Does my feminism look big in this?

Our political leaders seem far too eager these days to turn themselves into walking billboards for any passing PR baboon who has brainstormed another tiresome photo-coup.

Sometimes it’s a case of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t. So there’s Clegg and Miliband going along with the prank because they are so desperate for re-election that they will even try to court the piss-stained-sofa-dweller vote by posing in T-shirts advertising a certain newspaper, one of the vilest organs of corporatist, anti-European propaganda on earth and the arch-enemy of the feminist tendency.

And here’s the prime minister, poor David Cameron, for once exercising sound judgement in refusing to join them in being photographed with his prime-ministerial paunch and midlife manboobs squeezed into a T-shirt labelled, obscurely, ‘This is what a feminist looks like’.

Can you imagine Harold Macmillan or Mrs Thatcher agreeing to put on a sloganeering T-shirt proclaiming the half-baked views of some obscure lobbying group dubiously arrogating to itself the right to speak for half the population on some vital issue of the day? William Ewart Gladstone? Winston Churchill? (Disraeli might have…)

And what happens, when the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland refuses to demean himself (and, by extension, the nation) by appearing before the cameras in a common item of weekend leisurewear (probably made by not very feminist female labour in some condemned Bangladeshi sweatshop) to silently mouth an equally infantile, reductionist and quite meaningless commercial slogan, cooked up by a brilliantly witty PR beanbag in a fashionably minimalist office on a wet Thursday afternoon?

He is pilloried in the press for not supporting the cause of equality for women.

As if wearing a T-shirt proclaiming that the wearer looks like a feminist is going to advance the historic cause of women’s equality one jot.

Does the press praise Mr Cameron for upholding the dignity of the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a great nation of 65 million souls, the sixth or seventh largest economy on earth, once the envy, the engine and the mistress of the world, now reduced to the parody of a cheapjack reality TV show whose contestants are happily videoing themselves crawling about having drunken sex and being sick in the gutter?

No, because the press is alive to the possibility of any opportunity to go along with a vacuous publicity stunt that, whatever its outcome, will embarrass their hated enemies, the political class – especially that toffee-nosed Camwrong….

I am not exactly noted, either for my political correctness or for my unstinting respect for any jack-in-office. I do not cleave to the tragic myth of the ‘great’ British empire; nor do I care for many of the supposed virtues of ‘Britishness’, as I have bogld elsewhere. I believe with Dr Johnson that the last refuge of a scoundrel is indeed patriotism. I am broadly in favour of freedoms that include the freedom to move, to live and to work anywhere unmolested; and the right to peacefully pursue life, liberty and happiness regardless of creed or colour. Along with John Stuart Mill, I incline to the belief that one ought to be free to do anything – even shopping – that does not do actual harm to others (that rules out religion, I’m afraid). I’m no respecter of boundaries, and foreign to the very concept of foreignness.

However, I have lived long enough now to realise that the process of debunking the myth of institutional sacrosanctity, which began in the heady days of the 1960s, and of which one obviously approved at the time, lit a fuse that is now detonating around us, in slow-motion, a bomb that will soon have destroyed any social cohesion or respect for anything honourable, decent or respectable.

Even feminism.

For, there comes – has come – a point where healthy, critical, informed disrespect for minorly corrupt, overweening, vain and less-than-competent public institutions turns to an attack on all our civilised values.

As Naomi Klein has suggested, capitalism thrives on promoting chaos and disorder. Capitalism is the enemy of public institutions. Capitalism likes to pick us off one-by-one and hates us when we organise. What possibility is there for social cohesion and stability in a country whose leaders, with an increasingly tenuous hold on tangled globalised reins, are persistently and ruthlessly dragged down, regardless of their true motives and abilities, by a feral populace in lynch-mob mode egged-on by a nihilistic media drunk on its power to bring the whole lot crashing down for a good headline, and by TV comedians in desperate search of a cheap laugh?

The press, the lesser-spotted lower-middle-class, the surviving electorate wandering in a desolate democratic wilderness do not give a fig for feminism. They do not look behind the headlines, the soundbites, the empty rhetoric, the phoniness of Farageism, the increasingly dangerous disorientation of the political class and the bungling incompetence of civil servants, local authorities, social services, the medical profession, the police.

They are interested only in the heady smell of revolution. They perceive their natural leaders as being the shiny dimwits they see capering and gurning on the telly.

Today’s revolutionary dreams are so grand, so empowering, they can be expounded in a line or two of text, screenprinted on your chest.

So, any T-shirt will do.

Postscriptum

Turns out the ‘obscure lobbying group’ referred to is a slebrity-obsessed fashionplate confection called Elle magazine (as Sartre so nearly said, Elle is other people…), in cahoots with the Millicent Fawcett Society, a community of latterday suffragettes venerable enough to know better.

The sweatshop turns out to be in Mauritius, rather than Bangladesh*. The women are paid 62 pence an hour, which for a ten-hour day could add up to £36 a week, probably enough to survive on in Mauritius, the island in the Indian Ocean where, as you recall, the Dodo was last spotted; and is coincidentally the same amount as the British government allows many female asylum claimants in weekly benefit, whose cases remain unheard – some of them after seven years.

 Could be another T-shirt in it?

*Since denied.

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Bogler’s Law: Supermarket Car Parks

In September last year, I bogld wisdomly on the subject of my very own Law concerning repeats on the telly.

Having since recovered the memory, I thought I might share with you my Law of Supermarket Car Parks. It runs thus:

“Wherever you choose to park in a supermarket car park, however many spaces there are available and however many cars there may be parked in them, you will invariably find when you try to load your shopping that the people in the car parked next to yours are also trying to load their shopping at the same time AND YOU CANNOT OPEN YOUR CAR DOOR.”

‘Tis ever thus.

Pip pip!

– UB.

Postscriptum

Another of Bogler’s Laws is also related to supermarkets. It seems that, whenever I approach the relevant section of the meat counter to pick up a pack of ox-heart for Hunzi’s din-dins, barring my way will be an elderly pair of shoppers dithering over steak labels on the shelves above, while the man with the handcart from the butchery section fills the gaps on the shelves below with packets of instant Yorkshire Pudding mix.

In fact, I can hardly recall a single occasion when this has not happened.

Then, I can’t recall anything very much these days.

The Syrian conflict: a retweet

The road to Damascus

 

You may have noticed that I have been trying hard not to write about Syria.

The truth is, there are some things about which there is nothing that can be said.

About two and a half years ago, someone in Syria, we know not who, tired of having their prospects permanently constrained by a regime increasingly out of touch with the aspirations of its people, as most governments of the world now are, stood up peacefully to protest. Others followed suit in other places: Homs, Aleppo, Latakia – Damascus. These ancient names have since become part of the gazetteer of human insanity.

Fearing the Arab Spring movement had arrived in its streets and squares, a progressive force for democratic change that had already led to the downfall of other regimes in the region, the military responded by putting snipers on the rooftops to shoot dead unarmed civilians, claiming that violent agitators were firing on their peaceful soldiers; the oldest excuse. Reformers, students and even the young children of suspected activists began disappearing into secret police torture cells, their mutilated corpses turning up on garbage dumps.

As the dead and disappeared mounted into the tens of thousands, the protesters armed themselves as best they could and began to fight back.

They soon gained the moral and financial support of Saudi Arabia (they were mostly the Sunni muslim majority), but were opposed by the militant Shi’ite state of Iran on the side of the ruling minority Alawite community – which, confusingly, had previously guaranteed freedom of worship, even for the Christians. Demands for freedom and democracy forgotten, a proxy religious war broke out to advance the two sides’ competition for regional hegemony.

No-one came to try to stop it; if only because previous interventions in Arab Spring uprisings and the invasions of Iraq had proved complicated and ultimately unsuccessful; because Middle Eastern crises are notoriously intractable; and because US global power has begun to retrench.

Fighting spread quickly from city to city. At first the regime was forced onto the back foot, until their superior firepower and willingness to inflict the maximum violence indiscriminately on the civilian population began to tell against the rebels, who were now being reinforced by increasingly disturbing. self-interested militias.

Today, an asymmetrical, polygonal civil war is raging in Syria, that threatens to engulf the region.

As once before, so the regime, embodied in the underlying weakness of the Assad dynasty, has been prepared to lay the entire country in ruins and, if necessary, set the Middle East on fire to preserve its minority powerbase. One hundred and twenty thousand people have already died, over half of them non-combatants, to keep one polite, diffident, somewhat colourless, softly spoken, British-trained eye-doctor in power; while his half-British wife continues to shop at Harrods. Questions are being asked, quietly at first, about who is really promoting the war? Suggestions are emerging that it is Assad’s psychotic brother Maher who is really behind the atrocities. Mental illness runs in the family.

Whoever is masterminding the repression, Syria must be counted a failed state. As another brutal winter approaches, up to six million internally displaced persons are pleading for a billion dollars a month in international aid, but not getting it. Giving-fatigue has set in: besides, we do not know who we might be giving to. Smaller neighbouring states are being overwhelmed. A Syrian refugee camp is now the fourth largest city in Jordan. Twenty per cent of the population of Lebanon are Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, cities are pulverised by heavy artillery and aerial bombardment, civilians trapped like rats in rebel-held suburban ruins gassed with chemical weapons and dying from shortage of medical supplies. People who visited Syria before the war used to comment on what a civilised country it was, how hospitable its people.

But the conflict doesn’t stop at Syria’s gerrymandered colonial borders. Wracked by car bombings, neighbouring Lebanon threatens to splinter into its former internal chaos. Israel’s sworn enemy, Hezbollah is resurgent; intervening paradoxically on the side of Assad, the man who formerly co-guaranteed Arab peace with Israel. Irreparably wounded by violent, half-baked Bush-family interventions over the past two decades, Iraq too is on the verge of disintegration. Hundreds outside Syria are dying daily.

For, the vectors of the war have spread beyond the initial cause to include religious schism, political and criminal factionalism, unresolved issues from Syria’s colonial past. Murderous bands of fighters led by warlords and medieval village mullahs projecting their imagined caliphate across sectarian faultlines and state boundaries are weighing-in from all around the region and from further abroad. Internationally proscribed jihadist groups such as al-Nusra and al-Qaeda are openly competing for prestige and power. In Afghanistan, the Taleban takes comfort in murdering middle-aged Indian lady novelists.

Yet unfortunately for us in the West, with our decent instincts, these appalling militias are mostly on the side of the rebels: the ‘good’ side, as we would love to see it. Ironically, it is the pro-western, religiously tolerant, secular, modernising, consumerist regime that has been shooting, gassing and butchering its own people. It is the disturbingly normal-seeming Assad family which stands against the terrorist groups we most fear, with whom we are distastefully trying to avoid aligning ourselves. We are covertly supporting the ‘good’ rebels in the forlorn hope of toppling a ‘bad’ regime that (like all the others) we first put in power, but which has now become a grave embarrassment to us.

And the baddies on both sides are winning.

Only the innocent victims are on the side of the angels, and they have no voice; no clear leadership. It is no longer possible, in short, to determine what parties there may be in the conflict with whom one could safely map the road of peace, to broker a ceasefire followed by a political settlement — even if there were any parties outside the conflict with the willingness and strength of purpose to do it.

Only an economically resurgent Turkey has tried; but its president Erdogan has his own internal problems, with popular protest growing against his increasingly autocratic imposition of Islamic authority on a state where, as in Egypt, a popular army has traditionally held the balance of power through guaranteeing religious freedoms under a secular establishment. Egypt, too, has come close to the edge of darkness in the aftermath of the Arab Spring — we have seen what ‘popular’ armies can do — but that’s another story.

You see, there are no moral certainties in this tale.

America’s chronic failing is always to choose sides. Vietnam, Colombia, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan – it has become easier to fall into war, always in support of corporatist interests, than to set out in friendship to broker peace. So much for Christianity. The futile calculus of punitive sanctions, limited engagement, surgical strikes has created the misleading impression that all conflicts can be resolved with an expensive display of irresistible might, a lethal PowerPoint presentation, rather than patient diplomacy embarked on in good time. The sword is always mightier than the pen; the stick more persuasive than the carrot.

We know this delusionary interventionist doctrine is not going to work in Syria. In such a muddled-up conflict there are no ‘sides’ to choose between, only a seemingly infinite splintering of poorly defined interest groups. Yet shooting off a few cruise missiles and laser-guided bunker-busters is all anyone can think of either doing, or refraining from doing, ‘until there is better evidence’ of who is carrying out the worst atrocities and thus, a target to shoot at.

Is this possibly the most divisive conflict in history?

For, beyond the rival regional states urging on their proxies in Syria, beyond the jihadi groups, the warring parties are also supported by the old world’s major powers: Russia, China, America, Britain, France, belligerently squaring-up to one another like ageing movie stars in a triangular game of chicken.

Their revanchist postures are designed to impress wavering voters at home, whilst cementing dubious regional economic alliances based mainly on the lucrative trade in ever-more lethal weaponry — and, of course, oil. Vehemently opposing one anothers’ policies on the war, they have stupidly lost all sense of danger. Yet, at the same time, their elected representatives and the voters at home are at odds with the leadership, further layers of division rippling outwards and downwards.

But how are we managing to tell who is killing whom?

Owing to early difficulties for Western journalists obtaining entry visas (and, frankly, the real dangers attending on penetrating the war zones), much of the information coming out of Syria has been generated by citizen-media. Numerous video clips shot on mobile phones give their own desperate impression of what is happening. Some, much or all of this coverage may be, or appears to be, propagandistic in nature; even faked. Much, too, may be genuine: we simply do not know. We are not much interested in finding out.

So there is plentiful seeming evidence of nerve gas attacks being carried out by the regime. The problem is, we just can’t smell it. Actors can twitch and foam at the mouth, just as well as genuine casualties. Blame can logically only be laid at the door of the army, that has the means of delivery and known stockpiles of chemical weapons (sold to them by British companies with legitimate export licences), as Obama has said. It seems unlikely that the rebels would deliberately gas themselves and their own families, just to bring America into the war.

But, as Russia’s Putin has argued, it is not logical either that the regime would use such weapons when they are already winning the war, when they have been threatened with punitive reprisals if they cross the ‘red line’ of international disapproval; and when UN chemical warfare monitors are there on the ground, only minutes away in their city-centre hotel.

There appears then to be no way of knowing exactly what happed to kill 1,029 men, women and 400 children in a rebel-held area of Damascus in August, 2013.

Doctors working with Medecins Sans Frontieres report treating almost 4,000 casualties of what they believe was the nerve agent, Sarin. Do they not know their business? Obama, convinced, has responded by calling for retaliatory strikes against the regime, to demonstrate international disapproval of the use of chemical weapons, the crossing of the so-called ‘red line’. He simply cannot resist the siren call to arms, although he is having a torrid time trying to impress his views on an isolationist Congress minded to oppose anything the president wants; and is vehemently challenged by Putin, for reasons best known to the Russian president.

Everyone apparently but the leaders of the wobbly Western alliance understands that military intervention will merely be throwing gasoline on the fire. Russia has threatened to resupply Assad with S300 ground-to-air missiles, and even send them to Iran. Russian and American warships are circling around one another in the eastern Mediterranean. British and American bases on Cyprus are vulnerable to retaliatory strikes. The recent meeting of the G20 has ended without consensus, with Obama and France’s president Hollande in a minority of two.

  • The voices of moderation are speaking out in Washington, London and Paris, even in St Petersburg – but are they listened to?
  • The UN is powerless to intervene: the Security Council is so deadlocked, it will not even debate the issue. The warring powers are the UN.
  • The situation, in short, is out of control. No-one knows how to stop it, or where it will end.

The war in Syria may burn itself out, or drag on, out of the headlines, for years. History suggests a probable other course of events:

it starts with a global failure of leadership, moral vacuum, the chronic irresolution of institutions in which cynical politicians and their underpaid publics have lost faith, complex treaty alliances, historic territorial claims, a financial crash, recession, a glut of unemployed young men, the inflating economic importance of rival arms industries, a revival of nationalism — peace-weariness.

Those were the primary ingredients from which the two major wars of the twentieth century were fashioned, requiring only a suitable flashpoint. [Addendum: since the spring of 2014 the West has become aware of a criminal Jihadi movement known as ISIL, or IS – Islamic State. Funded by Qatar, possibly invented by the CIA, the predominantly Sunni ISIL has made astonishing military gains and is now opposed by an enfeebled Iraqi adminstration, a failed Iraqi army and a Western coalition that, with astonishing stupidity, refuses to become involved on the ground. The fall of Baghdad is imminent.]

When Iran and Israel get dragged in to the Syrian conflict, as the situation dictates they soon must, unless Russia and China blink first we shall be irrevocably locked into the first global conflagration of the twenty-first century. Perhaps all that is keeping us from one anothers’ throats is simply that, after seven decades of relative peace, Eurovision and shopping, we are none of us prepared for all-out war.

That can change, literally in a flash.

So, don’t ask me to write anything about Syria. The word ‘insanity’ has been redacted from the lexicon. There is nothing at all to be said.

Buy It or Decry It: The Modern Dilemma

Oh dear, oh dear. What’s to be done?

Do you ever find yourself being ripped apart by metaphorical horses, one to each limb? I know I do.

(Guitar bore aware)

That this small article (particle?) touches on the acquisition of yet another stringéd instrument is in many senses irrelevant to my theme, that of the Moral Dilemma.

It simply concerns the choices we need to make and the moral consequences thereof – a moral consequence being the effect one’s choices have on other people and their wretched lives.

The question being, am I making someone’s life fractionally better or worse by purchasing a product that has been bought with the workers’ human misery as the currency of rapacious US capitalism?

It all began this week, when finally, at long last, after many months of assiduous interweb-thing advertising, I sold my lovely D’Aquisto guitar for about a third of its market price. The complex and detailed negotiations, rooted in mutual suspicion, culminated in the far-distant purchaser requesting urgently that I ferry it personally to the offices of an overnight courier company, fifty miles away, in order not to miss a delivery slot the following day.

Farewell, my lovely

Farewell, my lovely

Having nothing else to do (I’d forgotten I had an appointment with my Financial Advisor), and considering he had faithfully deposited quite a large sum in the vaults of messrs PayPal and Co. in my name, I felt I had no choice. I loaded the guitar, wrapped in so many layers of free cardboard (see Posts passim) that it resembled an Egyptian sarcophagus, loaded Hunzi into the back and set off on Wednesday in my elderly Volkswagen, the one with the slipping clutch-plate and disintegrating brake pads, across the winding pass through the stunning Elan Valley, to the fifty-miles-away town.

I confess that I felt less reluctant to make the journey, having recalled that the town boasts a specialist guitar shoppe of Aladdin’s Cave-like prolificity.

The business done, I bade a heartless farewell to my lovely D’Aquisto (it’s only money) and set off through the town. The shop duly presented itself. It was like one of those American guitar shops, single-storey and stuffed to the rafters with Fenders. Further rooms opened out unexpectedly, containing sheet music, amplifiers, digital pianos and a special room for drums. It was too much to take in all at once, so I availed myself of the free coffee.

As I soon discovered, there were only two guitars of the specific type and design I craved. One, a Yamaha, was lovely, rare and an enticing price, but I dismissed it on the grounds that shit-brown burr walnut is not my favourite finish. What am I like? I am SO superficial.

The other, however, surprisingly met all my technical requirements, and at a price some 4.6 times less than the equivalent lovely machines I had been dreading buying, with not a lot of loss in sound quality. It was, as some people used to say, a no-brainard.

Now, if like me you’re not very good at the interweb-thing stuff, you may find that your PayPal account has some limits imposed on it until you can prove you exist and that the bank details you have given do not translate to a small cafe somewhere in uptown Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. So I wasn’t able to consummate my desire on the spot.

And that was a Good Thing, because later that evening – the car seemed to fly home, possibly as it had no brakes – I went online to obtain a detailed specification of the object of my interest, only to run across a daunting website posted by some of the employees of the manufacturer. What I had read somewhere was an Italian-made instrument turned out to be the alleged product of virtually slave labour in several Far Eastern countries – China, Korea, Indonesia, I forget.

This explained its astonishing value-for-money qualities, and the rave reviews from weirdly bearded US guitar-picking baboons. It seems the highly profitable US company might have been been massaging its profit figures for various regions by moving the money around, and using the claimed ‘losses’ to justify factory closures and job losses, only to start up again elsewhere with cheaper labour.

It is of course a familiar business model, one that has benighted workers for decades, even in developed countries. The ruthless search for cheaper production is the ugly face of globalism. And it is, of course, totally self-defeating in the long run. What goes around, comes around. Labour in developed Britain, the world’s sixth or seventh largest economy, where this globalism shit began, is now so cheap that manufacturers are repatriating the jobs they outsourced to the developing world thirty years ago.

So, should I buy a Cort M Custom guitar or not? The displaced workforce would obviously like me not to. They would like me to boycott their erstwhile employer, to bring him to his knees. But life is not that simple. People need to work, to feed their children. By buying a Cort M Custom guitar, I am at least helping to feed the children of someone poorer than the newly displaced workers of a shutdown Cort factory in some marginally richer country.

During the late 1980s, the company I worked for was able to command fees of £120 an hour for my services as a copywriter. As I have bogled elsewhere, by the early 2000s I couldn’t get £12 an hour for freelance work. I would be told, oh, we can have copywriting done in India for three dollars. So I am just as much a victim of global capitalism as the Cort factory workers, in my own way.

I do not claim to be poorer, hungrier, or less able to feed my children. I am sure those people have a far more difficult time than I do. But in terms of scaleable economics, given that after two centuries of development the parameters of average wages and costs in my country are greater roughly by a factor of ten, I have lost just as much proportionally. I deserve to pay a bit less for my Cort M Custom, given how much worse off I have become as a result of those little bastards undercutting my wages.

This is not getting to a good place.

Luckily, I found another website and a different guitar and it costs twice as much and it is unbelievably lovely, and made in… well, who gives a fuck? I want one!

Postscriptum

But it seems alas that I can’t have one, the last one in England has just been sold.

Post-postscriptum:

Apropos previous Posts on the subject of Gibson guitars, the world’s leading make, I am relieved to find I am not alone in my views. Nor, it seems, are corrupt and bullying labour practices confined to exploiting the Chinese.

Former Gibbo employee ‘Andy’ writes on the Richard’s Guitars (of Stratford-upon-Avon) Forum, on a thread headed Maybe Some Gibson Lovers Need to Buy Soon:

“Might i mention again the EXTREMELY poor quality of these instruments? the processes these people try to use are inefficient, cumbersome, and so archaic they are ridiculous, and when you try to change a process to make it more efficient, you are told you can’t, because it’s not the “Gibson Way”.

“In short, this is the worst company in the world, slaves in sweat shops in Asia are treated better (and make a better product too)

“Advice to Management

“Die. Do the world a favor. Do your company and employees a favor. Die and quit ruining a great name like Gibson.”

Oh dear. All is not as it seems in the jingle-jangle jungle.

 

How to Succeed at Anything Other than Being a Writer

Almost every day, I get sent details of editorial vacancies on the Indeed jobs bulletin board.

They often look interesting, although always too far from home. I’m not usually academically qualified to apply for them, but I have experience to offer, and I like to work. The problem being, I’m not quite sure what the phrase ‘Content Editor’ actually means. I should be content to be an editor? Not at those rates…

So I thought I might share with you, a brief and really quite tedious reflection on my career in the words game: How  Succeed at Anything Other Than Being a Writer. Okay, not such an original title, but the words are my own, I types them myself. Some names have been redacted in case they come looking for me. In a very un-British way, I have mentioned details of earnings so you can see what a worthless human being a writer really is.

1              Start in the media, why not?

For much of my life I’ve been a working writer, editor and proofreader. I’ve never had the slightest qualification for such a career. Graduating from film school in 1970, I was debarred by the union’s closed-shop conspiracy from joining the industry and so took an emergency job writing news scripts for 000000, Britain’s first industrial ‘narrowcasting’ network, with an audience of 20,000 deafened factory workers. My shift started at 5 a.m. and went through to 6 p.m. (1 p.m. on Saturdays). I wrote a three-minute bulletin for broadcast on the hour, one minute on the half-hour. With one week’s holiday a year, in three years I calculate that I churned-out four million words, all of which ended up in the waste-bin. The pay was £21 a week, 12 pence a word.

Then I joined ooooooo, the 24-hour rolling news service in London, Britain’s first legal commercial radio station. (See another Post somewhere.) I started a couple of months before it went to air, as a news writer and reader, on £2,400 a year. After a few months I was poached by the BBC and joined Radio ooooooo as an announcer, on £42 a shift. They used to send a chauffeur-driven car to get me to work at 5 a.m. One morning, the news writer didn’t turn up, so I daringly wrote my own script. It was unheard-of, readers and writers were previously thought to be separate species, but writey-readey soon became the norm in local radio. It was cheaper.

My next job was as Head of News at Radio ooooooo, in ooooooo. Again, I joined the company before the station went to air, on £4,500 a year. A senior member of the start-up management team, working 14-hour days, I was encouraged to experiment with new ways of scheduling and broadcasting news and talks programmes. I continued to write news scripts, and formats and schedules, and became interested in other genres: advertisements and fun programme trailers, a weekly topical comedy show scripted in partnership with a local comedian. After 18 months I was fired, for persisting with an investigation that was embarrassing some friends of the directors.

Back in London, I freelanced as a writer, writing articles for magazines. I had a short Sci Fi story published in Computer Age the only fiction of mine that has ever been accepted, apart from a mortgage application, and was paid £100! I went back to oooooo as a desk writer and presenter, also working for ooooooo Radio, and oooooooo TV news. Later, I contributed two educational scripts to a TV Craft, Design and Technology series, at Key-stage 1. I wrote the tender document for a company bidding for a new radio franchise. Over five years I wrote about seventy scripts for commercial clients of offline film, video and a/v production companies in London, while reading for a media degree. A day’s scriptwriting paid typically £200. (Voiceover work paid £150 an HOUR). Ten years later I was laughed out of town when I asked for £150 for a complete finished script; v/o was now paying £10 per script. That’s how competitive the market has got in the past thirty years.

Still interested?

2       Surely there’s a vast amount of money and Porsches to be made in advertising?

In 1985 I joined an advertising agency in ooooooo, ooooooo, as Head of Creative Writing. The pay was £14,000 a year, plus bonuses the MD had a distressing habit of diverting into his personal maritime interests. We never saw any. As well as copy for press and TV/radio ads, I wrote scripts for corporate videos, conference materials – delegate speeches, newsletters, even down to the menus and luggage labels. I wrote on-pack instructional copy, point-of-sale information materials and brochures, competitions, catalogues and flyers. I created a national sales promotion campaign for Adidas, and wrote the inaugural sales brochure and take-on pack for British Airways’ Executive Club. I wrote more consultancy reports, including an entire marketing and PR strategy for the Cable TV Corporation, and scripted pitches for new account business.

After two years I joined a completely different kind of agency, ooooooooo, in oooooooo. Part of the multinational ooooo Group, this agency specialised almost entirely in direct-response media for large banks and building societies: ‘off-the-page’ coupon advertising and ‘junk-mail’ packs.

These latter could be quite complicated and involve a two-stage selling process requiring the writing of long-copy letters and premium publications on financial matters, such as management buyouts. Still without the slightest qualification, I wrote sales copy (among others) for five divisions of Lloyds Bank, two years on the Alex Lawrie invoice-discounting account, meeting a target of thirty new business leads each month. I wrote for the Financial Times, Pearson Group, and helped to prevent the Investor’s Chronicle magazine being closed down by attracting 9,000 new subscribers with a single mailshot. I wrote for Allied-Dunbar, Friends Provident, Equity & Law, RAC-Lombard. I wrote creative pitches and helped bring in £1.5 million new business in a year. So, in 1990 they made me redundant! 1989-90 was my single most lucrative year ever. I made £36,000. From then-on it was all downhill.

I left and set up my own agency, oooooooo, in oooooooooo. Another change of focus, we aimed to provide a service of professional communications for ‘ethical’ clients who would not otherwise go near conventional commercial advertising agencies: environmental groups, small ‘green’ start-ups and and NGOs. I wrote promotional materials, legacy and subscription mailshots for the Bristol-based cycling charity, ooooooooo, hoiking their membership up by a factor of ten (not difficult), and for MIND; rebranded the Derbyshire Peak National Park’s Losehill management centre, and the Child-Beale Trust at Reading as Beale Park, a visitor attraction. For three years I created all the branding, advertising and promotional materials for a mobile phone company, oooooooo. And wrote a promo script for a talking teddy bear with a cellphone hidden in its tummy, for an exhibition – probably the highlight of my career. The most I was able to pay myself for all that effort, employing ten people, was about £24,000 a year – briefly, before having to slash my own salary when the clients started messing us about. Eventually I persuaded the other board members to let me fire myself, and signed up for Jobseeker’s Allowance at £60 a week.

3       Nothing to be made in publishing either, then?

In ten years, I’d written advertising, marketing and PR materials for over 200 commercial, industrial and charity clients, and earned exactly doodly-squat. We ended up having to sell our home as, despite my Captain Oates moment, my pioneering ethical agency went bust. I freelanced as a copywriter and creative consultant, for clients like the Bristol and West Building Society and Barclaycard; the rate was £200 a day, but there was very little work to be had. So I took part-time work on offer as a Copy Editor for a micro-publishing business, ooooo Ltd.

We published, using the latest on-line digital printing technology (it was cheaper), about 25 titles a year, in standard A5 paperback format, on business management, marketing and finance; annual editions of the Company Secretary’s Handbook, an ongoing history of the London Stock Exchange; and endless reprints. Many typescripts were so badly crafted by business baboons that I would have to carry out substantive edits; in a few cases, complete rewrites. We had primitive Optical Character Recognition software for scanning typescripts into the system, so one of my favourite jobs was to go through an 80,000-word text replacing all of the mis-scanned ‘a’s with ‘e’s, and vice versa (which would have come out as vica varse). As I was also responsible for PR, I invented a new tool for marketing the books, the 500-word minibook; and produced a monthly newsletter for distribution to trade-press editors and reviewers.

The part-time work soon became full-time, but it was poorly paid (£8 an hour, less than my mother’s cleaner – quite right too) and in January 1999 I left to work for a PR agency. Under the title of Editorial Manager, on £20,000 a year, I wrote all the copy for the agency, whose clients came mostly from the Garden Products sector – including the writer, entrepreneur and gardening expert, Alan oooooo, on whom I wrote a 2,000-words, interview-based profile for the BBC gardening magazine, and promoted his personally branded product ranges. The work included writing press releases, promotional supplements, tool catalogues and press advertising. I wrote and directed a 20-minute corporate video for ooooooo, a leading plastics thermoforming company making weirdly coloured flowerpots, and promoted their Environmental recycling division. Bullied and lied-to by the clinical psychopath who owned the agency, I went back to the publishing company and £8 an hour.

July 2000, I left to work for ooooooo, a specialist History imprint, as a Project Editor. Here, I was one of a team of six editors (the only male!). We would receive the texts, usually on disc (amazing numbers of authors still using Amstrad), from the Commissioning Editors and have complete autonomy in progressing the books through all stages of production, until the composite files were sent to the printer. Most of the books I edited were in hardback, and I seemed to get most of the military and transport titles, including books on classic Porsche cars – the nearest I ever got to owning one. But we also had to take turns at editing the texts and specifying layouts for a long-running series of paperbacks that consisted almost entirely of fuzzy archive photographs of parts of Britain I had never heard of, amassed by local historians, some of whom could be prima donnas. I was given the task of writing one book, a memoir of an East-End childhood in the 1920s, from scratch. The author was 94 and had gone blind. The Commissioning Editor handed me a shoebox and two carrier bags of notes, press cuttings and uncaptioned photographs… I produced a well-received book, but not in my name.

Our individual target was typically a total of 45 books a year – each taking up to six months to produce. So you could be running ten projects at a time. Liaising with authors, we would proofread the texts on-screen, hand-correct the printed galleys, plan the page layouts, specify the typography and page furniture (a team of four typesetters was employed), check facts, research and acquire rights to library images, instruct designers and scanning operatives, sometimes putting the final proofreading and indexing out to freelances; otherwise, reproof the texts to check the pagination, write the prefatory matter, captions, sub-headings, indexes and bibliographies; also, the jacket ‘blurbs’ – all to budgets and firmly fixed page extents predetermined by the Marketing monkeys. The salary – we had an estimable equal underpayment policy for both men and women – was £16 thousand a year.

As a freelance, I’ve also worked as a casual or contract subeditor on local newspapers, like the ooooo Group here in Boglington, where I live, with several regional editions (one in Welsh, a language I haven’t yet fully grasped); and as a proofreader. A subeditor collates the raw copy sent in by reporters and stringers, proof-corrects it, devises headlines and standfirsts and subheads, thinks up witty captions to the photos and then tries to squeeze it all into the allocated spaces on the page (the advertising department will have filled-in large areas beforehand). The average pay of a subeditor in UK press in 2004 was about £26,000 a year. I was getting £12,000. My kids qualified for free school meals. When I raised this issue in the Press Gazette, I was fired. There’s not much  English-language publishing in Wales requiring the services of a proofreader. I did some work for the Welsh Books Council, that turned into a lengthy re-edit of an outdated review of Celtic languages worldwide; and worked on a new series edition of previously published fiction in English, by Welsh writers. Then even that work dried-up.

Overall, freelance editing and proofreading has become a Roman slave market. One now has to ‘bid’ even for the smallest job against a dangerous horde of semi-literate globalized baboons with US-bought mail-order degrees, quoting absurd rates of a dollar an hour. So I no longer do it.

4       So, have you tried domestic service as a last resort?

For nearly seven years then I had a very different kind of job, but one still involving writing and editorial supervision. In 2005, I became the manager and virtually the sole employee of a listed Georgian mansion, a partly derelict licensed guest house and venue for weddings and events. (I was also the groundsman, the maintenance man, the cleaner and the housekeeper/cook!) The starting salary (I was by now 55 years old, with two teenage kids and an ex-wife) was £13,000  – £850 a month after tax. Needless to say, I became deeply involved with the writing of the marketing and PR materials, including reception packs for guests, buying advertising spaces, editing a history of the house, producing detailed management reports and scoping studies for the various business diversification strategies I proposed, the stupidest of which the owners eventually adopted – turning the house into a ‘five-star hotel’…. Having given Sir Simon oooooo a guided tour of the house, a famous author and dilettante, I then had the agreeable task of correcting (for nothing) his three-page entry on the house in his book, Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles. It was highly approximate!

And now I’m evidently at the peak of my powers, I’m unable to find fulltime work of any kind, literary or otherwise. I have to content myself with obsessively writing an unpaid online ‘bogl’, that has amassed some 387 Posts including this one, since February 2012; as well as storing some archived scribblings from the previous ten years. I think it has got about 29 Followers so far. I’m looking forward to achieving posthumous recognition, in the meantime luxuriating in my Old Age Pension.

As a career path to wealth and fame, I can’t really recommend the writing game to eager and ambitious young literary baboons such as yourselves. But don’t let me stop you. I’m sure I shan’t.

Toodle-pip!

–  Uncle Bogler

Carswell, that ends well

Now, I read, there’s famine in Somalia.

Yawn. Is anyone going to notice? Will anyone even care, as the babies swell-up and die? Can we afford to do anything about it? Haven’t they brought it on themselves, with their endless tribal warfare and ongoing al-Shabab insurgency?

We’ve got ten million displaced persons under canvas in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria. Winter is approaching.  Makeshift schools and hospitals lack funding. Qualified people do manual work.

A bunch of freelance Muslim gangsters called something, IS, ISIL, ISIS, Deish are establishing a murderous new caliphate spanning the borders of Syria and Iraq. Teenagers watching stuff on the internet, innit, reckon it’s a great adventure, over three thousand have travelled from Europe to be part of the new, innocent-white-people’s beheading party.

Islamic insurgencies are continuing in the Sahel region of Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, with hundreds of young people kidnapped and pressed into paramilitary units, into what we in the West would call sex-slavery – in Islam it’s called marriage. We hear nothing about these conflicts any longer, we are bored with them.

(Here in the West, we perpetuate sex-slavery through Pakistani urban rape-gangs, incest and child abuse.)

There are an estimated 37 million people in bondage throughout the world. People of African descent in the West are having a harder and harder time claiming unique historical precedence and special treatment over this historical issue. (Sorry. But you are. So now enjoy being free.) Slavery persists in Arab countries – and in Knightsbridge.

We’ve got ten thousand Ebola cases in West Africa (one, now dead, in the USA, and one confirmed in Spain). The plague threatens the economic survival of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau. Poor countries where there is one doctor per half-million of inhabitants, and that doctor and her nursing team are probably already dead from exposure to Ebola.

(Of the Sierra-Leonian team that carried out the gene-sequencing of the virus to show that it’s new and not the old Zaire variety, and originated with one village herbalist who tried to treat a patient with unknown symptoms, six are now dead.)

While in Britain, the sixth largest economy in the world, well-heeled Tories call for cuts in the overseas aid budget to ease their tax woes. They fail to realise that their agreeable third homes in Tuscany are at risk from their craven subjection to the anti-EU wing and the editor of the Mail.

India and Pakistan are shelling one another across the Kashmiri border.

North and South Korea are exchanging machine-gun fire across the 40th parallel.

China and Japan are continuing to face one another off over the ownership of some pointless islands that have become a symbol of historic enmities and atrocities.

Something, whatever, is probably still going on in Ukraine.

Massive global corruption and corporatism are shifting vast resources towards an ever-smaller number of obscenely wealthy individuals, yet foolish, greedy and covetous consumers hold quasi-religious ceremonies to hail the release of new and evermore bendable, oppressive and useless consumer goods.

Through which we are all kept under surveillance, for our own good. Like baby monitors.

While the globe continues to warm.

The once-idyllic tropical paradise, the Maldive Islands continue to drown in a sea of their own garbage.

The Pacific Gyre, an artificial continent of plastic rubbish from around the world, continues to rotate.

And Nigel fucking Farage is rampaging over British politics tonight. Voters are clearly too depressed and Ritalin-damaged to understand that he is not at all what he pretends to be, a man o’ the people. He is as much a product of the ‘Westminster bubble’ as any other political huckster. The antidote to politics, the beer-swilling, pub-going Mr Farage confidently expects to hold the balance of power at the next general election in 2015. God help us, we’re about to hand power to an ex-public-school, ex-merchant banker who pretends to be Arthur Daley, a fictional used-car salesman from a TV sitcom, in his camelshit-coloured, cashiered Army officer’s Crombie coat with the egregious tab collar.

His successful by-election-winning protégé, Douglas Carswell, is a turncoat and a politician with a distinctively crooked smile, as if his face had been slashed with a Stanley knife. It is rumoured that the formerly highly regarded Mr Carswell is already regretting his association with this disaffected rabble and its Teflon-coated leader. Nevertheless he is bathing in his enormous majority tonight, ignoring the obvious fact that, as the popular sitting Tory MP, he has merely succeeded in combining his own Tory vote with that of the gullible and uninformed baboons who tell the visiting media: now, that Mr Farage, he’s one of us.

Please, will somebody get me out of here?

– Uncle Bogler

65: Passing the Post

So, thirteen fives make 65.

Not a very interesting number, then. Propitious, only in the sense that reaching the age of 65 has elevated me to a new social status as one of the Oldies, the pensioners, the invisible army of grey nonentities who travel on buses and get mugged by phoney telephone company engineers. No longer able to deal with the energy company, the phone company, the Work and Pensions department – any kind of commercial contract or flatpack self-assembly furniture – without copious swearing and recourse to handy teenagers, I have joined the ranks of the Doomed ones at the top of that final slope, where you realise your brake pipes have been severed and the steering wheel’s come off in your hands.

I was immensely touched therefore by the generosity of so many people I am generally fairly beastly to: members of the choir whose inability to grasp basic chord theory clearly infuriates me, fellow thespians who don’t turn up to rehearsals on the flimsiest of excuses, so it’s the mother-in-law’s 57th birthday, so what? who trooped round to my little house, that I can’t sell, last night, bearing cards and little trinkets and packets of Turron and pots of homemade jam and bottles of wine, and filled my kitchen with excited voices that were not the usual tired and repetitious ones in my head.

I was eventually moved to comment, as my endlessly forgiving friends packed themselves as tightly as anchovies around the groaning table, having arrived in unanticipated numbers (it’s an El Niño year), that I might have bought the smallest house in town but it did have other rooms they could use. I wanted them to go in my little garden, with its pretty lights and things in pots and its burbling water feature (lites up at nite!), my new table and chairs set. But Autumn has been slowly creeping up on us in its allegorical kind of way, and brought with it a little chilly night. We huddled together for warmth.

My son arrived with a many-pocketed backpack, and in each pocket was a gift. He was sorry he couldn’t find birthday wrapping-paper as it’s all Christmas now. It was touching, inasmuch as my present to him on his 21st was £20 worth of download vouchers, so broke have I been lately. (Although I then demonstrated my meanness by using up the last of my credit to make myself a present of a long-planned digital keyboard. And I don’t even play. Not yet, anyway.) But he sweetly put his student loan on the line by buying for me: a coffee-maker that makes more than one cup at a time, packets of interesting single-estate coffee, some decent bottles of wine and a fresh copy of MS Office that I can try and load on his old laptop, that he has also kindly donated to me, with its garishly glowing special red-eyed Dragon gaming mouse and its Kabbalistic inscriptions carved into the lid.

His sister of course completely ignored the whole occasion. Which is fine, she gets it from me. I’ve never been known to remember anything important, or do anything unselfish or say anything tactful or encouraging in my entire life. I get that from my dad. He used to be charm itself for about the first half-hour. But she knows I care, she got some download vouchers too for her 25th just last month. In an Amazon giftbox, naturally.

Not long to go now.