Torch-ure – Aflame with Ire and Cynicism as the Olympics Come to Town

It’s fair to say that I’m not really big on sport, either as a participant or a spectator. While I used to be good at cross-country running in school, and do enjoy watching a spot of snooker and test cricket, even keeping an eye on England’s international football matches, other sports I frankly couldn’t care less about (and my running days are well behind me: now, I’m as unlikely to run a marathon as watch one on television). I also happen to find athletics particularly tedious, and as such, have always avoided the Olympics. There aren’t that many people I know who seem all that fussed either. However, bringing the Olympics to Britain – by which of course I mean London – seems to have turned half the nation into rabid fans.

And so it ,was that today, at certain points of the afternoon, half the streets in York were closed while the 8,000-mile national Olympic torch relay traversed the city. The day’s section of the relay concluded at the racecourse, where 20,000 people were expected to attend a (free) ticket-only event. As I made my way through the city centre around 4:30, sections of many streets were lined with metal barriers, with people clinging to them in eager anticipation, sometimes three rows deep. They still had another hour to wait, and as I made my way away from the city centre toward my home, the experience was akin to swimming against the tide as people flooded in the opposite direction from the one I was walking in.



A crowd of rabid Olympics fans clamour round a torch-bearer, somewhere in Britain recently

A friend of mine, who I’d chatted with on the bus into town, had looked slightly surprised by my lack of enthusiasm for the event. He was heading for the racecourse. He pointed out that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Olympic torch in his home city. On disembarking, we headed in opposite directions and I began to wonder, as I passed the TV and radio outside broadcast vans, the police cones, the police constables, the stewards and and PCSO and the gathering crowds, if by heading home and shunning the whole event I wasn’t perhaps missing out. Perhaps it wasn’t that they were all pathetic sheep, but genuinely enthusiastic and interested in the symbolism of the torch, the idea of a community and a nation united by sport. What if they were right, and I was wrong?



Another crowd of hardcore torch fanatics brave inclement conditions to flap flags in Durham

I arrived home and didn’t turn on the television, didn’t immediately flick to Sky News, BBC News or the BBC website for the streaming live torch action and scrolling real-time blog commentary, and didn’t immediately sign into Facebook. I didn’t need to: Mrs N’s Facebook feed was already beginning to fill with images of crowds taken from various angles, and reaffirmed my original belief. I had been right all along: what this ‘once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Olympic torch’ actually represented was just one of infinite opportunities to mill about and crush in with countless strangers all clamouring for a glimpse of something fleeting and ultimately inconsequential – in this instance, one of 8,000 gas-lit ‘torches’ that make up a seemingly endless build-up to a sporting event that takes place every four years that’s cost billions. And will be happening in London.

As with the jubilee celebrations, the idea that the whole nation is aflame with enthusiasm and national pride and is backing ‘Team GB’ and the Olympic build-up, as portrayed by the media is a myth. There may have been hundreds lining the streets in every town and city to see ‘the’ torch (which didn’t really happen for the Jubilee) and thousands heading to the racecourse for the evening event, but if anyone truly believes it was for any reason other than the chance to duck off work early, to say you were ‘there’ and prove it by posting photos on Facebook, or to appease the panic that they might have been missing out on something, then they’re even dafter than the other painted-faced flag-wearing bozos and I’ll happily eat the torch I’ve got tucked behind the sofa ready to flog on eBay at the weekend…


‘The’ Olympic torch. Hand-crafted in ancient Greece and made of real Olympian metal. Yours for just £100,000.



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How Was It For You? Jubilee Reflections or, a Public Party Postmortem

As I begin writing this piece, it’s raining heavily outside. The corner of the living room is damp, and even above the whirr of the dehumidifier and the fan of my laptop, I can hear the rain lashing against the windows, dripping and bouncing off objects in my back yard. It’s the second weekend in June. It’s supposed to be summer. It was pretty much the same last week, too. Not that people were going to let a bit of rain deter them from celebrating, and so in true British spirit, they took to the streets in their thousands, millions, even, to join in the four day long nation-wide party to commemorate the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

The media reporting in the run-up had been immense, and the previews that had initially been trickle earlier in the year had increased in their intensity to reach the level of blanket coverage several days before the monarch began her tour of the streets to nod, wave and smile at her loyal and loving subjects. I almost felt a tingle of anticipation, a warmth spreading in my heart: this was going to be a once in a lifetime event, a truly historical occasion. It was a time to reflect and to celebrate not only our monarch, but what it means to be a part of the great British nation. There would be events in every village, town and city across the British Isles and every other corner of the Commonwealth, with street parties and countless other activities organised to show our appreciation and community spirit. The momentum was impossible to sustain, of course, and even had I been the most ardent royalist, I expect I’d have found myself experiencing Jubilee jubilation burnout before the first of four long days of national celebrations. Not being an ardent royalist, I grew weary of the hype a full week and a half before the 4-day bank holiday weekend.

In the event, I stayed in for four days straight and avoided the television and radio as much as possible. And the Internet, for that matter. Ordinarily, I’d have taken to the various social networking channels and unleashed my bile, but, well, frankly, I discovered I had neither the energy nor the motivation. What’s more, I couldn’t see the point.

The media hype had already beaten me, and what’s more, it had already beaten many others – into submission. Over the course of the extended weekend, the news channels devoted considerable airtime to voxpops from talking heads who proclaimed themselves ‘republicans’ but found themselves forced to concede that all the pomp and the orderly conduct of the spectators beamed around the globe did indeed make for a good advertisement for Britain. People who would only have described themselves as monarchists in the same way most people who hold no religious beliefs and who only frequent churches for weddings, funerals and christenings would declare themselves ‘CofE’ were jumping on board and heading to wherever they thought they might find the most thriving, vibrant, flag-waving action, or otherwise participating in events that most strongly reflected their notions of what it means to be British.

When I did go on-line, I found the voices of dissent were strangely quiet, and while a few – notably Charlie Brooker – managed to sustain an acerbic commentary throughout, most of the jubilee detractors simply sounded embittered or as though they were struggling for an angle. And yet there was no shortage of material: the boat flotilla might have been fleetingly interesting (pun intended) if you were present, but a slow-moving procession of floating vessels, however ancient sand spectacularly historical, drifting at a crawl down a murky sewage-saturated river in a prolonged downpour is not good television and unlikely to instil a sense of joyous pride on the small screen. In case people hadn’t noticed, we’re no longer in the 1950s: we’re not rebuilding our lives and our country in the wake of the war and no longer clamour round the one 4” black and white television in the street.

Rowing boats begin to gather on the River Thames, London, during the Diamond Jubilee river pageant

Boats. Lots of boats. Whoopee.

Sixty years is a long time. Consider this: postmodernism hadn’t even been conceived at the coronation. Popular culture, youth culture, capitalism as we know it didn’t exist. The Beatles didn’t form until 1960. Elvis Presley didn’t release his first single until 1954. The coronation took place in a different world. So too did the silver jubilee in 1977. The breaking of punk in the UK was not – contrary to so much recent retrospective coverage – I repeat, not, precipitated by the jubilee. Opportunistic pub rockers with manufactured sneers, operating under Malcolm McLaren’s guidance, were nothing more than puppets who happened to make a swell-timed appearance. If punk captured the zeitgeist of the mid-late 70s, and the monarchy found themselves the targets of so much vitriol, it was still only a part of a more widespread dissatisfaction with what we now hear referred to as a ‘broken society’. Times change, but some things don’t change. The question is, if there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that expressed itself in the blank nihilism of ‘no future’ back in 77, why was there so little sense of uprising or protest 35 years on? Is everybody really happy nowadays? Yeah right. And yet the thousands who had turned out remained rooted to the banks of the Thames, waving their flags like they’d never known fun like it.


Thousands of no-life crets, waving flags like they were really excited just because everyone else was doing it

I blame social networking, the media. I particularly blame Facebook. It seems to me that much Facebook activity is devoted to showing your ‘friends’ how much fun you have: how often you get out, how active and vibrant your social life is, how incredibly popular, vivacious and happy you are, how fucking brilliant your life is. If you’re not in this photo, you weren’t there, and if you weren’t there, you missed out on the event of the century that people will be talking about for years to come.

There is, of course, another major consideration. While the news media and social networking sites may have portrayed so much rejoining and unity and a nation united under a flag, the simple truth is that most of the activity took place in key areas in central London and was attended by the kind of bozos who’s turn up for the opening of an envelope if they thought they might be missing out. The world at large may not know this, but London does not represent Britain, or even England, and a few thousand people do not represent the entire population. As such, the streets of London may have been as packed as they were precipitous, but that doesn’t mean ‘the nation’ was celebrating. And why they hell would they be? Is anyone under 75 really going to believe Grace Jones and Jessie J represent the best of British music from the last 60 years? What’s more, the waxwork Macca’s decision to perform ‘Obla-di-bla-da’ was little short of senile. I’m no fan of The Beatles by any stretch, but do strongly appreciate their importance in terms of music history, their enormous influence, and their undeniable status as the biggest band of all time. So with this, the enormity of their catalogue and the wealth of definitive, ‘iconic’ pop gems it contains in mind… why?


Gary Barlow and Cheryl Cole: who gives a fuck?

Obviously, having Kylie represent the Commonwealth is all well and good, but were the Australians out in the same kind of force waving flags with the same kind of zeal? Of course not,and the point is, neither were most people in Britain. And there’s the problem: Britain – by which I really mean England – is so London-centric that it’s broadly perceived that London actually represent the country as a whole. So, when events in London are beamed out around the globe as representing ‘Britain’, it’s generally taken as fact. Riots in London equate to the country ablaze and falling to anarchy. The Olympics in London translates as excitement the length and breadth of the country (and why not, when the Olympic torch is on a preliminary lap of honour?). A bunch of people waving flags in London equals a nation united in their support for their long-serving Queen. Take it from me, it doesn’t. Some people in one place in one city does not represent the nation as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s good PR on the international stage, then fair play, but for overseas viewers / readers, please understand that this is not a true picture of life in Britain.

Indeed, so much of the coverage I did see (and I missed Fearne Cotton’s controversial ‘sick bag’ segment. The contention that this was ‘inane’ and ‘disrespectful seems to have missed the point that the ‘sick bags’ were big news – about 3 months before the jubilee, and if the BBC is to adhere to its remit of ‘unbiased’ reporting, then it should present something other than pro-monarchy propaganda, and besides, watching people in the rain waving flags is fucking boring and anything that provided a distraction was a good thing) seemed to focus on how the celebrations brought the nation closer.


Fearne Cotton and Paloma Faith discuss what the jubilee means to people who aren’t royalist sycophants

There might have been a lot of positive noise to this effect, but I very much doubt this corresponds with the experience of the average citizen. There was no party in my street, or any of the streets in my vicinity, to the best of my knowledge. The Polish couple across the road had a blazing row in the street on the bank holiday Monday. Some curtains twitched. People went about their business, or otherwise used the extra days off work to go and visit family. Had it not been slinging it down, and had it not been northern England, a tumbleweed would have probably passed down the street. It was like four Sundays in succession, and I would have dug out Morrissey’s ‘Every day is Like Sunday’ if hadn’t been in such an all-consuming torpor. So, come Wednesday, I got on my usual bus to work at the usual time, surrounded by the usual faces I never make any kind of contact with, buried my face in my book while they immersed themselves in their books, Kindles, editions of the Metro or whatever shit they’ve got going on their Smart Phones and in short, nothing had changed.

I’m not ungrateful for the extra time off work, of course, but ultimately, the whole jubilee seems to have been a huge non-event for the majority. It’s extremely difficult to muster any enthusiasm, or ire for that matter, for something that doesn’t touch my own life in any way, and while the jubilee celebrations were frivolous, exclusive – despite supposedly being all-inclusive- the monarchy simply don’t impinge on my day-to-day existence nearly as much as, well, so many other things. The power they wield is limited in real terms, and while I may be paying for them through my taxes, it’s infinitesimal in comparison to the sums being sapped from my income by the politicians, bankers and the Eurozone. Besides, I’ve bills to pay, I have to sustain myself and my family by putting food on the table. This is the reality for the everyman. Keeping things going in the everyday is as much as anyone has the energy for. Railing against something a world away and for the most part irrelevant simply doesn’t justify the squanderance of vital time, of vital energy, or essential breath. So fuck the jubilee and the petty bickering between the few who haven’t anything better to do. And fuck the Olympics, Euro 2012 and frankly, fuck it all. Back to life, back to work, back to the things that matter and back to merely surviving.


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The Changing Face of Consumerism XI: Back Down on the Street, or, Going for Bust

So a mere matter of days after my last piece on the struggling high street, I woke up this morning to more news of high street stores experiencing a drop in like-for-like sales in comparison to the same time last year, with HMV delivering particularly disappointing figures marked by sales being down 8.2% in December 2010. It is disappointing, too. Of the bigger chain music stores, I always preferred HMV (although Andy’s records had the edge for a while both in terms of pricing and range). First and foremost, they carried a broader selection with less mainstream releases sitting alongside the chart material. And, while a tad pricey, their range of back-catalogue titles was far superior to Overprice / Virgin.

But rather than work to their strengths and make a virtue of their difference, HMV followed the template of its competitors and having killed off the (albeit limited) vinyl section in favour of calendars and games, continued over a lengthy period of time to reduce the music stock – to make room for more games, DVDs and gadgetry. When the music occupies the smallest portion of a music retailer’s floor space, you have to ask questions. HMV’s struggling is an example of how diversification can be counterproductive, and rather than appealing to a broader customer base, can serve to alienate the one already established. How can a music retailer seriously expect to compete in other markets already dominated by specialists. More often than not, gamers will head to somewhere like Game for games, just as you’d probably go to a clothes shop for clothes, a bookstore for books, an electrical store for electrical goods – unless, of course, they go to the supermarket for the whole lot. After a while, I stopped asking questions and also stopped going in, because each time I did I found myself leaving empty-handed and frustrated because they never had the title I was after in stock. I’d invariably end up purchasing my music on-line because I couldn’t source it anywhere else.

I don’t for a second mean to suggest that I’m responsible for HMV’s declining sales (and I certainly played no part La Senza, the purveyors of slinky lingerie, being called into administration with a loss of 1,300 jobs, prompting headlines such as ‘Lingerie firm goes bust’ etc.), but while my musical tastes may be ‘minority’, there are many other minorities just like me, and collectively, they represent a substantial market.

As mentioned in passing in my previous piece, it’s not just music that I have problems tracking down, and it’s not always obscure items I struggle to find in shops either. As if to prove the point, only this week I decided I wanted to get a desk lamp. As my desk also happens to be the dining table and space is of a premium, I figured a desk lamp that clamps onto the shelves to the side of the table would be the best bet. But could I find one anywhere? Working out of time, my choices on a lunchtime were limited, but there is an Argos superstore and BHS Home Store (yes, British Home Stores Home Store) which specialises in goods for the, er, home, rather than home and clothing. A quarter of the store is given to a lighting department, but unless I wanted a lime-green desk-lamp with a regular base I was out of luck. That is, unless I wanted a ludicrously glitzy lamp shade with dangling glass bits all over it, which I most certainly didn’t. Argos carry a much more substantial range of desk lights, from bendy to angle-poise, but the only clamping ones are LED lamps, which just don’t give off enough light. I’d still need to put on the main ceiling light to see my screen, which defeats the purpose of a desk light I can angle in my corner without illuminating the whole room. Really, how hard can it be to find a simple item like a clamp-fitting desk lamp that takes a proper, regular bulb?

The answer is that it’s not hard at all. Five minutes on-line and I found I was spoiled for choice. Even so, on-line shopping is no substitute for real shopping as it’s often hard to get a sense of the precise dimensions or appearance of an item – you can’t ‘feel the quality’ from a description and photo, however detailed. Thankfully, it transpired that a local independent store I pass on my way through town after work had the best selection of all. Once again, hooray for the independents!



A clip-on desk lamp, earlier today


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The Changing Face of Consumerism X: Down on the Street

Only just a few days into January and already the sales reports from the high street are beginning to filter through for the run-up to Christmas. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone will be surprised by the fact that broadly, sales have been rather poor and substantially weaker than hoped, and that as a percentage of retail sales, online transactions account for a larger proportion than ever before.

Sky News report, ‘There is one factor common to the trading statements from Next and John Lewis – an increase in online sales that has propped up the overall results.’

The on-line article continues, ‘In the case of Next, it’s [sic] Directory service recorded a 16% increase between 2010 and 2011 for like-for-like sales. Sky News has been told that online sales account for roughly 90% of this figure. With regards to John Lewis, online sales for the five weeks to December 31, 2011, were 27.9% up on last year.’

Apart from exemplifying the kind of statistically-dense reporting that’s likely to bamboozle the average reader and providing a practical demonstration in the kind of journalism that uses a proliferation of numbers in lieu of meaningful analysis, what we are supposed to extrapolate from this is that the figures speak for themselves. Of course, this is patently untrue, because the figures, bald and devoid of context are in themselves virtually meaningless. The scant analysis offered by the unnamed reporter does little to shed any real light on the implications of the figures when they ask ‘What can we learn from this? Well essentially that we, as shoppers, are inherently lazy and becoming increasingly more so,’ adding ‘There is nothing wrong with that. If we can shop without leaving our desk or home then we are choosing to do so.’ Really? There’s a lot wrong with being inherently lazy, on so many levels, but of more importance here is the fact that shopping from one’s desk (something many employers would surely disapprove of, and which could constitute misuse / abuse of company systems) or home does not necessarily equate to being lazy. I would contend that lethargy has nothing to do with it, and that the laziness of consumers is nothing in comparison to the laziness of the journalists proffering such poorly-considered evaluations of the ‘facts’.

For starters, the article fails to take into account the fundamental fact that high-street (or out of town) shopping – real-life shopping – is hell. Never mind, as was mentioned in the BBC’s TV report, that the opening hours of high-street retail outlets are both limited and limiting, and that on-line shopping affords the convenience of 24/7 open hours, which are handy for those who work sociable hours (I say this because those work work anti-social hours aren’t stuck in an office or other place of work between the hours 9am and 5pm, when shops are open, and if you’ve ever tried to do any serious shopping within the confines of a lunch hour Monday to Friday, you’ll appreciate that it’s not only nigh on impossible, but more hellish than Beelzebub’s oven).

Discounting the Sartrean hell that is other people momentarily, there’s the fact that comparing the prices different retailers charge for the same item is considerably more straightforward and less time-consuming on-line than on foot. And of course, time is money, supposedly. Undoubtedly, that time is the most precious commodity an individual can have is part and parcel of the hectic technology-driven lifestyles that facilitate both on-line shopping and global commerce. If workers do spent time at their desks shopping on-line, it could be that they’re time-wasting skivers, but could just as readily be because they’re too busy to take a proper lunch break in which to hit the shops, which have probably relocated to an out-of-town shopping precinct.

According to the Sky article, ‘The trick for retailers is how best to facilitate that and how they combine an online store with their high street shops whilst keeping both profitable.’ No kidding. By making your presence as a business prominent via the most channels available, with particular emphasis on those where the most customers are, then you’ll fare better than if you don’t. The adage ‘Location, Location, Location’ still has merit, and applies to the virtual world too. As for keeping outlets profitable, that’s surely how business works, period.

Sky’s report concludes with the observation that ‘Both Next and John Lewis know their customer base well and play to it with success’ (fine, except according to the figures, Next’s overall sales are only fractionally up, and its high street sales have dropped dramatically, a point that provided the focus of The Guardian’s reporting of the same information, with Zoe Wood writing, ‘Analysts estimated that like-for-like sales in Next stores fell more than 5% in the last two months of the year, resulting in a worse than expected 2.7% decline for the six months to 24 December. That weakness was offset by a strong performance at home shopping arm Directory, where sales jumped nearly 17%. Together the divisions delivered growth of 3.1% which was in line with guidance given to analysts in November’).

The reporter ends their piece by opining that ‘Retail is Darwinian, the survival of the fittest. Success and survival comes to those who change and adapt. The old adage is the true: the customer is always right.’ This is blatantly untrue, and blindly propagates the myth that markets are consumer driven. As I have bemoaned variously, I feel largely uncatered for as a consumer. It’s not even the obscure items, that I would expect having difficulty with, that present the biggest problems. If I want something unusual, there are niche stores – granted, usually on-line – that stock them. I’m talking about specific books, records, storage solutions, brand footwear at prices I’m willing to afford (£95 for a pair of DM Chelsea boots is obscene however you look at it) homebrewing equipment and other such items. But try finding something simple, like decent oven mitts, a ceiling-mounting light for the bathroom designed to work with a fitting that runs in conjunction with the wiring for an extractor fan, jam jars, etc., and you’ll probably struggle. I can’t be the only one seeking these items, and can therefore only conclude that others make do with whatever alternatives and close matches are readily available. How does this indicate a market tailored to the consumer?

Moreover, if I find myself making an increasing number of purchases on-line because I frequently return from town empty-handed, having been unable to find the specific item I was searching for, how is that an example of consumer lethargy? Again, by failing to cater for my needs, the high-street stores have failed their (potential) customers and driven them on-line. If retail is Darwinian, surely the survivors are the ones that stock the items that consumers actually want. After all, it’s only possible to convince people that they want what they get and that they don’t know what they want until they see it up to a point. If I need a new stylus for my turntable, it won’t do to tell me that vinyl’s outmoded and that I should get myself an iPod and docking station instead, and similarly, if the styli in stock aren’t compatible with my turntable, I won’t be buying one – or a new turntable for that matter, at least for as long as there are other stockists who carry compatible styli. It’s really not that hard.

High-street shopping is tiring and laborious. Some people love it and will spend days trailing round shops trying on shoes and clothes and all the rest. Yet even those than enjoy such shopping expeditions will often make their purchases on-line, not through lethargy but because of the price. No-one with half a brain is going to buy an item in one place they can purchase for a third less elsewhere, especially when they know it’s the item they want having already tried it on or out. On-line stores don’t have the overheads of physical stores: fact. They don’t have to pay out-front assistants, cleaners, heating, lighting, or, most significantly, rent on the floorspace. This is precisely why Amazon can undercut Waterstone’s and HMV so dramatically (and why HMV, with their Channel Islands based tax-loophole savvy on-line arm can undercut its own physical stores, a retail model also known as shooting oneself in the foot). Of course people are going to go and buy their goods on line for less. It’s simple economics.

Another piece of simple economics is that anything that isn’t growth is considered recession, but to expect endless growth is unrealistic. Sure, the world’s population may be continually expanding, but that doesn’t mean they all want to buy the same products. Certain markets have limited potential for expansion, even mainstream mass markets. Therefore, to declare ‘flat’ sales or lower than projected growth a complete disaster seems unreasonable. Yet many companies will lay off large numbers of their workforce in light of such ‘disappointing’ results, and blame the recession while contributing to it and exacerbating the problem further.

But perhaps the biggest major omission in these reports is that people aren’t spending because they simply don’t have the money. There’s a global financial crisis going on. The fact that the figures for Christmas 2011 correspond with those for 2008, only with the decreases in overall sales and the erring toward on-line sales more dramatic, reminds us that we’re still in a slump. The words ‘recession’ and ‘depression’ still hang over financial reports like a black cloud. Look at the most recent unemployment figures: they’re still on the up, not just in Britain, but in the US – and the US economy is the global economy.

Context counts, then, and against a backdrop of financial uncertainty, rising inflation, etc., etc., people are spending less money because they have less money. It’s interesting to note that these reports appear on the same day that homelessness charity Shelter made public the findings of a survey they had recently conducted, which revealed that one in seven Britons has turned to credit such as a payday loan or unauthorised overdraft to help cover their rent or mortgage in the last year. Surely this is all the evidence required to establish the reason behind reduced spending. I’ll say it again: people simply haven’t got the money. But then, perhaps they never did have the money. The difference now is that neither do the banks, and so they’re not lending it out. And if people can’t get credit, then they can’t spend the money they don’t have on things they don’t need. Better to spend the money they don’t have on the things they do need, like accommodation. It’s a slippery slope, of course, and where it ends is anyone’s guess. But then, that’s what economists do….


High Street_1581_18891412_0_0_12664_300


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Sales Fever! Looking Back on Christmases Past

I spent a large chunk of my day today at an out-of-town retail park, where I parted with a small fortune. It was hell on earth, but needs just: I’d been planning to sort myself a new laptop, printer and external hard-drive (I’ve learned – and re-learned – the hard way the importance of backing up all of my work) for months and had been stalling (and saving) for the sales because, being on a budget wanted to make my money go further. And so it was I returned home with an ASUS X53U, an HP Photosmart 6510 and a Samsung hard-drive that measures roughly the size of my wallet and has a whole Terabyte capacity, plus various other non-computing related items for the house.

Needless to say, it was a relief to get home again, and having reserved most of my items on-line in advance, the excursion kept the trudging and legwork and general pain to a minimum. But while out I was acutely aware of just how many people are out there raiding the sales just because goods are discounted, a point reinforced by endless footage n television. Haven’t people got anything better to do, and why do they feel the need to spend money just because? The justification that a £200 jacket had 50% off doesn’t wash – or dry-clean – when considering the flipside of the equation, namely that there’s still 50% on. The last I heard, we were in the middle of a financial crisis. Are people really still dim enough to max out their credit cards just because they can’t resist a ‘bargain’? It would appear they are.

So once again I was reminded that people are idiots, and of the adage that a fool and his money are soon parted. I was also reminded of a blog I posted back in the MySpace days, which I found on my old (and now full to capacity) 300G hard-drive. It may have been posted on this day in 2007, but most of the points still stand, and it’s somehow comforting to observe how little I’ve changed my position. I like to be consistent (although I have taken time off work this year)….


Sales Fever! (2007)


The fact I haven’t been present on-line for the last couple of days shouldn’t be misinterpreted that I was busy wholeheartedly embracing the traditional Christmas rituals. I don’t absolutely hate everything about Christmas, and for me, it’s a good opportunity to spend a couple of days not straining my eyes in front of the PC and to actually have something approximating a rest.
Still, because I don’t consider Christmas to be quite as big a deal as many, and don’t consider it a reason to go on a month-long bender with everyone I’ve ever met, and don’t feel the need to eat my own body weight in poultry and pork, I didn’t feel the need to book the days between Christmas and New Year off work. Being at the office – a place I abhor with a passion – is always more bearable when there’s no work, no phone calls and no other staff in to drive me to distraction with their inane waffle.

Business as usual it isn’t. and while I’ve been able to potter around without distraction and amuse myself by switching the contents of people’s drawers and so on, I’ve also given a thought to those thousands of people who work in the retail sector. As I’m writing this on January 27th, I’m quite relieved to be hiding out in an office: I learned from Breakfast on BBC1 that today was expected to be the busiest shopping day of the year. And the footage I saw of the queues and the rucks on Boxing day were disturbing enough. It raised a few issues, not least of all the question ‘why?’ I mean, after a month of intensive shopping, why would anyone want to go shopping through choice? It’s insane. We’re a nation in financial crisis, in case no-one had noticed. But then, it’s this inherent greed and an inability to say ‘no’ – or to be seen to be unable to keep up with the pack – that’s got us here in the first place.

But irrespective of whether or not we (collectively) can afford to splurge, one would think that the last thing anyone would want to do after a period of intensive shopping in the run-up to Christmas is go shopping. I mean, it’s hell. It’s not so much a jungle out there as it is total war. There was an item on Breakfast in which some ‘fashion guru’ was giving tips on how to succeed in the sales, revealing a handbag full of energy-giving drinks and snacks (‘bananas are great for energy…’) and advising that in order to grab that must-have bargain, if you need to kick or punch, then so be it. To condone or promote such behaviour is beyond me. It’s not a loaf of bread in the middle of a famine, it’s a fucking handbag. Let’s get things in perspective here.

Despite my general disregard for many of the traditional aspects of Christmas, this eagerness to hit the shops on Boxing day or the day after is concerning. One issue is the fact that people seem to expect shops to be open all the time, and we do appear to be very slowly heading the American way, toward a 24-day society. The demand is for convenience, and that demand is coming to be supplied. And why not? Well, it’s all very well to demand, and to receive supply, but what of those who are required to deliver that supply? I’m talking primarily about those in retail here, of course, because 24-hour shopping requires 24-hour staffing of shops, but there’s inevitably a knock-on effect. We already have 24-hour / overnight couriers and so on… and where’s it going to end? And 24-hour is one thing, but what about 365-day-a-year?

Time was when everything closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Now, banks are about the only things closed on Bank Holidays (well, the clue’s in the name). A friend of mine said “they’ll have us working on Christmas day soon, mark my words.” Now, he’s a cynical old goat, but I think he may have a point. And similarly, the synchronicity of Christmas and the exchange of gifts may actually become a thing of the past the way things are going.

Consider the facts: the January sales now start on Boxing day. December 27th is the biggest shopping day of the year. Many take unwanted gifts back and exchange them for things they ‘really’ want in the sale, and I’ve heard a number of people say they’re waiting till the sales for their presents. So it’s not that much of a stretch to see, 10 years hence, people going shopping on Christmas day when the sales start, perhaps having a slap-up meal in the evening, and exchanging gifts on New Year’s eve, with New Year’s day remaining the only day the shops are closed because half of the population’s too hungover to go shopping. Of course, the reaction to this may eventually be to put the sales back to January again, and dog knows what kind of mayhem or rioting may ensue as a consequence.

The trouble is, the people who are at the head of the queues, who will punch and kick and trample to get their bargains and are demanding most vocally to be supplied appear to the, somewhat ironically, the same people who most rigidly adhere to the notion of a ‘traditional’ Christmas – extended family round for dry turkey and Aunt Bessie’s roast potatoes, followed by falling asleep in a cloud of flatulence in front of Eastenders, before re-enacting Eastenders with a major drunken barney of their own over something petty but that will prevent the different factions within the family from speaking to one another until the same time next year.

I’m not defending Christmas as a religious holiday of course, but given that I’m of the opinion that people should hibernate during the winter months, do think that in terms of maintaining a work/life balance, the demand for everything on tap at all times there should be some time off.

So I’m keeping out of it (I’ve quite enough handbags already, thank you). But alas, I may not be able to avoid the sales entirely. Whereas I usually receive more calendars than I have rooms in the house, this year I didn’t receive a single calendar. Ok, so I’ll buy my own. I just hope I’m not too late and won’t have to end up with a Russell Brand picture calendar.





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Dead Pop Stars: Amy Winehouse and Why the Media Loves a Fuck-Up

For a moment, I felt the same incredulity and momentary slip of the sprockets of reality as when I turned on the news to discover that Princess Diana had died, and, some years later, Michael Jackson. Amy Winehouse, dead? Surely not? The way these three stories reached me was different for each: Di was a Sunday morning, I turned on the television to find nothing but blanket coverage on every station… I was at a gig when Jackson met his end, and someone in the audience had received a text and shouted out to the band between songs. From then on, we got updates from the stage via texts to audience members. It was through Facebook and Twitter than news of Amy Winehouse’s death circulated like wildfire, although I still turned to the television for confirmation… just in case. And sure enough, it was the breaking news on all of the channels.

Well, why wouldn’t it have been? Winehouse was a celebrity, famous and notorious in equal measure…actually, that’s not quite true. With only two albums to her credit (which collectively spawned just one top-ten UK single, her biggest hit being a cover on which she featured as guest vocalist) – and with many casual music fans unaware of her her debut, which achieved only moderate success – she might have been a reasonably successful singer, but it wasn’t until she careered off the rails and got fucked up that the media really got interested. Like Courtney Love – who is very much still alive – she only went stellar when things went wrong. The whole media circus didn’t only eclipse the short-lived musical career but also became self-perpetuating. There’s no more powerful blocker of creativity than intense scrutiny 24/7, a bunch of paps in your face every time you leave the house and endless speculation and commentary over a person’s varying degrees of wastedness. And if you have a propensity for drink and drugs, how are you going to escape it all? With more of the same, of course. And thus it becomes a vicious cycle.

Pete Doherty’s band may have been NME darlings, but being a pretty mediocre, shambling, jangling shit indie band, they were never going to become a household name (something also true of Hole, only they were a half-decent alternative rock band, at least until Courtney lost it after Kurt’s suicide and the mess and mud-slinging that ensued, which was at least partly media created). It was only the drug-related carnage and dalliance with Kate Moss that propelled him into the headlines. It’s hard to tell how much of it is driven by the media and how much it’s driven by a genuine thirst for scandal, but however you look at it, fucking up in public is the way to hit the stratosphere in terms of coverage. The media love it, of course: pick your target and shadow it, with the guarantee that there’ll be something outrageous to report most nights of the week and you’ve got an easy way of filling time or column inches. Are the public genuinely interested, are they really that thirsty for salacious gossip about the not-so private lives of celebrities? Maybe the they weren’t but tell them often enough and they’ll become convinced that they are interested.




The BBC had a reporter stationed at the cordon on the street where Winehouse lived. The reporter commented on the sixty-five or so fans who had gathered and remarked on her dedicated following. There’s no questioning the size of her fan-base: Back to Black has sold in excess of 10 million copies. But mainstream artists rarely have truly dedicated fans: were these dedicated fans the same ones who booed her off the stage not so long ago when she rocked up, wasted, stumbling over her feet and the lyrics and generally in no fit state to perform? Sixty-five people is hardly a crowd, and besides, how many of those loitering – when there’s nothing to see, so why not move along, now? – were actually fans? How many were police, and how many were media reporters and photographers? That’s a rhetorical question.

Most saliently, the number hanging around that street in Camden was significantly lower than the body count in Norway. Yet in the rush to give live, up-to-the-minute, as-it-happens coverage of another dead pop star, that story had plummeted off the radar. The hacking scandal was all but forgotten and I can only assume that the fact Greece – not to mention America, but that’s being kept strangely quite – is on the brink of financial ruin and there are wars raging across the globe are only of minimal significance in comparison. I’m reminded of Derrick Bird’s killing spree in Cumbria last year, which saw 12 people shot dead and 11 more injured before he turned the gun on himself. It was major news for a short while, until Raol Moat went on the rampage and the story was all but forgotten about. Despite a much lower body count, a siege was ready-made for live streaming news and much more likely to capture the nation’s imagination than something that was over before the cameras could be on the scene.

I’ll admit, I was never a fan of Winehouse’s work, and don’t think she was an ‘incredible talent’, and the monumental outpourings of grief on-line seem wholly disproportionate. In the same way that everyone loathed Jade Goody for being a fat racist ignoramus until she was diagnosed with cancer, when she was immediately presented with a halo and became a national treasure, it seems that dying young alters the mass perception to such an extent that all is forgotten. Seemingly, dying young it a tragedy no matter what, and makes one a better person, a hero, an instant deity. Thus, while I have no wish to disrespect the dead, I’m not going to suddenly change the opinion I held of her while she was living – a rough, skanky no-mark who got lucky.

But this isn’t about my opinions of Amy Winehouse or her music. I’m more concerned about taking an objective look at the media response – by which I also mean on-line media, interactive media. Sure, a lot of people did like her music, but did she and her work really touch the lives of so many, so profoundly, as to require the Twittersphere to become clogged and Facebook to become a no-go zone for those who want to read anything other than ‘RIP Amy Winehouse’ and what a tragedy it is that the world’s lost one of its greatest talents? Or is it simply an example of people being seen to do and say what’s expected of them, the herd mentality of not wanting to be left out? ‘Yes, me too, I never got any of her albums, but I really loved her music, so amazing, blah blah blah’.

It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s about time people started to think for themselves.

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The Cost of Living: When Inflation Increases Beggar Belief

The other day I was walking through town on my way home after an arduous day’s chairpounding. I had my MP3 player on (an Alba I bought in Netto several years ago, the battery door of which is sellotaped on after one of the hinged broke) and it was blowing a gale as I weaved my way through clusters of ambling clods. I was suddenly aware of a man standing to my left, stepping into my path and waving his hands as one does when trying to flag down a car in an emergency, a half-rolled cigarette in one hand. He spoke, but I couldn’t hear him for my music. I stopped, removed an earphone and begged his pardon, half-expecting him to ask if I had a light.
    ‘Got any spare change?’ he asked.
    ‘I haven’t, sorry,’ I replied.
    ‘How about a pound coin?’ he said, without missing a beat. He indicated the sleeping bag and three rucksacks propped against the wall of the building behind him. I’d clocked these from the off, and had taken him for a backpacker.
    ‘I’m sorry, I haven’t got any change,’ I repeated. A pound coin is still change, albeit moving somewhere beyond the ‘small change’ category.
    ‘Five pound note?’ he pressed.
    I didn’t have a fiver. In fact, having only been to the bank at lunchtime, I had only a solitary twenty pound note on my person. I suppose I could have made him go through the denominations until he got to twenty, before having to admit that I did have a twenty but it wasn’t spare, or asking if he had any change for it, but instead simply told him that I was sorry, but didn’t have any money. I might have added that I didn’t or a light for that fag he was halfway through rolling either, because I’d given up smoking some years ago after it became too expensive for me to sustain even a five a day habit, but thought better of it and went on my way.
    I’ll admit that more than I felt guilty for not having been able to help, I was taken aback by his brazen pushiness. Unshaven, in my scuffed Chelsea boots and second-hand jeans, did I look like I had a fiver to spare? But as I continued home, I pondered the exchange further.
    The news media has made such a big deal about inflation and the sharp increase in both unemployment and the cost of living in recent months. The families of middle England are the hardest hit, apparently, the cost of fuel having rocketed, making the daily commute, the school run and the supermarket shop substantially more expensive, against a backdrop of reduced benefits for families, etc. Yeah, right. From the bottom up, we’re all in trouble.

Know Your Rights (A Party Election Broadcast by the PLAGIARIST Party)

It’s been rather difficult to avoid the looming election in recent days. Well, if you’re in the UK, that is. British politics doesn’t have the international But then, the way the media have been going overboard on the coverage, you might have been forgiven for thinking that the campaigns started months ago and that this was a global revolution rather than something that occurs with comparative regularity and frequency in our small island nation. Nothing like blasting all sense of perspective in a quest for ratings. It certainly feels like it’s been a very long and protracted run-up, and there are still several weeks to go. The quality of the coverage in he mass media is hugely varied, although on the whole, lacks depth and isn’t all that informative. For the most part, we’re told endlessly about where the party leaders are visiting and what issues they’re going to be addressing, but apart from a brief 3-4 bullet-point summary of the manifestos, very little information is being given about what the parties actually stand for. Small wonder many people are confused or don’t care. Nothing like overkill to turn people off.

Similarly, there’s nothing like a lot of tedious hot air spouted by people who don’t appear to live in the same world as the rest of us to perpetuate disengagement, and there’s no shortage of evidence that much of our society is disenfranchised and has no interest in politics or the political process – Facebook groups like ‘I Bet I Can Find A Million People With No Interest In The UK Election’ are just one of almost countless examples of people who are more interested in telling the world how much of a turn-off politics is than they are in changing the political landscape.

Personally, I’m not nearly as apolitical as I sometimes claim to be. I am deeply frustrated with politics, but always cast my vote, if only because I feel more readily entitled to complain about how crap the government is, and that the wrong party got voted in. It’s alright, it makes me feel better, at least in the moments when I’m not mired in despondency over the futility of participating in a democracy where ‘the majority’ who wield the collective power are the very people I  spend my entire life battling against in my writing and in my daily life. People are ignorant, stupid and selfish: of course those who vote are going to vote out of ignorance, stupidity and selfishness, whatever their personal agendas may be. Moreover, I believe a spoiled paper makes for a far more effective statement about those standing than a non-vote. The latter says ‘I can’t be arsed.’ The former says ‘I turned out to vote, but none of you represent me in any way. Change the system, change the parties!  So however disaffected and disillusioned I feel about our rigged and flawed democratic political system, I have the right to vote, and I’m going to use it.

But about my ‘rights’… I recently completed a survey that required me to select from a menu which election issues were of greatest importance to me. One choice was ‘human rights.’ We seem to be obsessed with rights at present – even more than usual. Charity appeals are begging for my money, showing pictures of emaciated children in Uganda, while telling me that every child has a right to an education, and that clean water is ‘a basic human right.’

Now, far be it for me to suggest that education or water are luxuries, but, well, I think we need to get a handle on differentiating rights from needs and wants – right?

The trouble is, so many of those who vocally and vociferously defend these rights – not only their own, but, more often than not, those of others, to the extent that they become rights campaigners and crusaders, are also those who demand protection, restriction and prohibition… in the name of rights. People have a right to walk down the street without fear of being assaulted, or harangued by druggies or drunkards or homeless people… and so shout for tighter restrictions on alcohol, drugs, begging without considering that one individual exercising their rights to personal freedoms will invariably impinge on another individual doing precisely the same. The ‘right’ to demand security, or the freedom to do this, that or the other, can be countered by the ‘right’ to drug oneself up to the eyeballs, the right to kill oneself through gross stupidity. Blocking a person’s right to get horrendously wasted by demanding the right to ‘safety’ may have the best intentions at heart, but is it ‘right’ that one set of rights should take priority over another? This seems to me like a case of two rights making a wrong. Moreover, who should determine which rights are more right?

The mainstream media – and not just the tabloids, I might add – thrive on a good bit of moral outrage, and there’s rarely a week that passes without there being a revelation concerning something un-PC that someone has said or written. From Ross and Brand’s public mauling (which ultimately didn’t ruin their careers, and besides, they’ve got more than enough cash to see them through retirement if it had) over ‘lewd’ and ‘offensive’ answerphone messages to leaked internal emails passed amongst civil servants (rather unimaginatively) poking fun at the Pope (you can’t speak ill of a nazi sympathiser who covers up child abuse when he’s a man of God: he’s got divine rights, I assume), there’s never a shortage of energy to expend on such comparative trivia when there are real issues to be ignored. So those who complain about, say, offensive comedians are on difficult terrain: the ‘right’ to free speech means that individuals have the right to express views that others may not want to hear. Not wanting to hear those views is their right, too. But to expect to be able to defend someone’s right to be offensive – as long as they don’t offend you by touching on topics that are personally sensitive is a blatant double standard. Take for example the couple who went to see a Frankie Boyle stand-up show. With tickets at £20 a pop or whatever, it’s probably a fair assumption that they enjoy his brand of ‘humour,’ and as such they must’ve known what they were in for. Alas, they decided it was all too much when he referred to Down Syndrome children as mongers – because their child has Down’s. Ok, but they’d’ve been laughing themselves silly if he’d focused on spackers or spinos instead, right?

Reported – so surprisingly – in the Daily Mail, the couple in question were portrayed as being able to take a joke, but that Botyle had gone too far: ‘Former marketing executive Mrs Smith said: ‘Throughout his show he made fun of disabled people. But when given an opening he launched into a puerile, childish and ignorant attack on Down’s syndrome sufferers. ‘It wasn’t funny.’

Mr Smith, managing director of an online book company, said: ‘We’re fans of comedy. We’ve been to lots of live stand-up shows. We knew what to expect, or we thought we did. This was out of the dark ages. Not the material of a highly regarded comic. I’m still fuming. We both believe in freedom of speech but Boyle’s jokes were borne from ignorance and based on stereotypes.’

I’d call that hypocrisy myself. Moreover, this is simply one of countless examples of the way people become indignant about ‘rights’ – not only their own, but the rights of others. Far be it for me to suggest that campaigners of any form of rights act in self-interest, but I can’t help but feel that for many, there is a strong element of self-righteousness intermingled with the purer motives. Perhaps I should qualify this by stating that I do believe in equal rights for all. That, however, is my ideal world, and I find it necessary to accept that the reality is rather different. That’s life. Similarly, I would hope to live in a world where everyone lives harmoniously, respects one another and can agree to differ without killing one another, where everyone respects the rights of others and takes advantage of the rights they have and are able to apply in their daily lives with due care and common sense. I won’t even mention ‘responsibilities,’ at least in the clichéd context of rights. Very well, perhaps I will.

The point is, we all have rights, we all have responsibilities, we all have needs and we all have wants. Not only is it important to understand the difference, but it is also important to understand cultural and social differences. Not all rights, responsibilities, needs or wants are applicable to all individuals across the globe, and to project our own understandings and standards on others is not always appropriate. The ‘right’ to access university education in Britain is not, for example, likely to be of great interest to someone who aspires to be a waiter or a bricklayer, or who is destined to receive an apprenticeship to continue the family trade of, say, brewing. Similarly, the right to clean running water won’t hold too much appeal for mudskippers or marshland wading birds (animals have rights too, of course, as we’re often reminded).

In light of this, my own personal philosophy is simple, but covers pretty much all aspects of life quite effectively: ‘don’t be a twat.’ Perhaps I should stand as an independent candidate in the next election and use this as my campaign slogan. Whether anyone would be willing to vote for me would be an interesting experiment, and no mistake. You should all vote for me, of course, because you know I’m, right (although politically to the left)… right?

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Going Soft on the Hard Sell – and Michael Jackson Continues to Cause Trouble

A few days on from the publication of ‘Before the Flood’ I should probably be using this blog space to really push it. After all, as this is a little self-produced pamphlet that I’ve funded myself, I run the risk of not only growing despondent over my lack of success, but out of pocket to boot if I don’t shift at least enough units to break even (which at the time of writing, I haven’t). However, I really struggle to bring myself to do the hard sell. I think I’m generally pretty adept at self-promotion – on-line, at least, if not so much in real life – but it’s ventures like this that make me realise why a career in marketing wasn’t for me.

One reason I often flag when it comes to promoting a new publication is because a) I really don’t feel all that comfortable pushing it b) I’m always well into the next project (or, as is more usual, well onto my next project which is already three on from the one that’s hitting the virtual shelves. I’m certainly not one to sit back and take a breather when one thing’s complete. Life’s too short.

In the case of ‘Before the Flood,’ there are pieces I’m writing that are demanding a lot of focus and energy that are taking shape and I’m also putting a fair amount of time into the Clincality anthology, which is showing all the early signs of being a truly amazing book. Watch this space…

In addition to all of this, I can’t help but be continually distracted by the media insanity that continues a little over a week since Michael Jackson’s death. I know, I should just turn it off, but I have my reasons, because, believe it or not, does actually affect me. Well, sort of.

How does it affect me? You’ll not find me playing my Jacko albums on a loop for the next few weeks (I have none, and while I think ‘Billie Jean’ is a great song, don’t really rate his work), or bawling in the street, that’s for sure. However, the situation has actually presented me with something of a problem. I recently received a draft manuscript for a novel that Clinicality Press are planning to put out later this year or early next. I love the book, but thought a few changes would be of benefit. I suggested changing the name of one of the characters to Mike (or Michael) Jackson. The author agreed to this, and a fortnight ago passed me the next draft containing some substantial revisions based on my suggestions. Days later, what happens? So, does the book stay as is, or it is better to revise again? One of my friends suggested that the name should be changed to Paul Gadd to see if it has the same effect, and while I’m tempted, I wonder just how freaked out I’d be if the book does have some kind of curse?

So, anyway, the pamphlet’s out (and can be obtained via the link below), there’s another on the way in September, there are still copies of ‘Lust for Death’ available, and I’m still deciding what to do with ‘THE PLAGIARIST: THE MOVIE.’ As I said, never one to sit back and take a breather….

In the news: Rowling THE PLAGIARIST and there’s no place to hide!

As a child I thought that the news was boring, but I’m a fairly keen observer of current affairs these days, which means I’ve grown old and boring or have come to realise how the stories in the news have a bearing on my own life. It’s not always the big headlines that are the most relevant or interesting to me – in fact, the opposite is true, and more often than not the real news is buried beneath the smokescreen that passes as news much of the time. In the past few days, I’ve uncovered a couple of particularly intriguing stories.

The first concerned me greatly as a blogger, a part-time corporate whore and a full-time fervent anti-corporate ranter who believes strongly in free speech and the individuals’ rights to privacy (something I’ve written on variously in the past in a number of different places so shan’t go over the same ground again here). Now, I’m not so blinkered in my anti-corporate / smash the system stance that I think employees have the right to disclose information that could compromise national security or would offer the possibility of insider dealing or other such illicit activity, and can appreciate that certain acts can constitute an abuse of power or position. Other than that, though, I say it’s open season.

The public has a right to know what (mal)practices go on and how customer or taxpayer money is spent. And so on.

So I’m rather pro-mole, and have posted a few articles that might not go down too well in certain quarters. But while ‘exposing’ overseas sweatshops and promoting fair trade is considered positive, speaking out against the erosion of workers rights at home is viewed as bad form in the days of the minimum wage. We’re supposed to be grateful for our statutory sick pay and not mind increasingly shit conditions, discrimination and our employees checking out our activities on Facebook and using them against us in the workplace.

Blogging, then, is a public, not a private pursuit in the eyes of the law, so publish and suffer the consequences. I can of course see where they’re coming from. But is posting a blog really all that different to talking in the pub? You may be seated around a table with a bunch of mates beefing about what a cunt the boss is, without realising that some members of senior management are at the next table (probably beefing about what a cunt his boss, or your boss is). Can such an eavesdrop be used against you? Thankfully not, at least not officially. But as in situations where the interviewer tells the black guy, the guy with the tattoos or the guy in the wheelchair that he’s not being offered the job because another guy with identical credentials or a girl with similar credentials and a big rack gave a better interview, there are ways round what’s strictly legal that make discrimination impossible to prove.

As such, a blog may be posted for an intended audience, but one accepts that there is a risk that unintended audience may also find it, which is why privacy settings exist and why many people write pseudonymously. That the safety of anonymous blogging has been removed by law is a concern because it represents a further erosion of privacy. So who’s being protected by such precedents? Not the individual, that’s for sure… what’snext? Monitoring of email? Cameras watching us at every turn? A DNA database? Oh yeah…

The other article that caught my eye relates to a lawsuit being filed against JK Rowling and her publishers, Bloomsbury.

Now, I’m not exactly entirely opposed to plagiarism, at least in certain (theoretical) contexts, and I think our litigious culture has gone beyond compensating injustices and has become a way of life for many. I strongly believe that claiming exclusive ownership of something as vague as an idea is iffy at best. I’m also of the opinion that there are only a finite number of plots when reduced to the most fundamental of fundamentals, and that no-one can really claim the ownership of words.

But I’m no fan of Rowling either. I’ll admit that I have managed to not read ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,’ and I’ve certainly not read ‘The Adventures of Willy the Wizard,’ so cannot comment on the alleged similarities.  Of course, very few people have read or even heard of the former, and this is why it’s an interesting case.

It could be that the late Adrian Jacobs’ son is simply after a spot of fame and out to make something from his father’s book when his father failed to do so. Whatever, I consider it unlikely that they’ll win the case, simply because it would be hard for an average Joe to be able to beat the battalion of top-flight lawyers Rowling and Bloomsbury will be able to draft in. To represent them, and moreover, proving that Rowling had any knowledge of Jacobs’ obscure text would be nigh on impossible. But it’s the relative obscurity of ‘Willy the Wizard, ’ even more than the connection between the two writers in the form of agent Christopher Little that makes me wonder if there might actually be something to the Jacobs estate’s claim. After all, if you’re stuck for ideas and running out of time to produce something and the pressure’s mounting, you’re not going to turn to a well-known source for inspiration are you?