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A tip and pounds 3.60 an hour? What a monstrous idea

MANY readers will be familiar with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the story of a doctor who spurns his creation and turns a gentle giant into a monster. This tragic tale now has a modern-day parallel in the minimum wage, a just and benevolent idea from which the Government that invented it is fleeing in terror.

The latest unravelling of the scheme is taking place in bars, restaurants and hairdressers where, the Low Pay Commission seems to be suggesting, a straight pounds 3.60 minimum wage could be excessive. Low-paid staff in these places earn extra money through tips, it is argued, so instead of placing further strain on their already bulging wallets, service charges should count towards their wage.

Apart from its being incredibly mean-minded to hold that something only slightly more humane than slave labour challenges the laws of economic justice, this enshrining of involuntary gratuities won't go down well with the public. Many customers hate the service charge, of course: it gives them no discretion over how much to tip, and it must also be open to question whether the entire 10 to 12.5 per cent levy finds its way into waiters' pockets.

That said, at least it will all be out in the open. At the moment we have little idea how much bar and restaurant workers earn; even if it's two brass ha'pennies and a marzipan cup cake, our tips will be about10 per cent of the bill. But soon we'll be able to make informed decisions and this will change the whole landscape of restaurant culture.

You can just see the scene as Indignant of Middle England prepares to settle up with the waiter: "Pah! Away with you, greedy wretch. Your tip is already included in an ample pounds 3.60 stipend that you will no doubt fritter way on fridge-freezers and fast cars, threatening a surge in inflation and wrecking the economy. Not a doubloon or a brass farthing shall I pass to you by way of gratuity."

So it's a good thing for waiters that they've got Guilt-Ridden of Islington, who can't believe anyone can survive on pounds 3.60 an hour. She won't be leaving a couple of quid on the table any more; she'll be leaving gold necklaces, tiaras, expensive furs, entire wardrobes and modern art collections. "No, I insist, here are the keys. Take the house, take the car, take the Swiss bank account - you need them more than me."

It's just a shame that lurking in the shadows will be the good officers of the Pay Police. "Right, that's another tip at table 17 - he's earned more in an hour than I do in a minute. Cuff 'im." Come to think of it, they should set up one of those snitch phone lines, and people could shop waiters who earn more than pounds 3.60 on the side. Who said the minimum wage was unenforceable?

READERS of last week's Bunhill may recall my appeal for further tales of ritual humiliation at the hands of the motor industry. I confessed to surrendering a tyre after being told that a puncture was beyond repair, and then a couple of weeks later having another replacement tyre fitted which I was told was second-hand. It might seem a wild conspiracy, but how could garages get reusable tyres without first duping people into thinking they were duds?

One reader who's learned about sharp practice the funny way is Martin Claridge, who writes from Canterbury to recall a bizarre encounter with a second-hand car dealer. Mr Claridge used to have a Morris Minor Traveller that he wanted to sell privately, so he drove to the car lot to find out what price he could expect. Making out that this was the kind of vehicle he wanted to buy, he described it to the dealer, who then embarked on a fruitless search round the yard. "I'm certain we have one somewhere here," he said, more in hope than expectation. "Ah yes, there it is on the road."

And the car was indeed a Morris Minor Traveller. The only problem was, it was Mr Claridge's Morris Minor Traveller, and it was about to be flogged back to him before he'd even sold it. Now that's what I call a part-exchange.

More tales of car chicanery, please!

AS THE comedian Harry Hill always says: "You've got to have a system." So it was with Refco, a broking firm that dabbles on the futures market.

Being people who like to gamble, Refco's staff do the lottery and until recently they used the same numbers every week. Well, you can guess what happened when they changed them. The old numbers came up and the seven- strong syndicate lost out on pounds 1.7m. Of all people, you'd think they could have predicted the future.

MUCH has been made in the past week of the "World Cup effect", a subject which is causing much head-scratching among the world's top economists. The figures have been coming thick and fast. On the plus side, nearly pounds 2bn has been spent by fans around the world on merchandise, beer, food and bets. On the minus side, British retail sales are expected to fall by up to 1 per cent in June and July, and 20 per cent of workers will be taking tomorrow off to watch the England match.

Given these conflicting messages, is the tournament a good thing or a bad thing for economic growth? To which the answer is, who cares? Just like Christmas, bank holidays, birth, marriage and death, the World Cup happens. What are we going to do, ban it?

IN THESE cynical times of crass commercialism, it's tempting to think that footballers care nothing for the brand names they endorse other than how much money they'll earn.

But not so Ronaldo, the star Brazilian striker whose deal with Infogrames, the interactive entertainment group, means as much to him as scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final. Here it is in his own words (or not, as the case may be):

"I am thrilled to join the Infogrames team. The chance to play a key role in the design of an interactive soccer product for kids has been a personal goal."

Course it has, Ronnie, and Alan Shearer has long harboured a burning ambition to eat a Big Mac.