3 September 2002

Motes and beams

Within half an hour of posting last week's offering to the Web, a clever so and so, who shall be nameless, was on the phone to tell me that I had confused "principle with "principal".
"What would Miss Tate [my fearsome primary school teacher] have to say about that?" he asked, with just a hint of sarcasm.
As I have explained to others who have emailed to complain about lexicological inaccuracies, I was absent from school with chicken pox during the week we did spelling.
A couple of months ago I logged on to my email to find a message from a chap called Alan.
This was the second time Alan had been in touch to draw attention to my habit of transposing the i and the e in receiving.
On the first occasion, he recited that tired old rhyme about i before e except after c.
I recall telling him that I had measles when Miss Tate explained this rule to us but I can't remember whether I wrote back pointing out that, should I follow his silly principle - not principal - he would be pulling me up over my misspelling of heir, forfeit, neither, heinous, weir, weird, sleight, seize, beige, freight, neighbour, foreign, protein, veil, vein and dozens of others you can think up at your leisure (geddit).
However, I do remember feeling obliged to reply to his second email, which arrived within minutes of my column's appearance on the Web and read: "Oh dear, I am going to campaign for a new pc for old grumpy, 2nd time in a matter of weeks. Where did he get his spell check from, Khazakstan? Having said that the Boris' in the Council probably think its correct anyway, so I wouldn't be too concerned", when I pointed out that my Central Asian spell check indicated that the correct spelling for its land of origin was Kazakhstan not Khazakstan.
It also gave me some small satisfaction to tell him that, if he had not been in so much of a rush to put Old Grumpy right, he might have noticed his own failure to distinguish between its (possessive) and it's (abbreviation of it is).
And, of course, I couldn't resist a reference to the inappropriate "greengrocers' apostrophe" tacked on the end of Boris.
It all reminded Old Grumpy of the lovely story told by the late Frank Muir about an African chief who was given a large gold throne by his grateful people.
Fearing that it might be stolen, he hid it in the roof space of his hut.
Sadly, the weight of the throne proved too much for the flimsy structure and one night it crashed down on the chief's bed, killing him as he slept.
The moral of this tragic tale?
People in grass houses shouldn't stow thrones!
I haven't heard from Alan since.
I hope he still logs on, though I am not concieted enough to decieve myself into beleiving that it is inconcievabe that he might have decided to give it a miss.
We shall see!

It don't add up

Whatever Miss Tate's shortcomings as a teacher of speling, she was rather more accomplished in the field of sums, and Old Grumpy eventually went on to pass 'A' level maths, though it should be said that this unexpected result moved my teacher and Methodist lay preacher, 'Soss' Hall, to publicly reaffirm his faith in miracles.
Despite Mr Hall's well founded belief that my success was some sort of fluke, I think it is fair to say that an 'A' level in maths, however undeserved, does indicate at least an above average numerical facility - though my bridge partner might wish to take issue with this line of reasoning.
Whatever! my mathematical skills are sufficiently refined to see through most of the County Council's little tricks.
For instance, this week I learned of the basis on which the County Council's illegal travelling expenses regime is calculated.
Readers will remember that, back in February, the authority resolved to abandon its former scheme which involved members submitting a written claim for each journey made.
In its stead the council introduced a scheme of annual payments based on the distance the member lived from County Hall and the number of journeys they were expected to make on official business.
Regulations passed by the Welsh assembly have outlawed these arrangements (see August 20)
I understand that, prior to the scheme's recent demise, the number of journeys per year on which payment was to be based was: Cabinet members 45; Chairman of Regulatory Committees (Planning and Licencing) 45; and all the rest 25.
One flaw is immediately obvious.
If Cllr Maurice Hughes is working a 70 hour week in County Hall, as he claims, why is he being paid for less than one journey a week?
After all, the the Birmingham University study on which the new system was purportedly based says that the reason for implementing the changes is that: "Very often the sums [for travelling expenses] are relatively insignificant and often the members do not bother to claim. This means they [councillors] are bearing a personal cost for council duties."
So why was it proposed that Cabinet members should be made to bear the "personal cost" of 200-250 trips a year - the difference between the 250-300 visits their onerous, supposedly full-time, duties demand and the 45 they were being paid for.?
If I was a conspiracy theorist I might think it was something to do with the avalanche of bad publicity that would surely follow when it was revealed, just a few months before the next local elections, that the most way-out Cabinet member (geographically speaking), Cllr John Allen-Mirehouse, was being paid £5,000-6,000 in travelling expences on top of his £22,500 salary.
And why is Alwyn "Monster Muncher" Luke, who now holds the vitally important post of Overview and Scrutiny Committee Chairman (£17,500 a year) only being allowed 25 visits to County Hall while during the previous year, when he had no discernible function other than to keep the canteen in business at the taxpayers' expense, he claimed for 95 such trips.
Not that the Birmingham University team need have worried about members failing to exact their due because once some of our elected representatives sit down to fill in an expense claim form no sum of money, however trivial, escapes their notice; witness Cllr Peter Stock's claim for three miles at 45p for travelling from Haven Road to the Cenotaph to lay a wreath on behalf of the Council during his year as Chairman.

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