Sunday, 18 April 2010

News

Three issues dominated the headlines this week, all of them fairly big stories and each significant for different reasons.  The largest of the stories was of course the ongoing war between the UK and Iceland, not content with emptying what was left in our children’s piggy banks they decide to perform the single largest act of Eco-terrorism the world has ever seen.  The grounding of the entire UK airspace for over 3 days (so far) has only ever happened twice before, once during 9/11 and during the second world war – when let’s face it the only planes flying then were painted green and had Browning machine guns bolted to their sides.  The unpronounceable volcano (Eyjafjallaj√∂kull) which translates as “up yours international airlines” has decided to retaliate for the millions of tons of CO2 spewed put by airlines each year and the melting the glaziers that entomb the country. 


The second big story was the inaugural Televised political debate between the three main parties contesting this year’s election in the UK.  At this point I have to admit that I have never voted before, which I know is deplorable and would cause all of those that died for democracy and fended off the Nazi’s all those years ago to be spinning in their graves, but since Margaret Thatcher’s era – what is the point? Not since the ‘Iron’ ladies days have we had any variation on a theme.  Political parties have merged, policies have become mirrored and the leaders have morphed into clones.


Gone are the days when one party stood for the Gentry, One stood for the workers and one stood for the trees.  Their policies were divided into more money for the rich and keep the dirty rotten foreigners out; higher salaries for clip board holding union officials and keep the dirty foreigners out, and more land for the trees and vegetables rights.  These days it is hard to identify differences between the parties, the old face of socialism, communism,  conservativeness, fascism, liberalism and capitalism have all morphed into parties politics that bend with public opinion, relying more on Big Brother style polls, public relation campaigns and hair gel. 
This week’s televised debate has done nothing but dilute the differences between the parties even further. The fact that viewing figures were comparable with ‘X-Factor’ or ‘Big Brother’, could be seen as a positive move in engaging more peoples interest in politics, however we all know that the reasons for watching were more to do with seeing if Gordon Brown ‘s facial twitch was still as pronounced , or would the Botox under David Camerons eyes droop at the last minute.  The potential for one of the 3 contenders to swear on national TV, drop a bullock, or be belittled by their opponent was too much of a temptation to be missed.

In reality what we found was 2 and a half men professionally groomed, rehearsed and surprisingly respectful of each other – but then why wouldn’t they be?  To be respectful is to walk down the middle line; to criticise or disagree strongly would be to object to at least one potential voters view.  To be a contender you need to support everyone’s football teams with a passion, like all kinds of food, have no allegiance over Coronation Street or Eastenders, and see the virtues in Lady Gaga’s lyrics.  Oh and also support constraint whilst seeing the need to invest, making harsh decisions albeit protecting jobs, reducing emissions, but not stopping progress and supporting basic values whilst recognising independence – basically you need to have more faces than a Deltoidal Hexecontahedron (look it up!).

Which is why the only differences we now have is how they look, and what this debate has done has refined politics into facial features rather than policy, just imagine if it was Tony Blair instead of Gordon Brown! We would have been introduced by three individuals from the Satchi and Satchi school of politics, each groomed within an inch of their lives, hair gelled millimeter perfect, teeth shiny enough to advertise tooth paste and ties so straight they must have been painted onto their crisp white shirts. This isn’t so much of a debate, more of a beauty pageant.  Not surprising then that Dicky Clegg won hands down over corny Cameron and Bland Brown, forget politics show us those dimples. 
The final piece of news had a traumatic effect on me and millions like me, news that caused suicidal tendencies to surface and moments of extreme depression.   For over a year reports emerged that would change our lives, at first it started with rumors on the internet, these developed into accusations and counter claims, sneak peeks and spy shots.  After all of this the messiah of modern day technology finally announced the second coming on January 27th 2010.

Steve Jobs put is all out of our misery and announced that Apple would launch the iPad in April.  Ever since the birth of my iPhone, I had longed for her to have a brother or sister, the announced pregnancy in January meant a birth in April; this led to sleepless nights, anguished days and untold accessory preparation.  Then as the delivery came closer we heard that they had got the conception date wrong, and we wouldn’t be receiving our little packages of technological joy until the end of May.

Too much to bear I hurried to find an importer and scoured eBay.  Sure there were plenty of them for sale, it wasn’t the Jack Sparrow sellers that but me off, nor the over inflated prices, but the thought of leaving the handling of something so precious to Fedex or Parcel Force caused the most concern.  This led to only one alternative, I would have to travel to the states to collect and hand deliver back to the UK, of course the price would be extreme, but the use of all of those airmiles collected would mean it was only time that would be given – and after all what price can be put against delivering a new life?  So decision made, time booked off, cash prepared ...... yes you guessed it those bloody Icelandic's!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Dreams

Through the medium of television, cinema and books we all know that the American dream is an ethos centred around the virtues of an “all men are created equal” philosophy, it goes on to emphasize that the pursuit of happiness, life and liberty cross all boundary’s of sex, colour or creed and that we are all born equal.




I guess from around the word, America is seen as the land of opportunity, a land where success has no limits and streets are paved with gold.  Where a poor 2nd generation immigrant can become president and ruler of the free world – or something like that. 

The American dream is centred on home ownership, as is the British Dream of ’A man’s home is his castle”   Although to be honest I am not sure what a ‘British’ dream is? As an ethos, it probably doesn’t have the same basis as an American dream; but as an aspiration I guess it’s about owning a corner shop, becoming a train driver or playing football for the team of your choice Vs becoming a barrister, classical musician or ‘something’ in the City whichever path you achieve or desire is still firmly divided by which school you went to, and what family you were born in to – as well as colour, creed and sexual denomination.
 

Of course there are always the examples that break the rules, and those of us who try to ignore precedents and prejudice, but anyone who thinks it no longer exists is either a naive plum sucking, white, male, public school taught toff, who is eighteenth in line to the throne of Hampshire or a politician or both.


Discrimination is still rife, be it class, colour, creed or what football team you support.  The one thing we hold onto is that the belief that despite where you come from, you can make a difference by where you live.  The right side of the river, a certain street, school catchment area, postal code or even council tax bracket can enable you to at least rub shoulders with the upper echelons of society – albeit with a couple of caveats, the first – whilst you can live next door, you will never be adopted – regardless of how much money you have, how deep your St Tropez tan is or how big the ‘rims’ on your shiny new car are.  When your relatives arrive in their 1986 model Serra, sporting florescent pink boob tubes ripped jeans and a bottle of Black Tower, the neighbours curtains will twitch and mumbles of “this area has gone downhill” will echo across the manicured lawns and wrought iron entrance gates.  Perhaps this first point isn’t really unexpected and has been well documented before, what I didn’t expect was the second foe par made by those with enough money (or credit!) to find access behind walled community’s, discrete hamlets and secret enclaves of prime real estate. 

On my return to the UK, the thought of buying a property filled me with dread.  I had spent the last half a dozen years renting accommodation in China, and to be honest thoroughly enjoyed it –no maintenance, a wide choice, limited commitment and need to tie up half the national debt of Greece at exorbitant rates of interest.  So when looking to move back to the UK and not knowing what was going to happen next in my life, I decided to rent rather than conform to buying a property. 

The pressure to buy is everywhere, I don’t necessarily believe in conspiracy theories and wouldn’t suggest that our crazed obsession with making a financial commitment to a faceless banking organisation  that will invest your life savings into a scheme for milking sparrows, then require you to sell a kidney, a left toe and your first born so that they can continue to slalom down the black run at St Moritz on gold skis, is all part of one gigantic government George Orwell inspired conspiracy to keep us all working 600 hours and eat boiled liver 6 days a week.  

 


My parents worry that I will end up on the street if I don’t buy quickly, and every friend, foe and stranger will go at lengths to tell me that renting is dead money and that I am an evil father for not providing a ‘permanent’ home for kith and kin.  This leads me onto what is the 2nd downside of renting,  I am considered a second class citizen, a lower life, a lesser being.  When moving into my million pound former footballers abode, I felt proud, important and like I had finally made it.  I had a gravel drive, a house name rather than a number, bits of wrought iron, even a fountain.   The ceilings were low; beams were exposed and taps gold plated. 

Friends would be invited to cocktail evenings, and lesser relatives not informed of our new address, the feeling was amazing – until... we received a visit from the Lady of the Manor, with a bottle of expensive wine and with a nose so sharp you could open letters with it.  Along with her welcome gift came a – “I understand your just visiting us, and only renting – how long before you leave and buy somewhere?” said with such distain that all of the pride and delight of moving to a new home instantly disappeared, ever since I have been made to feel as welcome as a puss ridden facial boil on prom night.  She is not alone, mention the fact that you are renting and you’re treated as an escaped paedophile, which once raped a horse and swore at the Queen mother.



I put the fact that people were aggressive to my bizarre decision to rent over buy, because they were jealous.  I had a bank account full of unreleased cash from the house that I had sold some years earlier, my weekends weren’t spent with tirelessly trying to peel, plaster, prime, paint and preserve homes that they had mortgaged the next 25 years wages on, and I was able to take a choice of home based on how glamorous, ostentatious and individual it is rather than how practical, sensible or conservative it was.  Not worrying about resale value, appreciation, depreciation and who would pay the mortgage if another baby came or if I lost my job is a fantastic relief of stress, anguish and fear.

However, before everyone runs out, sells their home, deposits the money in a not so high interest account and moves into a national trust managed 16th century  castle. Beware, it has its downsides, choice is limited due to our passion with buying property, landlords vary between Sweeney Todd and Peter Mandleson, and when you read “security deposit”, read “one off payment never to be seen again” based on the fact that you will have worn the thread out on the carpets by half a nanometre, and have therefore waived any right to reimbursement.

But worst of all you will receive a recorded letter through the post at some point, for me it was yesterday when I was informed that my landlord wanted to sell his property and I would need to vacate by the end of the month. 



Perhaps buying is a good idea after all.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Easter

Whilst living in China I wrote about the varied and sometimes strange local festivals and celebrations that occurred during the year.  These included such delights as ‘Tomb Sweeping Day’, ‘Dragon Boat Day’ and of course Chinese New Year. So I thought it only right and proper to write about the reason why I am sitting here at home in the UK feeling rather sick – Easter.


If you were a visitor to the UK during this period you would be forgiven for thinking....


Easter is a festival to celebrate the creation of probably the most important, widely worshipped and infinitely desired icon of popular culture – chocolate.  At this time of the year millions of people purchase billions of pounds worth of cocoa based products to celebrate the foundation of the church of Chocolate.  A religion spanning thousands of years with origins based in central Mexico and the Aztecs.  Born of the Cacao tree it was hailed as “The Food of The Gods” (Theobroma cacao in Latin), a product with powers to heal, to cure, to invigorate and to ultimately corrupt.


"The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue.
A cup of this precious drink [cocoa] permits a man
to walk for a whole day without food."
Montezuma II
(1502-1520)



John Cadbury
The word of Chocolate soon spread across the oceans, across cultures and into the hearts of millions, its addictive quality’s quickly corrupted and consumed populations.  Disciples sprang up everywhere, including John Cadbury, Milton Hershey, Franklin Mars, and Henri Nestle (Founders of Cadbury, Hershey, Mars and Nestle respectfully) they all increased its popularity through propaganda and the creation of ‘Chocolate Churches’ or confectionery stores.  Soon we would all become devout followers.


The creation of chocolate effigies in the shape of coins, eggs, bars of gold and stars are used at various periods of the year to remind us how important chocolate has become.   We cease work, school and play to celebrate chocolate, we share amongst friends and family, offer as presents and symbols of love, lust and affection.  Movies, Books and videos are created in its name,  it is all consuming and drives children to hunger, parents to despair and dentists to the sports car dealers.
Easter is one such time that we celebrate the greatness of chocolate, formed into egg shapes to represent new life, we gorge ourselves on high calorie, high sweetness brown parcels of delight. 
The tradition started early in the 19th century and was perfected by John Cadbury in 1875.  Mr Cadbury born in 1801 in Birmingham, to Richard and Elizabeth Cadbury, become a disciple for millions of children and adults.  From humble beginnings, with doubters, and critics, he came to inspire Roald Dahl to write the ‘bible’ of the Chocolate world – ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, a book expelling the virtues of chocolate excess and worshipped by chocolate lovers across the world.  Millions of people travel thousands of miles to visit the Mecca for chocolate, Bourneville in Birmingham.  A shrine to Cadbury, his family and the divine teachings of this great man, here are some facts and figures to consider:



* On average, each person in Britain eats approx. 10.2kg of chocolate per year.
* The UK chocolate market was worth £2.36 billion in 2009
* Approximately 80 million chocolate eggs are sold annually in the UK.
* The most popular chocolate egg worldwide is Cadbury's Creme Egg, they first went on sale in 1971, and now sell over 200 million each year.
* Easter chocolate sales make up 10% of Britain's annual spending on chocolate.
*  £280million was spent on Easter eggs in the 4 days leading up to Easter 2008.
 

Proof indeed that the tradition of celebrating chocolate at this time of the year is still strong, and that our devotion to this biblical product does not wane even after thousands of years of human development.





Of course some would say that Easter is about the resurrection of some bloke called Jesus – but try telling that to a seven year old!