AFTER fake news comes fake cost. Figures quoted this week for public spending on various projects have now left the stratosphere and are currently orbiting the Planet Bilge.

Take the Brexit bongs. In the potentially doomed plan to celebrate Brexit on 31 January, the cost of Big Ben ringing in celebration has been put at £500,000, working at out at over £45,000 a bong.

What is this figure, readers? Correct. It’s complete clap. Yep, you heard right: the cost of the heist is for restoring a clapper. This will involve putting in a temporary floor in the belfry. Whoo! What’s it made of? Gold under a carpet of mink furs?

Presumably, whoever embroidered this quote must have taken inspiration from the scaffolding trade, which many readers will know stands head and shoulders above the crowded field of tradesmen’s fantastical fees, charging a a small fortune for putting up some metal tubes and leaving them there.

The overall cost of restoring Big Ben incidentally has been put at £61 million. For a big clock. Well, have you seen the price of Sellotape these days?

Oddly enough, the authorities found the money for bongs at New Year, and there’ve been allegations that the usual suspects in the House of Commons establishment are being obstructive about Brexit Day.

Such a shame. The celebration with ringing bells recalls VE Day which would be apposite in a week in which Lib Dem Lord Greaves compared Brexit to – all together now – Nazi Germany (yawn), and Dr Mark Berry, a reader in music at Royal Holloway University, likened the imminent Brexit gathering to Kristallnacht. At the time of going to press, both men remain unsedated.

Undaunted by prophecies of doom, the campaign to Get Bonging Done continued apace yesterday, with donations from the enemy flooding in. Not the enemy. What’s that other one? Oh yes, the public.

The poor old public, fleeced left, right and centre. And it’s not just in this country. In yonder Canada, taxpayers have been warned that providing security for Prince Harry and Mabel (is it Mable? something beginning with M) Markle could cost $10m a year. Seriously, who’s providing that security? Scaffolders? It’s been attributed to salaries for bodyguards, fancy cars for same, plane tickets and “communications equipment” (first-class stamps).

While this nonsense is taking shape, the Home Office has warned that Prince Andrew of the Plummeting Pants faces losing his armed guards, the cost for whom has been put by MailOnline at £300,000 annually, being £100,000 a year salaries for three officers.

A hundred grand for standing aboot looking hard? I could do that. Oh, all right, call it 50 grand a year for just the standing aboot bit.

Here, in Bonny Scotia, meanwhile, the cost of policing the UN climate change conference in Glasgow later this year has been put (by, er, the police) at over £200m. Apparently, the cost of accommodation for visiting constables alone will be “tens of millions of pounds”. Will it, aye?

Police said the safety and wellbeing of conference attendees, the wider public and any protesters would be their “paramount” concern. No! And here was me thinking they were there to sell macaroon bars. That’s an idea actually. And at least it might offset some of the cost.

I’m sure all the people drawing up the figures for these various projects will be able to itemise them scrupulously, allowing for “sundries”, “miscellaneous” and the cost of hats to talk through. But somebody somewhere needs to take command of this situation.

Aren’t there ombudsmen, financial scrutineers and the like? For the suspicion remains that these are just figures plucked from the imagination. They’re always fantastical, always jaw-dropping, always hard to believe. They’re never, ever lower than you’d expect. Never, ever remotely reasonable. ++++

THE onward march of the robots continues. Actually, they’re not so much marching as hopping aboot or flying through yonder air.

Frogs have been used to create what’s billed as the world’s first living robots. Called “xenobots”, they’ve been constructed using stem cells from the embryos of Xenopus laevis, the African clawed frog. You say: “But why?”

Excellen question. Well, they could be programmed to move through human arteries removing gunge and litter, or they could be bunged into the sea to remove toxic microplastics. Hmm, sounds like a plan. Make them work for their WD40.

Up in yon air, meanwhile, the so-called Pigeonbot has been designed, not to poop on your head, but to fly through the skies with the greatest of ease, or at least more deftly than drones.

Based on the wings of pigeons, they’re expected to yield important information on the doos and don’ts of efficient flight, leading to fabby aircraft.

These are both fantastic developments, even if the “living” frogbot is a bit frightening. We’ll just have to hope that future living robots remain in the state that characterises much of the human race: dead from the neck up.


I’LL be quite candid with you here and confess: I am fond of cows. I like their big brown eyes and the fact that they say moo – well, something’s got to do it.

Researchers revealed this week that they weren’t just mooing for the hell of it either. They’re communicating their moods.

Thus, while one moo may sound like another to ignoramuses like you and arguably I, they actually have different pitches, indicating: “I would like to make a comment about the weather.” Or: “Oh, ruddy Nora, it’s grass for dinner again.”

Coos can also recognise who’s who from their moos, in the same way that we hear a slavering drawl and think: ‘Donald Trump is making a speech again.’

University of Sydney lead researcher Alexandra Green revealed a desire to be a “cow-moonicator”. I hate to say it, but that way madness lies.

You’d soon get bored listening to ruminants ruminating about their concerns, which are likely to be limited. That said, it might be interesting to hear what their personalities are like.

A herd of cows is bound to have its share of eccentrics and comedians, just as every busload of humans contains at least one nutter.


THE BBC’s latest doomed attempt to save itself involves the novel idea of … attracting more young people. Oh my, I’ve never heard that one before. Never heard of it ever working either.

The anti-Beeb mid-market rags reported that there was “fury” (yawn) among the lieges about a plan to shift spending away from programmes for older people and splash out on the immature. The move follows research that showed less than half of young persons watched the BBC.

Actually, I’m not in principle opposed to this. Older viewers have a lot they can fall back on. But new material is needed for younger viewers in particular, programmes that address their concerns and, er, sensitivities, ken?

I suspect, however, that it ignores the heffalump in the room: to wit, they’re getting their entertainment on different media.

At any rate, they still won’t watch, and what I do find discombobulating is the hell-for-leather “It’s all about …” approach that so often characterises mainstream media.

I used to work for a newspaper that decided, “It’s all about young people”. They said: “We will lose 10,000 of our older readers. But we will gain 30,000 young readers.” And the first part of the plan worked.

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