Thursday, 26 June 2008

Sloane-central

F.Scott Fitzgerald was in awe of the rich. When he told his friend Earnest Hemmingway ‘the rich are not like you and I’ Hemmingway's response was a bit less deferential; ‘no – they have more money’.

I took a bus ride down the Kings Road this afternoon, primarily to visit Warrs Harley Davidson, but it was also an opportunity to observe the rich in their natural habitat.

At Sloane Square a couple of bright young things got on and surrounded me as I sat in the rear corner seat. Very blonde, ridiculously tall, painfully thin and wearing strappy dresses and huge sunglasses on their heads. They were models on their way to a casting. One of them had eaten a Cornish Pasty yesterday and was worried that it would give her spots. The other one had moved to London without any clothes because she had previously lived on a farm and so had nothing suitable to wear. Her boyfriend had brought all her current clothes. He loved doing so. He was on his gap year. I know all this, along with the rest of the bus, because they spoke, to each other and on their mobile phones. Loudly. They spoke with the accents of the very posh - clipped and slurred at the same time. Almost South African.

They got off and were replaced with an older woman. Elegantly dressed but also wearing huge sunglasses, and clutching a small dog. I think it was a dog but it could have been a ferret although that seems unlikely. She was not talkative but looked at me with an undisguised distaste that couldn’t have been greater if my space had been occupied by a steaming shit from her dog-like creature.

Then she got off and was replaced with a yummy-mummy and her infant brood. She was a ten years older version of the models. Wearing Birkenstocks and pushing some sort of all terrain pushchair. Her tossled haired brats also spoke loudly and with a lack of inhibition. They were asking which house they were going to at the weekend. They thought they spotted their previous au-pair walking along the pavement. Mummy pointed out that she had had to go back to Italy. Mummy explained about Italy – it was were they had gone all skiing last year.

At this point I had to get off and can’t report any more. But I’d heard enough. Fitzgerald was right. The rich are not like you and I.

And vice-versa. Thank fuck for that.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Christianity & gay rights

I’m watching with relish as the angst-ridden Church Of England ties itself into knots over the latest gay marriage of clergy-crisis, possibly as a prelude to imploding altogether.

Instinctively I feel some sort of empathy with the liberals: Equal rights for women, tolerance for homosexuality etc – surely these things are only fair and rational ? Well yes of course they are – the only problem is that Christianity isn’t.

So actually the conservative bigots who are getting so worked up over Rowan Williams toleration of gay clergy are, sadly, in the right. At least on the basis of scripture it’s pretty clear that the Christian God regards homosexuality as an abomination - as He also does eating shell-fish, cutting your beard, tattoos, disabled people, mixing linen and woollens, menstruation - and that’s just for starters. But it’s not all negative and judgmental though – He's pretty tolerant of incest, slavery, genocide.

(Admittedly my evidence is based on nothing more than some random googling of bible quotes but then again that methodology is at least as scientific as most courses in theology).

Which means that if you a liberal Protestant who believes that scripture is divine revelation (including all the obviously mental and/or evil bits) - you have a problem. Likewise if you are a liberal Muslim or liberal Jew.

You just can’t have your cake and eat it: You’re either a well adjusted and rational being with compassion and tolerance for your fellow humans. Or you’re a follower of a primitive and barbaric belief system(s) adopted in specific historical circumstances two thousand years ago by a particular group of desert dwellers.

Good news for liberal Catholics though. Your not encumbered by a belief system that relies only divine scripture – you’ve got the teachings of the One Holy Apostolic Church to reveal the truth as well. (Of course this may stand on their head things that have been held to be immutable for centuries - but hey God’s only just decided that lowly mortals can now be trusted with the real truth. And it turns out quite a lot of priests were gay all along - whoops don't even go there).

I’m sure that a lot of decent tolerant believers will be offended by all this. Tough – you can’t have it both ways.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Solstice time

Forget Christmas and Easter and all that new fangled Christian bollocks. Take a moment to reflect on that most universal and fundamental of all festivals – the Summer Solstice.

There’s a reason that we now talk about Seasonally Affected Disorder – take a walk around any modern city and see how it’s always a better place to be in the Summer. The feel of the sun on your skin is life affirming - no wonder it’s the basis of just about every religion (whether they acknowledge it or not)– why else talk about ‘the light of the world’ ?

Just for a short interlude it seems appropriate to put aside our modern rationalist-atheist selves and respect the ancient rites of our ancestors. Maybe sacrifice at dawn isn’t acceptable these days - so we’ll just settle for the more recent traditions of Hawkwind, cider and skunk.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The unacceptable face of 'value'

Purveyors of ultra-cheap fashion-tat to the masses - Primark - have sacked three suppliers in India after they were exposed as employing child labour.

Given that one of the companies has been working for Primark for over twelve years you’ve got to question how much of a surprise this really was.

Not long ago I wrote about being fucked-over at work by one of our big corporate clients. To the extent that we are now in the process of lying people off here. When I told the terribly polite people at the big corporate client that this is what we were doing, there was a look of horror on their faces: In their world when it’s time to 'let people go', they usually just pick up the phone to get someone from HR to do the distasteful task. But in small businesses we get to look someone in the eye and say ‘I’m really sorry but you’re fucked’.

The people at the big corporate client are perfectly nice and well-meaning, they may well be liberal too for all I know. But they are in denial. This enables them to dissociate themselves from the consequences of their actions. And that really pisses me off: I’m not too proud of some of the stuff I have to do these days – like making people redundant – but at least I’m honest about it to them and myself.

A lack of honesty and a cowardice in taking responsibility for your actions is the worst sort of Pontius Pilate-ism that makes possible all kinds of bigger horrors.

If you were in Germany in the 30s it might be not bothering to ask why all the Jewish shops and businesses were disappearing.
Nowadays it manifests itself as not worrying where your T-Shirt for under a £1 comes from.

Friday, 13 June 2008

The natural order

For a moment I was all confused:

When David Davis resigned his seat to force a by-election on the issue of opposition to the 42-Day detention proposal I was momentarily placed in the very troubling position of having a passing feeling of respect for a swarmy Tory git taking a principled stand.

Then my other half pointed out that he was actually in one of the safest Tory seats in the country and that a chimp wearing a blue rosette would always be elected there regardless of its support for civil liberties or conversely for restoring capital punishment.

Suddenly his gesture sounded reassuringly more like simple old fashioned opportunism: A really principled stand at some risk to his career would have meant standing against Ruth Kelly at the next general election.

Then I heard that arch-arsehole, former Sun-editor and darling of bigots everywhere Kelvin McKenzie is considering standing against Davis and in defence of 42-Day detention. With the backing of his old boss Rupert Murdoch he is going to strike a blow against the perceived threat to western –values.

So the natural order has been restored - and I can go back again to hating all Tories whether they’re civil libertarians or authoritarian xenophobes.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

How To Get Ahead

Ten top tips for success in Modern Britain:

It isn’t about your talent it’s about desire – you must want it 1000% (at least).

It doesn’t matter if you lie to get a job or make a deal. It shows 'desire'.

This job must be more important to you than anything else. Your family. Your happiness. Their happiness. Saving the planet. Feeding the world.

Business is about sales. Don’t worry about making stuff. Sell something. Anything

Management is about sales. Just get other people to sell.

Leadership means repeating whatever your boss tells you until everyone else stops arguing.

Education is just wank - what matters is the ‘real world’

If you believe it enough you are a winner. You truly will be.

Professionalism means wearing a suit at all times. Expresss your individuality with some hair gel and an open-necked shirt.

Aspirational is good. As long as it’s aspiring to a Lexus or a new-build home in the shires. Not aspiring to an understanding of contemporary literature.


Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Short memories

Last Sunday I drove with the family through Runnymede. Typically, because I am a self-confessed history bore, I took the opportunity to tell my kids about Magna Carta and its importance .

Ironic with the news this week that the judicial and security establishment is queuing up to tell the government that they don’t want the 42 day detention of terrorist suspects.

Of course it shows precious little confidence in the security services that they supposedly need six weeks before they can gather enough evidence, not to convict, but to merely bring charges against suspects.

It also shows little knowledge of recent history to forget that the single thing that did most to propel ordinary Catholics into the arms of the IRA was detention without trial.

Or from our more distant past, the lesson that freedom from arbitary detention or arbitary government was gained by long and bloody struggle. And lost not overnight but in subtle increments.

But hey - the economy’s going down the tubes, we’re bogged down in un-winnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - New Labour needs to demonstrate that they’re ‘tough’ on terrorism. So bollocks to Magna Carta.

Maybe it's time to hold Brown hostage and make him sign a Bill Of Rights. There's a precedent.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Grown Ups

Sometimes, in fact particularly at the moment when the shit I currently have to shovel at work reminds me that I am supposed to be an authority figure, I hanker after the days of being young and irresponsible.

On Friday night I got the chance. I went along for the first leg of an old friend’s marathon stag weekend. We met up in Camden where I found that the rest of the party must have had a good four hours head start in the drinking stakes. The old friend is about the same age as me but most of his mates seemed to be at least ten years younger. That should have been a sign.

They were bouncing around like a bunch of very pissed Labrador puppies and being generally fucking obnoxious. You can forgive pissed people quite a lot, but I’ve always had an overly developed sense of personal space and it was as much as I could do not to kill the mood by giving one of them a much deserved-slap.

The night deteriorated from there. We moved on to another bar with a supposed cult status and a back room which serves as a music venue. The band were a generic punk-metal effort – although they looked a bit old to be convincing in this genre. Sadly they reminded me of the bands who would sometimes played the school gym at lunchtimes, only rather less talented, and this lot didn't look like they would know Silver Machine.

Avoiding the moshing twats I saw the old friend slumped unconscious in the corner and decided that it was time to make my excuses and leave. In the company of the only other old friend present we retreated to a nearby over-priced designer curry house.

Sitting in the minimalist
zen d├ęcor (whatever happened to flock wallpaper?), over the ludicrous over-sized square plates we agreed that maybe being grown up wasn’t quite so bad after all.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Southern Chopper

Despite being a Brit, I’ve always had a bit of a fascination for the American Civil War. Without a doubt my true sympathies are will the radical abolitionists but there’s something undeniably romantic about the lost cause of the rebels. (Although I doubt very much there was any romance involved if you happened to be black and living south of the Mason-Dixon line in those days).

But the South has always had the coolest music, the best food, and I’m a sucker for pick up trucks and shotguns ….

For several years I’ve been addicted to the ‘reality’ bike shows that are repeated endlessly on cable tv. I’ve long suffered the ridiculous antics of the Teutul family in upstate New York – the formula: build a hideous over-the-top theme bike; Paul Snr and Paul Jnr exchange tantrums; Mickey goofs around; the bike gets built just in time; everyone agrees that its totally awesome and sick.

I’ve only just recently discovered its lesser known Confederate cousin – Southern Chopper. In their workshop in Lynchburg Virginia nothing seems to be a problem, everyone moves and speaks slowly and every technical hitch and delay is greeted with a barrage of cackling and chortling.

It’s seems to be true that good ‘ole boys have more fun.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Broooooce

I love the Bruce Springsteen of Nebraska and The Ghost Of Tom Joad. And I’d love to see him play a bar or club. But that’s not likely to happen. So I had to settle for seeing him at the Emirates Stadium on Friday.

Despite the best efforts of Islington council and not-in-my-backyard local residents to fuck with the sound system, the muffled sound although irritating did not diminish the gig. What’s the matter with these miserable bastards ? – If I lived next door to the Emirates I’d ask them to turn it up to 11.

I don’t think there is any other performer – let alone a 58 year old one - who could work an audience for three solid hours as Bruce does. And so obviously enjoy ever minute of it.

Of course here’s the contradiction about Bruce – in many ways he is the consummate stadium performer, but in another sense, in his lyrics and in the passion shared with the crowd, he is the anti-star, an everyman.

A fantastic evening marred only by the heavy handedness of the fuck-wit boys in blue who decided that because the gig was in a football stadium, we should be treated like a football crowd after the concert. Thanks to being corralled around North London by the police, our twenty minute journey home became an hour and a half.