Anorak News | Inns And Outs

Inns And Outs

by | 31st, October 2005

‘LIKE a decent joke told too often, the papers flogged a dead parrot to death.

On Monday, the Sun told us that the bird found dead in an Essex quarantine centre had been infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

The paper’s Katherine Bergen, writing in her get-up-and-weep “THAT MONDAY MORNING FEELING” column, said we’re “getting more and more nervous about the possible arrival of bird flu”. If we weren’t panicking, the Sun was going to do its damndest to make us fear the worst.

So too the Express, which said that any outbreak of the human form of bird flu would lead to “mass panic, with millions refusing to leave their homes”.

And in the Mail (“BIRD FLU: IT IS THE KILLER STRAIN”), we heard Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt lay out her Government’s contingency plan. “If you’ve got pandemic flu, anyone’s who got any flu-like symptoms would be well advised to stay home and not spread it,” said she.

But how do you know what kind of flu you’ve got? It might just be one those everyday flus that kill the elderly and earn the young days off school. Until a parrot insider told us more about the symptoms of this killer disease, we could only fear the worst.

What our fear needed was a face. We needed someone to do for bird flu what Omar Bakri had done for mad mullahs and Islamic extremism. We needed an enemy with a human face.

And on Tuesday, the Mail spotted “MR BIRD FLU”. To give him his full name, Mr Bird Flu was Brett Hammond, a convicted fraudster who ran the Essex quarantine centre where the parrot with the deadly H5N1 virus had been found.

So there was Hammond on the front page with a parrot on his left arm, and for reasons of fairness, lest we only blamed parrots for all the world’s ills, a white cockatoo perched on his left.

Hammond was the “dodgy dealer”, who, as the Sun said, had “done bird”. His crime for VAT offences earned him 18 months in choky in 1997.

It was too terrible. As the LibDem’s Norman Baker told the Mail: “It is very worrying indeed that we are leaving the health of our birds – and potentially the health of our citizens – in the hands of convicted criminals.”

Surely it was. And it was about to get more worrying. In what the Mail called a “macabre coincidence”, we read that the “dilapidated sheds” where Hammond quarantined birds was only yards away from the abattoir where in 2001 foot-and-mouth was first identified in Britain.

Coincidence? Or something more shadowy and deliberate at play? We’d taken the liberty of doodling a beard, a headscarf and some huge NHS specs on Hammond’s face, and the resulting image was shocking. Bird flu really was the new terrorism.

On Wednesday, Hammond became Lord Bird Flu. The Mirror failed to tell us what title Hammond had bought, distracted perhaps by the £7.7million he’d made from smuggling birds, enough to buy him two sports cars and a “string of foreign holidays”.

Meanwhile the Mail was listening to Herman Koeter, of the European Food Safety Agency. As he told us: “We don’t have any evidence that the virus can be transmitted through food. But we can’t exclude it either.”

That sounded bad. And it made us wonder what else couldn’t be excluded. Could bird flu be transmitted via the feathers in our pillows? What about if we walked within ten feet of a bird while wearing a blue bikini and whistling the first three bars of the Dutch national anthem?

We didn’t know. Perhaps Mr Koeter could enlighten us. “If you don’t eat raw eggs and always cook poultry thoroughly, there should be no problems,” said he.

So boiled chicken and reconstituted eggs it was. Which though an improved diet for most of us was a worry to the Mail’s readership. As the paper said, Mail readers should think twice about eating home-made mayonnaise and Hollandaise sauce.

Or eating anything in a pub. Not that pub grub was seen as being as bad for us as pub smoking. The Government wanted an end to smoking in public. And on Thursday we got a dose of what was good for us.

After days of what the Times called “shambolic discussions”, the Government finally unveiled its Health Improvement and Protection Bill that will bring about a ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces and public places.

But while puffing at your desk was out, smoking in pubs and clubs was all well and good so long as the place didn’t serve food.

And herein lay the rub. Food in pubs was routinely terrible. Waving farewell to the microwaved, snot-textured slops served up with chips could only be good news for the nation’s health.

And it seemed a considerable body of people would rather smoke in pubs than eat in them. A survey conducted by the Times said that one in five pubs in England and Wales will stop selling food and allow customers to smoke.

On Friday, the Times saw another survey, this one in the Publican Magazine. It said that more than half the pubs in the North West would stop serving fresh food and so exempt themselves from the new ban on smoking.

The paper said that 53 per cent of pubs in Manchester, Liverpool and the surrounding area relied on smokers for trade. Ban the smokers and the pubs go under.

Compare that figure to the 11 per cent of pubs in East Anglia and the 20 per cent of pubs in the South East that would close their kitchens and you had a “North-South split”.

But not really. After all, all Londoners have to do to get a hit of noxious gases is to breathe in. Who needs smoking when you’ve got the M25..?’

Posted: 31st, October 2005 | In: Broadsheets Comment | TrackBack | Permalink