February 5th 2001
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
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
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
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
Amazingly, this draconian measure was introduced by New Labour,
which many will remember was once a passionate advocate of open
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
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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