Saturday, 23 February 2013

Situationist comedy, on the rates

We’ve just come back from the most unlikely comedic experience, at the Northern Civic Amenity Centre.
Now this may sound like one of those genteel community arts centres where you can buy carrot cake and crap paintings by people with mental health issues. It is, in fact, the town rubbish dump, though I think they like to stress the potential recycling opportunities these days. So, it wasn’t a comedy gig –or at least not intentionally.
The thing is, we like a good mooch around junk – charity shops (of which, in a community overstocked with wealthy crinklies, there are many), antique fairs (tat with social pretensions offered for silly money by the klingons of anal banker families) and, of course the inimitable Jurby Junk – truly the world’s most astounding Aladdin’s Cave of urban trivia.
In my case, put it down to a teenage obsession with the Surrealist dérive – those amazing attempts to turn stream-of consciousness into urban exploration, such as the legendary time Andre Breton picked up an old gas mask in a Parisian flea-market and for some minutes thought he had discovered an ethnic African artefact, or maybe something left by a passing Martian. In the case of Management and Trainee Management – maybe they picked up the habit to indulge my odd whimsies, but having far more common sense continued it because they like a bargain…. or a free gift.
In the Isle of Man, it is more than that. The truth is, we are surrounded by dullards with shedloads of money and no taste, which has a devastating effect on the local shopping experience. It is, simply, impossible to buy anything new that is interesting and different, because both Manx shops and their marketing strategies are driven by what rich inbreeds with no imagination have decided to buy because they heard about it from magazines or TV shows staffed by equally dull, timid and socially conservative airheads. Factor into this that nobody with more than three braincells will be offered well paid Manx employment for fear that something interesting happens socially, and there is really no choice open to folk like us. We can, however, root happily forever around the abandoned treasures of colonial claptrap and find something free and marvellous almost daily, if only we can find the time.
…..but I digress.
There were the three of us, happily wandering around sheds full of old fridges, TVs, bikes, kitchen utensils and other urban leftovers from numpties who feel obliged to upgrade or die to the latest 52 inch flat-screen monstrosity. Shamelessly, we had not even bothered to bring our own leftovers to this potlatch for pillocks. We wanted a free lunch and no excuses. What we also got was situationist comedy, also for free.
After about two minutes a grumpy soul – the very spit of Blakey from On the Buses but in a high-visibility tabard instead of a dirty mac - approached and asked, politely enough, how old was Trainee Management. Well, she may be almost as tall as Management but it’s clear enough she’s still at Junior School, and I admitted that.
In that case, I was told, she had to wait in the car. Elfin Safety and all that. Apparently some Parent-of-the-Year candidate had let his feral sprog loose a few months back, and she’d run smack bang into a car. Both me and Management pointed out that TM was hardly rushing about like a Ritalin-wired ADD case, and even offered to walk hand-in-hand with her to avoid worry. But Captain Dayglo said his hands were tied, and that was that, back in the car and home, TM sobbing at yet another example of what passes for Manx adult responsibility.
And then it got even sillier.
As we pulled away, Captain Dayglo was throwing himself in front of some other kid’s dad, who was reckless enough to test out a rather nice old school Raleigh 10 speed bike I’d had my eye on. Apparently there was a one way system, and he was going against it. There weren’t actually any cars on the site (which is a mile outside the town and set apart from the main road by  a 100 metre approach road) apart from ours and the would-be Mark Cavendish’s.
Instinctive class solidarity means I don’t want to blame this on Captain Dayglo. Many is the time when in some dead-end job, over the years, I had to uphold a cretinous management policy against an innocent punter. You try your best to be sensible, but the dimmer the Boss Class the less wriggle room their inane policies allow. CD didn’t look like a barrel-of-laughs, let-it-all-hang-out kind of bloke, but maybe that’s what a lifetime of struggling with small town uncivil demeanity has brought him to.
But it was still a great afternoon out, and for the comedy alone yet again we thank the selfless (and witless) forces of local government.

Humanist evolution

A couple of weeks ago the folk who encouraged me to get into this blogging lark closed their site. I meant to praise and wish them well for the future at the time, but things got in the way, so I will do it now.
The PTT Blog (see right of page) started a few months before me, and their feisty and … slightly less Marks & Sparks shall we say... attitude to humanism inspired me to have a go too. They had, as we used to say, an attitude, one shared by some of their allies.
They were saying things other humanists weren’t, and that needed saying. They were doing it in a way that was less…well…reverential, less London media village, and oddly enough with a whiff of something I haven’t seen since old school punk fanzines, so I thought I should join in.
So I did, and I was never prouder in the early days than when they noticed, gave me a plug and even offered help if I got stuck with some techno wizzbang thingy or other.
They have now decided to call it a day, and throw their efforts behind the new Pink Triangle Trust website and The Pink Humanist, online magazine of the same organisation ,which is all excellent, and being overseen by the equally energetic and uncompromising Barry Duke (also editor of The Freethinker).
This is all good. This is humanism evolving as it should. So you should check it out (see new link to right), and maybe even play a part in it.

Saturday, 16 February 2013


So, let’s see now……
A pseudo-charity that failed to supply the basic service suggested by the old working name relaunches as a private enterprise (though actually totally dependent on government work that should be done by skilled professionals - but won’t be - and that also won’t be put up for tender from any genuine private sector qualified professional).
It got the last contract thanks to a pseudo-academic survey which, in theory, identified the drinking patterns of locals. In reality, it was based on the responses of a random group of adults who stepped in when the government sponsors of the project could not even round up an involuntary cross-sample for the researchers to ‘survey’. This is revealed in the original version of the survey, as published in a (presumably) peer reviewed academic journal and so required to outline the methodology in order that other academics could attempt to replicate it. Curiously, that is no longer available, and the version that briefly appeared on a Manx government website at the time had all such relevant details removed in favour of a simplistic ‘shock/horror’ format that could be spoon-fed to the obedient press.
Aforementioned pseudo-charity/private enterprise fails to secure funds to continue failing to provide the original service, so broadens the provision to include services it is equally unable to provide (one also handily underwritten by a ‘sin tax’ from the trade, another coincidentally depriving a fellow pseudo-charity (which used to be a vital ally) of guaranteed government funding).
In order to ‘prove’ the 3rd service is needed it is calling on government to sponsor another pseudo-academic survey (I’ll take a wild guess that either University of Bath or University of Western England will have already been approached again), citing a Europe-wide survey of teenage drug habits which…….
Oh wait…….. wasn’t that the one which the Chief Minister’s Task Farce on Drugs & Alcohol said was inaccurate when the UK press got hold of Manx results? And wasn’t that also the survey which that very Task Farce actually underwrites again every five years in order to validate policies, committees and QUANGOs which have never, ever, worked and are never, ever, supposed to do anything except perpetuate pseudo-responses by faith-frazzled prodnoses and the public employment of their ineffectual amateur churchmates?
Sorry, laughing too hard by now to continue poking fun, but I think you get the general picture.
(Bless you)

Monday, 11 February 2013

Happy holiday

I’ve just wasted an entire afternoon of my precious holidays, in which all I learnt was that my daughter can pull side-splittingly funny faces at the drop of a hat.
The serious intent was to get an ‘informal’ photo of me in my workaday suit. This at the behest of some marketing consultants who decided that, in order to emphasise we work for a ‘people company’, my fellow employees and I should provide mug shots for the corporate website. Naturally, we had to arrange these in our own time, with our own resources, because the ‘creatives’ who thought the whole imbecilic scheme up had other worries - getting dressed in the morning without professional help, for example.
In addition, said ‘creatives’ also provided a shopping list of ‘wants’, from format to maximum file size, resolution, etc. etc., from which I suspect they also can’t use a camera and definitely can’t use Photoshop, which might also explain why they haven’t arranged to take the piccies themselves. Alternatively, it might just be that being such clueless numpties they never thought of it.
As I don’t own a digital camera, I decided the safest bet was to ask the nearest acquaintance with the most expensive digital camera apparatus. Bish, Bash, Bosh. Done in about two minutes, e-mail to my office, change back into a human being and head off for an ice-cream with the light of my life – or so I thought.
 It quickly became obvious that the reason those with more money than sense buy expensive designer techno toys for art ‘projects’ is that they cannot use the cheap and cheerful stuff with which amateurs (who know and love what they do) create art that brightens up your life if they give you it (rather than wondering how quickly you can bung it in a dustbin without upsetting the creator).
A few minutes in and I was already a nervous wreck, which was when I had the bright idea of asking my girl to pull faces behind the photographer, so I’d smile to order instead of steaming at the ears. It worked a treat, shot after wasted shot after shot as we fell about laughing until we had one to provide the required impression of a suited chimp on Prozac the management and their pet airheads ordered.
At which point it was time to fire up the equally expensive computer gizmos on which the mug shot would be processed and e-mailed to me. It then became obvious that we could have produced it with a pinhole camera, developed it and sent it by pony faster than just finding the right file type and folder to save the first shot to computer –never mind the tricky stuff.
To cut a long story short, the results took hours and are not useable, so tomorrow we try again. This time at my wife’s lower-tec workplace, where they may have no branding team but have offered to snap me with any cheap camera handy, transfer it to a computer and e-mail it to me all within a tea-break.
The drag is I have to don the straitjacket again and waste more time when my daughter and I should just be enjoying our respective holidays from duller places. The brighter side is a whole new audience gets to see her amazing and spontaneous face-pulling, as do my wife and I.
And if, by chance, she ever runs out of new and startling faces, I can always get the required smile imagining an entire marketing team falling under a bus instead.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Right is wrong, but sometimes so are the good guys

This (see ) had the usual halfwits grumbling for their usual reasons.
The irony is that anyone with even a basic grounding in developing world affairs should have spotted the real joke. As no-one has, maybe I should point it out.
The SCFMC started as a speculative money spinner between the Isle of Man Business School and the Said Business School in Oxford, neither of whom are noted as philanthropists, caring ‘world citizens’ or ( to be blunt about it) honest and open in their affairs. Neither come anywhere near the standards of transparency and plain dealing expected of the international business community.
For off-island readers, the Isle of Man Business School project was intended to be the island’s ‘university’ – at least for a finance sector that was finding it hard to recruit suitably educated locals and a government which wanted to avoid the cost of a UK or US university education for anyone driven enough to get it, come back and put their skills to work here. As might be expected of a project ‘suggested’ to government by a property speculator who once boasted of friendships with Richard Nixon and Billy Graham, it went wrong from day one. Much to the amusement of locals, the wheels really fell off when it emerged that the academics didn’t understand elementary book-keeping and the whole thing was losing money hand over fist.
For the general benefit of anyone who doesn’t follow skulduggery in the international arms trade, the Said Business School owes much to the benevolence of Saudi-Syrian business magnate Wafic Said. His £23 million contribution came at about the time that the UK government decided it was not in the country’s interests to investigate allegations of large-scale bribery when the UK defence industry did so nicely out of arms sales to the Saudis. Take, for example, the Al Yamamah affair (in which, incidentally, a former Isle of Man lieutenant governor played quite a hand).
The investigations Blair decided against had been pretty much carried out already by Campaign Against the Arms Trade in the UK (despite a shoestring budget and denial of much likely material on ‘national security’ grounds ). Since then, the US government has also looked into it, and being firstly privy to most of the likely evidence and secondly not about to take ‘No’ for an answer from some piss-ant poor relation, it got the stuff CAAT could not and trashed off the UK arms trade and their Whitehall chums like some ailing banana republic.
Oh, another funny thing. Having originally checked out the Wafic Said stuff years ago, I just rechecked a couple of things and noticed how heavily his Wikipedia entry has been re-edited.
Oddly enough, Bell-Pottinger (which brokered talks between the Saudis and Downing Street when the bribery investigation was mooted) offers a service to contemporary clients which monitors Wikipedia, Google and similar internet services to stop awkward stuff appearing about tyrants and major league scumbags in general.
Even odder, the Global Poverty Project uses Bell Pottinger too. Nobody in my circle of good guy anti-sleaze hounds (e.g. CAAT, Transparency International, Corporate Watch, Oxford Research Group… ) knows why.  Hopefully it is just that the GPP is as astonishingly naïve as some supporters – folk whose hearts are definitely in the right place but whose research comes from La-La Land.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Refake, remodel

Maybe this just demonstrates the herd mentality of the marketing industry, but it has been quite a week for Manx ‘rebrands’. Now (see it seems the piss-artists previously known as the Alcohol Advisory Service have joined in.
Oh Joy. A bogus charity that fails miserably (and at public expense) to address three moral panics whipped up by worry-wart godbotherers has also failed to re-invent itself as a happening private facility for market-led pseudo-therapies that are not needed and do not work.
Except, of course, that this is not private enterprise. In fact it will leech more off the public purse than a council estate of third generation junkies (if such an entity ever existed outside of the twisted imagination of Daily Mail readers).
Well, that’s progress for you.

Brand Zero

For the last few months I have been a reluctant local observer to a pointless ‘rebranding’ exercise. In the last few days the noise from empty heads stopped and the ‘product’ was launched at a glitzy private reception.
It would be too cruel to identify it. Suffice to say it flopped within 10 minutes but the self-obsessed marketers were too dumb to notice the sniggering of their guests, many of whom were present by compulsion rather than choice.  Seriously (or should that be “not so seriously”?), I was laughing so hard I had to sneak out after less than half an hour of the most ill-advised antics since 1980’s rock stars (allegedly) served coke on the shaven heads of dwarfs.
As I said to some real creative friends elsewhere that night, “Now I know what David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel did when Spinal Tap broke up.” Yes, it was that bad, and at least one screw-up was eerily similar to the ‘Stonehenge’ cock-up in that classic send-up of naff arty types with delusions of adequacy.
Many months back, I had visions of what we might be in for when I accidentally discovered that the chumps trousering a six figure consultancy fee were led by someone who insisted on being called Binky, who appeared to have graduated from Cheltenham Ladies College circa 1970, dropped some bad acid and lived off the commissions of fellow rich inbreeds ever since.
It never ceases to amaze me how expensively educated people can have nothing but belly-fluff where most people keep their brain cells. I was around folk like Bill Drummond and Tony Wilson when they were starting out. I enjoyed myself, and I have a real soft spot for eccentrics and mavericks. But that was 30 years ago, and they were working on a shoestring and investing all they had.
Dipshit corporate ‘characters’ who risk only the family lives of real people are another matter. And anyway, while the business world talks vapidly of ‘edginess’ or ‘thinking outside the box’ the council estate all-or-nothing visionaries I loved, laughed and learnt with were simply not constrained by a box which only exists as a sort of collective hallucination.
Another thing you notice on these occasions is that, sadly, most of the brightest, most interesting people on the island are working for peanuts in the hospitality industry. More accurately, serving peanuts to clueless wasters who were lucky enough to be born here, or to be the offspring of economic refugees from emergent democracies.
It was like that back in 1983, when I first arrived here. These days the nationalities have changed but the pay has not, and the working conditions have got worse.
I hope those bright and beautiful wage slaves go on to better things, because they deserve it. But like me, at least for now they can laugh at naff products spawned by the stunted imagination of those employing them for less-than-minimum wages.