Postmark with Mark Blackmore
There are a lot of things going on in the UK and internationally, but they are all extremely depressing. Instead let’s turn to Falklands politics, where there was outstanding entertainment on offer from the Standing Finance Committee, as reported in last week’s Penguin News. I know that’s not a sentence one sees very often.
For those of you who missed the article, it said the Directorate of Public Works put in a late request for an extra £6.85 million over two years in order to finish the MPA road.
This vexed all of the MLAs, I should imagine, though the report detailed MLA Roger Sprink’s reaction in particular. He observed that “the roads have already been ripped up” and insisted the Director of Public Works “must come along with some explanations … even if we have to drag him here in chains.”
Astonishing scenes, and I kind of feel for MLA Sprink, who has made cuts in spending a priority over the years, only to have the DPW roll up, suck their teeth and say “You’ve had the cowboys in here mate. Gonna cost seven million to sort this out.”
This might act as a lesson for all MLAs, in fact – you can use the experience of your entire professional career and get as much training as you like, but when it comes to getting infrastructure projects done the most important thing is to make sure you’ve watched The Money Pit starring Tom Hanks.
It would be remiss of me to ignore the paper’s story on Stanley Growers, given that my name was cited. The situation is that Tim and Jan Miller want to retire from the Growers, which has brought into focus the rather alarming prospect of putting a huge percentage of the nation’s fresh fruit and vegetable supply into someone else’s hands. We’re looking at a Timless and Janless Falklands fruiture, and it’s all a bit dystopian.
FIG’s Deputy Director of Commercial Services, Steve Dent, gave an interview to PN during which he referenced my suggestion that since you guys live in a food desert, it might be a good idea to protect this supply by essentially nationalising the Growers.
Mr Dent said he could envisage a situation where retaining government control was “not such a crazy idea,” which is probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about one of my ideas, but then suggested that “government doesn’t have a great track record of running businesses”. That’s a more contentious statement that would need clarification if it signals what MLAs are thinking. But my meagre brain can spit out several possibilities here, and you know the rules, I have to immediately bother you all with them. You knew what you were getting into when you saw my face at the top of the page.
1.Full nationalisation – the business is brought fully into the public sector, like the Swedish government’s alcohol shops, only without the insistence on a monopoly.
2.Direct government oversight, as is common in the United States, where a corporation provides a public service and retains a separate legal identity, but ultimately answers to federal authorities, like the US Postal Service or train company Amtrak.
3.The government takes a further step away by setting up a regulatory body but allows profits to be made while ensuring certain standards are upheld. Like Penguin News and the Media Trust.
4.Sell into private hands while setting conditions that should be met. This is what UK privatisation looks like – gas, water, railways, prisons, electricity and so on.
5.Sell the business entirely into private hands, let the new owners do as they will within the law, and hope they prove as competent and responsible as Tim and Jan.
6.Do nothing. I’ve just put this in here as a nod to the policy unit. Miss you guys.
Options four or five seem to be current MLA thinking, and I’m going to go ahead and say that those are the craziest of all the ideas. I suspect there are several members of the Assembly and FIG that would rather spend the rest of their lives pretending Haribo is a vegetable than take on board any suggestion I might make, but go on, forget I said it and reconsider.
Today I was waiting at a checkout in Big Tesco, and on the till to my right the customer was an old man. I’m not great at guessing ages but he looked about 350. Thin old boy, baseball cap, probably ran Victorian-era marathons. He was trying to move the items in his trolley to the till conveyor but he was having trouble.
Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be doing anything like as well as he is at that age, not least because I’ll have been dead for 298 years. Nevertheless his hands were shaking and he was struggling to get the job done. I watched as he tried to grab a box of Mr Kipling, but they proved too much for him and fell back into the trolley.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Can I help you with that?”
He half-turned to me. “What?” he said. Then louder. “What!”
I was experiencing instant buyer’s remorse. I looked around and yes, people were watching. This is the UK, and people are always watching. “Um. I was wondering if you’d allow me to help you with that. I can put those on there for you if you like.”
He looked at the trolley, at the till, at me. “NO!” he shouted.
I took a step back. “Oh okay sorry as you wish,” I mumbled, turning back to my own checkout and avoiding everyone else’s eyes. Well, this does not feel good, I thought, but what’s a chap to do? Decency dictates and all that. The fellow was in denial about his own body’s decline, and it’s not like he hadn’t had time to get used to it. Not to boast, but my body is declining much faster than his, in the scheme of things. At my age he was still running Victorian marathons in a frock coat and top hat. I’m only 51 and I can hardly do anything at all.
I finished my own filthy capitalist business and as I departed, saw that there were staff now helping the man, so all’s well that ends well. Except for me, who will cringe when remembering that moment for at least another few months.
When I left the UK seven years ago, there were two neighbours who weren’t speaking to me, and on my recent return I quickly discovered this was still very much the case. Honestly, you get into one undignified shoving match with one group of students on their front lawn and their mums are all like, ‘You’re a bad person’. Guys, it was ages ago and look at me, God has clearly punished me enough.
This pariah status having continued, I’ve made an effort to get the rest of the street to like me. I have spoken to several other humans, suppressing my shudders, and pretended to be nearly normal. I haven’t manhandled any of their children. It’s exhausting.
But I wish to go further, and I need your help. For years at Penguin News I worked right next door to a jewellery maker, Alice Clarke out of Alice Clarke Jewellery. This was fun because Alice is very nice and put up magnificently with that one time I shouted “Have you got any Prince Alberts?” as I passed her shop to go for a wee.
And now destiny has once again intertwined my fate with that of a jeweller. Turns out my neighbour two doors down runs a business called Droollery, “specialising in high-quality jewellery, collars and bandanas for dogs”. That’s from her website. Go ahead and look it up, it’s sensational.
Unfortunately, just like Alice, they don’t do Prince Alberts, either for dogs or humans. But I highly recommend you buy as much of their gear as possible, endearing me to my neighbour and incidentally making the Falklands the world centre of canine flamboyance. And if anyone asks, tell them Mark sent you.