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:
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'.
- 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.'
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