Thursday 30 October 2008

A bit of perspective please

Yesterday 48 people were killed and 300 injured in explosions in Assam by nationalist / Hindu 'mentalist nutters.

Also yesterday, amidst outrage about a prank phone call that went too far, two over-paid and egotistical shock jocks were sacked for ... being shocking. An outrage that somehow included the prime minister and the leader of the opposition - and of course the lynch parties of Middle England.

What the fuck ?

Monday 27 October 2008

Chaos theory, Zen & dodgy bike wiring

I have to admit that I know bugger all about chaos theory. And I know only slightly more about motorcycle electrics. But I do understand that when a butterfly flaps its wings in the rain-forest, my starter motor refuses to turn over.

I’ve lived with a number of electrical gremlins for a few months. Nothing that has kept me off the road because they have been of the infuriating intermittent kind. The sort that you simply turn your back on for a couple of minutes, have a good swear and then lo–and-behold everything is working perfectly again.

I have fucked about chasing the symptoms on and off: testing voltage and circuits, spraying dielectric grease everywhere, nursing the battery on a charger. At times I’ve kidded myself that I’ve fixed it.

This weekend I shut myself in the garage with the rain beating on the metal roof - determined not to come out until I had sorted the problem. First thing I did was to take the battery out. As I disconnected it, the main positive cable came away in my hand. It had rotted through and judging by the amount of rust on the frayed ends; had been like this for some time. It had obviously just been resting on the terminal at the starter motor. It was actually a miracle that there had been any connection at all – and whenever I hit a bump the circuit must have arced across the gap.

I fixed it with a new cable from Halfords for £5. Almost certainly cheaper than the stock Harley part and a critical few inches longer (the standard length means that it is pulled taut, and given the vibration that goes with the HD turf, is in constant danger of being pulled apart).

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is - maybe something along the lines of what Robert Pirsig described as 'contemplating each component as a universe in itself'. Or more honestly; just rejoicing in a bit of good luck.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Atheist buses

I hate proselytizing religious nutters.

I despise the fact that they target the psychologically vulnerable with posters on the tube asking if there 'is something missing in your life - do you feel depressed or lonely ?' These people need help and support not an imaginary supernatural friend.

I resent them knocking on my door and asking me if I make time for Jesus in my life and that I should be grateful that he died for my sins. I'll take responsibility for my own mistakes thanks very much.

I'm outraged when they preach to me on street corners telling me that I am damned to eternal torment because I don't share their particular brand of make-believe. In any other context their bigotry would be considered an incitement to hatred, or at least a breach of the peace and the police would move them on.

I can't stand that they are allowed to insidiously leave bibles in hotel rooms for the benefit of the bored and lonely business travelers. It would be less damaging to society if these people stuck to the mini-bar and the pay per view porn channels.

So, to redress the balance I am supporting the campaign to take some advertising space on bus sides to present the alternative version. I urge you to do the same and donate to the campaign here:

"There's probably no god. Now stop worrying. Enjoy your life"

Monday 20 October 2008

Pointless parasites

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide Galaxy, Douglas Adams describes a planet to which all the useless people are exiled. I remember that he includes telephone hygienists, hairdressers and marketing executives – I’m not sure if he also included estate agents. But if he didn’t; he should have.

In many countries the role of estate agent is a profession and has some sort of para-legal function, - a form of public notary. But not in this country.

Here you don’t need to study or sit any exams. All you need to be a estate agent is a bucket of hair gel, a flash company car, a loud tie and an ability to jabber bollocks on your mobile phone. And of course to lie pathologically - much to the frustration and enragement of both vendor and buyer alike.

Apparently an indicator of our current economic crisis is that many estate agents’ offices are down to one house sale per week.

I doubt very much that they have dropped their commission or improved their service in response. So if this recession has any silver lining, it might just be that many of this particularly parasitic and obnoxious post-Thatcherite species could be challenged with extinction.

Friday 17 October 2008

Tory Greens ?

Before the current Tory twat came in, the London Mayor’s office was committed to reducing the amount of cars in the capital.

With the congestion charge, Ken stuck his neck out: it’s not perfect but it did actually encourage just about any form of transport other than a car – buses, trains, tubes, bicycles and even motorbikes. A brave move and a rare one when ‘green’ issues are usually just platitudes and gestures.

The Tories in particular are trying to portray themselves as having green credentials, but it just doesn't wash: 'Bicycling Boris’ is actually trying to protect the Chelsea tractors of Knightsbridge from an extension of the congestion zone.

Now it seems Westminster Council are actively trying to undermine what little progress the congestion charge has made.

They phoned me up yesterday:

We’re trying to help local businesses with the problems of their staff commuting.

Excellent - what have you got in mind ?

Well how many of your staff drive to work ?

None of them.

None ?

Well a few of us ride motorcycles or scooters. Some ride push bikes. Everyone else uses public transport.

So you don’t have any vehicles for business use ?

We have two cycle couriers and one motorcycle courier

No company cars ?

No we haven’t given out company cars for years it’s irresponsible and there’s no valid business need. If we need to travel we use public transport or maybe hire a car.

I see. So I take it you wouldn’t be interested in our scheme to provide discounts to local businesses in Westminster Council car parks ?

No - but you might want to think about abolishing the parking charges for motorcycles and scooters that you only introduced this Summer.

(They couldn’t get off the phone quick enough).

No surprise though from a Tory council – this is them showing their true colours and defending the right of every yuppie wanker to drive his company car and bollocks to the consequences. Remember when Thatcher said “a man who finds himself on a bus at the age of 26 can consider himself a failure”?

Monday 13 October 2008

Jorg Haider

Here's a tale of a man who thought he was destined to be a 21st Century fuhrer.

Daddy was an early member of the Austrian Nazi Party, and of the SA, Mummy was a leader in the Hitler Youth. Both suffered from the post-war de-nazification policy. He became very wealthy by inheriting the estate of an uncle who had gained it by a forced purchase from a Jewish family in 1941.

He tried to distance himself from this Nazi inheritance and developed a kind of yuppie fascist populism. By doing so in 1999, his Freedom Party managed to get 29% of the vote.

But he couldn’t help himself and made a number of Nazi gaffs: Like denying the holocaust and opposing compensation being paid to its victims. Or calling for the rehabilitation of Waffen SS veterans. Or saying that if the Freedom Party had stood on the programme of the old Nazi Party it would have achieved an overwhelming majority.

In the best traditions of the Far Right, the Freedom Party split. Partly over policy as to how accommodating they should be to the conservative mainstream, and partly over personalities – amidst rumours of the leader's closet homosexuality.

Depressingly though the Far Right continued to maintain its success, with one part of the split entering into government coalition. But there's a happy ending : On Saturday Jorg Haider lost control of his car and was killed.

There’s already talk amongst the conspiro-loons that this was sabotage by rival Nazis or Mossad. Who cares ? Let’s just savour the moment of one less arsehole in the world.

Friday 10 October 2008

Crisis & the real world

A week preoccupied by work. I never signed up to be a salesman but I seem to spend more and more time trying to drum up business. I'm resigned to doing it now as a necessary evil that comes with the responsibility of keeping the company going. Funnily enough I find the bullshit of presenting fairly easy - and I can even manage the negotiation bit. It's just the networking and faking an interest in the clients that defeats me.

Then at the end of a particularly depressing and crappy week this came along:

We had been approached by a couple of semi-plausible characters who claimed mysteriously to be acting for a business that was interested in talking to us. A bit like one of those letters that says 'you will discover something to your advantage'.

When we finally met up it turns out that they were acting for an Indian organisation that wanted to buy our company so that they could 'strip out cost' - that's a euphemism for getting rid of the workforce - and then outsource the jobs to India. The company could then be used as a 'vehicle' for attracting business from UK clients who might feel uneasy about dealing directly with an Indian company.

They were genuinely taken aback when we told them to fuck off.

They could not comprehend that there were turkeys who were not over the moon about Christmas. Or that a business might have some concern for their workers. Or for the fate of the industry as a whole.

Their parting shot was that they were sure some of our competitors would be happy to take them up on their offer. They might be right - we are fortunate to have a blue chip client base who don't just buy simply on price, and we are not dependent on heavy borrowing. For a small to medium size business that puts us in a fairly rare and privileged position. If we can maintain that we might just survive this recession.

There used to be a saying that the personal was political and vice-versa. I thought that was just an excuse for substituting navel contemplation for activism. But now I get it. And it fucking hurts. More than the still unreal news of banks going busts or stock markets crashing.

Monday 6 October 2008

On getting tattooed

Got some more ink at the weekend: An iron age chieftan’s head – based on something from Courtney Davis who adapts his designs from original sources. The tattoo was done by Gemma at Original Skin. Thanks to you both. As this is now my 10th tattoo I think I’m maybe now qualified to offer some advice on the subject . The following “dos and don’ts” are all based on stuff I’ve witnessed / experienced first hand.

1. Do pick a studio that has a good reputation and has all the necessary health & safety accreditation. That’s obvious isn’t it ? You wouldn’t just take your car into the first garage you happened to see.

2. Don’t go into a tattoo studio without a fucking clue what you want done and then browse randomly through the flash books wasting everyone’s time whilst you ask how much each one costs.

3. Do take time to do some research and come up with something that you really want. It doesn’t have to be unique and original but if you expect the tattooist to take some care over what they are doing then so should you.

4. Don’t haggle over the price you are given. Even worse don’t try to horse-trade over the design – ie ‘how much
less would it be if you didn’t do a tail on this dragon ?’

5. Do listen to the advice you are given at the tattoo shop. If you are told that the design won’t work at that size or is going to look distorted on that part of your body - pay attention these people do this for a living.

6. Do have something to eat and a sugary drink before the tattoo. Passing out and/or throwing up is uncool and unpleasant for everyone.

7. Don’t make a big deal about the pain. Of course it’s going to hurt a bit – you’re having needles in your skin for fuck sake. But it’s definitely no worse than going to the dentist and that doesn’t put you off having your teeth looked at. If you have chosen a placement that’s especially painful the tattooist will tell you and prepare you for it.

8. Do be nice to your tattooist. Take your lead from them – make conversation when they do – and alternatively shut up if they’re trying to concentrate on a tricky bit.

9. Don’t get pissed the night before – the alcohol will make you bleed more than usual. And definitely don’t turn up pissed expecting to get tattooed – that’s just rude.

10. Don’t fuck about with the tattoo once it’s done. Listen to the aftercare advice but just keep it clean and put a little bit of unscented lotion on it - otherwise leave it alone - it will heal itself in a couple of weeks.

… 11. Do go back for another one.

Friday 3 October 2008

Fascists just up the road

Last night something I never imagined I’d see in North London – a protest meeting against the BNP standing in a council ward by-election.

Like Caesar’s Gaul, the London Borough of Haringey is divided into three parts. Those of us in the east of the borough, in Tottenham and Wood Green,live in officially the most ethnically diverse part of the country. And also one of the most impoverished. On the other hand, at the western tip of the borough, Highgate is one of the most affluent parts of London. In between the two, the areas of Hornsey, Crouch End and Muswell Hill have been gentrified to varying degrees, with bohemian liberal types.

Which makes Muswell Hill one of the least likely areas for the BNP to target. But apparently they have a policy of contesting as many council seats as they possibly can before the European elections. And with a single by-election they can bring in their resources from far and wide to concentrate in a small area and get some publicity even when they have no hope of winning. (I am confident that with or without a campaign they will get no more than a handful of votes).

The last time I went to a similar meeting was in an asian community centre on the Isle of Dogs in the early 90’s. The organisers had received death threats and hate mail from the BNP and asked us to provide security. So I found myself on the door with a baseball bat stashed out of site but on hand. Fortunately in the end we were not needed, but the atmosphere from the local community was a combination of very real fear and intense anger.

In contrast, at the meeting last night the mood was of offended outrage – the middle class shocked that these odious fascist types had the cheek to turn up on their respectable doorsteps. There was an element of farce too as one elderly speaker carefully explained to us the scientific fallacy of racism in terms of the ‘out of Africa’ evolution of homo-sapiens. You wouldn’t have got that on the Isle of Dogs.

But there was something touching about the meeting though – here was a genuinely united community, albeit a pretty smug and complacent one, standing together against the Fascists. Still I couldn’t help thinking how the fuck had it ever got this far that we were sat in a church hall in Muswell Hill discussing the BNP ?

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Foodies & the class struggle

Watched Jamie Oliver's new 'Ministry of Food' series last night. The lisping mockney-boy who has become the darling of the chattering-and-dining classes is an easy target to have a pop at. But as with his previous campaigning series on school dinners, it's impossible not to warm to him.

Looking at the eating habits of kids in a single parent family living on benefits in Rotherham he said that he's seen AIDs orphans in Soweto with better diets. Worn down by the failure of his 'pass it forward' approach to teaching the family and their friends to cook - he raged that he was angry but he didn't know with what or with who.

This was a modern form of poverty. There wasn't the industrial grime of previous generations, but living on £80 benefit a week, the mum spent £70 on junk food. There was a nice looking house with a big TV and a modern kitchen, but they were heavily in debt and often had to resort to the pawn shop to get through the week. And it is the modern expression of the class divide. 70 years after Orwell wrote the Road To Wigan Pier, and almost 170 years after Engels wrote The Condition Of The English Working Class - class is still the most important influence on our health and life expectancy.

By some genius stroke of scheduling Jamie was preceeded by Nigella Express. The lovely Nigella licked her lips and pouted her way through half an hour hopping on and off red buses and popping in and out of delis on the Kings Road to pick up essential ingredients for her dinner party.

I can honestly say that I have never been to dinner party. But by the end of the evening, the only thing I wanted to bring along wasn't a bottle of Pinot Grigiot but a fucking machine gun.