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Toby Banks

A hibernational disgrace

Did you take part in the 'longest-ever' winter shutdown? For the benefit of younger readers, this is a seasonal parlour game which died out in the 1980s. Newspaper editors compete with one another to exaggerate a given number of days. Weekends are added to bank holidays, so the minimum total is nine days. A seasoned pro will turn this into two weeks. A champion will track down unnamed car factories which have shut down for a month and sent notices to their Japanese rivals (two days annual holiday), inviting them to help themselves to another slice of the market.

This ritual is traditionally accompanied by a call for a 'national recovery programme'. This year's solutions have a reassuringly familiar ring. For instance, depending on which paper you read, the appropriate conclusion to the sentence 'Thousands of people are homeless...' is:
a) 'yet we remain a soft touch for illegal immigrants';

b) 'while thousands of building workers are out of work';

c) 'so we are astonished to learn that Britain's largest cardboard box manufacturer faces closure. The cost to the taxpayer of keeping this factory's workforce on the dole for a year would be higher than the company's annual losses. A government order for, say, 10 000 large heavy-duty boxes, would give the firm a 12-month respite in which to find its feet, while providing serviceable short-term public housing at a realistic cost. To say nothing of the knock-on effect on local business confidence.'
All three options are based closely on the policies of national newspapers. Just for fun (no letters, please), can you identify them? Clue: only one is a 'Green Shoot'.

For many people, holidays will be the first thing to go this year. Things are so bad that a community access programme recently tried to talk up car boot sales as a 'great day out for the whole family'. If this is beyond your means, a day in a warm hospital waiting room reading Chat magazine is a sensible alternative. Readers' tips include: lining wellington boots with carpet scraps, filling honey jars with hot water for a 'refreshing healthy drink', and unwinding old pan scourers to give 'long lengths of strong cord'. Any other tips gratefully received.

All this must please the angry middle classes, who were once able to escape domestic oiks by holidaying abroad. By the eighties, however, the spectre of the 'lager lout' loomed large, not just on the Spanish coast, but across the globe. The Daily Mail was forced to run a 'Yob-free guide', seeking out ever-more obscure holiday locations. Now the recession has succeeded where international police operations failed, effectively curtailing the marauding hordes, who have been restricted to rampaging around Silverstone waving Nigel Mansell flags.

Travel agents now anticipate a better class of English tourist on the Continent. Europe's cafe owners know better and are bracing themselves for the return of the ugly refrain they had hoped was distant history. 'Here one goes, here one goes, here one goes....'

The case of the man who fed himself to the lions at London Zoo has focused debate on cutbacks in psychiatric services. However, it has overlooked the fact that he had no pipe in his possession. In the past it was common for pipe tobacco to be prescribed to mental patients, and doctors in Wharfdale are on record as saying that if a patient merely forgot to carry his pipe, his mental state would be considered alarming. Now, of course, spending cuts have put an end to that, with the help of the anti-smoking lobby.

Today the anti-smokers can count even policemen among their ranks. While a Thames Valley patrol car recently performed a routine roadside breath test, a second patrol car raced to the scene to arrest the driver for dropping a spent match into the gutter. And rare indeed is the sight of a Scotland Yard detective drawing on the stem of his pipe as he contemplates another grisly Nintendo crime. Could abandonment of this symbol of common sense explain the increasingly bizarre statements emanating from the Met's HQ?

According to a Yard spokesman, the IRA (you know, the Marxist Catholics who plotted with American Nazis to kill George VI and the Queen Mum) were responsible for dozens of deaths and serious injuries over the Christmas holiday. In case you hadn't heard, the police were so busy 'flushing out IRA bombers' that they didn't have time to carry out their usual festive breathalyser campaign. A reign of terror ensued, and the capital became a paradise for drunken drivers, who could hit and run with impunity. Which makes it all the more impressive that the number of accidents fell by 12 per cent compared to last Christmas...no thanks to the terrorists and litter-droppers who are laughing at the law even as I write.

Before the general election, cruel Liberal Democrat canvassers in Cheltenham promised pensioner Hazel Andrews that they would tidy up the dangerous nettles in her front garden. Needless to say, they have done no such thing. Mrs Andrews is 72. She is disabled, diabetic and partially blind and deaf. She says 'I only voted for them because they said they would organise someone to do my garden. Why do they promise you these things when it seems they have no intention of carrying them through?'.

It would be interesting to hear the views of Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, but he has disappeared. For reasons best known to himself, he decided to take off around the country, changing address every week or so, and taking a series of casual jobs along the way. He claims that this is a political exercise to put him in touch with the lives of ordinary people. He plans to stay with local families, sharing their humble repast at the end of each day and no doubt entertaining them with his mouth organ. I hope that while he is playing Marie Antoinette he sleeps soundly, untroubled by the thought of Mrs Andrews' nettle-scarred legs.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 52, February 1993



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