Sunday, 22 February 2009

School Reunions

After a half term break I find myself back at the keyboard and thinking about days gone by with some trepidation. Facebook has thrown up the possibility of a school reunion back in not so sunny Stoke-on-Trent. I find myself torn by this. There is a strong part of me that thinks there is a very good reason why I haven't seen these people for the last twenty odd years. Added to this though, there is an underlying curiosity to see what has become of my classmates. I'm sure that most people have identical feelings.

However, because of the fact that it is Facebook there is little need to wonder what those people are like because I can sneak a peek at some of their profiles. Now who in the list of those that are going do I recognise? Well one name jumps out at me instantly. For legal reasons I will call him Tony Hay as I am about to disparage him to the max.

Good old Tony was in my history group for a while. His idea of fun was to lean forward and set fire to the hair of the person sitting at the desk ahead of him. What a hoot he was. That was, as I say, twenty odd years ago. Perhaps he has seen the light and changed his ways. Lets look at his profile. I find a good way of discerning aspects of personality, not perfect but okay, is to look at the groups a person has joined on Facebook. Tony has joined loads.

Some are to do with football and as a Stoke supporter they seem okay to me. Some are a bit random but possibly well intended giving tribute to children savaged by family dogs and encouraging you to remember the faces of paedophiles in case you happen to pass them in the street so you can give them a kicking. Some are supposed to be funny like "I don't need sex, the goverment fucks me every day!" Ah then we get "You're in England. Speak the fucking language!!!" Tony was in the remedial group for English as I remember. Oh and "No more immigrants England is full fuck of else where!!!" Did you note the use of three, not one, exclamation marks there?

I love the fact that I come from Stoke but am glad that I no longer live there. The people are great but there is a mindset in my home area that once you are away from it you realise how narrow it is. I would probably be decried as a liberal, gay loving xenophile by Tony and his mates who would wonder how I could bring myself to live in a city with as many black people as Birmingham has. I suspect that one would be too many.

Not all Stokies, or Potters as we call ourselves, are racist but its obvious that Tony is. Others on the list jump out as similarly dubious characters. None, as in zero, of my close friends of those days are there and this speaks volumes to me. I know that there are lots of socio-economic, demographic, historico-bullshit reasons why a social group can become antagonised. What do you do about it though? Stoke now has nine BNP councillors and their support doesn't seem to be waning.

Almost all of my friends from Stoke have left there. I think that I would however like to attend a reunion, not the one that is being planned though. There were and are some good people in Stoke and it would be good to get together again. Alas most of the pubs of my youth have either closed down or been demolished but there are still a couple going. I think that I will contact the four people I spent most of my latter teens with and see if they fancy getting together for a drink sometime. That would be a proper reunion.

Until next time....

Friday, 13 February 2009

All sold out!

Advertising is a cynical business, there can be little argument about that. Sometimes the creations are reasonably interesting and watchable but usually just tiresome and annoying. I am however, appalled at the current trend of paying a well known iconic performer to parody their own image for the sake of a product.

For instance John Lydon nee Rotten. This anti-establishment figure of my youth, whose foul mouthed shenanigans challenged the mainstream, is now selling butter whilst dressed as landed gentry. I know that it is tongue in cheek and harmless, but that is my point. The Johnny Rotten of my youth would have spat on the executive that approached him is now just another jobbing celebrity. It’s a shame. Even the thought that he is secretly emphasising the first syllable of Country Life isn’t enough to mitigate the disappointment.

You can imagine this discussion…

“What do they want us to sell for them?”

“Life insurance”

“That is a sensible and mundane subject, who shall we use?”

“Hmm, I’m not sure. Let’s treat this in an ironic and post-modern way, even though I’m not sure what post-modern means.”

“Okay, who would be the last person in the world that you would insure?”

And so we have Iggy Pop, bouncing his aging but taut torso across our screens with a hectic backdrop of less than subliminal selling. Don’t get me wrong I can see the joke. Here is a man who has taken enough drugs to sustain a Central American government whilst sprinting down the path of self destruction, selling me life insurance. I understand the humour and even appreciate it, but am still saddened. Another anti-hero has been tamed and chained. Perhaps he will blow the fee on a huge amount of heroin that he will inject directly into his skull, or more likely he will use it to pay his golf club fees so that he and Alice Cooper can stroll down the ninth whilst discussing the latest share rates.

The ultimate in conversion from icon to advertising puppet though has to be the once great figure of Paddington Bear. This erstwhile purveyor of whimsical entertainment and devout consumer of marmalade has been harnessed by the mighty Marmite Empire to sell its less sweet wares. Possibly its part of a campaign on the Peruvian’s behalf to revive his career before they look too closely at his visa status, but it is still a sad day.

Until next time…

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The shape of things to come

Last weekend my father-in-law brought a friend round to visit. She's from Jamaica originally and had just bought a laptop so that she could keep in touch with her family around the world. A good idea I am sure you would agree. "Could you show her what to do?" he innocently asked and I agreed. Oh dear! I hadn't realised that she had no experience of computers at all and didn't know where the space bar was let alone how to set up a Skype account. It was a hard slog with not much to show at the end. She's going to need a lot of ongoing help.

Later in the week my father-in-law phones me at work. He has bought a new mobile phone and has spent the whole day unsuccessfully trying to plug the charger in. He had called the provider, ranted, threatened them and generally lost the plot so he brings it over for me to see. On his older but similar model the charger plugged into the right-hand side. This is now the slot for a memory card and the charger goes into the left. It might seem obvious to most of us but not to him.

Now to the point. I'm not writing this to disparage either of these people but out of a sense of nervousness for my own future. Technology is zooming ahead and many people are getting left behind. My job is technology based and hopefully I am pretty much on the mark with what is current, or at least not too far behind. The question is can I keep this up or will I get slower at learning whilst technological progress accelerates off at warp speed and inveigles itself into every aspect of our life.

Working in the field of technology and disability I know the difference that a well designed interface makes, whether its a cash machine, website or mobile phone. How easy it is to use and access for people that are older or have a disability is in the hands of the designer and how well they understand how people are going to link in with it. Lets hope the technocrats realise this and possibly I won't be calling my children in twenty years time to come and programme my crystal based video recorder for me.
Until next time...

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Is sorry enough?

Part of the reason for doing this blog was to give me a bit of mind space to work out my views, as sometimes I find myself dithering between opinions, trying to appreciate all sides of an argument. This tendency towards balance may be a positive trait in some respects, but is damned annoying when called upon to come off the fence over some topic or other. Besides, those people that stood out in history are the ones that knew firmly what they stood for. From Ghandi to Ghengis Khan their methods may have been different but their resolve was strong.

The burning topic of the day causing me angst are the remarks of Jeremy Clarkson. He called the Prime Minister Gordon Brown a "one eyed, Scottish idiot" in front of the camera for the whole world to see and hear. As he said it you could tell he realised that he had made a mistake, but it was too late. What was the mistake and does this matter?

The issue doesn't seem to be around the term idiot, as I think anyone in high office is fair target for that kind of comment. Scottish, was this a description or term of abuse? Would he have said black idiot or Jewish idiot? So perhaps this was racist. Was "one eyed" meant as an abuse, if so then was it disablist? Its a good job for Jeremy that Gordon isn't a woman as I think that would have been another insult box he'd have ticked.

Aaaargh! do I have an opinion on this? I think he was stupid and it was personally offensive to Mr Brown. I think that prejudice is bad, but I also think that there is a distinction between the throw away remark of a person who makes their living being controversial and the hate filled invective of the racist right. Yes its a bad example but I doubt whether anybody woke up this morning saying..."you know what, I used to like our Northern cousin but that Jeremy has turned me round. Scottish people are stupid and as for the ones that have only one eye..."

I refuse to draw a comparison between this and the Ross/Brand incident. Brand is a comedian who makes a living from walking the tightrope of decency and is bound to fall off at times. We need comedians who take risks or it all becomes a bit too safe. Clarkson isn't a comedian, just an opinionated tit with an audience and a TV presence. Possibly he will have learned something from this, but I don't think there are any lessons for the rest of us as its old, old ground. Jeremy is going to have to apologise to the PM, to visually impaired people, Scots and all those others who have been bothered by this and I think that should be the end of it.

Even as I hit the button to post this I find myself wanting to go back and water down the text to an even more middle of the road stance. I am going to have to fight the urge and do it though or there is no point to this exercise.

Until next time...

Friday, 6 February 2009

Thank heaven for atheists!

Religion is an interest of mine, so much so that I studied it at degree level. When I started my course I could best be described as an agnostic so maybe I was looking for some kind of proof or evidence. During the course I identified myself with the Catholicism I inherited from my Irish forebears along with a tendency towards maudlin folk music and dark alcoholic beverages. I even got confirmed.

I did well as a Catholic student and reached the point of leading Bible study groups. So what happened? There was a point when I realised that no matter how much I wanted it to make sense and mean something, it just didn't. The only way to sustain belief is to ignore the overwhelming flaws that permeate not just Catholicism but any belief system that makes a virtue from suspending sense and rationality and replacing it with faith.

Billy Connolly once said that he went to Catholic school and got an A level in guilt. I know what he means. Even now I find myself whispering that I am an atheist instead of stating it boldly. The feeling is that I am somehow setting myself apart from that mass of semi-secular society who hold such strong views as, "I don't go to church but I believe there is a God type of thing and you have to go somewhere when you die don't you?" Why am I bothered by this?

I know from experience that Christians get strength from the fact that they are in groups, with clearly defined leaders and people to tell them what to do. Athiests, on the other hand, tend to be more solitary animals and the voice of reason can be isolated and easier to dismiss or attack. Its unlikely that you could get thousands of atheists to meet all over the world on a Sunday to celebrate the writings of Darwin and share a meal together.

There are now though more and more celebrities and everyday people unafraid of declaring their atheism, who don't tiptoe around the feelings of the religious bodies. The Internet is a meeting place of minds and whilst the Christian Church in all its guises is overwhelming there is a strong seed of rationality out there that is growing. I'm interested in how that comes to fruition and how hard line the fundamentalists will feel they have to become to counter it.

Until the next time...

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Portable joy

For Christmas my wife gave me a little Sansa Media player and I love it. I'm sure some of the Apple brigade would look down their designer noses at my machine but it just fits the audio, video and radio needs that I have so well it is fantastic.

As a consumer of public transport (yes I eat buses), I have loads of time with only my thoughts for company and that is not always so good. Sometimes I need to drown those voices in my head before they make me do something bad again; and this is ideal.

What do I have on there at the moment you ask? Well there is an assortment of albums and I love the fact that the cover art goes on too. I have the first series of Heroes as I am behind the world on that. Dark Knight, Serenity a load of Simpsons and a whole variety of video. The things that fill me with gladness though are the variety of podcasts out there. People who fill the net with trivia, laughter and opinion for my free downloadable enjoyment. God bless them I would say if there was a God to bless them.

I'm a bit of podcast whore these days but I'm not going to list my favourites here because I will probably touch upon a few in the future. Besides I'm still trawling the web trying out different ones and coming up with a few goodies amongst the inevitable bags of dross.

Until the next time...

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

My garden shed isn't bigger....

I was offered a ticket to the Leicester vs. Walsall football game tonight and took up the offer. As a fan of neither team I went largely for the company and for the buzz that you get standing in an away enclosure. Never having been to Walsall's stadium I was gratified by the cosy atmosphere and size that meant that I was virtually standing on the pitch for the game.

Standing with the Leicester fans I was more than amused by the ironic banter and good humoured ribbing that they gave Walsall. Being so comfortably high in the table must add something to their mood but I particularly enjoyed the times when, because the Walsall fans were so silent, Leicester fans started cheering the opposition. This may be a common occurrence but nonetheless it made me smile.

The evening was completed for me by a clutch of goals, a sausage of doubtful meat content in a bun and a pint of beer on the way home. These blog entries are not going to be about football, largely as I have neither the time nor money to attend lots, but it was a good night well spent with a good friend.

On a final note, I'm not sure if admiration is the word to be used, but I did see a large man with a full tattoo but no shirt stand there for the whole game. Given the below freezing temperature of the night I have to salute his devotion. I didn't take a picture at the game but my friend assured me he was a bit of a legend and he would be on t'internet. Sure enough I have found his pic which I will copy in.

Until the next time....