Friday, August 31, 2007

today : the five percent

Boris Johnson was close to the mark when he commented on Liverpool's tendency to be mawkish about it's own misfortune. Perhaps it is the Celtic influence on the culture that makes the city's upper lip not quite as stiff as the rest of the country. Open grieving and shows of collective emotion are just not very English.

Having said that, there is nothing wrong with a community pulling together in times of crisis - perhaps we should have more of it.

The moment when Liverpool fans paid tribute to the family of Rhys Jones was genuinely moving. However, the thing that I don't like is the fact that football no longer pays its tributes with silence, but applause. Which is sad for two reasons. Firstly, standing in a place amongst a crowd of many thousands of silent people is one of my favourite things. It is a strange, mysterious hyper-sensory experience. The second is the fact that a minutes applause is the direct response to the fact that football crowds attract the kind of people who annoy the hell out of us in general society - the ones who always have to point at themselves at the expense of others, the ones who will break social rules just to feel important. After one too many silent tributes were ruined by drunken idiots shouting obscenities and chanting, the protocol was changed.

Today I was almost run over by a guy in a Range Rover who was rat running my street at about 50 mph. The street is narrow and has cars parked on either side. I was crossing over to get to my car and he just didn't slow down. Despite the fact that I am clearly disabled and struggle to walk he simply expected me to get out of his way and made no move to slow down. At great pain I jumped out of the way as he sped past close enough that my walking stick clattered against his bumper. Angry, shocked and shaken up I gesticulated at him. His response was to stop, back up and get out of his Range Rover to hurl abuse at me. His first words were "I was fucking nowhere near you!", which kind of gave him away. How did he know I wasn't simply waving at him in a friendly manner, or gesticulating at a neighbour. The point is that everything about this guy screamed attention seeking. His Range Rover Sport was orange with a personalised plate. When he got out he was smothered with gold and the latest trendy overpriced designer jeans and sunglasses.

After a little exchange of abuse and threats on his part and verbose insults and threats on my part (imbecile, ignoramus, go home and wait for the police to arrive because I'm calling them in a minute) I made him go away without getting myself shot or stabbed. Little did he know that my experience as a school teacher stands me in good stead when dealing with bullies and idiots. I know how to stand up to imbeciles like him, can avoid making threats and can wind situations up or down pretty much at will, as well as being able to think almost as quickly as Jack Reacher. He had a memorable reg plate that even gave away his name and my thought is that he didn't really want to deal with police, which I promised. That's because he was exactly the kind of person who might have nine points on his licence for speeding or a bunch of unpaid parking fines for blocking up disabled spaces and narrow alleyways. He was clearly one of what I call The Five Percent - that one in twenty people whose arrogance and self-absorbed nature means they exist simply to piss the rest of us off with their attitude and attendant behaviour.

These are the people who cannot resist shouting out in a stadium full of silence. These are the people who graffiti their names on ancient monuments. These are the people who hate speed cameras because they should be allowed to drive as fast as they wish. These are the kids in the class who are more interested in challenging the rules than in following the curriculum. These are the people who park in the disabled space, who push to the front of the line, who drive down the hard shoulder or on the pavement, who go the wrong way down a one way. All this because, of course, they are better people and deserve to be noticed. Look at me! They need to feel above the rest of us (hence the Range Rovers), even as they know they are probably on the step below. The five percent are the cause of 95 percent of all our woes.

Monday, August 27, 2007

today's crap song that is actually good is...

...Rock me Gently by Andy Kim. Not only did the song completely rip of Neil Diamond, but Andy Kim himself seemed to physically rip off the Diamond - there is even a website dedicated to the fact. However, despite being crap, the song is actually very good.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

today :The "National Debate"

Let's have a national debate. Actually lets bloody not have one. I'm sick of them. Every politician, every special interest group, every spokeperson seems to want to engender a national debate on whatever issue is cresting the the news wave that day.

The latest one is, of course given recent news events, a national debate about teenage gangs and gun crime. The things is that the people calling for a debate seem to understand the word debate about as well as teenage gang -bangers understand the word respect i.e. like bad meaning good, they perceive it to be pretty much the opposite of what it actually means.

When politicians call for a debate, what they are really calling for is nothing to happen. If they wanted a real debate they would set aside the one sentence solutions and sound bite sops and actually explore the notion that they might not have all the answers, and that a dialectical approach to opinion forming is actually the the way to go. Instead, they offer fixed lines of thought, reductive analyses of issues and skate the surface of any discussion with a level of skill that makes your average whirligig beetle seem like a drowning, flailing beginner.

Of course, the point isn't to have a debate. It's to not have a debate. The point is also to use debate as a tool of stalling and procrastination. Let's have a national debate. No. Let's instead demand that our politicians take some decisions and enact some solutions.

It's amazing how the complex, difficult topics with complex difficult causes and complex difficult solutions are always put out to debate. Is this because perhaps, they are just too difficult and complex for them to understand? therefore the increasing use of the national debate as a rhetorical device, which feigns action, considering, listening to the public, coming up with solutions etc whilst DOING absolutely nothing useful.

today : A hungry Donkey

My friend Jo, for reasons that she keeps to herself, absolutely adores donkeys. Perhaps it is because they are humble, simple creatures and apparently unable to connive like humans. Anyway, in honour of her I am posting this picture I took of a donkey that lives near me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

today : I go shopping

So there I was in Tesco's - looking for a 2" by 2" paint pad to do the corners of the ceiling if you must know - and suddenly this little kid appeared. He was maybe three and a half - perhaps under three. He was enchanted by the plastic tractors displayed on the end of the row. He picked his favourite and, grasping it in his arms like a goalie, brought it towards me and plonked it down on the smooth tiles of the floor in front of my feet.

"Tracka!" he announced.

That Supernanny crouch that you're supposed to use. Well, I physically can't do that without falling over and creating an embarrassing incident, so I just stooped a little and adopted that over-enthusiastic, over-enunciated voice usually used by TV presenters in bright orange dungarees who are pretending to be blossoming sunflowers or crashing waves.

"That's a fantastic tractor!" I replied.
"Grape Tracker!" the kid agreed, and then beetled off back to the end of the row. He returned with an even larger fire-engine.

"Fire Endie!" he announced, parking it beside the tractor.
"Do you know what noise a fire engine makes?" I asked, adopting the Carol Chell voice again.
"Nee naah!! the boy intoned, whilst spinning on the spot with his arms out.
"Yes!" It made me laugh that he was illustrating a fire engine by impersonating an aeroplane or a sycamore heli-twirler. Like many things that small kids do, it was perfectly logical.

The little boy looked over his shoulder and noticed his Dad. I'd not thought about the child being abandoned or lost. I just assumed he was amusing himself whilst his parents looked at garden furniture or lawn sprinklers or something. The boy's Father had been browsing at the side of a wide aisle not six or seven yards from our fire engine game and was pushing a barrow that contained some light garden tools. The boy picked up the tractor and took it back to the shelf.
"Bye." he said to me.

As he reached the shelf his Father, as if he had just noticed him, headed towards his son.
"Put that down! " he shouted. The boy stopped midway through putting the tractor back on the low shelf and looked around. The father walked up to him and clouted him on the side of the head.
"I said put that down!" he roared, clouting the boy again, this time open handed on his back. The boy almost fell over and then, after the blows had registered, burst into tears, which he tried to keep silent. The father took the boy's arm, gave me a sheepish look and they hurried away.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

today : New car, caviar, four star daydream...what-ever

Be very afraid. It turns out that the people who are in charge of our money don't know what they're doing. Or more exactly, they do know what they are doing, but they are blinkered, short-termist, bonus driven fools with the average financial restraint of a student with their first Visa Card.

If the only way to increase your bank's earnings and get your massive year-end bonus is to lend money to people who can't pay it back, then -duh - sooner or later you are going to start hitting snags. Y'know, like, those people you lent money to despite the fact that they couldn't pay it back? Well, it is with shock and surprise for us to let you know. They couldn't pay it back. I tried it once, and the friend to whom I lent 50 quid to is no longer a friend. We drifted apart.

Of course, I just had to swallow my misplaced trust and get on with life. Unlike me, other people who get in trouble because they plan too optimistically i.e. Peter Ridsdale, (from whom I also drifted apart) the US banks simply go to the government for a bail out. And of course, like some giant bank of Mom and Pop, the government hands over bags of unmarked bills to salve the problems of their errant friends and cronies.

My real worry is that this is happening in a time of relative normality, stability and growth. A little fall in the average value of American houses and whoosh!. The big news is that the banks have been sailing this close to the wind ALL THIS TIME. It makes me wonder what might happen is something really bad occurs. A dirty bomb in London or New York, an earthquake in California. What would they do if the 5th largest economy in the world suddenly broke off and fell into the sea?

If it all goes completely and totally pear shaped how many of THEM will lose THEIR jobs and homes I wonder?

Monday, August 13, 2007

today : Guest Blogger Alisande Nuttall asks : "Didn't you have the amnio?"

"How come you didn't have an abortion?" isn't usually the first question a mother expects on introducing her new baby to neighbours colleagues and acquaintances. For more than one in a thousand of us though, this is as commonplace as "what did he weigh?", "are you feeding him yourself?" and "ahhhh, bless" is to the rest of the new parent population.

The question is not intended to wound. It comes spontaneously, usually wrapped up as "did you (or didn't you) have the amniocentesis?" and/or "did you know?", but we can hear it loud and clear whenever we introduce our new baby who has Down's Syndrome.

As new parents needing companionship, support, and to be recognised for our ordinariness, we usually accept the comment gracefully, hiding any sense of shame or outrage if we can. We know you were caught off guard. We know you probably haven't had a good reason to examine your prejudices before. We know that prenatal testing sets up an expectation of termination. We try to overlook it. We may even answer as requested, when you go on to add "and er, if you don't mind me asking, how old are you?" We see you need to evaluate who was at fault here and to what extent. If we knew in advance, then obviously we won't be needing much sympathy. If we didn't, but were past our mid 30s, we might deserve a little. If neither of these apply then its ok to be very, very sorry. There but for the grace of God....or so it seems your script is running.

The good news is that, as life goes on, we find you are often worth the investment of time and courage and selflessness that it takes to educate you. We remember when we were as well-meaning but ignorant. We allay your fear that support will always be a one-sided transaction from you to us. We show you how wonderful our child is and how much we have come to love them. You make the effort to let us know that you can see. We congratulate you on your healthy children and show that we are genuinely pleased for you. You stop feeling embarassed. And by the next time you go for prenatal testing, we hope you have learnt that it is not a cure-all, that it may raise bigger questions that it answers and that whether you have it or not, cannot affect whether your baby already has Down's syndrome.

©Alisande Nuttall

Saturday, August 11, 2007

today : 1 & 1/2 hour party people

I had one of the worst nights out of my life at the Hacienda. Mainly that was because I was there with a rather motley and potentially interesting group of people that was spoiled because it was dominated by one or two egotistical characters who were entirely focused, not on having a good time, but obtaining drugs. This meant that as driver, I had a car full of people whom.rather than actually going to the Hacienda, were insistent on driving round insalubrious parts of Moss Side trying to find ecstasy and dope. One of the drug-seeking guys in the car had literally no money and spent the journey trying to con his 'friends' out of cash. He did this by offering to go into petrol stations to buy drinks and crisps and cigarettes and not returning change, as well as just randomly asking people if they could lend him some cash.

After a couple of hours no dope or ecstasy was to be found. So we finally got to Whitworth Street, parked up and queued up to get in. Of course, there was ecstasy aplenty for sale inside, which was good for the rest of us because we could jettison the drug seekers and do Hacienda style stuff like getting on the dance floor or pointing out Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, as they propped up the bar drinking Sol.

After one and a half acid-house filled hours, news began to filter through that one of the younger members of our group was somehow in trouble. He had collapsed and was being treated by the first aid. His girlfriend, a 17 year old Sikh girl, panicked. Her parents didn't even know she was out of the house, never mind off her face on drugs with her boyfriend in a club a long way from home.

Luckily her boyfriend had just danced himself into fainting and after a few cold drinks and a walk up and down outside with the security he was well enough to go home. Another girl in our party had taken E and a tab of acid and freaked out throughout the whole long drive home. Some of the others thought this was hilarious and their own trips consisted of them behaving like silly children on e-numbers rather than E. Driving, I was sober and drug free, and hated every minute, and everyone of them.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

today : one more random thought

The Three Musketeers. Why are they always portrayed using swords when, as Musketeers their weapon of choice should be the Musket, which is a gun? I can't remember one of the Musketeers ever shooting anyone, so they should be known as The Three Swordateers instead.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

today : 8 random thoughts I had today

>Scottish football doesn't interest me at all. And because I like football it interests me less than anything else I am not interested in.
>It's about time for a Cocteau Twins revival.
>I think the first 3 episodes of Heroes were pretty good, but I can see myself getting a bit bored by episode 10.
>The only exciting way to report foot and mouth disease is to show footage of slaughter houses and dead cows.
>Had it been released twenty years ago, the song Yeah Yeah by Bodyrox ft Luciana would have revolutionised music as we knew it.
>There are very few light green coloured cars
>If I won lots of money I would buy a house. Then I would buy some Corots for the house. The landscape sketches are the best and relatively cheap.
>Dolcelatte or Gorgonzola?

Monday, August 06, 2007

today : falling in the river

Bridges collapsing, tunnels falling down, steam pipes exploding, levees breaking the roof of the big dig falling down on someone's head. You would think that the richest country in the world, able to spend 450 billion on a war (whether or not it is justified or not) could make sure that its bridges don't fall down.

It's an obvious point to make, I know. But the fact is that someone should pay for it. And that is where the monetarist argument itself collapses. Everyone wants more more money in their pocket to spend as they wish. Nobody really wants to have to give up their hard earned income to someone else. But neither do people want to spend cash on boring necessities. The problem the monetarist, low tax or no tax theorists have is that part of their theory is wrong. Whilst crowing about people wanting to spend their own money, they assume that people will spend their own money on good stuff, rather than gas guzzlers, cocaine or whatever. I bet many people who used the I-35 bridge would baulk if they had to spend their own cash on making sure the bridge was safe. Because that's someone
else's job. This is not a party thing either. Bush did not cause the Minneapolis bridge collapse. How many Democrats have campaigned on raising taxes to do good stuff recently?

I went to the hospital the other day. I must say that I was well treated and the whole thing was very efficient. Yet the doctors and nurses who were so professional, apologised to me for the infrastructure. It was part of the hospital that had yet to be refurbished and felt a little like a shabby relic of the 1950s. This was the result of 20 years of Tory cuts in public spending. Ten years later Labour has started to pay the doctors pretty well, cut waiting lists so I didn't have to wait more than a couple of weeks and provided stuff like an MRI scanner. Yet the paint is still peeling from many of the walls, because the compound lack of investment over 20 years is stunning.

found much the same in the schools where I worked over the last decade. There was money for books and resources and more money to pay teachers, but the buildings were tatty and inadequate. A programme of building new schools was happening, but you can't replace 20,000 broken down schools in one fell swoop - even if there is money to do it.

And this is what has happened in America. Ideologically this goes back to Reagan, whose slavish following of Milton Friedman
ended up as Reaganomics and eventually Thatcherism. But it goes back much further than that. In fact, the last time the US infrastructure received a major overhaul was when much of it was built during the New Deal era.

The upshot is that there is no money to catch up with the problems of underinvestment. Only when a bridge falls down or an entire city is washed away does anyone endeavour to do anything. Even then, in New Orleans, the amount needed to restore the city is so vast that it will take years - and some parts of town will never be rebuilt.

But convincing people that tax is good and that it is basically paying someone else to do the boring, essential stuff is difficult. Monetarist notions have become the orthodoxy of peoples' beliefs about tax and the role of governments and changing that might simply be a bridge too far.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

today : It's political correctness gone mad

I came across this screen grab of The Sun's web-site from Friday 3rd August. The web site that grabbed and posted it says that it was rapidly changed after several complaints. I wonder why?

Friday, August 03, 2007

today : things you don't see anymore

The rainy Sunday afternoon film on telly

today : congratulations to my orthopoedic surgeon

Just before my orthopoedic surgeon stuck a bloody great big needle all the way into the joint of my right ankle today (represented by the picture above that is someone else's ankle being injected) he said : "This is a bloody big needle. I am going to stick it all the way into the joint of your ankle. It's gonna hurt like hell, I'm afraid" At last. A doctor that doesn't say: "Just a little scratch" before sticking a bloody big needle into you. He is not a liar. Not only was it a great big bloody needle and he stuck it all the way into my ankle joint, but it hurt like hell.