On attending a protest demonstration

I was privileged to attend my first protest demonstration for many years in Llangefni on the Isle of Anglesey last Saturday, 21 November 2015. The event, entitled A Day To Celebrate Diversity, was a rally intended to counter a rally by a neo-Nazi group calling themselves The North Wales Infidels.

It was a cold day, with a little bit of sleety rain, but not too inclement. I had no idea how many people might turn up, only having heard of the event myself the day before, via Facebook. However, in light of recent events, not just in Paris, but wherever in the world they take place, I considered it a kind of duty to get out and show my opposition to the sort of hate-rhetoric that fascists like to spout in response.

As it turned out, the event was very well-attended, at least on our side. On the fascists side, not so much. There were only about 40 of them, and we outnumbered them, even by conservative estimates, by about ten to one. I think they were even outnumbered by the uniformed police that were on duty.

They conformed to their stereotypical image perfectly, right down to the significant number of overweight, shaven-headed, scarf-masked, knuckle-dragging specimens, radiating malhomie. One or two obliged with Nazi salutes, and even one swastika tattoo on the back of a thick neck. Lovely.

But in the interview that one gave to ITV News, he was careful to point out that he wasn’t racist. No, of course you aren’t.

By contrast, the counter-protesters were an amiable, well-behaved and diverse bunch, representing all ages groups and social backgrounds. There were lots of speeches by politicians, organisers and even a secular speech by a church leader. Tea and coffee were drunk, and cake eaten (kindly provided, free of charge by a local catering van operator), drums were banged (loudly) and love and tolerance was espoused by all. No hint of hatred or trouble.

This was all fine and good, and when the crowd dispersed, everyone went away with, no doubt, a rosy glow of having done something worthwhile. And so we had. But I don’t doubt for one minute that we made not the slightest dent on the tiny minds of those that we were protesting against.

I wonder what sort of society the fascists want to see. Judging by the symbols that they adopt, the language they use, and the politics that they promote, I guess it’s a return to something like the Germany of the 1930s, where minorities and specific groups of people are scapegoated for the perceived ills of the wider society, and are openly persecuted for it. They, of course, would be its stormtroopers.

Perish the thought.

Consumerism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

So, I buy a new webcam to use with Skype on my office Windows 8.1 desktop PC. Does it work? Don’t be silly… Clueless Advent support tell me that it’s not designed to work with Win 8, just XP, 2000, Vista, 7. I have to tell them that the product packaging states otherwise. It works fine on Win 7, but only the mic works on 8.1. No suggestions on how to resolve the problem, apart from a full Windows refresh. For a 12-quid webcam, with no guarantee of success? I don’t think so...

Meanwhile, I ordered a sparkly new smart TV, to be delivered today. Curry’s online order tracking facility tells me last night that it will be delivered today, between 3.30pm and 7.30pm. Does it turn up, after I organise half a day to ensure that I’m here to receive it? You must be joking… Do they call me to say that it isn’t coming? Are you kidding? Does their tracking facility offer any explanation, or even a revised guess at another date? No – in fact, it states that the order’s status has been reset to “in progress”.

Must be some new meaning of the word progress that I wasn’t previously aware of…

MEANWHILE – I have a Russell Hobbs iron that is subject to a product recall, because it’s among a range of models that is prone to spontaneously combusting (as featured on the BBC’s Watchdog program). They promise to provide a replacement, free of charge, and have the old one collected. I reported my piece of crap to them on 23 December. Three phone calls in the intervening period and a wild goose chase to a dead phone number later, I still have no replacement, and am using something that may scar me for life. Each time I ring them, it’s as if they’ve never heard of me.

Welcome to the UK.

UPDATE: The TV didn’t get delivered because it was on the wrong size van, apparently. Whut? Now having to wait until next Tuesday. They only book half-day slots, so I’ll be playing the dog-walk roulette. You just KNOW they’ll deliver while Leo and I are out enjoying the 75mph gusts on the prom.

Christmas? To Room 101 with it!

I hope that most people who know me generally wouldn’t consider me to be a Grinch-like character. But there is one aspect of me that is certainly up there with The Big G.

I just don’t like Christmas.

There, I’ve said it.

The fact is that I would dearly love to opt out of the whole charade, but I simply don’t know how to, without upsetting at least a few people. Christmas, it seems, isn’t optional.

I have no problem with the “peace on Earth, and goodwill to all men (and, of course, women and children of both genders)” aspect. In fact, it’s a principle that I try to live by all year round – I don’t save it up until December.

It’s the compulsory jollity that gets me down. I don’t want to dress in stupid clothes and drink myself senseless, thanks. I really don’t need to stuff myself full of the kind of foods that, in sufficient quantities, could induce a heart attack that would fell a hippo (tasty though they may be, brussels sprouts excepted).

I can do without the stress of choosing and buying crap gifts that the recipient neither wants or needs. Sending greetings cards by the dozen to people I wouldn’t know if they attacked me in the street seems utterly pointless. If we have any kind of relationship, let’s write in April or July, just because. But how do you stop without offending people? (Perhaps they want to stop too, but don’t know how to without offending me? Hint – Just stop, I won’t be offended, just delighted, I promise.)

Of course, the whole shebang has no relevance to me from a religious perspective, since I’m a foaming-at-the-mouth atheist who seriously doubts the existence of the messiah whose birth we’re supposed to be celebrating. It’s as relevant to me as Ramadan. Quite apart from which, many of the things that we have come to accept as symbolic of this Christian event are pagan in origin. In fact, the religious bit of it has become such a minor part of it, that I’m sure many people don’t even know about it these days.

As if this lot isn’t enough, it all starts earlier and earlier, usually some time in November or even October, and is pushed down your throat pretty constantly thereafter. By the time the actual day arrives, it’s a huge anti-climax, and I for one am heartily sick of the whole thing by then. And it’s all to do with making you spend yourself silly. The idea that I’m being emotionally hoodwinked into impoverishing myself for the likes of Amazon’s bottom line kind of irks me, you know?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to cancel Christmas. If you enjoy it, go ahead – knock yourself out. I’m quite happy to bemusedly watch it go by from afar, and otherwise have nothing whatsoever to do with it. But that’s almost impossible. There seems to be a cultural obligation to take part in the charade, or be marked as a sort of pariah.

One day, I’ll make the break completely. I don’t know how, or when, but I’m determined to do it.

(I quite like the idea of a winter family gathering, as they used to have before Christmas go really going, with a good meal and conviviality, without all of the above nonsense. Perhaps I can persuade those whom I hold near and dear to go along with this idea…)

My new career in the Leisure Industry

Since my last entry, waaaaay back in June (where did THAT time go???), I have embarked on a new venture, and jolly good fun it is proving to be, too.

I had major surgery done on my house back in April, completely re-modelling the existing bathroom, and adding a new en-suite facility to the guest room. At the time, there was no intention to extend these facilities to anyone other than our occasional friends-and-families visitors. However, AirBnB was brought to my attention as something I might try, to help fill my daily void and, potentially to recoup some of my outlay on the alterations.

I’d never heard of AirBnB before, and if you haven’t, I suggest you give it a serious looking at as a much cheaper and more interesting form of accommodation for travelers.

To summarise, it is a web-based way of letting out spare rooms for financial reward. You can be as basic or extravagant in your facilities as you like, and as long as you are honest and open about your offering, then your guests can expect an experience that’s always going to be more interesting and personal than, say, Travelodge.

I started letting the guest room out at the end of July, making my entry on the AirBnB site live at about 4pm on a Sunday afternoon. I thought that I’d be doing well if I got any sort of response within, say, a month. Eight hours later, I got my first enquiry, and it’s been pretty busy ever since. I’ve had a steady stream of visitors from a wide variety of age-groups and countries – Canada, Australia, USA, Malaysia, China, Singapore, Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Romania and even some from the UK. Bookings have slackened a little since November; that’s to be expected in the winter, I guess, but I already have several bookings for next year, so it promises to be busy again.

The most surprising and satisfying thing is that everyone, without exception, has been really pleasant, and it’s been a genuine pleasure sharing our home with them. Some are more private than others, preferring to spend their time in their room, or watching a movie in the conservatory, but others are happy to share the lounge with us, have a drink and a chat, and to just chill. We’ve learned a lot that way – not just about the individuals, but about their homes and their ways of life.

We’ve seen the other side of the coin, too, and have used AirBnB as guests three times so far. The three stays have been very different, but have each been extremely pleasant and so much more enjoyable than the Travelodge way of doing things. We’re so sold on it that we have future trips to Scotland and Canada all booked up with AirBnB.

So, if you have spare accommodation capacity – ANY spare capacity at all – I can recommend giving AirBnB a go **. You can do as much or as little of it as you want, even offer the most modest of facilities and people will come. You’ll meet some fascinating folk along the way, and make a few bob too.

What’s not to like?

** Unless you live in or very near to Llanfairfechan. Then, of course, you’d hate it. (And I’m not just saying that because I don’t want the competition. No, really.)

If you want to have a gander at my  humble offering, take a peek here…

What It Is To Be British

The Times, Monday 10 June 2014

The Times, Monday 10 June 2014

Two days ago, on Tuesday 10 June 2014, The Times published a picture of the late Rik Mayall, who had died the day before, as his probably best known comedy characterisation, Rick from the 1980s sitcom, “The Young Ones”. Alongside the photo was a report about the Education Secretary, Michael Gove’s pronouncement that, in the wake of accusations of hard-line Muslim infiltration of schools in Birmingham, all schools will be expected to teach children what it is to be British.

The juxtaposition of Mayall’s spotty nerd image and the idea of this as a defining image of Britishness was not lost on me. Whether it was deliberate or not can only be guessed at, but it set me thinking nonetheless.

What is “Britishness”. In a country with as culturally diverse a population as Great Britain, is it possible to define it in any meaningful way? I strongly suspect that it’s one of those things that the more you try to define it, the harder it gets.

The different characteristics of the people of Kent, for example, and the Orkney Islands as indigenous British people makes it impossible, surely? The class divisions in Great Britain only serve to make the task more difficult. How could a stereotypical picture of Britishness include everyone, equally? Add the different ethnic groups that are already well established here, and the problem is magnified further.

Is it even desirable to try to define it? Defining something like Britishness is bound to create narrow stereotypes, elitism, and exclusivity. Those who don’t quite meet the stated requirements are marginalised, and are likely to react negatively. What’s to be gained? Very little, with so much to be lost.

The people to whom such a definition would most appeal, I suspect, are those that harbour resentment of anyone whose ethnic origins lie outside of our borders, however long they, or their families, have been here, or what contribution they make to the British cultural melting pot. I posted the picture above on my Facebook page, and the first comment it elicited was: “They have to decide whether they are British or Muslims, they can’t be BOTH…. If they decide the latter, then deport them to Muslim Land even if they are born here….. Britain is for the British ONLY !”. It’s the sort of attitudes to being part of the European community that enabled UKIP to succeed so dramatically in the recent European elections. Local islands for local people.

I won’t be tempted to fall into the trap of trying to define Britishness. Rather, I would hope that values such as kindness, tolerance, generosity, loyalty, courage, open-mindedness and dignity are taught by example in our schools, our homes, our workplaces and our sports arenas, without an adding a narrow label that is inward-looking, is part of a narrow curriculum, and fosters xenophobic attitudes. If others look at us from abroad and choose to associate those attributes with the population of these islands, and typical of British people, then I will be happy with that.

Love this music…

And, absolutely apropos of nothing whatsoever, here’s “Outro” by M83, from the album “Hurry Up, we’re Dreaming”. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Singalonganuisance

After many years of attending live music events, I’ve learned to expect, if not wholeheartedly embrace, the fact that people like to sing along to their favourite choons by their heroes. Call me perverse, but I actually prefer to listen to the artiste whom I’ve paid good money to see perform the piece, rather than have a tone-deaf fanboy bellow it down my ear by way of a duet.

Complaining to such tribute acts has, on a couple of occasions, led to regrettably unpleasant exchanges, although, in my defence, I have always tried to voice my objections politely. The trouble is, ignorant people behave according to type, and don’t always take kindly to being asked to tone it down a bit. (On one occasion, I was even threatened with being bottled in the face for my trouble, despite it not being me who’d complained!)

Today saw a new nadir, however. It was the last session at the Wirral Folk Festival, and the performer was Joe Topping, of Elbow Jane. Now, Elbow Jane have a fair following, but I suspect that no-one in the audience was over-familiar with the solo work of one of its members. Nonetheless, the man behind me, who was old enough to know better, actually started trying to whistle along to tunes that I’m fairly certain that he had no prior knowledge of. What he was whistling bore very little relationship to the sound emanating from Mr. Topping.

On this occasion, I did my best to ignore it. To be fair, he wasn’t whistling loudly, and he eventually gave up. Just as well, really, as I didn’t want any unpleasantness. I do wish, though, that people could just ask themselves whether others are likely to prefer their version of a song, or the original artiste’s before chiming in.

 

New candidate for Room 101

In this age of advanced technology, you’d think it was possible to eliminate sticky labels that can’t be removed without leaving a gooey mess behind.

Clearly, it isn’t.

I volunteer at the Oxfam shop in Bangor each week, and I’ve been assigned to sorting books, CDs, DVDs, games and the like. A huge proportion of these come in with price labels, special offer stickers and any number of other self-adhesive tags that seem to have been fused to the case or cover with an adhesive that could stick anything to anything else. For ever.

These all have to be removed before the item is put out into the shop, and I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve had to spend scraping these bastard things off, and removing the residue with white spirit.

So – a heartfelt plea to producers of sticky labels: this is 2014. For the sake of my sanity, PLEASE make your labels peelable.

It’s not a lot to ask. Is it?

Lifelong Learning

Three months in to our relationship with Jake, and the education continues. More lessons have been learned, and I have no doubt that more will follow. To whit:

1. The patience required to train a dog who has not received the appropriate guidance about his manners as a puppy increases exponentially with age. The expression “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” may not be absolutely true, but it does have a basis in truth.

Jake’s propensity for pulling on the lead when out walking is quite impressive, but for the continued well-being of my shoulders, it’s got to stop. Having sought the guidance of a professional dog behaviourist, he’s showing some signs of improvement, bordering on co-operation, but there’s still some way to go.

2. His aggression towards other dogs is really to do with his assuming responsibility when a potential conflict – however slight – arises. Even if the other dog is hundreds of yards away and not acting aggressively, his full attention is focused on it, until the perceived danger is gone. I have learned that it’s up to me to intercede and impose myself as the one who is taking responsibility for managing the “threat”, not Jake.

These, and other, behavioural issues are signalled by Jake’s body language. I need to learn to interpret the signals and to take control in a way that Jake understands. Treating Jake simply as a child, rather than being the dominant member of a pack is not an easy thing to achieve, because it isn’t a normal relationship for humans (well, not all humans, anyway…)

3. The big lesson arising from 1. and 2. is – patience and consistency. Changing the behaviours will take time; it won’t happen overnight. Wish me luck!

and finally…

4. Springer Spaniels can shed hair like no other living thing known to man! My vacuum cleaner is working overtime, and each time it gathers enough fur to knit a jumper with. It’s seemingly infinite. The really galling thing is that it doesn’t seem to have any effect on the coverage of his body – he’s still got total coverage. When I lost hair, it went for good and the evidence is there on my cranium for all to see. Or rather, it isn’t.

Next time I write about Jake’s progress, I hope to be able to report great progress with his manners. Watch this space.

Room 101

Now that I’m over 60, I can legitimately exercise my right to indulge in the tyranny of old age. I can barge to the front of a bus queue, elbows flailing, with impunity. I may not have actually fought in any wars**, (although I was in the Cubs for a week when I was about seven) but it won’t necessarily stop me claiming that I did.

Anyway, I digress.

As part of my tyranny, I am setting up my own Room 101, to enable me to dispatch all of the trappings of the modern world that, as a senior citizen, I find irksome. I’m not saying I’ll be reasonable about it, I’m just casting a jaundiced eye.

I’m going to start modestly, by consigning bad grammar and sheer linguistic ineptitude into Room 101.

Now, I’m not claiming my own perfection, here; far from it. The idea of being a Grammar Nazi is also vaguely disquieting, but when I look at the standards of written communication, especially on social media, it makes me apoplectic and sad in equal measure.

For example, I am a member of a Facebook group that enables members to give and receive items, free of charge. Very noble, you might think. And you’d be right, except that many (and I don’t mean just a few – it’s the majority) seem to have been written by people who never went to school.

Here are just a few typical examples:

Hi,me n my partner are in neesd of a microwave,washer n kettle if anyone can help,were in caernarfon,thanks

Can I ask please has anybody got any lady clothes size 14 asking has lost lot weight need loose more don’t won’t to get new yet till got to my goel thank you so much for reading I live in pensarn thank you again

My cuzun has recently moved into his first flat but has hardly anything if anyone has any furniture or bits n bots it would be greatfully apriciated tia old colwyn

These are by no means the exceptions, they are close to the norm.

The education system in the UK isn’t perfect, for sure, but there is a responsibility upon its clients to, you know, try? Smartphones with their auto-complete are just making matters worse.

Our language skills are regressing. It may not be long before we can only communicate in a series of grunts, albeit transmitted on really sophisticated electronic devices.

So, to Room 101 with bad grammar and linguistic ineptitude.

** A fact for which I am grateful beyond words.