Monday, 29 June 2009

A Guest Speaks

In the resulting days after Michael Jackson's death, every single possible person with access to a pen, a keyboard or a mouth has been sharing their thoughts on the subject. Paul Kelly however, is the biggest Michael Jackson fan I know, and had some seriously interesting and well-rounded opinions on the man. I have decided to upgrade them from mere "Post Comment" to "Post" in their own right so you can all read it for yourselves.

You can follow Paul on Twitter on

I am one of the biggest fans I know of the entertainment provided by Michael Jackson over the years, the songs, music videos, films, dancing. The fact that he broke so many musical and cultural barriers. And the fact that he brought many important issues into the fore, even when he didn't mean to. Issues like racism and body dysmorphic disorder have been thrust into the limelight. The magnitude of his fame meant that everything he did would be noticed by everybody. He did a lot of god things, he is the world record holder for supporting the most charities for any musical artist. His music crossed over from funk and r'n'b to pop and laid the foundations for pretty much every pop song ever since.

That being said, although people are saying that they hope he is remembered for this aspect of his life, the personal scandals that have beset him cannot be ignored. No amount of money should be able to buy you justice. I really really want to believe that he was an innocent pawn in the hands of some exploitative, money-grabbing, nasty people who sought to take advantage of a mentally ill and overtly naive man, who had suffered greatly as a child and had never gotten over the traumas he faced. Unfortunately the evidence to the contrary is great, 14 children identified to police the very unique birth marks on his genitals. He admitted getting in a bath with Jordan Chandler. People close to him who expressed concern over his relationship with Jordan Chandler were completely ostracised and threatened with heaps of legal action in a style befitting of a lawyer working on behalf of the Church of Scientology. The fact that Michael Jackson is dead doesn't change these facts.

The other aspect to all of this, is that while on the one hand he was in the public eye to such a degree that he didn't even seem real, he was in fact a human being. He was a father and a son and a brother. Around 150,000 people die every day, on Thursday he was one of them. Many people have been questioning why we are focusing so much attention on one single death. I suppose it is because a) in some way or another Michael Jackson affected a lot of people, and b) in our media-centric world, we are shown what the media thinks we want to see. The thriller video isn't news, but it is on the news because people will watch it.

The only thing that we, the ordinary people know, is that any information we get regarding Michael Jackson, be it about his life, his death, his legacy, or the controversy surrounding his relationship with children, is at least third hand information, and is nearly always presented unfairly. The only people who have the ability to tell us the truth about any of these facets of Michael Jackson will definitely be telling you with an agenda, an ulterior motive. Unfortunately the main motive for most things regarding Michael Jackson appears to be money, and not the welfare of those who might have been damaged by the whole situation.

Friday, 26 June 2009

What terrible news, but what will we think in 5 years' time?

It's always sad when a major contributor to popular culture passes away; even though you didn't know the artist personally, you get the feeling that something great has moved on. For me, it's the same feeling I get when a historical landmark gets a makeover, or is decimated in a fire (like the Grand Pier in Weston-Super-Mare last year) - even though I had no real connection to the place, in general there's a sad feeling of something historically important being lost, something that later generations might miss out on. I might be the only person who feels this way, I'm not sure, all I know is that there's something depressing that I can't quite put my finger on when something long-lasting finally crumbles. When parts of Leeds are bulldozed to make way for brand new shiny additions to the universities I feel distanced from the town as a whole - the old buildings were decrepit and ugly, but they had survived a war and perhaps a hundred years of use and abuse; to pull them down suddenly and without any sense of occasion seems to lack dignity. Like I said, it's probably only me that feels this way. (Conversely, I get happy when new fixtures are removed to reveal the past - In Lancaster at the moment there is an old billboard fixed to the disused art deco cinema which builders were removing ready to flatten the building, until they discovered a poster advert for a Ford Cortina from the seventies. It feels nice to have bits of the past fighting back at modernisation. I think I anthropomorphise (is this a word?) things far too much. But this is how I think.)

I first heard about Michael Jackson's death while I was at work. The TVs were switched on silent, but Sky rolling news' big flashing BREAKING NEWS banner let me know, blow by blow, minute by minute, how MJ was being taken to hospital, how his condition was described as "Very Serious" and then finally that he had died. It was a shocking thing to learn - of course, he has never really been the picture of health during his time as a star over the nineties, which is how I (and the majority of people I know) will remember him, but for him to actually die was unbelievable. It's on a par, in my mind, of informing me that the production of Dr Pepper has been halted forever. It's ludicrous, and stupid, but wholly believable if you think about it. My first thoughts were of people who had bought tickets to his O2 shows, specifically a few friends of mine, who are such huge fans of the man that I was sure they'd be devastated by the news. It turns out I was largely exaggerating my thoughts on the projected emotional responses of my peers - it was and is a sad event, but on the whole it was expected sooner or later, and after all, nobody knew him personally. I feel that this is how the media will deal with the tragedy - by taking a hyperbole of projected emotions and thoughts, and turning him into the People's Princess of the Naughties. (How unfortunate that term for our time period is sometimes).

What takes over the coverage of huge events like this is a sense that people will be looking back at this moment in time and wondering what we thought and did, and how we reacted to the news. There have always been people notating events in history, but realistically these days, we have people who are all too aware that there are eyes from the future staring at us and analysing our thoughts and feelings. This makes it hard to act in a natural way, much like if you were asked to flirt with your hero at gunpoint on national television as part of a panelled judging show. You want to show your best side, you want to show you care, that you're a good person; but at the same time all the attention is making you stutter and say stupid exaggerated things that end up making you sound like a conceited prick, rather than the sensitive interesting soul you wish to be perceived as. Plus, the studio lights are making your hair stick to your forehead, and the chiffon summer dress they made you wear is sticking to your back unattractively due to a combination of the heat and your 100 degree centigrade embarrassment force field. Your pitch becomes hysterical, and the audience get carried away with it. You probably win the prize out of sheer pity from the producer. You get away with it, people with no sense of propriety and/or emotional intelligence of their own think this is how they should feel, and copy the hysteria. Then people look back and simply say "Christ, what a bunch of fucking lunatics." This is why nobody looks at the fainting girls in Beatle's memorabilia films and comments on how ridiculous collapsing at the sight of Paul McCartney is. They were at least acting like that because that's how they felt. All those flowers outside Buckingham Palace when Diana died - a lot of them were there because people felt obliged to be sad because that was the general emotional consensus. They didn't want to look back and think "why didn't I care?". Which is silly, because you're allowed to feel how you actually feel these days. There wasn't a hippy revolution for no reason. Haven't you seen Wayabuloo? (see previous blog entry)

The news has been reported in a variety of ways, much like grief you might say, if you were trying to sound like you knew about psychology - from finger-pointing hysteria-blame from the Daily Mail to the Guardian's and the Independent's working of the tragedy/it was expected/he used to be such a legend angle and a confusing mish-mash of voyeurism, indignance, blame-throwing and what seems so embarrassingly sincere it might actually be "faux"-respect from The Sun.

[Image courtesy of The Sun newspaper online, ]

Jokes about his death being banded around already are tasteless, but can't be stopped - people always joke about dead celebrities, it's in a person's nature to tell these kinds of jokes if they aren't particularly funny in the first place - go for shock humour! I'm not a fan of LOL A DEAD GUY humour, so I'm not responding to any jokes I've been sent. It's interesting to see though, that recently people have found that their way of lashing out against the hysterical media (sorry, I hate using the term "the media" makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist - another of my pet hates) is to make sick jokes up to show that they're so misanthropic, man, they just don't care that some guy died, so what if he was famous, yeah? The truth, my idea of the truth, I should clarify, is that Michael Jackson was a musical genius. He gave me many happy hours of musical joy, he was the basis for my fancy dress birthday party (we dressed up as characters from the Bad video), his Off The Wall album helped me get through weeks of working in the Worst Job Ever, and even throughout his years of oddballery, I still felt he commanded respect simply for his constant stream of pop hits. What he did in his private time was shadowy, mysterious and often sinister, but he was acquitted, and this might not be enough to clear his name, but it has got nothing to do with my admiration for what was a solid musical career that influenced thousands of songwriters and records over four decades.

Thanks for the hits Michael. I'm an atheist, so I don't believe he's gone to a "better place" per se, but perhaps now he's away from the harrassment, the addictions, the pressure and his own tattered life and relationships, he's found some kind of peace in death. Still, 50 is far too young to go.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Kids TV used to be so good...

...didn't it? Button Moon? Trap Door? Captain Planet? Thundercats? I'm sure it did, but I'll have to take your word for it on most of them, if I'm honest, because I'm pretty sure I wasn't born when the majority of these much-revered badly made cartoons were around the first time. I'm a member of a very small percentage of people who admit that they never saw these programmes. I used to work for a well-known entertainment retailer, and there in the DVD aisles customers would have seemingly endless discussions about TV shows they had watched in the past that were quite good. Confusingly, sometimes these customers were younger than me, and would be enthusiastically singing the theme tune to the Clangers (was there one? Surely there was) as though it was a fond childhood memory. What a bunch of fibbers. I certainly never saw the clangers on Telly, and I watched morning TV solidly from the age of 3 until SM:TV Live died.

It's not that I care immensely about people lying about such an inane subject - what gets on my nerves is that the subject of children's television is used as a safety topic in every pub, party and social gathering you'll ever be a part of. It is a comedy trampoline held out under the 20th storey conversation window, after everybody has finished gushing about their fucking Gap Years or their Placement Opportunities. Everyone has watched telly. Everyone can talk about it. Everyone can remember and then recreate simple theme tunes, even if they had never watched the show in question. I am fairly certain that if a person asked me to partake in a conversation about Rainbow Brite, I'd be able to do so with gusto. I'd go as far as to re-enact my "favourite episode" and everybody would laugh and say "Oh yeah!" extremely excitedly, thus wedging me firmly into their group of people they consider to be "sound bastards". The thing is, my episode would have been entirely fabricated, but nobody will have noticed, because nobody watched it anyway, because it was shit. This is my point. Most kids programmes are, were, and always will be utter bollocks.

Obviously there are exceptions to this rule - Playdays was a masterful mix of entertainment and education, with just the right amount of Dave Benson Philips, creepy waking-dead puppets and oddball Uncles sprinkled in the mix to make it enjoyable throughout childhood; Come Outside was a brilliant show too, and I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it several times before. What my generation needs to accept is that we grew up only just cuffing the arse-end of the 80s; by the time we were old enough to gawp at anything and actually understand what the bloody Jesus was happening, "good" kids TV had gone, and had been replaced by less handmade cartoons, and more CGI and live action. Badly acted series' like Brum became the standard, and quite honestly, nothing made post-Tots TV has been of any importance. Postman Pat, Funnybones...since then it's all gone to shit. Now you'd be lucky to catch an episode of kids TV's last bastion of hope "The Tweenies", because the schedule's clogged up with so much irritating repetitive patronising eyevomit.

It's extremely easy (and totally idiotic) to link bad kids' TV to the apparent "state of the youth today", and every so often a new show will be lambasted by parents and the media alike for turning the country's tots into burbling dribbling imbeciles - remember all the fuss the Teletubbies caused? They didn't speak properly, and so kids were copying them. That's just like those stupid 3 year-olds, speaking like idiots to be cool like their heroes on the telly. Oh, and the bigger one was a guy and had a handbag, and this was also subject to much abuse and pariahs, despite his gender never being fully revealed, and even despite the fact that it was only a fucking handbag. In ten years time though, drunk first year freshers will be singing the theme tune and talking about how bloody "brilliant" it was. "Brilliant" and "absolutely fantastic". "Oh! And what was it they ate?...TUBBY CUSTARD! That's it! TUBBY TOAST! BRILLIANT!" The truth is, children's television programmes are a lucrative money-making operation, because of the darling little screamballs' "I WANT A POCOYO LUNCHBOX" pester power, and because misguided adults looking for a way to show their kooky personality will always own a Bagpuss backpack. So in order to make this jump from TV show to Woolie's-style merch (It's back! Didn't you see the news?) ideas for these programmes are becoming more "sellable". I made that word up. What I mean, as I'm sure you smart young things gathered, is that as soon as you catch sight of one of these new concepts, you can instantly see cuddly toys, clothes ranges and chocolate biscuits. This is the only difference between "now" and "then" in my opinion, as far as TV shows are concerned - in the 70s, the people who made Fingermouse had no idea that 30 years on, grown men with adult beards and childish minds would be wearing tshirts bearing the very same character. Now, we have become much wiser. Characters are brightly coloured and engaging. You have distinct favourites. You WANT to OWN it as a TEDDY, NOW.

A new show aimed at young children launched by the BBC has all these aspects at its disposal, in order for it to be a resounding success. It even has a small population of indignant middle-England in a harrumph about it, which can only work to boost it's viewing figures. Waybuloo is a happy friendly TV show about being happy and friendly and nice in an idyllic woodland setting. The characters are cute, and have interesting nonsensical names. Sounds like your basic cut-and-paste children's TV show to me, nothing too bad, certainly nothing too offensive about that. Of course, everybody's favourite newspaper, the Daily Mail has other thoughts on the concept. SLAMMING the BBC with the headline "The new Teletubbies? BBC unveils animated, yoga-loving hippies that teach children to get in touch with their emotions" they can REVEAL that by watching the show "viewers will be encouraged to hug each other to achieve happiness and the show's characters float when they achieve the zen-like condition of 'Buloo'." Dear God, I thought the tellybox existed to keep the ratlings as far away from human contact as possible? What will be the point of a show which openly suggests parental interaction? SURELY WE ARE NOT BEING TOLD HOW TO RAISE OUR KIDS? OFCOM! OFCOM!!

[As yet there are no finalised merchendise plans for Waybuloo, however you can pre-order the DVD from the BBC Shop]

[Also, as a side-note, you'll notice the author of the Daily Mail article is named as "Daily Mail Reporter" which often means "Re-hashed C+P Press Release." So it could be a clever publicity stunt by the BBC. It'll be interesting to see if this is the case.]

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Speak Out, We Live in a Free Country - As Long as we can See You

NightJack was a police officer by day, and a blogger by night, telling tales of the policing world that fascinated many, and revealed another side to the Force to those who weren't involved in it's day to day workings. Anybody who was interested in policing in the UK would have been wise to read it, as his unique insights and sometimes grippingly close to the bone recounts of real trials (names and incidents were changed to retain some sort of anonymity, but had you had the inclination, they were traceable to the real events) told the unheard story of a police officer who was seeing first hand, what the press was covering so viciously. His blog received thousands of hits each week, one entry regarding the vague details of a child rape case received nearly half a million views. NightJack - or as we all now know him, Detective Constable Richard Horton - won an Orwell Award For Blogging because of his "distinctive voice" and his gritty offerings of social commentary. Now that his cover has been blown by the combined efforts of The Times and the High Court, the blog has disappeared too, taking with it the views and comments of a man who knew his subject better than any other blogger, because he was living it.

Ruling that it was in the Public Interest for Horton's identity to be revealed, the court effectively destroyed a crack in the fence where ordinary members of the public could peer into the policing world and see another side to the way our country's laws are enforced. In one of his entries, "A Survival Guide for Decent Folk" NightJack explained the different ways that being involved in an investigation could incriminate you, despite your innocence. "complain about every officer... [and] show no respect to the legal system or anybody working in it...All you are trying to do by trying to explain is digging yourself further in. We call that a significant statement and we love it.” Controversial insights such as this are precious and incredibly few, and now with NightJack's blog deleted, one less avenue for such information has been closed down. For such a free and open society, we seem to be doing an amazing job of restricting the information that's actually being made available to us.

If DC Horton's cover has been blown, are other renowned bloggers going to be run off the internet too? What about Belle du Jour, a famous ID-Free blogger who has written her own article on this matter for the Guardian today? What I can't get to grips with is the decision that there is no legal right for a blogger who wishes to remain anonymous to be able to do so, and should a newspaper, like the Times, wish to "out" you through "detective work and deductions using mainly the Internet" they are allowed to, leaving your real life in tatters, and your blog in the desktop recycling bin. It seems to me that not only is this horrendously unfair, but it is irresponsible too - think of the bloggers and twitterers in China, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, who must remain anonymous due to heavy penalties. Sometimes, a blogger's view is the only way we can find out what life is like for an everyday person in these situations. NightJack was no exception - with a fastracked disceplinary to his name, his worst fears might be coming true; he could lose his job, be subject to revenge attacks, and his award-winning writing career has now ended, at least in it's current capacity.

He was nameless for a reason; Horton would face losing his job and reputation if he became known, but his failed injunction against the Times did nothing to stop them revealing his identity and placing the laws of public interest into disrepute - where else could we read about real life policing? The answer is you can't, at least not in real-time, and so here is my final question. What lies more within the realms of public interest? The name of a man providing interesting and entertaining anecdotes and information about a public service that general society knows little about the inner workings of, or the actual content of these aforementioned blogs?

Shane Richmond sums it up perfectly for me in his blog for the Telegraph - "What's the real value to anyone of exposing Nightjack, compared to the value he was creating by shedding light on his work?" What I found interesting were the reactions of the public that the Times were so desperately seeking rights for. In comments posted by ordinary readers on their website, disgust, outrage and general dispassionate ranting was found; as reader Brian Vallance points out, "The cases could only be identified because of the un-professional conduct of the journalist who revealed the author's identity." And he's right. Still, I suppose they know what's best for us.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Social Anxiety Disorder - Making it work FOR YOU

I had a small gathering last night. Nothing big, nothing remotely “party” shaped, just some people from work who came round to my flat after a particularly long and arduous shift, in desperate need of some light refreshment. By half past two, we were talking sufficient bollocks in order for the night to be classed as a success – I did not do anything too embarrassing, and aside from a few make-up malfunctions, everybody left in one piece. One interesting aspect of the evening however, had nothing to do with the location, the company or the choice of music; Tom, one of my newly acquired friendsfromwork (all one word – this is how I introduce people until I’ve known them for about two years) diagnosed me whilst sitting diagonally in a slightly battered leather armchair – it gave him a sense of authority at the time. After asking me why I was finding it so hard to relax in company, he exclaimed “You have Social Anxiety Disorder! I studied this!” and so my hostessing was deemed acceptable, because I have a disability, and my prickishness might not be entirely my fault.

It might seem odd to an outsider that being diagnosed with a mental illness at a half-party actually didn’t ruin my night, or upset me in any way. You see, for years, I’ve been secretly harbouring the thought that perhaps my inability to interact with humans properly might be borne out of a quietly-growing sociopathic brain wrong, and that one day I might inwardly explode and charge through the wastelands of Leeds in a long leather jacket with two pump action shotguns, firing into the sky and at moving targets until they cart me away for testing. This way at least I now that ONE: Every single thing I remember I’ve done that consumes me with anxiety is probably not that embarrassing or abnormal after all and TWO: I will never end my days as a renegade massacar-er, because that’s not how Social Anxiety Disorderists roll. It’s very soothing.

How I did not diagnose myself remains a mystery to me – I spend a lot of time diagnosing my own mythical illnesses, being that I am a secret hypochondriac. Every sore throat is meningitis. Every stomach pain is liver serosis. Every headache is a melanoma. It’s not that I’m an overly morbid person – I have been known to show the odd sign of optimism and/or cheer here and there – I just get a bit worried over small grievances. Like scratches (What if I get tetanus?) or going on holiday (If I drink the water, will I get diphtheria? Etc etc). So as you can imagine, it came as a surprise to me that somebody I don’t know particularly well pointed out a malady that I hadn’t even thought of yet. A mental illness! OF COURSE! It all makes so much sense!

A quick trip to Wikipedia shows that not only was he right, he was fucking SCARILY right. The first of the criterion which need to be met in order to claim ownership of the sickness was: “A marked and persistent fear of one or more social performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating or embarrassing.” Imagine the term “Social Performance” refers to any situation in which there will be people who will be listening to me or talking to me, and you’ve hit the nail on the head. Parties, amicable meals at Nandos, going for drinks (those kind of drinks where you talk at length about really interesting subjects in turn to each other), working in a group at work/uni, going to a place where social skills are needed more than a “Hello” and a “please” aka. The Job Centre, seeing a doctor, going to the bank to get an overdraft, and sometimes even conversations in a group of more than 3 people all come under this blanket term of “Social Performance”. The most notably “OHMIGOD YES!” criteria was the third: “The person recognizes that their fear is excessive or unreasonable.” – In fact I recognise it to such an extent that I feel a constant sort of shame over my inability to interact with others. It has become an annoyance to me, and I mention it more than I should in conversation with others, by way, I suppose, of an apology. I must be the most irritating person to go out anywhere with. I can’t act normally unless I’m a bit drunk, but when I do act normally, I apologise for not acting normally before. I’m just one big explanation for my own existence. I know not to do this anymore. I’m aware that it’s a real problem, and I can deal with it accordingly. Ah, sweet relief!

There are some immensely useful things about the strange ways in which I act around people, as I have discovered. My friends are extremely good and interesting people. Nobody shit ever sticks around, because frankly, I’m far too much work, and I don’t blame them for finding somebody warmer and more rewarding to know. Another interesting trait I have is that even though in real life I resemble a cardboard cut-out of a person, if I am ever filmed, or have to act (don’t ask me why I could act at school, I really shouldn’t be able to go on stage, I just block it out) I magically turn into a friendly, approachable type of person, somebody people might be wrongly convinced they might like to have a drink with. My solution? Spend my life filming myself. It might not be practical, and it might alienate me from my species to a greater extent, but at least I’d be able to do that “small talk” thing you people like to do so much.

Don’t worry though; I won’t be rushing off to the GPs any time soon for some tasty beta-blockers. If it wasn’t for my inability to connect with humankind, I wouldn’t be the person I am today (see – optimism). If I suddenly became a positive, warm and huggy-type of person, this blog, my aspirations, and my personality would die. It’s better to be awkward, frustrated and yourself, than dosed-up, happy and deluded. So I am telling myself. Anyway, this is the last you’ll hear about my so-called “nuances”, because I’m sure that narcissistic ranting isn’t all that popular amongst the blogging community, especially when the subject is to do with possibly-curable self-wallowing mental illnesses. Oh wait...

Friday, 12 June 2009

The mournful story of the Scrounging Sponger Workshy Freeloader

If I have to sit through another lecture from an ill-informed pseudo-conservative about workshy freeloaders (a phrase which surely should have gone out of fashion about ten years ago at least) I might go irreversibly mad. I don't mean "I'm mad, me" mad, I mean properly gibberingly, dribblingly, yelling at pigeons and kids in the street mad. All my belongings in a wheelbarrow, marching it around Leeds singing Popeye the Sailor Man in Spanish mad. You see, I can understand why you'd be irked by people on benefits - you work for money, they get money seemingly for free - but frankly, I really don't care. I am willing to bet my entire Morrissons food shop on the fact that when I graduate from university next year (urgh urgh urgh, tax-dodging student scum etc)I will be jobless and on the dole for at least 3 months. The reason for this amazingly optimistic point of view? Well, an article in the Guardian of course (what else?) which delighted in informing me that this year, 40,000 graduates will leave uni jobless. Seems like the "steamroller everybody into higher education" plan adopted by every High School in the country didn't work out as planned after all. This means that I'll be on benefits. I'm not looking forward to it, as I've heard horror stories about it from anybody I've talked to who's been unlucky enough to have to claim it. I won't be ashamed though - Jobseeker's Allowance is there to help the penny-strapped afford useful things like value mince and black socks for job interviews. Stop telling me people live comfortably off benefits for years and years. Unless you enjoy Findus crispy pancakes, it's pretty hard to live on that amount of money for any stretch of time without having to sell your belongings in order to buy a Wispa to ease your crushing depression.

There are currently plans under-way to make it even harder to claim this money if you need it - for example if you've recently been made homeless because of an abusive relationship breaking down, or you've not been able to get a shitty soul-destroying job in the city for over 2 months because every doomed interview you go to smells of failure before you even shake the manager's clammy hand. Being unemployed is depressing. From now on, I want every person who claims that a person "down their road" is living "the life of Riley" at the taxpayer's expense to give me photographic evidence of their wonderful lives, in the form of paparazzi Holy Moly!-type coverage. "And here they are at Nobu, enjoying some nice lovely sushi...oh, and here's the head of the household getting a pedicure before they head out for lunch at the Hilton..." The Welfare Reform Bill 2008-09 initially looks like a way of getting people back into work after years of unemployment. Aiming it's sights mainly at what Daisy Steiner would call the "cerebrally unemployed", people would be encouraged to go to greater lengths to find work, and would have greater penalties if they refused to do so.

I am henceforth making a concerted effort to remain impartial on the subject while I take you through some of the brand spanking new ideas the Welfare Reform Bill has had to get those pesky joblesses off their interest-free credit sofas and into the streets hawking their wares. After all, the establishment knows what's best for us. (See, impartial.) Of course, there are people who have been unemployed for years who know how to work the system,but these aren't the people I'm talking about. There is no point in my addition to the reams and reams of derision piled up in middle-England about them, so I am not going to bother. I am far more interested in Working Tax Credits and Job Seeker's Allowance. Here are some of the more inspired tweakings of the system making it's way through the Lords' as we speak.

Work For Your Benefits - Under the new guidelines, people will have to earn the benefits they wish to claim by taking part in schemes meant to "increase their working skills and employabilty". These schemes, it has been pointed out by Libby Brooks, will "undercut" the national minimum wage. Perhaps I have the wrong outlook, but surely punishing people for being unemployed is not a civil way to treat your citizens? As I previously mentioned, there may be people out there screwing the system, but the people I know who claim or have claimed benefits out of necessity feel that the pittance they received to live on while they searched for work in the country's ill-equipped job centres was insulting enough, without taking into account the constant cavity-searching detail they were scrutinised to every month to make sure they were going to their job interviews like good and proper members of the public. Torch to their bumholes, they are seen to be "not trying hard enough" and are sent to Job School. I am not kidding. I have a friend who is a university graduate who was sent on a 13 week course to learn how to write a CV. If he did not attend, he did not get any money. Tell me, is that fair? Or is it just patronising and hateful?

Compulsory Drug Testing of Claimants - an infringement of your human rights. I find it hard enough to feel positive about sitting in a garishly decorated open-plan office filling in details of every single penny I have ever owned or owe, without having to proffer my arm and be tested for drug abuse, like the filthy little prole I am. Even if they discover claimants are addicted to alcohol, heroin, olive oil or Supernoodles, what difference does it make? Do addict deserve less money because of the choices they've made? Obviously they need help, but surely there are better ways to go about it?

I can't be impartial on this subject, it was unfair of me to even try. Whenever I hear the onward-marching sounds of a "benefit scum should be made to work" conversation heading in my direction, I have to turn away and act ignorant. I don't know any benefit frauds. I do know plenty of people caught up in a recession, finding themselves jobless and without footholds, with only an impatient and vaguely qualified job advisor to visit every week to help them get better at whoring themselves for money (oh come on, have you never felt dirty having to work in a call centre/bar/supermarket? You might as well be a whore, you're probably just as happy). A person I know was told by the job centre to leave college, because he could claim more money if he was simply unemployed as an adult with dependents.

How can things change, how can benefits get a better name and be more beneficial to those who need them the most, how can we expect to leave university with hope in our hearts if this is the kind of mindset we're met with? I've said this phrase many times this week but Jesus wept...sometimes I wonder if it isn't all just bollocks. Everyone's going to get sick of being tarred with the same brush sooner or later, so why don't we all jump ship while the Maldives still exist and set up shop?

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Visiting purposefully ugly towns by accident.

You know those few episodes of Neighbours a few years ago when Susan started getting forgetful, and you started thinking "Uh oh, something's not right here..."? Well, this happened to me this afternoon. I got on the wrong train by mistake. I have never done this before in my life. If I was a cast member of a popular soap, I'd be seriously worried about my "life"'s longevity on the show.

I was too pre-occupied with my bags and the feeling of professionalism I always get when I do anything remotely purposeful on my own. I'm a grown-up. Well, that was the feeling anyway, until the train I'd just boarded started moving in the exact opposite direction of Lancaster and the announcer shat on my high-flying "maybe I am capable of being a real person" thoughts with the proclamation that we were, in fact, going to York.

As well as considering my possible fate, I realised something even more bloodcurdling than the fact I may have fictional possible MS. I have become my own nusanse. I am a Yuppie. I'm 21, and I've somehow completely abandoned my scruffy morecambe roots, and become a Yuppie. It even smelt slightly ominous in the outskirts I ended up in after my brief trainline sojourn - sort of a mixture of dust, fumes and toast. With mayonnaise. I'm also now pretty sure the council build purposefully ugly structures in deprived areas, as some kind of joke played by architects. "Make the poor sods feel worse! Ha ha ha! Brilliant!" they say, as they create another big grey block of flats. And the town planners get in on the action, plotting sites for gas towers and electricity pylons next to playing fields and housing estates. it's no wonder everything's apparently "gone to shit" - why would you wake up in the morning with anything other than resentment for the world in your heart if when you opened the curtains all you were met with was 1970s tower blocks and an electricity substation? A whole world of grey, terracotta and nauseous green grass, planted to boost morale. A town as a necessity. It's the most depressing thought I've ever come across, and I'm fairly award-winningly pessimistic.

I'm not claiming that I mourn the death of "community spirit", Jesus, communicating with people I live near to merely because of our distance towards each other seems frightening and pointless, like striking up a conversation with the man on the bus with the flasher mac on - I like talking to people with similar interests, thanks. Having a house on the same street doesn't quite bring me to clap my hands girlishly and squeal "Me too!" (On the other hand, if you lived on my street and displayed interests in current affairs, alcohol, ridiculous action films and general misanthropy, this could be the start of a rather beautiful friendship). I'm not saying that it's a shame "community" is dead; for a start, it's a bit presumptuous of me to assume that it died in the first place, I'm just saying that as an arrogant, twattish-type of person, I can't understand why towns should be so grim, and why people put up with them being that way. Hence the reasom I realised I was a tasteless insufferable Yuppie tit - I felt scared, out of place and lonely on the station platform waiting for my actual train to come. Stood with my Starbucks coffee slush puppie ("I'm not quite grown-up yet" it seemed to say) I realised I wasn't who I used to be. For a start, there isn't a Starbucks in Morecambe. I actually worried about being mugged. For fuck's sake, I think I need to get out of the city. I know it's only leeds, but it's driven me soft. It's only a matter of time before I stop referring to myself as working class. And then who will I be? A cunt, probably.

So if you see me in the street with a trendy white coffee cup ("venti", whatever that means) knock it upwards out of my hands so that it covers me satisfyingly with boiling hot latte. It's the only way I'll learn.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Voting for people you don't care about has never been so important.

A country under pressure can do crazy things. Depression, bent politicians, decade after decade of lies and precarious economic structure, and an unjust distribution of wealth; coupled with tax evasion by the richest being ignored to the detriment of society can lead people to become violently in need of some change. And not David Cameron change. Spin, untruths and troubling factors of our crumbling country being stuffed under the carpet are showing more and more unsettlingly that history, no matter how unlikely it would seem, can repeat itself. With our government falling apart the way that it is, (at this very moment I had to stop typing to read the happy news that Hazel Blears has resigned as Communities Secretary) people are questioning the true level of democracy that our country upholds. Why is there not a general election now? Unsatisfactory governments lead to unhappy and angry citizens. Angry people make rash decisions. Those willing to appeal to the little man, parties who want so desperately to gain power that they are ready to prostrate themselves in front of the public, will seemingly take charge of all the aspects of life the current government has dealt with unsatisfactorily – jobs, immigration, “the youth”, education, policing, safer streets, bus routes, pension plans, potholes in the road – in order to gain votes. Slow and steady wins the race. Unsettlingly, one party knows this better than all the others, and has gained a steady increase in its followers simply because of these “back to basics” ideas. Clearing up litter, for example. Promising more jobs for local people. Talking about bringing back capital punishment and sorting out the prison system. [If you're interested in how the BNP are gaining votes, this is very interesting article on the subject from The Spectator] I know it’s been said before, but I’d like to bring something to your attention. During my history exam yesterday, I was struck with the horrible realisation that people were promised all these things and more by another famous leader. He did marvellous things for the economy. Unfortunately, the little good that he did was only there to mask the true evil of his regime. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you to an eerily similar number of events happening in the UK today that also began the Nazi rise to power in 1930s Germany.

Tomorrow, Thursday the 4th of June, it's time for everyone to vote in the European Parliamentary Elections. When I say everyone, I mean everyone - not just the people who can be bothered. The amount of people I have chastised this week for saying "but I'm not really interested in politics" has run into the thousands (probably). Of course you are. Don't dumb yourself down, the word "politics" can sound daunting and unfriendly, just as the words "algebra" and "algorithms" strike fear and clamminess into my soul, but honestly, you really do care about politics. Nearly everything you complain about as a British person (except for the weather) is to do with politics. Even when your bus was late the other day and you had to get a taxi to a job interview. Or when you had to spend 45 minutes on the phone to HM Revenue and Customs because you were paying too much tax. Anything you’ve ever yelled at on the news. But this isn’t what I’m ranting about today, we’ll save my ‘political empowerment’ speech for another boring session – what I really want to stress is just how important it is for everybody to use their vote tomorrow. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, just as long as we keep the BNP out of the European Parliament.

There is a very real chance that the British National Party (or the National Front as many still insist on calling them) may win enough seats to enable them to join the EP. People are dissolutioned enough to vote for them, even despite knowing their unashamedly racist and violent beliefs, because of the state the country is in at the moment in the hands of our failing Labour government. People who know little about politics are being told by the BNP that they are the only party “not in it for the money.” “Punish the Pigs!” they said, dressed in suits with pig masks on, snuffling in a trough of money. “We’ll sort out the country!” they seem to say, and a whole population of disenchanted, tired and angry people are lapping it up. Single party regimes are always led by a powerful propaganda machine and a talented orator somewhere along the line. By poking at these raw issues, Nick Griffin is effectively able to downplay his misguided and terrifying racially-intolerant views. If he’s lucky, nobody will notice until he’s in a seat of power. And then like Hitler, Chancellor of Germany in 1933, his opposition will slowly disappear, as will any ability to vote against him. It’ll be too late. And then the “sending home” will begin. And (and this is a speculation of course, based on previous events led by Griffin’s hero) so will the expatriation, persecution and genocide. Exaggeration? Sometimes that’s the only way I can get my message across.

Please go and vote. Because if you don’t, and they win their seats, you only have yourself to blame. There are other ways of rebuilding this country – it isn’t done for yet. Don’t give up and reach for the easy option. The Autobahns came at an unthinkable cost.

[Everything you'd want to know about voting in the UK]
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