Saturday, 3 March 2007

Various Grumblings


‘If I was going to kill myself why would I need the shampoo?’ I asked the store clerk quizzically. It seemed the obvious question. I was on my daily stroll down to the local shopping mall to buy some painkillers. Having dodged the inevitable hordes of charity muggers, Sky TV salesmen and old ladies armed with shopping carts I had dived into the local Boots to pick up three packs of nurofen and some shampoo. When I reached the checkout I was told that it is now illegal to buy more than two packs of nurofen, presumably as a precautionary measure in case I had had a stressful morning at the office and was planning on topping myself on my lunch break. To me this stinks of hypocrisy. Throughout the average day I am bombarded with pessimistic messages designed to cripple me with self-loathing. I am told that my carbon footprint is too big, that I am destroying the planet, that the world is suffering from overpopulation, and that, in some sort of gross parody of chaos theory, by leaving the TV on standby I have set off a sequence of environmental catastrophes, which will lead to the deaths of countless millions of people on the coastal plains of Bangladesh in the near future. The decent thing to do would be to end my life as soon as feasibly possible but society won’t let me buy enough painkillers to do it successfully.

Another problem with society is its fostering of unrealistic expectations in children. This is most aptly demonstrated by the contestants on X-factor, who usually reveal to the judges that they have craved fame and stardom from an early age and that appearing on the show is the fulfilment of their childhood dream. My childhood dream was to dig a large hole in the ground, cover it with sticks and ensnare someone in it. This fantasy was the product of many a happy hour spent reading a weighty tome entitled ‘Forts and Fortresses’, whose latter pages depicted Vietnamese soldiers busily constructing traps for Americans to fall into. I’m glad to say I was able to construct a system of booby traps in the ground of Melford Hall which the Viet Cong themselves would have been proud of, and that I was able to ensnare one of my friends sisters with one strategically placed hole. Setting your aspirations at this level is advantageous, firstly because they are more likely to be fulfilled and secondly because if this country were ever occupied I would have the experience necessary to take part in a guerrilla insurgency.
Work continues to go extremely well, to such an extent in fact that I need to consider getting on the property ladder. Sadly the property market is such that it doesn’t really represent a ladder anymore. It’s more of a long greasy pole, made all the more impossible to mount because those above you keep greasing the section below them. For example, a revolting mock-Tudor semi in Basingstoke, which twenty years ago would have been a candidate for immediate demolition, is now so ridiculously overvalued that it would set you back a lifetimes income just to enter the bidding. Those who own a property can sit smugly in their repulsive accommodation, safe in the knowledge that their concrete hovel has tripled in value in the last year. Those of us not on the ladder, the modern landless peasantry, stare glumly at the raft of property shows on television as Britain’s new generation of self proclaimed ‘property entrepreneurs’ set about pricing us out of the market. I turn to my history books for comfort and find solace in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Perhaps the housing market will collapse as some experts predict it will. Imagine the scene. People will be hanging themselves from their loft conversions, jumping from their ‘contemporary’ extensions in despair and gassing themselves in their conservatories. It’s a pleasing vision but one unlikely to be fulfilled.

Movies are often guilty of glorifying their subject matter. A prime example of this is recruitment. In movies like Oceans Eleven it looks so glamorous. The protagonists travel to a series of exotic locations to assemble a crack team of specialists. One by one they win the more reluctant individuals over to their point of view and off they head to plan and orchestrate some grand scheme. Compare and contrast that to the poor buggers who reach me over the company switchboard, attempting to convince me that the woefully untalented administrators on their books are logistical masterminds on a par with Fredrick the Great. Compare it with the tedious process of wading through sub-literate CVs, chasing obnoxious candidates and fending off the ubiquitous employment agencies who home in on your job advertisements like sharks to a bleeding carcass. Makes one long for the days of the press gang when recruitment was a simple matter of heading to the nearest bar in the city, plying the occupants with alcohol and delivering a swift blow to the head.

I note with amusement that the bill for the Olympics continues to escalate rapidly. We seem to have collectively sleepwalked into subsidising the ‘regeneration’ of East London, although this is something of a misnomer. Regeneration in my experience consists of marginalizing the local inhabitants, putting up row after row of identical yuppie housing and obliterating any trace of culture. New Labour is intent on building a London that looks like those blurry architectural drawings you get on the side of new developments; of lobotomised young professionals drifting listlessly through heavily idealised neighbourhoods of yellow brick and glass. Were IKEA contracted to design hell, it would look a lot like this.

Take the example of Oriental City, a magical place down the road from me which acts as a conduit for London’s Chinese community. They flock there to enjoy its reasonably priced shops, its amazing variety of oriental cuisine and its community events. Unsurprising then, that Brent council is intent on knocking it down and replacing it with a B and Q, after all what this borough really needs is another DIY store. When the Olympic bill is criticised, the responsible minister usually stands up and comes out with some rot like ‘before making these cynical accusations you should consider the hopes and dreams of this country’s children who are so looking forward to this wonderful event’. She then returns to her seat in a flurry of self righteous indignation, as if her comment has single-handedly settled the argument. Of course, seasoned observers will recognise this as the ‘For the children’ fallacy. The reasoning goes like this; ‘P is good for children; children are good; therefore, anything related to children is good; therefore, P is good. It can be used to justify a variety of ludicrous measures, including the flushing away of £9 billion on a glorified school sports day at the expense of the National Trust’s lottery funding. Of course it may be true that the children of this fair city are all awash with excitement at the prospect of the 2012 Olympiad and are busily training to become athletes but I can’t see it happening, unless of course shooting, stabbing, looting and smoking crack are Olympic events.

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