GIVEN THE BRUSH OFF

There’s nothing like a bit of fun at somebody else’s expense to cheer up your day. So I was delighted to be party to a telephone conversation that took place between my friend (we’ll call him Mr Wilson) who lives in a council house, and somebody from West Lothian Council (who we’ll call Fred).

It started with a phone call from the Council Works Headquarters. “Hello, can I speak to Mr Wilson?”

“Speaking.”

“We have a line in here for a request to paint a garden gate…”

“Yeah, it’s all rusty.”

“We don’t paint garden gates.”

“Wooo-hooo! I have a free garden gate!”

“Sorry?”

“Well, if the Council doesn’t paint the gates of their housing stock, it must belong to me.”

There was a pause. “How do you work that out?”

“Well, if it’s not the council’s responsibility to maintain it, then it must be my responsibility. And if it’s my responsibility then it must be my gate. So when I leave this house, I can take the gate with me.”

“Hang on… It’s the Council’s gate.”

“But if it’s the Council’s gate then they should maintain it.”

“But they don’t – it’s Council policy.”

“What? It’s council policy not to maintain their property? That doesn’t sound right. What you seem to be saying is that the council expects me to maintain something that belongs to them? That hardly seems fair.”

“No… you’re twisting it round…”

“Look; either it belongs to me – and the onus is on me to maintain it, which means I can take it with me when I leave. Or I can’t take it with me because it it belongs to the Council – in which case the onus is on them to maintain it.”

The caller suddenly had a foolproof argument: “You decorate your house, but you can’t take THAT with you.”

“Yes, I decorate it, but it’s the council’s responsibility to maintain the fabric of the building. Just as I can decorate my gate, but it’s the council’s responsibility to maintain it – Oh, and it needs painting; did I mention that?”

“This is getting us nowhere. The situation is, the council own the gate, so you can’t take it with you when you leave, but it is your responsibility to maintain it – so we’re not going to paint it.”

“Well, in that case, can I have your name?”

“Why?”

“Because my mate writes a column for a local paper, and this is just the sort of muddled thinking he likes poking fun at.”

“My name is Fred… What’s your name?”

“You already know my name – you phoned and asked for me. Remember?”

“Ah…”

At this point Mr Wilson decided he had probably had enough fun at Fred’s expense, and set off to paint his newly acquired gate (which, it transpires, is soon to be replaced anyway – something Fred didn’t seem to know.)

Like I said at the start: there’s nothing like a bit of fun at somebody else’s expense to cheer up your day. Sorry, Fred!

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