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I am DISGUSTED! Are you DISGUSTED? Because I am! Even a supposed liberal has an inner kernel of colonelness, as my distressing reaction to two incident-ettes today proves.

First, there was this from the website of the Crediton Courier, a Devon local paper which has just celebrated the publication of its 800th issue. Originally the rubric on the front page read:

801 See’s are first Flash 3D Flip Webpage Issue

Yes, it took me a few mental run-ups as well. It helps to look at it phonetically. Happily, after some pretty stern words of the blither-blither variety from your correspondent, the folk there have amended it. Froth froth, I say, burble burble, and I should think so too, huff puff.

Pah, but that is not the worst of it, sir, mark my words! My latest whimsical tweak on the already ambitious Lib Dem Voice conference plans (currently under wraps but suffice it to say that we might have to clone Stephen in order to get everything done) was to transmogrify our usual Liberal Drinks/blogging buddies meet-up into a marginally better organized and publicized Lib Dem Voice drinks. And hoorah, I thought, we could do it ON THE BEACH! After all, beach begins with B and so does blogging. It’s a zingy name waiting to happen. What could possibly go wrong?

Ok, it could piss it down so we need a plan B “even if it’s just back to Will’s hotel room” (thanks, Will!) We’d have to look into hiring deckchairs and buying up some “cheap supermarket booze”* in advance, but it wouldn’t cost anyone more than an evening at the pub would have done. And we’d have to check whether drinking was permitted on the beach…

Hm. I made contact with the Guardians of the Beach. I was thinking of organizing an informal meet-up of people from the conference on the beach, an absolute maximum attendance of 40-50, was it permissible to drink alcohol and could we reserve deckchairs in advance?

And this is what I got.

Application pack for holding events on Bournemouth Council Parks, Seafront and Town Centre

“Application pack”? Wh- No, no, no, I only wanted to…Wait, wait, stop!

Want to organise an outdoor event in Bournemouth?

Well, in a manner of speaking, I mean it’s only-

Whether it is a small community initiative or a large commercial promotion the Events Team at Bournemouth Borough Council would like to hear from you! With plenty of parkland and countryside within the borough as well as seven miles of golden beach, Bournemouth is the ideal location for a wide range of events.

Oh, brilliant! So is it ok to have a drink on the beach and-

How do I apply for my event?

1. An application form is attached for you to complete and return to the Events Team giving as much detail as possible about your event to include proposed date, time, location, set-up and content.

Set-up and content? Well, some drinks with maybe, you know, some chairs, and-

Please feel free to continue on another piece of paper if you run out of room on the form.

Oh right, that’s a relief…

Alternatively you can submit a separate, more detailed events proposal along with the application form.

Er…

2. On receipt of your application form we will check the availability of your location and the suitability of the event within that location.

Um, what does suitable mean? Cos, I mean, some of us are a bit scruffy to be honest, so…

3. If agreed, a letter of agreement will then be issued detailing the Council’s terms and conditions, which you as an organiser will need to sign up to in order for the event to go ahead.

Terms and conditions? Organiser? Go ahead? It’s some nerds and a couple of bottles of wine…

4. Please do not confirm arrangements or commit yourself to anything costly until a letter of agreement has been issued.

Bum. Well, better cancel the Cash and Carry run then.

5. If you would like to make a collection for your chosen charity as part of your event you will need to obtain a street collection licence.

Oh no, we don’t need to do that, we just-

Please contact Democratic Services on 01202 451163.

You’re shitting me now, aren’t you. “Democratic Services”? Hahahahahah- Oh, ok, you’re not shitting me. Fair enough. No, I don’t have a swearing licence actually, errr, ah bum…

Please note collections cannot be made within the gardens or along the seafront promenade, and any collections in Pier Approach, must be accompanied by entertainment.

Wh. Wh. Why? I mean, not that it matters, but why in the name of ARSE must any collections in Pier Approach be accompanied by entertainment?

What about Health and Safety?

Um. [warily] What about it?

We require the following paperwork at least two weeks prior to your event taking place:

A comprehensive and approved risk assessment, a template of which can be provided for your use. If you have a preferred format then please feel free to submit this.  For further information on risk assessments, please refer to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website – http://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/practice.htm.

Erm. “Risk of geekery: high. Risk of excessive discussion of by-election results back to 1987: critical.” Is that ok? No. No, I see, of course not.

A copy of your £5 million Public Liability Insurance.

My WHAT?

If you don’t have public liability insurance, you may qualify for cover under the Council’s own insurance (subject to specific requirements).  Please contact us directly to discuss this further.

I don’t want to insure the blogging community. No-one needs that risk.

And so it goes on, through sub-contracted performers’ insurance, land licensed to specific uses, temporary event notices (TENs) and costs (£80 + VAT). It’s bureaucracy gone mad in Bournemouth, I tell you! Fpah!

So that’s that brilliant wheeze down the toilet, which is a tremendous shame because it means I don’t get to fill out the risk assessment form. This intriguingly suggests in ticky-box form not only the usual potential hazards…

alcohol

animals

crowds

noise concerns

flammable materials

food preparation

laser/strobe effects

temporary structures

stunts

water (duh)

…but also the far more exciting…

physical/psychological effects

flying

night-time operations

sources of radiation

risk of infection

weapons

possibility of violence

Sounds like a cracking night out.

In the course of doing my looking up about all this, I came across this fascinating little document, which will one day form the core text of someone’s monograph on “Paranoia, Prejudice and PR-speak in the early 21st century: a study of the roots of authoritarian repression in a Dorset seaside resort.”

The opener sets out a number of commendable if laughably phrased objectives for the town’s “night time economy”, namely that Bournemouth’s nights be “inclusive, safe, exciting, market leading, sustainable and community owned”.

And yes, by George, you’ve got it, the first way in which they intend to do this is by banning the drinking of alcohol in public. This policy merits a jaunty tick in the “inclusive” box, so they must be using that special Middle England definition of inclusive which means “including the sort of people we like and excluding everybody else”.

It’s odd because, sneery and dismissive as I am (well, I don’t like to disappoint), so much else in the document is common sense and even interesting. They’re developing a night bus and a special under-18s club – and free chocolate handed out to clubbers (of all ages) as they leave is a policy that will always find favour with this colonel. And there is to be an increase in 4am licenced cafes “offering people a place to relax, eat and sober up at the end of a night out”. Fantastic idea.

So if they can see this makes sense, why can’t they see what is wrong with the blanket assumptions about “disorderly groups of youths”, and specifically, the idea that they shouldn’t be allowed to have a night out, even if they aren’t doing the faintest bit of harm to another soul?

That sort of pandering to prejudice will only encourage the less enlightened among the townsfolk who comment on the Bournemouth Echo website in these terms:

I went to the beach on Sunday and was shocked at the amount of people boozing. Do we really need to sit around necking cans of Stella in the sunshine? It made me feel embarrassed to be British. You wouldn’t get that in any other country. Surely it’s illegal to be drinking tins of beer on the beach. Why isn’t it enforced?

On a happier note, I did see a girl with some great cans.

I don’t normally get too excited about chauvinism in its many unlovely forms, because I take the view that, well, in 20 years time many of the worst offenders will be wormfood anyway. But this is just an irresistible contrast. It’s appalling if people consume a legally sold product in public without harming anybody else, and it should be banned solely on the basis that they “shouldn’t” want to do it. And yet it’s ok to make cringily awful comments like that which make even the laziest sub-feminist want to take a number four iron to the bollocks of the offender.

What kind of world, eh? Eh? Froth froth froth!

* This phrase now must be used in inverted commas. It is obligatory.