Wednesday 30 May
A disturbing sequel to the two deaths at a music festival in Portsmouth last weekend, both apparently as a result of taking high-strength ecstasy: reports are emerging on social media that the taps supplying free water stopped working properly. The organisers vehemently deny it.
What is not in doubt is that the spectators were forbidden from bringing more than one small bottle of their own. There was the option of buying on site – but at an exorbitant price (between £2.50 and £3.50 a bottle).
The importance of a reliable and plentiful supply of water at such events should be widely known. Ecstasy can quickly lead to overheating of the body and severe dehydration. Why, then, was there so strict a limit on the amount that could be taken into the arena?
For me, there was an uneasy parallel with incidents much closer to home almost quarter of a century ago. Three young men, all of whom had popped Es, died on different nights at a rave in Ayr called Hanger 13. At the fatal accident inquiry, witnesses testified that, on the night Andrew Stoddart died, the water was turned off in one of the lavatories and the flow was weak in another.
The owner of Hanger 13 agreed in evidence that the pressure had been low that night, but blamed a failure of the public water supply. Yet, although this might have been a factor in Andrew Stoddart's death, the Crown failed to call anyone from the Strathclyde water department to corroborate the management's explanation.
Whatever the truth of that overlooked matter, we seem to have learned precious little from the ecstasy-related deaths at Hanger 13 and the many since. Providing a utility that the rest of us take for granted somehow continues to be a problem when the punters are pleasure-seeking young people.
Thursday 31 May
The news that Carluccios has entered a 'voluntary arrangement' with its creditors and is closing 30 of its caffs should come as no surprise to the chain's disillusioned regulars. On my last visit to the Glasgow branch, they had exhausted their stock of pastries – every last one – by 10.30am. 'Sold out,' was the explanation of the unprepossessing waiter. I remember when there were only two Carluccios, both in London. Going to either of them was a treat. But then the money men took over and the rest is the usual story of
over-expansion with the loss of quality that almost invariably goes with it.
According to the CEO on the company website tonight, the closure programme and refurb of what's left will 'elevate the guest experience.' I don't want my guest experience elevated. I just want my mid-morning bun.
Friday 1 June
In the fine weather I no longer wait for the bus to work at the stop a few yards from the house. Instead I walk three quarters of a mile to the faraway bus stop. This is called exercise.
It is a pleasant enough spot. On a clear morning I can see Goat Fell and
remind myself that I once climbed it. There are bunnies in the bushes (I have refrained from calling them Jeremy and Norman). The birdsong is enchanting. But what exactly is the point of the faraway bus stop? No-one lives around here, and the workers at the nearby aerospace plant must have their own transport. I am the faraway bus stop's only friend.
At least I was – until a morning a few weeks ago when I was joined by a young woman. She was smoking and clutching a can of the ubiquitous Irn Bru. I thought of saying hello, and was still thinking about it, when she lay down on the pavement with her legs jutting out into the road, and from this position continued smoking and drinking.
At this hour there are quite a few cars, and I started to worry that her body was vulnerable to passing traffic. It occurred to me to warn her that she might soon be legless – even more legless than she appeared to be already. I was still pondering whether to intervene when a car approached at some speed, leaving me frozen in silent fascination and horror.
My fears were unfounded. The horizontal one nonchalantly pulled her legs back, tucking them under her thighs, until the car had gone, repeating this impressive performance twice more before the arrival of the No 4.
Since this curious episode, I have been troubled by a question of personal ethics: how bad would a situation have to get before I said or did anything? Fortunately, my character has not been tested further. She hasn't been back, and I am again alone at the faraway bus stop.
Saturday 2 June
Earlier this week, a breakfast television presenter, Richard Madeley,
terminated – his word – an interview with the defence secretary, the boyish Gavin Williamson, when the minister declined to handle a curved ball. A former Royal Marine, in a letter to a newspaper, said that he wouldn't trust Williamson or his department to run the proverbial whelk stall.
The whelk stall – it is always proverbial – is shorthand for an activity requiring little or no managerial ability. The idea behind the insult is that any idiot should be able to run such a modest enterprise. But is this true? Is there not more to it than is commonly supposed?
Recently a Maltby man – Maltby being a former mining town and civil parish in the metropolitan borough of Rotherham – went into voluntary liquidation after an unsuccessful attempt to run a whelk stall. His name is Tony Trotter. Unlike a certain other troubled retailer, Mr Trotter has no intention of elevating the guest experience. He is done with whelks.
He told the local paper: 'Who in their right mind is going to eat stuff that's come out of the sea when they can go to the chippie? It's like eating rubber bands soaked in vinegar. Not only have I made no money, but I can't get a bird. They take one whiff of my winkles and you don't see them for dust.'
I sympathise with Mr Trotter, but his experience surely proves that you need entrepreneurial flair to run a proverbial whelk stall. The inept appearance of Gavin Williamson on breakfast television indicates, however, that any idiot can run the Ministry of Defence.
Monday 4 June
The verdict in the Thorpe case is again being widely mocked, as it was at the time. I haven't read the transcript of the trial (who has?) and must rely on the edited highlights in last night's final episode of 'A Very English Scandal,' in which the main prosecution witness, Peter Bessell, agreed that he stood to gain £25,000 from the Sunday Telegraph whatever happened, but double that amount if Thorpe was convicted. Is it really so surprising that the jury, having heard this incriminating admission, chose to acquit?