Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Chelsea Post Office, situated on the corner of Sloane Square, is a regular meeting place for us pensioners as we draw our weekly pension, in cash. Sometimes the queue sneaks down the King's Road, but the long wait gives us the opportunity to catch up on local gossip and concerns. The 'persons' behind the grille are helpful and courteous, and we all know each other well. The government wants us to transfer our custom to Barclays, but if we had a problem it would involve an endless frustrating wait until 'customer services' respond from Bangalore or some equally puzzling conurbation.

There is always some incident in the queue to keep us entertained. Last week a delightful pensioner colleague bypassed the queue to weigh an envelope. A young man, seemingly of Asian extraction, shouted out, 'Get back in the queue. You bloody English, you think you own this country.' The old man replied, 'I do.' The outcome of this fracas is best not reported in a family journal.

Having drawn our pension we drift down the King's Road to the Chelsea Kitchen. Here a fully cooked English breakfast is available for £4. For lunch or dinner, with our pockets stuffed with cash from the Chelsea Post Office, we catch the 19 or 22 bus, armed with Mr Livingstone's bus pass, to eat frugally at the Beefsteak or Pratt's.

Until recently I rather favoured the big new aircraft carriers which are to be a symbol of Great Britain's new defence strategy. The strategy is called Expeditionary Warfare. Evidently the Joint Strike Fighter, the carriers' principal weapon system, is too heavy to lift from the carriers' deck, so I expect the project will suffer several years' delay and come in hugely over budget. This is par for the course; but then I read an enthusiastic speech by the First Sea Lord about this new defence strategy and I suddenly realised that where there is complete unanimity within the defence establishment about anything, it is bound to be wrong.

One day we will no longer have an evangelist as Prime Minister and the passion for neo-imperialist do-goodery joining with the Americans to bring democracy to Johnny Foreigner, pre-empting threats by taking war to the enemy as a subsidiary of the Pentagon - all of this will fall out of fashion. Someone will say that high-cost, high-technology warfare as a small reinforcement to the massive resources of the US is beyond our means; we should spend more on the police, the security services, the poor old British infantry and our reserve forces, not neglecting air defence and counter-mining to protect the passage of Trident. Instead, huge financial resources are to be sunk over a ten-year period into making us into a rather underequipped global policeman (P.C. Plod Inc.). If we go down this road I fear an accelerating financial and political nightmare. The problem is that ministers are not in charge; the defence establishment has taken over.

Brock is back. A year ago I discovered the earth from a newly dug badger sett blocking my farm lane. I did not wish to obstruct our lovely ramblers, so being a law-abiding citizen I applied for permission to shift the badger elsewhere. After filling in endless forms and receiving visits by advisers from Defra, I eventually received a set of pictorial instructions from the Wildlife Advisory Unit in Bristol (150 miles away). It showed me how to build a self-closing door on one hole while blocking up the others. …

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