The unwitting wit of the Irony Lady

STRAIT-laced Maggie Thatcher often had her staff in fits of laughter with saucy one-liners – without knowing why.
The three times PM, who died last week, was first to admit she wasn’t a natural wit and never quite grasped a double meaning.
Her dry sense of humour was a nightmare for speech writers who feared she might fluff the punchlines.
But some of her best and most hilarious gags were delivered unintentionally.
Her prim and proper upbringing led to a string of unwitting quips on the world stage which left her aides stifling their giggles.
Most famously, she once paid tribute to her loyal deputy Willie Whitelaw by remarking: “Every Prime Minister needs a Willie.”
On another occasion, she was puzzled when guests roared at her after-dinner speech as she described how a distinguished colleague had met his wife while “on the job”.
Troops were close to tears when she made  a flying visit to the Falkland Islands after the defeat of the invading Argentine army in 1982.
She was invited to sit in the range-finder’s seat astride a large piece of field artillery.
“Is it safe?” she asked her military hosts before adding innocently: “Or will it jerk me off?”
Mrs Thatcher naively dropped a similar clanger while inspecting garden implements on a flying visit to a hardware shop in Fulham, south west London.
She picked up a large trowel and said: “I’ve never seen a tool as big as that before.”
A journalist recalled: “We all started sniggering and she gave us all disapproving looks, which made it even worse.”
Lady T was a stickler for buying British and tore into journalists who used Japanese tape recorders during interviews.
She even made them open their jackets to check whether their suits had come from Italy or Hong Kong – and would give offenders one of her infamous “hand-baggings”.
Shortly after moving into 10 Downing Street, she posed for pictures with her husband Denis. A brave reporter asked: “Who wears the trousers in this house?”
Quick as a flash, Denis replied: “I do. And I wash and iron them, too.”

Crumbs! Now they’re attacking our daily bread

BREAD will have all the goodness taken out of it under barmy new food rules.
Ministers want to remove calcium, iron and other nutrients from the baking process.
They have been added to white bread flour for the past 65 years to protect the nation’s health.
But the coalition wants to ditch the legal requirement to make our loaves more wholesome.
Experts warned the move could harm the health of struggling families living on the breadline by depriving young kids of the vitamins they need.
The laws were brought in during the post-war ration years to get a hungry nation back on its feet.
Bakers were required to add calcium, iron, niacin and thiamin to all their bread.
The rules have stayed in place and apply to all white flour products – including hot cross
But the coalition is consulting on tearing up the 1947 regulations, even though none of the producers has asked for it.
Federation of Bakers boss Gordon Polson said: “Removing these nutrients would have a significant detrimental affect on the health of the nation.”
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh added: “It is crazy to think of removing vitamins from our bread in the middle of a recession.
“Many families struggling to provide food on the table during these tough times may not be able to afford to get these key nutrients any other way.
“Our children are eating less fresh fruit and vegetables than five years ago and it’s imperative that the government keeps these valuable nutrients in their daily bread.”
Britons munch their way through 12 million loaves every day – three-quarters of them white bread.
Bread is still one of our favourite foods, with 99 per cent of families buying it regularly.
If the rules are changed, some fear shops will be flooded with cheap white bread stripped of any goodness.
Experts from the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, predict it will have a bad impact on young women and the poor.
In a report, they warn: “The impact of removing the mandatory addition of nutrients to flour could be greater in low income groups.”
A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The flour rules are from the post-war period when diets were poorer. But as healthy food is much more widely available now we’re checking whether legislation and red tape are still necessary.”

Why we must make work pay

SOME people have never done an honest day’s work in their life.
It’s a phrase that trips off the tongue all too easily.
But for nearly four million people, it’s a stark reality.
One in nine work-age people have no idea what it is like to start a job – never mind get the sack.
While many who are disabled, carers or genuinely can’t find work, there is an increasing stubborn hardcore who are content to live a life on benefits.
We used to be famous for the Great British worker. Now we are seeing the rise of the Great British shirker.
Statistics released by the Office for National statistics this week will incense those who work long hours and struggle to make ends meet.
At least 200,000 over-65s admit they dodged doing any paid work right up to retirement.
More alarmingly, a third of the four million who have been economically inactive all their “working” lives are aged 18 to 24.
Studies show that those who don’t work by their mid-20s are unlikely ever to get a job.
David Cameron said only this week that too many kids want to be footballers or singing stars.
But why should those who can be bothered to get up in the morning be forced to pay for pop idles?
We need doctors, nurses, teachers, car mechanics and road gritters, too. Most of all we need to rediscover the work ethic.
That’s why Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith must press ahead with his reform of our cushy benefits system. More is needed to make it worth people’s while to work, too.
It may be too late for a lost generation of couch potatoes happy to live on state handouts and channel surf reality shows.
But our kids are the future – and they need hope.
The government can help with proper apprenticeships, paid internships and by driving up school standards.
And by ensuring that work always pays.

Playing Qat and mouse

HATE preacher Abu Qatada must be the only man in Britain who isn’t feeling the pinch.
While our schools, police, and brave armed forces face swingeing cuts, spending on the terror suspect just seems to go up and up.
It’s bad enough that he is using human rights laws to stay in a country he despises.
But hard-working families struggling to make ends meet will be sickened to learn that last month this unwanted guest was costing them £5,058 A DAY.
The bill for legal aid, security, housing and benefits is expected to top £6 million this year alone.
That’s enough to pay for an extra 283 nurses, 347 rookie soldiers or 263 teachers.
Qatada (pictured above),  a Bin Laden stooge and inspiration for the 9/11 hijackers, is using every trick in the legal handbook to dodge deportation.
To make matters worse, soft-touch European judges seem determined to let him.
Home Secretary Theresa May must be tearing her hair out in despair at how to get rid of him.
Even that is costing us, as government lawyers run up a £600,000 bill in their hopeless quest to find common sense in the barmy human rights laws that allow him to stay.
He’s been playing Qat and mouse with the the authorities for 12 years.
Let’s hope 2013 is the year we finally get rid of him.
Then we can end this costly madness once and for all.

Nine tax rises a month under coalition


WE all feared it was the case. Now we KNOW it. Britain is being taxed to the hilt.

A new study shows the coalition has imposed twice as many tax rises as it has given us cuts.

Since the George Osborne became Chancellor, he’s made at least two grabs for our hard-earned cash EVERY WEEK.

In the first analysis of its kind, the government is shown to have enforced or announced 299 separate tax rises. Over the same period, there have been only 119 tax cuts.

This means a net rise of 180 tax rises have been inflicted on the public since May 2010.

The forensic study was carried out by the Taxpayers’ Alliance, who scoured Treasury and HMRC documents.

It found that in the last year of the Labour government, £513billion was paid in taxes – £549billion at today’s prices.

By contrast, the  Tory-Lib Dem government plans to squeeze us to the tune of £671billion, a real terms rise of 15 per cent.

Of the 299 rises, 254 have already been implemented and a further 45 are in the pipeline.

If crime levels are down, why are detection rates down, too?

THERE was some scepticism when new figures out last week showed that crime is down.
Some accused police of cooking the books and others claimed victims had given up reporting burglaries, fearing they’d never be investigated.
Now add this into the mix. Even with fewer offences to investigate, police are solving even fewer crimes.
New figures show that detection rates fell for the first time in over a decade last year – with 30,000 fewer crimes solved.
Just one in four offences committed in England and Wales was cleared up in the year to April 2012.
It means 2.9 million crimes went unpunished – despite new stats which show law-breaking is DOWN.
Cops say slump in arrests is down to swingeing cuts in their budgets imposed by the government.
220px-Theresa_May_-_Home_Secretary_and_minister_for_women_and_equalityAbout 9,000 police jobs have been axed under money saving measures since the coalition won power – and there’s more to come.
North Wales police, who cut the force strength last year by 39 to 1,488, now solve just three in ten case, compared with four in ten before the cuts.
In Warwickshire, where 260 officers were lost, an extra 2,063 crimes went unsolved.
Home Secretary Theresa May (pictured left) has insisted police forces can cut costs without affecting frontline crime-fighting.
She has told chief constables to make “back office” saving, which would mean MORE bobbies visible on the streets.
A Sun investigation last month suggested officers are still spending too much time behind a desk.  There’s something odd about all these figures. If there’s less crime,  you’d think police had more time to investigate those that do occur. If it’s down to cuts, you’d expect crime levels to go up.
Official figures out last week showed overall crime plunged eight per cent in England and Wales.
They led to accusations that senior cops were exaggerating the statistics.
Simon Payne, chairman of Warwickshire Police Federation, said: “We want to go out there, preventing crime and catching criminals.
“But with police stations being closed and fewer officers in our ranks that’s becoming extremely difficult.”
Labour claimed the figures would fuel concerns about the government’s “deeply complacent” attitude to policing.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, who analysed the stats, said: “Fewer crimes are being solved, fewer criminals caught and fewer victims are getting justice.
“Theresa May has cut 15,000 police officers and done nothing to help improve the performance of the police in catching criminals and solving crime.
“The reduction in violence against the person offences being solved is particularly worrying.
“These are serious crimes that can ruin people’s lives and harm communities, yet 7,000 fewer are being solved under this Government.
“Tory policing policy isn’t working. Theresa May needs to look again urgently at how her cuts to policing and chaotic reforms are hitting the work to catch criminals and deliver justice.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Police reform is working and crime is falling under this Government, down eight per cent in the year ending September 2012, according to the latest independent Crime Survey.
“Many forces are achieving significant reductions in crime with reduced budgets and crime is at its lowest level since the survey began in 1981.
“When the last government prioritised detection rates and set targets for offences brought to justice, it simply distorted police priorities which is why these targets were scrapped. By cutting bureaucracy we’ve allowed forces to get officers back out on the front line.
“And we have put in place Police and Crime Commissioners who are representing the needs of their community and holding their police force to account.”

The all-time Christmas Top Ten


CHRISTMAS is a time for giving,  worship, parties….and dusting off our festive CDs for their once-a-year spin.

I’ve just been going through my favourites and have picked out the ten which have endured the passage of time without losing their appeal.

My choice is purely based on the quality of the music and not because they rekindle memories or have some nostalgic importance. I’ve also shied away from popular songs, which need no introduction, but list those at the bottom.

Mine are all carols and larger-scale “classical” works, some well known and others not. But I hope you’ll lend your ears to them all and perhaps discover a joyful new piece to brighten your Christmases. Click on the title to hear each excerpt.

1. A Ceremony of Carols Benjamin Britten, best known for his operas, wrote this masterpiece in 1942 during a perilous five-week voyage from USA to Britain at the height of war. It is a luscious setting of medieval and 16th century verse, written for boys’ choir with harp accompaniment. It contains 11 movements, starkly contrasting in mood, beginning and ending with the Hodie (On This Day…) and with a solo harp obligato at its centre. To whet your appetite for hearing the whole work, I’ve chosen Balualow, a lullaby to the baby Jesus, in which Mary sings: “O my dear hert, your Jesu sweit, prepar they creddil in my spreit, and I sall rock thee to my hert and never mair from thee depart.” Heavenly bliss.

2. Christmas Oratorio Johann Sebastian Bach wrote this feast of festive music in 1734. It is written in six parts, meant to be played on each of the major feast days of the festive season. Often it is played in it’s entirety – a full three hours of music. The Weihnachts-Oratorium contains many wonderful highlights telling the story of Christmas. As an introduction to new listeners, I’ve chosen the final movement which couples a lively trumpet theme with a slow chorale.

3. Fantasia on Christmas Carols Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote this in 1912 and it was first performed that year at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford Cathedral. The 12-minute work is based around four folk carols he collected on his travels, with snatches of others such as The First Nowell. It starts slowly and quietly with “This is the Truth”, before raising the tempo with “Come All You worthy Gentlemen”.  The excerpt in this link starts mid way through when the Sussex carol (On Christmas Night all Christians Sing) enters. When “God Bless the Ruler of this House” is ushered in, listen for a host of carols played in counterpoint, including In Dulci Jubilo and the Sussex Carol before it reaches a wonderful climax and a joyous but peaceful ending. Try to hear the whole piece. It is one of the great musical pleasures of Christmas.

4. In the Bleak Midwinter Perhaps the most English of carols. Cheltenham-born Gustav Holst set the words of English poet Christina Rossetti to music in 1906 and it has been a firm favourite ever since. But I have chosen Harold Darke’s anthem setting, written three years later. It’s more difficult to sing so used less as a congregational hymn but it was voted best Christmas carol in a poll of the world’s leading choirmasters and choral experts in 2008.

5. The Messiah George Frederick Handel composed his most famous oratorio in 1741-2 while living in Brook Street, London. He wrote it not for music lovers but to tell the story of Jesus to other people through a large-scale choral work. It is performed in concert halls around the world at this time of year. The Messiah is full of gems, the Hallelujah chorus being most famous. I have chosen this movement – For Unto Us a Child is Born, based on the text of Isiah chapter nine – but do try to hear the whole masterpiece.

6. A Hymn to the Virgin Britten makes a second entry in my top ten with one of his earliest works. The Suffolk-born composer was 20 when he wrote this on plain paper in 1930, drawing in the staves because he had no manuscript book. It is written for eight-part chorus and was one of two pieces by Britten performed at the composer’s funeral in December 1976.

7. In Dulci Jubilo Legend has it this was the luscious sound that filled the air when the angels came to announce the birth of Jesus. The melody first appeared in manuscript form in 1305 but appears to have existed long before then. There have been numerous versions, mostly speeded-up including “Good Christian Men Rejoice” and a modern adaptation by Mike Oldfield. I prefer it played at the original, slower tempo as heard here in an arrangement by J.S. Bach.

8. Bethlehem Down This haunting melody was written to finance a Christmas pub crawl.  Struggling composer Peter Warlock was broke when he teamed up with journalist and fellow bon-viveur Bruce Blunt in 1927. He set the hack’s graceful words to music and entered it for a Daily Telegraph carol contest. They won and blew the money on an “immortal carouse” on Christmas Eve.

9. O Come O Come Emmanuel Perhaps the most solemn of Advent hymns and another gem by that brilliant composer Anon. Originally written in Latin in the 12th century – Veni, Veni Emanuel – it sums up the expectancy of Christmas Day. The composer James MacMillan used the mystical theme for a percussion concerto which I heard premiered at the Proms in 1992.

10.  Gabriel’s Message  This was originally an old Basque carol which was collected by Charles Bordes and reworked in 1892. It tells the story of the archangel announcing to the Virgin Mary of the events that were about to unfold. The words are by Sabine Baring-Gould, who wrote Onward Christian Soldiers.

So you want my pop top ten? Here’s the songs I believe contain some quality for what they are.

1. Happy Christmas. War is Over. 2. White Christmas 3. Have yourself a merry little Christmas 4. Driving Home for Christmas 5. Stop the Cavalry 6. A Spaceman Came Travelling 7. Last Christmas 8. Lonely this Christmas 9. Mary’s Boy Child 10. Merry Xmas Everybody (Yes, you really have got to include Slade!)