23 March 2004


No confidence!


One of the county council's "customers" has sent me a copy of a letter she has received from the finance department regarding the authority's new charging policy for home care services.
The new arrangements appear to be based on a means test.
The letter is accompanied by a form in which the applicant is asked to provide information on their income and assets (excluding their home).
To encourage "customers" to complete the form they are told: "If you decide not to provide these financial details we will be unable to determine the level of charge you will be required to pay. In these circumstances we can only introduce a notional charge based on the weekly maximum threshold [current proposal £100 per week] ...".
Many people see means testing as an intrusion into their privacy but the letter informs them: "Please be assured that the information is provided in the strictest confidence."
However, at the bottom of the form is a declaration which the customer must sign.
It reads: "The information on this form is correct to the best of my knowledge. You [the council] may also check, verify or share (my emphasis) this information both with the council, e.g. Social Care and Housing, Council Tax and Housing Benefits, and with government agencies and other local authorities dealing with registration, Department of Works and Pensions, HM Paymaster General etc."
So much for the county council's definition of "strictest confidence"!

May the best man win!


Unable to find serious opposition in his own division, the great light heavyweight boxer Archie Moore moved up to fight the big boys.
In the early 1950s, he challenged Rocky Marciano for the title and, when Marciano retired, he fought Floyd Patterson for the vacant crown.
Moore, who was virtually unbeatable as a light heavyweight, was knocked out in both bouts.
Archie had gone against that ancient piece of boxing wisdom - never fight above your weight.
This is a piece of advice that Cllr Brian Hall, the burly Cabinet member for highways and transportation, seems determined to follow.
According to the Mercury, Cllr Hall's latest bit of skullduggery involved the chairman of the planning committee, Cllr Lyn Davies.
It appears that, during last week's planning committee meeting, things became a bit heated when Cllr Hall refused to accept the chairman's ruling and in the end Cllr Davies stood up and told him: "I will not be bullied Cllr Hall. I remember you coming up to me with your fist in my face."
According to the paper, Cllr Hall responded: "I will see you later."
Cllr Davies is 5' 2".
The roads' supremo has something of a history in this regard.
Back in 1997 he was censured by the full council after threatening the Labour Leader David Edwards and Plaid Cymru leader Rev Aled ap Gwynedd following a committee meeting.
The Western Telegraph reported that Cllr Hall treated the matter as a huge joke by turning up to the meeting ,where the case was heard, carrying a pantomime whip, musket, pistol, foils and an axe.
According to the Telegraph; "He even suggested a bout of fisticuffs if Cllr Edwards was 'man enough'".
David Edwards weighs eight stone seven pounds - wet through.
Earlier in 1997 the Telegraph recorded an incident outside Cambria House when Cllr Hall is alleged to have thrust a leaflet into the mouth of a Fishguard woman who was protesting against the closure of old people's homes.
Phillys Smith told the Telegraph: "He seemed to get very angry and thrust the paper into my mouth with such force that I fell back against the glass door of Cambria House."
Her fellow protester, Mrs Yvonne Fox (aka Jemima) is quoted as saying: "It was an unprovoked and very nasty incident."
According to the report Mrs Smith walks with the help of a walking stick because of a spinal condition.
In any normal democratic system such conduct would have been body-blow to Cllr Hall's political ambitions but, it seems, someone in the County Council hierarchy decided that his were just the sort of talents the regime needed, and he has risen effortlessly through the ranks to achieve his present eminence.

Rake's progress


Old Grumpy would like to report that my own career has been one of smooth, uninterrupted, upward progress.
But, like most people, I suspect, there have been episodes in my life which are carefully airbrushed out of my CV.
But now I am retired and no longer a job-seeker, the truth can be told.
In 1964, I was living in Ilford and working for a London building company E.J. Lacy and Son of Acton, when, out of the blue, I received a letter from a Mr John Bartholomew of Stoke on Trent.
Mr Bartholomew (Mr John as he insited we call him); a prominent Potteries businessman, was offering me a job, at considerably more money than I was earning, if I would return to Staffordshire to play rugby for Stoke RUFC of which he was president.
Thanks to a large Welsh contingent, Stoke, who I had played for in my final year at Keele University, were at that time the best second class club in the Midlands and I was flattered that my rugby playing skills were so keenly sought.
Unfortunately, my ego, and the opportunity to get away from London, took control and I didn't ask too many questions about what is now known as the job-specification.
In fact, it was, on the face of it, quite an attractive billet.
I was to oversee a market garden Mr John owned in Baldwins Gate, about five miles outside the city; establish a garden centre in a derelict pottery he owned in Tunstall; and manage, and act as salesman, for his fireplace manufacturing operation.
The Baldwins Gate part of the operation was complicated by my lack of a driving licence; otherwise things were going along quite nicely until I set off on my first fireplace selling foray.
As luck would have it my first sales expedition took me on my first ever visit to Wales where the company had an established customer-base.
I took the train from Stoke to Newport and, after calling on several builders merchants (but selling no fireplaces), put up at the Queens Hotel for the night.
The next morning, suitably refreshed, I was on the train to Cardiff where my sales technique again proved inadequate.
The following day, feeling somewhat down in the mouth, I headed west for Swansea.
I should explain that my sales resources consisted of a large book of pictures of Mr John's utterly tasteless tiled fireplaces all named after places in the Potteries: Trentham, Burslem, Hanley etc.
The photos had been taken by one of Mr John's friends, Dennis Tamms a lecturer at the local college of art.
After spending the day dragging round Swansea, without success, I finally ended up at my last call: FW Davies and Co Builders Merchants.
The manager was a dried up little fellow and as I flicked past the Burslem and the Hanley and the Trentham, I began to get the feeling that my long run of failures was not about to come to an end.
In desperation, I played my joker - the very last picture in the book - which I had previously kept in reserve.
I turned the page and there was a picture of one of Mr Tamms' models; a tall, raven-haired beauty, artfully posed, with one foot on the mantlepiece of the top-of-the-range Barlaston; naked except for for a pair of stilletto heels.
There was a sharp intake of breath from the manager, followed by a period of silence and for a brief moment I thought I had hit the button.
Indeed, for a few fleeting seconds, I even entertained the idea of retracing my footsteps via Cardiff and Newport to give my new sales pitch another outing.
I was jolted out of this reverie by a an outburst of shouting.
In the confusion I heard the words "Methodist preacher" "filth" "get out" "how dare you" and something about darkening doors.
I stuffed the catalogue in my briefcase and fled.
My relationship with Mr John didn't long survive, after that.


Being the arty type, Old Grumpette collects pieces of attractively shaped driftwood to place among the shrubs in front of the house.
The other day, while out walking his dog, our neighbour Dennis stopped for a chat.
After exchanging grumbles about the recent cold snap, I said: "Been a bit warmer these last few days, though. Things are starting to grow at last."
"Not that one." he said, pointing to a large twisted root rescued from Newgale beach. "That looks pretty dead to me."
Not wishing to get involved in a long explanation of Old Grumpette's eccentricities, I just smiled and nodded.

Blank verse

Many thanks to the e-mailer who has written to suggest ways of refining my poetic talents.
He refers to Andrew Motion's well-publicised failure to find a rhyme for Wilkinson.
This prompted the Sun to write:

Andrew Motion knows nothing about rugger,
We think he's a useless poet.

Applying this technique to my little ditty about Eddie Setterfield (see Polo neck), my correspondent suggests:

Eddie thought it was all very pukka,
Went to Cardiff to witness a chukka,
With the Viscount St D
And the Hon Rhodri.
Cost him 800 quid - silly fellow.
P.S. I apologise for an inaccuracy in last week's column.On looking up my original article I find that Eddie had to pay back £161.55 and not £140 as stated.(see The Highwaymen).


Spaced out

As predicted last week, the Western Telegraph was unable to find space for the press release about the Hall-Ryan business even though it came from our two MPs.
Old Grumpy can think of several reasons why those in charge at the WT might not print articles on this subject.
(1) They don't want to jeopardise the large amounts of advertising revenue they receive from the county council (£60,000-a-year, the last time I checked).
(2) The top two people in the council's press office - Dai "Spin" Thomas and Len Mullins - are both former Telegraph employees.
(3) The editor doesn't want to have to hand back the plaque. (see Togetherness).
(4) They had so much hot news they couldn't find room for it.
(5) None of the above.

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