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.

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.

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.



Black Friday. What an awful day!

Listening to the office vegetables on Brexit this morning reminded me why I never want to go to a traditional Brit foreign holiday resort, just as Brexit reminds me why I left the UK and never – ever – want to go back. Already, some of those I knew from my UK days are talking about leaving their home country – for good – as sickened by the sheer stupidity of British voters as I once was with the anal retentives who kept Thatcher in power.

For example, I had to hear the ignorant spawn of yet another nonentity white flighter who came here in the 1980’s or 1990’s sound off on why we should adopt the Australian points system to keep “them” out.

Who are “they” exactly? Whoever they might be, at least they would be preferable to such parasites and ignoramuses.

Can such wasters ever appreciate the irony of the drivel they spout? Many drifted around various countries as ex-pats before settling on the Isle of Man as the least different to a mythical UK where they were unfit for employment – or much else.

Workplace brown-nosers, social non-contributors, non-readers, passive TV watchers, social media thumb-twiddlers… Their sole contribution to any community they leech off to drink, consume junk food and abuse the different until they vomit on a Friday night, leaving some lower paid and far better educated foreigner to clear up their mess. As in Ibiza, so on Douglas prom.

If only some unintended Brexit screw-up could remove their right to stay here instead of Eastern Europeans and Filipinos. What a paradise in the Irish Sea this place could become without them.

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.

Not classless or cashless, just clueless

This week I noticed an article by yet another yuppie burn-out turned eco-warrior trying, yet again, to introduce a cashless barter economy for people of limited means. Years ago these were known as LETS (Local Enterprise Trading Schemes), and a brief attempt at a Manx one crashed when the value of the basic trading unit for a task crashed like some stoner version of the 2008 international sub-prime mortgage disaster.

This was because the vacuous purveyors of various hippy-drippy “therapies” insisted that their “work” and “expertise” was worth far more than, say, a car mechanic, electrician or any other trained craftsperson whose work your life actually might depend on. How we laughed.

As it happens, for most of my life I have had a somewhat casual attitude to what some sniffily refer to as “the black economy”. If a down-on-his-luck manual worker does a small job for me and wants payment in cash, fair enough. But this casual attitude never extends to charities, the third sector and so-called “community activists”. Even if I give anything to them these days I want a receipt, and it goes on my tax form.

The reason is that, years ago, I worked (unpaid) for some similar set-ups. Most were set up back in the 1960’s by stoned optimists, doctrinaire Marxists or people whose odd religious beliefs later developed into full blown schizophrenia, so have long since collapsed.

The oddest, but most interesting, one was a small charitable project to provide farm holidays for inner-city kids run by Anglican monks. Though it was also not what it seemed.

In practice, the monk running the farm scheme ran an entire village. There was a 24 acre farm with animals and a large farm-house in which kids & parents stayed, plus three other cottages (quite large houses) in varying states of repair for volunteers – with one planned for holiday accommodation once restored by voluntary labour. And finally there was the village shop and post office, run by the monks and their friary. Given that not much money seemed to flow in or out of the project bank account, it was a mystery that it all paid for itself.

The original farm was a gift to the monastic order from a god-bothering aristo, possibly after a previous tenant went bust and at a time when land prices and agricultural subsidies were too low to sell or rent it. The other houses were similarly bought when you could pick up an entire row of abandoned country cottages for hundreds– not hundreds of thousands, mortgaging the main farm as collateral.

There was also a sub-postmaster salary from the GPO and fees from city councils who paid for the kids who came on holidays. As volunteers worked completely unpaid there were no wage bills, though a few were ex-cons or Borstal boys for whose supervision back into society, presumably, the monks got some sort of payment. Also, some milk and dairy products from a small flock of sheep and herd of milking cows were sold on.

The farm grew no crops. After each local market, though, traders dumped bags of soon-to-expire veg – enough to keep not only monks and volunteers but the animals from vitamin deficiency. Similar gifts of materials were also encouraged, and from time to time a passing wealthy well-wisher would hand over a wad of notes, though – curiously – the abbot never seemed to accept cheques and never pursued what would have been the practical giving solution – supporters making direct debits from bank accounts, getting receipts and claiming it back on their tax forms.

The abbot’s attitude to planning permission was also innovative. From time to time some official would come to inspect and note a staircase, new kitchen or even a bedroom with en-suite bathroom where none had been before. The abbot would solemnly assure them it had been there for years, though since recent repainting it looked entirely different.

Who would challenge a devout monk, involved in such selfless charity work? Not some local government employee on the first rung of the ladder, or a year or two off retirement and a fat pension, that’s for sure. Certainly the abbot’s own superior – then a newly appointed bishop – did later turn out to have spent his entire clerical life abusing novice monks, but it was not until his death – some 20 years later – that any of that came out.

In short, the entire project ran on black market principles, and if operated by anyone other than monks would have been regarded as organised crime. Then the abbot died suddenly, about a decade after I was there. His two fellow monks being semi-literate pensioners who had no part in the book-keeping, the whole scheme had to be unravelled by external accountants, and while nothing came out in public both the religious order and the Anglican hierarchy were stunned by what was found.

Admittedly, no holiday flats in Spain, mistresses or cocaine stashes were ever uncovered (though there was an upmarket estate car in a barn everyone but the bishop knew about) Nevertheless, it did, eventually, emerge that a monk who, according to the rules of his order, was (quite literally) forbidden to own more than a spare set of underpants actually oversaw a sizeable empire, including property worth millions and a staff of up to 20 people, all run on a bank account which rarely saw more than three figure sums pass through it.

Despite his religious beliefs (those, at least, were genuine) I liked the bloke and laughed my socks off when an old friend from those days told me how it all ended. A more un-monk-like monk I never knew. A six foot, 18 stone son of an East End docker who grew up with the Krays, with all of their nose for a good deal but a wicked sense of humour instead of a vicious streak. His outrageous scams hurt nobody, and were used solely for the benefit of poor kids and some adults who would, without him, have been lucky to survive to their thirties.

I have no such love for current day fun-suckers who hide behind religion, environmentalism and social reform, whine about materialism, and seem to regard it as some sort of “right” that we should fund their clueless, self-indulgent antics. Rather than adding any value or joy to the world, their efforts are, eventually, entirely self-centred. They annoy and bore me. Change the world? They could hardly change their own underwear without a hand-out.

Did you miss me?

Right after my last upbeat entry on Jan 2nd, this year became an Annus Horribilis in which there has been no respite. Way too personal to go into here, but at work, at home and elsewhere horrible stuff came out of nowhere that had to be dealt with. As each grim month ended, I vowed to get blogging again in the next, only to be knocked sideways by another fresh crisis.

Anyway, enough of all that. You either write from where you are or get written off by the very corporate dullards and social justice warriors who make you so irate in the first place. Ironically, new writing opportunities elsewhere also came right out of the blue, and keep coming. They had to be dealt with too – which was hard work but at least far more fun.

So, while the flow of effluent doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon, last week I met my dignified public statement quota for the month and am now declaring open season on puritans, interfering busybodies and the hard-of-thinking.

You can either indulge me or jump off a cliff. Everybody deserves at least one gratifying hobby, so here goes….

I am so sick of reading twaddle like https://www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/press-releases/david-cameron-majority-british-public-want-you-act-tax-havens/ from publically subsidised (but politically and intellectually retarded) ‘think-tanks’.

The only thing it really tells me is what anyone who lives here and isn’t a public sector Klingon could tell you already – that the kind of Brits who respond to useless surveys like this are neo-colonial halfwits, who can’t even name the constituent parts of the UK and don’t understand basic politics. The walking dead; on benefits, private incomes or final salary pensions.

In the real world things just are not that simple. In the real world, most residents of British dependencies do not have the option of three years staring out the window of a university lecture theatre, followed by a lifetime of ditzy Mcjobs with a succession of save-the-world pseudo-charities.

We actually have to work for a living. Those of us not born here have to work for a living even if they arrive on-island with a string of degrees from top foreign universities. And the only real work is in… yes, you’ve guessed it…. the finance sector.

Finance is to us what coal and steel were to the UK towns where I grew up; the only game in town. That isn’t due to Manx government, it’s due to colonialism. The same colonialism that too many self-styled ‘professionals’ in the overseas aid racket cannot get past, acknowledge or even recognise.

Oh sure, there’s working in Costa or care homes (and I know foreigners with good science, maths or economics degrees working in both), but you try getting by on £200 a week. Buy a house, start a family? Most can’t even rent a small flat unless they sublet with 3 others and the landlord turns a blind eye.

But the funniest thing about the recent outbreak of moral one-upmanship over tax is knowing that some of the biggest virtue-signallers actually owe their privileged existence to pretty repugnant corporations and individuals. One I know, for example, had a lengthy period of foreign ‘study’ paid for by a family who avoid all tax on personal income from their US chain-stores by funneling it through the front charity of a millenarian cult.

The thing that worries me most is that the recipient lacked either the curiosity or basic research skills to check out the charity. By comparison, the first thing I learnt from working in the evil finance sector is to treat all religious charities as money-launderers until they can prove otherwise. I learnt that lesson, by the way, in a course run by an FBI agent.

Yes, you are reading that right. The only place you will find seriously dodgy dealings on the Isle of Man is in the opaque, poorly regulated charity sector, and the worst offenders hide behind religion. To my certain knowledge, if it wasn’t that charities with six figure turnovers need audited accounts, and that some of the much maligned accounts firms who work on large finance sector companies can spot fraudsters at 100 metres (so have turned down contracts with certain US televangelists) things would be far worse. And it is a racing certainty that the same is true in other ‘offshore’ jurisdictions closer to the US.

Now, when are the so-called serious press going to look into that phenomena?