This just in

“Prime Minister Theresa May has weighed into a row about Jo Brand. The comedian made a joke on BBC Radio 4 about the recent spate of milkshakes being thrown at politicians.

“Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?” she asked, adding: “I’m not going to do it. It’s purely a fantasy.”

Ms Brand was accused by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who has had milkshakes thrown at him by protesters, of “inciting violence”. Mrs May said the BBC should explain why the joke was deemed “appropriate content” for broadcast.”

You would think that people in May’s position would have a) a sense of humour and b) more important things to do. As for the idea that Jo Brand was inciting violence that is as utterly, utterly ridiculous as most of our politicians now look. It was a “Joke”, you unbelievable imbeciles. If you don’t know what that is, Google it for an explanation.  What a boring and humourless life these snowflakes must live.

King Bill Bombs It

You really should be careful when on line that the person you are really speaking to or about IS ACTUALLY who you think you are speaking to or about.

Last Sunday we went to the King William IV, a pub in West Horsley to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday. It was not a particularly inspiring evening, which resulted in the management discounting the bill because both the food and the service were so poor. Later that day I posted the following review on TripAdvisor:

“Mediocre (at best) food at exorbitant prices and served extraordinarily slowly. Certainly would not recommend.”

To which MarkF849, General Manager at King William IV, responded:

“Hi – well we were expecting this from you. As discussed with you we do realise that 1hr and 15mins for 8 people to have a 2 course lunch is slightly longer than expected but it was a very busy day and at no point did we know you were in a rush!
One thing we do not accept is the foul language thrown at our staff (within reach of many children, including your own ) and the threat of violence towards us and the kicking of furniture across the decking.
Our prices are consistent, and even lower, than the majority of other offers in the area and our food is cooked fresh.
Thanks.”

So let’s do bit of forensic examination of this, shall we?

“Hi – well we were expecting this from you. (Somehow don’t think so!) As discussed with you we do realise that 1hr and 15mins for 8 people (We were a party of 14.) to have a 2 course lunch (We went for dinner.) is slightly longer than expected (We didn’t complain about the delay so much as the poor quality of the food.) but it was a very busy day (Didn’t look that busy, plenty of empty tables.) and at no point did we know you were in a rush (We weren’t)!
One thing we do not accept is the foul language thrown at our staff (At no point did any member of our party swear at any member of staff. In fact, my pension-age aunts had a whip round to tip the waiting staff because we knew that it wasn’t their fault.) (within reach of many children, including your own) (the only children within earshot of our complaint WERE ours.) and the threat of violence towards us (Just didn’t happen, and if that were so I would have expected a call to the police.) and the kicking of furniture across the decking (That didn’t happen, either. We were inside and never went anywhere near the decking.).
Our prices are consistent, and even lower, than the majority of other offers in the area and our food is cooked fresh.
Thanks.”

There are only two possible explanations for this. Either MarkF849 has decided that the best form of customer relations is to lie through his teeth and invent a load of slanderous nonsense, or more likely, he’s confused us with another party of dissatisfied customers who were somewhat more forceful in their objections. Either way, this post stays put until he removes his unwise comments on TripAdvisor.

That being said, this is my gaff, so my rules and I can say exactly how I feel about what the King William IV calls “a modern quality offer”.

The pub has most of what you’d expect from Ye Olde Englishe Pubbe, although this is a mid-19th century copy. Parking seems to be adequate, although it wasn’t all that busy when we were there, so it might be a nightmare for the neighbours. Garden seemed to be OK from what we could see on the way in. The décor was reasonable, although there was an element of just plonking car-boot pictures on the wall without thinking about relevance or context – I’m thinking in particular about some rather naff butterfly prints which could so easily be replaced with something local from Francis Frith. The toilets were adequate, although probably hadn’t been cleaned since the morning and were therefore a bit whiffy.

The menu on offer that night is not extensive and doesn’t cater well for vegetarians or vegans.

The starters were nothing really to write home about. I’ve seen a better prawn cocktail in a high street café, my potato skins were soggy and seven quid for five (not very big) king prawns is more than a bit steep. Added to this was that the salad garnish accompanying all these both looked and smelled off. It was wilted and rotting and seemed to have come out of a bag of Florette.

As far as the main courses were concerned – the haddock and chips looked competent, although the portions were on the small side as was the case with the pie of the day. Never trust somewhere that serves everything on the plate in bowls, they’re just trying to hide how little they’re giving you. The “ploughmans” amounted to a few slices of bread, a mound of dry cheese, a stick of celery and some pickled onions. There was no salad, no coleslaw and was served on an old cheeseboard.

The ham in the ham egg and chips appeared to be boiling bacon and had a large lump of fat and gristle attached to it. The steak was also small and somewhat fatty. The fisherman’s platter consisted of a breakfast bowl with a small starter portion of whitebait, three breaded prawns, a small piece of smoked salmon and a shallow dish the size of a small coaster filled with what I would call shrimp (advertised as Atlantic prawns) swimming in a vapid and watery attempt at Marie Rose sauce. This was also served on an old cheeseboard (just WTF is wrong with a plate??) and was accompanied by two pieces of pre-sliced bread and a single small knob of butter.

Alex fared even less well with the “Sizzling Fajitas with Quorn vegetables”. The fajitas were undercooked and there were only about three small lumps on Quorn in it. There was a small dish of tired looking grated cheese, but the sour cream never made an appearance. At nearly thirty quid for those two dishes alone I felt like we’d been mugged. Especially when the same money in other gastro pubs buys you a gammon steak and trimmings that can barely fit on a fifteen-inch dinner plate.

I’ve had pub food all over this country. Most of it is good, or at least competent. This wasn’t either. It was the first time the family had been to the King William IV. It will be the last.

A letter to an unfriend

OK, I get it. You didn’t like the result of the referendum. Almost every day since then your news feed has had some comment about Brexit, very often making disparaging remarks about those who voted for it. You’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of those seeking to rerun the referendum because you didn’t like what happened.

I sat back and didn’t challenge any of these for the sake of keeping the peace. I even tried muting you so that I wouldn’t see your comments, but you go too far.

You came on to my wall and, in the guise of a question, compared supporting Brexit with fascism. That is an inane comparison. It is wrong and very, very offensive on several levels, not least given what the Nazis did to gay men, and I am very disappointed that you would not understand that.

You then came back on to my wall and suggested that I should be humbly grateful for gay rights that you erroneously believed were due to the EU. That is wrong and offensive.

Your comment suggests that my sexual orientation, and said pathetic gratitude, should govern how I vote. That is also wrong and also offensive.

When I explain this to you in reasonably civil terms you go off on a hissy. How dare you now try and take the moral high ground? If you were genuinely just trying to ask questions, which I very much doubt, then you are displaying a quite shocking level of ignorance about the history of Europe. I think it’s more likely that you were just continuing your relentless Facebook campaign against leaving the EU and your denigration of those who support it.

Even May understands why Brexit, or some compromise, must be delivered. There hasn’t been a government since universal suffrage that has enjoyed a majority of the popular vote. (A few have come close, but no cigar!) The referendum was a binary choice – the most powerful example of democracy – and a majority voted to leave. The fact that the politicians cannot agree on how to deliver that verdict is their failure. It is obfuscation by those calling for a further vote when they say they are being democratic, when their clear and real intention is to reverse the decision.

To be honest I don’t feel terribly strongly either way, but I voted to leave because I think we need a proper debate about our future in Europe and I was optimistic enough to hope that we would get one. Sadly, we ended up with an obtuse slanging match in which every little faction was grinding their own axe. The mere fact that Farage (an odious man for whom I hold no candle) can found a party and within six weeks capture nearly a third of the popular vote is testament to the low esteem in which the established political parties are now held.

Nobody thought this was going to be easy, but whatever solution we end up with has to have, if not enthusiastic support, then acquiescence from a real majority or the genuine resentment will continue. It’s a shame and very disappointing that you don’t seem to understand that.

My milkshake brings all the votes to the party…

(I don’t often comment on politics these days, so make the most of this one!)

We’ve seen a lot of milkshakes recently. In my day it was eggs. Although it still didn’t get you anything, unless you tried it on John Prescott, in which case you might end up with a black eye!

Earlier this week a friend of mine sent me a message on Facebook to go take a look at his newsfeed. He had resigned from the political party of which he had been a loyal member and staunch supporter for over twenty years. Brexit was a big part of that very difficult decision. He and I sit on different sides of that question, but we are still very civil to each other because we have more in common than separates us.

I have been a follower of British politics for over 45 years and for many of those I was actively involved. I now turn off the telly. Ad hominem has taken over. (For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, go Google it.) The sheer level of personal abuse now being thrown around, at both local and national level, shows the paucity of real debate. The use of chopped logic (“You voted to leave and that makes you a racist” being a particularly repugnant example) seems to prevail. The reaction of some to Thresamay’s resignation last week left me deeply saddened. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost. I lived through Thatcher’s reign and I detested her and all she stood for, but I never once doubted that she sincerely believed in what she was doing.

The referendum was a binary choice – the most powerful and direct form of democracy. The arguments put forward since then that seek to invalidate the result are red herrings. The Boris Bus £350 million claim? Nobody other than the terminally gullible seriously believed it because we’re used to politicians of all tribes making outlandish claims. (And we should not give any real credence to those still predicting dire consequences, although they do seem now to have stopped just short of the frogs and the locusts and the death of all the first born). The overspending and breach of electoral law was just a side issue. It happens more often that you’d think in elections for the UK Parliament, but only rarely gets reported and doesn’t nullify the whole result.

Then there’s those who play the numbers game – the idea that you must count all those who can’t or didn’t vote. Well, the maxim of the law is Qui Tacit Consentire – which means in this case that they can be counted either way. Not only is it facile to assume that they would all vote in one direction, to consider them as supporters for one view or another effectively renders every elected government we’ve ever had as illegitimate.

And then there’s those who want to re-run the referendum. What is the point of having a referendum if you’re just gong to have another one because you didn’t like the first result. What, then, becomes the point of voting? And what happens if the new referendum is even closer? Do we have yet another referendum to check the pulse after the first two. As for the idea that whatever deal we end up with should be put to a confirmatory vote we had members of Parliament who clearly didn’t understand what they were voting on in the indicative stages, so what chance would the Person on the Clapham Omnibus have? And, in any case, that’s not how government works. We didn’t have a referendum on the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty, the European Constitution or the Treaty of Lisbon.

And finally there are those that pop up every few minutes demanding a general election. Fine, but that would only take the temperature of a few hundred thousand voters in swing constituencies. And voters tend to become tribal, as a general election is not fought on a single issue.

It has become virtually impossible to have a serious debate in this country over Brexit without it turning into a slanging match. I don’t blame Cameron for getting us into this bastard shitstorm. He knew that sooner or later we would have to lance the boil of discontent around membership of the EU or one day Nigel Farage would be spitting venom across the floor at Prime Minister’s Questions. (Just let than sink in for a moment, please, Remainers!)

It is ingrained into our politics that the winner takes all. This manifests in the “yah-sucks-boo” nature of what passes for political debate, where I’m right and you’re wrong, so there, ner,ner. That has to change. A plebicite sets the broad direction and it’s then up to the politicians to make it work. Our Parliament has failed us miserably in that.

Maybe it’s time to take a tip on governance from the Vatican. Lock our MPs up in the Palace of Westminster and don’t let them out until there’s white smoke.

“I’m telling you, and you’ll listen …

… you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services or with their homes.”

That was Neil Kinnock at the Labour Party Conference in 1985. I remember it well. It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen a politician do. For those that have forgotten or weren’t here, he was taking the Militant Tendency head on. They had been running Liverpool City Council, had been in dispute with the government and ended up deliberately making their workforce redundant just to  make a political point. Kinnock went after them bigly, a huge risk at the time, but got a thunderous standing ovation from the majority of his party.

Kinnock had a very serious point to make. A person elected to  government has a serious responsibility towards those who invest their lives in providing services to the taxpayer. These people are never to be used as pawns in a game of political chess or become the victims of grandstanding. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that Trump and his lickspittles need to learn. That, and the fact that he is not a dictator.

American politicians are jealous of the British Parliament because, by their standards, it’s easy to get legislation passed. Some in the UK would say it’s too easy and we end up with one day of democracy followed by five years of elected dictatorship. But the American system of federal government was designed the way it is so that power is not concentrated in one place – in other words you need to build a consensus if you are going to make major changes. If he ever understood this Trump has now completely lost sight of it.

The President makes a huge fuss about the country desperately wanting the wall – you know – the one he said Mexico would pay for? But just because he thinks it doesn’t make it so.  Well, firstly he didn’t get a majority at the polls, Hillary did, and he’s only President because of that weird-arse electoral college which is a hangover from the horse and cart days. Secondly, there’s the mid-terms and the massive change in the lower house. If that wasn’t a verdict on him and his bloody wall then nothing is. The Emperor is suddenly looking rather naked.

Trump may still genuinely believe that the wall is needed, although he makes a complete pig’s breakfast of producing any convincing or credible evidence. What he hasn’t got and never did have is any kind of mandate to build the bloody thing and much less to land the American taxpayer with the bill it.

More to the point he doesn’t have the right to play politics with people’s jobs the way he is. Both he and the Republican Senators who refuse to reopen the departments currently shut down are showing us what a bunch of cruel and uncaring bastards they really are. That they are so cavalier about the  livelihoods of so many public servants is a national disgrace and they should hang their heads in shame. But I really don’t think they have any.

It’ so funny …

… how we don’t talk any more.

Not, to be honest, that we ever did. I come from a generation of “Big Boys Don’t Cry” and self- reliance and bottling up problems because they’re ours and and we can’t possibly show weakness by asking for help. That’s partly why suicide rates are so high among young men – they can’t answer the question “Who am I, really?” and asking for help would make them look feeble. My father’s generation was even worse. My father-in-law kept the illness that eventually killed him from most of his family until the last few hours of his life. I only found out that my own father had been diagnosed with dementia long after he had died.

That’s why the visit I made last Friday was both highly emotional and very uplifting. It was to a work colleague. I’ll call him Charlie, for reasons he will appreciate. Those who know him will realise who I’m talking about – for the rest of you his real identity doesn’t matter.

Three weeks ago Charlie was playing tennis. He got an ache in his leg which his doctor thought was a DVT. Sadly it was only a symptom of a much deeper and more serious problem. He has advanced pancreatic cancer which has spread to his liver. It is not susceptible to surgery or chemotherapy, either of which would only buy a few months more. Charlie has opted to receive only palliative care and has very little time left to him.

I knew nothing of this until last Thursday when he appeared on my chat contacts list after having been missing for some time. Of course I asked him where he’d been and the awful story emerged. I had been planning on going shopping for Alex’s Christmas present in Guildford the next day, but I went to see Charlie instead – a four hour train and ferry trip each way which is no mean feat when you’ve got your own terminal illness screwing up your lungs. But I’m glad I did, and for two reasons. The first and lesser is that if I hadn’t gone to see him before he dies I would beat myself up emotionally afterwards. The second was because of the long talk we had.

This had all come along so suddenly that I didn’t know what sort of meeting it would be. From the time I worked with him, I recall Charlie as a highly educated man with an agile mind, and that is the way I will continue to remember him once he has gone. But there is a natural human tendency to feel bitter and lash out and/or slump into a whining heap of self-pity when life kicks you in the balls like this, so I was prepared for it to be an emotionally difficult visit. It was, but for good reasons.

What I found was calm acceptance. Charlie is undeniably angry at what has happened, particularly as, at the age of 55, he had finally got most of the ducklings in a row and was making his plans to retire. But he was dealing with a situation that he couldn’t change by quietly and efficiently putting his affairs in order and making his peace with this world. (I was most moved by his determination that some good should come from his passing by placing money in a trust to fund a university place for a young member of his extended family. That will be a fitting memorial for him.)

We were able to have a long talk about what had happened, how he felt about it and how he will approach the inevitable end. I was struck by the stark comparison between this and a situation I must have seen a hundred times before. As some of you may know I worked as a volunteer in our local hospitals for many years. Out on the wards I’ve so often seen the scene – a patient with their visitor(s) – the patient knows they are going to die, the visitor(s) know it as well, but they are sitting there in embarrassed silence because they are emotionally incapable of addressing the elephant in the room. We need, as a society, to be more open with each other about dying. How many times have you heard someone bemoan that they didn’t tell a loved one something while they were still alive. “If only” is one of the saddest phrases in the English language.

We none of us know how we will approach our impending death. I only hope that I will have the grace and manners to do it in the same calm and rational way as Charlie. I did not want to say Goodbye to him because that is so final, but we both knew that this was almost certainly the last time we would meet.

To my friend when the time comes I would paraphrase the late, great Douglas Adams – “So long, and thanks for all the chilis!”.

Ups and Downs …

Today has been rather extraordinary!

It has involved two of the most interesting men I have ever had the privilege of regarding as a friend.

It’s seen the wedding of a man I have known well in excess of a decade to his significant other, who I have never met. I’ve seen the first photos and they do look radiantly happy together. John and Siobhan, you make an exotic and lovely couple and I wish you very many happy years together, although I’m still disappointed that you didn’t ask me to be a bridesmaid.

Also today I have heard from a colleague that I worked with a couple of years ago. A very educated and interesting man and he told me why we haven’t seen him around for a few weeks. He has pancreatic cancer which is inoperable and terminal and he has only two or three months to live.

Life can be so beautiful and yet such a bitch at the same time!

It’s that time of year again!

Nowadays, from November until the “big day” itself there will be a steady trickle of stupid non-stories about councils banning Christmas, or having to say “Happy Holidays” or some such nonsense. Scratch the surface of this drivel and you usually find that the truth is far more prosaic than the headline promises.

Early off the blocks this year is Paul Vivian, an evangelical preacher from Grimsby. (I will resist the temptation to get all regionalist and say that they need some light and enlightenment up there … but ever since the great Austin Mitchell retired from Parliament they’ve been somewhat lacking!) Mr Vivian has got his little proselytising knickers in a twist over a billboard which has been doing the rounds and which wishes the public a “Mary Christmas” and invites them to the town’s “Supercalifragilistic Light Switch On”.

He was so shocked about it that he wrote to Grimsby Live (the local rag). He was full of “disgust and outrage”.  He says “The people responsible for inciting this offence are not in line with the law of this country or laws governing Human Rights, and I, as an ordained Minister of the Gospel request an immediate apology, and removal of this billboard!”  In his argument Mr Vivian cites Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which obliges countries to adopt legislative measures against “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I would have said that inciting religious hatred would be something like advocating gassing Christians, or throwing Muslims off tall buildings – not equating the alleged birth of a person not proven to exist with the activities of the truly invented. (I’ll leave you to figure out which is which!)

Mr Vivian claims that “We need to lawfully and wholeheartedly respect all religions and their festivals, without preference or prejudice.

Err, like fuck we do! If that were truly the case we would not be having Christmas at all. There is no Biblical evidence that Jesus was born in December and no physical evidence for him at all. Given genuine respect for other cultures, we should be getting ready for the Winter Solstice – a celebration that 4th century Christians nicked.

Virgin Mobile does it again

Dear Mr Mockridge

I should have known better after the last time I tried to order a phone from you. (Before you get too stuck into this, some bits of your business work really well. I cannot fault your broadband service, and upgrading that was a pleasure. It’s such a shame that your mobile division can’t work to the same standards.)

I placed an order for an upgrade on Sunday – Order reference: ***************. I specifically asked for delivery today because I knew that I would not be around later in the week. At about four this afternoon I checked Yodel’s website only to find out that it had arrived at their depot, but had not been put out for delivery. I asked them on their web chat why this was. I was told that you had instructed them for delivery within 24 hours, but they had only received the phone this morning and that it would be delivered on Wednesday – when I won’t be here to accept it. They then told me that it was in a locked cage waiting for you to instruct them to deliver it. Yodel apparently say that the delivery rescheduled by me. This is a lie – IT WAS NOT.

I then tried to contact your 789 number to cancel the upgrade. If I’m not getting it today I don’t want it. And frankly, had I known what a shambles this was going to turn into I would have just gone down to Argos and bought one. After numerous questions to establish who I am, although I was ringing from the mobile I wanted to sort out, the agent said that she needed to check something and put me on hold for fifteen minutes before cutting me off.

So I tried your text service. Another hour and twenty minutes wasted as I was told that you would not cancel the upgrade until I had taken delivery of the pone and returned it to you. I fail to see why I have to rearrange my schedule to accommodate your company’s failure to deliver on its undertakings.
So I then tried your “Retentions Team”. I admit that, by this point I was beginning to get REALLY annoyed and my attitude and language were bad, for which I apologise, but it REALLY would help to keep the customer’s blood pressure in check if your account agents were to actually LISTEN to what the customer tells them. I was told that the upgrade could not be cancelled because Yodel still had the phone. (I would have thought that as you are their customer it would be a very straightforward thing to tell them to send it back to you, but they’ve never been the brightest chisels in the box. Why you continue to use them is beyond me.) This is not acceptable, because if Yodel screw up again I’m left holding the liability. After repeated, and I do mean REPEATED requests to speak to someone more senior I was again cut off.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I am exercising my right under the Consumer Contracts Regulations and cancelling the order for the upgrade. I will not accept delivery of your phone and I will not be responsible for it should Yodel attempt to deliver it to a neighbour in my absence.

So, unless you can get someone to sort this out immediately and come up with a convincing reason why I should put up with what I think is really shoddy customer service, this time I’ve had enough.
Would you please arrange for port authorisation codes to be sent to me immediately for mobile phone number 0**** ****** as I wish to transfer the number to another provider? The other number will remain with your for the moment as the contract still runs until December.

Yours sincerely

Middle Aged Middle Class Ranting

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