Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Truly Madly Ghostly!

I recently set an exercise for the Library writing group I run to describe something odd or unexplained which once happened to them. Here's mine.

When I was 18, my then-boyfriend John and I were strolling hand in hand through Abbey Fields in Kenilworth. It was nearing dusk on a sunny autumnal day and in the gathering gloom, not far from the old church, I became aware of a grey robed figure wearing a hood proceeding along an earthen path from the abbey ruins. I briefly wondered if it was someone in fancy dress but then noticed that the figure was not walking but gliding just above the ground and had no feet! He also appeared to have a black hole where his face should have been.

I screamed and leapt into my startled boyfriend’s arms who promptly fell over.  I am not sure if John believed me as neither of us could see anything when we got up and dared to peak, having brushed the grass off our clothes, but I do remember we beat a hasty retreat to his red Lancia and left the park without further ado!

In retrospect it seems like a dream, but I know what I saw and I know how I reacted, which was wholly out of character. Moreover, nothing like that has happened to me before or since. I think any doubts crept in because it is so hard for the brain to process such an extraordinary spectacle, let alone within the short time frame in which it happened, so my brain has tried to convince itself since that the incident was imagined, because that is the easier option to appease its logic.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Health and Safety for Students

When I was a child 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!' was drilled into us as a mantra from an early age. Today's parents seem to have forgotten to teach their children even this simple resilience so that they grow up afraid of words as well as sticks and stones.

Meantime the Green Cross Code is no longer taught and teens are allowed to leave the house in outfits I would never have been allowed to leave the house in (often glued to ear buds so they cannot hear any risks approaching them as they walk or cycle along) so where is safety consideration when it comes to the physical side of young lives?

Inflammatory Words

 Students need safe spaces 
 Non-platform places 
 For anxiety abounds 
 If there’s no topic out of bounds 
Challenge is aggression 
And you don’t want confrontation 
When you have half-formed views 
Gleaned from Buzzfeed news 
Let’s not mention the secret lunchtime trolling 
When not virtue signal extolling 
Brexit is bad but other pro-choice is good 
And you are the most puritan in vegan food 
Demand uncontroversial debate that doesn’t over-excite 
And chimes with the views which get facebook likes 
We can all agree that kittens are cute, right? 
But rigorous debate, that’s the stuff of hate! 
Granted, you have all the answers 
 But why take chances? 
What do you mean hysteria, hypocrisy? 
Of course you stand for free speech and democracy 
As long as they cancel that speaker, the one who won’t pre-submit his speech 
So you can vet for free speech offence breach 
Fascist? Shut the front door! Racist! 

 ©LS King 2017

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Contactless World

Some individuals may feel they already live in a contactless world, without meaningful relationships in their lives, and even going days without talking to another human being, particularly if constrained by physical or mental health issues.

Many doubtless lack the comforting touch of a pet, never mind a human being. Moreover, it may have nothing to do with age. There is an alarming rise in depression and loneliness in the young too, no matter that their Facebook output may paint a picture of enviable perfection. Even a third of middle-aged Brits are now living alone.

Well here is the bad news. The world is set to get a whole lot more contactless.

We have become a more tolerant society to those who might once have found themselves on the margins (and rightly so), but meantime we have seen families, churches, communities and most elements that used to bind people together and offer a solid support structure swept away. Nor does a job for life exist any more.

In a so-called green age, we have seen the rise of the ruthless and throwaway society which extends to people too - at both ends of life. We are constantly encouraged to 'get over' and 'move on' irrespective of whether we are mourning a relationship break up or a deceased loved one. Most of us now spend more time on social media exchanging opinions and funny photos with random strangers than we do nurturing our real life friends and relationships. Social media also gives the opportunity for some anonymous trolling, when not virtue-signalling or falling out with someone over some trivial difference of opinion. It is no accident that mental health issues have risen in almost direct proportion to screen addiction.

Meantime the creep of the cashless society is afoot. Forget maintaining control over your finances, Silicon Valley won't stop driving cash out of town until they own us, lock, stock and barrel and can charge what they want for all the currently free services they have got us addicted to and on every other transaction too. Not so long ago the banks ruled the world. Then they became casinos and crashed, leaving the pitch wide open to the electronic players.

Some people call this 'progress' but I think we swallow the sugar-coated pill called 'convenience' at our peril. If cash goes, we will see even more social isolation and societal disenfranchisement. From children no longer receiving pocket money to homeless and other vulnerable individuals suffering and starving and charity donations taking a nosedive. The excuse is that banning cash will destroy the black economy and force everyone to pay their taxes leading to a more equal society, though as long as corporations are let off the hook and Russian gangsters are allowed to buy up half of London, this is patently untrue. Notwithstanding, preliminary trials and experiments in other countries have demonstrated that the black economy simply goes underground and finds a new way to operate, just as it always has, even if they have to start using another currency or create their own. In the legal world going paperless can backfire as we have seen with the road tax disc which used to have to be prominently displayed in every vehicle by law. Since scrapping this paper disc in 2014, yet continuing to require all vehicle keepers to carry on buying it in ethereal form, our government has lost £80m in revenue and counting. If no vehicle displays one, where is a parking enforcer to start in scanning every last vehicle on a daily basis to ensure compliance? Particularly when they have parking ticket targets to reach!

I have never been more grateful to see my new (and probably last) cheque book arrive in the post this morning. I may not write many cheques, but I still value them for some transactions but what I value even more is having the CHOICE as a consumer. When I grew up (not so long ago), being issued with your first cheque book was an important right of passage into the adult world. Credit cards were generally used for big ticket items and travel and only tended to be issued to home owners in their forties. No one my age had one.

So not content with the attack on the cheque book (thankfully postponed owing to public outcry), we see our bank and Post Office branches closing down, our free ATM's under threat and our bank notes reduced to toy town money. Meanwhile our parking machines are being turned into card/phone payment only, travel  and theatre ticket office closures force us to use our cards and pay 'booking fees' and we are propelled to the self-service checkouts in stores (contactless) and encouraged to use contactless cards (despite the warnings of security experts) so that onlife shopping becomes as soulless as online shopping.

Electronic payments may be seen as convenient by some, but what happens when they go wrong and you have a faceless non-accountable organisation to argue with to get your overpayment back? A mistake on a card is so much harder to rectify than getting the wrong change back in a cash transaction. And let's not forget the fees, fees, fees on virtually every transaction, as if they are doing you a favour by sacking all their staff and replacing them with machines! In addition I have seen so many passengers with bus ticket apps whose phones fail them when getting on a bus to the point they often have to pay cash anyway! I have also never bought a train ticket online or via a machine which was cheaper than the one I queued to pay a clerk in a booth for, a human being who can advise me on the best prices, times and routes. Self-service is NOT service. I may not be an old lady yet, reliant on a shop transaction as my only human interaction of the day, but as a human being I still demand to be served by other human beings. We have also seen whole systems brought to a halt by hackers and this risk can only increase, aside from all the individual cases of online fraud, which experts admit, are becoming ever cleverer and harder to avert. But at least the banks are currently obliged to try to offer some assistance and compensation. Who will help and protect consumers when Silicon Valley has taken their place and they operate entirely outside UK legislation?

Anyway. let's not kid ourselves. All the free goodies we enjoy on the internet now are but a 'gateway drug'  to lead us up the garden path to the hardcore reality of a contactless, control-less future which not only charges us at every turn but can cut us off electronically and condemn us to an electronic gulag cast out from society if we do anything to displease its masters! Hence I am writing this blog while I can!

The sexual world has become such a minefield, society almost deems it more desirable to go contactless there too, with live webcam shows and pernicious free porn, lest the brush of a real life knee or waist is misinterpreted, and which can doubtless only lead to disappointment after a hardcore porn addiction, when it is not! On a related note, the teenage pregnancy rate in UK has almost halved since the advent of social media as young girls would seemingly rather flirt online than meet boys in real life. Online, girls can control their image, so presumably those who don't match up to their glamorous photo-shopped selfies or made up personas can stay safe!

Finally, lest we get any ideas about remaining in the driving seat of our own lives, we have the joys of self-driving vehicles being foisted upon us - ostensibly to prevent accidents - but in reality we will most certainly be tracked and charged for whatever by whomever at will and there won't be a damn thing we can do about it! And what if the car is still involved in an accident or traffic violation? Who or what will be held responsible?

I can't wait!

Meantime I shall carry on being the cash backlash, watching my old skool DVD/VHS collection, reading my paper books (mine, all mine, for you never own electronic data!), meeting friends IRL (in real life) and supporting my High Street, whilst ensuring I keep my mobile notifications firmly switched OFF, for that way madness lies. Nor have I any intention of ever connecting my mobile phone to my bank account and indulging in phone apps. It may not be off-grid living exactly, but I choose real life insofar as it still exists. As the famous scene in Network declares; 'I'm a human being goddammit!'

For those who share my concern that we are sleepwalking into an unelected world we have diminishing personal control over under the guise of 'progress', I recommend reading The War Against Cash by Ross Clark and Done by Jacques Peretti. (available in all good bookshops too - support them while they last!)