Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Colonel Moseley takes a Dim View

What ho and belated New Year greetings! I don’t know if you feel the same, but haven’t we seen the last few weeks before; I believe the term is déjà vu?

It’s funny how the tawdry lives of a few politicians and 'C'-list celebrities can sum up the state of an entire nation. I couldn’t help noticing how some of the farcical press coverage of the MP who engaged his offspring as paid researchers read like an extract from a novel by Evelyn Waugh. Queen Sloane would not have been entirely out of place in Decline and Fall or Vile Bodies sharing a table at the Old Hundred with Lottie Crump.

We seem to be experiencing a period of decadence. Excess and conspicuous consumption accompany unprincipled behaviour at all levels.

The questionable conduct of those who pompously consider themselves to be in public life, may characterise the death throes of the phase that began with the triumph of New Labour. It certainly heralds an uncertain future. Battered by much eye-watering hypocrisy, the ordinary person – if anyone considers themselves as such when we all see celebrity just around the corner – is ever more cynical.

Following the US sub-prime crisis, the run on Northern Rock, Mr Brown’s fatal wounding of final salary pension schemes and apparent impending recession, if not global depression, possible parallels with the inter-war period are obvious. It is against a background of spectacular mismanagement, greed and cant that I thought I would share with you a few of the incidents and issues that have been on my mind to varying degrees since the turn of the year:

Scotland and Wales: I know I have poked fun at the domination of English politics by Scots, such as the Prime Minister. I still feel that this is wrong and that Scottish MPs should only participate in the government of England to the extent that English MPs have a voice in Scottish affairs. This feeling of injustice is compounded by material differentials now appearing in health- care and education between parts of our United Kingdom. In cannot be fair that whilst certain anti-cancer drugs are prescribed free of charge in Scotland, those suffering from the same condition in England are required to pay the very substantial full cost, which may mean the difference between life and death. This is not a trivial issue: the discrimination is wrong

Pensioners in handcuffs: this morning I read of the imprisonment of former soldier of 76, Richard Fitzmaurice for non-payment of Council Tax. He took his stance for the sake of pensioners affected by an unfair system and was photographed being led away in handcuffs. At a time when the Court finds a thug bailed on assault charges has drunkenly beaten an innocent householder to death and a Jihadist extremist receives £20k a year in benefits whilst plotting the murder of a British soldier, my blood boils. What about Mr Fitzmaurice’s dignity and human rights? That picture brought a tear to my eye.

Taking with the other hand: most people agree that the fuel allowance is a good thing to help vulnerable over 70 year olds to keep warm in the worst of the winter weather. If you are 70 however and wish to continue driving a horse lorry you have to extend your licence and supply a medical certificate. This is fair enough; it’s in the interest of the elderly driver and other road users. Unfortunately, however, an NHS doctor charges over £100 to carry out the brief examination and sign the certificate. Where is the logic in that? Do they assume that anyone who needs to drive a lorry must be able to afford to pay the equivalent of half their winter fuel allowance?

Silver surfers: nowadays a surprising proportion of the elderly are computer-literate and use their PCs daily. Like everyone else, they appreciate the speedy response of Broadband and are inconvenienced when it doesn’t work. It is an interesting experience to get reconnected when your Broadband goes down, suffers an outage - or whatever it’s called. The first step is to go through the self-diagnosis notes on the PC - if it’s still working. These are usually indecipherable and do not match up to the software on one’s machine. This exhausting process will usually also involve disconnecting and reconnecting all telephones in the house and carrying all one's PC equipment (box, screen, mouse and assorted cabling) downstairs to the test socket in the lounge, reassembling it and finding that the Broadband connection doesn’t work there either. Next you telephone BT Broadband on a costly 0845 number to spend ages in a queue and choosing from a menu of options before being connected to a call centre in India. Accent is occasionally difficult but the staff are pleasant and polite. Considerable further time is spent satisfying them that one has gone through all the diagnostic hoops and that the fault lies outside one's house or at the local exchange. An appointment is eventually made for an engineer to call and one foolishly thinks the worst is over. After some delay when no engineer appears, one rings back and has to go through the whole phoning, waiting, menu, and explanatory process again, to be told that the line is at fault and that it is the responsibility of BT. This is annoying since one’s repeated diagnosis and the fact that one is speaking on the line demonstrates that the line is in order. This frustrating process is repeated two or three times with Broadband and BT blaming the other until it is agreed that the fault requires investigation. An appointment is made for an engineer to visit the local exchange and then my property and, sure enough, the night before the visit the connection is miraculously restored. It’s nice to be able to ask what the weather is like in Mumbai, but I would rather not lose my Broadband for days on end and somehow be made to feel it’s my fault. You couldn’t make it up.

Insurance cover notes: do you remember years ago when you used an insurance broker? When you were buying a new car you ‘phoned up to explain and were sent a cover note that day. Nowadays, once you have queued at the call centre, circumnavigated the menu and endured an inordinately long inquisition – which may be recorded for training purposes - you are lucky to have it within a week – subject always to the post. They call it progress.

Strictly Worse: on a lighter note, the Mem and I are addicted to Strictly Come Dancing; it’s compulsive viewing. Why did they have to spoil it by splitting it over Saturday and Sunday? Clearly the actual contest and results elements are recorded on the same evening and split into two to increase ratings. In doing this the drama of a live contest is lost and the show diminished. We do hope they see sense and return to the original format that made Saturday night quite special.

Tough steak, hard cheese: The Mem and I enjoy different types of food and have appreciated the recent proliferation of restaurants and gastro pubs in our area. We note however that, once established, the standards of many fall both as regards the quality of food and service. In what had been a favourite place we were recently served a meal parts of which were barely edible. On pointing this out politely no apology was received and no refund offered. Retauranteurs should be advised: harder times may be coming – even in relatively affluent areas. One of the first sectors to feel it will be the hospitality industry and, when the reckoning comes, the slapdash and surly will suffer earliest.

True inflation: the government has great pride in its achievement of keeping inflation down. It is a vital marker for the government's reputation and in determining the level of public sector wage and pension increases. We have all noted how much petrol, gas, electricity, council tax and food prices have shot up particularly in the last few months, yet the official rate of inflation seems to remain paradoxically low. Is it me or doesn’t it add up?

So there you are, there’s a lot wrong at present - and I haven't even mentioned income tax or plumbers. Our government and many big companies seem to have lost sight of the views and needs of the decent majority. In this country common sense, truth and fairness are increasingly just options, like those on a call centre menu, rather than the foundations of daily life. Life may be a Cabaret but, like Weimar Germany, we should be very wary of what follows such decadent times.