Thursday, 24 April 2008

Three Strikes We're Out

The whole of Britain ground to a halt on Thursday as the entire country followed the lead set by teachers, lecturers, oil refinery workers and civil servants and went on strike.

All members of the public stayed in bed to protest about wages left behind by rising prices, unsettled weather conditions and their heavy-handed, out-of-touch government.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown attended a news conference in an empty room, except for a non-union blackleg scab reporter from the Nev Filter. However, after discovering that the reporter didn’t know who he was, the Prime Minister walked out in a huff.

No Train, No Gain

Train fares are to be simplified down to just three ticket types over the coming months, according to an announcement by the Association of Train Operating Companies - which claimed the move was a response to passenger feedback.

From 7th September all pre-booked tickets bought in advance will be known as Rarities, while from 18th May walk-on fares purchased on the day will be reduced to two just two categories – Eye-Watering and Hi I’m Tony.

A rail industry spokesman said such hangovers from the days of steam such as the Cheap Day Return were no longer appropriate to Britain’s modern-day rail network.

“Train companies really don’t understand the old-fashioned concept of ‘cheap’,” he said, “It implies that we are offering some kind of third-rate rubbish service, when in fact third-rate is something we can only aspire to. And there’s no point calling it a Return, because after they’ve been through a 21st-century rail experience, we find a lot of customers don’t.”

The Eye-Watering ticket will be available to all passengers. However, for those who want to travel unhindered by any restrictions there is the new Hi I’m Tony ticket, which enables the holder to travel free of charge anywhere, at any time, if he happens to be the former Prime Minister.

Silly Fuel

The United Nations has been forced to suspend its food distribution programme in the Gaza Strip, claiming that Israeli sanctions have led to a chronic fuel shortage.

“In the rest of the world, food is in short supply because crops are being grown for fuel,” said a UN representative. “Here in Gaza, however, we have an abundance of food – enough to feed 650,000 refugees, in fact – but no fuel. We’re thinking of putting our food stockpile through a smoothie-maker and running the trucks on it before it rots - but then, unfortunately, we’d have no relief supplies to distribute.”

A spokesman for the Israeli government said a million litres of fuel was waiting for collection at the Nahal Oz oil terminal, but Gaza distributors - supported by Hamas - have refused to collect it in protest at the sanctions, which were imposed following two Hamas attacks on the border terminal.

“Basically, the situation is this,” said a hungry Palestinian refugee. “There is plenty of fuel waiting to be used and plenty of food waiting to be eaten - yet I’m still starving. Welcome to the Middle East. Perhaps when your marvellous Mr Blair has finished his free tour of Britain’s railways, he’ll get back to sorting this place out.”

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

To Those Who Have, More Shall Be Given

Tony Blair has got off scot-free after being caught on a train without a ticket, it emerged yesterday.

The former prime minister - who has made half a million pounds on the public speaking circuit since leaving office in addition to several multi-million-dollar deals with JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services - suffered an inexplicable lapse of memory with regard to the existence of bank and credit cards, and claimed he had no cash on him to pay the £24.50 fare to Heathrow Airport.

In a similarly unfeasible lapse, the ticket inspector forgot the existence of standard regulations requiring him to take the offender’s name and address and invoice them for the full fare with the threat of legal action for failure to pay. Piling woe upon woe, the stricken employee also lost all recollection of the British Transport Police, and could see no alternative but to allow the grinning Blair to travel free of charge.

Asked whether the hapless guard would be making the loss up to his employers from his desultory wages, the train operators refused to comment. Mr Blair’s employers in the world of international finance, however, pointed out that it would be entirely in keeping with the Britain he has created for the low-paid to subsidise the freeloading rich.

“That’s our boy,” smiled one Bollinger-swilling futures manager. “Watch and learn, schmucks.”

To Those Who Have Not, Compliments Shall Be Given

Researchers at the Japanese National Institute for Physiological Sciences have discovered that paying people compliments has the same effect on their brains as paying them money.

"We found that these seemingly different kinds of rewards - a good reputation versus money - are biologically coded by the same neural structure," said Dr. Norihiro Sadato. "This provides the biological basis of our everyday experience that personal reputation is felt as rewards."

The experiments featured one group of people playing cards for cash, while others made videos and filled out questionnaires about themselves and were told they were being evaluated positively by strangers.

Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology, the researchers found the brain’s reward centre showed increased levels of activity when people were praised or won money. A study led by Caroline Zink of the National Institute of Mental Health, published in the same journal, Neuron, found that the same region was stimulated when people processed information about social status. Together, the reports may offer some explanation of complex social behaviour such as altruism and social standing.

The British government and the CBI have said the findings were very interesting, and are looking at ways of replacing the national minimum wage with a sliding scale of compliments, ranging from “You the daddy” for cleaning toilets, via “Like the tattoo” for classroom assistants, to “Nice arse” for stacking shelves in Sainsbury’s.

Suggestions that massive severance bonuses for executives whose mismanagement wiped billions off their companies’ share value might be replaced by “Awesome, man – way to go!” were rejected out of hand by government ministers and business leaders alike.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

France, China On Brink of War

China has reacted angrily to the decision by Paris city councillors to award the freedom of the French capital to the Dalai Lama.

"The fact that this moment the Paris city council decides to make the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen can only be seen as a serious challenge to 1.3 billion Chinese," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu. "China requires that France immediately take effective steps to remove the severely negative impact of its erroneous action."

The Chinese armed forces are reportedly on standby flights ready to invade Paris-Orly Airport, while France has put its Terrible submarine on a low loader and sent it in search of the fabled Silk Road.

Chinese protesters have been demonstrating against France since the Olympic flame met with angry protests as it passed through the streets of Paris, holding anti-French rallies and targeting supermarket Carrefour’s Chinese outlets.

Carrefour has released a statement denying that it supported Tibetan independence claims. “Freedom? Justice? We’re a supermarket,” it said. “Special this week: three highly-combustible French flags for the price of two!!”

The Dalai Lama, meanwhile, remains serenely unperturbed by the degenerating state of Sino-French affairs as he is in India, some way away from the forthcoming conflagration.

Charming, Darling

As Labour’s backbench rebellion over the 10p tax rate shows no signs of abating, Alistair Darling has launched a charm offensive to win over 39 dissenting MPs.

“I recognise the concerns of my colleagues,” said the chancellor, “And despite what I said earlier about not rewriting the budget, a quick calculation on the back of an envelope tells me that if I don’t calm them down fast, the Finance Bill might not get through the its third reading. So let me say that I am firmly committed to doing something before the financial year ends. The precise details do not matter at this point, or indeed ever. What is vitally important is that my charm offensive saves the government from a humiliating defeat at the hands of its own backbenchers.”

When challenged on exactly what was meant by a ‘charm offensive’, Mr Darling scratched his head for a few moments, then suggested that the treasury could sell – “at cost” – a selection of lucky rabbit’s feet, which would “almost certainly” guarantee a National Lottery jackpot payout to all poor people, with the happy result that the 10p tax issue would no longer bother them.

“And if that isn’t offensive,” added the sweating chancellor, “I don’t know what else to suggest.”

Brown Solves World Hunger

Gordon Brown is demanding international action to reduce food prices, which are now at their highest level since 1945.

“The World Health Organisation now views hunger as the number one threat to public health across the world, responsible for a third of child deaths and 10% of all disease," said the Prime Minister on the Downing Street website, adding that Britain is to provide £30m to help the estimated 840 million people suffering from chronic hunger.

“Thank you, Mr Brown,” said a starving Haitian we interviewed as he lay dying in a back street. “This gift of almost four pence will guarantee a long and happy life to each of my hideously-malnourished children.”

“Job done,” beamed the prime minister. “Vote Labour.”

Monday, 21 April 2008

We Blew The Lot On The Houses

The currency markets have reacted badly to the Bank of England’s offer of £50bn-worth of loans to the crippled UK banking sector, in the form of government bonds offered in exchange for risky mortgage debts.

“Basically, we got ourselves into right old two an’ eight on the houses,” admitted one investment banker, Honest Bob. “We gets this red-hot tip off of these Yanks to take a gander at this outsider called Sub Prime, see? Said she was a frisky new filly, fresh out of their stables, and we couldn’t lose. So me and the lads raided the Christmas box, took everyone’s readies down the bookies and banged the lot on Sub Prime at 1000 to 1. Turns out the old nag dropped at the first fence, had to be shot by the vet and was last seen being carted off to the glue factory. Wot a sickener! So we went cap in hand to the bank manager an’ give it to ‘im straight, sayin’ look we’re skint, we blew everyone’s cash an’ wot’s ‘e gonna do about it? So ‘e offers us fifty billion smackers of government bonds and tells us not to go near no bookies with it. As if! What good’s a government bond? That lot’s even shakier than we are.”

Eye've Been Here Before

Surgeons at Moorfields Eye Hospital have successfully implanted bionic devices in the retinas of two patients blinded by hereditary retinal disease.

A tiny camera mounted in a pair of glasses transmits a signal to an ultra-thin electrode implanted in the patient’s retina, allowing them to see spots of light and distinguish light and dark shapes.

Pioneering surgeon Lyndon da Cruz denied rumours that the patients were now undergoing extensive martial arts training after being recruited for a shadowy private foundation dedicated to fighting distinctly-shaped terrorists. He also said there was no truth whatsoever in allegations that the patients were being plagued by an elusive former test subject who had gone rogue and murdered his entire surgical team.

The press briefing was then cut short by loud alarms, followed by a hasty evacuation by heavily-armed but visibly nervous SWAT teams.

Afghans v. Predator

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has criticised the US Air Force over its tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling students at the Air Force university in Alabama that asking for extra support was “like pulling teeth”.

The Pentagon chief accused the military of being “stuck in old ways of doing business.”

“I’ve been wrestling for months to get Predator reconnaisance drones into the theatre,” he said. “The US Air Force tells me that a tightly-flown formation of B-17s will always get through and can put a bomb in a pickle-barrel from 20,000 feet, and that the only way to win the war on terror is to pound the Taleban’s ball-bearing factories in Germany and to nuke Japan. But I’ve seen the movies, and those Predator guys with the dreadlocks are damn near unstoppable. They can wipe the floor with aliens, and they even gave Arnold Schwarzenegger a hard time. Now, our intelligence tells us that Osama Bin Laden almost certainly isn’t an acid-dripping, chest-bursting alien, and we’ve got Arnie on our side right here in California - so I reckon that puts us in a win-win scenario.”

Sunday, 20 April 2008

What Can You Get For 10p Nowadays? Stuffed at the Polls

Chancellor Alistair Darling has ruled out reinstating the 10p tax rate for low earners, saying it would be “totally irresponsible” to rewrite the Budget. He claimed he’d already had to rewrite once after his business friends complained about corporation tax, and now his pencil had worn down to a stub.

Speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show, the Chancellor denied that the 10p rate row was Labour’s ‘poll tax moment’.

“It’s a completely different kettle of fish,” he said. “People power brought down the poll tax through a successful campaign of refusing to pay. However, thanks to PAYE, they have no option but to pay tax – at least, not those peasants who can’t afford the services of a good accountant.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Miliband One warned the Labour Party that squabbling over the tax issue was risking electoral defeat in the imminent local government elections.

“This transcends right or wrong,” he said. “I ask the Labour Party: what, ultimately, is more important – social justice, fair play and showing some basic decency to those trapped in poverty at the bottom of the heap, or allowing Gordon Brown to cling to the illusion of popular support? A fairly simple choice, I think.”

Gordon Brown, for ten years hailed as the cleverest financial genius in the universe, is said to believe that the row has been exaggerated by the media.

“Middle-class journalists like Nev of the Nev Filter, quaffing champagne in his well-appointed council penthouse and wondering how best to invest his £7-an-hour temping wages, find it all too easy to fabricate silly stories about people earning less than £18,000 a year being worse off,” said the Prime Minister. “He really has no idea how the other half live. But I watched Mary Poppins the other day, so I know that working-class people are lovable, cheeky ragamuffins, singing and dancing all the live-long day without the slightest care in the world.”

Charles-Hating Monarchists Ponder Possibility of Queen Anne

The Solicitor General, Vera Baird, is looking to use equal opportunities laws to supercede the rule - set out in the 1701 Act of Settlement - that the throne may only pass to a royal daughter if the monarch has no male heirs.

The current regulations were “unfair” and “a load of rubbish”, she said, adding that “the ban on Catholics should be abolished, too, because that is discriminatory.”

When asked whether restricting the succession exclusively to members of one particular family might not also be considered to be somewhat discriminatory, Ms Baird was, however, strangely silent.

Enormous Chopper Lands Wills In Trouble

The Ministry of Defence has issued a statement defending the decision to allow Prince William to land his Chinook heavy transport helicopter next to the home of his girlfriend’s family.

Officials said the prince touched down for 20 seconds in the Middletons’ field as part of a 100-mile training exercise, citing a shortage of suitable landing spots in Berkshire.

“Basically, there just isn’t another field in the home counties that isn’t owned by Tesco and earmarked for a superstore,” said a spokesman.

Prince William was awarded his wings in April, after completing in three months the training would take any other RAF pilot four years, making him the most incredibly gifted natural flier the world has ever seen.