OH DEAR, I had always dreaded this moment and how I would feel. Now it’s happened and I can’t believe it. Last week it suddenly dawned on me that I had become a member of the, whisper it quietly, old fogies club. And the reason why I knew I had eventually succumbed? I managed to have THREE Victor Meldrew moments in half an hour.

THE FINAL ONE occurred when I opened the post and saw the new recommended retail price list from Warburtons – 98p for an 800g loaf! “I don’t believe it – a POUND for a loaf of bread. Bloody hell.” I can remember when we used to laugh when we were told how much the Europeans had to pay for their food because of the Common Agricultural Policy. Twelve and six for a pack of butter when ours was two shillings – you want to come and live over here Jacques, my son. After all, it’s not as if our farmers are exactly starving!

SO YOU CAN IMAGINE my delight when the French decided to say ‘Non’. The Common Market was a wonderful idea to stop wars breaking out and increase common prosperity. The European Union, on the other hand, has turned into a self-promoting, over-protectionist club run by the bureaucrats for the bureaucrats. I am sick to death of the never-ending stream of interfering, namby pamby rules and regulations spewing forth from Brussels. That’s what happens of course. Have enough bureaucrats and MEPs enjoying living off a gravy train (paid for by the people they are meant to represent!) and they have to keep coming up with new initiatives or people will wonder why they’re there in the first place.

TAKE THE MOVES to scrap the 48 hour-a-week opt out from the Working Time Directive. Provided she or he is not being forced against their will, if someone wants to work longer than 48 hours what business is it of a legislator to stop them? Heaven knows, in our industry we are always being let down by staff but usually we’re lucky in that there’s always one cashier that will work all the hours you can give them. And how would the rules to do with people being on standby affect us. I can understand that a doctor in a hospital, who has to sleep on the premises and can be woken up at any time, should be considered as putting in some hours, but what about a petrol station assistant manager. Under Health & Safety Legislation there has to be someone off-site who can be contacted but we’re open 24 hours a day. Does that mean we will have to employ four people full time just to sit at home in case the phone rings?

OF COURSE, the usual exception to all the legislation is the self-employed or business owner. So in practice what is being said is that everyone else can work limited hours but the boss has to work even longer hours to cover the slack.

THE IRONY IS THAT the French voted ‘Non’ because the new constitution was too Anglo-Saxon. There was too much of a suggestion that competition should be allowed to drive improved efficiency and that the borders should be opened up so that people could truly compete in other markets. And in a country with over 10% unemployment, the prospect of the ‘Polish Plumber’ was too frightening to contemplate. That, of course, is at the heart of most of this claptrap put out under the guise of Health & Safety – its all about creating extra jobs for the unemployed.

WELL IF THEY HADN’T joined up for the impossible-to-work Euro, and if they stopped all the protectionism and allowed proper competition, they would find that they wouldn’t have 10% unemployment!

ON THE SUBJECT of competition, it is intriguing that fresh rumours of Texaco being sold off have appeared, this time not to the Usual Suspect aka Shell but to our very good franglais amis Elaffantt Oil. (It’s OK for French companies to buy over here but God help us if a British company wants to buy over there.) The prospect of acquiring an extra refinery used to be a massive deterrent. Funny how the increased demand for derv and an extra $25 a barrel changes things!