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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Blog 64. the George Osborne Delusion plus – the new seasonal hit ‘Jingle Bells – Downwind of Westminster’

Christmas credit CARNAGE, the horror of household debt, zombie consumerism – these are the rotten limbs holding the current financial body together.

This week isn’t going to be another morbid musing on the disaster which is the modern Mammon-made, merry yuletide madness (see blog 58 for that). I'm simply highlighting – in reference to Osborne’s line that we are ‘moving forward’ and breaking out of the economic doldrums - that this is unreliably fuelled by household debt and hammering the most vulnerable in society. If there is an upturn (and clearly that depends on which stats you decide to read) it’s over a massive black hole which is the hidden domestic fiscal fiasco of households responding to ad-land delirium of buy-now-pay-never. And this year – if the state of the nation’s economy private and public is anything to judge by - will be the all time Christmas credit carnage.

Thrashing about for new ways to keep money pumping to the top is nothing new. After the initial heady period of the Industrial Revolution where new products and new markets seemed never ending, the profiteers hit the skid patch where growth slows, markets are saturated and the only way to keep the profits up is to cut wages and conditions, degrading the workforce utterly. We already see an echo of that in the public sector where there is understaffing, pressure to work more for less and with less security and worse conditions. This is coupled with an attack on the weak, the sick, the unemployed while whipping up a fever against Johnny foreigner as per the usual script.
But Osborne has another income tool that his forebears could never have dreamt of – easy personal credit. People without money can still spend. And with the insatiable appetite of that voracious modern beast – Rampant Consumerism – people need little encouragement. We know that personal household debt will not prevent millions tramping the streets or the internet for those must-have items that will be staring up at them all unpaid for and lacking in lustre on Boxing-day. This is what is fanning the faint embers of recovery. It’s a mean fire that won’t keep many people warm.

If anyone is in any doubt as to the disgraceful depths some employers will sink to in order to keep making profits – just look at the recent estimates of the numbers of human beings living and working in what is described as ‘modern slavery’ in Britain today – 10,000

But at least MP’s are being looked after.  IPSA has proposed 11% pay rise that the poor dears can DO NOTHING ABOUT mwoooahL. To commiserate, here is a new version of Jingle Bells – feel free to borrow the lyrics if you are at all musical.

(Down-wind of Westminster version)

Chorus 1.
Jingle bells, something smells
MPs need more pay
They hope Santa’s bringing
Some money on his sleigh

Verse 1.
IPSA says it’s time
MP’s should be updated
Maybe wages should be
Per-for-mance related
Even Knickers Clegg
That shameless little twit
Gets paid to be in Westminster
And he’s a lying git

Chorus 2.
Jingle bells, something tells
Me they are a herd
Of bovine morons on the take
To pay more is absurd

Verse 2.
Cameron’s a crumbly
Elitist through and through
Can’t say what I think of him
Because it’s all too blue
We need opposition
To work and make a stand
But all we’ve got are stooges
Ed no-balls and Ed Bland

Chorus 3.

Jingle bells, jingle bells
Are we going mad
Mediocrity is king
And we have all been had
Weee – have – aaaaallll – beeeeeeen – haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!

Season’s Greetings
For this week’s cartoon click on the orange Amanda Baker in the top right hand column of the blog.

Brown girl will be back January 7th 2014.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Blog 63. Nelson Mandela – If Not a Prophet....

It’s true that if you were fortunate enough to meet Nelson Mandela the experience endured. To look up into that strong handsome face, hear that unmistakable voice and be caught in the radiance of his energy was, for me as for many others, remarkable. I have met many people who think they are important or charismatic. It’s not easy to imagine any of them eliciting the eruption of near hysterical joy that Mr. Mandela caused when he danced spontaneously on an open air stage in Glasgow (blog 44.) But years later, and in the aftermath of his new absence, it is people’s resistance to enlightenment that is puzzling.

From his own mouth Mandela insisted that he was not a prophet but surely that was because he perceived what people saw in him; the statement contains its own dichotomy.

Desmond Tutu is justified and entitled to point to failures and proclaim that Mandela was no saint. I must admit I am not someone who has great use for those strange creatures anyway. Tutu has also the gravitas and track record to be listened to when he points out that the ANC is being undermined by corruption and led by the kind of figure African countries are burdened with all too often.

Makaziwe Mandela spoke movingly of the father who did not, along with many men of his generation, have the emotional language to communicate with those he loved. She is also an important reminder of the horrendous personal toll on the Mandela family and the man himself. It is hard to read in Long Walk to Freedom the account of this famous prisoner being led into a room where he embraced his then wife, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, only to realise it had been 21 years since he had even touched his wife’s hand.

But he is not revered as a saint, nor as a perfect family man but as someone who had a magnificent vision of the possibilities for his country and dedicated his life to encouraging others to believe in that potential.

Not just by his near three decades of incarceration but in his manner of dealing with that tribulation, Mandela earned the right to have his words taken at face value.  He cannot be held responsible for whether or not people took heed. Preachers, prophets, leaders and dreamers show us the light. Sometimes the light is so bright we can see the rainbow. But rainbows are less than ephemeral. Before this one faded, a minority was already working out how to grab the pot of gold for themselves.

What is a prophet if not someone who can see the ideal that the rest of us fail to comprehend? What is a prophet if not the visionary and the dreamer who puts those ideals and ideas into words and makes us listen?

Few would argue that Gandhi did not walk in the spiritual shoes of Jesus. The unadulterated words of the prophet Mohamed surely echo true humanity. And in the year that we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the resounding, ground-breaking speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, we have lost the most iconic humanitarian of our time, Nelson Mandela.

As the leaders of the world in its current state, divided, war torn, starving, scuttle into news rooms to have their say, will any of them recall the words of Nelson Mandela, “poverty is manmade”? Will they recall that Dr King dreamt of ultimate equality or Ghandi of religious tolerance and an end to oppression or Jesus and Mohamed of love and respect?

Earlier in the day that ended with the passing of this Robben Island survivor, I listened to a report from a giant penal institution in California USA. I stood frozen in my kitchen as I heard the harrowing, secretly recorded screams of a mentally disturbed man in confinement being repeatedly pepper sprayed by prison guards LEGALLY. His pitiful terrified shrieks for mercy were sickening – in 2013 in the country that regards itself as leader of the free world.

Britain spends many millions more on weapons than on aid and people are dying under collapsed factories in one part of the world so another part can have cheap commodities. Last Thursday, George Osborne announced that Britain was ‘moving again’ – but surely leaving behind those folk in the queues at the food banks, the school leavers who can’t read and those with personal debt that will crush them.

In my head I see a personified figure of God, possibly an image that solidified in my childhood at Sunday school; a large man with an impressive beard upon high. Now he is somewhat bent and tired. He stares out wearily into the middle distance while angels weep for the passing of another of their own.
Meanwhile, downstairs the other fellow laughs heartily.

(no cartoons this week but if you want to look at the collection so far click on the orange 'Amanda Baker' at the top of the right hand column of the blog)

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Blog 62. Boris Johnson’s IQ test.

Boris Johnson’s I.Q. is surely now I.n Q.uestion. Any credible academic concluded long ago that the fashion for those socially skewed tests was just another con trick by the ruling elite to justify unfairness. Parents shuffle their kids off to private schools for reasons of social exclusivity and advantage morally protected by the notion that some I.nnate Q.ality of brain justifies this. The only logic about exclusive pay-for education is that it is tax free and prepares the attendees for the rest of their privileged tax- free lives. There the common sense ends.

Boris’s latest attention-seeking blather just shows how fantasies fester in the I.ncestuous Q.quagmire that is the roped-off member’s only club of the British elite. I.neQ.uality has to be constantly justified.

This I.nsipid Q.uixote, this I.gnominious Q.uasimodo (the opposite of a metaphor with his deformity of character) is simply jester in the rotten court of I.neQuity. Would not a true test of intelligence be an indication that a person could utter even one sentence, one scintilla of an idea that is not an obvious and predictable product of their background?

No one, especially the high flyers want their egos dented by the notion that their position is based on un-earned social advantage. Their enduring delusion is that they did it all themselves. They are the deserving rich. Somewhere in their black hearts they know that a decent human being is I.nstinctively Q.ueasy about the startling, unjustifiable unfairness that oozes round us now like poison gas. I.neQ.uality is an ugly I.niQ.uity.

The flip side to the fantasy of deserving rich is, of course, the undeserving poor. It is an equally important lie to maintain.

In a country governed not by a fairly elected group but by a pervasive system of I.n-crowd Q.aungos the lies are easy to perpetrate. Every organisation with power is stuffed full of people who have benefitted from the I.nstitutionalised status Q.uo.

Solidified privilege does not just keep down potential talent it elevates mediocrity. Whoever said you couldn’t polish a turd clearly hasn’t looked closely at what is floating round in the gilded cesspool of contemporary British high society.

Bobbing on the surface, for example, are the bankers with their 35% income increases - average take home - £1.6m this year. Meanwhile, the bottom feeders, the vast majority of ordinary people have average household debt of £50K+ but it was their taxes that paid to bail out those bankers just 5 years ago.

Complaint is punished severely, I.nstantly Q.uelled. Take npower (see blog 59). As a warning to anyone complaining about their profiteering they are shifting of 11,000 jobs abroad. There are worse things than being ripped off, they say, loudly and clearly.

Boris Johnson is simply the I.nsuferable moral Q.uisling, an I.nfernal political Q.uack, the pudgy face of the terminal British disease. He is the personification of the illness that is dragging society down. He is the ugly embodiment of unearned privilege.

Rather than the I.nspired Q.uintilian he believes himself to be, Boris Johnson is an I.rritating Q.unt.

for BJ cartoon go to top of right hand column of blog and click on the orange 'Amanda Baker'

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Blog 61. Rev. Paul Flowers – My Saviour!

I mean really. It was beginning to feel like some sort of reverse prejudice.

Catholic priests were raping children with the knowledge and collusion of those in power – I mean forever amen. The Church of England is positively glorying in its misogyny and homophobia. Henry VIII must be feeling a little pathetic. Back in the 16th century all he managed was to chop off a few spousal bonces. Let’s face it, by the standards of the time and for a typical megalomaniac chauvinist, vain, possibly psychotic bloke of the period – nowt to write home about.
The Mormons got polygamy and The Osmonds. Like most of Britain the Jehovas have me cowering below my letter box on many an evening. And so on.
Back in the day, I attended a Seventh Day Adventist church with my great grandmother (see Shirley Temple Jesus but was then sent to Methodist Sunday school and have stuck with it ever since – even teaching Sunday school myself for 7 years. Instead of going for the day like I used to when I attended the black church in Birmingham, I slog it out for an hour – job done. And like the white folk, if it feels as if the minister of the morning has forgotten that there is lunch to be got and uncomfortable clothes to get out of, I get fidgety.
In the past I’ve even worried that being mixed race I could find myself in some sort of cosmic debt when the big day comes. Black folk go to church for the day, white folk for an hour (if they feel like it and there are no sales on) but maybe as a mixed race person I should be putting in a whole morning rather than a pathetic 60 minutes. It is something that could be more of a problem than it first appears. As the non-drinking, non-gambling etc kind of Methodist let’s face it I could be here a while. When I finally pop my clogs – perhaps after friends who live more adventurous lives – I sure don’t want to be sent back because I’m heavily in debt for church attendance. Hmm something to consider.
But God bless Paul Flowers. In order to get the Methodists up to scratch he’s been on some sort of deadly sin binge. I mean did he miss any out? Really we should look for some bodies because he’s done such a fab job with other sins. Whilst being gay is not a sin – despite what the Caths would have us believe (don’t they know it was only introduced as a sin in the 13th century after a bit of advice to the then pope by your man Thomas Aquinas?) but being a big fat hypocrite must be there and if not I nominate it as a newy.
On a more worrying note – I was scanning some headlines last week and was struck horribly by the coincidence of the Door to Hell that exists in Turkmenistan. Geologists would have us believe that those knackers who are so intent on smashing the planet to smithereens before we have finished with it (the fossil fuel maniacs) caused the crater when they were trying to drill for oil and set light to the escaping gases to ‘burn them off’ That was 40 years ago. The burning desert crater is actually called the Door to Hell and it sure looks like it. BUT did anyone stop to think? Did anyone pause and put two and two together and realise - THAT was when Revd Flowers began his Methodist ministry????????????????? I mean for heavens’ sake. Good Lord. Clearly he is YOU KNOW WHO.
The best thing we could do is to chuck him back down the crater along with the paedo priests and misogynists, racists, bullies, war mongers and homophobes, the general bigots (plus Tony Blair and George Bush) and fill the bloody thing in.
(apologies for any confusion - this week's cartoon uploaded in 'view my profile' actually relates to blog 52 - I offer no explanation)

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Blog 60. Giving v. Giving Up

Should climate change deniers be treated like holocaust deniers?

Unnaturally extreme Natural devastation in the Philippines has, quite rightly, led to the usual outpouring of sympathy. It will be short-term as it always is. Media focus will move onto more important things soon enough – a celebrity with a new shade of nail varnish. But the immediate givingness is impressive and speaks well of human instinct. What seems almost impossible to achieve is the giving up. Giving up the endless shopping for crap, the  one-person car journeys, the unnecessary short car trips, the overheated house (though that one may be coming to an end – see last week’s blog), the wasting of food, the chucking of chemicals down the sink and toilet, the pollution of the atmosphere by industry feeding our need for cheap products and so on ad infinitum.
The hurricane that decimated much of the Philippine archipelagos was the fastest EVER to make landfall. The usual split between rich survivors and poor victims was not as marked because even the properties of the wealthier inhabitants did not totally withstand the onslaught.
News groups were on the ground almost as fast as the tornado, asking the bereaved and injured ‘how do you feel’ (for heaven’s sake) and launching in with the criticism of aid agencies and governments. The fact is there is no way you can legislate against a hurricane and there is no preparedness for destruction on this scale. My local council can’t keep dog shit off the pavements (or cars) lord knows how they would cope if my house were obliterated by a typhoon. News reports have followed like lightening with disapproval of government corruption and mismanagement, which of course in this civilised democracy we’d know nothing about (unless of course you are thinking of the police / politicians / journalists / banks / planning authorities...).
It is our fault. We are ruining the planet, and not just in ways that result in dramatic headline-grabbing destruction. In many ways that are ongoing and possibly irreversible.
This week ecologists tried to make a headline out of the increasing acidity of the world’s oceans. Crustaceans are unable to form shells, fish are malformed and unable to breed, coral reefs dissolving. Never mind what is going on above sea level – if the oceans are knackered – we are all doomed. The ice caps, vital for global environmental stability are being melting and the forests, vital for the air we breathe, are being hacked away year by year.
I propose that climate change deniers should inhabit the same category as holocaust deniers. Hitler carried out mass slaughter in Europe. Climate change is fundamentally the fault of developed nations and unfairly impacts on poor ones and is killing the entire planet prematurely.
While we are being distracted by rich babies and their dim parents and celebrity break ups and who said what to whom in the media, the planet is groaning. Mother Nature is crippled and screaming for help but going unheard, like the victims of Bhopal (there will be a blog on that).
One thing I did not expand on in last week’s rant about the energy companies was the smoke screen debate about the green levy. AS we know the big 6 energy companies tried to blame the governments’ green levy for their price hikes. The lily-livered government seems to be kowtowing to the tantrum thrown by the energy companies’ share holders, and is going to backslide on even this pathetic fig leaf of a policy.
Meanwhile, before typhoid has even set in, the BBC is debating the question of aid to disaster-struck and poor countries when ‘we’ are suffering austerity. Well some of us are (see blogs 16, 18, 24, 35, 49).
Frankly when I heard that The Moral Maze (let no catastrophe go to waste with the national 6th form debating society) was to question whether disaster prone foreigners should get our tax money I thought they must be referring to HRH Phil the Greek. Sadly, no.
This won’t go away. And you know what? Being less manic in our consumption wouldn’t only benefit poor countries it would do wonders for the physical and mental health of people in the West; improving our waste lines would improve our waist lines as the saying goes.
Thanks for all the funky comments about the cartoons. There are two to accompany this week’s blog post – got o ‘view my profile’ Thanks.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Blog 59. £hafted by npower – incompetently

This week I am fed up and worn out, sapped of energy you might say, with trying to get some sense or even just a response out of my energy supplier.

Saturday morning saw me trying – yet again – to ring them using the precious free minutes on my mobile. Even at 8.05 (their lines open at 8) there was a 37 minute wait to get through. Thus had it been all week.

In September I was informed that my monthly energy bill would rise by just under 1/3 despite the fact that my usage has not risen significantly. I complained. A letter arrived stating that my monthly bill would not go up by that staggering amount and that a little of the credit that they hold to ransom (and cream off interest – times however many million customers) would be refunded. Wohooo!

On further reading I noticed that the letter was addressed not just to me but to someone called Mrs Tims (hello whoever you are). I tried to ring; I did e-mail but answer came there none. I could not find out whether the contents of the letter were for me or the mysterious Mrs Tims.

In any event the monthly payments did increase dramatically – along with yours I’m sure – and they held even more of my monies on credit now than they did then.

In response to the sever hurt that people are feeling at massively above inflation increases in their energy bills along with the introduction of standing charges, investors are having tantrums and threatening to pull out, WHICH IS WHY UTILITIES WHICH USED TO BELONG TO THE NATION SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN FLOGGED TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR.

On Saturday I trekked to the library, registered my account online so that I could message npower (nine times) to say I no longer wished to pay by direct debit and that I wanted all my credit returned. Really it’s a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning – you should try it. AMAZINGLY they were suddenly able to spring into action. I arrived home on Monday to find the doors of my external meter boxes hanging open. Either npower had been able abruptly, in the light of the new arrangement where I might owe them money, to galvanize themselves and had done an emergency meter reading or people round my way like to peak at their neighbours’ meters.

This week’s ‘cross cartoon’ is a little raw I admit. I have put this (with some of the others) in the photo section (because I haven’t worked out how to put pics in the main body of the blog (see I suffer from PANTS blog 53) You can access it by clicking on the orange ‘Amanda Baker’ next to my blog pic at the top of the right hand column of this blog or the ‘view my profile’ at the bottom and go to photos.

There just seems to be so much to be cross about. If it’s not eye-wateringly rich people not paying tax, its corruption in institutions that we need to be able to trust. Our youngsters are blighted by student debt; workers are struggling on poverty wages or reapplying for their own jobs only to find reduced terms of service and eroded salaries. You can almost sense the get-up-and-go leeching out of people – the life force being worn away. I mean if you care and are aware.

The knack of the rich to sense when the poor have had about enough and need to be thrown a bone seemed to me to be what kept British society from real rebellion. In modern times it has been the tax system that has made Capitalism just about acceptable with, more recently, rampant consumerism and T.V. to keep the proletariat tame. But things are badly out of kilter now. You wouldn’t know it to listen to the news which is  an ongoing self obsessed chatter about one section of the elite bickering with another – but we must be close to a perfect storm of discontent. Maybe the only thing keeping Britain from mutiny is that we can’t afford to put the heating on and we’re too bloody cold. (But then that didn’t stop Russia!)

This week’s cross cartoon is not for the faint hearted. But for anyone paying energy bills, who – like me – will have to wear outdoor clothes indoors to get through this winter – you may find it cathartic!


Tuesday, 5 November 2013


In our house the ‘C’ word is usually banned until December. But concentrated Chri£tma$ craziness didn’t used to begin until after bonfire night. Sometime around 2000 the whole thing got shunted forward to the first week of the autumn term. This year,  Chri£tma$ card displays in my local charity shop went up before the summer holidays.

For some folk it’s a 12 month slog. The spending hangover is no sooner over than ‘saving’ for the next bout of psychotic shop splurging kicks in.

Some folk will, this year, be paying for their winter binge with Pay Day Loans. What PDLs tell us is that people are already struggling and possibly out of control of their finances. It is unclear just how families can sit and eat a turkey or mince pie knowing that by the time they have finished chewing, their debt may have quadrupled. Such is the modern madness and it will. Many of these unsecured loans can be got in less time than it takes to make a sandwich.

It used to be said to dieters,

‘A moment on the lips a lifetime on the hips’

Where PDLs are concerned maybe a better saying could be,

A click of the mouse, you lose your house’

Should they even be called loans? Isn’t it actually a kind of inverted mugging? These lenders make The Merchant of Venice’s Shylock look like a benign and kindly uncle. The clients (victims?) would probably feel they had got off lightly if all that was required of them at the end of the loan period was a pound of flesh. In many cases it is everything that holds life together, home, relationships, family, dignity.

And yet this is all being done in the name of celebration / having a good time. Whose good time? The good time as advertised by the myriad department stores that would have us think that our children will love us more if we get that toy / game / designer outfit. And that’s before you start on that sofa/ carpet / kitchen you must have 'fitted in time for Chri£tma$'

Not wishing to sound like the world’s granny, but as a very little child what I can recall about Christmas is feeling so excited that I could not sleep and when I was a wake I felt sick. Partly this was because Christmas was defined and separate from the rest of the year by its time limited excess. The celebrations were punctuated by (tipsy) visiting – (see blog 22 Drink Driving with y Dad) - and Christmas parties where we were allowed to eat all sorts of things that were not allowed the rest of the year. But in a country where Chri£tma$ begins in earnest in July and commercial excess is a 12 month orgy – how can we delineate and take pleasure in a special time – even for those not religiously minded who just wish to enjoy the winter holiday? I suggest it’s becoming impossible.

The truth is that the festival has taken on a dark aspect – not just because it has been layered onto the Winter Solstice but increasingly it is a time of relationship stress, money worries, mental and physical ill health.

One small antidote may lie in another literary character, Ebenezer Scrooge. Not just as his redemption is now forever associated with the 25th December but because of an episode that I offer up for the benefit of anyone who may wish to take advantage. I call it my Scrooge letter.

At the turn of the century I found that not only had the shops dragged Chri£tma$ back from December to October but I had to start chipping away at an ever increasing  to-buy-for list ever earlier. Often scouring stores for gifts for the multiple children of friends I hardly saw. I was also aware that other people were doing that for my brood. In a fit of end-of-century inspiration I drafted a letter that I hoped would be received in the spirit in which it was written. Though I do not have a copy, the basic idea was that anyone who bought for me and mine was to consider themselves off the hook and I would be wriggling of any similar hooks that I found myself painfully speared by. All bets were off. All shopping, other than for immediate family, was off and even then significant presents only for the children. I waited with baited breath for the responses and reactions. With all but two exceptions the effect was upbeat. In some cases it was rapturous, relieved, back-slappingly positive. Only two seemed to take affront. One I no longer see and the other was, this year, still manfully sticking to her determination to get Chri£tma$ gifts out - in February!

Each year, at about this time, I still cannot believe my luck. I note it especially if I am unfortunate enough to have to venture into the city where I am pummelled by hurrying hordes of the stressed and the miserable struggling with bags full of STUFF that they may never fully pay for (at least not with money). Like glum gladiators outnumbered by ravenous commercial lions they stoically seem to say,

We who are about to buy salute you’

 I shudder and heave a hug inner sigh of relief. I can’t say I ever mustered enough dishonesty to feel guilty; the sense of release was too great.

For an increasing number of desperate consumers, the First Footers of 2014 may well be bailiffs.


BGOTR ‘cross’ Chri£tma$ cartoon cards & political post cards will be on sale at the ncle Love Libraries event (see What I am Up To in right hand column)

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Blog 57 Halloween 2013

This week a break from the cross stuff. For my lovely Ashington school writers’ group, here’s the Halloween poem I promised you. Thanks for being lots of fun;

Leah, Billie, Michael, Sam, Scott, Katie, Ellie, Delphi, Regan, Kieran J

Halloween 2013

Chills crawl up your spine
Like the fingers of Death
You sense leering eyes in the gloom
Terror chokes you and lifts
The hairs on your neck
Your mouth is as dry as a tomb. 

And you wonder if turning
Is worse than not knowing
Dread paralyse your breath
As the darkness grows deeper
You stumble and grope
Lurching headlong to your death.

What would you give
For a hint of daylight
Or a lick of sun warmth on your skin
There’s no hand to hold
Just the bones and the mould
Rank stench of corruption and sin

Bring in the butchers
Indiscriminate insane
Who dealt in the currency of screams
The traders in torture
Who mastered that art
Surpassing the darkest of dreams

Let it be Halloween
Forever and ever
Awake in a nightmare’s dank cell
Let the oozing cadavers
And desperate un-dead
Show you the route map to hell

Line up the warmongers
And merchants of woe
Then for each life destroyed or undone
Demons will dance
With a worm wrangled corpse
Another soul easily won

No need for stale stories
That scare little children
To buy good behaviour with fear
For the ghouls and the ghosts
The foul fiends and monsters
And vampires and zombies are here.

Amanda Baker J

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Blog 56 Cheapest Energy Supplier & the Great British Rake Off

According to Cameron – the answer to the scandalous rise in energy prices by the big six suppliers is to switch to a smaller cheaper provider. So that’s alright then.
Cheaper or cheapest not cheap. That is the choice. One private firm or another. If you have the time and energy (excuse the pun) you could set aside a few hours each month searching for a supplier slightly less expensive than the one currently holding you to ransom and switch. That’s if your current provider doesn’t impose a penalty for leaving whatever current tariff they have you on.
Another tremendous idea from Cams is that the Chinese will build nuclear power stations for us. Fab. A foreign power whose ethos and work practices are so different from ours in charge of nuclear power here. Shame it wasn’t Russia or Japan because Chernobyl and Fukushima were such great parties.
According to today's BBC Radio 4 breakfast ‘news’, 8 million Brits will be watching people make buns tonight. The ‘news’ presenter rushed through an interview with Jeremy Hunt, skimming over NHS charges and how people are going to keep warm when they can’t afford to heat their homes, so that we could get onto a ridiculously extended piece about cup cakes. In reality, the only things being thoroughly creamed off in the UK are the profits from utilities that used to belong to us.
I’ve just been endeavouring to book a train to Manchester - there is a connection – (another pun apology). Because I was attempting to use a free voucher - compo for a previous crap journey - I saw that my travel would involve three, possibly four different train companies on the four leg marathon. All more expensive than they used to be despite the competition that was supposed to work in favour of the customer.
I no longer have a land line with BT - there is a connection – (same pun – sorry!) though I am still in dispute with them over charges they’ve tried to levy on what was an unreliable line. Just having the line – even if I rarely used it – became a notable expense to add to all the others that hang over you with almost tangible weight. I’m sure I recall (!) a time when landlines were cheap and reliable and if something went wrong a nice man came round and fixed it.
My water charges – like yours - have gone up exponentially over the years and still – all I actually get out of the tap is H2O.
Buses, at least where I live, are a nightmare of irregularity, unreliability and complex and inflated charges since deregulation in the 80s.
Watch out for the same nonsense with the Post Office.
Somehow – everything in Britain that we used to own is now run for the benefit of shareholders. It’s costing us more and as the prices go up the standard of service seems to decline with equal but opposite momentum.
If you think the NHS is safe, take a real look at what has already happened and just how much private involvement has slimed in courtesy of such schemes as PFI. How many scandals seem to find their roots in poorly paid, under-trained workers and general low staffing levels?
If you really look closely you will see that a lot of council services, even ones you hadn’t imagined, are out to tender. This is privatisation once-removed. Meanwhile many councils continue to make decisions that seem to have no bearing on the desires of their council tax payers – i.e. closing libraries, while giving planning permissions to schemes that local people dislike, making them seem no more accountable to local people than national government.
Unless it’s going to buck the trend of every other piece of national family silver that’s been flogged off - watch the postal service for increased charges and poorer service.
We’ve been legally burgled in our own homes, mugged on our own streets... several times. With increasing frequency the bandits come back for more, sometimes much more, and we have to hand it over. It’s called privatisation.
On a lighter note, I’ll be taking part in the First
UK Women in Comedy Festival - Manchester 
Kings Arms - Salford

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Blog 55 Free Christmas feel-good, courtesy of Cameron

If you thought he was just being an elitist bastard you were wrong. Our glorious leader is actually channelling his inner Dickens.

This year you may go about increasing your household debt to buy stuff for your loved ones that they didn’t want, won’t like and never needed. Perhaps you will try to enjoy the winter break without being freaked out by people scrabbling round trying to buy stuff for their loved ones that they didn’t want, won’t like and never needed. Whatever your inclination, a fuzzy feel-good chwistmas will permeate like rotten egg-nog thanks to Dave Dickens.

We can all indulge in a flaky, fakey, festive, candles-by-firelight, fun, fantasy festive season. There will be authentic rich people smiling and clutching champagne flutes while ornamental poor people peer in through prettily frosted windows. Dirty but decorative urchins will look up wistfully to the starry winter sky as if to say “I hope mummy comes home from the local food bank with some turkey drumsticks in place of the dried milk, tea, cheap sugar and tinned soup she usually gets.”

It’s too good to be true.

Last week in a single news slot – the jolly sounding reporter let us know that certain energy companies were blaming the wicked ‘green’ taxes for their price hike – rather than the amount of profits required to keep the shareholders happy. There followed a piece about some rich oiks spending £130K in one night on a bar tab. In case that isn’t clear - ONE HUDNRED AND THIRTY THOUSAND POUNDS - on alcohol in one night in one bar.

I thought the people (I use that term loosely) at the top of the economic pile were just a bunch of nasty selfish gits who spent their entire energies and focus on keeping hold of inherited wealth whilst skewing the economy to ensure they get more and pay as little tax as possible, grabbing anything of value that previously belonged to all of us. Fool fool fool that I am. One union rep opined on the government’s passion for nationalising debt and privatising profit. He also must be a fool. All along, those we have begun to think of as gutless self-serving shits actually just had a misty Dickensian vision in mind for Britain. In that Britain – rather than equality and proper opportunities for all and fair distribution – very very rich people will occasionally drop a few crumbs from the table while the smiling poor scrabble round gratefully and gaze wonderingly at the safe secure warm healthy lives they will never have. Bob Cratchit eat your heart out (it may come to that!)

Thus have the railways, water, energy, communications been hiked off to the private sector. If anyone was in doubt as to the criminal insipient level of moral corruption involved here – remember one fact only. The public now pay far more in subsidy to the rail companies than we did when the railways were owned by THE COUNTRY. Yet fares are to go up yet again by more than inflation.

To complete the descent into Dickensian Dystopia – the Post Office has now been flogged off. Yes a few ordinary folk got some shares. But that’s like watching hired thugs trashing your neighbour’s house and then standing by and saying – well – the place is trashed anyway – I may as well have a couple of teacups. The Emir of Kuwait reportedly made £20million profit in around 20 minutes by buying the undervalued shares. And this same government is bellyaching about ‘foreigners’ using the NHS. What could the NHS do with a free £20 million? How many cancer treatments would that buy? How many midwives would that pay for? How many dialysis treatments?

But we have food banks! Food banks are now being talked about as if they are here to stay and that says EVERYTHING. They are being formalised. That’s because the British people and the government can see that they are going to be part of British life for a while.

Look out for Workhouses re-opening in Britain any time soon, young girls selling matches on street corners and little boys working up chimneys.

Please sir – we don’t want any more!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Blog 54 Glaxo Smith Kline is not the answer – WE are.

Unbelievable, astounding, mindboggling, amazing (etc etc) but TRUE!

The scientific shock-fact-discovery-announcement-revelation on Radio 4’s breakfast news was a real mind bender (if your mind is especially malleable that is).

SCIENTISTS, it was claimed last week, have concluded that some people suffering from heart disease get more benefit from exercise than they do from medication (please visualise a gob-smacked facial expression here).

I was so amazed I nearly forgot to be irritated by the moronic way science is reported. Items of brain-wilting, soul atrophying dimness masquerading as information worthy of broadcast is becoming depressing.

A disease which is often caused by lack of exercise can be aided or alleviated by EXERCISE. Good lord. Next they’ll discover that the problem of being tired can be resolved by going to bed.

If scientists have managed to make this breakthrough and the BBC have aired the revelation on prime time programming, what else could be coming our way? Because let’s face it – hardly a week goes by without some super futuristic announcement about cures – genetic, chemical, biological or otherwise - which will end sickness, inherited illness, starvation etc. Usually the small print or garbled unintelligible bits at the end can be missed, such as –

‘Only tested on fleas so far’

‘1 out of 100,000 responded with only a couple of horrific side effects’

‘This is still in a very experimental stage and may show no results for 35 years or EVER but if we don’t promote it now we may lose our funding’

And so on.

The reality is that very few diseases have been absolutely cured or eradicated recently by immunisation or medical breakthrough. Since polio can you name one?

Some of the really awful ones are returning with a vengeance and with new strains. Historically, rich countries concentrated on their own populations while germs and bacteria failed to respect borders.

This morning’s ‘break-through’ announcement relates to malaria, killer of hundreds of thousands every year. The drug GSK wish to see licensed has been shown to reduce incidents of malaria by (for example) a quarter in infants – in the test groups but the effect of the drug is also thought to decline and the W.H.O believe its benefit – if at all – is simply another string to the anti-malaria bow and possibly a short-term one at that. And yet mining companies are still being allowed to abandon open mining sites that then fill with stagnant water which encourages the malaria mosquito. The 600,000 who die annually are mainly based in the poorest parts of Africa. Do we need these stats to tell us that poverty is the real terminal disease? What is the point of tackling malaria without dealing with poverty and industrial abuse?

Our contradictions are going to kill us.

One of the truly unpalatable messages we just don’t want to hear is that some things may not be curable in the real sense of the word. Research into a cure for Alzheimer’s was significantly downgraded last year by three major drugs companies on the basis that they could no longer spend their resources with no realistic ROI on the horizon.

Many new drugs are prohibitively expensive, labour intensive and complex to administer. Use of that new medication for a single patient as set against resources that could medicate or treat far greater numbers makes it unviable and possibly unethical. And if anyone thinks that we can save a human life at any cost they are forgetting that ‘any cost’ may mean the lives of people whose conditions are more easily and effectively dealt with. In other words we in the West, where we seem to have begun to think we are immortal, have to start taking a realistic approach to health and medicine.

Scientists cannot be blamed for being enthusiastic about scientific discovery but the media have a responsibility in the way they air these stories. The manner in which they handled the false measles vaccination soap opera was scandalous. As recently as this year the effects of that have come back to bite us. The public has to be trusted with sensible information and not treated alternately to horror scare stories and tales of wonder cures.

Far from being anti-science I am simply pro-common sense. The sooner we get the hang of the idea that we are going to have to take responsibility for ourselves and also care for everyone not just the rich – the better for all of us.

I wonder if the people with their off-shore accounts think that germs growing ever more immune to modern drugs as well as those we’ve relied on for decades will bypass them in the future because they are rich.

We are still failing miserably with the unpalatable message that prevention is better than remedy. Not only is it better – in a few years, for many conditions we believe to be easily treated now, prevention may be the only option.

Meanwhile look out for more announcements

Kids who are stuck in front of TV as soon as the umbilical cord is cut probably won’t function well at school, physically or mentally.

It will turn out that Botox is bad for you.

Car use is killing us – actually, violently and also slowly and horribly.

Grass is green and pigs can’t fly.

If you fancy a fictional account of where I think this will end – why not treat yourself to a read of The Remainder – a short story of mine based on the last verse of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men (“This is the way the worlds ends / Not with a bang but a whimper”)  ROOT anthology published by iron press 2013

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Blog 53. I suffer from PANTs syndrome, do you?

Being both random and more light-hearted this week I’ll take the opportunity to apologise to those folk who posted comments to Brown Girl over the months. After a year I only just found the courage to delve into the cogs and wheels of the apparatus. After breaking the blog two or three times in the first few months it was too scary to go messing about. But people kept asking if their comments had been received. They never had or so it seemed. Maybe they were floating round the e-stratosphere unable to land. On a whim a couple few days ago I finally went a wandering in the workings, explored the oily insides of the blog machinery and found a tool that led me to a list of hitherto un-opened options. With some trepidation I clicked and up popped a very long list of comments. As there was no sign of imminent implosion of the blog, no ‘error on the page’ or notice that the function would ‘shut down in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 seconds' I read all the input. THANK YOU. In future I will try and read them in good time and publish a selection.

For anyone who finds this level of Luddite behaviour and techno-trepidation pitiable, what can I say? I have an aversion to technology that may be verging on a syndrome. If my disorder does not yet have an acronym lets use this for now; Persistent Aversion to New Technologies or PANTs. I tried Terror Inducing Technologies but that wasn’t so good.

Now my lack of car, dishwasher, home internet, TV, microwave, i-phone etc can be attributed to this new and fascinating condition rather than, let's say, my budget. Also the fact that I’ve never been on facebook or tweeted. Or maybe those last two are to do with the fact that I am repelled by the idea of the mass exposure of the grimiest aspects of human nature. Who can tell?

The syndrome might be even more complicated and intriguing than that.

There could be an element of just generally not liking new things.  Maybe that’s why I shop in charity shops rather than high street stores. Actually no. I do that because of the price and also because you occasionally find interesting stuff in charity shops whereas once you’ve been in one high street clothes store you pretty much know what is in all of them. On the other hand I do still ride the bicycle that my parents bought me when I was 8!

How – you ask with a hint of scepticism in your voice – do you cope with the blog? Well, the blog was forced on me by an ongoing problem. Anyone under the age of 35 who came to see me perform would look through me as if I was vaporising when I responded to their request for a web reference of Fb page with a negative. They would back away from me faintly disturbed when they realised I only existed in the real world.

My aversion to technology often tips over into fear and that can become socially disabling. Recently I was talking to a guy from Warwickshire county council in relation to the library event in Leamington. He joked that I should send him a message ‘by pigeon’. Instead of appreciating this witticism, panic took hold. I assumed he was referring to some recent manifestation of internet communication wizardry that had passed me by. The Tweet had been superseded by Pigeon! There was a horrible silence on the phone. My lack of knowledge morphed into a blank of heavy breathing. I was yet again on my own little island of not so blissful ignorance.

Not that me and jokes have a comfortable history. Once while performing at a fundraiser I quipped that if people went onto eBay they'd find one of my kidneys for auction. There was a deathly hush followed by a few titters then relieved sporadic chuckles. A friend later explained that there were enough people in the audience who knew me to hesitate on the question of whether I was mad enough to do such a thing. But I digress (hoorah)

The comments were ALL read before being deleted to make way for more so in future I will navigate to the comments cog in sensible time and publish the ones that say marvellous things.

Many Thanks.

And to fellow PANTs sufferers, the cure is to pretend it’s not happening and eat cake.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Blog 52. Hijab jabbing gibberish

Why not ban Burqas, Beards & Botox?

Yes I’m actually going to write about the thing I said I would write about in the previous blog post rather than frothing about something that sidetracked me in the intervening seven days.

The issue of covering the face with a veil is entering a phase of hysteria. That potent mix of fear and racism tinged with guilt and prejudice sprinkled with stupidity is all covered over with the sauce of media-induced faux public anxiety to create a journalistic wet dream. Column inches and radio minutes just ooze with bland rhetorical questions masquerading as ‘a reflection of current public concern’.

Boring as it may be, lacking in drama, devoid of panic, couldn’t we just try and re-establish a sense of proportion and priority?

The rational and therefore un-newsworthy response to this subject is surely that women should be supported in this country to go without the veil IF THEY SO WISH.

Throwing round the notion of criminalising veiling by Muslim women instantly propels it into a disproportionately high profile political fire cracker that can be set off randomly for a variety of reasons; to fill a lazy news day, create a distraction, give politicians with nothing real to talk about something to exercise their jaws with and so on. But it also fuels the right-wing nutters, makes the Muslim community feel more under siege and in fact will encourage many younger Muslim women to adopt the veil when they might not otherwise have done as a way of thumbing their noses at western insincerity.

As mentioned last week the idea that we need to be able to ‘read’ each other’s faces is an interesting one on so many levels. Even a cursory examination of this particular red-herring exposes just how mendacious its proponents are being.

Are we going to bar men from wearing beards?

Are we going to ban Botox?

Are we going to outlaw facelifts and fillers and anything else that might zombiefy human features?

Are we going to prevent professional men from wearing those expensive suits that give the impression of alpha male power to every slack-arsed, bloaty bellied soon-to-have-a-heart-attack oik?

Imagine you are on the bus and someone farts. You glance round to spy the guilty party who exposed the rest of the unfortunate passengers to last night’s poorly digested curry. You suspect the heavily made-up woman now peering with glazed eyes out of the misted window but – how can you ever tell? She may be blushing under that caked-on foundation but you will never know!

Celebrities must be banned from wearing those large dark sunglasses. For all we know, behind that barrier they may be wearing an expression that suggests they actually don’t care two figs for the fans surging round them screaming and clamouring for autographs.

In my experience, professionals are often masters of the uncommunicative visage.  Several years ago a dentist broke off my tooth when she was supposed to be filling it. Ok – these things happen. But when I returned to the practice repeatedly complaining about hideous pain she stared at me blankly as if she had no idea what was wrong. Once she looked me in the eye with absolute directness and told me I was imagining the pain, which by that point was so bad I could neither sleep nor chew. A fortnight later a small chunk of metal fell out of my mouth – causing unbelievable relief. A new dentist mentioned, to my utter surprise, that the tooth was broken and the metal had been filling the gap! Clearly dentist no. 1 had her own kind of veil.

The commonsense answer to this issue is education on both sides – those who suddenly decided it was threatening to see veiled women and those women who may feel pressured into covering their faces when they would otherwise not. But for the government in its panicked attempt to appeal to those who may respond to the current bandwagon to start kicking this one round is dangerous. As for the so called opposition, they are hedging their bets for fear of losing the position of not-being-quite-so-bad-as-the-government. It is unconscionable.

There are more pressing problems.

Half of us are dying of obesity while the processed food industry goes unchecked. Too many children are on Ritalin. Gambling is embedding itself into normal life as a new cancer. Misogyny is flourishing. We have lost international credibility in parts of the world that are currently undergoing radical change. We are living in ways that are economically and environmentally unsustainable. Western young women are mutilating their bodies in the pursuit of unrealistic fantasy perfection. Public sector morale is at rock bottom. I’ll stop there.

Is a bit of cloth over a woman’s face really the crucial topic of the moment? And, for argument’s sake if it is, is media and political frenzy the way to deal with it?