The birds of the air …
In Berwick-upon-Tweed the local council have told Mick and June Dunny to stop feeding the birds in their garden. A neighbour had complained, so the council stepped in, pointing out that the Dunny's nature-loving ways were attracting birds and therefore mess to their pretty rural village. They wrote "Birds cause some considerable problem in forms of noise and dirt. Not only do their droppings damage and contaminate property, the birds also carry various diseases such as salmonella."
The council suggested that they might take further action against the couple, but Mr.Dunny was unrepentant and said he was prepared to go to jail if necessary. Both the RSPCA and the RSPB have backed him, and pointed out that over half the adults in the UK feed birds in their gardens.
We at GOS would be interested to hear from the sad, tiny-minded individual who was so spiteful as to complain - and so divorced from real life that he or she thinks it's possible to seal oneself off from nature, or that if it were possible it would be a good thing to do so.
And as for the council officials who were happy to take such a complaint seriously … do they really imagine a mess-free world? A world without messy birds or messy animals? What about messy kids? Or messy trees, with all those dead leaves? In fact, all plant life is essentially messy, so let's do away with the lot. And the sea, that's messy, with all those jelly-fish and seaweed and stuff. And rivers, which contain lots of messy mud. We should just concrete the whole lot.
Bloody messy stuff, scenery. Can't be doing with it, myself ...
And mountains, they're pretty untidy. And valleys, which just get in the way when you're trying to drive somewhere. Cars make a mess of the atmosphere, we're told. In fact, all means of transport create mess and waste, so let's all just stay in one place and be terribly tidy.
But then there's us ourselves. We're dreadfully untidy. We exhale, we drop things, we shed skin and hair, we pee and crap all over the place … we're just a health and safety issue waiting to happen, us …
What a bunch of prats.
The writing on the wall …
When a group of elderly residents noticed unsightly graffiti had been sprayed on to a wall at the bottom of their gardens, they hoped their local council would do something to tidy it up. So they were astounded when instead of finding the culprits, bureaucrats threatened to haul them before the courts and fine them £1,000 for failing to clear it up themselves.
Many of the pensioners, living in Prestwich, Greater Manchester, were reduced to tears after receiving stern warning letters from a Bury Council official warning them they had 21 days to remove the vandalism or face prosecution. The local authority claim the residents have a duty to keep their community clean and leaving the graffiti on the wall could lead to them being prosecuted under Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This law is normally used against major landowners who continually refuse to clean up their land.
In the letter sent to residents, Jim Hunter, risk management co-ordinator at the Tory-run council, said: 'The external appearance of your property is a source of concern due to this graffiti. I advise that if prompt action is not made in remedying the removal of graffiti, the council has the option to take enforcement action under Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. I do ask that the graffiti is removed within 21 days from the date of this letter.'
But Vic D'Albert, a Liberal Democrat councillor, said the way the authority were treating residents was 'shocking'. He said "An elderly woman who passed this letter on to me was extremely distressed in case she should be fined or somehow forced to clean the mess up herself at great cost to herself. She was virtually in tears - you can imagine the distress it causes a women living on her own to get a letter saying you are not maintaining your property properly. It's no way to treat people, especially our senior citizens. The council should put more effort into finding ways of supporting people who are victims rather that threatening to punish them further."
Councillor Wayne Campbell, leader of the Labour group, agreed. ''I am shocked that this is being allowed to happen," he said. "'It is a disgrace. There are plenty of council buildings covered in graffiti - perhaps they should start closer to home before targeting victims of crime."
Carran O'Grady, co-ordinator of the Prestwich Area Partnership, a community group which recently spent £1,000 on buying in specialist graffiti-cleaning, said the council should have told the old folks to contact her organisation for help, instead of threatening them with prosecution. "These kits can clean graffiti off walls in five minutes and we will always be able to find some way of ensuring the work gets done," she said. "That would be a better way to approach it rather than scaring the wits out of people."
A spokesman for Bury Council refused to apologise for the letter. "If people want to have a better quality of life," he said, "they must take responsibility for their community."
What he omitted to say was "… because we have no intention of doing so".
What the GOS would like to know from Bury council is whether these walls actually belong to the residents. If they don't, then what we have here is a blatant and cynical attempt by the council to evade its own responsibilities. As one of our correspondents has pointed out … "on the left there is a trellis displayed on the other side of the fence. Also, the fences are constant as they go up the street. Therefore they are obviously not put up by the residents. The roads and fences like this are the responsibility of the Council. I know where that shot is, and in the background there are other houses. That is a council estate that is known as the 'Dickybird' estate. It's the place where everyone goes for drugs - need I say any more. Entries like that need to be blocked off and if CCTV was used properly, this is the sort of place the cameras would go. They ought to go up to Dickybird and deal with this problem head on. But Blunkett's Plastic Cops would be too scared ..."
"For those in peril on the sea" (provided it's safe, that is)
At Hope Cove in South Devon the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have covered themselves in glory by targeting, once again, brave people who rescue those in danger. Readers may remember the story of Paul Waugh, the volunteer coastguard who resigned after being reprimanded by his bosses for saving a girl from the cliffs at Saltburn.
In Devon a team of volunteers took a damaged boat to sea when they saw a 13-year-old girl being swept out to sea by the tide (the press called it a "rip current", of which more below). With the help of a passing diver the girl was taken to safety and returned to her parents. Three hours later the Maritime and Coastguard Agency officials turned up with a Land Rover and towed the boat away.
The boat has been confiscated and locked up, and the station officer and his crew, who are all volunteers, are now under investigation following the rescue.
The boat had been taken out of service by the MCA in June because of fears about the safety of the hull, but the crew had paid £2,000 from their own funds to have it repaired. It was left in the boathouse next to the beach at the village and was due for further inspection by health and safety officials from the MCA.
Recently retired coastguard Dave Clark, aged 54, said: 'Everyone in the village is very angry. They feel the crew are being punished for trying to save a life. When the MCA withdrew the boat in June they said it would be for six weeks but the crew wanted it back as soon as possible so they paid for the repairs themselves. They were then told it had to stay off service until it was surveyed and that would have taken it out for the whole of the summer season. Anyone would have done the same thing when they saw the girl in trouble but when they came back their boat was taken away. Lives could be lost because the boat has been removed and locked up.'
So what we have here is yet another instance of officials (a) being inefficient (it took them far too long to get the repairs done, and then they delayed the inspection while people's lives were at risk. How long does it take to pop down and inspect a boat?) (b) trying to cover up their own inefficiency by pinning the blame on others - in this case, not even their own employees but a group of volunteers.
I wonder what their attitude would have been if the volunteers had put to sea in, say, a fishing boat? What's the betting that would have been wrong too? Because, let's face it, these little gauleiters goose-step their way round their offices determined that if anyone's going to be rescued, it has to be done their way, in their boat, and at their behest, and heaven help anyone who thinks for himself …
What we'd like to see is someone drowning (well, no, we wouldn't, but bear with us …) and MCA officials jailed for failing to save them. A few penalties for inefficiency would work wonders in these feather-bedded government agencies.
Oh, about those "rip currents" ... this is another personal gripe of the GOS, along with the naff expression "train station" …
Thirty or forty years ago, nobody had heard of a "rip current" or "tide rip". The GOS was a keen swimmer and sailor at that time, and never once did he encounter this phenomenon. Then came the TV series "Baywatch" in which every week without fail groups of careless, panicking swimmers would be caught in a "rip" and either dragged out to sea or dragged under the sea, to be rescued by the fearless (and forehead-less) David Hasselhoff and co.
Ever since, every swimmer who has got into difficulties has been the victim of the "rip tide" phenomenon, and it gets on my tits, frankly. In most cases, they've just gone further out than they realised, got tireder than they expected, and didn't know that all the time the tides are quite naturally moving water at rates of up to four or five miles an hour along the beach (mostly along the beach, you notice, rather than in and out).
That's not to say that rip currents don't exist - they do (see here). They mostly occur where sandbanks or shingle banks run parallel to the beach, restricting the flow of water away from the beach due to tide or wave action, and causing the water to seek out narrow channels through which it can rush very quickly. This happens in one or two places in Cornwall, but is not by any means common. And as the Wikipedia article points out, the idea that rip currents drag people downwards is mostly nonsense.
Right, rant over. Sorry.
The gentle winds that blow …
While we're on the subject of natural phenomena, researchers in Germany, Switzerland, and the United States have shown for the first time that an extremely fast climate change occurred in Western Europe long before human-made changes in the atmosphere. In particular, the changes in the wind force and direction during the winter half-year caused the climate to topple over into a completely different mode within one year after a short instable phase of a few decades - sound familiar at all?
These new results show that the climate system is still not well understood, and that especially the mechanisms of short-term change and the time of occurrence still hold many puzzles. But then, most of us knew that already.
In the Times, Alice Thomson is able to write "Julie Burchill can't stand them. According to her new book, Not in my Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, she thinks all environmentalists are po-faced, unsexy, public school alumni who drivel on about the end of the world because they don't want the working classes to have any fun, go on foreign holidays or buy cheap clothes.
Michael O'Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, agrees. In an interview with Rachel Sylvester and me, he told us that the "nutbag ecologists" are the overindulged rich who have nothing better to do with their lives than talk about hot air and beans.
So the salad days are over; it's the end of the greens. Where only a year ago the smart new eco-warriors were revered, wormeries and unbleached cashmere jeans are now seen as a middle-class indulgence.
So where does that leave us earnest enquirers after the truth? Global warming has been noticeable for its absence since the current century began, scientists are now warning of global cooling instead, and concern about environmental matters is being seen as a fashionable indulgence rather than something that affects real people leading real lives.
I think it's high time some scientist started a brand-new scare, warning of the possibility of "Worldwide Man-Made Climate Stasis", and the dreadful consequences that will ensue - little short of the end of the world, in fact - if we don't do something about it. Specifically, worry a lot and give said scientist a lot of money.
"By their names shall ye know them"
"I've got a little list …"
The government have admitted that nearly 40,000 innocent children have been placed on its enormous DNA database for life - and show no sign of wanting to do anything about it.
The number of 10 to 17-year-olds who have done nothing wrong yet have had their genetic profiles seized by police has soared by 60 per cent in two years. It will fuel mounting fears that forces are arresting youngsters who have committed no crime simply to build up their DNA database by stealth. The sheer scale of the DNA-gathering operation, revealed by Home Office minister Meg Hillier, has caused widespread alarm.
She revealed there were 303,393 children on the database, which can be checked against any crime scene. Of these, 39,095 - or 12.8 per cent - had 'not been convicted, cautioned, received a final warning or reprimand and had no charge pending against them'.
The controversial figures, slipped out in a written Parliamentary answer, sparked a torrent of criticism. Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'This is yet more evidence that the DNA database is totally arbitrary with tens of thousands of innocent kids on it but not every offender in our prisons.' Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said it was wrong to store the DNA of innocent people and argued there were serious shortcomings when it came to convicted criminals. He said: 'These startling figures show that the Government is building a national DNA database by stealth. There can be no excuse for storing the DNA of innocent adults, let alone children, who are entirely blameless. This is an intrusive policy that gives far too much sensitive information to the state, when we know that ministers cannot be trusted with its security. The DNA that should be on the database is that of past offenders, yet when it comes to them, there are major gaps in the database.'
Since April 2004, anyone aged ten or above who is arrested in England or Wales can have their DNA and fingerprints taken without their consent, or that of their parents. The DNA samples - plus the computerised profiles - are kept permanently, even if the person arrested is never charged or is acquitted. A minuscule amount are ever destroyed. Britain has the world's largest DNA database, with 4.5 million genetic fingerprints on record. Up to 1.5 million - one-third - are from innocent people.
Criminologists have warned that, in order to make policing simpler, officers are targeting for arrest those they see as potential troublemakers. By making arrests for a minor offence such as criminal damage, they can take the DNA of a group of youngsters at the same time.
But those who have had their DNA taken include two schoolgirls charged with criminal damage after drawing chalk on a pavement and a child in Kent who removed a slice of cucumber from a tuna mayonnaise sandwich and threw it at another youngster.
And among the adult victims of this wicked and dictatorial plot will be the numerous householders and members of the public who have tackled thugs and criminals and been arrested for their trouble like former policeman Paul Lawson from Morpeth.
It's not a question of who you know, it's a question of where you live
Much fuss - and quite rightly - about the postcode lottery that determines whether you live or die, whether you walk or spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair, whether you see or go blind.
An excellent Panorama programme on the BBC (not - the word "excellent" and "BBC" in the same sentence. Wow!) last night showed how more than 1,000 patients have been turned down for cancer drugs in the last two years because NHS managers judged they were not "exceptional" cases. A similar injustice is being perpetrated in the use of drugs to combat Alzheimer's, crippling arthritis and an eye complaint that makes you irrevocably blind if not promptly treated.
NHS managers can choose to fund drugs which have yet to be approved or have been turned down by Nice if they think a patient's case is "exceptional", and therein lies the problem: some do, some don't. While 96% of patients living in Mid Essex have their requests to be treated as "exceptional" approved, all those in South West Essex were turned down.
This is plainly a very complex issue, and being a bear of little brain, the GOS would like to get it entirely straight:
1. Doctors know perfectly well how to cure or allay these maladies
2. The means with which to do so (drugs, mainly) are freely available
3. The patients have religiously paid their national insurance week in, week out to support the NHS in case they should need its help one day
4. NICE and the NHS between them are making decisions, based on financial considerations, to deny them the treatments they need and have paid for
5. The patients are therefore dying, becoming crippled, succumbing to dementia or going blind when they needn't have done so
6. No-one is being penalised, sacked or prosecuted for causing this intolerable situation.
Anyone spot the deliberate mistake?
Into each life a little light must fall …
Let's end on a positive note, though. We've already reported on the story of the solicitor who eventually forced his local council to provide him with a second wheelie-bin because he had a big house. This week it was the turn of the hoi polloi.
Residents of Birks Road in the Longwood area of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, found that after the recent two-day council workers' strike their bins were being emptied as normal, but the backlog was not being cleared - any loose rubbish bags were being left to rot at the side of the road.
Despite contacting the council and being told that a 'rapid response' vehicle was being sent to remove the bags the rubbish was still on the street two weeks later. A resident said "There were dirty nappies and all sorts in the bags that were being ripped open and strewn all over the road. It's disgusting. There are a lot of children who play on the street - it's really unhygienic."
The smelly situation came to a head when the lorry arrived but said there was no room for the extra bags - residents offered to help to load them on to the truck but weren't allowed. Father-of-one Mark Copley took action and blocked the lorry with his car.
He said: 'We were offering to do the work ourselves but they were just being difficult.' The binmen backed down and removed the bags but then tried to scarper without emptying the bins. Ringleader Mark led residents in forming a human wall around the lorry to prevent it leaving. The police were called, but eventually after an hour-long stand-off the bins were emptied.
Mum-of-two Rebecca Jones said: "I'm pleased they've taken the rubbish, but there was no reason for it to have come to this. This could have been resolved weeks ago if they had just been reasonable." Not everyone in the cul-de-sec was keen on the resident's radical tactics. Neighbour Andy Clarke bravely said "I worry about the bigger picture. What happens when the bins are next due to be emptied?" before hurrying indoors to hide his head under the duvet.
The local council said "The collection crews always do their best to collect everyone's waste. All the refuse was collected. We always respond to any calls we receive from householders." And if you believe that, you'll believe anything.
We're very pleased that the residents of this ordinary road did something that more of us ought to do - they took the law into their own hands, they refused to back down, and they won. But it has to be said that the officials and the police totally mishandled the situation. What they ought to have done was (a) issue a letter to every householder explaining that the mess was all their own fault and that if they didn't clear it up themselves they'd be prosecuted and fined, and (b) arrest each and every one of them, particularly the children, on the grounds that either they had committed an offence, or that they had witnessed an offence, or that they were thinking of committing an offence, or that they might at some time in the future become a witness to an offence, or that they looked a bit shifty. Then take them to the police station and keep them in a cell for several hours, take their fingerprints and DNA to be entered in the national database for the rest of their lives, before releasing them without charge.
Simple, really. Can't think why no-one thought of it.
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