Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Confessions of a Failed Hippy

Every Christmas sees Oxford Town Hall host a Green Fair, an affair which is part joy, part ordeal, but always compulsive to me. Seeing the stalls on whale, planet and human saving in the smaller halls manned by those gaunt earnest atheist and Quaker faces I know so well, I feel at home and yet also a stranger.
Growing up, this was my world and yet here I am now estranged from it. I want to support all this goodness and worthiness and be a better Pedestrian or Agricprop yet feel suspicious as to how accurate and impartial the information on planetary abuses is provided by each stall, though why I should feel suspicious of small concerns who stand to make little or no money out of their views opposing the activities of (usually) global corporations making pots of the stuff perturbs me. Why should the stallholders' agenda be any more sinister? If they had no agenda, perhaps they wouldn't be there, wouldn't care. But are they there because they truly care about these things or because they need a cause?
Are there so many Atheists and Humanists into Veganism because they do not believe in God/the afterlife and therefore seek to live as long as possible through enhanced nutrition? Why are they almost messianic about wishing to convert others? Why have I never been able to contemplate dating one, despite sharing so many concerns about health, animal and planetary welfare?
Disturbing thoughts swirl around my head. Like women's rights meaning there's an unspoken edict you have to believe in the whole package including abortion-on-demand, there is an overriding sense that an alternative or 'thinking' person has to buy into the whole ideological package if they are not to compromise their moral integrity - you can't simply eat the lentils and let the Whales die or be a car owner who happens to cycle a bit. It's all or nothing. A total inner climate change.
One minute I am overwhelmed by a wave of goodness and the tie dye-clad beatniks of East Oxford out in force and the next I find myself a tad breathless and queasy. In the main hall, my impulse is to buy the rough-hewn handicrafts because I'm supporting something good, but the design snob side of my brain quickly cuts in with a 'No, those misshapen bowls are overpriced, poorly made and of no use to man or beast!', refusing to let me buy anything which is not (in William Morris's words) both 'useful and beautiful.'
I feel like a strange hybrid trapped between two worlds, the ideological and the conventional. It was a lifelong ambition to be normal and break away from the hair shirt childhood of constant ridicule where chocolate was a once-a-year Easter treat and Vegan parents sent rambling angst-ridden letters to Vegan Views asking what should they do about their son or daughter's school egg and spoon race, as REAL eggs were being proposed and the school would not countenance substitutes, but now I'm in my childhood dream position of being able to eat marshmallows (and even eggs) for breakfast, lunch and dinner, they've somehow lost their appeal.
Then again my parents were a strange mix of 50s conservatism and hippyish ideals, particularly the veganism and atheism, but minus the drugs and sleeping around, and even in my father's case - the kaftan or flares - he's always worn a suit all his life, rain, shine, and holiday alike. My mother went to India to find herself in the mid-60s and wore a Shalwar Kameez to marry my father before promptly packing all hint of exoticism in a studded blanket box.
I espy 'Spinning Jenny' on the corner stall sporting unbleached cotton harem pants and hand-beaded top selling her expensive Indian rugs for which she makes half a dozen trips a year to India, and spends the rest of her weekends driving around the country in a transit to hold stalls at various Green Fairs where her unfettered twin daughters run amok in their more-practical tumble wear patchwork outfits.
I smile in my evilly-dyed normal clothes, wondering how I would come out in an audit of who actually lived the lowest carbon-impact life, taking into account that I was raised a Vegan from birth, am child-free. inhabit low-impact housing, wear my clothes until irrepairable, seldom fly and didn't drive until 33.
Ultimately though, perhaps the moral unrest the yearly Green Fair wreaks on my soul has a simpler explanation, guilt. I could do MORE to save my fellow citizens and planet, as oppose to just finding more excuses not to, I could try harder not to betray my roots, I could try harder to like Fairtrade chocolate.

And at least idealism is more fashionable and comfortable now.

The smugness would surely be worth it.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Body in the Library? The Body IS the Library!

In no sense does the council tax payer get the impression that 20 out of 43 Libraries are to be axed by cash-strapped Oxfordshire County Council as a LAST resort, rather than a first resort. Where is that schedule of less drastic options they have considered/rejected and why isn't it on transparent public display? Does it bear any relation to the 100 suggestions to cut council spending without cutting services in this article of two years ago, at least half of which seem eminently sensible? Nor do we see any leading councillors offering to take a pay cut, even as a public gesture to show they care/we really are 'all in this together', if times are so genuinely tough.

And more than one commentator in the local press has pointed out that these cuts will actually save very little money in real terms as our Libraries are pretty economical to run in the first place with many smaller branches already open for reduced hours. In addition they apparently cost less than 0.5% of the council's revenue budget!

How too does a 4.4% cut in funding from central government equate to an almost 50% cut in libraries and other council services? Now my maths may not be my strongest suit, but even I smell a rat here, even larger than a County Council passing heftier cuts onto their customers to make a political point/cream off some profit and blame the government.

A colleague with a longer memory than my own reminded me this week that if you think about it, we've seen nearly 30 years of public assets being stripped or sold off by councils to be privatised, so that nearly every utility, building and even road bridge is now owned by someone else, not unusually an offshore or foreign concern. This selling off of Britain has left many councils with very little left to sell off when they want to raise a bit of short-term cash. They have now centralised their own services to a large degree, flogging off any buildings/brownfield sites created, disposed of most of their council housing stock, so what do they have left?

Why those useless libraries, day centres and youth clubs cluttering up the county obviously. And you don't want too many of them in a property hotspot like Oxfordshire. Ok, so it might bring you below the legal minimum service standard you are obliged to provide in return for people's council tax, but maybe that's a risk worth taking. How many people have the resources the commitment and the time to sue after all? Especially when hit with so many outrages to protest against all at once. Most people will just mouth off for a while and then eventually accept the new status quo. Until it's time to break the news to them of the next cuts planned...

Friday, 7 January 2011

Who Do Bankers Think They Are?

'If I don't get a seven figure bonus this year, I'm emigrating' I threatened my boss.

He laughed.

So I rang Prime Minister David Cameron's Office and repeated my threat, emphasising how ruinous to the economic recovery my departure would be if this country were not prepared to renumerate the top rate to the top people.

Ok, so I didn't really phone David Cameron's office, but you get the picture.

How come bankers can hold this country to ransom, and not even over their obscene salaries, but their obscene BONUSES? And believe it or not, the actual industry term is 'compensation' (???????)

Why do the rest of we employees (most of whom do not even receive bonuses) lack this snake-like mesmerism over our government to persuade them that our workaday mediocrity is actually genius in disguise so that they live in terror of us hightailing our talents elsewhere?

If ALL banks were capped by the government at the £2,500 max per banker pledged by the LibDem government when they came to power, where are they all going to go in protest? There are only so many top banking jobs abroad paying even more, and other countries may actually follow suit if they see Britain taking a firm stand as many can no more afford it than we can in a worldwide recession. Plus countries such as Dubai are on the edge of bankruptcy in their own right, having been constructed on a house of cards known as debt. Greece has already toppled over the edge. Spain is teetering. Japan and China will soon get over the novelty of their newfound wealth and realise they don't have to pay these a-holes as much as they think.

I firmly suspect if we lost half, we wouldn't even notice, so they don't scare me with their threats to emigrate. And let's not forget they're the ones who got the banks into the mess they're in, forcing us to bail them out in the first place, so they should be incurring performance penalties and paying US compensation, not to mention actually acting in our interests!

Why would we need people at the top of the financial pyramid who regard our savings as casino chips? This was never the way banks used to behave before they watched 'Wall Street' and decided it was a documentary. They used to be solid institutions we all trusted and we were rewarded with stability and predictable steady growth in return. Old fashioned things known as 'Codes of Conduct' also kept them in check.

Hardly thrilling, but then losing your hard-earned pension or life savings is hardly thrilling to the victim, yet from the 1994 Lloyds name scandal to today, it seems not a fig has been learned. Or earned by these wondrous winged beings in charge of our piggy banks.

I remember when 9/11 happened in 2001, a financial expert on TV predicted the whole world would suffer at the loss of at least 1500 top people in the financial world. Not a word more did I ever hear on the subject, so perhaps the loss was entirely personal, to their friends and families, rather than the global economy.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Prime Minister David Cameron is giving me £2m!

According to the following e-mail found in my Junk box. Thank goodness I saw it in time, I could easily have missed out!


Our ref: ATM/13470/IDR
Your ref:...Date: 3/1/2011


I am Hon David Cameron PM,Prime Minister British Government. This letter is to officially inform you that (ATM Card Number 0480001017665450) has been accredited in your favor. Your Personal Identification Number is 044.The VISA Card Value is £2,000,000.00(Two Million, Great British Pounds Sterling).

This office will send to you an Visa/ATM CARD that you will use to withdraw your funds in any Automated Teller Machine (ATM) CENTER or Visa card outlet in the world with a maximum of £5000 GBP daily.Further more,You will be required to re-confirm the following information to enable Cheryl Gillan Secretary of State for Foreign and Common wealth Affairs. begin in processing of your VISA CARD.

(1)Full names: (2)Address: (3)Country: (4)Nationality: (5)Phone : (6)Age:
(7)Occupation: (8) Post Codes

Forward Reply To:

TAKE NOTICE: That you are warned to stop further communications with any other person(s) or office(s) different from the staff of the State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to avoid hitches in receiving your payment.

You are to choose on the Options of delivery of your ATM Card:


Rt Hon David Cameron PM
Prime Minister.

Oo-er, seems I may have broken the conditions in telling you all - I was just SO excited! He's not even asking for my bank details so it must be genuine.

His private e-mail address appears to be, but I suppose that's hardly surprising as he'd be inundated if he was or something.

Happy New Year to you too Dave! Thanks. I'll never pen a critical posting of your draconian Big Brother policies again. You've found the price for my vote.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year, New Inspiration

Just before Christmas I was snowed in for the weekend and with the buses into town not running I trudged three miles to my local shopping centre through the snow in search of a last Christmas present. I was looking for a book for a friend I was due to have Christmas dinner with, but with just about the worst-stocked and shabbiest WH Smith in the country to hand, specialising mainly in sports and celeb biographies, I despaired of finding anything.

Eventually I found a suitable history book amidst the half dozen titles available on the subject. Then much to my surprise I saw the shop had a whole section devoted to self-help books, among which I saw lurking an intriguing-looking title; 'The Last Lecture' with a cartoon rocket on the cover and claiming to have sold over 3 million copies.

It turned out to be by an American professor who had terminal pancreatic cancer. That doesn't sound very cheerful I thought, but picked it up and leafed through the first chapter despite myself. I was quickly hooked as one of the liveliest, most positive, entertaining and switched on characters ever to jump off a page, jumped out and assailed me with inspiration that my dreams are achievable.

Later I found he was also an internet phenomenon with over 12 million people watching his 'Last Lecture' (traditionally a good-natured conceit aimed at getting the best out of an American Professor in pretending that this is his last ever lecture and what would he share with the world)? Sadly in Professor Pausch's case, it therefore carried extra resonance.

If you have a spare hour and a quarter, I thoroughly recommend watching Randy Pausch in action - I guarantee you will be a changed person afterwards, but in the best way.

I am just hoping discovering him when I did is a good omen for my concept to revolutionise University education in the face of all the recent attacks on it. What better inspiration could I find for that very genre than this gentleman?