Brown, foxes and tai chi

The perils of taking your fox up the aisle, free premium bonds for all the workers plus good karma f

These days I pay for things by barter wherever possible. But such were the looks I got last time I took a goat on the Bakerloo that I sometimes give in and use Switch.

When I do there is often that unnerving wait while the machine decides whether or not to authorise the payment. My theory has always been that, during the pause, a dour Scotsman is running his finger down the column of my spending and tutting.

And I have finally worked out who that Scotsman is. His name is Gordon Brown.

In his perfect world, I suspect, Gordon Brown would have the final say over everyone's spending. His light in Downing Street would burn late into the night as he weighed the case for every foreign holiday or new pair of school shoes.

Take the row over the abolition of the 10p tax band. Brown has had the sense to give ground, but he is making things up to people with a bizarre job lot of measures. Tax credits, winter fuel payments, a higher minimum wage for young workers – and quite possibly food stamps and free premium bonds too.

The idea of simply not increasing taxes on the poor does not occur to him. For what would he find to do in the evenings then?

Ah, says Alistair Darling, but it would totally irresponsible to unravel the Budget now. Which makes you wonder why, if they are not allowed to change anything, MPs have just spent days debating the Finance Bill.

Because Westminster does not come cheap. All those men in tights have to be paid for, and then there are the bars to subsidise, the Gothic architecture to maintain and the Speaker’s menagerie to feed.

Some people have even questioned the need for Mr Speaker to have a menagerie, and if MPs are not going to hold the executive to account, I begin to see their point.


While I was away the Shropshire Star was full of stories about farmers taking up tai chi to improve their cows’ yield. “Being an organic dairy farmer is hard work,” says one, “and I want to make sure I am as relaxed and focused as possible.”

The research literature on the effect of tai chi on milk production is disappointingly limited, but I am sure its elegant movements will do less damage to the land than artificial fertilisers do.

Yet I can't help wondering if these farmers are taking their eyes off the bull. For another of them has reported losing 15 cattle down abandoned mineshafts over the past 40 years.

The story was on the BBC website and not in the Star, so I cannot swear to its accuracy. But it has put me in mind of Gone to Earth – the film that Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger shot round here from the book by the Shropshire novelist Mary Webb.

In it the heroine, played by Jennifer Jones, is torn between David Farrar's hard-riding squire and Cyril Cusack's sexless minister. It is rather like Tess of the D'Urbervilles with more interesting geology.

Jones’s character Hazel Woodus is a half-wild child of nature given to skipping barefoot over the hills and consulting the book of charms left her by her gypsy mother. When she weds Cusack, she takes her tame fox up the aisle with her on a lead. Later, in an attempt to save the creature from Farrar's hounds, she plunges down a mineshaft with it in her arms.

The general opinion locally was that it served her right.

Jonathan Calder has been a district councillor and contributed to speeches by Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. These days he prefers to poke gentle fun from the sidelines. He blogs at Liberal England