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.

Heaven knows they’re miserable now

The latest issue of a bi-monthly atheist magazine I write for arrived today; yet again my piece didn’t appear in it. True, the last time it was because a deadline was changed at the last minute and I missed it, but other omissions are a bit of a mystery. The copy was early, absolutely the right length, positive, and not contentious. In general then, no different to a system that has worked well for over a decade, and through two major overhauls of the magazine’s format.

I begin to see a pattern here. A few months ago I contacted both of the UK’s atheist associations to ask if they knew anything about an odd evangelical initiative posing as a “life skills” course that had just appeared in Manx high schools.

For three months nobody replied. Then, just as the issue had been aired and almost buried here, one contacted me for local input on a press release they planned to all UK media. I helped, they quoted me vaguely but didn’t use the relevant information I gave them, and tagged the whole Manx element onto a general whinge about another evangelical group and another “educational” Trojan horse.

Undeterred, I tried the full story on the editor of two international atheist publications who have used my reports on a number of Manx issues. Again, such reports have been a mixture of humour and positivity, chronicling times we’ve seen powerful religious figures do something unacceptable, raised it in public and with government, and won.

It’s all part of a continuing story about how, over a decade or so, a tiny atheist group has tackled such issues in our tiny country and, with some persistence, brought about social change. This happened not so much by screaming, shouting and name-calling but by hard fact and negotiation with people who are our neighbours and workmates, not anonymous bogeymen. Again, though I tried twice to make sure it had been received, the story was never used.

The cynic in me wonders if it’s because Manx atheists succeed, while our blowhard colleagues elsewhere do not. Far from the growing force that they’d like to think they are, to me atheists all around the British isles resemble the Labour Party, condemned forever to be in opposition and never in power. The Celtic ones in particular just cannot shake off that romantic loser self-image and plan for power or social change. Part of me wonders if they simply cannot handle success or responsibility.

Oh well, their loss. On the Isle of Man we have a brand of atheism that is responsible, socially engaged …. and works. If atheists elsewhere would rather act like a Morrissey fan club than hear about it why should I worry?

Taking the biscuit

At the beginning of Marcel Proust’s very long book In Search of Lost Time the narrator bites into a biscuit, which evokes a memory of one long lost moment, which sets off a chain of others, which goes on for six volumes of some 700 pages each. It’s a book so obsessed with small detail that at one point the author devotes a page and a half just to turning over in bed.

I’m just getting over a Proustian moment. To be precise, one rude, short but otherwise quickly discarded reminder of something past on Saturday was followed soon after by me finally succumbing to a chest infection and spending two days in bed unable to even turn over.

If A had not been followed by B I might have briefly blogged on Saturday that a pompous village idiot had been a pompous village idiot and left it at that. But as I had to retire to bed before I could even get a chance to turn on my PC, and didn’t emerge again until this morning, the incident nagged until, eventually, in a Freudian insight worthy of Proust I realised that this PVI’s behaviour years ago is the core reason for my total contempt of Manx government and pillars of the community ever since.

But I’m rushing to finish – hardly the Proustian method.

To take things a step at a time ….. on Saturday I had just finished packing and paying for my shopping in a busy supermarket and, to help keep the queue moving, pushed my trolley over to an aisle to put my wallet away. Within seconds, a belligerent voice behind me was screaming “Excuse ME”. Turning to find out what the problem was, I saw a ghastly, red-faced creature wearing the T-shirt of one of the island’s most dishonest and grasping charities.

Now, anyone of even average intelligence would have seen that (a) I was standing there to put my wallet away rather than inconvenience other shoppers and (b) there was a good 20 feet between me and the till through which a blind man could have safely driven a bus to get out of the door, which was presumably what the creature wanted. The T-shirt alone signalled this was not someone of even average intelligence, the red face suggested some mental disturbance, and in addition I actually recognised it from the 1980’s, when for a while I was on the local youth and community centre management committee.

Two stories will suffice to outline the problem.

Firstly, on that committee we tried very hard to make the place into a genuine community centre. The problem was that by law the two local members of the Board of Education had to be on the committee, and in turn they insisted that a local teacher also sat on it. While the youth workers were as keen as the rest of us to get genuine community groups into the building the two Board of Education members regarded any group not firmly under the thumb of government as “political” and made sure the B of E refused them. The teacher and youth workers were powerless to resist. This was their employer, after all.

The two B of E members also had another strange obsession. If there was some momentous event at the club we inevitably had to invite government figures to witness it. When arranging such events, the B of E members were totally disinterested in any detail (or offering any practical assistance) apart from checking if enough alcohol had been ordered for the government guests. They insisted that without alcohol the government would not come, and it would not be a proper event.

This was not true. Both the town MHKs sat on the committee and agreed with us that alcohol was not an appropriate example for young people, but the B of E owned the building and insisted. So alcohol was procured, and the B of E and other bigwigs got drunk and went home without once interacting with kids, parents or the rest of the community.

I could go on and on with such examples (e.g. these were the people who, at every interview for a job under their control, had just two questions, “Are you married” and “What church do you attend”), but why bother?

From such examples of sheer, self-serving cretinism I learnt how Manx government departments actually work – i.e. against common sense, against the needs or wishes of the public and totally for the benefit of those who hold the power. And this was even in the days before the Board became a fully fledged Government Department and Board members were – at least nominally – elected. In practice public disinterest meant that the places were rarely (if ever) contested, and even if they were friends in government could be relied on to ensure “undesirable” candidates were eliminated.

The link to Saturday is that the rude PVI was one of the Board members, and that even after the Department got so autocratic it cancelled the largely sham elections and openly (though behind closed doors and without ever releasing the potential names) chose members to “represent the public interest” that PVI continued to damage young lives for well over a decade.

As I know from elsewhere, it is a practice now followed by other government departments. To my knowledge, only one vital government department doesn’t work that way. And, sadly, it isn’t even the one which deals with law and order, which is probably one of the worst. For example, the sham “choice” of members of the Board of Prison Visitors (the body charged in law with independently assessing prisons). Theoretically the choice is by the serving members after interview, in practice it is by the DHA, (which is riddled with evangelical nut-jobs and paranoid about the Human Rights Act), without interview, and sometimes appointing people who have not even applied.

Two days in bed dwelling on this? One of which was the first day of my holiday? I’d rather have had a biscuit. But at least I haven’t obsessed at true Proustian length either.