Category Archives: articles

Face it: it’s all your own fat fault

Just as I was cramming my mouth with another obesity-enhancing cheese ‘n’ mesquita-flavour kettle chip, preparatory to washing it down with a draught of life-giving milk chocolate, the phone rang.

Whoaah! said my mole on the House of Commons health select committee. What are you writing about for your Telegraph column? I’m doing an elegy for Tracey Emin’s bed, I said, crunching vigorously, and I meant it, since I am full of admiration for Charles Saatchi and what he has done for BritArt.

Too bad, said my source. It’ll have to wait. We’ve got some fantastic stuff here from these health-conscious MPs. And, boy, was he right. There used to be a saying that no politician ever attacked motherhood and apple pie. All that is over, my friends. There is a new threat to our little ones. Its name is apple pie, and it is making them less little all the time. With every groaning axle on our blimp-like people carriers, with every squeak of the midnight fridge, with every pop of our collar buttons, the nation is getting fatter and fatter, says the health select committee – and the Government is doing nothing about it.

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Motorists, revolt: me, I’m on my bike

My friends, I am a doomed man. If I read this latest letter correctly, I am on the point of losing the right to drive.

The state will shortly take away from me the privilege I first earned at the age of 18, when, after massive investment in the British School of Motoring, I passed my driving test first time.

Since then, I have driven many hundreds of thousands of miles, in dozens of countries, and never yet had a prang. Not a single person has been thrown from my bumper; not a deer, not a cat, not a dog, not even, dare I say it, a mouse.

If you discount the minor flesh wound sustained by a Cornish meat pie van that brushed my Alfa very late at night some years ago, I have barely come into physical contact with another vehicle, so scrupulous is my driving.

Wherever I go, I see louts who pull out without looking, who overtake on blind corners, who fling open their doors just as I am coming by on my bicycle.

I see idiots and crash-artists and prangmeisters and fools who change nappies on the hard shoulder; and in all this carnival of incompetence and carelessness it is I – I, who have never so much as crunched a headlight! I, who have never even stoved in a bonnet, boot or door! – I am being taken off the road.

According to my secretary, Batley-born Ann Sindall, I have now been photographed so often by the same speed camera, exceeding the speed limit by the same pathetic amount, that, come September, the game will be up.

She has been counting the letters from the police, and totting up the points. The emanations of the state will be warned that I am no longer allowed on the Queen’s highway, and any breach of the ban will be an imprisonable offence.

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Examiners are not making the grade

When giving a speech at a school, there are many ways to endear yourself. You can turn up drunk and address the head teacher loudly and enthusiastically by the wrong name. You can allow your trousers to split at the back, or spill your glass of water, or fall head first from the rostrum.

All these strategies will earn you an appreciative round of applause. You can try to suck up to your audience by saying that you once experimented with cannabis, and, though you will find a surprising measure of disapproval, you will not forfeit their general sympathy.

But there is one taboo you must never break. If you should so much as breathe a word of scepticism about the number of A-grade passes awarded to the modern cohort of British schoolchildren, then you are for it, my friend.

If you should seem to harbour the slightest reservations about our amazing and continuous Soviet-style improvement at exams, you will find that there is a Batemanesque horror across the room. Your entire audience will look dumbfounded, like a bunch of baby bunny rabbits clubbed across the mazard.

Even as you are blurting out your horrible opinions you will find – as I found the other day – that the teacher in charge springs from his or her place to cut you off. It is all very well for you to say that, says the teacher, but how do you know that these marks are not accurate? Might it not be, says the teacher, that British children deserve to have more A grades than ever before? Might it not be the case that we, as a nation, are just getting cleverer and cleverer? Might it not be that children are more hard-working and better taught than ever before?

At this point, the teacher turns to the class and says, with a triumphant flourish, that mankind never ran a sub-four-minute mile until 1954, and that this feat is now accomplished regularly by thousands of people. Is it not possible that the same is happening in the field of education? she demands.

And then the audience of students begins to look at you threateningly, and a gurgling murmur of hate is heard, and stare wildly back, and you wish you had the facts at your fingertips.

So here they are…

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Stand up and fight these plastic seatettes

The last time this country was offered a referendum on Europe, I was one of four children under 10 lolling on the back seat of our Renault Four. It had a peculiar gearstick, and the driver could find reverse only after various undignified contortions – rather like Tony Blair. Those were the days before seatbelts in the back, and we used to bounce around so merrily that by the end of any long voyage our bench was a glorified vomitorium. We also had a bumper sticker, and it said “Yes to Europe!”

Of course it did. It was 1975, and those were the days when saying yes to Europe meant saying yes to so many things that were obviously good and civilised. It meant yes to tariff-free French wine; yes to your right to become a dentist in Brussels; yes to spaghetti al vongole; yes to selling life insurance to the Germans; yes to the high, happy, innocent ideals of free trade and co-operation with our friends and partners.

How changed, mes amis, is the modern European Union from that Common Market, and how it continues to octopus itself into every corner of our lives – including the back seats of our cars. Under Mr Blair’s amazing U-turn, the public will now be invited to support a new “constitution” for this country and the rest of the continent. The text contains various federalising advances that have been well-trailed, and which are likely to remain whatever is agreed in June: European presidents, European foreign policy supremos complete with European foreign policy, European judicial harmonisation, human rights charters and all the rest of it.

You may or may not think these things, on their own, are enough to deserve a No vote; but let us concentrate for now on the way the treaty extends the system of majority voting – by which national governments can be overruled – and which I believe to be deeply corrupting of democracy.

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So what’s wrong with clubbing seals?

I don’t know who handles the PR for these Canadian seal-clubbers, but it must be a hell of a job. Can there be any group, on the entire planet, that so excites the hatred of the British public? Not the Korean dog-eaters, nor the Italian butterfly-shooters, nor the Spanish goat-headyankers – no, not even the French, who, as we all know, eat our children’s ponies – no one can match the Canadian fisherman for provoking the Briton to tears of rage; and one can see why.

Here is a fellow who rises and puts on his great big waterproof boots and his great big waterproof hat. Then he picks up a horrible knobkerrie, studded with nails, gives his wife a loving kiss, and strides on to ice floes where he sets about him with a terrible Hutu-style slaughter. Bonk-bash-bonk he goes, like some demented axeman, and nothing will stop him. The telephoto lenses of the RSPCA cameras whirr and click.

Above him hover the helicopters chartered by the BBC, while live pictures of the horror are beamed into every living-room in this country. Does he care?

Does he hell. And it is not just any old beast that he brains, but a mammal, a creature like us that suckles its young; and it is a large, defenceless mammal, with both eyes in the front of its head, in that cute anthropomorphic way. It is a furry mammal, with a bark as winsome as any leal and faithful labrador.

One after another, biff-thunk-clunk, the Canadians are now beating these trusting little critters to death, thousands of them a day, until the snow runs red in that awful way we saw on the front of yesterday’s Independent newspaper.

Is there anyone who could possibly attempt to justify this kind of barbarity? Will anyone stand up for the seal cull? Well, ahem, at the risk of terminally alienating and offending animal-lovers across the country, it is the duty of this column – which ever puts logic above popularity – to have a go.

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Blair’s statistics can make you very sick

…”Hello,” says a voice you do not know. It is the voice of someone with a pen poised over your name on a list, ready to strike it off. It is the detached voice of the cold-call insurance salesperson, the double-glazing hawker, and the voice wants to know whether it is you speaking. Yes, you say, anxiety beginning to frost your heart, and you confirm that you are you. And then the voice wants to know whether you have an appointment for an operation on the coming Tuesday.

Yes, you say, and the chill of apprehension deepens. “I am sorry to inform you that your operation has been cancelled,” says the voice. “Please ring after 10am tomorrow.” And you slump back, exhausted and bewildered, facing another wait of unguessable duration, and the pain and the fear continue. That is how the NHS is treating patients every day across the country; and the doctors themselves believe it is a cruel and wanton waste of resources.

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Blair’s kisses for Gaddafi hide his guilt

It is a terrible warning for any leading Arab terrorist. You think you’ve got away with it. You haven’t been associated with the deaths of any westerners for at least 10 years. You’ve been in a perpetual state of paranoia, in case a US Navy Seal should pop out of your plumbing and peg you where it hurts.

You’ve been looking under your car, you’ve been twitching the curtains of your tent in case a Tomahawk cruise missile should be on its way; and just when you think the West has forgotten all about your crimes, they send you nemesis. No, they don’t send Bond. They don’t send an assassin. They send Tony Blair to meet you, and what does he do? He kisses you on both cheeks!

Yes, my friends, that is apparently to be the fate, somewhere in Tripoli, of the Libyan leader, the man Ronald Reagan called a “mad dog”. This is the man whose barbaric regime was unquestionably involved in the murder of hundreds of people, British and Americans, in the sky and on the ground at Lockerbie.

This same Libyan regime was responsible for the shooting in cold blood of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in St James’s Square, and for the shipping of heaven knows how much weaponry to the IRA. And how do we choose to requite him for his crimes? According to last night’s evening paper, Tony Blair is going to hail his “courage” and the pair are then going to smooch faster than you can say Mwah-mwah al-Gaddafi.

What an amazing way to run a war on terror. The Libyans have a leader who genuinely has a record as long as your arm in sponsoring terror; and he gets the kiss from Blair, because Libya has signalled that it is willing to do business with the West.

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Green belt or the euro? You decide

… And when we come to the building of houses other than our own, we attain, as a nation, our most dizzying pitch of intellectual dishonesty. With one breath we grieve for the shortage of “affordable housing”. We bewail the lack of nurses, or young police officers, or bus drivers, or even bartenders, who find it so difficult to afford accommodation in London and the South-East.

But as soon as we are told that there is a solution at hand, and that “affordable houses” are to be plonked in the vicinity of our own, we become quite incoherent with anger; not just because of the loss of amenity, the uprooting of those ancient elms, or the threat to the mating habits of the great crested grebes which – or so we assert until we are blue in the face – depend entirely on that open field next door if they are to achieve the slightest romantic feelings toward one another.

No, we object also because we fear that the new arrivals could have an adverse effect on the value of our property…

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Paying through the Doge for Europe

All my nostalgia for Venice has been evoked by an article in this week’s Spectator, in which Stephen Glover describes the sybaritic pleasures of his weekend. Like us, he stayed at some terrifically posh hotel, called the Pritti or the Gritti.

Like us, he roamed in the evening mist, and rejoiced in the cosy yellow light of the bars and the enigmatic chuckling from the corners. And like us, his joy was accentuated by the knowledge that he wasn’t paying a penny, neither for his travel, nor for his accommodation.

Because Glover, like us, was attending what is known to the politico-journalistic class as a junket, jolly, freebie or boondoggle; and which is classified, for the benefit of irritable taxpayers, as a conference.

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