Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Turrrrrn to the left!

I am not a man of fashion, and I don’t care. Got a couple of good suits, a couple of work suits, a few pairs of 501s in different states of wear (worn no other jeans but 501s since before Nick Kamen, and have slowly gone from 28 inch waist to 34 but do I worry? I do not), bundle of shirts and t-shirts and that, the odd straight-leg flat-front chino and a small selection of shoes and boots. Couple of coats. And that does me. 

This morning I stopped to top up the Oyster and somebody thrust a magazine into my hand. A men’s fashion magazine. I don’t think he singled me out as someone in need of advice. If he had, what kind of fashion tips would you take from a bloke in an orange plastic tabard? 

A cheeky little vintage;
 you may be amused by its impudence
Anyway, I had a look through it. It was called ‘MODE’ (in caps) but it may as well have been called ’84 Pages Of Cunts’. I mean, straight away there’s a photo of some fella called Luke. Luke’s a shirtelier. I'll say it again; a shirtelier. No you’re not mate, you’re a bloke who sells shirts. You’re one step up from the dodgy cockney in the sheepskin down Romford Market. Get over yourself. 

Moving on, there’s a £300 cricket jumper, and here’s a £250 denim shirt - all so very very this season though - before we get to Megatwat #1; The Trend: Blousons Over Tailoring. Apparently that’s what we should all be doing this winter; putting on a suit and then sticking one of those short puffy coats over it so a foot of jacket’s showing. If my old man was alive he’d have a fit. No gentleman worth his salt lets even a mere glimpse of jacket show beneath his topcoat, nor more than an inch and a half of shirt cuff protrude from his jacket sleeve. Only a bounder, a cad or a double-glazing salesman would. 
Pagoda Shoulderline:
never got the recognition
she deserved

Other things we should keep an eye out for: the Pagoda Shoulderline (a wonderful character actress who starred alongside Michelin Twick in so many pre-war British comedies); Vetiver over Neroli (Tom Ford says so. Don’t argue with Tom Ford); big chunky five-grand watches that’ll stay on your wrist exactly as long as it takes your average mugger to find a machete. Oh, and monk-strap shoes. Very big this season (not ‘very big’ as in clown shoes, just y’know, in). 

This is why we beat the Hun in '18
- dashed good tailoring
And just in case you’re feeling a bit short of bling, here comes, recommended by the Merchandise Manager of Harrods - and we all know what a watchword for class that place is - the Dolce & Gabbana gold bullion hand-embroidered jacket. A jacket with a load of scrolling down the front, like spilled spaghetti but in gold. Gold, ladies and gentlemen. Yours for £6,548. Probably dry-clean only though, and who wants that kind of bother? 

Highpoint of all this, though, is the eight-page spread featuring WERNER. All in caps! WERNER! Look at him!  

Look at his fur coat that could well be made out of old ladies' dead acts but is really a just-over thirteen grand fox fur (Tom Ford again, since you ask. Don't all rush).
Don't laugh.
He could kill you.
Look at his lovely boots! Look at his neatly-tied jumpsuit! Just LOOK at his vertical hair!

Christ, no wonder Dave Sim went mad if he looked at tosh like this all bloody day. 

Sod it. Where can I find an orange plastic tabard?

Sunday, 23 September 2012


So there’s this family: the father’s in his seventies, his wife - his second - is in her forties, they have eight children, live in a big house. Their house is, frankly, a disgrace; their pet dogs eat scraps of food out of discarded fast food wrappers left on a coffee table, and the floors and the back garden are strewn with the dogs' activity's end result. The kids are out of control. The father sits in his pants, surrounded with piles of rubbish, eating pizza off a tray in front of a giant television.

Are they typical welfare dependents? Bound for Jeremy Kyle? No, because these people are multi-millionaires. They live like this because the father’s business is in trouble and they’ve had to lay off all the staff except for one nanny who lives in a wendy house in the back garden. They’ve also laid off all the staff in the business the father ran. 

This family is the subject of the film The Queen of Versailles; it shows a macro version of what’s happened to a lot of people since the sub-prime mortgage meltdown of a few years ago, and that’s reflected in the micro by a small subplot that follows a old friend of the wife who suffers a greater loss in the same financial disaster. 

One of the things that sticks most after seeing the film is how quickly the family spiral down into squalor; without staff, they have no idea and no capability for looking after themselves, and within weeks they’re up to their neck in old McDonald’s wrappers. Not that this stops them from spending atrocious amounts of money; there’s a scene involving a shopping trip that should, if you have any sense of social outrage, send you into a flat fury. 

What really stays with you is the sense of entitlement they have: despite having lost most of his considerable fortune, the father refuses to take the advice of everybody else and determinedly keeps hold of the fifty-two story timeshare complex that’s causing the majority of his problems, and his wife still makes plan for their new house - the largest in the USA, half-built, costing fifty million dollars so far with another fifty needed to finish it. 

If they were the typical Jeremy Kyle welfare-claiming family, they’d be the centre of all kinds of Daily Mail-style anger. But they’re not - they’re still an incredibly wealthy family for whom ‘poverty’ is a more relative concept than it is for the unemployed salesman let go in their company’s cost-cutting. 

But it shows that the divide between rich and poor is a lot more narrow than we’d care to think; no matter how much money you may have, you’re never that far from the people with nothing. It’s all a matter of self-respect. I know people who literally haven’t a penny but would rather die than let their houses - houses they’ll probably lose in the benefit changes coming next year - fall into the disrepair that we’re supposed to accept as some form of well-financed eccentricity from the family in the film. The simpering ‘well, I know I shouldn’t let this happen but it’s out of my hands’ attitude of the mother would see her demonised if she was claiming benefits. 

There are undeserving poor, according to politicians of a certain stripe - politicians that the father in the film boasts of having helped into office (and if you don’t see that scene, early in the film, and wonder why he hasn’t faced criminal charges, we can’t be friends). But it seems to me that there are a lot more undeserving rich. 

The Queen of Versailles is showing at selected cinemas, but as it’s a BBC Storyville production it may well be shown on television soon. You really ought to watch it. 

Friday, 21 September 2012

Yes, yes, alright

I have been informed via Other Media that the Latin tag I'd attached to this thing was either incorrect or meant something entirely different to what I'd believed it meant - something to do with mistresses or some other tosh.

I've changed it.


Sunday, 16 September 2012


Something that never ceases to astound me: the sheer amiability of the public in the face of everyday corporate shenanigans. 

We may well get all huffy about the likes of Barclays being scum, and some of us are only too fond of acting all Little Hitlerish with the poor sods we interact with every day - witness the prickish behaviour of anybody in a Lacoste polo shirt towards the staff in their local supermarket - but the rest of the time we’re just rolling over like a nervous Yorkshire Terrier and letting the bastards shaft us. 

For example: I used to pay my energy bills once a quarter. The bills would arrive in the post, I’d look at them and swear a bit, then I’d either send a cheque or nip into the bank and pay them off. 

Then, one day, the energy people said “We’ve all got this internet lark these days, and bank accounts and all that, so if you want us to keep supplying you with gas and electricity so you stay warm and you can read and watch telly and use computers, you’ll have to set up an online account and pay us that way.”

But that was okay because every quarter it saved me the bother of writing a cheque or nipping into the bank to pay them off. 

Then, one day, the energy people said “Ah, what happens now is that we need you to set up a direct debit so we can take money out of your bank account when it’s due. Don’t worry, we won’t screw you over.”

But that was okay because I kind of trusted them still. 

But then the energy people said “Well, what’s going to happen now is that we’re going to look at how much power you use, and we’re going to average that out over the next three months, and we’re going to take an amount of money out of your account each month so you don’t have really big bills in the winter.”

And that’s when the shenanigans started. 

The energy people revised the number of times they revise the amount of power you use; it’s gone from quarterly to bi-annually. And the amount of money they take is the largest amount rather than the average. Because of that, my monthly payment has gone up by around 200% in the last three years. Admittedly, my usage has increased - there’s a bloke sitting using a computer or watching television all day every day and well into the night these days - but not by that much. 

Now, I get a statement - not a bill - every six months. It’s a pdf. It tells me how much I’ve used in the previous six months and how much the energy people estimate I’m going to use in the next six months. Every time I get one of these statements I’m in credit, sometimes to the tune of a couple of hundred pounds.

What this means is that the energy people are, for all intents and purposes, sitting on my money. My cash has been taken by them out of my bank account, has been put into theirs, and is essentially lubricating their cashflow while chucking sand into mine. 

So if they’re holding on to (let’s say) three hundred quid of my money, how much of yours have they got? And if we multiply an average amount per customer by the number of customers they have, we’re looking at a very large amount of money being held by the energy people. Money that’s earning them interest, either as it’s held on deposit or as it’s being used for expenditure that otherwise would be financed by interest-bearing loans. 

But we’re not getting interest from them. All we’re getting is reams of figures designed to confuse the layman into thinking it’d be far easier to leave things as they are. By leaving things as they are and not kicking up a stink about these free loans we’re giving to very large corporations, we’re letting them take what is rightfully ours. 

And I think it’s time that stopped. 

So I’m going to ask for my money back, plus the interest it would have earned if it had stayed in my bank account. 

I’ve just phoned the Customer Helpdesk of my energy people, and spoken to a very friendly lady whose manner audibly froze when I outlined what I was looking for. She said she’d get someone to call me back very soon.

I’ll let you know how it goes. 

Next: Culture.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Tim's List Of Lost Things (1)

1. Life With Archie #7; left on bus.

2. KitKat, one finger eaten, slightly melted through being stored in coat pocket; dropped through hole in coat pocket.

3. Amazing Spider-Man #687; eaten by swan.

(to be continued)

Let It Die...

A few weeks ago I stood on a street corner while a large group of scared, panicky people ran toward me. They were followed by a line of police officers, who were trying to keep the first group apart from another group, who had decided that the kind of people who make up the first group were not the kind of people who should be allowed in this country. This situation continued for some hours. 

At the same time - exactly the same time, and for some hours following - the local MP, for whom I have a great deal of time, was telling the world via Twitter that everything was fine, no problems, no roads cordoned off, everybody going about their business as usual. 

Obviously everything here is fine.

Which summed something up for me: I, and everybody else in that area that evening, knew what was going on out there. The MP didn’t. Either that, or she was feeding a different narrative to the world. And there we had it: the problem with politics today in a nutshell. 

Politicians seem to have no idea what actually concerns the majority of people in this country today. There’s this strange idea that everybody belongs to the ‘squeezed middle’, that everybody’s main concern is whether they can afford the usual restaurant or shall they have to downgrade to takeaways, that there’s nobody actually at the sharp end of day-to-day living in recession-era Britain. 

And obviously these people are on their way to a lovely teaparty.
There’s a disconnect between us and them, and there’s a reason for this; most politicians have chosen politics as a career. Most - especially the younger MPs that sit at present - have gone in a straight line from university (usually PPE) to a researcher or Special Adviser position within either one of the main parties or a government department, then risen swiftly to a safe seat. 

And without wishing to come over all Animal Farm on you, there seems to be very little difference in style or substance between them, regardless of party. Certainly there are the outliers, the publicity whores, the slightly extreme sorts; trying to be the political equivalents of shock jocks, aiming for Howard Stern and just about hitting Dermot O’Leary. 

Overall, though, there’s just a coating of human pubulum, a bland smoosh of interchangeable suits and smiles spread like Philadelphia cheese over the leather benches of the House. 

They’re disconnected from ordinary people, who don’t trust them and show that distrust by not voting. Let’s make that clear: people are not voting for a party or a person, nor against. They’re simply not bothering to vote at all. Turnout falls in each consecutive election. Some local elections have turnouts so small they might not have bothered to call the thing in the first place. 

What the public needs is something to believe in again. Either that, or a swift kick up the arse. 

There’s talk at the moment of renovating the Houses of Parliament. Beautiful though it is in its gothic overkill, it’s an old building, full of asbestos and vermin, daily becoming a more and more apt metaphor for what goes on within. It’ll have to be closed down while it’s made safe. 

So why not, for the length of the renovation work but possibly longer, reintroduce the electorate to the importance of democracy by taking away the process of democracy?

Let’s say, then, that Parliament is dissolved, that we have no government. What we have instead is one person in charge of each region; a Commissar for London, another for the South-East, another for Manchester, for each Riding of Yorkshire and so on. Unelected, of course; appointed by the Privy Council perhaps, or chosen by lottery one grey weekend. 

For five years, maybe ten, these couple of dozen people sit in committee in a conference centre somewhere, and make decisions for us. With any luck there’ll be a spread of political convictions between them, but if there isn’t then tough luck, because if they turn out to be maniac extremists, we’re stuck with them. 

And then, when the House is ready for re-occupation (and it may never be; we shall hold on to the possibility of a wholesale relocation of a reinstated Parliament to the QEII Conference Centre, or to the Olympic Park, or to an industrial estate in Lincolnshire), we shall disband the committee, thank them for their work, and start from scratch. 

We’ll have to tweak the system a little. The public may welcome it back with open arms and hugely increased participation, but equally they may not. So instead, we’ll have to incentivise the MPs. 

Ballot papers will have a ‘None Of The Above’ option, and if that option is the most popular, a constituency will just have to get along without an MP for a while. MP’s salaries will be tied to average wages, and rise only at the same level as the same index used for calculating raises in state pensions and other benefits. Outgoing MPs will get the same redundancy benefits as any other worker. Expenses will be subject to the same scrutiny as they would in any other company. 

You see, the problem with too many MPs at the moment, especially those in safe seats or with large majorities, is that they see themselves as creatures of privilege, set for life (or until tabloid scandal) in a cushy job where they can swan along whenever they feel like it, waffle a bit, then bugger off home. Not all of them; the MP I mention at the start of this is very good at her job, working hard both within her constituency and in the larger arena. But a lot do. 

We have to make being an MP a job, one that rewards those who are good at it with positions of greater responsibility, but which weeds out the placemen and the careerists and the mates of the PM and all the others that make politics as it stands such a feeble parody of what it should be. 

Then maybe the people will stop looking at politicians with contempt and distrust, and start voting in decent numbers again, and rediscover what it means to have control over the people who legislate for us. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

This Time Next Year...

(An occasional series of schemes to make me rich.)

Kickstopper: It’s like Kickstarter but pretty much in reverse. Here’s how it works.

Fay Fantasy-Typist wants to write another in her series of Dragonesses and Dreamwalkers books. But Fay doesn’t want to be subject to the onerous demands of editors who insist that the books make any kind of sense and are not just a collection of Fay’s Reiki-healing-inspired new age meanderings. So Fay wants to self-publish, but that would cost more than Fay can afford, because although the books so far have been well-received by those who like that sort of thing, they’ve not gone mainstream and Fay hasn’t been able to fulfil her dream of living in a Gothic folly surrounded by talking cats and lute-playing ravens, and is in fact living in a council flat in Walsall. Besides which, what money has been realised by Dragonesses and Dreamwalkers so far has been spent on long flowing robes and Wicca lessons.

So Fay puts her plan up on Kickstopper in the hope that her readers will pledge money to her so she can type her newest book without any of those annoying everyday financial concerns, then publish it in the format she feels it deserves, with black leatherette covers and the odd embedded fake ruby.

Luckily, there are enough people out there who – because they are adult, literate people -know that Fay’s book is likely to be as atrocious as any of her others. Rather than see another redundant fantasy pollute the shelves, these people can pledge money through the Kickstopper site to stop her from continuing.

If Fay says she’ll type a chapter for every fifty quid raised, Kickstopper can raise fiftyfive notes to stop her in her tracks. With luck and any form of natural justice, sufficient money will be raised through pledges to stop Fay from ever putting quill to vellum.

It’s as simple as that.

But, I hear you say, what’s to stop Fay from just saying she’s going to write the book, getting the Kickstopper money, and then going ahead and writing it anyway? And even if she doesn’t, isn’t the whole thing just a way of allowing under-talented people to get money to do nothing?

Better that, I say, than allowing her to continue. Better to stem the flow of piss-poor fantasy twaddle at the source than let it run over the rim of printing’s chamberpot.

However, at Kickstopper we will recognise the power of incentives both to pledger and pledgee, which is why, if the pledgee should renege on their contract not to produce, all monies must be repaid with interest. That’s a given. We will also offer the following extra bonus incentives to pledges:

If the pledgee pledges a certain minimum amount, they will be eligible to call the creator rude names and tell them exactly what they think of their work. This initial band of incentives includes the opportunity to laugh at the creator’s dress sense, and to tell them that they smell.

Band Two of the incentive plan grants the right for a pledger to stand outside the creator’s house late at night and stare at their window; they may also follow the creator around at a distance of ten yards and mock their choice of vegan (or other) foodstuffs.

Band Three – the highest pledges – will extend to the pledger the unique chance to give the creator a hefty kick in the old lunch or, for Executive Diamond Level pledges, gently break one finger (per pledge, up to and including eight separate fingers but excluding thumbs because of some ridiculous Human Rights law or other). Kickstopper is producing a range of humane but not too humane secateur-based tools to facilitate this.

We are currently working on a weapons-based incentive for those willing to pledge their entire estate and to serve jail time.