Friday, 15 February 2019

Asleep at Post!

The more senior residents of the UK may recall that there were many butts for the nation's darker humour, way back in the nineteen-seventies. With an element of good fortune, and maybe the odd guardian (angel) in an important or influential position, many of those selfsame butts were able to battle onwards and survive well into the nineteen-eighties.

Here in the nineteenth year of the 'new' millennium there is less room for the (older) butt jokes. Moreover, those 'easy' targets have long been assimilated, or dissolved, or smashed, or otherwise discontinued. Mostly they have been assimilated, but rather like a kidnap-victim in a second-rate TV drama, the identity may have been altered, maybe almost beyond recognition, perhaps beyond salvation, or so we are frequently encouraged to (mis)believe.

A particular item for scorn in the 'newspaper' of my parents- The Daily Mail- was British Rail. My, how the Daily Mail hated British Rail. Daily, the Daily Mail lambasted British Rail! And, because the reporting of this national 'failure' was being reported in a 'newspaper,' the 'failure' of British Rail was assimilated into common parlance and oft repeated as a national fact.

My parents had 'standards,' so the hatred of The Sun (even pre-Murdoch), for example, for British Rail was unknown... but assumed, as it was with many of our other national newspapers.

Today there are many rail companies to ridicule. The scathing commentary has not stopped, despite the Daily Mail's goal of privatisation having been 'fully' met! But, the railways are now far, far worse than ever they were in the nineteen-seventies, late, overcrowded, and prohibitively expensive!

But, this post is not about trains and their peculiar ailments, it is about another butt, the Post Office.

In all truth, I'm not entirely sure that the Daily Mail's hatred for the Post Office was ever that obvious in the nineteen-seventies. I'm not even sure that the Post Office was yet in its cross-hairs. I am sure that the Daily Mail's currency was still largely in the 'coinage' of hatred. I think that it was a far more overtly racist paper back then, with its sights upon other, more 'urgent,' targets!

The type of racism spewed by the Daily Mail, these days, is that of an altogether more 'inclusive' breed. Invariably such dilutions as this may even weaken the bloodline, and yet the Daily Mail still fights its corner with such rabidity that it now, often I find, resembles nothing quite so much as some sort of aggressive societal cancer. Aspirations, aspirations...  

My first serious recollection of a growing disdain for the Post Office was in the nineteen-eighties, under the inglorious reign of Thatcher. Although the beast that was Thatcher always maintained that she would not ever sanction any physical attack upon the Post Office. She mustered her most superior and tutored enunciation to utter something about "the queen's head," being safe whilst she (Thatcher) was in charge.

But, despite its adoration of the woman, the Daily Mail still doggedly disliked the Post Office. And, being the Daily Mail, it undoubtedly stoked and encouraged this dislike to fester into a hatred! A more familiar currency!

Late deliveries, especially during the Christmas rush, were frequently being cited as reasons to 'modify,' break up, alter, but really to privatise! First class did not ever deliver first class, we were oft reminded. So the Daily Mail's 'desired' process was duly brought to the fore! As was and is the habit within ostensibly rightward-leaning nations yet another appeasement of the politically right was duly put into place.

Like a gigantic cake, the old Post Office was meticulously sliced into ever smaller segments. It's easy, sometimes, to forget that the 'old' Post Office used to cover virtually all postal services and all telecommunications services before 1969.

I think that the more financially-attractive telephone service was the first thing to go. Now we have many 'service providers,' few of whom appears to be able to hold up a (virtual) certificate of 'commendable,' or even 'reliable,' 'service' for more than a few months. Costs in general, particularly those of land-lines, have gone upwards, yet the Daily Mail's agenda has once again been fully realised! The now seriously modified British Telecom is no longer just a service, it is now a corporation, 'service' having been assigned a more 'suitable' place further down the queue.

As (Murdoch's) Sky has done with its 'own' TV 'services,' the Post Office has been looked at and reappraised, again and again... the cake has been rearranged and repositioned upon the plate, but the ultimate goal has consistently been to slice any offering yet thinner and thinner!

Now there are many, many courier services, none of whom are really any cheaper than the Post Office once was. Certainly, none of these are able to provide quite the cover that the Post Office previously managed!

Disingenuous rag that it is, the Daily Mail is most cunning at making its agenda read like it is actually 'our' agenda. The disdain that it felt for the Post Office was, in fact, never even disdain. What it was, instead, was an agenda that was disguised as disdain- a hidden agenda, if you like.

Now, I am actually something of a fan of the Post Office, although this 'appreciation' is, like other aspects of the Post Office, daily being reduced further and further. Really, it is more the concept of an earlier model, of which I am a fan. But even as a wavering fan, I would have to contest that, should you wish to acquire a stamp in the city of Norwich, the very last place from which you would wish to do so would be the Post Office. Quite likely, this is true of many Post Offices- those that have been tampered with- in many large towns or cities... those still fortunate enough to still have a Post Office!

Firstly there will be interminable queues- this much, in cities, has not changed, perhaps merely extended- then there will be an almost draconian refusal to allow you to pay in coinage, over a counter to a person with a face, unless one particularly savours the British queue. Unlike other automations that employed by the Post Office appears, first and foremost, to have been (re)designed to frustrate. How you will wish you had found a friendly face in a corner shop, or remembered to pick up that book of stamps whilst still at the supermarket. It is really one of life's many ironies that just as 'our' government are clamouring to shut as many Post Offices as they can get away with, so the nation is once again growing to value those formerly untampered-with lost services?

Still, even here, actively being (mis)organised deliberately to fail, we find that the Post Office remains, in one highly significant respect, far superior to the competition!

Imperfect as it undoubtedly is, the Post Office's parcel and letter service remains as good as or superior to much (all?) of the competition. How it must goad at the Daily Mail's ideology, for this still to be the case! But hatred, like that perpetuated by the likes of the Daily Mail, has these days to be spread ever thinner- there is just so much for 'them' to despise, and so few pages upon which to do so. The old war horse, Paul Dacre- his unshackled contempt for humanity was damaging even to the Tories- has been given to pasture. Dare we hope that his is not to be a pleasant retirement?

Austerity, when it arrived, was rather like manna from heaven to a party of multimillionaires and industrial-scale landlordly types. It offered itself like one immense screen, behind which everything public might finally be carted off to the great car-boot sale in the sky, that which had actually survived thus far... the likes of the Post Office!

Money that was desperately being diverted to prop up failing (but now private) rail companies, for example, was being hacked raggedly away from the public bone. Curiously, the sums now available to repeatedly (and shockingly) failing rail companies are far in excess of anything that was ever deemed imaginable in the days of British Rail. We know what the Daily Mail thinks, or presents as thinking, but does the Daily Mail?

In the scrabble to reduce and to minimise Post Offices presented themselves much like sacrificial lambs, their purposeful buildings were vacated and alternative-skeletal-services were transferred to salvaged old school desks, hastily set up in the darker corners of supermarkets and other shops- WH Smith in Norwich, for example- the Post Office took another round to the flanks!

Hundreds of wonderfully and purposefully constructed community-serving buildings were opened up to the free market! Or else were boarded up and left to gather dust and longing looks from an older generation of locals. If one finds oneself living away from the far larger conurbations, one's 'local' Post Office (local Crown Post Office- note the distinction!) may be as far as a dozen miles away, a twenty-plus miles round trip! The language has changed, and the word 'local' has mutated. Seriously ironic, we might consider, given the state of our rural public transport.

As the markets are being continually 'opened up' to governmental friends in the city, and other playboy types, 'investors' are ever hoping to cash in! Of course, and given the manner in which failing businesses are able repeatedly to shovel cash into the bank-balances of culpable CEOs and major share-holders, those types seriously do cash in! But the courier 'services' that are springing up are all based upon the 'cutting corners, getting rich quick' models of current UK business practise. Investment, in any real sense, is merely a catch phrase, to be wheeled out, time and time again, should a wider public notice how shoddily the 'service' is performing. The proof as ever is in the eating!

When my family used to live in Aylsham there was a wonderful and ever-busy Post Office, until austerity saw fit to squash this into the nearest supermarket and to relocate parcel storage facilities some twelve miles away. Competition courier service, Hermes- is that contagious?- used to quietly slip their, 'sorry you were out,' notes through letterboxes and then run away! So tight was the timetable of the poor courier that he (or she) didn't even have time to knock on a door and to wait for a less-than-instant reply. Once or twice, I caught up with the embarrassed chap and challenged his efforts but, really, it wasn't his efforts, was it?

Other courier services left things in the refuse bin at the rear of the property, justified via a hastily scrawled card dropped upon the doormat. Had they in fact checked that bins were not to be emptied later that day, or before the parcel was to be retrieved? Of course they hadn't, how could they? Presumably, the companies deal with the flak resulting from binned valuables in much the same manner as all modern day complaints procedures... that is without serious concern, and via an automated 'answer service!'

Now that my family lives in a city apartment, the question often asked of us is, "Is there anyone we can leave it with, if you are out?" The follow up is invariably, "Is there anywhere safe we can leave it?" We live in an apartment on the fourth floor of an apartment block to which 'non-residents' will only be permitted access at certain times in the mornings. "Is there anywhere safe that you, Mr Courier, could store it?" might be a not unreasonable response.

At our home in Norwich we are expected to suffer couriers like Yodel, who will not so much as deign to buzz an occupied apartment, instead preferring to jettison a card with the message, "Sorry I missed you when I came to deliver." "Except you didn't, did you?" I often hope to confront the runner with. Have the couriers now become quite this time poor? Surely this behaviour is the modern city equivalent to refusing to make a delivery because a front door has not been left ajar... just in case. What then is really their purpose?

When the Post Office delivery service was operating at an optimum- never quite optimum enough for the Daily Mail- letters and parcels were regularly delivered at a fairly punctual, probably earlyish morning, time, maybe there was even a second delivery? Should any person awaiting delivery of a sizable parcel be out there was a thorough network of purpose-built Post Office premises where an undeliverable item might be stored... locally!

Fast forward to the present, where we had a recent delivery by the courier service Yodel; it was left on the doorstep of the apartment block, effectively almost upon the street. Whilst entering the building, I  distractedly picked up two irresponsibly left parcels, I had assumed on behalf of one of my many neighbours, and was amazed to discover that they were both addressed me. Pure chance! The items could instead have been taken by anyone! Probability would suggest that it is most unlikely that I was the first resident to make such a finding.

It cannot be considered the fault of those who live in apartments if the courier service has cut its options to the bone, can it? Although my family unit is not in quite this boat, there are many who have been forced into this lifestyle (it is not always a choice), through also a long-long-list of nationally inadequate housing policies.

To whom could such a woeful courier service, as that provided by these companies, be of any real satisfactory and ongoing use? As a nation we should give the issue much serious thought!

Well, I would imagine that Mr Dacre could afford to employ staff for the sole purpose of receiving random post items, as could the Daily Mail's offices, as could many households as occupied by the current members of our majesty's government, as could the offices of all the larger corporations, and almost all of the smaller ones, although not necessarily all small businesses. The likes of Messrs Bransom and Sugar are all equipped with fully staffed and functioning receptions. For these types there is always someone at said reception to receive that parcel.

These groups and people often now operate within a hermetically-sealed bubble of comfort, a sort of financial privilege, whereby they are always afforded public platform in order to convey their distaste for that which is daily foisted upon the rest of the country. In example, I know that Mr Sugar strongly dislikes, answer-phones, as Mr Bransom dislikes arriving late, and yet should one try getting through to any of Mr Sugar's companies via a telephone there will be found an array of prerecorded messages, before one is to be unceremoniously dumped at the wrong end of a considerable waiting line of similarly frustrated callers. Indeed such, often, is many of the larger corporations distaste for accessible telephones- but only ever for the service of other people- that they may well have either removed, or effectively buried, the merest mention of a serviceable telephone number. Just try phoning Apple!

Half-hatched and likely legally questionable, I think that there is a suitable response to the afore-outlined type of corner-cutting by courier 'services.'

Had I, for example, always opted to deny all knowledge of receipt of any or all of my more ad hock deliveries then I should imagine that I could have benefited easily to the sum (or equivalent) of several hundred pounds- parcels that may have been collected by refuse trucks, parcels that may well have been randomly picked up off the doorstep- perhaps more besides! Imagine projecting this idea outwards, over the length and breadth of the country. It is, I am led to believe, the company from whom the item has been purchased that is financially liable... what happens if collectively we make undertaking a claim every bit as routine as the pertinent courier service makes abandoning our parcels? They absolutely cannot be certain that unsigned for items have ever arrived... so maybe we could try treating these half-cocked 'deliveries' as if they haven't?

The flaw in my plan perhaps currently lies in the necessary organisation of such a movement. There within the coordination sits the implicit proof of intent, never mind the incompetence of the companies and the courier services that they choose to employ.

Maybe the very best, yet impossible, answer to the issue of the lost Post Office services lies in a virtual national journey back to the (values of the) nineteen-seventies, those times of a more-embryonic hatred employed by the Daily Mail. Seventies housing and seventies British Rail, the bad old days? If only there were some way that we in the UK could turn back the clock...

As we currently stand, and specifically with regards to the delivery of parcels and packages, we appear to have deregulated ourselves into a system whereby courier 'services may regard certain household deliveries as effectively a zero-hour arrangement- "We will attempt to deliver the items for which you have already paid a delivery surcharge sometime on the following Tuesday, between the hours of 08:00 and 21:00. Please feel free to cancel all other commitments for the stipulated day!"

There was a time, somewhat brutal, when falling asleep at one's post was punishable through execution by firing squad, with innumerable repercussions beyond imaginable! So, who's been asleep at their post this time and, more worryingly, who's been sneaking around whilst this has been going on?

We might like to delude ourselves that 'our' ministers are all too often figuratively asleep at their posts, but the reality is far, far worse than this. They have collectively and all-too-consciously ushered in an era of plastic suffocation, hastened an ecological holocaust, and enabled a global hierarchy whereby much of global commerce is driven at the behest of merely a 'handful' of teflon-coated-multibillionaires.

We were right to have felt betrayed by our parent's generation, much as our grandchildren's generation might rightly point a deservingly accusing finger at our generation. Perhaps The Post Office has just been swept up with the current.

Congratulations and 'God's' speed to all of those striking school children who are already pointing an accusing finger. May they fair far better than did we!

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Notes on Chengdu 1992.

          An unrelenting sheet of leaden grey unburdens itself upon the insomnious city. Streets shimmer and spit. Pools of dimpled rainwater invert buildings, enhance their vertical aspirations, thrusting deeply into the cloud. Decay leaks from the city's pores. The diminishing purr of a sleepy engine dissolves inside the murk. 
          At 18:00 the daylight is fast contracting, draining into a bleeding sky. Shop windows of garish hue burn into the gloom. Sandalled feet slip slop past, shattering the subterranean world. Colours vie for attention, screaming credentials to the scuttling few.
         Hidden from view, in the deeper recesses of an empty restaurant, raised voices spar for ascendancy. Stark strip-lighting bleaches the timeworn stains from Formica tables and attentive chairs. A crumpled brown paper bag lies empty upon the floor, the footsteps of patrons-past captured in the meandering street-dirt patterns at the threshold. In a corner a skeletal kitten skulks at an unseen titbit. 
          A solitary craning lamp cracks reluctantly to life, throwing the far end of the street into stark relief. Another fizzing vigil begins. 
          Rain beaded cables sway above the street, clicking and clacking in the restless breeze, sparking an unscheduled light-show. Rain darkened awnings accumulate watery fringes. 
          A labyrinth of metallic geometry lurks in the shadows, an army of bikes chained into submission for the night, greasy rain coating the cold framework. 
          The hissing progress of a lonely trishaw traces three lines upon a quicksilver road. Sinewy legs resolutely pump at creaking pedals, threading a secret pathway deep into the back streets of Chengdu, forced suddenly into the riverine gutter, as the immaculate form of a midnight blue and white Sunbeam Rapier asserts its presence. 
          A face fleetingly illuminated in the glowing halo of a cigarette. The incongruous vehicle accelerates past, bloody taillights glowing defiantly, leaving the trishaw to continue upon its solitary journey.   

River Li
          The blackened wood has been pitted and scarred through the trials of domesticity. A threshold flickers with the warmth of an imagined open fire, cadmium patterns lick and caress the dark interior. Towering shadows tug weakly at earthly tetherings. A rusted wire mesh covers a single, diminutive, rectangular opening that may once have served as a window to another place. Beyond is pitch darkness.
          Towering ivory candles stand sentinel. Flaming sheets lazily flap and caress the perfumed air. Unfamiliar odours infuse the subdued space, saturated to a point of flavour, bitter, spiced, sweet, enveloping, intoxicating... ethereal. The air is heavy with the past. 
          Stepping inside is akin to stepping into another age, another world. This is a timeless place of cluttered alcoves and shadow-cloaked irregular roof voids, criss-crossed with intricately interwoven beams.
          At the room's centre sits a compact and blackened pot-bellied stove. On top of which lies a broken clay pipe, yet it is elegantly arranged upon a blue paper napkin. The stove is not alight. Its three dragon-clawed feet rest within a rounded, time-worn depression. A rickety chimney snakes from the stove's rear, to disappear amongst the cavernous spaces, somewhere behind the highest of the shadows.
          The floor, hard and baked dry, curiously still smells powerfully earthy. A plethora of greyed cushions, punctuated by three low stalls, appears to have been hastily arranged before the stove. There is a small split-bamboo mat tight in front of the oven, incongruous in the setting, too new and fresh for these surroundings, loud and discordant colours. Animal hides have been strewn randomly, perhaps to soften the naked earth. It is  impossible to concentrate upon any one aspect of this space for fear of overlooking something more wondrous. 

          Tumbling hanks of shimmering silk droop from the rafters. A rambling, open-weave fishing net loops, serpent-like, across several fiercely unforgiving meat hooks. Pockmarked corks dangle at head height. In one corner of the room a full-length mirror rests awkwardly and at an impossible angle, black-pitted spots have besieged the edges. Despite the mirror's doubtless age the reflected world within appears somehow brighter, cosier, more intimate. On either side of the mirror two elaborately carved lanterns radiate a warmth, the source concealed behind a fine mesh of deepest scarlet. Stacked organically, upon outrageously bowing shelves, a veritable crystal maze of glass vessels has accumulated not a spec of dust, contrary to such an inaccessible location. Rippled in a manner suggestive of age, slightly turquoised at edges and bases, the transparent surfaces glimmer and sparkle with an otherworldly presence. 
          The pitiful face of an Asian Black Bear, inexpertly contorted into an excuse for a snarl, looms, long-since-abandoned, above a dust-infused body. Cradled between its static paws rests the rusted jaws of a crippling leg-hold trap that may once have unforgivingly gnawed at the unfortunate victim's femur during its final few hours of life. And, as eyes adjust to the darkness, so further victims of the taxidermist reveal themselves. A ghostly Great White Egret stands, majestically and statuesque, as in life, patiently awaiting a never to be tasted next meal, a Beech Marten glassily eyes a distracted Red-bellied Tree Squirrel, the head of a small tusked deer peers from behind an embroidered screen that depicts the ponderous path of China's Great Wall.
          A chest of drawers, darkly suggestive of rosewood, patently far too large to have entered the space intact, stands tall as any wardrobe, a single open drawer home to a case of violated butterflies, colours now tired and faded. Still recognisable, are the splayed wings of Paris Peacocks, Five-bar Swordtails, and a solitary Blue Jay, one of whose wings lies shattered and quite devoid of detail. 
          The ponderous escapement of a large brass timepiece serves to remind any occupant that the space is not, as it first appears, frozen in the moment. Its ragged mechanism creaks a beat like the heart of the room, a room that in all other respects remains virtually silent. The single black hand, set upon an elaborately decorated wooden disc, communicates as if in some long-since-forgotten currency. From the machine's weighty iron frame hang the twisted husks of several bunches of mummified flowers, petals and leaves shrivelled into scorched invertebrate shapes. 
          Subjugated through the piled-on odours of memory, there is just the merest imagining of freshly cut wood, sharp and raw with sap, the most likely source being three exquisitely turned cylindrical teak cages, tiered Russian dolls, dangling from a lower beam. The doors to the smaller cages yawn with a delectable emptiness. Cramped within the largest rests another of the taxidermist's corpses, this the ashy cask of an Oriental Scops Owl. A single glass eye peers longingly towards the doorway and a chance of freedom that has long since expired.
          Three figures linger at the threshold. The two Westerners are in awe of this magical place, so their Chinese companion respectfully awaits their acclimatisation. When he senses that they are ready the host welcomes them with a whispered word, "Please," before politely ushering them inside. The glass eye of the owl stares fixedly towards the visitors. 
          The air shimmers with silver, as if the group may have disturbed a finely woven veil. A nictitating membrane subliminally slides across an olive iris, before a lid is softly lowered. The space crackles with electricity. 

*   *   *    

          Within this place there is no way of knowing whether the tempest has yet subsided. A heavy curtain has been drawn across the threshold, as if in statement. The stove is now gently shimmering, a brace of logs pulsing with the orangey glow of a fire in slow decline. Cushions have migrated closer to the focal point, the atmosphere more intimate. Shadows have deepened and warmed, causing much of the room's contents to have retreated into a miasmic darkness, pursuing yet never quite achieving the absoluteness of black. All bar the two weightiest candles have been snuffed.
          Three companions sit cross-legged, facing one another. At the centre lies a soft leather pouch. It has been carefully unrolled onto a greying and threadbare towel, to ensure that none of the contents is to be wasted- dried flakes of crispy plant matter, but mostly buds, that are identical in texture and spiced aroma to the brittle flowers that droop lifelessly from the timepiece.
          Practised hands that are entirely the hue of ancient stained parchment pluck a few of the larger buds from the mass, to crumble and to sprinkle along a length of pre-prepared tobacco. Brownish pearls, not unlike caramelised sugar, nestle amongst the vegetation. Several of these are meticulously added to the recipe, before the mixture is lovingly rolled into a substantial joint.
          Wrinkled lips part, barely enough to permit a pink tongue to moisten and to seal the item. An end is then twisted closed, prior to a pre-torn section of greenish card being rolled to a fine straw-like cylinder, no more than two centimetres in length. This is delicately, almost surgically, inserted into the open end of the creation, which is then lowered reverentially onto the edge of the pouch. 
          Lips part again, smiling thinly to reveal a cluster of yellowed teeth. A dying log sinks into a bed of its own ashes. Bursts of glittering orange stars escape, to be swiftly vacuumed away into darkness.
          "Now... " Softly spoken, so comforting as to be almost disconcerting. So quiet as to be virtually silent.

The Great Wall.

          Nausea has subsided. Time has slipped anchor. Smokey ribbons of softest cobalt blue weave wondrous patterns into the grainy air, spiralling eternally into the void, or else warping and wefting inside the mind an alternate consciousness, usurping lesser cousins. Eyes of tenuous focus struggle to settle upon proffered physical presence. Smoky fingers curl and contract, entirely like a gathering hand. 
          Copious quantities of a sweet tea-like liquid have helped to quell a rising panic, fighting back a heady rush that will still surely accompany the most fleeting thought of closing the eyes.
          As the suffocating vertigo relinquishes its grip so a calmer, more welcoming sensation, presses home. Warmth rises through the legs, spreading into the groin. Hands, which still function perfectly, perhaps overly precise, are watched with fascination; despite an assumed attachment they seem small and confusingly distant. Every tiny movement resonates with a life of its own, is viewed from a great height. Every minute detail is crisp, dazzlingly sharp and over-real. 
          There is gentle undulation. Through a curtain of crystal perfection the walls are moving, as if separated via a layer of surely purest water. The viewer puffs his cheeks and blows at the substance and so the scene dances its response, ballooning benignly forwards, elastically retracting, distorting everything accordingly. Maybe it is water, the likelihood seems entirely plausible- except that the barrier stands vertically. It matters not. 
          A smile ruptures the spongy air, assuming independent form, a deep rose red with pulsing petals that curl back upon themselves to reveal fresher and fleshier growths. Red bleeds into the air, it rolls like a tide. It sounds wet, then alive, then tender, finally subsiding into discordant laughter. 
          The visitor recognises the sound of his own mirth; it focuses him. He watches on as it explores the towering emptiness of the roof void. Cocooned within the resonance he feels safe and weightless. Sound may now be observed and imagery now tasted. He listens. He can hear dust motes dancing upon the air.
          From far below, as if peering from the bottom of a deep well, two diminutive figures gaze up in narcotised enthralment. One of them raises an arm, extends an index finger. A point of aquamarine light spreads like a ripple upon a pond, is usurped by a fresher, brighter, ripple, and then another. Each circle of illumination presses through the air towards the observer, enfolding him within a tunnel of breathing colour. Recognising that one of his colleagues is talking to him he leans towards the source, and so loses his balance and tumbles- gossamer upon the breeze- to the ground far below. Like a plume of candy floss, virtually weightless, he is gathered in and returned to the bed of cushions. 
          His companions have nurtured some sort of sapling from the ground between them. One is freely conversing with the form. The tree responds in a sensuous manner, writhing and attempting to encircle the speaker. At its base a glossy black gem of a beetle slowly rotates its body through a complete spectrum.
          Silver bells silently erupt in the darkness, each tiny fragment becoming a thousand more, which in turn become a thousand more, until the room is filled to capacity and beyond with diamond made yet more radiant. The light is so bright that it is almost painful, causes eyes to water. Or maybe he is crying. Every shadow, every object, every minuscule detail of every object, is reflected an infinite number of times. Wherever the visitor rests his eyes he can see every tiny feature, replicated countless times. He smiles at the unrealised prospects therein.
          The tree has mutated into the form of a candlestick phone, now softly ringing. It is handed towards him, and as it is so a million, million silver stars are slowly drawn inwards- those to alight upon the watery barrier float and bob, are rolled towards the darker spaces that wait above, obsidian, almost- as if ripples upon an ocean, until the changing object, so recently a phone, radiates a living light that is both disdainful whilst at the same time eminently pleasing to behold. He can taste a tide of resonance surging through everything, buzzing with familiar life, replicated beyond comprehension. It is curiously comforting. As he reaches for the offering so the visitor recognises a charge that sensitises the tips of his fingers. He places the receiver at his ear, pulls the transmitter towards his lips and watches, and listens, and smells something metallic, or is it perhaps a taste? 
          He is vaguely aware that another smoke is being prepared for. He can hear fine fragments of leaf nestling into the paper. He is aware also of a persistent tapping, neither close nor discernibly distant, he is unsure whether it is a colour or perhaps it is an odour? Perhaps it is an emotion?
          No longer recognising his own name, he turns towards his companions for clarification, and gazes in wonder as a familiar face recedes ever further within the mirrored image of the room, backing purposefully from sight and from this world. 
          An eruption of feathers shatters the moment. Wings clap, shedding dusty down to float before his face, heart thumping, breath racing away from him. There is a single dazzling flash of golden light, a contraction, a swallowing. 
          A scrawled note offers scant consolation for a misplaced companion. It is ragged and inert, lying quietly beside a dog-eared copy of Bruce Chatwin's 'Songlines.' The smile is intoxicating! He needs to sleep. 

Monday, 14 January 2019

All Trumped Up!

Or, maybe it is more 'All Trumped over?'

I can still vaguely recall- the Daily Mail pages of my parents breakfast table- an imagined yawning divide between life in the UK and that of the US of A. Five shillings was still just occasionally referred to as 'a dollar,' and the UK had, in those more aspirational times, recently voted to join the Common Market.

America, or more precisely the United States of America, was then a very different type of place, a place to be dipped in to- so as to avoid the sugar rush- a place to be glimpsed through the silver screen, a place to be talked about in jealous moderation, before again docking and then getting on with the more-down-to-earth world of everyday life.

Footfall One
In the days of my youth the four-dollars-to-the-pound exchange rate had, in reality, already long departed. During the immediate post WWII years, through an element far more of iron fist than of slight of hand, the Americans had effectively orchestrated one of the UK's worst financial crises. The 'global conflict had not helped, or perhaps it had. The net result was that, by the 1970s, the exchange rate was closer to $2.50 than four, although the slang of a 'dollar' still sometimes presided. But the USA had, it seems, already absorbed the valuable lesson that battles, even those of the domestic nature (and of many flavours), didn't necessarily need to be fought in one's own backyard.

Considering the iron grip that our erstwhile 'allies' had upon the nation it's a wonder that anything even vaguely American didn't come with some sort of fluorescent toxicity label. And yet still the UK permitted the US to blitz our screens with glitzy images of 'the better life,' often repackaging and selling back to the UK even its own role in WWII. Of course, now Hollywood owns outright the copyright to this narrative and, by default, to the widely perceived history of the post war years. In generations to come maybe the 'facts' of that second global conflict will have been thoroughly rehashed, in order to sit the good ol' US of A at the seat of God-given supremacy? Enough films, enough biographies, enough closed libraries and who knows, the Sky's the limit?

It can have come as no real surprise to the US, that the UK voted so overwhelmingly in favour of joining the Common Market (1973). At least one of those puppet strings was duly, albeit temporarily, severed! But maybe we should have employed sharper and more industrial scissors. Probably, we should have cauterised the wound!

John Wayne, a man who 'obligingly' stabbed in the back even many of his own former colleagues- I doubt he had any true friends- almost haunted our Sunday afternoon TV screens. He had named virtually all of his fellow Western actors as "communist sympathisers," during the worst days of the McCarthyite purges of Hollywood. Consequently, all of those far-superior actors were blacklisted and Mr Wayne's face became ever-more prominent upon the screens.

Marvel and DC super-hero comics, although still somewhat embryonic in the late sixties UK market, had begun to creep onto the shelves. Even the superhumans preferred to spend their lives in the States, where a driven Bruce Wayne might become a billionaire industrialist (Batman in Gotham City), or Tony Stark a wealthy business magnate (Iron Man), or the mega-patriotic Steve Rogers (Captain America) might both assist ol' Senator McCarthy in his anti-commie-assault whilst, if not literally rewriting chunks of WWII, then at least paving the way 'forward' in this regard. It may have been mere fiction but, Christ, how far from the real New World could this sparkling multiplicity of metropolises honestly be? Even the names were evocative! The Golden Gate Bridge, sunny California, flower-wearing San Francisco, good ol' Texas (don't mention the assassination!)? Gasoline  at tuppence a gallon, was it? Disney, MacDonald, Land O' The Free!

Somebody said to me around that time, "Look to America today to see what will become of the UK 'tomorrow.'" We didn't need to dwell upon the fact that many within the US population couldn't, even then, access proper health care. The US was thought to be aspirational, cleverly marketed as such.

Owning a gun was a mark of freedom, wasn't it? Healthcare was way better, if one worked hard enough and could actually afford it. Those yellow taxis were far more colourful than our rather drab black efforts. All that wonderful music, that which wasn't anyway stolen from the UK. Just hop on a Greyhound bus and the world was your oyster, or was it lobster... a big chunk of it anyway!

Footfall Two
We were peeking at the splendours of Ancient Greece from a mud hut in the corner of a damp forest clearing.

In the UK, the poor man of Europe, all we had was a free-at-point-of-delivery NHS, what's to like? Barely out of rationing? We weren't even permitted to own our very own guns! Council homes, damn them, were blighting the chances of any entrepreneurial and budding developers. Wherever were we expected to get our share of 'Candy Mountain' rough sleepers from? University grants were still being dolled out to just about anyone with the right kind of qualifications and abilities, it was like the dark ages, whereas just across The Pond?

Thatcher happened in the 1980s and by the early 1990s the UK had grasped those bootlaces and... well, pretty much hanged itself! The Military, sorry the curiously unmarked police force, had 'gently' disarmed the unions. Kid gloves? Or was it kid slippers? Boots? The nation's utilities were privatised- and then swiftly renationalised by any-other-government-except our own. Council homes went under the hammer of progress and we haven't looked back since.

Mum always swore that newspapers were excellent for cleaning (up) windows, she omitted to mention that they were also pretty good at clearing up state violence. Handy tip!

The promise hasn't quite come home to roost, but we're getting there, "Look to America... "

So we should, look to America that is. Look across The Pond and 'ahead,' to see what's in store for our children and our grandchildren and, should we get so far...

Even the 'painting' of Thatcher, as some kind of very-worse-kind-of-dragon-manifest- which she absolutely was- has served to cleverly wrong-foot the nation. Hiding behind that grotesque image and far-reaching icy shadow has merely enabled the pillaging to morph and to continue. 'Neoliberal,' it's still the case that many in the UK haven't even now fathomed the truer meaning of the term? The new liberal revolution, whereby everything will be liberated, set free! Even here the imagery is almost, well, liberating- Liberals, aren't they the lot who are given to questioning the worst of Conservative excesses? Now that it's rather too late it seems highly plausible that this newer and more twisted use of the term 'liberal' has not been a mere chance application. Now we are perhaps just beginning, some of us, to realise that it's all simply been a repackaging exercise, marketing in it's purest form yet!

The future's always going to remain uncertain, it's always going to remain, by definition, in the future, outside of the purely theoretical, of course it is. I don't suppose that many of Thatcher's speculators will have factored in plastic pollution, or those huge forest fires, or potential seismic events- maybe global warming?- but we should bank upon some of them having done so. The thing about serious money is that it affords serious time, and with serious time comes the ability to contemplate and to speculate upon projection, or upon various potential projections. I doubt those in the woman's think tanks, any of them, will have been able to predict quite where we are at now. But they will have had the money and the time with which to speculate. And they'll have had the money and the marketing with which to nudge the country in the direction of their own choosing.

So, "Look to America... "

'All Trumped up!' then?

But we're gong to need quite a wide angled lens to do so! The US is already decades ahead of the field, dabbling in other governments, playing roulette with other nations cash, sending in the accountants and the bankers and, if that doesn't work sending in the troops to 'ease' things along. Unveiling the international masterplan, though, it's rather like trying to paint fog! So, we're going to have to look ever so carefully, also to their extracurricular excesses. They're not the only nation doing this, but we're not currently allowed to notice some of the others, without being labelled racist, or more specifically...

At least when the British dabbled we did so in style, and the globe was coloured-in accordingly- this bit and that chunk over there, those are our's! People knew where they stood, the smart uniforms were always on hand to help clarify any misunderstandings.

Of course, the nation (US) with an obsessive thirst for publicly-held guns and gun ownership will have ingested also its fair share of gun crime and violence. But so much the merrier if they've also been able export cartloads of armaments to other parts of the globe. Who'd have thought that so much money could have been invested in (well, essentially) death, whether it be gun crime or military conflict? Any signs of a revival in the UK and the wider UK network? What do we think?

Terrorism and terror... fear? Do we live in a more fearful world? Is fear a consequence, or is it perhaps also increasingly a tool? Would the UK, were it not quite so intent upon selling its own armaments, be rather more outspoken and direct in its condemnation of Saudi Arabia, for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? Has open assassination become far more of an inconvenient tool than an actual crime, when carried out by certain factions? The 'good' factions? The richer factions!

In the background, ducking currently under the radar of international conflict, migrant refugees, various environmental crises, and Presidential buffoonery and general incompetence, we still have TTIP, wriggling like an eel, morphing and evolving, repackaging itself. The NHS will be liberated, if not wholesale then piece by tiny piece. Given that other European nations appear to have a better grasp on this concept than do 'our lot,' then it is likely that it will be slowly privatised and then renationalised by governments other than our own.

Much of sport may well have gone to the gambling cartels- self-regulation, what like the supermarkets did with plastic packaging?- but have we also noticed that even that simple ad-hoc game of park football or cricket has now fallen under the hammer? "Kick around in the park, sonny? Can I just check your permit?" The fine art of repackaging and reselling specific access to mown grass, right back at us!

Christmas now both contradictorily sustains certain sales, whilst partially consuming other retail? When The Spirit of Christmas graces those retail spreadsheets is there really no longer any room at all for 'The Spirit' part, outside of those seasonal liquor sales?

So, even where this neoliberal thing seems to be sowing the seeds of of its own demise, any viable alternatives are still deemed to be wholly unpalatable, are they? Currently we are being reminded ad nauseam that "the people have spoken," consequences be damned!

In order to sustain neoliberalism we will need to also consume neoliberalism? In the revamped image of Christmas (then) will we have time, in this hectic season- an extra 5% 'free' this year- to notice the high street chrysalis being consumed by the on-line butterfly? 12.5% more plastic that we won't have to worry about until when is it? 

Recyclable? Of course it is, partially, some of it, sort of!

And, if we can push home the zero-hour advantage, maybe we can ease another 14.5% into the pockets of the 1%. Those spreadsheets must be an absolute nightmare to project! Or to justify.

"Humanity isn't destroying the natural world. We're changing it. And, in many ways, our changes are creating richer and more vibrant ecosystems," it has been claimed. Yet still this ideology will have to factor in the 50% (60%, 70%?) loss in retail potential, by which I mean the dying natural world. Is this process euphemistically termed, 'squaring the circle?' Something about a glass ceiling? Are envelopes involved... somewhere?

The gambling cartels are hungrily feasting where there's almost nothing left to feast upon! The guns are turning in upon themselves! We're wrapping the globe in plastic! Is this why it's becoming so much more sweaty down here, do we think?

But, just how is it going to be possible to find or to conjure enough stuff for 1% of the people to spend that 40% of global wealth in order to sustain this neoliberal dream? How expensive are cars and yachts going to have to become at that 'top'-end? Will the elites tolerate their own built in obsolescence? Precisely what is it that's going to trickle down to the minions? Is it far more likely that it's going to be some sort of toxic seepage? And what about the 90+% of the population(s) that can't realistically afford to consume 1% of what they actually produce? How are we going to justify another 'top'-end tax cut- always assuming they actually pay any- for those who already have far more than they can possibly imagine? So much so that others are constantly having to 're-imagine' ever more to possess on their behalf's.

Zero-gravity flights? Super-super-yachts? Kill a snow leopard with your very own manicured hands and hand-carved personalised bullet, why not? There're only so many islands to go around- perhaps we could start building new ones- out of plastic? Will that work?

Hair implants? Anus bleaching? Personal sleep manager? Can we interest you in a new smile, whiter implants guaranteed! Flawless quality diamond cutting edge science? I think we can manage that! Something with which to smile at the chap squatting in the doorway? Contour that nose? Contour that fender? Contour that land promontory? Contour that taxable income?

Why would they turn off the lights? They want this stuff to be noticed by others, there simply isn't the time for busy-them to drive/sail/use/see it all for themselves!

Is it neo(liberal)progress, or merely socio(economic)evolution, when those being spat out at the bottom are beginning to utilise the spiralling numbers of defunct properties in order to keep the remaining targeted parks looking fresh? Is there any way that we could start charging, do we think?

So, I think we'll probably have to go with 'All Trumped upon!'

Are we nearly there yet?

Monday, 7 January 2019

'Solutions' that Exacerbate

Once Upon a Time it was generally considered that those more dubious solutions, proffered at times of 'crisis,' were simply ill-conceived, wrought through bloody-mindedness, or tunnel-visioned misunderstandings. Perhaps I am being overly generous, perhaps it was merely the simple-minded who believed such things? Perhaps this is all it takes? Divert the current and the vast majority of those wishing to swim counter to this are swiftly swept up amongst the rest- it is only the most staunchly determined who will struggle defiantly onwards... unless they too may falter. But, I am referring back to a simpler and a more honest, or less dishonest, time, or alluding to such a time.

Indubitably not alone, I will not have been Britain's only citizen to have winced at Ms May's still 'warm' 'promise' to fix the UK's housing crisis. Those given to more delicate disposition may even have felt the sharp intake of breath, manifest as an ear-popping drop in atmospheric pressure? But then, setting well-judged disdain aside, many of us already know that there are solutions... and then there are 'solutions.' Ms May's 'offering' will have clunked heavily into the latter, the faulty, box!  

Hue One
When next they should dabble will their insincerities involve ever greater degrees of deregulation? Will second or third bedrooms be shrinking yet further, perhaps now by association hoping to prompt bed manufacturers into considering the prospect of vertical sleeping? I did once manage to 'slip off' whilst standing but the effort, or lack thereof, did involve the imbibing of an awful lot of red wine. 'Twas far more of a catnap really, but then mine was also without the aid of straps. Have we looked at what Hong Kong has to offer?

Fiery prestidigitation, coupled with yet more serious corner-cutting, is likely to prove more than a bit tricky, what with Grenfell being still a tad raw! Whatever the challenge, I feel reasonably confident that the likes of RG Carter will be well capable of sinking to the challenge. Why, a cynic such as myself might even be given to wondering if this government's further slashing of the UK's already-pitifully poor legal aid provision was being driven by some of 'our' larger building contractors? "Pile them high, sell them cheap." Far more these days it's likely to be 'jamb them in, sell them overly-expensive... and mostly to investors.' In the UK's race to the bottom there is little evidence to suggest that anyone is even bothering to consider the likelihood of any potential and future bounce.

Those days of once and future, where kitchen was king, may soon be winging their ways also to a more fondly sought past. There are currently regions of our planet where the kitchen, such as it may be, is or remains quite minimal, or perhaps almost entirely absent. Will the UK now seek to exploit this 'happenstance,' except to note that where the need for food-banks is on a sharp incline the means to eating out will necessarily be on something of a downward trajectory. Can the soup kitchens perhaps handle yet another significant surge in demand? Oh, the dilemma of those competing financial interests. Currently, the housing backhand usually trumps that of the food-and-packaging lobby, but watch this space, as they say.

Questionably ingenious, will there be fewer and smaller bathroom facilities? More shared bedrooms? Smaller living spaces? Certainly no hallway! No storage space? No outside space? All of these options would seem to have been covered, as 'twere, by our 'honourable' building contractors. And the unsafe cladding option has been ever-so-unfavourably exposed. So, where to next?

As if in search of lost time, we are unlikely to soon find a governmental 'solution' that doesn't pretend that more private landlords hold the key... so to speak.

Hue Two
In that dying light of misperceived 'wrestled back control' similar conundrums seem to be bursting forth wherever one rests one's weary eyes. A particular bugbear of mine being the current misadventure with sport. So desperate has this issue become that it is now right out in the open. In this regard we should always bear in mind that the UK has become quite expert at 'hiding' its crises in plain sight, the space behind the operating screens long since having been filled to capacity. Do not expect any sort of real solution soon, remember instead that one person's crisis is another's means to making a killing... often quite literally we are finding these days!

Come fly with me, as, for example, we yet again observe them seeking to circumvent the net. Has one perchance, happened to have chanced upon the fictitious 'lucky' couple, who won big-time on the one-arm-bandits, immediately after a British Airways (Ad) flight? 'Product placement' by any other name? Watch those viruses wriggle and morph!

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze, as if fashioned from a more ethereal morning mist, we are told that there is now 'a fund' being set aside for dealing with the issue of gambling addiction? Is there? Really? If there indeed is, we would be naive in the extreme to expect it to consider properly dealing with the root cause. Self regulation again, what like the supermarkets did with plastic packaging- and how's that one working out?

Gaze with unbridled passion upon the sport of your choice, on any sort of semi-regular basis, and one is all-too-soon being bombarded with adverts exhorting one to throw more and more money into the pot. Will the current dabbling seriously address this? If it so much as pretends to we can be sure that things are even worse than is being selectively reported. The National Lottery, supporting 'good causes,' or diverting the monies of an increasingly desperate working poor, and into the pockets of a sporting elite et al? Walk down any high street and one cannot help but notice those budding betting shops. Modern day poppies upon corpses! 

Paradise was never lost, it was privatised. So we might consider, which really would be thought of as the greater crime, the systematic decimation of one's family life or, perhaps, orchestrated physical attacks upon any culpable premises on the high street? Consider the question not so much as any sort of endorsement of violence, instead think of it more along existential lines! Would such violence, were it to occur, be born of original unprovoked evil thought, or would the root evil and violence really that taking place when scarce money is being extorted from spent resources via sport 'entertainment?' Might we search out any pertinent biblical references?

In these times of guilty conscience and learned cliches  we shouldn't, even for a fleeting moment, be prepared to consider the viewed sport as being somehow cushioned from any culpability? Because, that's what any fund for 'dealing with' addiction is supposed to lead us to somehow conclude. So, think more of it as a sort of smokescreen, devised entirely in order to divert or destabilise any genuine efforts at dealing with gambling addiction... 'unnecessarily' nibbling away at those 'handsome' profits. Clearly there's thought to be far more betting potential in the '100 ball cricket experiment' than there is the 'test match.' So, will this finally bring about the death of test cricket, sacrificed also to the heavier-betting game?

It is merely an illusory age of innocence? A friendly reference was recently made, "When the charity premises start creeping in to the malls, then the economy is in deep do-doo!" Myself, I tend to consider betting companies as being the flip-side of the same coin, one side battling to offset the damage, the other feasting greedily upon the carcase.

The grapes of wrath and seasonal merriment are still warm upon our lips. But behind the glitter and indulgent feasting, beneath the clamour of bells and rainbow pyrotechnics, we may just barely detect the hushed 'concerns' of those 'charged' with having rather exacerbated another of society's problems. Why, it is almost theatrical, is it not? "They're behind you!" somewhere, maybe... or more likely not.

Hue Three
Devine trajectory? Of course, the drinks industry wishes to have a say in how their profits might be undermined. Much as the supermarkets wished to 'self-regulate' with regards to the over-packaging of their produce... ten years ago? Was it ten? Maybe more like twenty then? Thirty, you think? 

Mea culpa! And, the industry 'wonders' why it is that we're so sceptical about their motivation. 'Solutions' that exacerbate! 

Ethereal castles in the heavens, such as Mr Grayling's railway 'solutions?' The Grenfell enquiry? Gove's dabbling with back-door privatisation of education? Dabbling, and some! Blair's third way? PFIs? Any government minister and our precious NHS? Wherever we look, we see the exacerbating 'solutions' being rolled out- and there are always more to come from those well-remunerated think-tanks- another one off the production line, please! 

Close to the madding crowd, in one of the continent's most 'crowded' country's, it's hardly surprising that there's a problem with cars. In effect it's rather more than one singular problem. There's noise, there's speed, there's pollution, there's space... where to start? We might almost be forgiven for believing that much of this stems from being essentially 'overcrowded.' That is, after all, what we're being led to believe... by some.

So, yea or nay? All the more reason not to believe then, is what I might contest. Or, at the very least we should search for those reasons to doubt... at least in part.

The metamorphosis is surely now almost complete! Do those immoral shareholders doubt it? Have they factored in the out-sourcing and under-funding (more mis-funding!) of public transport? Have they considered the power of the motor industry to glam-up cars. Have they noticed the power of the same motor industry to push the sale of those cars, over and way beyond all other counter-considerations. Have they given thought to, and then attempted to justify, the stripping back of legal aid budgets to the bone, in any manner whatsoever that doesn't seem to more-than-strongly imply that this is to yet further skew the system away from and out of reach of ordinary people and in favour of the monied and the well-connected? Will they have contemplated the fact that we are fast developing into a society that encourages the wholesale discarding of items such as TVs, over and above considering the ever-diminishing option of repair? Will they have spent much of their precious time in meaningful discussion, regarding the vast factories from Hell that seem to churn out no end of cheap plastic tat that must surely be designed essentially to soon self destruct, and to swiftly join that blossoming ocean raft of discarded tat, over any more further-reaching goal? There is even a term for the practice, 'built-in obsolescence,' and companies like Apple thrive upon it! Will the shareholders have observed that almost rabid hatred that our government has for anything 'public?' Or will those shareholders, far-more-single-mindedly, simply calculated the shortest route to the highest returns?A momentary pause for thought and we might almost be there, an enlightenment for the twenty-first century!

So, stop a while and let us consider parking.

Into thin air, or is it to be instead 'out of thin air?' Those far larger homes with copious outside spaces may have the room for any number of vehicles, those less mansionesque residences afforded the space for a garage or a driveway may easily accommodate the space for one or two off-roaders, suburbia may- although increasingly may-not- afford the kerb-space? More urban areas increasingly like to box up kerb-space and to then sell it back to the home-owner-renter, as zoned-parking. Variations upon this system  exist... almost always tied up with private profits. These days, spot any popular destination and there's a serious likelihood that parking facilities will have been boxed up and sold on! Driven, largely by those with the means not to have to pay...

Catch 22! Because we might have a problem with space? Or, conversely, because we are creating- at least exacerbating- and then exploiting the problem of space?

Post storm hue
Oh, bountiful world, there is always the argument that we could consider throwing money at a problem'- because, well, how do we know, really know, that it won't work? What if instead we opened up all of those areas of zoned parking, and looked more seriously at why all that yellow paint is really there, and offered free-parking zones for shops, and visitors, and, well, parkers? Would there suddenly spring up a car-parking fund, in order to reimburse the overly exploited, and the unfairly clamped? Would the car-park industry want to self regulate?


The sun also rises, so we could always go with ignoring those vested opportunistic interests and, somewhat unconventionally, go instead with those who more genuinely recognise parking and transport in general as 'an issue?' Throw in a bit of re-nationalisation, leading to properly funded public transport and, who knows, we could almost have solved something... instead of exacerbated it. A solution that doesn't exacerbate! Whatever next?

Beneath a heart of darkness, instead there's austerity!

Lest they should forget, there's also Armistice Day, where we rightfully remember the sacrifices of the two World Wars, by wrongfully funding further and far more questionable modern-day international conflicts, and thereby also, effectively, arms sales. Is there a pattern emerging here, do we think?

Ergo, insert also the industry of your choice. Does it too fit the bill? 

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The Sky's the Limit!

The Sky's the limit!

What a wonderfully aspirational line! Out there, in this brave new world, there may be no limits to what one may achieve. Set your sights to the very furthest of the horizons. For those who are prepared to work the rewards may be absolutely limitless. Perhaps even Mars may be that next horizon.

It's not actually the case, though, is it? Unless, maybe, we invert the 'imagery.' And tweak the translation. 

Imagine, instead, staring down into a puddle, perhaps upon a stretch of industrial wasteland... a wasteland, let us conject, that has been slowly poisoned into surrender through decades of unrestained, deregulated toxic abuse. We perceive this puddle as being of a curiously unnatural turquoisey colour, close and yet not close enough to anything that mother nature might hold within her pallet. 

There is a glistening sleekness to the surface, such as spilt oil might leave. A seemingly-almost-infinite array of abandoned plastic tat- partially submerged, afloat, encircling, or otherwise 'arranged' about the immediate area- has gathered about in order to further adorn the scene. McDonalds Happy Meals and Toys R Us feature proudly here, the whole Glimmie clan of several 'collecible' dozens may be found, and a vertable herd of My Little Ponies, several generations of Sylvannian Families. Everything has been coated under a fine grey dust, serving to mute the effect, and to bring about some sort of contradictory unity to the blaze. Empty Walkers crisp packets bumble across the land like so many abandoned kites. If the site is deemed worthy, maybe the very latest-bar-one model of Apple's iPhones will soon be welcomed with open arms, or at least a freshly dug pit, to their ancestral  home. Redundant Sky boxes nestle amongst pauperised TVs and other screens, usurped in turn by the newest, very latest in upgrades, none deemed any longer worthy.

And there, just there at the furthest shore, where the sub-soil-layer of supermarket plastic bags is just visible at the waterline, when the cold breeze desists and those blackened indeterminate flakes settle, there, peering deep into the murk we may glimpse the poorly reflected image of 'our limitless' Sky. 

Doesn't it look small?

Several years back I, solely as a fan of the game of cricket, decided to give Sky TV a go. I won't here revert to type and deride the then-government's God-awful decision to sell our national side to an Australian oligarch... leave it at that on the cricketing front. But I did then relinquish a teeny-tiny bit of my soul. 

So, there, in the package, we had high definition options- admittedly not quite as many as might be 'on offer' today- maybe a dozen rolling film channels, and those standard Sky options- Sky Atlantic, Sky Arts, Sky One and Two, a bottomless bargain bin of other tat channels, and four (was it) stations of continual 24-hour sport. 

Now, when I write 'sport,' what I more accurately mean is 'activity.' To describe the amorphous array of 'options' on offer as wholly sport really pushes the bounds of credibility way, way beyond... eh, credible. I think conkers and table subbuteo were in there somewhere, kite flying, arm wrestling, stuff! Stuff that nobody in their right mind would choose to watch! Was sewing in there... somewhere?

But, there was lovely test cricket! If memory serves, I also seem to recall that each and every ad break may not have been devoted to bolstering the UK's then considerably less-widespread gambling addictions. But that was then. And, it seemed affordable... obviously not as affordable as when the UK was able to watch its own national team playing at home via the BBC, or Channel 4, but (resentfully) affordable. 

Think of the package as a rather large cake. For the purposes of this allegory, think of it as tall and rich and currently uncut. Slendiferous! 

Some time after buying in there came the realisation that the cost, by stealth, was creeping upwards, although 'creeping' really doesn't quite describe the ascent. Most of the film options were eternally the same, on an ever-revolving loop- all of the most recent releases were only accessible via 'pay-to-view' options, anyway- so the film channels went. The depth and diameter of 'the cake' remained the same, but there was a hefty slice missing, or now set aside. Less for more! 

The chronology now escapes me, but many of the formerly-accessible high definition options were 'suddenly' on the wrong side of an emergent divide. Others, essentially high-definition channels, stealthily slipped through, and were gone... over to the dark side (newer package options). The cake was essentially the same cake- the 'potential' cake- but the slices, those upon my plate, were becoming thinner. And drier, and less appetising! 

As marvellous as cricket, test cricket, truly is, there were those moments when the never-ending football season would swell to swamp particular sports stations, that part that was actually 'sport.' There were the play-offs- surely defeating the objective of a league that has really already concluded, but never mind. There was the transfer window- window? What is happening, this isn't even actual sport, is it? And there were times when cricket was absent, not the stamp collecting, the tiddly-winks, or the blow football, but there was sometimes an absence of cricket, test cricket... and now for the cost of an oligarch's ransom!

So even the sport went. Thus, effectively removing that aspect of the package for which the deal was initially sought.

The remaining slice of cake was so thin as to appear almost as if not really there, wholly transparent in certain lighting conditions. Yet the ransom still kept creeping.

That one thin remaining slice of cake would bow in a gentle draught. 

So Sky was finally jettisoned! Or, that was the plan...

At which point the Sky became far darker and stormier. Should one accidentally assume too much freedom Sky will quite liberally wave the legal card... not quite so much about providing entertainment all of a sudden! 

One is expected, no required by diktat, to undertake 'a conversation.' The purpose of which is to convince one that Sky is not only essential to one's leisure time, but also suddenly again, and by some sort of miraculous process, almost affordably reasonable. And, should one be so foolhardy as to open that door a tiny chink, one might easily find that Sky is again on the payroll. Slightly cheaper for a short while, but soon to find itself back on that upscaled spreadsheet.

Look, just there, at the far shore, where the oil has accumulated- to the right of the tsunami of plastic straws, behind that raft of cotton-buds... no wait, the strange black flakes are settling- there, under the discarded, half-buried TV remote, there, isn't that the reflected Sky, just there?

Doesn't it look small...

and insipid... 

and such a pale imitation. 

What ever would one term that colour?

Wednesday, 3 October 2018


There's an awful lot of money wrapped up in those Private Finance Initiatives, an awful lot! A lot of of people in really elevated positions have invested serious money here.

On a wider and a deeper note, there's one Hell of a lot of money invested in the concept of deregulation. Many CEOs and their entourages are heavily dependant upon weighty deregulation. We might yet find out that the Italian motorway road bridge at Genoa was somewhat dependant upon certain levels of deregulation, prior to its catastrophic collapse, or rather we might not find out! Early days, but even at this juncture we know that something preceding the incident was not right! Somewhere a corner has been cut, and corner cutting runs an awful lot more 'efficiently' when deregulation has been brought into play.

As with Grenfell and as with the Genoa motorway road bridge, corner-cutting often has consequences. Sometimes those consequences are small enough for the system that enables them to then hide them from the wider public gaze, or else to repackage and to relabel them- they are now almost everywhere, virtually 'propping up' certain chunks of the UK's economy- but sometimes the deceit is just not possible or plausible. Either way, somewhere along the line someone (or someones) has decided, and continues to decide, that 'these are corners worth cutting!'

In the UK those invested with the current housing (shall we refer to it as a) pledge will be keeping a very beady eye upon any resultant tinkering with the current levels of deregulation. Thus, billions are currently wrapped up and holding a figurative breath within the construction industry. We already know that, with regards to social housing, the current government have vowed to link costs and rents to those currently 'operating' in the private market. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have been at pains to make this much clear, also they have pointed out that the current government's 'commitment' to building seems to have been designed far more not to undermine the private bandwagon, than it has to addressing the real issue... that being that of affordable and accessible homes for the UK's population.

Education and Health have been, and are being, monetised. Entertainment, especially that of sport, has mutated into not so much an entertainment-first construct as one of an unregulated and unrestrained gambling bonanza!

When the coalition removed certain regulations from the pension sector, several years back, presented as 'enabling greater flexibility for the pension holder,' it really must have come as no real surprise that pertinent criminal enterprises were already up and waiting. Today, the true figures for lost pension assets may remain unknown, in great part due to the shame felt at being so duped, but it is known to have already run into the millions. Still our TVs (ads) send out the smiling message that 'happy' pensioners can easily access one of the many equity release deals on offer. Perhaps those who have already lost much of their pensions will be amongst the first to want to offset their remaining home against a small hole-plugging measure?

Yes, as the UK shuffles ever closer to that deregulated garden of delights so the zero-hour-economy is truly partying! Although, it should also be noted that, even here, safeguards should and have been taken... as have those of Reese Mogg who has already moved business interests to the Republic of Ireland. Curious, we might consider, given the man's poisonous dislike of the EU.

Anyway, there is a system fully established and in operation here in the UK. And it is a system which reaches out its long arms also to incorporate much of the UK's Main Stream Media (MSM).

The UK's is not an unresponsive, nor is it an obviously compliant, MSM, which presents all as if it is soft and fluffy and beyond reproach. Under the current flag that would be foolish! No, instead it presents, or seeks to do so, as a 'viable' MSM which takes on board lessons from the past and duly evolves. Evolve or die! But, in such circumstances as those of the UK, evolution is not always such a pretty nor is it such a pleasant thing.

So here, in the heavy wake of such a system, we should take a moment to reflect, and in this light we should consider those recent allegations of anti-semitic behaviour amongst leading Labour figures.

Is it about the hill?

But, before this and in order to contextualise the 'story,' I suggest that we might first want to consider Thatcher's endorsement of General Pinochet. She had, we should remember, at least in part, orchestrated the Falkland's or Malvenas War (1982) at a time of her own rising unpopularity. Even the heavily right-wing press of the day was not able to deflect from her unrelenting hostility towards (curiously) her own nation's working-class families, and Britain's playful obsession with pseudo-colonialism was, at that time, again fading. The good ol' days that never really were had cyclically lost much of their lustre... so what better solution than to enter another imperial war?

Some sixteen years after the conflict, in 1998, Pinochet of Argentina-neighbouring Chile, was still widely regarded as a war criminal, responsible for the death or disappearance of some ten-thousand Chilean citizens and over twenty-seven thousand instances of human rights violations, following the CIA-funded and supported coup of 1973. In consequence, in 1998 and in the light of his travel to the UK, Spanish Magistrates wished to extradite Pinochet from the country, where he was awaiting surgery for a herniated disc, and to try him for the war crimes for which the world-at-large already knew him to be guilty.

Thatcher's words, then, were repulsively warm regarding the general. "Senator Pinochet was a staunch friend of Britain," she gushed, as Tony Blair and Jack Straw contrived to inefficiently do absolutely nothing for the victims. Thatcher was showing that Pinochet's loyalty to pseudo-empire during the Falklands/Malvinas conflict, albeit partially covert, was treasured by her as being above thousands of human lives.

Of significant note- seemingly entirely 'overlooked' by the MSM- Thatcher was the UK's PM during both Jimmy Savile's inglorious time and the Sun Newspaper's shameful reporting of the Hillsborough Disaster... and she was a PM who 'prided' herself upon keeping fully abreast of national and global politics. It surely would not be beyond the realms of reason to assume that she knew far more than has yet been reported. Orgreave may yet have it's time.

The UK's MSM reported the Pinochet incident with almost distasteful balance, and this dreadful man duly escaped justice. The MSM did not roundly condemn Thatcher for her support of the known war criminal! Nor has it yet chosen to speculate upon Thatcher's murky secrets.

Secondly, we could recall Blair's puppying decision to follow the US Military into Iraq (2003), based upon then-known-to-be (certainly by Blair himself) questionable evidence of WMD in the country; the use of the term 'questionable' here being overly generous.

Given also that already-seen reports had warned of the likelihood of Iraq descending into sectarian chaos, Blair's choice might be regarded as doubly criminal. Given additionally that the innocent and considerably-more-honest Dr David Kelly was questionably judged to have committed (convenient) suicide, we might be left to conclude that Blair is almost a more easily despised human-being than is Thatcher.

Blair was demonstrating that, for him, the money that the US- that more reactionary contingent- might afford him as his bloody fee easily trumped the cost to human life... an immense cost which continues to spiral to this day.

Our MSM was less forgiving of Blair, but this same MSM is today struggling with balancing their more-recent-dislike of the man against their support for his adopted stance regarding the current leader of the (no-longer-New) Labour Party. An unreasonably light touch by the MSM, I am going to suggest, for the man judged by many, and in this same profession, to be an international war criminal.

Is it about the van?

Thirdly we might consider the already slighted Jack Straw's hand in cases of illegal extraordinary rendition of Libyan dissident, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, and his pregnant wife, Fatima Bouchar, to Libya, where they were handed over to the CIA who had, prior to this and for many decades, been subjecting individuals to torture techniques. Of course, and by association, this might be judged to have further implicated the terminally-unrepentant Blair.

The extraordinary rendition issue is actually far greater than merely the afore-named victims; hundred of instances were known about, and yet still the MSM arguably under-reacted. But Blair's, and by association Jack Straw's, love affair with the MSM had effectively ended!

Jack Straw, we may remember, also presided over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdul Basset Ali al-Megrahi, argued at the time to be verging upon a premature death. Jack Straw quite openly favoured talks with Tripoli and the reviled Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Our MSM- most of it- have rather tended to forget about the human rights issues (at least by association) for which Mr Straw should stand trial. And yet, I would still wish to point out that Jack Straw was remarkably comfortable with the ideology that favoured oil over selective human-rights.

On an arguably brighter note we might consider the late Mo Mowlan's 1998 talks with the IRA and the UDA. She kicked off her shoes, whipped off her wig and asked Sam 'Skelly' McCrory (UDA) for "a smoke." She behaved in similar fashion with Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair (IRA), again in open discussion with another of Europe's most dangerous terrorists.

We will, perhaps, recall Blair's reptilian smile- him again- sliding away like a shed skin, as the gathered (New) Labour Party roundly stood and long-applauded Mo Mowlan at the 1998 Labour Party Conference. He consequently rather swept her aside and arranged for the early release of prisoners, in exchange for the handing in of weaponry, the 'Good Friday Agreement.'

Lest we should be tempted to glean a smidgen of respectability for Blair here, we should also note that the political 'decline' of Mowlan can readily be traced back to this moment. The deathly whispers of the likes of henchman Mandelson or the more bumptious actions of Campbell perhaps?

The focus anyway should instead be the reaction of the MSM. Mo Mowlan, no longer with us, became rather popular with much of the MSM, but she was significantly terminally ill at the time. The UK's MSM might, quite rightly in this case, struggle to damn her dialogue with known terrorists, in the light of both Mowlan's health and Northern Ireland's hugely reduced tensions.

Or there's Nelson Mandela, hailed latterly as perhaps the ultimate amongst world leaders, for the manner in which his government conducted their post apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995. The process openly worked with the perpetrators of state-endorsed violence towards its own citizens, bringing them and their victims together in, surely, the only manner in which widespread bloodshed could have been avoided. Still, the South African State, of which Mandela was head, very openly colluded with many violent human-rights' abusers... but then who bar Nelson Mandela could have led a nation better and so quietly, from the depths of such darkness?

If to 'burden' Mandela with such individual high praise seems overly selective one should consider the more recent slide in the standards of the current South African Government.

Whilst still in office Thatcher referred to the South African former political prisoner as a member of, "a typical terrorist organisation," and she steadfastly resisted all pressure to impose sanctions upon the apartheid regime, during her time at Number 10.

The MSM's response to Nelson Mandela had once been variably, but often less-reservedly, hostile, morphing gradually and in pursuit of popularity, as first apartheid crumbled and collapsed, then Mandela was released. The UK's media was given to display the whole chamelic pallet with regards to this world leader.

Much as the MSM, especially the Sun Newspaper, have latterly attempted to do with regards to their reporting of the Hillsborough Disaster, today they would likely much prefer to bury mention of the bulk of their earlier Mandela stuff. Greatly missed- especially in the light of current global politics- aside from those saccharin sweet tabloid articles, Mandela would today likely prove far too much of a hot potato for much of the UK's increasingly reactionary MSM.

None amongst the above mentioned individuals has or had adopted a wholly unreserved stance upon Israel and Israeli actions. Each of these individuals held or still holds stated reservations regarding the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights as they currently stand. Nelson Mandela was the least accepting and Thatcher the least critical, but we could easily have predicted or expected this much. Even Thatcher, though, was not always comfortable in her dealings with the State of Israel.

Is it about the car?

'Blooded hands,' though, they are a rather different  matter! But, even here, things are seldom as convenient as much of 'our' MSM would have us believe.

Set, as they sometimes must be, in the context of world political history, it should be recognised as (virtually) impossible for leading political figures to advance either (selfishly) themselves, (variably) an espoused cause, or (more altruistically) global or national politics, without the risk of falling foul of such an accusation as 'bearing bloodied hands.' It almost matters not that often the hostility may be woefully misdirected... cite the Sun Newspaper's reporting of 'Hilsborough'

Entirely dependant upon how and by whom those crucial moments are reported we in turn might lazily adopt any number of responses... and yet we may still unforgivingly expect certain political advancements to be achieved. 'Bloodied Hands' (and their vast array of accompanying synonyms) should then be regarded as a variable term, and in the hands of an irresponsible MSM it can be a most dangerous term!

Unless one is either an idiot, or else of reactionary inclination, it is difficult to assume anything other than a nuanced approach to the current State of Israel or Israel's actions, although we could quite easily fall into the trap of believing this not to be deemed acceptable. The action of President Trump, to relocate the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, should be considered, at best, stupid. But even this is really overgenerous, it is in all likelihood a deliberately provocative act, likely to prove internationally inflammatory! Perhaps he is again looking to deflect from other misdemeanours or incompetences? Neither is Benjamin Netanyahu currently working well at easing the obvious tensions in the region.

The subject of East Jerusalem, one of several areas cited in the UN Security Council's 'Resolution 242,' is a volatile one at best. And it should not, in any way, be regarded as being anti-semitic to suggest that Israel should give serious consideration to withdrawing from the area. Despite Trump's provocation even the US currently regards East Jerusalem as an occupied territory. Palestine and the Palestinian people will need to be acknowledged!

As with most, if not all, nuanced political situations, peaceful solutions are most unlikely to result from the shutting down of discussions. And it could be easily argued that this is not only what the IHRA definition upon anti-semitism (with its unreserved 'examples') is currently doing, but further that this is what it is, at least in certain hands, intended to do.

So, I am going to argue that the best way forward and towards a less conflicted globe is to instead open up discussion, upon both Israeli (State) actions and the Israeli State. Much as certain factions in the Labour Party are, or were, attempting so to do.

The UK's MSM have, in significant part and especially in relation to the recent Labour-antisemitism allegations, fallen woefully short in their widely stated and (mis)assumed aim of informing the wider public on the thorny issue of Israel. It is possible to find (far too) many sites where the indignant condemnation of Corbyn, and the likes of Ken Livingstone, is given loud and copious 'voice.' But, it is far more difficult to locate areas of frank and open discussion upon the pertinent issues.

In order to emphasise quite how skewed our MSM had/has become, with regards to the reporting of 'anti-semitism within the Labour Party,' I should just mention that, for almost the entirety of the elected and on-going 'story,' it has remained almost impossible, without considerable digging, to unearth, exactly and unedited, what (allegedly and/or actually) was being said by the cited individuals. Of course, as soon as one is able to do just that, the reasons for such sparsity of detail becomes obvious, this being that there is no serious case to be answered... with the unfortunate proviso that it should be noted that an uncertain online element has now also entered the affray- an 'uncertain online element!' 

However, having written and believed this (MSM's lack of substance behind the 'headline') to be the case, a recent two-part documentary upon the subject of British Jews (BBC 2's 'We Are British Jews') was unexpectedly enlightening, yet further contextualising the ongoing discussion.

The programme aired the varying 'perspectives' of eight people from the British Jewish Community, following (most of) them eventually on a research trip into Israel. If it is still available it is well worth a look, or indeed a second look. With the exception of perhaps two of the individuals the various members of the group were all able to further inform the wider debate. Shame indeed that almost all of the MSM, including the bulk of the peak-time BBC's, news coverage prior to this was given to suggesting that the anti-semitism issue, particularly in the Labour Party, is far more black and white than is the reality.

For those with a mind to discovery, one member of the 'British Jewish' group was even able to add some much appreciated insight to the situation regarding Israel's methods of 'policing' of the occupied territories. Others within the unit were either variably open to new information, or else they were initially hostile. But, as a jumping off point, this much was inevitable and to be expected.

Somewhat better informed, should we choose to further open ourselves up to the real issues, we would do well to take a far more considered and factual view of Israel and its place in global politics.

Or is it about something else entirely?

The current Labour Party, it should be argued, is likely the best placed (maybe the only) political party to properly open up this debate, hopefully before certain dubious and covert forces are able to do quite the reverse. But, this honest debate necessarily (currently) comes with a price-tag, that price being that all of that money wrapped up in Private Finance Initiatives, all of that cash invested in wholesale deregulation, all of those mighty powerful CEOs and their entourages with their financial interests, all of these things and individuals that elect to skew society to their bidding, all of these people and their respective 'worlds' might then also feel more threatened!

Most certainly these 'characters' will not want any debate whatsoever- currently the Israeli one- that might later then go on to question any wider societal perspective, by further validating (or not further seeking to invalidate) the political party best placed to ask other 'awkward' questions. Far better, these disingenuous 'characters' might consider, to jump upon any bandwagon that seeks to derail, distract and to undermine this process.

Sadly, it is certain factions within the same aforementioned Labour Party- the party in part seeking more to open-up the debate- who, from a diametrically opposed position, seem the most determined to shut the anti-semitism argument down. Or is this perception also the overly-mighty hand of the MSM? It must be hoped that the Labour Party's controversial full adoption of the IHRA's definition of anti-semitism (plus examples) will not further compound and stall much needed and robust debate.

Any suppression of political free speech is unlikely in the longer term to reap anything like the right kind of rewards. Resultant frustration may then instead bring forth anger, and this in turn may fuel aggression, manifest often as hatred and escalated violence. And this, in turn, may be misused as justification for a more determined and further closing down of the debate.

A stance of 'less suppression of free speech, leading ultimately to fewer bullets and bloodied hands,' is most likely to hold the key to any progress to be made. However, owned by and operated at the auspices of some of the UK's (and other's) wealthiest individuals, it would appear that this is not yet a step forward that our MSM is prepared unreservedly to take.

Far more likely they will wish to continue to represent, or to misrepresent, 'their chosen cause' through their own means of assassination.