Bin Laden’s plumber

Almost ten months after US Special Forces attacked the Abbottabad compound where the world’s most wanted man (though not in a George Clooney kind-of-way) was hiding, it seems that the building is now surplus to requirements as far as the Pakistani authorities are concerned. There will be no museum for day-tripping students from Islamabad to gawp at, no heritage centre selling fridge-magnets or tea towels with the “OBL” logo emblazoned across them, no tour of the compound and its surrounds with the option of an accompanying commentary (in French, German, Spanish, English or Urdu) via headphones. It’s not economically viable, I’m afraid to say. Not in what we must call the “current economic climate”.

The BBC News report of Sunday 26th February didn’t go into such details. Sensibly, it concentrated on scenes of bulldozers doing what bulldozers do, alongside familiar archive footage of the criminal mastermind trying, and apparently failing, to get his Playstation 3 to work properly. (No “Modern Warfare 3” for you tonight, Osama. You’ll have to watch Midsomer Murders instead). Strangely though, the report also brought us a world exclusive that it really didn’t trumpet as much as I feel it should have. A revelation that I’m certain wasn’t previously in the public domain. I refer of course (you’ll have guessed by now) to the startling fact that the man who was, until his death, a regular runner-up to Piers Morgan in “Most Hated Arsenal Fan” polls, had a plumber. Yes, a plumber. It’s the kind of thing the “Sun on Sunday” was made for. I can only imagine how distressing it was for the staff of that shining light of journalistic integrity that this tremendous scoop from northern Pakistan didn’t emerge in time for their inaugural edition. What awful luck.

Anyway, back to the plumber. Or, as the BBC report called him, the “unwitting plumber”. I’m not certain to what the “unwitting” tag refers. I’m guessing he is alleging ignorance (at the time) of the fact that he was replacing tap-washers for America’s “Most Wanted” fugitive, rather than being unaware that the tasks he was performing fell under the general banner of “plumbing”. It matters not, I suppose. With all of the millions of dollars to which the late OBL was alleged to have had access, I’m guessing that this man is now kicking himself that he didn’t charge alot more for that call-out on May 2nd last year. That was date on which careless US Navy Seals and their AR-15 assault rifles ruined not only bin Laden’s day, but also the cold-water pipe in the upstairs bathroom, not to mention a rather tense game of “FIFA 11”. Imperialist dogs!

It’s possible of course that it was the plumber himself who informed the Americans of the location of the world’s most evil man (calm down Tony Blair fans, I’m still referring to bin Laden). The internet has carried unconfirmed reports that there was a falling-out between the nutjob and his trusty part-time employee. Whilst OBL was trying to turn over a new leaf and put his past behind him, repeated jibes from the tradesman (“I’ll be round between 9 and 11, guv” “Flapper valves are compulsory now mate, have you been living in a cave or something”?) somewhat tested the patience of the bearded one. It’s quite possible he snapped and dismissed the handyman after one quip too many (“I’m flying down to the trade centre for a few supplies, fancy jumping on board”?). We will almost certainly never know.

Anyway, if you’re thinking of planning something on a grand scale and then laying low for a while, and you require my advice, “Plumbing for Dummies” is a great book. As for the PS3, try turning it off and then on again.

 “Five times I called him before he came to fix the toilet”

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In Memoriam – The Green Cross Code

It is inevitable that progress, or I can call it “progress” if you’re in the mood for a bit of cynicism, means that some of our once-essential skills have been gradually lost over the years. The art of knowing exactly when to put the 10p coin in the slot when using a public telephone is one. So is the ability to sense precisely the right moment to press the “Record” button on your tape-recorder to start taping that week’s Top 10 chart singles. The internet, digital technology and mobile phones have rendered them redundant. That’s the way it goes, but there are other skills that are at least as important today as they were when the Bay City Rollers were top of the “hit parade”, and when phoning Mum from a red telephone box that smelt of urine, fags and cheap whisky to tell her you would be home soon (you were lying) was a weekly occurrence.

One such skill is the ability to cross a road without appearing to be doing an impression of a lemming who’s just been declared bankrupt. For this we owe much to the “Green Cross Code” and the “Green Cross Code Man”. In despatches we should also mention Tufty and his friends as well as the rather creepy “Charlie says…” series of public information films, in which all sorts of advice was dispensed to wide-eyed youngsters regarding playing with matches, not going off with strangers, playing near water, and throwing weapons-grade uranium around in the school playground (I may have made-up one of those). But it was Dave Prowse, also the body (but not the voice) of Darth Vader who, in the guise of the “Green Cross Code Man”, commanded most respect. Seven-year-old boys were left in no doubt that if they defied him and got themselves run over, he would finish them off if the Ford Capri hadn’t.

Traffic volumes today are many times greater than those of the late 1970s. No longer can the street be used for a game of football when school has finished but dinner (or “tea” as my northern friends call it) is not yet on the table. Worryingly, the increased familiarity with traffic seems to have bred a very dangerous contempt. All sorts of people now seem to take rather lightly the prospect of becoming road-kill; the text they’ve just received is more important, as is the fact that their i-Pod is on the blink. Curiously, many seem to be of the view that the white line in the middle of all city-centre streets should be regarded as some kind of safe haven, immune to articulated lorries and the number 18 bus, courtesy of a force-field of which the rest of us remain unaware. The laborious business of waiting for there to be no approaching traffic from either direction, or walking to a nearby pedestrian or zebra crossing, is not for these intrepid souls. I quite often stand, open-mouthed, as parents shepherd children into the middle of a busy road and then, once they’re all safely under the protection of the white line, consider what they’re going to do next. I can only assume that they aren’t familiar with the numerous videos on YouTube which show, in glorious technicolor, exactly what happens when a lump of metal moving at speed comes into contact with human flesh and bone. It’s not a pretty sight.

Now, I’m not calling for the return of Mr Prowse in his white-and-green suit. Today’s youngsters would laugh at him and anyway he’s dead, killed by an ice-cream van as he attempted to cross a dual-carriageway just outside Taunton (only joking, he’s still going strong). The strongest weapon we can employ against today’s youngsters is embarrassment in front of their friends, and so I propose a number of punishments for those who choose to transgress. All those who choose not to use a pedestrian/zebra crossing when one is close-by will have their state-of-the-art mobile phones replaced by a beaten-up, bog-standard Nokia manufactured no later than 2005. See what that does to your street-cred, sunshine. The crime of not looking before crossing a road means that next Saturday your Dad will be picking you up from your friend’s house party at 9pm sharp, stopping only to do a bit of “Dad dancing” before driving you straight home. And those caught treating the line in the middle of the road as a refuge, as some kind of white-painted Switzerland, will suffer the ultimate punishment – compulsory acceptance of Mum and Dad as Facebook friends. It’s time to get tough.
 That solves the i-Pod problem

The thoughts of Chairman Ken

There are a number of subjects in today’s Britain that you can more-or-less guarantee will be among the areas of expertise of your local pub bore. You know the guy I mean; still lives at home with Mum, his job is nothing more than a desperate waste of his huge intellect, and he bathes regularly (in the same way that Halley’s Comet regularly passes Earth). He sits on the same bar stool in the same part of the pub, cracks the same jokes, has the same conversations. But he’s an expert you know, don’t ever doubt it:

“Political correctness” – tick. “Immigration” – tick. “Crime” – tick. “Health & Safety” – tick.

Oh yes, he’s an expert is Ken (though of course sometimes he’s a Colin or a Brian). A veritable mine of information, always ready to give you the benefit of his opinion, whether you ask for it or not. Especially when you haven’t, actually. Ken’s logic goes along the lines of “political correctness is nonsense, immigration and crime are out of control and ‘health and safety’ is both nonsense and out of control”. Obviously Ken refers to the latter as “elf n safety”, which always guarantees a laugh. Well, at least from Ken.

The problem with Ken and his friends (he assures me that he has some, despite a worrying lack of any visual evidence) isn’t necessarily what they think, but their steadfast refusal to discuss their opinions with you. They assert the “facts” of a matter, not as a starting-point for debate, but as both an opening statement and a closing argument all rolled into one. You are expected to sign-up there and then for Ken’s manifesto. Questions are for cissies, students, piss-takers and liberals. They serve no purpose, and in Ken’s Britain they would be banned. Ken’s opinion is not up for discussion having, as it does, the advantage of being “common sense”, whether it’s in respect of the Euro Crisis, proposed changes to cricket’s LBW law, or the possibility of life on Mars.

Once, after a particularly heavy session, I decided to pursue Ken on one of his favourite subjects: “political correctness” (of the “gone mad” variety, obviously). I wondered aloud (far too aloud) whether Ken just labelled anything he disagreed with as “political correctness” and if, to disprove my suspicion, he could name any policy with which he disagreed but that wasn’t at the same time an example of “political correctness”. I was attempting to lure him into a trap as, inspite of the predictable effects of seven or eight pints of strong lager, I was still slightly more coherent than Ken. He’d taken a half-day off work and had devoted it solely to improving the share price of Theakston’s Old Peculier. He misunderstood my question, which was pretty inevitable in the circumstances.

“Kids playing conkers with goggles on…bleedin’ political correctness gone mad” he raged.

My suggestion that such a scenario was more a “health & safety” issue than anything else fell on two very large, purple, swollen, deaf ears. In Ken’s defence, the sight of his fourteenth pint of Old Peculier being knocked from the bar just seconds earlier by a rogue Irish Wolfhound had possibly diverted his attention from the issue at hand, though I might be being unnecessarily charitable in that assessment.

“All the same” he slurred, “whatever you call them”.

Quite why things that were the same would have different names was a question I thought of posing, but I could tell he was in no mood for that. Besides, it looked as if the huge, unsuspecting canine was on its way back, and Ken needed all his powers of concentration in order to deliver his right foot to the precise area of the beast’s anatomy that would cause it most pain.

Such is the nature of debate with Ken and his ilk. They “know” what is “true” and anyone attempting to challenge their views, perhaps through the medium of logical thought, can expect harsh words but little in the way of enlightenment. These men think for themselves, despite their opinions corresponding almost totally with the editorials of one or two of our more despicable daily rags. They “call a spade a spade” of course, which is usually code for being rude and boorish and completely unacquainted with the possibility that you might be wrong about something. They certainly don’t “suffer fools gladly”, and why would they?

One fool in your life is plenty, isn’t it Ken?

  Has he gone yet?

Rage

About seventeen years ago I was standing on the 15th tee of a local golf course when a man (apparently out for a stroll) ambled onto the course. The 15th fairway, to be specific. He appeared to be in a world of his own, quite possibly unaware that he was (a) on a golf course (b) putting himself in danger and (c) making me rather unhappy. My three playing partners, all a good few years older than I, shrugged their shoulders and waited for him to get out of the way. I didn’t. I marched down the fairway and hurled a few expletives in his direction. He returned my compliments in a similar manner. The whole incident was a little unsavoury. My older and wiser friends said nothing much about it, but there was no mistaking the chill wind of their collective disapproval. No doubt they put it down to youthful exuberance; they were in their forties, I was in my twenties. I was young. I would learn.

I recount this story because, quite frankly, I’m not sure that I have learnt at all. I am now in my forties and, were a similar incident to occur today, I’m pretty sure I’d do exactly the same thing, though perhaps the number of expletives would be slightly reduced. It’s all due to “rage”, and you either have it, or you don’t. I have it, but only in certain situations. I’m sure that everyone else who has it would say the same, that certain things will trigger the most disproportionate, irrational, almost psychotic reaction whilst other things, though quite possibly more serious in the great scheme of things, will not.

A punch in the face outside a nightclub is never welcome, but as far as I can recall my reaction has usually been surprise, bewilderment, a degree of anger (of course), but never a desire to hunt-down not only the perpetrator but also his family and anyone else in the “Contacts” section of his mobile phone. A falling-out with a female companion has typically been accompanied by a reaction along the same lines as being punched, with the additional feeling that it was almost certainly my fault (and it usually was). Random acts by others, of nastiness, stupidity or bovine thuggery do not necessarily qualify for the level of anger I felt that day on the golf course, or that I feel when the “HP Deskjet 7023” printer (or whatever it’s called) decides, for no apparent reason, to not print anything that day. Not even Baroness Warsi opening her mouth (she’s a woman and a Muslim, in case you’re one of the seven people on the planet who didn’t know) causes the same level of rage that I feel when the Wetherspoons barman/woman utters the immortal phrase “Who’s next”? as if the forty-three people who have been queuing for the previous twenty minutes are all perfect models of altruism. The kids who threw stones at me in the street a few months ago, for no reason, did spark a flash of anger in me, but that subsided quite quickly after I cornered them in a pub car-park and they apologised. They didn’t have me rushing home for a carving knife from the kitchen drawer, which is what happened a few years ago following a nasty incident with some teenagers and their supply of crab-apples. Mercifully, for them and me, the red mist lifted just in time.

Not all of us have this “rage” though, do we? I know plenty of people, many of whom I’ve known for years, who don’t appear to have it. They get angry, of course they do, but it’s a rational and controlled level of anger. They get angry about things that they are supposed to get angry about. There’s nothing wrong with that. The idea that “he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue” (the famous line from “The Untouchables”) is alien to them. To me it makes perfect sense, but I stress again; only in certain circumstances.

I would bet large amounts of money that they have never punched walls until their knuckles bled, simply because the instructions accompanying a piece of flat-pack furniture may as well have been written in Mandarin or Serbo-Croat. When one of them was burgled and the culprit’s identity established, it wasn’t the victim who suggested an elaborate kidnap plan involving a transit van, some deserted marshland and a pair of garden shears. That was me. Those of them that play golf (that’s the second time I’ve mentioned the game that Alistair Cooke called the “Marvellous Mania” – perhaps he was onto something!) would not consider that hitting a golf ball into a lake could lead them to scrabbling through their golf bags for balls made by the same manufacturer as the one that just got wet, and then throwing those balls into the same lake, leaving untouched all the balls made by other manufacturers. That was me too. These are not actions prompted by run-of-the-mill “anger”. It goes deep into blind irrationality, an overwhelming anger accompanied on occasions by a buzzing in the ears. It doesn’t take over my life because it’s a rare event. Weeks can pass without an “episode”. But when it does, it’s not nice.

So that’s that. If you are the man whose dog left a huge pile of something unpleasant outside my house yesterday morning, you can breathe easily. The “rage” has passed. You are out of danger. I won’t be following you home to find out where you live. And all the other plans I had for you have been dismissed from my mind too. Rationality has won this battle, and we should both be pleased to know that.

Until next time, my doggy-loving friend.

 Relax and chill-out