Saturday 11 July 2015

Close the Libraries then, we don't need them anyway

I get the feeling that libraries are obsolete, like public baths and most other great victorian philanthropic institutions. Don't get me wrong, I love books, and I loved libraries 30 years ago when I needed them. But now even the poorest in our society has a device in their pocket capable of downloading and reading more books than you could ever hope to finish in a lifetime. And the best of them are free now.

There may be an element of playing devils advocate here, since I have friends who are librarians, and I love the concept. However, we keep being told that cuts must be made, and I would rather we found other ways of borrowing books than trying to find other ways to stop depressed people being left all alone to finish themselves off. And in the same way as live TV broadcasts will probably go the way of the dodo, so will the printed word, and if not the printed word, then certainly the big, beautiful cathedrals to it that we have built for the purposes of never having the thing you wanted to read in at the moment (but I can order it for you dear, 2 weeks tops).

I have not had access to a library since I moved out to the sticks 11 years ago. We have a library bus that comes by on a Friday, but I'm at work then and can't use it. This doesn't bother me as I have been using the charity shop/car boot sale merry-go-round book reading method instead, which does a bit of good at the same time, and generates money for good causes, while also ensuring I always read the latest must-read book club type books a year or so after everyone else, and for only 50p.

When I was a kid though, I went to the local library every week, grabbed a huge pile of Doctor Who novelisations, rapaciously read them, and eventually got a gold book track badge for my troubles. And while I was doing my A levels I borrowed many piles of weighty textbooks that I couldn't possibly have afforded to buy in order to plagiarise them for my extended essays (which I got As for by the way, no internet to check if I had cheated back then, it works both ways). So I do appreciate their uses.

But now it is different, we have e-readers and the internet, I can read anything that is out of copyright for absolutely nothing (thank you Project Gutenberg) and while I could not plagiarise it as blatantly anymore, I could find all the source material I could ever need at the click of a button. And it wouldn't just be those books on the subject that my favourite head librarian in Bideford had chosen to put in there (Hi Rose, your books got me those As, thanks, good choices) I now have access to everything ever written, which is a little daunting, but equally brilliant.

So in the same way as public bathhouses were made obsolete by all of us having plumbing and soap in our own homes, the availability of information and books to all and sundry that the internet has set free has probably made libraries as we know them obsolete. I shall mourn them, as an integral part of my late twentieth century youth, but like those stove-pipe hatted philanthropists who set them up, I think their work is done. Maybe we can re-purpose the buildings as community centres instead?

Please tell me I'm wrong.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Things on the Internet that will never change Part 1: Moaning about the Glasto Headliner

Once a year, without fail (except on Old Farmer Eavis's fallow years) the headline acts for Glastonbury festival are announced, and the internet explodes with outrage. Whether it is because somebody has had the temerity to book a hip-hop act, or somebody your Dad has never heard of, it is a near certainty that those complaining are probably not going to Glastonbury anyway. There have been more than enough words wasted over Kanye West's booking already, but if you think a festival that encompasses all musical forms should ignore what is arguably the dominant and most innovative form of musical expression of the last three decades then you may not be paying attention. Or you may be paying too much attention to an idiot with an agenda and an outlet. The kind of deluded idiot that sends death threats to festival organisers.

Any discussion of Rap on any musicians online forum I frequent will end up with someone making the old 'rap is spelled with a silent C' joke, which has never been funny. And there are those still claiming that it is destroying the moral fibre of our youth. If you are one of them, then this is akin to those old men who said Elvis and Rock and Roll would bring about the apocalypse, except that you are saying it in the early 1990s (figuratively speaking, more of this kind of thing later). The possibility exists that because it is a predominantly black form of music that was introduced by black culture without a nice white Elvis, or jovial old cuddly Bill Haley to front it, there are racist overtones to those who hate it so vehemently. Of course it’s just a possibility.

I find it hard to believe that people can be so outraged by a choice of headliner at a music festival that they start up a petition to get it changed, but it happens. And it is shared all over my social media timelines, mostly by the ubiquitous old, straight, white males of the world. And the greatest percentage being those who are not, and probably never would be, attending anyway. I am also quite tired of hearing how music needs to be “authentic” and “real” (apparently that means it has guitars in it) and wondering if that actually means I have to get rid of all fakery and artifice (like my amplifiers and effect pedals) and just sing hey-nonny-fucking-no in a field with a mandolin to be genuine.

Kanye West is a dick yes, but so was John Lennon (sorry to attack your sacred cow, but if you really want to imagine no possessions, maybe offload the Rolls Royce John) and nobody would pipe up about the Beatles playing would they? Jimmy Page is also a crazed fantasist living in the past with a very dodgy record (I am referring more to things like the infamous mudshark incident rather than outrider, though it applies equally to both) but a Zeppelin reunion would not attract a petition to change it would it? The signees, I suspect, would be more than happy to see corporate whores like Dire Straits or Fleetwood Mac headlining, claiming that they had earned their place by virtue of being straight, white and middle of the road. They would be wrong, festivals should be new and exciting, not old, stayed and frankly dull.

I think the outrage may be a result of the fact that you buy your tickets (which you can't then sell on easily anymore) without a clue as to who is going to be playing there at all. Now, if you are going to festivals for the music, then you are going for the wrong reasons anyway, they may be music festivals, but they are about meeting crazy people, doing crazy things, and forgetting that there is a shitty real world out there waiting for you when you get out (and buying hats, obviously). The music is just background to the rest of it. Glastonbury know this, and don't need a line-up to sell tickets. Not everyone buying them has cottoned on to this yet though.

It is the new breed of festival goer that fuel the outrage, the rush for tickets, and the extortionate prices. The wealthy city types, who crave shower blocks, and constantly take selfies in front of the stage without listening to a note, desperate to make sure everybody knows that they were there. The middle-aged men, desperately trying to seem cool still in their flowerpot hats and tartan shorts while refusing to relinquish their grip on everything, so you get to listen to Oasis, and pasty interchangeable indie bands forever and ever and ever (they did say they would live that long remember). And then there are those baby boomers again, they priced you out of the housing market, and now they've got your Glastonbury tickets, and they want to see the Rolling Stones and Kenny Rogers, so you can take your Hip Hop music, and your Electro-Gypsy-Dixieland-Funk and fuck off back to playschool kids.

My own generation may be to blame, we took festivals over in the 90s, we decided there should be a different one every weekend with the same line-up, we added a ton of corporate sponsors, accepted that food and drink should cost roughly four times more than in the real world and ensured that the line-up remains the same to this day. I am sorry kids, we broke it for you, maybe you should fix it again.

I was more upset by the booking of the Rolling Stones in anything other than the Sunday afternoon nostalgia spot than I was at the Kanye booking, at least he is vaguely relevant. Don't get me wrong, I love the Rolling Stones, but having them headline a festival in 2013 was equal to Irving Berlin headlining at Woodstock, wrong time, wrong place. Still the target audience seemed to enjoy it. Music festivals are now the preserve of the wealthy and well heeled, not the turned-on, tuned-in and dropped-out youth that dreamed them up in the first place. They can't afford Glastonbury, or get their heads together enough to go through the ticket application process.

On a more current note, a lot of people got really upset at Florence and the Machine taking over the Foo Fighters headline spot. Those people were also wrong, to continue my Woodstock analogy, the Foo Fighters are Frankie Laine, Florence is Jimi Hendrix. The first Foos album is twenty years old now, while Florence has only just released her third hugely acclaimed album, on top of two innovative, interesting, and frankly brilliant number one albums. I can’t help feeling that if it were someone less female and interesting, like Jake Bugg or Mumford and sons perhaps, there would be less outrage, can I scream guardianista-like about inherent misogyny while I’m here? And again, to complain about one band playing at an event on the scale of Glastonbury festival is entirely myopic, there is so much to see, and such variety, that complaining about one band, on one stage is like moaning about what is on Sky Living at 9 o’clock this evening (apparently it’s a new show called Chicago Fire, no, me neither).

Music festivals should be about, new, current interesting music, not the same old shit your Dad used to listen to. If you are moaning about Florence's style, then remember your Dad moaning about Boy George looking like a girl, that's you that is. Glastonbury is for your Dad now (and you might well have become him) at least Babylon is anyhow, and remember that in our Woodstock analogy, even Muse are now Bill Haley and the Comets. If you're actually there, go in to the deep dark weird places and go find new interesting stuff, there’s loads of it, everywhere, music is brilliant, new music is better, you can hear things you know on your iPod/Walkman/gramophone any time you like. If you're not there, shut your mouth and stop worrying about it.

Disclaimer – A lot of my views are not my own, and are merely voiced for comedic effect. I honestly do believe that Glastonbury, and all music festivals should be inclusive of all ages, all classes and all music tastes, we are never more all the same than when we are naked and covered in shit.

Monday 15 June 2015

You are not your job (unless you want to be)

When I moved into my first flat twenty years ago, a very nice lady who lived upstairs (I think she may have been the one playing all those hawaiian guitar albums really loudly, but I'm not sure) asked me what I did. I told her, 'I work up at Heathcote and Ivory, you know, the pot pourri factory on Alverdiscott Road?' And then she said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said, 'I don't mean where do you work dear, I mean what do you do? What do you get up for in the morning?' or something similar, I am paraphrasing, it was a long time ago. I was quite taken aback, and told her that I was a musician, I may even have claimed to be a writer, I was a pretentious twat at eighteen, but then who isn't? I have since realised she may have just been trying to find out who the noisy git with the electric guitar was, but she seemed genuinely delighted to know that I was not just a factory worker.

At the time I was constantly saying that I had to do something worthwhile with my life. I'm not sure I even know what that means now, and a girl I was seeing at the time asked me one very important question. Why? She had a point, define worthwhile, to my pets, wife and stepkids I am very much worthwhile whatever else I am doing (I am a God to Rizla and the Cats, the big hand with the food). To people I hold doors open for, and smile and say good morning too I surely make a difference. Even to those who say they can set their watch by me walking past their house every morning I have worth. But when you're eighteen worthwhile has more weight, expectations are set much too high, at least mine were, probably to justify some of the decisions I made. If you are happy, and enjoying what you are doing, even if it is just watching funny cat videos every spare minute you have, then that is worthwhile.

Ever since then I have steadfastly refused to define myself by my job. Or even bother asking other people what they do for a living. If they want you to know, they will tell you (and how). Full disclosure, I run a print department for a living, this sounds more impressive than it is. There's just me, and a room full of printers and computers that occasionally work. If I need a holiday, the company's technical director comes in and runs it for me, and when it is busy, he comes in to help out and is my bitch. He's also my boss, which makes for some wonderful tension, but after two months of me swearing at him over the Christmas rush, he gives me a bonus, and usually buys me something nice as well, so he must enjoy it really.

Like a lot of people, I do not really love my job, I do it so that I can afford to live, and I kind of fell into it by accident. Occasionally I get caught up in it, as when it does get busy and I am trying to make sure that every one of the 12 printers in my print room is doing something it is a little like conducting an orchestra, and I very nearly enjoy the sensation of doing something well. I have been known to wave my arms at them like a conductor, which alongside my constant muttering to myself and occasional sweary outbursts at inanimate objects makes me look completely insane. This may explain why I am mostly left alone in my little domain.

The company produces novelty jigsaws, coasters, placemats and suchlike, which is exactly the sort of thing I have always set myself against, we are producing tat for the overpaid to buy and give to people who will probably never even look at them (if my boss is reading this, I am sorry, but you knew all this when you hired me, the anti-capitalism never bothered you before). It is easy to get caught up in it, and believe that it is important. Without it I would not be able to keep my home, so in that sense it is (ethics are ethics, but you do need to eat) though when someone is screaming across the office that there is an urgent jigsaw, I still find it hard to stifle a laugh at the very concept of a jigsaw being urgent. It is certainly not a calling, but it is the job I have hated least of all the jobs I have ever had.

Far too many people are guilty of calling themselves musicians or writers these days, and very few of those who claim those titles in their twitter bios make any kind of living from it. This only came to my attention while reading Dan Brown's Inferno (you won't tell anyone I read Dan Brown books will you? Thanks) when Robert Langdon is surprised all the hands that go up when he asks if there are any writers in the room, and blames amazon kindle direct publishing. If you don't get paid for it, it is a hobby, not a job. By the way, in case you haven't seen it before, my twitter bio quite specifically describes me as a not-quite-writer and almost-musician. An important disclaimer I hope.

But then I started this by saying that you are not your job didn't I? So if you play music and you write stuff, and that is what you do, whether it pays or not, you can certainly call yourself what you like. No matter how elitist Dan Brown wants to be about it, it is not a closed world anymore, and anyone can write and publish a book if they want. Doesn't mean that it will be any good though, at least traditional publishing filters out all the crap, saving the consumer a great deal of time.

I am writing this on the eve of my 38th birthday, which has put me in the mood to reflect that if I had done things differently, I could maybe be one of those people who have a career, rather than a series of jobs that they fell into. I always assumed my Dad had been the career type, as he has had a very successful career. But in a recent conversation with him I discovered that he only fell into accountancy because he didn't get into University to do History like he wanted to. This may explain why my parents got so annoyed with me for not taking up my offered University place back in the 90s when it was all still free, sorry Dad.

I hadn't realised how much my conviction that your job does not define you had taken hold until my very favourite editor pointed out to me that very few of my characters mentioned their jobs. Didn't occur to me that anybody would be interested in what fictional people did for a living, as I felt their character would be defined enough by their actions and words. I think I was probably naïve and wrong in hoping for this, as my favourite editor is generally right, and knows an awful lot more about what makes a decent story than I do.

All this is not to disparage the many people happy to be defined by their job, I know teachers, doctors, lawyers, postmen, lorry drivers, mechanics and waitresses who fall on either side of my fence. There will always be some who work to live, and others who genuinely live to work. There will be those who enthuse and say that you must have a thing, a raison d'etre, some force that drives you to do stuff, but they are wrong too. If all you are driven to do is sit in front of the telly drinking tea, then good for you, do what makes you happy as life is fleeting. Most days I am only really driven to sit in the garden with a good book and a bottle of cider. If you keep working yourself into the ground for a better tomorrow that never comes then you did something wrong.

You are not your job, unless you want to be.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Farewell all, I am done procrastinating

I suppose it's all over then. As I plough my way into the final revisions of my novel, I realise that this blog no longer has any purpose. Dave does write stuff, he has written stuff, and now he has nothing to procrastinate over. Farewell to Dave Doesn't Write Anything Ever, and possibly good riddance, right kids?

Well, probably not, but I may run out of things to rant about eventually. I may have already, this is more of a space filler than actually something worth reading. It is in fact, an actual, genuine, bona fide, last ditch bit of procrastination, no word of a lie.

It has become painfully apparent that the book is going to need working on again soon. I realised this because despite having spent the last month (while it's been with my small select group of trusted proof readers) going over the plot in my head, thinking of ways to work in a couple of gags that only just occurred to me, and working out how to attack the next round of revisions with the least amount of distractions. This week, I have mostly been fiddling around with my guitar effects pedal board, trying to find the best sounds for songs I will probably never play, and restringing guitars I do not need for anything I am currently doing. I've also written a bunch of new Dave Not The Cat songs, always a sure sign I should be doing something else.

All this was prompted by the return of my manuscript from my favourite proof reader, it has some very useful notes scrawled on it. Along with a conversation last week with another of my trusted readers, this means it is definitely time for me to get on with it, and do the last couple of sweeps of this book before I have to actually decide where it is going to end up.

That's where the real problem suddenly reared its head. I have been so busy concentrating on getting the thing written, and as good as it possibly could be, and a thing I could be proud of, etc. etc. I had not really given serious thought as to what to do with the bloody thing once it was finished (probably because of the surfeit of unfinished novels I've got lying around the house already, I never thought it would get finished). It should have occurred to me at some point that just as many people are trying to get to be novelists as are wanting to be rock stars, and I didn't manage that one either. Once again I feel irony's bitter sting as I abandon one impossible pipe dream for another. There is a small (okay, quite big really) chance that an unread novel will sit on amazon's self publishing service alongside all the albums I have littered the internet with that nobody ever listens to (if this has filled you with sympathy there are some for download here).

I have also had to cope with a few truths about my writing style, and its unnecessary wordiness (which has been utterly deliberate so far in this blog, and shall remain so). There is a great deal of crap to scythe away from my tale of derring do, (not actual crap apparently, just excessive sesquipedalianism really) and with every stroke of the editor's pencil that I see, I realise how much needs to go. I apologise for the amount of extravagant verbosity that I am vomiting all over this piece, I need to get it out of my system.

It's not just that though. I have been alerted to some colloquialisms that I assume everybody uses (apparently not everybody is 'made up' when they are happy, and I should keep such things to the dialogue, and out of the narration really) my grammar is occasionally shocking (expensive education utterly wasted, sorry Dad) and certain things when seen from a completely different viewpoint look terribly wrong, or right, depending on which side you're on. I have however been very pleased to have the note 'unlikely' put to the side of an incident that actually happened in Barnstaple in 1997. I shall not recount the tale, but if you had ever been in Sherry's Tavern back then, it would not have seemed so unlikely that a bouncer would behave in such a fashion.

Equally, my own personality defects are affecting my characterisation somewhat. The fact that I do not ever remember what people look like, or ask them anything important about their lives has led to me sometimes forgetting to describe characters visually, or bother with what some would call their vital life details. It is genuinely just due to my own world view and priorities, you can ask my wife. If I come home and tell her that I have met somebody interesting in the pub, she will immediately ask me their name (which I usually have not bothered to ask) followed by what they do for a living (which I have never found important enough to ask anybody about) and whether they are married or not (similarly not interested). I can then go on to tell her their favourite episode of Star Trek, what they like to drink, what they think about the current government, and their top five track one side ones of all time. I think these things are more important, I am realising that not everybody does, and rewriting accordingly. Sadly, just like the rest of the country, many of my characters need jobs.

Anyhow, I am clearly just thinking out loud here again, sorry. I must get on and finish the revisions before deciding what to do with it all. Goodbye forever, I shall procrastinate here no longer, Dave really doesn't write anything ever.

Except he does, and he almost certainly will again.

:Edited for brevity, honest:

Saturday 9 May 2015

I promise to shut up about the election now, this is my last word, sorry

Happy weekend people! Well done on exercising your democratic rights and voting, or indeed not voting which you are also perfectly entitled to do, the other day. It would seem that the majority of the UK do not agree with me, and are rather more right wing, still hey ho. Most people don't listen to the Residents or wear pirate hats in public either but I am not crying about that all over facebook. That's the thing with democracy, you get what the majority of people want, not what you want, it's actually a pretty good system really, and for all the proportional representation whiners out there, even if the coalition had spent millions and millions completely reforming our voting system for that to happen we would have woken up to a right wing government on friday morning, but it would have had 85 UKIP MPs as well. People like UKIP, I don't, but some people do, and there's not a thing I can do about it except try and change their mind with reasoned discussion. I can't even persuade my wife to listen to Trout Mask Replica though, so I can't see how I'm going to persuade someone who believes wholeheartedly in British sovereignty and small government to change their mind. Won't stop me trying though, on both counts.

I woke up yesterday morning after about an hour and a half's sleep with what felt like a massive hangover, and discovered I had scrawled a whole load of notes down about the election night coverage, thus I now feel duty bound to try and put them into some sort of coherent bloggage, as clearly that was what I was going to do. Couldn't face it yesterday, due to being so tired I couldn't feel my eyeballs anymore, I may be too old to stay up watching political punditry all night and still make it to work the next day now, that's quite sad really.

The coverage itself is worthy of some comment, for the sheer amount of wasted money on the BBC and for the so-close-but-still-so-far channel 4 coverage. In the case of the BBC, where they used to have just Peter Snow throwing statistics around with a bunch of odd graphics, now Jeremy Vine is job sharing with Emily Maitlis and her Giant iPhone, I don't think we needed both of them working all night, is it so they can have more tea breaks? In which case surely they could both use Jeremy's holodeck and take it in turns. As to why they made poor Sophie Raiworth stand outside doing a giant jigsaw puzzle in the freezing cold all night, I am still none the wiser. Or why all the poor girls are jammed into figure hugging dresses and high heels, including the politicians (I've spent a day dressed as such, it is very uncomfortable). I am also still baffled (and always have been) as to why we need a helicopter filming Mr Cameron and chums driving to the counts, is it so we can comment on how frivolous the route they have taken is and complain about their mileage claims? For that seems marvellously ironic to me. I also enjoyed them cutting off the Northern Irish interview about the breakup of the UK from the SNP threat to go to a result from the mainland, while not bothering to show, or even really mention much, the Northern Irish results.

After feeling utterly let down by Channel 4's show of pointlessness and shit lefty jokes 5 years ago, I was quite pleased to see they had Paxman and some proper Channel 4 news people on this year. It was an improvement, but all the gogglebox bits were getting in the way of results and once again re-affirmed my lack of faith in the british electorate to know what they are talking about. Also, Paxman is not so good at reading jokes off of an autocue, and his trademark stare and condescending 'Idiot' catchphrase began to wear thin. However, I am sure their coverage was not really aimed at me, and were I still 19 I would probably have loved it and become more politically engaged as a result, so hopefully it is doing that. I could have watched David Mitchell and chums doing a carbon copy of the BBC style coverage all night though, without all the sketches and bollocks thrown in, maybe they can all swap around in 5 years, and we can see Andrew Neill and David Dimbleby reading crap jokes from autocues instead?

If you're expecting one of my usual lefty rants then I am afraid you will be disappointed, I already did one of those, and I am quietly resigned to another five years of tory government. Being from the generation dubbed Thatcher's Children, I am used to it. I had my free milk taken away, and now my teeth are falling out, but that's beside the point. We survived, Cameron is not going to eat your baby, stamp on your puppy and poke you in the eye. He genuinely believes that he is doing the right thing, so did Hitler mind you, but again that's not the point (although I have now lost the argument by bringing up the Nazis. Hell, in for a penny and all that, those banging on about proportional representation should remember that it was just one of many weak facets of the Weimar Republic that allowed Hitler to rise to power, but one shouldn't blame a voting system for genocide. My 3rd year history teacher did, but I'm pretty sure he was wrong). So calm down, we lost, get over it, if I can't get to play my White Noise album at a party I will not shout loudly about it all night, I will sit calmly in the corner trying to ignore the fact that some bastard is making me listen to Fleetwood Mac, and look forward to getting home where I can listen to the White Noise in peace. If this metaphor is lost on you then there may be no hope at all.

(there is no power in this earth that can make me link you to a Fleetwood Mac album)

It seems to me that the biggest problem we have is that all politicians are just trying to get into power, which obviously makes sense as it's the only way to get paid for it, same as all writers are trying to get published. But it would be nice to have a real choice in the two main parties, for as my father told me, any thing other than a vote for labour or conservative is a wasted vote. He was wrong, where we lived anything other than a vote for Lib Dem or Conservative was a wasted vote, well played Dad, well played. He had a point though, for all the recent multi party politics rhetoric, Thursday night has taught us that first past the post is the clear winner in this election. Nobody liked the coalition, so they voted a majority government in, and we still don't trust labour.

Scotland however, raised a very important point by voting SNP. Having resoundingly said no to independence earlier in the year, it was clearly not a vote for another referendum, whatever Alec Salmond says. The SNP were the only credible party (whatever you think of them they have been running the Scottish parliament fairly well for the last four years) offering a left-wing anti austerity agenda, and you could only vote for them in Scotland, so maybe that's what happened there? The labour party were no longer offering them the traditional labour party policies, so they jumped ship to the SNP. Makes sense to me, I know the Greens offer an alternative here, but even I can't take their manifesto seriously and I am their target audience of weirdo hippy tree huggers (worth pointing out to locals that even Totnes has a Tory MP, with a massive majority no less).

As to the polls, well, I think they underestimated the blandness of the seemingly endless campaign. I only made my mind up who to vote for as I looked at the ballot paper and stuck the pencil in my ear in an attempt to gross out the next poor hapless voter. Where's the choice? You may as well flip a coin most of the time, which is why so many people don't vote, and fair play to them, there is no point in most constituencies, they are mostly made up of safe seats.

I did think Cameron might have lost it by inadvertently describing 0ver 30% of the country as a joke. By calling Russell Brand a joke (he's not, he's a comedian, but I can understand the confusion Dave) for not voting, he could maybe have angered the non voters into going out and voting against him. Luckily they both made sure it all happened after the deadline to register, so well done both of you, democracy be damned. A lot of people listen to Russell's bizarre rantings, and dismissing them all out of hand in the way Cameron did just shows that the only people he cares about in our country (and if I hear the UK or the NHS described as 'ours' again any time soon I may scream, punch someone, or both) are those who vote, the rest of you can fuck off. Incidentally, the most insightful thing I ever heard from Mr Brand was when he pointed out than when he was poor and banging on about inequality he was accused of 'Politics of Envy' and now he is rich he is called a hypocrite, having suffered a hugely scaled down version of the same thing, I understand this completely.

I very nearly didn't bother this year, as again, the sheer length of the campaign had knocked most of the political engagement out of me. Had the polls opened the morning after Ed said, albeit rather unconvincingly, 'Hell Yes' to Paxman, I would have skipped out of the door, voted for this new and strangely charismatic Milliband and been happy with my choice. Despite having voted (albeit tactically) for a labour government three times in a row and got Tory-lite instead. As it was, having spent 6 weeks listening to ever more desperate and whiny politicians begging for my vote, I had lost focus, and was considering not bothering, since I live in the safest of all safe tory seats anyway. Just because people choose not to vote (and a lot of those who don't vote that I have spoken to probably shouldn't anyway, occasionally I think my mum was right, and you should have to pass a test before you're allowed to vote) doesn't mean that your government should ignore you, and treat you as a joke.

I'm also always saddened by those who treat it as a game to be won or lost, rather like football, and pick their team and blindly vote for them again and again because that's what they do (and equally, the crowing over victory or crying and shouting like the worst kind of bad loser). Back to my parents again, my Mother once admitted to having voted green (back when it really was a wasted vote) to scoffing laughs from my Father, because she liked their policies. I firmly believe that she was right, and you should vote for who you agree with, and not just 'your team'. Which also means that we need Parties who set out their policies along ethical lines as to what they actually believe, rather than letting the press set their agenda as to what they think will make them most electable. I would rather have everyone publish a manifesto a month before polling day, let everyone read it and make their minds up and then vote. Instead of nearly two months of name-calling, pointless debates and polls and punditry that are able to turn even an educated, politically engaged chap like myself off of the whole idea of voting. Policies not personalities please, if your campaign hinges on someone having a funny face when he eats, or looking like a blown up condom with a face drawn on it, then you have lost me completely.

The most interesting thing I noticed about election night, came from a German, Henning Wehn, who appears on 8 out of 10 cats a lot. He pointed out that there is no reason for anybody in this country to want to stand for parliament, as we treat them all like crap, and they are not (compared to what they could make in the private sector) that well paid. If we could change just one thing about politics, it would be to try and get the people who try to work for us, and represent us, a little respect for what they are trying to do, rather than calling them all self-serving scum and wanting them all dead. Slamming the Lib Dems in the way we did for having put the needs of the country over the needs of the party is the perfect metaphor for what is wrong with the voting public in Britain, we can't cope with the fact that their Manifesto was written with the happy knowledge that they would never need to actually implement it, and the hard facts were that the tuition fees policy was unworkable in the environment they were thrown into. We can't always get what we want, but if we try sometimes, we make damn sure we can't get what we need either, to paraphrase Mick Jagger.

The most important thing I learned was not to underestimate the young. I laughed at our local Lib Dem candidate because he was only 22 and had never even voted before. My reasoning being that he is the same age as my stepkids, and I certainly wouldn't trust them in any position of responsibility (no offence kids, you know I love you, but you know what I mean) so why would I vote for someone who can only be spotted in his campaign photo with some school kids because he has a suit on? And then Mhairi Black goes and gets herself elected at only 20 years old and gives a wildly impressive speech about Trident. She still hasn't finished her dissertation. Don't tell me the next generation aren't politically engaged, go and talk to some different kids, you'll be surprised.

So while I am by no means happy that we have five years of Tory government ahead of us, I try to look at the bright side, at least Billy Bragg will get his career back, and maybe Ben Elton will start doing funny stand up again.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Dave Jolly Well Does Write Things Sometimes, though they are quite self indulgent

There is a very good reason why I haven't posted anything in ages, and it's not just the electiony stuff going on. I have invalidated the title, and indeed very raison-d'etre of this blog and finished the bloody book. And when I say finished, I mean, got to the end, done some re-writing and given it to some people to read so they can tell me it's all a bit shit and make me rework it all in a month or two. But more finished than all those other ones I've got lying about the place.

On the back seat of my car is a one of only two fully printed out manuscripts of it (just for myself, because ever since I sat as a nerdy eighteen year old at my sister's old typewriter, frantically typing out my unreadably scrawled chapters I have wanted a bundle of papers that make up a novel that I have written myself. I am aware that they are essentially redundant in the digital age.) there would have been none, but one of my readers (and frankly, the one who's opinion on the whole endeavour I trust more than anyone's) asked me if they could have a hard copy, and since, due to my job, I have access to all the printers I can eat, I could think of no reason not to. I am feeling rather smug about the whole thing to be honest, and am anticipating a crashing come-down when all my readers inform me that they have no idea what it is meant to be about, and the whole concept is flawed.

I am also writing today to try and explain my reasoning behind the breakup of me and the Plastic Squirrel (for those not in the know, that has been the name of my solo musical endeavours since the mid nineties). While it seems utterly schizophrenic to break up a solo act, and wildly pretentious to have several solo projects under different names, neither of these are true. I did an EP for a bet of mildly amusing folkish songs called political correctness gone trad. It sounded nothing like Plastic Squirrel material ever should, and I liked it. Rather than spending weeks crafting elegant, intertwining synths and guitars and agonising over every single hi-hat sound I sang stupid words over cowboy chords and realised I could actually play it live. And as a bonus, I could just roll up to gigs with one guitar and nothing else, hell, I could cycle to gigs if I do this.

Now, I did three Plastic Squirrel shows in 20 years of Plastic Squirrel's existence, and every time I felt embarrassed that I was not a band. So when deciding to do this new material live I figured it was best to abandon the name as well. This brought up another problem, I don't want to go out as just Dave Holwill, there are a million people out there performing just under their own name, and names are not memorable. No offence to all those who do that, but for every Nick Drake and Bob Dylan there is a Nick Smith and a Bob Jones who's names you forgot a day after you heard them. So I adopted the amusing name conferred upon me by the landlady of a pub I used to play in, Dave Not The Cat. I did a few shows about ten years ago under that name, playing dodgy covers on an acoustic guitar. The name came from an actual Cat who roamed the streets of Hatherleigh at the time, who was called Dave. Although he wasn't really, and it was my wife who called him that, although before we were together, so it wasn't as weird as it sounds.

Anyway, I digress, basically I am toying with the idea of playing my own songs in public again, for the first time in a long time, and needed a name I didn't want to apologise for every time I said it. I think it's worked.

Apologies for this blog, it is thoroughly self-indulgent and serves no purpose whatsoever. I know I expected to be ranting about politics for the entire election campaign, but it has turned out to be so anodyne and dull that there is nothing to rant about. Maybe the fact that if you don't believe in borders, think that nuclear weapons are a bad thing and that equality is a good thing then people will think you some kind of lunatic, and laugh if you suggest that anarchy is not the same thing as chaos. I could rant about that, but frankly the lack of political engagement from those seeking election has knocked the political engagement out of me as well, bring on the rematch in July.

I have always argued that if you don't vote, then you have no right to complain, but I have spent the last twenty odd years voting and complaining, and I am tired of complaining, so I might give up voting as well. At least that was what I was thinking, since there is no real socialist alternative to the two main rhetorics, and everybody prays to the economic gods of perpetual growth, maybe I should give up. And then I saw this video

And while it still isn't what I want, I admire what he is doing, and will probably vote for him tomorrow rather than writing wankers on the voting slip, or throw myself at the greens again. At least this way I might help somebody not lose his £500 deposit.

Friday 3 April 2015

Vote for Me and I'll Set You Free (Except I am not standing, and I don't believe in the system)

Let me set my cards on the table from the start, politics will never deliver my chosen system of government, as I hope for a Star Trek style future where currency has been abolished, and we all work together for the betterment of mankind in a utopian egalitarian society without borders, war or any of that kind of unpleasantness. It is pretty obvious that this will never be delivered in my lifetime, if ever, but I do hold out some hope that in some far flung future Jean-Luc Picard looks back at us and shakes his head in disbelief at the way we organise things.

With that, we embark upon another election campaign, Britain is currently without a government, and thus, as I had always hoped, anarchy rules, and we are all free to follow our conscience rather than the arbitrary rules and laws stated by the government. Although, of course we are not, and plenty of things are still very much illegal, so stop punching your wife in the face, and put down that spliff. It would be nice if we could function as a society without having to make laws telling us not to do awful, horrendous things to each other, but it is obvious that there are just too many sociopaths hanging around for that to be a reality, and just twats, plain, common or garden, selfish twats.

The rhetoric and dialogue of the election campaigns are the thing that is currently upsetting me. We are all being told that we must own our own homes to be valuable, and that to stop the wealth creating upper echelons from hoarding as much wealth as they can would be bad for all of us. Once again, people are treating the laws of economics as if they were as intractable as the laws of physics, and forgetting that currency is an abstract concept, a useful one yes, but while you can't stop the earth from going around the sun, or things naturally falling downwards whilst in the grip of the earth's gravity, you could quite easily not put up prices when demand outstrips supply if you wanted to.

Would the whole of western society descend into some kind of anarchic bloodbath if there were a fight club style reset of all debts? Who would actually lose out if, like a benevolent parent who has loaned their child the money to cover their rent for a month with no real expectations of ever seeing it again, all national and personal debts were cancelled, and we all went back to zero? I would hazard a guess at pretty much nobody in a life destroying turmoil sense of losing out. Equally, if all the CEOs of every company out there were to suddenly have an attack of conscience and pay all their employees an actual living wage (the aspirational £10 an hour suggested by the Greens seems good to me) and took it from the shareholders profits and the higher earners salaries, rather than knee jerk price increases, would the business actually collapse as is so often predicted? Or would football club owners and their stars have a couple less yachts, and might Mr Branson not have his own private island or something. Businesses did not collapse when the minimum wage was first introduced, despite all the protests to the contrary.

To extrapolate a bit, I work for one of the small businesses so often quoted as likely to go under if higher minimum wages were introduced. Full disclosure, I do not make ten pounds an hour, though I am not terribly badly off, and as we bring in two salaries, we are ok thanks, there are other reasons for this which I will go into later. I suspect, that if the CEO decided not to keep adding to his collection of very expensive sports cars, or maybe took one less extreme fishing holiday a year, or maybe downsized from his big country house, or travelled between the London office and the Devon factory a bit less, maybe using something more economical than an Audi R8 then he could probably push up those of us who are under the tenner an hour down here to that level without too much upward pressure on the prices we charge, or too much of a dip into personal poverty. I could be wrong, and I suspect he would tell me that I am (he might if he is reading this, and if so, this is purely hypothetical, I am not lobbying here, and you knew I was a socialist when you hired me).

Once upon a time, a household could live on one salary, and that being a salary from a factory or other such low paid work. The other members of the household (be they the wife, or children who hadn't left home yet) could go out and work as well, but the second income would be to pay for nice things, like holidays, or new curtains or some such facile crap. The point being, that now, with a single income, no family can pay its rent, food, energy etc. etc. bills without claiming some in-work benefits that are the real problem with the benefits bill that we keep blaming on long term unemployed, disabled and immigrants. A living wage would stop that, if a job offered you a decent income, rather than merely forcing you to pay your own extortionate rent, while simultaneously preventing you from affording it, even the most hapless layabout would be more inclined to take it. Perhaps if the big CEOs had to live on what they pay their cleaners and call centre staff for a bit, they might increase wages out of some kind of human decency, although from what I have seen on shows such as undercover boss, and secret millionaire, they are more likely to make one off payments to a couple of people with impressive sob stories than make an actual real difference in the lives of all their employees.

It is not the politics of envy, for most of us do not want 4 homes, a yacht and a fleet of cars, we just want to not have to worry about paying our bills all the time, to get to the end of the month and have a bit left over for a rainy day, that is not envy, that is simple peace of mind. Equality should mean levelling up, not down.

The other real, massive underlying problem in the UK is housing, and not because we can't all afford to buy, but because increasingly, we can't afford to rent either. And we are told that we should all be buying, when quite often, rent is a perfectly valid option. We have taken one of the most basic of all human rights, the right to shelter, and commodified it, turned it into an investment and shoved the prices up so high that rents/mortgage payments are fast leaping over the 50% of your income that I was told to budget for it being back when I was a wide-eyed 18 year old skipping out into the world.

I am incredibly lucky to own my own home (although the bank still own half of it) and I am not going to pretend that I managed it by knuckling down, working hard and getting on with it as so many others claim. I only managed this feat by having the good fortune to inherit a decent sum of money from my grandmother (it takes a special kind of sociopath to describe losing a grandparent as good fortune) who only managed to leave me this money by having the equally good fortune to have bought a semi within walking distance of Guildford station back in the 1950s. She did not do this as an investment, she needed a home. I was also lucky enough to be born into a family that paid for me to go to a private school and get a decent education that provides an instant leg-up into better jobs. I threw it back in their faces, and went off to do low-paid jobs in crappy factories while pretending to be a rock star by night, but that is the only reason that I feel I have this unique perspective to share with you.

I see my contemporaries, claiming that the only reason they have their comfortable lives in nice houses and well paid jobs is that they have worked hard. I am not doubting that they have worked hard, but so do the people who live on the council estate where I lived before I had the stroke of good luck that let me pay off all my not inconsiderable debts and buy a house. We struggled to pay the rent and the bills in that house too, hence the not inconsiderable debts. It was owned by a housing association as affordable rented accommodation, and we brought in two full time salaries at above the minimum wage, but that was not enough with the pressures of bringing up two teenagers in modern society, spiralling food and energy prices and stagnated wages. We still struggle to pay everything now, I think everybody does, but the difference now is that I know I could cut down on the wine bill, maybe have a few less pets, not eat out any more etc. etc. whereas then it was the very real dilemma of eating or heating. Most of the comfortable middle classes who agonise over being in the 'squeezed middle' have no idea, Jacinta can do without her riding lessons, and Tarquin can learn piano from a book, ok?

Misunderstanding of Tax boundaries doesn't help either, I have never made it up to the 40% band, and probably never will, but I have met people who seem to believe that it will take 40% of everything they earn, rather than of that over and above the threshold amount. And if you are lucky enough to be over that threshold amount, truly, you are in a land of first world problems if you fear a little bit of a tax rise on everything you earn above £42, 385 a year will destroy your life.
Decent policies such as rent control, and the mansion tax would hopefully stop the relentless rent rise, as, if the most expensive properties incurred an extra tax burden, then the market would make them less expensive, thus the buy to let landlords would need less income to pay for them, and hopefully the rents would drop accordingly (though probably not, as I said before, there are many selfish twats). The ludicrously high benefits payout that we hear so much about in the red-tops and the mail are almost always made up of the amount paid out in housing to a private landlord, who is all too often one of the very MPs who are so quick to demonise the benefit claimants that they are gaining so much from. A wonderfully vicious circle.

I would like our prospective MPs to stop banging on about affordable housing to buy (let alone the obsession with building new when there are so many unoccupied houses already) when a huge swathe of the country do not ever even hope to buy a home of their own, I used to be one of them, so I know. Sensible, affordable rented homes, and not trying to hound people out of them for having a spare room might be a start. Along with bringing back a fair days work for a fair days pay, rather than the culture that you should have to aspire to better yourself, and if you don't then you deserve a salary that gives you less than you need to live on. Forget about social mobility for once, cleaners and call centre workers, and burger flippers are all working as well, they should be able to live on what they earn, rather than being made to feel like they should work harder to become managers, or entrepreneurs. We cannot all be the boss.

As to the leaders debate, and the cult of personality going on, it struck me that everybody says that their guy won it, and such is the nature of the beast. We agree with those who we agree with, and everyone thinks differently, I had been leaning towards the green party all year (and have enthusiastically voted for them in the past) but it is a shame that the charismatic and enigmatic Caroline Lucas has given the leadership to the awkward and frightened seeming Natalie Bennet. I can only hope that the more she does it, the better she gets, but I am leaning ever back to the Labour party again. See, even I am affected by the personality game that I am so annoyed with, green policies are still the ones that resonate with me most.

Ed is pulling off the lurch to the left that we have all been waiting for (those of us who wanted an alternative to Thatcher/Blairism anyway) and I suspect it is no coincidence that they have been fielding the most socialist MPs they can find on Question Time recently. Ever since Tony Blair tricked me (it felt like he invited me to a fantastic party, and then it turned out that the party was in my house, and he turned up with a load of rich mates, smashed up my stuff, drank all my booze, started a war with the neighbours and then left me an invoice for a load of other stuff I hadn't even seen there) I have felt abandoned by the party of the working man. The Lib Dems promised everything I wanted last time, and they too got a whiff of power and turned their backs on us, hence my swing to the greens. I am still undecided in case you are interested, but as a proud pinko-lefty-marxist type it is unlikely that I will vote UKIP or Tory, although where I live I suspect that will be the choice, and a tactical voter may have to vote Tory to keep UKIP out, an extremely unpalatable option.

I was most impressed by the policies of the SNP and Plaid Cymru, who sound like they actually care about people. Since I am no fan of nationalism, and no respecter of borders, I was surprised to be swayed by separatist parties, and it was suggested that nationalists just dress up in whatever clothes they can to appeal to the most people. I'm not sure that's true anymore, and I might have to move to Wales or Scotland just so that I can vote for a party whose policies I agree with. All the warnings the Tories are giving about a possible Labour/SNP coalition seem like good things to me, abolishing Trident is something I have always felt to be a good thing, given the nature of 21st century conflict, nuclear warheads seem utterly redundant, if indeed they ever were effective at anything other than attempted genocide, or ensuring the whole population live in constant fear. And the SNP have been given their answer about an independent Scotland now, so they need to concentrate on doing normal politics instead. What were once single policy pressure parties are all starting to have meaningful and well thought out manifestos.

It did sadden me that the massacre in Kenya was pushed so far down the news schedule while the pundits were excitedly dissecting the leaders debate, but that's the media for you. I missed all bulletins on the Kenya thing, as ironically, I was channel flicking to find it, and missed it by a hair on all of them, that's how short it was.

 The thing I must take from all of this, is how sad it is that nobody seems to think that the economy should be there to benefit the people, rather than the people being there to service the economy, we are all thought of as just units, there to ensure GDP goes up and help bring the books back into balance. The country is not it's finances, it is the people, whether they be those who had the good fortune to inherit vast tracts of land and a crown, or born to a hapless, uneducated 13 year old girl on a council estate, or uprooting themselves from their homes to build a better life in a foreign land, we need to make sure they all have real, genuine equal chances of success, and stop peddling this myth of a meritocracy. It is not coincidence that most of the powerful positions in this land are held by privately educated white men, and I say that as a privately educated white man.