November 26 2001


Innocents abroad


My apologies for last week's failure to post my contribution to the website.
But, as it happens, I was out of the country, enjoying seven days of Cypriot sunshine.
On our first night on the island, eager to experience the local cuisine, we dined out at a small seafront restaurant in Pafos.
Old Grumpette recommended we try the meze, which, she assured me, is the speciality in those parts.
Old Grumpy always defers to the better half's superior knowledge when it comes to questions of Mediterranean culture: after all she spent her formative years in Tripoli and has her hair done at Frank Todaros.
Within a minute of placing our order, the waiter had deposited seven small dishes containing a variety of delicacies on the table, together with a bottle of the local red plonk.
Half an hour passed, by which time the wine had disappeared down the family gullets, and there was still no sign of the main course on which we were to spread the contents of these tiny dishes.
Old Grumpette must have noticed my worried expression.
"They must be busy in the kitchen", she suggested, by way of explanation for the delay.
Meanwhile, the waiter kept hovering around our table with the air of someone who had some thing to say but didn't quite know how to say it, so, to put him at his ease, I ordered another bottle of wine.
Once the ritual tasting was complete, the waiter cleared his throat: "You have to eat those before we serve the next course", he said, pointing at the little dishes.
Fortunately there are dozens of restaurants in Pafos so we didn't need to go back.


Round the twist

During our stay in Cyprus, Old Grumpette decided that I was not to be allowed to lounge about in the sun all day, smoking and drinking and reading yesterday's Daily Telegraph.
So, she booked us onto an all-day jeep safari deep into the wild interior of the island - codenamed (and I joke not) Daktari.
This turned out to be the most frightening experience of my life as we wound our way along narrow, unpaved rock ledges with the driver, Ricco, constantly either making calls on his mobile phone or rummaging in the glove compartment on the passenger side of the vehicle trying to locate a tape with which to further entertain us.
I know I will be accused of making this up, but the tape he eventually selected was Chubby Checker "singing" Let's twist again.
Can you think of a more frightening prospect than falling over a precipice and hurtling 1000 feet towards a certain death, knowing that the last thing you will ever hear on this earth is remember when things were really humming.
Things came to a head when we encountered a rare straight stretch and Ricco took both hands of the wheel and proceeded to do the twist from a sitting position.
Old Grumpette protested from the seat behind and when Ricco feigned surprise at her reaction, I explained that we hadn't flown 2000 miles to be scared witless (at least I think I said witless) while listening to the worst record ever made.
After that we had the Greek version of Jimmy Young on the radio - a vast improvement.
Later in the afternoon, as we were driving along a rather better road with tarmac, I told Ricco that we had narrow roads like that in Wales.
Same as here? He asked.
"Not quite", I replied, "when we meet something we slow down".
Ricco tapped the steering wheel. "Land Rover Discovery" he said calmly, "they always get out of the way".
Fortunately, we were spared the experience of meeting a 10-ton truck piloted by someone with the same philosophy.


Fallible auditors


A recurring theme, in the solicitors' letters I receive after exposing some irregularity or another in a councillor's expense claiming practices, is that the District Audit Service has checked the books and found nothing wrong and, therefore, my allegations must be false.
I need hardly say that this line of argument is a complete non sequitur.
I can catalogue a host of occasions when I have discovered members claiming expenses to which they were not entitled, most famously Cllr Eddie Setterfield's habit of inflating the time spent at meetings so as to enable him to pocket £120 in extra attendance allowances, and Cllr Maurice Hughes' claim for £360 subsistence with regard to a trip to Eastbourne when the Council had pre-paid his hotel bill, neither of which had been spotted by the auditors.
And, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, because on those two occasions, and several others I could mention, they were forced to repay the money.
Another feature of this regular stream of mail is the uncompromising language.
"Unless an apology and retraction is published with regard to this serious libel, within the next seven days, my client will have no alternative but to issue proceedings without further notice" is the usual formula, though it is noteworthy that none of them have yet risked an appearance in the witness box, under oath.
Promises, promises!


The Time Traveller

One of my most persistent tormentors is Cllr Brian "Schumacher" Hall whose driving skills were discussed in this column recently.(see October 15)
You may remember that, according to his expense claim, on February 1st this year, the "Pennar Flash" bought a meal in the First Motorway Service Station at Magor at 1.08pm and 52 minutes later, at 2.00pm, precisely, he was climbing into his car in Pembroke Dock to go to a meeting in Swansea, having eaten his meal and driven 125 miles.
Closer inspection of his claim form shows that, originally, he wrote down 1.00pm as the departure time from Pembroke Dock and then overwrote it with a 2.
My suspicion is that this alteration was made to conceal the fact that he completed the journey in minus 8 minutes, a feat only possible if he had borrowed Cllr Alwyn Luke's Tardis for the day.
He almost certainly needed the Tardis for the trip back to Swansea because the meeting he was to attend started just as he was putting the key in the ignition in Pembroke Dock. Or, perhaps, his chum Luke has been tutoring him in the art of being in two places at once!
A mole in Kremlin on Cleddau tells me that Cllr Hall has got himself a new Merc - registration CU51 TSH, which if you take away the 5 and apply a little imagination can just about be read as CUTISH, not an adjective Old Grumpy would normally associate with Mr Hall.
I do hope he hasn't been out spending all those libel damages he keeps threatening to extract from me before he's even issued the writ.
A more likely explanation is that, as one of the county's top private detectives, he needs to frequently change his car (and his false beard) in order to ensure the security of his undercover activities.



However, the story told to me by another of my moles - that so sparse was the crowd outside County Hall for the arrival of the Queen that the staff were ordered out on to the car park to save the blushes of the county's ruling classes - has been dismissed as nothing but a pack of mischievous lies put about by republican rebels, Levellers and assorted Trots and troublemakers.

That lets me out.


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