Tuesday 6 February 2007

Cars, mugs and fat cats

Frankly, last week defied parody. It got off to a lousy start on Sunday morning, as I lay awake for two hours from 3 a.m., listening to a bunch of Tyneside motoring fans practising their engine revving and gear changing skills immediately outside my house. I began to regret writing so whimsically on the subject three weeks ago, when I compared this small hours rallying to foxhunting; another activity whose appeal is completely lost on me, but which I was never enough of a joyless busybody to want banned.

Now I’m going all out to get hold of one of those stinger devices, lads, so at the very least you might want to start thinking about an alternative route for next year. Oh, and if there is a company out there called Silencers R Us, might I suggest that opening a Whickham branch could be a great business opportunity?

Monday brought that classic pronouncement from “senior Labour county councillors” that there wouldn’t be a referendum on the creation of a unitary authority as we the public are too thick to understand the issues (as we demonstrated by not voting the way we were supposed to do on the Regional Assembly) and because there isn’t time. Right. The current structure has been in place for 34 years, and the Government in office for almost a decade, but all of a sudden change has become so incredibly urgent that there is no scope for public consultation. Odd, that.

Tuesday brought some welcome light relief when, just for once, all the leaks from “well-placed sources” proved to be completely wrong, and the super-casino went to Manchester. (I wonder if John Prescott had to return his cowboy boots and Stetson to the owner of the Dome?) But then came all the “it’s not fair” whinges from Newcastle grandees. Come on, chaps. This isn’t a decision to hang your heads about. It’s an occasion for punching the air and shouting “Yes!”

Gambling exists to exploit stupid and gullible people, who oddly enough are often the poorest in society. Yes, I allow myself a wry smile whenever I go to the Royal Opera House, and reflect that its beautiful refurbishment was made possible by £78 million of Lottery money, kindly donated by mugs buying tickets and scratchcards. But it’s not right, is it? We need more gambling opportunities like a hole in the head, particularly since Patricia Hewitt made it clear that a go on the fruit machines will not count towards your “five a day” target.

Then on Friday Newcastle officially became the noisiest place in Britain, based on the scientific sample of the Swan House underpass. There are rumours that the same team’s next shock survey will brand Malton the most dangerous place in the country, after positioning a researcher in the lion enclosure at Flamingo Land with an antelope on her lap.

Finally, on Saturday, I read another columnist in this paper singing the praises of a single unitary council for Northumberland on the grounds that it will make life simpler for other public bodies like the Tourist Board, and get rid of over 200 pesky local councillors, replacing them with fewer “well paid” ones who can be “encouraged to take the countywide strategic view”. Fantastic. So much for the concept of public service or actually representing local communities. Let’s just have a few fat cats to rubber-stamp the decisions of those who know what is best for us.

Of course, it may be too late to prevent this. The rot has already taken a firm hold. Is it a sign of the times or a printer’s error that led Newton on the Moor and Swarland Parish Council to advertise last Thursday for a new clerk, paying £8,147 to £9,315 per hour, plus expenses? There’s only one way to find out, and applications close at noon on February 16. Remember you’re British, and form an orderly queue.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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