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September 2007 - Assistant Inspector

Ever since the idea for this month's exciting epistle originally came into my head, I seem to have been in digression overload, within my tiny little brain at least, before even placing myself before the keyboard to commence the tapping.

The original concept rapidly took me off in the direction of Beatles music and from there I managed to move more towards Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, or rather their alter egos, Derek and Clive.

It was The Beatles who seemed certain that they'd get by with a little help from their friends; but I have to wonder if those friends would have been good enough to be jumping at the chance to assist with one of Derek and Clive's worst jobs that they'd ever had?

I was sitting comfortably in front of the televisual apparatus, you see, and being the high-brow sort of person what I is, it was tuned in to the fourth of the BBC's offerings, which just happened to be showing a nice little three part series about the history of the motorway.

Very interesting stuff it was, too, don't you know?  It took us right back to the opening of the Preston bypass, in nineteen hundred and frozen to death, then it traced the history of all such transportational masterpieces from that point in time, right up to the present day.

As the programme progressed, we were introduced to the planners, designers, engineers and many others, responsible for the initial arrival of these wondrous phenomena upon our maps; then the many and various people who continue to be responsible for their on-going upkeep on a routine, day-to-day basis.

Some of the persons now employed in the daily maintenance of our high-speed road network seem to do really important and highly interesting work; but, rather sadly, others, it appears, simply do not.

So welcome along, gentle viewers, to this month's exceptional edition of Nick Harvey's Comment, during which we shall place under the amazing, Acme microscope, for in-depth analysis and stupendous scrutiny, one of those definitely less important, and probably less interesting positions in the world of motorway maintenance.

There appears to be a whole section of the workforce employed in this particular industry, not to get out there and actually do anything, but simply to get out there and check whether somebody else has gone and done something which they, in turn, are employed to do.

In the old days, I think these positions used to be referred to as the management.  There were only a few of them then, and they tended, in the main, to trust their underlings to get on with that which their respective job descriptions required them to get on with.

Nowadays, however, we seem to have produced a culture of not trusting anybody to get on with anything properly the first, or often the second or third, time; thus requiring a whole new breed of employees to be employed, the inspector class.

As I shall explain in the paragraphs which follow, we appear to be in grave danger of ending up with far, far more of these inspector class persons than any other class of employee, such is the general lack of trust in the quality of workmanship in practically every area in recent years.

I can understand an element of inspection being necessary in certain circumstances, perhaps where the safety of lots and lots of people is concerned.  If three hundred passengers, for instance, are getting on the 15:30 flight from Aberdeen to Albuquerque, then somebody checking that somebody else has fitted the propeller on the front of the aeroplane might just be a good idea.

However, having somebody else running round to check whether the cleaner vacuumed under the seats properly has definitely got to go in the department called overkill.  What are they expecting, for heaven's sake?  A packet of albatross flavoured crisps left under the seat in front, missed by the lady with her Dyson, ready for the passenger on the next flight to hungrily consume?

It's like this, only worse, on the motorways, if the evidence on this television programme is to be believed.  There might be a few fairly important tasks which ought, perhaps, to be checked up upon, but do they really need some poor soul going round all the service area fridges every six hours, just to make sure that the avocados are being stored at the correct temperature?

The ultimate waste of a job was actually featured on the television programme at some great length; to the extent that the cameras went round to check that the checking of the checking of the original task was being done in the correct manner.

This featured position, which sent my dear little brain into overload with confusion when I first observed it, was the position of toilet inspector's assistant.  Talk about the worst job you ever had!  And talk about needing a little help from your friends!

Thrusting a large, bristling brush around the u-bend to remove any unpleasantness, left behind by previous users, must be a bad enough occupation to take up in the first place.  Having to go round to check that the thrusting was originally carried out totally conscientiously, whilst a tiny tad less objectionable as a task, seems to me to be a little over-the-top.

Being the person who has to check on the conscientiousness of the checking, of the conscientiousness of the original thrusting, appears to me to fall into the category of utter madness in the employment of labour in our country.

No wonder you need to take out a mortgage to afford a small, red Leicester and diced onion, cheese sandwich in a motorway service area, if they feel the need to employ all these extra bodies to go round checking up on the checking up.  The wage bill must right be out through the roof, up towards the stratosphere and somewhere near to that aeroplane which I mentioned a little earlier.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, which I'm certain that you were back there in the fifth row, the toilet inspector's assistant featured in the programme turned out, in fact, to be the wife of the toilet inspector.

I reckon they could do with somebody to go round and check up on her, you know.  Well, I can't, somehow, see her grassing on her husband's inefficiencies, can you?

Now, before I leave you for this month, dear viewers, I should perhaps make brief mention of a task which I was set yesterday evening, whilst relaxing with some old friends and a small glass, in the "snug" of a local hostelry.

I mentioned that I would be spending some time today putting fingers to keyboard to produce this epic production.  They immediately decided that it would be a jolly jape to give me a list of three words which I must make use of during the episode.

I think there was some mention of my glass being filled at their expense at our next meeting, if I could manage to achieve the task; but I could well have misheard, and I'm sure they'll be unanimous in their confirmation that I did.

They, of course, are already fully cognisant of the precise words to be used.  It's a bit like the code words that they used to use in wartime radio news bulletins to signal the invasion, but with far less serious consequences on this particular occasion.

So, if you've noticed any occasionally odd words at any point on this page, then do, please, feel free to write in, on the back of the usual ten pound note, with your suggestions of which they might be.  Oh, and just so I don't get into any trouble with the regulator, there isn't a prize, the competition closes quite soon and I shall still keep the tenner even if you enter after it has closed.

Well, I think that's got to be sufficient finger tapping for this month.  I shall leave you now, to return, promptly, on October the first, when you should come back for more.

Time to go.  Right, I'm off, where's me barometer?

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