Posts Tagged ‘Ferret’
It isn’t unusual for our chicken-keeping gang to spend a lot of time on Sunday mornings mulling over the football results but today the conversation was more uplifting than is our usual mixture of moans and groans about referees, overpaid players and poor entertainment value. Almost all of us were rooting for Man Utd last night, but the performance of Barcelona was breathtaking and our heroes were simply played of the pitch. As Alex Ferguson was moved to remark “No one has given us a hiding like that”. He was right but there was no shame in it for we were watching that rare thing, unstoppable poetry in motion. Throughout the whole game Barca committed only five fouls and they never resorted to the usual Premiership fare of long balls and attritional play.
Albert often unwittingly supplies my headlines and today is no exception. He said that there is, after all, a beautiful game. We regularly deride the term as we pay a small fortune to watch so called professionals hoofing the ball here there and everywhere. Last night we watched an exhibition that capped anything that even the extensive Sky coverage has ever screened. Occasionally Arsenal and Man Utd have played some clever stuff but this was in another class, it was beautiful.
The longer term effect is open to debate. As I feel right now, I will certainly feel short-changed when I pay to watch Blackburn Rovers. Yesterday has increased by feeling that the ‘stars’ are grossly overpaid and the entertainment value low. And the same will apply throughout the Premiership. Whatever the Barca players are paid they earn it as true artists. But if they can so totally humiliate our top club what does that say for the rest. I still find it hard to come to terms with a wage of £100,000 per week but perhaps a real artist is beyond valuation. But the number of real artists performing in our top league could be counted on the fingers of a ferret-breeder.
However, there is a more positive outcome from that amazing display. Even those who are indifferent to football must have been impressed and some may well decide to watch more games in future. It was also a counterbalance to the continually bad press that football has in this country. The latest appalling revelations about FIFA has shattered any remaining confidence in those that govern the game, and the constant diet of the off-field antics of many of the players hasn’t helped either. Neither has the constant lunacy of egotistical Russian, Indian, and American owners.
Many a cynic has been heard to ask why soccer was ever described as beautiful. Last night we had the answer. The next time any manager says that the only way to succeed away from home is to defend relentlessly, to play the offside trap and to ‘hack ‘em down,’ he should be boiled in tar and made to watch a tape of the experts performing at Wembley.
And all this on a day when the first Test match of the summer was on. No contest. To watch Sri Lanka who haven’t a single bowler of Test standard bowl for hours to two batsmen whose approach was akin to watching paint dry was sheer purgatory. Never thought I’d live to say this but Test cricket such as this is a poor competitor with the beautiful game!
A SPECIAL FOOTBALL QUIZ IN HONOUR OF BARCELONA; 1. Who preceded Frank O’Farrell as Man Utd manager? 2. How did Joan Bazely make history in 1976? 3. Who were the opponents in Peter Shilton’s last game for England? 4. Which premiership side lost nine of its last ten games in 2006 and stayed up? 5. Who offered the england and scotland squads a week on his Caribbean island if they won the World Cup in 1988? 6. Roy Keane played his last Premiership game for Man Utd against which team? 7. Which club’s motto is ‘Nil Satis Nisi Optimum”? 8. John Benson, Bruce Rich and Steve Bruce have all managed which club? 9. To three, for how many games was Sven-Goran Eriksson in charge of England? 10. Ray Wilkins was sent off while playing for England against which country?
DO YOU HAVE A FRIEND WHO ‘KNOWS ABOUT SOCCER’ ? WHY NOT FORWARD THIS TO HIM OR HER AND THEN COMPARE SCORES?
A flurry of snow triggered mass panic this morning. The fact that the December freeze was the worst for a century has not dispelled the paranoia and the chicken and ferret keepers alike see convinced that we will get another dose before the daffodils break surface. And you know what they say about being paranoid, it doesn’t follow that there isn’t something awful awaiting you. But for now a calm order has been restored and we were able to moan about something other than the Council’s invisible gritters. And what more topical subject could there be than VAT?
A couple of the gang once earned their crusts in accountancy and they are amazed that Osborne’s defence of the VAT hike has gone unchallenged. His case is that cash must be found to slash the deficit and no one is likely to dispute that. It is his argument that the only alternatives were National Insurance contributions or income tax rises. Rubbish is the view of my numerate pals. They contend that the chancellor is pandering to the powerful and by so doing has scored an own-goal. The VAT rise is unpopular and it will damage any green shoots of economic recovery. He is said to be cutting 500,000 jobs in the public sector, the VAT rise will make replacement posts in the private sector far less likely.
According to John and Alec the alternative was clearly to tackle the powerful, all the signs point to the coalition being scared of the big-spending lobbyists and particularly those in the financial sector. A couple of threatening speeches from Osborne and Cable were met with a barrage of threats about financiers heading for other countries and, hey presto, all is forgiven. The bonus tax levied by Alastair Darling was described at the time by most experts as too soft but compared with what is happening now Darling was the equivalent of Attilla the Hun.
Yesterday was a generally bad day for Mr Osborne. He returned from his widely criticised luxury Swiss ski break, which suggested limited self understanding, to find most of the national papers carrying adverts which portrayed him as ‘the Artful Dodger’, a campaign launched not by the Labour party but by the ’38 Degrees’ group which is non-political, already boasts 250,000 members, and alleges that the Chancellor’s family avoided £1.6 m.in tax Then he got himself into an awful knot in trying to explain why he believes that VAT is ‘progressive’ yet David Cameron sees it as ‘very regressive’.
Regressive indeed and the money that ministers are asking the public to raise could be raised in five minutes by calling the bluff of the richest section of the business community. So long as they shy away from this confrontation, and instead hammer the poorer sections of society, there will be widespread dissatisfaction. Few of us have the expertise of people like John and Alec but we know enough to realise that what is happening with banks is equivalent to pardoning the Great Train Robbers, letting them keep their loot, and applying a levy on everyone else to make up for the cash stolen.
The bankers have walked away from the debacle they caused scot free, with almost a trillion pounds of public money in their pockets. There was not so much as a compulsory lending ratio on their books. And the bankers rejoice. The big four are soon to reveal that some 200 in each of them earned over a million pounds last year. They have also rewarded themselves with personal bonuses of £7 billion over Christmas. That alone represented two fingers to the public and three times the money to be raise by the VAT rise.
There is no VAT or other transaction tax on banks. Money that properly belonged to share-holders and, in many cases, taxpayers , simply walked off the premises. It is as if a state-subsidised car manufacturer decided to allow its employees to take home half a dozen cars each Christmas!
Many of the cuts being applied by this government are justified for the waste of the previous regime was horrifying. Need an example? The multi-billion pounds NHS IT system that never worked will do to be going on with. But Osborne has fallen at an important fence. He needed to win over the public, to prove that we are truly all in this together. Visit any of the central London bars where the financial people gather and you will hear the popping of champagne corks.
They simply cannot believe that they have got away with it. And neither can the rest of us!
BUT IS AN AUSSIE THRASHING A GOOD THING?
England ended the day in a strong position at the Sydney Test. It is hard to know who to praise most in what has to be the fittest and most talented England team for many a year. The only slightly sad thing is that Paul Collingwood is nearing the end of his illustrious Test career, but there are a number of execellent young replacements waiting in the wings.
Australia seem to lack any back-up and, with the exception of the one brilliant spell by Mitchell Johnson, have looked a poor outfit. And that isn’t what devotees of Test cricket wanted to see. Yes, we longed for a winning series but we now worry about the effect of huiliation on Australian support through the turnstyles over the next few years. I worked in Australia and was surpirised to learn that not everyone down under is a cricket fan. Many are but I often sensed that the attraction was the regualar display of Aussie invincibility.
If the team continues for several years to look born losers will the support hold up? One prays so for already attendances at Test cricket in most of the other cricketing nations is falling away sharply. In India the crowds now turn out mainly for one-day cricket, Pakistan has real problems, West Indies have lost most of their support and even South Africa is seeing a swing to one-day.
The lifeblood of Test cricket has always been the Ashes but it is hard to see other than one-sided games for some time to come.
But our side can only play what is fielded against them and they have been magnificent.
SOCCER QUOTE OF THE DAY; Alex Fergusson was asked if given a gun with one bullet would he use it on Arsene Wenger or Victoria Beckham. He replied ” Could I not have two bullets?”
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Airey Neave 2. 1971 (February)
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Who won the Nobel prize for peace in 1979 for her work in Calcutta? 2. Which country won 17 of 29 track and field gold medals at the 1972 Olympics?
The long-yearned for spell of mild weather has brought relief to everyone involved at the poultry end of the allotments. Like the relief of Mafekin it arrived just in time and now there is a more relaxed air about the place, no more remarks about being sent to Siberia by Putin not being as bad as this. All of which meant that, as our New Years Eve tradition demands, we had time to sit in the shed to vote for our man of the year. No prize other than a notice on the wall and the winner is unlikely to learn that he or she has won. But we mad chicken/ferret folk enjoy it and nowt else matters.
Twenty slips of paper went into the box and one name emerged as clear winner. Ian Holloway, the manager of Blackpool Football Club, is our almost unanimous choice. Only one vote for Lady Gaga spoiled our unanimity and we can all guess who put that in. For sheer deeds on the field of play many of us considered Andrew Strauss but the power of laughter won through.
When back in July, Ian Holloway somehow managed to drag his team through the play-offs into the Premiership, every soccer expert in the land predicted disaster. Ian made clear that there was no big money available for so-called megastars and put forward the view that eleven men working hard could take on any other eleven however many millions they were paid. And so it has proved. The outcome is best summed up by a remark made by Steve Bruce, manager of Sunderland, after his team’s home defeat by Blackpool over Christmas. He said that he needed a quality player and would spend £10 million to get one. He added that “there is no point in buying a £2 million one since he would be mediocre”. Ian Holloway’s victors cost well below £2 million for the whole team!
Of course Blackpool have taken a few hidings and after one Ian commented that “we have had a walloping but we’re happy because we now have a washing machine, the players don’t have to take their kit home to wash”. In fact not only has Ian Holloway proved that the vast amounts of money splashed out on players is absurd, he has also won the hearts of every sports joiurnalist with his perpetual optimism and wit. When he frst arrived in Blackpool he remarked that he liked the place because, like him, it looked better in the dark. And, unlike other top managers, he accepts defeat with equanimity. After one match he remarked that he had considered poking the linesman with a stick to see if he was awake, but as with every Holloway utterance it was said with a smile. Football, he believes, is taken too seriously and his every action recognises that when Bill Shankly saw it as more important than life itself he was way off the mark.
In a year when football reached its lowest depths and the nation did likewise Ian Holloway made us laugh. He also pricked the bubble of pomposity in which the Premiership dwells and, in so doing, showed just how ridiculous the money paid to semi-literate players of moderate abilility really is. He has set a new standard in honesty and self-effacement, rare features of life at the soccer zillionnaire heights. And his work for charity has shown again and again that he has his feet firmly on the ground.
In 1800 the novelist Maria Edgeworth wrote that “we cannot judge either of the feelings or the character of men with perfect accuracy, from their actions or their public appearance; it is from their careless conversation, their half-finished sentences, that we may hope with the greatest probability of success to discover their real character”. By this, and any other measure, Ian Holloway is the best.
On his day of (unknown to him) triumph let us give him the last word. A TV reporter was attempting to conduct the usual inane interview. “Any injury worries?”, he asked. Our hero replied “No, I’m fully fit thanks“.
AND WHO IS THE DOLT OF THE YEAR?
If such an award existed Andrew Lansley would surely be a hot favourite. A few days ago this site attacked him for cancelling this years flu advertising. As the deaths mount he has now decided to perform yet another U-turn. Has he no self understanding to warn him of his tendency to take rash and wrong decisions?
Perhaps the best judgement on his short but catastrophic reign over the NHS has emerged this very day. Sarah Wollaston is a prominent Conservative MP and is also a retired GP. She has published a lengthy article warning Lansley that he is taking huge risks by attempting root-and-branch reform whilst trying to save £15 billion. Like many she sees what he is doing as an almost inevitable prelude to privatisation and the introduction of private companies who will cherry-pick the profitable services and leave NHS hospitals bankrupt and unable to perform critical procedures. Dr Wollaston knows what she is talking about and is a political ally of Lansley. She gives chapter and verse on the chaos he has wrought and urges him to perform ‘handbrake turns’.
But being the dolt of the year, he is unlikley to listen. He will only realise what he has done when the NHS lies broken and beyond repair!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. 1972 2. Munich
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. China began using pinyin in 1979. What is pinyin? 2. What name did the BBC give to its Teletext services in the 70s?
A VERY HAPPY AND SUCCESSFUL NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!
At last! We were able to dig trenches this morning and the mountain of chicken muck is now concealed. Even after several days of thaw the ground was still hard and we now have muscles to match those of Popeye. Or as Leonard Cohen used to sing, ‘we now ache in the places where we used to play’. After yesterday’s early clean-out I deserted the camp and, together with she-who-must-be -obeyed, drove down to Oxford to deliver belated Christmas pressies. Whilst we were with our relatives the cards that we posted well before the big day dropped through their letter-box. So we were not the only people frozen into inaction.
It felt good to make a trip unencumbered by snow or ice. Of course the English climate never tires of tormenting us and, by way of a change, we encountered thick fog through the Midlands. Some idiot had decided to drive blind and the resulting pile up meant that thousands of us spent rather a long time parked on the M6 but it still felt like freedom after weeks of frozen incarceration. And it gave me time to ponder on my vote for Person of the Year when on New Year’s Eve the chicken and ferret folk decide whose picture will adorn the allotment shed through 2011.
Of course no one gives a monkey’s elbow what we lot think but we still take our long-standing tradition seriously. Who impressed us most, cheered us up and regularly revived our sagging spirits? I will let you know tomorrow what we decided but you can be sure of one thing, it won’t be a politician!. It is usually the case that some leading names appear on the slips of paper but those days have gone. The revelations about expenses, the Clegg stance on pledges and the appointment of Lords of dubious character have created a sense of alienation from the ruling classes. I suspect we are not alone!
As if to drive the final nail in the coffin of politicians we learn today that the Telegraph was not exposing a sudden lapse from grace when it broke the news of greed and dishonour. Today’s Telegraph reveals that as long ago as 1980 the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, warned the Cabinet that there was a ” grave risk of serious public scandal” over the abuse of expenses by many MPs. Records of Cabinet meetings, published today by the National Archives, show that parliamentary pay and allowances were the source of great concern. The prime minister went on to warn that MPs should be seen to be accountable for the various secretarial, research assistance and travel allowances. She demanded that Ministers give the lead in tightening the system. There were many abuses and “it might be necessary to consider prosecuting MPs known to be guilty of abuse”. It was necessary to “expose publicly the full implications of MPs’ actions”.
Incredibly nothing was done and it was to be thirty years before the truth was told by a national newspaper. So for three decades many politicians have deceived the people that elected them. The whole system of government was rotten to the core. To be fair there are honourable parliamentarians, but if even a combatative character like the sainted Maggie could not hector them into honesty and openness the lack of integrity was clearly deeply embedded.
The fact that change is now under way reflects no credit on an institution that was clearly happy to embrace dishonesty. Had the Telegraph not decided to act in the public interest we would have continued to pay taxes to fund moats and duck houses. In our book the only title open to politicians is crook of the year!
Between now and tomorrow why not ponder on your own choice of someone who impresssed you, someone who seemed genuine, a role model for your youngsters. There are some such folk out there although I suspect that your list, like mine, will not be a long one!
A fantastic performance by England in Melbourne has ensured that we retain the little urn. The England team was superior to the Aussies in every respect, it is a long time since we have been able to honestly claim that when visiting down under.
We should perhaps spare a thought for Ricky Ponting. He has been a superb batsman over many years and drew the short straw in captaining a team bereft of talent. With the possible exception of Mike Hussay and, occasionally, Mitchell Johnson this Australian side is one of the poorest to wear the baggy green.
But they came up against an England team led as never before by Flower and Strauss. Fitness levels are high, morale likewise. Now all they have to do is put on a repeat performance in Sydney starting on Sunday!
CAMERON’S PAL CONDEMNS PACE OF CUTS!
It is predictable that opponents of the coalition are busy condemning the sheer pace of the financial cuts. Slightly more worrying are the concerns expressed by financial pundits. Extremely worrying is the latest news of a fierce attack by a leading charity figure and key supporter of David Cameron’s ‘big society’.
In an open letter to the prime miister, David Robimson, the co-founder of the Community Links charity, has warned that the massive public spending cuts will doom Cameron’s main social policy initiative to failure and will create a ‘Hurricane Katrina’moment for the coalition.
Robinson, whose charity was described by Cameron as “one of Britain’s most inspiring community organisations” writes ” forcing an unsustainable pace on a barrage of uncoordinated cuts that hit the poorest hardest is not an act of God. Why let it be your Katrina?”
This surprise attack came on the day of a less surprising one. Ed Miliband wrote that “many people feel powerless in the face of these decisions that will affect their lives, families and communities. The political forces in Whitehall that have made these decisions appear forbidding and unheeding”.
Perhaps Robinson’s attack will cause someone in government to pause for thought. One can only hope so for the economic readings suggest that the cuts are too rapid and, equally worrying, the trade unions have awoken from their decades of slumber, even moderates such as Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services Union are openly plannibg major strikes. Katrina moment indeed!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. The USSR 2. Whether or not to stay in the EEC
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. What year was the Watergate burglary in Washington DC? 2. Which Olympics were hit by terrorists who attacked the Israeli athletes?
The weathermen came under attack in Scotland yesterday but it has to be said that they got it right here. We had a respite yesterday from our now established thawing routine on the allotment but it was back to square one this morning. The surest way to kill poultry is to deprive them of water and we toiled for an hour using the age-old method of dropping ice-solid containers into a bucket of boiling water. It solved the chicken’s dilemma but did nothing for our blue digits. I should perhaps mention that Albert’s are black, the result of his once shaking hands with Lady Gaga and refusing to ever wash his mitts again. But the job is done and we are cheered by the forecast of above-freezing temperatures on Thursday. Everything is relative and after this ferret version of Ice Station Zebra, five degrees above will feel like the tropics.
One of our helpers this morning was retired GP Steven. Inevitably the topic as we thawed ourselves out in the shed was Andrew Lansley, the new disease afflicting the NHS as no other has ever managed to do. One of the first deeds of the new Health Secretary was to abolish waiting time targets. The view of Steven and his pals is that some targets were pointless and bureacratic but these were not amongst them. Demand huge efficiency cuts from hospitals and abolish their waiting time targets and guess what happens. Correct, the waiting times are already extending and thousands of patients are now facing the prospect of long waits to see a specialist. Things such as weekend ‘catch-up’ clinics have been dropped and the option of private treatment has crawled out from under the rock that was guaranteed waiting times. This is probably exactly what Lansley intended but what on earth is he trying to achieve with GP commissioning?
To Steven and several current GPs that I have spoken to ( as an ex PCT chairman I made many friends amongst the local GPs) the whole idea is a complete mystery. But today Lansley will announce the creation of the first 52 GP consortiums who will replace Primary Care Trusts and will assume control of commissioning. In other words they will decide how the £80 billion budget is to be allocated. According to the press releases millions of patients will take greater control of health care. How will they? In our patch none of the 130 GPs will be involved in the consortiums and no one seems to know who they will comprise. So how do their patients suddenly take control?
But the greatest mystery for all that Steven and I have spoken to is how the enormous unfairness of massive postcode medicne will be avoided. To an extent it has always been a bugbear but at least the Department of Health has co-ordinated the Primary Care Trusts. Left to their individual fancies the hundred or so eventual consortiums will opt for different priorities and the fate of some patients will vary accoridng to where they live. This cannot be right.
There is a suggestiuon that to avoid this, Lansley may impose a central body and encourage each consortium to recruit experts from the defunct Primary Care commissioners. But if he does that the poossibility of finishing back where he started is a real one.
The main medical authorities such as the BMA are refusing to have anything to do with the project which is therefore being driven by politicians supported by some GPs who prefer not to practice hands-on medicine plus a few who have an axe to grind. One suspects that the hidden agenda is to open the door to privatisation, something Patriciaa Hewitt played with with disastrous effects. But it won’t even achieve that. So far as anyone understands the revolutionary plan it will simply result in a giant mess and a situation similar to schools where people move home to be in a catchment area offering what they seek.
The NHS has made enormious progress over the past few decades but it had become choked with bureaucracy and red-tape. This needed treatment but what is happening is not treatment, it is slaughter. The one redemming feature is today claimed to be the transfer of power to patients. How will it do that? Greater minds than mine are completely bemused and simply cry it won’t!
I am rapidly coming to the view that the loner Lansley should carry a health warning on his rumpled coat!
WIKILEAK; WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON?
Various governments are now threatening all sorts of action against the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. It is inevitable that people around the world are wondering if the sudden appearance of charges of sexual assault on two women in Sweden is a co-incidence. Yesterday a district judge refused him bail
In truth we have no idea, but one thing is for sure. The Americans, who are the most strident in condemning the daily publication of embarrassing cables, are the people really responsible for this fiasco. A soldier was able to download thousnads of secret documents on to a Lady Gaga disc. Clearly the security in Washington is lax beyond belief. The people ultimately responsible are the American authorities.
The views of the website range from concern at the repression of information through to amazement that diplomats would be so stupid as to commit such nonsense to written form. And many abhor the activities of the website. But one common view prevails – the Americans should get their security act together!
ASHES; NOW COMES THE BACKLASH!
The Australian press is tearing Ricky Ponting to pieces in the aftermath of the thrashing by England. But it is hard to see what more he could have done with the bunch that he has, other than to score runs himself. Some Aussie papers are campaigning for the return of Shane Warne who still plays IPL cricket. That seems a retrograde step given that the wizard is 41. Certain it is that England would not be overjoyed since even at that age Warne is light years ahead of the present choices.
Looking back to my predictions I have to confess to gettimg most things wrong. My self understanding tells me that I should stick to the day job! I certainly didn’t expect to see Finn as the leading pace bowler with nine wickets after two Tests!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1 Argentina 2. Cyprus
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. On which island did Noel Coward die? 2. Which was Roger Moore’s first Bond film?
The wheels seem to be coming off the coalition’s cost-saving bandwagon! When ministers announced, within days of the election, the scrapping of Strategic Health Authorities, Primary Care Trusts and Quangos galore the initial reaction from most of my fellow ferret breeders was one of delight. That was when they laboured under the delusion that there were precise plans in place. Now it is a different matter altogether for it is becoming clearer by the day that the headlines we heard were all that there was.
No fewer than 177 quangos perished at a stroke, may of them deservedly for they had bred like rabbits under the last goverment. Who, in a supposed age of localism, needs a central advisory panel on local innovation? Who needs quangos that monitor quangos? And who needs advice from the great, good and friends of ministers that pack these bodies? But those who defend the rights of mentally ill and disabled people do need a champion yet the Public Guardian Board has suffered the same fate as countless others. Most of us have never heard of many of those now resting in Sir Humphrey’s out tray but we have heard of the Audit Commission which represented the only realistic check on just what local authorities are spending our cash on. It too now lies dead. But who or what is going to take on the important role that it played?
Right now there is chaos across the land. Surely someone should have had the wit to examine what each quango actually does before axeing it. Yes, we all dislike the name but even the most vehement critic must acknowledge that at least some of them did something that needs to be done. Leaving all the organisations over which they presided free to spend on the first thing that comes into their heads does not sound very sensible.
In the NHS absolute chaos prevails. Primary Care Trusts have made huge numbers redundant and some have set up joint commissioning panels in anticipation of the inevitable inability of GPs to take over their roles as announced by the hapless Andrew Lansley, who has the doubtful honour of being named by clinicians as the worst ever Secretary of State for Health. He can expect patients to follow suit once they realise that the ad-hoc commissioners are switching services vast distances from their local hospitals! And who will regulate the finances of Foundation Trusts now that Monitor has been diverted on to other tasks? Talk to anyone employed in the NHS and encounter bewilderment on a grand scale!
It doesn’t need Alan Sugar to work out that massive changes such as those triggered by a flurry of hasty announcements need to be planned carefully, and phased in only as the replacements become available. There is every reason to believe that all this is going to sharply increase costs and impair services in the short term And you don’t need to be the sacker of apprentices to know that short term in this context means two to three years!
What is it about the Brits that makes us so incompetent? The Labour government added layer after layer of bureaucracy in almost every field and they employed an army of expensive management consultants to arrange them. The coalition has leapt in the opposite direction but clearly has no overall strategy or understanding of what needs to be done or the consequences of doing it. And they are running a vast enterpise called the United Kingdom.
The popular view seems to be that Lansley, Gove ( who even had to amend his announcement on schools within days), and the rest of them, are merely rearranging the chairs on the decks of the Titanic. Perhaps the time has come to send for the Monster Raving Loony Party!
SAVING IS THE NEW EVIL!
The name of the deputy governor of the Bank of England is Mr Bean, which seems apt. I say that because his statement on saving strikes me as plain barmy. In esssence he has told savers to stop moaning and to start spending. In fact most are now doing just that given the virtual elimination of interest and the total withdrawal of National Savings index-linked certificates.
Of course one can understand the benefit to the economy in the short term but surely the longer term effect will be to render the state liable to fund all nursing and residential home care once the present mass of older people reach the stage of needing it.
And isn’t it also fundamentally unfair? At present the state has to totally support many who have simply not bothered to ‘save for a rainy day’. Now it seems that the prudent ones, who surely deserve applause, are to be villified for their prudence. Something tells me that Mr Bean hasn’t used his self understanding to think this through!
GOOD ADVICE FOR THE TORY ASSASSINS!
For me the best column of the day is that of Julian Glover. He warns that smearing Labour’s new leader, a decent man, will backfire. They should be testing him instead.
There seems to be evidence that Ed Miliband is not as excitingly adventurous as his brother and may prove vulnerable on detail. But simply attacking him with endless childish abuse will have the effect of endearing him to the public which always swings behind any victim of mindless bullying. One would have thought that the Tories and their press baron friends would have learned a lesson from the dramatic rise of Nick Clegg. Instead of questioning his policies they resorted to a tirade of abuse and millions set up a ‘all Clegg’s fault’ campaign aimed at both defending him and making the bullies look ridiculous.
A glance at today’s polls ought to be a warning. For the first time in three years labour leads the Conservatives!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. Londonderry 2. Uganda
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which country exploded its first nuclear device in 1974? 2. Why did Britain work a three-day week in 1974?
A distinct air of unease has permeated the allotment shed and it’s all the fault of Bill Bryson. A few days ago Albert bought a copy of the authors latest work. ‘At Home, a short history of Private Life’ is another masterpiece by the guy that first won our hearts with his ‘Thoughts from a Small Island’, and this latest effort is informative and hilarious in turn. But when our turn came to read it, most of us began to suffer disturbed nights, something that retired ferret breeders, who dream only of long-gone games of cricket, are usually immune from.
The problem is that for well over half a century, like most of the other inmates, I have been tucked up with she-who-must-be-obeyed secure in the knowledge that we were alone, the rest of the world a distant place. The revelation that we in fact share our bed with about one zillion other creatures, most of which intend us all the harm they can muster, is a disquieting one.
The first thing I did was to scuttle along to the nearest cash-and-carry in search of a new pillow. Why? Because Bill reveals that if your pillow is six years old (which apparently is the average age for a pillow, though how he knows that is not revealed), one-tenth of its weight will be made up of sloughed skin, living and dead mites, and mite dung – or frass as it is known to entomologists. Now I need to tackle the bed!
Bill reports that if a bed is averagely clean, averagely old, averagely dimensioned and turned averagely often (which is to say almost never), it is likley to be home to some two million tiny bed mites , too small to be seen with the naked eye but unquestionably there. It seems that an army of tiny creatures crawl across the bedsheets at night to graze upon the vast, delicious gently heaving mountain of slumbering flesh that is me.
Worse still , clambering among the bed mites , on a much more gigantic scale, might also be lice. It appears that these once-nearly-vanquished creatures are making a comeback on a scale even greater than that of the Rolling Stones. We all remember ‘Nitty Nora’ the school nurse who used to spend her days searching through our barnets, the new arrivals are their cousins and rejoice in the name of Pediculus Corporis. It seems that the comeback is down to low-temperature wash cycles in washing machines. Dr John Maunder, a leading entomologist, puts it nicely-” if you wash lousy bedclothes at low temperatures all you get is cleaner lice”.
Stay with me for it gets worse still! Like lice, bedbugs are making an unwelcome comeback too. For most of the 20th century they were virtually extinct in Europe and America thanks to the rise of modern insectiticides, but in recent years they are rebounding gleefully. No one seems to know why but one theory is that they are travelling home in suitcases of visitors to hotter and more exotic places. Another guess is that they are developing resistance to the things we spray on them. Whatever it is, they are back and one paper, the New York Times, has proudly announced that some of the best hotels in New York have them.
Unlike our grandparents of old we no longer have the knowledge to spot bedbugs. Slightly worrying since we are, it seems, only likely to discover we are infested when we wake up and find we are lying in a swarm of them. Apparently bedbugs, or Cimex lectularius as the little bloodsuckers are scientifically known, once drove people half mad. When Jane Carlyle discovered that they had invaded her housekeeper’s bed , she had the bed taken to pieces and carried to the garden where it was washed with chloride of lime before being immersed in water. The bedding was taken to a sealed room and dusted repeatedly with a disinfectant powder. Only after all this was the housekeeper allowed to go to bed. Sadly it was now rendered toxic and the servant suffered the same fate as her visitors.
We ferreters are less worried about the trillion bacteria that await us about the house on the basis that we are more likely to be alert to attack. The only problem is that we can’t see these either. The world’s most celebrated germ expert, Dr Charles Gerba, is so devoted to the study of germs that he has named one of his children Escherichia, presumably having forgotten that in due course she has to attend school roll-call. Anyway, Dr Gerba reports that household germs are not always where you expect them to be.He has found repeatedly that the most germ-free area is the toilet seat ( persumably because it is regularly wiped) and the worst the average desk or table top which is literally crawling. The filthiest aea of all, he has found, is the kitchen wash cloth which is invariably drenched in bacteria.
How it is that we are still alive at all is a mystery but Jimmy, our ex-farmer, insists that one has to eat a peck of dirt before dying. However, I’m really into preventive measures and intend to use my self understanding to programme my mind to stop my mouth dropping open during the hours of darkness. After all a peck of mites may well be just as lethal as dirt!
It is all very annoying. I knew that, to quote Cole Porter, ‘even educated fleas do it’ but I wish that they and their mates would do it someplace else!
2050 AND THE WORLD POPULATION
Official statistics show that the world’s population will rise to 9 billion by the year 2050 and a major academic assessment led by John beddington, the UK governemnt chief scientist, suggests that even with new tecnologies such as gentic modification and nanotechnology, hundeds of millions may still starve.
Various scientists are working on methods to improve aniaml breeding techniques and there is even talk of artificial meat grown in vats. Curiously no one has mentioned the querstion of human breeding. Given the love that the coalition has with cuts it should petrhaps pioneer a version that might make all the difference!
QUIZ ANSWERS FOR YESTERDAY ; 1. Brotherhood of Man 2.Space invaders
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1 What was the name of the frog in The Muppet Show? 2. Which benny was a comic hit on both sides of the Atlantic?
I cannot pretend that there are many Guardian readers in the allotment shed, most of the ferret men tend to carry a copy of the Sun tucked discretely in a jacket pocket whilst the orchid growers favour The Tmes rolled up with their brollies. But Jimmy, the retired but not retiring farmer, has remained faithful to the one-time organ of the Liberals and, despite the disappearance of the Party, he reads on. A few days ago he passed his copy round for he was anxious we ignorant ones should read of their campaign to save the planet before it is too late.
To be fair it makes a lot of sense and it is reassuring to find one paper that is prepared to campaign on something that most of us would prefer not to know about. Mind you, that is difficult of late given the horrendous news accounts of flooding in Pakistan, drought in Niger, freak heat wave in Russia and erratic and life-destroying weather in many other places. Despite all our cynicsm we have to concede that the climate is changing!
It took us into a discussion about problems nearer to home, in the next road to be precise. An elderly lady there decided that she could no longer cope with her huge garden and sold it off to a developer. He built two blocks of flats and by the time he had finished it off with a car park and several patios there was not a blade of grass to be seen. Not a pretty sight we thought, but the recent torrential rain revealed a bigger shortcoming. The road itself was flooded for the first time in living memory and one didn’t need to be David Attenborough to realise that all the natural drainage had been concreted over. And this experience is being repeated all over the country. Gardens serve more purposes than growing spuds and they are vanishing at a rapid rate,
The previous government did have some restrictions but the coalition seems to have a touching faith in local authorities. Frankly the chance of their cracking down on developers, who maintain large entertainment budgets for members of planning committees, is akin to a cricket version of Pakistan batting for more than a couple of hours.
To be perfectly honest few of us, even the gardeners, had too great a knowledge of the importance of so many everyday things in regard to the environment. When I first learned that the world bee population was falling sharply my reaction was to applaud on the grounds that the future held less threat of stings. I now realise that without bees there would be total wipeout of one third of the world’s food, bees are, it seems, a key part of God’s plan!
And now we realise that plants are the basis for much of life on earth and they too are under enormous threat. Later thus year the results of a huge global analysis by the Royal Botanic Gardens,Kew, of all the world’s estimated 400,000 plants are due to be published. Early indications are that more than one in four are under threat of extinction. Meanwhile a study of other species groups by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that one in five of all mammals, nearly one in three of amphibians and one in eight birds are at risk of being wiped out.
The report adds that these estimates are based on immediate threat , and do not consider further development of destructive factors including climate destruction. It is all a little mind-boggling but it adds up to one thing. Creatures that trigger growth in plants and many of the plants themselves are doomed. And unless we do something to stem the decline, so are we.
Here in our cosy little allotment world we feel that we are doing our bit. We ensure plenty of drainage, shrubs that attract bees, wood piles that provide a habitat for wildlife, produce that saves air miles. But we are under threat too. A developer popped in the other day, we knew his profession by the size of his car. He mentioned that he is hoping to make the owners of the land an offer they can’t refuse. When we talked of it being over our dead bodies he remarked cheerfully that it could be arranged. He and his like have no interest in anything other than money, money, money.
And apart from the environmental effect the vandalism of people like him is slowly but surely destroying the quality of life. Jimmy left the open spaces of his farm to live on a new estate. He confesses to feeling claustrophobic as he gazes out upon dozens of boxes identical to his own. Everything seems to be closing in, our small island so vividly portrayed by Bill Bryson, is seizing up. It simply cannot accomodate more people without services and roads reaching breaking point and the trees, spaces and creatures that ensure that the food chain survives will be destroyed and pollution levels will soar.
Yet deepdown no world leader really believes that the world is under threat. We can only assume that to be the case given that no serious action is under way. Anyone with self understanding and in a position to have influence on the world stage would see clearly that he or she has a moral duty to force action on everything from air travel to rain forests. But few seem able to see beyond the next election or the perks of high office.
So our small band will support the Guardian’s campaign not because we are goody-goodies but because we don’t like the idea that the world that has given us so much pleasure might die with us!
AND ANOTHER THING; The volume of junk mail seems to grow by the day. Today I opened a package from Spaldings, an excellent supplier of plants and gardening equipment, only to find that I or a Mrs Amstutz are finalists to receive a golden ticket concerning the final payment of £65,000. Never having met Mrs Amstutz, if such a lady actually exists, I am left wondering how I can have reached such an advanced stage on the road to paradise without having entered anything!
If junk from other purveyors of the same are any guide I shall next be asked if I wish Bruce Forsythe or Lady Gaga to make the presentation. At least my self understanding is sufficiently advanced to make that an easy question to answer!
Why reputable companies are now joining in all this misleading tripe is anyone’s guess!
QUOTE OF THE DAY; An opponent of David Cameron said that he ‘has two right feet and they are both permanently in his mouth’. The comment followed his claim that the Americans stood shoulder to shoulder with Britain in 1940 and that Iran has nuclear weapons. Blair is his hero, it shows!
Welcome, dear reader, to the allotment shed in the corner of which I compose these works of genius. Shed is a slightly misleading name for the place is large enough to stage the annual harvest show, not that we ferret men have any interest in such things.In fact our ‘association ‘ comprises three distinct groups. Apart from we breeders there are the rather posh – personalised number plates, hankies in top pockets and no self understanding - orchid growers and the somehwat less refined veg growers. Every since the latter threw in their voting power with the orchid gentlemen we breeders are in a minority and since the veg men have simply surrendered their influence we are ruled over by the only people here that Mr Cameron would care to pass the time of day with. Not that they went to Eton but the cousin of the Chairman is said to have attended Winchester.
But internal politics apart, it has to be admitted that an air of gloom has descended on our usually boisterous gang. The only antedote at present is the CD player which fills the place with music. For some weeks now the two choices have been Lady Gaga who has quite a following amongst the younger members, and Susan Boyle who, to judge by the sales of her debut album, seems to have won the heart of the nation. Those that study such things tell me that her very first album became the fastest-selling record of all time. There are one or two who favour Black Eyed Peas and Michael Jackson but I am quite alone in liking Mozart. It was only on my birthday that Albert, whose authority is based on owning the hi-fi, allowed a brief blast of the Turkey Trot.
The gloom centres in part around the increasing evidence of the Osborne cuts. One member is related to a social worker and already some of the draconian reductions are beginning to affect the most vulnerable in their care. I constantly argue that there is no alternative but am usually shouted down because many see a double dip recession looming and believe that Grumpy Gordon was right to advocate the need to secure economic recovery by boosting jobs and growth. I can’t pretend to know but even I realise that the cutbacks being made by the public sector are hitting many local small businesses. A measure perhaps of the political leanings of the ferret men was the reaction to the reader who remarked that the country is being run by two muppets – he became an instant hero here.
But the gloom is not just about politics, in fact ownership looms much larger and the news that Liverpool F C is about to be taken over by what amounts to the communist Chinese government has sent Terry apopletic. I suggested we offer a prize to the member who can fill more than one side of an envelope with major enterpirses still in British ownership. The first list was headed by Cadburys and cricket after which interest faded. The grumbling then turned to imported veg and fruit.
Apples were cited as a classic example of millions of air miles being consumed to bring in produce inferior to the stuff grown here. The best fruit on God’s earth is grown in Kent, not least Worcester Pearman, Blenheim Orange, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Egremont Russet. All are delicious and all store well. But try finding them amongst the Pink Lady from Chile or Braeburn and Gala from New Zealand not to mention the Golden Delicious from South Africa. Why?
The experience of David and Linda Deme who have more than 85 acres under cultivation near Leeds Castle in Kent may help to explain. They used to run their own packhouse from which they supplied apples to the supermarkets. In 1996 the retailing giants reduced the number of packhouses they would deal with and David and Linda had to send their fruit to be packed. They quickly realised that they were only being paid for just over half of the apples delivered. The reason? Nearly half the fruit was being thrown away because many apples were not the perfect size. Now they make apple juice and sell it together with apples to farmers markets.
I am afraid that supermarkets are as unpopular as George Osborne down here on the allotment. Never mind, come tomorrow we codgers will have something else to moan about. Meantime ther is always Lady Gaga and hot tea to cheer us !
WORTH A TRY; I may be spitting in the wind as they say in these parts, but I am tempted to wonder if you or I could use the growing readership of this site to trace someone we would love to hear of again. Of ciourse the chance of their being an actual reader is slim but out there in the world of surfers there just might be someone who knows someone etc.
Anyway, here goes for a starter. I would like to know what happened to Bob Heyes who shared an RAF Old Sarum billet with me from 1951-1953. Bob was a railway stoker before joining up and used to work on the Tonbridge to Tunbridge Wells branch. He hailed from those parts. Like me he will be ancient now but we were special mates and I would love to hear from anyone who knew him or knows him still.
Lest anyone should imagine that our Ferret Club makes no contribution to the nation’s culture I should perhaps hasten to explain that we take very seriously the duty of naming the winner of the Twit of the Day award which is intended to remind us all eternally of our great hero Eddie the Eagle. Ever since that magical time when our hero proved beyond doubt that the Brits love a loser we have devoted precious seconds of our tea-break to weighty selection. We are always encouiraged to do so by our retired GP who loves to announce that laughter is the best medicine, a phrase he memorised during one of the zillion NHS cost-cutting schemes.
Yesterday’s decision was a close run thing. Our first candidate, Fabio Capello, is usually in the running but he has now reinforced his claim by devising and publishing the Capello Index, a device whereby players can be rated scientifically and taught to improve without the need for coaching. Why the Football Association is outraged is hard to fathom for here surely is the perfect way to save five million quid each year. But outraged they are, not least because the Italian has used the associations logo, thus bringing them into even more disrepute than is currently the case.
Fabio has proved himself to be, shall we say, somewhat lacking in venom by taking almost a week to persuade his web-site partners, who seem to include his son, to delete the index . He has also outraged the England millionnaire stars by producing an analysis that suggests that they were a little disappointing in the World Cup and that Robert Green made an error, all memory of which had been blotted from their collective memory. So now the players wish to grade the manager. That will be difficult since they are largely incapable of understanding a pidgin dialect.
So Fabio has managed once again to be short listed for the Eddie award. But sadly, as with the World Cup, he failed to snatch the trophy in the face of a masterly display by Nick Clegg who managed to drop three clangers in one day. Yesterday was his debut at Prime Minister’s Question Time, his dad being in America with Obama. Unfortunately no one had bothered to explain that the idea is not to say the first thing that comes into ones head. Nick got off to a lively start by losing his rag with Jack Straw – not a difficult thing to do – and to slam the Blackburn lad for having been involved in the administration of an ‘illegal’ war. The spin-doctors had to work hard on that one since Dad Cameron believes it to be more legal than the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Then young Nick announced that the much despised Yarl’s Wood immigration centre is to close. Which it isn’t, only the children’s section. More work for the Spin-men who will soon be lobbying for another pay increase if Nick continues to prove that it is easy not to agree with him despite what it said on the tee-shirts. And Cameron’s lad went for the hat-trick by declaring that there was a fixed pull-out time for Afghanistan and did this almost at the moment that Dad was announcing in Washington that there is no such thing.
Of course overshadowing all this is the feeling by most of those that voted Lib Dem at the election that Nick has torpedoed the party below the water-line. Given that additional feature Nick’s performance was such as to leave the judges with no alternative than to to overlook Fabio the Great and to prepare to send the certificate to Cameron’s son who now joins all those who tread in the path of the one and only Eddie the Eagle who learned to ski using a dustbin in his back yard and sallied forth to theOlympics where he achieved a meritorious last place and became the idol of the nation.
It was unfortunate for Ricky Ponting that he faced two such formidible twits on the day, for at almost any other time his achievement in leading the invincible Aussies to an innings total of 88 would have carried the day. Pakistan were hardly the bookies favourite having spent the past two days drawing straws to find a captain and looking like a team incapable of bowling out a ferret club select eleven but somehow Ricky, having won the toss, managed to almost match the deeds of Nick and Fabio.
Of course there is one big difference. Unlike the others, Ricky may get it right next time!
AND ANOTHER COUPLE OF THINGS; Facebook signed up its 500 millionth user yesterday. The facility started in February 2004 with a college project for people who had gone to Harvard University. It quickly grew to other universities and then secondary schools until finally in September 2006 the site threw open its doors to anyone over 13. Of the 500 million users half use the site every day and for an average of 34 minutes. Its co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, now thinks a target of a billion users is “almost guaranteed”
Images of Christine Keeler as she’s never been seen before are to go on display. There she is nibbling a chicken leg or relaxing in a field in a display assembled over 17 years by art dealer, James Birch. It will take place at the Mayor Gallery between November 3 to December 17. Also included will be letters which shine a light on the most notorious political scandal of the century when Christine had simultaneous affairs with war minister John Profumo and Russian naval attache Yevgeni “Eugene” Ivanov.
Two of tioday’s stories give me great pleasure. At long last someone up there has worked out that theNHS managers and red tape we hear so much about are not to be found in our hospitals but in the multi-tiered bureaucracy under which they suffer. And by way of a bonus ‘two Jags’ Prescott made his debut in the House of Lords. But we must turn to the NHS initially since its fortunes affect every family in the land whereas those of John Prescott touch only the members of a Hull working-mens club.
Apart from ferret-breeding the NHS is the only subject known to man on which I can claim to have hands-on experience and regular readers will know that I have regularly banged on about the the £1.5 billion being squandered on Strategic Health Authorites and Primary Care Trusts, neither of which makes any useful contribution to patient care and both of which cause great frustration at busy hospitals who have enough to do without filling in a zillion forms per day. I therefore raise my glass to Health Secretary Andrew Tilsley who has decided to abolish them. At a stroke he has saved a fortune and made it easier for clinicians to do what we want them to do.
However I must now put down my glass because Mr Tilsley has selected the wrong replacement. The theory of GPs running the NHS is fanciful and, in my view, will not work. I suspect that somewhere in this is the Conservative dream of privatising our health service. GPs are part of the private sector and many of them have vested interests in setting up services to be bought-in by the NHS. Governance could be a major problem here and for once George Osborne was right to flag up concern at handling £80 billion into their care. But there are other and more practical reasons for fearing failure.
The relationship between a family doctor and specialists/surgeons is a key part of a patients pathway. Placing one in the role of commissioner and the other as a mere provider will create huge tensions and will damage what even now can be a fragile realtionship particularly when the GP referral or preliminary diagnosis is inappropriate. Then there is the problem of ability and/or willingness to undertake such a role. Few GPs have any expertise in business accountancy and even fewer wish to spend their precious time coping with it.The result will be that a large number of practices will come together to float a professional commissioning body and they will recruit many of the people now facing redundancy in the Primary Care Trusts. And a complicated web of constant debate will ensue with the smaller practices continually complaining that their larger competitors are influencing things their way.
Worse still we will end up with post code lottery that will make the present system look fair by comparison. Decisions on form of treatment and affordability of special drugs cannot be left to local decision, there must be a nationwide ruling to ensure equity. And in my view the worst outcome of all will be the attempt by some ambitious GP entrepeneurs to take away the routine work form hospitals. There can only be one outcome from this-the hospitals close. The previous government tried this and had there not been a massive public reaction one of the hospitals that I chaired would now be closed. As it is it has the UK’s first Assessment and Treatment Centre. The attempt by Patricia Hewitt and her team was to hand outpatient services to a South African company. The loss of the ‘profitable’ and easy work would have left the hospital unable to subsidise the complex life-saving work.
The Tories have got it half right and have my applause for that. They now need to look again at the GP route which is fraught with danger. There is a simpler and safer solution. They should allow the Department of Health to set up a network of small regional offices and administer cash allocation from those. The existing Health Care Commission should be responsible for clinical inspections. They should add the Foundation Trust regulator, Monitor, to their list of closures.And they should stop perpetuating the ridiculous Labour habit of isolating, and thus alienating, the hospital Consultants. Our lives regularly depend on them!
Whatever the government believes it is quite impossible in the UK to privatise health services.They quote as an example the United States but that is quite different.The private health suppliers there provide a total service including all aspects of emergency medicine. The private ones here do not and even their care of minor ops patients rests on their ability to send any patient with complications tot he nearest NHS hospital.
Now with a sigh of relief and a hearty belly-laugh let us turn to the arrival of Baron Prescott of Kingston-upon-Hull in our county of East Yorkshire in the House of Lords. Letters from the Queen were read out, they explained in pitiless detail why she had picked her ‘right, trusty and well-beloved counsellor John Prescott’ for the job. If job it be. Any attempt to express all this in Prescottese would fail because it is written in just that. All the ‘grace of God, especial grace, certain knowledge and mere motion’ was so obtuse as to have been penned by the great man himself. But I for one begrudge him not.
Yes we are the world’s most class-conscious nation and yes our John has always banged on about the working class. But that is what he will continue to be and any Minister prepared to dive into the crowd to thump an egg-thrower has my vote. So long as this farcica,l class-ridden place continues it is only right to place a few real people in it. And he will liven the place up, especially if someone calls him an oik!
OTHER NEWS FOR TODAY; Education Minister Michael Gove established a new record for the number of errors made in a single day when he published a list of schools whose new buildings were to be axed and included over 30 errors. The resulting lawsuits may cancel out any savings hoped for. XX Harry Whittington who changed the way we understand the origin of animal diversity, has died at the age of 94. XX 12 women await execution in Iran on adultery charges XX The new Office for Budget Responsibility is under fresh attack for slashing its forecasts for expected job losses from Osborne’s budget just days before publication.
SOMETHING I LEARNED FOR THE FIRST TIME YESTERDAY; The number of players performing in the top Spanish League who are qualified to play for Spain is 77.1%. The number of players in our Premier League qualified to play for Englnad is below 40%. And Spain are in the World Cup Final!#
It has to be admitted that the new Justice Minister, Kenneth Clarke, is not popular with our Ferret Club members and it follows that the member’s response to his latest appointment is less than enthusiastic. Much of the hostility dates back to the late 1980s when ,as Secretary of State for Health, Mr Clarke began the closing down of mental hospitals and replacing them by the fiasco of the so-called ‘Community Care’ programme. Over 47,000 mental health beds were lost as a result of this misguided decision and many of the vulnerable people who were suddenly thrown, almost unaided, into communities that were less than welcoming eventually fell foul of the law. Since then many people who should not be deemed subjects for punishment have been regularly incarceated with criminals only too ready to exploit them.
The terrible irony of this is that the new Justice Minister is now attempting to tackle the problem of prison overcrowding much of which is due to his earlier mistakes. That in itself would be bad enough but Mr Clarke is now about to male a further blunder. Instead of recognising that mental illness merits treatment and sympathetic help he intends to scrap all short-term sentencing.The nature of the man that seems to believe in his own infallibility is such that it clearly hasn’t occurred to him to grant magistrates the discretion to judge each case on its merits. Instead he talks of private sector solutions and the voluntary organisations. Albert described it as ferret’s poo, his way of suggesting that the idea is unlikely to work any better than the various crazy ones put forward by Blairsuch as marching yobs to the nearest cash machine.
The whole idea of dropping prison from the list of options will delight all those who regualrly ignore ASBOs imposed. When a surly miscreant appears in court for the umpteenth time having ignored limits place on him what are the magistrates supposed to do now? When in the view of the Bench behaviour of an individual has become potentially threatening they need the recourse of a custodian sentence, albeit a short one. If Mr Clarke had a creative bone in his body he would be considering honouring the government’s promise of more prisons but in a different form. A number of spartan yet humane first offender centres could be the answer. It needn’t carry a prison record and all that that can do to a rgformed youth but it could be run in such a way as to provide a deterrent. Many of our members remember to this day the ‘Square Bashing’ eight weeks served many years ago.There was an opportunity for education in between long hours of gruelling and tedius work. It was not an experience one wished to reurn to!
He would also consider the need for the reinstatement of secure mental health units designed to modern and comfortable standards. This should be the destination of those who break the law severely but cannot be judged in a civilsed society as responsible for their actions.
In fact the general view of all who inhabit the allotment shed is that rather than come out with ludicrous quick-fixes that will only make matters worse the Justice minister should review the whole system of justice in this country for its reputation is not a good one. Even the much vaunted system of trial by Jury may merit a closer inspection. If at this point, dear reader, you are rising up in protest you should perhaps read the recently published account by Kathy Lette, the novelist, who under the heading of ‘Skewed judgement’ has described how she served on a Jury which in 1996 acquitted Kirk Reid who went on to commit 71 sexual attacks on women. The police are under enormous pressure as a result of their subsequent failures to bring him back to justice but he should not have been free to commit crimes.
Hilaire Belloc once described a jury as 12 people summoned at random to decide who has the better lawyer. And so, according to Kathy, it was in this case. She describes the defence barrister as shrewd and persuasive, an inept prosecution which failed to make a closing address without explaining why and a judge who ‘loomed with pompous disdain’ and who was a former commercial solicitor. So distraught was Kathy Lette at the majorityverdict that she contacted the victim and found her to be emotionally destroyed and living in fear.
And finally there are the magistrates. It may be that one of the reasons for Mr Clarke’s bizarre plan is that he doesn’t trust them to use descretion. If that is a valid fear he should surely have a full investiagation made into the alternatives including professional local Judges. Perhaps the long standing system of voluntary JPs, some of whom regard the status as more important than the role, has run its time.
As I listened to our by no means impartial or random group I came to realise that Justice is a complex subject. But one thing was plain, the majority of this group at least believes that the inteerest of the victim are largely ignored. Being a cynic I found myself wondering if the simukltaeneous announcements of the idea of abolishing prison and of slashing the number of Bobbies on the beat is really a coincidence. Are the new Ministers naive enough to believe the old guff about villains behaving better when there is no law or order?
If one adds this nonsense to that of the Health Minister’s wheeze about handing the NHS budget to GPs ones begins to wonder if those on the bridge of the sinking ship Brittania really know what icebergs look like!
I have to confess that in money matters I am a pessimist. Long, long ago I sought a mortgage and spent days worrying that when the building Society bloke shook my hand he was really checking my pulse. That was long before the Banks began to dish out loans with gay abandon since when I have shared with Fraser of Dad’s Army the conviction that we are all doomed. Yeserday’s budget did little to ease that feeling.
According to the Chancellor we are all in this together but I found it impossible to avoid the suspicion that some are more in it than others. VAT is, unlike conventional taxes, an unfair one. That claim is supported by quotes from two leading organisations. John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation says that the higher rate will severely impact the charity sector which will now have to pay an extra £140m per year in VAT. Smaller charities will be crippled because VAT accounts for more of their charitable expenditure than that of larger charities.
Contrast that with the contentment of Christopher Sharp, founder of The Rug Company which sells hadmade rugs to upmarket customers. He doesn’t think that the new rate will make much difference. If a rug costs £5000 then an extra £100 isn’t going to make much difference, he opines. The VAT inrease, which incidentally Mr Cameron refused to forecast during the election campaign, will hit the lower paid hard.
The whole package is reminiscent of the days of Lady Thatcher, not least in regard to benefits. No one disagrees with the idea that those who prefer to lie in bed and draw benefits should lose them but we all know a lot of unemployed people who are desperately seeking work anf cannot find it. Given the cuts in public services they will find it even harder to spot job vacancies. Take the case of a young lady known well to our ferret-breeders club.
She is a single mum with two small children. Some months ago she was made redundant by the probation Service. She receives £188 per week but has outgoings of £208. She has taken to saving every penny in a jam jar to enable her very occasionally to buy her tiddlers a treat. Every tiny fluctuation in prices makes her life harder. The additional payment for child tax credits for the poorest families will be offset by the VAT rise and the real-terms cuts to benefits that will come from the freeze in child benefits and the way that payments are linked to inflation.
She suspects that people like George Osbourne do not understand the problems of the unemployed. Given his personal wealth and background the odds are that she is right!
Another aspect of the Budget that increased my sense of pessimism was the sight of the Banking fraternity filling their glasses in celebration. The very fact that they feel fairly treated suggests that their troughs have not been confiscated. It was, said one senior gnome, a much lighter hit than we expected. So he can still order his hand-made carpet!
The strangest aspect of all this is the role of the Lib Dems. During the campaign both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable joined with Gordon Brown in warning of the dangers of early cuts. They have earned their ministerial limos and clearly will have no problems with the execution of 3-point turns!
Even the ruling in regard to Council tax will surely hit the porest hardest. Services will be slashed and the loss of such as libraries, swimming pools and leisure facilities will deprive those who cannot afford the alternatives. And heaven help those who rely on social services!
There had to be draconian cuts but questions emerge on yesterday’s announcements. Will such early onslaught tip us back into deep recession? Is it really fair or wise to disregard the plight of what was once called the deserving poor? As pay freezes and redundancies take their toll could we experience unrest a la poll tax?
One thing did lift my jaded spirits yesterday. Politicans have lost the trust of the people but for many years I have known one who bucks that trend. Lindsay Hoyle, the MP for Chorley, is one of the most dedicated and honest people I have ever met. For thirteen years he has fought tooth and nail for his constituency, the place of his birth. He is officially a Labour MP but has fought his government time and again when the needs of his people demanded it.
Yesterday he was in the chair as the debate raged in the House. At last he has received recognition and is Deputy Speaker. It is a comfort to know that there is at least one elected representative who cares and who can be trusted. There may be others but were they to organise an outing a mini-bus would probably suffice!
Tomorrow; Slovenia/England (delete as appropriate) put to the sword!…..
Those of us who dwell in a small circle of ferret-breeders tend to imagine that the whole world thinks as we do. But they don’t. At least I hope not, for our collective morale is down right now. Perhaps we are taking all the doom and gloom pouring forth from young Osborne and friends too much to heart but some of our number are already talking of subsiding on walnut pie and potato peelings with Spam as our weekly treat.
Perhaps the plan on high is to frighten us all to death thus reducing at a stroke the burden on the NHS. That seems to be the only service that is not to be reduced to one man and a ferret for over the past few days we have read of cuts to the armed forces, police, social services and just about everything else. But then, we console ourselves, we are all in this together. Wrong!
If in fact everyone was noticeably tightening their belts it would be much easier to buy into the idea of volunteers stepping into every breach whilst the good ship Britain righted itself in the economic gale. But day after day anyone with an enquiring eye can spot the most incredible extravagence on the part of those on the bridge. Ah yes, we are told, but they have the message. Wrong again!
The national watchdog that has the ultimate respnsibility for ensuring that public money is being handled in a manner that Scrooge would have applauded is the National Audit Office. If we received public funds they could descend on our allotment shed and pass censorious judgement on the purchases made for tea bags, biscuits and a 12 inch TV. But who monitors them?
The government’s example setter has spent more than £80 million pounds refurbising its central London offices over the past two years. The art deco offices are in Vicroria and sport marble flooring and leather sofas. Some £2.33 million was spent on furniture alone. Why such offices need to be in high-cost central London is anyone’s guess and why the place couldn’t be kitted out utility style another.
Margaret Hodge, the former Labour Minister, says that she is taken aback. She adds that we have to look at the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisations responsible for scrutinising others. She is right but one cannot resist asking why she didn’t notice this when in office. The answer of course is that every top government organisation has been allowed to spend money as if there were no tomorrow. Which indeed there won’t be if someone doesn’t recognise quickly that the people will become more and more resistant to cuts if those at the top continue to behave as if they live on another planet.
All of which is why we can only look to an Italian to bring a ray of sunshine into our grumpy and resentful souls. Sadly even he is not beyond examination in the lolly stakes for ever since the lack-lustre draw with the good old USA some of our ferreters have started to bang on about the £6 million we put in his pay packet. Of course all that will go away if we triumph and, Capello-wise. all will be well.
But right now he faces a moral dilemma of his own making. He, and he alone, surprised many by selecting Rob Green ahead of the experienced James or on-form Hart. The lot of a keeper is not a happy one. If he makes a mistake, something a forward can do a dozen times without making a Tabloid headline, all hell is let loose. And boy did Rob make one!
But surely Capello must now select him at least one more time for to do otherwise would be to destroy his professional career not to mention his confidence. If it was a mistake to play him that was not his fault. If Capello drops him instantly he is of course also admitting that he himself showed poor judgement. Then again Capello is not good enough to manage Mancester United.
However, something tells me that all will be well. Fabio will not publicly crucify someone he trusted above all others just days ago and Englend will dispose of Algeria and Slovenia as an angry man swats a fly. It will be upward and onward toward Germany. And we can make Franz Beckenbouer eat his cutting comments about our heroes/villains (the choice remains open).
It would however be pure madness to be doubly optimistic and expect that our fat- cats will decide to share our pain in the real world from which only Capello can release us!
The initial euphoria which greeted the Coalition amongst the ferret-breeders appears to have evaporated. When we gathered in the allotment shed on the day after the election there was excitement in the air and it wasn’t simply because Albert had been bitten. He and several others, lifetime Labour supporters, had turned to the Lib Dems and their new-found hero, Nick Clegg, was about to take over the universe. Now he seems to have vanished and rumour has it that he has been kidnapped by a gang of aliens led by Michael Howard.
Our Conservative contingent were delighted at regaining power even though they were less happy about slumming it with Albert’s lot. The bunch that stuck by Labour seemed pleased at least that grumpy Gordon had gone and seemed prepared to give the Coalition a chance at solving the nation’s debt.
But, as Harold Wison once remarked, a week is a long time in politics. And several weeks is even longer! The natives are becoming restless! The view of many is that the new bosses are suffering from amnesia. They continually refer to the debt as having being caused by Mr Darling and his pals, which irritates several members who have come to regard the Banks as even more despicable than traffic wardens. To me the worry emerging is that young Mr Osborne seesm more concerned with political points scoring than problem solving. I also worry that Gordon and Alastair may yet be proved right about early cuts leading us back into recession.
None of us really understand all the nonsense about consultation. How could that possibly work? When twenty or so of us ferret folk mulled over the priorites for cuts it was quickly evident that there were at least a dozen divergent views. Nigel Lawson has described the talk of consultation as a PR exercise, a statement I find comforting since the thought of having in charge people mad enough to believe that talking to 50 million people would produce a consensus is not a happy one.
Most of us agree that tackling poverty should be a high priority. Sadly, almost every move announced so far seems destined to make the gap between the haves and have-nots even wider. Even revelations about the astronomic salaries being pocketed by heads of housing associations have earned nothing more than a frown.
But right now the new Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, is the one whose picture is being used as a dartboard in our shed. Several of our number are ex NHS workers and they are apopletic at some of his utterances. Ever the peacemaker I have tried to say that he is a decent cove even if he doesn’t know what he is talking about. But they show no mercy with the darts.
He seems to be off-beam in many respects. The announcement of a public enquiry into the terrible situation in Mid Staffs hospitals was well received but he added that he wished to know why the Strategic Health Authority(SHA) did nothing. It seems that that is exactly what they were expected to do since the hospital in question has Foundation status and does not come under the remit of SHAs. Foundations report directly to Monitor, an expensive regulator which sits in London and seldom if ever visits the hospitals it supposedly controls.
Even more bizarre is Mr Lansley’s view that the first target for red-tape cutting is the Accident & Emergency waiting time rule. In fact , my pals tell me, this is the only one of hundreds that actually achieves what it is aimed at. Take it away and expect the staff to be reduced and to return to taking half the local lbrary with you the next time you hit the wrong nail with your hammer.
In fact the Lansley prescription sounds suspiciously similar to all the other stupid ones dished out by politicans over the past decade or so. We are about to see yet more rules covering readmissions. Yet these account for only 30,000 patients per year out of the many millions treated. And talk of new financial targets is ludicrous. The NHS uses our money and usually uses it wisely. Fines are nothing more that monopoly money.
The NHS is arguably the most important service for the majority of families. Expectations of a new bureaucracy-free era were raised during the election campaign when Nick Clegg promised to abolish SHAs and other layers of pen- pushers and to trust the doctors. Let us hope that the men from Mars relaese him soon!
Our ferret-breeders club may not represent a cross section of the sort beloved by Mori but a straw- we use a lot of that-poll suggests that the Lib Dem support is now nil. About a quarter of members voted for them but they seem to have split beween those who have returned to the Milliband brothers and those who feel that since Caneron is king they might as well sit at his throne. The Lib Dems may well get their new voting system but will anyone vote for them when all this is over?
I’m still with the Monster Ravers for there is something about David Cameron that reminds me of a rooster I once owned. It was tall and handsome and crowed a great deal but when faced with a raging chook it headed for the shrubbery. Then again perhaps that is unfair since he has had the courage to have young Clegg abducted.
Anyway, for the next few weeks we will care not a jot. Come the World Cup final we will be dancing in the streets. Unless, that is, my forecast is as wrong as some fear the Chancellors’ to be !