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.


Why no Man-Buns?

I’m curious; why have we not seen the Man Bun in Manx financial services yet?

It’s odd. If you can believe the hype, this a cutting-edge, crest-of-the-new-wave industry in which the future has already happened. We have all kinds of flashy stuff. Instant communications with far away places, millions being shifted across continents at the click of a key. Why, we’ve abandoned ties for men, and dress-down-Friday has been an institution for at least a decade now.

So why no man-buns? I get about a bit to other company offices and government departments, but (on the Isle of Man at least) not one to be seen – anywhere.

Even the builders and other contractors currently tearing up and re-arranging our offices for the umpteenth time have more fashion flair. There’s something about manual work that causes such things. Dreadlocks for instance, and tattoos are pretty obligatory now that the habit has even reached female office workers…. and beards! Oh, I’ve seen beards that would startle a Victorian panto villain on kitchen fitters and electricians. Yes, the hipster thing has come full circle. All the way from ex-public-school Camden artisans and right back to – well – blokes who actually make stuff that has to work.

So, I ask again, why no man-buns on office workers?

Or maybe it’s just a Manx thing, because the male Manx office worker is a bit…weird. Almost an insult to Manx pride in fact.

The Manx male has never quite got past the seasonal working habit. Until the 1960s’s the braver ones did a spot of fishing and planted a few spuds, then sat about idle or drunk for most of the year while their women folk did all the heavy stuff. When the seaside holiday came along some – reluctantly – lugged a few visitor suitcases or deckchairs about. A few others even became chefs – though never waiters.

So offshore finance came as a bit of a blessing. At least for those not totally workshy – who are still sitting at home in a pile of empty beer cans playing computer games, waiting for wifey to get back.

In the early days it was just some ex-King Bill’s boys who would have become lawyers anyway (the priesthood being a dying trade), plus a few bright state school kids with ambition, plus – mostly – girls yet to be married (or older women who wished they hadn’t) to type up contracts and enter figures into ledgers for Important Men to summarise and profit from.

Offshore finance also came as a relief to farmers sons who’d run out of lame cows to sell each other. I should explain that on the Isle of Man farming has always been a type of fraud, largely based on convincing civil servants that the lifestyle and (limited) produce is essential (even though housewives prefer the flown in, supermarket variety). In truth, it hasn’t ever been necessary since World War Two ended and people stopped having to eat horse.

So, apart from insurance and double glazing there weren’t many newer frauds to perpetuate – the kind of thing that involved lunchtime drinking while wearing an ill-fitting, go-to-church suit. At least that’s the only logical reason I can come up with as to why a good number of my colleagues are overweight, uncomfortable around women, favour bucket-loads of knock-off “designer” cologne and have the facial expression of a freshly stunned Friesian.

I suppose they’d be one reason the new “no tie” office look went down so well. Previously, there was always a good chance they’d either blind you with the odd colours or get them trapped in a office fan and strangle themselves.

As for their shoe choice – maybe it’s some subconscious folk memory of all the turnips their ancestors kicked, or simply that need of rural idiots everywhere to emulate cowboys. Whatever, the general effect is of so many Boss Hoggs rolling around the office, leaning on other people’s desks for support while telling endless tales of last Friday’s drinking escapades – which were indistinguishable from every other Friday night save for the variation in who threw up over whose shoes.

But anyway – you see why the man-bun is never going to be the hairstyle of choice there.

What is odder is that it hasn’t even taken hold amongst, say, the marketing or IT departments. OK, IT is a fashion no-go area, but you’d expect at least one goatee or braided beard? Strangely, no. All our guys seem to be weekend car nuts, or even TA volunteers. Bizarre.

The marketing/graphic design bit is easier to explain. The poor dears entrusted with our corporate image struggled to get through art school, even with parental backing. I used to dabble in the stuff in my magazine days, and was at uni with people who went on to style ads for the like of Nike. From time to time I amuse them with the latest horrors from our corporate offering, which leads to much sniggering over typefaces that haven’t even been seen in Marks and Sparks advertising since 1990 and odd “designer” touches last seen on Albanian hotel brochures of about the same period.

So, no surprise there are no man-buns there. Even their slim fit jeans come from Lidl rather than Harvey Nicks.

Finally, could it simply be that male office workers in the Isle of Man have better taste and some dignity?

No. That would be even more ludicrous.

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.

War on pap

This may sound harsh, but I’m sick of the media reports and popular chat about the Manchester bombing, and twice as irritated by the displays of flowers and heart-shaped balloons.

All those upbeat stories and vapid promises that the community will come together and won’t let this beat them? It won’t, and there was no community in the first place. That’s why people WHO LIVE THERE did it.

If you want community spirit, look at any city in Syria, where an incident like this is business as usual – on a quiet day. Look at all the other sectarian bomb attacks on rival Muslim communities or Christians throughout the Middle East in the last week.

Oh but of course, you can’t. Because the UK media has been so obsessed with Manchester it hasn’t found time to report them. And could it also be that the most recent unreported attacks would reflect badly on UK or US links to those perpetrating them?

But it wasn’t until I noticed that a TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale starts tonight that I really thought this through and recognised something else. The terrorists have failed, not because Brits are strong enough to get over such attacks, but because they don’t even value the victims.

The thing is, this was an attack on contemporary Western culture, i.e. pop culture. Now pop culture (much to the annoyance of indie and “serious” rock fans) may well revolve around 13 year old girls, but it doesn’t actually like them. It just values them as consumers – or more precisely their ability to demand product from their parents.

That whole “princess” thing about daughters is a myth. As I keep discovering when talking to other parents, boys are valued, but for most lower middle class families girls are at best domestic workhorses to help around the house while they grow up, then married off ASAP.

And what is this strange 21st century obsession in such families for girls to learn to dance or sing? Witness the endless stream of girls from loser families who can sing a bit on talent shows. Even through the TV screen you can almost smell the desperation. If the audition doesn’t go well it’s back to the lottery and scratch cards.

Can you – seriously – imagine such families pouring all their resources into a girl who wanted to be, say, a scientist? Come to think of it, can you even imagine a bookshelf in the house?

And that attitude doesn’t just run through sink estates. It has long ceased to surprise me how, even in the wealthiest families, the choice of a daughter’s university is determined by the opportunities to socialise and marry into the right family, and not the chance of gaining top class tuition and rising quicker in a chosen profession.

Which is why I think the terrorists got it all wrong. They were trying a form of psychological warfare which in Muslim culture goes back all the way to Hassan i-Sabbah and the Assassins….. but they miscalculated.

Hassan i-Sabbah’s strategy enabled a small force to prevail over a much stronger one by striking unexpectedly and in a devastating way which so shocked the enemy that it lost heart. The point was to prove that you were not only invincible, but prepared to do nightmarish things to win. It was a way of keeping your own casualties to the minimum, and not even necessarily inflicting any on the enemy while absolutely terrifying them in the process.

For example, one fabled Assassin tactic (which often followed months quietly working your way into the enemy camp) was to leave a dagger dipped in poison on the pillow of the enemy commander or prince. The next day you sent him a note telling him to surrender.

For more contemporary examples, consider the films before the second Gulf War of Iraqi guards in bizarre training rituals that involved things like eating dogs. To Western observers this was plain weird, but for Muslims who regard dogs as haram to see fellow Muslims crazed enough to do this it would have been alarming.

There is also the Boko Haram capture of Nigerian schoolgirls for conversion and sale as sex slaves. It worked by striking right at the heart of everything the “enemy” held dear. These were girls with dreams of growing up and becoming teachers or doctors. Girls loved and supported in those dreams not just by their families but whole communities.

But it won’t work here because (sigh) while Brits pretend to indulge and put little girls on pedestals they do not actually like them very much. Especially when they stop being cute and try to act like adults.

No, if ISIS were really serious, and better informed, they’d have bombed Crufts. Or maybe they should find a way to hack all those fluffy kitten clips on You-Tube.

Or maybe not. Mistreat a dog in the UK and there’ll be a petition to bring back the death penalty. Child abuse? Mainstream Britain doesn’t even acknowledge it, unless it can be pinned on someone who is neither white nor Christian.

Texting, booked…and no case?

I am amused at a recent rash of adverts in the local press and online warning that those who use cell-phones while driving face prosecution and fines running into thousands of pounds. The press advert runs to half a page in local giveaway mags, and an online one has a strapline saying something like “Smartphone, Idiot Driver”.

‘Well, good’, you might think, ‘at last the police are taking the problem seriously’.

One little problem though. The courts are not prosecuting, even when there is abundant evidence.

There is a perfect example in this week’s local papers. A story about someone found guilty of motoring offences concludes by saying that a further charge of using a phone while driving was not heard, due to no evidence being presented.

This was odd, because I happen to know that the driver in question has been reported on at least three separate occasions by individuals who would happily witness in court if it kept death off the roads for a while – or preferably for ever.

On at least one occasion this airhead went through a red light while texting and on round a bend, almost ploughing into a group of school kids on a crossing close to a school. Things like this happen so frequently at that particular set of lights that, again to my certain knowledge, parents are warning children not to cross there.

So are the police not bothered? From what I hear, they are very bothered, and have referred this and other worrying cases up for prosecution.

The problem may be that the old police prosecution system (under which junior officers presented their findings to a senior officer and any prosecutions were brought by a prosecuting sergeant) is no longer in use. It seems local judges grumbled at the number of poorly presented cases and insisted that a crown prosecution service be introduced, with cases being argued by a local advocate who had first whittled out any likely losers.

In other words, the police do not decide who is potentially guilty and ought to be tried in court. Government-employed advocates do that, and then negotiate with the courthouse administration system for a court date.

Except that other sources tell me it then gets even worse. Because Manx courts are so busy that, in a vain attempt to clear the books, all likely court cases are seemingly subjected to some sort of points system based on a time and motion study. The end result is that the court administrators don’t think driving-while-on-the-phone cases are an economically viable use of court time.

But OK, the very technology which causes some drivers to be dangerously distracted is itself at the heart of the issue too.

Once, if accused of something, you had your day in court and there were strict rules to ensure you were tried only on the evidence heard in that court on that day. In lengthy cases, the press reported as the case proceeded, but could not assume innocence or guilt until the jury decided that.

If found guilty, effectively part of your punishment was that you were named and shamed in a press report based closely on the judge’s summing up, verdict and sentencing. Similarly, if found innocent the subsequent press reports enabled everyone to learn from any mistakes. This was a pretty fair system.

Now, we are reluctant to report crime, and even more reluctant to take time out of work and report what we saw in court. If mere spectators, we are equally reluctant to wait for the full facts to be heard and justice to be done in a fair way, after submission of all the available facts and arguments rather than what a neighbour is rumoured to have overheard from pub gossip.

How much easier to tweet a folk rumour based on kneejerk prejudice. Accuse, try and sentence someone electronically without the slightest piece of hard evidence.

No, the rule of law is protracted, exacting and hard work, but there is no civilised alternative. It is all that we have, so when threatened by either economic cutbacks or idle Facebook chatter we will need to defend it.

Mirror, mirror…..

As any number of friends are saying to me, in between Brexit and the Manx election it has been a tough few weeks for anyone who can read – or even walk without dragging their knuckles. And it is getting worse.

A few weeks ago I also quoted Francis Bacon’s quip that the only way to survive life is to regard very, very nearly everything as totally unimportant. Well, I was willing to give it a go.

Unfortunately, I seem to be surrounded by people who go to the other extreme. They regard very nearly everything as TOTALLY important. Additionally, when their job, position in the community or just self-created Facebook persona is only justifiable if it looks that way and their entire life is conducted via electronic devices they expect you to respond NOW, and have “cc-ed” the entire world in on those demands to make it look like they are dealing with it.

Such a bore. I would argue that anyone who can look in the bathroom mirror each morning without laughing is deluded. Maybe, on the lines of the Rorschach Test, psychologists could consider this as a means of weeding out nutjobs during the extended interview process major corporations and government departments favour these days. For anyone applying for jobs which put them in power over others, in fact, it ought to be compulsory.

Unfortunately, things are more serious than that. In the last few days a number of very troubling personal crises have simultaneously come to a head. For the sake of my family welfare – and possibly my own sanity – I have to drop everything else and get things under control. Unless I do a chain of unfortunate events could be set in motion that won’t be good for anyone I care about, never mind me.

So, advance warning that I am highly unlikely to post here for a couple more weeks. In fact, if you know the “real me” you won’t find me on Facebook or other such toys for a while either. All being well, I get enough free time to recover my sense of humour again during the last week of the month.

See you then. And for anyone else in similar circumstances, just take time out to look in the mirror and laugh

Just chuck it

I found this (see ) worrying, rather than praiseworthy.

An evangelical charity uses slave labour to pick up rubbish, and this is something to celebrate, er…why exactly?

Is there any demonstrable link between the junk left on beaches and those involuntarily being made to pick it up? No, thought not. So it’s straightforward slave labour then. No public benefit, no attempt to tackle the root problem of people making areas of natural beauty grotty by throwing stuff away.

The point is that the “punishment” prisoners have is to be deprived of their liberty. They are not sentenced to hard labour. They should not be required to do voluntary or unpaid work for corporations who, themselves, border on the criminal. In addition, it is a national disgrace that simply in order to get out of prison at the time their sentences end – rather than later – Manx prisoners are now required to “volunteer” for inane activities, far too often run by evangelical buffoons with double digit IQs.

Similarly, community service schemes for offenders who have little choice but to agree in order to avoid a prison sentence have proved another growth industry for Manx devotees of the Zombie Carpenter. Justice, education or rehabilitation they are not. And how could they be when offenders are at the beck and call of some deluded herbert who talks to walls on Sundays?

OK, the only reason this non-story appeared at all is that someone from Beach Buddies wrote it. But the only real story for a genuine journalist is that offenders are being used as slave labour, and that is not explored.

The bad news is, more of the same is planned, and the evangelicals will have their hands in the public till right up to their elbows. Quelle surprise.

Though I have a far funnier story, for anyone who might be interested.

About 25 years ago a particularly dull Manx businessman asked a young employee if he could get him any of these magic mushrooms he’d been hearing about, as he wanted to try some and find out what all the fuss was about. Which he did.

Up until that point, the businessman was your usual small town Rotarian – sexist pig who ritually humiliated and exploited any half attractive woman in his employ, liked a round of golf and a few drinks after, mixed in with the usual attempts to steer a juicy public sector contract his way with a brown envelope.

After the mushrooms he “found God”, and joined a notorious local evangelical church. He still had an “unreconstructed” view of women, and was still eager to mop up public funds with a word in the right ear. But he stopped drinking alcohol and devoted a lot of “spare time” to church groups and less to the golf club in order to groom those with access to public money.

Oh, and he and his cronies also found that one way in which Jesus could save while his followers dipped into the public purse was through quasi-charitable “community work”.

For once, that really does suggest that messing with psychedelic substances can have unfortunate long term consequences.