20 May 2002

Traveller's Tales

Old Grumpy has just spent a week in the Isle of Man where, my brother in law tells me, the top rate of income tax has recently come down from 12% to 10%.
In addition, the personal allowance at £7,550 is considerably higher than on the mainland where we are allowed to earn a mere £4,000 odd before the Inland Revenue starts to take its toll.
On a rough calculation, this means that someone on £20,000 a year pays only £1,300 a year in tax compared to almost £4,000 over here.
Any temptation I might have felt to take advantage of the Manx government's generosity disappeared as soon as I took a look in an estate agent's window where I spotted several bog-standard, three-bed semis on offer at prices in excess of £150,000.
Any lingering doubts were dispelled by a trip to the "offy" where the cheapest bottle of Chilean Merlot I could find was priced at £4.99.
It didn't take me long to work out that whatever savings were to be had on the tax bill would rapidly disappear down my throat, always assuming, of course, that I could still afford to drink after forking out for somewhere to live.
While on the island I took the opportunity to test my theory that public transport can never be of more than marginal use in rural areas when I boarded a Douglas-bound Number Two bus in Port Erin to make the three-mile journey to Colby where my father in law has his residence.
I was a bit concerned when the bus set off in the direction of Castletown (like travelling from Milford to Haverfordwest via Neyland) but I worked out that this detour was probably more efficient from the bus operator's point of view than running separate services from the two towns.
The upshot was that after travelling for 20 minutes I was further from my destination than when I had set out.
Never mind, my journey was not time-critical, as the Americans say, and so long as I was home for tea it didn't matter.
Only when the driver took the Douglas road coming out of Castletown, rather than that leading to Colby, did I begin to get worried.
And when we reached Ballasala (Pembroke Dock on the local example given above) I realised I was on the wrong bus.
The driver was very apologetic - after all he had sold me a single ticket to Colby - and told me I needed to catch a Number One going in the opposite direction in order to get where I wanted to be.
The bad news, he told me, was that Number Ones only came along every hour and we had just passed one going the other way.
Worse, the only pub in Ballasala was closed.
So, I settled down in the bus shelter for a long wait.
Eventually, the appropriate bus arrived driven by, you've guessed, the same driver who had dropped me off in Ballasala an hour earlier.
In the meantime, he had been to Douglas almost 20 miles away.
Off we went on a ten mile journey via Castletown to Colby, which is only three miles from Ballasala.
Still, he did have the decency to give me back my original 65p fare so, although the journey took two hours, at least it was free.
My time in Ballasala was not entirely wasted because, as I stood shivering in the bus shelter, there was an "incident" at a house just across the road which brought two police cars, sirens wailing and lights flashing, to the scene.
A few minutes later two more police cars arrived and soon after a fire engine pulled up alongside.
A solitary fireman climbed down and had a brief conference with the five policemen - one an inspector - standing on the pavement.
Apparently, whatever emergency had brought the cops mob-handed to the scene was over because the fireman climbed back into the vehicle, which turned round and disappeared back towards Castletown.
Then I noticed an ambulance in full emergency mode coming down the hill from the direction of Douglas.
Like the fire engine, its services were not required and it headed back up the hill at a more sedate pace, passing as it went another police car, complete with flashing blue lights, heading down the hill at breakneck speed.
The two policemen from this latest arrival brought the number of officers attending the scene up to ten.
Which only goes to prove another theory of mine: that there is no necessary connection between levels of taxation and the adequacy of public services.
On the other hand, it was noticable that the house where all this activity was taking place was next door but one to the police station and the thought crossed my mind that this "incident" had been invented to give the boys an excuse to get back to base for a cup of tea.
That, however, involves another of my theories about the public services, the elucidation of which will have to wait for another day.
Old Grumpette and I had intended to spend a few days in the Lake District on the way back from the Isle of Man.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast was dreadful and as I was unable to convince her of the aesthetic delights of sitting in the Pack Horse in Keswick with a pint of best ale watching the rain running down the outside of the windows, we turned right at Liverpool and headed for home.

Called to account

Arriving back in Liddeston my first action was to catch up on the news in the local papers.
I was fascinated to see that Cllr Anne Hughes and the building society account were still near the top of the agenda.
Old Grumpy has known Cllr Hughes for many years and except for her occasional murderous attacks on the English language she has led a blameless life.
Even her enemies do not claim that Cllr Hughes was intending to pocket the Millennium Fund so it is rather difficult to see what all the fuss is about.
There are two main reasons why this story has "legs" as we say in the trade.
Firstly Cllr Hughes' Byers-like refusal to admit she has done anything wrong and, secondly, pure spite.
All Anne Hughes needed to do was admit that putting the money into an account in her own name was a serious error of judgement and her enemies would have been disarmed.
Instead she chose to defend the indefensible and her critics have had a field day.

Sinner repents

Both the Western Telegraph and the Mercury carried a report about the defection of Cllr Rev Emyr Jones from the County Council's ruling Independent Political (sic) Group to the Lib Dems (See last week's column).
According to the Mercury, Cllr Jones had jumped ship because of the Independent Group's "weak leadership".
However, a careful reading of Cllr Jones remarks indicates that what prompted him to switch parties was "centralised decision making by a handful of Independent councillors" i.e. strong leadership.
But even that is not quite the truth, because he also complains that this "handful" of powerful councillors "continually defer to officers' recommendations and expect the rest of us to fall in line and vote to order".
So, it is not the decision-making that falls to the powerful junta that runs the Independent Group, but the enforcement of decisions made by the unelected Chief Officers Management Board (COMB).
Now that Cllr Jones has summoned up the political courage to reject this perversion of democracy, perhaps he will also tell the electorate the identities of this "handful" of councillors, who lead the rest by the nose and, additionally, what exactly goes on at the secret meetings of this, supposedly, non-political, political group.
After all, his new party is noted for its advocacy of open government and the people's right to know.
A mole tells Old Grumpy that at least one other independent is harbouring serious doubts about their membership of this anti-democratic, power-hungry clique and is expected to bale out in the not too distant future.



An email has arrived questioning my assertion that the proper relationship between journalists and politicians is that of a dog and a lamppost.
"Surely you mean a pavement", my cyber correspondent writes.
Point taken!
No wonder I caught the wrong bus.

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