

3) Get two empty 70 cl screw-top spirit bottles from your friendly publican.

4) Prick each of the sloes a couple of times.

5) Fill each of the four bottles half-full with gin, and a third-full with sloes.

6) Bung in a load of sugar, but leave a bit of space at the top of each bottle.

7) Give each of the bottles a really good shake. Oh, put the tops on first - sorry.

8) Place the bottles upright in a warm place. Inspect them monthly. Add more sugar, give them a bit of a shake. Put the bottles back unsampled.

9) Christmas Day. Drink four 70 cl bottles of sloe gin. You may need a friend to help you with this bit, eventually.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Cornwall Council: Olympic Torch Masterplan

Cornwall Council's reputation with voters has skyrocketed yet again, after spare funding was revealed today for the direct benefit of local people. In times of widespread public service shortfalls and local government job losses, the Council's succeeded in showing its idiotic detractors what financial prudence is all about.

In an astonishing leap of imagination which caught critics off-guard, the Council has passed up dull opportunities merely to fix roads or provide accommodation. Instead, dovetailing current international affairs with local needs, officials have rolled out a financial plan to support the passing through Cornwall next year of the Olympic Torch.

Council tourism officer Malcolm Bellend described the post created to mastermind the scheme. "We're seeking a Project Administrator to assist the Festivals & Events Coordinator in the successful delivery of the Olympic Torch Relay through Cornwall in May 2012," he intoned. "The Project Administrator will help raise awareness of the event throughout Cornwall, while also reinforcing the county's profile nationally and internationally." Bellend declined to say whether the post would be filled by an employee from the Council’s Serco industry partner, but confirmed a total promotional budget of £135,000 has been ring-fenced for the one-day event.

Despite overwhelming local enthusiasm for the Council's carefree innovation, a few 'moaning minnies' have tried to spoil the occasion. Mid-Cornwall MP Stephen Gilbert said: “It’s bonkers for Cornwall Council to throw money around when at the same time they're hitting local projects and services with funding cuts. Instead, cash should be put into schemes which benefit our communities here.”

But the 'wet blankets', say officials, are a tiny minority; most people are setting aside fears of homelessness or unemployment and embracing the Olympics whole-heartedly. It's expected the Council will soon be revealing all the Cornish venues it's secured where Olympic events will be held.

The Council's estimated that as much as £7 million could be made from the torch's journey between Land’s End and the Tamar. However, it has yet to say whether the actual financial out-turn will be independently verified, or notified to the public. It has also to explain what the project can achieve in terms of raising awareness that relentless national media bombardment can't.

Since the torch itself will be carried nationwide, it's not as if visitors will flock to see it in Cornwall. There will be no legacy left of its progress, so no long-term or even residual benefit for Cornish people. On top of that, the £100 million central government-backed advertising campaign to lure overseas tourists to Britain has concentrated on London and south-east England; the Duchy has been snubbed.

£135,000: another waste of public money by cash-strapped Cornwall Council? You decide.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Mind Your Head

Libyan rebels have celebrated their advance into Colonel Gaddafi's former base at Tripoli by firing their guns into the air. Usually it’s the good old Russian AK-47, global automatic firearm of choice for revolutionaries. Shooting a weapon into the sky to express triumph and euphoria is popular across much of the world, particularly in 'dry' countries where you can't get pissed off your head by way of merriment. But it’s also a potentially fatal activity which regularly results in the deaths of bystanders.

After Iraq's football team had defeated Vietnam in 2007's Asia Cup, amid widespread gunshots as fans celebrated in Baghdad three people were killed. Triumphant gunfire across Kuwait at the end of the 1991 Gulf War was blamed for 20 deaths.

In 2010 three people in the Philippines died due to stray bullets fired to welcome New Year's Eve. That year too, a Turkish bridegroom killed three relatives when he loosed off an AK-47 at his wedding.

Such were the problems in Macedonia that the government there ran a poster campaign with the slogan "Bullets Are Not Greeting Cards - Celebrate Without Weapons." Ahead of New Year's Eve 2005, Serbian authorities warned their citizens that "every bullet that is fired up must come down."

Studies suggest that, although the velocity of a falling bullet is lower than that of a round which has just been fired, it’s still sufficient to be fatal. On the evidence above, more than merely a suggestion surely.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Red Arrows: With Sympathy

Two weeks ago I watched the Red Arrows giving an unforgettable air display over the Fal River in Cornwall: blue twinkly sea, a few white puffy clouds, and the most awe-inspiring aerobatic team in the business. They flew for around twenty minutes, impeccable and breath-taking as ever. But last weekend, Flt Lt Jon Egging was killed when his Hawk aircraft, Red 4, crashed during a display at Bournemouth.

It's too early to say what happened. Certainly though, Flt Lt Egging appears to have flown the aircraft away from built-up areas; he made it to open country, where he came down. At Bournemouth, two books of condolence have been opened for people to express their sympathy. Jon's widow Emma described him as "an amazing friend and husband." Today a memorial service is being held at the Red Arrows' base, RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.

Group Captain Ian Dick flew with the Red Arrows in the 1960s and 1970s, and was team leader between 1972 and 1974. In an interview with the BBC he said there would be some people who'll now be calling for the disbanding of the Red Arrows but that "in these hard times for the UK, one should hold fast to what is good, and the Red Arrows epitomise for me, much of what is good about the UK." I'll second that.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Bird-Box Speed Camera: Council's Dilemma!

A Somerset man has put his foot down on speeding motorists by erecting this bird-box outside his home near the village of Williton.

Ian Magee was fed up with motorists breaking the 30mph speed limit on the main road. After a typically feeble response to his protests from West Somerset Council, he decided to take direct action. He created a bird-box and painted it the trademark yellow of a roadside speed trap. Nesting holes are where the camera's lens should be. The box even has its own CCTV camera alongside, to stop vandals damaging it. Mr Magee says the device has been effective in slowing traffic. “It’s convinced a lot of people. Even off-duty ambulances and police cars slow down when they see it.”

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the bird box has caused a split between local authorities. A representative of Avon and Somerset police said: “We’ve checked it out, however it’s on private land and as far as we're concerned it's not breaking any rules.”

But the same Council which was unhelpful about speeding motorists is more diligent over planning regulations; Mr Magee could be ordered to remove his bird-box. A Council spokesperson said: “This is something we are currently looking into, as we feel this kind of object requires planning permission, which it doesn't have. We also believe the box should be taken down as it's providing unnecessary clutter to the area. It's also causing rather a lot of interest, which isn't necessary, and this is something we want to stop.” Public money well-spent on such a debate? You decide.

But in a hammer-blow to the idiotic Council’s wishes, Mr Magee has reported that Pipistrelle bats have started nesting in his box. This could be a problem for anyone who wants it removed, as the bat’s a protected species.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Extreme Shopping: Politicians Speak Out

After England's urban riots, politicians have spoken out against the feral youths who've ignored common decency as well as breaking the law.

These vocal people include
Cabinet minister Francis Maude, who's made tens of thousands of pounds by habitually breaching the spirit surrounding MPs’ allowance claims. Rotherham MP Denis MacShane has roundly condemned the looters yet under his allowances claimed £5,900 for eight laptops, their purpose never explained. Veteran left-winger Gerald Kaufman, who on Wednesday asked the Prime Minister to consider how the rioters can be “reclaimed” by society, previously submitted three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60. This included £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen television.

Salford MP Hazel Blears has been particularly strident in calling for draconian action. But it's not straightforward to distinguish between the Red Dwarf’s previous record - expense cheating and tax avoidance - and the robberies carried out by rioters.
If some sections of youth seem oblivious to decency and morality so do the venal rich and powerful, despite their comparative advantages in life.

It's beyond me to make any suggestions as to what might be done about the riots. I don't have personal experience of the problems which allegedly caused them, nor am I a Daily Mail reader. But a couple of observations:

During Clapham's riots the only shop untouched was Waterstones.

In the news clips of youths arriving at court, none seemed to be accompanied by parents.

Yesterday a thirteen-year-old was released from custody, despite previous form considered too young to face the charges brought against him. What message does this send to the boy, and to all his little friends?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Arse of the Century: Corrie vs Middleton Shootout

Today's a right royal celebration of lovely girls, as Britain's beauties compete for the title Arse of the Century. Two of our finalists have been drawn from plebby soap-opera Coronation Street while the Middleton family, recently in the news, represents the nation's adored toffs.

Which of the lovely girls below would you vote for? And who comes from which background? Chav or posh, as you can see they all look pretty much alike!

But whoever wins, one thing's for sure. As the judging panel's Chairman enthuses, they've all got lovely bottoms!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

World's Worst Food

In our busy world, sometimes we find ourselves skimping on food or taking the easy option. Instead of a full wholesome meal just a sandwich; a gnaw of the pork pie living at the back of the fridge; maybe a quick salad, with instant cous-cous if you can brave the packet's image of Ainsley Harriot and his mad bulging eyes.

Some food though, marketed on the ticket of convenience or speed of preparation, is just too awful to bear; 'Frankenfood', produced from bubbling chemicals in sweaty industrial cauldrons. Opinions vary as to the worst but turkey twizzlers, microwavable snack products and chicken nuggets come to mind. Or perhaps Asda's Smart Price Chilli Con Carne, a dish so lacking in taste or form that it deserves a special mention.

But pictured below we have the undisputed champion, the king of disgusting foods. I give you (drum-roll) ... the bizarre Jimmy Dean Pancake and Sausage on a Stick, with Chocolate Chips. If anyone can beat that for sheer jaw-dropping repugnance I'd be interested to hear. Wasn't there a Jimmy Dean who died horribly of something?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Prince Andrew Retires

Sits Vac: English prince, Andrew Windsor, is retiring from his role as UK trade ambassador. Some of his family have been criticised as work-shy inadequates, shameless spongers on the public purse, but not Andrew. Finally though, after a punishing career with Britain's interests at its heart, he's hanging up his Frequent Flyer platinum card.

Only Britain would appoint a man who's never worked in a business, much less run one, as an international trade envoy. But at least no-one could accuse Andrew of staying office-bound. In 2006 he travelled from Windsor to an event seventeen miles away by helicopter, which cost around £6,000. Andrew's overseas travel tab for the previous year was £355,942, a reduction compared with his usual bill perhaps because he'd just been censured by the National Audit Office.

It's difficult to judge the worth of Andrew's career in monetary terms because unlike all other salesmen since the dawn of time, he never had any financial targets to meet. So did he make a contribution in some less tangible way, batting for British business behind the scenes, smoothing the way for an export revolution?

Well, not really. A glance at Andrew's port-stained resumé reveals he'd have been fired ages ago if it weren't for mater. WikiLeaks tells us American diplomats thought him "cocky" and "arrogant", a view supported by our own Simon Wilson, former Deputy Head of Mission in Bahrain. Wilson said: "He was mainly memorable for a childish obsession with doing exactly the opposite of what had been agreed in pre-visit meetings with his staff." Others have described him as "a little difficult to warm to", "not too bright", "a guileless buffoon", and "an embarrassment to the country."

Andrew particularly enjoyed his business trips to the Middle East, and got on well with repressive rulers of corrupt regimes; he numbered among his favourite overseas contacts Saif Gaddafi and Azerbaijan's dictator, Ilham Aliyez. He also grew chummy with billionaire convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, sometimes taking Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie along to meet his friend. But now he believes it's time to put his feet up, have a well-earned rest.

As to who might step up to fill Andrew's shoes and thereby safeguard the future of British exports, it's easy: look no further than The Apprentice.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Royal Family Update

Recently, several members of the British royal family have featured in the news. Let’s see what they’ve been up to.

The Queen, Elizabeth Windsor, has expressed concern that her family’s widely felt to be out of touch with ordinary British people. Through a statement dictated to her private secretary at Buckingham Palace and issued on swan-skin vellum through her press office, she's insisted the royals are just like any other family. Several are out-of-work and living on state handouts, others are unemployable or senile. At least one is gay but reluctant to come out, while infidelity, divorce, pointless partying and binge-drinking are all rife. Mrs Windsor’s said to be “satisfied” that her family’s behaviour completely reflects contemporary British values.

Recently too William and Kate Windsor received £2,000 compensation, following a failure of the in-flight entertainment system during their return from the United States. To spare impoverished British taxpayers millions of pounds W an' K had vowed to fly with a commercial airline, but were distraught when they “weren’t able to watch any films at all.” To make amends, toadying British Airways hurriedly showered the fairytale couple with complimentary duty-free vouchers. Other passengers were compensated with reduced-price cheese sandwiches.

Meanwhile Charles Windsor, whose unearned allowances have just been greatly increased, has visited an air base to see step-son Harry. Adopted ‘Captain Wales’ is learning to fly the Army Air Corps’ Apache helicopter, though it’s admitted he won’t be involved in any combat missions. Since the Apache’s only used for front-line duties his training's pointless, though as Harry giggled: “Saying you’re a helicopter pilot’s pretty flash when you’re pulling the birds!”

The plucky lad, anxious to prove himself to Uncle Charles, took the Prince for a short spin in his state-of-the-art machine. Afterwards Windsor, himself a rotary-wing pilot who trained in the sixties, grinned ruefully and said: “My chopper skills are well past their sell-by-date. Today the helicopters I flew would be considered hopeless anachronisms, out-of-date relics undeserving of … oh, wait a minute …”