Tuesday, 11 August 2009

To hell in a correctly-registered, roadworthy handcart

For some reason, I always find the shorter pieces at the end of Richard Littlejohn columns the more interesting. Perhaps it's because in his main pieces, the torrent of bile unleashed is so strong that it's exhausting to read. This is certainly the case in today's Are you sitting comfortably? Let's go tarmacking with Teabag, Tess and Toby, the centrepiece of which is a toweringly obnoxious rant which does little except allow Littlejohn a platform to run down a list of classic gypsy stereotypes. I'd go through it, but I can't actually stand to read any of it again. Plus if I scroll back to the top of the page I'll have to see that picture of him with his self-satisfied smirk; a shit-eating grin that would infuse his subsequent writings with insufferable pomposity even if the words themselves didn't, and even if you hadn't heard him talk.

His shorter sections interest me more, because it's there where he'll toss out his twice-weekly exercises in eye-rolling, picking some apparently absurd decision by an authority figure and wondering aloud why no-one else in the world seems to share the straight-up, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned common sense he and his like-minded readers have. 'Common sense' usually being synonymous with 'having a woefully underinformed grasp of a situation but spouting off about it anyway'. I always think of Littlejohn as being the type of person that's seen a few hack stand-up comics and came away genuinely baffled as to why Boeing don't make planes out of the same material black boxes are made out of.

Like those rubbish comedians though, I do sometimes wonder if Littlejohn's actually aware that the apparent absurdity he's pointing out actually has an explanation or not, whether he's deliberately sacrificing accuracy for the sake of his material or if he's actually that stupid. In his second section today, he complains tediously that Mandelson is somehow stand-in Prime Minister despite not having been elected in a weird 'What's THAT all about?!?!' kind of way, to which the obvious answer is that Prime Ministers, let alone caretaker ones, are not and have never been directly elected, and that Gordon Brown could pretty much have appointed a particularly foul-mouthed parrot to take his place if he'd so wished.

The bit of today's column that intrigued me most, though, is another of his world-gone-mad musings based around an apparently ridiculous real-life event. I'll quote it in full so you can see how Littlejohn portrays the totality of the evidence:
There was much rejoicing in North Wales when the Mad Mullah retired. The celebrations seem to have been premature.

Carl Myers was riding his motorbike on the A496 near Bontddu when he was passed by a police car and ambulance, sirens blaring and blue lights flashing, heading in the opposite direction.

He later discovered they were on their way to an emergency 12 miles away in which a three-year-old girl and her father died after falling 50 feet down a ravine.

So Carl was surprised to be pulled over by the same police car a little while later. The driver had turned round after spotting that Carl's bike had a non-regulation number plate.

He was given a £60 fixed penalty ticket because his plate was 80mm too short.
Nice to know that nicking a motorcyclist is deemed a higher priority than attending a life-and-death emergency.

A spokesman for North Wales Plod defended the decision, saying: 'Officers are tasked with specifically talking to motorcyclists - advising them of their vulnerability and enforcing any offences disclosed.'

The Mad Mullah may have gone, but the Traffic Taliban is still very much in business.
The first thing that seemed odd about that was Littlejohn's use of the new-fangled metric system. "80mm? What on earth is that?", many of his readers probably cried. It sounds tiny, but it's actually 8cm, or "over 3 inches" in ye olde English (not sure what it is in cubits, sorry). Still doesn't sound much, but then according to the similarly outraged Motorcycle News, it's 80mm short of a 178mm minimum, making it not much over half the size it should be. That's pretty fucking small, and was no doubt noticeable because, as the MCN suggests, motorbike plates are meant to be on two lines, whereas this guy's numbers were crammed onto one. In any case, yer motorcyclist here is bang to rights and admits as much, so the officers were doing their job correctly. I know it sounds like a tedious offence compared to say, gunning down a classroom full of kids, but the regulations are there for a reason.

So what of the more interesting question, of the police piddling around power-tripping on some poor biker instead of saving lives? Littlejohn characterises the Police's defence by quoting a largely irrelevant part of their statement where they asserted that catching rule-breaking motorcyclists is something they should be doing. This makes them sound officious and cold, which they may indeed be, but a quick Google for the story brings up via a local paper the vastly more important part of the statement, which Littlejohn presumably just didn't have space to include;
A police spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that at the time the motorcyclist was stopped we were dealing with a very serious incident in the Llanbedr area. That incident involved significant numbers of emergency personnel – including 13 police officers, plus the North Wales Police helicopter as well as officers coordinating the search from the force control room.

“At this time, other officers continued with their duties and an officer did stop a motorcyclist near Bontddu which is over 12 miles from the scene of the emergency incident. There were sufficient officers at the incident in Llanbedr and the force incident manager was able to ensure that sufficient resources were sent to the scene.”
Hmmm. So he was one of 13 officers (or possibly a 14th officer) being sent to the scene, which was also being attended by a helicopter team and at least one ambulance. What we can glean from this is that some officers were already there, and perhaps more importantly the helicopter, which would have been involved in the actual rescuing/life-saving part. Indeed, the apprehended biker himself suggested that by the time he was pulled over by these cops, the rescue process was already well underway:
"When I asked what it was he said: ‘Two persons missing in a ravine. We have air support attending the scene, hoping to lift them out.’”
It looks to me like what happened is that, being an emergency incident, the police sent every officer in the area to assist. The sensible thing to do in emergencies is to send every available officer, more than are strictly required, and see who gets there first. By the time the officer in question had spotted our motorcyclist friend, other officers, ambulances and choppers were already there trying to help. Nothing about that seems particularly unusual, does it?

I don't really understand why people choose to believe these extreme stories of jobsworthiness. Why would anyone believe, even for a second, that it was a simple case of an officer choosing to let a three-year-old child and her father die because he considers vehicle regulations more important? Because you'd have to ignore a lot of context to believe that, you'd have to want to believe it. I don't really understand the mindset, presumably it's comforting on some level to think everyone else has gone mad and you're one of the few sane ones left, but it sounds absolutely fucking terrifying to me. Can you imagine actually believing that Britain is really the way it sounds like it is in the Mail? The Apocalypse would come as a blessed relief.


  1. I think there is some appeal in being both righteous and powerless. Then however miserable your life is, whatever problems exist in the world, you know that (a) it's someone else's fault (and you've got a great array of people or groups to blame) and (b) you don't need to lift a finger, it'd be pointless if you did.

    That article about the gypsy book though, that is incitement to racial hatred, surely? I'm trying to work out the most effective way of lifting a finger about that.

  2. So you were able to read that colum? I saw the headline about the gypsies and in a fit of cowardice decided not to read it. I was at work at the time and I understand that throwing your computer monitor on the floor and jumping up and down on it, as would inevitably have happened, is a disciplinery issue.

  3. Well you could complain to the PCC about it, but that would be the equivalent of lifting your finger to scratch your arse.