‘You can screw it’ – that’s what today’s metrosexual males think of doing DIY

WEEKEND bliss for my late, lamented father-in-law, George, was to escape to his garage-cum-workshop and strip down an engine, replace any tired parts, then completely rebuild it, sound as a bell.

A self-taught engineer and Dunkirk veteran, George was typical of a generation of make-do-and-mend blokes who could perform minor miracles with their hands, while escaping the clutches of ‘er indoors.

Once, in those pre-designer-label, cuisine refinement days – when Moben wasn’t invented and Pedini sounded like a Tuscan cheese – George knocked up a very passable set of kitchen cupboards, with sliding doors and gilt handles, which made the family home the envy of the neighbourhood.

He sawed, planed and painted boxwood in cherry-red gloss, set it up on a pine frame, all carefully mitred, and nailed the lot to the walls. No power drills or electric sanders then – or Rawlplugs – never mind swish, black granite worktops; just good, old Formica.

Way back in the 1950s Sweden hadn’t made flat-pack furniture its contribution to civilisation and a couple of blokes called Richard Block and David Quayle were still mulling over what to call their first builders’ merchants, before they stumbled on the handle, B&Q.

Dads could do things then, scribbling down a design on the back of a cigarette packet and not relying on a print-out of incomprehensible instructions, loosely translated from Serbo-Croat, which invariably meant there were a several bits left over. If you were lucky, that was.

Admittedly, from the 1970s onward, DIY came into its own with the advent of Ikea, though I’m still banjaxed by some of their jargon – Liatorp, Tjenda, Kallax anyone? – and they’ve some items so cunningly fashioned, for the life I can’t work out of me what they’re for.

A DYING BREED: Fellas into DIY are fast fading - but they do get more sex

A DYING BREED: Fellas who are  into DIY are a fast-fading bunch – but university boffins say they get more sex

As it happens, I’ve become pretty ace at assembling Ikea stuff. The trick is to follow the instructions to the letter and not get ahead of yourself by thinking you’ve second-guessed the brainbox who authored the directions.

Just find a large enough space to lay out all the parts, open the little bags of fixing gizmos, check they’re all there and get ready for a couple of hours of headbanging, cussing and twirling Allen keys.

However, it now seems – like George – I’ve become a bit of a dinosaur, because DIY has become so passé and naff today’s generation of metrosexual males avoid it like being seen without facial stubble.

I mean could you imagine the likes of David Beckham, Jude Law, Christiano Ronaldo or Brad Pitt strapping on a tool belt and getting stuck in to putting up a curtail rail. Neither can I (well, maybe Brad would).

This translates into Britain’s DIY retailers taking a financial hammering, the reason for which Homebase – which is closing a quarter of its stores – last week identified as due to ‘a generation less skilled in DIY projects.’

And, though the sector is still worth a whopping £7.3 billion per year in the UK, according to the Daily Telegraph, that’s its lowest annual turnover since 1999. So, if it continues to plummet at its current rate of 13% per annum, DIY will be dead as a self-chiselled dovetail joint by 2040.

METROSEXUAL MAN: But to fellas like him, plucking nasal hair is more important that DIY

METROSEXUAL MAN: But to blokes like him, plucking out errant nasal hair is more important that DIY

Apparently today’s 20-to-30-something fellas are more like their mums, having had their dad’s ‘traditional skills’ lobotomised.

Only five per cent of 18-24s, apparently, would attempt to unblock a sink. So, mention a rubber plunger to them and their minds will immediately jump to the conclusion: ‘Wow…sex toy!

Transfixed by their iPads, smart phones and gizmos that could launch an Apollo moon mission, I suppose it’s only to be expected post-Millennia man has lost touch with being a real geezer, in the old-fashioned meaning.

I’d speculate few own a tool box and fewer still have felt the heady rush of self-satisfaction and testosterone coursing through their veins as they re-hang a door, change the washer on a leaky tap or put together a flat-pack shelf unit.

At the risk of sounding sexist, the right-on, bully-girl, feminist PC lobby is mostly to blame for the emasculation of the masculine species.

No bloke dares be seen ogling at a Page 3 pin-up nowadays, while lads’ mags are full of beauty hints – what’s the best hair fudge or how to perk up your pecks – and snaps of grungy girls you would want to be seen out with on a dark night in Greenland.

Meanwhile, the liberal media are gushing with advice about how fellas should ‘embrace their feminine side’, learn to cook sushi and understand all those strange symbols on clothes labels, so they don’t shrink their Armani T-shirt.

This probably accounts for the number of guys entering TV baking contests and getting into hissy fits when a female competitor nobbles them, by taking their fruit-of-the-forest soufflé out of the oven five minutes before it’s risen.

Only in private can fellas let loose their red-blooded instincts, which accounts for the floodtide of interest in Internet porn. After all, someone has to be gawking at it and it’s not likely to be the ladies of local Women’s Institute, in between jam-making and renditions of Jerusalem (though I wouldn’t put it passed them).

So manual labour is increasingly seen as something to be contracted out to others, he-men, with mitts like shovels, who can tile a bathroom and tell a lump hammer from a lump of lard.

FLAT-PACK IS FAB: Ikea is Sweden's contribution to modern-day civilisation

FLAT-PACK IS FAB: Ikea is Sweden’s contribution to modern-day civilisation

Quirkily, the metrosexual male’s role reversal isn’t necessary what all women want. Because, as they settle into their roles as wives and mums, they desperately want a man about the house, who can wire a plug and fit a laminated floor, not some fop who spends hours in the bathroom mirror plucking out errant nasal hair.

Meanwhile, there’s an upside to being a dab hand at DIY: you get more sex.

A study by sociologists at the University of Washington found that couples who follow traditional gender roles around the house – wives doing the cooking, cleaning and shopping; men doing the DIY and fettling the car – reported greater bouts of boudoir Olympics.

So, not to mince words, if men want to get laid, they should do more screwing…in the DIY meaning of the word, that is.

Anyway, must go. Have to re-fix the pergola roof, because you never know what that can lead to.

 

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Black gold, Texas Tea…the curious curse of striking it rich with oil

SWATHED in the smoke of burning barricades and swirls of tear-gas, the streets are awash with blood, as angry demonstrators clash with baton-wielding riot police, licenced to fire live rounds into the baying hordes.

In retaliation, protestors resort to farming Molotov cocktails and smashing up pavements to build arsenals of missiles to hurl at the brutal security forces, under orders from a detested, crisis-stricken government to quash the rebellion at all costs.

Up to last weekend at least six people were reported dead and hundreds injured, as unrest snowballed from the capital to provincial cities, where tens of thousands more joined the insurgency.

Meanwhile, from his jail cell, the opposition leader implores the protestors, ‘Don’t give up – I won’t’.

As much as this scenario sounds familiar, let me tell you I’m not describing Ukraine, but a land far away, yet nonetheless riven by violent political, economic and class tensions.

This is Venezuela, the latest state to be consumed by people-power fury and – like previous examples of where outraged citizens have taken to the streets to defy despots – in peril of descending into ‘a spiral of death and destruction’, to quote one of its cabinet’s own ministers.

However, unlike Ukraine, Egypt or Syria, in terms of vast, natural resources, Venezuela is one of the richest nations on the planet, sitting on top of the world’s largest reservoir of oil.

The contradiction, though, is food shortages are chronic, inflation hovers at an unbelievable 60 percent, unemployment is at astronomic levels, corruption endemic and, according to the UN, the country has the world’s fifth highest murder rate.

Commentators attribute this wretched fiasco to Venezuela’s 15-year dalliance with red-raw socialism, first imposed by the late president, Hugo Chavez, who died a year ago, aged 58, and was replaced by his weakling underling, Nicolás Maduro.

PAYING HOMAGE: Venezuela's Maduro unveils a giant portrait of his predecessor, firebrand president Hugo Chavez

PAYING HOMAGE: Venezuela’s Maduro unveils a giant portrait of his predecessor, firebrand president Hugo Chavez

In contrast to the firebrand Chavez, who established a rabid, anti-US alliance with communist Cuba’s Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, and South America’s other, far-Left regimes – Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua – the new boss is a pale, ineffectual shadow.

True, Maduro won a hotly-disputed presidential election last April, but only by the narrowest margins and against a backdrop of claims his United Social Party resorted to its usual ploy of bribing the underclass with government cash.

The former bus driver, though, has not forgotten some lessons from his late, unlamented predecessor, including crushing media freedom – he recently expelled CNN – and using the security forces as personal enforcers.

His problems, however, stem from the country’s greatest gift: oil. Because, like many nations similarly blessed, Venezuela is a virtual one-product economy, relying on its vast coffers of petro dollars to import almost everything else.

Nor are profits spent wisely at home. Hugely impractical social programmes invented by Chavez no longer resonate with the frustrated poor. Unable to buy the daily basics, they, too, have enlisted at the barricades.

This, though, isn’t about a nation in critical melt-down; no, it concerns the mixed blessing of those countries whose most tradable asset is the black gold lying beneath their parched earth, sand or sea beds.

Of the dozen members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), barely one can be described as a functioning democracy. Indeed, most are repressive autocracies, using their stupendous wealth to suppress civil rights, finance international terrorism or prop up other repugnant regimes (i.e. Iran backing Syria’s butcher, Basher Al-Assad).

Outputting over 33,000,000 barrels of oil a day, for the record they are: Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, of course, not forgetting Venezuela.

Add Vladimir Putin’s ultra-nationalist Russia to this unholy mix and it’s not difficult to deduce that control of the world’s most vital commodity lies in the grasp of some of the most detestable fists.

OILING THE WHEELS: A refinery employee rides to work at a Middle East oilfield

OILING THE WHEELS: A refinery employee bicycles to work at a Middle East oilfield

Unsurprisingly, then, the ‘oil weapon’ – even the mere threat of it – has been used to hold the industrialised West over the proverbial barrel for nearly half a century.

So, ignoring the negatives of this fossil fuel being an environmental blight – a debate for another day – there is a shrieking need to find a cheaper, synthetic replacement to power our factories, homes and cars purely on economic grounds.

As yet, there is no total answer. Hence, various Western nations dicker with a potpourri of solutions, by various, greener means of energy manufacture…from wind farms, to seawater wave power, to vegetable crops, to kinetics and hydrogen, to solar panelling, to – would you believe it – donkeys tethered to a dynamo wheel.

In lieu of the ultimate alternative to Texas Tea, America’s interim brainwave is fracking, which, in tandem with its homeland output, has taken the USA to the point of petroleum independence, if not beyond.

Elsewhere, the idea of drilling into the bedrock, then injecting it with high-pressure water to coax out oil molecules, is meeting with resistance, notably in the UK.

Nuclear generation meets with similar hostility: Germany, for instance, is shunning the whole idea for fear of a repeat of a Fukushima-style disaster, though it’s a mainstream source in France, which even exports nuclear-produced energy to the UK.

In summary then, in a world where a robot vehicle can be propelled to Venus, people can be linked by voice and video to others thousands of miles apart and innumerable killer ills are now curable, scientists haven’t yet invented a safer, all-embracing, affordable alternative to a dirty, dark, viscous fluid that’s a hangover from the industrial revolution.

And it’s darkly ironic that the nations blessed by a lucky toss of the geological dice should be the worst possible custodians of the substance that makes the world’s wheels turn.

Oil, though, isn’t a finite resource – even for Venezuela.

The multi-national petroleum corporations know time is running out; so do the tin-pot monarchs (no prizes for guessing who), pseudo-democratic tyrants (Venezuela’s Maduro) and religious fanatics (Iran and Iraq)

So, if ever there was a moment for science to solve the planet’s most pressing dilemma –discovering a viable, economical, non-fossil substitute for oil – it’s NOW!

Switched, bothered and bewildered, I don’t think my new bank likes me

DID you know you’re more likely to change spouses or partners than your bank – as Michael Caine might say, not a lot of people know that.

According to the UK Payments Council, the majority account-holders stay with their bank an average of 17 years in contrast to most marriages, which survive a paltry 11.5.

It’s not that Brits are so besotted with the treatment meted out by the institutions claiming to look after their money. Far from it, because complaints against banks soared 15 percent in the first half of last year alone to 370,000.

No, the prime reason for customer loyalty is fear…dread that switching to a rival will likely result in a calamitous hiatus, so direct debits or standing order pay-dates are missed, the electricity, gas or water will be cut off and the tallyman will repossess the family motor.

This same reluctance to change stalks most of the West, despite the array of incentives banks employ to lure each other’s clients, Consequently, while four in 10 of us regularly switch car or household insurer, only one in 20 has changed their bank in the last two years.

But what if a bank switches you, which is happening in my case?

It’s not that I’ve done anything to upset them. I keep a decent balance in my account, make few demands, never forget to say ’Have a nice day’ and am on first-name terms with the counter staff.

The pleasantries are always returned and, for the several years I’ve banked there – no names, no pack-drill, but it’s an international offshoot of a UK high street bank – I’ve been treated with cheery efficiency, sage advice and made to feel a valued customer.

IN THE MONEY? Who knows when banking parlance is so complicated

IN THE MONEY? Who knows when banking parlance is so complicated

Suddenly last summer, however, I received a letter from them, saying as of mid-March, 2014, I’d be a client of another bank, a Spanish one, whose name meant virtually nada to me.

In other words, having sold out to a competitor, I was part of the goods and chattels.

This was a fait accompli in the hatching; Hobson had more choice than me…it was either go with the flow or dive into the minefield of the great, financial unknown.

It isn’t that I’ve a problem with the theory of changing banks, despite my innate sense of loyalty/fear and belief in better the banking devil you know than parking my cash in another Satan’s den.

Nor am I particularly concerned about a bank’s country of origin, so long as it’s regulated to international standards and not run by some philanthropic Nigerian, offering me 1,000% interest if I park the odd twenty thou with him for a month.

Because – at least now – banks almost everywhere no longer act like robber barons in pin stripes. Mostly, they’ve mended their errant, grasping ways, stopped lending recklessly and quit foisting junk products, like payment protection insurance, on duped punters.

So, in the hope my familiar counter-staff mates would be part of the takeover, I went along with the assurances that this would simply be a name-change and the transition would tick with the precision of a Swiss watch.

Except it didn’t and isn’t.

At the turn of last year I received a leaflet from the future custodians of my moolah, explaining a few ‘modifications of the contractual conditions of certain bank services’.

Very thoughtfully, they’d written it in English, but – such was its arcane terminology – it might as well have been Swahili or Serbo-Croat.

Despite the vast cesspool of trivia drivel I accumulated over a lifetime, comprehension of banking parlance isn’t floating on its surface, like an unsinkable cowpat.

BANK ON IT: Most people get divorced before they change their bank

BANK ON IT: Most people get divorced before they change their bank

So the €35 ‘fee for dunning of debt positions’ fell on glazed eyes, as did the ‘formula used for calculating the settlement of credit and debit interest on sight accounts’.

Was my debt position being ‘dun’ over then?  And would I need an optical test to have a ‘sight account’?

Then, after receiving a new debit card, a further piece of plastic landed in my mailbox. Mysteriously titled ‘a new distance banking code card’, the accompanying letter exhorted me to ‘ACTIVATE NOW’ (their caps) by going on line.

Dutifully, I did – immediately. Except the website told me to try again in four days. So, I did. And the website said try again in a week. So I did and the website said phone a number somewhere. So I did.

‘We’re experiencing website integration issues’, explained a polite lady at the other end of the line. ‘Try again in four days’

‘But I’ve be trying for three weeks,’ said I, plaintively. ‘Besides, you’ve had since last August to sort this out and you’re a bank, for heaven’s sake, overflowing with IT geeks.’

‘You have until March 15 to do it, so there’s plenty of time,’ replied the call centre agent.

‘So why, in January, did you send out the urgent ACTIVE NOW message?’

‘Oh, that was just in case you forgot.’

‘This doesn’t exactly inspire new customer confidence, does it,’ I noted rhetorically.

‘Well, send in a complaint,’ she suggested. ‘Here, I’ll give you the email address of who to write to. They’ll reply within four days.’

So I did – on February 6. And I’m still awaiting the courtesy of a response. Maybe it’s a hiccup with email ‘integration’. Who knows in this era of supa-dupa hi-tech.

Meantime, my pals at my old bank – the one that’s going to be eviscerated next month – managed to sort out my ‘new distance banking’ glitch, which I discovered is a bunkum euphemism for something simply known as ‘online banking’.

Ah, well, I sighed. At least that’s done and dusted…except every time I go online to check my balance I still keep being exhorted to ACTIVE NOW the ‘new distance banking code’, which I do ad nauseum, since it’s the only way I can access my account.

Maybe the computer that keeps saying ‘No’ doesn’t like me. Maybe I’ll send it a bunch of flowers as a sop.

Or maybe I’ll break the habit of a lifetime and switch banks.

What swell parties they had, as Red Ed and power-potty Clegg wooed the faithful

Don’t you love a good knees-up! So praise be for Britain’s party political conferences, a last tango of lunacy to end the Silly Season, before it’s back to hurling brickbats across the cockpit of parliament.

Frankly, what all the fuss is about always beats me. Still, I suppose it gives the rank and file – a.k.a. the poor, bloody infantry – a chance to sound off, hobnob with like-minded diehards and have a snap taken with their heroes (frankly, I’d rather be photo’d next Genghis Khan than thuggish Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Finance Minister).

Boring events perhaps, but never a disappointment to those, like me – and probably most of the apathetic public – whose opinion of politicians can be found in one word, scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet and placed under something Fido deposited by the nearest tree.

Nevertheless, you have to hand it to them. Nobody since the Borgias does charades of unity, parades of pretentiousness, not to say a teensy-weensy smidgeon of back-stabbing, quite like our elected representatives at their annual, tribal thrashes.

TURNING LEFT: Miliband signals 'bring back socialism' at Labour's party conference

TURN HARD LEFT: Miliband signals ‘bring back socialism’ at Labour’s party conference

And I should know, because a tear of nostalgia wells up in the old eye when I recall party conferences I covered, particularly Labour shindigs at Blackpool in the 1970s.

We’d slip the barman of the Imperial Hotel a £5 note to deliver a crate of Moet to the service entrance, then get rat-legged on it at the end of Central Pier. Truly, a chorus of We’ll Keep The Red Flag Flying Here never sounded heartier than coming from a bunch of inebriated hacks, off their heads on vintage bubbly.

Meanwhile, in time-honoured tradition, the conflabs don’t vary: the leaderships preach to the converted and flag up what they pray will be headline-grabbing policies, few or any of which will ever fly (i.e. Liberal-Democrat leader, Nick Clegg’s pledge to axe student tuition fees).

For purely nepotistic gladness, these sideshows also keep my TV political correspondent mates in gainful employment. So the rain may cascade, but it doesn’t faze the BBC’s Nick Robinson’s one iota, as it ping-pongs off his bald pate, while Sky’s Adam Boulton looks on enviously.

In summary, then, it’s all a jolly good fiesta for the dwindling faithful, who leave reinvigorated, a crescendo of war-cries ringing in their ears…like then Liberal leader, David Steel’s immortal – if a tad premature – call, in 1981, to ‘go home and prepare for government.’

Pretty much the same message gushed forth from Clegg the other week in Glasgow, when he insisted coalition government was a fixture in the UK. This, he predicted, would be so even if Lib-Dem support was plummeting and now mainly reduced to woolly do-gooders, organic mangel-wurzel growers in the West Country and crusty Highland crofters, with unswerving fealty to any candidate sporting red hair.

CHANGING PARTNERS? Nick Clegg signals the Lib-Dems may swap coalition bedfellows to Labour

CHANGING PARTNERS? Nick Clegg signals the Lib-Dems may swap coalition bedfellows to Labour

With the bookies offering 13/8 on a hung UK General Election in 2015, Clegg might be right. There is no telling what damage Euro-sceptic UKIP can inflict on the Tories or what a ‘Yes’ vote for Scottish independence next year does to Labour’s Westminster seats north of Hadrian’s Wall.

But what Clegg was most at pains to do was put clear, yellow water between his party and the Tories. Indulging in further political harlotry, he even hinted Labour’s Milibandits might make better bedfellows in government than Squire Cameron’s lot, a fact rammed home by Vince Cable, who rekindled his Coalition partners’ old tag of ‘the nasty party’.

The sainted Business Secretary twisted the dagger, adding the Tories indulged in ‘dog-whistle politics’, hence my earlier allusion to Fido (though, frankly, I hadn’t a clue what the he was banging on about, but imagine it was an insult all the same).

Three hundred miles away in Brighton, Ed Miliband set out to be a barrel of laughs by lampooning his geeky image. And, though Labour loyalists found it a hoot, the act was hardly material for a telly satire show audition.

Predictably, he reverted to Red Ed type, parroting the old Left mantra of ‘bring back socialism’. Then – having already stolen the Tories ‘One Nation’ clothes, as fashioned by Disraeli – he invoked the wisdom of another hard-Rightist, Ronnie Reagan, by posing the late US President’s rhetorical query, ‘Am I better off now than I was five years ago?’

Speaking minus notes for an hour, Miliband’s gave a polished performance, even if it was littered with doctrinaire slogans, harking back to Labour’s glory days of Harold Wilson and Sunny Jim Callaghan, but notably bypassing mention of Tony Blair, even Gordon Brown.

However, to Red Ed’s credit, for the first time he appeared somewhat statesmanlike – anything less would be nigh on impossible – as he actually fleshed out some real policies (‘real’ being a relative word, since, if he ever comes to power, delivering on them maybe be a bridge too far to cross).

At least we now know two planks of any future Labour government platform: death to the contentious ‘Bedroom Tax’, the complexities of which I won’t inflict on non-Brits, and a 20-month freeze on energy prices.

The latter is designed to resonate with Middle England – ‘Conservatory Buyers’, who’ve now replaced Worcester Woman and Mondeo Man as the pollsters’ label for target voters.

This threat of statist intervention, however, immediately spooked the energy sector, multi-national conglomerates, who could easily switch priorities to expanding their portfolios elsewhere, leaving Britain quite literally powerless.

Undoubtedly, energy prices are high – they are throughout most of Europe – largely due to Russian and Middle Eastern suppliers shamelessly rigging the wholesale market.

Costs are also high due to carbon taxes imposed on consumers by Britain’s first Energy & Climate Change Minister…one Ed Miliband.

So what have the first, two party conferences told us?

The Lib-Dems will get into the sack with anyone offering them the pillow of a continued share of power – all in the noble cause of the ‘national interest’, of course – and it’s back to the future with Labour, once again red in tooth and claw.

So bring on the Tories, who kick off their frivolities in Manchester today.

Politicians, eh? You can’t live without them, but I bet you’d like to try.

Monster pay-offs, mismanagement and lies…is this the BBC laid bare?

Bet you thought BBC – known to Brits sentimentally as ‘Auntie’ – was an acronym for British Broadcasting Corporation. Well might it have been until last Monday, when it transmogrified into Backstabbing, Bitching and Cantankerousness in a frenzy, all performed in the best, possible taste, of course.

Before the probing House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), old Auntie’s knickers became so twisted, the principal antagonists appeared to be verbally trying to throttle each other with the elastic – a blustering Lord Patten, chair of the BBC Trust, in one corner, festering in the other, ex-Director General, Mark Thompson, now boss of The New York Times.

Played out live on BBC Parliament, it made unedifying viewing – an acrimonious, real-life, corporate bare-knuckle fight laid bare. And, though a chill aplomb was somehow retained, the sparring was far nastier than any ruckus that’s kicked off down EastEnder’s Queen Vic, BBC viewers’ favourite soap pub.

The nub of the issue was: who knew what about a £1M-plus golden goodbye to one-time Deputy DG, Mark Byford, which, based on the current Euro=£ exchange rate, is probably enough to buy Greece.

Thompson accused Patten of misleading Parliament over the pay-off, but the last governor of Hong Kong – remembered by the Chinese as ‘Fatty Pang’ – denied the charge, insisting it was before his time as chatelaine of Auntie’s mansion.

LORD ONLY KNOWS: Patten denied knowledge of the £1M pay-off to Byford

LORD ONLY KNOWS: Patten denied knowledge of the £1M pay-off to Byford

The problem for both combatants, however, was that this left yet another fetid odour overlaying the stench of iffy severance largesse doled out to Corporation managers, like £700,000 – plus £55,000 she wasn’t entitled to – to Jana Bennett, director of TV and ‘Vision’, who once ordered a £100 bouquet for Jonathan Ross, as he mulled a humongous, £18M, chat-show contract Byford practically begged him to autograph.

All is endemic of a culture of outrageous palm-greasing that’s infected the Beeb, as it seeks to shed an overload of managers, many with no links to programming.

But the Patten-Thompson spat descended into such a pea-soup fog of colliding egos, alleged memory lapses and conflicting versions of the truth, the committee’s robust chairman, Margaret Hodge, intervened and said emphatically, ‘I’m not having any more lies this afternoon.’

Just for good measure, she added, ‘At the best I think what we have seen is incompetence, a lack of central control, a failure to communicate. At its worse we may have seen people covering their backs by being less than open.’

Ouch! This wasn’t a schoolma’am admonishing a couple of errant fifth formers for telling porkies about who broke a window in the gym. It was two of the most august presences in the history of British broadcasting sitting before her, each adamantly insisting on the righteousness of their take on how the UK’s chief purveyor of entertainment runs its business (or, conversely, frittered away a sizeable chunk of its annual £3.7bn in public funds, a.k.a. the Licence Fee).

As Lord Michael Grade, himself a former Chairman, said on BBC2 Newnight later that evening, ‘The BBC doesn’t understand the value of money’.

ACCUSER: Ex-Director General Mark Thompson accused Patten of misleading Parliament

ACCUSER: Ex-Director General Mark Thompson accused Patten of misleading Parliament

Sometimes I’m unfairly accused of being anti-Auntie, but I’m not. It is still the platinum standard broadcasters, worldwide, aspire to and its output – on TV, radio or online – is extraordinary.

In fact, its flair for serving up riveting drama, documentary and cultural shows was never better illustrated than by last week’s delights… Simon Schama’s The History of the Jews, gritty, tear-jerky Midwives and the Last Night of the Proms, all veritable televisual feasts.

No, my gripes with the behemoth Beeb are: it’s too rich and powerful for the public good; its current affairs coverage is skewered by an overweening Left-liberal bias (try getting a newsroom job if you haven’t worked for The Guardian); and its venal officer class inhabits a parallel universe no responsible company’s shareholders would tolerate if they uncovered such gross incompetence and nefarious abuse of funds.

Meanwhile, the BBC Trust, specifically under His Haughtiness, Patten, cannot simultaneously be Auntie’s cheerleader and regulator, because that’s a contradiction of roles.

It is clearly unfit for purpose and should be ditched, with the BBC placed under the protection of Ofcom, which regulates Britain’s other, state-run broadcaster, Channel 4.

The excrement hit the fan when the Jimmy Savile paedophile scandal exposed other dark, recesses within an organisation purporting to be the nation’s moral arbiter, but where mutual feather-bedding became the norm

For an insight into this we are beholden to Lucy Adams, the BBC’s outgoing head of HR, whose defence of grotesque pay-offs was: it’s ‘custom and practice.’

ENOUGH'S ENOUGH: 'No more lies', demanded Committe chairmn, Margaret Hodge MP

ENOUGH’S ENOUGH: ‘No more lies’, demanded Committe chairman, Margaret Hodge MP

Apart from in the murky domain of banking piracy, it is patently not and certainly isn’t replicated in other public service sectors, because never forget that’s exactly what Auntie is.

Ms Adams’ crass ignorance of the real world is, I suppose, understandable from someone paid £420K p.a. – more than twice the salary of another public servant, the Prime Minister – to run the Beeb’s personnel department, where Dinah Rose QC found evidence of bullying and ‘a strong undercurrent of fear’.

Therefore, it was unsurprising, too, that Ms Adams appeared to have suffered a ‘memory lapse’, because she told MPs a memo she claimed at an earlier PAC hearing never to have seen might have actually be drafted by her.

Ouch (again)!

But, after the tsunami of revelations about Beeb management’s magnanimity to each other, how much more evidence is required before it’s decided enough is enough?

As the London Daily Telegraph noted, ‘On perks, salaries and bonuses, too, the BBC hierarchy appeared to operate according to its own rules, with members of the privileged club rewarding each other with incomes commensurate with their egos rather than their talents.’

So where does that leave Patten, already savaged over his handling of the Savile case, the Digital Media Initiative fiasco – in which the Corporation wrote off £100M – and bizarre choice of pondering George Entwistle as DG, who vacated his office after just 54 days with £475,000 in his back pocket?

Anywhere else, such cackhandedness would require Patten’s head on a platter.

But Auntie’s no ordinary organisation. Unlike Caesar’s wife, it always considered itself above suspicion…until now.

Soccer’s a loser by letting serial sinners like Suarez escape so lightly

Okay, I know this would probably be more appropriate on the back page, but I haven’t got one. And, besides, now and again there’s a sporting incident that stirs such rage, it becomes front-page news.

I won’t get too technical, for fear of offending those who’d rather watch a telly ad than a soccer game or paint drying in preference to a cricket match, because not everyone is consumed by the passion sport generates (personally, I draw the line at darts, because in my humble estimation anything vaguely termed ‘sport’ requires a six-pack rather than a beer gut).

But let’s kick on with events of last week involving a high-profile soccer star – one even tipped as a potential English Premiership’s Player of the Year for his goal-scoring prowess – who was suddenly siezed by a cannibal lust to bite a chunk out of an opposing defender.

Even in a game where spitting (or ‘gobbing’ as it is known) in someone’s face, hair-pulling, genital-grabbing, eye-gouging and stamping are common currency, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez literally trying to make a meal out of Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic was a tad over the top.

So shocking was the incident, I almost felt sorry for the London club, until I came to my senses.

It wasn’t just me who was incensed, either. The overwhelming majority of witnesses were, too, include the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who’s probably better acquainted with the Eton Wall Game than the so-called People’s Game.

And it was no use Suarez’s cronies claiming that, as a Uruguayan, he was culturally programmed to consume beef, because you simply don’t order the right arm of an opponent, a la tartar, in the middle of a football match.

VERDICT WITH BITE: How one newspaper judged Suarez's attack on Chelsea's Ivanovich

VERDICT WITH BITE: How one newspaper judged Suarez’s attack on Chelsea’s Ivanovich

Besides, the odious South American is a serial sinner. He’d bitten a player before during his days with the Dutch club, Ajax, and, last season, served an eight-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United captain, Patrice Evra.

In any other workplace the man would be summarily sacked – even charged with attempted grievous bodily harm – but not pro soccer. He’s far too important to be shown the door and, besides, a host of other obscenely rich clubs would queue to sign him without qualms.

Therefore one can safely assume, the word ‘morality’ doesn’t exist in soccer’s lexicon, despite its pretence at offering a ‘sporting’ example to kids who aspire to be like their icons.

So, instead, Suarez has been fined by his club (who aren’t saying how much of his £200,000-a-week wages he’ll forfeit), made a wishy-washy apology and announced he’d be prepared to plead guilty to the offence – as witnessed by half-a-billion telly viewers worldwide – so long
as it didn’t carry anything more severe than a three-match suspension.

Such ignoble contrition is staggering, but additionally so was Suarez’s plea-bargain chutzpah. Had it become legal precedent, safely assume the next axe-murder appearing before a judge would say, ‘I’ll cough up, m’lud, but only in return for six points on my driving licence.’

As it is, the arrogant psycho has been hit with a 10-match ban, which – surprise, surprise! – many in soccer’s blinkered milieu think is too harsh. One can only but wonder which part of Planet Zog they inhabit.

Still, the case got me thinking whether professional sport actually is what it says on the packaging or should it be redefined as ‘sportainment’: a fusion of roughly – an apt word under the circumstances – acting according to vaguely-interpreted rules and pure theatre, with the principal players dolled up in fancy dress?

Because today, soccer and most of pro sports are big business, where mega-bucks are at stake on and off the field of combat (and I use the word combat deliberately, since sometimes it’s not far off being as gladiatorial as anything presented to the baying mob in Nero’s Coliseum).

So, let’s not be fooled by the brusque handshakes foisted on participants before battles commence. If this rite of farce is intended to rekindle memories of bygone Corinthian spirit it fails miserable once the boots fly in.

In reality, it is as meaningless as that other, equally hollow sentiment, ‘Respect’, bandied around as a shoddy veneer to conceal the genuine enmity many players – and fans – feel for opposite numbers, whether it reflects colour, racial, nationalistic prejudice or plain, old envy.

So, let’s call pros what they are…‘sportainers’, because often – following best Hollywood practice – they are spoilt, money-grubbing, mercenary brats, vastly overpaid, over-weaned, overrated and over-mollycoddled.

Calling these exponents ‘sportsmen’, then, stretches credulity a goal-kick too far.

MUZZLE HIM? Could this be the answer to curbing Suarez's penchant for make a meal out of opponents?

MUZZLE HIM? Could this be the answer to curbing Suarez’s penchant for make a meal out of opponents?

And, of course, if these demi-gods err – on or off field – their warts and all are somehow excused, so long as they remain winners.

Cheating, though, doesn’t merely extend to soccer, because many other pro ‘sportainments’ have been similarly tarnished…cricket (‘sledging’ and match-fixing), horse racing (doping and race fixing), boxing (bribes to ‘throw’ fights), cycling (using illicit stimulants), snooker (match fixing) and – despite London 2012 being a ‘clean’ Games – many past Olympiads have been tainted by the spectre of drugs.

In rare instances, those who’ve gone far beyond the boundaries of acceptable misconduct have been justly banned for respectably swingeing terms, some for life and deservedly so.

But the People’s Game – not than most people can afford £70-plus for a Premiership match ticket – seems to be in a league of its own by punishing multi-millionaire miscreants with nothing harsher than a financial slap on the wrist and a sojourn in the sin bin.

The quality of mercy is anything but strained, because this ‘sportainment’ sold out to Mammon yonks ago and every participant – from legislators (look at FIFA’s disgraceful antics), to club owners, coaches and agents – have their snouts firmly in the cash trough.

Not least of all are the ‘stars’, professing undying fealty to a club and its faithful as their moolah mounts up.

But the next time you see a goal-scorer rush to the stands and kiss his team badge in an expression of undying allegiance, remember that in a week’s time he could be doing the same to another side’s crest.

And it’s not that I’m a spoilsport. Far from it (ask that sainted sports widow, Mrs. Ash). In fact I was a sportswriter for more years than I care to remember, witnessing games I wouldn’t inflict on my worst enemy.

‘At least we’re paid to watch this c**p,’ I once said to a colleague during one alleged match, which prompted a fan who’d overheard the remark to throw his meat pie at me (for the record, it was much tastier than that dished up on the field).

If nothing else, it underscored that fervent loyalties do exist in the game, if only on the terraces.

So, while I remain tantalised by the vision of 22 players knocking a ball round a football pitch, I prefer it portrayed as genuine sport – which is why I go to the local park on a Sunday morning to watch a kids’ joust.

Thatcher: I loathed her then, but now I genuinely mourn her passing

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS (née Roberts, 13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013)

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS (13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013)

There is such an outpouring of emotive grief, of Britain donning sackcloth and ashes, of ancient politicians long thought dead being resuscitated to utter their reminiscences of her – plus the ceremonial, if not, ‘state’ funeral – it’s still nigh on impossible to place Margaret Thatcher into proper perspective just yet.

The Left – via Peter Oborne, once a Labour apparatchik, writing in Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph (a.k.a.’The Torygraph’) – was warned to hold its tongue and be magnanimous; however they viewed her excesses, for a window of time the nation loved her and carried the Grantham grocer’s daughter to three General Election victories.

Way back in the late 70s/early 80s, before I’d become politically neutral, I loathed Thatcher and the pre-‘neocon’ faction of the Conservative Party she inspired, after Right-wing ideologue, Sir Keith Joseph (not for nothing dubbed The Mad Monk) conceived what became known as Thatcherism.

In those days I PR’d for a Labour MP friend and my daughter reminded me last night of how I took her, a star-struck eight-year-old, to meet the then party leader, Michael Foot. Probably the last of his generation’s brilliant, tub-thumping orators, he was too kindly an old gentleman to lead a far-Left drifting sect, riven by schism, let alone tame Thatcher’s blitzkrieg Conservatives in the 1982 General Election.

In truth, Thatcher was never a Tory, but more a 19th Century Liberal Free Trader.

She viewed her party’s paternalistic Old Guard of noblesse oblige, knights of the shires, with contempt and refashioned the party along the lines of Joseph’s vision of dismantling the state and empowering – oh, how I hate that word – the people to go forth and generate wealth for themselves. Money was no longer a dirty word and Britain should be a home-owning, share-buying meritocracy, where classlessness ruled.

To achieve such ambitions, Thatcher had to two prime targets to overcome: the unions and the cosy, dozy old boys’ network that ran what was euphemistically known as The City, but was a far flung cry from what it is today.

THE PITS?: That's what Thatcher thought of rabble-rousing miners' leader, Arthur Scargill

THE PITS?: Is that’s what Thatcher thought of rabble-rousing miners’ leader, Arthur Scargill?

She was fortunate in picking her first enemy, because the unions were exemplified by the miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, an unyielding, rabble-rousing, power-monger, who’d already brought down Ted Heath’s Tory Government in March, 1974 (those old enough will remember the Three Day Week, when the nation’s lights went for four nights in any seven, candles were a luxury and – for obvious reasons – a baby boom ensued).

So the Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985 became a battle of wills between Scargill, red in tooth and claw, and Thatcher, blue to the bone if not in blood. And nothing since has seen Britain slide closer to the brink of revolution, as dark forces played for and against both sides.

From a personal perspective, I loathed both in equal measure, but knew there was bound to be only one, outright winner when the immovable object (Scargill) met the irresistible force (Thatcher). And it wasn’t ever going to be the miners.

Like much of British heavy industry – from ship-building to steel – they were as much the victims of modernisation and market forces as the Iron Lady’s Roundhead Tories, because a remorseless tide of the emergent ‘global economy’ basically made Britain uncompetitive.

There was another factor that played heavily against Scargill and his crass, ill-starred generalship – patriotism. Because still fresh in the public conscious was Thatcher’s victory over the pipsqueak Argentinian military junta in the Falkland’s War two years earlier.

You didn’t have to like the woman, people said, but you had to admire her, especially after she was iconically pictured in triumphal white, riding imperiously in a tank turret, goggles on, a reborn Boudiccea and the epitome of British resolve.

So no-one cavilled when she fast-tracked the next stage of her economics revolution – privatisation of the nationalised industries. Gas, water, electricity and more were artfully flogged off, the bait being Joe Public could snatch ‘free’ shares in newly-formed conglomerates and we’d all become mini-capitalists.

Remember British Gas wooing punters with its slick ‘Tell Sid’ ad campaign, whose bottom-line message was ‘you can have shares in your own energy company’.

I recall thinking at the time, ‘If I already own it, why do I need shares in it?’, but nonetheless registered for my entitlement, grabbing a dollop and selling them – as most small investors did – a  few months later, as the market price rocketed.

ALL TANKED UP: Thatcher, fresh from victory in the 1982 Falklands War

ALL TANKED UP: Thatcher, fresh from victory in the 1982 Falklands War

That was all part of the ‘empowerment’ – that ghastly word again! – of the people and it came in tandem with the Big Bang of 1986, when Thatcher deregulated The City, taking the shackles off genteel trading, and spawning a new generation of get-rich-quick wheeler dealers.

The bowler hat and brolly brigade were replaced by brash, crafty, sharp operators. Cut-crystal accents gave way to Cockney twang, spewed by wide boys in garish red braces, a la Gordon Gekko. Moolah was the only totem and amorality ruled.

One of this ilk told me at the time, ‘It’s just like shootin’ fish in a bloomin’ barrel’. Only he neglected to add we, Joe Public, were the prey.

Unsurprisingly, it spawned a tsunami of iffy ruses, which the financial services alchemists are still inventing to this day for all I know. Because Thatcher and every UK government since never countered with a City watchdog wise and vigilant enough to nip such flagrant misselling in the bud.

Thatcher had two more tricks up her blouse’s sleeve, too, that were undone by the ticking clock of future reality, the first being council house sales.

Based on her premise that a home-owning democracy would not only put money in the hoi-polloi’s pockets, it would induce a sense of responsibility in working class renters, she ordered councils to sell off their housing stocks to any tenant who wanted their own home.

It helped fuel the house-price boom of the Nineties and Noughties…and today’s dilemma –manifested by Chancellor Osborne’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ – whereby the nation’s stock of public housing dwindled to comparatively zilch.

However, it was the final card Thatcher played that lost her the game: the Poll Tax.

Abolishing the hated local authority rates system, based on a notional value of a property, seemed a good idea when the Tories flagged it in their 1987 election manifesto. The problem was Thatcher didn’t say what she’d replace it with to provide councils with the revenue they needed.

So when the reviled Poll Tax was introduced in 1989, using Scotland as a test bed, its fault lines were exposed. This would be a punitive tax on bigger families, since each member of a household suddenly faced a surcharge, and it would hit the poor far harder than the rich.

Ergo, what didn’t work for John of Gaunt in the 14th Century, much less for Charles II in 1660 and William and Mary nine years later, had as much chance of doing Thatcher’s government an iota of good as a chocolate fire-guard.

Naturally, the people rebelled. Poll Tax riots exploded in Scotland, 200,00 shouted their disapproval in Trafalgar Square and so many refused to pay the despised tax, it was judged too expensive and counter-productive to prosecute them.

The Iron Lady was not for turning – her catchphrase, ‘There is no alternative’ had morphed into the acronym TINA – but the Tories, scenting defeat at the 1992 General Election, were and Thatcher’s days were done.

Rather like Marie Antoinette being trundled to the guillotine in a tumbril during the French Revolution, the woman who had radicalised, revolutionised and regalvanised what had become known as the Nasty Party, departed Downing Street, politically isolated and abject.

Never in the 20th Century had Britain been ruled by such a divisive leader – a heroine to some, a hated martinet to others – but, whatever he failings, she bequeathed a remarkable legacy…socially, economically and politically.

Back in the late 1970s, she and her coterie of likeminded radicals recognised Britain was only going south, as the power-mad, strike-happy unions held the rust-bucket economy to ransom.

MIRROR IMAGE: The Daily Mirror's verdict on Margaret Thatcher, after her death on Monday

MIRROR IMAGE: The Daily Mirror’s verdict on Margaret Thatcher, after her death on Monday

To halt the tailspin would require new thinking, resolve and conviction, all of which Thatcher had in abundance. Whether the nation would elected its first woman Prime Minister was a gamble, but here was one with more cojones than most men.

There were times – like the Falklands conflict – were she displayed a rare, feminine fragility; there were others – such as how she handbagged the EU into financial concessions – when her gutsiness was inspirational.

She was, incidentally, pro-European, but detested the Brussels Eurocrats pernickety interference in a sovereign state’s internal management.

Thatcher was also an astute player on the international stage, forging stronger commercial and strategic bonds with Ronnie Reagan’s USA and playing no small part in toppling the white supremacist apartheid regime in South Africa.

Though she opposed sanctions, her back-channel diplomacy did more than most to free Nelson Mandela and convince F.W. De Klerk, the then newly-elected president, only a rainbow nation could flourish. Significantly, Mandela and De Klerk were awarded Nobel Peace Prizes and both have been fulsome in their praise of Thatcher.

There is much more she accomplished without fanfare but, like all political leaders, she had a limited shelf-life, in her case 11 years.

Despite the misjudgements and policy failures every statesman – and stateswoman – is culpable of, probably Thatcher’s greatest achievement was getting Britain to believe in itself once again.

And for that I give thanks and I’ll mourn her passing.