August 24 2004



Old Grumpy is into this composting business in a big way.
Indeed, I am beginning to concentrate more on making compost than actually growing crops.
And it certainly reduces the amount of rubbish sent to landfill - in our case down from two bags a week to one.
By my calculations, some 16 bags of waste have gone into the bin since I acquired it back in April, yet, in apparent conflict with the Law of Conservation of Matter , it is not much more than half full.
The explanation is, of course, that the material is being broken down by bacteria, fungi, worms and beetles.
Such is the efficiency of this process that I am beginning to wonder if there will be anything left come the spring when I want to fertilize the garden.
According to the leaflet that came with the bin, nettles make excellent compost so the patch at the bottom of the garden, which used to be chopped down once a year, at most, is now cut fortnightly and carefully harvested..
Next thing, I'll be watering them with Phostrogen to increase the growth rate.
The leaflet also explains that the addition of fertilizer speeds up the composting process and mentions urea as a possible source.
Urea has a unique role in the history of chemistry because, after it became the first organic compound to be synthesized in the laboratory by the German chemist Wohler in 1828, the doctrine of vitalism - the idea that the chemistry of life is based on different principles than that of inorganic compounds - quickly fell by the wayside.
And, of course, we all know what is the most common source of naturally occurring urea.
That set me to thinking that the most environmentally friendly thing a man can do is to pee on his compost heap.
This saves the large quantities of potable water used to flush the loo, as well as leaving the local treatment works with less effluent to handle.
This practice can cause problems, especially if next door's bedroom windows overlook your garden, but with careful planning much can be achieved.
I would suggest the following elementary precautions:

(1) Do it after dark

(2) Surround the compost bin with tall-growing plants such as runner beans

(3) Pee into a receptacle in some private place and then pour the collected liquid on to the compost at your leisure. A watering can is ideal for this purpose because even the nosiest neighbour is unlikely to suspect what you're up to.

This last solution also overcomes the difficulties encountered by those who are neither tall enough nor able to generate sufficient pressure to clear the rim of the bin, though, for those who prefer to do things naturally, a small wooden platform of suitable height should do the trick for the vertically or hydraulically challenged

And if it all goes wrong, and you get arrested, don't expect me to bail you out.

Death and taxes

The American philosopher, politician and inventor Benjamin Franklin claimed there were only two certainties in life: death and taxes.
The two come together in Capital Transfer Tax (Death Duty) which a left wing think-tank has recently suggested should be increased to 50% on estates above a certain size.
This has caused consternation in the conservative press.
I can't think why.
After all, where's the social justice in taking 40% out of someone's salary in income tax while allowing them to inherit £240,000 tax free.
Surely, in a meritocracy, it is better to let people keep what they earn rather than what they inherit.
Although I am no egalitarian, I don't see how it can be desirable to entrench wealth-differentials through the inheritance system.
Not only is that economically inefficient, because it concentrates wealth in what might well be the wrong hands, but it also leads to the growth of a parasitic rentier class living off the backs of the rest of us.
There is also a moral dimension in that the money left to the next generation might be of doubtful provenance.
This was brought home to me some years ago when I watched a TV programme featuring Gladstone's great great grandson.
During the interview, at the family's stately pile in Cheshire, it emerged that the family fortune, of which the younger Gladstone was the current beneficiary, had been made in the slave trade.
Liverpool even has a dock named after the family.
And, of course, the relatives of the convicted rapist, who recently won £7 million on the lottery, can look forward to generations of living in easy street so long as they are reasonably prudent.
Another reform would be to shift the tax burden from the estate to the beneficiaries.
Say, a 75% rate on any individual legacy over £100,000.
That would encourage testators to spread their cash more widely and lead to a more equitable distribution of wealth.
It might even generate some extra revenue and allow Gordon Brown to ease the income tax burden on hard-pressed workers.
Who knows, we might even attain the sunlit uplands of what someone once called "the property owning democracy".
I must declare an interest in all this because nobody has ever left me as much as a single penny piece and, unless my dear old mam has been stashing her old age pension under the bed, nor are they likely to.

No answer was the stern reply


According to this morning's Today programme, the late Donald Dewar who was Scottish First Minister at the time, almost resigned in 1999 after inadvertently misleading the Scottish Parliament about the cost of its new building.
Apparently Mr Dewar told the parliament that the cost was to be £62 million when the true figure was £89 million.
As these figures had been provided by his civil servants and were given in good faith there was no question of him deliberately lying to parliament.
Nevertheless, he took the matter seriously enough to consider his position, as they say,.
Contrast that with the actions of Cllr Rosemary Hayes, churchwarden, Magistrate and, when I first published details of Cllr Brian Hall's expense claim for 1 February 2001, Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council.
At the meeting of 13 December 2001, Cllr Joyce Watson submitted four specific questions to the Chairman about Cllr Hall's claims as she was allowed to do under Standing Order 10 of the council's constitution.
You might think that, if the constitution allowed questions, it would be a reasonable to assume that the Chairman would provide answers.
But you would be wrong because what Cllr Hayes produced was a prepared statement that ignored the questions altogether.
This statement concluded: "The relevant facts are that Councillor Hall undertook approved duties and can establish that he actually made the journeys for which he claimed travelling allowances."
Now, I am quite prepared to accept that, having been presented with the statement by one of the council's officers, Cllr Hayes' remarks were made in good faith.
However, on 6 February 2002, Cllr Watson wrote to Cllr Hayes setting out the details of Cllr Hall's journeys and pointing out that it was impossible, in the time available, for him to have covered the mileage for which he had claimed.
In reply, Cllr Hayes said she found the tenor of Cllr Watson's letter "offensive" and asked: "Why is the detailed information you are seeking relevant to your role as an individual elected member of a local authority bearing in mind the 'need to know' principles."
And there matters rested until I wrote to Cllr Hayes on 19 July 2002 setting out the facts about Cllr Hall's movements that day and enclosing copies of the documentary evidence (see Time Lord).
I ended my letter: "I would ask that, in view of the foregoing, you withdraw the statement made to the council on December 13 2001."
This she failed to do.
This would all be serious enough, even without the fact that Cllr Hayes is a Magistrate invested by the State with the power to levy fines, and in certain circumstances, deprive her fellow citizens of their liberty.
Because we live in a mature democracy - not some third-rate banana republic - the State is very careful about the type of people it endows with such powers.
A visit to the website of the Department of Constitutional Affairs (formerly Lord Chancellor's Office) reveals that listed among the qualities required are:

Personal integrity ... the absence of any matter which might bring the Magistracy into disrepute.

Ability to understand documents, identify and comprehend relevant facts, and follow evidence and arguments.

Appreciation of the rule of law

Last week, I emailed Cllr Hayes with four following questions regarding her actions as Chairman of the County Council in December 2001:

(1) Why did you choose to disregard the authority's standing orders during the meeting of 13 December 2001 by reading out a statement rather than answering Cllr Joyce Watson's questions?

(2) Did you write that statement yourself? If not, who did?

(3) What steps did you take to establish the accuracy of the "relevant facts" referred to in the final paragraph of that statement?

(4) If you did take such steps, can you explain how Cllr Hall was able to "establish", to your satisfaction, that he had actually made the journeys for which he claimed?

I take it from her reply, received yesterday morning, that she does not intend to provide me with answers.


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