Archive for March, 2010

To do or not to do.

I grew up in the 1960’s, in a working class neighbourhood in a northern mining village. However, there was never any sense of my being limited by my background. If I was capable and clever, and I passed my examinations, the state-school system would deliver me to college and then on to university. The fact that my parents had little money didn’t matter. All of this was free, and the world was my oyster. I just had to want it and be willing to work for it.

Things changed however. I think it was in the 1980’s. We were dreaming crazy dreams in those days, speculating on the ballooning stock market and the housing market – even interest rates in humble saving accounts had hit 10%. We were all going to be rich.  At 28, I had a warm, cosy vision of the future – retirement at 55, and the chance to persue my dreams without the inconvenience of having to earn a living any more. I could simply invest my way to freedom. The mantra of the 80’s was defintiely “more-more-more”.

Of course, it couldn’t last.

The 90’s came, a long slow train wreck of a decade: fewer jobs, making do, targets to meet, economy, efficiency, downsize, de-mean,… and a general sense of “less-less-less”. The only way to sustain your dreams was to flash the plastic, rack up scary levels of debt and pretend they didn’t exist.

I’d noticed a type of person becoming prominent in the 80’s, often parodied but curiously resilient: the so called yuppie type, the professional manager, the careerist. They could sell you anything, hypnotize you with their patter and their superior “interpersonal skills”. They could flim-flam you with their meaningless acronymn-speak, outwit you in meetings with a kind of verbal Kung-Fu and then be gone tomorrow before you realised they actually knew nothing at all. They were untouchable – forever moving on and up to the next level of their career. They’d jump company, jump ship, and never touch down for long enough to pick up any responsibility at all. Slippery as wet soap they were, but they also drove the best cars – the Beamers and the Porsches, while I was rattling around in an old Cortina. So they had to be doing something right. Right?

But what were they doing? Well, so far as I could tell these people had made a career out of doing nothing at all. They attended meetings, they facilitated meetings, they networked, and they delegated stuff. But they did nothing that you could point your finger at.

During the downsizing, de-meaning nineties, these non-doers became management consultants.They would hypnotize you into thinking you were incompetent, that you couldn’t manage your own affairs and you needed their thousand pounds a day expertise. They would flim-flam you with their freshly pressed management guru-speak, and their alarmingly nose-diving charts, then recommend a 10% year on year cut in the workforce, whilst offshoring any job that came down to the price of a pair of hands. Our loss was the far-east’s gain – and the gain of the non-doers of course.

If you were a “doer” you were basically in trouble from about 1988 – and you still are. By “doer”, I mean anyone who actually does something that they can call to mind at the end of the working day when their kids ask them, and reply in very simple terms: today I did this. I’m not just talking about people who work with their hands here – I’m talking about the designers, as well as the builders. But I’m also talking about the doctors and nurses, the firemen, the policemen, the soldiers, the sailors, the teachers, the farmers, the fishermen – people who do something for heaven’s sake!

If you ask a ten year old what they want to do when they grow up it’ll be a doing job.

What those ten year olds don’t yet know is that for every single doing job, there are ten non-doers standing on your shoulders, weighing you down. They also nail your feet to the floor and tie your hands behind your back, making up other stuff for you to do in order to measure you, to benchmark you,… to control you.

And the measurements become like laws, like statutes, because no-one wants to be seen to fail. No one wants a cross in the box against their name, when the Powerpoint slide goes up in front of the corporate deity. So the doing job becomes secondary to the accounting of what one is supposed to be doing. And while the non-doers strut and coo over their targets, they fail to notice the infrastructure over which they supposedly preside is actually falling down. It’s actually not working any more. The non-doers don’t do anything, and they don’t seem to like the idea of anyone else doing things either. But a Powerpoint presentation doesn’t put bread on the table – well not unless you’re a non-doer – in which case you can make a career out of it.

I’m fifty now – as near as makes no difference, and I know I won’t be retiring at 55 . That generation’s gone and good luck to them. I seem to be in it for the long term, sunk up to my neck and contemplating an end-game in some distant decade when all I can see there being left to do is sit in front of a Powerpoint presentation that’s telling us why we’re sitting in front of a Powerpoint presentation. Unless the non-doers decide I’m too old and find a way of tipping me onto the scrapper anyway.

Oh,… grow up, they tell me. The world has changed, it’s moved on. It’s fast, dynamic – no place for someone who wants to simply do things any more. It’s better this way, they tell me, this era of non-doing. But if I look at the world I cannot see any improvement in it, I mean in terms of the quality of life and the basic life-chances of the ordinary people of my country. I know the rich are proportionately much richer – but that’s not a measure of the richness of a society – more its moral poverty.

If I was born into a working class family now, the chances are I’d stay there. In the 60’s if you didn’t work it was because you were work shy. Now there are entire areas of my country that are economically inactive – we don’t even use the “unemployed” word any more – nowadays generation follow generation into the vacuum of state dependency. And if my children want to go to university I’ll have to spend what I’d once optimistically labelled my “retirement fund” in order to send them there. Student loans? No thanks. My kids aren’t starting out their lives being saddled with any more debt than they have to be.

Oh, to be sure, it’s a hard time to be a doer, because you’re surrounded by non-doers who are so far away from reality they have to hire sub-contractors to tie their shoelaces for them. And all they’ve got to say to us is why we can’t do something, or why they’re going to get someone else to it because our hands are just too damned expensive these days. And if you ask awkward questions about the cost of their non-doing, their posturing in one long meeting after another, their travel allowances, their hotel bills – well, that’s different somehow. Maybe it is but I’m too old to work it out, and too old to care any more.

A wise old bird once told me I should never admit to having any practical knowledge whatsoever because it has a way of holding you back. He was a cynical old curmudgeon, but I see his point. Still, for all of that I couldn’t be a non-doer. Could you?

What did you do today?

(apologies dear reader – it was a wierd and trying day)

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On behalf of all those not living in mega-cities.

I’m putting this here because I’m really exasperated. The Internet has become very important to me – far more important than the TV, which I’d gladly get rid of tomorrow if my better half were not so hopelessly addicted to soap opera. The Internet is the most important thing that’s  happened to the human race since the Gutenberg printing press. I know I should be happy – but really, the service I’m currently getting from my Broadband provider is rubbish – little better than my old dial up connection and all because I choose to live in a rural community. There have been nights these past few weeks when I simply switch off in frustration. I’ve had a broadband connection since 2006, but far from improving, my impression is a steady degradation of service.

It just gets slower and slower and slower.

Now – when I say I live in a rural location, I don’t mean a few thatched cottages gathered around a village pump, a hundred miles from the nearest shop. According to the 2001 census there are nearly 3000 of us living here and we’re only six miles from a town that can boast 100,000 residents. I’m paying £21.00 a month for “up to 20 Mega bits per second” but I’m lucky if I’m getting 2.

This really isn’t on you know?

Come on you chaps – fair play and all that?

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Oh, how I wish I still had this beauty. My father bought it in 1972. Those were peculiar times: the Cold War. Remember that one? Too young perhaps? Well, once upon a time we free Europeans were expecting a Soviet led invasion any day – massed tanks poised across the Rhine, ready to press perilously deep like a plague of mechanised locusts into the goodly and godly lands of west, unless we nuked them first. The problem with that one though is the Soviets had their own nukes targeted at every city in England, including Manchester and Liverpool, and since  I lived around about where the zones of destruction for these places overlapped, things didn’t look too promising for me.

I remember plotting an escape route on foot, using the footpath network, since I reasoned all the roads would either be gridlocked or toasted. It was my little contingency to be followed at the first sign of trouble – a vague idea of heading north – to the Lakes, or failing that a boat to Ireland. But at the same time common sense told me the best I could hope for was to be sitting right under the first warhead when it went off – anything else was simply unimaginable. Remember children, there is no surviving a global thermonuclear war!

They were horrible times – and hard to imagine now. My biggest fear as a kid when I woke up each morning was literally the end of the world. Nowadays its the possibility that the guy sitting next to me on the aeroplane is carring a bomb in his underpants. Jeez, the youth of today – they don’t know they’re born.

But I digress.

In spite of the threat of annihilation hanging over us, it was hard to think of the Soviets as bad people. It was just the times. It was a kind of ideological insanity. And actually, many of us in the west had a sneaking admiration for Soviet built kit. It was cheap for a start, and seemingly just as good as anything we could buy at twice the price from anywhere else. All right, it was never pretty and it usually weighed a ton – but it was functional, robust, even manly. I had Russian binoculars, an MZ motorbike, a Zenith camera, a Sekonda wristwatch,…. and a VEF 206 radio.

I remember listening to Radio Luxemburg on that VEF, every Tuesday night: Bob Stewart and the top 40. The first time I heard ABBA’s Fernando, it was coming through the static on my VEF. Technically speaking 2010 is a better time to be alive than 1972 and you can now get better reception from a device the same size as a playing card. As I write I’m listening to an obscure Canadian radio station on my iPod Touch. The reception is perfect and it sounds like the lady who is speaking could be sitting in the same room. Back in 1972, Radio Luxemburg sounded like it might have been coming from the other side of the Galaxy.

Something like an iPod Touch or an iPhone would have been inconceivable back then – but 1972 wasn’t a bad time to be alive in other ways – all right, apart from the threat of nuclear war and the annoying way that Radio Luxemburg would drift off station just as that week’s number one was about to play. But we’re an adaptable species and when it comes to material things we tend to adjust very quickly and take them for granted – we just find new things to moan about – like I just crashed my iPod trying to update it. How much sense would that have made in 1972?

But love and loss and loneliness were pretty much the same then as they are now.

I treasured that old VEF. I even made a cabinet for it in woodwork at school, from an old desk – English oak. I still have the cabinet because English oak has a way of improving with age. But the old VEF wore out. Its pots became scratchy. It got dropped and anyway it ate batteries – but I’d give anything to listen to rustling of those scratchy old pots just one more time and the ghost of Bob Stewart presenting the top 40 on Tuesday nights.

Peter Stuyvesant cigarette anyone?

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Push Hands – A Novel

I’ve just put this one up on my Feedbooks stream. It’s been on Lulu.com for a while now and I thought I’d try it out on Feedbooks as well. I’m guessing from the download rates for my other stories, people find Feedbooks more convenient to access – particularly  iPhone users when you’re out and about. Push Hands is a full length novel, about 300 pages worth of standard 6″ x 9″ book format. I’m not sure how popular this length of work  will be on the smaller handheld devices, but correspondence suggests I may be overlooking a significant outlet here. Anyway, you’ll find it on Feedbooks now by clicking here.

This is not , a sample or a  taster; it’s the full novel, free to download and read.

Push Hands is an “adult” novel. It deals with relationships between mature adults. Because of this there is a significant amount of sexual material, which I try to deal with in an open manner, and which I hope won’t offend anyone. However having said that, I don’t write pornography, and anything you  see my characters getting up to is important to their  emotional development or disintegration.

It’s a contemporary romance – no time bending or other mysterious goings on here, as in my other Feedbooks offerings. The main point of the story is to explore issues of every day identity. Who are we? We think we know, but does that tally with how others see us, and are we sometimes in danger of falling into the trap of living our lives through the eyes of other people – always worrying what they might be thinking about us. If this happens we can find ourselves  in a situation where the person others think we are bears no resemblance to the picture we have of ourselves. So what do we do? Do we continue with the fantasy, at the risk of our authentic self or do we become truer to our self and run the risk that others may no longer like us? Would we even know what our authentic self is? Of course the right answer is that we should always try to be true to our own nature, but how easy is that really?

Having said all that, this is a romance, a story about two people, trapped in toxic marriages and living in a world where no one seems to want to know them for who they really are. As for their feelings towards each other, their relationship proves to be life changing, and life affirming- but the question is, as in all good love stories: will they or won’t they?

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