Just what I say: Brian Nicholls

Date: Tuesday 4th July 2017

SOMETIMES even the author of this column feels as if he is something of a doom monger, forecasting the end of the world and life as we know it when what is probably being predicted is the world as I have known it, and what I am guilty of is a combination of an overactive imagination fuelled by copious amounts of getting on in years nostalgia.

Yet there are times it does feel like ploughing a lone furrow in a field nobody else can see, which is a bit frustrating particularly when, like Cassandra in Greek mythology, your predictions are doomed never to be believed but often turn out to be true.

Let me apologise because I feel guilty even referring to the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in Westminster to reiterate a point which has been made here several times before, but it is an issue which that tragedy just reinforced with such predictability that it has to be made again and again until we take our heads out of our ****s and stop expecting that the authorities do everything for us and believing those authorities are capable of doing all the things we expect, because they clearly aren’t. The fire was truly awful but the response to it was appalling, pathetic and shaming.

This is a nation which once justifiably prided itself on its ability to deal with any crisis, civil or military. The country which stood alone as the dark night of Nazism engulfed Europe and which took all the Luftwaffe could throw at it, with thousands killed and tens of thousands homeless, utilities destroyed and roads and railways bombed off the map — and just dealt with it. We couldn’t deal with the aftermath of Grenfell Tower 76 years later despite all the technology, instant communications and infrastructure our parents and grandparents could never have imagined.

The reasons we failed, or one of the reasons, is that, as this column has argued before, in getting everything we thought we ever wanted we lost everything we already had. In gaining technology we have shunned and sacrificed practical ability and practical thinking.

Grenfell Tower showed with horrid clarity the moribund nature of government, both national and local. When we think of both those levels of government we tend to think of the elected faces, but those faces are, in reality, the merest tip of giant, constipated icebergs of faceless and, as they have proved, impractical, ineffective and overpaid penpushers or, more accurately these days, keyboard pushers.

Government at all levels is run by bureaucrats and technocrats who see the world as figures, graphs and computer predictions which fit their requirements, but not those of real people or real situations.

Grenfell Tower was a tragedy which became a crisis, but it is a crisis of human manufacture because the authorities were incapable of dealing with it and they were incapable of dealing with it because they simply didn’t know what to do. The computer hadn’t been set to provide a “model” for dealing with a burning tower block. The problems of what actions to take were practical ones and they needed practical people to solve them and there just weren’t any.

Local authorities have purged themselves of practical people who used to do manual work and could think practically and logically without needing a computer to tell them how to use the lavatory, and instead have built themselves into ivory towered administrations. All “real” work is farmed out to contractors who tender for work which, to keep costs down, will be done badly or dangerously because to make a profit they employ the least skilled workers and use the cheapest materials. Some authorities, such as Cumbria County Council, can’t even get the contracting bit right without losing twenty odd millions of our money.

We live in a country in which practical people who can look at a problem, think on their feet, evaluate it and come up with practical solutions which work have been devalued and disregarded systematically and consistently since the 1970s, while those who play around with computers have become gods. We pay penpushers three times what we pay those who deal real work and yet we all know who we need the most.

Our forefathers lived through the bombs and cleared up next morning, repaired the water mains, mended the roads and housed the homeless. They planned D-Day and had about a million men in the field around the globe with all logistical support that required without even the use of a calculator.

Their modern counterparts couldn’t even organise help for a few hundred in the richest borough in the centre of our nation’s capital. God help us if another Hitler ever comes along.

AN old friend, well, actually the grandchick of an old friend, contacted me last week. It was none other than the herring gull, Larry Argent III, whose Latin name is a much longer version of that but he thinks Larry Argent is much cooler.

The original Larry, some may remember, was captain of Penrith’s Frenchfield playing fields Herring Gull second XI reserves. They still play and can often be seen on the pitches down there. Larry came to fame for complaining to the council about lazy human footballers leaving plastic drinks bottles strewn all over the outfield just because they saw professional footballers doing it on the television.

Well, these days even herring gulls have got the telly and young Larry rang me up to tell a gull joke, “Why do gulls have wings?” “I don’t know, why do gulls have wings?” “So they can beat the BBC to the tip.”

Apparently gulls enjoy daytime TV except for one program called Money for Nothing in which some woman who thinks she can turn trash into cash keeps turning up at the tip, annoying Larry and the other gulls and getting in the way of their legitimate work.

Larry says this is a classic example of the BBC’s bland, unimaginative, cheap program slot-filling. He reckons nobody, not even David Attenborough, would come down the tip and watch him scratting through other people’s rubbish and then make a whole television series about it.

Larry says Money for Nothing is not even genuine because this human woman is supposed to find old tatt then convert it into something she can sell at a profit, but she finds old wooden kitchen tables worth sixpence and then spends 800 quid to get a master cabinetmaker mate of hers to completely rebuild and remodel it into a Georgian antique, so she can sell it to a dealer who also just happens to be a chum of hers.

The gulls are not happy. They say loads of people are now nosing round their workplace disrupting things, and they certainly don’t think rubbish is a fit topic to make a television program about, even if it is a rubbish program (Larry thought that was really funny and nearly laughed his beak off).

I agree, especially as the culture minister warned the BBC last year to cut down on unimaginative programming like Homes Under The Hammer or risk its charter renewal. The BBC’s response — two fingers and a rubbish program about rubbish.

EUREKA! I have found it, the magical money tree of recent political mythology, and it grows in my garden. But it also grows in your garden, too, just as it grows in every English garden — there is a song about that somewhere.

A billion pounds conjured out of the ether from the magic money tree which, during the recent election, the Tories insisted didn’t exist. Prediction from this column on 17th June: “… money from Cumbrian taxpayers will be funnelled into Northern Ireland as a bribe for the DUP …”

Tory ministers are dancing around the question during interviews about where the money is coming from and steadfastly refusing to tell us, but then if it is coming from an enchanted tree they wouldn’t tell us would they in case the rest of us found it and started picking its fruit.

The Scots and Welsh are a bit miffed that Ulster is getting all this dosh and they want their share. The English, as always, bite the bullet and just quietly and stoically accept that there is a magic money tree and its name is England.