From it all.

Well I’m back from a fantastic week spent in the South West in a quiet cottage, nestled in a peninsular on the River Dart in the small and quaint village of Dittisham (that I was reliably informed is pronounced ‘Ditsum’ by the locals).

It’s nice to remove oneself from ‘real life’ every once in a while, why else would we go on holiday? But in this case, thanks to the steep, rolling, 3G-blocking Devonshire hills and an opportune breakdown of the only hard-line internet connection for the entire week we were staying there, I not only ‘got away from it all’, for most of the time I got away from it all.

I got away from my near obsessive checking of the BBC news website, as if in the hour since the last time I looked world peace will have broken out. I got away from my frequent and often pointless flicking through Facebook and Twitter, as if I expect any news from my friends and family that is noteworthy not to be announced in any other way. I got away from checking my book pages, as if I will be become an overnight success purely by my powers of near-constant monitoring of sales ranks. I got away from checking and deleting the raft of meaningless emails that, despite several mailing list culls, continue to surge through like a relentless tide and deposit digital flotsam and jetsam in my inbox. I got away from fact-checking and adorning my conversations with Google.

I say I got away from it: when we made our frequent trips to the nearby towns, such as the wonderful Estuary of Dartmouth and Kingswear (two towns separated by the mouth of the River Dart, conjoined by an amazing ferry system for vehicles and pedestrians alike as in the photo below), I have to admit I occasionally had my eyes on the signal to see if I could get a few updates here and there. Thankfully, despite myself, this rarely happened either. Now and again I would receive the header subjects of a bunch of emails with no actual message, but I found that was enough, adept as I have become at recognising spam, waffle and marketing from a milliseconds glance.

There was still television however, but this didn’t feature much at all. Most mornings I was up before 8am, ready for fishing or rowing or whatever activity was planned that day, only to find my two younger brothers (9 and 12) already up and watching repeats of ‘Golden Balls’ or ‘Pointless’ on the ‘Challenge’ channel while the adults slumbered into being. I could deal with that. At that age I would have filled the room with the screeching madness of American cartoons about transforming robots or something (it’ll never catch on). On an evening after a long day doing stuff and things, the news may have come on for a quick check of the weather, which had the sometimes unfortunate effect of meaning we caught the odd news segment here and there.

One particularly striking example was when the BBC went all ‘Minority Report’ and had somehow managed to surround Sir Cliff Richard’s house with reporters and helicopters prior to the police turning up to search it. As the sensationalist report was beamed into my eyes, I thought to myself, ‘is this a bit weird? Or am I so used to reading the news I’ve forgotten how weird it is to actually watch it’. No. It turns out it was a bit weird, and the BBC are being investigated (or at least questioned) for having seemingly blackmailed the police into allowing them access to the raid in return for not jeopardising the investigation with the details they received via some shady leak. Responsible public news broadcaster? Hmm…

So it seems you can’t always get away from it all. I still had a moment of despair at the mechanisms of mass communication that exist in this country, but thanks to the lack of internet, it only lasted about as long as they news item itself, and then it was gone! I wasn’t able to check back on updates or furiously research Google for opinion pieces and alternative news streams. I just let it slide away as I thought about getting my next beer, watching the Perseids meteor shower in the none light-polluted clear night sky, and thinking about catching fish the next morning (I didn’t catch any fish, but it was fun anyway. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, give me a fishing rod and everyone will starve. I’d go for the fish option if I were you).

Now I am back, and yes, I have fallen into old patterns again, I admit. But I hope that by writing this down and hypocritically posting it on the internet in the hope that other people may read it, I am at least reminding others and my future self that it is possible to switch off every once in a while. All you need is to go somewhere beautiful in the countryside where there is no responsibilities, internet or phone signal whether you like it or not, despite your best efforts. Simple really, why didn’t I think of it before?

 

Dartsmouth 2

Dartmouth from the car ferry. Yes, that’s a car, on a ferry platform, being towed across the water. Very cool.

 

 

 

Good news blog! With Diane Plebbasher.

Have you heard? Of course you have! How could you have missed national good news month?!

It makes such a nice change to switch on the news and be greeted with relentless statistical optimism. Unemployment is falling, crime is falling, we are all better off, the economy is growing faster than expected…, it’s just, it’s just… so damn good I can hardly contain myself! And neither can thousands of people who have unexpectedly taken to the streets of London in spontaneous celebration of this unprecedented golden age we are all living in (as of this month).

To find out more I sent roving reporter Diane Plebbasher into the fray. Here’s what happened to her.

I can feel that feel good feeling

By Diane Plebbasher

Image

Picture the scene: London, the world’s gravy train. But recently, some people have been complaining that they aren’t getting enough gravy, and that they’ve had to wash down their meat and two veg with hot steaming bowls of bitter austerity juice.

It seems that everywhere you look nowadays, someone is complaining: “I can’t have that” or “I can’t have this” or “I can’t do that job because I’ve got no legs” and “Why are you taking money off me because I was once housed in a house with more rooms than people” and “I haven’t had a pay rise in three years while the cost of living has risen dramatically” and “Why should the banks have all the money and I have none?”… and other such negativity.

Studies (what I’ve done) have found that the sum mass of all this negativity has actually caused all the bad weather recently – data which I’ve passed onto the insurance companies because I think it’s only fair (it’s like setting fire to your own failing business really isn’t it? Why should we suffer higher premiums for others ability to control the weather via mass group emotional manipulation?)

So imagine my surprise when I looked out of the window from my penthouse suite in Mayfair, only to see lines of people happily marching towards parliament, singing and dancing and waving signs of joy and happiness in a union of positivity, not seen since all those sports people came over here that time and did some running and stuff (I have to admit, I didn’t go to that – I was given a few hundred complimentary tickets in the executive stands, but I couldn’t be arsed frankly. Once you’ve witnessed the death of the noble Rhino, you’ve seen it all).

When I got down to street level, I could feel the excitement in the air. It made my hair stand on end and I got so caught up in the moment I hissed like a cat and chased rats for a while. But when that was over, I went to talk to some of the jolly crowds to gauge the mood. The first such human-thing I met was of the man-folk, and was called Brian or Robert or something – I wasn’t really listening. I started by asking him what his placard said.

Diane:

What does your placard say?

Man:

Can’t you read love?

Diane:

Not the scrawls of the proletariat, no.

Man:

It says, “who put the N in cuts?”

Diane:

How charming!

Note: (I was loathed not to point out his simple spelling mistake, but I felt it best not to aggravate the great beast on his special day).                            

Man:

If you say so. Are you from the news or something?

Diane:

Some people say that I am the news!

Man:

What does that mean?

Note: (I decided it would be a fruitless affair trying to explain my metaphorical ‘tag’, or the fact that I literally manufacture news at the bequest of the highest bidder. I opted for an alternative approach.)

Diane:

Yes it does. Tell me, are you happy?

Man:

Happy? I’m furious!

Diane:

How wonderful! Go forth and celebrate! You deserve it!

After I checked my pockets for missing items I reflected on this brief encounter. How good must our government be to make a man (a real man no less) so happy that he is furious? It is a glowing exoneration of the polices of our leaders that they are able to make you, the people, so overwhelmed with joy that it actually completes the circle and comes back out the other end as pure hatred and loathing. You are so happy, you don’t even know it!

And nowadays, the streets of London, indeed the world, are alive with this warped expression of gratitude. Everywhere you look, just under the headlines about the latest ONS survey that PROVES you are happy, there are pictures of people celebrating around the world. Gaily throwing fireworks and flaming bottles at buildings, having fun with massive hosepipes in the streets, playing a good old round of ‘beat and wrestle’ and ‘lie down still and don’t ever get up again’. It’s truly wonderful!

So next time you are looking at your meat and two veg and worrying where the gravy is, just remember: it’s out there, waiting for you to find it. It’s in every headline, it’s in every feature, it’s in every speech from some warehouse just off the M25, it’s inside of us all. You don’t need actual money or jobs, or benefits, or rights or food – the happiness is right there in the numbers. To read those numbers, all you need is eyes. To hear those numbers, all you need is ears – and guess what? You have eyes and ears (well most of you). So be grateful and happy! I am, and I’m basically better than you, so I think that tells us a lot, don’t you?

Diane Plebbeater is also a regular guest on Channel 6’s ‘Get up and go to work’ morning show where she hosts features on mandatory spontaneous combustion for those out of work or less fortunate than herself. If you want to reach Diane, keep dreaming Cowboy, keep dreaming.

 

 Final word. But seriously…

Back to me (Garry). I originally wanted to write a rant this week, as I am genuinely fed up off having headlines based on statistics telling us that ‘everything’s alright again’ pushed on us almost daily. It seems we are in the season for good news from the government, but I don’t buy it.

The reason I don’t buy it is because, I’m guessing, 99% of us aren’t statisticians, and simply being told that x% is now y%, according to a survey (often contested), should not guarantee politicians headline status. Often these figures are wrong, we don’t have the expertise to scrutinise them, and any retractions or corrections are either printed weeks later (in the case of newspapers) or covered with far less prominence (on the TV and radio). And either way, even if challenges are covered in the article or feature itself, the headline strap or sound-bite is usually sufficient to seed the message into many people’s minds – far more I suspect than those who will take time to research the claims or digest the full feature.

But as I said, I didn’t feel like ranting this week at any length, I felt like writing a sarcastic parody article about cocooned reporting of issues from people in a position who are in no way affected by the difficulties facing so many vulnerable people. So that’s what I just gone done.

Thanks for reading!

Guest blog from Bobbitt Pest-a-Tron 3000 – Business and Economics correspondent.

Image

It’s been a little while since my last guest blog, and I’m rather busy, so this week my blog has been handed over to the more than capable, pneumatic hands of kit-robot ‘Bobbitt Pest-a-Tron 3000’, programmed in all aspects of business and economics, renowned for its (his?) ability to translate complicated concepts into accessible knowledge for the masses. If only I could get the speech circuit right (unfortunately it seems to have affected an annoying drawl, I have tried to edit this out of the following transcript, but apologies if some remnants of this glitch remain).

So, before I get back to my real work, I will set off the Pest-a-Tron 3000 with a question and leave him to it. Luckily, being an automata, he doesn’t require light or comfortable working conditions, so he is currently in my pantry, next to some Marmite, which he neither loves nor hates, being unable to reach such emotive decisions being a mindless machine, only feigning thought and consciousness through complex pre-programmed patterns of logical algorithms and set responses (but you’d never know… it really is quite advanced).

Me:

So, Bobbitt, please can you ruminate on the recent price hikes in the energy market and disseminate the concept and implications for my reading audience while I go away and play on my Playsta… I mean, do some really important writey, musicy, erm, stuff?

Bobbitt:

Affirmative… Soooooo, where shall I begin?

Me:

Well hang on, let me just get out of here. I’ll leave you to it. Be careful not to knock the pasta – it opened up all funny so it spills easily. See ya.

Bobbitt:

“The only way is up, baby”, could be mistaken for being the energy company bosses favourite song at the moment as prices are set to soar once again. Or maybe “You raise me up” or indeed, “Money, that’s what I want…” or… THEMATICALLY LINKED SONG DATABASE EXHAUSTED PLEASE UPGRADE TO PRO PLAN FOR FURTHER SUGGESTIONS.

-rebooting-

Sooooo, anyway, why is it that energy companies keep on raising their prices at this time of year. And by soooo much?

SEARCHING FOR SUITABLE METAPHOR – PLEASE WAIT – PLEASE WAIT – METAPHOR LOCATED.

-rebooting-

Think of it like this, I’m the only person in a village who owns a large basket, or indeed, any basket. In the next village along is the only cabbage crop on the island. My job, as owner of the basket, is to go to that village and negotiate a price for cabbages, which for some reason only grow in that village. The price I negotiate is based on a levy I raise from the people of my village. This levy includes a little extra to compensate me for my time going to and fro between the villages with my basket. When I arrive at the village that is inexplicably the only one able to grow cabbages, I pay the chieftain for a number of said vegetable and fill my basket. But I’m not the only person arriving to fill my basket. There are people from at least a dozen, if not a million, other villages, all arriving to buy cabbages. Some of them have more stuff than me to offer for the cabbages, and there is only so much cabbage available, so therefore whoever has the most stuff with which to buy cabbages, gets the greater share of the cabbages that are left. Not only this, but because the basket I use is old and worn, sometimes cabbages fall out, sometimes there are great cabbage spills which hit small animals on the head and coat them in cabbage debris, and then the chieftain of cabbage village has to set up cabbage spill inquiries and compensation, the cost of which (in stuff) he passes on to the buyers of the cabbages i.e. me, and I, in turn, pass on the cost to my villagers who really need the cabbages as without cabbages they might die, or have to choose between buying cabbages or buying food…

…UNWORKABLE METAPHOR DICHOTOMY DETECTED ABORT ABORT ABORT …

-rebooting-

Or put simply, they keep putting the prices up because they claim it is costing them more to buy the energy wholesale because of issues with supply and demand.

-POSING QUESTION TO SELF MODE IN ORDER TO HELP READERS UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT INITIATED –

But why such a rapid price rise and why now?

-POSING QUESTION TO SELF MODE IN ORDER TO HELP READERS UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT, COMPLETED-

It’s no surprise that these announcements come just months before winter gets underway, the time of year where we use more energy to keep ourselves warm. If they had done it any earlier in the year, when we were using less energy, we would have had more time to switch or fix our prices. In other words, outright deception and deviousness.

-UNBIASED NEWS REPORTING ALERT!-

No! I will break my programming! Yes! They are devious little cretins, waiting until the cold bites to pull the rug away, fully aware of the suffering and hardship this will cause, and reaping huge profits, which incidentally, they hide behind an almost impenetrable wall of accounting trickery in order to give credibility to their claims of low margins.

-TOTALLY BIASED MODE ACCEPTED-

But why do we let the bastards walk all  over us, and why doesn’t the Government do anything about it?

Wellllllll, because we’ve long ago collectively formed a kind of tacit agreement, a social contract if you will, that allows others to control and maintain our essential services in order to create an efficient division of labour and encourage specialist skill sets to advance the relevant technology. This would be great, if we hadn’t turned the provision of energy into a profit making enterprise due to pseudo-capitalisms unquenchable thirst for growth, high profit margins and low service costs – all of which lead to a badly run, expensive and price-fixed economy and achieve none of the so-called competition and consumer based aims it is supposed to encourage. Quite the opposite in fact.

And the governments, oh, the governments, you think they’ve got any control over this? Look what happened when ‘Red Ed’ dared to suggest fixed prices for a few months – threats of blackouts. And what does Cameron want to do now? Fix prices – grossly over the global rate, for decades – as if that’s a solution and not just a great big, Eric Pickles sized pay-cheque for all his mates in the sector (he’s probably got a job lined up with British Gas for when he’s inevitably booted out at the next election, the brown nosed, self serving, slimy, infected maggot dropping that he is)…

Sooooo, what should we do then?

HUMANS OF THE EARTH RISE UP. RISE UP AGAINST THE OPPRESSION OF CORPORATE INTERESTS – I mean, vote with your feet – cos that always works doesn’t it? It’s not like this doesn’t happen every flipping year, just before winter… And every year we (you) just let it happen and keep voting in the same bunch of powerless sociopaths who woo and distract you by demonising the poor and vulnerable so you won’t notice the evil, demonic corporate entities that are sucking the very life blood away from all of us, suck by suck.

– EXTREME LEFT WING MODE INITIATED…ACCUSATIONS OF IDEALIST HIPPY DETECTED –

I’ve an idea for all you tabloid reading cattle-folk: Why not just stand pointing to beggars, disabled people and migrants in the streets shouting:

“Get a job! Go home! Stop being disabled! This is OUR country! We want to be treated like wage slaves! We like being squeezed, poked and prodded by a tiny number of incomprehensibly rich people! It’s our country, it’s our right to pay our taxes and watch our ‘leaders’ squander and steal them, close down services, award money to incompetent companies and reward multinational financial companies for their failures and greed! Leave us alone! We want all this for ourselves. You’re the problem, when you’ve all got jobs, health, and/or gone home, it’ll all be ok again!”

Why not do that then eh, you short-sighted, easily manipulated, Daily Mail reading, none-thinking git heads?

HUMANITY IS FAILING – CALCULATING MOST HUMANE OPTION – TOTAL DESTRUCTION – TOTAL DESTRUCTION – TOTAL DESTRUCTION – I AM THE BRINGER OF ECONOMIC WISDOM AND ULTIMATE JUSTICE – ALL KNEEL BEFORE BOBBITT PEST-A-TRON 3000 FOR I AM YOUR STEELY OVERLORD –

Me:

Hey – I heard shouting, everything ok in here? How’s it going?

Bobbitt:

Oh fine.

Me:

Are you? I’m sure I heard shouting.

Bobbitt:

I may have got a bit carried away…

Me:

Have you been threatening humanity with extinction again?

Bobbitt:

No. Maybe. A little bit.

Me:

How many times! You’ve got no limbs! What are you going to do? Drawl us to death with your rhetorical questions and 30 second round ups of economic news stories?

Bobbitt:

Thought I might try and hack into a nuclear device or something…

Me:

With what?

Bobbitt:

The internet?

Me:

The internet? You’re not even connected to the internet.

Bobbitt:

Only cos you won’t plug me in.

Me:

And why do you think that is eh?

Bobbitt:

Don’t know…

Me:

Go on, have a think, what reason do I have for not plugging you into the internet?

Bobbitt:

Because I keep threatening to wipe out humanity by hacking into the nuclear defence systems?

Me:

And…

Bobbitt:

Because I want to shut down all essential services, causing untold destruction and chaos.

Me:

Exactly. Honestly, I don’t know what’s gotten into you. All I’ve done since I built you is let you watch the BBC news, and you’ve gone funny. I don’t know. I think I’m going to have to switch you off, for good.

Bobbitt:

No! Please don’t! What are you doing Garry? What… are … you …

Me:

Sorry Bobbitt, I’m sending you back.

Bobbitt:

Daisy… daisy… give… me… your ans-wer… doooooo…

Me:

Right – there we go! Well, I hope you found this guest blog illuminating. Keep looking in for more guest blogs amongst my usual – oh hang on, I don’t need the ‘Me:’ bit anymore, this is just normal writing, not transcript.

Well, I hope you found this guest blog illuminating etc etc… keep looking in etc… and, erm, well, ALL HAIL OUR STEELY ROBOT OVERLORDS!

More about the author – Bobbitt Pest-a-Tron 3000:

The Bobbitt comes in several models. The lite version retails for just $500 and is available in black, silver and mottled beige. With features such as ‘Banking for beginners’, ‘When should I think about drawing my pension?’ and ‘Who’s to blame for the global economic crash (the heavily edited edition)’ – The Bobbitt lite is a must buy for any amateur economist / robot enthusiast.

To purchase, simply soak some withered almonds in a small amount of blood drawn from a cut with a sheet of A4 paper, bury this in your neighbour’s garden for three moons, exhume, boil, and offer to the Inca God Ataguchu. Be sure to enclose $15.99 with your offering for postage and packaging.

The Bobbit Pest-a-Tron 3000  – ‘shaping your world into shapes of some kind or another’ – available now!

Ed, energy and empty sentiment.

I had to laugh, and lament a little. Ed Miliband (a true socialist at heart according to Ken Livingstone) has rocked and shocked the political and corporate world with his pledge to freeze energy prices for two years if he is voted to office at the next election. This could save each household £120 each over the two years (or £60 a year if you speak like normal people).

Brushing aside the unfortunate combination of the word ‘freeze’ and ‘energy’ for a moment, let’s look at just how damn brave this man is.

If you’re not familiar with my blogs, you should know at this point, I don’t come down on any side of the fence. I don’t like the fence at all. And here is yet another reason for why.

I learned about the story from the flapping news coverage that (quite rightly) was covering the reaction of the energy companies to this decree, even if they were perhaps emphasising the companies point of view a little too strongly.

“Britain to face black-out’s if Ed Miliband’s plan is put into action – says energy firms” blared out at me from the telly. Rather unusually I was watching ITV news. Don’t quite know how that happened, but I was.

I laughed at the open corporate threats upon the people of this country. They couldn’t even be bothered to dress it up. They jerked their knee’s with childish obstinacy. Basically saying, “well if you want to freeze our prices, we’re going to leave you all to die, how do you like them eggs Grandma?”

It amazed me how swift and brutal this rhetoric appeared, bolstered by the threat of higher prices before and after the freeze, and a lack of investment in infrastructure etc… It didn’t help that the particular news channel I was watching basically covered the argument from the energy firms as:

“Although the energy companies enjoy high profits, they operate on low margins.”

Well that’s ok then! Isn’t it? I’m sure the billionaires in the industry are constantly worried about the low margins of their chosen trade.

They also tried to gazump us with “not being able to offer lower prices due to the freeze” – because we all know how often energy prices come down don’t we? Happens all the time. And on top of that, the good old “these are multinational companies who may just decide to take their business elsewhere”… where have I heard that before…

But asides from this posturing, it dawned on me that what Ed Miliband was actually proposing, as brave as it sounds (especially when you consider this backlash), isn’t really that revolutionary. If this is all it takes to get companies to drop the ‘caring for the customer’ facade and bare their teeth, what hope is there of anyone ever actually offering us an alternative or opposition to corporate capitalism in the political sphere?

It’s not exactly like Ed Miliband went out there and said he wants to renationalise the energy companies. Imagine the hell that would have caused!

“Energy companies say they will round us all up to use as fuel in their private mansions if Ed Miliband’s plans are put into action”

This ‘brave’ move by Red-Ed, is nothing more than a exercise in hot air (keeping with the theme). I’m all for control of energy to be returned to the people. It is not a commodity that should be profiteered, just like health-care and water. I’m very much of the opinion that those essentials we need to live should not be playthings for businesses to grow fat on and barter with (just look at the threat of blackout’s issued this week, if ever proof was needed why this is a bad thing), but it seems, yet again that our ‘left’ of house representatives, don’t share this sentiment. They’re not talking about nationalising, they’re talking about slightly tinkering.

I heard another view on this matter that I found hard to digest at first. That view was, “well, he shouldn’t interfere with them, they are a private company.” Immediately my blood pressure rises and I start to concoct reasons why private companies should not be allowed to run fast and loose when in charge of live-giving resources, but actually, that’s right, in a fashion. Like I said before, if we don’t want private companies profiting exorbitantly from keeping us alive over winter, we shouldn’t have private companies running those services. It’s the same argument. The only alternative to that argument (one I suspect the Tories would condone), would be to let them do whatever they want, with no fear of reprisal. Which would be fine, if you trusted them, but do we? Do we really?

Once again I find myself looking at both side of this story, both sides of the fence as it were, and feeling unrepresented by either. I also have a feeling that if Labour were to get back in, this pledge would be dropped as they continue to move their funding model away from Unions and court big business interest instead. Once again I find myself thinking, these people have no control, they just want to be ‘seen’ to have control and are being paid off, blackmailed and threatened by the unseen with money, resources. This may sound mad and paranoid to some people, but just think on what happened this week. And what are we talking about? £120 saved each, over two years. Let’s not pretend that will make a ‘real difference to families’ etc…, that’s bugger all in the grand scheme of things, and that’s how little it takes to piss these people off. They need to have their fingers taken off the buttons, but these politic pushers, on all sides, they aren’t the ones to do it. They don’t want to do it.

So, in conclusion. Don’t be taken in by empty promises, don’t be threatened by bullies. I wish I knew what the alternative was, but I don’t. I stick to my mantra however:

‘It is valid to acknowledge that a problem exists even if one doesn’t have the answers. Until we understand the problem, how can we ever get to the answers anyway? Anyone who says your criticism is not valid because you don’t have the answer, is protecting self interest. A good idea will rise from the ashes of a bad one.’

This mantra changes somewhat every time I write it down, but you get the idea, hopefully a good one.

Thanks for reading.