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DIARY - TOULMIN SMITH

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Come again? ...
Come again?

Bureaucratic language can inadvertently speak volumes.

Perusing the summary of the South East England Regional Assembly's consultation on its regional plan ), as one does, I came across the following: 'The South East Plan differs from previous planning documents in the emphasis that it places on achieving implementation of the plan proposals.'

I take this to mean previous plans were drawn up at vast expense but no one cared whether or not they were implemented.

Or the assembly's observation could be a calculated insult to the effectiveness of its predecessor bodies. Or, just possibly, it doesn't mean anything but sounds portentous.

Cut the chat lines

Aggrieved customers of a telephone sex line have complained to Nottingham City Council trading standards about the services provided.

Users were unhappy that on calling a phone line that claimed to offer Filipina women, they found phrases like, 'Aye up, me duck,' slipped into the conversation.

It is just possible that 'aye up, me duck' in fact means something filthy in Tagalog, the main language of the Philippines.

However, both trading standards and Nottingham magistrates considered this an unlikely possibility, and the owner of the line was fined£1,000 for breaching the Trades Descriptions Act 1968.

I wonder if there is a phone line in the Philippines that offers explicit chat from women in Nottinghamshire?

Is Grace in favour?

Where does the appointment of Jeremy Colman as auditor general for Wales leave Clive Grace (l), director general of the Audit Commission in Wales?

With the commission in Wales about to be sacrificed on the altar of the all-singing, all-dancing Wales Audit Office, Mr Grace will find himself at a distinctly loose end.

The former Torfaen CBC chief has maintained close ties throughout his tenure with colleagues in London, however, so don't rule out the prospect of his resurfacing there in a prominent guise.

Shaggy sheep story

A joke doing the rounds in finance departments . . .

A shepherd is herding his flock in a remote pasture, when a brand-new BMW screeches to a halt. The driver, a young man in designer attire, leans out and asks the shepherd: 'If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?'

The shepherd agrees, and the young man parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook, connects it to his cellphone, surfs the NASA website, and calls up a satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location.

He then feeds it to another satellite which scans the area and exports the image to a processing facility in Germany. The data is e-mailed to the young man's Blackberry and prints out a 150-page report on a miniaturise HP LaserJet printer. He turns to the shepherd and says: 'You have 586 sheep.'

'That's right. I guess you can take one of my sheep,' says the shepherd. He watches as the young man selects an animal and stuffs it into the boot of his car.

Then he asks: 'If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?'

The young man says: 'Okay, why not?'

'You're a consultant,' says the shepherd.

'Wow! That's correct,' says the young man. 'But how did you guess?'

'Easy,' answers the shepherd. 'You showed up here even though nobody called you, you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked, and you know nothing about my business. Now give me back my dog.'

Brought to book

MPs who ploughed through the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's annual report, as part of efforts to monitor John Prescott's Whitehall domain, appeared less than impressed with what they saw.

Their findings were replete with criticisms about the report's impenetrability and difficult layout.

The committee therefore wondered how many copies of the wretched thing the ODPM had managed to sell, given the evident expense of its production.

Back came the reply that the annual report was published by the privatised Stationery Office, as a result of which 'the number of copies they printed and sold is commercial in confidence and hence the ODPM does not know these details'. It did buy 500 copies itself though.

I'll wait for it to appear in the remainder bookshops.

Asylum jackpot

The grant lottery is just one of the things that makes people glad they joined local government. Take, for example, the county council which is rumoured to have hit the jackpot with a£73 payout on the asylum seekers grant.

The chief executive hopes his luck will hold. 'If it's true, I'm going to put it on a horse,' he says.

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