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.

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Retail in need of therapy

This (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/82530/a-boards-not-permitted-in-borough-of-douglas-after-june-30-2017 ) was slipped out quietly by one of the government’s lesser known agencies this week, so will have gone un-noticed, as was the intention. Sorry and all that, but it did NOT slip under my scam detector.

It all sounds so reasonable doesn’t it? Who, after all, could object if blind people say A boards are a hazard?

Except that I doubt if they have. More witless prodnosery would be par for the course with the current generation of government sock puppets, but in this particular case I doubt it.

Activists I speak to have been pointing out issues which prevent disabled people getting out and about in Douglas for decades. The alleged “redevelopment” of Strand Street and surrounding areas should have been the golden opportunity to address such issues, but neither Douglas Council nor Douglas Degeneration Partnership have ever acknowledged receipt of the suggestions or invited them around to see what might be done.

Not once.

So, we can take it for granted there is something else going on.

The thing is, the areas where A boards are found in Strand Street have been the sites of some contention between the remaining small traders and developers for years. Right before the current Marks & Spencer site replaced a block of small shops which were compulsorily purchased and demolished, in fact.

And those A boards advertise little businesses which are tucked away in alleyways and have no front on Strand Street. DDP and the council have been trying to winkle them out for years. Petty harassments over keeping passageways clear, fire or health and safety checks, attempts to hike up rents or rates…. it goes on and on.

There is an obvious motive. If DDP could just clear them out some large corporate might be interested in the site. Except, of course, that because UK shop-based retail is falling apart fast before Amazon and other online buying that is increasingly unlikely.

Sure, Sports Direct, the notorious slave traders, did take over the Strand Street Centre from the insurance company who fronted for the last alleged owners. But if past Manx form is any guide, they won’t be paying rates for a decade anyway. And on the UK Companies Registry their UK branches are registered as “non-trading”, which means they are only taxable somewhere offshore, and my guess is that is not here.

So, finally, the future of Manx retail is in the hands of people who are doing their best to put Manx retailers out of business, in order to hand the areas where they used to serve some useful community purpose over to retailers from elsewhere, who are so busy trying to save their big UK shops they can’t take up the offer anyway.

Not unwell but….

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

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

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

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

But at least the week ended well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New day, same old mistakes

According to http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/new-project-aims-to-help-those-suffering-with-drug-and-alcohol-problems-1-8197037 , there is a new government project which aims to help those with drug and alcohol problems, also to
“assess and better understand drug and alcohol issues in the Isle of Man, and plan future services”, as well as helping prevent drug and alcohol abuse and support those with addiction.

Oh dear. Here we go again.

The Drug and Alcohol Steering Group referred to is IOM Government’s continuation under another name of a previous spectacular mistake, yet again dominated by evangelical know-nowts looking for public funds.

The Centre for Public Innovation is yet another UK klingon which can throw enough out-of-context figures around to look impressive (at least to rank amateurs) but has no expertise – or even basic knowledge – of the field on which it is now advising the Manx government.

The Public Health Directorate has still to tackle any real public health problem on the island (e.g. polluted water supply, bad housing, unsafe working conditions) rather than regurgitate folk myths from its UK equivalents – a fast growing cottage industry comprised almost entirely of malevolent, ill-informed, neo-puritans who would feel quite at home in the failed US prohibition experiment of the 1920’s, given that they do little but repeat its mantras and mistakes.

And I need hardly add that the new Minister for Social Care did not make the statement attributed to her in the report. One of the overpaid health mandarins she inherited did, just as every other public statement by every other government minister is written by a civil servant, who never has to take the rap when it later proves to be impossible or false.

In other words, like every other drug and alcohol policy in Manx history this one will fail. It is a pointless cosmetic exercise. Best not to even dignify it with a response.

Days of future past

I made my usual Saturday visit to the town library this morning and saw a funny thing.

The library is on the ground floor of the town hall, where the lobby – as usual – featured yet another heritage display. I have no idea why the lobby has ever-changing displays of Ramsey heritage when several years ago Quayle’s Hall, the town’s only decent venue for birthday parties and other small events, was handed over to the nostalgia mafiosi and renamed Ramsey Heritage Centre.

In theory, such displays are supposed to be mounted there in a purpose built space, but oddly they rarely are. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that Quayle’s Hall is now -effectively – closed for good, after being permanently closed to the general public in order to be refitted at public expense, opened with a publically funded celebration as – effectively – a private club for a small local elite, then…… well, who knows, and I doubt many care.

When a mere “community facility”, Quayle’s Hall was in constant use – charity fairs, pantomimes and other little music shows, birthday parties, etc. etc. – often two or three evenings a week and at least twice daily over weekends when it was only bookable by the half day.

It was then closed, because the Commissioners claimed it was losing money, only to be handed over to the Ramsey branch of the Manx fake history industry, fitted out at great (central government) expense and then re-opened (inevitably yet another expensive ceremony cum private party for that), following which, so the plan went, the tourists would flock in to see an ever-changing display of local history.

Meanwhile, anyone wanting to put on a birthday party or charitable sale, we were told, could use one of the two major church halls. Which is why hardly anyone holds a birthday party or other true community event in Ramsey any more, because the church halls are too large, too expensive, and run by bigots who turn down any potential booking from actual members of the community who want to have fun and/or do something useful.

Meanwhile, the heritage displays in Quayle’s Hall hardly ever happen, and when they do the tourists have no interest – which anyone with an ounce of sense who had done half an hour’s research could have predicted. I can also reveal that, stripped of the bigwigs who make up the committee, the actual working membership of Ramsey Heritage Trust is two retired blokes who run a small shop selling old books and postcards. One is a good friend of many years, and I regularly point people in search of good local historical material to the shop, but I still do not understand why the town hall, rather than the purpose built facility, is putting on his displays.

Though the funniest thing this morning was not even all that, but that copies of a book entitled something like The Future Of The Isle Of Man had been left lying around prominently at the entrance to the lobby display. I couldn’t help noticing that it was a very, very short book. Shorter, in fact, than the average nostalgia pamphlet, and also, I suspect, as poorly written, factually inaccurate or irrelevant and as likely never to be read.

Well, at least it will be of nostalgic value, when incorporated into some future heritage display.

Boys Only

A few months ago, there was some local excitement when the former Clerk of the House of Commons came here to conduct a review of the workings of Manx government. The whole thing was either a total cock-up or a deliberate con – depending on your opinion and background knowledge of Manx government.

In theory, interested parties were supposed to be able to make their views known to Lord Lisvane, who might then choose to invite a few along for public questioning. In practice, the out-of-the-blue announcement of the review (with no chance for informed parties who have been after change to write a decent submission) and the handful of right wing nutjobs actually invited along to speak suggests the whole thing was a scam – set up quietly by those who do not want the status quo disturbed.

So, no surprise then that the result (which can be found at https://www.gov.im/media/1352029/review-of-the-functioning-of-tynwald-gd-2016-0047.pdf ) looks like something thrown together hurriedly after a long session in one of the exclusive clubs to which the author belongs.

Not that you would guess from http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/sitting-mhks-should-not-be-elected-to-legco-says-lord-lisvane-1-8003804, which (given that the paper in which it appeared has just been sold to a new, notoriously censorious, owner) may be about as much serious press analysis as this farce gets.

For example, the ignoble Lord’s opposition to MHKs being “retired” upstairs to avoid rejection at the polls by an angry electorate can hardly be seen as a principled interest in stopping privilege, and certainly not in reforming an “Old Boys Club”.

Because on any close reading he doesn’t seem at all interested in open and efficient government or meritocracy. This, as even the briefest look at his CV suggests is, in fact, the case. He is a lifelong OBC member himself, so why would he rock the boat?

Bear in mind, Lisvane/Rogers is a career civil servant who never had to face the electorate or get a mandate from the public. After leaving public school and university, he went briefly to the MOD, then spent around 40 years at Westminster, so has never had to deal with the real world.

In fact his life’s work has been to ensure that the professional political class is not answerable to the UK population, and he was given a peerage for it. In addition, through his role on the Ecclesiastical Committee within parliament, and church involvement outside, he is as near to being Anglican hierarchy as it is possible to be without taking holy orders. No wonder his opinion on the role of the bishop is so blinkered. It would be like Bernard Matthews voting against Christmas.

In fact, the only really surprising thing will be if the over-privileged old barfmat has the good manners to return the extravagant fee he got for throwing up such rubbish in the first place.

Going postal

The talking point in town for the last day or two has been this (see http://www.manx.net/isle-of-man-news/73648/no-deal-for-ramsey-post-office
and http://www.manx.net/isle-of-man-news/73649/-plan-b-for-ramsey-courthouse ).

The real story is a textbook tale of Manx misgovernment, greed, dishonesty and (frankly) sheer stupidity. My sympathies are with the excellent staff who got shafted, but anyone else involved on either side can take a hike.

Before anyone got their snouts in the trough, what we had was a model of how a small town public service should work. Rather like all those pubs and small shops which have also been ‘rationalised’ out of existence by redevelopment, the staff knew every customer by their first name and went out of their way to help.

Then, a few years back, various political nonentities decided that the town centre looked a bit shabby and should be ‘redeveloped’. In the process, a company run by a disgraced politician’s family got rich on consultancy fees overseeing the move from the perfectly adequate old post office round the corner to the recently emptied courthouse-cum-police-station, then got even richer redeveloping the old post office.

Quite why they even got paid for a project requiring little more than covering the area in awful Chinese paving slabs to form a handy terrace for a new, unwanted, Costa, and screwing it up so badly that they had to rip them up and do it again (for which they doubtless took another consultancy fee)… I really would not know. This is how civic life in the Isle of Man has always been conducted, and as long as enough brown envelopes pass around why would anybody likely to receive them change it?

So, having achieved a ‘new’ town square which is just as ugly and soulless as every other identikit ‘redevelopment’ of every other perfectly adequate sleepy little town in Europe, with the tarted up courthouse-cum-post-office as a centrepiece, the nonsense might have stopped. But no. Because at that point anyone with half a wit realised that the real plan all along had been for an anonymous developer to acquire the courthouse as some sort of themed pub or night-club, having had all the real work done at public expense. Oh, and the Isle of Man Post Office simultaneously and suddenly announced they were closing their last two town post offices.

Crikey, what a coincidence, eh? And this even as the town’s one grotty night-club, just a few yards away, struggles to find enough sheep-molesters to throw up over each other each Friday and another pub just a few more yards away closes for good.

Well anyway, the peasants revolted, and eventually decided to set up a community company which could run the courthouse, take over the post office and keep the staff in jobs…..

Which sounded jolly good stuff, except that coming out of the woodwork to run this model enterprise were freeloaders from the town’s most bat-shit crazy evangelical enterprise (who recently lost the chance to acquire public land and funds for a hideous ‘super-church’) and fronts for another notorious political family who also have a side-line in property scams, and who are (coincidentally, we can be sure) desperately fighting to divert another major redevelopment project to land and premises they profit from.

In theory the ‘good guys’ are opposed to the politicians involved in the post office closure. In practice, politicians amongst them recently helped two of the ‘bad guys’ with housing problems.

In the case of one, to ensure his mother got a flat in the most sought after sheltered housing scheme; in the case of the other (following a messy marriage break-up in which the wife and family retain a flashy house) setting up a love-nest in the same sheltered accommodation for him and his mistress, even though neither are physically or financially in need. Oh, and even while the surrounding tenants have waited years for basic repairs, both flats were extensively refitted before the new tenants moved in. One wonders what might be the payback for such favours?

All of which explains why, while the current friendly, honest and efficient post office staff remain in their present premises, I will go out of my way to give them my custom. But as soon as that post office closes I will go out of my way never to use a privatised replacement staffed by disinterested jobsworths.

And as for a bogus ‘community hub’ run by the very swivel-eyed loons who kill off all hope of community? Life is too short to suffer that too.