25 July 2006

Drumcree revisited

When Pope Paul II visited Glasgow some years ago, the Strathclyde Police decided to take a softly-softly line with possible trouble makers, given that the Pontiff’s meeting with the leader of the Church of Scotland was, for some, a bridge too far.

I understand that a youth was caught inscribing the dreaded F word on a wall with special reference to the distinguished visitor. Why, asked the Police nicely, had he chosen the Pope for such rudeness? ‘Because,’ said the wee laddie, ‘there was nae room to write the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.’

Such dilemmas may soon be a thing of the past.

An article in the Glasgow Herald suggests the new Pope should pay a visit to Ibrox, the home of Glasgow Rangers. Certain battle cries have been drawn to the attention of Uefa, European football’s governing body, and, assuming that they will be able to decode the sectarian insults, they propose to take some action, as yet unspecified.

Offensive phrases directed towards those of a different branch of the Christian faith (such as the cleverly constructed gibe ‘Yer mother’s a nun’) can be universally interpreted but links with the historic Fianna may take more work.

Back home £100,000 of public money is to be allocated to Orangefest – which is not, as first thought, an Eat More Fruit campaign. On the contrary, the hills of Drumcree should soon be alive with the sound of music supplied by the True Blue Defenders Temperance Flute Band to the semi-erotic sway of bewigged Irish dancers. The scene was set in 1995 when David Trimble and Ian Paisley tripped the light fantastic down the Garvaghy Road but I am reliably informed that their relationship may have cooled since then.

Then there is the even cooler £3.3 million to be spent on paramilitary murals.

Changing the paintwork of sectarianism will not greatly undermine its existence nor deter the more resolute graffiti merchants. Can that wee Glasgow laddie’s unhappy exhortation be edited locally to something more friendly and inclusive? All suggestions welcome.

Meanwhile the paramilitaries are working on new grant-catching ideas. Some possibilities:

ULSTER SAYS MAYBE. NO SURRENDER JUST YET. OUR TIME HAS ARRIVED (formerly Tiocfaidh Ar La). FORGET 1690. BRITISH FORCES OF OPPRESSION WELCOME.

Tenders will be invited for the supply of the new eco-friendly press-button gas-fired bonfires.

But such radical thinking is by no means new.

You may recall the Government’s poster campaign a few years back to raise morale and assist with our reorientation. One suggestion was to rename Cross-gar ‘Happy-gar’.

I considered wearing a fixed grin while shopping in the village but was advised of a possible ambush by the men in white coats – who would not have been as forgiving as the Strathclyde Police.

Better to remain my old grumpy self.

18 July 2006

Zero tolerance

My good friend Mike works the shirt off his back in the service of others.

His venerable BMW saloon – only six careful previous owners – is strictly for getting from A to B, and, if things go well, getting back to A again.

Before its annual MOT it is serviced and checked for all possible shortcomings.

I can report that last month it again passed, though not quite with its usual flying colours. The handbrake had lost something of its initial enthusiasm so Mike was asked to attend to this matter and turn up for a handbrake inspection at a date to be determined.

The Ultimate Driving Machine – now with impeccably adjusted handbrake – was then parked close to Mike’s office. When he returned to the car he found a number of youths trying to steal it. This indeed was remarkable. They usually nick new shiny models with go-faster stripes but perhaps these particular delinquents had an eye for a more mature patina.

Against all advice Mike fell on the miscreants and gave chase. But you cannot compete with performance-enhancing drugs, so they escaped.

Then again, had one of them tripped, he might have sued for common assault or acute loss of dignity and may even have required counselling. But at least the car had survived.

Well nearly. The key assembly was in pieces but, with considerable patience, and no small amount of ingenuity, Mike got the car going.

The return to the MOT centre was now ruled out until the key bits were replaced. But alas, the deadline came and went and an entirely new whole-car MOT inspection was therefore ordered – at the full standard fee. The first possible date was after the tax disc had expired. But a new disc could not be obtained without a valid MOT certificate.

Are you still following?

Meanwhile Mike parked his car – temporarily untaxed – in a city street, only to be spotted by the DVLNI’s hit-squad who towed it away. Gone too was his mobile phone. So, in order to discover where they had taken his possessions, he had to find a public telephone box. Most of these double up as toilets. The one he eventually found was no exception.

Having perused a rancid directory and fed the evil machine with every coin in his possession, he managed to trace the car’s whereabouts.

With just about enough cash left for a taxi he set off to the pound to explain the circumstances, both tragic and extenuating.

The official, fully enclosed in bullet-proof glass, listened intently. He then charged my friend £200.

I’m sure you will agree that we should be tough on crime and the causes of crime.

Zero tolerance is the name of the game.

So it is positively heart-warming that we are coming down hard on maladjusted handbrakes.

11 July 2006

Short of a goal

I promised myself I would declare this column a football-free zone. My apologies. Anyway, by the time you read this the World Cup will be over.

The tournament has the peculiar quality of condemning thirty-one nations to tears, recriminations and national despair. Well that’s not quite true. Gallant teams from Trinidad and Tobago or Togo – where finding the price of an air fare for the players was a problem – will have been happy just to have made it to the finals.

But the super-rich teams ­– national minimum wage around £50,000 a week, and everyone a household name – seemed to believe that destiny was on their side.

Several of FIFA’s chosen referees were incompetent, including the sole Englishman. We also had a barking-mad Russian.

Before the competition English hopes were ludicrously high. There had been the lavish optimistic pre-departure party at ‘Beckingham Palace’. A week into the tournament we had a glimpse of the tragic Michael Owen returning to his more modest abode – a slightly scaled down version of the Slieve Donard Hotel.

There were the paint-the-town-red over-dressed and under-dressed wives and girlfriends – the WAGs. David Beckham’s gigantic portrait looked down on Europe’s main cities – to advertise his new ‘fragrance’ for men.

Only one thing was missing. The lads couldn’t perform on the pitch.

Then there was the inscrutable Sven. He took fewer striker/forwards than any other manager in the competition. One of them was the juvenile Theo Walcott who had not quite made it to his own club team. With perverse wisdom Sven did not risk him in any game.

And yet, we were led to believe that Sven could pull something out of the hat. There was no something and no hat. Facing Portugal he had designed an attacking formation that didn’t actually work. Every screaming English fan could spot the blunder, but not Sven.

So why was his salary fifty times greater than his opposite number in his native Sweden, against whom England could only scrape a draw?

Before matches Sven admitted to being tense and unable to speak to his players. There’s dynamic leadership for you. His assistant Steve McClaren acquiesced in all of Sven’s odd decisions and yet it is he who will take over his job for the next four years.

At least England didn’t resort to the kind of cheating perfected by other teams. Wayne Rooney’s sending off was skilfully engineered by the Portuguese players and particularly by Cristiano Ronaldo, his Manchester United team mate. (In Sun language, ‘the world’s biggest winker’.)

In an odd way captain David Beckham has grown in stature – I even thought his stumbling resignation statement had a kind of elegance.

Perhaps he has learned that having everything is never quite enough.

04 July 2006

Poles apart

At a point where a lane, common to me and my neighbours, joins the public road, there is a telegraph pole.

Not a very dramatic start to an article. But let us proceed.

The pole obstructs the view of oncoming traffic from the right. One or two local motor cyclists, hard to see at the best of times, approach at around Mach One.

Over the years we have trimmed the hedge around the pole but hedges can fight back and even, when trimmed, the pole impedes the view.

Hedgerow cutting is of course regulated. It is illegal to cut a hedgerow during certain months and generally one must seek permission. There used to be grants for removing them. Now you get grants for putting them back. And you can be fined if you have an anti-social hedgerow. ASBOs do not apply. In fact, trimming a badly behaved hedgerow could lead to a fine – catch 22.

Recently there have been some local building developments and, as various poles have had to be shifted, I thought a polite approach to BT might be opportune.

Rang the recommended number. Listened to an automated reply, pressed several keys when commanded to do so, completed a tour of the entire BT departmental network, and then, at last, an actual human voice.

‘John speaking how can I help?’ John was indeed helpful, heard my case with patience, and promised to put the relevant wheels in motion.

In the fullness of time BT rang back. Yes it was certainly possible to move a pole. But he kept on about ‘alterations to BT plant’. I was becoming wary.

One point. I would have to meet the cost. How much? Depends. Depends on what? On the pole. Give me a rough figure. £2,000 plus.

At this juncture I declined his kind offer with much thanks for his time.

I then received a letter to clarify some points ‘concerning my recent order’.

Rang back. What order? The order to alter BT plant.

This is how you can help.

If you are passing along Kilmore Road and you spy a posse of BT pole-shifters, please tell them that you have it from me (in writing herewith) that I do not wish them to proceed.

I would greatly appreciate you raising the point, if you have time, that a problem which causes a possible hazard should be solved at BT’s expense. Please could you also assure them, on my behalf, that I have been paying my phone bills promptly for many years and that I am positively excited about broadband.

I should be grateful also if you could tactfully remind them that their last pre-tax annual profit was around £6 billion.

Obviously pole-shifting is a nice little earner.