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.onsealed

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.

No fun running

By now we’re well used to charity volunteers offering to pack your bags at supermarket checkouts in return for donations. But yesterday I saw a perfect example of a scam whereby a mixture of vanity and opportunism can be passed off as “charity”.

The volunteer in this case was – in theory – raising funds for a cancer charity. Except she wasn’t.

On closer investigation, what she was actually trying to raise was the entrance fee to run a marathon in which, ostensibly, she would be a charitable “fun-runner”. As cancer charities rarely do what it says on the tin, and I don’t see why I should subsidise somebody’s hobby, I was never going to take up her kind offer.

Because, in case you haven’t come across it, the way the whole thing works is as follows……

The major marathons are (on paper) run by charitable foundations – which make gazillions that overpay their executives but never reach a good cause. Runners are divided into two groups – fun runners (who pay to enter) and professional athletes (who get appearance fees and prize money from the entrance fees and broadcasting rights).

Now you would think that is simple and fair enough, so at least anyone who pays can enter for fun and raise a few quid for a charity. Except they can’t.

What actually happens is that the organisers (as mentioned, theoretically charitable foundations) auction the entrance spots to major charities. If you were thinking of running the London Marathon dressed up as a banana in return for donations to some club your kid goes to – forget it. The auction is only open to the kind of charity which can shell out £100K to buy up a block of spots.

The charity then sells on the spots to “fun runners”, who, in theory, are running to raise money for that charity. Except they’re not. The money they raise is paid up front to the charity before they ever run, and the sum is so vast that they are unlikely to rise more.

Because where it gets really deceptive is that most of these folk are not “fun runners” – as in the good-natured bods prepared to wear a silly costume while running 26 miles and risk heart failure for a good cause. No, these are the type of competitive, middle class, sporty sad acts we know so well locally.

They are the ones who did well in a tiny island event, dream of winning a UK national championship or even an international event, but probably at best ran once in a UK regional event and came home with a minor medal. Such mirth-free morons would never do anything “for fun”. Ooh no! Their aim is to beat last year’s time, and a relative or workmate, and…..well, that’s it really.

It really pains them that they are (let’s say this good and loud) NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO EVER BE INVITED TO RUN and also TOO TIGHT-ARSED TO PAY THE ENTRANCE FEE. So, they get round this by pretending to be doing it for charity and bumming the money off others.

After the event, they will happily tell you their time and which locals they beat. They may even put round an e-mail, tweet or Facebook to say they raised £462.99. They won’t tell you that the entrance spot actually cost them £500 so they had to shell out the rest.

If any of this meant that money went to a good cause and, let’s say, helped cure cancer this scam might be excusable at some level. But it won’t. It just pays two classes of parasites, and feeds the ego of pathetic narcissists we’d be better laughing at.

Postcard from home

Monday morning, I am not at “The Unpleasantness” and will not be there for another week. Bliss.

To be honest, for reasons outlined in a recent posting I was briefly reminded of it while idly watching Amityville 3 last night, but that soon passed. For those who have yet to discover the joys of such trivia, Amityville 3 is the one where the malevolent house is bought by a career sceptic, someone on the lines of James Randi, and with quite predictable results.

As it happens, I find the crowd-pleasing antics of James Randi a bore – something on the lines of those Victorians who ran freak shows or conducted tours of Bedlam. But I was having such fun trying to work out why, exactly, American mainstream entertainment is so enamoured of woo-woo merchants and scared of rational thought that the nightmare of employment soon passed. As for the answer to that question about mainstream American entertainment – I suppose it would be bums on seats, which also explains why scepticism is another American career option.

Not that I am spending all my precious holiday time on such froth, you understand. Though after a weekend immersed in “serious culture” I have had quite enough of that too, thank you very much.

It all started innocently enough. On Saturday I called into the local library, aiming to stock up on enough light comedy reading to last me a week if all else bored me. Unfortunately, the new books shelf came before those bearing names like Sharpe or Wodehouse, and I was distracted by a 500+ page biography of Beryl Bainbridge.

As Bainbridge was part of a tight little contrarian circle which included Jeff Bernard and Alice Thomas-Ellis I had to take a look. And on the first page I opened an affair was mentioned between Bainbridge’s publisher (Thomas-Ellis’s husband, Thomas-Ellis in turn being probably Bainbridge’s closest friend and ally) and further that the affair, towards the end of her life, was viewed by the biographer as revenge for Thomas-Ellis “stealing” Bainbridge’s teenage love (and later husband) some 30 years earlier. This was all new and intriguing to me, so comedy took a holiday too.

Two hundred pages in, and the weekend gone, I think I might have had enough of the lives of English post-war literati and art bores ……. and I have only managed to struggle up to 1962. Christ-on-a-bike, what a bunch of muddle-headed, navel-gazing numpties. The average contemporary recent school-leaver in an office seems like an intellectual giant by comparison. I know that, to quote Philip Larkin, sexual intercourse wasn’t discovered until 1963, and in England LSD not until a year or two later than that: all I can say is, it must have been a great relief.

Anyway, tomorrow it’s back to the library, and this time it’s an armful of froth for me. At the moment I’ m so annoyed I might even leave with a stack of Jackie Collins to get rid of all that good taste.

B-L-E-U-G-H!!!

Christ on Prozac

This morning’s “inclement” weather wiped out the annual Strawberry Fair in the town’s Catholic church gardens. The event was carefully timed to catch passing trade from Ramsey’s Civic Week, which in turn hoped to clean up in Tynwald week.

If I sound amused by the ruined fair, that would be because I am. Three years ago, my wife – locally famous as an excellent baker for good causes – was asked to enter a cake in their Strawberry Fair cake contest. The prize is inconsequential and most enter just for fun, with all the cakes being sold off for church funds. Having friends at the church, she happily joined in, and to nobody’s surprise won.

Everyone involved looked forward to next year, and tasting another phenomenal cake. She obliged, but that year the priest invited his nephew – a novice priest with an intellect fit only for a Craggy Island posting – to be guest judge. So, about a dozen strawberry cakes to choose from and this prime candidate for canonisation chooses …. a cheesecake without even an ornamental strawberry. Because he only eats cheesecake.

Yes, seriously.

All making for a rainy but happy morning in this house. If only the rain keeps up for tomorrow, when the local Rotarians take over the park for their annual cringefest, yet again overrun by fake charities wanting more money to spread faith-based misogynism.

As per usual, my better half was cornered by a career criminal from one of the worst to provide cakes. Over the years, wiser locals either cross the street when such freaks approach or develop the diplomatic skills to sidestep constant demands on personal time.

Sadly, the light of my life is too kind, even to otherwise unemployable psychobabblers like this one. So, most of today lost while she bakes, and a big chunk of tomorrow lost delivering them and collecting the empties later.

Judging by past form, we also expect these panhandlers will pack away more than half of her produce for their own consumption, and would not put it past them to leave her minding the stall for the day because they are too lazy and ill-mannered to beg for their own loot.

By rights, we should get mad, but the chance to regularly observe people with room temperature IQs at close quarters is such a hoot. And their arrogance in considering themselves fit people to deal with social casualties is such a bad joke anyway.

Only last week, for example, the oldest sibling in a family of evangelical careerists we first heard of involved in some dodgy East European child adoption scheme proudly announced that the youngest family member has “returned to Jesus” after her post-school career path into the family business culminated in two years vegging out on heroin.

Wow, Jesus must be happy. When his most devoted followers are such losers I sometimes wonder if he can get through the day without industrial dosages of Prozac.