Monday, 13 July 2015

Dog owners threaten the population. Why not humanely put them down

When ISIS captured Palmyra from the Syrian army the BBC knew it had a story. Not about the 200 to 400 innocent civilians who were executed. Not the women and children who lost their lives. No, something far worse: an animal was threatened during the bloodbath.

Yes. I know. The ransacking affected the bald ibis of Palmyra, an earth-shattering event that was covered in detail by BBC World, who also graciously remembered to give a passing nod to the hundreds of human beings who’d just been butchered. That’s the kind of unbiased journalism we pay the fee licence for, eh? Proportionality and all that. Like reporting the massacre of the World Trade Center as a threat to pigeon populations.

None of this surprises me. As a person who feels most of the time like a baffled witness to the modern world, a mystified gawper with his face pressed up against the glass of the twenty first century, I’ve long failed to understand the veneration we show towards the animal kingdom even as we foul up the human one. Here’s a fact: the country’s most successful dog walkers are now paid more than nurses. Yep. It’s true: after twenty odd years of the “meritocratic” enterprise economy we’re a country that values saving someone’s life substantially lower than the shitting regime of an oligarch’s poodle.

But it gets worse at ground level. Leaving aside the genteel enclaves of the rich, I encounter the drooling and gnashing of snarling feral beasts – or “pets” as they’re sometimes identified – everywhere I go. Take a bike ride and I find the cycle path’s been unofficially re-designated as an outdoor dog pound. Take a stroll across the park and I find the grass is knee deep in the scattered limbs of toddlers. My neighbourhood is chiefly characterised, apart from by high crime rate and low employment, by shit. The streets are covered in shit. The alleys are covered in shit. If something could stand for modern Britain – the way red telephone boxes and verdant meadows once stood for posh England – then it would be shit, in all its varieties, cracked and stinking and coming to a child’s emergency eye operation near you.

Because this is not just about aesthetics. Toxocariasis – infections spread from animals to humans via faeces – has led to multiple stories of kids getting blinded or damaged for daring to play in their local park. If only someone had informed them that as human beings they were strictly subordinate to whatever quadruped felt like using their playpen as a toilet.

Shit Britain: it's everywhere. You see that curly turd, sunbathing on the tarmac there? That’s a Salford Shiner. See that one that’s just infected that screaming child? That’s a Dudley Special. In parts of east Manchester, where I live, the locals have 148 words for faeces. And I don’t mean that wholesome, fertilizing, rural shit either. I mean urban shit, proper, hard-as-nails dogshit. Dogshit that cracks and festers and fossilises. Cheers.

But strangest of all, to me, is the way that despite their mounting crimes against humanity pet owners actually act like it’s you that’s got the problem. So much as bat an eyelid at a dog-lover as they watch their slavering Pitbull defecate over a child’s face, and they look at you like you’re some kind of inveterate animalphobe, a maladjusted sadist with a fridge full of murdered puppies. Look, it’s licking you. Ha. Look. It’s gnawing at your new jeans. Don't get all uptight, I mean don’t you like dogs or something?

If I got on to public transport and started caressing a stranger's leg, you know what would happen? I'd get arrested. And quite rightly too. So the next time I’m on a train, or a bus, and some sabre-toothed defecator bounds towards me and proceeds to slobber all over me, you know what I’m going to do: I’m going to stand up, walk towards the owner, and give them a good lick. Yep. A good, long lick. Come on, don't get all uptight about it; I mean don’t you like humans or something?

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Ryanair – celebrating 30 years of shitty service!

I swear, I don’t know what happens. I begin with the screen saying "OFFER! 65p to Barcelona" or something and click on it delightedly, unable to believe my luck, only to find myself ten minutes later approving a credit card transaction for £129.99. I steer my way with gritted teeth through all the traps - travel insurance; hire car – yet somehow I find myself purchasing a time-share in Portugal and a hang-gliding trip across the Alps. This is life in the Easyjet Set. Budget airline websites operate inside a confusing alternative universe where basic maths no longer apply. You couldn’t label a loaf of bread “£1.09” and then charge them £7.89 at the till.

I’ve been on them all, mind. The cheapos. Easyjet. Ryanair. Jet2. The kind of airlines where you’re not only expected to print out your own boarding pass but get out and give the plane a push. The ones where the pilot steps out of the cabin to jam one of the windows shut with his elbow. And boy, I hate them. The flimsiness. The grim Keep Calm and Keep Airborne cheeriness.  It’s like stepping into a flying Wetherspoons; and worse, shorthaul is a massive smack in the face for the planet – the environmental equivalent of a fifty-a-day habit for mother Earth. Now that a round trip to Lagos costs less than an off-peak return to Bristol, everyone’s doing it. People are commuting from Glasgow to London via air. Pretty soon it’ll be quicker – and four times as cheap – to take the Easyjet from Manchester to Leeds than it is to wait for the train.  

I say all this because relentless More4 ads keep reminding me that it’s Ryanair’s thirtieth birthday, as if this was some kind of patriotic event, a historic national landmark like the anniversary of Dunkirk or the death of Churchill. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this information: dance in the street? Salute the sky? Book an all-inclusive to Lanzarote? Perhaps I’d be more inclined to do any of these if I didn’t suspect Ryanair of being a relentlessly penny-pinching shitto-corp, a FTSE-100 conman rolling down the window of his Austin Maestro and asking if you’d like to buy some jewellery.

Take the whole philosophy of the "optional extra". Now, this phrase underpins quite a bit of the modern economy – sign up for nothing, get the premium service without the ads, etc. But  Ryanair excel at some creative, even Orwellian interpretations of the phrase. As far as Ryanair are concerned “optional extras” include being allowed to take a bag onto the plane, rather than having it confiscated at check-in as if you’d committed a crime; being allowed to enter the aircraft in your clothes; being allowed to breathe; being allowed to express bodily functions, or speak, or any of the other things generally prohibited inside a respectable concentration camp. Quite frankly Ryanair sometimes feels less like the future of air travel and more like a sadistic park janitor.

Never mind that their CEO seriously toyed with the idea of making passengers pay for the convenience of shitting in their toilets – pretty soon it’ll be standing room only unless you’re prepared to fork out another "optional extra" £29.99 for an actual seat, or just take your chances in the baggage hold. 

All of this comes hard on the heels of the news that Ryanair, despite their pay-per-shitting business model, have actually returned massive quarterly profits – the undisputed Poundstretchers of the Sky. Which leads to the more troubling question: where exactly do all these cost savings come? Balsa-wood fuselage? Pilot replaced with an iPhone? Budget carriers are already worryingly flimsy - I mean look at Easyjet’s fleet of aircraft; they resemble giant flying dinky-toys. I’m rather keen on a lot of money being spent on safety features. As far as I’m concerned the main safety feature of an aeroplane is staying in the air, and I’m keen on there being no variation on that scenario, lest I find myself screaming towards the ground in a hundred ton multi-party life-insurance claim.

30 years of Ryanair. Perhaps is is historic – after all, no company could better embody the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger than a shitty Internet-based venture flying cattle trucks over the Irish sea and back. Now cough up. This blog's actually £1.99 per read. Not my fault if you didn't read the stuff about optional extras.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Stop! Fraud! Nobody likes the Tories – apart from the rest of the country

What a night. Did you stay up? Did you watch last Thursday? What a great night. Not for half the country, of course. Not for the low-waged. Not for the NHS, not for the Unions. Nor for Britain, probably. But it was good for the bookers of Strictly Come Dancing – watch Douglas Alexander and Harriet Harman partner up for a sexy tango – and as a raft of reality TV producers hoover up all those unelected MPs we can presumably look forward to a parade of deeply depressed career casualties faking smiles as they’re forced to regurgitate live ants into a bucket of shit on a tropical beach. Or whatever they do on reality TV now. Who said the left had no future. 

Being alive these days involves an odd form of cognitive dissonance. My friends are all left-wing. My family are all left-wing. I hang out in cities, comedy nights and parks that are all left-wing. Moving in the circles I do, in fact, it’s easy to get the impression that everyone in Britain is Labour, except the government.

But then cracks start appearing in the belief-bubble. You see Farage trending on Twitter. You’re forced to share a meal with your uncle. You move to Nuneaton. Or – and this one has me in cold sweats – you wake up and realise the country’s just voted overwhelmingly for David Cameron. I’m still hoping that never happens.

Except - Christ - it just did; and not only did they vote for Cameron, but they’ve wiped out the left of centre. And the centre. And some little bits of left in the corner. Within hours a smug and freshly Photoshopped Prime Minister was back off out to meet the Queen, who forced down her radical socialist inclinations to anoint him the ruler of the country.

Now it’s wound-licking time for the losers. Or rather it’s time to reach around on the floor for their decapitated heads. To which part of the entertainment industry will Miliband now turn his unstoppable charisma? Can the “Edstone” be successfully dismantled and reassembled into some kind of cabinet to house all his untouched bottles of champagne socialism? And what of the Party? Amidst the talk of reconstruction I see pieces from people like Owen Jones talking about the need for a “politics of hope and optimism”, presumably because he feels the reason Labour lost was because they were just too realistic about their chances. This is where I part with the rest of the left. Are people really the selfless altruists we would like them to be? I’ve hung around in a fair few places in Britain and I didn’t see much desire for the politics of hope and optimism. I saw a lot more desire for the politics of tax-lowering and immigration control. The left still wants to believe nobody actually likes the Tories; who does, apart from most of the rest of the country?

Then there’s the Lib Dems. Or rather there isn’t. The entire membership of elected Liberal Democrats could now be seated around a small table in Nando’s – the one at the back beside the door to the toilet. More people come to my poetry nights than actually won a Lib Dem majority. No doubt they want to choose a new leader, but under the rules, candidates to replace Clegg need the support of 10% of all the Lib Dem MPs elected to make it on to the ballot paper. Since there’s only 8 Lib Dem MPs now, that means 0.8 of a Liberal Democrat. In their current state, you get the feeling they could probably even lose that one.

And then David Cameron. Promising to radically break with the leadership of the previous corrupt, incompetent administration, Cameron is now crowing about Conservative “achievements” – like taking personal credit for a global upturn that would have happened anyway, taking personal credit for a growth spurt that would have happened anyway, and taking personal credit for lowering unemployment by creating millions of shitty, low-paid jobs on zero-hours contracts. Which would have happened anyway.  

We all know what five more years of Tory rule will mean, and it’ll be one of McJobs and punishing austerity; of corporate enrichment and a London owned by oligarchs; one of sanctions and cuts and war-on-the-poor and “the stick and the stick”. Given this kind of mandate Cameron is already edging so far right along the political spectrum he’s in danger of falling off. Now half my family and friends are talking about moving to Scotland – except apparently they’re not so keen on us up there any more. Small wonder. Now will someone please pass the live ants and the bucket of shit?

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Labour – slightly less shit than the other ones!

When Russell Brand recorded a five minute interview with the Labour Leader last week it said a lot about our times. Not just about politics-by-media, of course, or about celebrity power to act as kingmaker – but a somewhat depressing irony: that to retain some influence, the most powerful man in leftist politics now has to associate with someone like Ed Miliband.

Ah, Labour. What happened? Remember back to 1997, that landslide? No? Christ, you were just four years old. Well, it was a magical time; it was a wonderful time; it was a time when children sang, old ladies danced, and the –

Actually it wasn’t all that great. Politics, though – that was really good. That Labour landslide! Who could forget the excitement as we watched a country emerge from two decades of eroded freedoms, Tory benefit cuts and privatization into a brave new era of eroded freedoms, benefit cuts and privatization under New Labour? People believed in the whole thing back then. 

Not like now. "We're not great," runs the Labour defence now, "but come on - who else do you want to see elected?" Now that's an inspiring platform. In a terminally hung parliament, you’re a terminally “hung voter” and the result isn’t policies but last-minute promises, the kind you might make to a pissed-off girlfriend after you’ve forgotten your anniversary. This’ll be remembered as the election of “flexi-manifestos”. Want free school lunches? How about 20 billion off the budget? It’s like watching a failing clown at a child’s birthday desperately throwing out sweets to placate the toddlers. Catch.

And voting becomes game theory, packed with counter-intuitive outcomes. Vote Labour and the Tories will probably get in; vote Tories and the SNP will probably get in; vote Liberal Democrats and the Japanese Yakuza will get in. So confused am I by now that I half suspect that if I walk in to the booth and put a cross next to the Green candidate for South-East Manchester I’ll inadvertently elect Nigel Farrage.

Now, I’m probably closest to Labour in my bones, but even I have to try pretty hard to like Ed Miliband. Put that staggering charm deficit aside; just look at his behaviour. Why’s he spending so much time in parks? Who are all these voters who’ve supposedly come up to him to start conversations? Labour or not, if Ed Miliband struck up conversation with my daughter in a secluded place in the hope of a soundbite, I’d have him arrested.

I miss the honesty of the old days – when the political classes were happy to admit they were from the political classes, when the left quaffed champagne socialism without trying to pretend they “got” you. 

You might laugh, but the only English leader left I’d actually vote for is Nick Clegg - who I dislike as much as I dislike most politicians (though I do think he’s got potential as an autotuned pop star). But here’s the brilliant thing about Nick Clegg: he’s a hypocrite and he knows it. None of that carefully massaged press apology for him, none of that media misdirection. He can’t wriggle out of it. He lied.  

He lied – and so Nick Clegg represents something we’ve forgotten how to value. Pure, unadulterated hypocrisy.

We live in a landscape that’s systematically devalued hypocrisy. Political debate has become a huge lie-detector test, with the interviewer cast as a flimsy amateur DCI as they attempt to prove that the exact words / opinions / thoughts of the interviewee bear some tiny discrepancy with the exact words / opinions / thoughts of the interviewee from 5 or 10 years ago. The result is that politicians spend their days in an endless cycle of arse-covering, never daring to make a definitive statement lest it be retracted afterwards. Public debate becomes the “survival of the least quotable”, with politicians reduced to smug, media-smoothed robots. Slot machines for tweetable soundbites.

Now, I haven’t achieved a lot in my life, but I am rather proud of my hypocrisy. I’ll sit in Starbucks skimming through lefty opinion pieces about the evils of multinationals. I’ll go to trendy cafes and imagine machine-gunning the poseurs I see tapping out imaginary novels onto laptops, then get out my own laptop and start writing it up as a scene in my new imaginary novel. I’ll get indignant about the “voice of the people” being ignored in modern society, and then get equally uncomfortable when the “voice of the people” votes UKIP.

People think hypocrisy is easy. It isn’t. Real hypocrisy takes work and commitment. You’ve got to trust to the weakness of your own convictions, to engage in complex mental manoeuvres simply to reconcile the divergent strands of your personality. The big parties have a lot of personalities to reconcile, which is why they seem more hypocritical. In contrast those at the fringe - take mop-haired pantomime star and occasional Mayor Boris Johnson and boozy, friendly racist-next-door Nigel Farage - are seen as more "real", "authentic", because they'll "call a spade a spade", or possibly much worse than a spade. If they’re going to be our markers for integrity then give me a hypocrite any day.