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.

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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.

War on pap

This may sound harsh, but I’m sick of the media reports and popular chat about the Manchester bombing, and twice as irritated by the displays of flowers and heart-shaped balloons.

All those upbeat stories and vapid promises that the community will come together and won’t let this beat them? It won’t, and there was no community in the first place. That’s why people WHO LIVE THERE did it.

If you want community spirit, look at any city in Syria, where an incident like this is business as usual – on a quiet day. Look at all the other sectarian bomb attacks on rival Muslim communities or Christians throughout the Middle East in the last week.

Oh but of course, you can’t. Because the UK media has been so obsessed with Manchester it hasn’t found time to report them. And could it also be that the most recent unreported attacks would reflect badly on UK or US links to those perpetrating them?

But it wasn’t until I noticed that a TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale starts tonight that I really thought this through and recognised something else. The terrorists have failed, not because Brits are strong enough to get over such attacks, but because they don’t even value the victims.

The thing is, this was an attack on contemporary Western culture, i.e. pop culture. Now pop culture (much to the annoyance of indie and “serious” rock fans) may well revolve around 13 year old girls, but it doesn’t actually like them. It just values them as consumers – or more precisely their ability to demand product from their parents.

That whole “princess” thing about daughters is a myth. As I keep discovering when talking to other parents, boys are valued, but for most lower middle class families girls are at best domestic workhorses to help around the house while they grow up, then married off ASAP.

And what is this strange 21st century obsession in such families for girls to learn to dance or sing? Witness the endless stream of girls from loser families who can sing a bit on talent shows. Even through the TV screen you can almost smell the desperation. If the audition doesn’t go well it’s back to the lottery and scratch cards.

Can you – seriously – imagine such families pouring all their resources into a girl who wanted to be, say, a scientist? Come to think of it, can you even imagine a bookshelf in the house?

And that attitude doesn’t just run through sink estates. It has long ceased to surprise me how, even in the wealthiest families, the choice of a daughter’s university is determined by the opportunities to socialise and marry into the right family, and not the chance of gaining top class tuition and rising quicker in a chosen profession.

Which is why I think the terrorists got it all wrong. They were trying a form of psychological warfare which in Muslim culture goes back all the way to Hassan i-Sabbah and the Assassins….. but they miscalculated.

Hassan i-Sabbah’s strategy enabled a small force to prevail over a much stronger one by striking unexpectedly and in a devastating way which so shocked the enemy that it lost heart. The point was to prove that you were not only invincible, but prepared to do nightmarish things to win. It was a way of keeping your own casualties to the minimum, and not even necessarily inflicting any on the enemy while absolutely terrifying them in the process.

For example, one fabled Assassin tactic (which often followed months quietly working your way into the enemy camp) was to leave a dagger dipped in poison on the pillow of the enemy commander or prince. The next day you sent him a note telling him to surrender.

For more contemporary examples, consider the films before the second Gulf War of Iraqi guards in bizarre training rituals that involved things like eating dogs. To Western observers this was plain weird, but for Muslims who regard dogs as haram to see fellow Muslims crazed enough to do this it would have been alarming.

There is also the Boko Haram capture of Nigerian schoolgirls for conversion and sale as sex slaves. It worked by striking right at the heart of everything the “enemy” held dear. These were girls with dreams of growing up and becoming teachers or doctors. Girls loved and supported in those dreams not just by their families but whole communities.

But it won’t work here because (sigh) while Brits pretend to indulge and put little girls on pedestals they do not actually like them very much. Especially when they stop being cute and try to act like adults.

No, if ISIS were really serious, and better informed, they’d have bombed Crufts. Or maybe they should find a way to hack all those fluffy kitten clips on You-Tube.

Or maybe not. Mistreat a dog in the UK and there’ll be a petition to bring back the death penalty. Child abuse? Mainstream Britain doesn’t even acknowledge it, unless it can be pinned on someone who is neither white nor Christian.

Any day now, any way now, I shall be released

As of yesterday, six years and 256 days of servitude remain before I can rejoin the real world. Or at least, what is left of what I remember as the real world. When Ian Brady died earlier this week, I couldn’t help thinking that most child murderers get lighter sentences.

And what did I do to deserve this? What heinous crime caused me to be tied to a PC for 35 hours a week, surrounded by room temperature intellect drones, all wittering on incessantly about home lives almost as tedious as those in the soaps and reality TV they watch?

Well, it is true that until I was 40 I scrupulously avoided office work – or indeed being around chain-store suited drudges with newish cars, mortgages and the like. It is also true that I mocked such tomfoolery, and was sometimes paid to do so.

This was not from malice or vindictiveness. I simply found such dullards hilarious, and had no interest in joining them. Shortly before the year 2000 my luck ran out, and I had to. And that was that; the start of a sentence with hard labour which I try to bear with fortitude and good humour.

In my defence, when a libertine I had no interest in making life miserable for anyone, often going out of my way to spread some joy around – as I still try to do. Such a refusal to take life seriously seems to be a contributing factor in the sentencing. To be fair, even though I keep a straight face at work and do all I am asked to, it must be pretty obvious to the massed ranks of middle managers that I do not take them, the job, or indeed the entire financial services industry seriously.

But there is a vital difference between my deadpan humour and the forced hilarity of the workplace.

I do not impose my humour on anyone. I do not shout alleged jokes across the office, or shriek like a banshee in response to some Ronsealed harpie who does. I certainly never impose my seniority in order to compel laughter at thinly disguised bullying of more vulnerable workmates.

All this I do not do, I suppose, because I am a sixties child. I still remember people who went to university, not to study accountancy, but as the first step towards blowing away grey conformism and making the world more interesting. So, way back in the early 1980’s there was nothing about the new and brutal Tory culture then emerging to like, and I never did. Then in the 1990’s, when the dominant culture became so nuanced that it was – supposedly – possible to like Indie CDs at nights and raves at the weekend but turn up early at some awful office complex each Monday, I still was not fooled.

And so it goes. Still pained by successive generations of forty year old teenagers (it works both ways round: think about it) with no real ambition except to own a newer, bigger, uglier car and house.

Waynes and Sharons give way to Ryans and Chantelles. A newer generation Ford assembled in Europe and not the UK, clothes from designer C-listers made by even younger kids in even remoter countries, identikit houses assembled by Polish and Bulgarian (rather than Irish) temporary labour.

A curse on all of this. And a sentence which – for me at least – ends now in six years and 255 days.

I feel better already. Until Monday, when at least it will only be six years 253 days.