Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Lies of the times

It’s time to update those well practised and well known mantras of officialdom and the untrustworthy: the cheque is in the post; a government spokesman said there was no cause for alarm; of course I’ll still respect you in the morning. The modern state and business practice have given us a rich new set to choose from.

Your call is important to us. Then why not answer the bloody phone and talk to me? This one is just an insult. Similarly,

Every little helps. Then how about opening another checkout?

For your own safety and security . . . Rubbish. It’s not you we care about, but if we put out inane announcements like this often enough we hope to have a defence when a negligence case comes to court.

Thank you for your co-operation. This is usually in company with a terse request to desist from some generally acceptable activity that mildly inconveniences the management. Often used in places where ‘we reserve the right to refuse admission’ and is thus really a threat not a thanks.

The prime minister said he had complete confidence in his minister. The prime minister might say this but the hapless minister hears the guillotine blade being hoisted. A token defence will be made, but only for as long as the embarrassment of the minister exceeds that of the premier. After that point, the chop, the pearl handled revolver or whatever New Labour uses instead – something messy for sure. The first to be subjected to this death by reassurance was Humphrey, number 10’s chief mouser, whom no-one could accuse of incompetence, but was retired, supposedly on health grounds, in 1997 and died at 18 the day before yesterday. Brought in as a stray during Margaret Thatcher’s tenure (I like to think it was she who named him), he did his job night and day right through John Major’s time only to be accused of causing an allergic reaction in the incoming chatelaine as New Labour took over our lives. A publicly posed photo of the two together tried to reassure the public but was the cuddle of dismissal for Humphrey.

This is about improving parent/patient/consumer choice. So just how many hospitals are there within a reasonable distance that I can visit, even by private transport, as an out-patient or be visited in if I have to stay there? On what basis other than government data or local gossip, a toss-up choice for reliability, would I choose between them? If the school I’m in the catchment area of is no good my child will certainly be low down the list in another area, whose school, if good, will inevitably be over subscribed. Can’t they see it’s not a matter of choice, but options. The only choice in many of these cases is whether to accept one’s fate or pay heavily to buy out of the state option – and thus acquire real choice.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The green, green grass of home

The Englishman has a strange relationship with his lawn and after years of studying it I have had to conclude I am not, in this respect at least, a typical Englishman.

You only have to look at the summer advertisements for lawn growth products, weed killer, and the rival types of mower (it’s a lot less bovver with a hover) to realise that we are dealing not with a chore but an obsession. My neighbour uses a cylinder mower and has cut little channels around the edges, between the lawn and his drive, so that the mower is not obstructed by any paving and can cut right up to the edge. The flower beds are sunk below the lawn for the same reason. My lawn merges seamlessly with the part of the garden in which things other than grass grow (actually, things other than grass grow freely on the lawn too) and the edge is defined by either how tough they are or how much of a bollocking I will get from SWMBO if I scythe too far off the main track. I use the word scythe figuratively here but there is a full size haymaker’s scythe in my garage that is brought out most years in the spring when a combination of wet weather, rapid growth and procrastination takes the grass to a height the mower can’t handle. From the scythed state I use the mower, blades set high, to reduce the grass to a level that on a golf course would count as light rough – short enough to find the ball but needing a solid stroke to get out of. My neighbour takes his down to a height that, as a putting green, would rate about twelve on the Stimp meter. My cuttings go in a pile in a corner and over time degenerate into first class compost and get recycled. His go into a black bag and are put out with the rest of the trash, adding to my council tax. This last is a habit of modern suburban man that I despise as much as car washing with chemicals in the street. The water and soap go into the storm drain, thence to the river and are pumped back onto the fields and thus into our cereals, vegetables and milk. And do Friends of the Earth care? Not that I have ever heard of. They are more interested in fatuous schemes for generating electricity by covering the landscape in 100 metre high rotating aerofoils that are a danger to low flying aircraft and likely to be unproductive when most needed. But I digress, as usual.

The obsession with neatness of lawn is undoubtedly a bourgeois thing. It seems to infect those who have not enough grass to justify a self-propelled, sit-on mower, a trapping that those who have one, whether justified by much lawn or not, are only too happy to boast about, and is part of a strange compulsion to keep the garden tidy, along with tidying up the leaves in autumn, should trees that shed leaves be allowed to grow. The aristocracy, if Nancy Mitford is to be believed, are free of such chores, as modern politicians are of so many of life’s little obligations and petty problems, such as paying council tax or where to park at work. In The Pursuit of Love she observes: ‘gardens . . . a topic which was unknown at Alconleigh. The gardener saw to the garden and that was that. It was quite half a mile from the house, and nobody went near it, except as a little walk sometimes in the summer’.

I fall between the two. I have no enthusiasm for gardening and don’t have enough lawn to justify a sit-on mower but I can’t stop a sneaking admiration for someone like the Manchester City FC groundsman and his crop circle-like patterns. He must be from another planet though. That sort of enthusiasm for mowing ain't natural.