It was 20 years ago today….

Exactly 20 years ago yesterday, my wife and I arrived here with little more than a couple of suitcases and the clothes we stood up in. We had never been happier.

A year and a half later and we were in our own home. No furniture or much else, but we had it, and achieved it without help from anyone. Certainly not from the “government initiatives” which give local panhandlers social and economic advantages over anyone who actually works for a living.

It’s been ….interesting!

I was returning almost a decade later to a place which had a certain charm – despite being a racist, sexist, homophobic backwater. The thing is, (unlike, say, the US) it doesn’t matter if Manx politicians have double digit IQs because nobody has enough power to do serious damage. Far from moving forward, in 1998 things seemed to have gone backwards, to my astonishment and delight.

My wife also quickly learnt to love Manx idiocies. Take, for example, the evangelicals who run “mercy missions” to East Europe or Africa, where their victims fall about laughing at Westerners who barely know how to flush a toilet, yet seriously expect to run schools and hospitals.

But then, if you grew up in a place run by goons like Ceaucescu, you would be amused rather than alarmed by a place where illiterate peasants still run things, but lack the guns or gulags to keep the literate in line. Even funnier, our mighty finance sector now depends on clients in post-Stalinist countries it once mocked for failing to adopt free market principles. Oh dear, how quaint.

So have things changed in 20 years?

Well, yes and no.

The island has had to adapt to the realities of 21st civilisation. So much so that we – briefly – even had an openly gay Chief Minister before yet another fat farmer inherited the job.

But we still have to get by in private sector workplaces dominated by small town bores. It’s just that these days they are as likely to be descended from white-flighters as home-grown dimwits. Yes, I know, there’s always the bloated public sector, but people tend to inherit those jobs rather than actually applying, being recommended or getting asked.

Which does bring me to the worrying emphasis on “Manx culture”. George Bernard Shaw famously said that you should try everything once except folk-dancing and incest. On the Isle of Man they are the same thing, though – luckily – you never get asked if you aren’t part of the family.

I suppose, as a respectable tax payer, I should be worried by the increase in state-sponsored sibling sex. Curiously perhaps, I am not. After all, if they only procreate with themselves they are no threat to anyone else. Logically, there also has to be a point where, like the Neanderthal, they just vanish.

It may just be that I’m over-optimistic. That, in turn, may be because a week or so ago I started re-reading the wickedly funny, massively offensive (at least to the intellectually lazy) Auberon Waugh, so have developed false optimism that unrelenting humour can overcome unrelenting puritanism and stupidity.

But, in brief, in 2018 I intend to laugh more, mock more and worry less. And if that annoys anyone, it will cause further amusement and mockery.

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Twelve steps to insanity

The following are the original twelve steps of Unthinkers Unanimous, a fictional entity with more than a passing resemblance to faith-based “self-help” cults:

1. We admitted we were worried that reality and rational behaviour make our continued petty self-deceptions less possible.
2. Came to believe that individuals bossier but even more deluded than us could restore us to insanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of such prodnoses.
4. Made a superficial, poorly informed moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Based on such delusions, made a false confession to prodnoses, to ourselves, and to another mug of our supposed inadequacies.
6. Were entirely ready to have prodnoses multiply all these supposed defects of character.
7. Humbly asked prodnoses to remove our reason.
8. Made a long, entirely arbitrary, list of all persons we might have harmed, and vague promises to ourselves to somehow compensate them all.
9. Made random, unfocussed attempts to beg forgiveness from such supposed victims where easily possible, but never when to do so might put us out or actually be appropriate.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, but when genuinely and obviously wrong, despite our deluded method of determination, promptly dismissed it or blamed someone else.
11. Sought through talking uselessly to imaginary friends to further negate our conscious contact with the world as we secretly fear it really might be, wishing only for even less knowledge of it or ability to function usefully within it.
12. Having practically self-lobotomised as the result of these steps, we tried to spread the delusions to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Twelve Traditions accompany the Twelve Steps. The Traditions provide guidelines for group governance. They were developed in UU in order to help evade accountability in the areas of publicity, politics, religion and finances.

The Unthinkers Unanimous Twelve Traditions are:

1. Our common ignorance should come first; personal stupidity depends upon UU unity.
2. For our group purpose there are endless layers of displacement and authority — two-faced, manipulative con-artists all, however they may choose to mislead in the practice of our group conscience. Our leaders are to be regarded only as trusted servants; we fool ourselves they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for group membership is a desire to stop thinking.
4. Each group should only be autonomous when there is no chance of being conned by other groups or UU as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to spread its damage to the deluded who are still harmless.
6. An UU group should never endorse, finance, or lend the UU name to any related facility or outside enterprise; that’s the job of professional con-artists higher up the food chain.
7. Every UU group should aim for total subsidy from outside agencies, preferably governmental and nominally secular in order not to drain income from other faith-based scams.
8. Unthinkers Unanimous should remain forever unqualified, while seizing every weak excuse to employ faith-addled numpties as “special workers” at public expense.
9. UU, as such, should never be organised in an accountable way; but should create as many toothless boards or committees as possible to deflect attention from prying eyes.
10. Unthinkers Unanimous officially has no opinion on outside issues; this need not prevent the UU name being used by faith groups whenever useful to add false weight to spurious moral arguments or applications for public funding.
11. Our public relations policy is based on apparent attraction rather than promotion; always insist on personal anonymity when using press, radio, and TV to panhandle.
12. Asininity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place weak excuses before personal or communal responsibility.

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.

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.

Going for a song

This little item (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/82375/new-york-bound-choir-perfoming-this-weekend ) has been the source of some amusement to me and mine in recent weeks. If I was related to Martin Luther King Junior I might also be very embarrassed – even if the rumours that his family aggressively chase a financial percentage in any scheme involving his name did turn out to have substance.

For various reasons I knew of this sad enterprise (for it is little more than a financial enterprise) some time ago, and can safely say that media reports are a little light on the fuller facts. In brief, this isn’t so much an invitation to take part in a world premiere as a bizarre pyramid crowd-funding scheme, and both Jenkins and Manx socialites have form for this kind of thing.

It goes something like this…..

In the traditional arts model, a composer is commissioned to write a work, and in order to maximise impact obviously wants the best venue and performers for the premiere – which can require a lot of upfront funding if that work is ambitious, involves a lot of performers and only works well in a large venue. More recently, it would be quite normal for the composer or performers to get some sort of TV, DVD and CD deal to lay off those costs. But the management behind Jenkins – whose product sells well in the amateur and semi-pro choir world – found a way to take that even further.

Jenkins has built a reputation for producing safe, middle of the road, vaguely religious waffle to order for public authorities, the Beeb and Arts Council. It’s cheesy enough for any small town mayor to sit through – no controversial themes, no postmodern wierdness, just do-goody topics like World Peace with extensive plagiarisation of the words of religious “thinkers”. It has the added attraction that even a beginner can pick up the tunes in about 5 minutes, so the sheet music sales and performing royalties flowing back from small town choirs are humungous.

Then the Jenkins marketing machine had another wizard wheeze. What if, instead of paying professional singers for the world premiere, you “invite” amateur choirs to do it, then charge them an arm and a leg to perform? You can even take it further than that – having milked one lot for the world or national premieres, why not tender for places on the CD recording too?

So somebody at the IOMCS answered the web call for choirs, and oddly enough somebody in New York wrote back to say that a choir from a place known worldwide only for a tax-avoidance industry had made the shortlist.

Crikey, that must have been a surprise. Almost as surprising as the comparative absence of choristers from poorer countries with top quality amateur classical musical groups like, say, Bulgaria.

Having – of necessity – endured numerous performances by the IOMCS and other local choirs over the years, I would have to say bluntly that if the selection for the NY gig was purely on musical ability they would not have a prayer. Because Manx musical groups prefer to overcome technical shortcomings by sheer numbers and volume, rather than diligent practice.

Ten people singing slightly out of time and tune is obviously and painfully wrong. With 140 wrong, but in roughly identical ways at the same places, the audience will tend to think it’s right – especially if they are not too familiar with the music. On that basis Manx national ensembles are falsely judged “better” than smaller groups, and being both “national” and expensive to join attract socialites of minimal ability (who do nothing to drag standards up but do ensure sufficient funding).

What the local reports also neglect to mention is that (1) the real cost for each participant is around £1500, of which about a third is paid direct to the Carnegie organisers and (2) the performers are not allowed to view either rehearsals or performance of any other item on the concert programme.

But presumably the offer also pulls in more than the choirs, because relatives will pay to go and watch it too. Which is where the next sting comes in, because friends and relatives have to pay for their own concert tickets (prices start about $500) and if they want to come along to the post-gig reception with the singers (who have already paid for that as part of the package) that would be about another $500 – possibly far more depending on what Noo Yawk glitterati are prepared to pay to swan about with the likes of the Luther Kings.

So, to sum up, you go to New York at the height of winter, get herded into two long rehearsals, kicked out again and told not to come back before the night. If at any stage in this a connecting airport is closed, New York is snowed in for a week, etc., you are on your own. Nightmare if you actually have to work for a living and a family to worry about. Minor inconvenience in return for some swanky pics when you have money, time on your hands, and nothing better to do.

But something about it this also reminds me of a scam a senior Manx cleric used to run to pay for his (frequent) foreign holidays. In essence, he struck up a deal with a local travel agent to run tours to the Holy Land, or some traditional UK or European pilgrimage site. For every 10 places on the package holiday the cleric flogged, he got one free. So, 20 and he and the Mrs got a free holiday.

Being connected to charitable and government bodies, he soon branched out, to the extent he was taking maybe half a dozen free foreign holidays a year. Oddly enough, his church and various statutory bodies he chaired managed perfectly well without him, which says something else about the way such organisations work on the Isle of Man.

I hear that invitations to perform, at first restricted only to the richest members of IOMCS, are now being thrown about ever more desperately to a wider circle of less and less musically able (or even interested) punters. It is quite possible that the eventual Manx contingent will entirely consist of tone-deaf wealthy retirees.

It is even more amusing to speculate if (on the same basis as their own concerts) their duff notes will be drowned out by more able singers from elsewhere, or if this is a global phenomenon. In which case I hope at least the sound engineer at the Carnegie recording this for posterity will be a professional and get union rates for the job. If he’s as mercenary as the Jenkins machine he could even make a small fortune on the side flogging unedited versions of the master-tape.

Not a prayer

One of the island’s most imbecilic evangelical outfits started a “Forty Days of Prayer” campaign on 29th January. It makes amusing reading, and I’m not just talking about the spelling mistakes or the garbled corporate speak drawn from some dire, downmarket self-help manual.

For example, on 27th February, punters are asked to “Pray for the work of HEAR (Humanity and Equality in Abortion Reform). Ask for the wisdom, strength and grace of Jesus for those who lead this important campaign. Ask God to guide us as a church in our corporate and personal responses to the forthcoming abortion bill.”

And on 2nd March, they should “Pray for the support groups which meet regularly in our premises – Stauros, Supper Club, 3S, Life pregnancy support. Ask that people will find God’s healing love through the people who minister to them.”

For those not in the know, Stauros started as a “get-out-of-jail-free” drug rehabilitation scam for Loyalist prisoners run by evangelicals and has spread to parts of the British isles where they were resettled. Think AA, run by even more manipulative figures with absolutely no training or relevant knowledge.

Life pregnancy support is a pro-life organisation, so badly run that it all but vanished in the UK and until a year or so ago was also almost extinct here. Their chief tactic is psychological abuse of any unfortunate woman who falls for their vaguely worded newspaper advert promising “support”.

I’m also intrigued that on 21st February they’re praying for “Aliens”. Having dismissed the idea that they want to save ET’s soul, I idly wondered if this might be some well meant intent to worry about the plight of refugees.

Sadly not. It appears that “Aliens” is their in-house term for kids from families who aren’t already cult members who might get drawn in via their unofficial youth club. The official one, I should explain, closed when educational department funding was withdrawn on police advice, after investigations revealed some pretty salubrious activity.

Given how often the cult in question uses emotive and fact-free appeals to panhandle public money, it is almost a relief to see them begging their Imaginary Invisible Friend for help instead. But even if I thought he did exist, if he really was omnipotent and all-seeing I cannot imagine why he would answer their prayers.

Maya culpa

A new year resolution is falling apart rapidly. With my track record I’m only amazed it has taken a month.

I’d decided that this year I really must read something more challenging than the literary equivalent of comfort food. There is no excuse. The more I root round my excellent town library, the more hidden gems I discover. In the last couple of weeks alone I found an entire aisle of world literature by authors even I’ve barely heard of or never read.

It was all going so well until this morning, when I relapsed. And the fault lies entirely with Herman Hesse, not me. But then, me and Herman the German have history, so maybe I should have known better.

The thing is, almost 40 years back I was a recent school-leaver on a night shift in one of those Victorian mental hospitals – a real gothic pile on the edge of Dartmoor, would you believe. Back in the days before round-the-clock TV I’d been warned to take a book, as nothing happened for hours and the senior nurses inevitably left us trainees to mind the fort while they slipped into a side-room and slept.

Now this was just at that cusp between the hippy and punk era, when Hesse, Huxley and similar Mystic Megs were required reading, so I thought I’d better give Siddhartha a go. It’s only 100 pages, just long enough to fill all the hours between the ward of neurotics going to bed, dosed to the gills with major tranquillisers, and the idle sod who was supposed to supervise me waking up to raid the breakfast trolley before any patients could get near it.

So, around 5 AM I was some 80 pages into this psycho-babble (and being a mere callow youth totally convinced) when a very worried patient burst into the office. He’d woken up to answer the call of nature, only to find a dead bloke in the ward toilets. The bloke had apparently gone in some time before, sat down, had a coronary and quietly died.

This, by the way, isn’t as unique as it might sound. Older patients often had bad hearts, got no exercise because they were too under the liquid cosh to walk more than a few yards and constipated due to atrocious diet, with inevitable results. I suspect that if a researcher was able to make exhaustive surveys of death certificates from such places before they all finally vanished in the 1990’s the two leading causes of death would be (1) pneumonia (known in those days as “the old man’s friend”) and (b) coronary induced by over-exertion on the WC. Of course, grieving relatives were always spared the information about the location and cause of the coronary.

Somehow, sheer coincidence as it was and completely not my fault (as I was assured at length by hospital management afterwards), I was never able to reconcile the ponderous message of the novel about everything being right in the world providing you contemplated your navel 24/7 and that some poor, totally innocent sod had died a painful, lonely death in what was supposed to be a safe place while I was so absorbed by this hippy-trippy claptrap. I have never gone near a book by Hesse or any similar writer from that day until this morning.

When I thought I should give him another chance, and within an hour of opening it at home wished I had never bothered. This time I had a fit of the giggles within two pages, was laughing like a drain within 10 and eventually chucked the book aside in sheer exasperation after about 40.

Seriously – what a premier league wibble merchant. So self-absorbed it’s a wonder he never vanished up his own anus.

I couldn’t help noticing that neither the heroic truth seeker nor any other space cadet in the book seemed to have a job, any responsibilities, or indeed any real world distraction to prevent them sitting under a shady tree for hours, days or even years contemplating the mysteries of the universe. They took it for granted that this was such vital “work” that if they needed a meal, clean clothes, or money they could stand at some ordinary person’s door until they got it, without thanking the donor, or indeed feeling the need to even speak. Apparently that would have been beneath them and the donor should just feel grateful they were chosen. And only one solitary woman made an appearance in the pages, as a courtesan, allowing our hero yet another chance to be smug.

From what I’ve read elsewhere, that seems to about sum up the lives of Hesse and his circle too – the 1920’s equivalents of trustafarians. On the other hand, people who are genuinely on the streets, reduced to begging for small change, routinely have some angry office worker snarl “Get a job” at them. If only a few world leaders (or just Hollywood airheads) could say that when the likes of the Dalai Lama or Pope are tapping them for funds, there might be less trouble in the world.