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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.