February 5th 2001

Hung over

Sorry about the delay in posting this week's offering.
Part of the reason was my inability to access the World Wide Wait.
But the chief cause was the six-try, 44 point hangover I was nursing all day Sunday and into Monday.
I am quite tempted to make some facetious remarks about Saturday's rather one-sided affair but, having heard J J "Dr Death" Williams whining on about the Welsh team's shortcomings, I realise that the last thing you need is an Englishman rubbing salt into the wounds.
Suffice it to say; even the one-eyed English press were in total agreement about the magnificence of the new stadium.
I particularly liked the cartoon in the Daily Mail, which showed two welsh supporters passing a sign "Millennium Stadium" as they left the ground after the game.
"I hope that means we'll only get a hammering like that every 1000 years," one is telling the other.
But, mustn't gloat - remember Murrayfield 2000 and Wembli 1999.
That said I have a feeling in my water that this could just be the year that I get to wear that long overdue Grand Slam sweater.



It is more than five years since I first raised the subject of the terrible toll exacted on small birds and mammals by the domestic cat.
The figures then at my disposal suggested that the UK's seven million moggies were responsible for some 80 million kills annually.
Recent research indicates that the real rate of attrition is probably more than three times this figure.
In normal predator - prey relationships it is extremely rare for a predator to hunt its prey to extinction.
That is because as prey numbers decrease so do those of the predators in the face of fierce competition for the reduced food supply.
The resultant predator population crash allows the faster breeding prey species to recover whereupon the cycle is repeated.
Domestic cats with tins of Kit-e-kat to fall back on do not experience this cyclical population control.
And it is not just the prey species that are affected.
It stands to reason that every vole and sparrow killed by a cat means one less potential meal for some hawk or owl or weasel or stoat.
Indeed, it is probably the case that cats cause more damage to wildlife that intensive farming.
Strange, then, that the cat owning class contains some of the world's most enthusiastic bunny-huggers.


Last week a large brown envelope containing the District Auditor's Management Letter to the County Council plopped through the letterbox.
Sadly I am not able to tell you what is in this document because on the front page is a note that says: "Disclosure of information contained within this report to a third party is restricted by Section 49 of the Audit Commission Act 1998.
Any individual who discloses information in contravention of Section 49 may be liable to a fine or imprisonment or both".
When I checked out the Act on the Internet I discovered that the maximum penalty for breaking this particular law is two years in clink.
Amazingly, this draconian measure was introduced by New Labour, which many will remember was once a passionate advocate of open government.
Funny how politicians lose their enthusiasm for freedom of information once they get their hands on the levers of power.
Fortunately, the Act doesn't prevent me from telling you what isn't in the report.
One omission that struck me was the absence, in the section headed "Fraud and corruption", of any mention of the payroll scam which led to a member of the finance department pleading guilty to fraud.
This fraud involved keeping the names of members of staff who had left on the books as phantom employees with their salaries being paid into the fraudster's personal building society account.
It would be reassuring to know that the council's internal auditors, rather than an alert building society employee who smelled a rat, had detected this nice little earner.
Not only is this failure of the Council's anti-fraud system not mentioned in the Auditor's letter but also it has never been reported to the members through the appropriate committee.
A couple of years ago the Audit Commission brought out a report entitled "We can't go on meeting like this" in which elected members were taken to task for failing to exercise democratic control over local authorities.
The report called for members to take on a role similar to that of company director: ensuring that the management were maintaining satisfactory standards of efficiency and probity.
Can you imagine a competent board of directors not requiring assurances from its management that steps had been taken to prevent similar frauds in future?
On the other hand, how many of that lot on the County Council can you imagine serving on a competent board of directors?



The archaeologist Barry Cunliffe has brought out a book in which he claims that ancient peoples living on the Atlantic coastline were pioneers of architecture.
The gist of the argument insofar as I could understand it listening to the repeat of "Start The Week" on Monday night, having consumed a bottle of Chilean Merlot, is that with the product of the sea, the seashore and the land at their disposal these Atlantic folk from Iceland to the Azores had a security of food supply which allowed them the luxury of a culture denied to those whose time was entirely devoted to the struggle for existence.
As a west coast boy myself (20 years living in Cumbria and 35 in Pembrokeshire) I have a natural tendency to believe anything, which confirms our obvious superiority over those from other parts of the UK.
But this particular theory seems like a fair old load of rubbish to me.
Don't those living on the East coast also have land, sea and seashore from which to harvest their food?
So why are Geordies, Yorkshiremen and East Anglians so clearly backward and unenlightened.
As it happens I spent a holiday in Northumberland once and I know the answer to that question.
It is that watching the sun going down over the sea is a thousand times more inspiring than seeing it sink behind some nearby hill.
So while we westerners sat on the shore pondering the meaning of the Universe and life itself, the horizons of Geordies, for instance, were restricted to wondering if they'll ever again see the likes of Jackie Milburn.
The truth, I'm afraid, is that archaeology is nothing more than a mass of guesswork and half-baked speculation.
Recently, I was reading one of Old Grumpette's books on the subject in which it was claimed that there was some religious significance in the fact that stoneage people were buried in the foetal position.

As anybody with a brain in their head knows, the real reason is that you need to dig a smaller hole - no mean consideration when the only tools to hand are a pick fashined from a deer's antler and a shovel made from the same animal's shoulder blade.

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