The Grim Reaper

Say what you like about the bloody Corona virus, it does have its plus points.

For example, tonight is Halloween, and can you hear that noise? No? That’s because there isn’t any: there has been not one knock at my door from a bunch of kids who’ve made minimal effort with the idea of fancy dress, thrusting open bags out imploring me to furnish them with sweets.

I say this like I ever answer my front door. Of course I don’t: that’s what my downstairs neighbours are for.

The Government even issued advice this week, as the prime minister’s official spokesman, when asked about the prospect of trick or treating being banned this year, clearly read from a card which said: “The rules are those which apply to household mixing in general. And what that means in practice is, if you’re in a ‘Very High’ alert level then you cannot mix with other households indoors or in private outdoor spaces. “If you’re in a ‘High’ COVID alert level then the rule of six applies in private gardens and outdoor spaces but households must not mix indoors. And in terms of the ‘Medium’ alert level, you can meet indoors and outdoors in groups of no more than six people. The rules are there for all circumstances and people will have to use their common sense in ensuring they are following the rules.”

You’ll notice that mention of “common sense”, and we all know what that means. It means: “If Dominic Cummings happens to get photographed knocking on doors and trying to relieve good, honest, hard working, decent British folk of the contents of their last packet of Fangtastic, then that’s perfectly fine, he’s just using his common sense like any parent would.”

But I digress.

Don’t get me wrong, for whilst Halloween and the “tradition” of Trick or Treating really pisses me off, it wasn’t always thus. I spent my first few formative years living in the USA where it was a huge communal event. Remember the Trick or Treating scene from E.T. The Extra Terrestrial? This one:

Well, that’s pretty much how I remember it (although, one can never really be sure if that’s because I’ve seen that movie so many times, or whether I do actually remember it).

When I returned to the UK in the early 70s, I found that Trick or Treating simply wasn’t a thing. Nobody did it over here. Consequently, my excellent Spiderman suit got put in a box and shoved up into the attic, never to to see the light of day again.

I’m not sure precisely when it happened, but over the years, it’s an American tradition which we’ve readily adopted, like Black Friday and disliking immigrants.

Aren’t we sending kids a very mixed message with Trick or Treating though? Every other day of the year, parents teach their kids not to talk to strangers and definitely never take any sweets off them for fear of what might happen if they do, and then for one night of the year, they are encouraged to knock on total strangers’ doors and demand that they be given confectionary, permitted to make threats about what might happen if they don’t. It’s like Deliveroo for paedophiles.

I heard my favourite Halloween/dressing up story on a very old edition of QI. The question was: Why did the Haslemere Home for the Elderly close down? And the answer was this: Because of a series of bizarre endings for its inhabitants…

In September 1960, a male inhabitant of the Haslemere Home for the Elderly in Great Yarmouth died of a cardiac arrest after fellow resident, 81-year-old Gladys Elton, performed a striptease. Five more of the residents were consequently treated for shock.

Hold on, I’m getting to the point.

A year later, there were three more deaths at the same home after one of the patients, 87-year-old Harry Meadows, dressed up as the Grim Reaper and peered through the window brandishing a scythe. This incident closed down the home.

I like the sound of Harry.

Which leads me here. They were a bit late with their advice, to be honest:

More soon.

Rant

I mentioned in passing a while ago that it’s hard to have one of my Saturday morning rants sometimes, because satirical behemoths Have I Got News For You (BBC1) and The News Quiz (BBC Radio 4) have already aired and I worry that I may be accused of stealing someone’s point, or worse, their joke.

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve not yet listened to this week’s edition of The News Quiz, but I have watched this week’s edition of Have I Got News For You and my heart sank when one of the panellists made exactly the same point as I intended to make in this post. I’ll let you know when I get to it.

Other than the continuingly inept handling of the Covid crisis, the big story over the past couple of weeks has been Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to ensure that whilst the crisis continues, he’d rather children whose parents were unable to work because of the crisis didn’t starve. Of course, that ethic extends to all children, but the main thrust is those whose families are directly affected by Covid in terms of their ability to work.

Mistake number one by the Government: having acquiesced to his previous campaign, they awarded him an MBE thinking that would be enough to make him go away. But here he still is, being a pain and asking for more.

Quite right too: we’re nowhere near beating Covid, more and more areas are being pushed into Tier 3 restrictions and things are not getting any easier for a lot of people.

And yet: his proposal to extend the free school meals provision for those on Universal Credit or equivalent into half-terms and the Christmas holidays was backed by a Labour motion, which called for the scheme to be extended even longer, into school holidays until Easter 2021. It was defeated by 261 votes to 322 – a majority of 61.

I imagine those “up North” who lent the Conservatives their vote at the last election, only to see their local areas dealt with entirely differently to, say, us in That London, are really pleased with their decision and will be doing so again next time around.

By way of justification for voting down a bill which seems such a no-brainer to vote for, a whole stream of Tory MPs we’ve never heard of before were pushed in front of TV cameras to justify the Goverment’s position, and pretty much all of them gave this as the reason: parents have to learn to feed their children without the Government’s help. They should learn to not rely on hand-outs and freebies.

Mistake number two by the Government: don’t double down on a decision which in effect says: poor children can starve for all we care.

And this is where my point chimes with a panellist on Have I Got News For You and I have to say I was most surprised the panellist in question was Tory peer Baroness Warsi.

For MPs have a subsidised bar and restaurant within the Houses of Parliament. And to clarify what that means: MPs get to eat and drink cheaply, and we pay the balance. I’m sure they’re all demanding to pay full price in there. Or maybe not, given the situation with the MPs pay rise.

It was recently announced that ministers will still get the MPs’ pay rise along with all members of the House of Commons, but they will not receive any increase on the separate salary they receive on top as members of the government.

The annual rise for MPs is based on a comparison with public sector pay and is subject to a consultation process which ends in November, with a final decision expected the following month and the rise taking effect from April 2021.

On top of their MP’s pay of almost £82,000, ministers receive separate government salaries worth £75,440 for the prime minister, £67,505 for secretaries of state and between £22,375 and £31,680 for lower-ranking ministers. 

Recently, it was leaked that Boris was “struggling to survive” on such a meagre income. Perhaps the CSA have finally caught up with him for all those children he’s somehow managed to father. Whatever, my heart bleeds for the poor man, getting paid all that money to do a job he can’t do.

But this goes further than that. You’ll doubtless recall the expenses scandal from 2009 – do you think that has stopped entirely? Or that MPs no longer accept (and declare) any freebies that come their way? Really, if you follow the logic of their argument through, then they should learn to live without these gratuities, right?

Well, as it happens, the 322 Conservative MPs who voted against extending Free School Meals during holidays have themselves accepted £130,780.72 of “declarable” free hospitality during the last (pandemic hit) year. So we have a classic case of “do as I say, but not as I do”.

For example: the Conservative MP for Chippenham, Michelle Donelan, voted “No” to free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021, yet she happily accepted £494.23 worth of complimentary pizza for a party.

For example: the Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald, Helen Grant, voted “No” to free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021, yet she accepted £500.00 worth of complimentary food and drink for a party of 50 people.

For example: the Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, Sajid Javid, voted “No” to free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021, yet he received £713.70 worth of complimentary wine.

For example: Anthony Mangnall, Conservative Member of Parliament for Totnes and South Devon, and Darren Henry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe, voted “No” to free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021 yet received, respectively, £3000 to assist with living costs and £2850 to assist with rent in his constituency.

For example (a bit more high-profile this one): Michael Gove, Conservative MP for Surrey Heath and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster voted “No” to free school meals over the school holidays until Easter 2021, but accepted £2340.00 hospitality from Manchester City and the FA.

I could go on, but I may as well just direct you to @grumpyfactcheck on Twitter who provided all of those stats which I’ve used without their permission (I don’t think they’ll mind) and who has posted many, many more examples of Tory hypocrisy.

All these MPs who quite literally have learned to rely on hand-outs and freebies.

And this is the thing, and it goes back to the whole Cummings driving to Durham and then for a two hour jaunt to check his eyesight: we all know there’s one rule for the toffs and one rule for the oiks, and most of the time, though we might shout about it and stamp a bit every now and then, we just accept that’s the way things are.

But in the dangerous, scary times we find ourselves in now, and as the Government vacuously trumpets that “we’re all in this together”, wouldn’t it be nice if just for a second we might think that’s true?

Some songs, the first of which I dedicate to every Conservative MP who voted the bill down but has accepted any freebie or gratuity:

I have a solution to all of this, and I’m with Lemmy (RIP) on this one:

Imagine the crackling on Boris. Yummy.

I don’t know what else to say except that this is the next song on the Mixing Pop and Politics mix-tape I’ve mentioned before, and right now it seems a better idea than at any time before:

More soon.