Saturday, 31 October 2009

Haiku! Bless you

Lovely Japanese
Clever in her glasses but
Underwear mix-up

For those short of time, I present the week in Haiku.

Tony Blair for pres
Sarkozy Merkel nix nix
Back to lecture wealth

Bloody great big ship
Oasis of the sea (sick)
Bang goes planet earth

Helicopter fail
'It's bad!' intones Jock Stirrup
That's a funny name

Postal strike again
Backlog high like Mount Fuji
(Covered that last week)

Halloween today
Telly full of scary crap
I think: DVD

Liking Haiku thing
I think I'm understanding
Or maybe it's just too difficult to fit the words in, espcially if they're rhyming
(which they're not supposed to).

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Postman Pavel

Let's hope this postal strike ends soon. It's quite disruptive. My post has been arriving quite early; so I am robbed of the happy anticipation of it arriving around suppertime. What's more, all of it is for me, so I've lost the enjoyable banter with my neighbours as I try to figure out who's got my mail.

I assume our replacement postie is temporary, because he's polite, cheerful, efficient, and Polish. I expect the usual incumbent, Darren, is champing at the bit to get back to work. He doesn't have time to be polite or cheerful; the permanent scowl and avoidance of eye-contact is because he's concentrating. However he makes up for this with a lovely pre-Christmas card ('from your postie, Darren'). I'm sure this has nothing to do with angling for a tip, so we don't give him one.

Darren is riding the crest of a wave of union enthusiasm. Life had got a bit dull what with everyone off to the office every day, so the gusto with which the CWU is failing to turn up for work is a breath of fresh air. They're not alone. Yesterday I received a Unison letter passed on from a public sector buddy. (I feel his identity is safe; there are 1.3 million of the buggers. Can you hear me at the back comrades?)

The letter was a response to a request for workers to take their full holiday entitlement. This would avoid a big budget deficit due to people carrying forward holiday. Unison helpfully suggested that if its members were being asked to take holiday, then they should share in the profits. In other words, pay me a bonus for taking my holiday. Which I'm contractually obliged to do anyway.

Ho hum. Welcome to the 70s.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Clock and Bull

Winter is coming. Brrr
I'm feeling a bit fragile today. This has nothing to do with a huge excess of red wine; it would be wretched and debauched to be suffering from a hangover on Tuesday. No, it's jetlag from turning the clocks back. Plus the sheer effort; there are no fewer than 21 clocks in my house, all showing a slightly different time. What a waste. Does my microwave really need to know it's 3:30 a.m. when it's heating up cold pizza to combat my munchies?

It's a strange time of year. We struggle home in the dark to the merry sound of schoolchildren bouncing off car bumpers. So what's the point? Apparently it's so that the last fourteen farmers remaining in Britain can have a bit more daylight. Obviously you can't buy tractors with headlights. Or at least you couldn't in 1916, when we started messing with clocks.

But what's really bugging me is this. Our cheap nasty Japanese car, used for trips to the dump, happily sets the clock from the radio. Unlike our luxurious British motor, which cost as much as a small house (admittedly nowhere you'd actually want to live). We Brits are no longer capable of practical things. So don't expect to see the clock-changing mallarkey stop any time soon.

There is one bright spot. ChrisProles reminds me that October 25th was also the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Ha! Take that you Frenchies. We may not be able to build cars anymore, but we've got a really long memory.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Unholy Alliance - A Play In Two Acts

Look how nice we are now
Act I: White City; BBC HQ

(The national anthem plays)
Big cheese 1: Well, let's face it. Numbers are down.
Big cheese 2: Yup. We need to do something drastic.
BC1: The usual formula?
BC2: Back to 'Men Behaving Badly'? 'On The Buses'? That sort of thing?
BC1: Tempting, but no good - wouldn't fit with our new PC image.
BC2: OK - here's radical for you. How about Nick Griffin on Question Time?
BC1: What! Are you mad? He can hardly string two words together!
BC2: No problem - he'll be up against windbags from the main parties; he'll never get a word in edgeways. He'll just sit there and shake his head.
BC1: Good, because if he opens his mouth we could be in trouble.
BC2: Stop worrying. There's no such thing as bad publicity.

Act II: White Town; BNP HQ

(The national anthem plays)
Big cheese 1: Well, let's face it. Numbers are down.
Big cheese 2: Yup. We need to do something drastic.
BC1: The usual formula?
BC2: Back to men behaving badly on the buses? That sort of thing?
BC1: Tempting, but no good - wouldn't fit with our new PC image.
BC2: OK - here's radical for you. How about Nick Griffin on Question Time?
BC1: What! Are you mad? He can hardly string two words together!
BC2: No problem - he'll be up against windbags from the main parties; he'll never get a word in edgeways. He'll just sit there and shake his head.
BC1: Good, because if he opens his mouth we could be in trouble.
BC2: Stop worrying. There's no such thing as bad publicity.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

One out, all out

Ooh! That's quite a backlog

No post today, I'm on strike.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Vive la difference

Smouldering hunk with
6-pack, as requested

I like to include a light-hearted illustration with postings, to flesh out the theme, so to speak. But it's been pointed out that a disproportionate number of pix happen to include inadequately-clad ladies, and looking back, to my surprise I find I can't disagree. So today we redress the balance with one for the ladies. Enjoy.

Feminism has come a long way since the seventies. But I've always tried to remain abreast of current thinking. When my friends were burning their bras, I tried to show solidarity by burning my y-fronts. No-one told me you had to take them off first, and I still bear the scars today. I may wince a little when mounting my bike, but you won't find me complaining, because it was worth it.

But hooray! We're still different. I offer a trip to Waitrose as compelling evidence. My good wife engages trolley, then belts up and down picking goodies up in order, by instinct, even though she's never been there before.

Meanwhile I'm on a quest for the tomato puree. I can't find it. Obviously I can't ask directions, I am a man. I begin a systematic aisle-by-aisle search. There isn't any. Then I can't find her. Are you with me guys?

Finally she rams the trolley into my ankles as she chucks in two tins from the extensive selection of international purees on aisle 12, which I'm standing in front of. Battle of the sexes? There's no contest.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Pass The Duchy On The Left Hand Side

Personal security
doesn't come cheap

Anyone who read The Times yesterday will share my sense of shock at the headline 'Prince Charles's Harpist Arrested For Stealing'. Or something like that; I threw it away after the Su Doku and the crossword. Blimey! I thought. Prince Charles has a harpist? Alas, it turns out he doesn't; she just played at one of his weddings. Apparently harp gigs are scarce, for she has gone on a nicking spree, and was caught with a flat-screen TV and other goodies in her Ford Galaxy.

But it made me think. We haven't heard much about ole' Royal Big-ears in recent times; has creeping republicanism under New Labour bitten hard? Will we soon be seeing G. Brown's horrible fizzog on our hard-earned pound coins, ar at least those he's left us? Did Chas lay off his harpists, punkah wallahs, polo ponies and palace polishers?

No. Check out the very classy Duchy of Cornwall web-site. The royal train is still brimming with prime gravy. His Nibs owns 54,000 hectares spread over 23 counties (mostly Devon, funnily enough). Next time you're munching on one of those slightly weird and cosmically expensive orange biscuits, consider this; in 2008/9 the Duchy pulled in a tidy £20.2m, with costs of only £7.3m. Not bad eh? I suspect he could afford to charge a bit less. But one does need to maintain a dignified distance between oneself and the jammie dodgers.

So where do all those profits go? Well, the Duchy gave away £86,000 to charit-eh (I wonder if he supports hard-up bloggers?) which accounts for about 0.6%. The rest you'll find in section 13 of the accounts; 'Balance due to his Royal Highness' which shows his payment last year as £16,458,000. Nice work if you can get it.

To be fair, this princely sum (sorry) covers a bunch of other stuff too, including £3.4m of tax to Mum. That, and other things like 'official duties' (Good heavens, Camilla, is it Thursday already?), 'maintaining official residences' (Sorry, too tired, I'm orrf to sleep at Clarence House), and 'military seconders' (I say, Major, are you free this Thursday?). In all they eat up £13.88m. Makes your average MP's expenses look a bit weedy, eh? But HRH is left less than three million quid to spend on himself and the family. That would hardly keep one supplied with decent biscuits. No wonder he's sent the lads off to the army.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Spandau Belly

Phew, Kylie's getting on
a bit

Like most 48-year-olds who are scared of motorbikes, I'm in a band. When you hear the words Hot Rabbit you may think 'marital aid' but a lot of people round here think 'Hampshire's Hardest-Working Band'. We're pretty good. As NME1 puts it, 'These guys can rock, and sometimes do. If you're planning a wedding, bar mitzvah, or funeral, look no further. It's party time. Discounts for over-60s.'

So when I watched Strictly Come Dancing last night, and saw Spandau Ballet, still rockin' after all those beers, it felt like an encounter with true kindred spirits. Tony Hadley may not be able to quite reach the high notes any more, but he has more than compensated by beefing up his stage presence.

I love Strictly, like everyone in Britain is obliged to. I can put up with Bruce Forsyth, the god-awful face-lifted judges, the tooth-grinding pregnant pauses when one of the b-list celebrities is kicked off, the 15p per call 'but mobiles cost considerably more', the stilted chat segments, the endless follow-ups with Cladia Winkleman, and the odd purple lighting that makes my TV go funny. The nine minutes or so of actual dancing, which is knockout, make watching the entire two and a half hours worthwhile. Plus my family like it, and they'd be quite annoyed with me if I grumped. So I won't.

Instead let's focus on Spandau Ballet themselves, and the phenomenon of the never-ending rock group. Never mind if names like 'Gerry And The Pacemakers' 'The Mamas and the Papas', or 'Derek, Pass The Dominoes' get to sound a bit ironic with the passing of the years; the songs live on, man. When the competition consists of Lilly Allen or Mika2 then they'll live on for a while yet. So if they can still sing, wheel' em out! The fans will overlook a pork pie or two, and if you can't dive into the mosh pit any more because of your hip replacement, they'll understand.

Bottom line; if Ozzy Osbourne can do it, so can we, even though we have to carry our own equipment. We don't intend to retire anytime soon. And we're quite cheap.

1 - New Milton Echo - one of the South's most influential free newspapers
2 - OK, a matter of opinion, I know. But have you heard We Are Golden?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Brick, Lame

Why are all new novels 600 pages long? I am wading through Stieg Larsson's new effort, and boy is it a marathon. It's full of lists. Pages 73-5 describe a shopping trip by our heroine in unprecedented detail, with such immortal sentences as 'She bought two Karlanda sofas with sand-coloured upholstery, five Poang armchairs, two round side tables of clear-lacquered birch, a Svansbo coffee table and several Lack occasional tables'. And it doesn't stop there. Let's hope she had all the bits when she got home.

This whopper is the follow-up to his last bestseller1. Larsson, if you don't know him, was a slightly earnest balding forty-something journalist who is alas no longer with us. The underlying stories are pretty good; it's racy stuff, in which a slightly earnest balding forty-something journalist solves murders, mostly by drinking coffee, and sleeping with every female character he comes across. There are whole chapters where you're willing him to just get on with it. (The plot, I mean).

He's not the only novelist where skipping pages is required if you want to finish before the plane lands. It's a common trend - so what's going on? I have a theory. (Don't roll your eyes, it's a good one). I blame the word processor. Yes, the simple, ubiquitous PC, or, as Stieg L might have it, the Mac Ibook G3 with 35 cm screen, 32 Gb hard drive, 2 Gb of RAM, a zip drive and a coffee-cup holder, set on a clever desk from Ikea. With one of these babies every word you write can be preserved in formaldehyde and regurgitated later on with a nifty cut and paste manoeuvre.

In Jane Austen's time they didn't have word processors; they only had the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and TV hadn't been invented so even they weren't much use. No, Jane had to use a pen, with proper ink, so in order to achieve more than one book in a lifetime she had to choose her words with care instead of spewing them forth like an MTV presenter.

Imagine if she was equipped with MS Word. Darcy's rejected proposal to Elizabeth in the original novel is far too short; just a sentence or two. Where's the detail? Here's the revised version in Pride, Prejudice, Propriety, Providence, Privilege and Prosperity:

He sat down for a few moments, uncomfortable on the edge of the two-cushion Karslanda with peach print and laminated oak legs. Then getting up, he walked about the room, frowning absentmindedly at the volumes lining the Billy in beech veneer. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. Quietly she waited on her Poang, maintaining her composure, concentrating silently on her upcoming lunch of swedish meatballs and curry sauce. After a silence of several minutes, Darcy came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began: "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. This has been a rollercoaster ride of emotion, but it's my dream, I've earned it, the moment I've been waiting for all my life. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. And respect you as a person of course."

See? Much better.

1- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Short Hair, Interesting Piercings, Leather Trousers, High-Heeled Shoes and Underwear from Stockholm's Raciest Shop

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


I'm feeling lucky
Observant readers may notice that where there used to be ads, there now aren't. This is because Google switched them off. They have a program called AdSense that the new blogger is sold quite hard. Monetise your blog! reads the blurb from the George Bush school of sales. It's supposed to earn you a bit of cash when people click on targeted ads. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I signed up. But over the weekend alas! I received a mysterious e-mail saying my ads are no more; and they can't tell me why, because it would reveal mysterious proprietary secrets from the very bosom of Googledom. I suspect my sin is having kids who are clicking a bit too enthusiastically, particularly on the yoga ads. Or possibly using the word 'bosom'.

Obviously I read the Terms and Conditions1 in fine detail when I signed up, and when they switched it off I read them, er, again. We are prohibited, among other things, from using 'repeated manual clicks' (i.e. if anyone clicks on an ad twice you're doomed); and 'engaging in action that ... reflects poorly on Google'. Oops - blown that one then. There are other clauses that are beyond me, although I'm well up on legalese, having read several John Grisham novels.

I can understand Big G's desire to protect their advertisers - in my professional life I am one, and I pay about £300 a month for the privilege. What's more, they host this blog for free, so I don't feel I can complain too much. And the cash that potentially flows is way too small to get worked up about.

But there is a problem here. The contract is one-sided and slack, and allows them to disable AdSense for, well, anything. The disabling process is instant, uncontestable, and precedes any actual payment; it must at least be tempting to disable vigorously, in the interests of driving up revenue. It's starting to feel like the Microsoft model, i.e. generate vast gobs of cash without ever having to deal with a real client. What an awful fate for our nice 'do no evil' chums at Google.

It's mighty galling to be lumped in with those clever but repellent souls dotted around the world who write programs to deliberately defraud. Excuse me, but I'm not one of those, and not only because I'm not clever enough. I've also put effort in to my blog, youthful though it is, and I'm quite proud of it. So I'll appeal, and I'll let you know how I get on. But I'm not expecting much. I feel fortunate not to be one of those hard-working writers who rely on this system to make a living; because this feels like a court where all are guilty until proven innocent, and the only sentence is terminal.

1 - Check the Hong Kong version for extra legal clarity

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Lessons From Marrakech

Our tour guide
I've just been for a lad's weekend in Morocco. I can highly recommend the guided walking tours in the Atlas mountains. It's a long way for a short time, I know. But fear not ecomentalists; I offset my carbon footprint in several ways. First, we travelled home from Heathrow via National Excess. Our genial driver ('No ticket? This bus leaves in one minute, mate') found us a space on the roof between chicken-carrying baboushckas, and students with halitosis and Ipods playing The Prodigy. Secondly, I left behind non-essential items, like my mobile phone, and the wife.

Morocco is an interesting lens through which to view Blighty. I've been reading a lot about waste of all kinds recently, but apparently food is a biggy; 20% of all UK carbon emissions, and if you came to a barbecue at my house, that statistic wouldn't surprise you. Compare this with Marrakech. There is a huge square there called Djemaa el Fna ('place of a thousand scams'). We sat down to eat there and Brits that we are, didn't complain when they bought twice as many dishes as we ordered. We left a lot.

But as we left the table some enterprising locals pounced on the remains of our meal and spirited it away. Nothing got chucked, even the 'small fish of a thousand bones'. Why don't we do this? I would gladly give the large collection of Black Cherry yoghurts and half a Curly-Wurly at the back of my fridge to anyone who asked. What's more the supermarkets won't give excess food to local homeless people because of their fear of litigation, unless the homeless one concerned carries the appropriate insurance. Can you spare a few coppers for the premium, guv?

In Morocco this efficient approach to life doesn't stop at food. They even dispense with expensive power-hungry alarm clocks. Instead there is an obliging chap who climbs up a tower at 4:30 and wakes everyone up. Oh, how we laughed the first time that happened. There is also a thriving moped pool which sees little Hondas everywhere, groaning under the weight of three or more Marrakechians who wave cheerfully as they neatly deflect you into the gutter. Oi! Where's my camera?

Inspired by all this, I'm going to make a few changes close to home. This afternoon I shall be bartering for the weekly food shop at Waitrose. After that I'm off to buy a loudhailer with all the money I've saved, and a stepladder long enough to reach the roof. I'll be up there at 4:30 tomorrow to surprise the neighbours. I can hardly wait to see their faces.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Squeezyjet And The Carbon Conundrum

Those were the days
A few years ago I used to fly regularly across the atlantic (in a plane, obviously). There was a bit of jockeying for position shortly after take-off so that you could bag a row of middle seats to stretch out and lie down. That's if you hadn't managed to chat up the ground staff and wangle an upgrade. Sleeping generally wasn't a problem anyway once they introduced free drinks; the problem was waking up at the other end.

I'm glad to say all that inefficiency is long behind us. If there's an empty seat in a plane now it's because someone's feeling rich enough to use the loo. (I'll resist comments about feeling flush). Either that or the co-pilot hasn't turned up. Planes now fly fully laden from A to B, umless they're diverted to C because of fog at B. It's an awesome business, particularly when you think that the Airbus A380 can carry 800 people. Eight hundred people. That's more than go to Southampton home games.

It seems half-empty planes are a thing of the past; a famous victory for the ecomentalists. Or is it? Since Stelios O'Leary introduced his famous 'fly for a quid, pee for a fiver' business model, we seem to be flying everywhere, a lot. The only people who don't fly are guilty middle-class types, with the strange but somehow gratifying result that tourist destinations close to home, like Ventnor or Swanage, are slyly becoming quite chic. By the same token Harry Ramsden's may now be enjoyed from Florida to the Middle East, if enjoyed is the right word.

I'm particularly focussed on this now as I'm about to board a train for an hour's ride to London. This is followed by a four hour flight. The train costs more than twice as much as the flight. Unsurprisingly, then, we've developed some ludicrous habits. I'm sorry, but flying to New York for a weekend's shopping is insane. If the ticket cost a grand for a three-legged stool in the back of the bus, like it used to, even your keenest bargain hunter would think twice.

So how can we save the planet? There's one way - and that's to make flying a lot more expensive. Tax aviation fuel like other fuels - problem solved! Except this would involve the EU and US etc. actually agreeing on something.

Some imagination is needed then. Perhaps we could try discouraging the punters by forcing them through overcrowded dilapidated airports for hours, being hostile to them at interminable customs and security checkpoints, confiscating their deadly toothpicks and suntan lotion, forcing them to eat Harry Ramsden's chips whiling away the three-hour delay, then cramming them onto badly maintained uncomfortable vehicles and sending their bags to Athens. Or did we try that already?

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


A typical fund manager
Investing is a tricky game. It's all in the timing, as I found out when I recommended to my investment club buddies that we buy Railtrack shares a week before Stephen Byers, bless 'im, 'nationalised' (i.e. nicked) the lot. It wasn't all bad, though, as it's given the lads an opportunity to relentlessly take the mickey ever since. Sigh.

If you don't take an interest in the stock market, or gilts, or bonds, take a bow, because the smug podgy half-wit who's taking 3%-5% out of your pension pot each year for 'managing' it is relying heavily on your disinterest to fund the balloon payment on his/her Aston Martin. I stopped paying into pensions some time ago. My retirement plan is now to ask my wife to hit my lower leg with a mallet just before we retire, so I can get some of this disability benefit everyone keeps talking about. A moment of pain, a lifetime of gain.

A quiz. If you had built up enough debt to entirely fill the Albert Hall with £20 notes1, what level of interest would you choose to pay? a) 10%? b? 5%? c) Bugger all? This is the fascinating position in which our fabulously profligate government finds itself. By following public spending policies to help keep interest rates negligible, and printing money Zimbabwe-style to make the debt worth less and less, it hopes to emerge from the gargantuan hole it has dug for all of us. Move over savers; we have to pay for those civil service pensions somehow.

Doubtless there are a few suckers who killed themselves in their early careers saving and paying off their mortgage. Fools! You wouldn't find me doing that.2 But never fear - it's not too late. The housing market, against every law of physics or rational explanation, is on the up and up once more. So go out and get yourself some debt, and bag an executive box in Uxbridge for half a milllion quid. Money is cheap! Let the good times roll! Pop the champagne! (Did someone say 'bubble'?)

1- No really. And some. Leave an appropriate comment and I'll send you the maths if you're interested.
2- ...again

Monday, 5 October 2009

Bloated, Biased and Confused?

Admit it, you owned one
Whither the BBC? Stick ten Brits in a room and ask them what still makes Britain great, and they will overwhelmingly answer - the BBC! At least that's what the papers will tell you. Don't believe a word of it. I've actually tried this and I got some interesting answers; including 'gardening', 'fair play' and 'table manners'. No-one said 'the BBC'. Mind you I admit I may not have got their full attention, but that's what you get when you phone people up during EastEnders.

Where was I? Oh yes - Auntie. British Telly Is The Best In The World, as we all know. The only reason it's stuffed full of American sitcoms, science-fiction repeats and soaps, is that we need to encourage the Yanks in their early efforts, and besides, the programs are quite cheap. Cheap is important; it's common knowledge that the Beeb represents tremendous value for money, and always has done.

But value for money is getting surprisingly expensive. In 1996 a TV licence cost £86.50. Today it costs £142.50, up by a mere 65%. Don't complain; we now have a plethora of new channels. We have BBC3 featuring classic programs like F*** Off I'm Fat. We have more saccharin-rich children's channels and programs than you ever thought you would need, or could stomach. And we have ever-more exotic sports coverage. Who needs football when darts is so riveting?

It's not just TV either. No exploration of the BBC would be complete without reference to the radio output, which is terrific, particularly if, at a key point during an Ashes Test Match, you want to know the weather conditions in German Bight (where is that anyway?). And those Archers are as fresh as ever. Despite the theme tune. But the list doesn't end there. What about the enormous web-site, interactive TV, programs in Welsh, the BBC Micro?

Of course, an organisation that generates content free of dirty commercial interests is a noble thing. The tasty £719.6M that the BBC made last year from its commercial arm doesn't count, because it's mostly sales to Johnny Foreigner, so it's definitely still true that there is no commercial bias or pressure within our precious Beeb. So if you elect not to have a TV, you should just put up with the endless threatening letters1, outsourced to Capita, who are a private company; they don't have to be nice. Cough up. We know where you live.

1 - click this if nothing else - it's eye-popping

Saturday, 3 October 2009

When Irish 'Ayes' Are Smiling

Never! I mean, you betcha!

If exit polls are to be believed, our obliging neighbours across the Irish Sea have voted with a resounding 'Yes' to ratify the mysterious Lisbon treaty. Plenty of goodies will ensue; we are apparently due for Tony Bleeeuh as president. I expect his eyes are watering with anticipation. If he could drag Britain to war with Iraq against the collective will of both countries, imagine what he'll do with Europe.

And there's plenty more hidden in there. It may not be called a constitution anymore but what's in a name? In the wise words of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who despite the name isn't a girl: "Public opinion will be led - without knowing it - to adopt the policies we would never dare present to them directly. All the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden or disguised in some way." But don't just take her, sorry his, word for it, have a look at the whole enchilada! I warn you; there are 413 articles and I dropped off after the first three. It's good reading around nap-time.

But wait a minute - didn't the Irish vote 'No' to this same treaty? Why yes they did; but that was the wrong answer. It's like the British planning system; if you want to build a monstrous carbuncle in your back garden, then (a) chuck in a ludicrous planning application (b) if accepted, build! Sod the neighbours! (c) If refused, wait a month and start at (a) again, then repeat ad infinitum.

This ingenious mechanism has ensured a plentiful supply of housing in our little country for years to come, whilst leaving intact the royal hunting grounds and allowing the MOD to retain vast tracts of Wiltshire. And because it's gradual, we don't have to waste money on annoying fripperies like extra roads, hospitals, and schools. Good, eh?

So think of the irony! Brussels, courtesy of Ireland, has at last taken a leaf out of the British book, and has reached that happy 'Sod The Neighbours' moment. Expect many new palaces, junkets, expenses, hangers-on, oh, and laws.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Great Yoony Funding Swindle

Pay attention, boys

In common with a host of other soon-to-be-impoverished parents, we proudly dropped Number One Son at university (or yoony, as it is now called) this weekend. It's changed a bit since my day, I can tell you. When my Dad dropped me off at yoony the world was a different place; Tony Benn was still called Anthony Wedgewood-Benn, and a Thatcherite was someone who enjoyed rural roofing. Britain still made the odd ship, and the best band around was The Clash, or Abba, depending on your upbringing. Computers weighed eight tons and needed to be wound up each morning. Good days, good days.

Anyway. Number One Son's accommodation was in fact comfortingly familiar; paint peeling off the walls, a dripping tap labelled 'communal shower', ancient graffiti scratched into the chewing gum, third-world kitchen facilities, contrarian plumbing (hot in summer, cold in winter), the works. We didn't get to sample the food, we were bundled off too quickly for that; he obviously wanted to get straight down to some serious studying. But if we had, I can take a good guess at the fare. It may be called poulet en sauce riche avec vegetables mixte, followed by glace vanille en gateau1, but it'll always be chicken a la king and arctic roll to me.

This carefree bohemian life is much as we expected back in the seventies; after all it was 'free'. Of course it wasn't, it was funded by an exuberant tax regime, but it felt free. The difference now is that he's being asked to stump up over four thousand good English pounds a year, and that's at the bargain end. Cheapskates that we are, Number One Son is denied even the basic luxury of a washbasin to pee in at the end of a hard night's studying, but comparing notes with other parents, we may have sold him a bit short. Some students appear to have an en-suite bathroom, massage area and sauna. I expect they're paying a bit more.

If your local council offered accommodation of this standard to those who need it, at this sort of cost, then they would be accused of being latter-day slum landlords. Don't get me wrong though; I approve of Number One Son living in the same sort of conditions we used to. It did us good and it'll do him good too. It's important for him to know, for example, that after a month without a shower we smell a bit, or that milk left on a windowsill during the vacation probably won't be much good when you get back. Unless you're feeling really hard up.

1 - You can probably tell my degree subject wasn't French