Sunday, 25 March 2012

Easter: Chocolate Heaven!

I have mixed views on Easter. On the one hand, I resent any intrusion of religion into my daily life. I see the church – that’s to say, the Christian church in this country - as an idiosyncrasy in an ever more secular society. I'm not the only one.

The British Social Attitudes survey has been asking us about our religious views since 1983. The survey reveals that today, well over half of us aren't at all religious while Christian faiths are fast losing believers. Many of those British people who retain spiritual beliefs aren't Christians.

I visit churches for weddings and funerals, but really these are parties. When I fill in forms asking for personal religious details, I scrawl 'N/A' and move on. If the church is given airtime to 'speak out' on issues that don't concern it or about which it knows nothing, I shout at the television. My contact with religion is thankfully limited, but at Easter the church disturbs my order and routine; on Good Friday, the pubs shut early.

But at least we can all enjoy Britain's annual chocolate egg-fest. Maybe it's a hangover from childhood, but I have a great fondness for the old Easter egg. The satisfying snap as the first piece of shell is broken off; picking through the sweeties inside (to make this interesting, really they have to be different); wrapping the remaining shell in its foil, as we save a fragment for later.

So over the Easter break I'm looking forward to receiving loads of eggs, touch wood. Although if you like to believe it, touching wood didn't do much for Jesus.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Fight Osborne's Cornish Pasty Tax!

In Cornwall this week, Tory Chancellor George Osborne’s budget has caused widespread ill-feeling. Osborne’s applied the full force of VAT to food served to the public above ambient air temperature. For Cornish pasties, the Duchy’s staple diet, a huge price hike looms.

Each day in Cornwall thousands of pasties are eaten. Most bakeries sell pasties, but they aren’t necessarily piping hot. The purpose of heating is to cook them – the temperature at which they’re sold simply depends on how long they’ve been out of the oven.

Say we have a batch of freshly-baked pasties at the back of the shop, cooling on their trays. All the pasties on the front counter have been sold. The old price is £2.00. Now, thanks to Osborne’s carefree initiative, the customer will have a choice: either wait for the pasty to cool sufficiently and pay £2.00; or have one now and pay £2.40. Be ready for mad queuing systems, irate punters and frazzled staff.

Hundreds of Cornish people are employed in making and selling pasties; it’s business worth millions to the Duchy’s economy. Yesterday a campaign group – Say No To The Pasty Tax – appeared on Facebook. Cornwall councillor Alex Folkes, who set up the group, said: “Adding VAT will cause pasty sales to drop, with no extra money going to the baker. Lower sales will mean job losses, in areas which can’t afford them.” Cornwall’s economy is already creaking and Osborne’s idiotic legislation won’t help.

How HMRC will police the stupid rule isn’t yet clear while already, plans are being laid to circumvent authority. From writer and historian Craig Weatherhill, who lives in West Penwith: “Ok, I buy it, and pay when it's cold. Then they heat it up for me while I take a turn around the block or have a pint. Then I collect it hot, and eat it. But I bought it when it was cold. No VAT.” Simple and elegant, and Osborne’s initiative shunted aside.

All VAT changes, including the pasty tax, are up for public consultation until 4th May. This means you can have your say. The chap to write to is - let’s hope he finds himself a busy man.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

St Patrick's Day: Forty Shades of Piss-Up!

St Patrick's Day is with us again.

Sales of Guinness skyrocket; Plastic-Paddy pubs hand out shamrocked tat to anyone who drinks twenty pints of the old craic-juice. In bars everywhere, folksy cardboard leprechauns with articulating limbs are hung around as decorations, and bent by punters into hilarious attitudes. The humble spud, its price hiked, acquires a Today's Special cult status; the Irish eyes have it.

Into this spume-filled cauldron of culture, fighting, religious fervour and drunkenness, we introduce another dimension. Music to make your dog howl.

I love Irish traditional music. I've played it for years, and enjoy the company of those who play it. To listen to at home, I've a collection of beautiful, exciting songs and tunes. But what I find utterly toe-curling are the Irish standards, those terrible songs which every Paddy's Night get thrashed to death. 'Irish Rover'. 'Wild Rover'. 'Gypsy Rover'. And the all-time worst: 'Leaving of Liverpool'.

Why do I hate them so?
Because they appear on oxymoronic CDs such as 'The Essential Foster and Allen'. Because they're mawkish slop. Because I've been driven quite mad by hearing them sung, or dribbled, year after year, by sweating pissed people in bars who want to be everyone's friend.

So this year let's really search our hearts, make an effort and learn some new songs to bawl out.
Come round to my place, I've got the really good stuff.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Tory Councillor Caught Drink-Driving - Again!

A former Tory leader of Devon County Council has lost her licence for 14 months following a second drink-driving offence. Drunken pensioner Christine Channon, 69, was caught out after crashing close to her home in snobbish Budleigh Salterton.

Raddled Channon, who yesterday defended herself in court, denied having told the arresting officer she was a councillor. She said she’d drunk cans of Special Brew strong lager, often the choice of destitute alcoholics, before driving to the local all-night convenience store for groceries.

Channon’s resigned from the council's cabinet as portfolio holder for schools and learning, as she’s unable to remember much about the duties involved. But she has no intention of standing down entirely: “I’ve had tremendous support from the local community. Saturday nights, if I need help across the car-park some of the public bar lot will always carry me to the Merc.”

This isn’t the first time Channon’s attracted criticism. As a Councillor, she was accused of wasting public money after ignoring advice on the design of Sidmouth’s new pedestrian crossings, saying: “If they don't settle down we'll just look at changing them.” Such unconcern is hard to fathom, since for the next 14 months she’ll once again be reduced to shank's pony status.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Lucky Cornwall Gets New Hospital!

In a surprise move today, Cornwall’s much-loved medical service provider Serco Ltd has confounded its few critics by announcing the opening of a brand-new health facility for the people of West Penwith. Serco spokesperson Kelvin Slavery said: “We’re delighted to confirm another addition to our leading-edge healthcare services for you Cornish. The opening of the Mên an Tol Cottage Hospital demonstrates yet again the innovation and originality of the Serco brand. You’d have to be mad to believe there’s any better, cheaper solution to the medical needs of residents across West Penwith, including er St Austell.”

The hospital’s ground-breaking ‘medicine portal’ is currently being commissioned. Serco workers have laid new turf around the portal’s base, to remove muddy puddles and provide an enhanced hospital experience for patients.

Cornwall Council too is thrilled. During an on-site visit, Council spokesperson Kelvin Slavery said: “We’re delighted to confirm another addition to our leading-edge healthcare services for you Cornish. The opening of the Mên an Tol Cottage Hospital demonstrates yet again the innovation and originality of the Serco brand. Right, through you go, let’s test this mutha!”

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Humperdinck To Carry Britain's Eurovision Hopes!

Britain, so often humiliated by feeble performances at the Eurovision Song Contest, has revealed its plan for victory at this year’s competition in Azerbaijan. Delivering a well-deserved slap in the face for British youth, the BBC's proudly announced grandfather-of-nine Englebert Humperdinck will perform at Baku in May.

Housewives’ favourite Humperdinck, 84, last had a UK hit in 1932. He’s thrilled at the opportunity, according to a statement released through his nurse. The aged balladeer’s film-star looks and sexy style will draw votes from drooling old women everywhere; it’s a tremendous scoop for Eurovision, already a programme rarely bettered in the field of light entertainment.

During a glittering career Humperdinck, whose imitators included Elvis Presley,
has won many prestigious music awards including freedom of the city of Leicester. He’ll become the oldest singer ever to enter Eurovision, taking over from 75 year-old Croatian Ladislav Demeterffy who performed in 2008 and came last, sadly dying on stage.

Since only a complete idiot would take seriously any form of European institution, sending Humperdinck to Eurosong is inspired. Britain’s currently unpopular on the continent and it’s a good opportunity to stick two fingers up at them all. Once again though Susan Boyle and Bruce Forsyth have been cruelly overlooked; time for a supergroup, perhaps. But for now, good luck Englebert!