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.

Government health warning

Oh well, as you can see from http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/the-new-24-who-ll-be-sitting-in-the-house-of-keys-1-8142755 the people have been to the polls, and our new oppressors have been chosen.

To be fair, for once I am proud of my fellow Ramsey folk. We turned out in droves, and picked two very promising newcomers. Four of our five candidates could well have got elected elsewhere on the island, and done a fair job. In addition, the number of votes cast for the first alone was greater than the total in almost half the other constituencies.

Though why over 700 put an X next to the name of a candidate whose manifesto might as well have been etched in red crayon I will never know. My child took one look at it, rolled around the floor laughing at numerous spelling mistakes, then took it to school to show her disbelieving classmates. And we worry the young don’t take enough interest in politics!

But if only Ramsey’s good sense – or perhaps healthy collection of candidates – had been an island-wide phenomena.

For example, I can tell that those two blights on Southern civilisation, the Rotary Club and the evangelical churches, have been busy rounding up the bigots from the failure of the one literate and humane politician in that area to get returned. The subsequent loss of the only government minister dedicated to environmental change and a decent overseas aid programme is a particular worry.

The apparent choice of candidates for Chief Minister is another one. Collectively, the lot of them would struggle to muster a three figure IQ, and their prejudices and freeloading tendencies are a return to an era I thought we had left for ever. Despite criticism of some of his government’s policies, the last Chief Minister finally brought us out of the dark ages. His successor, and likely allies in Tynwald, could take us right back there.

Might as well face it, white flighters and other knuckle-draggers will now dominate the Manx attitude to the wider world, and to those here who are neither Caucasian nor pig ignorant. If you can read a book without moving your lips, the next few years will be a bumpy ride, so good luck.

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.

Return to sender

I’m sick of Brexit and need to move on to happier things, so this will be my last comment on it. Honestly.

I spotted this (see http://www.economist.com/blogs/buttonwood/2016/06/britain-after-referendum ) on the Economist website. The picture of the UK return to 1970’s mayhem was uncannily similar to my own recent thoughts on the subject – in my case more reflections on a number of BBC 3 films about the background to punk than any “serious” political analysis.

I should also add that events in the Isle of Man, and the local reaction to Brexit, are linked. The thing is, from the late 1980’s onward we attracted UK white flighters thanks to an odd – and from government papers I saw in 1990 I believe deliberate – government policy which “coincidentally” put off people of colour (even skilled, financially solvent ones) while encouraging any paler face, however undesirable.

In addition, I also know that a number of undesirables were “resettled” here, mostly as the pay-off in secretive “supergrass” arrangements with the police or security services, but sometimes with help from extreme evangelical groups, who saw criminals recruited in prisons and put through nominal bible college courses as a cheap source of clergy for the movement they hoped to plant here in order to supplement dwindling state subsidy in Northern Ireland.

In both cases, they took advantage of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, which allows the perpetrators of all but a few crimes not to declare criminal convictions older than a decade on job applications.

Before all that, this was a sleepy place. While not too used to dealing with the obviously different, with the odd exception it managed it with the good manners and common decency you come to expect in quiet rural places where people just have to get by and get on.

Since then, it has got worse, to the extent that, while a resident of over 30 years myself, after Brexit my family feels less safe because of racism stirred up by recent UK “come-overs”. Their ignorance adds nothing to the island mix. They should be the ones considering moving away, not us.

There’s a larger island just across the Irish Sea which seems determined to revive the worst aspects of the early 1970’s. Maybe they would feel more at home there, claiming benefits or sitting around in the lobbies of crumbling, under-resourced NHS facilities waiting for an appointment.

We have suffered them far too long. Time that they, and not our productive immigrants, were encouraged to be a burden on the country that dumped them on us. Considering the UK government is fast retreating to the ugly, anti-democratic attitudes of those times, surely such bigots would feel right at home.

B.Rixing it

I spent last night at the theatre and was unexpectedly pleasantly surprised – as well as being amused in ways I had thoroughly expected.

A local theatre group was putting on The Vicar of Dibley and a family friend was in the cast, so attendance was obligatory. I was dreading it, to be honest.

The combination of “am dram” and an audience of small town conservatives is never a winning combination for the likes of me. When we saw the bishop going in as an honoured guest (joined, we later learnt, by his fellow colonial klingon, the new Governor*) my pessimism increased. When we entered the theatre itself and saw a sea of white, blue-rinsed or balding heads poking out of hideous, homely knitwear my heart sank further.

But as it happened, the experience was enjoyable. Coincidentally, yesterday I started a book by the acerbic David Mamet in which he noted that if the script is good enough, people will enjoy a local amateur live production almost as much as a professional one with top ranking stars. But if the script stinks, then however many millions you throw away on car chases, explosions and special effects your Hollywood blockbuster is forgotten within a month by all but a few spotty, adolescent male low achievers.

And so it was with this production. We laughed at all the scripted jokes, and didn’t find ourselves sniggering at mistakes.

But after the Brexit disaster, something else struck me. The play expounds a Blairite mix of liberal Christianity and politics. Urban lady vicar comes to rural backwater parish, initial culture clash, frantic comedic goings on before decency finally wins because even dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries are human and love their families. Brian Rix goes all New Labour, sort of thing.

It has obvious Manx parallels, and what was also glaringly obvious is that it was played to an audience mix of ageing born-and-bred yokels and Brit white-flighters, almost all of whom worry about “too many foreigners”, mistrust anyone who can read and write and, given the chance, would have voted for Brexit.

So, do I go along with all this Blairite positivism and believe that, eventually, love and human decency will overcome even the explosion of hatred and village idiocy that is Brexit?

If only!

Maybe in the long term we can all try and hope. Meanwhile I take cheap, short term compensation by mocking an audience to dumb to realise that they ARE Dibley Parish Council, and thus the butt of all the jokes they paid to laugh at.

* Incidentally, I have only just noticed that “colonial” contains “colon”, which offers up another interpretation of the term and explains a lot.

OBN time again

I could not help laughing at this news (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/79365/long-serving-tynwald-member-reflects-on-obe and http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/79356/tynwald-president-looks-beyond-retirement).

The idea that any member of a notorious robber baron family has “served the community”, rather than the other way around, is particularly hilarious. The threat to “focus on her role in the community” is therefore a worrying one. Can any major drain on public resources really be planning to become even more of a parasite?

But then, what Private Eye has long termed the Order of the Brown Nose is a surefire guide to political ineptitude. The cheerier aspect of the whole farce is that OBNs are always given to retiring heads of government and civil service departments in grateful thanks from Madge for entire careers devoted to preventing social change for the better. Inevitably, even when the electorate have spoken by refusing to re-elect such deadwood, they are moved to another office which is not elected. So, for us plebs the good news is that a blockage has finally been flushed.

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.