Two Months Later…

In the months since I last posted here, I’ve drafted several posts and never actually concluded them. I’ve been reading up on, and learning about, the “generational dynamic”, so most of these posts were taking pot-shots at the more vocally-conservative among us, who ironically lambast the “millennials” for “self-publicising on social media” yet don’t realise that, in doing so, they’re also guilty of exactly the same thing.

Time and energy has also been a factor – something rather major happened at work a month ago, and it’s been quite a rollercoaster since, involving several days of repetitive data entry. It had to be done, and it may seem like “easy work”, but when you’re motivated and stimulated by creative and project-based work, it’s harder than it seems.

I have achieved a couple of things in the past two months though.

Firstly, I survived a family baptism service held at my former church. I was getting quite anxious about it, knowing that as a former member of the church, I couldn’t just blend in as an anonymous attendee. I did get hugged a couple of times from people whose names I’d completely forgotten. I was also hoping to avoid one of the more ultra-evangelical members and, fortunately, was spared the inquestition. I did detect a few glares though when I didn’t stand up and join in with the songs. How dare I!

I also got the chance to go out in my kilt yesterday, when we went for a family meal. I’d worked out a better way of ironing the damn thing, and with sporadic moments of clear weather, I went for it. I almost chickened out, but was glad I didn’t. I wasn’t conscious of any reactions, even when I was ordering at the bar in full sight of many patrons. I break up for two weeks this Friday, and I’m sure more opportunities will present themselves!

Summer in the Office Part 2: All You Need Is Cash!

The weekend just gone was, without fear of contradiction, scorching. My sister-in-law invited us all round for a barbecue, and it was lovely being able to sit outside in the fresh air, drinking a cold beer straight from the fridge (although in the heat, the cold beer turned into what the Czechs call a tepid goat in no time at all). I’d love to be able to do the same in my own back garden, but it’s an overgrown mess. Tidying it up has been on my to-do list for ages, but getting around to it is not as easy as it sounds, in light of other priorities. Still, we all had fun in someone else’s garden, the kids pelting us (well, me) with water balloons!

I’m back in the office now, and today is even hotter than yesterday. Once again my mind turns to how uncomfortable it is. The ladies in the office have re-arranged their wardrobes and brought out all their lighter and brighter stuff to the front, and there aren’t many in the office without sandals on their feet. They look smart, but also seasonal. The rest of us have just ditched the long shirt sleeves – it’s fine if we stay in the air-conditioned office, but some of us don’t like being cooped up for hours on end.

I had a look online to see if there were any alternatives that kept within the ‘smart’ ethos but without re-using the same garb we’re in throughout the autumn and winter. The response I got was, in summary: you can’t change what you wear, but you can change what it’s made of. Instead of cotton and polyester, go for cotton-linen blends, natural fibres etc. and have everything tailored to fit perfectly. One site advised to wear an “undershirt” to absorb any sweat – how exactly will adding layers help?

I got the impression that, for men, office wear is about affluence. If what you wear looks expensive, you convey the impression that you are well-paid, ergo you must be successful, competent, professional and many more adjectives. Hence the emphasis on tailored clothing. Meeting a customer wearing genuine “George at Asda”, the sweat seeping through the cotton fibres of your shirt, conveys the complete opposite.

One source said it’s also about the effort you put in: the knots you have to tie, the buttons you have to fasten, the colours you must coordinate and so on. By taking time to “look the part”, you convey much respect to the other party as you deem them worthy of your time and effort.

On the contrary, one page, written by someone who has managed several successful on-line businesses, opined that the impression they get from your appearance lasts only until you open your mouth. I’d also argue that for a woman to express the same attitudes and achieve the same impression takes significantly less expense or effort: a smart and well-fitting dress, off the rack of a high-street retailer, won’t set them back several hundreds of pounds, doesn’t involve tying knots, and as it’s all in one piece, comes already colour-coordinated.

I guess that, when it comes to the modern workplace, the attitudes towards women’s dress codes are still comparatively young; men’s office wear, along with its attributions, has been seemingly set in stone since the French Revolution. Attitudes are changing, albeit very slowly (ties are no longer obligatory in my office), but I do believe there needs to be major reform in this area to redefine what is “acceptable”.

It’s not the 19th century any more!

The Dark Side of the Vinyl Revival

As well as being a bit of a music junkie, I’m something of a vinyl junkie too – have been since my mid-teens. I find myself enjoying the music more if I invest time and care into it; digital downloads and streaming feels cheap to me, and even the mighty CD can sometimes feel a bit too convenient. Vinyl, to me, represents a more authentic way of approaching music, and its limitations make the music sound softer on the ear compared to the full-on assault you find with some CDs. I’m not going to get into a whole “Vinyl vs. Digital” debate – I just experience more emotional connections to vinyl records than I do to other formats.

Sales of vinyl records have been on the up in the past decade, and it’s great that more people – particularly young people – are seeing its qualities for themselves. There is, unfortunately, a dark side to this revival.

On Friday, my wife received an e-mail promoting HMV’s “vinyl week”, stating that they’d be selling some exclusive, limited edition records in-store the following day. They wouldn’t be made available on-line, they were strictly one per customer, and you couldn’t phone and make reservations – it was strictly first-come-first-served. Two of them were by Steven Wilson‘s former band: Porcupine Tree. I’ve been listening to them a lot recently whilst waiting patiently for Wilson’s forthcoming fifth solo album. Their first and second albums were being re-issued on blue and purple vinyl respectively, with no more than 1,000 copies pressed of each. On Saturday morning, I ventured to my local HMV store, half an hour before opening time, and waited outside. Fortunately, none of the people in the queue in-front of me were avid Steve Wilson/Porcupine Tree fans so, with a little push-and-shove, I was able to grab the two LPs, pay and leave within 3 minutes. I was back home by 10am.

Out of curiosity, I had a look for the two LPs on eBay when I got home. Within an hour of HMV stores opening, copies of each album were put on sale at double or triple the retail price. Some that emerged later were business sellers who had scored two or three copies of them – no doubt accompanied by a friend in order to get around the one-per-customer restriction. This practice is perfectly legal – once you’ve purchased something, you are legally entitled to resell it – but what annoys me about it is how it exploits the fans who wanted the albums but weren’t so lucky. I especially feel sorry for those who, like me, were waiting in the queue outside their local HMV, only to leave disappointed; pipped-to-the-post by someone with no other interest than a quick profit.

The same is true for Record Store Day – I love the spirit of the event and how the exclusive releases draw people towards their local record stores, but the exploitation and profiteering from certain individuals ruins it. If anything, this practice is even more abhorrent on Record Store Day, given that the queues form a lot earlier and grow to some considerable length. I’ve only ever bought one Record Store Day exclusive, a recording of three Steve Reich pieces performed by the LSO Percussion Ensemble, but that wouldn’t have been as high on a tout’s hit-list as, say, something by David Bowie or Prince.

My two LPs have both been opened, cleaned, played and enjoyed. I know that I’ve knocked a fair bit off their future value by removing the shrink-wrap, but I don’t see them as an investment: the music contained within them is worth far more to me.

Fan Culture

Every day, I try and listen to at least some music – my aim is an hour a day on average which, during weekdays, I manage quite comfortably. I’ve been an avid music listener ever since I was about 4 or 5 years old, and my tastes have evolved and expanded during that time. I still listen to a-ha, Nik Kershaw and The Alan Parsons Project on occasion, but the plethora of children’s novelty albums I had back then have long since been binned.

Up until a few years ago, I was frequently getting quite frustrated by so-called “fan culture”. In the early 90’s, I couldn’t quite understand what drew so many people, girls mainly, to New Kids on the Block. A few years later, when Take That emerged with pretty-much the same kind of thing, I learned that it didn’t really matter whether the music had any lasting relevance as long as the core demographic were at an emotional crossroads and had lots of disposable income: the deeper you tapped into their emotions, the more you could squeeze out of them through merchandise. Every single seemed to go straight in at No. 1, even though it offered nothing exclusive at the time. What gives?!

I also didn’t understand why people were so invested in something so temporary – NKotB went from mega-stars to has-beens in just a few years and, once their successors hit their peak, the powers-that-be would divide them up too and profit further from fan loyalty through multiple solo albums. Why sell one album to a loyal fan-base when you can sell three or four simultaneously?

What I failed to understand was how everything new was instantly “fantastic” or “the bestest thing ever”. Why were they letting their excitement cloud their critical thinking?

Up until recently, I’d failed to recognise that I too was guilty of all of that – and I had been less than 15 years ago.

In 2004, Marillion released their new album, Marbles. I’d gotten in on the then-obligatory crowd-funding campaign and had just received the album in its exclusive special edition. I’d hailed it a masterpiece on the first play through. I bought the T-shirt, the mug, every variation of the two singles released from it… the works! I’d even joined the fan club. I drove my then-girlfriend (now wife) absolutely mad with it all. I felt my excitement was justified on the grounds that Marillion were not some fly-by-night Boy Band, but a misunderstood group that invested in their art, unfairly dismissed as a relic from the mid-1980’s.

Unlike the way Boy Bands are marketed, there were no other bands to distract me and move on to. When their next album, Somewhere Else came out three years later, my expectations were sky-high. When I heard it, everything crashed – it was like they’d abandoned everything that made Marbles a masterpiece and took too much from the more sombre and inwardly-looking style of Radiohead. I was quite angry with them for doing so, and it would be 8 years before I bought another one of their albums.

But in hindsight, I was being extremely impatient and immature. I was overcompensating for all the annoyance I’d caused my wife by rubbishing the new album on the basis of one, casual listen. I’m now the proud owner of Somewhere Else on double-vinyl and, listening to it today, I can’t see what was so bad about it – it’s best qualities are very subtle and needs a lot more active listening up-front than Marbles did.

I’ve now eased off and become more tolerant – I certainly don’t get annoyed whenever I see cardboard cut-outs of Bieber or One Direction in every other shop window. On the Marillion front: their latest album, FEAR, was the best album I’d heard from them since the mid-1990’s…

… but this time, I didn’t annoy my wife with it!

Election Anxiety

I’ve not been giving much attention to this blog of late – mostly down to being quite busy at home and at work, so I’ve not really done anything. I’m also going through some rather rapid emotional swings in regards to today’s General Election. There is so much riding on it and, while I’ve tried to avoid reading too much into the polls, the thought of the Tories increasing their majority fills me with dread and uncertainty for so many reasons.

On the flip side, when I follow the campaign of my local Labour candidate, and hearing testimonies from young and first-time voters excited by and engaged with the Labour manifesto, my mood swings completely the other way. A strong turnout, especially amongst people my age and younger, could change everything; my wife and I will be on the edge of our sofa as the exit poll is broadcast at 10pm.

Jeremy Corbyn, and my local candidate Andrew Hammond, have poured everything they can into this election and, policies aside, I applaud them both just for running very positive campaigns. No smears, no muck-slinging and no cheap point-scoring – that’s how political campaigning should be.

I so hope that when I wake up on Friday morning, there is cause for celebration.

Summer in the Office

Throughout the course of the day, this post has gone in and out of draft. I was going to put it on hold for a more cathartic rant, expressing exasperation and disbelief (possibly some anger too) towards various groups of people in the aftermath of the recent arseholery in Manchester (I’m not going to use the ‘t’ word – I’d rather just call it for what it is). It was enough just to write it and leave it unpublished, giving me the opportunity to scream into a soundproof bucket so-to-speak, but it’s too soon to be putting something like that online – I’m not Katie Hopkins!

Back to the originally-intended post!

Every year, around this time, I have a moan about how inflexible office wear is for men. We’ve now had three days in a row where I’ve not taken my coat on my lunchtime amble into Atherstone – three days of near-constant sunshine is almost unheard-of in the Midlands. In fact, today I’ve not brought my coat at all – all of the essentials that normally get stuffed in my pocket are now carried in a Rough Trade carrier bag (bit hipster I know, but they’re a lot stronger than the typical supermarket carrier bags). Even if I douse myself in antiperspirant, my clothes are almost stuck to me when I get back from my walk.

We’ve got the windows open in the office (which get closed very quickly when the wind changes and the stench of the nearby horse paddocks wafts in), and they’ve not turned the AC on yet. It’s warm! I’m drinking several litres of water each day to stay hydrated, which just seems to race through me like Nigel Mansell in his prime.

Most of the ladies in the office have re-arranged their wardrobes to match the current climate, but we’re not allowed the same luxury: we’re still in the same shirt-and-trousers garb we’re in all winter. Yes, we can go for a short-sleeved shirt, but having slightly cooler arms isn’t all that adequate. There needs to be some flexibility without changing the rules too much – especially for those who aren’t customer-facing.

Here’s my ideas:

  1. Allow un-tucked shirts. I know it doesn’t look as “smart”, but neither does an employee whose sweat is seeping through the fabric of his shirt, basting him like a chicken in a roasting bag. I’ve got something of a beer-belly, and tucking in my shirt just accentuates it anyway.
  2. Ditch the tie. It’s optional where I work, but not so for some places. I’ve never been a fan of the tie – particularly the way it resembles a shackle and chain worn around the neck – but when worn with a shirt in the summer, it just acts like a seal and further restricts the cool air reaching the torso.
  3. Allow linen shirts. They may look crumpled, but they’re a lot cooler (in both appearance and temperature) than the regular, boring office shirts.
  4. Allow smart sandals. Quite a few of the ladies have opted for footwear made of just a few strips of leather, so why can’t we? We’re not talking flip-flops or beach sandals – more like the Birkenstock style. Forcing our feet into socks and leather brogues makes our feet a bacteria breeding ground. Imagine that! While you’re trying to impress a potential customer and secure their business, millions of microscopic organisms on your feet are causing a stink!

If that’s too much, I do have a couple of other ideas that don’t involve dress-code changes. They’re bound to go down well with your employees.

  1. Al fresco working. Most pubs now have free Wi-Fi for customers, enabling them to work from the beer garden – just make sure to tell the bar staff your employees are on soft drinks only until 5pm. It’ll be good for the pub trade too – too many of them are closing and becoming “local” supermarkets these days.
  2. Free ice-cream. Are your employees struggling to keep cool? Are they becoming demoralised in their discomfort? Easy solution: free ice-cream! Send a trolley round filled with ice-cold treats, and they’ll soon perk up and return to peak productivity.

Mine’s a cider refresher!

My thoughts on the so-called “Dementia Tax”

There are a million and one reasons why, in the forthcoming General Election, I will NOT be voting Conservative, but the so-called “Dementia Tax” is one of them. It probably won’t affect me in the short- or long-term, but what it could mean for those who are affected fills me with disgust.

Picture this:

All your life, you’ve worked hard. You’ve earned a living, bought your own home and raised a family. Throughout your working life, you’ve never skimped on paying your Income Tax and National Insurance contributions, and you’ve never required any state support. You’re comfortable in the knowledge that everything you’ve worked for will be passed down to your children.

You visit the doctor one morning, and you’re shocked to hear that you have an age-related condition that, over the years, will significantly reduce your independence. At some point in the near future, you will need around-the-clock care. It would be nice to think that, for all your contributions to the state, the state will reciprocate by looking after you so as not to burden your children.

However, in the 2017 General Election, the Conservatives won; implementing their social care scheme that takes all of your assets into account in order to pay for the care you need. All the money you paid in to that so-called National INSURANCE scheme throughout your decades in work doesn’t count for anything. Your assets are going to be stripped down to the last £100k, so that nice nest egg you were going to bequeath to your children is now mostly going to the State.

Except it doesn’t really go to the State, does it?

Under Tory ideology, the people who are going to be charged with your care are not public servants at all – they work for a private company who now manage the social care provision in your area. As such, they’re motivated more by profit than by service. The quality of care you receive can only be described as “acceptable” – you get the essentials, but your quality of life is rather lacking… and you’re paying for it! Some retirement, eh?

Everything you worked for in the knowledge that your children would benefit from it has now ended up on the bottom line of a profit and loss report, divvied up between the shareholders and the Chief Executive’s fat annual bonus. Or, worse still, siphoned to an off-shore tax haven. You didn’t ask to get ill, and you certainly didn’t choose to – yet you and your family are being punished heavily because of it while complete strangers are rolling in the fruits of your labour.

I don’t know about you, but I find that to be quite the kick-in-the-teeth – a means of asset-stripping the elderly, and funnelling it into corporate profits. It’s disgusting behaviour.

But the good thing is, it hasn’t happened yet. It can be stopped, and I’m going to do my part in stopping it:

I’m voting Labour!

What if…

When I was 8, my parents split up and I moved to a new address a few miles away. I had to change schools too. At my old school, I had friends that I’d grown up with since Nursery, and the culture was quite civil. Cross the border into Sandwell, and it was quite different. My new school was a culture shock – all about who was “cock of the school”, when the next “scrap ’round the backs” was, and sniffing out anyone who wasn’t devoted to Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C.. By comparison, I was smaller, quieter and less threatening than everyone else, which made me quite the target. One of the troglodyte fuckwits had it in for me with a passion, even though I’d done nothing to him. Even when we’d both left school, he was still looking for every opportunity to beat me up – he never got the chance, though.

My son’s a lot like me when I was that age, and it’s both a blessing and a curse. He’s very polite, concerned and contemplative, always favouring diplomacy over confrontation, and has almost no interest in sport whatsoever. He’ll grow up to be one of the good guys. When he’s troubled by something, and he needs to know how to respond, he asks a lot of questions beginning with “What if…”, as if he’s trying to cover every eventuality. It’s one thing to offer advice as a parent, but it made me realise that while I’m worlds apart from who I was at his age, mentally covering all the bases is something I do all too often. In order to help him find a solution to all his problems, I have to find a solution to mine.

When I’m asking myself all those “what if…” questions, it’s usually to do with any potential confrontation, and based on negative reactions I might get from other people. We both need to harness the power of ignorance.

I was always brought up to believe that ignorance is rude, without exception. That’s probably why I ended up being such an easy target, because to not speak when spoken to – however rudely – was rude. To defend myself, I had to do or say something – I had to react, and by reacting, I played into the hands of those who sought to torment me. I need to disconnect that line of thinking.

My son is not like most other boys in his class. I’m not like most adult males of my age either. We’re both on the right side of weird in our own individual way, and we will no doubt face some occasional verbal from those who don’t approve of our personal choices, behaviours or preferences; but we are both blessed in that, for all our quirks and weird little foibles, we have loved ones who are behind us and support us.

The less we acknowledge those who oppose us, the less they can harm us.

It’s time to turn “what if…” into “so what!?”

 

 

The Fashion Police / What Not to Wear

Earlier this week, with the rain putting paid to my regular lunchtime walk, I spent an hour sitting in the car with my earphones in and doing a spot of net surfing on my phone.

I googled the expression “wear whatever the hell you want“, and up popped an array of web links about why you can wear whatever the hell you want. Except, the articles were all written for the inspiration of women. I did scroll through several pages, and even tried refining my search criteria, but I couldn’t find anything that advocated the same freedom for the rest of us.

Still, reading some of the articles did highlight one thing: both sexes are subject to the “Fashion Police“. You shouldn’t wear this if you’re tall… you shouldn’t have your hair cut that short… you shouldn’t wear that if you’re above a size 10… it’s no small wonder that some women, whose self-esteem hadn’t been knocked by such fuckwittery, took to the internet to launch a counter-attack.

For the ladies, it’s all about how much effort you put into your presentation, making sure all your natural imperfections are covered or hidden, and every selection from your wardrobe is original and coordinated. For men, it seems it’s more about the efficiency of effort rather than the quantity: don’t put in too little effort, but don’t put in too much either. That’s probably why when men dress up, we have a kind of uniform in the suit – saves having to waste some of that precious effort on thinking. After an hour of digging the garden, we just take a quick shave and a shower, and can be fully suited-up in the time it takes their partner to apply their make-up.

Cross the line, and that’s when the shaming starts. If a women’s dress is too short, they’re a slut, but if it’s too long, they’re a prude. If a man wears something pink, there are all sorts of slurs that question his sexuality. If he puts in too little effort, he’s a scruff – if he puts in too much effort, he’s vain. Can anybody win?

So what I’m about to say goes out to everyone – men and women. Do you remember Trinny and Susannah’s What Not to Wear? Well, here’s my version. Caution: this may get ranty, in a right-on kind of way!

There are only two things you should not be wearing:

  • Stuff that does not fit you comfortably
  • Stuff you do not like

Those are the only two rules! You can’t please everyone, so you may as well dress only to please yourself.

And while we’re at it, stop “reading” people through their appearance. Suits may look successful and competent, but the person underneath could be a notorious crook. Put some fucking effort in and talk to them!

As for dieting, I see too many people counting calories, points, sins or whatever… and they look perfectly healthy. There are only two people in this world who can tell you to go on a diet: you’re one of them, and your doctor’s the other.

Finally, and this goes out to all the Paul Nuttalls out there, the Burka is not an oppressive garment if the woman underneath chooses to wear it, and before you label her as a “national security risk”, look in the fucking mirror.

Peace out!

Online Pruning

This week, I’ve taken it upon myself to do a spot of ‘online pruning’ – there’s so much vying for my attention at the moment, I got rather annoyed with how many times my phone buzzed because of an unimportant notification. There are accounts I rarely use, pages I no longer maintain and interests that no longer interest, so it’s high time I cleared out some of the clutter. Down-time is precious when you work full-time and have a family to support, so I could do without so many distractions. There are far more productive ways to spend the day than deleting junk mail.

Social Media

At the start of the week, I had accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress and Instagram but, out of the five of them, I only ever used Facebook and WordPress with any kind of regularity. They are the only two that now remain. I was tempted to remove Facebook too – most of my “friends” I’m either related to or work with, but it’s the few exceptions to the rule that keep my account in place.

Bandcamp

Bandcamp’s served me well over the past 3 years as a host for my ambient music projects, but it’s becoming a nuisance now. It seems like every day I get an e-mail inviting me to download/purchase the latest release from some Netlabel (some artists are just way too prolific) – my music-listening habits have changed since those days, and there aren’t many purchases I still listen to. Once those albums have been downloaded and backed-up to my external hard drive, my “fan” account is being deleted.

My artist account has already gone. It gets very few page hits these days as I’m not all that active any more, and I don’t see the point in keeping it online just for the sake of keeping the music available. It’s run its course and served its purpose.

E-Mail

During and after the 2015 General Election, I was signing many online petitions through places like change.org, SumOfUs and 38 Degrees, and their emails encompass the majority that make it past my spam filter – almost always alerting me to something or other and asking for donations. As much as I’d love to save the world from corporate polluters and tax avoiders, I’m choosing my battles a lot more carefully these days.