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 It was enough just to write it and leave it unpublished, giving me the opportunity to scream into a soundproof bucket so-to-speak, but it’s too soon to be putting something like that online – I’m not Katie Hopkins!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.

 

 

Why I don’t like Kylie [humour]

A lot of what I’ve written of late has been quite serious and heavy, so I think it’s about time I eased off a little.

Allow me to explain why I don’t like Kylie Minogue.

Back in the mid-1980’s, children’s television was brilliant! When I was between the ages of 7 and 8 years old, you had a good three solid hours of quality children’s programming on both BBC1 and ITV – we didn’t have a Sky subscription until much later, so this was way before the days of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. In those days, Phillip Schofield – now the darling of ITV’s daytime – was the presenter of Children’s BBC, locked in the Beeb’s broom cupboard with a puppet gopher called Gordon, and he wasn’t let out until 5:35.

The Beeb had a bit of an advantage over ITV as their children’s programming didn’t just stop at half past five. To fill the gap between Gordon the Gopher and the 6 O’Clock news, they offered almost 30 minutes of additional children’s programming in the form of…

Muppet Babies!

You could guarantee that, even if the Beeb’s programmes weren’t all that appealing (I never quite got into Grange Hill, but then I was only 7), there was at least something good on once the more anarchic ITV had handed back programming to the adults.

And who DOESN’T love the Muppets?

But then… one fateful day in October 1986… no more Muppet Babies!!! I remember we’d returned from doing our weekly shopping trip, just in time for the half-five slot, switching the TV to BBC One and seeing this…

Neighbours.

Okay, I thought, they’ll show one series, a half dozen episodes or so, and then it’ll be back to the Muppets or something just as good. I was waiting YEARS for the first series to end but it just kept going on… and on… and on… like a bloody soap opera!

But then, it became something of a craze. First, my mom insisted on watching it every day. That was MY MUPPET TIME!!! Then, the kids at my school started watching it – mostly the girls. Then this…

As a family, we always used to sit down and watch Top of the Pops every Thursday. Once that song kicked off the craze, it became even more difficult to avoid the invasion of Australian soap stars. The pop magazines I used to read back in 1988 were obsessing over Kylie’s favourite sandwiches and Jason Donovan’s bathroom. And if that wasn’t enough, they were both working for Stock, Aitken and Waterman: purveyors of predictable and formulaic dance-pop! ARRRRGGHH!!! YOU’VE ALREADY TAKEN MUPPET BABIES AWAY FROM ME… WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT!!!!?

[deep breath]

And that is why I don’t like Kylie Minogue. As the cast member most associated with Neighbours, and one of the two characters responsible for the ensuing fad reaching fever pitch, I hold her personally responsible for getting Muppet Babies taken off my screen.

You do NOT mess with Jim Henson and expect to get away with it.

Animal… on my command… unleash the dogs of war upon all Erinsborough!!! Mwahahahaha!!!!

I no be gentleman like that…

I’ve been listening to a lot of Fela Kuti‘s music recently. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, he was a Nigerian musician/activist, vehemently opposed to his country’s military rule, serving it up in a delicious musical soup known as Afrobeat. Think Miles Davis meets Sly Stone, served on a bed of West African Hi-Life at its most danceable. Usually, I have to wait a week or two for his albums to ship from the US or Germany, but when we visited Nottingham, I bought a few of his albums on vinyl from their branch of Rough Trade. It was good to be able to buy them and take them home straight away.

One of them was his early-70’s classic Gentleman – the title track being a 14-minute attack on the effects colonial attitudes were having on Nigerian men: etiquette in particular.

According to Kuti, when a gentleman is invited to eat, he eats only as much as is considered polite. When someone causes trouble, a gentleman does not react. End result: “you go suffer, you go quench”. Fela also has a go at the fashions imposed on said gentlemen, which is effectively the “full Sinatra”: jacket, shirt, tie, trousers, socks, shoes and hat. While that makes sense in the temperate climes of northern Europe, the city of Lagos is just north of the Equator: it gets HOT! These gentleman sweat, faint and “smell like shit”. Never one to mince his words was ol’ Fela!

Most of what I get from Kuti’s music is a first-hand account of life in 1970’s Nigeria, under the brutal military regime. Some of his rants against colonialism take a little getting used to, mostly because I am part of that British culture that sought to impose itself on Nigeria, but one can still gain a sense of empathy by listening to Fela’s point of view. Gentleman, on the other hand, conveys a message that extends its influence across time and across continents: it’s not always appropriate to impose one’s culture onto another, regardless of whether it’s perceived as more superior or “civilised”.

Even more than forty years after the album was released, in a country several thousands of miles away, the words ring particularly true to me. There’s still this prevalent thought that the suit is the epitome of style for men, ascribing such traits as smart, professional, capable, successful and trustworthy upon the wearer. I’ve even read a few comments on-line stating that wearing a suit indicates a man is showing respect to the company they’re in. Without diving back into the “me vs. the church” narrative I’ve written about recently, I do recall getting more than a couple of dirty looks when I led the music group one Remembrance Sunday dressed in jeans.

I absolutely detest wearing suits and I only have one in my wardrobe which has only ever been worn for my brother’s wedding over a year ago. I wear them so infrequently, paying fair whack for a tailored suit doesn’t make sense, but I’ve got such a funny shape, the cheaper off-the-rack suits either look too big or too snug. They’re bulky, stifling andworst of all, I don’t feel right. Compare these two pictures, taken only a month or so apart:

IMG_20170125_214649
The real me. Earphones in, as per usual.
IMG-20160217-WA0013
Me… fully suited and looking like I belong on a Tory campaign leaflet… ewww!

 

In a suit, I don’t feel smart or professional or even all that respectful… there is not a single, formal bone in my body, and looking so formal just makes me feel fake! My past experience with other suit-wearing gentlemen also leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth: the pushy sales-people that won’t take no for an answer, the managers more concerned with their career than the welfare of their staff, the politicians who talk to their constituents like they’re common idiots (unless, of course, you voted for them – here’s looking at you, Christopher Pincher) – I guess I don’t want to be associated with that kind of crowd either.

 

If such behaviour is common of these so-called “gentlemen” then, as Fela says, “I no be gentleman at all

Worshipping nothing

Following on from yesterday’s post, one quote I read online stated that if you don’t worship God, you worship everything “worldly” instead.

I can’t see how that is possible.

I don’t worship anything the way I’ve seen Christians worship. If to worship means to devote, then nothing permeates every aspect of my life in the same way faith permeates through a Christian. I have my own core beliefs and behaviours, but they are transient, evolving and adapting as I learn. I love music, and listen to at least some every day, but I am by no means devoted to it and appreciate it in the same way a Christian would. You could say I’m devoted to my family, but while they are a very significant and central part of my life, my family is self-sufficient enough to allow me time to help whoever’s need is greater.

During my church-going days, “worship” was also described as “acknowledgement of worth or worthiness”, but something’s worth is only relevant to the individual evaluating it. To me, the only area where God evidently exists is within the pages of a piece of ancient literature. On that scale, God is of no more worth to me than, say, Harry Potter: just major characters in a series of best-selling books.

So, by that logic, do I still give God his worth, or is worship nothing without slavish devotion? If God is the personification of perfection, why would he be so narcissistic as to want such sycophantic behaviour from us, and why would God be so jealous as to demand a monopoly on our attention?

Theology is so confusing!

The Neal Morse Dichotomy

I was debating whether to post this here or on my music-based blog (shameless plug), but as it’s of a more personal nature, I think it belongs here.

During our weekend away, we had a brief walk around the nearby town of Oswestry and browsed through a handful of charity shops. In one of them, they had no less than 3 CDs by Neal Morse: Testimony, One and ?, and I bought all three.

Before I carry on: a little bit of background. Neal Morse was the founder of and chief songwriter for Spock’s Beard, an American Prog Rock quintet. He was also one quarter of Transatlantic, a Prog supergroup who, in 2000 and 2001, had released two awesomely epic albums: SMPTe and Bridge Across Forever. By 2002, I was quite well-versed in Neal’s works, and his latest album with Spock’s Beard, Snow, I still rate among his best. Shortly after that album was released, Neal announced he had become a Born-again Christian, and was leaving both Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic to concentrate on more spiritual music.

By the time I’d started going to church a few years later, the three aforementioned albums had already been released, and they kind-of became my soundtrack to those times, although Testimony didn’t get played much due to it’s length and intensity.

Looking back, it seems as if my appreciation of his music increased the frustrations I felt whilst playing in and leading the church’s music group – here was someone who allowed himself to be inspired by all areas of his faith, and yet there we were playing contemporary songs that carried the same old sycophantic themes. I felt we could do much better – we could use our talents to inspire and enlighten – but there was always a strong sense of resistance coming from the more established and experienced members of the group. I was, in effect, the younger new guy with all these new ideas – I should have just known my place and shut the fuck up.

Today, my spiritual life is a lot different to what it was back then and, while the music on these albums still makes excellent listening, I’m finding the lyrical themes incredibly difficult – especially on One, which analyses one’s relationship with God. The album paints a somewhat bleak picture of those who have distanced themselves from the faith:

The mind got large, beyond it’s station
Took full charge of his destination
Became a God of his own creation
Everything was his

— from “The Man’s Gone”, Track 2 of One (2004)

The image of someone wandering alone, without a god to guide them, is prevalent – implying that life is meaningless without God, or that a life not devoted to God is a life devoted to sin. I find it rather difficult to process the dichotomy between the individual and the collective – the thought of being part of “one mind”, and having all our senses surrounded by some kind of “God filter” is rather scary to me now, having worked hard over the past two years to try and reconnect with my true self rather than the faux-Christian I once was. Sin, to me, was never analogous to evil – it was a combination of your natural imperfection, inexperience and ignorance (in short, nobody’s perfect) – and the Christian interpretation of sin that I was taught smothers all of that with a liberal amount of guilt and shame. Education and practice, not repentance and apology.

I don’t know – perhaps, if you’re looking for a meaning to your life, God is something of an easy answer as it comes with clear instructions on how to obtain that ultimate prize in the afterlife. Without the God filter on, my head works harder to interpret, analyse and reflect on experiences.

It’s not easy, but it’s by no means bleak or lonely either.

It is what you make it.