Murder at the laundrette: A Cunard experience not in the brochure 

Anybody on a world Cunard cruise cannot but be charmed  by the civilised behaviour of the crew and fellow guests. A day does not go by without any guest being encouraged to enjoy themselves by the large crew and fellow guests.Everybody is very considerate and helpful to each other. 

But there is one room in Queen Victoria where all this breaks down. It is called the laundrette. Here the genteel atmosphere throughout the ship evaporates in a mix of soap suds and wet clothes.

The laundrette is one of the few free services on board but there are only two or three machines for 100 or more cabins. And with 700 people going on a 108 day world cruise plus a turnover of some 1300 people at major ports demand is high.

To get a machine normally polite men and women are transformed into duplicitous schemers resorting to any ruse to get their hands on the machines.

When wiley women and aggressive men get going to grab a machine anything goes.

One person even came armed with two fake ” Out of Order ” notices to  attach to a washing machine and a dryer so she could get exclusive use during the voyage. The ruse was discovered when other suspicious guests tried using the machines and found they worked perfectly.

More direct action has involved taking other people’s clothes out of driers and washing machines when the guests using the machines are out of the laundrette.

One poor guest who had just loaded a washing machine and went out to get more dirty clothes came back five minutes later to find another guest had emptied her machine and replaced it with her clothes. By then she had started the machine and the first guest could do nothing about it.

As for men aggression can spill over. One man furious that another guy had taken out his washing turned to the other and said ” How dare you run your fingers through my wife’s knickers “. A fist fight broke out and it is said that Cunard threw both of them off the boat at the next port.

No wonder when you visit the Cunard laundrette you find a line of grim faced men and women guarding their machines with their lives and warning you there is a two hour wait before you need to come back.

So far the ethos of take no prisoners has not yet led to any deaths. But there is still another month on this voyage so anything could happen.

In the meantime nobody has copied the iconic Levi jeans advertisement where a  young guy goes to the laundrette to strip off and put all his  dirty clothes in the machines. But perhaps Cunard’s strict dress code of smart attire after 6.0 pm and a dinner jacket and cocktail dress on gala night puts off people from going to the laundrette in the nude. But again there is still time…

Where’s St Helena? It’s off Jersey isn’t it?

St Helena Pic Credit St Helena government

St Helena: in the South Atlantic not off Jersey. Pic Credit: St Helena Government


A rather amusing aside was missed by the national press and the BBC when they reported on the scandal last week of  St Helena’s  spanking new £285m airport which can’t be used by jets because it is too windy to land.

True they had fun with the video of a British Airways  jet having to abort a landing because of the wind. So no chance yet of a new tourist boom because the only way there is by a six week journey on an ageing mail boat.

But they missed an extraordinary table hidden in a report commissioned by the St Helena government about where the island was located.

The National  Audit Office reports  that a marketing company- Acorn Tourist Consulting – asked lots of savvy long haul tourists where  is St Helena.

Extraordinarily 19 per cent put the island in the Mediterranean – perhaps near Malta or Cyprus.

Another 15 per cent put the island in the English Channel – perhaps confusing Jersey’s St Helier with St  Helena.

Another 8 per cent thought it was a tropical paradise in the South Pacific – perhaps near Fiji!

And another 5 per cent thought it was in the Indian Ocean – somewhere near Sri Lanka perhaps.

And 15 per cent admitted  honestly they hadn’t a clue.

This left just 38 per cent who correctly identified it as a rocky island in the South Atlantic.

Mind you it might be as well that the Department of International Development has mucked up the project. Not only will it give it time for the island to find a jet that could land safely there but it will give isolated  St Helena a bit longer to prepare for the tourist hordes.

For the same company which discovered the ignorance of British tourists has issued another health warning about going there.

It warns: “There will be new expectations of St. Helena as a destination. In just over 4 hours the tourist will have flown from South Africa to the Island. No time to adjust, reflect, read, and prepare for arrival as they do at the moment. This is likely to make visitors more demanding and less forgiving. They will start to lose sight of the remoteness and challenges an island 1,200 miles off the coast of Africa and 1,800 miles from Brazil faces.

Today, very few tourists leave St. Helena disappointed, but this may change once tourists start arriving by air. St. Helena then runs the risk of over-promising and under-delivering, and this will lead to some tourists returning home and not passing on in a positive way that most effective form of marketing – word of mouth.”

 Perhaps it might be better to look for St Helena off Jersey after all.
St Helena

The report’s findings in the National Audit Office report

Have a laugh and watch tonight Rory Bremner and the mandarins

rory bremnerDepressed or elated about the election result? Have a few laughs tonight and watch Rory Bremner’s election special about  who was holding the real power in Britain while the country was going to the polls.

I have been working as a consultant to the one off programme  which will explore the growing power of private companies running Whitehall and the role of mandarins. I know he has talked “off the record” to some pretty well placed political and Whitehall sources. You might be surprised to find out who is running the country and where we are selling our Whitehall wares. The programme is produced by the Vera – the company that has twice exposed MPs in lobbying stings – the latest being Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack straw.

Plus of course the inimitable impressions and the usual stuff from this comedian. It’s on BBC 2 at 10.0pm. It’s called Rory Bremner’s Election Report.

Boris Johnson’s unlucky dirty tricks on the No 13 bus

The Number 13 bus - not to be used by Boris for a dirty tricks! Pictire Credit: Commons

The Number 13 bus – not to be used by Boris for a dirty tricks! Picture Credit: Commons

Is there no desperate act a politician will stoop if his mate could lose his seat on may 7? Well Boris Johnson is prepared to do it to save Mike Freer, his Tory colleague standing for Finchley and Golders Green even it means telling porkies in the seat that once returned Margaret Thatcher and has a large Jewish vote.

Threatened according to another Tory peer and now eminence gris of the pollsters, Lord Ashcroft, with losing his seat to Labour’s Sarah Sackman on May 7, Boris thought he could perform a minor miracle and save a much loved bus route,the number 13 from Golders Green to Aldwych and swing the vote.

Unfortunately for him his success turned out to be a lie – because he has no power to do so particularly under the purdah rules in a General Election which forbids politicians ( and Boris is of course a Parliamentary candidate elsewhere) from taking controversial decisions for electoral gains.

This didn’t stop Mike Freer – see below – posing with Boris on his website announcing he had saved the Number 13.

As he says on his website:

” London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has today announced that the Number 13 Bus from Golders Green to Aldwych has been retained. The Mayor’s announcement follows a long-running campaign by Mike Freer to save the much loved service. Mike raised the issue of the 13 bus during the Mayor’s visit to Golders Green last week.

Mike comments ““I’ve already had a meeting with TfL and told them they were wrong and when Boris came to Golders Green recently I told him he needed to go back to the drawing board.

The proposals have been dropped and the number 13 is going nowhere. I’m very happy about it. It’s always useful when you can get things done.

“Being an MP you don’t always get your own way but sometimes you can get a result like this. Under Boris’s mayoralty, the number 13 is going nowhere.”

Err Unfortunately not true Mr Freer. That is not the story Transport for London are telling the people as this letter shows:

Dear Stakeholder

We recently consulted on proposals for changes to bus routes along Finchley Road and Abbey Road, which included the replacement of route 13 with alterations to routes 82 and 139. We received over 3000 responses to the consultation which is now closed. However, concerns have been expressed that the consultation has been partially undertaken during the pre-election period which runs until 7th May.

It is therefore our intention not to progress the scheme at this time.  The comments received from this consultation will however be used to inform future bus network planning in the Finchley Road and Abbey Road areas, and any resulting proposals would be subject to further public consultation.

 Yours sincerely

Peter Bradley

Head of Consultation

Transport for London

All that has happened is that Transport for London has already postponed the consultation until after the election – when it will come back again. No doubt Mr Freer hopes he will have been safely re-elected by then and of course will have no interest in any cuts that follow for his constituents.

Tweet Wars: How humourless Jobcentre Plus was humiliated by bolshie bloggers

People queuing outside Jobcentre Plus. Pic courtesy: The Guardian

People queuing outside Jobcentre Plus. Pic courtesy: The Guardian

For the last year an extraordinary war has been going on between the Department of Work and Pensions and  some of Britain’s  tweeters and bloggers.

The battle has been over the centuries old right to free speech, to send up self-seeking bureaucrats and insult and satirize government ministers and the heads of private companies profiting from public services. This example is very modern, the battleground is Twitter rather than over some pamphlet.

 The row began over a year ago when the Department of Work and Pensions used Twitter’s complaint procedure to lodge a trademark complaint against @UKJCP, a satirical  account attacking Jobcentre Plus.

The application came from one Jon Woodcock, calling himself brand and information manager – his actual title is senior public information publishing manager – objecting to the site using the Jobcentre Plus trademark.

 What was extraordinary was his reasoning. I quote from the document :

 “The @UKJCP account has been set up with deliberate and malicious intent to devalue and criticise the work of Jobcentre Plus. In addition, there are a number of rude and potentially libelous tweets aimed at UK government, elected politicians and the heads of large private sector organisations who are committed to working with government on reducing unemployment.”

Not surprisingly Twitter quite rightly rejected such a request.

But the ministry came back – this time I am told using a discreet phone call – specifically objecting to what are called PTs – parody tweets – which were frankly taking the Mickey out of Jobcentre Plus – but where quite clearly linked to information that showed it couldn’t possibly have come from them. Some were true. One was a link to an article showing Jobcentre Plus backed sending claimants to work at strip clubs and for porn film companies – providing they didn’t participate- which I ‘m afraid is correct.

There has been storm of protest from bloggers and tweeters who used Twitter’s appeal process to overturn the decision. The  account was restored on February 8 after ten days.

An official spokesperson from the DWP Press Office told me :

“The changes we’re making to the welfare system to ensure that work pays are important to many people, and we work hard to make sure claimants have access to correct factual information. 

 “We alerted twitter to an account that was falsely sending out tweets claiming to have been published by our official account. It’s for twitter to decide what action is appropriate – we have not asked for any account to be taken down or suspended.”

 An official spokesperson for @UKJCP told me:”I am sure @DWPgovuk has no basis to complain about anyone who does a Parody of a Parody Tweet …Some of what was tweeted by me after 9/1/14 was focused on letting followers know what DWP and Jobcentre rights they have. I take the view that the DWP inspired suspension of @UKJCP was not only to censor Freedom of Expression and criticism of the Government but an attempt to suppress the sharing of rights based information.”

What is interesting is that I have been told that NO minister – not even Iain Duncan Smith – asked for Jobcentre Plus  to close down this Twitter account,. The idea that ministers, MPs, and anyone running a big private business should be immune from rude comments or libelous views seems to have been taken by managers at Jobcentre Plus’s HQ in Sheffield

Sorry DWP there is a very long tradition in this country from John Wilkes and Liberty to Hogarth,Steve Bell and comedians like Mark Thomas, to poke fun and be rude and tear the governing classes apart. David Cameron is regularly portrayed by Steve Bell as a condom ( he doesn’t like it and has complained to no avail to The Guardian).

If Mps and big bosses don’t like it they should take out a writ and sue. But they know that under the coalition the cost of a writ has risen to £1600 and legal fees are phenomenal. And they know claimants aren’t worth suing because they could never recover their money. That’s why they would love the government to resort to censorship, particularly if they haven’t even asked them to do it.

The Duck House: From MPs expenses to Whitehall farce

ImageThe MPs expenses scandal exposed by the Daily Telegraph nearly five years ago  did more to damage the reputation of Parliament than anything else in recent history. There were hardly any MPs who had not put in some dodgy  or dubious claim and the repercussions are still being felt today as an ex Labour minister starts a six month jail sentence.

This spirited production of The Duck House now running at London’s Vaudeville theatre captures the panic felt by MPs at the time but  turns the whole proceedings into a series of jokes and a Whitehall farce in the tradition of Brian Rix before he became Lord Rix and a great campaigner for the mentally handicapped.

 Ben Miller, as the greedy money grabbing turncoat Labour MP,Robert Houston, with thousands of dodgy expenses receipts heads a cast often caught with their trousers down.

His wife  Felicity,is played by Nancy Carroll, a woman who can’t wait for hubbie’s defection to the Tories and gives a wonderful performance showing how inadequate she would be as an Mp’s secretary even if he is claiming for her. While their son James Musgrave, gives a remarkably good performance of as a gangly student staring at his laptop for much of the performance repeating the word ” fuck” as he reads his latest threatening emails  from the hoods because he can’t meet his gambling debts

There is also a  very loyal  Russian cook, Ludmilla, played by Debbie Chazen, who ends up campaigning for UKIP after being exposed for being employed without a work permit. Life has imitated art tonight (Feb 8) when Mark Harper, the immigration minister, resigned after it was revealed that he was employing a cleaner who had no right to stay in the UK permanently.

Then there is the straight man – David Cameron’s go between – Sir Norman Cavendish, played by Simon Shepherd. He is the man who gets covered in manure  as he negotiates Robert Houston’s switch from New Labour to the Tories. He is also found to have a secret life meeting a modern Miss Whiplash who improbably is also the girlfriend of the MP’s son. This might need updating now- Westminster gossip has  it that it is some  young Tory government advisers who like to visit Madams at the moment.

Spiced with a few up to date jokes – including a risque reference to David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks,( hacking trial lawyers please note,) the show is more farce and political banter than a contribution to the current debate.

Don’t go if you expect to be enlightened about MPs expenses, though all the examples are based on fact. Do go if you want a rollicking, funny, evening and enjoy farce. The subject was MPs’ expenses but  they could put together a farce on anything.

The review on this blog follows free press tickets. The theatre staff are also very helpful to disabled people providing transport to get wheelchair bound people  down to the stalls. Unfortunately they do not have a disabled toilet but have made arrangements for people to use one at a theatre next door.





Hating Britain with the Daily Mail: A song medley

It is a Saturday night and the row over the Daily Mail, Ed Miliband and now Mehdi Hasan continues unabated. Here is a collection of anti Daily Mail songs. Who says satire is dead in Britain.The one below is bv Peter Bickerton The Daily Mail Song (a daily dose of hate).

I have just been sent by @BBCRadioForum another song by Amanda Palmer at the Roundhouse. Dear Daily Mail. Avert your eyes Paul Dacre, Ed Miliband and perhaps Mrs Angry from Barnet, this is a bit risque and contains female nudity.

And now Steve White has added his own song based on a Daily Mail story of an Ecstasy Death Girl. You can both listen to it and download it free here.
From Beastrabban Weblog here is a Chris Cohen number on the Daily Mail in 2009.

Finally so far – for those with long memories- here is a song from Irish band Blackthorn- on the Daily Mail’s 1920s coverage about another Sinn Fein rising. Some joker suggests they reported it from Holyhead, don’t know whether it is true.

Some And for those interested in more see Mike Sivier’s Vox Political website for ” You Hate Britain” by Mitch Benn which name checks Paul Dacre. I hope Paul Dacre has a sense of humour. Tom Baldwin, Labour’s chief media spokesman, tells me that a medley of these songs will be played at next year’s Labour Party Conference before the singing of the Red ” Ed” Flag.

Huhne and Pryce: Eastenders for the chattering classes

Chris Huhne: Picture courtesy telegraph blogs

Chris Huhne: Picture courtesy telegraph blogs

The  fall out from the jailing of former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife government economist Vicky Pryce is almost too absurd to behold.

Acres of press coverage is being given to the plight of the pair with Fleet Street’s finest excelling themselves on the unfair treatment of the unfortunate duo now residing at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in Wandsworth and Holloway gaols.

In my view this sad and tragic affair had a just and proportionate outcome. Yes, it is wrong for someone to be jailed for taking someone else’s penalty points. But it is not wrong to be jailed, whoever you are, for perverting the course of justice to try to cover it up.

Chris Huhne who lied from the outset and cost the taxpayer a lot of wasted money knew the consequences. And Vicky Pryce, the woman scorned, who tried to revive an outdated medieval defence as a  “clever, clever ” device to exact revenge on her  husband.

Both are highly intelligent people and  it is a tragedy for politics and Whitehall that we have  lost two capable people who do contribute, whatever your views, to public life. It looks like a personal and public tragedy for their children.

But some of the comments have been off the wall. Simon Jenkins piece in The Guardian yesterday. (  where he described the jailing as a sort of mob rule revenge to appease the working classes was almost off the Richter scale in its perversity. If you don’t like Huhne’s grasp of politics, you punish him at the ballot box not in the courts. Then there was last night’s Evening Standard article – a portrait of Vicky Pryce ( where the author quoted people saying the judge was a misogynist for suggesting that Vicky Pryce had been manipulative in organising her revenge through the Sunday Times.

Then they were the Guardian and Channel Four ” mea culpa” interviews with Chris Huhne  – one given according to the Standard to the journalist best man at his wedding. What next?  The creation of a Huhne concerto by piano playing Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to commemorate the event or an Anna Wintour fashion show to raise cash for Vicky Pryce’s convalescence.

Vicky Pryce: picture courtesy Guardian

Vicky Pryce: picture courtesy Guardian

Obviously there is a craving among the chattering classes  to follow this soap opera. May I suggest that some budding dramatist puts all this to rest.  Perhaps Nicholas Hytner should get the National Theatre to commission a contemporary play contrasting the hubris of Westminster life with the downfall over a speeding ticket. It is has got everything – sex, power, a scorned woman, and macho driving.. It would be better than putting all this energy into a brilliant production of a revived 1930s German comedy, Captain Kopenik, which is rather irrelevant to modern British society. And Anthony Sher might make a good Chris Huhne.

No matter. My main point is that this is a distraction. While all these goes on thousands of people are being forced to move house because of cruel government policies, there is an epidemic of unsolved child abuse cases and the NHS appears to have let patients die unnecessarily on an epic scale.

Literally While Huhne fiddles Britain burns.

The bonkers logic of “Life of Brian” Leveson

Lord Justice Leveson: Bonkers  logic

Lord Justice Leveson: Bonkers logic

Now I have been given carte blanche by the Leveson inquiry to write what I want on blogs without any regulation I am going to take full advantage with some tough words for this judge on his lack of logic.

Like Lord Hutton before him who exonerated Labour over Iraq his report exonerates the current great and good in government and the media bosses from blame for the current crisis. Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, is cleared of bias over Murdoch;  News International’s Rebekah Brooks of undue lobbying of Cameron over the McCann inquiry or anything else; Cameron and his government of any  favours deal with the  Murdochs and the police of widespread corruption. Cameron can be trusted to introduce reforms to make sure  public perception is changed.

But go further into this report – see today.  Go to Volume Four and Appendix Five – and get one of the most devastating critiques of the incestuous relationship between top politicians and the media I have ever read from a High Court judge in my 26 years of political journalism.

Unlike Hutton he really puts the boot in. Here and I quote he attacks what he calls the ” inappropriate  closeness” between media bosses and successive governments not just now – but for over 35 years. Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron are all indicted in a damning charge sheet.

He baldly states “ politicians have conducted themselves in a way that I do consider has not served the public interest”.

He accuses them of being vulnerable to unaccountable interests, missing clear opportunities to address  public concern about the culture, practices and ethics of the press and  seeking “ to control ( if not manipulate) the supply of news and information to the public in return for expected or hoped-for favourable treatment by sections of the press.”

He concluded that all this gave rise to “legitimate perceptions and concerns that politicians and the press have traded power and influence in ways which are contrary to the public interest and out of public sight. These perceptions and concerns are inevitably particularly acute in relation to the conduct by politicians of public policy issues in relations to the press itself.”

Now where does he get that view. By page 1971  as a good judge he cites his sources. And guess who gets reams of footnotes, one, Rebekah Brooks, from the McCann inquiry to Brown ,Blair and Cameron – the very person in the main part of the report is absolved from dirty deals!

Perhaps I have misread this million word treatise –  Brian Leveson is  actually auditioning for a Monty Python script or to help revive Bremner, Bird and Fortune for Channel Four.

His other glaring lack of logic is the treatment of the internet as of no consequence. I have a sneaking suspicion he thinks the internet is tun by techy teenage geeks playing war games and mad loud mouths. In fact it is now becoming a powerful antidote and rival to the dead tree press as a forum for discussion and breaking news. The battle for future generation politics is being fought  between Owen Jones and Harry Cole  on-line every day.  And there would be no way this small one man blog would get 158,000 plus hits in less than three years if the internet has been ineffectual.

On the main issue of  regulation or no regulation, I am reserving judgement. My heart is with those who argue that a free press is just that, a free press. My head is revolted by the despicable practices of some of the tabloid bosses who may well now go to prison. I applaud  the idea of a journalist’s conscience clause and his views on treatment of women and people from ethnic minorities and a new  arbitration service that will give justice to Joe Public as well multi-millionaires. But I want to see what this new press act will look like before going down the road to statutory backing. Let debate begin.

Revealed: How Birthday Boy Dave really wooed Sam Cam

Samantha and David Cameron

Early on the Tuesday morning of the Tory conference while dosy hacks were still sleeping off the effects of late night parties,  a dapper 46 year old man was doing a spot of  exclusive shopping.

Taking advantage of privileged access to the most secure shopping mall in the UK  PM Dave and  his minders were planning a surprise present to placate his long-suffering wife. It might be his birthday but  Sam, the love of his life was getting a mite fed up with Devon B& Bs and kicking her heels  in airports waiting for easyJet flights. She was none too pleased that the birthday meal had to be at a simple Balti to assuage the austerity instincts of the  British people when there is fine dining  all over the Cotswolds.

Luckily for the PM the Birmingham conference plays host  for some of the most exclusive niche stores possible. Harvey Nicks, Tory donating Crombie and Quo Vadis, a   Birmingham jeweller, which makes unique  and exquisite pieces from precious stones.

Now what would Dave choose. Was it to be a 100 per cent cashmere ladies shawl wrap coat –  in Sam Cam’s fashionable black – retailing at £1275 from Crombies? The most expensive coat in the rack.

That could please her and a Tory donor to boot.

Or was it to be an exquisite piece of jewellery – the most expensive brooch  in the stall by Quo Vadis. This brooch of an ocean-going liner was made from an Australian boulder opal stone, its decks were made of diamonds and it had three 18 carat gold funnels. It was also the most expensive item in the shop – retailing at £5800.

Purchase this and a small businessman – the bed rock of the Tory Party – would be thrilled. But it  might remind Sam Cam of the Titanic, not an auspicious moment.

And then there was Harvey Nicks. They could sample their £50 of late bottled port and their champagne was not that exclusive, only up to £42 a bottle.

Perhaps the answer was a packet of wild jasmine tea – at £8.50 sufficiently exclusive – with the flowers searched out by hunter gatherers, true entrepreneurs  prepared to go the extra mile to find the petals and not strangled by  the EU bureaucracy of the social chapter.

Of course it can’t be said with the Leveson inquiry into press behaviour pending, exactly what Dave brought for Sam. It would be an intrusion of privacy. But what is not fiction are the prices of the goods on sale for the Tory faithful  in this secure shopping venue at a time when  people have difficulty making ends meet. As the woman from Harvey Nicks told me: ” We only come to the Conservatives, we don’t do Labour or the Liberal Democrats”. Enough said.