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The credit crunch? That'll be the sound of crispy-fried pets

Tom Shields on middle-class debt

THIS credit crunch is worse than we thought. The newspapers of middle England report that the middle classes have been hit by "a devastating debt crisis".

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We are told: "In the past it was almost uniquely people on benefits, people in social housing, who went to debt advice agencies." (Social housing, benefits. That's longhand for the underclasses.) Since the credit crunch, these services are being overwhelmed by a whole new breed of debtor, middle-class people."

Heart-breaking examples are cited, such as the television producer on £70,000 a year who has debts of £50,000. And the retired bank manager on £40,000 who owes £110,000 on 20 credit cards.

Normally, these property-rich but cash-poor individuals would have sorted out their situation with a remortgage. This solution is no longer available apres la deluge which has hit the housing market.

Prime minister Gordon Brown would obviously like to help the middle-classes (and keep them voting New Labour) - but he has spent all his available budget on the social housing types who used to be in the 10p tax bracket.

A national charity appeal is obviously required to bring direct aid to the stricken areas. Look out for Joanna Lumley on the telly before the Six O'Clock News doing the poignant plea and telling how we can help.

Fifty quid will buy a tank of petrol for mummy to do the school run for a fortnight.

Just a tenner will provide a couple with a few snifters of gin and tonic for a whole weekend.

For those prepared to dig deeper to alleviate middle-class suffering, £1000 will pay for dad's golf club subscription or keep Arabella's pony in a stable condition for a whole year.

As little as £40 can provide a Marks & Spencer shellfish platter featuring Canadian lobster, Colombian prawns and Orkney crab claws, along with a decent bottle of Pinot Grigio.

Actually, it's no laughing matter. So serious is the credit crunch that many families are having to make their pets redundant. Animal rescue centres have been inundated with dogs, cats, rabbits and other furry creatures whose owners can no longer afford to care for them.

This is very sad but also irresponsible. Abandoning Rover, or Tiddles, or Bugs the Bunny and letting your animal become a burden on society is not a very middle-class thing to do.

There is an alternative. If you can't feed the beast, eat the beast.

To get into the swing of things, it's probably best to start with the rabbit. Gordon Ramsay has a nice recipe for a fricassé.

Remember to let the rabbit hang for at least four days after you've broken its tiny neck and paunched (or gutted) it. Remember also to trim the excess fat from the kidneys before frying in olive oil.

Dining on the dog is more problematic. Barbecued with ginger and spices seems to be popular.

For those who might be daunted by the sight of a haunch of roasted labrador, a friendly butcher might be prepared to retrieve the situation by turning your former best friend into sausages and burgers.

Cat meat is supposedly less greasy than dog and may be consumed fondue-style in a rich vegetable broth. The book Extreme Cuisine suggests that cats can be used as a substitute in most recipes for rabbit and squirrel.

Cooking smaller pets is likely to be more trouble then they are worth, although a gerbil stuffed inside a hamster stuffed inside a guinea pig might be an interesting culinary challenge.

The aforementioned Arabella's pony is a different story. A decent-sized nag could keep a family in steaks, roasts, stews, ragouts and goulashes. But don't try the saddle.

THE British government is becoming more adept at using technology to keep tabs on motorists. You will have seen the TV advert where the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) warns that if you haven't paid your road tax, they will crush your car down to the size of a mobile phone.

It is pretty threatening stuff, but actually the DVLA is just telling you that your road tax can now be paid by phone. One call is all that is required because your car details, MOT and insurance are all stored on the DVLA computers. It is a vast improvement on the old system of queuing up in the Post Office.

At the other end of the motoring organisational spectrum, I give you Glasgow Parking.

I pay £135 a year for a resident's parking permit. To obtain and then renew this permit involves dealing with sundry foolscap pages of bumph issued by Glasgow City Council.

One of the requirements is to send a utility bill or other proof of residence. Inhabiting a modern, paperless household where transactions are carried out online, I was unable to do so.

Glasgow Parking sent me along to the Glasgow council tax collectors to get a letter proving that I existed. This is very possibly the kind of local government paper-shuffling activity where Scottish government finance minister John Swinney reckons substantial savings can be made.

On the parking front, you can't beat city hall, so when the documents arrive, I get my quill pen out and obey the bureaucracy.

Recently, I got a ticket for parking in my own street. When I phoned to ask why, they said my permit had expired. Also, there was another ticket which had been issued the day before (and had presumably gone with the wind from the windscreen).

That was £120 worth, or only £60 if I paid within 14 days. They kindly give you a discount, although some may see the system as blackmail.

I said in mitigation that the usual bulky envelope with details of renewing my permit had not been sent to me. The reminder was "merely a courtesy" said a nice lady on the phone. Pay the £60 or we'll double your money.

I paid and then wrote a letter pointing out that the council had failed to send me the renewal bumph. I received an off-hand reply. The reminder was "merely a courtesy". Case closed.

After a bit of research, I discovered the existence of the Scottish Parking Appeals Service (SPAS) which adjudicates between councils and motorists. But this turned out to be an empty shrine.

I appealed. They replied that I did not have the requisite paperwork. Apparently, I should have waited 14 days for the council to issue a Notice of Owner. Then I should have made my representations to the council.

The council would then issue a Notice of Rejection (and a demand for the full £60 per ticket) along with a Notice of Appeal.

Unless you have a Notice of Appeal, the SPAS cannot help you. In a classic Catch-22 scenario, if you pay the "discounted" fine you have no recourse to a higher court of appeal.

Technology, from CCTV to computer database, is routinely used to monitor and punish the motorist, whether it's being caught in a bus lane, a congestion zone, or doing a few miles over the limit on the M77 because some speed merchant in a 4WD is right up your erse. (Sorry, a bit of road rage there.) It should not be too difficult for organisations (such as Glasgow Parking, to take a random example) to utilise modern methods to make life a little easier for the motorist.

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