I was watching the adverts last night and there was one that stuck out. For trying a bit too hard. Almost uncomfortably so; embarrassingly, like a kid in the playground who makes up a stupid nickname for themselves, a belittling one – so people will befriend him / her. And by dint of wanting too much to be liked, is a little despised.

Well, this advert was like that. I can’t remember for the life of me what it was for – that’s the nature of the nondescript, perhaps; their utter immemorability – but what I do remember is that it was out of place.

It was showy, smart, and most of all, was calling “buy, buy buy!”. Perhaps it was for Sky or a snazzy TV – yup – got it; Blue-Ray recorders. Ho ho ho. With the lovley, seductive voice of Sean Pertwee (yup, son of Dr Who and the guy who shags Hermione Norris in the penultimate season of Cold Feet.)

Anyhoo, the Imp smiled at the obsolescence of the ad. Obsolescence? Sure – ‘cos who – really, who?! – is buying up new technology these days, when they already have DVDs, plasma screens, and – verily – VHS machines?

Are there really people out there, listening to Sean’s dripping, dulcet tones, saying to their Signif. Oth. “Gosh, babe, yeah, let’s nip out and get a Blu-Ray recorder at the weekend!”? The only person I know who might ever have said those fine words is bankrupt and (finally) happy.


I wonder whether we have moved to a new era – from the “gotta get the best” to “it’s good enough” mentality. I mean, after all, if your standard of living’s fine, and you’re managing to pay the bills, in the current risky climate would you really consider (even before you know the cost) upgrading your home TV system for some slightly enhanced technology (might be worth getting an eye test and better specs before splashing out several thousand for a new box)?

New UK graduates can’t get jobs – I doubt they’re going to live incautious financial lives. Millions can’t get on the housing ladder (the definitely-over-35-year-old Imp included, but that’s been rationalised to A Good Thing). Are they going to be hunting for new technologies to splurge on? Ahem.

If we are shifting to a “good enough” consumer approach, might that outlook bleed into other cultural areas? For decades to come, as UK debt mushrooms and people have to make decisions their parents and grandparents did not have to, how can the near-universal big-consumer mentality survive? Tony Blair’s taxpayer (read: consumer) “choice” agenda looks profligate in such an environment – although the Conservatives will seek to widen (wealthy) taxpayer choice if they get elected in 2010. And they’ll make it aspirational for the struggling middle-classes. Just like in the first half of the C20th, when the Tory vote was hard core working class. But this is not about party politics – it is about people politics (ah, how they forget, these men and women of The Party …). It’s about the best way to make life good for as many people as possible.

Making the most of what you have, working ambitiously within limitations, can inspire innovation. Not having easy access on demand to whatever you… demand can develop self-discipline and resourcefulness [God, I sound like a Presbyterian (Prime) Minister]. These things are good as long as they’re encouraged. The flip-side is “don’t try too hard; you can’t win. Nothing’s possible; this is just the way things are.” Utter bull, of course, but look at how some communities and societies lived that mantra through the 1950s. We can’t go back there. Selfishly speaking, it’s not how I want my middle age to be spent, with the politics of envy and class division thriving. What we need is support for those who fall (victims of pension fraud, the aged unemployed, the pregnant woman made redundant, for example) and encouragement for those who need it (new graduates, young parents, 16 year-olds with an idea).  Not a Blu-Ray. Swap it for an eye test and a run in the park, having ideas.

Here endeth the lecture…..



You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, or publicity

– Thomas Wolfe

Those in the UK, and perhaps further afield, might remember the tale of the Bristol man who decided to travel to India without cash, relying on the goodwill of strangers and his ability to provide services instead of cash for food & shelter. He got stuck in Calais, unable to speak French. Say no more. Except there is more to tell. He has now declared that he will live for a year without spending anything.

This chap, Mark Boyle, will use Freecycle, foraging and skill-swapping to meet all his needs cashlessly. And I hope he succeeds, so that people don’t thoughtlessly write off his ideas. You have to hand it to him – he is acting on his ideals; putting his non-money-based-currency where his mouth is.  I think I’ve found his blog, and you can, I assume, see how he gets on (and offer support) here.  As you’ll read there, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death on Friday by stampeding crowds looking for a bargain in the ‘Black Friday’ (post-Thanksgiving) sales. We need to be rethinking our relationship with the market and with possessions, surely?

The interesting thing about Mark’s attempt is not necessarily whether he’ll succeeed, (can you really live without any cash?) but what he will discover as he tries. Attitudes, prejudices, people’s willingness to help or not – by taking out any recourse to using cash, he is exploring a way of life that the vast majority of people write off as the preserve of the desperate.

Money – hard cash currency – is, after all, only a metaphor. Notes and coins are ciphers, symbols, for the gold in the bank. So why is it that as the markets tumble, the news reports that people are buying, or investing in, gold ?  How thick am I being? Surely all our money is “in” gold already, as the cash is just promisary notes in any case, relating to ……gold.

Economists, please – anyone able to explain?

But to move on a tad: will people accept a different currency/metaphor from Mark? Will he be able to deal with people who do not normally live within his philosophy? (They with him, more accurately).

There’s a gap in between
There’s a gap where we meet
Where I end and you begin

– Radiohead, Where I end and you begin

When it was June, and warm, skin-shedding played in the mind of the Imp; the idea of being multi- (or infinitely-) layered beings; that being is itself about multiplicity (simultaneously and chronologically as well as physically, mentally and spiritually).

We’re not always (or even now) continually the same – and nor  are those around us. So, that’s one thing about skin. And another was about the liminal: how skin is what we project as well as the thing that protects. It is a barrier, a line, a border.

Come with me a moment, into Old Antiquity, and think of Achilles. Ach, how mothers can never do anything right: his only vulnerable spot was the small dip in his ankle where Ma had held him when dipping him into the River Styx, to make him invulnerable, like the good mother she was. But one day, he got shot, just there, and Troy fell. A similar thing happens to lovely, beautiful, popular Baldr in the Icelandic Edda. Of all the things in the world, he can only be killed by the mistletoe. But it happens. His death brings about the loss of innocence and so, the end of the world, known as Ragnarok. In both cases, penetration of the skin, of the self, is critical and the end of the known order follows.

Achilles, Baldr and their vulnerable bits of skin: they’re pretty simple metaphors [metaphor: a gorgeous word: from Greek, it’s about moving meaning from something abstract to something concrete to help it make sense.]

In this case, the catastrophic death of a heroic individual who was supposed to be inviolable is used to illuminate ideas about society, community, collective responsibility, recognising and protecting what we value….Enough already! But for all its simplicity, it is very powerful.

OK – so what? Well, how about applying this to all the skin-penetration that’s happening right now? Where America’s banking policy is behaving in a socialist manner, national ownership driven by necessity rather than dogma (ie, reactive rather than proactive; which is better?). Where Brown turns on Iceland for being on the extremes of capitalist success (and then falling over the edge)? Where across the globe, central banks – even China – coordinate an interest-rate cut? This is the macro-skin – I don’t want to dwell on the micro-level impacts, the bad things happening to people who don’t deserve them.

So, will there be social change, learning, from the experience that the expected, the norm, doesn’t always apply; may not always work? It is new, it is unsafe, it is (esp with a USA behaving like a socialist country) borrowed clothes – the rich woman in charity garb after the hurricane.

What will happen next? Love the skin you’re in, or a skin graft?

I ranted posted back in August about pointless apocalyptic fear; how culture around us encourages a depressive outlook – we’re all going to hell in a handcart kinda-thing.

And, sadly, since then, the fear factor is just that: a factor, mathematically-speaking. What would you estimate: worry levels have gone up by a factor of – two? three? ten? Marcus Aurelius (he of Meditations and a cameo in Gladiator) was not the first or last to say about experience:

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

And you know he’s right.

One thing we hear again and again in the media is that the Current Situation is caused by a lack of …confidence. (I say “Current Situation” because euphemism is psychological armour; it stops the signified thing worming its toxic way into the  brain’s fear-centre, the amygdala, and creating stress, angst, worry and fear. Honestly: look it up. That’s why verbal and actual pictures are used far more by politicians and advertisers: they go into that hard drive of fear and they stay there.)  So correct me if I’m wrong, but confidence is about trust, expectation, well-placed belief in something. It’s subjective.

As Lambeth Council’s Youth Unit once said, “If you get rid of the Evening Standard tomorrow, the fear of crime will plummet.”  We all know that fear can be both manufactured and incited. You can look at it another way – as game theory: will X do what s/he says they will? Or as the FT cited today, the whole banking crisis is just like a McDonald’s drive-thru: if you thought that you couldn’t trust them to deliver the burger after you had paid for, you’d do a wobbly. Oops – one maccy-D didn’t deliver (Lehman Bros) and hey presto.

In an industry which was supposed to be based on values such as honour (the London Stock Exchange’s motto translates as ‘My Word is My Bond’), it goes to show how highly they think of one another, doesn’t it?

‘Life is like a sewer – what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.’ It’s always seemed to me that this is precisely the sort of dynamic, positive thinking that we so desperately need today in these trying times of crisis and universal brouhaha.

Introduction to “We Will All Go Together When We Go” – Tom Lehrer

What wise words, particularly when we look at our own brouhaha times.  George W being accused of being a socialist? The UK media positively encouraging the country to pick an Old Etonian PR man and his wallpaper magnate sidekick to run the country? Well, now, at last, the UK has something widely available and as good as The Onion in which we can seek solace from the lunacy.  The Daily Mash is an online piss-take newspaper. Neither left nor right, just smart and fun. It makes me feel I’m not so alone in the Stepford World that the Mail would have me see around me. Today’s fave piece for me can be found here, under the heading “MORE CHOICE FOR COUPLES TO PRETEND THEY BELIEVE IN GOD”.

Satirical genius Tom Lehrer said that satire became obsolete when they awarded Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize (he also came out with an absolute beauty of encapsulated thought which I’m going to paste at the end of this posting, so as not to get distracted by it). In the UK, satire and lampooning looked as though they had been sucked up the Daily Mail’s noxious backside in the last few years. The alternative (i.e. leftie) comedians lay on their backs and died, claiming, “it’s so hard to mock New Labour”. – I’m sorry?

What kind of lazy, complacent, non-boat-rocking rubbish was that? What, did they think that if they poked fun, the whole house of cards would fall down? True enough, the mandate was never as solid as some of those in the yore-days of Thatcherdom (all the more reason to introduce proportional representation, you’d have thought; aw, shucks, John-boy: there goes another missed opportunity at not-very-radicalism).

But as any fule know, having the mickey taken out of you is a healthy thing: it makes you aware of how you appear to others; how you behave; the impact of your actions; see your flaws. And let’s face it – any politician could do with more of that. And if Brown has a great flaw –  which is more Thomas Hardy-esque (think Michael Henchard, the Mayor of Casterbridge) than Shakespearian – it is that in the early days, he surrounded himself with people too young or inexperienced or ambitious to have the guts to stand up to him. Now that he is older and wiser, he has created GOATS (Government of All the Talents), a government with people who do dare speak out, who do offer genuinely constructive criticism. But they do not stay for long.

It seems, from the outside, that Brown still cannot abide (I use the word deliberately) contradiction. For all that he is a son of the Manse (non-Brits, this is the Scottish equivalent of being the son of the vicarage), the genuine humility so oft preached by the Bible is missing. Brown is more Old Testament than New: for I am a jealous God, and all that.

Brown needs lampooning – all the New Labour Cabinet does. They need to listen, to act, to have some salt rubbed in their wounds. The Tories are finally learning the lessons taught so long and so hard by their own satire, and they will (like some fast-evolving toxic micro-organism) learn faster this time. Unless Labour genuinely shows humility, humanity and a sense of humour, they will be responsible for handing the country to the sorts of people who think that our state-run schools and hospitals should be a last resort; that the state must be 20% smaller (lower taxes, far fewer public facilities: libraries, after-school clubs; council-run play schemes); who believe that families come first (i.e. not single parents) and ideally best when the women stay at home, that being gay is – to a greater or lesser degree – wrong; that the country shouldn’t let in any more immigrants… You can see where I’m coming from. I know Labour is pissing off a lot of people: but they’ve not (apart from on detention without charge and possibly permitting so-called “rendition flights” and umpteen other civil liberties issues, but that is for another day) been out-and-out Bad.

So come on, you established and aspiring comics, writers, performers. Start lampooning. Feel free to use the comments box!

Back to that peace-inspiring and remarkable Lehrer line I wouldn’t let you see earlier. Here it is:

I find enough mystery in mathematics to satisfy my spiritual needs. I think, for example, that pi is mysterious enough (don’t get me started!) without having to worry about God. Or if pi isn’t enough, how about fractals? or quantum mechanics?

– Tom Lehrer

The Imp may be absent for a few days here and there in the coming weeks, as the annual gathering of the faeirie clans tugs at her wings. It is time to migrate, and the goblins are meeting in the north for the rituals and speakings. There are rumours of a sacrifice. [Yup, it’s the party conference season…..If you’re very lucky, some bits of carcass may end up here.]

Politics…show-business for ugly people

Today is the Glorious Twelfth: the opening of the grouse-shooting season. No, worry not: your tricky one is no hunter. But it’s an important date, with its own interesting moniker, “The Glorious”. Why? For me, it says so much about the British class system of days gone by – and not so long gone. Shooting for fun (not necessarily for food), house parties, the beaters, preparatory full English breakfast, stupid tweed, angular accents and class angst – and it is said the birds are not overly bright.

Anyway, t’was on my mind because it was on 12th August 1914 that Britain declared war on Austro-Hungary, bringing to ‘life’ a war which killed an entire generation of young men from all parts of society, changing Europe and Britain for ever.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated on June 28th, and Germany then supported Austro-Hungary in trying to deal with “the Serbian question” in the assassination’s aftermath. On 23rd July, they sent an ultimatum to Serbia, which was rejected and so on 28th July, Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The Russians quickly mobilised, and Germany declared war on Russia and then France. By traipsing through Belgium, Germany invaded its neutrality, giving Britain a reason to declare war.

We were all tumbling in – as countries and as individuals. White feathers for those eligible men who had not enlisted. Patriotism the name of the insane game. How different (in home-context only: the horrors in the field remain) it is for today’s soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, painfully conscious that the vast majority of us back home do not support them as they risk and give their lives in theatre, watch their marriages fall apart when they return home, and that for shorter and shorter periods between jobs.

And today we have just faced the real possibility of another war square on between Russia and Georgia. As I type, Russian operations have been called off. We’re in two wars now already. While domestic economic gloom refuses to break its staring competition with our great leaders, I think we in the UK and US may be safe. But how long is that?

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