A bad case of flue

I’m often accused of excessive negativity.

Unfairly, in my view.

In olden days I might have been diagnosed with a melancholic disposition. But I have always thought expecting the worst was a useful strategy for avoiding disappointment.

And in any case, beneath the melancholy lurks a choleric temperament. I get angry about stuff, especially the world. Only I am in reality generally phlegmatic about my current state of being; which is to say, stoically resigned to living in a perpetual state of suspension. The choler is just an outlet for the fiery substance within. Take no notice.

Earth, air, fire, water. You name it, I’ve got ’em.

Spiritually inclined, non-scientific people tend to the belief that excessive negativity can build up and start to affect your surroundings. I’m starting to think that might be true. Whatever strategies I adopt for moving forward are continually stymied by people telling me I would be better off doing nothing.

Take the gas installation quotations man. He’s just left with a cup of heart-stoppingly sweet tea inside him, after convincing me not to spend money on a new, more efficient, eco-friendly central-heating boiler (£400 OFF if you BOOK before 29 February!). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, is his motto.

It’s too complicated. There’s only four feet of flue between the boiler cupboard and the outside wall, and it is encased in plasterboard and tiles. But no inspection cover. Although there’s practically nothing to inspect, nothing to go wrong, modern regulations state that every flue has to have an inspection cover somewhere, even when it is only four feet long. Extra expense is involved in installing a new boiler in my house. It will cost thousands to put in both a new boiler and a new flue.

Just sell the house, was his advice. Along with the perfectly good boiler, that the annual service engineer I am expecting any minute will have to condemn as unsafe, because there’s no inspection cover for the flue; and because the boiler is 13 years old. It predates modern regulations.

The annual engineer will stick another red warning label on it, saying UNSAFE – Do Not Use This Appliance, because the modern regulation says he has to. And it is illegal for me to remove it. But he will tip me the wink: it’s fine, don’t worry, your boiler is working perfectly well, and within its operational safety margins. It’s a really good boiler. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s perfectly safe. Wink.

So whoever comes to buy my house will see the red warning label and want money off, because the central heating is unsafe and not working. Although it isn’t. And it is. But the advice of the man who sells boilers is not to waste money buying a new one…. You are starting to see my point. My boiler is like Schroedinger’s Cat: simultaneously both dead and/or alive, until you open the box.

That reminds me of an ancient TV quiz show from the days of black and white. You answered a question correctly and Michael Miles let you choose whether or not to ‘Open the box!’, while the studio audience screamed encouragement. You didn’t know what prize was inside, a quark or a lepton; stuff or cash. It could have gone either way…

In any case, I do not have thousands to spend on a new boiler.

I have been planning to sell the house, as you know, but no-one at all comes to look at it. No-one who has been here, not even the gas installations quotations man sipping his sweet tea in the kitchen, can understand why not. It’s a perfectly nice little house. Nor would he take out the annoying partition wall, if he were me, to open up the downstairs.

So I have decided: I shall either stay, or I shall go. (Libra. Decisiveness is not one of our key personality traits.)

If I stay, I reason, then I should do a few things to update my little house, which is looking a little tired after 27 months on the market. Like update the dangerous central-heating boiler that is working fine. But first I need to find more money.

So the previous man in the kitchen, wisely sipping unsweetened coffee, the pensions sage from the helpful retirement specialists, ran through a few calculations and advised me, no, don’t bother remortgaging. It’s not a good time. It’s too expensive. You probably would be refused a mortgage anyway. You don’t have enough pension. Then he drove 100 miles home to his family, without a sale.

It’s the modern regulations, he explained, when you are a retired person banks are not allowed to look at your investments, your part-time earnings, the hugely advantageous loan-to-value ratio, the holes in your socks, your miserly little dribbly outgoings: they are allowed only to look at your basic minimal pension income.

Your income flue too needs an inspection cover!

So now I have no money to do anything, anyway.

Which is a shame, because I’d like to pay off my overdraft, my car loan. And go jazz singing in August.

The gas quotations man tells me, installing a new boiler and a new flue will cost, ooh, three and a half thousand. Our labour is much more expensive than anyone else’s. If you must buy a new boiler, find a gas fitter down the road to do it cheaper. Then he too leaves happily, without making a sale, having given a pensioner some good advice about boilers, and drives fifty-seven miles home.

It is getting harder and harder to spend the money I haven’t yet got.

Shortly after he leaves, the annual engineer arrives and looks puzzled: he does not agree with the boiler salesman’s estimate, but never mind. He sticks on the danger notice, hands me a sheet of paper on which every aspect of my boiler’s performance has been ticked as satisfactory, and leaves: a hospital is calling him, they have a problem with their boiler. A different one, theirs is probably unsafe and not working.

The mortgage sage tells me, a standard equity release plan (a mortgage you don’t have to pay back until you are dead) will also cost three and a half thousand. So if you are planning to sell the house and go before you die, he advises, then just sell the house and go. Don’t buy a mortgage. Don’t waste the three and a half thousand, plus the maybe six thousand more they will charge you to get out of it if you decide to sell the house before you die.

Okay, but I am sanguine about the prospect of that happening. No-one even comes to look at my house. So I am staying put, yes? Or no. If yes, however, I need the money…

And both men, and everyone else, say to me, why do you not just let your house out and go and rent somewhere, wherever you want to live?

Yes, they think I too can be in two places at once, like my safe and unsafe boiler. Like an entangled pair of photons, playing fast and loose with Einsteinian space-time. Except I’m not an entangled pair anymore. It’s just me, Hunzi and Scat, my expensive guitar, my jazz CDs and Avi the avocado tree.

Who else, what fool, might decide to declutter, and start by selling the entire house, with nowhere to go?

What else, apart from a pre-owned PRS Hollowbody 11 guitar, Artist Pack, will cost three and a half thousand, I wonder?

Might it not be worth taking the choleric/phlegmatic approach and just buy the fucking guitar on the instalment plan, instead of messing about trying to mortage the house with its dangerous gas fittings, just so you can buy a smart new kitchen, a new bedroom carpet (what persuaded them to think white?), and fix the garden fence before you die? Instead of selling the entire house and having nowhere to go?

You clearly have no real intention of going anywhere, have you.

My little house is more full of excessive negativity today than it is of carbon monoxide. Even more coffee (no sugar) cannot dispel my melancholic disposition this wet and windy morning.

Where to go? What to do?

There must be a website somewhere.

 

 

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Watching me watching you

I mean, how do they KNOW?

It always bothers me, that signoff. It’s usually a middle-aged white Welsh guy called Huw Edwards who is fronting the main national BBC 1 TV news at ten o’clock. When his 20 minutes’ segment of national and international news is up, he has to handover to a luscious news-floozie called Lucy-something in Cardiff, with huge, pleading eyes and a perfectly kissable pout.

If you knew who I mean, you’d buy shares in lipgloss.

At least, Huw hands over probably to several unseen desk-jockeys who will pick up off the back of the national and international news segment with a roundup of less expensive news from various regions of the country that have their own programme optouts. Lucy-something just happens to be the one propping up the studio table of the newsroom covering the part of the country where I am watching, the mini-kingdom of Wales.

And Huw always says something like: And now over to the news where YOU are. It’s sinister.

How the hell does he KNOW where I am?

Because I don’t have TV.

Which is to say, I have a TV set but it isn’t connected with an aerial or a dish. My eyes got so bad after years of squinting at burned-out CRT screens in low-rent publishing companies where I was a seriously underpaid copy editor that I can’t focus down on this, muh li’l bogl, using the 13.3-in screen of my tiny silver Asus lapbook notetop thing.

So I use a 37-in flatscreen TV as a monitor.

Then, we have the i-Player, one of a number of such services provided, presumably by service providers, where you can call-up old TV programmes on-demand and watch them online, or start and stop them at any point, even while they are still going out, provided you can put up with the frequent holdups while the digits are collecting themselves and the frustrating little circle whizzes round.

Sort-of – the selection is annoyingly limited.

So I would rather just watch stuff I am interested in, one-off documentaries about the Amazon and detective procedurals and suchlike, rather than swallow the main diet of cooking contests and followup programmes about how they made the cooking contest programmes and more programmes about how they decided who won the contests, provided by the TV companies.

Okay, so people laugh at me when I ask, somewhat indignantly, how the hell the BBC knows ‘where I am’, in order to feed me my very own regional news optout. Silly confused single elderly pensioned man, they say, you are IN the region! They are beaming the stuff at you from a regional transmitter! Everyone in the region gets the same regional stuff beaming at them! Don’t take it personally!

You are not listening.

You are probably too busy texting your mates to hear what I am saying.

I don’t get TV from a transmitter. I get the programmes down the phone line, on a nationwide broadband service that covers the whole country at the same time. Not separated by regions or distinguished by regional transmitters. Geddit?

So I repeat, how the hell do they KNOW ‘where I am’, in order to feed me lovely Lucy from Cardiff, not the news as it might be generated and splurged by Tim or Shakeela in London or Glasgow or Manchester or Norwich or Truro? How do they KNOW?

Is it the Surveillance State gone mad? Are the news community watching me watching them? Can they read my more lurid thoughts about delicious Lucy Lipgloss? Have they put tracking soft things on my system? Captured my IP? Misappropriated my URL?

Or is it a Cookie contest? Will they one day be able to send me my own news? (“Good evening. Today, not a lot happened again, where I am….”)

I need to be told. Wherever I am.

Postscriptum

If you think that’s weird, wait’ll you hear this!

I was checking my email Spam folder just now for any signs of reality. If a Spam looks as if it might be okay, with information of interest, I don’t open it. Instead I go to my old school chum, Harry Google, and ask him to find the actual webthing of the Spammer in question. If there is one, and it’s kosher, I’ll check out the offer, or whatever it was they wanted to talk to me about. It’s to avoid getting malware all over my li’l laptop.

So, I had three Spams today from something called Groupon. Basically in the space of about five minutes they offered me some deal vouchers, told me to hurry to redeem them and then told me they had expired.

Not the point. Get this.

I do a search on Groupon, and up at the top of page one on Google comes their main site, plus some subsidiary clickons headlining the availability of live offers – two of them from hotels just down the road from me. Where I am, in fact.

So now I only have to search for something and Google knows where I am and can target product offers directly at me on the Search page, without me even having to go to the supplier’s website to get some vouchers?

And half an hour later, Goddammit, I only get another Spam from Groupon, asking if I just enquired about them? And here are some more vouchers for stuff where you are… And they are in AMERICA!

Purlease! I’m getting out of here, local funeral parlour directors please note.

 

Or was I dreaming?

Ooh, I do like a good coincidence, don’t you?

Okay, Dr Jung called it ‘synchronicity’. Both mean two things happening at the same time. Latin, Greek, take your pick.

So, you know how you often wake up in the morning and you’ve been dreaming something and it’s too cold to get up, and you lie there spinning the various threads of the dream out into a more conscious kind of narrative, to get to the ending, until it all falls apart and the outside world breaks in?

No? Oh well.

Anyway, the previous night – this was last night – I’d gone to choir and a nice couple, Ian and Paula, who hadn’t been coming for a while, turned up, and I got chatting with Paula. But just before they arrived I’d been fumbling in my usual way to put together a text message on my Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 ‘Smart’ phone, for my son, about giving him a lift to the bike test centre the following morning early.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m crap at texting. For a start, you have to shake the phone violently to get it to flip into horizontal mode, which gives you bigger keys. I can’t work with the tiny keys you get when it’s in vertical mode.My spelling goes all to pot, and then you have to get the tiny cursor that I can’t quite see, back to the place where you want to change the mistake, and it rubs out the whole line and you have to put it all in again.

And then if you stop working on the text for more than a few seconds the screen goes to black, after which you have hell’s own job getting it to fire up again, by which time it’s in a different place and you sometimes lose the message or worse, the thing won’t Send because although it says ‘Peter’ in the ‘to’ box it doesn’t know where he is any longer. Of course, you can reset the length of time before the screen goes to black, can’t you.

Hence the description ‘Smart’ phone, because it’s completely stupid. This is the kind of Orwellian reverse language, the doublespeak invented by the advertising industry, like when it says ‘300 FREE MINUTES’ they give you for nothing, provided you pay double for the contract.

So I urgently needed to Send the message in case the lad needed an early-morning ride to the bike centre, but the screen had gone to black and I am shaking and pounding the phone to make it light up again, so while Paula is telling me something interesting that happened, I am trying to get the message back so I can key Send, and I am aware of how a) I must be seeming very rude because of not paying close attention, and b) I haven’t heard a word Paula has said, so if she interrogates me on the subject or anticipates a cogent reply I am going to have to shake my head sympathetically and put on a rueful expression and say something like, yeah, that’s how it goes.

Instead, I settle for an explanation and an apology, and Paula says, no, it’s me who was interrupting, sorry (she’s American, from the Midwest and endlessly polite), and that’s the end of the conversation for the rest of the evening.

Now, I have woken up and it is too cold in the room to get up and anyway, I finished work yesterday, and I have been dreaming that some higher authority is taking me to task for fiddling with my phone and texting while someone is trying to tell me something important. Only instead of Paula it’s my mother.

And after a few minutes of… okay, I’m going to use the word, at the risk of looking like an overliterary smartarse, ‘ratiocination‘… the whole argument, the long-winded explanations and apologies, seems just too trivial and over-rehearsed to carry on thinking about.

I have by now completely forgotten about the real incident the night before, the memory comes back to me only later while I am being moderately excited about the fabulous coincidence that happens when I turn on the Today programme (BBC Radio 4’s flagship breakfast news show).

Because I hear the presenter say ‘It’s fourteen minutes to eight’ and immediately he goes on to link to an item that has been raised by listeners complaining about – and he introduces two studio guests, lifestyle pundits who have been invited along to argue amusingly for the next two-and-a-half minutes about – how discourteous and disrespectful it is when so many people nowadays especially The Young are constantly texting and typing while you are trying to tell them something, instead of listening to you politely….

Come on, how synchronistic is that? No, get off that damn phone and tell me, now.

 

Postscriptum

Synchronicity hounds might like that the same day last week my kitchen drain is blocked-up, probably with coffee grounds, flooding the yard, I pass a gallstone…

Watching the defectives #1V – Silent Witness

With the help of endless, instantly available CCTV footage and the incomparable forensic skills of sarcastic Dalek-with-hands, Clarissa, quivering ET-lookalike and perennially sex-starved pathologist, Nicky (‘Silent Wetness’?) and her edgy paranoid-psychotic cage-fighting Irish crime-scene investigator anti-buddy, the improbably undamaged Jack, have finally connected enough dots in the face of police blundering and dishonest false trails laid by the writers, to lead about-to-be-promoted, parricidal depressive Detective Sergeant (name escapes me, sorry) and his meat-faced, about-to-be-pensioned-off, fit-’em-up Inspector (name also redacted by alcohol) to the on-the-run London Underground serial killers, a sad pair of losers hacking their way through a messy litter of heartless ex-social workers to recover her long-ago adopted-out son, who are cornered on the northbound platform at Chalk Farm station.

A train enters the platform. For some reason it does not look like it will stop.

Now, the first episode has started with a gorefest as a mutilated body is scraped off the line in front of muttering commuters (‘did he fall or did he jump?’ Oh, come on, this is a weekly two-part whodunnit, right? Of course he didn’t bloody jump!).

So knowing the worst that can happen, and presumably having seen Bonnie and Clyde, Thelma and Louise, Butch and Sundance, etc., what do our unlikely sleuths do, as the killers link hands and gaze at one another moistly on the platform’s edge?

That’s right, they stand around doing NOTHING, apparently unable to believe they’ve finally got to the ending.

Until, of course, the inevitable happens.

So, now Nicky has cracked both cases, Detective Sergeant whatsisname goes back to see his mumbling old mum in the home, to thank her for taking the rap for him and doing time in Holloway all those years ago for the crime he has had trouble remembering he committed while attempting to save her from being run down by his dad in a fit of extreme depression at being cast as a man stranded in a tiny farm-labourer’s cottage on a bleak Scottish moor.

Even though Nicky has pointed out to us that he was below the age of criminal responsibility when he miraculously managed to stab his abusive dad to death with a penknife through what would have been the fixed rear cab window of a pickup-back 1960s Land-Rover, and so Mum needn’t have bothered after all. Such is life.

Hey, you know that great special effect where the escaping killer falls/throws himself in front of the train/bus/speeding truck/airplane propellor, apparently in realtime? Yep, CGI meets CSI. Possibly the most expensive part of a show that eclipses even the BBC’s ‘Spooks’ for low-budget silliness.

(I mean to say, a reputable pathology research institute employing only four people? Come on! That’s almost as credible, surely, as MI5 employing only six!)

Apart, that is, from the bloody prosthetics. Ooh, I can’t bear to watch. Look, there’s two more chopped-up faces! Cue castrato wailing incomprehensible lyrics, just like in The Bridge.

And roll credits.

Postscript-ahum

And would the writers of Episode 3 kindly note, it’s ALWAYS the apparently loyal and honest but secretly embittered security chief…. That’s how we guessed who the killer was in Part One. The apparently loyal and honest but secretly embittered security chief is the new Agatha Christie’s butler.

More of the above

Double-episode #4, and I am getting that something strange is going on in the production department.

I have noticed that the budgets for Part Two of every double-episode are approximately half those allocated to Part One.

Because, whereas in Part One you might get lots of extra characters wandering around, like in any scene where the two paid detective actors are sticking little pictures up on the wall to try and solve the crime there are usually four or five non-speaking parts in uniform, with their sleeves rolled-up, looking busy in other parts of the room, or a bunch of extras demonstrating in the street, brandishing the writers’ idea of placards bearing topical slogans, by Part Two of Silent Wetness it’s just the four or five principal goodies, and a couple of baddies and their brassy blonde wives, who are still in the show, and everyone else seems to have gone home, or have ended up in effigy on the slab while Nicky toys speculatively with their liver.

I was greatly concerned last night, therefore, when only three or four of the usual black-garbed ‘armed response’ squad could be found to turn out to tackle the baddie and his cage-fighting, drug-addled son (who the scriptwriters had consistently tried to pretend was the actual baddie, only it was daddy who was the baddie) under the flyover, even though they’ve been warned by the teenage hostage daughter of the bent Customs officer who lets the drugs in to fund his wife’s treatment for MS using a random broken phone from the glove compartment while Bad Dad chuckles maniacally over an entire containerload of heroin from Pakistan packed in cheery blue and pink kiddies’ lunchboxes, that “e’s go’ a gun!”, so that the sweaty, lank-haired, middle-aged copper hero, who gets to bed the undiscriminating Nicky, goes in unarmed without even a stab vest and is shot through the heart before the low-budget three-man Swat team can take out the son, who isn’t the real baddie after all. (We never do find out what happens to Dad. While blonde, brassy mum doesn’t even get charged as an accessory to murder, which is odd considering she has consistently lied to everyone to protect him, but maybe there wasn’t the budget for all that paperwork.)

In a final act of ruthless scriptwriterly dishonesty, we see the policeman, now mostly recovered except for walking with a stick, being ruefully grateful to Nicky (thankfully without them both actually nodding and chuckling, the way everyone does at the end of 1970s US TV cop shows when the hero and his buddy standing atop a pile of corpses have survived another episode) for bringing him back from the dead. Presumably, while shouting ‘Stay with it!’ as the hapless paramedics are complaining that he has no detectable  functions, she has managed to perform a roadside heart transplant operation, something all pathologists are trained to do just in case they are ever invited to join in a live police operation against armed drug dealers and heavyweight crims.

At which point, indeed, she makes a joke about it making a change dealing with the living; a pleasantry the writers might take to heart.

In passing, I am beginning to imagine that somewhere in West London dwells a gang of maybe two dozen blokes, possibly Poles or Lithuanians, ex-military, disguised from head to toe in black, bullet-proof armour, with their own agent, who hire themselves out to TV production companies on minimum wage as a kind of permanently on-standby Swat team.

It’s the sort of quietly anonymous but occasionally adventurous life I’d like to live, to be honest.

 

 

Calm down, dears

There’s a theory going round that confusion is the new politics.

Thanks to the proliferation of new ‘personal’ media, there are no longer any fixed positions. No ‘tablets of stone’ tell us what is, or is not, the right thing to believe. Perceptions of what is actually going on, who is in charge, what their intentions are, what the effects of their policies are, are a jumble of mismatched beliefs and expectations based largely on misinformation, which others around us create.

From the ‘fog of war’, we have gone to the ‘fog of peace’. We are no longer able to decide what is true and what is not; nor are we able to trust in official sources, as these have given ground to the diffusive power of crowd-sourcing.

The confusion of the people is where absolute power lies for the few who are in control of the facts.

Take Putin and his recent statements about the civil war in Ukraine. The overwhelming evidence of people’s own eyes is that Russian troops and artillery are inside southeastern Ukraine backing Russian-led, trained and armed separatist rebels. President Putin says they aren’t. Does he not know they are, or is he lying?

Aha, that’s the question!

The longer he keeps denying what everyone knows to be true, the more support he attracts to his version of events, until eventually he is seen by the majority to be telling the truth – even when we know he isn’t!

According to the Wikipedia entry, “Maskirovka is a Russian word (Маскировка, literally a little masquerade), pertaining to the business of military deception. Although the word is sometimes translated as ‘camouflage’, this belies its much broader meaning that includes all measures, active and passive, designed to deceive the enemy”

What seems to be the case with Ukraine is that, no, the Russian army is not involved in the civil war: the Russians inside Ukraine are merely irregular volunteers, nationalist patriots who have merely borrowed the guns, tanks and BUK missile launchers needed to defend the persecuted minority of ethnic Russian Ukrainians who have organized themselves against a fascist coup in Kiev.

Were it to be admitted that this is all utter nonsense, the safety and security of the Russian Republic would be compromised. Thus it is Putin’s ‘maskirovka’ moment – his absolute moral duty to lie about it, for the good of his country.

Sinking to the banal, Nigel Farage is a British politician who took over the reins of an ailing minority party, the United Kingdom Independence Party, and has won a massive following by exploiting a growing sense of anger and voter indifference towards the established political consensus.

Anyone can obviously see that he is just another professional politician transparently positioning himself as a ‘champion of the people’. It is the oldest trick in the book. Adopting a ‘cheeky chappy’ personality, he seldom allows himself to be photographed without a pint of beer in one hand and a ban-defying cigarette in the other, propping up the bar of some otherwise deserted British pub. Closing at the rate of two a day, the good old British boozer, with its sawdust carpet and its sad packet of pork scratchings, is now merely a symbol of a bygone era. And that’s the nostalgia factor he is brilliantly exploiting. Because we miss them!

In vox pop after vox pop, you will hear working-class voters describe Farage as ‘one of us – an ordinary bloke’: when it is very widely known that he is in fact a former member of the hated merchant-banking fraternity, against which he has never spoken out; and a former public-schoolboy to boot, a ‘toff’, just like Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor Osborne and the other Conservative leaders. He merely dresses like a dodgy cashiered army major from an Ealing comedy film of the 1950s.

Like Putin, Farage has forced his way into the media-swarm with an absurdist agenda that makes little sense. Mining the contradictions of public opinion, he has been able to convince enough voters that – Lloyd-Webber’s Law – ‘Any dream will do’; building an unstoppable momentum for a party which, on analysis, contains a confused spectrum of support, from the racist/mysogynist sofa-dwelling, internet trolling brigade to former high Tories looking for a return to a golden age that never really existed, taking in a great number of everyday people who are vaguely unhappy with the way things are, whatever their understanding of that may be.

Public understanding of the way things are is fast unravelling. Few people have a memory of the past: we live now in an eternal present, just behind the curve of events.

As examples of Farage’s ability to sow confusion, you need to consider that his main platform is that of agitating to take the UK out of the European Union. Yet he is himself not a UK parliamentarian: he sits in and is paid by the European Parliament as an MEP. He exploits voter anger at UK parliamentarians, many of whom were embroiled in a 2009 scandal over the claiming of spurious expenses; yet he himself is bidding to become one of them.

Meanwhile, Farage benefits mightily from the generous expenses available to MEPs in Strasbourg. Indeed, he has just diverted around 1.5 million Euro in EU funding to UKIP through the expedient of creating a shadow party with a pro-European agenda, thus qualifying for a start-up grant… Sometimes he is anti-immigrant, at other times he is all in favour of immigrants, provided they don’t milk the system – as he is doing – or speak in foreign languages on public transport. Yet his wife is German. Zu hause, sprecht-es Deutsch?

And people love him for it. He has brilliantly intuited that the foremost ‘British value’ is taking the piss out of foreigners.

But events in Greece have overtaken even Farage’s anti-Europe agenda. It is looking increasingly likely that Greece’s new Syriza government will default on its debts and plunge the Euro – and, by extension, the whole European project – into chaos and dissolution, much to the benefit of Putin and the Russian Federation, which will find it rather easier to re-absorb the former Soviet frontier states.

Meanwhile, Apple is sitting on a $175 billion cash pile that could pay off Greece’s national debt. Doing so would be, literally, a game-changer – they don’t need the money, they are making profits of $4 billion a month. Five US corporations now have wealth exceeding that of several smaller European nations. Would Apple be willing to make a selfless gesture that could prevent the next pan-European war? Probably not.

There is an Orwellian dimension to all this, in which the meaning of language has become plastic. Anything could mean anything, except what it actually means. We come at everything from a myriad points of view. Our growing sense that the ground is shifting beneath us creates exploitable anxieties and concedes power to those behind the dissemination of creative untruths. Through mass communictions technology we have entered a chaotic, dreamlike cloudscape with its own fluid logic.

You might call it ‘quantum politics’, a state in which ideas can be in two places at once.

The best example of all, that one can think of, is Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Those who seek power do best plucking it out of chaos and confusion. The public response to recent events in France; the willingness of Greek voters to commit economic suicide in the spirit of Thermopylae offer little to those of us who still hope to keep things in proportion.

 

Je suis offended

I’m offended by lots of things, but principally hypocrisy.

Being offended is the extension du jour of the victim culture. Elias Canetti, in his 1964 book ‘Crowds and Power’, posits the idea of ‘stings’, minor insults which we all accumulate from the unseen horde of ‘insects’ that surrounds us, and which build up until we release them in acts of physical or mental retaliation on others.

In the absence of the old laws of blasphemy and lèse majesté, for which the punishments could be extreme, taking offence has become a popular game, a form of reverse bullying. Anyone may claim some special low status as the ‘victim’ of a perceived past outrage or present misfortune, and band together with others feeling similarly depressed about themselves. Their aim is to get one over on anyone not so afflicted, claiming the moral high ground by demanding they apologise or resign or lose their livelihood, or even by issuing – and sometimes acting out – threats of violence against the external person targeted, unless they agree to conform to the unwritten rules of the group.

This may include the appropriation of language.

Just this morning on the radio, a presenter read out a message from a listener, demanding that they retract the use of the words ‘special needs’ in relation to children, as the listener herself had two children with ‘special needs’. ‘Special needs’, she argued, should never be used as an adjective, only as a noun. It was clearly offensive so to do, as the children should not be defined by their needs. Oh. Not special, then.

And in much the same vein, my local university decided to redesignate the Special Needs exam room as the ‘Individual Examination Requirements’ room, so as not to confuse the tiny number of perfectly fit students conning their way into the facility and benefitting from extra time with the even smaller number of genuine dyslexics, dyspractics, agoraphobics, sociopaths and mild cerebral palsy cases, none of whom I imagine would take offence at the thought that their needs were special. After all, exams are not about ‘individuals’, they are designed to test the knowledge of the group.

To take a more egregious example, the other day a former England football team coach, now some kind of official blue-blazer, was pressed to comment on the story of a talented young footballer who can’t get a job because he’s served time for date-rape. The footballer, Ched Evans, is appealing his conviction, and a club, Oldham Athletic, was willing to take the risk of hiring him, until their sponsors threatened to pull out and the directors started receiving death threats and worse.

The England official, Graham Taylor, attempted a convoluted rationale to explain his theory that this might not be the first miscarriage of justice to affect the Beautiful Game. In doing so, he appeared to draw a comparison between Evans’ conviction and the suspected cover-up of police incompetence and press calumnies against the dead, following the Hillsborough football ground disaster in 1989, when many spectators were killed in a stampede.

This not wholly indefensible analogy was, with hindsight, culturally insensitive and poorly thought-through as new inquests are expensively in progress. There is, it has to be admitted, an imbalance of proportionality between the two cases. But it does not do to tread even accidentally on the tender sensibilities of the victim state, as many politicians, media celebrities and sports personalities are coming to realise, in the Age of Twitter. For, ‘anything you do say, however innocently, may be hashtagged and retweeted against you’, as the old police caution might now put it.

Naturally, the Prime Apologist interviewed on behalf of ‘the victims’ of Hillsborough, a lawyer who has made it his life’s mission to monitor the media in order to be able to express outrage on behalf of all the hundreds of people who either survived, or lost a friend, child, parent or relative in the disaster over 25 years ago, expressed outrage at the insentivity and ‘crassness’ of Taylor’s fumbling thought process. Nor under questioning did he exactly decline to demand Taylor’s shaggy head as someone unfit to lead the administration of football, as if the moral standing and verbal articulacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury were the industry benchmark; while others who affect to speak on behalf of rape victims everywhere were also massively offended at the disgusting levity with which Taylor dared to throw off the seriousness of the crime by appearing to support Evans’ right to work.

Anyone, such as the former Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke, who seeks the protection of the right of free speech to try to argue that there are degrees of difference in the seriousness of sexual offences, is immediately howled-down by the women’s lobby, who seem to regard merely being born women as a free pass to the victim state. Not only can free speech cause offence, in many cases it IS an offence. There are many things it is now illegal to say, thoughts it is illegal to think*.

It is completely bizarre to suggest we live in a society where the right exists to express what you may be thinking. Whatever you do think, in however unguarded a moment, if made public, becomes for a time YOU. The thought is father to the man, as someone might have said. Defending a moral principle they do not uphold in practice, the Western leaders’ joining the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ march through Paris on Sunday is an act of hypocrisy, not to say electoral grandstanding.

In short, something someone said – someone who really ought not to be taken vastly seriously on an intellectual level – has provoked a storm of murderous, swollen outrage in the victim community by making a ‘crass’ comment that he apparently had no right to make in a free country. You are free to say things that offend other people, but not things that offend ME. Meanwhile, wilder elements were busy threatening those they perceived as no longer human, the board members of Oldham Athletic and their families, with criminal violence, murder and, yes, ironically even rape….

Would you dare to pillory the victim state  in a cartoon, as you might dare to joke inoffensively about God or some other religious nonsense? Rape or childhood abuse victims? People with cerebral palsy, MS or Down’s? The halt and the lame? Kids with ‘learning difficulties’? Jews? Diabetics cluttering up the A&E departments? The grossly obese? Cancer sufferers? Problem gamblers? They may be boring whingers (I claim free speech protection), but their emotional scars, disabilities and differences are sacrosanct.

Now, last Wednesday, two masked gunmen forced their way into the editorial office of a tiny-circulation satirical journal called Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, and shot dead ten staff, including the editor and the paper’s star cartoonists. They did so, as one of them explained, shortly before himself being summarily executed by cops in a Butch Cassidy-style ending, in order to defend the name of the Prophet – peace be upon him, if upon no-one else – against the scurrilous insults of a certain section of the irresponsible Western media. (There is absolutely no understanding in the Islamist world of the notion of a press uncontrolled by Government, hence the perpetual conflation of the two.)

Specifically, a cartoon suggesting obliquely that certain elements of Middle Eastern society were taking the Prophet’s name in vain, and that he might not approve. (This suggests that the Doobie Brothers or whatever their name was were particularly stupid, as they had no appeciation of irony, but we’ll pass over that in case it’s against the rules to make fun of stupid people.)

Charlie Hebdo‘s rationale in publishing regular cartoons of Mohammed in the wake of a similar Danish effort that also led to mass outrage in the worldwide Moslem community had been twofold: to ridicule what they saw as the absurd sensitivities of some of France’s six million strong Moslem diaspora, and to assert the press’s right to freedom of thought in a secular society. There was a curious degree of arrogance about it, a near-bankrupt scandal sheet with a weekly circulation under 60 thousand, taking on the mantle of defender of the faithless. There was therefore a third reason, to boost their flagging ciculation.

The iconic act of retribution sparked an immediate debate in the global media about free speech; although that was really not the point. The murders were sponsored by al-Quaeda in the Yemen as a warning to the French not to interfere with jihadi terrorism in Mali. The target, a no-account magazine, merely presented itself. Interviewee after interviewee stepped up to support the absolute right in a civilized society of any individual to cause offence without incurring extra-judicial retribution from the self-appointed spokespersons and trained killers of a different culture.

Moslem after Moslem – ‘good’ Moslems, as opposed to bad – was dragged before the cameras to atone for the actions of a lunatic fringe, ‘their’ lunatic fringe, and to reiterate the founding principles of ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ which, we are reminded, were born in the bloody carnage of the Terror.

Meanwhile, the media were admitting that the majority of editors were already unwilling to criticise aspects of Islam for fear of a visit from the masked gunmen. (Incidentally, why is it that our brave policemen have also adopted the wearing of masks, along with their Dan Dare ray-guns and Terminator uniforms? Surely, it’s contrary to the Magna Carta principle of the freedom to identify one’s accusers?)

‘Je Suis Charlie’ became the rallying cry of an instantaneous, mass campaign to defend the right of journalists and  cartoonists to shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre, to draw on an old legal definition of what actually ought to constitute the responsible limitations of ‘free speech’ in a free society.

It seems that it has become almost obligatory to offend Moslems, with their corny religion and their mad devotion to some old desert guy who thought God was dictating a book, started a global war and then flew up to heaven with his horse off the roof of a mosque. They should be happy to be offended as the price of admission to Western civilization.

It’s like someone has strapped Moslems to an electric chair and is administering progressively more lethal shocks while masked men repeatedly punch their children’s faces, and a soothing (if nervous) voice asks them, over and over again, why they can’t take a joke? It’s all just a bit of fun. Either that, or it’s a founding principle of Western democracy.

But it isn’t okay to assault the tender sensibilities of the self-appointed ‘victims’ of personal insults and accidents and genetic disorders, with their well-funded charity organizations and paid mouth-frothers, taking sublethal umbrage at the slightest careless use by media baboons of what they consider to be inappropriate sporting analogies, and who affect to dictate to the majority what words are allowed to be used in relation to their self-perceived victimhood.

These ‘victims’ deserve our protection against the secular blasphemies of the age, apparently, but anachronistic religious minorities don’t.

I see.

And if you don’t agree with me, as a minority of one I shall be mightily offended.

Postscriptum

And in another case in the news today, the eminent historian Dr David Starkey is receiving murderous Tweets because he accidentally referred to a fellow guest on a TV debate as ‘Ahmed’ instead of ‘Mehdi’. Which is essentially the same name. Moslems have accused him of monstrous racism. (No doubt I shall be accused of post-lcolonialism by spelling Muslim as Moslem throughout.)

Post-postscriptum

10 people have been burned to death in Niger, where Christian churches have been set on fire in rioting over the republication in many Western media outlets (not even remotely connected with Christian churches) of the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, which for all I know hasn’t been published in Niger so they haven’t even seen it.

The Pope has said people don’t have a right to laugh at other people’s religions. Coming from the head of a murderous evangelistic two-thousand-year-old kleptocracy, that’s rich.

David Cameron has contradicted the Pope: people do have the right to poke fun at other people’s religions. That’s all right then, because I was going to call the oversensitive Moslems of Niger a bunch of ignorant savages. All in fun, you understand.

The price of failure: Estate Agency in the Modern World

Followers of this, muh bogl – those, that is, who do not Follow me around with a metaphorical shovel merely in case I drop my wallet, or decide to buy some blue pills, designer luggage or an SEO strategy involving the maximisation of h-tags, whatever they be – will by now be utterly bored with my tiresome obsession with my little house, and the apparent inability of my Committee of Discarnate Entities to understand that I wish to sell it and move to somewhere where it isn’t currently raining.

Central to my sales strategy is, of course, the appointment of an Estate Agent – a small local service provider or chain of providers having special knowledge of, and special powers in relation to, the buying and selling of property.

Powers that I do not myself wield, such as the ability to list properties on national property-finder websites like Rightmove, Zoopla and Prime Location, which private individuals cannot do on their own behalf. Or, the ability to produce an Energy Efficiency Rating, apparently out of thin air.

Now, I try to give Estate Agents a fair crack of the whip, and a reasonable run at selling my house. If they succeed, well, then there’s commission to pay, 1.5 per cent of the transaction price. In my case that could amount to two thousand , three hundred pounds, the price of a fairly good guitar (I’m getting used to the weight distribution problem), or a fortnight’s holiday in Marbella. It’s not a huge amount (except for me, now I am a little Old Age Pensioner), but it surely would help to pay some overheads of the business. Worth having, no?

But you don’t get owt for nowt, so if you want my two grand I feel it is not unreasonable to expect that you should at least try to earn it.

Before Christmas, I sent a nice email to my current agent, number four, letting him know as politely as possible that, as he had not sold my house for me, and had had six months in which to find at least one hearing-impaired, cash-rich punter with no car who would at least come and look at my house on a thundering main road in the drab outskirts of a seaside town, so I felt the New Year was perhaps an appropriate time for some new energy, some fresh impetus, another take on the problem. Accordingly, I asked him to kindly take down his signboard and depart.

And do you know what? This morning I got a nice letter back from him, wishing me well and if there was ever anything he could do to help, etcetera.

And with it was a bill for £126 to cover his advertising costs… ‘as per our contract’.

Well, buster, as per your contract, a contract is an agreement between two parties, and you don’t seem to have done a fucking thing about your side of the bargain, so why should I? My first thought, gentle Reader, was, as you may surmise, a trifle scabrous.

I could have bought the advertising, such as it was, myself – and written it better. Did I not previously own an advertising agency? The contract stated that two ads were included and that any additional ads would be billed to me. I took from that the idea that, before any extra media were purchased, that I have not even seen, I might perhaps be consulted first?

I have never, in the 45 years since I bought the first of five houses I have owned, and then sold it at a 45 per cent profit two years later, ever in my life before had to pay an estate agent for failure. I did not have to pay the previous agent, number three, who had also presumably incurred advertising costs but failed to introduce a single prospective buyer during his six months’ tenure of my contractual silence.

Unlike agent number two, to whom I sent notes of a constructive nature and was fired for my pains, I let both of these heavily bejewelled losers get on with doing the job for which I would have had to pay them two thousand pounds without quibble, had they succeeded.

I held my peace and bit off my acerbic tongue when presented with their clumsily amateurish attempts at writing sales copy and designing attractive, persuasive literature. I put up with the deafening lack of communication – at no stage in an entire year did either of them ever once volunteer any information as to how things were going, not once.

When I asked to be kept informed about any objections buyers were possibly raising against even considering buying my little house, perhaps in discussions in their sales office, so that I could, if possible, take steps to counter them, make improvements, financial easements and so forth, I was completely ignored. I was not copied-in on correspondence with enquirers, nor was I furnished with copies of any advertising matter other than the initial, badly-drafted and confusingly laid-out sales particulars.

It is one of the accepted risks of the Estate Agency racket, that you have to invest a little money in the hope of getting back a lot. If you fail, well, tough. That’s why you charge so much relatively for success. The two thousand, three hundred pounds you could have got for selling my little house would cover maybe two or three lots of £126 you might have spent on advertising other houses you haven’t sold, plus a month’s wages for the attractive desk-maven.

As I wrote in my letter, I do not blame the agent for failing in his appointed task. It is not an easy market at the present time, there are local and national economic factors at work depressing sales. Nevertheless, he has failed to achieve even the most basic of results, the introduction of even one prospective buyer; and he has failed by and large to communicate with me on any level or do anything over and above the bare minima necessary to earn his profit.

While for my part, I have spent hours every day for two years vacuuming and washing-up, keeping my clothes and my papers in order, redecorating, gardening, getting next-door to cut their front grass, supplying my own photographs, brewing fresh coffee in case someone, anyone with a chequebook, should turn up. I’ve been willing to conduct my own viewings. I had the slipped roof tiles fixed. Only the other day, I paid a man £350 to trim the ivy and do a bit of repointing around the chimney flashing. I’ve placed and tended advertising of my own in the popular interweb media, at cost, from which the agent would have benefited.

Do my costs of sale, my time and energy, my co-operation count for nothing in this contract between supposed equals in law?

The name of the agent who has been completely unable in six months to find one possibly interested prospective buyer or even merely a curious or annoying party to send round to me, but who still wants paying, is Mr Michael Williams, of Messrs Morris, Marshall and Poole, Aberystwyth branch, and he has an infuriatingly patronising and dismissive attitude to go with, should you ever wish to find a reason to avoid having anything to do with him.

There, I have outed you. And for only £126. A bargain.

But it is, of course, only my personal opinion. Other opinions are probably available.