Some new year nonsense

Well, new year starts today, so traditionally the time when you resolve to join a gym, drink less, give up smoking or something – only to weaken within a week.

Nothing like that for me, but I have had enough of accountancy-based lifestyles. Time to stop this relentless obsession with balancing the books. Why not give because you love, or do because you want to?

Capitalism doesn’t make sense, though, to be honest, neither do all the other political or moral creeds based, ultimately, on who owns what. In the end, it’s the obsession with things that ruins everything.

There’s enough to go round, so not being greedy would be a start. But don’t moralise either. Don’t preach.

There will always be childish, anal numpties. Sad, bean-counting intellectual pygmies without a shred of humour. Obsessives, but of a thoroughly dull type.

Ignore them: stop obsessing about them. Stop feeding over-privileged, self-obsessed halfwits with the publicity which allows them to think they’re important.

They’re not. They’re village idiots: just rich ones.

Talk about interesting people instead. If you don’t know many, maybe that’s a reflection on you. Start seeking some out. You might be surprised how many there are quite close to you.

The surrealists were right.

Stop counting. Stop making sense. Make war on it. Go beyond it.

Oh, and we could all learn to laugh more.

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Accidental altruism

How do you practice charity without turning into a Rotarian?

No, strike that. Because the word “charity” may be the problem, in that it triggers so many kneejerk reactions to what we think it means.

So, try again. How do we manage to be spontaneously open and giving as a part of our everyday life without behaving like a TV personality you want to punch or some sanctimonious trustafarian from the development charity industry?

Now we’re getting closer to the roots of the problem.

I’m sure you and I both like to think of ourselves as nice, giving people. Yet we keep reading reports in the “serious” press that people are giving less to charity than they used to. Even when times were harder most people on average incomes gave more, while the Victorian practice of entrepreneurs making their fortune then devoting their time to endowments and “good works” like Andrew Carnegie (or Henry Noble if you want a Manx example) – well, what happened to that?

OK, as 90% of the “factual” matter in “serious” press reports comes from time-saving PR blurbs written by the shadiest charities (in order to shame us into further subsidising them) we can safely discount it. In truth, the public probably regards the staff of major charities as freeloading hypocrites who you’d trust about as far as some random drunk who taps you for a fiver.

Some of that belief may be wilful self-deception, but most of it is quite fair. The charity industry stinks as much as the banking and accounting industry with whom it trades most staff. It even uses the same PR spin merchants as the worst dictators.

At a more basic level, once you’ve seen some “pillar of the community” lying in a bath of baked beans “fur charidee” how do you ever take the concept seriously again? You know that the other 364 days of the year this shameless scrote pulls every scam going to fill his pockets and avoid shelling out to anyone.

So, what to do?

Until it inevitably developed Rotarianism, one hopeful idea was Danny Wallace’s “Random Acts of Kindness” phenomena. RAK devotees practiced “Good Fridays” and “Happy Mondays” on which they – yes – set out to be spontaneously and randomly kind to strangers.

The RAK ethos appeals to me hugely. The lack of “depth” or “logic”, the happy-go-lucky acceptance that we are – all of us – a little clueless and will probably fall flat on our faces but wouldn’t it at least be a good idea to spread a little sweetness and light around, reminds me of orphaned Woodstock era books I rescued in adolescent charity shop forays. For example, Richard Neville’s Play Power and Abbie Hoffman’s Revolution For The Hell Of It.

If this isn’t too oxymoronic, where RAK falls down is that it isn’t random enough, and to overcome that what you need is a tighter format. Setting aside particular times to be altruistic is a start. The bigger problem is how to bypass learned and generally unconscious concepts of the deserving subject.

In particular, the brief era when organised charity chose the subject through a process that involved objective study informed by political and economic analysis is over. We are rapidly reverting to an older era when charity was dispensed by the church to the “deserving poor”, and that is a massive problem.

I think surrealism and 1960’s concepts of aleatoric (chance) art might have an answer. The surrealists, more than any other movement in history, developed art games with absolutely binding rules in order to increase chance, bizarre and beautiful connections or put the artist into unexpected places. On similar lines, you could, for example, decide to be kind to the 10th person you met on a chosen day, or the one you pass in the street at exactly 11 AM. The times, numbers and other deciding factors have absolutely no significance, except to prevent you making a so-called rational choice which is almost inevitably based on an unconscious prejudice.

In following them, you should start to find yourself wondering (often) why you haven’t noticed a need or a type of person before. Hopefully, you should also fall into the habit of automatically being nice to more people more of the time, and not just selected people at authorised times – after which you go back to being asleep to the world.

But mostly you just enjoy yourself, and spread that around.

So, where the hell have I been?

Well….on holiday, actually, and (by choice) well way from the internet, English language TV and pretty much anything that might tie me to my usual existence.

The thing is, this has been the only two weeks of the year when I was not surrounded by idiots engaged in a project which is, finally, anti-human (or at the very least the opposite of what a humane endeavour should be). And I made the most of it. Lying about in a shady spot in a sunny place, eating, drinking, sleeping….. day-dreaming…. thinking… and other intensive stuff.

You know, it’s sad when you realise that for the sake of the planet and most of humanity it might be best if the Isle of Man did not exist. Which is a harsh truth.

Before I was forced into finance sector work I was not driven to “do good” outside of work. I just lacked the guilt most liberals get about deciding to “get on in life” while quietly knowing you are stepping on others to do it. Mostly because I chose to live simply when I could rather than step on those others. I might not be achieving much in terms of changing or improving the world, but I did no harm either.

But these days I have little choice, because others depend on me, and I feel very beat up about the effects of that. Yes, I provide for my family, and am no burden on civic society or public parasite, but at what greater expense?

So, for me or anyone else in my situation, rather than continue to beat yourself up about it, the question is: “What are you going to do about it?”

And in answering that I’m drawn back, yet again, to Mark Boyle, an astute artist back in the 1970’s who explained his quite unique work thus: “The greatest change you can make to your environment, short of destroying it, is to change your attitude to it.”

Actually, Mark spent the best part of half a century subtly altering everyday situations so that people were nudged into doing just that.

All of which gets me thinking, “What, then, can you do from the Isle of Man to add to the sum of human joy rather than be the cause of more human misery? How do you balance the scales to compensate for your continued, immediately economically vital but in wider terms destructive life?

Those I love most have practical ways of spreading joy outside of rubbish jobs – music, cooking, baking cakes, or just fixing broken objects.

Me? I’m a contemplative, or as some would say, bone idle. What can I do?

But at the very least, I decided the very worst thing I could do was to write more gloomy missives, confirming what many strongly suspect.

So what do I write instead?

Come back sometime and find out.

Wasting away the moments that make up a dull day….

Hmm, I see it’s two weeks since I last posted. This blog gets more Bernardian by the day.

Maybe in future, in tongue-in-cheek homage to Saint Jeff, each time I go a week without posting I should enter right onto the spirit of the thing and put a small message up saying “Manx Gent is unwell”.

It wouldn’t be true, but then neither was it the case all those times The Spectator editor gave up trying to get blood from the stoned and just placed the infamous message “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell” where the weekly Low Life column should have gone.

Look, there are just times (far too many) when the creative spirit looks out of the window, back at his or her “tripewriter”, then out the window and back at the tripewriter again and thinks….. “Why bother?”

On the other hand, why not?

Anyway, another week amongst the living dead in what passes for a hive of industry and what do I have to report?

Not a lot.

This week I realised that the combined ages of any of the several pointless management clusters nominally supervising my (equally nominal) work hardly adds up to my actual age. In addition, I doubt if the combined IQ of these myriad ( and I sometimes suspect self-replicating) power groupings would surpass that of, say, someone at the higher end of the special needs spectrum. Other than the fact that they cannot communicate with anyone outside their world, or register anything that does not appear as a “stat” on any of their spread-sheets, I really cannot understand how such idiocy continues.

Watching business management in action is like watching those cartoon figures who pedal air after running off a cliff. You know they should fall, you wait for them to fall, but they just pedal, and pedal, and pedal…..

The crash surely has to come any second now… wait, wait…. Oh, never mind, might as well wander off for another cup of tea.

Bureaucracy, it is becoming increasingly clear to me, seems to spread like plastic detritus on beaches. To someone who comes across it by chance, it is baffling where it all comes from. And neither logic nor imagination can stop the increasing proliferation of either phenomenon.

It may be true, as a research organisation I quietly help from time to time says, that those faceless figures behind the corporations wrecking the world are actual people, and have names and addresses. But just tracking them down is a full time job, never mind tackling the mess they cause. And neither task gets a mortgage paid unless you were born into the right race and class.

On the other hand, a figure I have admired for years, but unfortunately never met in person, died this week.

Gustav Metzger was not an artist the general public knew about. Far more radical than Tracey Emin or Damian Hirst, or Banksy, but because of his own principles never destined for their fame or economic fortune. In fact, outside a tiny, truly experimental and radical art community to whom he was one of the 20th century’s most important figures, hardly anyone within the highly incestuous and private art world did either.

Metzger arrived in Britain courtesy of the kinder-transport, went on to study art almost by accident, and unlike most art world enfant terribles actually lived life like he made art, including a spell in jail for crimes against militarism. For some 75 years – right up until the week before he died in fact – he was at war with capitalism, consumerism and the waste-makers of the world.

Discover him at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/02/gustav-metzger-artist-appreciation , https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/03/gustav-metzger-obituary and https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/03/gustav-metzger-art-revolutionary-human-being-capitalism .

Now THAT is not a wasted life.

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.

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.

Staring at a wall

I hate work.

I know everyone says that, but I loathe it to an extent which doesn’t seem to be true for other people. It isn’t laziness because, actually, I am driven (and certainly very, very disciplined), just not to pursue anything which might constitute a “career”.

Years ago I learnt how to happily stare at a blank wall for an hour or more, and this seems to disturb people, though I honestly cannot see why. For me, every day in an office making money move around the world – or indeed almost any activity which leads to the creation or circulation of wealth – is far more pointless. Employment makes me lose the will to live. So, from observing advocates and similar blights on humanity I pace myself to put up with it by calculating, at 15 minute intervals, how much money I have earned.

Then, at the precise second in the day when my employers stop paying me, I power off my PC and go home. Applying the same logic to my own employment as my employer does to the provision of services to a client, to do anything else would be uneconomic. A waste of time, brain-cells and effort.

Then I sit at home, more productively, staring at a wall or writing. What would be the point in doing much else?

I do not watch TV or net-surf, as such activities seem to drain intelligence and reduce concentration span, and I seem to have read as many books as might usefully offer either sane guidance or amusement. Hobbies are for train-spotters. Distraction is the enemy, and feeling you have to do something is – for me – a sign of weakness.

So, as soon as this is posted, it will be back to staring at my wall. Much more of this and I may need to go and lie down.