Saturday, 28 May 2011

Wish You Were Here: Cornwall Councillors' Freebies

The Daily Telegraph has used Freedom of Information laws to glean details of credit card spending at 186 councils across Britain.

Documents show that over the past three years, these councils have spent over £40 million using the taxpayer-funded cards, suggesting a total of say £100 million across all local authorities.

But despite calls for detailed data, all the councils contacted agreed only to release information disclosing spending on individual items of over £500. There could be tens of millions of pounds in additional lower value spending which isn't visible to us. It's not yet clear whether rules or laws have been broken or whether any public money can be reclaimed, but another MPs-expenses style scandal may be about to emerge.

The documents show Cornwall Council was responsible for the most excessive spending, with a total credit card bill of almost £9 million including a staggering £1,145,160 on hotels alone since 2008.

The Council has used its cards to fund staff trips to Goa, India, Thailand and Japan, while £81,000 has been spent on hospitality and restaurant meals.

When contacted by the Telegraph, Cornwall Council staff simply refused to explain their expenditure.

The Council's extravagance shows itself in other ways. Its Chief Executive, Kevin Lavery, is one of the thirty highest-paid in the country. Lavery's £230,000 salary, pensions and expenses package puts him in the top 10% of local authority executives. He's said to be "satisfied."

Friday, 27 May 2011

Super Injunction: Football Cheat Named

Microblogging service Twitter has bravely named the legendary soccer star who's sought to keep his extra-marital affair from the public eye through a super injunction issued by the High Court.

In a shock to football supporters across Cornwall, Camborne Athletic's 48-year-old midfield general Rutter Penberthy has been accused of a fling with teenage Ukrainian actress and agricultural worker Tatiana Legova, who lives in the nearby village of Praze-An-Beeble.

Penberthy has denied any wrong-doing. In a statement, his lawyer said: "Rutter is a strong family man in the Camborne tradition, which is how he met his wife. He absolutely denies sleeping with Ms Legova, though they are acquainted through a mutual interest in Scrabble."

High-profile Penberthy has made over 9,000 appearances for Athletic, and is coming to the end of his career. A friend said: "Rutter's always conducted himself well, on and off the field - his record in Mid-Cornwall's Division XVI speaks volumes. Everyone associated with the club hopes this episode doesn't darken his name. But if he has shagged her, fair play to him."

Ms Legova, who's now set to start a modelling career with top fashion retailer Peacocks, giggled infectiously when asked if she's the subject of a gagging order.

Penberthy can't be named for legal reasons.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Apocalypse Now

A hilarious sect of American evangelists led by 89-year-old Harold Camping is preparing for the world's end, billed to take place today. Some time this Saturday, claims Harold, Jesus will return to Earth and save his believers. But the sinners among us are doomed to die horribly in a massive earthquake, beginning in New Zealand and spreading across the globe. It'll reach the USA about tea-time - a chilling threat indeed.

At his age, from a personal viewpoint Harold may be on the money. But the end of the entire world? Harold also believes today is exactly 7,000 years since the animals stepped onto Noah’s Ark. Hmm. He arrived at this date through intricate calculations based on the bible; his supporters are certain he's correct.

It's easy to poke fun at Harold. Enjoyable, too. But he's not the first deranged person to predict a gloomy global future.

William Miller is perhaps history's greatest false prophet. In the 1840s he claimed there'd be a Second Coming and a world engulfed by fire during the year beginning 21 March 1843. He circulated his beliefs through public gatherings, posters and printed newsletters. Moved by his message, as many as 100,000 'Millerites' sold their belongings and took to the mountains to wait for the end. When nothing happened, Miller changed the date to 22 October 1845. Waking up on 23 October, he unabashedly explained it all away yet again and formed the Seventh-day Adventist movement. Quite so.

In February 1963, Pentecostal Church founder William Branham claimed he'd met with seven angels, and predicted Jesus would return to earth during 1977 when the world would end. But in December 1965 Branham crashed his car and six days later, on Christmas Eve, he died. The Coroner's verdict? Act of God.

Jehovah's Witnesses claim only they will survive the Day of Judgement - a truly Christian viewpoint.
At first they predicted the Apocalypse would occur during specific years; in more recent times, prudently their prophecies have been less precise. However, they maintain high anxiety and brand loyalty in their followers by constantly stressing the imminence of the world's terrible end.

If old Harold's right I'll miss tomorrow's Match of the Day, which I'd been looking forward to. I might as well commit the sin of gluttony; what's the point of freezing any of the huge pan of curry I've just made? And there's some vodka and three bottles of wine in the cupboard which I'm damned if I'm leaving to the earthquake. If the world hasn't ended by tomorrow morning, maybe it'll just feel as if it has.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Eurovision Triumph

TV's Eurovision is the world's most watched non-sporting event, drawing more than 120 million viewers each year. For a moment, the show's feeble acts and songs achieve an ironic greatness. Remember these are the finals, the contestants chosen after weeks of national selection competitions. Tacky it may be, but suspend musical taste and Eurovision becomes a toe-curling delight.

Last night, Moldova's troupe included a woman on a fairy-cycle and a sprinkling of post-Devo pot-head pixies. Anastasiya Vinnikova delivered a patriotic ode called "I Love Belarus" while flames shot a hundred feet into the air, symbolising recent riots there. From the Norwegian hip-hop scene - yes, really - came a rendition of political refugees starting a new life up north.

France's entry featured a Cecil B DeMille 1950s Technicolor background, while a shouty cube-headed man frightened children for Georgia. Switzerland's song went "Na na na na na na", sensible in a country of three languages - everyone can join in! And for sheer vocal power, the young Slovenian girl with crotch-high stockings and shiny chaffing bodice was hard to beat.

In such surroundings, even Jedward might have flourished. Carrying Ireland's hopes, the little cretins skipped around chanting a few simple phrases over and over again. A win wasn't to be, but afterwards in the green area as they sat with colouring-in books, the twins seemed happy with their lot. They should be.

Then came the results. From all around Europe and even beyond, presenters chimed in with the traditional bent scores. Britain hasn't any close international pals in the old USSR way, states which so wanted independence from mother Russia but continue to stick together for Eurovision bloc-voting. Neither are we in the Eurozone, or part of the Germany/Austria axis. We don't have a bosom buddy in the way Greece and Cyprus are chums. So sadly, Britain will never win Eurovision.

For me, the show's real stars were the people who held it all together. Salute the brave German anchor - named Anke, would you believe - and her porky colleague who probably lies about his age. Above all though, praise the tinkling stream of sarcasm, irony and gentle malice, all in real-time, from UK presenter Graham Norton. Combined with a bottle of wine he brought tears of evil joy to London Acres. Can't wait for next year in Azerbaijan - miss you already!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Bin Laden: Bring On The Virgins

Osama Bin Laden is dead, killed in Pakistan by US Navy SEAL forces. The story broke on Twitter last night and was confirmed in a statement by President Obama. Some of today's more gung-ho American media reports convey the impression that a complex and absorbing computer game has been successfully completed, the arch-villain finally toppled, order restored.

Bin Laden apparently resisted the American troops and was shot. Quickly, neatly, he's been buried at sea: no shrine. In this case, a body is certainly more convenient to deal with than a prisoner. Obama is now politically invincible, not least because he's found a way to upstage Britain's royal wedding. No doubt he'll be able to ride the positive energy through the 2012 US election. And on the ground, the special forces troops are happy because they can claim the reward money. Job done.

Or is it?
In Afghanistan the war will continue without Bin Laden. The death of America's erstwhile nemesis is no more than a historical footnote, a settling of accounts for numerous ugly crimes. Al-Qaeda's influence has always been limited; its terrorist acts made headlines but failed to unite the Islamic world. Bin Laden's isolated group has been constantly eclipsed by organisations such as Hamas in the Palestinian-occupied territories, and Lebanon's Fatah and Hizballah, all focused on nationalist movements and goals with support built up over many years. For now al-Qaeda will continue but at the margins, while in Afghanistan the Taliban shows no sign of wanting to end the conflict.

Closer to home, what are the omens for Prince William and Princess Kate? Their first day as man and wife was the anniversary of Hitler's suicide; on their second day together, Bin Laden dies. Clearly they're a world force for good, just like Diana. I can't wait to see what happens next, but my personal choice would be the sacking of the Fox executive who pulled Futurama.