Republican Party Reptiles Do Daycare

I am on holiday.

Not because I had anywhere to go or anything particular to do. Certainly not because I had any pressing family duty to deal with. Simply because I am sick of having every move micromanaged by bores of room temperature IQ.

But there was a masterplan of sorts. For this should be the week in which I finally start writing again. Freed from workplace inanities, the words would flow freely and I would again start to publish like clockwork. This would be handy because – coincidentally – the bi-monthly deadline for a publication who always want me is approaching and I have not written a word (or even chosen a subject, to be honest).

Um! No, still no ideas.

And the year started so well too. While on the one hand the old markets are closing, new ones rocked up. I seem to have said all I can about Manx campaigns to combat religious privilege to publications who want to report them. Anyway, there are no new campaigns to speak of, while the publications who once wanted to know are now duller and more dogmatic than the religiots. So why bother?

In their place, I was surprised to get offers from libertarian and proudly individualist sites I follow away from those mocking purely faith-based bansturbators. This was fun, but in the last two months not much action there either.

It isn’t that the topics and campaigns have gone away: if anything they are becoming more necessary. But in conversation with some of those behind them, I find that – like me – they are too worn out, distracted or overwhelmed by dayjob responsibilities to research and write as they used to. Interestingly, I also find that some of the wittiest and fieriest writers share something else with me.

The state – and even their own families – are not capable or willing to deal with the failing health of elderly relatives, so all their spare hours are spent plugging the gap. Wouldn’t it be the greatest irony be if Britain’s fieriest libertarian hacks all gave up holding Nanny HQ to account simply because they had to check on Mum?

One answer, which one or two of us are tentatively exploring, is to write about that instead.

Now, the MOR print press and cyberworld are already overflowing with dullards who blog like some provincial Mother Theresa about the topic. Stuff that for a game of soldiers.

Time for such natural  interfereniks to be elbowed aside by drunks, rock-and-rollers and party animals. Think Republican Party Reptiles Do Daycare. Or imagine an Ab Fab plot where June Whitfield’s mother character develops serious Alzheimers, and Edina and Patsy must somehow cope without spilling a drop.

Sounds like a plan.

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Market forces

There was yet another of those “Death of the High Street” reports on TV this week. It forecast that the retail trade is all but dead because people would rather shop online.

Personally, I would have thought it had more to do with the scrotes who own them running off to Monaco, leaving their former employees without pensions. Funny how there’s always enough dosh in retail to buy another jet for the latest owner of some “failing” high street chain, but never enough to keep shops open, isn’t it?

Or maybe it is just because people whose noses are always in their dumbphones cannot handle real life, or the unexpected?

For example, I recently overheard some folk enthusing about Tesco Online. Their thinking seemed to be that online you don’t have the distraction of the actual shop, with all those “special offers” of stuff that you never planned to buy but just got carried away, only for it to rot in the fridge. Which is fair enough really, and just the kind of thing us anti-capitalists like to hear.

Only they then went on to talk at length about their shopping jihads to Liverpool or Manchester, where they buy up tons of cheap T-shirts and the like and end up paying excess baggage on the “budget airline”. Having got the stuff home, of course, they wear it once or not at all (realising it doesn’t fit, or stretches or fades after a couple of washes) and bin it.

So, not so smart after all these proles, eh? If only they thought and consumed like their betters tell them to.

Which all leads me to last week’s local newspaper. This, coincidentally, led with badly disguised advertorial for the development at Douglas’s old Market Hall. I’ve mentioned my disgust at various attempts at “redevelopment” there before, but as the media seem to be reporting yet another as “news” (rather than paid for content) I make no apology for doing so again.

To recap, years ago the hall was a scruffy but friendly place with numerous traditional stalls where you could pick up anything from kitchen utensils to second-hand books, in between drinking strong builder’s tea at an unpretentious caff. I had many adventures there, often wandering in with no purchasing plan and leaving with, say, a pulp novel by someone I’d never heard of, or meeting someone by chance. In every instance it led to a chain of thoughts and events I could not possibly have imagined – some giving pleasure for a few hours or days, others having lifetime-changing consequences.

A few years back, Douglas Town Council and the Douglas Degeneration Partnership decided to hold expensive consultations to consider new uses for the hall. The excuse was that it was no longer economically viable, but I suspect that they just found it all a bit – well – common really.

Far too many downmarket punters and traders milling about. Time to appeal to a richer clientele.

Which is why they chucked out the rabble, restored it to something like the original Edwardian décor and handed it over to the local yoghourt-weavers. Lots of knitting and pottery but not one paying visitor was the result, so they had yet another rethink.

Now it has been handed over to a shabby chic coalition of a coffee shop run by a burnt-out banker and a bike retail and repair shop, all quietly underwritten by one of the nastier players in the Manx finance sector. There’s also the inevitable quasi-green guff about sustainable lifestyles, getting Douglas workers out of cars and into healthier lifestyles (blah, blah….bloody blah blah).

It is just that – guff. In essence, rich thickos who will shell out £1,000 for a designer bicycle built in China for about a tenner by kids who should be at school (or £5 for a cup of coffee that looks and tastes like sludge) have yet another place to play. Those of us with more imagination and common sense but less cash need to go somewhere else. Which is hardly news, and might even be an interesting challenge.

But then, being schooled in the Chicago School of Surrealism, which mixes cultural analysis of the everyday marvellous with class struggle anarchism, I do have a slightly different take on all this.

I can find the totally unexpected without even trying within a few hundred metres of my home – any time, any day of the week –  and for no more than a few pence. So why bother getting on the bus to a metropolitan disaster zone, only to be bored by the mundane, or surrounded by the kind of boss-class cretin I at least get paid to endure in the workplace?

 

Anti-microwave league, anyone?

Yesterday was a perfect day.

It was my birthday, and I had the day off. I spent the morning completing my latest Thomas Mann and catching up with domestic stuff. Then off to pick up my parents and take them out to lunch, which passed off without incident.

I return to find an e-mail confirming the guest blog I’d been invited to make for a great anti-fuss-bucketry site was up, then filed the copy for the Irish bi-monthly I write for. This makes three articles accepted within a month – back to a target I set myself three years back which fell apart in 2017 and I haven’t been near since.

The only down was discovering that the highly recommended restaurant I’d booked was a microwave merchant. You can tell at once when the food comes in deep earthenware pots, one with the main course, another with vegetables, another with sauce, etc. It’s a pain because the food won’t cool down until you’re almost scraping the bottom of the pot.

I had an apple crumble in one – a meal I thought it impossible for even an amateur chef to screw up – but couldn’t start eating it for almost 20 minutes because the hottest element – the fruit – was beneath the crumble. This made it impossible to mix the fruit and crumble or add the custard – which is the whole point of the dish.

Maybe people who like proper food need to start naming, shaming and blacklisting any restaurant who has this practice. An anti-microwave league, perhaps?

Think of it as part of the slow food movement. What is the point of traditional cooking if the chef just bangs out pre-assembled portions from an electronic gizmo?

Also, bear in mind I was taking two oldies out. They’re fussy, don’t like anything new, prefer plain meat-and-two-veg stuff and proper puddings (not “dessert”), all fresh and home-cooked. Their senses are not so good. They’d hardly notice if something was heated to 500 degrees, and the last thing I need is having to rush them off to casualty with burnt mouths.

But yesterday I was spending cherished time with people I love and in too good a mood to complain.

I don’t really like causing a fuss in restaurants anyway. It looks mean and arrogant, and for me there’s the class thing. The typical complainant is upper-middle-class or at least socially elite (there was a professional Yorkshireman doing it at another table over the pettiest things – nasty little turd), while the staff are just underpaid workers trying to do a job. I’ve been in their place, so I can’t do it to them.

No, if it’s going to be done, it has to be in a way that hits the executive management and owners – those who turned an art into a cost-cutting assembly line in the first place. Have to think more about that one.

Truly Bernardian

The title of this blog seems more apt than ever at present. Because I do seem to be leading a truly Bernardian existence.

For example, one side-effect of my newly singleton existence is no more shopping trollies in supermarkets. These days you find me in the “nine items or less” queue.

This ought to be a blessing – but it isn’t. Because in their constant search for the extra buck, most local supermarkets have simply done away with them. Instead, we frugal shoppers are directed to the scratch cards, fags and lottery ticket desk. Or as I prefer to call it – the loser aisle.

Take last night , when I had to pop in for a few top-up food items.

There were three folk ahead of me. At the head of the queue, a notorious town skiver who has made dubious sick benefit claims for decades. Having just collected, he was blowing the rent money on lottery tickets – about £50 worth, all with sets of (un)lucky numbers which had to be keyed in.

Behind him (I kid you not) a woman who rocked up with a trolley to buy boxes of cigarettes. And behind her, a mum food-shopping. About half a dozen family packs of Pringles and own brand crisps and two bottles of the kind of downmarket vodka that’s probably distilled from anti-freeze, to be more precise.

Nice.

Me – I was buying fruit, and from the looks of fellow-shoppers you’d have thought I’d just breezed in from Mars.

Then there’s some of my workmates, for whom being an invalid has become almost a hobby or career choice.

I grew up in a coal and steel town, so don’t get me wrong. I’m fully aware that working class people who spend years in low status jobs with poor health and safety standards develop awful industrial diseases. But while for the elderly relatives I now care for ill health is a curse, for these characters it’s their only distinguishing feature, and something they do nothing to avoid.

Seriously, it’s almost as if being ill is what they do to appear interesting, in the way better balanced people take up fishing or photography in a dedicated, mildly competitive way.

Since when did varicose veins become something to cultivate the way keen gardeners try to grow prize-winning marrows?

And when did anyone start worrying about their place in some local health authority league table, or seek to outdo their neighbours in the sheer quantity of pills taken each day and clinical appointments for minor procedures attended (seemingly with no interest in taking the simple precautions and sound medical advice offered for avoiding more)?

I try to be amused rather than annoyed by such people. Individually they’re mildly amusing. It’s only when 20 or so of them pick up pitchforks and flaming torches that you have a serious problem.

Thankfully that hasn’t happened………yet.

 

 

 

Utterly guttered

I had the oddest exchange with someone at work a couple of days ago: one of those incidents which is simultaneously tragic but very funny.

To put it mildly, some of my work-mates are gloom-and-doom merchants – determinedly glass-half-empty folk who can turn any minor or major success into another reason to be miserable. Granted, they have their genuine problems (physical maladies, relatives and neighbours from hell.…, etc. etc.), but nothing insurmountable with a little planning and good humour.

One, for example, seems to be surrounded by feckless male relatives who think her only purpose in life is to wait on them hand and foot. From what we can gather, this is made worse because she also refuses to let them sort out any minor problem or everyday task for themselves.

This week’s toll of grief included a husband who can’t be bothered to fill in his tax form and a son studying abroad who almost daily demands she couriers more techno-toys and sundry useless (and heavy, therefore expensive) items to him, all of which cost a fortune to send and long, complicated forms for customs clearance.

As we were getting stuck into Thursday’s first menial task, having duly recited last night’s family problems, she suddenly burst out ‘We’re all in the gutter and looking up at the stars. I can’t remember who said that, can you?’

‘Well, it was Oscar Wilde’, I replied, ’but it’s actually “We may all be in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”……

….at which point she ran off screaming, partly because this proved she couldn’t even quote a well-known saying about life’s unfairness without getting it wrong, partly because in correcting her I had lowered her self-esteem still further.

The more I and the department’s other art graduate slacker tried to explain that what Wilde was saying is that you can choose to look at the stars instead of the gutter, the angrier and more entrenched in their misery she and her fellow pessimists got. This was, of course, hilarious, but we couldn’t laugh without making the situation worse.

Finally, she howled ‘But I can’t see any stars’, to which I replied ‘Well, roll over and look up, then’.

At which point we two optimists really had to leave the room, unable to restrain our giggles any longer. The Pessimist Party would then have muttered at length about us while we were gone.

I am tempted to say that at least in doing so they must have got some sort of satisfaction, and so everyone ended up happy. Sadly, to suggest that to them in person would probably cause them further grief, so I won’t.

Goodbye 2018, and good riddance

I won’t be sorry when 2018 is over.

It’s been the worst year of my life. A year that started with me running sick relatives to hospital every night, and went further downhill from that point onwards. A year in which I first lost my job, then my home, my wife and daughter.

The job situation I have hinted at before. In effect, insecure managers whittled away all the mature members of the team I worked in, leaving only a group of malleable clones in their teens to mid-twenties, and me. In order to meet a financial target demanded by potential new owners, they then had to engineer my removal and/or replacement by a school-leaver.

The whole thing was an empty exercise in creative accounting. On paper I was replaced by two juniors, both at half my salary and with twice the potential for recouping costs as “training expenses”. In fact, I moved to a far less skilled job in another department but at the same salary, replacing someone who left and whose work I had already been doing for half the day while in theory he was “training” me.

Such phenomena are increasingly common to 21st century office culture. They are too silly to worry about, and I am not doing so, as in my case it actually improved the quality of my working life.

Away from work, family is a much maligned concept, and I’m of a generation of radicals that was taught to question the “normality” of it. But the truth is, it’s central to my life now.

It’s quite odd how I’ve been thrown into a situation where I have to care for family members I haven’t felt close to or much in common with culturally for years. Far from being a burden, this made me re-examine and recalibrate most of my core values. For example, I no longer have time for people who witter away about death instead of trying to improve the quality of everyday life.

But, meanwhile, I can’t scale the wall erected against me by what I thought of as the heart of my family – two people to whom I thought I had fruitfully devoted the last two decades of my life.

It began when I was asked to go and mind a friend’s house for a few weeks while my daughter revised for GCSEs, because my presence was somehow distracting her. I then moved back in, only to be told the distraction had some deeper psychological root, and I would need to move out for at least a year or two while it was resolved.

Effectively, then, I’ve been given a jail sentence for a “crime” which has never been named, and which probably exists only in the imagination of someone who either will not or cannot explain.  This is all a Kafkaesque nightmare.

So going into 2019 I will serve it as I would any real long-term sentence in an actual jail. Reading long books, studying, and thinking with fewer outside distractions.

My inspiration for this is Tim Leary, the infamous psychedelic guru who advised everyone to “turn on, tune in and drop out”. After being imprisoned on trumped-up charges, he was asked by a smug right-wing journo how he’d enjoyed being banged up in solitary confinement with nothing to do. With his usual grin, he said he could recommend it to anyone. For the first time in years, he had been free to meditate without distraction.

In similar vein, I spent my compulsory solitary confinement over Christmas discovering slow TV (two hours watching reindeer migrate on Christmas Eve), and also the novels of Thomas Mann as a side-effect of rediscovering Marcel Proust – the lengthiest chronicler of the most minute everyday detail. Over Christmas it was Proust’s Pleasures and Regrets, his early work. In 2019 I aim to achieve a life ambition, to read The Remembrance Of Things Past in entirety. All six volumes, each around 800 pages, a work so obsessively concerned with minutiae that at one point he spends around thirty pages describing turning over in bed.

Why? Well, why not? If you do need a serious reason, consider that the monumental patience and self-discipline this will instil might just allow me to look more carefully at the world, to sort out what does and does not matter and to deal with it.

And what else will I do? Very little, probably. I simply could not find the time, and I really do not have the inclination.

Signs of the times

I’m just back from doing my filial duty for one of the frailer members of my family. This involved a certain amount of driving about. So, as I routinely do, I was checking the signs leading to the Mountain Road for useful information. Instead, as it has for the last month, I simply saw the message DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE.

This annoyed me.

Firstly, what motorists really need from these warning signs is to be told about the state of the roads. Is there, for example, an accident ahead? Or is it foggy, flooded or shut by snow?

Secondly, do these imbeciles really expect anyone with more than half a brain, while SOBER, to deal with streams of office workers driving their identical Ford hatchbacks down the unbroken white line in the centre of the road?

Seriously?

Thirdly (and seriously seriously), there is only one day over the Christmas period when the roads are likely to have more than an average number of drunk drivers. That day is the Friday which falls midway through December (so yesterday this year). This is because the management of finance sector companies have done their sums and calculated that that Friday is the most economically viable day to hold an office Christmas party.

In return for putting on a free bar at some drab hotel for an afternoon they lose a single Friday afternoon of production. As nobody in any office throughout the former British Empire works on a Friday afternoon anyway, that is virtually none. The management still have about a week in which to invoice and warn all their clients in non-English-speaking, non-Christian countries (i.e. all the profitable ones) that, by tradition, the entire nation is closing for a couple of days on 25th December, so there is even less chance than usual of anyone doing something they’re overpaid for.

All of which explains why, since working in the finance sector, I have routinely taken that day off. For one thing, people who irritate you when sober really don’t get more entertaining while being sick down their “ironic” Christmas jumpers. For another, while deluded enough even when sober to believe they serve some useful purpose in society, they develop even more delusions about their driving abilities when they can’t even stand up.

None of this is rocket science to anyone who ever looked at the issue seriously. Any apparent rise in drunken driving over the Christmas period can be explained very simply; it is the only time of year when the police intensively look out for it. If that overtime and effort could be aggregated more equally throughout the year, so (logically) would the statistics.

Of course, nobody expects the Department of Home Affairs (which oversees the police) to think logically. Or even to think; certainly not seriously about where the worst alcohol abuse takes place and how to stop it.

Apart from anything else, it is a common public sector joke that the Christmas party which involves the most alcohol and the most obnoxious behaviour is that hosted by….the Department of Home Affairs.

Famously, the only attendee ever to be publicly reprimanded for overindulgence at one of these shindigs is a politician who did the responsible thing and took a bus home after drinking – only to have a bit of an accident.  Meanwhile all the judiciary, senior civil servants, police and prison officers who don’t will either sleep it off at further public expense in a nearby hotel or get driven home by junior police officers. Thus, of course, putting both police staff and equipment out of use at a peak time.

Thankfully, as I am always safely at home away from such annual nonsense I and mine have nothing to worry about.

But I still wish somebody could get around to putting useful information each December on road signs instead of wasting a valuable public resource.