Red Nose? No thanks!

As the astute will have noticed, this is a work day, so if I am writing this I cannot be at work. There is a reason for this, and that reason is Red Nose Day.

It seems to be a law of the land that on Red Nose Day merchant bankers and other stains on humanity sit in baths full of baked beans (which they claim is hilarious) and female varieties of the species bake fairy cakes (which are inedible). It is not a law of the land that I have to watch, or sample the cakes, or throw money in a bucket to do either. Until it is, I simply take the day off and do something interesting instead.

But I am always prepared to negotiate with such buffoons. If, let’s say, they would act like at least halfway decent human beings on most of the other 364 days of the year (no, let’s be honest, humanity needs that to be all 365) I would stop wishing they could fall under a runaway bus on a steep hill. I still would not “donate” to their fake charities, because the poor have enough misery already without having TV celebrities inflicted on them.

Also, of course, when not at work I meet far fewer people of limited intelligence with a variety of speech defects indicating descent from car-thieves, Calvinist butt-heads or sheep molesters. Instead, I can (and did) spend the day reading a book written by someone whose humour is much blacker than my own, and whose tolerance for such freaks makes me look like a benign uncle on his second whiskey at Christmas.

Last night, by comparison, I was in far better company. To wit, joining the finest accordionist the island has ever known and his wife (i.e. my parents) at a once-in-a lifetime performance given in a small venue by the greatest Shetland fiddler and accordionist in world history. And they were all so witty, modest and friendly too.

It was …. how can I put it ….. like a winter night in a comfy old chair before a roaring peat fire in a cottage with solid walls and a sea view, sharing reminiscences and a bottle of single malt with old friends. Yes, that good.

Even coming home to watch a harrowing, very graphic TV documentary about Syrian prisoners – the day after yet another zealot carved up innocent bystanders to demonstrate his contempt for….well, who knows any more what excuse these nut-jobs plead – could not restore Business As Usual.

Not unwell but….

A couple of weeks back I was joking that the blog is getting more Bernardian by the day and that, in future, each time I go a week without posting I will put a small message up saying “Manx Gent is unwell”.

This week I came close. The Unpleasantness became more unpleasant, as these things do. All the business manuals on workplace stress say that the real test of your abilities is the way in which you turn around a flow of negative feedback by staying positive, pro-active… and a bunch of other numbskull buzz words. Somehow, I think management and their stooges missed that e-mail.

By coincidence, I had been reading Hannibal, the sequel to Silence of The Lambs, in which at one point Hannibal Lecter explains to somebody that, when feasible, he chose only to eat the rude. Such a shame there’s never a helpful cannibal around when those of us trying to maintain civilised values and human decency could benefit most.

In addition, having agreed to give a daily lift to a stranded colleague the workday also became longer. So, in the 20 or so minutes which used to be my readjustment zone between home and work each morning and evening I get treated to a litany of somebody else’s work problems. What kind of screwed up world is it where even my altruistic acts are being turned against me?

But at least the week ended well.

Firstly, on Friday my first day cover of a new P.J. O’Rourke book on the Trump election, How The Hell Did This Happen? , arrived. For those not in the know, O’Rourke’s work is neatly categorised by the title of his first book, Republican Party Reptile. I discovered him back in the mid 1980’s, when a review of that very book described it as just the thing to buy a bishop for Christmas if you wanted him to die of shock.

It was a pretty apt review. It is ironic that conservatives, while wrong about everything, at least manage to be wrong with cutting edge humour while liberals… Well, when you have no choice but to deal with life’s worst absurdities up close the last thing you need is a sermon in your spare time.

Every acid phrase by O’Rourke has you screaming “No, no, you can’t say that” while doubled up laughing. A lifelong Republican, he finally balked at the idea of Trump and, like his cohort Chris Buckley, advised conservatives that there was no other choice but to vote for The Great Satan (i.e. Hillary) as someone who, however clueless, at least knew where the White House was and understood what a US president was supposed to do.

The other good thing was the remarkable kindness of some public sector employees who contested a petty restriction for me. About a week ago, I asked if I could put up a poster for From Syria With Love in….let’s just say a public building where it might be seen by a lot of passing trade. I was politely informed that the noticeboard was for local events only ( visions of the Royston Vasey shop there for a moment), so went to look elsewhere instead.

A couple of days later I had a message from a manager, who’d been out when I asked, saying the matter had been brought to her attention, that no such policy existed and that I was welcome to bring the poster in. Later, on calling in on quite another matter, I was actually told to go home and fetch it. So I did, and it’s now up there alerting decent people to a worthwhile event and annoying xenophobes and petty bureaucrats.

In short, not thriving, but not unwell either. Just middling.

Never mind the government, here’s the refugee aid program

Those who know the “real” me are aware I supported a modest proposal to settle one Syrian refugee family a year to the Isle of Man over a period of five years. The proposal and figure was intended (using the same ratio of refugees to national population) to match David Cameron’s promise to rehouse some Syrian refugees around the UK. The families were to have come from a specific, well supervised and monitored, refugee camp, and would have been subject to exactly the same rigorous checks as those the UK government would take.

Well, the world knows what happened to the UK promise, and recently Manx people also discovered that our own government were even less interested – even though Manx civil society would have done all the work and government was simply asked not to get in the way. Because if you try to do anything to buck the trend for institutional xenophobia on the Isle of Man, you expect such knockbacks.

Oddly enough, our government either sees nothing wrong in (or turns a blind eye to) the way, say, the London property portfolios of Middle Eastern dictators are overseen on the Isle of Man. That, after all, is strictly business. Oh, and it also means, for instance, that Manx government ministers and their staff can travel (at public expense) to the Dubai offices of a frivolous Department for Economic Development PR scheme to attract Middle Eastern investments (without any awkward questions about human rights or industrial scale corruption).

So anyway, as you’d need a ouija board to start a conversation with most Manx politicians or civil servants (assuming they even have souls), those involved in the original proposal have moved on.

Now, there’s a great scheme called From Syria With Love (see http://fromsyriawithlove.com/ ), and one of their projects is http://fromsyriawithlove.com/from-syria-with-love-art-exhibition/ , a collection of paintings by Syrian children living in refugee camps in Lebanon. And it’s coming to the Isle of Man. You can see the whole thing in Noa Bakehouse, Douglas, where it will be for two weeks between 25th March and 8th April.

Baraa Essay Kouja, the founder of the charity , and himself a Syrian refugee, will also be here for four days. You can catch his public presentations on Saturday, 1st April at 2.30 PM and Sunday, 2nd April at 10.30 AM and 7.45 PM. Baraaa will also be visiting secondary schools on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th to give talks about the refugee camps, the Syrian crisis and the children behind the pictures.

Framed prints of exhibition pictures will be on sale for £15 and there is also the opportunity to order unframed prints for £10 which will be available to collect one week after the exhibition closes. 100% of the proceeds goes directly to small scale projects in the Lebanon camps and at displacement points on the Syrian border.

You know, it’s almost a shame we can’t get anybody that efficient, hard working or imaginative running Manx government enterprise schemes. Because by my back-of-the-envelope calculations that’s a success rate about 100% higher than the Dubai scheme, which has produced no genuine new Middle Eastern investment. Most of those shady deals have been quietly in place here for two decades or more already, which is why by now they’re so complex and opaque that they rarely show up on the radar.

Anyway, excuse my cynicism. All I really mean to say is, go, see the exhibition, engage with a few local people who actually want to be part of the human race for a change. Maybe you might even want to lend a hand to what they’re doing.

Wasting away the moments that make up a dull day….

Hmm, I see it’s two weeks since I last posted. This blog gets more Bernardian by the day.

Maybe in future, in tongue-in-cheek homage to Saint Jeff, each time I go a week without posting I should enter right onto the spirit of the thing and put a small message up saying “Manx Gent is unwell”.

It wouldn’t be true, but then neither was it the case all those times The Spectator editor gave up trying to get blood from the stoned and just placed the infamous message “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell” where the weekly Low Life column should have gone.

Look, there are just times (far too many) when the creative spirit looks out of the window, back at his or her “tripewriter”, then out the window and back at the tripewriter again and thinks….. “Why bother?”

On the other hand, why not?

Anyway, another week amongst the living dead in what passes for a hive of industry and what do I have to report?

Not a lot.

This week I realised that the combined ages of any of the several pointless management clusters nominally supervising my (equally nominal) work hardly adds up to my actual age. In addition, I doubt if the combined IQ of these myriad ( and I sometimes suspect self-replicating) power groupings would surpass that of, say, someone at the higher end of the special needs spectrum. Other than the fact that they cannot communicate with anyone outside their world, or register anything that does not appear as a “stat” on any of their spread-sheets, I really cannot understand how such idiocy continues.

Watching business management in action is like watching those cartoon figures who pedal air after running off a cliff. You know they should fall, you wait for them to fall, but they just pedal, and pedal, and pedal…..

The crash surely has to come any second now… wait, wait…. Oh, never mind, might as well wander off for another cup of tea.

Bureaucracy, it is becoming increasingly clear to me, seems to spread like plastic detritus on beaches. To someone who comes across it by chance, it is baffling where it all comes from. And neither logic nor imagination can stop the increasing proliferation of either phenomenon.

It may be true, as a research organisation I quietly help from time to time says, that those faceless figures behind the corporations wrecking the world are actual people, and have names and addresses. But just tracking them down is a full time job, never mind tackling the mess they cause. And neither task gets a mortgage paid unless you were born into the right race and class.

On the other hand, a figure I have admired for years, but unfortunately never met in person, died this week.

Gustav Metzger was not an artist the general public knew about. Far more radical than Tracey Emin or Damian Hirst, or Banksy, but because of his own principles never destined for their fame or economic fortune. In fact, outside a tiny, truly experimental and radical art community to whom he was one of the 20th century’s most important figures, hardly anyone within the highly incestuous and private art world did either.

Metzger arrived in Britain courtesy of the kinder-transport, went on to study art almost by accident, and unlike most art world enfant terribles actually lived life like he made art, including a spell in jail for crimes against militarism. For some 75 years – right up until the week before he died in fact – he was at war with capitalism, consumerism and the waste-makers of the world.

Discover him at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/02/gustav-metzger-artist-appreciation , https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/03/gustav-metzger-obituary and https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/03/gustav-metzger-art-revolutionary-human-being-capitalism .

Now THAT is not a wasted life.

Flower arranging

Plans for one of the island’s most cringe-worthy annual events were revealed yesterday. If we needed any more evidence of the tourist department’s utter incompetence, may I refer the jury to http://www.manx.net/isle-of-man-news/81949/theme-for-2017-isle-of-man-flower-festival-is-announced.

In a nutshell, this event consists of….well, flower displays in churches. Um, that’s it. No, honestly, it is.

The only really interesting feature (at least for number-crunchers who make a living from “re-interpreting” statistics) is the clever way in which a few carloads of grannies wandering around a church magically becomes “thousands” in the official annual tourist figures. It works like this….

The organisers in each church are issued with little clickers, which they press every time a visitor or volunteer walks in the door. The thing is, there are 11 churches, and the event makes no sense unless you visit every one. So, if 100 genuinely interested people visited one church in a week, by the time they’ve seen the lot the total becomes 1100. If you consider that the obligatory party comprising the governor and his entourage alone adds up to about 12 the numbers go down even further. Then there’s town and village politicos, tinies from the local primary school and other compulsory attendees. It all adds up – in a not entirely honest way.

This scam was developed by local heritage bods in a linked government department around the millennium, when an expensive “historic attraction” was losing money hand-over-fist, partly because of constant new repairs demanded by initial bad design, partly by sheer lack of punters. Outside of compulsory school visits and TT Week, the suspicion was that on many days the real footfall for a massive public investment that demanded, for example, the entire re-routing of a town traffic system (killing off all local shops in the process) was in single figures.

To inflate reported attendance, an electronic scanner counted all who passed through the front entrance, and the figures produced became the official attendance quoted in annual reports. This sounds fair until you know that the centre’s own staff pass in and out maybe 20 times a day. Then, because of the constant repairs, there was a constant flow of electricians, plumbers, carpenters, roofers and other tradesmen, passing in and out with each plank, brick, bag of nails, fuse, light-bulb, etc. etc. Amusingly, the attraction won a “Museum of the Year” prize not long after. Some might wonder if a prize for fantasy fiction might have been more in order.

I merely add that the same government body, for about a decade now, has also underwritten an event called Praying the Keills. The tour claims to allow devout Christians to follow the steps of the Celtic saints. In practice quasi-geriatrics and other social misfits are led from one random pile of stones in a windswept spot to another. I am not sure if an ambulance actually follows them around, but I suspect one would have to be on permanent standby.

Seriously, in what parallel universe does a government body go out of its way to promote tourism for retired faith-heads? And in what real world will some very well paid public servants ever get judged on actual good ideas or success?

Not a prayer

One of the island’s most imbecilic evangelical outfits started a “Forty Days of Prayer” campaign on 29th January. It makes amusing reading, and I’m not just talking about the spelling mistakes or the garbled corporate speak drawn from some dire, downmarket self-help manual.

For example, on 27th February, punters are asked to “Pray for the work of HEAR (Humanity and Equality in Abortion Reform). Ask for the wisdom, strength and grace of Jesus for those who lead this important campaign. Ask God to guide us as a church in our corporate and personal responses to the forthcoming abortion bill.”

And on 2nd March, they should “Pray for the support groups which meet regularly in our premises – Stauros, Supper Club, 3S, Life pregnancy support. Ask that people will find God’s healing love through the people who minister to them.”

For those not in the know, Stauros started as a “get-out-of-jail-free” drug rehabilitation scam for Loyalist prisoners run by evangelicals and has spread to parts of the British isles where they were resettled. Think AA, run by even more manipulative figures with absolutely no training or relevant knowledge.

Life pregnancy support is a pro-life organisation, so badly run that it all but vanished in the UK and until a year or so ago was also almost extinct here. Their chief tactic is psychological abuse of any unfortunate woman who falls for their vaguely worded newspaper advert promising “support”.

I’m also intrigued that on 21st February they’re praying for “Aliens”. Having dismissed the idea that they want to save ET’s soul, I idly wondered if this might be some well meant intent to worry about the plight of refugees.

Sadly not. It appears that “Aliens” is their in-house term for kids from families who aren’t already cult members who might get drawn in via their unofficial youth club. The official one, I should explain, closed when educational department funding was withdrawn on police advice, after investigations revealed some pretty salubrious activity.

Given how often the cult in question uses emotive and fact-free appeals to panhandle public money, it is almost a relief to see them begging their Imaginary Invisible Friend for help instead. But even if I thought he did exist, if he really was omnipotent and all-seeing I cannot imagine why he would answer their prayers.

Manx education – a contradiction in terms

A couple of days ago, when two teachers took seriously my daughter’s concerns about a mouthy homophobe in her class, had a quiet word with the lad and caused him to apologise, I was almost ready to rethink my long-term opinion of the Manx education system. And as a parent, there are days when you worry about it. And then there are days, like today, when you more than worry. On those, you just go ballistic at the sheer cretinism of those running it.

Because today my daughter came home from school with the news that the town’s most notorious sexist, homophobic throwback is going to be giving sex education lessons. Apparently this will be OK because not only is he a clergyman, but also a prison chaplain. Though if we want to be quite accurate, he is neither of those things either.

He has no training in theology (no surprise as he can barely read or write), and only inherited the job of pastor at the town’s batshit-crazy Pentecostal outfit when his predecessor was finally put away for sex with underage girls.

Officially, he isn’t a prison chaplain either. His denomination is not one of the three with a right in law to appoint one, and has made no case to the prison service to do so. Instead, he slipped in on the back of another evangelical outfit’s “prison rehabilitation” scheme as an unofficial prison visitor. I say unofficial because there is a government scheme whereby about half a dozen prison visitors are appointed by a committee, and they haven’t interviewed or approved him either.

But it gets worse.

Firstly, this freak was one of the church elders who helped in the cover-up of his predecessor’s behaviour. Their actions included going round to the families of victims to tell them that if they ever testified in court not only would they be thrown out of the church, but unable to work on the island or live without harassment in any island community.

Secondly, when one of his star pupils got a girl pregnant and she wouldn’t marry him, the pastor went into her workplace (a local chip shop) to denounce her in front of the Friday night queue, and had to be thrown off the premises. Imagine that – a man of the cloth who has to be barred from a chip shop for anti-social behaviour.

Thirdly, when the Manx government held a public consultation on the advisability of allowing same sex marriage a couple of years back, his was one of the most virulent, repulsive responses – even amongst the collection of knuckle-dragging neanderthals who run a variety of breakaway cults attracting no more than two men and a dog , having been deemed too weird for any of the major denominations.

He is, in short, someone too dangerous and stupid ever to be allowed into the same room as children or vulnerable adults. Yet, because both the prison service and education department are riddled with incompetence and ignorance, not only is he allowed to do both, but getting paid from public funds.

If I thought the Education Minister could read and write I’d complain. But I can’t remember a literate one in almost three decades. So what would be the point?

Looking on the bright side, at least this piece of human effluent will serve one useful function. As they do whenever an evangelical is sent to the school, my daughter and her friends are going to have enough material to keep them in hysterics for weeks.

Though I still wish the head teacher – or whoever chooses such chumps – had enough common sense to find at least one rational adult who might actually be capable of educating, informing or inspiring young people for a change.