How much for cash?

Blogger of the Year PETER RHODES on tax-dodging, the dangers of cannabis and the right way to sing the National Anthem.

How much for cash?

ON the same day as a £30 million campaign is launched against dementia, it is reported that a quarter of new psychosis cases are caused by cannabis. So thousands of patients are coping as best they can with a brain disorder caused by age and bad luck while another group are cheerfully inflicting brain disorder on themselves with a daily dose of wacky backy. So who's first in the queue for NHS treatment?

MONDAY'S item on fire crews training to swim in floodwater reminds me that a couple of years ago I was part of a focus group looking at the future of fire fighting. The number of Brits dying in fires is astonishingly low and steadily falling. In 2013-14 there were 322 fire-related deaths, a fraction of the 967 fire deaths recorded in 1985. You might imagine, with the risk declining, that Joe Public would want to see fire-brigade budgets cut. Not a bit of it. No-one in that focus group begrudged a penny.

SO Labour is going to get a grip on tax dodging. Good luck with that. The snag is that, while there will always be a small percentage of millionaire families (take the Milibands of Primrose Hill, for example) who use clever, and entirely legal, strategies to keep their tax liabilities to a minimum the biggest form of tax dodging is the sort used a million times a day by small businesses. "Knock a few quid off for cash?" asks the customer, and the plumber / window cleaner / electrician gladly agrees. Now, the tradesman may be using cash payments to dodge VAT and income tax. On the other hand, he may simply prefer cash because it saves him the bother of taking yet another cheque to the bank. So over to you, Messrs Miliband and Balls. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff, the bona-fide from the fiddlers? The Balls answer, revealed this week, is for customers to demand a receipt for all work done. So that's higher prices for the customers, more paperwork for the traders, battalions of tax inspectors to monitor every bank account and crawl over every scribbled receipt, and, presumably, some penalty on customers who don't keep their receipts. Is that what the two Eds want? If so, do let us know so we can all get the house rewired or painted before May 7, General Election day.

RESEARCHERS in Vienna have discovered that dogs can recognise smiling human faces. Good to see that Austrian universities, just like those in Britain, have their share of Fakultäten der blutigen

offensichtlich (Faculties of the Bleedin' Obvious). Coming soon: new research proving that large mammals of the family Ursidae have a tendency to perform excremental functions in forested areas.

TROLLING through a hotel-booking website my eye was caught by the comments of some daft old bat complaining about feather pillows in an upmarket hotel. Apparently the critic is allergic to feathers and suggests that hotels should have a "pillow menu" with a choice of fillings, rather like the gluten-free breakfast option. Here's another idea. If you know you have a pillow allergy, take your own. Unless, of course, you simply enjoy complaining.

GOOD to see six-year-old mascot Harry Westlake belting out the National Anthem at Twickenham. But who taught him to sing it with his right hand over his heart? That's an American habit. Over here we sing God Save the Queen standing to attention. Chin up, heels together, thumbs in line with the seams of the trousers. Chewing gum optional.

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