Ridicule and Rage Rock Westminster
PERHAPS THE biggest Parliamentary scandal in history has flung British politics into tatters as scores of MPs are facing humiliation, prosecution and the end of their careers. Under abysmal Parliamentary rules, MPs are entitled to claim sundry expenses for second homes—thus allowing them residences in both London and in their constituencies. With no outside accountability, it has emerged that MPs of all parties have colluded to create a rich gravy train for themselves.
Following publication of claimed expenses in the Daily Telegraph this May, the taxpayers learned that they have been paying for massage chairs, home cinema systems, swimming pools, gardeners and a mind-boggling array of luxury goods and services for MPs. In several cases, MPs were claiming back mortgage payments for mortgages that did not exist. The public was not amused, nor was the Queen.
So far, the scandal has claimed the careers of the Justice Minister, the Speaker of the House and a gaggle of former front and backbenchers. Meantime, two Labour peers have been suspended from the House of Lords for being willing to change laws for cash. It’s the first such censure in the Lords since the 17th century. Stay tuned. It’s not over yet.
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For Sale: One Village
HERE IS A CHANCE to be lord of the manor, for real. Own your own bit of quintessential English life for only £25 million. The entire village of Linkenholt is on the market, complete with manor house, 22 residences, the local shop, a blacksmiths and the cricket club. Located between Newbury and Andover, the quiet village estate includes 1,500 acres of farmland and 450 acres of woodland. Eh, the 16th-century parish church of St. Peter stays in the hands of the Diocese of Winchester.
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And Just in Passing
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Comic Duo Honored in Ulverston
A larger-than-life bronze statue of Laurel and Hardy has been unveiled in Ulverston, Cumbria, where Stan Laurel was born on Argyll Street in 1890. There are also monuments to Laurel in Bishop Auckland and North Shields, places he lived as a boy.
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Catholic Church Names New Archbishop
The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, has been designated the new Archbishop of Westminster and primate of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. Retiring Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said he was pleased to pass the torch to a man so “competent, compassionate and experienced.”
And Just in Passing
Staffing Crisis in Curry Kitchens
Following a tightening of immigration rules last year, many Indian restaurants are struggling to find skilled chefs. A frustrated delegation of restaurateurs has met with government ministers challenging the government to establish an official new college of curry, with a qualification in Asian cuisine.
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A Royal Rescue for Rural Pubs
With all the commotion over the saddening demise of rural pubs, Prince Charles has stepped to the plate with a scheme called the Pub is the Hub. The plan is to help save pubs by enabling them to diversify by providing community services, doubling as shops, post offices, community kitchens, etc. More than 350 English pubs are taking part in the project.
Ironbridge Gorge Celebrates a 300th
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KNOWN AS the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Ironbridge Gorge has reason to celebrate. It was here in Coalbrookdale that Abraham Darby first successfully smelted iron with coke in 1709, the innovation that led to iron-making on a massive scale. The program of special events includes an exhibition of new archaeological research around the Old Furnace used by Darby and a free exhibition, “Coalbrookdale 300,” at Coalbrookdale Gallery running through January 2010.
First Women as Chelsea Pensioners
WINIFRED PHILLIPS, 82, and Dorothy Hughes, 85, became the first women welcomed into the Royal Hospital Chelsea in its 317-year history. The ladies, both with Army careers, join some 300 men at the home for war veterans without dependents. So far, their welcome has been warm and they have been well received by their fellow pensioners. Mrs. Hughes remarked: “This is fantastic. There are a lot of women staff around anyway, so you don’t feel isolated, and once you’ve been in the army, you don’t see them as men. They’re mates.”
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Tasty Chutney Championships
ENTRANTS FROM the Isles of Scilly to northern Scotland sent their chutneys to the UK Chutney Championships in Machynlleth this spring for sampling and a heady taste-off. The overall winner was a marrow and malt chutney from Aberdeenshire. Two awards went to Beth McPhee from Carno, Powys, for her blackberry and apple chutney. “I don‘t like chutney,” she said. “I just make it.” Like so many other rural crafts, judges are predicting an upsurge of interest in making the traditional country condiment.
Buckingham Palace, London
Congratulations, Your Grace
THE DUKE OF Edinburgh this spring became the longest serving royal consort in history, with more than 57 years at the side of the Queen (surpassing Queen Charlotte, wife of George III). At 88, the royal hubbie still drives a carriage and carries out more than 300 official engagements a year.
The Queen’s tribute to Prince Philip at their golden wedding anniversary made clear their relationship has been both a personal and public success. “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments,” she said. “He has been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.”
All agree, it is a tribute Prince Philip well-deserves.
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And Just in Passing
South Downs Given National Park Status
Almost 60 years after its first recommendation, the South Downs, covering parts of Hampshire and Sussex, has been designated a national park. The newly protected area covers a swath of countryside stretching from Winchester to Eastbourne, The area becomes Britain’s ninth national park, and the first to be so designated since the New Forest in 2005.
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Harnessing the North Sea Wind
Foundations have been driven into the sea bed at Gunfleet Sands off the Essex coast near Clacton for a 48-turbine wind farm. The £420 million project, four and a half miles off-shore, is expected to be completed next year and provide 20 per cent of Essex’s electricity needs.
Touting Beautiful, Downtown Deptford?
British media have had no end of fun taking the mickey out of the New York Times after their travel section promoted Deptford as a “hip” and “trendy” place to see in London. The humble corner of southeast London features boardedup shops and the highest crime rate in the city. Even residents of Deptford were bemused.
And Just in Passing
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Susan’s Got Talent
Susan Boyle blew away both the judges and the public with her performance on Britain’s Got Talent. The simple 47-year-old caregiver from Blackburn, West Lothian, who still lives in the family council flat, became the classic overnight sensation for her rendering of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.
Keeping Up with the Joneses?
Smith and Jones remain the most common British surnames, but new research from King’s College, London, shows that Asian names such as Singh and Patel are rapidly catching up. The fastest growing surname is Zhang, its popularity having risen by 4,718 percent in that last 13 years. For now, however, the top 10 surnames include Williams, Brown, Taylor, Davies, Wilson, Evans, Thomas and Johnson.
Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire
Ooops, it’s a Pasty War
A BIT OF A ROW erupted between counties at the British Pie Awards. In the category of best Cornish pasty, judges in the blind taste-test awarded the accolade to Chunk of Devon. The Cornish Pasty Association (CPA) launched an appeal, claiming that only pasties made in Cornwall could claim the name. Judges declined to change their decision, but competition organizers admitted that perhaps they had been negligent in not specifying that qualifying pasties should come from Cornwall. The CPA has applied to the EU to be awarded Protected Geographic Indication, in order to protect the quality and reputation of the Cornish pasty. Meanwhile, cooks everywhere continue to bake Yorkshire puddings unchallenged.
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Pub Finds the Golden Loophole
MANY ENGLISH pubs have been struggling since the blanket anti-smoking regulation forced smokers outdoors. One enterprising landlady in Barnsley, however, has seen a quadrupling of custom recently. One of her regulars uncovered a “legal loophole” in the law. The Cutting Edge is now a “smoking research centre.” After filling out a research questionnaire on their smoking habits, and contributing 50p to a charity box for cancer research, customers are allowed to smoke in the room —and enjoy their pint.
Consternated authorities both locally and in Whitehall have been thrown into confusion. Other pubs are soon expected to introduce such research centers, but the betting money is that the Government will move expeditiously to close the loophole.
Woman Delivers Great-granddaughter
MARGARET JONES midwifery skills were a bit rusty; though she delivered more than 1,000 babies in her career, she hadn’t used her midwife training since 1954. When her granddaughter living next door went into labor, though, she said: “It got to the point where I realized my services might be required. I thought to myself ‘Maggie, it’s time to wash your hands and don your overalls.’” Mother and baby are doing fine. The 90-year old great-grandmom went home for a cup of tea with a belt of whisky.
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Duffy Chosen New Poet Laureate
THE FIRST POET Laureate of the 21st-century is also the first ever female appointed to the ceremonial post. Glasgowborn Carol Ann Duffy has been picked as the successor to Andrew Motion for the post originally held by John Dryden in 1668. Although initially reluctant to accept the position, she determined to relent in recognition of all great women poets now writing. With the formal remit to versify on major state occasions and the Royal Family, Duffy noted that poetry and the monarchy shared a “midas touch, in the power to transform daily life into something magical.”
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FOR THE RECORD
“The Best Job in the World”
An ostrich-riding charity fundraiser from Petersfield, Hants, Ben Southall won the competition for a six-month position as caretaker on Hamilton Island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In addition to a beach house, swimming pool and golf cart, Southall’s salary is &doller;110,000. His responsibilities include exploring the islands, snorkeling, swimming, making friends with the locals and reporting back to Tourism Queensland on his adventures with blogs, a photo diary and interviews. There were more than 34,000 applicants for the job.
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