Belfast Telegraph

Rab's Week: MLAs' hospitality bill storm in a wine glass

Welcome to the sideways world of our star columnist

By Robert McNeil

I used to stay in hotels a lot, and one of the worst was just chronically unfriendly. Even somebody I knew - the assistant manageress - walked right past me in the corridor. Perhaps I should have worn trousers, right enough.

During my evening meal I was the only guest in the restaurant, and the waiter stared at me all through the meal. There was something of the Norman Bates (out of yon Psycho) about him.

Luckily, I was only there for one night. Next morning, as I was leaving, I saw a placard at the front entrance: the hotel was hosting a seminar on 'Hospitality'.

Hospitality: it's a word I've come to loathe. Its modern deployment has made it crass. There's a hospitality 'industry' and wee college courses in hospitality, as if it were something that needed taught. Be courteous, helpful and welcoming: here endeth the course.

Whether that extends to Stormont appears to be another matter. The lieges have been discombobulated at news that the controversial Assembly spends £50,000 a week on hospitality.

That does seem a tad excessive. If you totted up the actual costs of the wine and grub, it probably comes to about 35 quid. But, in public life, everything costs tens of thousands of pounds.

That said, I'm not convinced the Assembly ought to stint. There's too much mean-spirited parsimony around these days. A politician cannot have an innocent junket without there being a hullabaloo.

It was not like this in the 1950s, when Press and population alike respected politicians, who were mostly well-spoken and tastefully dressed.

At a more prosaic level, Stormont has spent £1,000 on mints over the years, so at least their breath is fresh. There's also a subsidised canteen, where leading statesmen can get chicken California for £2.76 and baked haddock with herb and garlic crust served with Mediterranean veg for £3.38.

Sounds overpriced to me. Besides, you can't just shimmy out of Stormont in your good suit to fetch something from Subway.

Subsidised canteens are a sign of civilisation and the good life. There should be a subsidised canteen at the end of every street, rather like in ancient Sparta.

Cheap, wholesome, tasty food makes good citizens, and the Stormont gang are Northern Ireland's leading citizens. Let them eat cake, and feta, spinach and mushroom roulade (£2.30), and as many mints as they can cram in their gobs.

Saturday: Grumpy old (Pax)man!

Paxman news, and the horse-faced television presenter – famous for making derogatory remarks about people – has called for a Dignitas clinic "on every street corner".

Jeremy, who is due to draw his old age pension next year, said elderly people were "bloody everywhere" and that he disliked them. He added that the suicide-clinics could be disguised as tea shops.

The jocular remarks have been branded "ill-judged and irresponsible" by leading moralisers.

All that apart – and I've some sympathy with making Dignitas more available – where does he get the idea that old people are "bloody everywhere"?

This column has observed frequently that, up town and in trendy discotheques, you never see old people any more. They've disappeared, probably stuck in the house, having stuff delivered to them.

The only person who is "bloody everywhere" is Paxo himself. Perhaps he should stay in the house and have stuff delivered to him.

Sunday: Rosanna's just too good to be true

Must say that Rosanna Davison sounds a bit of a catch.

She's a Playboy cover girl and former Miss World. She told the Sunday Independent the secret to a happy marriage is never, ever nag, and to leave your partner be when he's in his man cave.

To be fair, she says this is because hubby Wes Quirke's den "smells of pizza and beer and feet".

Even so, she cooks, she cleans and unsurprisingly, given the above resumé, this Irish lass is kinda easy on the eye.

Do I envy Wes? Of course. All the same, I'd keep wondering: "What's the catch?"

Monday: Julian's life not so Swede

Julian Assange: remember him? He's the investigative journalist spilling state secrets who, surprisingly (not), found himself facing an arrest warrant connected to iffy sex charges.

He's been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy, London, for two years.

He looks well, if wan. Odd to think he'd probably have had better living conditions in a Swedish prison.

Tuesday: eBay... where boozy bidders get burned

Online auction site eBay celebrates 15 years in Britain this week, and it really has gone downhill.

When it started you could get good bargains there.

Now it's just a load of companies selling stuff at straight prices.

You even see people getting into ridiculously competitive bidding wars in which they pay far more for something they could get cheaper on a straightforward site elsewhere.

A survey for price comparison site Confused.com revealed that much of this irrational purchasing occurred late at night when libations had been consumed. Surprise!

That said, you do get some items that are hard to obtain anywhere else: for example, a half-eaten toasted sandwich that looked a bit like the Virgin Mary.

And, on the rare occasions when you do buy something from a private seller rather than a business, there's hours of fun to be had trying to hack through the packaging. Hooray!

Wednesday: PM needs sandaled with care

The Prime Minister, Dave Somebody, is getting pelters. It's not just that he's holidaying when the world is in crisis (as it is 365 days a year).

It's for wearing controversial sandals described in one appalled news-style paper as "battered".

Earlier this year he was panned for wearing the same loafers all the time. So he's gone back to sandals.

But the current ones look too lived-in for the lieges, who also complain that he isn't wearing socks with his sandals in the traditional British manner.

He wouldn't have to face such opprobrium – if he would just resign.

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