The word is charity, not church

I had a revealing conversation with some good people this morning. From it I learnt that I’m not the only well meaning liberal concerned by a particularly Manx problem.

In a nutshell, an important local charity is concerned that people don’t get involved because much of the public (inaccurately) think it’s faith-led. This, in turn, is a further problem because after recent scandals many locals now (quite fairly) mistrust evangelicals.

I can’t identify the charity for various reasons, but I can say it’s a tragedy if they’re not trusted by the wider community as they do vital work. It is also a tragedy that the misunderstanding is not of their making. And the greatest tragedy is that this charity exists in order to banish prejudice and increase our understanding of the wider world.

It really matters that when their workers go into local schools to run voluntary activities the kids do not dismiss them as yet another bunch of grasping happy clappies. In fact, Manx kids must engage with such ideas if they are ever to be inspired to do something more productive than shift money round the world while destroying mineral rich (but politically bankrupt) countries in the developing world.

It doesn’t help that the Manx government still have a 19th century arrangement under which major church leaders have regular meetings with social services staff, and are automatically consulted whenever there’s a new initiative. That isn’t a statutory procedure, by the way, just a convention dating back to pre-welfare state days which nobody seems to have questioned.

The real problem may be that the island – effectively – moved straight from the days when charity was dispensed by “the parish” to “the deserving poor” into the Thatcherite dismantling of the welfare state, so never developed the UK system of highly evolved and professional local government. As a result, when Manx civil servants see a social issue looming they cover their ears until the outcry gets too loud to ignore, then throw some government cash at a priest and walk away.

It is also unhelpful that even public spirited Christians rarely have a social circle that goes much further than the churches, so their charitable model doesn’t go beyond religious duty. On the other hand, it is increasingly a problem that UK atheist organisations won’t think about charity or the public and third sectors at all – beyond how to get on a state gravy train where churches have been first class passengers for so long.

So, how do we break out of that circular logic on the Isle of Man whereby whenever someone says “charity” the listener unconsciously thinks “church” and most of us shut off?

One thing is clear. There is no point in saying “the government should do something about it”. As any Manx person with first hand understanding of either local or international issues already knows, our politicians and civil servants know far less than any member of the public who regularly reads a decent newspaper. And they are not interested in being educated.

No, we ordinary members of the public are going to have to grasp the nettle. If we want a decent society we are going to have to take it upon ourselves to reach over the fence, put aside our preconceptions……and start talking.

It’s only a small island. So how hard can that be?


Manx Death

A small announcement in a local free magazine this week made me rather sad. Apparently, Manx Life, the island’s longest running monthly, is closing . Officially it’s being amalgamated into another dying magazine, but in practice it is no more. I haven’t actually bought a copy in years, but I’m still sorry to see it go.

The thing is, I started my local journalism career as editorial assistant on Manx Life in its best era. It has had many – some good, some not so good, and at least two absolutely dire.

I got there just as a solid if dull version was bought by new owners, so was in on the creation of a Manx legend. The local magazine old guard were somewhat sniffy about us – mostly because the new management quite rightly decided to employ contributors who wouldn’t send the readership to sleep. Several of them went to work on rival publications, all of which repeated dire old formulas and folded within a few issues.

Meanwhile, we had well written, solidly researched, local history, in depth coverage of serious issues, great photography…oh, and wit. There was even a monthly walking column which covered out-of-the-way places in such a charming way that rambling made a bit of a come-back. One of my jobs was to (anonymously) write the introductory page, and it actually became something readers raved about as much as the ‘proper’ features.

I loved my time there, and only left because I was leaving the island. When I came back almost a decade later it was with the intention of carrying on where I’d left off. Sadly, that was not to be.

There was a six month gap between me arranging to come back from Europe and working out my contract elsewhere. In that time a business deal to take on a government publishing contract was sabotaged by the Celtic equivalent of the Stasi, so Manx Life had to be sold off to pay off the debts.

It was bought by a publisher who also produced Manx Tails – an in flight magazine for the local airline – and Sea Breezes, an equivalent for the ferry company. They tried their hand at something bigger and paid for, using their in-house hacks for material that was way beyond them. It was possibly the worst era in the magazine’s history. Meanwhile the airline folded, then the ferry changed hands and the new management saw no need for a magazine to distract seasick passengers.

Eventually Manx Tails was re-launched as an all-island free distribution job. Later, Manx Life returned to something like the model we produced, with some regular contributors but no real features or in-depth coverage of current events. If nothing else, it was at least a magazine with proper articles that went beyond 200 words, rather than advertorial intertwined with photos of drunken farmers and business louts.

Now, it seems, even that no longer sells. Maybe the attention span of readers has diminished to Twitter length banalities. Or maybe people just browse the net and don’t buy magazines any more. But for whatever reason both publications have been amalgamated into a single A5 mag with the odd 50 word chunter to fill out the spaces between ads for private pensions and new kitchens.

Can Manx people no longer read, or is it that Manx journos can no longer write? Either way, a sad day.

Goodbye porkie pies

Until today, I was a lifetime member of the National Secular Society. Not any more.
Yesterday, I was sent by a Manx born activist, now living in the UK, who was curious to know what I might be doing about it. The answer is cancelling my NSS membership.

In brief, the story is nonsense, as I told them months ago. They got on to it after being contacted by someone who was ill informed (and who had incidentally contacted me first). I looked into it, realised that the contact’s fears were groundless, but advised them who to talk to in order to get the truth and some reassurances. For reasons of their own, they chose to contact the NSS with their inaccuracies instead of resolving any real issue.

As a writer on both faith-based bigotry and religious privilege, as well as chairman of the local atheist group, I’ve been in regular contact with the NSS over the years – though the information flow is somewhat one-sided.

I inform them of things they might want to know about and ask for information on other matters. They rarely act on my information (so I cause it to be published outside the UK and months or even years later they catch up).When they do reply to my queries it seems they know far less about the topic than I already do. But more often, they don’t respond at all.

Still, we know each other – I even wrote the first review of their president’s autobiography, for an international atheist publication, which led to it being picked up elsewhere and getting good sales. So when the NSS contacted me about the St. Thomas’s story, and I gave them the facts (obtained direct and in off-the-record briefings from those at the coalface) I would reasonably expect them to hold fire.

Sadly, they chose to embroider half-truths and folk myths instead, as a way of tagging the Manx story onto a UK agenda which is also – largely – a deliberate misunderstanding, but does have the positive effect (for them) of stirring up other ill-informed folk who might possibly take out NSS membership.

Then again, this is the organisation which – until just a couple of years ago – employed as a campaigner the Islamophobic rabble-rouser Anne Marie Waters. Yes, the one who failed to gain the UKIP leadership yesterday. As a monitor of the far right for many years, I warned the NSS leadership privately about her real background and agenda a few years ago too. Again, they didn’t listen. Increased membership is key, it appears, even if it results in the (now suspended) chat facility for their weekly e-bulletins turning into something seemingly dominated by horrible Little Englanders – and worse.

Even sadder, this is the second time in under six months they’ve done this with a Manx story. The first time they did it was a belated response to a query I made to them last year about evangelical opportunism in Manx schools. By the time they did respond, I had already dealt with the matter, as I then informed them.

The NSS briefly used a largely inaccurate summary of the Manx case anyway, as a Trojan horse to publicise their potential campaign against unrelated UK phenomena. The Manx media touched on it, which caused the usual below-the-line muttering on local media websites from the usual bigots, but, in truth, there was no longer a story or an issue.

As it happens, the opportunist and bigot at the heart of it actually left the island last week, having had all sources of government revenue closed down to him. The details are too long and complicated to go into here, but let’s just say that if someone is determined enough to log evidence on inappropriate behaviour and abuse of religious privilege for years, then eventually there is so much of it that even the most myopic civil servant has to act.

Anyway, that’s all history now. In the time I was failing to get responses from the major UK atheist groups to queries on topics that now interest me, I started to get them from other sources – better informed, less opportunistic, not interested in turning molehills into mountains as a way to create a job for life. It has been a positive alternative to the mean-minded porkies perpetuated by career atheists, so for the future that is where I spend my limited free time.

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.

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 . 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.