Chapter 76 In which it becomes clear just how impartial the Westphalia Express really is


Chapter 74 In which the dodgy planning process is rumbled

For some time now a planning racket had been operating on the Cote de Westphalia which wouldn't have looked out of place in Chicago in the 1920s. It went something like this: various prime plots of land were advertised as available for development. When the developers were attracted by the smell of money and made enquiries about what could reasonably be built on the sites in question, the answer was something along the lines of 'don't worry about that, we'll see everything gets through the planning process - just leave it to us'. The phrase was often accompanied by a nod and a wink. Of course, the planning process was supposed to be completely impartial, and members of the planning committee were supposed to make up their own minds about each proposal that was put before them, but on the Cote de Westphalia the Conservative administration preferred not to leave things to chance, and so a slightly different system had been adopted. Their system ran something like this: the Conservative majority on the planning committee had to toe the party line and pass everything that was put under their noses, no matter how high, how wide or how ugly. If anyone stepped out of line and tried to question this approach the Party enforcer would have a quiet word in their shell-like. If this failed to have the desired effect, they were off the planning committee before they could say 'Ahmad Hatter', and replaced by someone who was a little more 'in tune' with party policy.

This policy worked very well, and many developers were seen rubbing their hands together as they left planning meetings, knowing that their early retirement had been assured, thanks to the benevolence of the local Tories. Now back in the 19th century Lord Acton observed that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and this certainly seemed to be the case on the Cote de Westphalia. People seemed unable or unwilling to stop the Mayor and his cohorts from systematically selling off bits of this beautiful coastline, and one dodgy planning decision was quickly followed by another. It looked like the Mayor would only stop when the last tree had been felled and the last blade of grass had been suffocated by tarmac, but then he made the fatal mistake which all powerful leaders tend to make from time to time - he became complacent. From his seemingly unassailable postition he outlined more and more outrageous plans for development, until the people finally said 'Enough!' When Dr Pangloss prepared to give away a plot of public land with stunning sea views for development they turned out in their hundreds for a public meeting to let him know in no uncertain terms that this would not be a popular decision. When he finally escaped from the meeting he vowed never to put himself through that again, so shaken was he by the experience.

The day after the public meeting Pangloss was still in shock. His friends down at the Westphalia Express did their best to put a positive spin on it, trying as they did to focus on the fact that it was terribly rude and uncouth to expect a well-paid public servant to answer a few simple questions, especially if they were uttered in a Devonshire accent. Pangloss hoped that all this fuss would blow over if he laid low for a while, but this seemed to be a problem that was beginning to follow him around. Five weeks later there were still people writing to the newspapers, starting Facebook campaigns and calling radio phone-ins about the subject. With every letter, article or email he read on the subject Pangloss felt a little of his power slipping away. As it turned out, however, the worst was yet to come ...

Chapter 73 In which Pangloss considers the signs ...

After his recent defeat in the ballot to see who would be the next Tory MP for Toadness (you may remember, readers, that the seat became available when the incumbent, Tarquin Pompous-Duffer, committed one of those dreadful accounting oversights that we are all prone to from time to time and accidentally charged the taxpayer eighty-odd grand for a spot of gardening) Dr Pangloss was perusing the pages of a few back copies of the Westphalia Express, looking for inspiration about what to do next. The newspaper had been his staunchest supporter, had followed him through thick and thin, and had always been there with a kind message of support even when 99% of the local population thought he was a complete twat, so Panloss felt that the answer he so desperately sought might be buried somewhere within its pages. 'NOW BUGGER OFF YOU LOSER' screamed one headline. 'JESUS CHRIST, ARE YOU STILL HERE?' said another in an unnecessarily large font. 'Hmm,' thought Pangloss to himself. 'The headlines are just there to catch people's attention, but I wonder what the editorial says? That should give me a real clue.' He opened the paper and scanned the page. These words caught his eye: ... so we unreservedly apologize to all our readers for suggesting that this man might have been able to run our beloved bay, and we have put up a reward for anyone who can raise a posse and run him out of town by sunrise ...'. Pangloss closed and folded the newspaper and said to his cat 'Goodness Chairman Miaow, it's so difficult to read the situation. I'm getting all these conflicting messages...' Just then The Clash started blaring from PalmTree FM, the local radio station: "Should I stay or should I go now ... If I stay there will be trouble ..."
'What is a man to do?' continued Pangloss, still addressing the cat. At that moment there was a loud knock and the door swung open. An ebullient Charlie Windsor stood in the doorway.
"Pangloss, old chum," he began.
"Oh, hullo, Charlie," stuttered Pangloss. "What do you want?"
"Nothing really - just popped by to gloat. I hear you came last."
"Third," corrected Pangloss. "I came third."
"Yes, out of three."
"It's still third. If it had been the Olympics I'd have got a medal."
"Whatever," replied Charlie. "Have you written your resignation speech yet?"
"Resignation speech? What makes you think I should resign?" asked Pangloss.
"Well, how about the online poll in the Westphalia Express for a start? 83% of the people think you should resign."
"But where would I go?" protested Pangloss.
"I don't know. Anywhere. I hear South Africa's nice at this time of year."
"Hang on," interupted Pangloss. "Eighty-three per cent? You mean 17% think I shouldn't resign? Well, with that level of support behind me I shall definitely carry on. I wouldn't want to let those 17% down. And there's always this." Pangloss waved a white piece of paper in the air.
"What's that?" asked Charlie, "A letter from Hitler?"
"No, it's my payslip. Four grand into my account every month, no questions asked."
"I see what you mean," said Charlie, the envy all too evident in his intonation. "Hopefully I'll soon have one of those myself, when we finally get rid of that irksome oik Localbloke. Well, if you're going to stick around for the cash you'd better not queer the pitch for me. You're all washed up now, you're a lame duck, as dead as a dodo, yesterday's news, tomorrow's chip paper ..."
"Yes, I get the message," said Pangloss.
"What I'm saying is I'm the new kid on the block now. People need to get positive and follow a new messiah."
"Well, if you're going to make a splash locally you'd better start expressing your opinion on local issues," said Pangloss.
"Why would I want to do that?" asked Charlie. "I won't be here, will I? I'll be shooting off home. No, all I'm interested in is reminding everyone on the electoral register that voting for Localbloke is exactly the same as asking the Taliban to come round and stone you're mother to death because she burnt your toast."
"Yes, I see. That's quite a cunning plan, isn't it? Well, I still think you'd better feign a bit of interest in local affairs, at least," advised Pangloss. "What do you think of this new development proposal for example?" Pangloss pushed the newspaper towards Charlie, open at the page which contained a sketch illustrating how tall the new development near the harbour would be. Charlie studied the picture for a moment and then said "Is that an ordinary-sized gorilla?"
"I think so," said Pangloss.
"Well, in that case it all looks fine to me."
"Well I'm glad we see eye to eye on something," said Pangloss, smiling. "That's exactly what I thought."


After a period of rather prolonged silence some readers have been speculating that we have shuffled off this mortal coil, possibly through succumbing to swine flu. We can in fact reassure everyone that while swine flu may have affected the rest of the UK, down here in Westphalia-on-Sea we are made of stronger stuff, and don't panic about every non-story we read about in the papers - we are very much alive and kicking. The truth is simply that we have been busy launching a campaign to tackle some of the dodgy goings-on here, and it all takes time - there are websites to set up, leaflets to print and deliver, press releases to issue, etc., and sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day. We will be posting more tales from Toadness very soon, but for the moment we would ask all our readers to support the PhaliaFuture campaign, which you may have read about in the Westphalia Express.

Chapter 72 In which we hear how one MP made up his own rules over expenses

Down in Toadness, which is about 10 miles from Westphalia-on-Sea, nothing much happens most of the time. The locals wear sandals and multicoloured jumpers, and spend their time knitting their own yoghurt and generally being nice to one another. The overall tranquility of the place, however, had been shattered by the revelation in the Daily Torygraph that their local MP, Tarquin Pompous-Duffer had been making some rather large claims on his expenses. It appeared that he claimed that his enormous country mansion was, in fact, his second home, and that his main home was his rented flat in London. Because his enormous country mansion was clearly, obviously and irrefutably his second home, he claimed for its upkeep. And, of course, all the land that went with his enormous country mansion needed upkeeping as well, as did all the trees on that land. Now Tarquin Pompous-Duffer was a well-educated former barrister, so he had a keen legal mind. However, despite this obvious intelligence he often had great problems distinguishing between right and wrong, particularly when it was time to submit his expenses. This struck some people as rather odd, but apparently it's quite common among (a) members of the legal profession and (b) the wealthy. When a local journalist asked him if he expected to have to pay back any expenses under a strict new regime imposed by his party leader David Cameron in a crackdown on 'inappropriate' claims he said: "No I don't." Five days later he said he "got it wrong" and was prepared to pay back to the taxpayer around 10 per cent of the £87,729 he claimed for the upkeep of the house, which the Daily Torygraph estimated was now worth around £1.5 million. "Until the Torygraph began printing details of the claims made by MPs, none of us knew what the rules were", he said. "I set my own rules and my rules were the maintenance of the property. If there was a rule saying you cannot claim for anything to do with trees or gardening, I would not have put it in. I can't be expected to work out what's right and what's wrong all the time," he added, "I'm a busy man. People should thank me for making up some rules of my own."
It appears that Mr Pompous-Duffer was incorrect about the absence of rules. In fact the rule book quite clearly states that 'It is your responsibility to satisfy yourself when you submit a claim ...that any expenditure claimed from the allowances has been wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the purpose of performing your Parliamentary duties'.
Asked if his ability to do his job depended on having the trees, Mr Pompous-Duffer replied: "Of course it does. Trees take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, and that's what I breathe. If those trees weren't there I'd be dead, and so would many of my constituents, so I'm doing everyone a service." He added: "The travel allowance I have is appalling. I am only entitled 15 return journeys to see my wife. The rest comes out of my pocket. The rate of divorce is high in the House of Commons because of this. Members don't see their wives and husbands. Being an MP isn't an attractive prospect. I personally spend a four-figure sum each year in order to see my wife and family. I shouldn't be put in that position, I feel. Being an MP has its benefits and sacrifices."
Up until this point the residents of Toadness were quite heartily sick of the old twerp, but once he had pointed out the hardships he went through to represent them in Parliament their icy hearts began to thaw a little. 'My God, what suffering he has endured', they thought. 'This poor man has had to pay for his train fare or petrol to get from his tiny little first home to his enormous country mansion of a second home. We have been too quick to judge him.' And with that there was an eerie moment where the whole population of Toadness were mentally connected by the power of their crystals, and collectively ran out into the street wailing and begging for forgiveness from the ancient woodland gods for the way they had judged this man. 'How can we make amends?' they cried.
And then one among them suggested they should have a whip round, which would pay for his next few train journeys in first class. They all agreed this was a marvellous idea. They took a bucket with them down the High Street, and local people began throwing money at them to alleviate their guilt. Pensioners vowed to turn off their heating and wear an extra cardigan so they could donate the saving on gas and electric to their hard-up MP. Working people promised to walk to work and send him their petrol money, and the unemployed said they would rather have their house repossessed and live in a cardboard box than see their MP suffer in this way. Parents encouraged their children to donate their pocket money to this worthy cause, and very soon the bucket was brimming over with cash. The locals took turns to carry and drag the rather heavy bucket of cash the several miles to his second home (lucky they didn't have to take it all the way to London to his first home!). They went up the impressive driveway and marvelled at the well kept trees and shrubbery, safe in the knowledge that they had done a good deed and that Mr Pompous-Duffer would be pleased to see them. However, when he came to the door he was anything but happy. "I'll probably lose my seat over this!" he thundered, then he added: "You lot should be round at the tradesmen's entrance - get off my doorstep, you look like you haven't had a wash for a week!" His anger was still rising, and he finally snapped, and told them all to get off his land. As they turned and dejectedly started dragging the bucket back down the path, he shouted: "Well, leave the bloody bucket! There's no point dragging it all the way back again, is there?"

Chapter 71 In which it is proved beyond any reasonable doubt that miracles can happen

It was around this time that Bernadette, a French girl on work experience, turned up the offices of the Westphalia Express. All the staff made her feel at home and treated her very well, and they went to some lengths to show her how a quality local newspaper was produced. Not being a native English speaker meant Bernadette only understood about 60% of what was said to her, but even so she managed to share a few jokes with the staff. However, it was working with the photographers that was most appealing - looking at photos instead of always having to try to understand what people were saying meant she could relax a little. The photos she looked at mostly featured two men. The first was quite a chilling image of a man with a thick grey moustache. The girl thought he looked rather menacing, rather like an east European dictator who would have no qualms about attaching electrodes to the genitals of any member of the local civic society who dared to try and stop his programme of building development, but the picture editor assured her that he was just a cuddly pussycat. The second man featured in hundreds of photos was a completely different kettle of fish. He wore glasses and had a big grin in most of the pictures, but on closer inspection she saw that the same man had two other kinds of facial expression. Sometimes he looked very serious, staring off into the distance, and at other times he wore a sort of glum expression, but it was the over-exaggerated face of an unhappy clown, so everyone knew he wasn't really sad. "Ee eez an 'ow you say clown?" she asked in her broken English. "Well, yes and no," said the picture editor. "We do say clown, but he is not a clown. He is the mayor. He is a very important man in this town. He does lots of good things for the people. You can ask anyone in these offices, and they will all tell you that they love him. We are all proud to live here, and proud that he is our mayor."
"I see," said the girl. "Ee eez a beet like the queen?"
"Well, I suppose, in a manner of, well, as a figurehead kind of thing then yes, perhaps he could be described in that way," stuttered the picture editor, strangely lost for words. "After all, he did give us the balloon."
"Ahh, zee balloon," said the girl. "I 'ave seen eet - eet is wonderful, n'est-ce pas? So you say it is of the mayor, or by the mayor?"
"Well, both really," replied the photo editor. "I mean he created it, he made it happen, and it defines him. To all intents and purposes the balloon is the mayor and the the mayor is the balloon."
The French girl wasn't entirely sure what the photo editor was driving at but she nodded politely, pretending to understand exactly what he meant.
That evening on her way home the girl passed the balloon, and remembered the words of the photo editor. Staring up at the large grey sphere she thought she began to understand what he had meant. As it rose into the sky it seemed as if it was looking down on the inhabitants of the town and looking after them. As the sun glinted in the sky she thought she saw the face of the mayor on the balloon. Perhaps it was the fact that she had spent the morning looking at photos of the mayor, or maybe it was the way the picture editor had waxed lyrically about the high esteem in which the mayor was held by the local populace, but in that one instant the girl really believed that the mayor had appeared to her, albeit in a gigantic rubbery form. She thought to herself how nice it must be, to be an inhabitant of this town, safe in the knowledge that he was always looking down and looking after you. For one fleeting moment it gave her a strange warm sensation all over.

Back at the offices of the Westphalia Express the next day and trying desperately to contribute to the conversation Bernadette mentioned that the mayor had appeared to her in his balloon-like form. Her comment was practically ignored by most present, but one of the more experienced hacks, with a nose for a story, pushed her for more details. What exactly had she seen? "Son visage," replied the girl, lapsing into her mother tongue under questioning. To most people with a rudimentary knowledge of French this would have indicated that she had seen 'his face', but one hack misheard it as 'song Visage', and immediately thought she was referring to the eighties' classic 'Fade to Grey' by Visage, which had lyrics in both English and French. Once he had explained the various prophetic connections (the grey balloon, the mayor fading away after the return of his deputy, the line 'Feel the rain like an English summer', etc.)to his colleagues, they were all in agreement: they had a story on their hands, and it looked like a big one. After all, it wasn't every day that someone in a sleepy seaside town had a vision of this magnitude. The Westphalians usually had to pay consultants to have their visions, and here was one that was completely free - in Westphalia-on-Sea things just don't get any better than that, particularly during a recession. The office quickly turned into a hive of activity as the hacks raced around trying to cobble together a story, when one of them (clearly brighter than the rest) wondered out loud what the commercial possibilities of this occurence might be. "Of course," said the editor. "Let's call Rhubarb & Custard, our tourism consultants, explain what has happened, and ask them how the town might profit from this."
The news from the conference call with the consultants was better than anyone could have hoped. Christine Custard said that the town needed an effing miracle to stop it disappearing down the plughole, and this was probably as close as they would get to one. She was quick to point out that the Virgin Mary had appeared 18 times at Lourdes, so it was best to get the story corroborated by a few other people. Some people were sceptical as to whether this could be done, but Ms Custard reminded them that if old people could be coerced into posing for photos wearing face masks then they could certainly be persuaded that they had seen the mayor's face on a balloon. Once that had happened a few times it would only be a matter of days before the Pope, or at the very least Ant and Dec, turned up. Westphalia-on-Sea would be transformed into a place of pilgrimage. As a mark of respect and dedication people would walk the last five miles from Newton Bumpkin on their knees, and she pointed out that hobbling along on bloodied stumps in this way might, in fact, be quicker than driving along the A380. The tired old gift shops around the harbour would be transformed - they would stock bottles of local 'Blue Flag' seawater in balloon-shaped bottles, with the words 'Mayoral Waters' on the front and the words 'Not to come into contact with the skin or eyes' on the back, above a triangle with a skull and crossbones on it. After the initial excitement about the mayor's face on the balloon had subsided it would be time for a few local 'healing' stories. According to Christine Custard the Roman Catholic Church has officially recognized 67 miraculous healings at Lourdes, so the Westphalians had a bit of catching up to do if they wanted to give those Frogs a run for their money, but Christine was confident that with the right kind of consultancy firm at the helm this figure could easily be bettered, particularly now that we were in the digital age. It would, of course, involve some significant extra outlay by the council at first, but this was only to be expected; after all, we had moved from mere run-of-the-mill consultancy to visions, healings, and some serious rebranding, and no-one in their right mind could expect that to come cheap.