Monday, April 30, 2007

Colonel Moseley on Modern Fallacies

What ho! I was just looking through my weblog. As well as reviews and horse-related items, a good proportion of my posts do seem to consist of sharing my grumbles. Despite this, I was proud that I criticised Mr Brown’s removal of reliefs for pension funds months before the story really took off.

Today, there’s quite an industry of grumpy senior citizens. Richard Wilson, Germaine Greer and a few others seem to have cornered the market in stating the irritably obvious. I suppose it pays for holidays in Tuscany or suppers at the Ivy or whatever it is media folk of a certain age spend their grey pounds on nowadays.

Despite appearances, I don’t get much satisfaction from mere cynicism. What’s needed is a willingness to test accepted misconceptions. Anyone can be curmudgeonly or sarcastic. It’s much more useful to challenge perceived truths, especially those promoted by spin by our government, public authorities, media and large companies. Each seems to want us to continue to accept a tawdry and deteriorating status quo.

So, in the spirit of the innocent child who pointed out that the emperor was somewhat unclothed, here is my take on ten widespread modern fallacies. In my opinion, all the following statements are simply untrue:

Unemployment levels are historically low. No, they’re not. How many people do you know who were made redundant or “retired early” and find tiny savings or small occupational pensions debar them from any benefit, so they just don’t register? How many disappear into the black economy? How many opt for the disability allowance route? None show-up in the employment statistics.

Global tourism is a pleasure: Not to me it isn’t. To move such numbers, air passengers are now treated like cattle. Airports are overcrowded and unpleasant and, in economy, airplanes uncomfortably cramped with poor food. The destination may be worthwhile, but the demoralising journey makes the whole exercise questionable.

Violent crime is reducing: Stop the spin. Many folk simply do not feel safe enough to go out at night, particularly into city centres for fear of drunks and muggings. Many incidents go un-reported. Any sane observer can see drug-related crime and use of guns have increased.

Customer care is important. Pull the other one. How easy is it to obtain help in some shops compared to a decade ago? How long do you wait and how much does it cost to use a help-line? How many consumers are overcharged by banks and utility-providers? Nowadays, the customer is always…bullied and it’s getting worse.

Female equality exists: Tosh. If there was no longer a glass ceiling, a greater proportion of CEO’s and main board directors would be women.

Standards of food have improved: Not so! Many more people are interested in what they eat and value fresh ingredients with fewer food miles. There is a huge demand for local produce and farmers’ markets, but not enough of them. The domination of major supermarkets is increasing together with the tasteless, mass-produced product often transported unnecessarily from the other side of the world. Frustratingly, the more we understand the problem, the worse it gets.

Being gay is no longer a disadvantage. Get real. How many openly gay men or women hold senior positions in mainstream industry or commerce? In reality, the majority of our companies are still bloke-ish. Go to any business dinner or golf day; conventional orientation is still presumed and required. At work normal stereotypes prevail: it’s competitive and a stable family man is still ruthlessly preferred. Even after the Civil Partnership Act, it’s not compulsory for surviving civil partners to be treated equally with spouses as regards occupational pension rights accrued before the Act.

Standards in the health service are improving: ‘Fraid not! The government may have thrown more money at the health service. It seems that doctors’ salaries have increased, but for patients and nurses morale has fallen whilst levels of infection have risen. Statistics on shorter waiting times for operations don’t correspond with the experience of anyone I know.

English regions are important: Says who? There’s no denying that Scotland and Wales are deemed significant. Each has devolution and its own legislature in which the English do not participate, whilst Scottish and Welsh MPs continue to play a leading role in Parliament. In politics and the media the English regions have no real voice. All that counts is London – oh yes, and Cardiff and Edinburgh

Birmingham is a global tourist destination: Que? I yield to no-one in my admiration of our second city. It is a great business and commercial centre with fine galleries, theatres and restaurants. It hosts exhibitions and conferences brilliantly and has some fascinating parts such as the Jewellery Quarter and Bourneville. It may have more canals than Venice but isn’t yet a must-see holiday destination like Barcelona or even Amsterdam.

There’s nothing like a little de-bunking for giving one an appetite: time for tea, a Country Slice and Countdown with the Mem. At least there are some things one can still rely on. In tribute to automatic promotion, Keep right on! Pip, pip!

*this article also appeared in Birmingham 13.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Colonel Moseley on the Joys of Summer

What ho! After Countdown today, I was reflecting on the summer ahead and how hard it is now to distinguish between the seasons. Mild wet winters merge into hot dry summers, interspersed with sporadic alarming extremes including high winds.

As well as orderly and predictable weather, seasonal events seem to be a thing of the past too. In the High Street, if there is such a thing now, sales happen all the time and aren’t confined to January or mid-summer. Holidays are taken throughout the year, especially during the myriad of half terms, not just two weeks at the beginning of August.

In place of these landmarks on the calendar, the only fixed points in the year now seem to be the monoliths of celebrity and reality TV. The summer is dominated by thirteen weeks of Big Brother, the autumn is the X Factor, the winter sees Ant and Dec flying off to Australia for I’m Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and the Celebrity Big Brother and the springs means Dancing on Ice. I guess they may be our modern fertility rituals marking the passage of time and placating the gods of “OK” and “Hello”.

Anyway, enough ironic social observation: in no particular order, the constants that seem to feature every summer are:

Sporting disappointment: most years our summer is punctuated by the punctured dreams of the great British public. Last year it was the anti-climax of the World Cup. Previously we have underachieved in everything from the Olympics to the Davis Cup. Annually we have the traumas of Test cricket and trials of our tennis players in SW16, alleviated tantalisingly by occasional brilliance. When, once every so often, it does go right and we win the Ashes or Rugby World Cup, the whole country is lifted sufficiently to face the gloom for the next few years.

Queues at airports: Industrial action by French air traffic controllers or baggage handlers, security scares, inclement weather or just sheer volume of traffic all conspire to ensure the holiday has a miserable delayed start and uncomfortable finish.

Silly season stories: with Parliament in recess and our rulers in Tuscany or in Cliff Richard’s mansion, there’s not much to spin and the newspapers are left to dig up stories about the golden weddings of large groups of siblings, musical animals and rudely shaped vegetables.

Extremes of weather: with drought, floods, whirlwinds and lightning, our summer weather seems to grow more biblical every year

Big Brother: sadly, forget dear Johnners on Radio Three from Lords or Dan Maskell’s “Oh, I says” from Wimbledon; the sound of summer is now the theme music from Big Brother and that booming Geordie voice reminding us that “You decide…” The producers decide a lot, but that’s another story.

The Edinburgh Festival: in August a good proportion of our arts commentators disappear up to Edinburgh and report on the festival. They obviously enjoy the trip, meeting old friends and having some excellent dinners on expenses. Hordes of foreign tourists are attracted. The trouble is that it happens in Scotland. Also, even for someone with a good general interest in the arts, much of the programme isn’t that relevant and the coverage is surprisingly dreary. It’s a jolly for the media types and a shame they don’t just keep it to themselves: end of.

The Birthday Honours List: leaving aside issues under police investigation, as each year passes the Honours List seems to become more laughable and discredited with minor gongs for weather girls and ageing footballers and knighthoods for various luvvies and the odd captain of industry who has kept his nose clean. It gets more tawdry with every passing year

The Proms: despite the populist ending and the TV relay to the masses in various parks, I still find that the Proms cater mainly for the musical establishment. If they have a mission to bring the joy of music to a wider audience, why not broaden the repertoire even further to include even more diversity with much more popular and modern material? With ingenuity, this need not mean dumbing down. Why not focus even more on entertainment and accessibility?

Plagues: we have endured Old Testament quantities of house flies, ladybirds, crane-flies, wasps and sand from the Sahara. Maybe it’s to stop us getting complacent.

Exam results: I’m not going to rant about standards and exams getting easier: good luck and congrats to all who pass. I am, however, very bored with the clichéd ritual of the staged outside broadcasts where four or five nervous students open their results live on air on breakfast or local TV and are simply thrilled.

It’s enough to make you look forward to the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but with global warming that may soon be in February. Pip, pip!!

* a version of this piece appeared in Birmingham 13