Lest we ….. oh, just forget it

Until the local paper ran a one page feature on it, I was totally unaware of yet another dire local “war remembrance” project. This one planted a sapling for every Manx recruit who died in World War One over a one acre site which – I suppose – will eventually become a small forest, dominated by a large, crude and inappropriate cross.

The cross carries the message “Lest we forget”, which is ironic. Most of the island didn’t even know the project was happening or what it entailed, and few will ever go there. Within a year or two, even the vets who might be interested will be dead, and then what?

It isn’t that we have forgotten about World War One – there are so many pointless, fact free, local heritage projects about it that we cannot. It is that anyone with the slightest real knowledge of the subject wants nothing to do with this maudlin drivel.

Inevitably, the project was opened with a prayer service, led by the island’s second most senior cleric to receive a public sector salary in return for providing no public service. He was accompanied by the Lieutenant Governor, the representative from local ex-services organisations who lobbied for the island to get a chance to play at weekend soldiers again and the politician who granted that wish – after lots of chances to drive a tank and other childish jollies laid on by the British Army.

Which is all a bit ironic. Because the reason so many Manxmen died needlessly in World War One is that they were sent there by the junta then ruling the island, whereby the Lieutenant Governor used the other Crown appointees of the time (the Bishop, the Vicar General and the Attorney General) to over-rule any opposition from elected politicians. Not that there was much of that, because even half of the politicians were too busy war profiteering.

For some odd reason, neither that, nor the 1917 poll tax strike by island landladies against rates set at levels based on full boarding houses (when there were neither guests nor male workers due to the war) have been mentioned in all these heritage stunts around WW1 themes. Which is even more ironic, as a book giving a contemporaneous account of such events, written by a man who was imprisoned for leading the strike, was republished by Manx Heritage just a few years ago and is freely available in the Manx Museum shop.

So what’s even more obscene than the tasteless cross (and the use of bogus history to excuse expensive 21st century soldier games) is that history we could all learn from was never mentioned, thanks to the very organisations we entrust to preserve our heritage and teach local history to new generations.

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Ethical or not, they’re all bankers

So, where have I been then?

Oh, dealing with….stuff you wouldn’t want to know about. No, really, you don’t. But mostly just trying to put a few positive plans into action, a couple of which have started well, thank you.

But I’m not going to write about any of that. Sorry, another time perhaps.

No, I’m going to grumble about banks instead … and not even the “bad” ones. Because I’ve finally lost patience with so called ethical investment too.

The thing is, all my adult life – ever since I first had a bank account – I have chosen to bank with what used to be the only UK bank which promised not to deal with dictators, arms investors, cosmetic companies who torture bunnies and all that kind of malarkey. I have never – ever – put a penny into what we used to just think of as the big high street banks, and now know to be run by the kind of scrotes who couldn’t make it doing something more respectable. Drug dealing, illegal abortions or mugging pensioners for example.

Then a few months back, out of the blue, all of the Manx environmental groups, development charities and pressure groups which – on principle – also kept their accounts there were given notice that said caring, sharing bank was closing the accounts. In some cases this notice was less than a week. Given the background checks all banks now do on new customers before accepting accounts, plus the rank incompetence of many bank staff, this caused misery and absolute chaos.

Never mind. There is, as it happens, a newer ethical bank where many of us PC folks have savings accounts, and we knew it was about to launch current accounts. These were finally launched a month or two back, and we had notices saying they would be rolled out gradually to all interested customers.

So this week we finally got personalised messages …… saying that they would not be offering current accounts to any Manx customers.

The official explanation, as any Manx customer of a UK bank will know, is that the UK government now requires UK banks to “ring fence” normal banking from investment banking. But somehow that has turned into an excuse for UK banks to simply not accept Manx customers at all.

As the Manx Financial Services Authority have confirmed (after direct negotiations with their Brit counterpart) there is no legal reason to exclude accounts for individuals who actually live on the Isle of Man. The UK banks have just decided to do it anyway.

Well, except for a few very, very wealthy customers who, for tax reasons, maintain a Manx address which goes on their HMRC records, but do not actually live here. For those, account executives at some banks are making …well …. “special arrangements”. For a hefty fee of course. Some of which makes it into the annual bonuses of those who make them.

The real reason is quite clear. Senior staff at all of these banks have been found doing stuff they should not, such as running accounts for Colombian cartels, and are now under much closer scrutiny. In order to make it look like they are complying, they have to produce records of attempts to question an agreed percentage of customers and turn away some potential business. They simply choose to do this for certain types of customers. Innocent ones, who live in certain places, come from certain ethnic backgrounds… well, you probably get the picture.

Then, when the cartels, the gun runners, the developing world asset-strippers and vulture-funders put a big bit of business their way, it slips through without even a second glance. You kind of expect that hypocrisy and double dealing from the Big Four. No wonder the name of one of them is slang for self abuse. You know, sticky fingers?

But when the institutions we’d hoped would break the mould just meekly join in this blind postcodism without questioning either the facts or practice, what hope or reason is there for any of us to do the right thing?

First respond

Earlier this week, just as I was gearing up to start putting together the kind of positive and funny stuff I now want to post, Life bowled me a nasty googly. As it does; nothing to be done about it except deal with it.

Maybe by next weekend things will be better and clearer, and I can spread some sweetness and light around. Meanwhile, if you happen to be Manx resident, even if you’re similarly up to your eyes in the smelly stuff, there is still one thing you must do.

Go to https://consult.gov.im/office-of-the-clerk-of-tynwald/abortion-reform-bill-2017/ . If you have been following the local press you should already have a fair idea what’s going on. Even if, say, you have been on an extended monastic retreat for a year or so and totally out of contact with real life, this is the time to re-join the human race. Read the thing, and RESPOND!

This may be our only chance in a decade to end a disgraceful situation whereby, in order for Manx women to get basic health care, they either have to break the law or be assisted by more enlightened people in another country.

Never mind the government line that limited abortion facilities have been available for 20 years, and they don’t believe there is any problem or demand. In practice, they aren’t, there is, and there is. Ask any woman who has been in need of them.

Which makes this place a third world country, on a par with tinpot, no account, theocratic regimes one only hears about because Amnesty International notices their outrages. It is as if the island is being run by the DUP in proxy.

In fact, given that the main opponents of this bill are people who originally moved here from the territory the DUP runs – because the peace process threatened to make Northern Ireland a fairer place and the UK government would no longer fund sectarian hate preachers with grants meant to aid “bridge-building” and “community projects” – that is not so far from the truth.

So, respond, help change happen, and have a great and hopefully happy, hassle-free week.

Why no Man-Buns?

I’m curious; why have we not seen the Man Bun in Manx financial services yet?

It’s odd. If you can believe the hype, this a cutting-edge, crest-of-the-new-wave industry in which the future has already happened. We have all kinds of flashy stuff. Instant communications with far away places, millions being shifted across continents at the click of a key. Why, we’ve abandoned ties for men, and dress-down-Friday has been an institution for at least a decade now.

So why no man-buns? I get about a bit to other company offices and government departments, but (on the Isle of Man at least) not one to be seen – anywhere.

Even the builders and other contractors currently tearing up and re-arranging our offices for the umpteenth time have more fashion flair. There’s something about manual work that causes such things. Dreadlocks for instance, and tattoos are pretty obligatory now that the habit has even reached female office workers…. and beards! Oh, I’ve seen beards that would startle a Victorian panto villain on kitchen fitters and electricians. Yes, the hipster thing has come full circle. All the way from ex-public-school Camden artisans and right back to – well – blokes who actually make stuff that has to work.

So, I ask again, why no man-buns on office workers?

Or maybe it’s just a Manx thing, because the male Manx office worker is a bit…weird. Almost an insult to Manx pride in fact.

The Manx male has never quite got past the seasonal working habit. Until the 1960s’s the braver ones did a spot of fishing and planted a few spuds, then sat about idle or drunk for most of the year while their women folk did all the heavy stuff. When the seaside holiday came along some – reluctantly – lugged a few visitor suitcases or deckchairs about. A few others even became chefs – though never waiters.

So offshore finance came as a bit of a blessing. At least for those not totally workshy – who are still sitting at home in a pile of empty beer cans playing computer games, waiting for wifey to get back.

In the early days it was just some ex-King Bill’s boys who would have become lawyers anyway (the priesthood being a dying trade), plus a few bright state school kids with ambition, plus – mostly – girls yet to be married (or older women who wished they hadn’t) to type up contracts and enter figures into ledgers for Important Men to summarise and profit from.

Offshore finance also came as a relief to farmers sons who’d run out of lame cows to sell each other. I should explain that on the Isle of Man farming has always been a type of fraud, largely based on convincing civil servants that the lifestyle and (limited) produce is essential (even though housewives prefer the flown in, supermarket variety). In truth, it hasn’t ever been necessary since World War Two ended and people stopped having to eat horse.

So, apart from insurance and double glazing there weren’t many newer frauds to perpetuate – the kind of thing that involved lunchtime drinking while wearing an ill-fitting, go-to-church suit. At least that’s the only logical reason I can come up with as to why a good number of my colleagues are overweight, uncomfortable around women, favour bucket-loads of knock-off “designer” cologne and have the facial expression of a freshly stunned Friesian.

I suppose they’d be one reason the new “no tie” office look went down so well. Previously, there was always a good chance they’d either blind you with the odd colours or get them trapped in a office fan and strangle themselves.

As for their shoe choice – maybe it’s some subconscious folk memory of all the turnips their ancestors kicked, or simply that need of rural idiots everywhere to emulate cowboys. Whatever, the general effect is of so many Boss Hoggs rolling around the office, leaning on other people’s desks for support while telling endless tales of last Friday’s drinking escapades – which were indistinguishable from every other Friday night save for the variation in who threw up over whose shoes.

But anyway – you see why the man-bun is never going to be the hairstyle of choice there.

What is odder is that it hasn’t even taken hold amongst, say, the marketing or IT departments. OK, IT is a fashion no-go area, but you’d expect at least one goatee or braided beard? Strangely, no. All our guys seem to be weekend car nuts, or even TA volunteers. Bizarre.

The marketing/graphic design bit is easier to explain. The poor dears entrusted with our corporate image struggled to get through art school, even with parental backing. I used to dabble in the stuff in my magazine days, and was at uni with people who went on to style ads for the like of Nike. From time to time I amuse them with the latest horrors from our corporate offering, which leads to much sniggering over typefaces that haven’t even been seen in Marks and Sparks advertising since 1990 and odd “designer” touches last seen on Albanian hotel brochures of about the same period.

So, no surprise there are no man-buns there. Even their slim fit jeans come from Lidl rather than Harvey Nicks.

Finally, could it simply be that male office workers in the Isle of Man have better taste and some dignity?

No. That would be even more ludicrous.

So, where the hell have I been?

Well….on holiday, actually, and (by choice) well way from the internet, English language TV and pretty much anything that might tie me to my usual existence.

The thing is, this has been the only two weeks of the year when I was not surrounded by idiots engaged in a project which is, finally, anti-human (or at the very least the opposite of what a humane endeavour should be). And I made the most of it. Lying about in a shady spot in a sunny place, eating, drinking, sleeping….. day-dreaming…. thinking… and other intensive stuff.

You know, it’s sad when you realise that for the sake of the planet and most of humanity it might be best if the Isle of Man did not exist. Which is a harsh truth.

Before I was forced into finance sector work I was not driven to “do good” outside of work. I just lacked the guilt most liberals get about deciding to “get on in life” while quietly knowing you are stepping on others to do it. Mostly because I chose to live simply when I could rather than step on those others. I might not be achieving much in terms of changing or improving the world, but I did no harm either.

But these days I have little choice, because others depend on me, and I feel very beat up about the effects of that. Yes, I provide for my family, and am no burden on civic society or public parasite, but at what greater expense?

So, for me or anyone else in my situation, rather than continue to beat yourself up about it, the question is: “What are you going to do about it?”

And in answering that I’m drawn back, yet again, to Mark Boyle, an astute artist back in the 1970’s who explained his quite unique work thus: “The greatest change you can make to your environment, short of destroying it, is to change your attitude to it.”

Actually, Mark spent the best part of half a century subtly altering everyday situations so that people were nudged into doing just that.

All of which gets me thinking, “What, then, can you do from the Isle of Man to add to the sum of human joy rather than be the cause of more human misery? How do you balance the scales to compensate for your continued, immediately economically vital but in wider terms destructive life?

Those I love most have practical ways of spreading joy outside of rubbish jobs – music, cooking, baking cakes, or just fixing broken objects.

Me? I’m a contemplative, or as some would say, bone idle. What can I do?

But at the very least, I decided the very worst thing I could do was to write more gloomy missives, confirming what many strongly suspect.

So what do I write instead?

Come back sometime and find out.

The Office

In the midst of generating enough paperwork (mostly pointless) to destroy a rain forest at The Unpleasantness this week I also found time to produce the following scientific formula.

In any given task, bureaucracy expands as the time and facilities allotted by management shrinks. This growth and shrinkage occur at the same time, in the same space, with the same energy, and are in every other way equal but opposite.

As this is (a) true, (b) comprehensible and (c) intentionally funny I doubt that it will ever appear in one of those vacuous Business Studies textbooks, but I thought I should pass it on.

Now some might ask why I waste time at work thinking up such things when I should be – well – working. You obviously haven’t worked for years. Certainly not in the offices of a major player in the financial services industry.

Because one of the first things to note is that nobody in an office actually does much office work.

There are, for example, the managers who – every day, and doubly on Mondays or Fridays – come in late, go home early and spend at least two hours per day noisily micromanaging their offspring’s sporting careers. Speaking of which, I really must start gathering evidence to check if the obnoxiousness and low intelligence of children whose parents work in financial institutions multiplies in direct proportion to the seniority of those parents’ positions in the institution.

Seriously, I’m starting to suspect that their parents only keep such grunts running round in circles to ensure they’re too tired to shriek and throw faeces around their bedrooms. The descriptions of these charmers I get from objective third parties would certainly suggest gorillas in King Bill’s uniforms.

Lower down the chain, this micromanaging of kids and partners is also a constant amongst female staff. First thing in the morning (or at least once gossip about last night’s TV and domestic traumas has been duly exchanged) the I-phone or tablet is plugged in beside the office PC, the first calls from kids come through on their office extension, the first instructions to feckless spouses are given on the mobile. Then, throughout the day, the whinges flow in and the orders flow out. This goes on until lunchtime, when they leave early and return late, and sporadically throughout the afternoon, when any down time is spent shopping for home furnishings on Amazon, booking holidays, etc., etc.

Then there are those who spend more time supervising evening and weekend staff social activities than the actual office work of those who live in the real world, interact with families, friends and community and so would not or could not be seen dead drunk at such gatherings.

And so it is that I, a confirmed idler and the world’s most reluctant office worker, often appear to be the only one actually working – at least for the company.

Odd. Very odd.

Was that a week, or just weak?

It’s been an odd week. The best part is that I was only required to attend “The Unpleasantness” on three days, during which the management were so busy managing each other’s mistakes that I was left to manage myself. But enough of such drudgery.

Once it stopped raining, Tuesday was spent helping set up the Global Village for Tynwald Day. Then Wednesday morning I was back there, bright and early, to take my place on the Amnesty International stall for the day. And I really wouldn’t want to have been anywhere else.

The thing is, I have no interest in anything that happens around the main field. Each year my token visit there to check if I’m missing anything gets shorter and shorter. This year I was actually back on the stall within ten minutes, and feeling physically sick.

For me it’s a sad collection of colonial klingons, UKIP-lite losers and war-gamers. Tiny minds, no ambition beyond selling the next lame cow to buy a wide-screen TV. The mud, the diesel fumes, the attempts to crowd more and more paying punters into a smaller and smaller space? The increasingly desperate and clueless attempts to demonstrate “Manxness”.

Well…. thanks, but no thanks. If there is a Manx way of life, that field is not where you will find it. Quite the opposite in fact.

By comparison, the Global Village is a model of what we could have. The antics of some of the participants may well annoy or frustrate me, but it is the willingness to communicate with others not like us that has to be encouraged. There is none of that around the main event.

Last year things wound up with a sort of multicultural conga of performers, stallholders, and spectators of African, Bulgarian, Indian, Filipino, Manx and I-know-not-what other descent around the field. It was all totally spontaneous and totally infectious: the kind of thing that happens when people of very different backgrounds get together with a positive purpose. Nothing up the hill matches that.

Instead, we get dreck like http://www.manxradio.com/news/isle-of-man-news/church-service-resonates-with-tradition/ . Which is also, incidentally, inaccurate. On the quiet, even compulsory clergy attendees tell me that the entire ceremony bores them to tears and makes them wish they were somewhere else – just interacting with humanity. This is when you realise how bad things really are.

Thankfully, this year there was http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=34684&headline=Silent%20protest%20over%20island%27s%20abortion%20law&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2017 , which rather put things in context. The last time anything comparable occurred would be 1991, when ACT UP popped in to protest the continued complete illegality of homosexuality, along with police and civic harassment of local gays. At the time police tactics were bad enough to drive some to suicide.

And then, a day or two after the main event, came https://www.gov.im/news/2017/jul/07/value-of-arts-and-culture-emphasised-as-strategy-is-published/ . Apparently, “A vibrant cultural scene boosts people’s sense of identity, assists wellbeing and contributes to the Island’s economy and international reputation.”

Well, it might well do if we actually had one. But this has nothing to do with culture, as in the everyday life of people, and everything to do with product that can be measured, bought and sold.

Rarities like the Handmaids aside, anything I would recognise as culture is not to be seen in the public eye. It exists on the Isle of Man only in the cracks between the official version, which it wouldn’t surprise me to know government has trademarked.