Aubergines are wrong and bad

I had the baked fillet of Scottish salmon and garden spinach filo pastry parcel with watercress sauce and baby carrots, and just wanted to send an email to say how delicious it was! I enjoyed it so much that I had it again for dinner last night.

Who might have said this? Could it be one of the 13 million people living below the poverty line? Or could it be one of those who put them there?

Benefits Street Britain: the conditions our MPs have to work in
Benefits Street Britain: the conditions our MPs have to work in

While British shoppers riot when presented with an opportunity to buy 99p household goods for 50p, a far greater tragedy is going on in Westminster. Because a House of Commons café’s Jamaican chicken curry with mango, okra and potato (served with rice and peas) was “really disappointing”, according to a Parliamentary insider.

The House of Commons has posted on its website a copy of all compliments and complaints its catering outlets have received in the last few months, in response to an inspired freedom of information request (not mine on this occasion!)

MPs, aides and other staff of this were generally complimentary about the service provided, some even asking for recipes.

The House of Commons' staff canteen
The House of Commons’ staff canteen

Politicians often begin their letters with, “A constituent has been in touch to ask me…” but surely this can’t be true of the person who was clamouring to know, “Could you please advise as to when moules marinere and pommes frites are back on the menu?”

Other feedback received from the working classes included: “I write to say how much I enjoy the morning porridge.  It’s as good as I make myself, and mine comes out of an ancient Aga with a smelly dog in front of it which, as everyone knows, makes everything taste better”, “Enough with the potatoes in curries and gumbos: having been to New Orleans, I can assure you that there are no potatoes in gumbo” and – my favourite – “Aubergines are wrong and bad and shouldn’t be allowed”.

Some MPs were concerned at the presence of ordinary citizens lowering the tone of things. “We often find ‘guests’ just wandering about, unmolested,” complained one exalted representative of the people. Their name was blacked out but I like to think this was Mike Hancock MP, who seems to like molesting constituents.

It’s not only the food that caused upsets. Oh no. “My guest asked if he could have a dry martini as an aperitif and which appears on your menu. We were told by the waiter that there was no Martini. Well – all rather embarrassing don’t you think?” Frightfully embarassing. I don’t know how I’d manage to hold my head up in public again: in fact if this happened to me I’d just squirrel away and live quietly on £53 a week for the rest of my life.

Also included in the FOI release was the Parliamentary authorities’ response to feedback. I only got as far as, “Thank you for taking the time to write to us and for highlighting the two error’s on the menu” when I had to stop reading. (Have him taken out and shot. -Ed.)

It’s tough at the top, isn’t it. And it’s all very well for politicians to recommend airly that the unemployed apply for a job at Costa Coffee while they busy themselves by sending snotty emails about their fillet of filo pastry with a parcel of Scottish smoke.

But perhaps if they worried a little less about the presence of potatoes in their gumbo, and more at the number of people who would give anything to have them, we might move forward slightly quicker as a society.

To me, to you

A solid piece of work: the Pimlico signal room
A solid piece of work: the Pimlico signal room

When the Victoria line was suspended “due to flooding” last week, pictures began circulating online of the signal room having been accidentally submerged in quick-setting concrete; it could happen to anyone.

Transport for London eventually admitted that there had been a “concrete-related incident”, but it’s only now that the full story of what went wrong is being released.

As sung by Bernard Cribbins.


Another antidote to panel games

Katy Bourne is 48.
Katy Bourne is 49.

It’s hard to imagine anything that could make Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne look dynamic and competent, but I think that her scrutineers, the Sussex Police & Crime Panel, may have managed it.

On Friday, they met to review her (it pains me to say it… eminently sensible) plan to raise council tax throughout the county by £5 a throw, so as to fund a new cadre of specially-trained officers to support victims of sexual violence.

It's Movember all year round for Tom Wye (Conservative)
It’s Movember all year round for Tom Wye (Conservative)

And the irony of a group of 70% male, 60% Tory, 100% aged-over-55 local councillors debating what’s best for victims of sexual violence was not lost on me.

One of them, Worthing’s ex-military Major Tom Wye (pictured), literally fought in the 1882 Anglo-Egyption War.

One-by-one, the panellists expressed their qualms at tax rises. “I’m trying to get zero council tax in my area,” lied one person whose allowances as a local councillor depend on their failure in this endeavour.

But one-by-one, they expressed a resolve “to support my Conservative colleague” and ultimately voted through the increase.

Katy’s argument was that in an online poll she conducted, 60% of the respondents said they would support the rise… although she was forced to admit under questioning that there was no way to verify the integrity of the survey, and that the 2,983 ‘votes’ could actually have been the same two people replying 1,991 and 992 times respectively.

"I want to f***ing cut everyone around me," commented Ms Bourne.
“I want to f***ing cut everyone around me,” commented Ms Bourne.

The total extra revenue raised from the 3,000-odd people who completed the poll will be £15,000, which is the amount of money Katy is paying for a “Youth Police & Crime Commission” of young people to “support, challenge and inform” her work. Now, I’m all for anyone challenging her, but Youth PCCs are slightly gimmicky.

With a proven track record of being an unmitigated disaster (Youth PCCs or Katy Bourne? -Ed.) (Both. -G.) one wonders why she threw so much money at the project when support for victims of sexual violence hung in the balance, at the mercy of a group of pre-war male white-haired straight Conservative councillors.

Roll on 2016…

A tax is the best form of defence

We’ve been hearing a lot about how best to tax the population this week, with Labour’s proposal that high-profit companies should pay more tax being the most outrageous, anti-business idea I’ve ever heard (Is this right? -Ed.)

from the desk of sir georgeBut we also have lessons to learn from our cousins across the seas. And Sir George Campbell’s 1879 visit to the United States gives us much food for thought. In his comment today, he speaks of how important social mobility is: but fortunately manages to do so in a patronising and paternalistic way.


Red fly the banners, oh!

image…Two, two the worker’s arms, toiling for his living. But yesterday, the workers stopped toiling for their living between 2pm and 4pm, for the first in a series of two-hour strikes organised by the UCU.

The strikes are “aimed at disrupting teaching”, although since most students only have about thirty seconds’ contact time in their weekly weeks anyway, the chances of any individual being hit by the strike are staggeringly low. And they haven’t even chosen a sensible time; at least a 9-11am ‘industrial action’ could be used instead as sleep-related time. (Who let the TfL press office write this paragraph? -Ed.)

Still, to be fair, two-hour stunts do have a long history of successfully bringing about social change. Gandhi’s famous 1935 two-hour hunger strike, in which neither food nor drink passed his lips between lunch and tiffin, is widely regarded as having contributed to the collapse of British rule in India. And the Jarrow Stroll of 1836 – hundreds of unemployed workers walking for 60 minutes before turning back and going home – marked an important turning point (geddit?) in industrial relations in this country.

So good luck to the UCU in their quest to change the world two hours at a time. May the fourth hour be with you one of these days!

Five of the best

Today’s chefs
In tonight’s episode, Chartwells didn’t quite manage to get their little mitts on Parliament’s catering scene. The Victoria line was improved by Paul and Barry Chuckle, and the works were set to music by Bernard Cribbins. Katy Bourne made some money. And the Boer War was fought by Major Tom Wye. This was an Gabrielquotes production!

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