New Year, New...
Television programmes, magazines and newspapers - including this one - have grown fond every January of using the phrase “New Year, New You” to promote features about health, fitness and beauty (though, strangely, never identity fraud).
We are now seeing mutated forms of this slogan appear in our inbox, with varying degrees of scansion, rhyme and sense. “New Year, New Volunteer”, begins one email, for example.
Another is titled: “New Year, New Linguistic Attitude.”
Another is titled: “New Year, New Inkjet Cartridge Supplier.”
Whose side are they on?
Something seems not quite to add up in the gloomy predictions of our various councils regarding their budgets.
In previous years, they have justified tax rises on grounds of inflation. When that started falling towards the end of last year, they started complaining about the state property market; oddly, I can’t remember them arguing for tax cuts when it was booming.
And now they claim that low interest rates will cost them millions. So did they save millions when they were high? I don’t remember them telling us that, either.
Adding to the confusion, Warwickshire County Council boasted this week that Warwickshire’s libraries are used more than any others run by county councils elsewhere in the country. These are the same libraries that the same authority insists need “transforming” - because not enough people use them.
I’m perhaps in the minority in believing the county council, and its counterparts in our districts and towns, need as much money as they can get to provide the quality of services our increasingly expectant population demands. But their mixed messages will fail to convince the many, many others.
The awesome power of Liz Lynne
Saturday January 17, and Israel declares a ceasefire in its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
Just 12 days previously, West Midlands Euro MP Liz Lynne sent us an email headed: “Local MEP calls for an end to Gaza conflict.”
What power that woman yields. Given her influence, Barack Obama best be careful that he lives up to expectations. For in November, Ms Lynne wrote: "I very much hope that Obama will work both in America and on the world stage, alongside the EU, to make his campaign slogan of 'change' a reality."
Has everythingeppingforest.co.uk got news for you?
Two things to consider before reading the next sentence: this is a quiet time of year for news, and the website in question is run by volunteers.
Even so, everythingeppingforest.co.uk deserves some kind of ironic award for the headline: “Town’s rainfall ‘about average’ last year.”
When will it end? By which I mean: when will this week end?
Perhaps it depends on when it began. And who you ask.
This is the time of year for new diaries and calendars, and it seems there is no consensus on this matter. I have in front of me the James Plaskitt MP 2009 Calendar (yes, there is such a thing). In James’s world, this week began on Monday and will end on Sunday. A big chunky 2009 desk diary agrees with him: MTWTFSS, it pronounces. The calendar on Microsoft Outlook concurs.
But I’ve always believed the week begins on Sunday - and that if it doesn’t, then it should. Far better to spend the first day of the week at rest, rather than at work. Far better to store up one’s energy and refresh oneself before the tasks ahead. It places leisure ahead of labour; it suggests that, far from being some dismal tail to the week, some enforced time to recuperate because there’s no energy left for anything else, Sundays serve as a long and relaxing lie-in before work. Bookending our duties with our delights seems right somehow.
I am aware that the combined forces of language and religion appear to be against me on this. Sunday, after all, is the second day of the weekend. And it could also be argued that God decided to rest on the seventh day. But theologians still dispute where the Sabbath actually falls, and if language were a witness in court, it would be deemed too inconsistent and volatile to provide reliable evidence.
Besides, I have an ally which may yet become more powerful than either: Google. And its new-fangled online calendars are unequivocal: the week begins on Sunday. Take that, Microsoft, James Plaskitt and the rest of the world.
Lionel: the shocking truth
Poor Lionel, our favourite specimen of that rare breed, the Leisure Lynx (lynxus tracksuitus). The forced ‘retirement’ of Warwick District Council’s sport-and-fun mascot has deprived him of his usual central role in the Spa Centre pantomime. That he appears in the programme, but not on stage, is doubly cruel.
Lionel was last seen on Newbold Comyn, in his underwear, burning pictures of Ben Day.
So there I was, hungry in Victoria Terrace in Leamington, with a decision to take: Subway or Big Cup? Reliable, quite inexpensive fare versus hardy small business. As I work for a newspaper that encourages its readers to use the services of local companies where possible, I went for the latter. Oh dear.
I ordered a jacket potato and some tap water. “We don’t do tap water”, came the response. I asked why. “We checked with the council and we don’t need to do it, so we don’t.”
It’s a rather mean, petty and short-sighted policy, especially considering that this was the first time I’d ever been refused tap water. My unspectacular spud came along after quite a wait, accompanied by a weeny bit of orange juice; it came to a rather hefty £5.85.
I’m sure the cafe has many happy customers and does a fine job with a limited budget. But its managers, and possibly others like them around town, would do well to reciprocate the goodwill shown towards them.
My dirty secret
OK, OK. It’s about time I admitted it. I can be weighed down by this guilt no longer. And so, meek and ashamed, I confess: for the past ten years or so, I have been indulging in - ahem - taboo behaviour.
Now, this immediately makes me seem more interesting. I shall therefore add the following disclaimers: I had no idea, until this week, that my conduct was in any way ‘taboo’; and increasing numbers of people are indulging in such unspeakable deeds.
But such is our permissive society that even we pariahs will be spared public opprobrium next year - for, according to an estate agent who emailed us this week, “renting a home in the UK will no longer be a taboo in 2009”.
It came as a shock, I have to say. There I was, thinking that renting was actually quite a good idea: I’d rather not borrow hundreds of thousands of pounds lent by an over-eager bank that I may not be able to pay back, thank you very much. And there I was again, being told that my nefarious activities had sullied my soul. And there I was for a third time, being told: “relax, it’s fine - God forgives everyone, don’t you know.”
What an intriguing example of changing attitudes. At the start of this decade, Marks and Spencer still refused to accept credit cards, so very disreputable did money-lending appear to its middlebrow mentality. How crass and uncouth; how taboo. And yet, in the intervening years, somehow those of us who have tried to resist the credit culture find ourselves apparently marginalised.
For many years now, we have equated owner-occupancy with prosperity. But how different things are in France: its owner-occupancy rate is about 50 per cent, compared with our 70 per cent. Say what you like about France, but I don’t hear many economists saying our economic problems have their roots in the French property market.
Yes, wise investment in a house can be prudential - but so much house-buying has been no more than herd behaviour, born of peer pressure and misguided aspiration. We must rebuild our ‘never-never’ land, and vow: never, ever again.