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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hosepipe ban hits flood-soaked Somerset

A hosepipe ban has been introduced in Somerset as efforts continue to help people whose homes and businesses have been inundated during the wettest winter in centuries.

The county-wide ban prohibits the use of hosepipes for activities such as washing cars, filling paddling pools and watering plants and lawns.

Flicking the jet into the air to create a mini rain shower and putting a thumb over the end of the hosepipe to make the water come out really fast is also covered by the ban.

As residents were evacuated from their homes by fire crews, South Bessex Water officials in chest-high waders could be seen attempting to distribute laminated leaflets and posters warning of the ban's imposition.

When asked what they were doing, one of them replied: "Sorry, I can't say anything. You'll have to talk to our head office. Can you pass me that leaflet before it floats away."

Laminated posters are being displayed across Somerset

Although a swathe of Somerset is underwater, the village of Chunder has been particularly badly affected by the flooding.

One of the village's older residents, Reginald Niffmags (76) has been living in a floating wheelie bin for the last two weeks. When told of the hosepipe ban, he became so agitated his temporary home almost capsized.

"I literally can't believe what you're telling me. You must be making it up. What next? Is the council going to fine me for overloading my wheelie bin --with myself!

"I didn't storm the beaches of Normandy for this. I didn't storm the beaches of Normandy at all - I was only six at the time - but that's besides the point. 

"This is just another example of the appalling level of service we've come to expect from our useless utility companies. I've already had to sell my wife just to pay our last gas bill, and now this!"

A spokesman for South Bessex Water said the hosepipe ban was "just a precaution" and would only remain in place for the rest of the winter, the whole of summer and "probably a bit of autumn".

He said: "We recognise that this ban may seem utterly ludicrous to some of our customers, especially those whose treasured possessions are now drenched with filthy, sewage-contaminated water, but it's a necessary measure to safeguard their future supplies.

"We also know that some people will question whether they're getting value for their water rates, and point to our increased profits with weary dismay.

"What these people need to understand is that if we invested all our money in renewing and maintaining out network of pipes, sure, we'd save water, but what would we have left to give to our shareholders and senior managers?

"Obscene salaries, luxury company cars and gilt-edged pension packages don't fall from the sky like rain you know."

The spokesman refused to be drawn on an internal memo that was apparently emailed to journalists by an anonymous South Bessex Water employee which indicated that water rationing might be introduced if people flouted the hosepipe ban, or even openly questioned it.

He said: "We don't comment on leaks, no pun intended."


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Po-faced Polly: handsome harrasers aren't so bad

The Guardian’s right-on columnist Polly Toynbee has bizarrely suggested sexual harassment is less serious – if the abuser is good looking.

In a surreal contribution to the broadsheet’s Politics Weekly podcast, Toynbee mired herself in controversial comments of the sort that would usually provoke outrage from left-wing commentators such as, um, herself!

The subject was, you guessed it, the Rennard affair, an accursed topic so poisonous the EU should consider putting it on a list of banned toxins. Unperturbed, Toynbee took a deep draft of this noxious brew.

She was trying to explain something we all know already: that when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse, power is often the driver. As Oscar Wilde told us more than a century ago: “Everything in the world is about sex except sex - sex is about power.”

Polly Toynbee: what have I said?
Perhaps aware of this, Toynbee decided to give her appraisal of the Rennard furore a twist. She said that Rennard’s appearance was somehow relevant.

Referring to her Guardian column on the row, she told the podcast panel: “I got into trouble for saying, er, pointing out that he’s a rather elderly gentleman and these were, you know, younger, more attractive women and the only possible way he could have thought to try his hand would have been to do with power.

“I had huge blow-back from readers saying ‘how dare you comment on his physical appearance’ but actually it is a part of the story.”

One of the other podcasters immediately asked the obvious question: how? And this is where Toynbee really began to tie her logic in knots.

She said: “Well I can’t imagine me putting my hand on George Clooney’s knee; you kind of know your level.”

George Clooney: he's no Lord Rennard
Let's pause for a minute and try to unravel this. Toynbee seemed to be saying that if she was at Clooney's 'level' it would be perfectly acceptable for her to put her hand on his knee uninvited. Or, put in the context of the Rennard affair, Toynbee appeared to be suggesting that if the Lib Dem peer looked like a Hollywood star he would somehow have greater leeway to let his hands wander and his victims wouldn't mind so much. 

Her conclusion that power must be the driver for Rennard's behaviour because he is 'rather elderly' and less attractive than his alleged victims is muddled. Power motivates ugly and handsome alike, for good or ill. What would she ascribe Rennard's motivation to if he looked like a Greek god? Or is she saying he wouldn’t have done what he - yes, yes, allegedly - did had he been better looking?

Back to the podcast. There was laughter in response to Toynbee's Clooney comment which encouraged her to keep digging.

She said: “If somebody is in a position of power, breathing heavily on younger, more attractive, junior women within their organisation that is a part of the story too.”

The podcast host, Hugh Muir, interjected: “But if he’d been a top-looking bloke also abusing his position that would have been pretty serious as well wouldn’t it?”

Good question. Of bloody course it would have been 'pretty serious'. Toynbee's response?

“Yeah, but on the other hand, it’s slightly more. You think, well, there’s slightly more equality there. Equality comes in all sorts of different…it’s not just about power, it’s about physical attractiveness too.”

The letters WTF spring to mind, accompanied by a string of exclamation marks. There is only one way to interpret this statement. Polly Toynbee thinks there is a scale of seriousness when it comes to sexual harassment which is based on the relative appearances of the harasser and his victims. It runs as follows:

Harasser: Fat, ugly old letch
Victims: Younger, more attractive women
Verdict: Definitely bad

Harasser: George Clooney lookalike
Victims: Similarly attractive women
Verdict: Not so bad because 'there's slightly more equality there'

Extending this rule to its logical conclusion, it would run as follows:

Harasser: George Clooney lookalike
Victims: Fat, wobbly, old bingo-winged harridans
Verdict: They should be f**king grateful!

Okay, so I might be stretching it a little but you catch my drift.

Toynbee is right when she says sexual harassment is about a power imbalance but the appearance of the abuser is a complete red-herring. If Lord Rennard grabbed a fistful of her arse without permission it would be just as abusive as if George Clooney did the same thing, however much Toynbee may fantasise about the latter.

She should reflect that her contribution to this important issue has been very far from helpful. If anything, it has only served to undermine women who have fallen prey to abusive men who happen to be handsome -- an ugly consequence of the ill-thought out ramblings of a journalist who should know better.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Collymore in fresh Twitter storm

The football pundit Stan Collymore is embroiled in a fresh Twitter storm over a cryptic tweet widely interpreted as a misogynistic swipe at his former girlfriend Ulrika Johnson.

Collymore has been lauded for launching a crusade against internet trolls who’ve been using the micro-blogging site to target him, and other celebrities, with hate-filled abuse.

But the former Liverpool and England striker is likely to face accusations of hypocrisy for apparently indulging in the sort of unpleasantness he wants Twitter to crack down on.

In a tweet posted at 6:03 PM - 23 Jan 2014 he wrote:

“My 4x4 is filthy. Proper obsolete old banger now. Beyond repair. Always good to get a new model though. Leather is worn and old.”

Other Twitter users were quick to give their translations of the message. They pointed out that ‘4x4’ has been used in the past as an insulting reference to Ulrika Johnson having had four children to four different men. One user branded Collymore “vile”.

Collymore later tweeted a picture of his milometer in a bid to diffuse the growing row but few were convinced.

One Twitter user said: “This appears to be breath-taking hypocrisy. Collymore wants to get rid of cyber-bullying but what does he think this looks like? Just because a tweet is composed in a cleverly ambiguous way doesn’t mean that it’s okay if its message is nasty.

“Many people are interpreting this tweet as really being about Ulrika; Collymore must know this. Calling a woman ‘filthy, an old banger, beyond repair, worn and old’ is horribly sexist abuse and could easily be viewed as misogynistic.

“If Collymore wants to be seen as the victim here, and this tweet was genuinely innocent, the timing of its posting couldn’t have been worse. He should delete it and apologise for any offence caused.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Jonathan Ross repeats obscene Cameron slur

Jonathan Ross has risked the wrath of Tory MPs by once again making lewd comments about David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher.

As the PM completes his cabinet re-shuffle, obscene comments by ‘Wossy’ have emerged in which he accuses Cameron of engaging in a shuffle of the ‘five-knuckled’ variety.

Speaking during a recent interview, the motor-mouth talk show host said he believed the current occupier of Number 10 pleasured himself when thinking about Mrs T.

Despite being kicked out of office by her own party in 1990 after 11 years of divisive rule, Thatcher is one of the most revered figures among rank-and-file Tories.

Many Conservatives feel particularly protective of the party’s famous matriarch because her later years have been wracked by dementia.

But Ross clearly felt no compulsion to show respect for her, or Cameron, instead opting to play for cheap laughs in front of an audience accustomed to explicit content.

His outburst came during his appearance on Episode 2 of Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre podcast series.

Herring – who has form for revelling in course humour – quizzed Ross about the time Cameron appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross on BBC 1 six years ago, when the PM was then still Leader of the Opposition.

Ross was unfazed: “Yeah I asked him if he’d ever had a wank thinking about Margaret Thatcher and I think that’s a legitimate question for a Conservative who was a young boy in that period.

He continued, ratcheting up the shock value of his answer: “I’m sure a lot of people in the cabinet had a weird sexual frisson towards Thatcher as well. You know they like a stern matronly figure.”

And then – as he has done on previous occasions – he crossed the line, defending his line of questioning and joking that he thought Cameron was guilty of his vulgar suggestion – then and now:

“I still think that was a legitimate (question) and (Jeremy) Paxman could learn from me…I got the feeling he (Cameron) did -- and I get the feeling he still does!”

When he first made his crude remarks to Cameron back in 2006, Ross was lambasted by senior Tories.

The former Conservative chairman Lord Tebbit said Cameron had been "thoroughly embarrassed”.

He accused Ross of launching an “obscene attack” on Mrs Thatcher, who famously went from being a grocer’s daughter to the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th Century.

Lord Tebbit called for the BBC to take action but the Corporation sat on its hands.

Ross, who now presents a major talk show on ITV1, went on to become embroiled in ‘Sachsgate’ from which his BBC career never recovered.

One listener to the Richard Herring podcast said: “You really would have thought Ross would have learnt his lesson by now but he just can’t help himself.

“I can’t imagine many Tories will find this funny at all.”

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Shameful Cynicism of Cristina de Cretin

What is the matter with the Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner? I mean, just what the screaming f*** is the matter with her?

Does she want another war with Britain over the Falkland Islands? Does she not remember Argentina lost the last one, which, incidentally, was an avoidable, pointless and shameful waste of hundreds of young lives.

Her latest disgraceful stunt is broadcasting a political advert showing an Argentine sportsman exercising on the steps of a British First World War memorial in the Falklands. In a reference to the London Olympics, at which he will compete, the advert ends with the slogan: "To compete on British Soil, we train on Argentine soil.”

There’s only one small problem with that message – it’s not Argentine soil! Argentina’s links to the Falklands are as tenuous as Mitt Romney’s are to consistency and authenticity.

President Kirchner’s fiery talk of British colonialism would be funny if the consequences weren’t so potentially deadly. Does she not read history books? Argentina is the result of colonialism. It didn’t exist before the Spanish rocked up in the 16th Century. If historic colonialism requires retrospective remedy then Argentina should cease to exist and the Diaguita and the Guarani should be given their land back.

But don’t get me wrong. Sure, I’m a Brit, but my interest in the future of the Falklands isn’t jingoistic: it’s simply because I believe in what’s right and fair. Doesn’t everybody?

Apparently not. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner doesn’t give a toss. With breath-taking cynicism she exploits the political value of the Falklands despite the incendiary nature of the subject. And despite the fact people died there because another Argentine politician – the late, but not lamented, General Leopoldo Galtieri -- decided to prop up his own regime by stirring up nationalism over the Falklands.

Only a massively ignorant prick would be unable to see through this risible woman’s rhetoric to her real agenda. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Sean Penn...

Seriously, the future of the Falklands should be decided by quiet diplomacy, cool heads, common sense, and – funnily enough – the people who live there. Instead, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is happy to do a political dance on the graves of men who would still be alive were it not for the kind of reprehensible dog-whistle politics she seems to favour.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It’s time for football’s Luddites to cross the line

That egregiously cruel race, the Grand National, was won by a nose yesterday. Officials looked at a photograph to ensure they awarded the win to the right nag.

Football is different though. If the refereeing rules of football had applied to Aintree’s showpiece, a middle-aged bloke would have tried to run alongside the thoroughbreds and then made an instant guess at which horse had crossed the line first.

Such a scenario is almost too ludicrous to contemplate. But today’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley proved once again that when it comes to the beautiful game, fact is stranger than fiction.

If you weren’t watching, two London clubs -- Spurs and Chelsea – were competing for a place in the final and a chance of silverware. A lot hangs on the game: money, a place in European competition, pride, history. You know, it’s important.

During the game, Chelsea took the lead late in the first half with a fantastic strike by Didier Drogba, a goal that came arguably against the run of play.

Shortly after the match restarted following the half-time interval, Chelsea scored again -- except they didn’t because the ball didn’t actually go into the goal. For reasons unknown, the referee, Martin Atkinson, decided he had seen the ball cross the line in what had been a confusing goalmouth scramble; a tangle of legs and flailing bodies.

So, yet again, we had the farcical situation of television viewers watching replays that clearly showed the ball remaining resolutely out of the goal while, on the pitch, Spurs players made desperate protests that the referee waved away.

It would have taken a matter of seconds for the ref to check whether or not the ball had crossed the line by watching a replay himself, but the rules forbid this. Instead he has to guess and stick to his guns.

This wouldn’t matter so much if it was only the players who were shafted by football’s archaic protocols: their lives are so blessed a bit of injustice might help build their characters.

But what of the fans: the people who follow their teams through thick and thin, and pay through their noses to do so? Why should their hopes and dreams be held to ransom by dodgy refereeing?

Whether it’s allowed goals that weren’t goals, disallowed goals that were goals, offside goals ruled onside, or onside goals ruled offside, the game of football is turning into a joke because it hasn’t yet dragged itself into the 21st Century.

In the end Chelsea won the game comfortably, 5-1. But when a hugely lucrative sport gives so much influence to guesswork, we shouldn’t be surprised when an official makes a costly balls-up.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why the long face?

So are we all happy now? As predicted, horses have died as a result of taking part in the 2012 Grand National at Aintree. Two to be precise: According To Pete and Synchronized.

The BBC did its level best not to mention this unfolding horror until its coverage was nearly over. Presenter Clare Balding facilitated the peddling of the usual line that it is the ‘kindest thing to do’ to destroy injured horses.

Really? Surely it would be kinder not to force these impressive and intelligent creatures to take part in this brutal obstacle course in the first place.

What kind of a sport continues as some of its participants lie dying on the ground – or are put down behind grim black screens?

That the Grand National is so popular is troubling enough. But more worrying is the propaganda surrounding the event -- and BBC has to take its share of responsibility for this.

The Beeb’s coverage of this carnage is always almost universally positive. In a country where fox hunting has been outlawed, how on Earth can we justify killing horses in the name of sport?

Maybe I’ve got this the wrong way around. Maybe we should reintroduce fox hunting and get William Hill involved. We could all have a flutter and Clare Balding could commentate.

But would she conclude that ripping foxes to bits is the kindest thing to do?

I doubt it.